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The daily view from the oasis

March 12, 2004 PERMALINK
Are We Any Safer?
(posted Mar. 12 1:45 AM ET)
(minor edit Mar. 12 4 PM ET)

We...remember what this fight is about. Our military is confronting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places so our people will not have to confront terrorist violence in New York, or St. Louis, or Los Angeles.
-- George W. Bush

I think the American people...get it. They see that terrorism is a threat in this world. They would rather have us fighting terrorists outside of the United States of America than inside the United States of America.
-- Donald Rumsfeld (via Stuffed Dog)

I would rather fight them there than here.
-- Bush

Of course, that kind of talk was not to be found yesterday after the horrific terrorist attack in Madrid. There is no overt sigh of relief that terrorists hit Spain and not us.

But as you can see above, come election day, the Bushies do want people to think it's a success if the war on terror is simply fought somewhere else.

Never mind that the war on terror has no borders.

That terrorist attacks anywhere mean Al Qaeda and its affiliated cells are alive and well, and that all of us on Earth remain threatened.

That we haven't been able to win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Islamic people, which is the only way to definitively end the terrorist threat.

(Granted, in this case, we don't know who is responsible. It could be Basque separatists, radical Muslims, or a new partnership of the two.)

There is political logic to the Bush "there, not here" approach, a simple extension of "all politics is local."

Certainly, the attacks in Bali, Istanbul and Riyadh didn't really put Americans on edge.

And the media's lack of emphasis on international news usually contributes to a sense that such tragedies are too far away to warrant our preoccupation.

Could this time be different?

Is it possible that instead a feeling of progress (attacks moving farther away), there will be a feeling of slippage (attacks coming closer to us)?

It's not hard to look at footage of bombed Spanish commuter trains and envision a similar attack succeeding in a US city (whereas footage from Bali, Riyadh and Istanbul seemed, well, foreign).

Now, the Bush campaign is playing the terrorism card in their latest ad, soon to be known as the "Muhammad Horton" spot.

Such an ad is intended to keep Americans just scared enough to think twice about voting for some wussy Democrat.

Yet it could backfire.

Raising the fear level could also raise the question: if I'm still afraid, and Al Qaeda is still killing, how successful has Bush been?

Making conclusive political assessments is impossible, since having terrorism play such a prominent role in our politics is uncharted territory.

It is unknown if more attacks are to come, and where they might happen; if Osama bin Laden will be captured or killed in the next several months; or if Osama's demise will simply spark more attacks.

By November, the whole issue could fade, or could completely overshadow the race, or fall somewhere in between.

The conventional wisdom is that as long as the subject is terrorism, Bush has the advantage.

But if events lead people to question if Bush has the right strategy to ultimately succeed, and to embrace John Kerry's comprehensive approach, then that CW may not hold.

Meanwhile, just as the French said "We are all Americans now" after 9/11, we are all Spaniards today, as we were Turks and Saudis and Indonesians and Australians before.

Whether we always realize it or not, no nation's people stand alone in this struggle to rid the world of the threat of terrorism and senseless violence.

March 11, 2004 PERMALINK
McCain Won't Be Veep
But Will He Be Defense Secretary?
(posted Mar. 11 1:30 AM ET)

When LiberalOasis played the Veepstakes game last week, John McCain was left off the list for a simple reason.

He's a member of the Bush campaign, the chairman of his Arizona Leadership Team. And he has already said Bush "deserve[s] re-election" while stumping for him.

That would be a hell of thing to spin. It pretty much rules him out.

So why would he say he would "entertain" a veep offer from his good friend John Kerry? Only to slam the door shut on the possibility hours later?

Discerning the motives behind such machinations is slippery business. And of course, you always run the risk of reading too much into mere omissions of words.

But it seems to LiberalOasis that McCain wanted to send a little signal where his heart really lies in the '04 race, and make it less likely he'll be asked to do a lot more stumping for Bush.

By keeping some distance between himself and Bush, he'll make it easier for Kerry to tap him for a Cabinet role, most likely Secretary of Defense.

And Kerry would probably love to get McCain in his Administration. As Kerry said in a recent blurb for a McCain biography:

I have had no greater privilege in all my life than finding and then standing on common ground with John McCain[.]

[A]nd I look forward to fighting side by side with him on yet another day to make our country stronger.

Is their tight relationship a good thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

McCain has wonderful qualities, and awful ones.

He's great on some things, like tax fairness, campaign finance and consumer issues.

He's terrible on social security privatization, and most importantly, foreign policy -- he's a full-fledged neocon, closely associated with Project for the New American Century's Bill Kristol.

So while he'd be a great Federal Election Commissioner, he'd be an unwelcome presence at Defense, part of the foreign policy team.

Sure, McCain could end up as Kerry's Colin Powell -- a source of contrary opinion within the Administration, who ends up continually suppressing his own instincts.

And it's possible McCain's hatred of pork and waste could lead to a reduced defense budget.

But part of this election is sweeping clean the "arrogant" and "reckless" foreign policy that Kerry rightly and sincerely rails against.

Differences of opinion can be healthy within an Administration, but the discredited neocons need to be completely shut out of the foreign policy chamber. That includes McCain.

We're getting ahead ourselves, of course.

Kerry hasn't won anything yet. There is plenty of time to worry about, and rally against, a McCain Defense nod.

But we should be careful not to excessively puff up McCain, even though his public flirting with Kerry is politically helpful.

Because that will make it harder to stop a McCain nomination down the road.

March 10, 2004 PERMALINK
How Good Is Dubya's Ammo?
(posted Mar. 10 12 AM ET)

It's not all that surprising that John Kerry leads Dubya in most of the polls that have been taken over the last few days.

Consider that for some time, the Bushies -- thanks in part to a series of self-inflicted wounds -- haven't had a clear week to puff up themselves and drive up Kerry's negatives.

The first two weeks of February was National Guard time.

Towards the end of February, Bush felt obliged to alienate the swing and push an amendment to ban marriage for gays.

And last week was the argument over 9/11 images in his ads (which, according to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, Bush clearly lost).

The GOP has been attacking Kerry all this time, but their own problems (and Kerry's victories), have attracted the most attention.

As a result, Kerry up, Bush down.

This week is shaping up to be a little different.

So far, there's no single story sparking a critical mass of coverage damaging to Bush.

And Bush appears to be stepping up his anti-Kerry offensive, calling his approach to intelligence "deeply irresponsible" on Monday, and implicitly lumping him in with "economic isolationists" on Tuesday.

As Kerry is a blank slate to a lot of Americans, the attacks are part of Bush's plan to fill in the blanks now.

According to the W. Post:

The president's advisers believe that Bush has an unusual opportunity to define his opponent in voters' minds as weak on national security before Kerry's campaign can gain traction with its own messages.

And the NY Times:

With a fierce campaign of attacks led by President Bush, an orchestrated barrage of criticism by Republican elected officials and an imminent sweep of hard-hitting television advertisements, the White House is moving with unusual speed and force to try to discredit John Kerry...

..."There are windows of opportunity in every election cycle, and this is a big window," Matthew Dowd, a senior election strategist for Mr. Bush, said.

That's why the polls that come out next week, or soon thereafter, may be more interesting than this week's.

If Bush can get back to a tie with Kerry, or gain a slight lead, in the polls, that will mean the attacks worked, and they have found some real Kerry vulnerabilities to exploit.

That will put some pressure on Kerry to step up efforts to proactively define himself.

But that's something Kerry needs to do anyway. And it's to be expected that Kerry will have some weaknesses.

So such a development, while unpleasant, shouldn't cause any panic in Kerry quarters.

However, if the numbers remain as they are, then Bush will be in real trouble, and his people should panic.

Dubya will have already used up a lot of ammo.

His positive moves to place him above the fray will have all flopped (Mars, immigration reform, steroids crackdown, 9/11 ads).

And if he can't successfully use Kerry's voting record to paint him as wobbly on national security -- the one issue which Bush has a clear polling advantage -- and sully him in the eyes of the swing, what else is he left with?

If the vaunted GOP attack machine can't pull off a basic attack with some of its best ammo, then Bush is going to have a long, long campaign.

QUICK HIT

Taking LiberalOasis Advice

Yesterday, LiberalOasis threw out some phrases to better frame Kerry than "complex" and "nuanced", words his surrogates have been using.

Looks like Wesley Clark was paying attention.

Among LO's suggestions were "creative problem-solver" and "believes in facts, not bluster" and "thorough".

Here's Clark on CNN's Inside Politics yesterday:

...what you see in John Kerry is a man who looks at the issues.

He's pragmatic about it. He weighs both sides of the argument.

I think the American people are looking for someone who is a problem solver.

Not someone who comes into office with an ideological template to try to stamp out a series of policies, regardless of where the facts and the problems are.

LO could quibble with a few word choices, but it sure beats "complex" and "nuanced". Not a bad audition for veep.

March 9, 2004 PERMALINK
Memo To Staff: Help Frame Kerry
Don't Backstab Him
(posted Mar. 9 1:15 AM ET)

Last November, LiberalOasis said John Kerry was better off after a handful of staffers quit following the firing of a top aide:

The media will interpret that as reflecting poorly on Kerry, but more likely, it reflects poorly on this strain of self-defeating Beltway Dem.

The kind that prefers to give blind quotes to the media about how screwed the Dems are, instead of giving private constructive criticism and as much sweat as possible to the party.

The kind that signs up for a campaign because it looks like a meal ticket to the White House, not because they believe in the candidate.

Clearly, too many of them reside in the Kerry campaign. Otherwise, there wouldn't be so many stories leaked about staff troubles.

After the staff shake-up, the campaign got focused, the leaks stopped, and Kerry won.

You'd think people would learn. Sadly, no.

Sunday's B. Globe had this:

Ask John F. Kerry for his views on the environment, and he'll smile as he recalls painting Storrow Drive "biodegradable green" to celebrate Earth Day in 1970[.]

[O]r he'll borrow a phrase from President Kennedy and declare that America should "go to the moon right here on Earth" in a quest for alternatives to fossil fuels...

...Kerry strategists...shudder at [these] "Kerryisms" that reinforce an image that his campaign staff is now preoccupied with shaking: Massachusetts liberal.

Kerry's line about going to the moon on Earth, some advisers say, can evoke the moonbeam caricatures of Democrats like Al Gore and Jerry Brown as off-the-wall thinkers on the environment and other issues.

"Swing voters and conservatives respond much better when Kerry talks about the environment in the context of jobs than when he talks about painting streets green," a longtime adviser to Kerry said.

If you work for Kerry, then tell it to Kerry, not the media. Anyone who doesn't get that should be fired.

Other advisers to Kerry have the right idea.

Instead of thinking you can give Kerry a personality transplant, accept that Kerry's human, with strengths and weaknesses.

And in turn, start framing him in a way that can turn some of the weaknesses into strengths, while letting Kerry be Kerry.

Some of his team began that process in weekend pieces for the NY Times and W. Post.

But while they had the right idea, it could have been executed better.

Too often, Kerry's pals paint him as some sort of egghead.

Some examples. From the NYT:

"He doesn't fit into any neat pigeon holes," said Mr. Kerry's younger brother, Cameron, his closest adviser. "He's complex. So what?"

...

"There's indoor John and outdoor John," said [former aide] Jonathan Winer..."Indoor John is thoughtful, works all this through, is nuanced, and so deeply into the process that you can get impatient...

"Outdoor John is a man of action. There'd be a point where, Boom! and go. Once it happened, the dialogue was over, and you wouldn't always know which way he was going to go."

...

A longtime friend and aide put it this way: "On some major issues there are yes-but votes and no-but votes. He sees a lot of them as yes-but."

...

"Between the moral clarity, black and white, good and evil of George Bush that distorts and gets reality wrong," Winer said, "and someone who quotes a French philosopher, Andre Gide, saying, `Don't try to understand me too much,'

"I'd let Americans decide which in the end is closer to what they need in a president, in a complex world where if you get it really wrong there are enormous consequences."

And the W. Post:

"It's the deadline thing," said Cameron Kerry, his brother. "He's not going to act when he doesn't need to. He's incredibly decisive when he needs to be."

...

"George Bush is, 'I know what's right, and I know what's wrong,' regardless of the nature of reality," said Jonathan Winer..."John takes the opposite approach: 'Don't assume you know where I am. Don't assume I know what I think. We'll talk it through.' It's a deliberate suspension."

...

"John plays devil's advocate," said his chief of staff, David McKean. On any given issue, Kerry will sit his staff in a circle and challenge them. "Most staffers find it intimidating at first. Then they enjoy it."

...

"He'll call and say, 'Here's another 'but' vote for you,' " said [former aide Ron] Rosenblith. "Either way you vote, it doesn't work. You vote yes, and say 'but.' Or no and say 'but.' He calls Iraq a 'but' vote."

Most of these explanations rest on notions of "complexity" and "nuance".

These are uninspired characterizations, and do not instill confidence in Kerry's leadership qualities.

And there's not a lot of time to fix this.

We are in the define-and-counterdefine process, and these notions are going to start to stick very soon.

How else can you positively sum up a guy who likes to deliberative extensively before taking action, and takes political positions that don't always fall into neat boxes?

Some off-the-cuff suggestions:

-- "professional"
-- "prepared"
-- "responsible"
-- "thorough"
-- "patient"
-- "steely"
-- "steady"
-- "ready"
-- "creative problem-solver"
-- "doesn't talk down to the public"
-- "can handle complex challenges" (world problems can be complex, just not the candidate)
-- "believes in facts, not bluster"
-- "trust with life-or-death decisions"

As Kerry said himself when he was in Vietnam, "Offense is the best defense."

Kerry's friends need to go on the offense and positively frame what makes him tick, otherwise he'll be framed somewhere between "complex" and "hypocrite".

And anyone not being a team player in that effort needs to go.

March 8, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Mar. 8 12:15 AM ET)

The backlash over Dubya's 9/11 ads entered into its fifth day, as it spilled out on to all five Sunday shows.

The Bushies pinned their hopes on former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was on NBC's Meet The Press, to turn the tables and allow Bush definitely claim 9/11 as a political issue.

He appears to have failed.

The wire roundups of the Sunday shows ignored him, a strong indication that he wasn't going to shift the dynamic of the discussion.

Not that it was all his fault.

Rudy had already been trotted out last week, and on Sunday, he didn't have all that much new to say.

That's bad media management.

Furthermore, he (like the rest of the Bush crew) doesn't have a good response to the two toughest charges.

First, on showing a coffin in the ads:

TIM RUSSERT: Some Democrats said this week that the Bush administration policy is not to show the coffins coming back from Iraq out of respect and reverence for the deceased and the families.

So why would you show the coffins on September 11?

GIULIANI: Well, it wasn't coffins. It was one flag-draped coffin, as well as the backdrop of September 11, 2001.

I suspect any image of September 11, 2001, would have provoked the same reaction...

... [But] I think it's a very appropriate area. And it's part of his history.

It's safe to say that nitpicking over the number of coffins is not best tack.

But more importantly, Giuliani never addressed the Iraq question directly. That's because the Bushies have no answer.

The second tough charge concerns the 9/11 Commission:

RUSSERT: Stephen Push, whose wife died in a plane that crashed in the Pentagon, was also upset...

...he said: "The Bush administration will not cooperate fully with the 9/11 commission and at the same time they're trying to invoke and own 9/11 and use it for his reelection."...

...The president has said he will only testify for one hour and only before the committee chairman and co-chairman.

Should the president not give more fulsome testimony before the full commission?

Giuliani chose to argue that an hour should be plenty of time, and repeatedly dodged follow-ups about whether Bush should meet with the full commission.

Additionally, over at Fox News Sunday, Bush campaign chair Marc Racicot also had a tricky time handling the 9/11 Commission question, though his tack was to simply lie and insist Bush is being cooperative.

Lest you think only liberals are noticing the backlash, don't worry. Conservatives are too.

During the Fox roundtable, Bill Kristol elaborated on his recent Weekly Standard piece, where he warns the Bushies of falling into the "Dukakis Trap": thinking no one will believe the attacks on you.

Kristol said:

The Democrats, to their credit...stepped all over it [the unveiling of the Bush ads]...That is the first lesson: the Democrats are playing hardball...

...the Bush Administration has been so weak in both responding to charges and taking the offensive.

And just before, Brit Hume concurred:

The idea that the president should not be able to discuss this incident is ludicrous.

But reporters are covering...the objections to it in a straight--faced way. Democrats are pounding on it. The Administration is on the defensive.

It shouldn't be, but it's working like crazy.

Kristol and Hume, of course, simply want to give the White House a constructive kick in the ass. This isn't full-blown right-wing infighting.

Yet.

QUICK HIT

Whose Trial Do You Think This Is?

The NY Times reported on Sunday:

Salem Chalabi, the Iraqi lawyer in charge of the war crimes issue, said in a recent interview that while he understood the administration's political needs, the trials might not occur until late in the year, after the American elections, and that Mr. Hussein might not even be the first defendant.

That was an echo of what Chalabi told Britain's Guardian newspaper last month:

"I think it will take two years to get to Saddam being tried," said Salem Chalabi...

...The need to select and screen judges, prepare courts and establish well-guarded jails to hold the suspects have led to delays. "There are frustrations," said Mr. Chalabi.

But on CNN's Late Edition, Viceroy Paul Bremer sent Salem a signal: you don't really think you're running the show, do you?

...I expect it will take some months before we see any prosecutions begin...

...Probably towards the end of the summer, early fall, is a guess at this point. But I have to meet with these Justice Department people and see what they say.

Not two years, this fall. And not, I have to meet with Salem Chalabi, but the US Justice Department.

That's a clear shot across Salem's bow.

It's hard to know exactly what's behind these political games.

We know, of course, what Bremer wants: a show trial in the fall.

We don't know if there is any ulterior motive behind Salem's actions.

(Newsweek recently reported on some possible strains between Salem's uncle Ahmed and the US)

But political games aside, if there are real logistical obstacles to trying Saddam quickly, as Salem contends, there may be nothing Bremer and Bush can do about it.

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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