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June 11, 2004 PERMALINK
Timely Memory Lapses
Bush Channels Reagan
(posted June 11 1 AM ET)

Dubya may be trying a little too hard to bathe himself in Ronald Reagan's legacy.

Recall that in 1987, Reagan wrote to the Tower Commission that was investigating Iran-Contra:

In trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago I'm afraid that I let myself be influenced by others' recollections, not my own...

...I have no personal notes or records to help my recollection on this matter.

The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985.

My answer therefore and the simple truth is, "I don't remember -- period".

Dubya must have been doing some channeling yesterday at his news conference, as he struggled to answer questions about the torture memos:

DAVID SANGER (NY Times): Mr. President, the Justice Department issued an advisory opinion last year declaring that as Commander-in-Chief you have the authority to order any kind of interrogation techniques that are necessary to pursue the war on terror.

Were you aware of this advisory opinion?

Do you agree with it?

And did you issue any such authorization at any time?

BUSH: No, the authorization I issued, David, was that anything we did would conform to US law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations.

That's the message I gave our people.

SANGER: Have you seen the memos?

BUSH: I can't remember if I've seen the memo or not, but I gave those instructions.

The first part of the answer -- "conform[ing] to US law" -- is a meaningless non-answer.

It's pretty rare to explicitly, formally authorize breaking the law.

Instead, the Bushies "interpreted" the law to their satisfaction first (including where they deemed it does and doesn't apply), so following the arbitrary conclusions magically becomes following the law.

And as far as what they think "consistent with international treaty obligations" means, go back to LiberalOasis' 5/14 post, recapping a NBC Nightly News report:

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: ...[Don] Rumsfeld said Pentagon lawyers approved the techniques, and claimed the Geneva Convention is open to interpretation by each nation.

RUMSFELD: ...if you think about it, Geneva doesn't say what do you when you get up in the morning.

But the Reaganesque capper was Dubya pulling the classic "I can't remember" move.

While such a thing should always raise an eyebrow, it's extremely notable that Dubya's convenient memory malfunction came 48 hours after John Ashcroft had this lovely exchange with the Senate Judiciary Cmte:

TED KENNEDY: There are three memoranda -- January 9, 2002, signed by John Yoo; the August 2002 Justice Department, the memo -- and the March 2000 -- the inter-agency working group.

Those are three memoranda. Will you provide those to the committee?

ASHCROFT: No, I will not.

KENNEDY: Under what basis?

...

ASHCROFT: We believe that to provide this kind of information would impair the ability of advice...to be candid, forthright, thorough, and accurate at all times.

...

KENNEDY: General, has the president authorized you to invoke the executive privilege today on these documents?

ASHCROFT: I am not going to reveal discussions -- whether I've had them or not had them with the president.

He asked me to deal with him as a matter of confidence.

I have not invoked the executive privilege today. I have explained to you why I'm not turning over the documents.

KENNEDY: Well, what are you invoking then?

ASHCROFT: I have not invoked anything. I have just explained to you why I am not turning over the documents.

...

JOE BIDEN: Well, General, that means you may be in contempt of Congress then.

Why would the Administration risk contempt with such an odd and confrontational move?

Probably because the chances of Ashcroft actually being cited for contempt are slim.

(The GOP-majority cmte would have to vote for it, then the full Senate.)

And publicly invoking executive privilege would have likely sparked bigger headlines, signaling the media to jack up the intensity level of scandal coverage.

Furthermore, Ashcroft clearly did not rule out invoking it at a later date.

That's a sign that they eventually expect to do so, but have a strategy of dragging this out as slowly as possible, in hopes that things won't reach critical mass before Election Day.

Good luck with that.

June 10, 2004 PERMALINK
Laura Bush Is A Liar
(posted June 10 1:45 AM ET)

Back in August 2001, the White House mega-hyped Dubya's prime-time address, where he placed debilitating restrictions on stem cell research.

As the 8/9/01 NY Times reported:

Officials have described Mr. Bush as deliberating and anguishing over this issue as he has no other and even offered that it could be the defining issue of his presidency.

Rove thought the issue, and the deliberation, would define Bush as supremely wise and compassionate (perhaps like Solomon, or God).

Instead, what the issue really defines is how low Bush will stoop to try to straddle his uber-Right base (who refuse to even listen to pro-stem cell research pro-lifers) and the rest of us.

As Nancy Reagan's public support for increased stem cell research has put pressure on the White House, Laura Bush was trotted out yesterday to respond, hitting four morning TV shows.

And Laura Bush, while milking the fact that her father died of Alzheimer's like Ronald Reagan, blatantly lied about her husband's views.

She was generally accurate in her first interview of the day on CBS' The Early Show:

BILL PLANTE: [Nancy Reagan] is now pushing to have the restrictions on stem cell use removed, restrictions that the President put on three years ago, because she feels that it could help patients with diseases like Alzheimer's.

LAURA BUSH: Well, there are stem cells to do research on, and there is a -- you know, we have to be really careful between what we want to do for science and what we should do ethically.

And stem cell issue is certainly one of those issues that we need to treat very carefully.

PLANTE: So you're not prepared to endorse that just yet?

BUSH: No.

But she wasn't nearly that explicit in her subsequent interviews.

And most egregiously, on CNN, she just flat lied:

DANA BASH: What is your personal view on stem cell research?

LAURA BUSH: Well, everyone supports stem cell research, and so did the President.

That must depend on what your definition of "support" is.

Because in the real world, "restrictions" do not equal "support."

Some thought that Reagan's death (and stepped up bipartisan congressional activity) would provide a shift in political winds, giving Dubya a graceful way to change policy.

Not that the public needs convincing.

Simple polling questions on stem cell research show plurality support.

And when the potential to cure Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes is mentioned, support is overwhelming.

But with the politically astute thing to do staring Bush in the face, he still is too afraid of the far Right to budge.

He'd prefer sending his wife out to lie instead.

This gives John Kerry one fat opening to hammer Dubya for lacking compassion and common sense.

All he needs to do is repeat what he said in August 2001:

Compassionate conservatism could have meant lifesaving treatments for those suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease[.]

[I]nstead it appears to be using words of compassion to mask efforts to keep a campaign promise to conservatives.

If, as he says, the President believes that stem cell research may have lifesaving potential for millions, he should give scientists the tools to explore it -- rather than have the government impose burdensome restrictions which close the door to medical advances.

June 9, 2004 PERMALINK
Dragging The UN Down
(posted June 9 12:30 AM ET)

Both in the run-up to the Iraq war, and during the occupation, liberals have been calling for the UN to take the lead.

The logic behind that was there is a legitimacy that only an international organization like the UN can offer.

Unlike a unilateral or limited multilateral action, a UN action cannot (or perhaps, should not) be imperialistic.

No single nation would profit, financially or otherwise, from an action taken on behalf of the entire world.

However, the UN can lose that legitimacy, and render itself impotent.

How? By allowing itself to be seen as a tool of Bush's imperial policies.

Remember, Bin Laden has been calling on Muslims to reject the UN for some time -- from soon after 9/11 to this spring -- for that very reason.

(Since Bin Laden hates the UN, isn't bashing the UN helping the terrorists win?)

That's why the UN's recent moves are so troubling.

First, the UN envoy allows the US and the US-appointed Iraq Governing Council to handpick the leadership.

Then yesterday, the Security Council unanimously approves a resolution endorsing the new government, after negotiating in some mushy, worthless language.

But since the resolution does not give the Iraq government a veto over US military actions within its borders (and Iraq's leaders are still handpicked), the US still has effective control.

(For those who would argue that the choice of Ghazi al-Yawer for president was proof the US doesn't have control, this AP account shows how uncontrollable he's being:

...al-Yawer, meeting in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell, brushed off any suggestion that there might be disagreement between U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

"We are working together," al-Yawer told reporters. "These people are in our country to help us.")

Furthermore, the main Security Council members that led to the unanimous vote -- France, Germany and Russia -- still say they won't contribute troops.

And without more international contributions, winning this resolution is a pretty empty victory for Bush.

Though Bush doesn't seem to be crying about it. He seems to have got what we wanted:

More UN cover (making it a little harder for Kerry to charge him with unilateralism), without giving up any real control.

But if the UN provides Bush with some domestic political cover, Bush certainly does not do the same for the UN in the rest of the world.

And if Iraq continues to be a mess by 2005 (as the current policy makes likely), the UN may then be seen as part of the problem.

Which would feed Bin Laden's arguments.

That could make Iraq awfully difficult for a President Kerry to fix.

Instead of being able to simply turn things over to an international institution with credibility, Kerry will have to find a way to restore badly damaged American credibility.

And fast.

One can only hope that the mere changing of the guard will do wonders.

June 8, 2004 PERMALINK
The Elephant and the Squirrel
(posted June 8 12 AM ET)
(minor edit June 8 3:30 PM ET)

Perhaps when watching TV on Sunday, you saw clips of Bush being interviewed by Tom Brokaw, delivering his speech commemorating the D-Day anniversary, or giving his statement on Reagan's passing.

And perhaps it occurred to you that Bush's tentative and/or defensive appearances didn't look all that good when juxtaposed with all the clips of an assured, quick-witted Reagan.

After all the times when the media raved about Dubya's plain-spoken style when he actually sounded idiotic, you could be excused for thinking the punditocracy would never make such a comparison, especially at such a sensitive time.

But some of them did.

The NY Times reported:

Some Republicans said the images of a forceful Mr. Reagan giving dramatic speeches on television provided a less-than-welcome contrast with Mr. Bush's own appearances these days, and that it was not in Mr. Bush's interest to encourage such comparisons.

That concern was illustrated on Sunday, one Republican said, by televised images of Mr. Reagan's riveting speech in Normandy commemorating D-Day in 1984, followed by Mr. Bush's address at a similar ceremony on Sunday.

"Reagan showed what high stature that a president can have ÷ and my fear is that Bush will look diminished by comparison," said one Republican sympathetic to Mr. Bush, who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president.

Another NYT piece, assessing the TV coverage, said:

...Mr. Bush had to endure the contrast in presidential styles.

As much as the president casts himself as Mr. Reagan's political heir, the coverage yesterday underlined Mr. Reagan's inimitable charm and telegenic poise, his ease and comfort in front of the camera.

The flood of reminiscences underlined how formidable Mr. Reagan's communication skills really were. Commentators over and over recalled Mr. Reagan's "way with words."

He also had a way with television that no successor, not even Mr. Bush, has been able to imitate.

The SF Chronicle quoted former Mayor Willie Brown:

...Brown said Bush runs the risk of appearing diminished by comparison.

"He will do his best to try and associate himself with Reagan -- but it won't fly," the Democrat said. "It would be as if you're comparing a squirrel to an elephant."

That quote got picked up by the insider online columns First Read at msnbc.com and White House Briefing at washingtonpost.com.

White House Briefing also added its two cents:

...it's not entirely clear if Bush will emerge from a solid week of tributes and reminiscences resplendent as a self-styled heir to the Reagan legacy, or if he will suffer in comparison from a stature gap...

These attitudes may not be dominating the Reagan coverage, which is much more about Reagan than about 2004.

But they are clearly part of the Establishment chatter. The chatterers are not reflexively using the occasion to insist that Dubya is unbeatable.

That's what happens when your approval is in the mid-40s. You simply don't get the same deference.

Of course, if Bush gives a great eulogy on Friday, pundits could well resume doling out the 2003-style effusive praise.

(And it's likely Bush gives a great eulogy. Enough of this lowering expectations. Like a classic slacker, Bush has been able to pull off a big speech when it counted.)

But even if such a thing gives Bush a temporary boost, all the things that have dragged him into the 40s will still be there once the week's mourning is done.

QUICK HIT

Why Bush Needs A Lawyer

Alternet posts former Nixon counsel John Dean's assessment of the Plame investigation, "Why Bush Needs a Lawyer." A taste:

...it seems the investigators are seeking to connect up with, and then speak with, persons who have links to and from the leaked information - and those persons, it seems, probably include the President...

...Undoubtedly, those from the White House have been asked if they spoke with the president about the leak. It appears that one or more of them may indeed have done so.

Click here for the whole piece.

June 7, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted June 7 12 AM ET)

The various retrospectives and remembrances of Ronald Reagan on the Sunday shows were much of what you'd expect.

Fond memories of his humor and optimism, GOP embellishing of his record and place in history, just enough Iran-Contra for the media to avoid being accused of whitewashing.

But there were a few unexpected, notable moments.

1. McCain's subtle dig at Bush

On NBC's Meet The Press, Tim Russert showed a clip of Tom Brokaw's interview of Bush.

In it, Bush responded to the charge that Europeans dislike him by noting that "they felt the same way" about Reagan.

Russert then asked Sen. John McCain if that was right.

(Beltway wingers must be livid that NBC and ABC booked McCain to praise and define Reagan's legacy)

And McCain appeared to go out of his way to criticize Bush (though not by name), and unfavorably compare him to Reagan, on excessive partisanship:

RUSSERT: Is that a valid argument, that the attitudes in Europe towards Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are similar?

McCAIN: Well, it's hard for me to judge at the moment...

...I do think that Ronald Reagan had a kindness and a gentleness about him that not only worked in Europe, but here in the Congress, which brings up an important point.

Ronald Reagan did some very controversial things. The partisanship that existed in the 1980s was as strong...

...But after 6:00, he and [House Speaker] Tip O'Neill would get together and tell stories and enjoy each other's company.

And that was true in other parts of Capitol Hill.

Now, we have such bitter partisanship and such personalization of politics that I know Ronald Reagan is very disappointed, very disappointed that--look, it's fine to fight all day long, but we don't have to dislike each other personally.

Nor do we have to attack each other, nor do we have to polarize the nation.

I think if there is a legacy of Ronald Reagan, let's stop this and let's start working together for the good of the country.

That's what's missing from the Ronald Reagan era, in my view.

2. Passive Aggressive Powell

Might this observation by Secretary of State Colin Powell, on CNN's Late Edition, been a passive-aggressive shot at his boss and his Middle East "democracy" strategy?

[Reagan] always believed that the Soviet people deserved a better system than the system they had.

And he was going to make it happen. Not by war, but by peace, by showing the power of democracy.

3. Reagan can even make apartheid funny!

On Fox News Sunday, Reagan's Chief of Staff Jim Baker shared an anecdote that inadvertently reminded us of Reagan's attitude about apartheid in South Africa:

The only time that I know that Ronald Reagan had a veto overridden by the Congress was on South Africa policy, where we were pursuing a policy of "constructive engagement".

The Congress put sanctions on. The president vetoed them. Congress overrode him.

We went in about two weeks later and said:

"Mr. President, you really need to start seeing some of the more moderate black leaders of South Africa, so we can take South African policy back from the Congress."

He said, "OK, well, who you got in mind?" He wasn't particularly happy.

We said, Bishop [Desmond] Tutu. So he said, all right, reluctantly.

We brought Bishop Tutu in...The press comes in, asks the president a question.

He said, "I'm not going to answer questions. This is a photo opportunity."

They turned to Bishop Tutu, who thoroughly trashed the president and his policy right there in his presence.

Well, the next day, the first event, the press come charging in, and they're saying, "Mr. President, Mr. President, what about your meeting with Bishop Tutu?"

They smelled blood in the water...

...And the president's sitting there like this. He looks down at his hands. And he says, "Tutu? So-so."

By the way, over at MTP, Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan said, "The entire political meaning of Ronald Reagan's political career was...'Let freedom reign.'"

4. No New Taxes...Today

Baker's wasn't the only supposedly funny anecdote that also shed more light than intended on Reagan's policies.

On ABC's This Week, former deputy press secretary Larry Speakes pulled back a little too much curtain on Reagan's tax policy, and adherence to the truth in general:

SPEAKES: Somebody raised the question once, about, did you ever see Ronald Reagan get mad?...

...There was a press conference, and he said "No new taxes". This was in '82.

And so the next morning I knew I was going to catch it in the briefing room.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because he was about to raise taxes --

SPEAKES: That's right. They were going to be raised. And we knew it.

So we went in to the office. Jim Baker was there, [Counselor to the President] Ed Meese and I.

Jim Baker went at the President and President said, "No new taxes." And I looked at Ed and he said..."No new taxes."

And so everybody looked at me.

And I had a sheet that had kind of a weasel word thing to talk about it, and I handed him that sheet...

...he looked it for a half a second, and he grabbed his pen in front of the desk, and pulled it up like that [jerks hand up to chest] and the base of the pen flew over that way [motions away from himself].

And he wrote on it, "No new taxes". And he said, "and I mean it."...

...Then he stood there for a minute, and gave us a big smile and said, "telegram follows later."

QUICK HITS

Speaking of Freedom...

Last night, Dateline NBC aired an exclusive interview Tom Brokaw had with Dubya, who made this telling remark:

Winning the war on terror requires more than just doing in Al Qaeda...it also means installing governments that don't necessarily look like America...

[Emphasis added]

Kerry on C-Span

John Kerry did a half-hour interview with C-Span yesterday, and it's pretty damn good. Check it out at c-span.org.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Things To Do With Chalabi Now That The Pentagon Is Done With Him

Many Americans awoke a few days ago with the heartbreaking news that Iraqi exile and Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmed Chalabi is a "con man."

Those of us who read the occasional dissident press of the Europeans knew --- as far back as pre 9/11 days --- that Chalabi had been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan and sentenced in absentia for 22 years, and that his word was less than trustworthy.

Now, thanks to our state-run me... erm, I mean "aggressive free press," all Americans have finally been told about Chalabi's dark past.

That the release of this news to the American press coincides with the White House's reversal of position on Chalabi is, I suppose, just a really, really weird coincidence.

But pity poor Chalabi! Here was an Iraqi leader who had been supported by the Pentagon for decades and thought he was going to take the place of the last Iraqi leader who was supported by the Pentagon... but, alas, the twists of Fate are meandering, thorny brambles.

I did some poking around, though, and found a lot of people still have a warm place in their hearts for our little bean-headed buddy from Baghdad.

Assuming Chalabi escapes without a chemical glow stick inconveniencing his posture in any way, let's look at some future career possibilities for Iraq's prodigal son.

1) TELEVISION

CBS executives have already been trying to get communications over to Chalabi's office, asking him to host their new reality television series, "I'm A Former Dictator, Get Me Out of Here!"

The premise of the show is that various nefarious international leaders (Hussein, Pinochet, Kissinger) are abandoned on a desert island until only one remains. The winner will get to rule Burkina Faso.

CBS feels Chalabi "has the right stuff" for hosting the show, seeing as how he "has unprecedented experience in handling rulers of various nations across the world."

It's also thought that Chalabi may "add some excitement" to the program by enticing the dictators to do various ratings-enhancing stunts, like resorting to cannibalism or (worse yet!) denouncing conservatism in exchange for chocolate.

2) POLITICS

There may yet be a role for Ahmed Chalabi in the Bush administration!

Sure, his international street cred may be in tatters, but that takes nothing away from his ability to sway policy makers with only the most scant bits of evidence and huge gobs of deception.

Such traits would do him well on the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign team, where the American people will occasionally need to be convinced that destroying Iraq, alienating the UN, polluting the US Constitution with discriminatory amendments, ignoring the Geneva Convention and ruining the US economy are actually "compassionate" deeds, making the nation better than it was under that evil sicko Clinton.

If anyone can spin Bush's record to the general public, it's the guy who convinced Colin Powell that an abandoned Iraqi trailer park was an active nuclear weapons facility.

3) FINANCE

With his Bush family connections, Ahmed can probably turn his Jordanian conviction to his advantage.

After all, Dubya had problems with Harken, Arbusto and the Texas Rangers. Jeb caused the Florida S & L collapse. Neil had the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle. And Poppy Bush topped them all with the BCCI scandal.

If anything, Chalabi's work is downright quaint compared to his patrons.

Given that, perhaps Chalabi could put his white collar criminal past to good use and gain a position of power like the Bushes... perhaps replacing Dick Grasso at the NYSE?

4) CARTOONS

Ahmed Chalabi left Iraq at age 12, studied at Chicago University and MIT --- but he still has that funky, broken-English accent!

How's that, you ask? Unbeknownst to many, Chalabi is a skilled voice actor.

In fact, a Freedom of Information Act request discovered that Chalabi's vocal talents have been heard on The Simpsons (he's Dr. Nick), Batman (he's Alfred the butler) and Kim Possible (he's Kim.)

He's even overdubbed quite a few Asian films, including a new release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (he was the ugly ronin) and Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (he was the old scientist.)

With this impressive resume already on his record, is there any question that he won't take advantage of what he once called "an amusing hobby" and turn it into a lucrative career?

The producers of Toy Story 3 are already sending offers, I'm told.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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