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Leading With The Left
June 25, 2004 PERMALINK
Two weeks ago LiberalOasis said John Ashcroft's refusal to turn over torture memos to Congress, while avoiding a formal invocation of executive privilege, was:
...a sign that they eventually expect to [invoke executive privilege], but have a strategy of dragging this out as slowly as possible, in hopes that things won't reach critical mass before Election Day.
Not so, as this week showed.
Now it appears Ashcroft was stalling for time, while the Bushies sifted through their torture memos as they prepared for a (selective) document dump.
That way, they could release some of the damning memos that congressional Dems were pushing for, but do it in conjunction with other memos, to give an appearance of healthy internal debate.
Did the damage control maneuver work?
Not really (but points for effort).
Wednesday's headlines were mostly favorable, but not excessively so nor uniformly so.
For example, USA Today flatly rejected the spin with the headline "Rumsfeld Ok'd Harsh Treatment" and included this charming tidbit:
Rumsfeld also approved placing detainees in "stress positions," such as standing for up to 4 hours, though he apparently found this approach unimpressive.
Rumsfeld, who works at a stand-up desk, scrawled on the memo, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours? D.R."
And the NY Times headline, while favorable at first blush, seemed intended to induce ironic laughter: "White House Says Prisoner Policy Set Humane Tone".
With the first day of coverage not powerful enough to alter the fundamental dynamic of the scandal, the second day had a significant amount of pushback.
NPR flagged what was missing in the doc dump:
Absent are any memos to and from the FBI and CIA and any documents dated after April 2003.
No documents address the State Department's concern over the Bush administration's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions.
The W. Post got a few of those missing docs, and they show how pissed the State Dept. was at what Defense and Justice were doing.
Not to mention how disturbed some lower-level military personnel were:
Major dissent about the administration's interrogation practices next arose in late 2002 and early 2003, when military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay complained to superior officers that techniques they were asked to use were abusive.
That provoked an extended Defense Department review, during which military lawyers for each of the services forcefully expressed their concerns, officials said.
"We had raised them verbally. We've raised them at the action officer level.
["]Ultimately, some memos were, in fact, signed laying out some considerations that we believe were very important in the process," said a senior military lawyer who briefed reporters last month with the Pentagon's approval.
The lawyer chose his words carefully: "By the time the final draft...[on interrogation methods] was completed, those considerations had all been carefully evaluated."
He said the military lawyers were comfortable with the outcome "from a legal standpoint," but did not mention the policy concerns the memos had raised.
Finally, the Dems in Congress haven't been mollified at all by the dump, and are pushing for more disclosures.
One could argue that the Bushies are making the best of a bad situation.
But it's still a very bad situation.
W. Post Reporter Talks to Someone, Learns Something
The nation's economy is growing smartly, wages have begun to rise, and employers have added more than 1.4 million jobs to their payrolls in the past nine months.
Yet voters continue to give President Bush poor ratings on his handling of the economy [which] may sound baffling...
Some economists also point to stagnant wages and eroding job quality as dark clouds looming over the economic recovery.
For more about the media's coverage of the economy, check out this column from LO Exec. Ed. Bill Scher, published by the Center For American Progress as part of Eric Alterman's weekly "Think Again" feature.
June 24, 2004 PERMALINK
The Administration's proposal -- allowing some aid from other nations to North Korea in exchange for the dismantling of its nuke program -- looks good on the surface.
And that's probably the point.
Much like how he went through the motions with the UN before launching a war unilaterally, Bush wants to be able to say he tried diplomacy in North Korea as well.
But wanting it to work? Not really.
Granted, discerning Adminstration motives from press accounts is tricky because of the deep split between the neocons at Defense, who want to stare down Kim Jong Il until his government collapses, and the realists at State, who say stopping the nukes is paramount.
The NY Times says "For now, [the State] camp has won the day."
But that's what people said when Bush went to the UN before. And still, State has never truly won anything.
(Don't say "Chalabi", he hasn't gone anywhere.)
Like the ones telling the NYT that proposed "security guarantees" don't stop Bush from pursuing "regime change," comments that damage good-faith negotiation.
Furthermore, North Korea's neighbors China and Russia don't seem impressed with the Bush proposal, according to the W. Post.
Reuters also reports that expectations are low for an actual deal to be reached.
That's a win-win situation for Bush.
He can score domestic political points for showing uncharacteristic flexibility, while actually keeping the neocon "regime change" strategy in place.
That is not to say Bush wouldn't take a North Korean concession, if it fell in their lap.
Since the neocons don't think much of the "security guarantees," an unexpected agreement would work just as well.
They just don't want to work very hard to get it.
LiberalOasis discussed this scenario back in April '03:
The question that Bush is probably facing is:
Do we provoke a confrontation now, or do we kick the can down the road, beyond '04, because the prospect of a third war in three years is just a little too crazy, even for us?
They may be hoping to get regime change without war, giving economic destabilization a chance to destroy Kim's rule.
If that's the plan, Bush may be giving Powell some string to play with, allowing him to work towards an agreement -- maybe even forge one -- as a way to buy time.
And here we are.
While this move makes things a little harder for Kerry, as it will allow Bush to blame North Korea for being recalcitrant, Kerry will not have to change his rhetoric much (barring a real breakthrough).
Earlier this month he said in a speech:
Since that dark day in September have we done everything we could to secure these dangerous weapons and bomb making materials?
Have we taken every step we should to stop North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs?
Have we reached out to our allies and forged an urgent global effort to ensure that nuclear weapons and materials are secured?
The honest answer, in each of these areas, is that we have done too little, often too late, and even cut back our efforts or turned away from the single greatest threat we face in the world today, a terrorist armed with nuclear weapons.
However Bush's efforts are perceived, every day passed is another day the North Koreans are advancing their nuke program, making us less safe.
Today's developments haven't changed that.
June 23, 2004 PERMALINK
The finger of David Brooks is not magically calibrated to find the pulse of America.
WAYS JOHN KERRY CAN STILL BLOW THE ELECTION...
1. Failure to read and understand David Brooks' if-you-read-only-one-article-today- let-it-be-this-must-read op-ed piece...about the Kerry and Democratic failure to understand the importance of faith in public life.
What is this amazing Brooksian insight that ABC believes the political elites absolutely must accept:
[Bill] Clinton seems to understand, as many Democrats do not, that a politician's faith isn't just about litmus test issues like abortion or gay marriage.
Many people just want to know that their leader, like them, is in the fellowship of believers...He does have to be engaged, as they are, in a personal voyage toward God...
...John Kerry doesn't seem to get this. Many of the people running the Democratic Party don't get it either.
Brooks thinks the Kerry team should be in a panic because not enough people perceive Kerry as deeply religious:
...A recent Time magazine survey revealed that only 7 percent of Americans feel that Kerry is a man of strong religious faith.
That's a catastrophic number.
That number should be the first thing Kerry strategists think about when they wake up in the morning and it should be the last thing on their lips when they go to sleep at night.
That same Time poll had Bush's disapproval (49%) higher than his approval (47%), and Kerry (48%) in a statistical dead heat with Bush (49%), even though vastly more people (actually, just "likely voters") say Bush has "strong religious faith" (54%).
The fact is, the religion gap in America is not a clear-cut black-white, Red-Blue situation. It's fuzzier than that.
For example, while Time found a majority (56%) agrees that "We are a religious nation, and religious values should serve as a guide to what our political leaders do in office," less than half (48%) say "the President should allow his personal religious faith to guide him in making decisions as President".
In that discrepancy -- the 8% that agreed with the former statement but not the latter -- probably lies the religious swing vote.
In fact, based on Election 2000 exit poll data, the swing is probably a little bigger than that.
Much of the media (not all) have pounded the notion that the majority of the nation is intensely devout, and those who are more secular are an elitist, out-of-touch minority.
But the 2000 electorate was evenly split between those who attend service weekly or more than weekly (42%) and those who attend seldom or never (42%).
About 60% of regular attendees went for Bush (not 100% mind you). The seldom/nevers were in the mid-to-high 50s for Gore.
How did Gore win the popular vote?
By edging out Bush (51%-46%) in the religious swing: the 14% of the electorate that attend services "monthly".
(The Time poll had 47% attending services weekly or more, 5 points more than in the 2000 vote, so it looks like the poll was slightly skewed toward Bush, minimizing the swing in the process.)
It will surely be easier for Kerry to win over a few more from the religious swing than the "weekly or more" crowd.
But how exactly? By obsessing about religion as Brooks recommends?
To get an idea of the swing's thinking, the LA Times recently talked to some "monthlies" in the battleground suburb of Edina, Minnesota:
Dan and Dayna Deutsch feel...conflicted. They backed Bush in 2000 because he promised to restore integrity to the presidency after the Clinton scandal.
Christians who worship about twice a month, they had felt Bush was fulfilling that vow, but now Iraq has raised questions about his judgment.
"He started to bring integrity to the White House and we were all really hungry for that, but the jury is still out," said Dayna Deutsch...
..."I voted for him and I respect him, but Iraq has taken a terribly bad turn. And that has colored whatever measure of integrity he has brought."
Julie Murphy, 45, and Mary Teschendorf, 46, both mothers of three who attend church about twice a month, reflect a different sort of conflict.
Murphy voted for Bush in 2000. Her friend did not.
But they share the premise of many religious conservatives ¸ and Bush ¸ that many of America's problems today are rooted in the erosion of moral values...
...But both women express suspicion about Bush's use of religious themes and say that the president showed moral failings equivalent to Clinton's...when he led the nation into war on what they now think were false premises.
What we see here is a bit of a mix (it is the swing after all).
All are into a vague sense of values. All want better foreign policy.
But some seem to respond better than others to Bush's religious rhetoric.
Brooks is right insofar as Dems shouldn't run away from religion (it is only 14% that never go to services).
But it doesn't follow that heavy-handed religious talk a la Bush is needed, or even appreciated by the majority.
In any event, despite the impression Brooks leaves, Kerry isn't ignoring religion.
He regularly weaves in references to God in his remarks, even (especially?) when he talks about abortion.
And he has been publicly taking communion despite pressure from right-wing bishops.
There will be the inevitable comments from Bush supporters arguing that Kerry isn't a good Catholic, because his positions aren't fully in line with his church's.
But there's no evidence that a majority of the "monthlies" will care about that.
In fact, they may well view Kerry's taking of communion as evidence of his commitment to his faith in the face of political pressure.
(Don't forget, there's a huge majority of voters who don't like religious leaders pressuring politicians.)
So there's really no major changes on the religion front that Kerry needs to make.
If Kerry keeps doing what he's doing, as people get to know more about him they will know his faith, but won't be smothered by it.
Besides, though Brooks may believe more obsession about religion is required, the swing seems to think Iraq is ultimately more important.
More thoughts on the religion gap from Donkey Rising.
One more point to tack on to that post:
It's very unlikely Bush would ever agree to such a debate. It's uncontrollable, unpredictable and would give publicity to right-wing candidates that could pick off votes from him.
While you never propose something you aren't willing to agree to yourself, the likely outcome would just be Kerry getting points for suggesting it, as well as giving a publicity boost to the Libertarian and Constitution Party candidates.
June 22, 2004 PERMALINK
According to the Harris poll, about 6 of every 10 adults considers themselves a Republican or Democrat.
In turn, a very significant 4 of every 10 considers themselves "independent" or with "some other party".
Here's a easy way for John Kerry to make a play for them, while mitigating the Nader factor and taking a bite out of Dubya's right flank.
And do the right thing at the same time.
Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates reiterated its criteria for inclusion.
Once again, it includes the prohibitive and arbitrary "15% Rule" -- 15% support in an average of 5 unspecified polls.
As any hard-core third-party member can tell you (as well as the new Citizens Debate Commission), the Commission does that for a reason.
Run by former Dem and GOP chairs, the Commission has an interest in keeping the third-party riff-raff out: they tend to bring up issues that the major parties would rather ignore.
But it is fundamentally unfair to shut out candidates who get on the ballot in most states (no small feat mind you).
They have the same right to run for President, and voters should have the same opportunity to hear them out.
And everyone knows most third-party candidates (except the wealthy ones) will never get the media attention to reach 15%, unless they get a chance to show their stuff in the debates.
The classic example is Jesse Ventura, who was at 10% in the polls before the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial debates, and 21% after, eventually winning with 37%.
What if John Kerry took a stand?
What if John Kerry said at least one of the debates should include everyone who is on the ballot in a minimum of, say, 40 states, after which they could revert to Commission rules?
Here's what that could do.
By legitimizing third parties, it could win Kerry some appreciation from a chunk of the 40% the country who do not consider themselves with the major parties.
By displaying a willingness to debate all comers, it would showcase Kerry's self-confidence, and burnish his rep as a thoughtful politician who encourages a free exchange of ideas.
And by proposing a debate that potentially included not just Nader, but the nominees of the anti-government Libertarian Party (Michael Badnarik), the Christian-right Constitution Party (most likely, Michael Peroutka), and possibly the Green Party's David Cobb (if he can fend Nader off this Sat.).
That would put a spotlight on the other, more conservative, third-party contenders, who deserve it as much as Nader does.
(If not more -- the Libertarian and Constitution parties have better ballot access than the independent Nader.)
The additional attention could even out the spoiler effect.
If Kerry keeps talking up Badnarik, Peroutka (and perhaps Cobb), the media may follow suit, and pollsters may begin including them in surveys -- giving a more realistic picture of what voters will see on Election Day.
That would alter the media narrative that is currently focused on the Kerry-Nader dynamic, a distraction which impedes Kerry's ability to get his message out.
It's a no-cost, no-risk move. And the right thing to do too.
June 21, 2004 PERMALINK
The 9/11 Commission simply can't get its story straight.
Six commission members fanned out on three of the Sunday shows.
And the disagreements were so stark as to be embarrassing.
For example, there was no consistent explanation of this key finding:
There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred...but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.
That sentence did not specify collaboration in regards solely to the 9/11 attacks, and so, clearly means collaboration in general.
On ABC's This Week, Dem Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton tried to recalibrate that sentence to only apply to 9/11:
There was no collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein with regard to the 9/11 attacks. Our whole report...is on 9/11.
(Host George Stephanopoulos noted the qualification as a change from the initial report.)
Hamilton's move was an attempt to cozy up to the Bushies in order to minimize political attacks on the Commission; it would remove a point of conflict, since even the Administration says (nowadays) there was no evidence of 9/11 cooperation.
(GOP Chairman Tom Kean and Hamiltion, appearing together on This Week, seemed to coordinate so the Dem Hamilton would say the most pro-Administration sound bites, to give the sucking-up a bipartisan flavor.)
However, on NBC's Meet The Press, Dem member Richard Ben-Veniste made clear the original language was not intended to be so narrowly tailored:
There are two distinct issues.
One, first of all, 9/11. Take it to the bank, there was no Iraqi involvement in 9/11...
...Were there contacts over time between Iraq and al-Qaeda? Yes, there were efforts made to communicate.
[But] we found no evidence of collaboration in any effort to mount any kind of operation against the United States' interests.
And on CNN's Late Edition, Both Dem Tim Roemer and GOPer James Thompson concurred with Ben-Veniste:
ROEMER: It's important to be very precise with the language.
One, our report concludes that there is no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States, in the general terminology here, attacks. [Emphasis added]
Two, we saw no specific evidence of cooperation on 9/11...
THOMPSON: ...I will agree with Tim Roemer.
Look, both the White House, Bush, and Cheney, and the commission have said no evidence that al Qaeda and Hussein got together to attack the United States.
We have no evidence, and we said so, that there was cooperation between them.
Do note that even though Hamilton sought to give the Bushies cover, he also stripped away the substantive basis of the Bush-Cheney claim of cooperation.
First he said:
The vice president, I believe, said that there was a response by Iraq to some of Osama Bin Laden's requests. We found no evidence of that response.
Then, after Stephanopoulos aired Dubya's 2/8/03 radio address which said:
Iraq has also provided Al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.
And an al Qaeda operative was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases.
Hamilton was asked if "the Commission [can] corroborate that charge?" He responded:
No we cannot.
I know there was a request by Osama Bin Laden for training. I'm not sure about the poisonous gases.
And our information, at this point in time, is that Iraq did not respond.
So there may be a difference at that point.
"May be a difference"?! Try, we just debunked the entire Bush argument for any sort of collaboration.
(Of course, openly saying so would have undercut the Kean-Hamilton suck-up strategy.)
However, at MTP, GOP member John Lehman tried to muddy the waters, make news, and shore up his partisan hack cred, by throwing out an unsubstantiated allegation about an officer named Ahmed Hikmat Shakir:
There's new intelligence, and this has come since our staff report has been written because, as you know, new intelligence is coming in steadily from the interrogations in Guantanamo and in Iraq and from captured documents.
[A nice hack touch, to subtly hat tip our abusive interrogators.]
And some of these documents indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda.
That still has to be confirmed. But the vice president was right when he said that he may have things that we don't yet have.
Ben-Veniste strongly cautioned against accepting that story at face value:
With respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about...we don't know whether that's the same individual as an individual who had some contact with al-Qaeda operatives.
And at CNN, GOPer Thompson admonished Lehman for leaking:
I don't think it's appropriate for us to talk about things that have come before the commission that haven't been publicly released yet or that we haven't had a chance to fully investigate or question.
(Furthermore, UPI reported: "'Shakir is a pretty common name,' said terrorism analyst and author Peter Bergen, 'and even if the two names refer to the same person, there might be a number of other explanations. Perhaps al-Qaida had penetrated Saddam's security apparatus.'")
Another area where Commission members couldn't agree was how to characterize this finding about the alleged Prague meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi agent:
We have examined the allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 9.
Based on the evidence available¸including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting¸we do not believe that such a meeting occurred.
Ben-Veniste reiterated what was in the report:
...our staff statement has again refuted the notion that there was any Czech meeting.
Indeed, the individual is now in custody, Mr. Ani, who Mohammed Atta supposedly met with in Czechoslovakia while we have pretty unshakeable evidence that Atta was in Florida.
So with the principle that someone can't be in two places at the same time...we have come to the conclusion that the so-called Czech meeting never happened.
So we've taken a position with respect to that.
And on CNN, Roemer made similar comments:
...we looked at this issue as closely as we could in minute detail.
And while maybe, in our staff statement, we didn't refute that it could never have happened.
We did say based upon cell phone evidence, and that Atta was on the East Coast... that it was not likely at all that he could have been in that meeting.
But on MTP, right after Ben-Veniste's remarks, GOP member John Lehman stayed in partisan hack mode:
...Richard said, we have concluded on the Prague meeting.
We haven't concluded anything on the Prague meeting.
And our staff has concluded. I've looked at the same evidence, and I don't reach any conclusion.
Now, Lehman seems to making a distinction between what the staff says, and what the Commission board members say.
On This Week, Chairman Tom Kean also tried to put distance between staff and members:
This is a staff report.
And we will be spelling out in our report, when it comes out, a lot more about the relationship between, any relationship that existed, between Iraq and Al Qaeda...
...These staff reports are interim documents. The commission, for instance, does not get involved -- the members -- in the staff reports.
Granted, that sort of staff-board separation and dynamic is typical.
However, Ben-Veniste said earlier last week that's not how this process was working:
Let me say that this is a bipartisan commission. The facts that were developed by our staff and overseen by the members of the commission simply are what they are. [Emphasis added]
Kean's distancing is troubling.
It indicates that the Chair wants to leave the door open for more politicization -- be it excising, inserting or massaging language -- in the final stages of the process.
And as you can see, there's plenty of politics already being played.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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