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October 29, 2004 PERMALINK
Bush's Lost Week
(posted Oct. 29 1 AM ET)

Assuming that Kerry wins, pundits will likely look to this week and the missing explosives as the external event that broke the deadlock.

Now, the Bushies certainly made their lives worse by thinking they could bully the media one last time, choosing to attack the NY Times story instead of sticking with their game plan.

And so, they turned a one or two-day story into a one-week disaster.

That ensured that the final days would highlight not only the bad news out of Iraq but also Bush's chronic blame-shifting.

Still, to say Kerry could not have won with this week would oversimplify and overstate.

The fundamentals of this race always pointed to a Dem victory.

For example, in the Zogby poll, the percentage of people who said Bush "deserves to be reelected" has been below 50% in every single sample this year.

Why? The economy's been weak. The occupation's been messy.

This last bit of news only has reinforced existing concerns about the war's management and prospects. It didn't create them.

In that sense, the missing explosives story us not a "late hit" out of left field, as the Right will whine about for years, but just one more piece of wood on an already burning fire.

The story culminated last night with the ABC World News Tonight running an affiliate's video of the explosives at Al Qaqaa filmed on April 18, 2003, after the war began.

As well as the damning CNN Newsnight interview with former chief weapons inspector David Kay.

Perhaps the most telling and most pathetic aspect of Bush's mishandling of the story was reveled by CNN's Pentagon reporter at the top of the broadcast:

The Pentagon worked all day today to declassify a photograph they thought would help its argument that perhaps those missing explosives were gone before the US ever got there.

Only to have it trumped at the end of the day by video from a Minneapolis television station that seems to show just the opposite.

How the Bushies and their minions handle this today will be amusing. How it's been handled so far certainly is.

At around 6:45 PM yesterday, after the ABC affiliate video made news, Fox News' Mort Kondracke and Charles Krauthammer both said the original NY Times story was getting "weaker and weaker" and Kerry was hurting himself by pushing it.

According to ABC's website, the Pentagon's spokesman Larry Di Rita could only try to muddy the story, saying the images were not clear.

But with David Kay saying otherwise, that game is over.

And the National Review went into hyper-detailed debunking mode, except that its arguments are either two steps behind, or simply irrelevant.

For example, the National Review argues that maybe there's something else in the barrels on the videotape that isn't the highly dangerous HMX or RDX explosives.

But Kay said there was "absolutely nothing" else it could be.

The National Review also argues that Thursday's ABC report doesn't explain away Wednesday's ABC report on an IAEA memo that "suggested that significant amounts were gone before the invasion began."

But the IAEA said on Thursday that ABC misinterpreted the document.

In fact, that completely exposed Dick Cheney, who had been waving the Wed. report around, as one who "grasps at headlines" before checking the facts -- he was forced to change his rhetoric before the day was out.

All of the above shows the kind of ridiculous arguments the Bushies are left with. It isn't pretty.

The flailing about would be more fun to watch, if there weren't still tons of dangerous explosives to worry about.

October 28, 2004 PERMALINK
Wild Claims From The Ethically Challenged
(posted Oct. 28 1:30 AM ET)

The missing explosives story is headed into its fourth day today.

Thanks to Bush finally commenting on it yesterday, charging Kerry with "wild claims," and his sympathizers pushing a wild claim that the Russians moved them to Syria before the war started.

While the Bushies are having some marginal success in injecting uncertainty into the basic story, their reward for doing so is keeping the story alive.

In turn, the nation gets to watch Bush's allergy to responsibility for the umpteenth time in the final days of the campaign.

This was not in Karl Rove's script.

Now, perhaps the proper response to the new Russia/Syria angle is the bemused dismissiveness shown by Talking Points Memo and Atrios.

But in case anyone does plan to take it seriously, allow LiberalOasis to question the credibility of the sole source of the theory, Defense Deputy Undersecretary John A. Shaw.

Shaw was reported to be involved in a scheme to illegally steer Iraq reconstruction contracts to his pals.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on July 7, 2004:

[Shaw] conducted unauthorized investigations of Iraq reconstruction efforts and used the results to push for lucrative contracts for friends and their business clients...

...[He] represented himself as an agent of the Pentagon's inspector general in conducting the investigations this year...

In one case, Shaw disguised himself as an employee of Halliburton Co. and gained access to a port in southern Iraq after he was denied entry by the U.S. military...

...In that investigation, Shaw found problems with operations at the port of Umm al Qasr...

...In another, he criticized a competition sponsored by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority to award cell phone licenses in Iraq.

In both cases, Shaw urged government officials to fix the alleged problems by directing multimillion-dollar contracts to companies linked to his friends, without competitive bidding...

Mother Jones also did a detailed investigation of Shaw in its Sept/Oct 2004 issue:

With the guidance of a deputy undersecretary of Defense, John Shaw, this effort became one of the most brazen lobbying campaigns of the postwar reconstruction, one that has brought Shaw under investigation for potentially breaking federal ethics rules.

According to documents provided to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), the companies’ supporters in Washington, D.C., attempted to sneak a new cellular license into an unrelated contract for Iraqi police and fire communications, tried to oust the CPA officials who resisted their efforts, and ultimately caused the delay of plans for a badly needed Iraqi 911 emergency system...

...Because of the delay in establishing the new emergency-response system, said a former CPA technical adviser, “people have died.”

An earlier LAT report on the Shaw scandal is here.

Also of interest, not only has Shaw been a source of W. Times' Bill Gertz for some time (Gertz wrote today's Russia story), but Gertz has penned two separate items titled "Shaw Vindicated," trying to debunk the LAT reports.

On July 2, Gertz claimed the LAT got it wrong when it said Shaw was under FBI investigation.

But that is contradicted by a July 27 letter from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), who chairs the Govt Reform Cmte.

Waxman was complaining that Davis was happy to investigate the Sandy Berger matter (docs in his socks!) but not matters involving GOPers:

...your staff rejected my request that we write a joint letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about the allegations that a political appointee, John A. Shaw, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for International Technology Security, steered Iraq contracts to friends and business associates.

Your staff informed the minority that "the Chairman thinks that since the matter is currently the subject of an FBI investigation that, at least for now, we will not join on your request."

Gertz's second "Shaw Vindicated" item relayed an Aug. 10 Defense Dept. statement, which simply said the department's Inspector General initially looked into the Shaw case and eventually referred it to the FBI.

How is that vindication? And how does that square with Gertz's first "Vindicated" item? That's Moonie reporting for you.

Clearly, Gertz had an interest in covering for his source, to the point of writing misleading articles.

So today's Russian story comes from an ethically challenged source, written by a compromised reporter, printed in a discredited paper.

QUICK HIT

More Cracks in the GOP Armor

On Monday, LO noted a W. Post story where a Bush official acknowledged that their internal polling had Bush in a weak position, and that the campaign was "apprehensive."

Yesterday, NBC Nightly News' David Gregory, who regularly covers the Bush campaign, reported:

In a surprise, campaign officials say the president is losing support in Ohio among white men, the foundation of Mr. Bush's base.

Aides acknowledge that Kerry's made-for-TV hunting trip in the state last week, may have had an impact.

October 27, 2004 PERMALINK
Grasping For Reality
(posted Oct. 27 1:30 AM ET)

You may not have noticed, but for about a week, the Bushies respond to almost every charge from Kerry by saying he is "grasping at headlines".

It appears to have begun on Monday the 18th, in response to Kerry's citing of an uncovered memo from Lt. Gen. Sanchez pleading for more supplies, at a time when Bush was insisting they were well-equipped.

On the 19th, two stories assessing Kerry's charges on a range of matters -- from flu shots to Social Security to the draft -- included "grasping at headlines" rebuttals.

On the 21st, the "grasping at headlines" charge was stuffed into Sen. Bill Frist's mouth as he attacked Kerry on stem cell research following the Dana Reeve endorsement.

(Apparently the "headline" was Christopher Reeve's death.)

And on Monday, it was campaign manager Ken Mehlman's response to the missing Iraq explosives scandal.

Magically, that talking point found its way to Fox News' Fred Barnes, on Monday's Special Report with Brit Hume:

I think the [explosives] story showed -- I don't blame Kerry for grabbing onto it, of course he should. But it shows that he is behind.

If you're ahead, you have your own campaign plan, and you're going ahead with that.

He's been desperate almost every day to grab some story off the page of some newspaper.

The problem with that logic, and in turn, the entire "grasping" message is that 1) Kerry isn't behind, and 2) all the headlines in question fit snugly into Kerry's plan, no grasping necessary.

People can interpret the polls however they like, but there simply is no poll with Bush leading outside the margin of error, something which one Bush official admitted scares the hell out of them.

And Kerry merely uses headlines to show that his rhetoric about Bush's incompetence and stubborness is confirmed by reality. There's nothing scattershot about it.

Perhaps most importantly, by dismissing the "headlines," the Bushies appear willfully blind to reality, and therefore, help make Kerry's point.

Of course, thanks to Ron Suskind, we know the Bushies believe that "we're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

So it's a titanic struggle between Bush's manufactured reality -- where Kerry's scrambling at 10 points down and Iraq is a "remarkable success" -- and real reality, where Kerry has the edge and Bush's policies are crumbling around him for all to see.

Real reality is looking pretty good now.

October 26, 2004 PERMALINK
Panic Attack
(posted Oct. 26 2:30 AM ET)

The Drudge Report went into hysterics last night, as it joined in the furious pushback led by the White House over the NY Times report about the 377 tons of missing Iraqi explosives:

In an election week rush:

**ABCNEWS Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 4 Times
**CBSNEWS Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 7 Times
**MSNBC Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 37 Times
**CNN Mentioned The Iraq Explosives Depot At Least 50 Times

But tonight, NBCNEWS reported: The 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives were already missing back in April 10, 2003 -- when U.S. troops arrived at the installation south of Baghdad!

But is that what NBC Nightly News reported last night? Did NBC challenge the Times' reporting?

Not in the least.

LiberalOasis will include the entire NBC transcript at the end of this post, but here's the key parts.

Tom Brokaw set up the piece by saying:

A major story out of Iraq first reported in today's New York Times about the disappearance of almost 400 tons of deadly explosive material, part of Saddam Hussein's old weapons program.

Where did it go? And how could this happen?

Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski then reported:

April 10, 2003, only three weeks into the war, NBC News was embedded with troops from the Army's 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al Qaqaa weapons installation south of Baghdad.

But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing.

The U.S. troops did find large stockpiles of more conventional weapons, but no HMX or RDX, so powerful less than a pound brought down Pan Am 103 in 1988, and can be used to trigger a nuclear weapon.

But was Miklaszewski arguing the Times got it wrong? No. He continued:

In a letter this month, the Iraqi interim government told the International Atomic Energy Agency the high explosives were lost to theft and looting due to lack of security.

Critics claim there were simply not enough U.S. troops to guard hundreds of weapons stockpiles, weapons now being used by insurgents and terrorists to wage a guerrilla war in Iraq.

All that compliments what was in the NY Times' original report:

A European diplomat reported that Jacques Baute, head of the arms agency's Iraq nuclear inspection team, warned officials at the United States mission in Vienna about the danger of the nuclear sites and materials once under I.A.E.A. supervision, including Al Qaqaa.

But apparently, little was done.

A senior Bush administration official said that during the initial race to Baghdad, American forces "went through the bunkers, but saw no materials bearing the I.A.E.A. seal." It is unclear whether troops ever returned.

By late 2003, diplomats said, arms agency experts had obtained commercial satellite photos of Al Qaqaa showing that two of roughly 10 bunkers that contained HMX appeared to have been leveled by titanic blasts, apparently during the war.

They presumed some of the HMX had exploded, but that is unclear.

Other HMX bunkers were untouched. Some were damaged but not devastated.

I.A.E.A. experts say they assume that just before the invasion the Iraqis followed their standard practice of moving crucial explosives out of buildings, so they would not be tempting targets.

If so, the experts say, the Iraqi must have broken seals from the arms agency on bunker doors and moved most of the HMX to nearby fields, where it would have been lightly camouflaged - and ripe for looting.

Basically, the NY Times report contends American forces did not do a thorough job examining Al Qaqaa, not that they never went.

And NBC did not say anything about how thorough a job the 101st Airborne did when they "temporarily" took over the site, nor did NBC say the explosives were gone before the troops arrived.

Drudge is not alone in challenging the NY Times story.

Fox News's Brit Hume and his panel of "All Stars" mocked the NYT for "overplaying" the story, and Fred Barnes even charged that the paper has "chosen sides".

(Has he met Jodi Wilogren and Adam Nagourney?)

And even top Bush aides Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman are attacking the paper directly.

Though Drudge appears to be alone in attacking the rest of the TV media.

Is this aggressive anti-media pushback smart strategy?

No. Just the opposite.

There are seven days left, and every day's media cycle is precious.

You would think the Bushies and their allies would want to limit the run of this story, just give a basic talking point and try to change the subject.

Instead, they panicked -- lashing out and keeping the story in the headlines.

It might be a different situation if they really had the goods to debunk the story and turn the tables.

But the attacks are pathetic and don't undercut anything.

(Fox News, following the WH lead, cluelessly went on and on about how many munitions weren't looted, as if the fact that terrorists and insurgents have just 377 tons of powerful explosives is somehow reassuring.)

And if you can't debunk the story, attacking the media is more likely to provoke then to cow.

Perhaps the media would be cowed if they were as scared of the Bushies as they have been the last three years.

But with the polls where they are, they don't put much fear into anybody.

Below is the entire NBC Nightly News transcript of the Al Qaqaa explosives story:

BROKAW: Missing. Hundreds of tons of powerfully deadly explosives disappear in Iraq. How did they vanish? Where are they now? How could this happen?

...

BROKAW: A major story out of Iraq first reported in today's New York Times about the disappearance of almost 400 tons of deadly explosive material, part of Saddam Hussein's old weapons program.

Where did it go? And how could this happen?

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski from the Pentagon.

MIKLASZEWSKI: April 10, 2003, only three weeks into the war, NBC News was embedded with troops from the Army's 101st Airborne as they temporarily take over the Al Qaqaa weapons installation south of Baghdad.

But these troops never found the nearly 380 tons of some of the most powerful conventional explosives, called HMX and RDX, which is now missing.

The U.S. troops did find large stockpiles of more conventional weapons.

But no HMX or RDX, so powerful less than a pound brought down Pan Am 103 in 1988, and can be used to trigger a nuclear weapon.

In a letter this month, the Iraqi interim government told the International Atomic Energy Agency the high explosives were lost to theft and looting due to lack of security.

Critics claim there were simply not enough U.S. troops to guard hundreds of weapons stockpiles, weapons now being used by insurgents and terrorists to wage a guerrilla war in Iraq.

DAVID KAY (Fmr UN Chief Weapons Inspector): The insurgency has been fueled by Iraqi explosives that were there and left unguarded at the end of the war, and that the insurgents took away.

MIKLASZEWSKI: And since the two high explosives are considered relatively stable, easy to transport and powerful, they're the perfect terrorist weapon.

MICHAEL O'HANLON (Military Analyst): High explosives are the name of the game in the current terrorism threat.

That's what's killing people. That's what we're unable to restrain.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But Pentagon officials claim there's no evidence the HMX or RDX have been used in attacks in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the explosives are still missing, and President Bush today ordered a full investigation.

But one US official tells NBC News that recent disagreements between the Administration and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency makes the agency's release of this explosive information, one week before the elections, appear highly political.

(NOTE: A minor transcription error on Kay's comment was fixed on 10/26 at 11:30 AM ET)

October 25, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Oct. 25 2 AM ET)

That sound you hear coming from the Beltway is the smacking of thousands of Republican foreheads in dumbfounded despair.

Going into the homestretch, the Bushies spent their weekend hammering that Kerry's weak on terror, clearly hoping that will spook undecideds enough to defy history and break towards the incumbent.

On CBS' Face The Nation, Liz "I Loves The Fellas" Cheney said Kerry is " not even sure we're at war."

On NBC's Meet The Press, RNC Chair Ed "I Loves The Enron" Gillespie said "anyone who has a foreign policy of national security advisor who says the war on terror is a metaphor, much like the war on poverty [is not] equipped to be president of the United States."

On ABC's This Week, Bush campaign manager Ken "I Loves The Polls So My Boss Can Claim He Doesn't" Mehlman said, "I fundamentally think the American people, when our nation is at war, are not going to elect someone who will weaken our nation."

But all that message discipline is for naught.

Because during a Sat. interview with Sean Hannity, to be broadcast tonight, Bush went off-message on terror:

HANNITY: Is that always going to be the case? Is that something we are always going to have to live with?

BUSH: Yes because we have to be right 100 percent of the time in disrupting any plot and they have to be right once.

We’re better. Much better. As a matter of fact the 9/11 Commission reports that America is safer under the course of action we’ve taken but not yet safe.

Whether or not we can be ever fully safe is up -- you know, is up in the air.

Not exactly the epitome of "resolute."

There's already been decent media pickup, and Kerry himself addressed it during a Katie Couric interview.

The Kerry folks also took the opportunity to push the story further, reminding the media in a news release that Bush has said twice that the "war on terror" is "misnamed," and instead should be called a "struggle" against an ideology or point of view.

(Hey Liz, who is it again that is "not even sure we're at war"?)

As you surely know, this is not the first time Bush has been equivocal (or as Thatcherites like to say, "wobbly") on the subject of how successful we can realistically be in the war on terror.

Bush managed to limit the damage from when he said, "I don't think you can win it," with a straight-faced flip-flop 24 hours later.

Following that, they were shameless enough to distort Kerry's comment that we need to reduce terrorism to the level of a "nuisance."

There were isolated cases of the media bringing up the "don't think you can win it" comment in response, but not enough to prevent the Bushies from making "nuisance" a mainstay talking point.

Now, with Bush's "up in the air" remark, it's a different story.

Now, it's simple to bring up the "don't think you can win it" comment again, and show that a pattern is forming.

And that makes it harder for Bushies to argue he was simply misspeaking as they did during the last round of damage control.

It will also be harder for them to continue with their litany of selective Kerry quotes on terror without suffering neutralizing pushback.

The GOP was already in poor spirits going into the weekend, as the W. Post reported yesterday:

One [GOP] official described the mood at the top of the campaign as apprehensive...[and] said polling for Bush showed him in a weaker position than some published polls have indicated, both nationally and in battlegrounds.

Amazingly, only one Sunday show, This Week, asked a Bush official about the story (Mehlman shrugged it off as coming from "unnamed sources").

But even if it didn't dominate discussion yesterday, even if it isn't sparking a series of "Bush Campaign Reeling" stories (that would surely happen if a Kerry guy said something similar) it is no less true that Bushie confidence levels are low.

And committing a gaffe, involving the lone issue you have positive approval on, about a week before Election Day -- that's bound to drive morale lower.

They were already nervous. And now, their main attack line, their crutch, their homestretch strategy, has been complicated.

That's why that collective forehead smack was so loud.

QUICK HIT

Strong in the Battleground

On This Week, a graphic of recent polls was shown, with national numbers and battleground numbers.

National
Marist: Bush +1
Pew: Even
ABC: Bush +1
AP: Kerry +3
NBC/WSJ: Even

Battleground
Marist: Kerry +8
Pew: Kerry +6
ABC: Kerry +1
AP: Kerry +4
NBC/WSJ: Kerry +6

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Knight-Ridder revelation: Bush may have lied about running inner-city youth program in 70s

Newsweek poll: Tied at 47 in two-way race, Kerry up from last week, Bush approval at 46%

Talking Points Memo on the GOP's ramped-up voter suppression effort

Brooke's Story is a powerful new ad, donate to help get it on the air

Juan Cole on Eminem's new anti-Bush track "Mosh" (to hear the song, go to DJ Green Lantern, click "Store" then click "Mosh")

Atrios has the info on the Stop Sinclair protests at local affiliates, 8 PM tonight (anti-Kerry special scheduled to run tonight)

ACS Blog is doing a 2-week series on understanding what "Clarence Thomas' America" would look like

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

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