Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Bush Too Extreme for...Jesse Helms?

Via Atrios, this fine quote from the former North Carolina Senator:

I would not have voted for [President Bush's] tax cut, based on what I know. . . . There is no doubt that the people at the top who need a tax break the least will get the most benefit. . . . Too often presidents do things that don't end up helping the people they should be helping, and their staffs won't tell them their actions stink on ice.



Last night, Fahrenheit 9/11 sold out all over Manhattan.

Now, it’s normal here, expected even, for the opening weekend shows of a first run movie to sell out – at least through Saturday night. Sunday is less of a challenge, and Monday – well, who the hell ever heard of any movie, much less a documentary, selling out on Monday night?

Well, this one did.

I started checking the Internet for ticket availability sometime before eight – and quickly discovered that there was not a ticket to be had, anywhere in Manhattan, before 10:30; a walk to the nearest box office confirmed the news, along with the degree to which it was taking people by surprise. People were strolling up, expecting to buy tickets to the 8:15 show, before spotting the sign: "Fahrenheit 9/11 SOLD OUT at 6:30, 7:30, 8:15, 9:30."


When we arrived back at the theater for that show, tickets in hand, a half-hour early just to get decent seats -- we found a line running a full block up Broadway, and turning the corner at 20th Street. By the time the movie started, it was very clear that there was not a single empty seat in the theater. At 10:30, on a Monday night.

I’m not sure quite what all this means yet, but I will say this: don't waste another second reading more reviews; the movie is more than worthy of the buzz. Just buy your tickets early, and go.

Monday, June 28, 2004


Eat Your Beans and Your Berries

Those with a bit of New Orleans in their backgrounds will be righteously pleased to discover this: right at the top of the list of the "twenty most anti-oxidant rich foods" are red beans -- along with artichokes, most berries, and that most southern of nuts, the pecan.

I'm not too sure about the "power salad" suggested by the nutritionist interviewed for the article (which just made me wonder what she had in mind for a main course), but as soon as I can locate a nice ham hock, I may have to to fix up a batch of red beans & rice...


Joe Klein

This piece from Time is well worth reading:

The Vulcans—a campaign 2000 nickname for George W. Bush's hawkish national security team—went Krakatoa last week. Dick Cheney erupted on the Senate floor, deploying the F word against Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who had been belaboring the Vice President over the no-bid deals that Cheney's old company, Halliburton, had scored in Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suffered a meltdown in a House Armed Services Committee hearing, blasting the press for "sitting in Baghdad" and "printing rumors." (He later apologized.) And the White House was forced to acknowledge that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had approved, at least for a while, the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions—that is, torture—against enemy combatants. Indeed, Rumsfeld, who works at a stand-up desk, indicated a desire for at least one more strenuous stress position: "I stand 8-10 hours a day," he scrawled on a memo. "Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"

Presumably the Secretary of Defense doesn't do his standing naked, continuously, in the middle of the night, surrounded by hostile guards and attack dogs. But then, Rumsfeld's blustery testosteronics are at the heart of what has gone wrong with the Bush foreign policy—and last week the assorted temper tantrums appeared to be a leading indicator of a gathering summer storm confronting this presidency.

Honorable mention: best use of bracketed euphemisms to identify an elided expletive, for this sentence:
Bob Woodward reported that Franks once called Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, who was charged with postwar planning, "the [Cheney expletive] stupidest guy on the face of the earth," and some defense experts are wondering if Franks, who has a reputation for candor, will elaborate on that.



Can We Put this Meme to Rest?

In the most recent Economist (subscription), Lexington tosses off the blithe statement that “(God forbid) an attack by al-Qaeda would almost certainly help Mr Bush.”

I don’t think so.

There’s just no real basis for believing it – and not simply because the attacks in Spain did nothing to help then-prime minister Aznar. The most obvious reason is that any further terrorist attacks, especially on American soil, are at least as likely to underscore the failures of Bush policy as they are to induce the electorate – which of late has been rather gratifyingly shedding itself of its ill-considered faith in the man – to “rally around the president.”

In other words, whatever the impact – it’s highly unpredictable. Simply put, there is no factual basis to assume that a terrorist attack on US soil would “almost certainly” help Bush. It might not.

There is, however, ample reason to assume that, should such an event occur, Bush will – more than likely transparently – try to use it for political advantage, as he has done with 9/11 for nearly three years now. This could backfire. Or he just might get away with it, partly because the press, by repeating statements such as the Economist’s, will have made it too easy for him: he’d just be encouraging people to follow the response that the press has already conditioned them to take.

I could be wrong – but let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

In the meantime, cancel the meme -- and cancel the unwitting pre-conditioning. Neither are helpful.


Sunday, June 27, 2004


Clinton's Book, in Digestible Form

From Slate: All 957 pages of My Life, reduced to six PowerPoint Slides.


Fahrenheit 911 #1 at the Box Office

This must be giving Karl Rove fits. With an estimated weekend take of nearly $22 Million, Michael Moore's latest has already outgrossed Bowling for Columbine -- and appears likely to become one of the most profitable movies of the year.

(I haven't seen it yet, but I shall, soon...)


Friday, June 25, 2004


Headline Watch

Among the difficulties of blogging, in our current news environment, is picking which of the innumerable outrages in any given day bears comment. Choosing is, of necessity, a somewhat random act -- which may introduce distortions of its own.

But hey, I’m just one guy.

That said, however, I wanted to take a slightly different approach this morning – partly to illustrate the problem, and partly to raise the question of why anyone who even opens a newspaper (much less reads some of its contents) can fail to conclude that our current leadership is a bunch of dangerous, lying incompetents.

The following heads (bold)are all from the print edition of today's NY Times. My questions and comments for the Bush administration follow(For some reason, my browser and the Times on-line are not getting along today, so no links to the individual stories):

Attacks in 5 Iraqi Cities Leave More than 100 Dead. And it was so important to create this mess that you had to lie to get us there?

Iraqis, Seeking Foes of Saudis, Contacted Bin Laden, File Says. This is the best you can do? The most damning document is one provided by Ahmed Chalabi, that claims that Iraqi Intelligence agents, back in the early nineties, before there really was such a thing as al Qaeda, contacted Bin Laden and agreed only to broadcast some anti-Saudi propaganda. That is the relationship you’ve been talking about?

Bush is Questioned as Part of Leak Inquiry. Exactly what part of “honor and integrity” requires that your responses regarding Plame affair be offered only with your personal attorney present, and not under oath?

Wolfowitz Offers Apology to Journalists Covering Iraq. (For his earlier claim that “a lot of the press are afraid to travel so much, so they sit in Baghdad an publish rumors.”) Does this mean Dick Cheney will also be apologizing soon, for telling Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor to “Go fuck yourself”? (The Times, unfortunately, couldn’t face up to printing the expletive that was the heart of the story here; instead see the WaPo version.)

House Committee Says C.I.A. is Courting Disaster by Mismanaging its Human Spying – in a report approved 360-61 by the Republican House. Oh yeah, this was part of anticipated bad news that made Tenet suddenly concerned for his family life….

Swiss Say Qaeda Suspects Used Country For a Base. Uh-oh. Does this mean we have to invade Switzerland?

Legal Scholars Criticize Memos on Torture… “and all but unanimously agreed that the quality of legal work in them is poor.” My favorite quote, from Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh: “If the president has commander-in-chief power to commit torture…he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, and to license summary execution.” Now there’s moral clarity for you.

Which may account for the headline just below it, on the same page:

U.S. Seeks a Deal, but Not a Formal Accord, to Shield Americans from Iraq’s Courts. It seems we need to do a little tapdance to allow the new puppet government to save face, while granting to our own thugs and garden variety assholes the immunity they assumed their uniforms gave them. Rule of law? Just asking…

Testimony Ties Key Officer to Cover-up of Iraqi Death. Commander testifies that Col. Pappas, head of Military Intelligence at Abu Ghraib, stood by and watched while a detainee died under interrogation. Good thing that immunity arrangement is working out…

Now: pick a story, pick any story, and rant.


Thursday, June 24, 2004


Ron Reagan, on Larry King Live

This was worth watching, in spite of having to sit through an idiotic interview earlier in the hour with the recently jettisoned juror#5 from the Scott Peterson case.

Here's Ron Reagan's refreshingly unequivocal response to Larry King's questions about the now famous, and very classy, line from his eulogy:
KING: You said, dad was also a deeply unabashedly religious man, but he never made the mistake of wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. Were you referring to the president?

REAGAN: You know, it's interesting.

KING: Everyone thought that.

REAGAN: I know. I wasn't watching TV much after I delivered the eulogy for a few days. But after a couple of days I started getting calls from people saying, boy you really stirred something up, didn't you? I thought, well, what? Well, you know, the stuff you said about Bush. I said, I didn't say anything about Bush, why would I mention George W. Bush in my father's eulogy?

No, no, no, no, the stuff about the religion. I thought, ha, funny, you then everybody thought I was talking about George W. Bush. And then I heard -- everybody thought I was talking about George -- but people connected with George W. Bush thought I was talking about George W. Bush. And then I began to think, maybe I was, I just didn't know it.

KING: Do you think he wears his religion on his sleeve? He certainly refers to it more than your father ever did.

REAGAN: Well, you know, there was that answer he gave to the question about, did you talk to your father about going into Iraq? No, I talked to a higher father, you know, the almighty. When you hear somebody justifying a war by citing the almighty, God, I get a little worried, frankly. The other guys do that a lot. Osama bin Laden's always talking about Allah, what Allah wants, that he's on his side. I think that's uncomfortable.

KING: Do you have thoughts on the war?

REAGAN: Sure, I have thoughts on the war.

KING: And what do you think?

REAGAN: And I think we lied our way into the war.

KING: You think it's a mistake?

REAGAN: Absolutely, a terrible mistake. Terrible foreign policy error. We didn't have to do it. It was optional. And we were lied to. The American public was lied to about WMD, the connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam, which is virtually nonexistent except for fleeting contacts. But they're still trying to pull that one off now, Cheney and all are out there flogging that.

KING: Can I gather from that, that you will not support this president?

REAGAN: No, I won't.

When you hear somebody justifying a war by citing the almighty, God, I get a little worried, frankly. The other guys do that a lot.

Okay, more than a little worried -- but thank you, Ron, for speaking so clearly.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Today's Schadenfreude Feature

In case you missed it: the Jack Ryan Scandal. Billmon, as usual, relishes the occasion:
Here's a little advice for aspiring Republican politicians who also happen to be multi-gazillionaire former investment bankers. If your spouse asks for a divorce, and there are sex clubs, cages and whips involved, just give him/her whatever the hell he/she asks for and settle out of court.

Wonkette has more (though her grammar may need some whipping into shape here):
And speaking of fidelity: The Republicans, at least at this point, are sticking by their man. True, sources at BC04 say that the campaign will steer clear of Illinois, since allegations of sex clubs with "cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling" giving [sic] an exciting if unwholesome connotation to the term "battleground state."
The Trib has the original story.


Bush Sinking in the Polls

Apparently a bit more of the public isn’t buying Bush’s bold plan of vigorously-asserting-the-contrary whenever inconvenient facts arise. A few snippets from the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll:

For the first time in ABC News/Washington Post polls, more than half of Americans, 52 percent, say the Iraq war was not worth fighting. Seven in 10 call U.S. casualties there "unacceptable," a new high. And there's been a steady slide in belief that the war has enhanced long-term U.S. security; 51 percent now say so, down 11 points this year.


While Americans broadly see Bush as more consistent, they see Kerry as more honest and trustworthy, by a 13-point margin, and more in touch with their problems, by 20 points.


Seventy-six percent now say the war has damaged the United States' image in the rest of the world; that's 13 points more than last summer.
As usual with this sort of the poll, some of the results are baffling and contradictory -- but Bush, as usual of late, appears to be in ever-deepening doo-doo.

Lewis Lapham, in the current Harpers (not available on line), had this to say about Bush's recent job performance:

I can understand why some people might find the performance terrifying, also why some other people might find it darkly comic, but what I don't understand is why anyone continues to think that the man knows what he's doing.
Nor do I. I not sure, however, which performance is more terrifying or darkly comic: that of Bush himself -- or that of the forty-plus percent of the poll respondents who evidently still believe the man.

If the poll is any indication, though -- at least some of them are learning.


Another light blogging week

Pardon the brief hiatus -- but other obligations seem to be getting in the way, so don't be surprised if my posts are a bit spotty this week.

In the meantime, here's Kevin Drum on the Administration's latest attempts to blur their own previous claims, and the lack of evidence regarding, Iraq/al Qaeda links.

There are more bits and pieces, of course, but this is the guts of the case for cooperation. And remember: this is the best evidence, even after a year of free access to Saddam's files and the interrogation of hundreds of high-ranking prisoners. The fact is that there's just no case to be made.

Which explains why war supporters have been generally reduced to absurd arguments that the lack of good evidence is actually a reason to go to war — an argument so Strangelovian that it demonstrates little except abject desperation.

And that's pretty much where the administration is. After all, as one Bush advisor put it, "If you discount the relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, then you discount the proposition that it's part of the war on terror. If it's not part of the war on terror, then what is it — some cockeyed adventure on the part of George W. Bush?"


Saturday, June 19, 2004


Another one for your reading list...

From the Guardian:
Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, due out next month, dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.


Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.


Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

The Bush Administration will likely respond by: (a) leaking the identity of the anonymous author; (b) issuing a series of vigorous but unsupported assertions in denial of its claims; or (c) all of the above.

If for some reason they are unable to identify the anonymous author, this will simply be treated as an opportunity for even wider-than-usual creative latitude for their customary barrage of ad hominen attacks.

Just watch...


Rumors of a Snark Shortage are Greatly Exaggerated

Billmon has the details.


Friday, June 18, 2004


Fran Townsend at Abu Ghraib

Today’s news is still so awful I’m still having trouble absorbing it – so I’ll take you on a brief detour of something that emerged yesterday in USA Today, regarding pressure from the White House on interrogations at Abu Ghraib.

Smack in the middle of the latest accusations is one of Condi Rice's direct reports: none other than Fran Townsend, thus far the most secretive of the numerous successors to Richard Clarke’s counter-terrorism post, about whom we have commented previously:
Army Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, in a sworn statement to Army investigators obtained by USA TODAY, said he was told last September that White House staffers wanted to "pull the intelligence out" of the interrogations being conducted at Abu Ghraib. The pressure stemmed from growing concern about the increasingly violent Iraqi insurgency that was claiming American lives daily. It came before and during a string of abuses of Iraqi prisoners in October, November and December of 2003.

Jordan, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, described "instances where I feel that there was additional pressure" to get information from detainees, including a visit to the prison last fall by an aide to Rice that was "purely on detainee operations and reporting." And he said he was reminded of the need to improve the intelligence output of the prison "many, many, many times."

Rice staffer Fran Townsend said Thursday that she spent about two hours at Abu Ghraib last November and recalls that Jordan was her guide. Townsend, then deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, said she did not discuss interrogation techniques or the need to obtain more information from detainees, and neither witnessed nor heard about abuse of detainees.
What Townsend doesn’t seem to get is that the mere fact of her visit could easily be interpreted as pressure. Imagine, if you will, that you are a mid-level officer in a grimy prison halfway around the world, and you suddenly find out that someone who reports directly to Condi Rice wants a “tour.” Are you to assume that she was merely sight-seeing? How could you not feel pressure?

Townsend’s statement – which somehow implies that the brevity of her visit negates the possibility of pressure – is ludicrous. Whatever her real intent may have been – the fact that she traveled through eight time zones to deliver it in person gives it a weight and import that the same information imparted over the phone or in a memo never would have had.

In fact, it’s worth stepping back here for a moment to consider why anyone, in the age of instantaneous worldwide telecommunications, would go to the time and expense of a face-to-face visit. There are, of course, a number of powerful and compelling reasons, but here are a few off the top of my head:
There are other possible reasons as well, but you get the picture. It's somehow worth bearing these considerations in mind when we hear what Ms. Townsend wants us to believe about her visit.

The likely, or at least highly plausible interpretation, is that Ms. Townsend’s statements
are just another variation of the White House’s routine of non-denial denials.

She could truthfully claim that “we never discussed interrogation techniques,” even if what she actually said was something more along the lines of ‘do what you have to do; I don’t want to know the details.’

She could truthfully say that she never discussed the need to obtain more information from the detainees – when what she did discuss was the need for better, or more complete information.

And she could truthfully claim that (as she does here) that she didn’t go there “to pressure them to do anything they weren’t doing.” Her visit was last November, after all – and while the timeline isn’t quite clear from the reports, it’s perfectly likely that by then, as the pictures have shown, the guards were already doing quite a bit more than anyone had any need to encourage them to do.

At best, none of these explanations are very enlightening, or very helpful. At worst, they are strikingly disingenuous.

[UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman connects a few more of the dots here, and provides more context]


Because I'm the President, and I said so, Part II

The Guardian, as it often does, speaks with welcome clarity:

The Bush administration's reaction to the report of the bipartisan US commission investigating September 11, which has found no evidence of a substantive relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida, is a classic case of none being so blind as those who will not see. "We stand by what was said publicly," said the White House spokesman, thus endorsing the stream of loose and contradictory claims made by the president and vice-president as they have thrashed around to justify the Iraq war.


The commission's investigators have done a thorough job, helped by intelligence information as well as open sources, to provide a remarkably full picture of the changing plans, interconnections and movements of the September 11 plotters and the forces behind them. Against this detailed background, the failure to substantiate claims of a serious relationship, beyond some abortive early contacts, between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaida - let alone a specific September 11 link - is all the more striking.
Noting that Bush "has a vested interest in keeping the American public confused," they move on to the heart of the matter:
The ugly fact which Mr Bush cannot contemplate - far less let his public know - is that far from scotching the terrorist snake, the war has created new fertile ground for it, with almost daily bombings which can no longer be blamed on "Saddam remnants".
Repeat after me: what we have here, folks, is a failure to substantiate...


Thursday, June 17, 2004


Because I'm the President, and I said so...

Spencer Ackerman, subbing this week for Josh Marshall, takes on Bush's astonishing insistence, against all evidence, that there was a "relationship" between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.


Anti-Americanism & its Consequences

Just when I was ready to concentrate on something productive -- I ran across something too good not to pass on: this piece, in Salon, adapted from a speech to U.S. Intelligence analysts. A few quick excerpts (emphasis added):

On the risk of re-electing George W. Bush:
Even now, however, America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy.

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that. If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased -- with what violent consequences no one can predict.
On the practical consequences:
But, aside from the U.K., [The EU allies] will give the U.S. none of the substantial help it needs in Iraq. They would presumably be willing to contribute to a U.N. and NATO operation, so long as the U.S. reduced its visibility and relinquished command and control. But short of such a dramatic volte-face by Bush, the Europeans are not about to ride to the rescue.

So here we can register a genuine and serious injury to U.S. national security that is directly traceable to popular anti-Americanism. It is largely a self-inflicted wound, the result of the Bush administration's contemptuous treatment of America's European allies.
On the need for new leadership:
Some European commentators have said that there are few doctrinal differences, in foreign policy, between Kerry and Bush. But they quickly add that removing Bush from office in November will still make a decisive difference to international security, including the global struggle against terrorism. The need to correct grievous errors alone speaks for the importance of putting a new foreign policy team into the White House, a group that has no incentive to conceal embarrassing blunders or to continue failed policies.
Now get back to work....

[UPDATE: When you're done reading the article, read what Digby has to say about it: "The real argument is that a vote for Bush is to validate his failed policies and convince the rest of the world that we truly are nation of dangerous fools. This will not increase our safety, I'm afraid. In fact, nothing could help the terrorists more than to put this rogue administration back in office."]


Gephardt as VP? Not!

Via Ezra at Pandagon, we learn of this Matthew Yglesias piece on the prospect of Dick Doormat Gephardt as the VP nominee. Yglesias nails it, effectively reminding us of the Gephardt’s craven capitulation on the Iraq war resolution – a move that squashed a Senate alternative that was decidedly less of a blank check:

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it was announced that Dick Gephardt, leader of the House Democrats, had cut a deal -- a total capitulation to the president's demands, in fact -- with the White House, undermining the negotiating power of Senate Democrats and GOP moderates alike. The result was not only the Iraq War as we know it, but to put many congressional Democrats, John Kerry included, in a rather untenable position. Either vote no and leave yourself open to the charge of thinking that the continued deterioration of the sanctions and inspections in Iraq could simply be ignored, or vote yes and take it as a matter of faith that the president would exercise this broad discretionary power wisely. Thus Kerry and others found themselves voting yes while attaching verbal caveats, rather than voting for a resolution that would have attached actual caveats, and the country's best hope for a rational Iraq policy was dashed.
This fatal trait: the complete lack of resolution at the crucial moment, this utter failure of spine, is arguably the most telling example of what’s been wrong with the Democratic Party over the last few years. Winning will require overcoming this kind of stupidity, not validating it.

Worse, as Yglesias points out, this pattern simply makes Gephardt’s voting record all the worse as a “target of opportunity” for GOP operatives:
What's important is that Gephardt's record -- or rather, his many records -- will be putty in the hands of the Bush campaign, reinforcing their main line of critique against Kerry while adding nothing of value. Arguably, this would be a reasonable price to pay if we were talking about some kind of paragon of political virtue, but we aren't. We're talking about a man who helped drive the country to war in pursuit of transient electoral advantage and didn't even managed to derive any electoral advantage from it.
One can only hope that the “serious consideration” given to Gephardt is just show, an adept and politically astute courtesy, merely to keep him and his followers firmly in the fold, and nothing more.

My bet: Kerry is smart enough to let Gephardt think he's being taken seriously, yet far too smart to actually do so.


Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Surprise, Surprise

Re-enlistments down:

Since Fort Carson units began coming home in April, post recruiters have met only 57 percent of their quota for re-enlisting first-term soldiers for a second hitch, according to an Army report.

More disturbing, recruiters say, is they're re-enlisting only 46 percent of the quota for "mid-career" noncommissioned officers. These are the young sergeants with four to 10 years of experience who are the backbone of the Army - its skilled soldiers, mentors and future senior NCOs.


Ashcroft Re-mix

Last week, BushOut.tv linked to this fine piece of work by Jason Woliner of Partisan Jab -- but the servers were so overloaded at the time, I never got to see it.

It seems to be working fine now, though the download is still slow. Go watch.


The Diplomats’ Rebuke

The BBC has the story, and Joe Conason breaks it down for you:

The hallowed rule among America's professional diplomats is to avoid involvement in domestic politics, especially during an election year.

They regard partisanship as poisonous to the trust that an elected President must repose in them to execute U.S. policy abroad, and to their own careers as well. They hope to maintain influence and status no matter which party holds power. Their habit of speaking carefully and quietly tends to continue even into retirement.

Diplomats rarely act like dissidents.

So it was extraordinary to learn that on June 16, a group of 26 distinguished former Foreign Service and military officers plans to issue an urgent, explicit call for Americans to eject George W. Bush on Election Day. Although their brief statement does not endorse John Kerry, the implication will be plain enough. (None of them is likely to vote for Ralph Nader.)
Of note: according to the BBC, the bi-partisan group of 26 career diplomats and former generals “deliberately excluded” “known critics” of the administration.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Paris May Ban SUVs


Of course, if we tried in New York, we'd have to figure out what to do about these monstrosities.


Oh, this will be fun...

The new Iraqi government wants custody of all of the prisoners by the end of the month, including Saddam Hussein.


Monday, June 14, 2004


The New Jim Crow

I commented once before, very briefly, on Virginia's hideous new "Marriage Affirmation Law," which takes effect July 1. Via Sully, we learn of this excellent piece by Jonathan Rauch who illustrates clearly what this law really is:
If I seem to be splitting hairs, that is because Virginia -- where my partner and I make our home -- is not splitting hairs. It has instead taken a baseball bat to civic equality, thanks to the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act.

The act -- really an amendment to an earlier law -- was passed in April, over Gov. Mark R. Warner's objections, and it takes effect July 1. It says, "A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage is prohibited." It goes on to add that any such union, contract or arrangement entered into in any other state, "and any contractual rights created thereby," are "void and unenforceable in Virginia."


To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves.

Americans have a name for the use of law in this fashion, and that name is Jim Crow. It is not a name much called for anymore, but the Marriage Affirmation Act -- could that name be any more inapt? -- is the genuine article.


Obstructing gay couples' private contracts is no less vindictive and abusive, and it deserves the same nationwide opprobrium -- especially among conservatives who distinguish between denying marriage to gay couples and denying civil rights to gay individuals. If Virginia's attack on basic legal equality does not offend and embarrass conservatives, what anti-gay measure possibly could? And if this law is not snuffed out, what might be next?

The whole thing is downright medieval: it's mean-spirited bigotry, and it's the law.


The Mall Scenario

It’s always a challenge – when the announcements are coming from John Ashcroft – to sift through the sensationalism & suspect timing, and separate what is deliberately misleading from the genuinely scary.

First, the AP version of the story, as presented in the Washington Post:

A Somali native living in Ohio has been charged with plotting with other al Qaeda operatives to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment at a Justice Department news conference and used the occasion to warn anew of al Qaeda's threat. "Current credible intelligence indicates that al Qaeda wants to hit the United States, to hit the United States hard," he said.

The relevant facts here are that there was a real indictment – not just an arrest or detention – in connection with an alleged plot (details undisclosed) to blow up a shopping mall, in a place that serves as well as any as a surrogate for ‘Heartland, USA’: Columbus, Ohio. Since Ashcroft disclosed no details of the alleged plot, it is impossible to know if this means that a couple of suspicious characters were overheard saying “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” – or if there were actual explosives, and the plans and means to use them.

The other key fact, reported by CNN and others, is that the arrest took place last November 28th, which happened to be (though no one saw fit to mention this) the Friday after Thanksgiving: one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and not a bad day to pick if you’re a terrorist intent on screwing with the minds & wallets of Americans.

Oddly missing from any of the reports I have seen so far is any indication of when the indictment itself actually took place: only that it was unsealed, and announced today. Unsealed by whom? And why now?

One might also reasonably ask why Ashcroft said nothing at all back in November, at the time of the arrest. If it made sense not to alarm the public at the time, why does it make sense to do so now? Inquiring minds would like to know.

And if he has other information, unrelated to this arrest, that actually is "current and credible" -- why is he undermining his own credibility by mixing it all up with six-month-old news?

[UPDATE: Liberal Oasis has more; and Krugman opens today by calling Ashroft the "worst attorney general in history."]

[UPDATE II: The NYT has the most telling detail: "The indictment against Mr. Abdi makes no mention of the alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall. That reference was contained in the motion filed by prosecutors to keep Mr. Abdi in custody." As Jon Stewart would say, "Whaaaahh?"]


Quick Notes

Josh Marshall has conveniently picked up on a NYT piece from yesterday, thus sparing me the trouble of commenting on the more shameless political dimensions of Bush's recent visit to the Pope. The telling note: Bush's reported complaint that "not all the American bishops are with me" on cultural issues.

Also from yesterday is this tasty little item from the LA Times: "Retired Officials Say Bush Must Go"
A group of 26 former senior diplomats and military officials, several appointed to key positions by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, plans to issue a joint statement this week arguing that President George W. Bush has damaged America's national security and should be defeated in November.


Those signing the document, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, include 20 former U.S. ambassadors, appointed by presidents of both parties, to countries including Israel, the former Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia.

It looks like we're in for another interesting week....


Sunday, June 13, 2004


Queuing for ‘Cue

It sure sounded like a good idea: seven barbecue pitmasters, live jazz, “and more” -- on a crystal clear June afternoon in Madison Square Park. This, more or less, was the description of the 2nd Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party – sponsored by (among others) Blue Smoke & the Brooklyn Brewery. So I rounded up a couple of friends, and we went.

Well, the food – at least the food we eventually got -- was remarkably good. And it was a nice afternoon.

Too bad the event wasn’t better organized. And too bad the sponsors had to intrude their interests into the proceedings with an idiotic “cue-pon” system – which requires you to pre-purchase non-refundable coupons, and then use the coupons to pay for food & drinks.

So if you had imagined this might be like a typical New York Block Party, only with music and much better food, think again.

And if you had imagined that you might casually stroll past kiosks offering up enticing samples of fine barbecue, and indulge to your heart’s and belly’s content, think again.

The problem, at least the worst of it, was those coupons (sorry, I refuse to indulge the cutesy misspelling more than once), which clearly exist for no other reason than to assure the sponsors of their cut of every dollar spent. Never mind the inconvenience to the customer. Never mind that they are just as likely to curtail spending (as they clearly did in our case) as to encourage it. Never mind that there were better and less obtrusive ways to accomplish the same thing (for instance, one could have simply relocated the cashiers selling coupons to the kiosks with the food -- where the additional staffing might have actually helped move the lines along).

And yes, I know the venture was officially not-for-profit. But that's no excuse for spoiling the fun.

Imagine, for a moment, if a restaurant tried this. Here, sir, take a look at the menu. Now try to guess what you want to spend. Then pay us that amount, in advance, and we’ll give you these coupons. If you guess too little, well – you’ll have to come back, wait in line again, and buy more. If you guess too much, well – sorry, sucker – these things aren’t refundable. Have a nice day!

Now imagine that each and every thing that you and your friends want to consume is treated as a different transaction. If you want a beer, go wait in the beer line. If you want North Carolina pulled pork, go wait in that line, if you can find the end of it (when I was there, it took about forty minutes to get through a line than snaked and doubled back on itself and crossed at least two or three other lines, to the confusion of all). If your friend over there would like the Memphis-style baby back ribs, well, he’ll have to go wait over there - somewhere. Chips? Another line. Desserts? Another line. You get the picture.

There’s just no winning strategy. If you hang together – you’ll either limit your choices, or spend even more time waiting in lines, or both. If you try the divide and conquer strategy (which we did), well – then you can’t run off and get more coupons or beer while you’re waiting, and you’ll need your cellphones to re-locate your friends.

Needless to say, the arrangement is beyond ridiculous. I have a feeling that a lot of folks did what we did – which was buy just enough coupons to cover the first “plate” of barbecue and a beer, figuring that they could always go back for more. What we discovered was that the “plates” – in actuality, paper containers more suitable for a side order of onion rings – weren’t exactly generous. Which meant that another plate, or even two or more, would be needed, to constitute a meal. Which I would have been fine with, if not for the coupons, and the damned lines.

But at that point, we had had enough. We weren't going wait in line for more coupons, for the privilege of waiting in more lines for food. Instead we walked a few blocks, and got hot dogs at F & B.

Still, I liked the idea. It's not every day that you can get honest barbecue in New York. But the sponsors have a long way to go to make this work.

[UPDATE: The Food Section has more. As I suspected, quite a lot of folks went away unhappy -- and hungry]


Friday, June 11, 2004


Obsidian Wings

While I suspect I should have added these folks to my blogroll long ago -- some of the recent stuff over at Obsidian Wings has particularly impressed me.

Two recent posts expand nicely on some of the themes we've been following here at Digestible News. The most recent is this neat summary of the drip-drip-drip of the Abu Ghraib scandal. There's much good in the piece, but you've gotta love the characterization of the Torture Memo as "advice that a half drunk first year law student could debunk between bong hits."

Another, from late yesterday, focuses on Bush's "Non-denial Denials" during yesterday's press conference -- quotes a lot of the same material that I did in my post on the same topic yesterday, and adds some interesting observations:

The administration will not release the memo to Congress, or say whether they adopted its findings, or discuss it in any way. So these answers tell us nothing.

The fact that the President won't give a meaningful answer, perhaps tells us something. The fact that the Democrats on Judiciary are not sure they'll find one G.O.P. Senator to cross the aisle and officially request the memo, according to this AP story, perhaps tells us something. The fact that Orrin Hatch told the AP that releasing the memos would "cause the deaths of our young people ... by publicizing something that shouldn't be publicized," perhaps tells us something.

Go check it out.



900-pound man vows he'll dance weight off


Poll: Iraq Not Worth It

Not that we ever thought it was -- but it's nice to now that more than half the country now agrees. The LA Times has the details:
Most U.S. voters now say it was not worth going to war in Iraq, but an overwhelming majority reject the idea of setting a deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country, according to a Times poll.

The Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, surveyed 1,230 registered voters from Saturday through Tuesday. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Most voters retained faith that the U.S. could control the military situation in the country. About half of those polled — 52% — said they thought the U.S. was winning the war; 24% said the insurgents were winning.

But voters were uncertain about the prospects of achieving broader goals in Iraq. Just 35% said the U.S. was "making good progress in Iraq," while 61% said they thought the U.S. was "getting bogged down." Three-fifths of independents and more than four-fifths of Democrats shared the sense that the effort was stalling.

In perhaps the most emphatic measure of anxiety about Iraq, 53% said they did not think the situation there merited the war; 43% said it did. When Times polls asked that question in November and March, the numbers were essentially reversed.


From this morning's Washington Post:
U.S. intelligence personnel ordered military dog handlers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to use unmuzzled dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees during interrogations late last year, a plan approved by the highest-ranking military intelligence officer at the facility, according to sworn statements the handlers provided to military investigators.

A military intelligence interrogator also told investigators that two dog handlers at Abu Ghraib were "having a contest" to see how many detainees they could make involuntarily urinate out of fear of the dogs, according to the previously undisclosed statements obtained by The Washington Post.

I wonder what the prize was....


Thursday, June 10, 2004


Bush and the Torture Memo

Remember this bit from John Ashcroft the other day?

[The administration] has operated with respect to all of the laws enacted by the Congress, all of the treaties embraced by the president and the Congress together, and the Constitution of the United States, and no direction or order has been given to violate any of those laws.

Those words came back to me when I was at the gym this afternoon, and I happened to catch a bit of Bush's press conference from Sea Island (transcript here). This question from a BBC reporter caught my attention:

Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law.

So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

The point, of course, is that it is meaningless to claim that you want to adhere to the law, or that you've issued no orders to violate the law, when you have in hand a lengthy legal opinion that was clearly created for no other purpose than to introduce as much flexibility as possible into your notion of what is legal.

Bush, rather shrewdly in my opinion, acted deliberately obtuse, as if he had missed the point altogether. Here’s his entire response:
BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

I doubt the BBC reporter was in any way "comforted" by this act, nor was I. The question of morality was ignored, and the obviously meaningless & disingenuous claim about “adherence to the law” was simply repeated, testily.

But some of the reporters in the room, who should certainly know better, apparently fell for it.

Just moments later, Judy Woodruff was on CNN reporting (this is approximate, from memory) that Bush, “when challenged on the torture memo, replied that he instructed people to adhere to the law.”

This AP report is equally clueless.
Addressing advice the White House got suggesting torture might be allowed for some terrorist interrogations, President Bush said Thursday he ordered U.S. officials to act consistent with law and international treaties.

And these people get paid to write this stuff....



The Snoop Dogg on-line Shizzolator. Just "enter yo trickass URL," the site explains helpfully, and it will "traaanslate it from tha shizzle to da shiznit, know what I'm sayin?"

We here at Digestible Informative Shiznit were quite amused.

Give it a minute to work, though -- it seems to be a bit on the slow side. (Thanks to commentor JJFrisco over at Skippy's place.)


Separate Checks

Slate’s "Dear Prudence" column today pretends to address the matter of separate restaurant checks – but ends up excusing smaller idiocies because they occurred in the presence of greater rudeness. I’ll skip the recap: go read.

My take: Prudence lets these people off much too easy. True, the late arrivals were capital-A a—holes. But while they were wrong to make a scene, wrong to insult their hosts, and wrong to order expensive wines and expect their companions to swallow the cost, they had at least one point: separate checks are petty, and all the more so when large groups are involved.

A request for completely separate checks works against you in several ways: first, it advertises a penny-consciousness that rarely betokens a decent tip – so your service may suffer accordingly; second, it confuses the kitchen, for whom the check is a tool to coordinate the timing & delivery of what each of you ordered; third, it simply adds unnecessarily to the amount of time required to handle your table. None of these attributes are likely to improve your experience.

For large parties – which typically stay longer, are more difficult to handle, and tip less than smaller groups – the notion of separate checks is an absurdity. For Prudence to suggest, even tacitly, that the request for separate checks was “the proper thing to do,” is decidedly unhelpful. Sorry, there is no excuse, anywhere, for requesting eleven checks.

There were at least two simpler strategies available – both of which would have likely been greeted more favorably by the servers.

The first would have been to gently request, “for simplicity’s sake,” that the servers start a new check for the late arrivals. This would make sense – since in essence the latecomers represent a new order, and a “new table” – even though they are seated with you. It can also be justified on purely practical grounds – since it is perfectly plausible that some of the earlier arrivals would like the option to leave (regardless of whether they actually choose to do so) before your tardy acquaintances are done. There is no need to invoke petty matters of economics, and the result is a perfectly reasonable pair of checks, rather than an unwieldy eleven.

The second approach would have required a level of consideration from the late arrivals that, given their behavior, seems unlikely. But I’ve done it, and it works. Whoever orders the wine – especially if he or she is aware that only some of those present plan to drink it – can simply request that the wine be placed on a separate check. Restaurants will not only honor, but respect such a request. Further, it will immediately transform what might have been perceived as an act of selfishness into an act of generosity (but you must at least offer to share). The wine lovers can then enjoy without guilt the vintage of their choice – and no one will feel cheated.

That, at least, is how some of us do it in New York.


The Reagan Non-bounce

Early indications are that my little prediction from a couple nights ago will turn out to be utterly, and refreshingly, wrong. Bush appears to losing, rather than gaining ground.

Billmon’s theory is that the Bush campaign, by “aggressively holding their guy up next the iconic image of the late Ronald Reagan,” is unwittingly costing their guy – by emphasizing an unfavorable comparison.

Polling results thus far, while they don’t say why, are at least consistent with this possibility. The latest LA Times poll shows Kerry up 51/44, in a poll conducted June 5-8. Gallup, with somewhat less of an overlap with Reagan’s death (poll conducted June 3-6), also shows a widening Kerry lead: 49/44. Even Rasmussen shows a slight Kerry gain: 46/44.

Further, while it is clear that the Reagan rites have squeezed out a lot of coverage of unfavorable stuff, such as the “torture memo,” – a fair amount of it is breaking through. Jon Stewart, in particular, mercilessly skewered one of the most peculiar notions advanced in that memo -- specifically, the idea that “intent” somehow defines torture. Apparently, he said (and this is from memory, so don’t expect an exact quote), “If you attach an electrode to someone’s testicles out of, say, scientific curiosity, any collateral ball pain is OK.”


Wednesday, June 09, 2004



It somehow figures that much of what conservatives "remember" about Reagan isn't quite true. Jonathan Chait has the rundown:

What's most interesting about Reagan-worship is not so much that it overlooks his flaws but that it specifically overlooks his departures from conservative orthodoxy. Above all else Reagan's admirers extol his ideological certitude. The Gipper, they agree, held simple but profound views about restraining government and fighting communism, and he never wavered from them in the face of carping liberals. This narrative may be broadly true. But, although he was no liberal nor even a moderate, Reagan did repeatedly abandon conservative dogma. That he is nonetheless remembered as an unyielding conservative says less about Reagan than it does about the contemporary Republicans who lay claim to his cause.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004



George W. will get a slight bump in the polls by the end of Reagan Mythology Week -- and most of the pundits will be completely wrong when they try to explain why.

It won't have anything do to with favorable or unfavorable comparisons, or anyone borrowing anyone else's highly inflated aura. W. will gain plainly and simply because the Reagan funeral story will have eclipsed what would otherwise have been just another week -- for the administration at least -- of embarrassing news.

Consider the latest "torture memo" -- which newspapers everywhere have excerpted but John Ashcroft still refuses to disclose, or the highly questionable "Safe Harbor for Churches" bill (see post just below), or the latest news of dead soldiers, or whatever else may come to pass in the next few days.

There's even John Aschroft's odd claim before the Senate Judiciary Committee(reported here), full of telltale lawyerly specificity, that President Bush had "made no order that would require or direct the violation" of either the international treaties or domestic laws prohibiting torture.

Under the circumstances, Ashcroft's statement appears to have been tailored -- just as the memo under discussion was -- for maximum wiggle room.

But none of it will register on the evening news, because state funerals make better pictures.


Be Outraged

From the NYT this morning (where it was naturally buried on page A-16):

Republicans in the House of Representatives have quietly introduced a measure to make it easier for churches to support political candidates, just days after the Bush campaign came under fire from liberal groups for inviting church members to distribute campaign information at their house of worship.

The provision, called Safe Harbor for Churches, would allow religious organizations a limited number of violations of the existing rules against political endorsements without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

“It looks suspicious,” Daniel Maffei, communications director for the Democratic miniroty on the committee, said of the proposal.

The bill, now proceeding on a fast track, is scheduled to move from committee to presentation on the House floor next week. If passed in time for the election, Mr. Maffei said, it would invite “widespread abuse” by religious leaders using their positions to support their favorite candidates.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Church and State, said the timing “simply reeks to high heaven, literally.”

Write your congressman, if you haven't already. This thing should be squashed, fast.


Monday, June 07, 2004


Light Blogging Ahead...

For at least the next few days, I don't anticipate having much time for blogging -- though that may not stop me.

In the meantime, be sure to read this and this by Kevin Drum. And if you're not absolutely fed up with reading or hearing anything else remotely Reagan-related -- check out what Ron, Jr. had to say just a few months ago, here. Or just enjoy a cartoon.


Saturday, June 05, 2004


Connectivity Follies

Within the last twenty-four hours, my Internet connection has stopped working altogether, then worked only by bypassing my DSL router, and then -- after several twists and turns that I shall omit for the sake of brevity -- worked at least as well as before, and with all of the original pieces in place.

Suffice it to say that the process afforded me a fine opportunity to test my patience and equanimity, along with my ability to communicate regarding technical matters with non-native speakers of English. But I won’t bore you with the details.

It’s the part in the middle – the period when the router was bypassed – that concerns me. As it happens, it proved to be a lovely illustration of just how hazardous it can be to run a “fully exposed” exposed Internet connection.

That router, you see, performs a very useful security function, called Network Address Translation. The effect of NAT is to hide the computer from unfriendly outsiders.

I had always thought this was a good idea, but hadn’t really tested the theory until yesterday, when circumstances turned my computer into a little test lab.

What happened was startling.

Only minutes after establishing my “exposed” connection, little alarm boxes were popping up, courtesy of my virus scan software, informing me that it had identified and removed a couple of worms – both apparently of the variety that can insinuate themselves onto your computer without the necessity of doing something incredibly stupid, such as opening an e-mail attachment from a complete stranger with a “.exe.” file extension. Lovely.

I quickly set up a trial version of McAfee’s “personal firewall” – and was even more amazed. Within a couple of hours, it had intercepted literally hundreds of “events” – unwelcome probes from all over the Internet. Yikes.

Needless to say, I got my router back up – quickly – which put an end to the inbound crud. But it was a lesson, nonetheless. Which I share with you -- just in case there’s anyone out there without current virus software and something (NAT or a firewall of some sort) protecting their connection.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.


Friday, June 04, 2004


The Villiage Voice on the VP Selection.

The other VP, actually. James Ridgeway takes a whack at the GOP Dream Ticket.


Budget Tap-Dance

According to this item in yesterday's Times, "many Republicans are concluding they would be better off with no budget than with one that would require them to pay the costs of permanently extending last year’s tax cuts."

The reason: “pay as you go” would make it uncomfortably obvious, especially in an election year, just who’s doing the paying:
On Wednesday, two liberal policy research groups released a study estimating that the ultimate cost of the tax cuts would fall overwhelmingly on middle- and lower-income families.

According to the study, by the Tax Policy Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than three-quarters of all households would end up net losers if the government actually paid for the tax cuts by either spending cuts or other tax increases.

But the wealthiest one-fifth of families, who are by far the biggest beneficiaries of the tax cuts, would end up big winners.

We should think of tax cuts as loans, not grants, and in particular as loans that are not paid back by the same people who get them,” said William G. Gale, a senior economist at the tax policy center.

The rich borrow, and you pay their bills. How's that for class warfare?


Thursday, June 03, 2004


Clarke Successor Watch

Periodically here at Digestible News, we like to check in on the various successors to Richard Clarke's old counter-terrorism post -- only one of whom, Fran Townsend, actually remains at the White House, where her responsibilities include her new post as Homeland Security Advisor, her old post as deputy national security adviser for terrorism, and – evidently – staying out of the news.

In fact, since her promotion/kicking upstairs (who’s to know?)in early May, there has been virtually no mention in the press of her name, until today – when she is briefly & forgettably quoted (under her old title) in coverage of the Saudi crackdown on “charities” funding terrorism, as in this example from the Washington Post.

Why she should remain so invisible, in an adminstration that claims to be so focused on terrorism, remains a puzzle. Perhaps even more amazing is that fact that this Google search (for "Fran Townsend"+counter+terrorism) will quickly lead you back to this very blog (which, unless Sitemeter is off by at least a few decimal places, does not exactly qualify as a major news outlet).

Meanwhile, Gen. Wayne Downing has resurfaced, at least by attribution, in this interview on PBS. Posing a question to Paul Wolfowitz about the Abu Ghraib investigations, PBS’s Margaret Warner asks:

I want to ask you about a couple of rosy scenarios at the end but first let me ask you about the prisoner abuse scandal. You have six investigations ongoing. We reported on that heavily on this program. But they are being criticized the fact that they're all really in house investigations. And let's just look at what Wayne Downing, a retired four-star army general had to say. "I really doubt whether the Defense Department can investigate itself because there's a possibility the secretary himself authorized certain actions. This cries out for an outside commission to investigate." Should Secretary Rumsfeld and will Secretary Rumsfeld recommend to the president that an outside commission, an independent inquiry be established?

Finally, Rand Beers shows up, in an interview blasted around to the Kerry-for-President e-mail list.

Josh Ross: Was it a difficult decision to leave the Bush administration?
Rand Beers: It was an extraordinarily difficult decision for me to make. When you've worked with people for a number of years, you develop a sense of loyalty and camaraderie. But I feel strongly that if you're going to play a part in any government, you have to be one hundred percent committed. When I could not give that kind of commitment because of differences in philosophy and the administration's rush to war, I decided to leave.
After I left, I thought a lot about what I wanted to do, and came to the conclusion that rather than being part of the problem, which I was within the administration, I wanted to be part of the solution.

No further developments, to my knowledge, on the retiring John Gordon.

[Note: the previous entry in this series, with more background & links to all the earlier posts, is located here.]


Tenet Out

"For Personal Reasons."

Only no one is buying it. Notice the pains in most stories to place the claim in quotes, or preface it with "says" or "claims."

I couldn't help noticing the sequence of events in Bush's official statement: after a "good visit" last night, Tenet submitted a letter of resignation "today." Left unanswered was whether Bush's statement, or Tenet's letter, was drafted first.

[Update: Spencer Ackerman has the most plausible explanation I've read so far, which I offer with two caveats: (1) The only ones who know the truth (Bush, Tenet, and a few close aides) have obvious reasons to spin the story, no matter what the truth may be;(2)everyone is else is just speculating. So take all of it with ample salt -- even if a lot of folks appear to agree.]


Don't tell Bill Frist...

From Seeing the Forest, via The Left Hand of the Dial:
George Bush is out jogging one morning and notices Little Hannah on the corner holding a box. Curious, he runs over and says, "What's in the box, kid?"

Little Hannah says, "Kittens, they're brand new kittens."

Bush laughs and says, "What kind of kittens are they?"

"Republicans", says Little Hannah.

"Now that's cute", Bush says and goes on his way.

A few days later, Bush is running with the Vice President Cheney and he spies Little Hannah with her box just ahead.

He says to Dick, "You gotta check this out.", and they both jog over to Little Hannah.

Bush says, "Look in the box Cheney. Isn't that cute? Hey, kid, tell my friend what kind of kittens they are."

Little Hannah replies, "They're Democrats."

"Whoa!", Bush says, "I came by here the other day and you said they were Republicans. What's up?"

"Well", Little Hannah explains, "their eyes are open now."

VP Speculation

There’s no shortage of VP speculation lately, including this series, so I’ll go on record with a few comments:
  1. Kerry/McCain is a non-starter. Yes, I understand the fascination. But don’t be fooled. McCain wants to move his party back towards the center, and wants to be the leader who does it. If Kerry wins, McCain could be a likely opponent in ’08, unless Kerry puts him in a cabinet position first.

  2. I’d like to think that the choice will be John Edwards or Bill Richardson. Both are good choices, and since Edwards isn’t running for re-election, and Richardson is a governor, neither choice would endanger an existing Senate seat. But it’s tough to square that thought with the feeling that the eventual choice, like many of Kerry’s positions, will manage to be both vaguely disappointing and somehow still acceptable. Given the obviously horrendous Republican alternative, we’ll all embrace it.

  3. In other words, I really haven’t a clue. So here are a few of the attributes I’d like to see in the VP pick: charismatic, capable of speaking in short sentences, attractive to swing voters, smart enough to demolish Cheney in the debate(s), and able to be aggressive without appearing mean. Of course, that would be John Edwards, which would blow my “vaguely disappointing” theory. But I could live with that…

Your thoughts?


Wednesday, June 02, 2004


News From the Flab Front

A Tom Toles cartoon yesterday had me Googling for related stuff. I’m not sure what to make of it all, but here’s what I found:
  1. Numerous citations of the study that inspired the cartoon. Sure enough, researchers have found a clear correlation between time spent driving – and the ever-widening American rear end. Who’d have thunk it?

  2. A whole series from ABC news. My personal fave: this one, on hidden corn sweeteners, and the subsidies that make them so insidiously cheap. There are much better studies out there – but it’s always refreshing to see at least some of this stuff on the evening news.

  3. Meredith Vieira’s program for overweight kids, whose first inductees are christened (I’m not making this up) “the Flab Five.” I’m not sure which part of this story is stranger: (1) the name, which seems to suggest that the children’s weight problems can be addressed by an afternoon of snappy remarks and shopping; (2) the fact the Ms. Vieira claims to be sympathetic because she was once (gasp) ten to twenty pounds overweight; or (3) the fact that one of the first steps Ms. Vieira has taken to help these kids is to hire them nutritionists and trainers (just what any concerned parent of a chubby child might do).


Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Speaking of Mendacity...

Josh Marshall has a splendid take on David Brooks' latest:
This new argument -- that the White House pushed through big tax cuts because of the economic slow-down of early 2001 -- is simply an effort to retrospectively exonerate reckless and dishonest behavior which was demonstrably reckless and dishonest at the time. Columnists should challenge that sort of mendacity, not abet it.


"Unprecedented Negativity" in Bush Campaign Ads

Since this is a Tuesday-but-Monday-observed, I’ll start with my pick of what you may have missed over the weekend: Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei’s fine article on the “unprecedented negativity” of Bush Campaign ads:

Last Monday in Little Rock, Vice President Cheney said Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry "has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all" and said the senator from Massachusetts "promised to repeal most of the Bush tax cuts within his first 100 days in office."

On Tuesday, President Bush's campaign began airing an ad saying Kerry would scrap wiretaps that are needed to hunt terrorists.

The same day, the Bush campaign charged in a memo sent to reporters and through surrogates that Kerry wants to raise the gasoline tax by 50 cents.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as Kerry campaigned in Seattle, he was greeted by another Bush ad alleging that Kerry now opposes education changes that he supported in 2001.

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.

Clearly part of the reason for this proliferation of misleading ads is that they work, and part of the reason that they work is that the press thus far has largely failed to call the Bush campaign on the ever-growing number of fouls. The news here, in other words, is not that the ads are misleading. If you’ve been attuned to the Blogosphere, and if you even occasionally visit sites such as The Center for American Progress, or Factcheck.org or BushOut.tv, you may well find much of the material familiar.

The news is that it isn’t some relatively obscure website that’s calling these guys on the lies – it’s The Washington Post. And Millbank and VandeHei are not just calling them out – they’re documenting just how much more frequently and extremely the Bush campaign misleads than the other side.
Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total.

Apparently, the Post has figured out that catching Republicans at lies is not “evidence of partisanship”—it’s just journalists doing their job.

Thus far, however, the article has attracted only modest attention – perhaps because most of the country was more focused on beaches and barbecues over the weeked. Atrios didn’t mention it. Josh Marshall gets a nice dig in, but otherwise mentions it only in passing. There was a lengthy but not terribly noteworthy thread over at Kos. Barry Ritholtz, at BOPNews, stood out by having the sense both to note it – and to pose a couple of interesting questions:
Are all these negative and false statements the acts of a desperate and floundering incumbent campaign? Or, is the incumbent in so much political trouble because of the negativity it personifies?

To answer those questions, and put the entire matter into perspective, it helps to refer to a couple of earlier sources. Start with this piece, from the Annenberg Survey, which shows that people do indeed believe the misleading claims -- in spite of that fact the few will admit to getting information from political ads. Then take a look at this piece, by Sidney Blumenthal, which nicely catalogs the stakes for the administration in encouraging mistaken beliefs.

Put the two together, and you have at least one answer to Ritholtz’s questions: the Bush team is relying on misleading ads more than ever (a) because so far at least they've been getting away with it and (b) because they really have no choice.

It does start to look a lot like desperation, however -- since as the lies unravel, they seem to just be lying harder and harder just to slow their erosion.

For the Bushies, it's a classic no-win situation. It's too late to start telling the truth, the ranks of the credulous are diminishing, and the lies -- as lies always do --are getting far too complex to maintain.

[UPDATE: I somehow overlooked Kevin Drum's brief comment on this topic, which nicely summarizes the Post's statistics: "So Bush is three times more negative than Kerry. Just the kind of leader America needs."]

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