Saturday, January 31, 2004

Wes Clark in Vietnam

Back before the General was a General, he served as a captain in Vietnam. The Big Pundits have decided it's a sin for the General today to even suggest a criticism of our legitimate President Bush for ducking out on a year's worth of Air Guard service in 1972-3.

At the General's Web site, there is a description by one of the soldiers who served with him (who just endorsed him for President) about what Clark was doing a couple of years before Lt. Bush decided to disappear from the Guard for a year:

Michael McClintic, a veteran who now lives in Michigan, describes what happened that day: "In Vietnam, I saw Captain Clark get shot before I was able to push him to the ground and out of the line of enemy fire. Despite his wounds - Clark was shot four times -- Clark remained in command and under his leadership, we quickly overran the enemy positions."

Clark was later awarded the Silver Star for his leadership that day. The award states that, "With complete disregard for his personal safety, Captain Clark remained with his unit until the reactionary force arrived and the situation was well in hand. His courageous initiative and exemplary professionalism significantly contributed to the successful outcome of the engagement. Captain Clark's unquestionable valor in close combat against a hostile force is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army."

But the Big Pundits have decided that Clark is morally obligated to repudiate any criticism even any of his supporters might make suggesting there might have been something improper about Lt. Bush's conduct in the Guard. The national press corps really is in sad shape.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (10)

These are reasons that some combat veterans don't appreciate Bush's hyper-patriotic posturing very much. 

As the General's supporter and World War II bomber pilot George McGovern puts it:

Let me say that one thing that Richard Pearle [sic] and Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have in common is that none of them have ever been near a combat scene. They're perfectly willing to send younger people -- other people's sons -- into war. They're very generous with that blood of the young men and women that they throw into combat so casually. But they've protected their blood and their limbs by never serving near a battlefield. That's true of the President. It's true of the Vice President. It's true of Pearle [sic] and Wolfowitz -- that whole crowd of neo-conservatives that have the ear of the President.

Max Cleland himself has weighed in on the subject, as well. In an article warning of certain risky similaries between the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, Cleland wrote:

The president has declared "major combat over" and sent a message to every terrorist, "Bring them on." As a result, he has lost more people in his war than his father did in his and there is no end in sight.

Military commanders are left with extended tours of duty for servicemen and women who were told long ago they were going home. We are keeping American forces on the ground, where they have become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery for every terrorist in the Middle East.

Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (9)

But obviously, Presidential candidates get more scrutiny on such things. Except when the pundits decide that it doesn't fit the comfortable, familiar story line they're feeding their target audience of comfortable, affluent TV viewers. "Pundits dismissed the issue when they mentioned it at all." (Conason) And they're still doing it. How could the punditocracy be wrong about something like this? What do they care about the limbs and bodies left behind in Vietnam while Lt. Bush was skipping his National Guard service like the frivolous rich kid he was?

But Bush himself gave the issue fresh salience in several ways. The shameful (but successful) campaign against Democratic Senator Max Cleland in 2002 was one. As Conason recalls in Big Lies, Chambliss attacked Cleland's patriotism and accused him of "breaking his oath to protect and defend the Constitution." Chambliss "had avoided service during Vietnam with four student deferments and a 'football injury,' but he explained that his own lack of service was 'absolutely not an issue.'" Former Lt. Bush and his political hatchetman Karl Rove did not object to Chambliss' disgraceful attack on a genuine war hero.

Then last year Bush pranced around in his flight suit on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln for the photographers. He taunted the Iraqi guerrillas that if they wanted to kill our soldiers, "Bring 'em on." It's hard to avoid the thought that Bush's own easy success in ducking the Vietnam era draft and even his National Guard commitment, while Wes Clark was being shot by the enemy and Max Cleland was having his legs and his right arm blown off, contributed to Bush's callous and frivolous behavior on those occasions.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (8)

Which brings us back to the reason that the press corps of 2004 regards Bush's shabby Air Guard service record as a problem for General Clark, an accomplished military leader who himself was wounded in combat in the Vietnam War. As Conason says, "Pundits dismissed the issue when they mentioned it at all" in 2000. In PunditWorld, if the pundits don't mention it, it didn't happen. Welcome to "postmodern" campaign coverage.

Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler gives this summary of Bush's service:

  1. Bush lived in Alabama from May 1972 through November 1972. His two superior officers in Alabama say that he never showed up for duty.
  2. While in Alabama, Bush failed to take his required annual physical. As a result, he was formally suspended from duty.
  3. Bush returned to Houston in November 1972. Seven months later, on May 2, 1973, his two commanding officers at Houston’s Ellingwood air base declined to perform his annual report (covering the year from 5/1/72 through 4/30/73). Why did they decline to perform his report? Because, they wrote, “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report. A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp, Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama.” Of course, Bush was performing no such duty. But as of May 2, 1973, his superior officers in Houston still believed that he was.

Now, in the fabled Grand Scheme of Things, nobody really cares whether some flighty Texas rich kid skipped out on his National Guard duty thirty years ago. Except maybe for people who lost family members in Vietnam during the same time. Or people like the General who was wounded there fighting for their country. Or like former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who left three limbs behind in Vietnam from his combat service there.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (7)

As a result of missing the physical, the Air Guard suspended Bush from flying in September 1972. Conason observes, "The next time Bush strapped himself into a fighter cockpit would be thirty years later, when he was flown to the deck of the USS Lincoln for a triumphal speech marking the American victory over Saddam Hussein's dictatorship."

"Unsatisfactory participation" in his Guard duties could have subjected Bush to being assigned to active duty for two years. But instead, as Conason says, "he spent thrity-six days in drills (though not flying) from May through June 1973, apparently to compensate for all the months he had been absent." July 30 was his last day in uniform, and in October 1973 he was released from the Guard "eight months before he would have finished his original six-year commitment to the Guard."

Conason notes the way that the mainstream media failed to investigate this story during the 2000 campaign (my emphasis):

Despite all the remarkable contradictions between his military record and his self-serving stories, and despite the plentiful evidence that he had shirked a year of his servcie and then lied about it, the "liberal media" never subjected Bush to the searing interrogations inflicted on [Dan] Quayle in 1988 and Clinton in 1992. Only the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News, and a Democratic Web site bothered to explore the curious absences and lapses of duty that resulted in Bush's grounding after two years of fighter [pilot] training. Nobody insisted that he hold press conferences to explain himself. Pundits dismissed the issue when they mentioned it at all. The cultural assumption that Republicans are paragons of flag-saluting martial virtue is rarely challenged, regardless of reality.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (6)

The able Joe Conason in Big Lies (2003) describes the history of Bush's military service. In 1968, he signed up for a six-year stint in the Texas Air Guard. Like the rest of his life, he apparently enjoyed special advantages in doing so:

Ushered into the Texas Air National Guard ahead of hundreds of other young men on the waiting list for a few coveted places, George W. Bush later insisted that he had never received any "special favoritism." Perhaps he only benefited from the ordinary favoritism that the Texas elite enjoyed during the Vietnam War, when the Air National Guard became one of the primary means of escaping the draft. His father was a mere congressman at the time, but that was good enough to get Dubya in despite his low score on the pilot aptitude test. Pushed to the top of the wiating list, he was also awarded ahighly unusual promotion to second lieutentant on completing his basic training, despite his lack of qualifications.

In 1972, Bush requested a transfer to Guard unit in Alabama, which Conason describes as a "postal unit" which "didn't require weekend drills or active duty." Bush was going to work on a Republican Senate campaign in Alabama. The request was declined on the grounds that Bush was "ineligible for assignment to an Air Reserve squadron." Bush renewed his request in September.

Bush went to Alabama to work, and just didn't show up for Guard duty from May 1972 to May 1973. As Conason says, "The commander in chief's official National Guard record shows no evidence of service between May 1972 and May 1973." He was back in Houston during that time, but not for an Air Force physical in July 1972 required to keep his authorization to fly. "An investigation of Bush's miliary career published in June 2000 by the Times of London [06/18/00] noted that the Air Force had instituted rigorous drug testing a few months before he failed to show up for the medical exam."

Historical Footnote on Reagan and the John Birch Society

A couple of years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle did a series about FBI Cold War-era activities in relation to the University of California and student protests at various campuses. One of them touched on Reagan and the John Birch Society, mentioned in my previous post: The governor's race San Francisco Chronicle 06/09/02.

The article doesn't include the famous quotation to which Mark Shields alluded. But it does give some idea of how Reagan's appeal to far-right groups dogged him in that campaign:

In 1962, Reagan raised money for a Southern California Republican congressman and John Birch Society member, John Rousselot. ...

[FBI director J. Edgar] Hoover's top aides took special note when Reagan appeared on Jan. 9, 1966, on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Reagan was asked why he hadn't disavowed the John Birch Society, a group known for its far-reaching conspiracy theories.

Robert Welch, the society's founder, contended President Eisenhower and other leading U.S. officials had been communists and traitors. The group claimed to have thousands of members nationally and chapters throughout Southern California.

Under pressure to clarify his stand on the society for months, Reagan had issued a press release saying he never was a member of the group and disagreed with Welch's "reckless and imprudent statements."

On "Meet the Press," Reagan said he had not condemned the society itself because the Burns committee had looked into the group and found "nothing of a subversive nature."

The FBI, Reagan added, "has found nothing requiring an investigation of the John Birch Society."

The article goes on to explain that the FBI was in possession of a report claiming that Reagan had been a member of the John Birch Society but the claim was never substantiated. Reagan himself denied that he was ever a member and (carefully) criticized the Birchers, as in his 10/28/66 speech to the Commonwealth Club of California: "I'm not a member, have no intention of joining, never have been a member, not going to ask their support."

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (5)

The most bizarre thing about this "Bush the deserter" flap is that the high priests of punditry tried to use it as a criticism against ... General Clark. Reporters began asking the General to repudiate Moore's statement. Clark refused.

To the punditocracy, this was heresy. On the PBS Newshour of 01/23/04, the increasing pitiful David Brooks declared his version of the conventional wisdom on the "deserter" charge and scolded the General for not disavowing it:

He was presented with something Michael Moore, his supporter, had said in front of him that George W. Bush was a war deserter; why didn't he object to that, which is untrue. Why didn't he object now, and he didn't do it at the debate, he didn't do it then and he came off seeming to me like a hater.

At the links in the previous posts, one can find several opportunities to check if Michael Moore said Bush was a "war deserter."

Brooks' liberal counterpart Mark Shields, who is actually several cuts above most of his pundit colleagues in the quality of his work, in this case gave a variation on the conventional wisdom that at least avoided being silly:

I don't know if I subscribe to Dr. Brooks' assessment there on the motives involved. But I don't, quite frankly. But I do think that Wesley Clark showed flashes of some eloquence, but I think he stumbled on the Michael Moore question. Jim, I've been around politics too long, I guess, but I remember in 1966 when a rookie candidate from California named Ronald Reagan was running for governor and the major issue in the Republican primary for governor, where Reagan was actually an underdog, was whether the candidates would accept the support of the John Birch Society, the kind of loony tunes anti-Communist group then prominent in California politics.

And Ronald Reagan had a wonderful answer, he said, "I seek the support, welcome the support of all freedom loving law abiding Californians, but because somebody endorses me means in no way that I endorse them." And, you know, that's the answer. You couldn't rebut it, you couldn't argue with it. And Wesley Clark stumbled on the Michael Moore question last night, no doubt about it.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (4)

Martin Heldt also has several pieces on the topic - with more links - indexed at his Web site, including Finally, the Truth About Bush's Military Service Record (09/27/00) and an index to relevant source documents. described Heldt as "an Iowa farmer who was so outraged by the special treatment doled out to Bush that he spent all summer [2000] pouring over the governor's military file."

Joe Conason in Big Lies (2003) devotes several pages to recounting Lt. Bush's service record in the Air Guard.

David Neiwert offers the useful reminder in terms of this whole story that "Bush's status technically was Absent Without Leave (AWOL), which is not precisely the same as desertion. Moore uses the term, as Bob Somerby notes, as a term of art, but it is not definitively correct."

Moore, in his irreverent way, illustrates in his Jan. 27th post cited in my previous entry:

When the press heard me use that word "deserter," though, the bells and whistles went off, for this was one of those stories they knew they had ignored -- and now it was rearing its ugly, truthful head on a very public stage. ... After all, when I called Bush a deserter, how did they know I wasn't referring to how he has deserted the 43 million Americans who have no health coverage? Why didn't they assume I was talking about how Bush is a deserter because he has deserted the working people of this country (who have lost 3 million jobs since he's taken office)? ...

Instead, they have created the brouhaha over Bush's military record, often without telling their audience what the exact charges are. It seems all they want to do is to get Clark or me -- or you -- to shut up. "We have never investigated this and so we want you to apologize for bringing it up!" Ha ha ha.

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (3)

In additional to the many individual articles linked in the blog I referenced in my previous post, I want to call attention to some of the individual source article on the Bush Air Guard story.

One-year gap in Bush's National Guard duty Boston Globe 05/23/00. David Niewert says this was "in many respects was the most serious effort by anyone in the mainstream media to examine the issue" during the 2000 campaign.

Since it was General Clark's supporter Michael Moore that kicked off the controversy with this statement, it's worth checking out what Moore himself has to say about it, with other links included:

You Say Deserter, I Say More Dessert 01/27/04
George Bush, A.W.O.L. 01/23/04

Moore's writing makes many sympathetic liberal journalists nervous. Part of it is partisan: Moore backed Ralph Nader in 2000 when he ran as Presidential candidate for the Green Party (aka, Treehugger Republicans to some Democrats). The other reason is that in his documentaries, he was willing to allow dramatic considerations to override what some critics thought should be a more scrupulously journalistic treatment of the facts. So a critical eye is needed with reading Michael Moore, as with everyone else.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Is Bush a "Deserter"? (2)

A few references on Bush as a "deserter" from the Air Guard:


Daily Howler (Bob Somerby): Days of Bias (11/26/03) Not Curious About George (01/20/04) Peter Jennings Missing Years (01/23/04)  Kit-Flop (01/28/04) Houston, You Don't Have a Problem (01/30/04)

Somerby focuses on media criticism and he does it the way it should be done. In the process, he explains facts that the mainstream press manage to scramble (or ignore!).

David Neiwert at Orcinus has been all over this story, too. If you haven't been looking at this story, you may be surprised at how many people who have, as Niewert's links show: Bush the 'Deserter' (01/23/04) AWOL Bush: Debunked? Hardly! (01/26/04) A Quick Question (01/26/04) All AWOL All the Time(01/27/04) More AWOL (01/29/04). One of his many links is to a Web site devoted to the subject:

Hesiod weighed in: here and here. As did Jonathan Chait and Josh Marshall.

Iraq War: Reading a Poll More Closely (2)

(Cont. from Part 1) So it would be a fair summary to say that 97% of the public are aware of the issue, and 75% have some significant reservations about how the war is going. We could also conjecture that of the 46% who answered "very well, not too well or not at all well," most felt well-informed enough to have a definite opinion. The 51% who said "fairly well" probably includes respondents who didn't feel well enough informed to have a strong opinion about how it's going as well as some who felt that patriotic sentiment required leaning toward a more optimistic view.

For a wartime Administration with soldiers dying daily in a war started under the most dubious of circumstances, those are not cheerful numbers. Probably even more telling is that in the results for April 10-16, 2-3 weeks before Bush pranced around in a flight suit in his "Mission Accomplished" performance, 61% thought things were going "very well" Every war is popular during the first few weeks. That percentage in the latest poll was 22%, little more than a third of the "Mission Accomplished" level. That drastic shift in perception has to affect the credibility of the President and of the war.

The following question, which only shows results from the most recent poll, was, "From what you've seen and read, has stabilizing Iraq been HARDER than President Bush and his advisers expected, EASIER than they expected, or about as they expected?" This question would get more at respondents' views on the Administration's specific judgment in the policies they actually pursued. With 4% don't know/refused, 64% said "harder than expected", 30% "about as expected" (probably inlcudes some without a strong opinion or looking to express patriotic optimism), and only 2% - that's two percent - saying "easier than expected."

With 96% of the public aware enough of the issue to express some opinion on the question, nearly 2/3 believe the Administration's judgment was overly optimistic. It wouldn't be reading too much into this to say this represents a significant amount of disillusionment over the Iraq War.

The poll's actual results are considerably more complicated than saying that 65% "thought going to war was the right decision," a question that was not even asked in that form.

Iraq War: Reading a Poll More Closely (1)

A demographer friend of mine reading the previous post pointed out to me that the Pew Research Center Web site gives extensive information on the polls they conduct.

So I looked up the poll released  01/22/04, which appears to be the poll Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times used in saying that 65% of Americans "thought going to war was the right decision." And, indeed, the Pew Center's own summary says, "Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) feel the war was the right decision..."

However, the question that the poll actually asked, according to the questionaire appearing on the same Web site, was (my emphasis), "Do you think the U.S. made the right decision or the wrong decision in using military force against Iraq?" Now, "using military force" is a much wider category of possible actions than "invading Iraq and occupying the whole country with 120,000+ US troops for possibly years to come." Bombing suspected WMD sites would have been military force. Firing missles at the Republican Guards would have been military force.

The following two questions are much more indicative of public attitudes about the war we actually have than the one Hook cited. "How well is the U.S. military effort in Iraq going?" Only 22% said "very well" (which would be the Administration loyalist line), while 51% said "fairly well," 18% "not too well" and 6% "not at all well." All these questions offered a "don't know" option to respondents. Only 3% fell into "don't know/refused to answer" on that question.

(Cont. in Part 2)

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Iraq War: The Politics of War

The Afghan War, which is far from a success, was never as much an immediate risk to the Bush Administration as the Iraq War. For one thing, the Administration was never willing to make the kind of commitment of troops and money to Afghanistan to do really successful "nation-building" there. But the loss of seven American soldiers in Afghanistan on Thursday is a reminder that the Afghan War is far from over.

But invading and occupying Iraq was a far bigger undertaking. And the risky move of justifying the war based on cooked intelligence increased the political danger for the Bush Administration of the war, not only domestically but internationally. As we're now seeing: Iraq War Questions Gain Momentum Los Angeles Times 01/30/04.

Even some Republicans are urging the White House to respond more forthrightly to questions about how U.S. intelligence could be so flawed.

"Politically the president really needs to explain this to the American people," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee who supported the Iraq war. "It undermines his ability to continue to talk to the American people about the war on terrorism."

This article also gives a good example of how the pollsters and the press often miss the significance of foreign policy issues in elections. It cites a Pew Research Center poll showing that 65% of the people think "going to war was the right decision."

But without knowing how the question was worded, that tells us next to nothing. Despite what reporters often seem to think, most people can and do make some calculation of whether a war was worth the cost. A large majority in May also thought most US troops would be withdrawn within 90 days or so. Do you think some of those people might be disillusioned with the conduct of the war?

More on *An End to Evil*

A new review by Gary Kamiya of David Frum's and Richard Perle's An End to Evil (2003) is up at He characterizes the book this way: "With its trademarked combination of chipper propaganda, bullying bluster, intellectual dishonesty and radical policy prescriptions, 'An End to Evil' offers a guided tour of the mind of George W. Bush, as filtered through the higher-grade neurons of its authors."

Kamiya is more optimistic than I am about how much of the Frum/Perle agenda might actually become Bush Administration policy.

But this isn't to say that the authors' militarist, triumphalist, unilateral, self-righteous, black-and-white ideology will not continue to drive the Bush administration's beliefs and actions. Rejecting international treaties and institutions, embracing an unprecedented and deeply un-American doctrine of preventive war, insulting the U.N. (except when we need it to bail us out), eschewing diplomacy for force, bigfooting everybody who dares to oppose us, and above all, treating the "War on Terror" as a kind of divinely inspired crusade against "evil," which only a heretic could oppose: These are the bedrock beliefs of the Bush team. They also just so happen to be the heart of its reelection strategy, aimed at Americans who didn't know the difference between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and trusted their government when it told them they represented the same threat.

Kamiya also focuses on how crude their anti-Muslim ideology is, even if expressed in highbrow language. "One scarcely knows what to call such an argument: To label it arrogant, ahistorical, dismissive and callous seems insufficient."

He also makes an observation with which I would concur: "the world imagined by Perle and Frum is a strange combination of Hobbes and Popeye."

I've been referring to this book quite a bit here, and posted my own review earlier.

Is Bush a "Deserter" (1)

The General (Wesley Clark) has been taking grief from the Big Pundits for not scolding his supporter Michael Moore over his comment about Bush being a "deserter" from the Texas Air Guard in his younger days.

Via David Neiwert's Orcinus, I came across this comment from George McGovern, World War II bomber pilot and another of the General's supporters, on the topic in a CNBC interview:

Siegenthaler: I just want to talk about Wesley Clark for a second . . . because he had a tough time in some cases in New Hampshire. Some people said his endorsement from Michael Moore where he called President Bush a deserter --- and then Wesley Clark refused to distance himself from Michael Moore was really a difficult time for him. And that he stumbled a couple of times up there in New Hampshire. How do you react to that?

McGovern: Well look, I know he was severely criticized for not rebuking the contention that George W. Bush was a deserter.

But what would you call him?

He avoided the war in Viet Nam by signing up for the Texas National Guard -- and then didn't show up.

He missed half of his time by not showing up for the National Guard training.

Maybe there's some kinder word than deserter. But in my book that's not too far from the truth.

And I think General Clark is a man who never backed away from battle -- who volunteered to be a part of the armed forces of this country -- as I did.

People like that are not going to defend George W. Bush on his military record.

Siegenthaler: (Stunned) Issues of war and peace continue to be a controversy -- and a part of this campaign as we head through 2004.

"Spinoff" Journal

I created a separate AOL Journal for election-related posts but it will be a subset of this one (until further notice). In other words, I'm going to first post to this blog, and copy election-related ones over there.

It's called (what else?) Old Hickory's Election Page.

I was following up on a suggestion from AOL blog guru John Scalzi.

Scamming on *The Passion*

I knew there was something funny about the way that Mel Gibson, adherent of a reactionary Catholic religious sect, was promoting his gory film about the crucufixion of Jesus. I figured it was something that went beyond the usual Hollywood courting of benign controversy.

Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has now described what it is that's funny about the publicity buildup.  In this article at the excellent site,  'Something Between Cover-Up and  Censorship', he describes how he was asked to sign a peculiar kind of confidentiality agreement when he saw the film at a pastors' conference he attended. Gibson hasn't simply been taking care to show it to sympathetic audiences:

... [I]t was not the fact but the content of the confidentiality agreement that surprised me. On one hand, it enjoined me "to hold confidential my exposure, knowledge and opinions of the film." On the other hand it affirmed that, "pastors and church leaders are free to speak out in support of the movie and your opinions resulting from today's experience and exposure to this project and its producer."

I understand that legalese to mean that negative opinions are forbidden but positive ones are solicited. It is one thing to say that nobody can give any information about the movie or even express any opinion about it; but to allow support while denying criticism is something between cover-up and censorship. And its power is that of fear--the fear of ordinary and unprotected persons like myself that they might be sued for giving their opinion, even insofar as that could be done without discussing the movie itself.

It seems to me that the promotion of the film has been aimed at maximizing suspicion of the film among Jews and mainstream Christians, while encouraging conservative Christian leaders to publicly identify themselves with the film before they encounter informed criticism by less receptive audiences they've had the chance to actually see it. This approach will provoke controversy, but not an entirely benign sort.

Iraq War: Iraq and International Law

Hesiod is looking at the legal basis of the US decision to invade Iraq.

The government's lawyers are very much aware that a "pre-emptive" attack on another sovereign nation is justified under the international laws that also are binding in American law only if an attack is "imminent."

This is not some quibbling over marketing terms. The Bush Administration's National Security Policy talks about pre-emptive war rather than "preventive" war, because in international law, pre-emptive war is legal against an "imminent" threat. "Preventive" war, on the other hand, is an illegal attack, an "aggressive" are in terms of the Nuremburg Tribunal language.

However tenuous the Bush Administration's commitment to obeying international law may be, at least not everyone who works for the US government has forgotten it.

See also:
War and Atrocities
Frum/Perle Short Version
The Amazing Mr. Perle
That Trial
Sometimes a Few Words Say It All
US Troops in Syria?
Will the Iran-Contra Crowd Ever Go Away?
Was Iraq an "Imminent" Threat?
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and the Doctrine of Preventive War
Iraq War: Welcome to the West Bank

California Politics: Jerry Brown on Gray Davis

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown opposed the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis. But back during the recall campaign, he had an interesting take on why Davis was so unpopular during a CNN interview with Tucker Carlson (08/12/03):

CARLSON: ... Mr. Mayor, and this is a very complicated answer, but boil it down for us. You've been around California politics. Gray Davis is about as unpopular as any person in human history has ever been.

BROWN: Well, not as unpopular as Harry Truman or my father, Pat Brown
[also a Governor of California], at one time.

CARLSON: Well, that may be so. He's pretty much hated by everybody. Why?

BROWN: Why? Well, you know, there's a story in ancient Greece about a guy named Aristides the Just. And as they were exiling this guy, he stood there and said, "Why are you voting to exile me?" And the guy said, "I'm just tired of hearing the name Aristides the Just."

That happens when you're in this business. It's called overexposure, too many controversies, lots of enemies. Don't count Gray Davis out yet. He has a real mountain to climb, but this is such a chaotic, unprecedented arena, I think we ought to wait a few more weeks before we write any epithets or obituaries.

Chuckie Watch 30: Chuckie Still Believes

Now, ole Chuckie (CHARLIE DANIELS) is a man of faith. As one might guess from the title of his latest Soapbox rant: What Is The Truth? (01/26/04). But the faith in this one is about the "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Chuckie has a whole series of questions for those who are still concerned over the fact that the WMDs that were the main justication for the Iraq War don't appear to exist in our plane of reality. All along the lines of, "Do you really believe that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction?"

Well, uh, Chuckie, I know Saint Paul said that faith is the evidence of things not seen. But he was talking about the spiritual world of angels and so forth. And it's fine for John Aschroft to believe that calico cats are symbols of a literal Devil who would like to drag innocent souls down to a literal fiery Hell. But that doesn't mean we should base public policy on it. Especially public policy that involves going to war and killing people.

Chuckie's arguments are an adaptation of Sunday School teachers' attempts to scare pubescent young class members into behaving. As in, "Don't you believe that God is watching everything you do?" The effectiveness of such arguments in the face of raging teenage hormones is well known, if not always admitted.

And for once Chuckie's simpleton, pseudo-redneck argument is really not much different than what any Iraq War fan has to make at this point. Do you really want to believe that the main reason for the war was a lie? No, I don't either. I wish America and Britain were led by more honest, less warlike leaders. But we aren't.

Rather than putting confidence in faith-based intelligence claims that have turned out (at least in the material world) to be bogus, maybe Chuckie and war fans like him should have spent a little more time a year ago practicing their Christian faith. For instance, they might have given some thought to the religious obligation of Christians to oppose unjust wars rather than putting their faith in men like Bush and Rummy.

Then they wouldn't be in the position now of making vapid Sunday School arguments to justify their support for war and killing in this instance.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Iraq War: Causes and Results

This is my "read Juan Cole" post of the day. Cole has a good summary of the intelligence problems that produced the blatantly wrong estimates of Iraqi WMDs that Bush and Blair wound up being used to justify invasion and war: Kay, Powell, Backtrack on WMD (01/26/04):

But Bush and his officials were the real problem. They were determined to go  to war regardless of the intelligence. Neoconservatives in the Pentagon and the Rockingham Group in the British military cherry-picked and politicized vague "intelligence" (i.e. unsupported anecdotes) fed to them by figures like corrupt expatriate Iraqi businessman Ahmad Chalabi and very likely Israeli intelligence. The groups that wanted the war, wanted it so badly that the shakiness of the "intelligence" did not matter. The intelligence was just spun.

And Juan Cole on one of the results of the US-British liberation of Iraq: Iraqi Women's Rights Imperiled (01/27/04):

Sarah el Deeb of the Associated Press explores the implications for Iraqi women of the US tendency to appoint men to high office, to exclude women, and to bow to vocal patriarchalists whenever challenged. Western commentators, including George W. Bush, who think women's rights have actually improved in Iraq since the war, have no idea what they are talking about. The attempt of some powerful male members of the Interim Governing Council to impose religious personal status law on Iraqi women still hangs in the balance.


New Hampshire

I know it's awfully presumptuous of me to comment on the New Hampshire primary without having first checked out what the Big Pundits have to say about it.

But it looks to me like it's still a four-way race between John Kerry (now unquestionably the "front-runner"), Dr. Howard Dean, Wesley Clark and John Edwards. Lieberman may be refusing to concede. But it's hard to see how he has much of a shot at this point.

The Big Pundits will probably say New Hampshire was about "electability" and a validation of their preferred story line that Dr. Dean is "angry" and "volatile." They will express their deep concern that Kerry might be a "Massachusetts Democrat" who could turn out to be "another Dukakis." No actual analysis of the 1988 election will be necessary. Big Pundits don't need analysis once they have decided on a comfortable story line.

The Big Pundits will not put much significance on the fact that Kerry, Dean and Clark have all been very critical of the Iraq War, as has Edwards to a lesser degree. Of the previous contenders, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman were both more-or-less cheerleading for Bush's war policies. But, the Big Pundits' clown show will likely tell us that the masses out there, who they've extensively interviewed during their travels in Iowa and New Hampshire, don't even think there's a war going on.

As an example of how far political reporting - not just Big Punditry - has sunk, check out this description of Dean's post-Iowa-caususes speech, which to anyone of average judgment and familiar with the normal usage of words in English is just plain factually wrong and should never have made it past the editor of the Sacramento Bee, a respected political newspaper (from the 01/24/04 print edition): "Dean's infamous Iowa speech - when he ripped off his coat, screeched out the names of a dozen primary states and ended with a guttural yell." 

But the Big Pundits won't be wasting their precious screen time criticizing such sloppy reporting. They have better things to do, like repeating their comfortable clichees for the affluent, comfortable audience their advertisers want to target.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Huntin' for Justice

Chief Justice Rehnquist says it's just fine with him for Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most disgraceful characters to ever sit on the Supreme Court, to rule on his huntin' buddy Dick Chaney's secrecy case: High Court Won't Review Scalia's Recusal Decision Los Angeles Times 01/27/04:

"There is no formal procedure for court review of the decision of a justice in an individual case," Rehnquist said in a letter to Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "That is so because it has long been settled that each justice must decide such a question for himself."

He added that it was "ill-considered" for the senators to suggest that Scalia step aside in the pending case involving Cheney and the White House task force he headed to develop the Bush administration's energy policy. Cheney has refused to disclose records of the task force's activities.

Translation: Hey, we know it's a good-ole-boy farce to do business this way but, hey, we're Republicans. We're in control. And this is how we're going to do it.

As I said earlier: I mean, couldn't they at least pretend to be conducting themselves in a business-like way? Of course not. Scalia is strictly from the Roger Taney school or jurisprudence. (That would be Roger Taney of the Dred Scott decision fame.)

The answer hasn't changed in the last week and a half.

This Reeks

Since I don't know all the details, I should say that it's vaguely, minutely possible that there's something substantial to this. But it sure smells like rightwing scam posturing to me: Bill aims to curb profs' classrooom politicizing Denver Post 01/27/04.

It seems that Colorado universities are being overrun with scheming, nasty Evil Liberal professors who are forcing their hideous opinions down the throats of poor, innocent conservative students. So state Rep. Shawn Mitchell is introducing a measure to protect the poor young things. (Do I even need to mention he's a Republican?)

"This bill provides a level playing field and says that no one should be discriminated against because of the political content of their speech," Mitchell said.

The proposed academic bill of rights is aimed at protecting conservative students who say they are targets of harassment and discrimination by left-leaning faculty because of their political beliefs.

Golly gee, they don't want to create a "protected class" for conservative wusses, do they? I know that actually having to engage their brains instead of learning by rote is extremely painful for a lot of the College Republican crowd, as it is for many of their less ideological classmates.

But I would be greatly surprised to find out that the established procedures, rules and governing laws (state and federal) do not already provide adequate protection for any of the alleged discrimination the bill is meant to protect. It's pretty noticeable that the article cites not a single actual case of this occurring. It sure smells to me like a McCarthy-era style legislative witch hunt to intimidate moderate and liberal professors.

And how did conservatives get this idea that they seem to chronically hold on to that American colleges are crawling with Marxists? Good Lord, you'd be lucky if you can find a single professor on most campuses that could even give a half-tolerable description of what Karl Marx actually advocated. This whole story reminds me of an Oklahoma legislator in the McCarthy days who was drilling a university professor and asked him (quoting from memory here), "Do you know who Karl Marx is and have you ever read his book?"

Monday, January 26, 2004

Clowning on "Meet the Press"

I watched Meet the Press on Sunday. It was a painful experience. I can see I need to minimize the amount I watch election coverage on TV. Bob Somerby at the Howler is right. These TV pundits don't care about the issues. They run a clown show.

Host Tim Russert in the second half held a panel discussion that included Tom Brokaw, David Broder, Gloria Borger and Ron Brownstein. Brownstein does some good reporting in the Los Angeles Times. But this was a joke. These are affluent, comfortable pundits creating entertainment for an affluent, comfortable target audiences that advertisers want.

The political reporters long ago settled on a story line on Howard Dean of "the angry Dean." Finally, with Dean's Iowa speech last Monday where he rolled up his sleeves and said, "Yee-haw," they apparently got a story that was widely interpreted to fit their story line. And they all chatted about The Angry Dean, telling their comfortable target audience that the comfortable story line that the comfortable pundits having been pushing is correct. With minor, meaningless variation to create the pleasant sensation of thought without actually engaging in any.

At one point, David Broder - called the "dean" of political pundits - said, without the slightest hint of irony or self-criticism, "The odd thing is that there was very little in Governor Dean's history, in all those years that he was running the state of Vermont, that would have suggested that he was kind of an emotionally volatile person." Gosh, isn't that a fascinating thing? There's no actual evidence for the story line we settled on! What a puzzling phenomenon!

The punditocracy also has decided that the General's (Wesley Clark's) unwillingness to openly disavow his supporter Michael Moore's description of Bush as a "deserter" is a case of fumbling the answer. Whether it's a good strategy or not, Clark made clear in his interview with Russert in the first part of the show that he's doing that deliberately. But because the affluent, comfortable pundits were too lazy to pursue the story of Bush's Air Guard service during the 2000 race, they define it as a mistake for anyone else to do so.

Bob Somerby is right. These pundits are clowns.

Chuckie Watch 29: Chuckie Watches the Debates

Chuckie's been watching them Democrat Party debates. (On Fox News, no doubt.) And Chuckie don't like what he's hearing.

Chuckie's got the Fox story line on the candidates already. Dean is really "a raving, angry, out of control Bush basher." He looked calm in the debate Chuckie watched. But Chuckie knows he's just faking. Chuckie don't like John Kerry's haircut or eyebrows. He don't thank Edwards is "presidential." Wes Clark is "contradictory."

Chuckie thinks all Al Sharpton did is "remind us that he was the minority candidate." Lieberman is pro-war and that's good from Chuckie's viewpoint. Chuckie seems kind of surprised that Dennis Kucinich agrees with him on criticizing NAFTA. But he thinks all them Democrat candidates "are so many peas in a pod, generally speaking."

But Chuckie has some deep foreign policy analysis for us out of his debate watching:

Kerry said that we needed two more divisions in our Armed Forces, but when asked what he would do to induce young people to join the military he said that he would assure them that they would never have to go to war unless it was absolutely necessary.

Necessary in whose estimation? Who is going to deem it absolutely necessary? It’s still a matter of opinion.

But then Chuckie reminds us that we cain't trust that there United Nations thing no how because it's "a toothless, waffling, self serving debating society" and, besides, Chuckie says, "I personally would be very happy if America would succeed [sic] from the U.N."

I wonder what Chuckie thinks about his hero Bush crawling to the UN, begging them to help us have some elections in Iraq that are half-way legitimate this year? Why would a Real Man go beg for the help of that there "toothless, waffling" UN? Life must be hard in ChuckieWorld sometimes.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Light Blogging and Frum/Perle Short Version

Okay, so now I'm probably going to be doing light blogging for the next four days or so.

But, meanwhile, David Frum and Richard Perle have given us a shorter version of their book An End to Evil in this article: U.N. Should Change - or U.S. Should Quit Los Angeles Times 01/23/04. This line pretty much sums up why Molly Ivins in right in suggesting that the title of the book should have been The Beginning of Evil [my emphasis]:

The U.N. has become an obstacle to our national security because it purports to set legal limits on the United States' ability to defend itself. If these limits ever made sense at all, they do not make sense now.

This is not just a call to "Get US out of the UN," as the old John Birch Society slogan put it. It's also a call for the United States to abandon international law, as well. The body of international law they want to abandon is something the the United States has had a very large role in creating and has served us well.

Does this guy Perle really belong on an official Pentagon advisory board?

Having people like this in charge of making foreign policy is a lot crazier than a Presidential candidate saying "Yee-haw" at a campaign rally.

Iraq War: The WMD Scam Isn't Going Away reports on the anger of many CIA professionals against the war zealots in the Bush Administration, and especially about the Valerie Plame scandal: The CIA revolt against the White House by Mark Follman, 01/23/04:

[F]or almost a year, the White House has been quitely fighting a contentious battle at home on the national security front -- against the U.S. intelligence community itself. Vocal retired intelligence officials, and anonymous active ones, have protested repeatedly that the White House has coerced intelligence agencies to rig findings and analysis to suit administration aims. An egregious example: The long-held goal of removing Saddam Hussein from power, by unilateral war if necessary. The consequences of such White House intimidation could be disastrous, the intelligence veterans say, with the integrity of their work -- and national security -- put at grave risk.

Just making up the reasons for an adventure like the Iraq War has consequences that aren't easily avoided. The bulk of the article is the text of an interview with former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, a Republican who previously had donated money to Bush.  Johnson makes an observation about how attitudes toward the so-called war on terrorism affect conduct in other areas as well, saying, "the Bush administration puts a lot of emphasis on fighting terrorism as a war, not as a criminal act, therefore the idea is you fight the war on terrorism without having to worry about criminal statutes. Well, that seems to apply as long as it doesn't affect someone in their own administration."

And in regard to the Valerie Plame issues, Johnson says, "In my view, this administration is actually involved with aiding and abetting terrorists -- because when you expose clandestine human intelligence sources, you aid and abet terrorists."


Iraq War: Regime Change in Britain?

"Oh! He's very important then if he's the prime minister. That's a real tough job, isn't it?" - Britney Spears in London, 03/27/02

Yes, it is a tough job. Rose Brady in Business Week 02/02/04 gives him a better chance than the oddsmakers of surviving possible major jolts next week: Will Tony Blair Dodge These Bullets? (Subscription required) She points out that Jan. 27 (Tuesday) is the date set for a controversial vote on a university fee ncrease which is seen as a key test of Blair's strength within his Labour Party. And on the following day:

... Brian Hutton, a respected senior judge, will release the report of his investigation into the death of weapons expert David Kelly. The government scientist killed himself last summer when he faced public scrutiny after being exposed as the source of a BBC story accusing 10 Downing St. of "sexing up" a British intelligence report on the dangers posed by Iraq.

The Hutton report could also prove embarassing for the Bush Administration, since it relates to the false prewar claims about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," including the uranium-from-Niger claim that wound up inspiring a couple of less-than-totally-patriotic souls among the Bush team to commit the crime of exposing Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative.

Brady's report doesn't make it clear how severely Blair's reckless support of the Bush Administration in the Iraq War has damaged him, not only within his party but with public opinion. But he does have the advantage of a poorly-led opposition in the Conservative Party at the moment. And opposition to the war, and therefore to Blair's role in it, has been far stronger among his own Labour Party than among the opposition Conservatives, who supported him on backing Bush's Iraq War.

Rush and the Dittoheads

Paul Ginnetty in "Limbaugh's Fans Are Certain They're Right," Newsday 11/12/03, discussed Limbaugh's "dittoheads" (fans), including the familiar observation that Limbaugh keeps his message simplistic and direct, avoiding any hint of nuance or complexity as much as possible.

I like the way he describes why Limbaugh's act is essentially a monologue, and why his particular approach quickly falls apart when he tries to engage directly with different views or even a mildly inquisitive journalist:

Limbaugh's brand of talk radio provides a pathologically intense version of [the] wish to be singing from the same hymnal. Crucial to this phenomenon is the absence of any real controversy during the broadcast. There are constant sparks of apparent conflict that make for engaging entertainment as he shadowboxes (with one hand tied behind his back, of course) with select sound bites of Hillary Rodham Clinto or Ted Kennedy.

Note that there are never any actual guests on the program; guests, even conservative one, risk obscuring simple truths with inconvenient facts or alternative hypotheses.

There are seldom any real disagreements between the host and the already converted choir to which he bombastically preaches. Their collective nickname says it all - they are the well-scrubbed ranks of "ditto-heads" - people who can be counted on to shout "amen," who have little to add but a grateful and admiring "ditto."

Did I mention that President Bush describes the bigoted dope fiend Limbaugh as a "national treasure"?

California Politics: The Perils of Not Tooting Oneself

Political analyst Harold Meyerson had a good postmortem last October on the California recall: Gray Matter American Prospect 10/10/03. My favorite part of the piece is his use of one of my favorite quotations, from "the legendary labor leader" John L. Lewis, who was enthusiastic in promoting himself:

He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.

Meyerson argues that Gray Davis' big problem was that he never had a strong constituency within the state Democratic Party himself. And he was not good at the vital skill of touting his own accomplishments (or "tooting" them either). In fact, he says, Davis "has long been just about the unhappiest warrior on the American political battlefield." Cruz Bustamonte also proved to be a poor alternative candidate for the Democrats. As a consequence, Meyerson observes:

... Republicans voted in the recall like there was no tomorrow and Democrats voted like there was no election. Just 39 percent of the voters on Tuesday were Democrats, while 38 percent were Republicans. Contrast that to the gubernatorial election of 1998, when Democrats constituted 42 percent of state voters and Republicans 37 percent, or the presidential contest of 2000, when Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 44 percent to 34 percent.

The attention now will all be on Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this election was all about Gray Davis. The new guy, after all, was not a wildly popular figure on Election Day: In the exit polling, 50 percent of voters volunteered a favorable opinion of Schwarzenegger, 45 percent an unfavorable one.

It was Davis, not Schwarzenegger, who brought Davis down. Shunning political positions, he came to stand for the entire political system. That was more baggage than any pol could bear.

This means that Schwarzenegger has a major challenge in building a strong base of support for himself, in which his March campaign for a $15 billion bond is a major event. So far, the measure is faring badly in the polls. But running a gloom-and-doom campaign to scare people about the alternatives of not passing it may not be the ideal vehicle to build positive impressions for himself.

Emmylou Harris

The London Observer a couple of months ago did an interview with country singer Emmylou Harris, who I have counted as my favorite singer for as long as I can remember. The interview and the article really catches the significance of this very intelligent, incredibly talented and influential singer.

Angel of the South Observer (UK) 11/02/03

I think this observation is valid and well-due recognition. It was Emmy who made it possible for a Merle Haggard to issue an antiwar song like "That's the News":

It would not be overstating the case to say that Emmylou Harris was set free by country music, period, and that she, in turn, helped free the music of the prejudices and stereotypes that had stalked the most conservative of American popular art forms throughout the progressive Sixties. Though The Eagles may have sold more records with their slick Californian country-rock, and her late, great mentor, Gram Parsons, may now be recognised as the music's progenitor and greatest visionary, Harris can stake her claim to being the woman who single-handedly carried the torch for that vision, touring relentlessly, and releasing well over 20 albums on which she became the greatest living interpreter of country standards, and a great, if fitfully productive, songwriter in her own right. Her voice lends itself to sad songs and, as she put it, 'That pool of melancholy just gets wider and deeper as you get older.'

She also confirms the story, well-know to her fans, about writing a letter to Pete Seeger as a teenager:

'I sure did. See, I just didn't know how to get where I wanted to be. I had lived a sheltered life, I'd never stood on a picket line, or hopped a freight train, so I didn't think I had the credibility to sing the kind of songs that seemed to come from hardship.' Did Seeger write back. 'He did, bless him. He said, "Don't worry about suffering and hardship, girl, it's going to come to you one way or another whether you want it to or not."'

Bush's 2004 State of the Union Address (2)

Bush 01/21/04:  In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent. This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending, and be wise with the people's money. By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Laura D'Andrea Tyson, dean of London Business School Business Week 01/19/04:

The Bush Administration suggests that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts - which, if made permanent, would amount to more than three times the cost of making Social Security solvent - will boost the economy's long-run growth. But the Administration's tired supply-side logic has failed to conveince even the Republican-dominated Congressional Budget Office, which recently concluded that the Bush tax cuts were likely to reduce future economic growth.

Under Bush's leadership, the government has made a series of inconsistent promises that, taken together, cannot be honored: promises of future Medicare and Social Security benefirts, promises of substantial investment in military and homeland security, promises of leaving no child behind, promises of generous corporate subsideies and tax breaks, promises of timely repayment of federal debt, and promises of tax rates far below those necessary to cover its other commitments.

Bush's 2004 State of the Union Address

Okay, maybe not-so-light blogging today. Before Bush's forgettable State of the Union address this week is totaly forgotten:

Bush 01/20/04 :  "Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations."

Reuters 01/23/04

In a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which says its invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of illicit arms, [David] Kay told Reuters in a telephone interview he had concluded there were no Iraqi stockpiles to be found.

"I don't think they existed," Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the nineties," he said.

Bush 01/21/04:  "We're working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. ...  The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom. ...  Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future."

Knight Ridder 01/21/04:

CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said Wednesday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered verbally to Washington this week ...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Light Blogging Alert and Brief Takes

I'll probably be blogging sparsely the next three or four days. But here are some worthwhile short takes.

Jerry Brown at the Rotary Club:

Oakland mayor back's governor's bailout San Francisco Chronicle 01/22/04
Brown touts city progress at breakfast Oakland Tribune 01/22/04, in which he is quoted:

Brown renewed his criticism of President George W. Bush's foreign policy, saying the president has no idea what he is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I guess we're nation building there," Brown said. "There are some blocks in Oakland that I'd like to nation build."

Mel Gibson's "Passion": 2 Jewish Leaders Report Upset After Viewing 'Passion' New York Times 01/23/04

Iraq War: CIA warns of Iraq civil war Miami Herald 01/21/04 Knight-Ridder (via Hesiod)

Republicans Raiding Computer Files

The blogosphere has been all over this story. With good reason. It's another milestone in the transformation of the party of Lincoln into the party of Ashcroft.

Infiltration of files seen as extensive Boston Globe 01/22/04

Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee [sic] infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November. ...

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.

Manual Miranda from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's staff, who is on administrative leave in the investigation, "argued that the only wrongdoing was on the part of the Democrats -- both for the content of their memos, and for their negligence in placing them where they could be seen."

At least he didn't call it a "third rate burglary," an infamous description of the Watergate burglary that resulted from a previous Republican administration's curiosity about the Democratic Party's files.

Foreign Policy Risks for 2004

This New Year's Day article just came to my attention, and it contains a couple of very good observations:

Bush Faces a Challenging Year: The Turn from War to Peace Washington Post 01/01/04

"This is the first presidential election perhaps since Vietnam that is going to turn on the way the public views the success or failure of foreign policy. This is going to be the first election that turns on something this administration never wanted to do -- get involved in nation building with more than 100,000 troops engaged in the process," said Mark Snyder, senior vice president of International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based organization that monitors global hot spots.

That isn't the conventional wisdom among reporters and political analysts right now, but I suspect it will prove to be true.

Some foreign policy analysts worry more about U.S. failure in Afghanistan than in Iraq, as former warlords gain more control of the rugged country.

"Iraq gets more attention and resources because of the huge stakes for Bush and the visibility of what is happening in Iraq. Afghanistan is not getting the resources it needs and is now going to hell in a handbasket," warned Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott, an undersecretary of state in the Clinton administration.

That's also true. Afghanistan was important in the "war against terrorism." Iraq was a sideshow. But far more resources and attention went into the sideshow. And apparently will for a long time.

More on the Dean Yell

Now I've gotten sucked into all the talk about Dr. Dean's "Yee-haw" moment. But  Garance Franke-Ruta of TAPPED was there in the ballroom. And she observes:

[O]ne thing about Howard Dean's full-throated cry during his concession/fight speech that hasn't been much discussed was that it was really loud in there at the Val Air Ballroom when he made his speech, which is something the TV mikes -- and hence film footage -- did not pick up.

So it's worth noting for the historical record that I -- and others -- could scarcely hear what Dean was saying on the stage from the press section in the back of the room because several thousand Deaniacs were making so much noise (Dean wasn't the only one screaming) and the acoustics in the room weren't very good. From inside the room, it seemed that he was feeding off the energy of a crowd that was cheering him on, and that they got louder and louder in concert with each other.

Given the setting, I find this entirely plausible. The fact that this was pumped up into a major "character story" is an illustration of the frivolity with which much of the mainstream press today approaches politics.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Gratuitous Andrew Jackson Post

Well, hey, this is Old Hickory's Weblog, you know! Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., historian and Andy Jackson biographer, had an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday. He managed to say something nice about Bush's astronauts-on-Mars program, probably thinking when he wrote it that Bush might propose something about it in his State of the Union address. Or at least mention it.

But he also included an observation about the General (Jackson, not Clark).

State of the 'Vision Thing' Los Angeles Times 01/21/04

The presidency, FDR said, "is not merely an administrative office. That's the least of it. It is more than an engineering job, efficient or inefficient. It is predominantly a place of moral leadership. All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain historic ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified." In other words, they were possessed by their visions.

So, FDR continued, Washington personified the idea of federal union. Jefferson typified the theory of democracy, which Jackson reaffirmed. Lincoln, by condemning slavery and secession, put two great principles of government forever beyond question. Cleveland embodied rugged honesty in a corrupt age. Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson were both moral leaders using the presidency as a pulpit. "Without leadership alert and sensitive to change," FDR wrote, "we are bogged up or lose our way[.]"
[my emphasis]

Roosevelt may have been a bit generous to Grover Cleveland, who was surely the most reactionary Democrat in the White House since James Buchanan.

But his Jackson comment was right on.

Dean's Post-Iowa Speech

I finally watched a video of Dean's "Yee-haw" speech.

It's beyond my imagination that this speech is being taken as some kind of a scandal.

For Democrats: if you think this is "over the top," get ready for Dubya as President until 2009.

For everybody else, if that speech scares you and the mess Bush has created for American foreign policy with the Iraq War doesn't, you may be in for some unpleasant surprises in Bush's second term. Check out David Frum's and Richard Perle's An End to Evil for some of what's in store.

Molly Ivins just did a mini-review of that book:

Perhaps more unnerving still [than O'Neill's and Rubin's books] is a third book (which I have not yet finished): An End to Evil by Richard Perle and David Frum. It might more aptly be titled The Beginning of Evil, since it is a plan for unlimited, unprovoked war in which we overthrow the governments of Iran, Syria, North Korea and, apparently, China.

One would dismiss this as mere crackpottery if Frum had not written the "Axis of Evil" speech for Bush and if Perle were not a leading neo-con.

Perle is a longtime advocate of invading Iraq and still on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board despite numerous conflicts of interest.

The Pundits Tackle Bush's State of the Union Speech

Reading Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler for the last year or so is having an effect on how I understand political pundits' commentary now. One of his favorite sayings is that if this press corps didn't exist, you couldn't invent them. I thought of that when I heard this from our Mr. Brooks, as in David "there are no neoconservatives" Brooks. He was commenting on Bush's State of the Union speech and the general topics under discussion in "the Beltway" (from the PBS Newshour 01/21/04):

Listen, I came from Iowa where something exciting happened, something unexplained, something new happened. Then I come back to Washington and they're still debating over whether the U.S. acted unilaterally in Iraq, over the PATRIOT Act, over the weapons of mass destruction. That's, you know, that's so six months ago. [Waves dismissively.]

"That's, you know, that's so six months ago." Yes, he really said it. War in Iraq, where American soldiers are dying daily and the political situation, shaky as it is, is coming apart; the civil liberties issues involved with the PATRIOT Act and whether it's been any use at all in fighting terrorism; the non-existent WMDs that have wrecked the Bush government's credibility with the world - all that is, like, you know, so-oo six months ago.

Somerby is right. If these people didn't exist, we couldn't invent them.

Atrios is pointing out that the weird phrase that Bush used in his speech - "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations" - is also to be found verbatim in an op-ed from Rep. Peter Hoekstra last October.

Now, I don't care if politicians steal phrases from each other. But shouldn't some reporters try to dig out just what that bizarre phrase means? Or is it that people are just so used to the fact that the whole WMD thing was a scam that no one figures it's worth the effort to ask?

Oh, how silly of me. That WMD thing is, like, you know, so six months ago!

Primaries and Caucuses

After beginning the day reading that ridiculous article I spent the last two posts complaining about, I ended the work day by a hearing a group of people as I was walking away from the office talking about how Howard Dean is like Hitler because of his speech in Iowa where he said "Yee-haw."

The press commentary on the Iowa caucuses is really pretty sad.  And a big area where reporters go wrong on these things is not understanding political polling well enough. Polls are reasonably good at predicting the outcome of general elections. They're not so good at predicting primary outcomes. And they're generally pretty bad about measuring the effects of foreign-policy issues on voter behavior. So we get pundits discerning Big Changes In Public Opinion because the results of actual elections or party caucuses didn't fit with their prior misreadings of polling data.

The problem with measuring primary outcomes largely has to do with identifying likely voters. Primaries have all sorts of variables that affect this. In New Hampshire, for instance, independents can vote in the Democratic primary.

On foreign policy, things are even worse. The polls often ask questions poorly, for instance, giving respondents a yes-or-no-only choice on agreeing with a statement like "The US did a good thing in removing Saddam Hussein from power," and the punditocracy processes the resulting majority saying "yes" into "support for the war." So in Iowa, the pundits puzzled over the surprising phenomenon that strongly antiwar voters went heavily for John Kerry, when the reporters all knew that Dean was the "antiwar" candidate.

But look at Kerry's pre-Iraq War statement that I quoted earlier: "But one thing I know to a certainty, in my heart, in my mind, in my gut: The United States of America should never go to war because it wants to go to war; it should only go to war because it has to go to war!"

Isn't it just possible that Iowa Democrats figured he was right in his attitude toward the Iraq War? It's not at all hard for me to see why Democrats appalled over the Iraq War would vote for Kerry.

Just don't tell the pundits. We wouldn't want to spoil their act.

How "Angry" Is Dr. Dean? (Pt. 2 of 2)

(Cont. from Part 1) Finally, in the seventh paragraph, we get a quotation from the speech that brought on all this sympathetic concern about Dr. Dean's mental stability. That's so much more interesting than that boring old style where they put the actual news in the first couple of paragraphs:

The reason for the shock and awe: a speech before 3,500 revved-up followers in Des Moines as he got the news of his clobbering in Iowa.

Dean pulled off his suit coat, rolled up his sleeves and, face red and arms punching the air, shouted: "We will not give up! We will not give up in New Hampshire! We will not give up in South Carolina! We will not give up in Arizona or New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan!''

"We will not quit now or ever!'' the former Vermont governor shouted to a cheering crowd at the Val Air Ballroom as he prepared to leave the Hawkeye State. "We'll earn our country back for ordinary Americans!"

Followed by: "Yeahhaaaaaaaaaaaaa!''

He said "Yee-haw"? He said "Yee-haw"?!?! And this makes him an "angry" man suffering from degenerative neurological disease?

This is not serious reporting. His opponents may be serious about attacking him. But, I'm sorry, if Dean's biggest character failing is that he responded to a setback in his campaign by giving a peppy speech to encourage supporters and said "Yee-haw," we should make the man President for life.

I've never found the "angry Dean" meme very convincing, because I've never seen anything from him that looked like a tendency to hot-headedness. He certainly hasn't seemed to lose his composure in debates where the attacks were largely focused on him.

Now, the Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci tells us that Dean is angry, angry to the point of psychiatric disability ... because he said "Yee-haw" at a rally! This is a sad, sad excuse for political reporting.

How "Angry" Is Dr. Dean? (Pt. 1 of 2)

I understand the need for political reporters to develop some kind of common understanding of a political candidate's style. I really do. Everybody has their own style, every candidate has some distinctive quirks in dealing with the press.

I even understand that when the Republicans use as one of the main campaign themes that any criticism of Bush the Magnificent is based upon angry and irrational hatred, and point to one candidate like Dean as a particular example of that in practice, that the press should examine how much substance there is to it. In the quaint old notion that some of us still nurse fondly, that the press has an important role to play in a democracy and that they should take that responsibility seriously, that makes sense.

But for reporters and political analysts to just leave their brains setting on a park bench somewhere while they do it is a whole different thing. I was pretty amazed to see this particular page 1 article on the "angry" Dr. Dean this morning: "Iowa yell" stirring doubts about Dean San Francisco Chronicle 01/21/04.

Now, that's an eye-catching headline, with a catchy sub-head of "Battle cry to troops strikes some as over the top." I thought maybe with his earlier talk of appealing to the guys with Confederate flag decals on their pickups that maybe he had revived some form of the "rebel yell" of Civil War days. And the subtitle made me think that maybe he must have said something really drastic like, I don't know, outing an undercover CIA agent or something.

Reading the article, you can quickly see it must have been something really bad. Because the expressions of deep concerns take up the first six paragraphs of the article. Only when you get to the continuation of the story buried in the back of the section do you get to a quotation of what he actually said. A Joe Lieberman partisan in paragraph four was apparently concerned that Dr. Dean had contracted Kreuzfeld-Jakob Syndrome (the human form of BSE): "You've heard of made cow disease? This was mad candidate disease."

What has set off this serious concern? See Part 2 for Dr. Dean's wild, angry, demented ranting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Chuckie Watch 28: Chuckie vs. "Angry" Dean

Chuckie's done decided that Dr. Howard Dean is "angry." I mean, angry, angry, angry. And Chuckie don't like it: The Angry Mr. Dean 01/19/04.

Now Chuckie is a mild, restrained Southern gentleman overflowing with Christian love. See Chuckie Watch 27 for how he compassionately explained that unemployed mothers on welfare are disabled drug-addicted sluts who neglect their children to breed like rabbits with drug dealers.

But Chuckie's upset, because he's discovered that Dr. Dean is "angry." Up till now, I had thought that that was just the spin that the Republican Party was grinding out endlessly for months. But if a sharp guy like Chuckie thinks Dean is "angry," well then it must be like that! I mean, Chuckie being the self-appointed Guru of Patriotic Correctness for country music and all.

But Chuckie ain't gone be no wimp about it. Chuckie figgers this here Dean feller wants to put Saddam Hussein back in power in Iraq. Now, I just missed that Dean proposal altogether. Chuckie must have seen an interview on Fox News, or something.

And Dean wants to roll back Bush's tax cuts, but Chuckie says that would be "redistribution of wealth." I don't know what Chuckie thought Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were. But I guess that don't matter.

But Chuckie's looked at the way Dean's "eyes blaze and the way his mouth stays tight all the time." And Dr. Chuckie's opinion is that he don't thank this eye-blazing Dean guy oughta be gittin' "the codes to the nuclear football."

Now, I don't really know what the heck ole Chuckie's talking about there. Nuclear football? Must be those BSE burgers again.

But Chuckie knows Dean's angry. And Chuckie don't like it.

The Year of the Tough Doves?

The American Prospect last year looked at the potential for "tough dove" candidates in the Democratic Presidential race:

Michael Tomasky on the General:

Whether Clark runs or not -- and if he doesn't, he seems like a vice-presidential candidate sent from God, which may be the real angle he's playing -- his mere presence on the national stage, his coming out of the closet, as it were, as a functional Democrat who opposes the administration's war aims and who just happens to have been a NATO commander, could instantly make the Democratic Party more plausible on foreign affairs than it's been at any time since a general named George Catlett Marshall was containing communism and rebuilding Europe with a president named Harry Truman. "I think it's safe to say," says former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, "that the supreme allied commander of NATO has a certain credibility on military affairs that is not usually associated with members of the Democratic Party."

Harold Meyerson on John Kerry:

Kerry is the mystery here: He voted for the resolution yet has spoken consistently against the preemptive and unilateral war that Bush is threatening. Now, Kerry turns to the war, as he did that morning, by talking of America's vast power and what is still our need for interdependence above all in meeting the threat of nuclear proliferation. He marvels at the president's proclivity for estranging allies, and concludes his catalog of Bush's folly with the simplest possible declaration of an alternative policy. "We need to win some friends on this planet," he says. And the room goes wild.

Kerry continues, saying that he's not afraid to use force and that, should Iraq be in clear material breach of the United Nations' resolutions requiring it to disarm, he'd support joint action against the Baghdad regime. "I will do whatever is necessary to defend the United States," he declares. "But one thing I know to a certainty, in my heart, in my mind, in my gut: The United States of America should never go to war because it wants to go to war; it should only go to war because it has to go to war!"

My Take on the Iowa Caucuses

Since I'm doing a (mostly) political blog here, I suppose I'm somehow obligated by whatever higher code it is to which we in the "blogosphere" are responsible to post something about the Iowa caucuses.

I'm not looking for any Larger Meaning or Grand Themes in the Iowa results. They're important in the winnowing process that goes on in the Presidential campaign, because in the end there can be only one nominee. With Gephardt now out, it looks like the Democratic field is essentially down to John Kerry, Howard Dean, the General (Wesley Clark) and John Edwards. I'll be surprised if Edwards reminds in that company as long as the other three. But voters can be surprising.

One strain of tea-leaf reading I've seen after Iowa is the idea that Kerry's and Edwards' surprisingly strong showings indicate that the Iraq War is losing potency as an issue. This line of interpretation strikes me more as the typical laziness of our political reporters than anything else. I said in an earlier post that reading political polls gives me hives, in no small part because pollsters do such a poor job of measuring the political effects of foreign policy issues.

Billmon gives us a little case study of how poor a job journalists often do with the foreign policy polling data they do have.

My instinct on the war issue is similar to Steve Gilliard's: "It doesn't matter who wins the early primaries in the US because it seems the Iraqi primaries are going to be the ones which matter. Ten miles of Shias and Sunnis marching in Baghdad. I think that's going to be a problem for Bush."

Actually, I wouldn't go quite that far. The Democrats need strong traction on the national security issue. It seems to me that the General and Kerry, the other tough-dove candidate, are best positioned to provide that. Dean can pull it off, and maybe Edwards can, as well. At least the two candidates whose were the most supportive of Bush's preventive war policy, Gephardt and Lieberman, haven't made much of a showing in the Democratic contest.