Monday, April 30, 2007

Joe Biden

We had commute hell in the San Francisco Bay Area this morning, because a freeway melted after a truck full of gasoline crashed and burned on what's called the MacArthur Maze in Oakland. I didn't know it was called that until it collapsed, but what the heck. See The maze meldown: Eyewitness sees driver emerge from inferno by Patrick Hoge, Demian Bulwa, Peter Fimrite San Francisco Chronicle Online 04/30/07; Maze detours make for brave new commute by George Kelly and Malaika Fraley Oakland Tribune Online 04/30/2007. The Chronicle's dramatic photo of the blaze is here. Although a lot of people seem to have adapted by adjusting their schedules, working from home for the days, and so forth, so the actual morning commute wasn't as nightmarish everywhere as it could have been. The return commute in the evening is sure to be more problematic, because its the lanes leading east out of San Francisco that are blocked, not the other way around.

What does all this have to do with Joe Biden? Nothing directly. But remember the terrorists who actually try to attack American targets? They read the news, too:
Accident sparks worries about copycat attacks by Ian Hoffman Oakland Tribune 04/30/2007. Now, state officials will try to connect nearly anything to terrorism if there might be extra federal funds attached. But still, instead of spending $100 billion a year on (Biden's number on Sunday) on the Iraq War, I would feel a lot safer if we had been reinforcing obvious vulnerabilities like airplane cargo compartments, port security and freeways that melt. And in many cases, the kind of improvements that would boost security in case of attack would also be good for public safely in non-terrorist accidents like this one. Fortunately, this one took place in the dead of night. If it had happened during rush hour, it's inconceivable that no deaths would have resulted.

Biden was on
Meet the Press Sunday for an hour with Tim Russert. (The transcript doesn't seem to be available yet as of this writing.) He mentioned the need for better domestic precautions against terrorist attacks, which has been a standard Democratic talking point for years. But this disaster reminds me that it's a valid priority, even allowing for the inevitable hype and scamming around the still-hot topic of terrorism. This road collapse is likely to mess up the commute in a seriously bad way for months. All large cities and all states need to have workable plans in place that can be implemented quickly for dealing with these kinds of emergencies.

And if those preparations wind up being used for accidents and natural disasters more than for responses to terrorism, so what? The OxyContin crowd won't like it. But bitching and moaning and slinging sleaze at the Democrats about everything is just what they do all the time anyway.

I was also thinking as I dragged myself out of bed 45 minutes early and rushed to leave for work an hour and 15 minutes early, that around here a disaster like this makes for a really aggravating commute. If we lived in Baghdad, this kind of accident that would mean new traffic jams would be life-threatening to commuters. Because it would mean more time in traffic jams, and therefore more chances for snipers, car bombers and kidnappers to strike people stuck in traffic. Maybe that sounds like a case of trying to find somebody that's worse off than you, and maybe it is. That's generally pretty easy to do. Unless you live in Baghdad or Anbar province or Darfur.

Biden talked a lot about the Iraq War and foreign policy issues. He had a couple of good things to say. But it was disappointing, on the whole. The best thing he said was a point I've been saying for a while that the Democrats should be making: that the October 2002 war resolution did not authorize the invasion of Iraq that Cheney and Bush launched in March of 2003. Chuck Hagel, the rightwing Nebraska Senator who passes for a "moderate" in today's authoritarian Republican Party, also makes the same point in an interview with Salon ("
We cannot stay as an occupying force in the Middle East" 04/30/07):

Iwasn't convinced [of WMD] or in any way connected Saddam Hussein with 9/11. Before we even had the vote I said that. Some get the resolution wrong. It wasn't a resolution to go to war ... Ultimately it was giving the president authority to use force if all the diplomatic efforts fail. If there was no other recourse it would allow the president to use force. I believed the president and others who said they would exhaust all diplomatic efforts. Which they did not. They told us they would and they did not. (my emphasis)
Neither Biden nor Hagel mentioned the other official goal of the war specified in that resolution besides dealing with the nonexistent WMDs, which was to deal with the nonexistent operational links between Saddam's regime and Al Qaida and as part of that to specifically to retaliate for Saddam's nonexistent role in the 9/11 attacks.

Biden did okay in terms of style responding to Russert's trademark gotcha questions asking about things he had said before that sound different than what he's saying now. But in terms of substance, Biden is still caught up in the fact that he foolishly took a hawkish position on the war up until last year, so he winds up dissembling to justify a dovish-sounding position now.

When I saw
Tom Hayden speak in San Francisco last November, he stressed that politicians are especially good at double-talk, so the antiwar movement will have to keep the pressure on all of them to continue to pull the troops out. That is, once we start pulling troops out rather than sending more in. Biden's MTP interview Sunday reminded me of that.

I've written here before about how I'm concerned by the current Congressional pullout plan because it leaves a wide-open loophole to have troops to keep fighting "Al Qaida" in Iraq, which already seems to be leading the war fans to make Al Qaida sound like it has a huge role in the guerrilla war there. But during the current veto fight over the war, I'm content that the message most voters and people in other countries will get will be, "Bush is in favor of continuing the war, the Democrats want to end it."

But Biden on Sunday used the various qualifications in the Congressional plan to step on the general Democratic antiwar message. None of his comments on the Iraq War were particularly encouraging for war critics; he even managed to smother his observation that Bush's invasion in 2003 violated the Congressional war resolution with confusing talk about how it authorized Bush to go to war but not really stressing the conditional nature of that authorization.

He emphasized that the current Democratic position is not a deadline date for US withdrawal from Iraq, but a target that is "flexible". He is still justifying his vote for the war resolution in 2002. He's claiming that he was voting to give the President authority for war under certain conditions in order to avoid war. That is a disingenious argument. While I've said that it's important to recognize how Bush violated the war resolution, there was also no doubt at the time that the practical effect of passing that resolution was to give Bush effective permission to launch an invasion on his own say-so.

Biden also said that when the UN inspectors left in 1998, they were still saying Iraq had large quantities of material that could be weaponized as WMDs. Now, my entire staff of fact-checkers are still caught in the commute. But I'm pretty sure what they said was that there were certain amounts of materials not accounted for.

On a related whopper, I don't need the fact checkers to know he was repeating a falsehood when he said that Saddam kicked out the inspectors in 1998. The facts are worth remembering since this was one of several lies used to justify going to war and killing and wounding a lot of people including American soldiers for no good reason. Iraq blocked inspectors from their work in 1998 because they discovered that the UN team included members that were passing information to the CIA. The US government later admitted this was the case. Then Scott Ritter who was heading the inspection team at the time decided on his own to remove the inspectors. Yet here's Joe Biden the famous "realist" still repeating this false war-propaganda point.

The rest of Biden's interview also wasn't that encouraging. He sneered at "the French" for criticizing the effects of the economic sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s; in reality, a realistic look at those sanctions should be one of the most important "lessons of Iraq" to examine. He wants to send more American troops to Afghanistan and also to Darfur. I can't say I'm thrilled about either prospect - even if we could pretend that this current administration had the ability to manage either situation competently, which they certainly do not.

He said correctly that Medicare is more of a financial problem than Social Security. But he said more than once, clearly including Social Security, that he wants to "put it all on the table" in looking at solutions. "You have to," he said. No, we don't have to put Social Security "on the table". And the Republicans' phase-out schemes ("privitization") should be permanently off that famous metaphorical table.

Biden also supported the so-called "partial-birth abortion" ban. He said he was alarmed by the Supreme Court's apparent positioning in a case unsuccessfully challenging that law seems to be setting the stage to overturn Roe v. Wade. But defending the right to choose on abortions clearly does not seem to be the higest priority for Biden.

After Biden's gab-fest with Russert, I watched Chris Matthews' 30-minute Sunday show, where Matthews and various pundits kicked around fogettable comments about the Presidential candidates. Clarence Paige, generally one of the more sensible among the Big Pundits, made the remarkable observation that the 2008 election will be the "first big election since 9/11".

Say what? Let's see, there was the 2002 election that handed the Senate back to Republican control, insuring that virtually no Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch would occur during the next four years. There was that little Presidential election in 2004 that retained Dear Leader Bush as President. Last year the Congressional elections turned both Houses of Congress back to the Democrats in a striking protest against the disaster known as the Iraq War.

I can only wonder what counts as a "big election" in the world of our Wise Pundits.



Anonymous said...

Perhaps "big election" means so many candidates for just one office?

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I was really puzzled by it.  My best guess would be that he was only thinking of Presidential elections as "big" and that he assumed that Bush would win in 2004 and therefore didn't count that one as "big".

Paige is often a decent commentator, and everyone has a slip now and then.  But it would be kind of a strange perspective to think you were so far above the grubby business of democratic elections that elections like 2004 and 2006 that made huge differences in people's lives were not "big" enough to warrant serious thought by a Big Pundit.