Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Incredibly, Not A Joke

Nina Easton of Fortune Magazine recently interviewed Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor, then Secretary of State, in the GW Bush administration, at the close of that magazine's Most Powerful Women Summit. Inferring that Rice, with her "eloquent and elegant figure," would be a formidable contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Easton gushed

As Bush's national security adviser at the launch of the Iraq War, she will never appeal to hardcore Democrats. But to those millions of independents and soft Republicans who pulled Obama over the top in last year's election -- a familiar brand of voter at this Fortune gathering -- Rice has allure.

At the end of our interview, as I stood to shake Rice's hand, I glanced over my shoulder at this audience of women-CEO's and senior business and government leaders, media opinion-makers and entertainment stars, ground-breaking academics and committed philanthropists. It was an audience I knew, first-hand, viewed the Bush administration with doubts and, in some cases, outright hostility. So what I saw was telling.

Every single woman in that San Diego hotel ballroom was on her feet-giving Condi Rice a standing ovation.

This couldn't be the same Condoleezza Rice who told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on September 8, 2002

We know that he has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. And we know that when the inspectors assessed this after the Gulf War, he was far, far closer to a crude nuclear device than anybody thought -- maybe six months from a crude nuclear device. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

This couldn't be the same Condoleezza Rice who pretended, testifying before the 9/11 Commission, that she was unaware that the Iraqi regime had destroyed its cache of biological and chemical weapons.

This couldn't be the same Condoleezza Rice who skillfully ignored warnings about the threat of terrorism, according to the New York Time's Phillip Shenon, author of THE COMMISSION: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, who observed

Whatever her job title, Rice seemed uninterested in actually advising the president. Instead, she wanted to be his closest confidante — specifically on foreign policy — and to simply translate his words into action.

No one ever alleged that Miss Rice's area of expertise is economic policy. Or trade policy. Or health care policy. Or anything but foreign policy (Russian studies, specifically). Nonetheless, nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in September of 2001 at the World Trade Center. Far more than that now have been killed in a war (Iraq) that shouldn't have been launced and in a war (Afghanistan) which was thoroughly bungled by the administration she served as Director of the National Security Council and as Secretary of State. She was, and remains, a complete failure, as well as someone with nary an acquaintance with the truth. And any suggestion that she would be a legitimate candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States is, really, fairly disgusting.
Prospects: Not Bright

General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, was blunt, and starkly realistic, in the 66-page document he submitted to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on August 30. The Washington Post's Bob Woodward reported McChrystal arguing "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months)-- while Afghan scurity capacity matures-- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."If he doesn't receive the increase in troop strength he is requesting, McChrystal contends, the mission "will likely result in failure." He concludes

Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure.

General McChrystal implies that if additional soldiers are not committed to the war, the mission will fail. If proper resources are committed, it may fail. With Republicans poised to charge Obama with having "lost Afghanistan," the President is left with no good options.

How did we get to this place? Defense Secretary tells us in this exchange on Sunday with CNN's John King:

GATES: Well, I will tell you, I think that the strategy that the president put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. And that strategy was more about the Soviet Union than it was about Afghanistan.

KING: You served in the Bush administration. That's a pretty broad damnation of the Bush strategy.

GATES: Well, the reality is, we were fighting a holding action. We were very deeply engaged in Iraq. I increased -- I extended the 10th Mountain Division the first month I was on this job in January of '07. I extended -- I put another brigade into Afghanistan in the spring of 2007. And that's all we had to put in there. Every -- we were -- we were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that we have now.

KING: And if it comes to the point of sending more, this time, if the president agrees and General McChrystal gets -- maybe it's 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000, do we have the troops now? If you needed 40,000, could you find it?

GATES: Well, I think, if the president were to decide to approve additional combat forces, they really probably could not begin to flow until some time in January.

Having toppled a genocidal dictator in Iraq, George W. Bush had a choice: commit adequate resources to fight a war in a nation strategically nearly irrelevant- or to fight a war on terrrorism in Afghanistan. He chose the low-hanging fruit. Barack Obama, and the nation, are now left suffering the consequences of appallingly bad judgement.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Double Standard In Awarding Contracts

If you missed this last week, watch it. In its entirety. On Friday, Rachel Maddow continued her series on the trumped-up war on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. A partial transcript of the segment is here; the video is below; transcript of the program is available here. She began by noting that the amendment to the bill recently passed by Congress defunding ACORN is probably unconstitutional because, as an apparent bill of attainder, it targets one specific organization. She continues

So giant government defense contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, it looks like you‘re out of luck. Lockheed Martin has been forced to pay at least $68 million for getting caught 11 separate times committing government contract fraud. Northrop Grumman has had to pay around $500 million for getting caught nine times for contract fraud. Sorry, guys, but if we‘re going to nail ACORN here, you‘ve got to go.

And if—and if fraud is going to be the new issue in our newfound enthusiasm for defunding people, then Blackwater is going to have a problem, too. In just one of Blackwater‘s many government contracts, they were recently found to have defrauded the government to the tune of $55 million. And that‘s just one Blackwater contractor, and they‘ve got lots of contracts.

But if fraud is not bad enough for you, how about murder? Because five Blackwater employees have been charged with murder during the course of their government contracted duties in Iraq. Is murder enough to defund Blackwater?

How about if people they‘re killing, the contractors killing aren‘t just Iraqi civilians or somebody else we don‘t know, how about if they‘re U.S. troops? Because KBR, with its government contracts, is under investigation for killing 16 American troops who were electrocuted through KBR shoddy works supposedly building and maintaining living quarters for our troops in Iraq.

I mean, to be fair, I will admit that if we are talking about behavior by contractors that warrants them being defunded by an outrage Congress, none of those things I just described from those other contractors are prostitution specific, like the Republican and conservative media ACORN case has been. Ever since two activists dressed up in pimp and hooker costumes and then went from ACORN office to ACORN office with a hidden camera until they got a reaction out of ACORN employees that would play well on FOX News.

If the hidden camera stunt induced prostitution angle is what it takes to get a government contract defunded, then I guess we‘re going to have to talk about prostitution broadly and the government contractor known as ArmorGroup, part of Wackenhut, in Afghanistan. Their employees, you‘ll recall, were made famous earlier this month after the release of these pictures that show the contractors barely clothed and shooting vodka out of places you wouldn‘t expect.

The same ArmorGroup personnel who, again, were being paid by you and me were also allegedly engaged in a prostitution ring in Kabul. That‘s according to an ArmorGroup whistleblower. The State Department is investigating ArmorGroup now.

But if we‘re going to talk contractors and prostitution, we‘re also going to have to talk about DynCorp, which is always been one of those horror movie U.S. contractor cases. In the year 2000, at least 13 DynCorp employees were sent home from a U.S. government contract in Bosnia after they were found to be taking part in a Bosnian sex slave ring involving underage girls, not a fake prostitution ring that never actually existed like the one in the activist hidden camera costumes stunt, but an actual forced child prostitution ring, an actual U.S. government contractors from DynCorp.

In the absence of any defund DynCorp uprising, DynCorp still gets a lot of government money. In fact, today, DynCorp landed a brand new $230 million contract with the U.S. Air Force. That‘s on top of the $915 million contract they got from the State Department in June.

ArmorGroup, the prostitution/vodka-shooting contract in Afghanistan at the Kabul embassy, they still got that nearly $200 million contract in Afghanistan with the State Department. But that is currently under review.

Blackwater still has multimillion dollar contracts with the State Department, the Defense Department, as well as the CIA, even as five of their employees face murder charges.

KBR was just awarded a new $19 million army contract in February, despite being investigated in the deaths of those 16 U.S. troops.

Not only have these contractors not been defunded by outraged members of Congress, they all continue to get spectacularly lucrative government contracts even after all of these things have been exposed. I‘m not reporting any of these things for the first time. They‘re all known.

So, sure, if you want to defund ACORN, go for it. ACORN has definitely done some indefensible stuff over the years. They are an imperfect organization, to be sure. But if this isn‘t just a witch-hunt against ACORN, if Congress is actually just going after government contractors who commit fraud and worse, then we can all look forward to the explanation from the fake outrage Republicans and the cowering Democrats about why nothing ever inspired them to defund anyone before ACORN. After that, by all mean, cut them all loose.

In politics, it is often said, once you start to defend yourself, you have lost. So it probably will have no effect on media coverage or public opinion to explain that singling out ACORN is illegal; that the video "evidence" against ACORN consists of one tape which has not been released in its entirety and which resulted from the visit to one of the many ACORN offices (perhaps after no one took the bait at any of the others visited); or even that the Repub campaign against ACORN is aimed at stopping its efforts at registering poor voters, disproportionately minority, who inconveniently vote Democratic. Unfortunately, the only viable option, as this installment, at least, suggests, is to remind voters that there are far, far greater crimes being committed in government contracting.

Finally, on one program on one cable network, some context is brought to the hand-wringing over (sarcasm alert)the evil behemoth ACORN. Elsewhere? The "liberal media" once again is playing its role as front man for corporate and GOP interests.

Iran Defies Buchanan

File this one under: I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Our conservative pundit, more trusting of Tehran than Jerusalem, wrote in Tell Israel: Cool the Jets! on July 31, 2009:

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who is wired into the cabinet of "Bibi" Netanyahu, warns that if Iran's nuclear program is not aborted by December, Israel will strike to obliterate it....

America's policy of patience is working....

Why does Israel insist that America has only five months to halt Iran's nuclear program, or Israel must attack?....

Now, Iran's nuclear "production facilities" may be "churning" out the low-enriched uranium of which it has produced enough for one test bomb.

But IAEA inspectors still have their eyes on this pile. None of the LEU has been diverted anywhere.

There is no evidence Iran has built the cascade to raise LEU to highly enriched weapons-grade uranium, or that the facilities even exist to do this. The Iranian regime has declared it has no intention of building nuclear weapons, indeed, that their possession would be a violation of Koranic law.

And the United States has not rescinded its own National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 that Iran, in 2003, abandoned its weapons program.

Israel has been saying for years an Iranian bomb is months away.

Where is the proof? Where is the evidence to justify a new U.S. war in the Middle East to destroy weapons of mass destruction that may not exist in Iran, as they did not exist in Iraq?

That's right. Iran does not want to build nuclear weapons- they said so themselves. And now the news that Patrick J. Buchanan figured he would never read:

The leaders of the United States, France and Britain announced Friday morning they have disclosed intelligence information to the IAEA that confirms an underground nuclear facility has been built into the side of a mountain near Qum and demanded an in-depth investigation.

Iran's decision to start building the nuclear facility years ago, without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the non-proliferation regime, U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday at the G20 meetings....

Iran did not disclose existence of the facility, 160 kilometres southwest of Tehran, to the IAEA until Monday after Tehran reportedly became aware that Western intelligence had already discovered it.

The size and configuration of the facility is inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program and the IAEA must immediately investigate it, Obama said....

Iran's letter contains no details about the facility's location, whether operations have started or what type of centrifuges it will use, according to the IAEA.

Iranian officials had previously acknowledged having only one enrichment plant — which is under IAEA monitoring — and had denied allegations of undeclared nuclear activities.

A U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity said the facility has 3,000 centrifuges that could be operational by next year.

Given that 3,000 centrifuges is not enough to produce nuclear fuel to power a reactor but is enough to produce material used for a nuclear bomb, it is clear that Tehran's intentions are malevolent.

Darn those paranoid Israelis!

Also on July 31, Mr. Buchanan assured his readers "And when one looks to U.S. and Iranian interests, they coincide as much as they conflict." Someone must alert President Obama, who on Friday declared "Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on Oct. 1 they are going to have to come clean and they will have to make a choice," one of which is to “continue down a path that is going to lead to confrontation.”

The newly-revealed facility near Qom is not expected to be operational for approximately a year and the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015 (inclusive, I presume) holds. Today, though, Iran ominously tested a long-range missile, which could reach Russia, Israel, and U.S. bases in the Gulf. Even before the latest threat, the warning issued by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the United Nations on Thursday was self-evident: "The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

It's not only the former Nixon speechwriter, though his constant attacks on Israel, and occasionally on Jews, harkens back to the 1991 statement of the late William F. Buckley Jr. regarding Buchanan's criticism of prominent supporters of Gulf War I. The National Review publisher wrote in his publication "I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it: most probably, an iconoclastic temperament."

There have been, recently and over the years, plenty of individuals on the left- especially bloggers- reflexively hostile to Israel (and especially to Netanyahu), including the ever-consistent and misguided Juan Cole. Even now, as one administration official told The New York Times, the Iranians "have cheated three times. And they have now been caught three times,” these critics have at least one thing in common with Pat Buchanan: they were wrong- about Israel and about Benjamin Netanyahu. And another thing: they won't admit it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Article Of The Week

Don't go to salon.com and read David Sirota's "Obama crushes Democratic dissent." Not that Salon isn't worth reading regularly and certainly not that Sirota's piece isn't worth reading. It's only that he links to it in his 9/27/09 post, "Denver Post: Obama Aide Messina Caught trying to But Off" Primary Challenger, on openleft.com. And then you can get two for one.

In Salon, Sirota notes the effort of the Obama administration to block primary challenges to: New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton's replacement; Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, who became a Democrat when he realized he would not survive a primary challenge as a Republican; and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, supporter of a public option now that he faces a primary challenge from the left. Sirota recognizes

this Colorado example is a replica of that now-famous Illinois contest in 2004. Bennet, like one of Obama's toughest opponents back then, is a millionaire who has never run for public office. And as in 2004, that millionaire is being propped up by the establishment against an Obama-esque state legislator who has oodles of experience and grass-roots support. The hypocrisy, of course, is that Obama is now backing the tycoon instead of his former self.

No doubt, if I devoted this column to any of that history, presidential aides would respond (if at all) by saying Obama is only aiming to preserve Democratic Party strength. And then I would publish an even easier-to-write follow-up reminding those aides that last year, Obama said primaries like his 2008 presidential campaign have helped the Democratic Party because they have "engaged and involved people like never before."

But Sirota sees at work something more serious and damaging than standard hypocrisy:

At a moment when Obama's agenda is acutely threatened by congressional Democratic recalcitrance, the president's anti-primary posture tells all Democratic incumbents he will defend them, regardless of their position on issues. And that message blunts Obama's most powerful instrument of legislative leverage: fear of contested elections.

Without vigorous primaries forcing Democratic legislators to face Democratic voters, those legislators feel free to defy the president's Democratic agenda. Alternately, with primaries, Democratic lawmakers typically compete to show who is more committed to the Democratic agenda. As two examples, Sens. Specter and Bennet went from mealy-mouthed equivocation to strong support of the public healthcare option immediately after opponents announced primary challenges to them.

Hence, in trying to prevent or weaken primaries against incumbents, Obama is not merely signaling a royalist's disdain for local democracy. He is exposing a corrupted pol's willingness to prioritize country club etiquette over policy results. If his agenda ends up being killed, that cynical choice will be a key cause of death.

The Denver Post (to which Sirota links from the openleft post) suggests that "Jim Messina, President Barack Obama's deputy chief of staff and a storied fixer in the White House political shop" dangled the possibility of a job in the administration to Andrew Romanoff, when rumors began that the latter was considering a primary challenge to Bennet. Romanoff reportedly declined, announced his candidacy, and the following day Obama endorsed Bennet.

Sirota accurately, if grammatically awkwardly, summarizes this as "the power-worshiping, incumbent-protecting country-club etiquette at work" and identifies the main culprit as "President Emanuel" (are the quote marks really necessary?). Sirota makes no excuses for the guy who technically is Emanuel's boss: Emanuel would not be throwing his weight around if it did not meet with Mr. Obama's approval, in a Washington version of good cop- bad cop. Which brings to mind a statement Howard Dean recently made at an appearance in Philadelphia, Pa. The physician and former governor, expressing optimism that meaningful bill health care reform will emerge from Congress, assured the sympathetic audience "Barack Obama is from Chicago." Unfortunately, Rahm Emanuel is from Chicago. Barack Obama is from Hawaii.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Torture Thrown Into Doubt, Again

Torture is illegal under international law and United States law; generally no more effective than conventional interrrogation techniques; a swell recruiting tool for Al Qaeda; and encourages subjects to lie. But at least sometimes the subject decides to spill the beans.

But wait. He may think he's giving out correct information but may be deluding himself. In newsweek.com, Sharon Begley summarizes a paper entitled "Torturing The Brain" written by neurobiologist Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin and appearing in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science. Here, she quotes O'Mara and explains:

"information presented by the captor to elicit responses during interrogation may inadvertently become part of the suspect's memory, especially since suspects are under extreme stress and are required to tell and retell the same events which may have happened over a period of years." As a result, information produced by the suspect may parrot or embellish suggestions from the interrogators rather than revealing something both truthful and unknown to the interrogators. Second, cortisol-induced damage to the prefrontal cortex can cause confabulation, or false memories. Because a person being tortured loses the ability to distinguish between true and false memories, as a 2008 study showed, further pain and stress does not cause him to tell the truth, but to retreat further into a fog where he cannot tell true from false.

O'Mara concludes

the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or 'enhanced' interrogation.

Torture is necessary in the rare "ticking time bomb" scenario. But it is illegal, usually unnecessary, frequently counter-productive, and a gift to jihadists. Otherwise, it is a fine idea.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Those Leftists At It Again

It is really extraordinary. Johanna Neumann of the Los Angeles Times traces the "roots of our current political polarization date back decades, when a confluence of events turned Washington from a parochial Southern town where power was guarded zealously by those at the top into a media-savvy place where bit players like Wilson can captivate national attention." The major culprit is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.), who "encouraged lawmakers to spend more time in their districts. Roll-call votes -- that too was an innovation of the C-SPAN times -- would never take place on Mondays and only rarely on Fridays."

Buried, though, in this plausible and sensible thesis is the apparent presopposition, in which she implausibly asks

Why is it, I asked, that the extreme wings on the right and left are driving the nation's politics even as public opinion clings to the good common sense of the center?

Read that over- "the extreme wings on the right and the left." The extreme wings on the right and the left.

For months, the major controversy in Congress over health care has been the public option. The public option that, according to President Obama

....would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Mr. Obama obviously is "reassuring" listeners- and insurance companies- that fewer than 5% of Americans would be enrolled in a public plan. Literally- although it's hard to believe that he actually is this protective of insurance companies- the President is saying that less than 5% of Americans would be "impacted" (affected, to those of you who know English) by this plan. This, in turn, suggests that his public option wouldn't even give insurance companies much, if any, incentive to lower prices.

Meanwhile, the office of Senate Finance Committee chairmanMax Baucus (which reportedly has been in close contact all along with Obama Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel) has devloped a bill which, as summarized by AFSCME president Gerald McIntee, contains

no employer mandate, no public option, no help for retirees. The finance committee bill imposes substantial costs on the states, weakens state insurance regulation and taxes our health plan.

This wouldn't be "the extreme wing" on the left "driving the nation's politics" even if it reflected the desires of the American people. Which it doesn't. Throughout the health care debate, most polls have shown more Americans supporting a public option than opposing it; some have shown overwhelming support. Yet, all Republicans in the United States Senate oppose a "robust" public option, and clearly at least a few Democrats do also.

The mainstream media and the Obama administration have managed to cast a public option (for which few people would be eligible) rather than single payer as the one held by the left wing of the Democratic Party. This leaves Max Baucus, Rahm Emanuel, and other advocates in the "liberal" party dancing to the tune played by the insurance industry portrayed as holding the "moderate" position.

There are corollaries in other industries, of course, including our most critical and urgent domestic problem (assiduously ignored by almost everyone except the "extreme wing" on the left), operation of the financial system. Paul Krugman explains in his New York Times column

What’s wrong with financial-industry compensation? In a nutshell, bank executives are lavishly rewarded if they deliver big short-term profits — but aren’t correspondingly punished if they later suffer even bigger losses. This encourages excessive risk-taking: some of the men most responsible for the current crisis walked away immensely rich from the bonuses they earned in the good years, even though the high-risk strategies that led to those bonuses eventually decimated their companies, taking down a large part of the financial system in the process.

The Federal Reserve, now awakened from its Greenspan-era slumber, understands this problem — and proposes doing something about it. According to recent reports, the Fed’s board is considering imposing new rules on financial-firm compensation, requiring that banks “claw back” bonuses in the face of losses and link pay to long-term rather than short-term performance. The Fed argues that it has the authority to do this as part of its general mandate to oversee banks’ soundness.

But the industry — supported by nearly all Republicans and some Democrats — will fight bitterly against these changes. And while the administration will support some kind of compensation reform, it’s not clear whether it will fully support the Fed’s efforts.

I was startled last week when Mr. Obama, in an interview with Bloomberg News, questioned the case for limiting financial-sector pay: “Why is it,” he asked, “that we’re going to cap executive compensation for Wall Street bankers but not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or N.F.L. football players?”

That’s an astonishing remark — and not just because the National Football League does, in fact, have pay caps. Tech firms don’t crash the whole world’s operating system when they go bankrupt; quarterbacks who make too many risky passes don’t have to be rescued with hundred-billion-dollar bailouts. Banking is a special case — and the president is surely smart enough to know that.

The extreme left wing may be controlling the Democratic Party. That would, obviously, prominently exclude the Senate Majority Leader, the Chief of Staff to the President, and President Barack Obama.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rice, Delusional

She may have been an utter failure serving President George W. Bush as Director of the National Security Council and Secretary of State, but Condoleezza Rice is still sought for her opinions on foreign policy.

So there she was being interviewed by Fortune Magazine's Nina Easton and claiming, in a self-serving fashion,

But every day terrorists plot and plan to try to attack us. They only have to be right once. We have to be right 100% of the time.

Once a fear-monger, always a fear-monger, apparently. Still, Rice would deserve credit, if only her remark were true. Fortunately, it is not. Marc Rubin reviewed ("How Bush, Cheney policies killed 3,000 on 9/11") the record on the eighth anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil. This may be a lot, but consider: Bush, Rove et al. exploited this disastrous crime (not tragedy- it was no accident or act of God) to gain carte blanche for its policies in the Gulf, and for getting elected re-elected.

During the transition period in January of 2001, Bush had a face to face meeting with then President Clinton in which Clinton told him that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the single biggest threats to US national security in the world. During the same transition period Bush and Rice met face to face with outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger where Berger told both Bush and Rice that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the single biggest threats to US national security in the world....

Continuing during the transition period in January of 2001, Bush was given the usual national security briefings at Blair House given to all presidents-elect by the CIA and FBI. At the CIA briefing, George Tenet and the CIA told Bush that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the single biggest threats to US national security in the world. And in the national security briefing from the FBI, Bush again was told that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the biggest threats to US national security in the world.

When Bush finally took office the first thing he did regarding terrorism was demote Richard Clarke the anti-terrorism czar who served for 20 years under four Presidents from a cabinet level position to a sub cabinet level position....

The next thing Bush did after taking office with regards to terrorism, according to Richard Clarke's testimony before the 911 Commission and stated in his book, was to disband what Clarke called the Principals Meeting. As Clarke described it, in the Clinton administration there was a daily meeting chaired by Clarke and attended by relevant cabinet heads who had a role in fighting terrorism: Janet Reno, the Attorney General, Bob Mueller, the director of the FBI, George Tenet at CIA, and directors of ATF,Immigration and other departments directly involved in anti-terrorism.

According to Clarke, the latest intelligence regarding terrorism collected by each agency in the previous 24 hours was shared among the heads of all the agencies present. ( The 911 Commission found during the Bush Administration there was a lack of sharing of intelligence -- but in keeping with their promise not to fix blame they never stated the obvious -- that Bush's discontinuing of the Principals Meeting was a major contributing factor ).

Clarke testified that after each of these meetings, the heads of these agencies would go back to their respective departments and in his words, "shake the trees" for the latest information on terrorism developed over the last 24 hours and then present it at the next meeting. If this had this been allowed to continue this alone could have prevented 911.


A year ago the media reported on George Tenet's statements that the intelligence coming to him in July 2001 pointing to a major Al-Qaeda attack was so disturbing he went to the White House for an emergency meeting with Rice. Rice was so dismissive at the time that when asked about the meeting in 2007 she said she couldn't even remember having it though White House logs show that in fact Tenet did have a meeting with her on the date in July that he claimed. Either she is lying or has a selective memory.

But the two most damning pieces of evidence against Bush, Rice and Cheney is the August 4th, 2001 PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing and declassified in 2004) entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Within the United States" and an August CIA translation of an Al-Qaeda intercept which, when translated, indicated that there was going to be an imminent major attack against the United States and in the words of the CIA memo it was going to be "spectacular."

The first piece of evidence supporting this is the famous Phoenix Memo. An FBI agent in Phoenix had been called by the owner of a Phoenix flying school who was suspicious of two new students. What made him suspicious was that the two flying students were both middle eastern men who wanted to learn how to fly jumbo jets but curiously didn't want to learn how to take off or land. They were also paying for their flying lessons with cash. One of those two men was Mohammed Atta.

The FBI agent agreed the activity was suspicious and wrote up a report. But the report was never sent up the ladder and never reached FBI Headquarters in Washington. Under the old process during the Clinton Administration where terrorism had the highest priority, that information would have been sent right to the top and would have been something Mueller would have shared with Clarke and the others at the Principles Meeting. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out what Clarke, Reno and Mueller would have done with this information.

From that moment on, Atta and all of his associates wouldn't have been able to sneeze without the FBI knowing about it. They would have been under surveillance 24 hours a day. Their phones would have been tapped. The plot undeniably would have been discovered and 911 would have been prevented with this one piece of information alone.

And what of the day of the attack itself?

On the morning of September 11, Mohammed Atta and another of the 911 hijackers boarded a flight from the Portland Airport in Maine to Logan for the connecting flight to San Franciso. The ticket taker at the Maine airport was taken aback by the fact that the ticket was a $2500 one way ticket to San Francisco, the kind you get when you book your flight at the last minute. It immediately raised his eyebrows and his suspicions. As he told interviewers, "You dont see one of those ( a $2500 one way ticket) very often". And this was at the Maine airport, not a busy hub so Atta and the other hijacker stood out like sore thumbs to begin with. What would have happened if that clerk had gotten an FAA alert for a potential hijacking and to be aware of any suspicious activity by middle eastern men? What are the odds that an FAA alert, the fact that they were middle eastern and the $2500 ticket might have led to him making a call?

Let's review the Aministration's role:

- During the transition period: the president-elect is told separately by the outgoing president, (with Rice) the outgoing National Security Advisor, the CIA director, and the FBI that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were the greatest national security threats facing the U.S.A.

- Once in office: the President downgrades the office held by the veteran counter-terrorism expert, Richard Clarke from a cabinet-level, to a sub-cabinet level, position. He disbands the daily Principals meeting, in which heads of all agencies involved in intelligence gathering would discuss the latest intelligence any had collected; NSC director Rice is told by CIA director Tenet in July, 2001 of his fear of an impending major attack by Al Qaeda while and Clarke and Tenet feverishly (with their "hair on fire") try to get Rice to arrange a meeting with the President.

- The President departs on August 3 for vacation at his faux ranch, where he stays until September 3. The President receives on 8/6/01 the Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in U.S.," at a page-and-a-half disturbingly longer than the usual one-or-two page PDB.

Obviously, CIA Director Tenet- who later received a Congressional Medal of Honor from President Bush- cannot escape blame. When a Principals Committee meeting finally was held on September 4, Tenet neglected to mention that he had been told that Islamic jihadist Zacharias Moussaoui had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. President Bush and National Security Advisor Rice were not alone in neglecting the threat posed by Al Qaeda.

Incompetence throughout the government, highlighted by the President's apathy, merely demonstrates the outrageous dishonesty of Rice's comment that "They only have to be right once. We have to be right 100% of the time." The gang that left office on January 20, 2009 did not know exactly when and where and how the attacks of 9/11/01 would take place. But its negligence was striking, startling, and devastating. Failure to challenge Mrs. Rice about her role is emblematic of a conservative mainstream media that has ill-served our nation for decades.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Article Of The Week

There may be no more incisive a political analyst than the Philadelphia Inquirer's national political columnist Dick Polman, true to form on Sunday with "Suddenly, they're czar-struck." And he does it, impressively, without once using the word "hypocrite." Polman explains

Yes, the Republican right has suddenly discovered the word czar - roughly 36 years after it was first used by the press as a nickname for Republican Richard Nixon's in-house energy guy, a Republican named John Love. The word has been popular for decades, in part because, frankly, it fits snugly in a headline. The word actually makes no sense in the American context - after all, the real czars ordered pogroms - but it has become a thumbnail descriptive for the scores of policy mavens hired by virtually every president since Nixon.

Yes, this is one of the newest causes celebre of the right-wing media, though you'd hardly know it, given that the likes of Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity appear to be poster children for ADD as they seamlessly flit from issue to issue in their assiduous avoidance of fact or context.

And so it is difficult to pin down the number of czars in the Obama administration. Politifact took up the issue in June, when it counted 28. Now, however

conservatives complain that Obama has hired roughly 32 policy people who can be described as czars, largely because, according to the right's criteria, these White House officials were not confirmed by Congress, or because they supposedly lack formal titles, or because they answer only to Obama. (Beck admitted recently on his Web site that "the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder.") Yet, by employing the same loose criteria, the roster of so-called czars in the George W. Bush administration totaled roughly 36.

Amnesia is sometimes rampant on the Republican right, so perhaps this partial list might spark some memories. President Bush hired - among many others - a science czar, cybersecurity czar, regulatory czar, weapons czar, bailout czar, bird-flu czar, AIDS czar, intelligence czar, Afghanistan czar, war czar, terrorism czar, drug czar, faith-based czar, food-safety czar, Mideast-peace czar, manufacturing czar, and Katrina-cleanup czar.

Polman cites the criticism of Obama's czars by two Repub senators, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander, whohas called them "an affront to the Constitution," and Utah's Robert Bennet, who claims they are "undermining the Constitution." Unfortunately, they have a record- Alexander as commending "Bush on the Senate floor for appointing an AIDS czar and a manufacturing czar" and Bennet as urging President Clinton to appoint "a Y2K czar." (Yep, we sure needed that one!)

If the tradition of referring to special advisors as "czars" traces to the days of Richard M. Nixon, the practice of actually appointing "their own policy loyalists," as Polman puts it, goes back to the Andrew Jackson administration. In reality, Polman notes, they rarely have the "major influence on public policy" claimed by GOP TV and invariably "lack the clout to force anyone to do anything." Quite a departure from a real tsar of czarist Russia, who was "a male monarch or emperor, especially one of the emperors who ruled Russia until the revolution of 1917." Rather, the very presence of numerous czars- 32, 27,000, an infinite number or whatever the opinion makers on the right are claiming today- precludes the possibility of any one of them having much power. (And one individual, such as a President or his chief of staff, may himself maintain control in part by preventing concentration of power elsewhere.)

Of course, czar-mania does have its particular propaganda value to the right, with the term raising visions of Russian communists, even if the Bolshevik Revolution did sweep those autocrats from power. But the irony doesn't stop there.

One of the abiding tenets of the conservative creed is hostility toward the media, which it consistently, if inaccurately, brands as "liberal." And as a "liberal" outpost, the media must be continually doubted, as reason gives way to a self-serving cynicism.

Yet, the right unflinchingly accepts the term "czar," when the Obama administration rarely has used the term and usually takes pains to avoid it. The moniker is one first used the press and has been kept alive by the press for decades. Still, consrvatives have latched on to it with a zeal which would be commendable if it were descriptive, accurate, or original. Which raises a question: with conservatives on the street characteristically force-fed false information by their heroes in the media, are the latter being manipulated by a mainstream media they disdain- or are they once again putting on a show?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sifting Through Race- Jimmy Carter On Racism (Or Not), Part 3

At first read, it's somewhat of a case of dueling columns. Pulitzer Prize-winning Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post in "The Favor Jimmy Carter Did Us All" on September 18 writes

....there's a particularly nasty edge to the most vitriolic attacks -- a rejection not of Obama's programs but of his legitimacy as president. This denial of legitimacy is more pernicious than the abuse heaped upon George W. Bush by his critics (including me), and I can't find any explanation for it other than race.

I'm not talking about the majority of the citizens who went to town hall meetings to criticize Obama's plans for health-care reform or the majority of the "tea bag" demonstrators who complain that Obama is ushering in an era of big government. Those are, of course, legitimate points of view. Protest is part of our system. It's as American as apple pie.

I'm talking about the crazy "birthers." I'm talking about the nitwits who arrive at protest rallies bearing racially offensive caricatures -- Obama as a witch doctor, for example. I'm talking about the idiots who toss around words like "socialism" to make Obama seem alien and even dangerous -- who deny the fact that he, too, is as American as apple pie.

This whole discussion was kicked off by Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" outburst during Obama's address to a joint session of Congress. As the House members who voted to rebuke Wilson -- including seven fellow Republicans -- understand, calling the head of state a liar in such an official setting is way out of bounds. Grumbling and even booing come with the territory, but a flat accusation of mendacity is an impermissible sign of disrespect. Nobody ever called Bush a liar when he was speaking in the House chamber.

Why would Wilson think he was entitled to insult the president this way? Why would he refuse to offer a formal apology on the House floor, which would have ended the matter? I have no idea. Friends and colleagues say he is no racist, and they know the man a lot better than I do. But he does have a history.

Though not denying the role of race, in salon.com on September 17 Gene Lyons emphasizes economic insecurity and historic animus toward national Democrats. In "Obama gets the Clinton treatment," he deemphasizes the impact of race, explaining

From a political standpoint, the worst thing about blaming President Obama's perceived difficulties on racism is that there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Determined bigots can't be shamed, while many see invoking race as more an excuse than an explanation.
Democrats who cry racism risk looking like whiners fearful they're losing the argument....

Criticizing Colbert I. King of The Washington Post and referring to the proprietor of dailyhowler.com, Lyons notes

So where was King when Bill and Hillary Clinton were accused of murder by Rush Limbaugh and in videotapes peddled by the Rev. Jerry Falwell? The latter's sanctimonious mug nevertheless continued to appear constantly on network TV talk shows as an honored representative of America's devout Christians....

How about when Democratic nominee Al Gore was depicted as a fraud and serial liar through the use of phony allegations ("invented the Internet") and manufactured quotes on the front page of, yes, the Washington Post? Where was King then? Studiously polishing his fingernails, evidently.

The same is true of establishment pundits such as the New York Times' Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, who participated gleefully in sliming the previous several Democratic candidates. (Dowd and Rich invented the myth that Gore falsely claimed to be the inspiration for the novel and movie "Love Story.") So now they don the shining armor of multiculti(sic) liberalism? Please.

"King and the rest of his cohorts drank the Kool-Aid during (the 90s)," writes Somerby. "Now, they pretend that the era never occurred -- and they express their vast surprise when the same lunacy is aimed at Obama. They are amazed to see what's being said about this new Democratic president. And they diddle their cowardly brains: It must be his race, they proclaim."

But in a more fundamental sense, Robinson and Lyons both view things similarly, and accurately. While the former salutes the former president for raising the issue of race, the latter notes "Rep. Joe Wilson's, R-S.C., rude outburst during the president's speech to Congress.... along with his longtime support for flying the Rebel flag over South Carolina's capitol," and the futility of Democratic presidential nominees in the old confederacy.

And how has the conservative community responded? Not whether whether prominent Repubs or conservatives agree with Carter that race is the biggest factor in the most extreme attacks upon Obama (they apparently don't)- Carter probably was wrong and, anyway, it's never wise political strategy to label your base as racists.

But another theme has been developing. A few conservatives, including the African-American Derrell Bradford, and the second-generation Jamaican-American Michelle Bernard, have been vigorously trying to rewrite history. They claim, as Bernard put it, "White people put Barack Obama into office."

Uh, no. According to exit polls, among non-Hispanic whites, John McCain garnered 55% of the vote last November, Barack Obama only 33%- a bulge of 12%. If only white votes were counted, John McCain would have shellacked Barack Obama, both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote. John McCain would have been President, and Sarah Palin, Vice-President. And this is what individuals in exit polls reported. Human nature (learned, in this case) not having been abolished, whites still like to say they voted for the black candidate, especially in an election termed "historic."

But there is method behind the madness- no, behind the dishonesty. They are saying (albeit fallaciously), if a majority of Caucasians voted for the black candidate, well, the election put race behind us. And if it, if we have transcended race, why are Jimmy Carter and all those mean liberals bringing it up? Surely, the critics of the Democratic Party are right!

But in the midst of a serious recession, a very unpopular war, and a nominee who couldn't get out of his own way, Barack Obama, the nominee of the nation's majority party, won 43% of the white vote. So the real question is not, or should not be, whether former President Carter or his GOP critics are right- the truth lies somewhere in between the two extreme positions. It is a matter of passing, of transient concern, and as Robinson and probably Lyons both understand, one that should be secondary to the largely unexamined impact of race in American politics.
The Conservative Mind At Work

I hate to generalize- at least when conservatives are doing it. Still, at least there will be a modicum of accuracy and relevance to my post, unlike the recent one of conservative talk show host Michael Medved on the right-wing site townhall.com. Contemplating the distinction between right and left in American politics, Medved writes

The bitterness of the current health care debate demonstrates the power of this important insight. Liberals invariably plead that the United States must follow the example of Britain or France, Canada or Cuba, and expand the governmental role in medicine to guarantee health care as a sacred human right. The left insists that despite the high cost of American medical care we actually lag far behind more enlightened countries in health outcomes. Conservatives, on the other hand, while decrying the rise in costs, cite the many ways that the US system leads the world (in technological breakthroughs, as well as responsiveness where America is ranked number one by the World Health Organization of the UN). Conservatives want other countries to learn from us and follow our example; liberals long for the United States to learn from our European counterparts and to follow their example.

Ah, the mind of the conservative opinion maker of the early twenty-first century. It is not ignorance. Citing the World Health Organization in his argument, Medved obviously knows that in its last report (2000), the WHO (not these guys) ranked the health system in the United States the world's 37th finest. Understandably, he neglects to refer to any aspect of the 2007 update to a 2006 study and 2004 study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund, which found

Compared with five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom—the U.S. health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives....

Among the six nations studied—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2006 and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last on dimensions of access, patient safety, efficiency, and equity.

Oh, heck. Ignore that. Most of us ignore incovenient data from time to time.

But take a look at this: of the 36 states which reportedly enjoyed a better health care system than the leader of the free world are France, Italy, San Marino, Andorra, Malta, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Monaco, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Holland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Finland, and Denmark. That would be 21- 21! of the European continent, including some in Donald Rumsfeld's dreaded old Europe.

And our conservative talk show host complains-complains- that "liberals long for the United States to learn from our European counterparts." That would be twenty-one (21) nations which (even if, like Medved, one doesn't like the criteria employed) are superior in one or more aspects of their care. And Medved wants us to ignore them!

But it's not only Medved and Donald Rumsfeld. Conservative opinion makers, who shape help shape the mind of the conservative masses, have denigrated the Europeans for some time now. No need to criticize Asians or Africans; it's understood that in terms of most objective criteria- e.g., education, income, political freedom- we enjoy a superior quality of life to theirs. (Besides, criticizing Asians or Africans would not be politically correct.) Europeans, however, are largely our peers, albeit living in societies in which (usually) government plays a more prominent role in assisting the middle class than it does here. That is threatening to the right- and is why our erstwhile conservative critics harbor a grudge against Europe.

A politically correct grudge, at that. Sure, in the 1980s universities, it was a denigration of the contribution of the Dead White European Male in literature. (After all, what can be learned from the likes of William Shakespeare?) Now, radio hosts and politicians are much more subtle. We can hardly admit that we envy, or can learn from, other developed societies which are not clearly inferior to ours; and race cannot be mentioned, except to accuse others of racism.

It is disingenuous, irrational, and narrow-minded, but it helps satisfy the right's fetish for political correctness.
Jimmy Carter On Racism, Part 2: Matthews Gets It Right- Exactly

Former President James Earl Carter famously, or infamously, told NBC's Brian Williams on Tuesday

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American....

He less famously remarked

And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

Not just in the South but around the country. If you're a politician, better not to question that part. No way does an office holder or someone seeking office single out a particular section of the country for disapprobation. While liberal/progressive voters are likely to believe racism is pervasive, conservative voters would probably sympathize with a section of the country being labeled with the "r" word (whether or not it is used). Moral equivalence is far safer, politically.

But Chris Matthews is no politician and, whatever he may be, he's not typical. So he nailed it on Wednesday evening. First citing a poll asking voters whether they believe the President was born in this country, not born in this country, or unsure, he noted

All right. It is the Daily—I‘m not sure it‘s a good poll, but it‘s a poll. A majority of them aren‘t sure or are sure he‘s not from here. In other words, a minority of Southerners, white Southerners, think he‘s from America, the president.

Next, referring to the traditional understanding of the difference between anti-black sentiment among northerners (not only Philadelphians) and that among southerners, Matthews described

Growing up, I always thought the Northern white prejudice was, We don‘t want a black person living next door. In fact, a guy who was working, friend of mine, I got to know him—was working for Barack Obama in the campaign. He said when he went around northeast Philly, the biggest fear was not that Carter would—or that Obama would be elected president, but that he was looking for a house, OK?

Finally, the MSNBC host takes a look at last November's presidential election results and reminds us of the genesis of the Southern Strategy:

But let‘s take a look at these exit polls from the last election, last November. This isn‘t 100 years ago. This isn‘t during Jim Crow. This is last November. Ten percent of white voters in Alabama said they voted for Barack Obama -- 10 percent, 1 in 10. Eleven percent of white voters in Mississippi voted for him, about 1 in 10. Louisiana, up to about 14 percent.

Now, the national percentage is about 43 percent of whites voted for Barack Obama. So there is a geographic differential. In all fairness to the region of the South—and I went to Chapel Hill, which is not exactly, well, conservative, North Carolina, University of North Carolina—the—it is generally a conservative part of the country. But it also became a conservative part of the country in terms of racial issues and all—became a Republican part of the country after Civil Rights legislation....

So the idea that Barack Obama gets 10 percent of the white vote in Alabama, 11 percent of the white vote in Mississippi, 14 Louisiana, and the rest of the country, he gets 43 percent, doesn‘t that tell you? And by the way, this birther nonsense, that he wasn‘t born here...

Matthews has a tendency to say whatever pops into his head. Sometimes, therefore, he says something outrageous or ludicrous. Still, it's all worth it, with the periodic bursts of insight most others have never thought of and, if they have, are too cautious to admit. Charging Americans with racial prejudice is serious. If the bigotry applies disproportionately to the South- and the rest of the country is lumped in- the rest the country is being smeared with an unfair and inaccurate charge.
Jimmy Carter On Racism, Part 1

I suppose I'm missing the point here of the remarks of former President Jimmy Carter when he was interviewed by NBC's Brian Williams for the network's September 15 newscast. But Carter should have been queried further, given his remarks (video below):

I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way, and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans....

And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It's an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.

Consider the former president's remark "I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African Americans...."

Does this mean that a) the rest of the country previously shared the south's attitude toward blacks (good, given that the south has become more tolerant) or b) the rest of the country ("I've seen" not "I saw") still shares the south's attitude toward blacks? And is this bad (racism present "not just in the South, but around the country")- or good, considering he has "seen the South come a long way?"

Also: what is "an overwhelming portion?" Is this the same thing someone who wanted to be clear would have termed "the overwhelming portion?" Or does it mean "a lot?"

For those individuals who welcome controversy; or think that Carter has courageously spoken That Which Goes Unadmitted; or believe him a white-hating racist himself, Carter meant "most." But that's not what he said (though probably is what he meant) and it's not a mere matter of semantics. Not when the obvious, albeit easy, answer is: racism (well, not racism, but bigotry, but that's an argument for another day) is involved but is not the whole story.

Coming up, on Carter II (assuming availability of transcript): Chris Matthews gets it right.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A (Dangerous) Gaffe

In the world of apologies (Joe Wilson, Kanye West, Michael Vick), there are apologies and there are apologies. And then there is the not-apology; or non-apology; or, "you're wrong and I'm right."

Guess which Howie Kurtz of The Washington Post and CNN's Reliable Sources has issued? This, from an online chat, entitled, "Glenn Beck, Protest Coverage, More" he held on September 14:

Los Angeles, Ca.: Hey, Howie, in your column today you say that Kenya is Obama's "native country." Are you a "Birther" now?

Howard Kurtz: Oy. I obviously meant the country of his father. He wrote a book about it.

As long as Kurtz claimed context- "I obviously meant...."- here is the section, subtitled "Back in Kenya," of the column, "Beck And The Mainstream," in which Kurtz's comment appeared:

Back in Kenya

The Boston Globe has an interesting piece from Obama's native country on attempts to cash in:

"The price of land here has skyrocketed because of rampant speculation about an Obama family museum that the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism has promised to build. And there have been some modest, but tangible, signs of progress that seem tied to the village's new notoriety. Within a week of Obama's election victory last year, the government began to pave the main road to town. It also brought in an electricity and water lines to Obama's step-grandmother's compound.

"Some relatives have also set up foundations, trying to raise money for development projects using the Obama name. And strangers are suddenly a common sight in the market, attracted by safari companies that advertise heritage tours about the first African-American US president. A tourist hotel is planned.

"But what is missing is a direct infusion of cash from Obama or the U.S. government, say local residents and members of the extended Obama family, some of whom say they have relayed funding requests through e-mails and letters to Washington."

Admittedly, "oy" is coastal U.S.A. for "ohmigosh," suggesting that Kurtz realizes that for whatever reason, he shouldn't have written what he did. Nonetheless, he claims "I obviously meant the country of his father." But nothing in what Kurtz wrote precludes an implication that Kenya is the native country of Barack Obama himself. Nothing. Instead, he cleverly turns the charge on the questioner, reminding him/her: "He wrote a book about it."

Of course, Howie Kurz, being better informed than the average conservative "Birther," does not believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. However, he strongly implied that the President was born in Kenya. And when Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and other snake-oil salesmen pick up on this, it's unlikely they will put it (or practically anything else in the universe) into perspective. The "obviously I meant the country of his father. He wrote a book about it," is not likely to be omitted in service of their right-wing hucksterism.

Your response may vary, but response should have been unequivocal and decisive, perhaps something along the lines of: I carelessly inferred something which no thinking American believes.

Aside from the talk-show hosts who want to bring Obama's presidency down, and those individuals who aren't aware that these media personalities are making things up to stir controversy and ratchet up ratings, virtually everyone realizes that Barack Obama was born in the State of Hawaii, which entered the union the same year as Sarah Palin's State of Alaska.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Not So Fast

No one can accuse Maureen Dowd of mincing words, fence-sitting, or ambivalence. She wrote in her Saturday column in The New York Times:

The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.

Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.

But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!

....Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.

There is far, far more to it than that. In making another point(s), a "driftglass," at crooksandliars.com reminds us:

Once upon a time, there was a President named Bill Clinton, who was, by most historical standards, a typical Centrist Republican, although by a fluke of geography and circumstances he ran for public office with a "(D)" after his name.

Under his Administration, many Conservative ideas which had long gathered dust on the shelf -- ideas such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, debt reduction, a strict “Pay as You Go” fiscal regime, a boom in technology jobs, budget surpluses, NAFTA, GATT, official bans on gay marriage, etc. -- were finally realized.

And for all of his good work on behalf of their ideology, Conservatives spent eight, long years treating Bill Clinton -- a Southern, White, Christian man -- as if he were a case of flesh eating nuclear syphilis.

Because he did not run for office with an "(R)" after his name.

And because he did not run for office with an "(R)" after his name, according to the leading voices in the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement, Bill Clinton was, in no particular order, Hitler, a Socialist, a rapist, a warmonger, a serial murderer, and a drug dealer, whose Presidency was somehow vaguely illegitimate.

And counterpointing the 24/7 slime campaign, there were those endless, endless hearings. Whitewater. Travel office. Christmas Card lists. Lincoln bedroom. Etc ad nauseum.

Or don’t you remember?

He was “Not my President!” (Ollie North: War criminal, terrorist arms dealer, GOP Senate Candidate [1994] and FoxNews Contributor.)

He was warned “not to set foot in my state.” (Jesse Helms: Professional Bigot, Confederate Senator, 1820-2003)

His picture was used for target practice by G. Gordon Liddy. (Watergate felon, would-be assassin, radio 'personality' and Republican hero.)

From "The American Prospect":

...it's worth remembering just how virulent the opposition to Clinton's presidency was. Republicans began plotting to impeach Clinton long before anyone had ever heard the name "Lewinsky," and many on the right simply refused to accept that he legitimately occupied the office he held. Then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, when talking to Democrats, used to refer to Clinton as "your president."

It was a warped, hysterical campaign funded by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Richard Mellon Scaife and propagated by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Rupert Murdoch who made sure the lies were jack-hammered into the headlines day after day, year after year.

It didn't begin with Barack Obama and it has continued to the present day, sinking with help of the mainstream media, including Maureen Dowd (described here and here), the candidacy of Al Gore. Attacks on President Clinton were routine, as these quotes indicate:

“Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?”
-Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

“This is President Clinton’s war, and when he falls flat on his face, that’s his problem.”
-Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)

And my personal favorite, uttered in the days when Tom DeLay and other prominent Republicans thought Al Qaeda was a minor nuisance and Osama bin Laden a mere annoyance:

“Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly.”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX

There are reasons for the remarkable and despicable (but not extraordinary) and irrational hatred directed against President Obama. One of them is the disturbing influence of the self-serving antics of the second most popular radio talk show host in the nation, who has described himself as "a rodeo clown;" and of the nation's most popular radio talk show host and loyal corporate apologist. Race is a factor but easily overrated and making the charge without powerful evidence that it is the prime catalyst behind the right-wing assault on the presidency denies recent GOP history and obscures more complex motivation, preventing a full exploration of the extremist mind of the early 21st century. And it is a backlash waiting to happen.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Again

Every time I think I'm out, I'm pulled back in. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the police commissioner of Cambridge, Massachusetts has announced the names of the 12 members selected to the Cambridge Review Committee to ponder the lessons of the arrest in July by Sgt. James Crowley of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The panel has been charged with considering these questions:

- What are the lessons learned that are unique to Cambridge?

- What departmental training should be addressed?

- How does the Cambridge Police Department take this event and use it as an opportunity to modify its operational procedures?

- How do race, class, and interpersonal conflict have an impact on engaging with the public?

- Are there opportunities for the city as a whole to learn and grow from this experience?

- What can other communities and police departments learn from this experience in Cambridge?

I would not claim to be a "liberal with sanity," as Ed Koch used to describe himself. Liberals generally are sane (at least as much as conservatives) and, anyway, no one ever has accused me of being sane. Nonetheless, as long as the power brokers have devised a set of questions guaranteed to produce the answers they desire, I can suggest several other questions, which are nearly as slanted. They include:

- Can the action of the onlooker in this matter inspire among citizens of the city a commitment to community and willingness to assist law enforcement when appropriate?

- How do notions about race and class affect the attitudes of members of the community toward the Police Department?

- What misunderstandings and prejudices among the tenured professionals of Harvard University should be addressed by training?

- Does resistance to law enforcement in the academic community derive from class envy or from an antipathy toward authority?

- Are there opportunities for the academic community as a whole to learn and grow from this experience?

- Why did the city not respond to the concerns of the minority community until such time as a distinguished member of an Ivy League institution was disadvantaged by an altercation with law enforcement?

- What can other communities learn from this experience in Cambridge about the impulse to label as "profiling" an incident completely unrelated to the concept of profiling?

It's possible that, upon examining the facts of the situation, the panel would come to the conclusions that are being urged upon them. Unfortunately, we'll never know, given the slant the Cambridge city fathers and mothers have chosen to give to this study.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mandate, Yes; Mandate, No

President Obama aimed his speech last night at many constituencies; one of them, Congressional liberals/progressives. Or, as he put it

To my progressive friends,I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it.

After applause, he continued:

The public option- the public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

If in fact the "ultimate goal" of making "coverage available for those without it" were met by health care legislation, reform will have accomplished something, though limited.

But Barack Obama does not aim to "make coverage available for those without it." To be sure, he said last night

that's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance- just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.

A moment later, he would explain

There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage,and 95 percent of all small businesses, becuase of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements.

That may be a contradiction, but it didn't start on September 9. An article by Mike Glover of Newsday of May 29, 2007 and posted soon after by Organizing For America (predecessor to Obama For America), makes it perfectly unclear:

"The time has come for universal, affordable health care in America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday in Iowa City....

"My plan begins by covering every American. If you already have health insurance, the only thing that will change for you under this plan is that the amount of money you will spend on premiums will be less," Obama said. "If you are one of 45 million Americans who don't have health insurance, you will after this plan becomes law."

Whereas, Glover observes,

Obama's plan doesn't have the mandate that his rival John Edwards is proposing to ensure that all Americans get coverage. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee would require everyone to have health insurance, much like state requirements for auto insurance for every driver.

Three months ago, President Obama told a Green Bay, Wisconsin audience

We have decided that it's time to give every American quality healthcare at an affordable cost.

Last night, the President argued (emphasis mine)

.... I believe a broad consensus exists for the aspects of the plan I just outlined: consumer protections for those with insurance; an exchange that allows individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable coverage; and a requirement that people who can afford insurance get insurance.

Barack Obama probably knows what his health care is, though confusion serves his strategic purposes. If nothing else, however, he again apparently gave new life to so many individuals. The President was able to inspire persons who surged with excitement as they were swept away at the grandeur of what they were experiencing:

He reminded us Wednesday night with his moral, economic and political call to arms on health care. Veering from poetry to prose and back again, sometimes stern, sometimes earnest, always determined, Obama took ownership of what he called "my plan" and his place in nearly 100 years of presidential striving for reform.
More Than Distortion

It's ironic that The Weekly Standard's William Kristol, once Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now a pundit, would have served (albeit briefly) in the conservative chair of the op-ed section of The New York Times.

That role was held for a long time by William Safire, who also fancied himself, justifiably, as something of an amateur etymologist. For Safire, words were important, and not to be trifled with.

But this morning the Washington Post's website carried a piece by Mr. Kristol in which he claimed

But isn’t health care a crisis? No.

Indeed, the president acknowledged it isn’t: “But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future -- and that is the issue of health care.” In other words, health care -- unlike, say, the financial system a few months ago -- is not in a state of crisis.

So there is no health care crisis.

Mr. Kristol imagines there is no health care crisis. And he imagines that President Obama, in his speech to a joint session of Congress, "acknowledged" there is no health care crisis, stronger than even "implied," which itself would be an inaccurate interpretation.

Here is what Mr. Obama said (emphasis mine), according to Kristol and the transcript of the speech: "But we did not come here just to clean up crises."

"Just"- is not the preferred word here, given that its primary definition is as an adjective, meaning "fair" or thereabouts, rather than as an adverb. But as an adverb it can mean "merely, only" and that is clearly what the President was saying- saying, not just only meaning, but actually saying. Clarified (apparently necessary for Kristol), Obama stated "But we came here for more than to clean up crises."

Odd enough that the fellow's GOP would find the need to promote a health care plan (pdf) of its own absent a crisis. Still, Mr. Kristol is entitled to fantasize about having a health care system that's the finest in the world. But he is not entitled, without rebuttal, intentionally to misinterpret what the President said.
A Public Option, Unless There Isn't

OpenLeft is an excellent blog and I'm sure Mike Lux is a sincere and well-meaning individual. But I have a beachfront property in Arizona I'd like to sell him- and at a special price, just for him.

Last night, following President Obama's speech to a captive audience of Congress, Lux wrote in part:

I was pleased that he made clear not only that he was for a public option, but gave a full-throated multi-paragraph defense of it. He did what public option advocates needed him to do, which was to make clear that he supported it.

Mr. Lux apparently didn't watch the same speech I, or Jane Hamsher, did. Admittedly, the President did refer

to a provision in our plan that allows the uninsured and small businesses to choose a publicly-sponsored insurance option, administered by the government, just like Medicaid or Medicare.

(Sarcasm alert) Big news! President Obama likes the idea of a public option (or, rather, a "publicly-sponsored insurance option." But he vigorously qualified that support several times:

- It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance.... (and) based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5% of Americans would sign up."

Here, the President is endorsing an option so enthusiastically that he feels it necessary to point out that it would apply to very few individuals.

- I've insisted that, like any private insurance company, the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.

The option would "rely on the premiums it collects." Those eligible to choose the option are disproportionately poor- and are going to find it extremely difficult to pay the premiums. The people (such as young, healthy persons) who are able to pay the premiums had decided to forego buying insurance. They will not be amused at having to buy it now, though this requirement might be necessary.

- It's- it's worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I've proposed tonight.

Absolutely true- when asked by objective pollsters about a public option- without a reference to "triggers"- most respondents have been supportive. The President, however, clearly did not foreclose the possibility of the trigger mechanism, which would fundamentally change the nature of the health care plan.

- To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it.

Everyone is (or thinks he/she is) opposed to "abuses" of anything by anyone. And making coverage available for those without coverage is a very commendable goal- but availablity without affordability is of little value. Still, there is that pesky little matter of cost.

- The public option- the public option is only a means to that end, and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

Not only is Obama making it clear he is not committed to a public option, but suggesting that if a plan makes "coverage available for those without it" while the cost of health care continues to rise and quality does not improve, well, we've "accomplish(ed) our ultimate goal."

- For example- for example, some have suggested that the public option go into effect only in those markets where insurance companies are not providing affordable policies. Others have proposed a co-op or another non-profit entity to administer the plan.

These are all constructive ideas worth exploring.

Evidently, to this President practically all "ideas (are) worth exploring." All except single-payer- and, to be fair, one in which we would "end employer-based systems and leave individuals to buy health insurance on their own." To Mr. Obama, these are equally radical ideas- a)some form of single-payer (such as Medicare for all) systems not uncommon in the rest of the developed world and b)barring government or the private sector from providing any assistance at all. Seriously.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Public Option, Compromised

The focus of President Obama's message to Congress tonight, which probably will take place before most people read this, is becoming increasingly clear.

Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher, who arguably has been following the fight over, and leading the fight for, a public option more than anyone in the country, refers to an ominous, if somewhat predictable, development reported today by The Hill:

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) both cast doubt Tuesday on their support for a public-option component to the Democratic healthcare reform effort, which suggests that the Obama administration is still struggling to win over key Senate centrists.

However, Collins and Lieberman both told The Hill they are more supportive of a “trigger” concept floated by Collins’s Senate colleague, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, which calls for a public option to be implemented if insurance companies fail to fix the current system’s cost inefficiencies.

Reform supporters and critics alike are watching Collins, who cast a key vote this winter for President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill, and Lieberman, who occasionally breaks with Democrats, although he caucuses with the party and generally supports it on domestic issues....

Collins’s comments suggest that the administration approached her for support and determined her to be an unlikely ally. Collins did say she spoke for a half-hour last week with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is leading a six-way series of bipartisan talks on a Finance Committee health bill.

According to Politico today

Aides say Obama thinks it would be hard to get to true choice and competition without a public option or a fallback to a public option — such as the so-called trigger, which would kick in based on the insurance market....

But White House officials privately say they know they don't have the votes in the Senate for a public option. It is clear Obama will gladly compromise on this point, hence the loose language in the speech, allowing for future horse trading.

In a break for the White House, the American Medical Association is endorsing Obama-style health reform, in an “Open Letter to President Obama and Members of Congress,” signed by President J. James Rohback, M.D.

Hamsher noted that the "groundwork was laid" for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "to push triggers yesterday." But give credit to Major Garret of GOP TV, who in a blog on September 3 reported

That is true," Pelosi said of stepped up talks on a trigger mechanism as a replacement for the public option. "But I don't know what particulars are of the trigger. Here we have a situation where in the Kennedy bill in the Senate, there is a public option, it's not as strong as the public option in the House bill. If they want no public option, but a trigger, you can be sure that the trigger will bring on a very robust public option. So, if I were advising insurance companies, I'd tell them take this bill the way it is now."

In retrospect, it was fairly clear by then that President Obama favored the "trigger," (warning: hedge ahead) whether or not he would formally and directly endorse the concept in his remarks tonight. Pelosi, obviously, was not exactly "advising" insurance companies; she is a dynamic critic of theirs. Rather, she sounded like an individual who knows that her approach is facing powerful, organized opposition (from the industry, the Senate Finance Committee, and the President) is not likely to prevail. And the comment "you can be sure that the trigger will bring on a very robust public option," gives her an out in eventually supporting a trigger, when eventually the only alternative is no bill at all.

And if Hamsher believes "the needle will soon be impossible to thread," that day- that hour- is fast approaching. The GOP will not jump up to support a trigger, especially now that the leader of the Party has criticized it. As Steve Benen wrote Monday in his blog at The Washington Monthly

Republicans aren't looking for concessions; they're looking to kill the legislation. Indeed, asked about whether a trigger is a possible compromise move, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty both rejected the idea outright yesterday.

It's hard not to be impressed with these negotiations. Dems say, "How about a public option that would offer consumers a choice, and lower prices through competition?" Republicans reply, "No." Dems say, "OK, how about a system of non-profit co-ops"? Republicans reply, "No." Dems say, "How about a trigger, which would bring added competition to the system if private insurers fail to meet certain benchmarks?" Republicans reply, "No."

It's one thing to entertain the idea of a trigger to bring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) into the fold and keep Nelson from helping the GOP. But if the idea is that a trigger is a compromise measure that would generate broad, bipartisan support for reform, forget it. Republicans don't support health care reform, and no combination of concessions will change that.

Why This Comment?

Who's he talking about? Joe Scarborough wisely and very courageously asserts .... Again, a good question to ask about what he said in a...