The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Friday, April 02, 2004

THE INDISPENSABLE PAUL KRUGMAN -- Hits the nail on the head once again.
And administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable. If an administration official is willing to say something on the record, that's a story, because he pays a price if his claims are false. But if unnamed "administration officials" spread rumors about administration critics, reporters have an obligation to check the facts before giving those rumors national exposure. And there's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from "the White House," then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity.
What would the civilized world do without Paul Krugman? Wait, don't answer! I don't even want to think about it.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

THEIR EYES OFF THE BALL -- The Washington Post leads today with a story about how Condoleeza Rice intended to give a national security speech on September 11, 2001 that did not mention Al Qaeda or the threat from international Islamic terror.
The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.
It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States.
The text of Rice's Sept. 11 speech, which was never delivered, broadly reflects Bush administration foreign policy pronouncements during the eight months leading to the attacks, according to a review of speeches, news conferences and media appearances. Although the administration did address terrorism, it devoted far more attention to pushing missile defense, a controversial idea both at home and abroad, the review shows.

Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism rated lower on the list of priorities, as outlined by officials in their own public statements on policy.
More and more a picture emerges of a Bush administration contemptuous of anything the Clinton administration focused on and preoccupied with China and national missile defense. Not only was terrorism not their top priority, it wasn't even near the top. It should have been. Richard Clarke is right.

CLARKE EFFECT -- A new Los Angeles Times poll shows that former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's revelations about the Bush regime's flawed-to-non-existent anti-terror policies has resonated with a skeptical American public.
Most Americans accept Richard Clarke's key criticisms of President Bush's anti-terrorism record, but a majority also thinks that politics influenced the timing of the charges by the former White House aide, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.

Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed echoed the contention by Clarke that Bush placed a higher priority on invading Iraq than combating terrorism. And a smaller majority agreed with the charge by the onetime White House counterterrorism chief that Bush did not focus enough on the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The poll puts John Kerry ahead of George W. Bush 49-46 nationally.

REPUBLICANS ARE NOT BIGOTS! -- They're comedians.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

CORRUPT TO THE CORE -- Truly, the ethical degeneracy of this administration is consistent and boundless, in both big ways and small.
The Treasury tapped civil servants to calculate the cost of Sen. John Kerry's tax plan and then posted the analysis on the Treasury Web site. A federal law bars career government officials from working on political campaigns.

The Treasury analysis doesn't mention Mr. Kerry by name. Rather it sketches out the potential cost of a tax plan that rolls back tax reductions for taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 -- the nub of the Democratic presidential candidate's plan. The result, the Treasury said in the analysis posted March 22, would be a tax increase of as much as $477 billion over 10 years on "hardworking individuals and married couples." The same day, the Republican National Committee issued a press release in which it unveiled what it called its "John Kerry $pendometer," and cited the same $477 billion figure as the cost of "raising taxes on the top income bracket."
Making the government bigger and putting it to work for the far right is obviously central to the plan of George W. Bush.

AL TV -- The Observer reports that Al Gore is getting into the television business, with a plan to create a youth-oriented public affairs network to challenge Fox News.
former Vice President Al Gore and business partner Joel Hyatt, an entrepreneur and Democratic fund-raiser, will close the deal to pay around $70 million to French-owned Vivendi Universal this week, making them the owners of the tiny digital-cable channel Newsworld International (NWI), moving Mr. Gore from politics to mini-media-moguldom.

Mr. Gore’s group plans to transform the sleepy foreign-news outlet into a youth-oriented public-affairs channel, a jump-cut news network for the iPod set. Despite vociferous claims that the network isn’t attempting to be the liberal antidote to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, it’s difficult to ignore the obvious: It may be fair, it may be balanced, but it’s going to be owned by Al Gore.
No one from Mr. Gore’s camp would comment. They were keeping a low profile, said a source, until they had a high-wattage executive to face the press. "They’re going to stay quiet until they’ve hired their Roger Ailes and let him do all the talking," said the source, speaking of Mr. Ailes, the media visionary, liberal bête noire and former Nixon adviser who put Fox News on the map. "They don’t have him yet."
It’s not clear where Mr. Gore and Mr. Hyatt rounded up the money, or how they will cover the gargantuan programming costs to come. But as you may recall, Mr. Gore’s first gig after the election of 2000 was becoming vice chairman of Metropolitan West Financial Inc., headquartered in Los Angeles, which hired him to explore high-tech investments. With the assistance of Peter Knight, his former Democratic fund-raiser and a managing director at Metropolitan West, Mr. Gore had access to scores of investors, according to sources close to him.

The Observer has also learned that the chief operating officer of the fledgling company will be a Los Angeles–based media consultant named Mark Goldman, who served during the late 90’s as the president and chief executive officer of Mr. Murdoch’s satellite company, Sky Latin America.
I wish Mr Gore, whom I admire immensely, well and hope that he finds some way to coordinate his television channel with Air America. I also hope Gore's people are lying when they say the channel won't be partisan. I hope it is. It should be. Of course, just telling the truth will make it anti-Republican.

ON THE AIR IN AMERICA -- Air America, the fledgling radio mini-network flogging liberal viewpoints with a healthy dash of humor, hit the airwaves at noon today. It began with the hilariously-titled "O'Franken Factor" with Al Franken. The New York Times gives us a peek at what the new network will be like.
Lady Olivia was on the phone from Washington.

And Sam Seder, a nighttime host on Air America Radio, the fledgling liberal talk-radio network, had a question about the clientele of his guest, who identified herself as a dominatrix.

"More Republicans or more Democrats?" Mr. Seder asked.

"Seventy-30," Lady Olivia said.

Mr. Seder's broad grin suggested that that was precisely the answer he had hoped for. Sitting in a windowless studio 41 floors above Midtown Manhattan during a rehearsal on Thursday for the program, "The Majority Report," he shuffled through a sheaf of testimonials downloaded from Lady Olivia's Web site, operated under a different name. He soon inquired about the identities of those Republicans, displaying a particular interest in learning more about "Jon from Washington," who had written, "I enjoyed the corporal punishment more than I thought I would."

"Does his last name," Mr. Seder asked, "rhyme with Chriscroft?
Call me juvenile, but that schtick works for me. I'm one of those liberals who does not want to listen to Noam Chomsky instruct me about the essential wickedness of America or be told to eat my vegetables by Mario Cuomo. I want to be entertained while imbibing my liberal politics and it appears the Air America crowd understands that.

For those of us who are not in an Air America market, we have this American Prospect interview with Al Franken to tide us over.

THEY HATE US! THEY REALLY HATE US! -- And by they I mean Iraqis and by us I mean...well, us. Take this, for example:
Jubilant residents yanked the bodies of four foreigners — one a woman, at least one an American — out of their burning cars Wednesday, dragged the charred corpses through the streets, and hung them from the bridge spanning the Euphrates River. Five American troops died in a roadside bombing nearby.

The brutal treatment of the four corpses came after they were killed in a rebel attack on their SUVs in the Sunni Triangle city about 35 miles west of Baghdad, scene of some of the worst violence on both sides of the conflict since the beginning of the American occupation a year ago.

It was reminiscent of the 1993 scene in Somalia, when a mob dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, eventually leading to the American withdrawal from the African nation.

In one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military this year, five American troops died when their military vehicle ran over a bomb in a separate incident 12 miles to the northwest, among the reed-lined roads through some of Iraq's richest farmland.

Residents said the bomb attack occurred in Malahma, 12 miles northwest of Fallujah, where anti-U.S. insurgents are active. U.S. Marines operate in the area, but it was unclear whether the slain troops were Marines.

Chanting "Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans," residents cheered after the grisly assault on two four-wheel-drive civilian vehicles, which left both in flames. Others chanted, "We sacrifice our blood and souls for Islam."

Associated Press Television News pictures showed one man beating a charred corpse with a metal pole. Others tied a yellow rope to a body, hooked it to a car and dragged it down the main street of town. Two blackened and mangled corpses were hung from a green iron bridge across the Euphrates.

"The people of Fallujah hanged some of the bodies on the old bridge like slaughtered sheep," resident Abdul Aziz Mohammed said. Some of the corpses were dismembered, he said.

Beneath the bodies, a man held a printed sign with a skull and crossbones and the phrase "Fallujah is the cemetery for Americans."

APTN showed the charred remains of three slain men. Some were wearing flak jackets, said resident Safa Mohammedi.

One resident displayed what appeared to be dog tags taken from one body. Residents also said there were weapons in the targeted cars. APTN showed one American passport near a body and a U.S. Department of Defense identification card belonging to another man.
And these are the people the Bush regime said would throw flowers at the feet of our soldiers. They're not throwing flowers.

HOW DOES GEORGE FLIP-FLOP? -- Let me count the ways...
President Bush's decision Tuesday to allow his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to testify publicly before the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reversed earlier White House insistence that she would only appear privately.

Some previous Bush reversals in the face of criticism:

He argued a federal Department of Homeland Security wasn't needed, then devised a plan to create one.

He resisted a commission to investigate Iraq intelligence failures, but then relented.

He also initially opposed the creation of the independent commission to examine if the 2001 attacks could have been prevented, before getting behind the idea under pressure from victims' families.

He opposed, and then supported, a two-month extension of the commission's work, after the panel said protracted disputes over access to White House documents left too little time.

He at first said any access to the president by the commission would be limited to just one hour but relaxed the limit earlier this month.
And that's just for starters!

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

AIR AMERICA -- debuts tomorrow on not nearly enough radio stations. Radio hosts include Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D and one of the Kennedy boys. [Does it matter which one?] The presence of Franken is good news as he will guarantee several hours a day of superb and sarcastic fun. [The name of his show, "The O'Franken Factor" is a good start.] Hopefully, the other hosts will develop their own styles, but learn one thing from Franken: It's far more entertaining to ridicule right-wingers than to rage against them. Ridicule is funny and funny is good radio. Good luck, boys and girls. You're not on a station in the Washington, D.C. area [why not?], but I'll listen on the internet whenever I can.

STORM CLOUDS -- Police and Islamic fundis are waging a series of lethal battles in Uzbekistan. The government of dictator Islam Karimov is a close ally of the Bush regime, despite its savage human rights record, which includes lowering political opponents into vats of boiling oil. The Bush regime likes Karimov because of his tough stand against Islamic fundis [so tough it might be creating more fundis than originally existed] and his help against the Taliban in the Afghan War. The U.S. currently uses an air base in Uzbekistan for operations in Afghanistan.

I think we're playing with fire here. Karimov is a classic post-Soviet thug who uses the excuse of Islamic terror to justify his savage dictatorship. His reign has probably created Islamic fundamentalism where it didn't exist and I see this as an example of what happened in Iran, when the U.S. backed Shah Reza Pahlavi over Islamic radicals despite his ungodly human rights record. I'm not suggesting the U.S. back the fundis, of course, but I am suggesting the U.S. should distance itself from Karimov and cut off the aid he is currently receiving from the U.S., about $500 million a year. Otherwise, in five years, we may be watching on television screens as angry Uzbek fundis climb over the walls of the U.S. embassy in Tashkent and hold our diplomats hostage.

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE... -- the more they stay the same. In Washington state, at least, where Senator John Kerry leads George W Bush 50-45% in the latest Rasmussen poll. That margin is pretty much identical to the result of the 2000 election in Washington.

SMEAR TACTICS... -- and the journalists who love them. As usual, Paul Krugman has got the goods. My favorite part:
On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."
Jeebus, what a tool--literally and figuratively.

Senator Tom Daschle is speaking his mind about this issue, as well. Where the hell was this guy in 2002?

COLD WAR FLASHBACK, DUDE -- If you thought the days of self-criticism from a prison cell were over in Russia, you'd be wrong.
Russia's wealthiest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison on fraud and tax evasion charges, praised President Vladimir Putin in a newspaper article published Monday and called for higher taxes on businesses.

In the article published in the business daily Vedomosti, Khodorkovsky criticized himself and other tycoons for failing to help the poor and for insufficient patriotism. He also criticized the post-Soviet privatization policies that made him rich.
Fabulous! I love the retro feel of the whole thing. Political opponent of the ruling party in prison on suspicious charges. [Not to imply that Mr Khodorkovsky isn't a crook--he is. It's just that even bigger crooks than him are not in prison, so long as they take care to remain in the good graces of President Vladimir Putin.] This is very old-school and I'd like to commend President Putin on bringing back one of the Cold War's most treasured memories--the penitent purge victim in prison.

No wonder Mr Bush looked into President Putin's soul and found a kindred spirit.

MORE LIES COMING YOUR WAY -- The White House has reversed itself and will now allow National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to lie--I mean, testify--in public to the 9/11 Commission.

Liberal brownie points [and prompt accusations of treason] to the first White House correspondent who asks spokesman Scott McClellan why the Constitutional issues the White House found so important yesterday are no longer vital. Perhaps Karl Rove noticed even the reliably pro-Bush Washington Post tepidly demanding an appearance by Dr Rice before the 9/11 Commission and decided it was time to give way. After all, when a loyal Bush ally like the Washington Post editorial board deserts Mr Bush on an issue, it is probably politically wise for the White House to change course.