29 April 2004
Amy Sullivan of the new and very worthy Gadflyer site recently wrote a typically insightful column on the double standards applied to Bush and Kerry on religion. Kerry's Catholicism is major news in the major media, even to the point of determining whether he took Communion on a particular Sunday. Bush's Methodism, however, receives far, far less scrutiny.
Does Bush deviate from the teachings of the United Methodist Church? Yes he does, on some crucial political issues. Has he been reprimanded by leaders in his denomination? Yes, particularly on the issue of war in Iraq. And if you want to make this a question of who's the better Christian, then it's fair to ask why President Bush doesn't go to church. You heard me—the man worships at Camp David and every so often wanders across Lafayette Park (although the park is pretty much impassable now what with all of the security construction going on) to attend services at St. John's Episcopal Church. But the man who has staked his domestic policy on the power of civil society and of good Christian individuals to change lives isn't an active member of a congregation—the very kind of organization in which he claims to have so much faith.
George Bush has for years displayed his Christian piety as a youngster might wear a gold star given in school for good behavior. But how deep that piety really goes is far from obvious. In 2003, I wrote an article on this point that compared what Bush said in the 13 December 1999 Republican presidential debate in Des Moines to what he said to a Newsweek reporter in 2001. (Alas, the supporting texts are no longer freely available on line.).
In the 13 December 1999 Republican debate in Des Moines, the organizers asked the candidates which political philosopher or thinker with whom they identified, and why. Most of the candidates took the question seriously. Steve Forbes thought that Locke and Jefferson provided the philosophical underpinnings of the American Revolution. Alan Keyes thought that all of the authors of the Constitution were equally important, for the document that they wrote. Orrin Hatch praised Abraham Lincoln, for his quest for equality and freedom, and Ronald Reagan, for his stance against the Soviet Union. John McCain responded that Theodore Roosevelt stood for both reform and national greatness.
But George Bush and Gary Bauer apparently refused to treat the question seriously. Bush claimed that Jesus Christ was his favorite political thinker "because he changed my heart." When pressed for an actual answer, he continued, "when you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as a savior, it ... changes your life and that's what happened to me." Bauer at least quoted scripture and pointed to Christian obligations to unborn children and the poor.
Jesus Christ makes for an odd political philosopher for today's Republican Party. Someday George Bush or Gary Bauer may walk amongst lepers and outcasts, speak about the corruption and sin that come with the love of money, or champion the lot of the poor. I suspect, however, that they will never do such things. Bush and Bauer intended, and succeeded, in linking themselves to today's conservative Christians. It did not matter to them, or to a significant portion of the Republican electorate, that their political philosophy made no sense.....
Just how important Christianity is to Bush in his everyday thinking is debatable. In a story in the 3 December 2001 issue [of] Newsweek, Bush could not recall any particular sermon by the Methodist minister whose church he attends when he stayed at Camp David. Bush did know that "he's just down to earth and doesn't try to get too fancy." Perhaps, for President Bush, Jesus really is the figure who outshines all political philosophers and thinkers. I would hope, however, that Bush would remember more about the weekly seminars on his teachings than the fact that the professor is unpretentious.
Sullivan's article heads down the right path, but it does not get to the nub of the problem. For all of his comments on religion and politics and ethics and morals, George Bush has provided heaps of platitudes and bromides, but very little in the way of exigesis. If all of his public piety were just for show, I would expect that the veneer of his religiosity did not extend very deep.
28 April 2004
Listing to Port-au-Prince
The Bush administration's contempt for deposed Haitian presidnt Jean-Baptiste Aristide was easy enough to notice. But what was more circumspect was the circle of functionaries who were implementing American policy towards Haiti and the Caribbean in general. Some of those names were somehow familiar.
In an excellent article in the London Review of Books, Paul Farmer provides a worthwhile synopsis of American interventions and American interventionists in Haiti:
US Haiti policy is determined by a small number of people who were prominent in either Reagan's or George H.W. Bush's cabinets. Most are back in government today after an eight-year vacation in conservative think tanks or lobbying firms. Elliot Abrams, convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings, serves on the National Security Council; Reagan's national security adviser John Poindexter until recently headed the Pentagon's new counterterrorism unit; John Negroponte, former ambassador to Honduras, is now ambassador to the UN. Jeanne Kirkpatrick is on the board of the International Republican Institute, a body which has been actively supporting the opposition in Haiti (my sources suggest that it backed the demobilised army personnel who provided the opposition's muscle at the beginning of the year, though it denies this).
The players on the Haitian side fall into one of two categories: first, Haiti's business elite, including those who own the media, and then the former military and paramilitaries—the people who were involved in the 1991-94 coup. Some have been in jail since then for murder, drug trafficking and crimes against humanity. Today, every single one of them is out.
These people were responsible for foreign adventures that ranged from ludicrous to unsavory to atriocious. And yet the self-styled adults in the current administration have seen fit to give them another chance to work their magic in Latin America. It's a good thing for them that most Americans, and therefore most potential voters, are so ignorant of so much of the world's affairs.
27 April 2004
In February, I wrote that Citizens Bank appeared to have abandoned its membership in the SUM network of surcharge-free ATMs. While Citizens did indeed remove a hefty portion of its ATMs from that network, the bank has remained a member of the SUM program.
Until early this year, it had made little use of the ability to keep some machines out of the network (in particular, by imposing surcharges at machines at Boston's South Station). A correspondent tells me that Citizens now takes full advantage of a provision in the SUM program to impose surcharges at up to 60% of a bank's ATMs in a particular county.
I still wonder why eliminating all of its ATM surcharges made so much since in 1999 but so little sense in the intervening years:
"In the short run, we'll lose fees, but we feel we'll make up for it in the long run," Thomas J. Hollister, president and CEO of Citizens Bank, said yesterday.
Hollister said market research shows many bank customers hate paying ATM surcharges. "The SUM network is a terrific feature," he said. "I've been talking to customers off and on all day about it and people are delighted."
Hollister believes the bank will attract more customers by removing the surcharges.
Do you think that it has something to do with buying up a slew of its smaller competitors?
23 April 2004
Visionless in Gaza
The news that President Bush has endorsed Ariel Sharon's partial pollout of the West Bank and Gaza comes as little surprise. His administration has essentially abandoned the notion that the United States could act as an honest broker between Israelis and Palestinians, two groups with valid, historical claims, to the same pieces of land. Even more than the Reagan administration, which used American battleships to help the Israeli army hit targets in Lebanon, the Bush administration views Likud Party policy as its policy.
Sharon's plan certainly could improve the tense situation in and around Israel, but it seems more likely that the cycle of attack and reprisal will just continue. Sharon's plan calls for incorporating a slew of illegal settlements within the wall that Israel is building, not along its legal borders, but inside Palestinian territory. And his plan denies Palestinians the right to return to the land that Israeli settlers took in 1948 from them or their ancestors. The vaunted "road map" that Israel and Palestine would follow to the creation of a viable Palestinian state is proving more and more worthless for those in either camp who want peace.
Not so long ago, during Bill Clinton's presidency, the prospects for peace between Israel and Palestine did not seem so dire. Clinton's work in the Middle East was sorely fitful and incomplete, but it at least took the Palestinian cause seriously. Under Bush's aegis, the Likud government has assassinated leaders of Hamas, demolished the offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and made numerous threats on the life of Yassir Arafat. The faint damnations of the Bush administration have underscored its complete lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.
The tragedy here is not that the Palestinians have no friend in Washington—they never truly have—but that the stated aims of the Bush administration, for peace and democracy in the Middle East, probably depend on Palestine. Peace in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip depends on a civil society in each of those areas. Israel, of course, has a thriving democracy and an economy that historically has been a source of jobs for thousands of Palestinians. The West Bank and Ggaza, by contrast, have generally lousy living conditions, spotty governance, and little prospect for immediate improvement. One can certainly decry the number of young Palestinians who commit acts of terror against Israeli civilians, but one can also understand the desperation that they face. Attempts at moderation by the PLO have led nowhere; more radical groups like Hamas look effective by comparison.
Five years ago, it was merely optimism to think that a democratic government could someday evolve in Palestine. No king or dictator stood in the way of a parliament. Israelis and Palestinians both saw some merit in bilateral peace talks, with the United states as mediator. American money, as it did in 1978 for Israel and Egypt, could lift the Palestinian economy, buy some measure of peace, and perhaps even solve some of the issues behind the right of return. Today, it would be miraculous even to get back to where the parties stood five years ago. Optimism for democracy in Palestine is a sure sign of delusion nowadays. Perhaps nothing Bush and Sharon could have tried would have helped the causes of democracy and peace, but nothing that they did proved helpful at all.
Something's Rotten, All Right
In a post last month, I complained that Cathy Young had used a bad translation of a quote by European Union president Romano Prodi in her column that continued the trope that Europeans are weak-willed appeasers. I am glad to say that the Globe ombudsman passed along my complaint (and perhaps the complaints of others) to the editorial page editor. Accordingly, a recent column by Ms. Young included this correction:
Due to a translation error, I misquoted European Commission chief Romano Prodi in my March 22 column. His actual statement was, "It is clear that using force is not the answer to resolving the conflict with terrorists."
The problem is still twofold. First, Young did not even get the correction correct. Her new translation is essentially the same as the old translation! Prodi said that force is not the only answer to terrorism. (Recall that when David Brooks had made the same error, he had the decency to print a real correction with a real paraphase of Prodi's real remarks.) Second, Young's whole thesis rested on Prodi's statement and selected quoting from an editorial in the Guardian. She had found "it hard not to conclude that something is rotten in the states of Europe." Something's rotten all right, but it's not in Europe, it's the quality of the op-ed page of the Globe.
David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix is doing the sort of heavy lifting that too few journalists are doing nowadays—in this case, looking at the data collected by the government and wondering where it went.
Each year, the Census Bureau produces reams of data from not only the decennial census of population but also from smaller surveys that it runs on housing, income, and other matters. Bernstein found last October that the Bureau's 2002 figures on after-tax income were skewed too high and required correction. Now he wonders when, if ever, the correction will be made.
All that remained was to work out a "release strategy," according to one manager in the Housing and Household Economics Statistics Division. A follow-up call in March to find out when the new numbers would be made public yielded this information from Dan Weinberg, chief of the division: the bureau still needs to establish a "release strategy." It’s starting to look an awful lot like the "release strategy" is to not release the new numbers at all.
I doubt that the problem stems from the civil sevants at the Bureau of the Census. if they are anything like their counterparts in the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are interested in producing good data, not scoring political points. Their bosses, however, are renowned for placing politics well above policy, even on the pettiest of matters.
Your Very Own Bush Puppet
If you are a good leftist who has ever wanted to make George Bush play base to your very own superstructure, now's your chance. Or if you are a good liberal or moderate who would hate to let Dick Cheney be the only one to play Waylon Flowers to George Bush's madame in their upcoming chat with the 9/11 Commission, your moment is now. (if there is no oath and no transcript, then it's a chat, not testimony.)
Some brilliant soul created The Bush Speech Writer: go forth and boldly mix and match the buzzwords to inronic and illuminating effect!
22 April 2004
In Touch with Ordinary Americans
April 15 has come and gone, and with it has come the annual rollout of the presidential tax return.
This year's returns show the continued deep divisions of the conservative movement: the Bushes refuse to designate $6 of their taxes for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, while the Cheneys elect to do so.
But it is apparent even from the sketchy returns available at the tax History Project that the Bushes are more than just a little well off. In both 2002 and 2003, the Bushes earned over $400,000 in interest—at 5% interest, that figure would imply holdings of over $20 million. Cleverly enough, the bulk of those holdings are in a trust, The Lone Star Trust, or in a corporation dating from George Bush's days of owning a bad baseball team, GWB Rangers Corp. Neither the trust nor the corporation provided any information to the press.
What is even more intriguing is what happened to the exemptions on the Bushes' tax return. In 2002, the Bushes claimed Jenna Bush and Barbara Bush as dependents. Because of their high taxable income, George and Laura Bush did not benefit from any exemptions, but Jenna and Barbara appeared on the front of the return nevertheless.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, for a taxpayer to claim someone as a dependent, that person faces a fivefold test: Jenna and Barbara are related to the Bushes; they do not file joint tax returns (by dint of being single); they are United States citizens; they do not need to have under $3,050 of income under the income test because they are full-time students under the age of 24; and, finally, the Bushes must provide over half of the support for Jenna and Barbara.
That last requirement is key. If the Bushes provided over half of the support for Jenna and Barbara, then they—and only they—can claim Jenna and Barbara as dependents. Jenna and Barbara cannot elect to claim themselves; they can only do so if they provided over half of their own support. Jenna attends the University of Texas, and Barbara attends Yale University; both schools require more than a little pelf for tuition, room, board, books, and sundries each year.
In 2002, Laura and Barbara Bush claimed their daughters as dependents; in 2003, they did not. What happened in 2003? For one, their twin daughters turned 21, quite possibly the age at which trusts set up by their parents become legally theirs. And if those trusts are sufficient to pay at least half of the cost of college, then the Bushes are far wealthier than they would like the public to know. Truly George Bush is a man who knows the hardscrabble life of so many of his fellow citizens.
(It is possible that not much changed, and that the Bushes paid Northern Trust Company several thousand dollars for faulty tax advice, including allowing their daughters to claim dependency deductions that they were not entitled to pay.)
Then and Now
The staunchest defenders of the Bush administration on Capitol Hill are continuing to question the partisanship of some of the members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, more commonly known as the "9/11 Commission." For example, Tom Delay is incensed that Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, like fully half of the 10-member commission, is an actual Democrat.
It is good that the semi-distinguished gentleman from Texas brings up impartiality. For the 9/11 Commission is investigating what the government did, did not do, could have done, and should have done, regarding the murder of almost 3000 residents of the United States. The budget for this daunting task is $15 million, a sum that might well be adequate to the task. Yet the investigation of President Clinton by special prosecutors Kenneth Starr and Robert Ray cost the federal government over $59 million, including $14 million "regarding Monica Lewinsky and others" and "regarding Kathleen Willey, Julie Hiatt Steele, and related matters."
Tom DeLay could not then see the partisanship in Kenneth Starr's activities, yet he expects the public to trust his notion of partisanship now.
21 April 2004
Throwing Sludge at Kerry
The libel and slander of John Kerry's military record is under full swing. Bush apologists are taking subtle and non-subtle shots at a man who served his country with distinction. I noted earlier today that Drudge posted a Smoking Gun link to a "Report on the Fitness of Officers." The officer reported on was John Kerry. Drudge uses the headline: Kerry Records Show: 'Unofficially Credited' For Killing 20 Viet Cong.
I was left with the impression that Drudge was trying to convey something negative to the reader, implying Kerry padded his stats or something equally odd. Of course, virtually all kills in wartime are unofficial. If you examine the Smoking Gun piece in detail the most relevant comment in the SG text is not the body count reference but "a glowing 1969 Navy report that noted Kerry, a 25-year-old junior grade lieutenant, exhibited 'all of the traits desired of an officer in a combat environment.'" Kerry's performance is rated "Outstanding."
At first pass, I thought Drudge pulled words from the link that could be assigned a negative connotation ("unofficially killed" and "Viet Cong") and used them to create a not-so subliminal negative impression. A closer reading revealed that Drudge was not guilty of just selective editing. If you read the source document you will note that Smoking Gun uses the phrase "enemy fighters" and the Report on the Fitness of Officers uses the word "enemy" for the kills attributed to Kerry. In their place Drudge uses the loaded word, "Viet Cong."
The simple truth was that Kerry received an outstanding evaluation. Drudge could not bring himself to tell his readers the simple truth. Nor would Drudge post and link to the source documents where Kerry states: "I request duty in Vietnam." All Americans, especially conservatives that support our men and women in uniform, should condemn every gutless attack on Kerry's past military service and the refusal by all too many Bush supporters to recognize Kerry's service.
20 April 2004
Another Bush Move
Brad DeLong puts on a thumbnail everything you need to know about John Negroponte, named this week as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq:
He doesn't speak Arabic. He doesn't speak Kurdish. He doesn't speak Farsi. And he was the only person in Honduras in the early 1980s who managed to remain ignorant of the operations of Death Squads.
18 April 2004
Wow! Another insider has opened a window into the Bush presidency that should make Americans cringe.
The morning after Bush’s press conference I was most concerned with the president’s reference to doing God's work. After watching Bob Woodward on "60 Minutes" it appears that Bush believes he is the Son of God. According to Woodward, Bush seeks advice not from his father but from Our Father in Heaven. We should not be surprised that Bush does not believe he has made any mistakes in the war on Iraq. He appears to truly believe he is getting directives from God.
Woodward also makes the case that Bush was easily led by Cheney. In an amazing revelation, Bush and Cheney shared the Iraq War Plan with the Saudi's before sharing it with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The ambassador from Saudi Arabia, home to a majority of the 9-11 terrorists, was given a heads-up on our war plans. Woodward also reports that the Saudis promised to decrease oil prices prior to the November election in order to aid Bush's presidential campaign.
There are enough facts on the table to light even a Freeper’s hair on fire.
That's Just Sad
Reuters reports that the Bush Administration has refrained from condemning the killing of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi. al-Rantissi died after an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at his car in the Gaza Strip. Other reports have indicated that his wife was in the car with him at the time of the attack. Reuters also reported that enraged Palestinians believe President Bush shares the blame for his death.
The Bush Administration released a series of contradicing statements. "The United States is gravely concerned for regional peace and stability," the White House said in one statement. The Bush Administration was also reported to have said it "feared for the stability of the Middle East" and "urged Israel to think through the consequences of its actions." Of course, the White House made the obligatory comment that "Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks"
Are they smoking crack in the White House? Just three days ago, Bush stood with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and rewarded him with a historic policy shift, endorsing Sharon's plan to retain settlements on the West Bank. The so-called "road map to peace" that the administration had supported clearly stated that these settlements were an obstacle to peace.
Given that the Bush Administration is about to beg the United Nations to save it from a potential quagmire in Iraq, one has to wonder why it would not only change its stated policy on the West Bank settlements but also give approval to Sharon to further fan the flames of hatred in the Middle East by assassinating al-Rantissi.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's response was a statement that the assassination violated international law and could lead to more violence in the Middle East. It may be that the White House feels the need to act tough leading up to turning over the administration of Iraq to the UN. If Bush can't win in Iraq, or assassinate bin Laden prior to November's election, he and Cheney may believe that aligning themselves with Sharon's actions will let them sell themselves to voters as tough on terror. In the words of Ross Perot, "that's just sad."
What a Difference a Nipple Makes
Tim Francis-Wright noted last week that Pete Coors, the chairman of Coors Brewing Company and Adolph Coors Company, will be a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate this fall. No doubt Coors is jumping in to help fight the Republican Party's "War on Drugs." Coors will assure Colorado's voters that his company does not hype beer to underage drinkers. And, unlike Janet Jackson, the "Coors Twins" only resort to exhibiting some healthy cleavage in their televised appearances, never nipple.
If Only VP Nominees Were Picked On Ability
John Kerry should name Vivien Li, a woman businessmen describe as "brilliant at building constituencies based on facts and principles and finding common interests," as his nominee for Vice President of the United States. How is that for contrast with the modus operandi coming out of the Bush Administration and the office of Dick Cheney? Here is a recent profile on her that ran in the Boston Globe Magazine. Alas, she has zero chance of being picked but Kerry may be smart enough to give her a Cabinet position if he wins in November.
17 April 2004
Truth vs. Denial
I am not a pessimist by nature but the economic outlook for our country looks ominous. A few facts to consider as we approach a presidential election in just over six months:
- The Bush Administration and a Republican Congress have saddled the country with the highest deficit and debt in our Nation's history
- After years of Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve using 45-year low interest rates to pump cash into the economy, interest rates are beginning to rise
- Real estate values, that have increased dramatically under the Fed's policy and led many Americans to take on more personal debt, will be under significant pressure as consumers are faced with rising interest rates
- The exportation of American-made products, which benefited from a dollar that fell approximately 30% against the Euro, will now be less competitive as the dollar increases in value versus other major currencies
- Stock prices, which have regained some of the value lost during the early years of the Bush Administration, appear to be under considerable downward pressure which could lead to a dramatic selloff if the Dow drops below 10,000
- The war in Iraq is likely to continue to be a significant drain on the US Treasury for years to come
- Despite the positive growth and productivity numbers in the US economy, it has been a "job-loss recovery" with unemployment on the increase
The US press gave the Bush administration a free pass for virtually all of his first term. It allowed Bush to create in the minds of the American public a false link between Saddam and bin Laden, and between the war in Iraq and the "War on Terror." It also let Bush fib about his economic policies and likely benefits. Now that the US press is airing and writing more pieces critical of the administration, Bush has retreated to a cocoon of patriotism and terror. Bush openly calls his presidential opponent John Kerry weak on terror, unsupporting of the troops in Iraq, and a "liberal" that would tax the middle class into poverty.
Bush has a history of getting out a lie about his political opponents and getting it to stick. In 2000, he did it to both McCain and Gore. It is ironic that the lie he got to stick to Gore was that Gore was untruthful. Of course, Bush's presidency has been based on a series of lies and manipulations. If Bush's last press conference was a job interview no independent-minded individual would give him the job.
The truth is that the country that will vote in November is much worse off than it was four years ago. No matter who wins that election, Americans will bear the burden of war and an economy that is a mess. If Americans face up to the truth Bush will be fired. If they, along with the US press, remain in denial Bush will be elected for the first time.
12 April 2004
Thank You, George Bush
Various opinion polls show George Bush with favorability ratings below 50%: in other words, less than half of the sampled populace view his presidency favorably. For this, John Kerry and Democratic candidates in all 50 states must be saying "Thank you, George Bush" in their evening prayers.
Imagine, if you will, that a competent but calculating conservative took over for George Bush during the day of 11 September 2001. George Milhaus Bush would probably have done what george Walker Bush did in sending American troops into Afghanistan to rout the Taliban and pursue Osama bin Laden. A few scattered voices would have opposed the Afghan on a number of grounds, but sympathy for the dead in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington would have translated into broad support for the move.
George Milhaus Bush would have used the post-attack climate to browbeat Saddam Hussein, but he would have feared the aftermath of an invasion of Iraq. Certainly the United States could dominate the depleted Iraqi forces: our military had improved since 1990, while their military had festered. But the United States would have no guarantee that whatever replaced Saddam Hussein would be a real imporvement in the short and medium term. A long American occupation would be a loser, and not just for the 2004 election campaign. The experience of Yugoslavia after the fall of Tito makes clear that replacing a despot does not necessarily lead to peace.
And after the 11 September 2001 attacks, George Milhaus Bush listened to his economic advisors who warned him that both investment and hiring would be depressed. He then guided a package of specific tax breaks through Congress: the provisions accelerated the depreciation of machinery and other equipment, and provided tax credits for hiring new workers. When some conservatives called for cuts in capital gains and dividends, George Milhaus Bush defended his decision not to pursue those cuts. "Extending unemployment benefits and expanding the child tax credit will get money in the hands of those who will spend it are vital to helping the American economy. Cutting taxes for investors will have to wait." By the end of 2002, even his Democratic opponents had to admit that George Milhaus Bush had spent wisely. The fiscal year 2001 and 2002 deficits were large, but not systemic: by 2004, the current-year deficit was less than $100 billion and the president was proposing tax cuts for the middle class and for investors. Heading into the general election campaign, the president had a 63% approval rating and political pundits were abuzz over how many Senate and House seats the Republicans would gain in 2004.
Know Your Sources
In the buildup to war with Iraq, President Bush and members of his administration paraded a bevy of allegations about the horrible things that Saddam Hussein had done, was doing, or would do. The most damning allegations were those regarding Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
The more we know about the evidence behind the allegations, the less there is to like about the way that the Bush White House makes decisions. Take this example on those mobile "germ factories", from the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago (registration required):
The Bush administration's prewar claims that Saddam Hussein had built a fleet of trucks and railroad cars to produce anthrax and other deadly germs were based chiefly on information from a now-discredited Iraqi defector code-named "Curveball," according to current and former intelligence officials.
U.S. officials never had direct access to the defector and didn't even know his real name until after the war. Instead, his story was provided by German agents, and his file was so thick with details that American officials thought it confirmed long-standing suspicions that the Iraqis had developed mobile germ factories to evade arms inspections.
Curveball's story has since crumbled under doubts raised by the Germans and the scrutiny of U.S. weapons hunters, who have come to see his code name as particularly apt, given the problems that beset much of the prewar intelligence collection and analysis.
U.N. weapons inspectors hypothesized that such trucks might exist, officials said. They then asked former exile leader Ahmad Chalabi, a bitter enemy of Hussein, to help search for intelligence supporting their theory.
Soon after, a young chemical engineer emerged in a German refugee camp and claimed that he had been hired out of Baghdad University to design and build biological warfare trucks for the Iraqi army.
Based largely on his account, President Bush and his aides repeatedly warned of the shadowy germ trucks, dubbed "Winnebagos of Death" or "Hell on Wheels" in news accounts, and they became a crucial part of the White House case for war—including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's dramatic presentation to the U.N. Security Council just weeks before the war.
Only later, U.S. officials said, did the CIA learn that the defector was the brother of one of Chalabi's top aides, and begin to suspect that he might have been coached to provide false information. Partly because of that, some U.S. intelligence officials and congressional investigators fear that the CIA may have inadvertently conjured up and then chased a phantom weapons system.
David Kay, who resigned in January as head of the CIA-led group created to find illicit weapons in Iraq, said that of all the intelligence failures in Iraq, the case of Curveball was particularly troubling.
"This is the one that's damning," he said. "This is the one that has the potential for causing the largest havoc in the sense that it really looks like a lack of due diligence and care in going forward."
Kay said in an interview that the defector "was absolutely at the heart of a matter of intense interest to us." But Curveball turned out to be an "out-and-out fabricator," he added.
Curveball may have been a fabricator, but Bush and his team ensured that whatever bolstered their case against Hussein got the widest possible circulation, and any doubts stayed hidden. The whole idea of having a National Security Council, or even a Central Intelligence Agency, is to ensure that the president and his advisors receive the best intelligence, not just the intelligence that best fits their ideology or their plans.
Let me illustrate this point with an anecdote about my son. He is convinced that he knows where Dick Cheney is hiding. For a while, Dick Cheney was hiding in the parking garage of a mid-rise apartment building near his school. Sometimes, he was on the "80 bus" or the "94 bus." Until a few weeks ago, he was in the bushes near a state social services buidling that we see each day. Today, he informed me that Dick Cheney was taking a nap "at his house." My son is very convinced that he is right, and he can provide me with details about why Dick Cheney is doing what he claims.
But my son is three years old, and he doesn't really know what Dick Cheney is doing: all he knows is that I want to hear something funny about Dick Cheney. I would like to think that even political leaders whom I trust to do the wrong thing most of the time could manage to use deeper thinking than one would use with a three-year-old.
The Coors for Senate Fight Song
News item: conservative beer mogul Pete Coors will announce this week that he is running for the United States Senate seat currently held by Ben Nighthorse campbell, who will not run for re-election.
Conservative have celebrated the Coors family ever since the family scions helped establish the Heritage Foundation. But I maintain that name recognition is hardly enough. Coors will need a catchy tune to convince voters that he is their man.
This Democrat Ken Salazar's running for Senate in Colorado.
But Bob Schaffer's an anchor:
Not even investment bankers
Could come up with the cash to vote him in!
Oh, you sell lots of beer,
It's the reason you're here:
You're taking one for the team!
Spending money on this pipe dream:
11 April 2004
Corrigan on Bush
My esteemed colleague is too modest to post his own letter. Because the link that he provided to the Financial Times will surely grow old and moldy, I have provided our dozens of readers with the full text:
Sir, Christopher Caldwell believes that any president would have done "the same terrible job" as President George W. Bush in defending America from the events of September 11 2001 ("Squabbling that masks the facts", April 3). It especially irks Mr Caldwell, and his brethren in the US, that Richard Clarke does not dole out blame in equal amounts to former President Bill Clinton and Mr Bush.
When did conservatives adopt an ideology of promoting equal distribution? When did conservatives give up the virtue of accepting individual responsibility? When did conservatives embrace the trial-attorney tactic of putting the witness on trial? The squabbling masks the facts because it is the only defence the Bush administration can mount.
The Bush administration came into office intent on finishing the business of Mr Bush's father: taking out Saddam Hussein. The new president surrounded himself with like-minded advisers—Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice—and marginalised the one voice that could promote a contrary view, that of General Colin Powell.
Overwhelming evidence indicates that these self-described adults put the terror threat identified by the children in the Clinton administration on the back burner.
Remember, this was the group that was talking about reinstituting the Star Wars anti-missile defence system, not rooting out terror. When terror struck, the Bush administration took action against the terrorists and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, Mr Bush, a man who campaigned against nation-building, took a detour to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist in a war of liberation by force.
Mr Clarke, an expert in counter-terrorism, has declared that going into Iraq did not counter, but strengthened, terrorism. I find him a highly credible witness.
10 April 2004
Financial Times On Bush
This weekend's Financial Times published two critical pieces on the Bush presidency, including my letter and their own editorial.
04 April 2004
When Bush Looks in the Mirror Does He See Herbert Hoover?
Lou Dobbs, writing in USNews.com, sends a political reality check to a president and an administration that he describes as "desperately trying to alter the national debate on the cost of free trade, outsourcing of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets, and responsible trade policies." If Lou Dobbs does not buy Bush's bullshit on trade the president is in trouble.
Dobbs sounds like a Kerry campaign spokesperson when he attacks the response of corporate America and the Bush administration to trade imbalances and job outsourcing. According to Dobbs, the administration's policy is "effectively, just wait and everything will be just fine. But waiting to pursue responsible, balanced trade policies will cost America dearly."
Dobbs just helped Kerry's efforts to unwrap the American flag from the Bush campaign on economic issues.
Life imitated art last week as observers were left wondering which was more improbable, the twists and turns of Hollywood's Runaway Jury or the mistrial that has made both headlines and history in the Tyco trial.
The film, based on John Grisham's book, is a morality play made palatable for consumption by a mass audience through the use of name actors, action, and plot turns. When scientific management of selecting a jury fails, a highly paid jury consultant moves to buy a verdict. The Tyco trial, a multimillion dollar trial targeting multimillion dollar white-collar crime, ended in a mistrial because of outside pressure on one of the jurors. The business press, in particular the Wall Street Journal's website and the New York Post, recently had taken the unusual action of naming an individual juror and raising questions about that juror's conduct. The judge in the case indicated that subsequent to the juror being identified she became the target of "outside pressure" to fall in line with the other eleven members of the jury. The net effect of the "outside pressure" was to take the former Tyco executives, Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz, off-the-hook from a conviction that jurors later reported was imminent.
We know the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post do not trust democratic institutions to monitor the Executive Branch. Now they also want to act as jury consultants.
03 April 2004
Dan Duquette, the former Red Sox General Manager, was vilified in the the hometown press a couple of years ago for spinning a season in which the Sox missed the playoffs by stating that the Sox spent more time in first place during the season than any team in the American League. Alas, baseball commentators and writers are a lot tougher than their brethren in the news and editorial divisions.
This morning, the president of the United States came out spinning yesterday's strong employment figures for March. A gain of 308,000 jobs last month marked the biggest monthly improvement in the US labor market in four years. What the president is not telling American voters is that the good news is relative. First, it follows three years of negative job growth. Second, even this spike in March was not enough to match the increase in the labor force which is why the unemployment rate actually rose in March. Third, the jobs report increases the likelihood that monetary policy on the part of the Federal Reserve will push interest rates higher which would put a brake on household spending. If Bush was Dan Duquette the sports media would be throwing literary eggs at him. Not so the Wall Street Journal, which were pleased to let the Bush administration wax poetic about the "robust economy" and "pro-growth fiscal policies."
Across the pond the financial press was a little more guarded. As the editorial page of the Financial Times points out, the Bush administration will "trumpet its achievements until November. But a few months of cyclically driven jobs growth should not be allowed to obscure the bigger picture of this administration's economic record - which, by any measure, has been decidedly unimpressive."
01 April 2004
The Center for American Progress has come across the Bush administration's original talking points for Donald Rumsfeld to use on last Sunday's morning news shows. The administration was frantically preparing to rebut Clarke's charges, even though the administration had spent several months vetting the book to make sure no classified material made it in. Apparently, some flunky left a copy lying around at a Washington Starbucks. And the Center's helpful folks have even deciphered the awful handwriting and answered the "possible questions" that never got asked by the flyweights on the Sunday morning shows.
Richard Clarke surely hoped to start a national debate about how best to stop terrorism. Thanks to a docile, lazy, and uninspired press corps, that debate may denegerate into a series of 10-second sound bites. (Don't take my word for it: see the nonpareil work of Bob Somerby on almost any weekday.
What George Bush and Dick Cheney Truly Fear
Joshua Micah Marshall asks the exact right questions about the extraordinarily curious agreement struck between the 9/11 Commission and George Bush about his promised appearance before the commission. And he gives most, but not all, of the right answers.
I am a little surprised that the White House's new insistence on a joint private meeting with President Bush and Vice President Cheney hasn't elicited more notice.
In its Wednesday editorial the Times writes ...
Yesterday, Mr. Bush's lawyer told the commission that Ms. Rice would testify. And after months of unacceptable delay, the lawyer said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would also talk to the entire commission in private, not under oath. But the panel had to pay a price: it agreed, at the administration's insistence, that after Ms. Rice testifies, it will not call her back or ask any other White House official to testify in public.
So the Times doesn't even mention the jointness issue or any problems it could raise.
Now, amidst all the stonewalling and foot-dragging and character assassination I guess this matter won't get top-billing. But just what is behind this demand—to which the Commission has apparently agreed?
All the other arguments adduced for ducking the Commission investigators have had at least some conceivable constitutional basis, however weak: testimony in private, testimony not under oath, privilege for White House aides, etc.
(One might note that there will be no recording kept of this meeting—just one sore-wristed Commission staffer allowed to take written notes of what is said by the ten Commission members, the president and vice president.)
In any case, clearly there cannot be any matter of constitutional precedent or principle involved in needing the president and vice president speak to the Commission together.
So, again, what's the deal?
Only three scenarios or explanations make sense to me.
The first—and most generous—explanation is that this is simply another way to further dilute the Commission's ability to ask questions.
If, say, the meeting lasts three hours, that's three hours to ask questions of both of them rather than three hours to ask questions of each—as might be the case in separate meetings.
That wouldn't be any great coup for the White House. But it would be one more impediment to throw in front of the Commission's work, which would probably be a source of some joy for the White House.
From here the possible explanations go down hill—in every respect—pretty quickly.
Explanation number two would be that this is a fairly elementary—and, one imagines, pretty effective—way to keep the two of them from giving contradictory answers to the Commission's questions. It helps them keep their stories straight.
(It's a basic part of any criminal investigation—which, of course, this isn't—to interview everyone separately, precisely so that people can't jigger their stories into consistency on the fly.)
The third explanation is that the White House does not trust the president to be alone with the Commission members for any great length of time without getting himself into trouble, either by contradicting what his staff says, or getting some key point wrong, or letting some key fact slip. And Cheney's there to make sure nothing goes wrong.
These last two possibilities do, I grant you, paint the president and his White House in a rather dark light. But I would be curious if anyone can come up with another explanation for this odd demand.
A fourth explanation is that the president's handlers want to avoid having George Bush and Richard Cheney answering questions on live television. Even today's deferential media would be quick to record for posterity any blunders that either of the two men made. Not only is challenging videotape harder than challenging a transcript put together without aid of a recorder, but videotape is sure to get a wider audience than a transcript would.
Neither my suggested rationale nor any of Marshall's three rationales should give Americans any solace whatsoever that trustworthy or even competent people are running the executive branch of their government.
Cashing In on Terror
Republicans are giving birth to large farm animals in their zeal to portray former Clinton and Bush administration official Richard Clarke as a money-grubbing self-promotor. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was representative, but a slew of right-wingers have echoed his sentiments:
There has been much fulminating in the media and by some senators on the other side about a new book by a former State Department civil servant named Richard Clarke. In this book, released for sale by the parent company of the CBS network, Mr. Clarke makes the outrageous charge that the Bush administration, in its first seven months in office, failed to adequately address the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. . . .
[N]otwithstanding Mr. Clarke's efforts to use his book first and foremost to shift blame and attention from himself, it is also clear that Mr. Clarke and his publishers adjusted the release date of his book in order to make maximum gain from the publicity around the 9/11 hearings. Assuming the controversy around this series of events does in fact drive the sales of his book, Mr. Clarke will make quite a bit of money for his efforts.
I find this to be an appalling act of profiteering, trading on his insider access to highly classified information and capitalizing upon the tragedy that befell this nation on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Clarke must renounce any plan to personally profit from this book.
In his job as Majority Leader, Frist heads the party that claims to protect personal freedom and free enterprise. But principles are nothing if they cannot be scattered to the wind as part of a smear campaign.
Further, I fear that I will not see Bill Frist declaim with any sort of passion the newly released book by Karen Hughes, who was a top adviser to President Bush and who plans to join his presidential campaign. Hughes plans to profit from her book, which describes in glowing detail the Bush administration's actions after the 11 September attacks.
If Richard Clarke were really just in the book business for the money, he is certainly taking the wrong tack. To sell a whole lot of books, he would simple ape Sean Hannity, whose latest effort sits on the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Yes, Clarke could have eschewed writing about how the Bush and Clinton adminsitrations made (or did not make) decisions about counterterrorism. He could have written a book-length fellation of the Republican adminstration, with gratutitous and simplistic analogies of "terrorists" and "liberals." He could have trumpeted his book on conservative cable networks. But none of that would have meant profiting from the terrorist attacks. Alas, for Bill Frist, only what he sees as the Left—in his world, Richard Clarke represents leftist thinking—can engage in sordid behavior.
The Inherent Contradictions of Mitt Romney
One of the recurring themes in the Old Man's work is the inherent contradictions of a capitalist society. Normally, capitalist politicians and capitalist capitalists try not to be contradictory—not so much to prove the Old Man wrong, but because contradictions are bad for politics and bad for business. (The dear reader surely realizes that if these inherent contradictions were glaringly obvious, then the Old Man's theories would have been a tad less revolutionary when they emerged, and a tad more obvious.)
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, late of the so very capitalist firm Bain and Company, this week made one of the more self-contradictory set of actions that I can ever recall a politician making. On Monday night, Massachusetts legislators were debating a measure that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage but allow same-sex civil unions. The debate was hard-fought and tense, because the state's highest court has mandated that the state issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after 17 May this year. If the amendment passed, it would require approval in the next legislative session before it went to the voters in November 2006. If it failed, then the legislature could start the three-part process anew next year, with no referendum before November 2008 at the earliest.
First, Romney convinced Republican lawmakers to throw their support behind the amendment, even though he and they generally opposed the constitutional provision for civil unions. The votes were crucial to the final tally—the measure received 105 votes, including 15 from the Republican bloc, and it needed 101 votes for passage. The Boston Globe indicated that Romney's intervention was vital to the approval of the amendment:
Most Republicans interviewed yesterday downplayed Romney's influence over the final vote tally, yet it was clear that the Republican governor had a major effect on the fracturing of the 22-member bloc. Prior to the final vote, Romney's chief of staff, Beth Myers, met behind closed doors with the House Republicans in their first-floor leadership suite, informing them that the governor needed the Legislature to pass some amendment so he could justify his planned request to the Supreme Judicial Court to stay its ruling legalizing gay marriage.
Within hours, however, Romney established the self-contradiction. Now the confusion that the legislature had sown required him to issue a statement calling for a stay of the Supreme Judicial court's ruling:
If we begin providing for same-sex marriages on May 17, as ordered by the Court, and then our citizens choose to limit marriage to a man and woman by their vote in November 2006, we will have created a good deal of confusion during the period in between—for the couples involved, for our state, for other states where couples may have moved and for the children of these families.
For these reasons, I will seek a stay of the Court’s decision until the constitutional amendment process has run its course. My formal request for a stay will be delivered tomorrow to Attorney General Tom Reilly, who acts as the Commonwealth’s attorney in these matters.
If "confusion" were such a bad thing, then perhaps the governor might have told his Republican colleagues not to support the bill that would cause so much confusion. Romney could have instructed them not to approve the amendment that was the source of the confusion. He could have worked in the past several weeks to devise a better amendment that would have alleviated the confusion.
One could argue that the governor's actions are simply cynical and not self-contradictory, but cynicism is hardly a virtue in a man who hopes to be god of his own planet someday.