Monday, March 29, 2004

Fumbled Reception by Rice on Long Bomb

Why on earth is Condoleeza Rice stonewalling the extremely friendly and pliable 9/11 commission (Experts See No Law Barring Rice Testimony)?

It's not like other presidential advisors haven't testified already, so there's no precedent being set, and if she declines to answer some questions on the grounds that the answer would violate national security concerns, she's free to do so. It's all very strange, and given the kid glove treatment to every witness not named Richard Clarke, the fawning, deferential, softball questioning of the likes of Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Powell, it creates the strange impression Rice has something to hide.

The GOPs have been accusing everybody and their grandmother of politicizing 9/11, but the current charged atmosphere is entirely of the Bush administration's making. They didn't just shut out Democratic Congressmen from the Congressional 9/11 investigation, they withheld information from many stalwart Republicans. They delayed the appointment of the 9/11 commission, tried to curtail its powers, and have refused blanket cooperation. That in turn has lead to the commission still meeting at this late date, and the refusal of a key player like Rice to testify under oath -- when she's willing to go on five (5) talk shows in the space of an hour and a half to sling mud at Clarke -- just has a strange appearance.

This may seem odd coming from these pages, but I believe the Bush administration should help itself both politically and help the nation as a whole by just being more upfront, technical, and forthright with the commission. The Democrats can't possibly make 9/11 a political issue on their own. Only the Bush administration can really do that by, not surprisingly, assuming it's a political issue when it's one of profound national interest.

The potential for extreme long-term damage is profound. It's not just establishing clearly what the facts of the terror plot were, and trying to glean some lessons from a complete re-telling -- you'd think three years would be long enough to do that -- it's that the whole investigation is starting to smell worse than the Warren commission. I'm no JFK conspiracy enthusiast, but it's clear that a vast majority of the country continues to believe there was a conspiracy because in no small part to the bizarre way the official investigations in the years after JFK's assassination were handled. It gave the appearance of a conspiracy to whitewash whether or not one was intended.

I, for one, don't want to spend the next forty years in a painful rehash of 9/11, and that makes it very important for everybody, EVERYBODY, to come forth and be open to the fullest extent national security makes it practicable.

It's time for the Quarterback to step up and tell his employee to be more receptive.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Having it Both Ways A Key Aspect of Being Two-Faced

You gotta love the incumbent administration's approach to the logic of their positions. In the universe of black and white, they continue to maintain that opposite, mutually exclusive facts can both be true (or false).

So John McCain and Chuck Nagel defend John Kerry on defense, rightly pointing out you can take any votes against specific defense spending out of context to spin any old way, but when you look at the big picture, Kerry's about as pro-defense a Senator as it is.

McCain, of course, was actively campaigning for Bush in New Hampshire and has been a valued proxy for the campaign. But this is what the GOP brain trust then said to trash McCain's credibility in assessing Kerry's record on defense:

    Grover Norquist, a GOP lobbyist close to the White House, said, "McCain is just full of bitterness. Hagel is McCain's only friend in the Senate."

The Bush administration thought highly enough of Richard Clarke to retain him as the counter-terrorism expert. But they claim he can't have had anything valuable to say about the danger before 9/11, because they can't recall him being around, claiming he was "out of the loop". Previously the Bush administration blamed the Clinton administration for 9/11, paradoxically claiming that because it clearly happened on the Bush team's watch, it was the result of years of neglect by the Clinton administration. At the same time, somehow the military didn't get any credit for being built back up during the latter Clinton administrations -- triumphs, at least militarily, in Afghanistan and Iraq are magically attributed to Bush.

When Paul O'Neill came forward with a strongly-researched and supported book about his tenure in the Bush administration, the surrogates attacked O'Neill as a minor figure who had stolen classified material. As it turns out, O'Neill had nothing to do with the classified documents that were released, it was a lower-level Treasury department snafu. When O'Neill was taken on as Treasury Secretary -- after having risen to be CEO of Alcoa -- his experience and skill were touted. Yet when he questioned the experience and skill of Bush (whose multiple business failures were masked by the public contribution of a new ballpark to the Texas Rangers, and then only barely so), O'Neill's skill and competence were questioned.

Bush has budgets with record deficit spending -- more than during WWII or the depression. Yet the criticism of John Kerry is that he'd add a trillion dollars to the deficit (which is mere chump change compared to the four trillion Bush ACTUALLY has added to the overall debt). Kerry's accused of having proposals that don't add up, on heels of revelation that the adminstration deliberately underestimated the cost of the medicare prescription benefit by at least $130 billion.

My favorite example of this phenomemon is Dick Cheney, citing votes going back to the end-of-the-cold-war defense reductions, claiming Kerry wanted to cut defense by a trillion dollars. Of course, if you look at it, most of those cuts were proposed during Bush I by none other than Dick Cheney, including many programs that the military said it needed, at the expense of pork-barrel defense spending the military services said it didn't need.

The attack on Kerry for cutting spending on intelligence was equally bone-headed. The vote in question was to cut spending back by a billion dollars for a black budget agency that had accumulated over a billion dollars in unspent reserve funds and clearly didn't need. The money would've been used by other intelligence agencies. It's a classic example of cutting government waste.

There's a scary aspect to all this. It's not just that it's a political tactic: keep saying Blue is Red and 2+2 is 5, and maybe the middle 10% of voters will eventually believe it. The scary part is: could it be they actually BELIEVE this? They're that idiotic that they can't even see they're contradicting themselves on just about every campaign issue, policy decision, and raison d'etre of their policies?

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Last Honest Republican Returns

Hey, he may still be campaigning for Bush, but John McCain seems terminally addicted to the truth:

    Mercury News | 03/19/2004 | McCain defends Kerry, to GOP's dismay: "Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday defended Sen. John Kerry's record on national security, undercutting the Bush-Cheney campaign's latest attacks on the Democratic presidential challenger and frustrating conservatives hoping for a unified front against the Massachusetts senator.

    ``I do not believe that he is `weak on defense,' '' McCain, R-Ariz., said on NBC's ``Today'' show."

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


If you're military, I think you should think about voting for John Kerry, a man who knows of what he speaks. He didn't spend the Vietnam war not showing up for duty in Vietnam, and I think he's going to show up this time. An excerpt from a Kerry address: "If I am President of the United States, we will do whatever it takes to ensure that the 21st century American military is the strongest in the world. I will not hesitate to use force when it is needed to wage and win the War on Terror.

At the heart of that force must be a fully prepared, fully equipped, fully staffed, state-of-the-art military ready to face any adversary, anywhere. Four years ago, George Bush said that our troops lacked the support they needed. Four years ago, he promised them: 'Help is on the way.' He sent that message to the same military that had been built up in the 1990s and was soon to perform so brilliantly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Well, I say this today: George Bush can't have it both ways. He can't decry the military's readiness in 2000 and then take credit for its success in 2001, before he even passed his first defense budget. Now, in 2004, our armed forces are more extended than at any time in a generation -- and at this time, they are still waiting for help.

Twenty-five hundred of them are still waiting for medical care. Helicopter pilots have flown battlefield missions without the best available anti-missile systems. Civil Affairs personnel, almost all of them reservists, are stretched to the breaking point, building schools and hospitals. Unarmored Humvees roll toward the next perilous turn in the road. The 428th Transportation Company had to ask local businesses back home to donate the steel to armor their vehicles, and when this President heard about it, instead of saying, 'never again,' he said, 'good idea.' And tens of thousands of troops were deployed to Iraq without the most advanced bulletproof vests that can literally make the difference between life and death. "

Friday, March 12, 2004

Claiming Credit Where Credit is Due?

One thing that continues to mystify me about the terrorist mindset is the following sequence, which may be used in whole or in part:

  1. Terrorist group makes somewhat vague threat with just enough detail to make a lot of people nervous.
  2. Terrorist attack (possibly not by original terrorist group that made the threat) of some sort occurs.
  3. Terrorist group (possibly not either the group that made the threat nor the one that made the attack) takes credit for the attack. Another terrorist group (possibly the one that made the threat and/or made the attack) denies responsibility.
The train bomb attacks in Spain offer the latest in this puzzling dynamic.

If we're to approach the attacks as a criminal investigation, and look at them purely forensically, the strong finger of suspicion ought to be pointed at the ETA. Since their operatives were caught recently smuggling explosives into Madrid, they have a much stronger local motive than anyone else, and their pattern has been to attack in public places shortly before elections -- and then often to deny any involvement -- I would think a good cop might start with them as the primary suspects.

But in this case, ETA is disclaiming responsibility, a fringe Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group is claiming responsibility (with a history of taking credit for other groups' actions), and at the same time many pundits and analysts are hinting or just out and out claiming it's Al Qaeda without much direct evidence thus far.

Of course, one of the problems with attributing a terrorist attack to a group is that most terrorist groups don't have identifiable public affairs offices (unlike most organized state armies). For once there seems to be some caution at the White House in attributing the attacks to Al Qaeda, but somehow I don't think this is going to stop the President from mentioning the incident in vague terms on the campaign trail. The rhetoric about the "joint war on terrorism" is still flying.

My continuing problem with treating terrorism like a "war" is twofold. First off, it lumps internationalist anarchist movements like Al Qaeda with leadership structures with local insurrections (like ETA) that have a more clearly identifiable and immediate political goal. "War" is made, by definition, by a state. The second is that in the language of "war" as well as its means (using armies, etc. instead of police tactics), it's ineffective in stopping the crimes.

The whole issue of "credit" in a terrorist bombing or campaign is really at the heart of why this should be treated as organized crime and not as a "war". Credit, or lack of credit, seems to be a slippery thing designed to trump up the profile of a criminal group -- to put it on a political plane, to give itself legitimacy -- while the act is purely to instill fear and cripple society. Crime is a fearsome enough thing, particularly mass murder. But the personal and organized reaction to crime is different from that of war. The US is not on a war footing -- otherwise we'd be suspending production of, say, civilian Hummers to make armored Hummers for our troops, and we wouldn't be cutting taxes and engaging in boondoggle election year spending. Come to think of it, we're not on an anti-crime footing, either, since the current administration has eviscerated the Clinton-era programs to put more cops and firefighters on streets and overmandated Homeland Security responses while underfunding "retail" crime fighting at the state and local level.

The 9/11 commission -- not even to speak of the Plame investigation, or the intelligence findings investigation -- is being horribly tainted by politics, because the guys in charge in the current administration are already convinced of the conclusions to be drawn. They want "credit" to fall in a certain area and "blame" in another.

As Joe Friday used to say, it's just the facts that count. That's what good criminal investigation is about. That's how criminals and gangs get put away. "War" is inherently political, and treating this current struggle like a war inevitably politicizes the way it's fought, so it no longer becomes about the facts and instead becomes about the desired conclusions. To my mind, that's dangerous.

In the meantime, let's let the Spanish police do their work and work the problem to find out who's at the bottom of this heinous crime of mass murder, and work on getting justice for the Spanish people, and hold off on conclusions about the "war" on terrorism until the facts are clear.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Passionfish of the Christ

No, I haven't seen "Passion of the Christ", but what part about the --Second Commandment -- "You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" -- is unclear that allegedly devoted Christians don't understand? Helloooo?? Idolatry, graven images? That's what depicting any life of Christ on film is engaging in, if you're a person of the Christian faith.

As a work of art, though, Mel Gibson can go nuts (as he often does in his movies) with my blessing. Just don't tell me it's "as it was" or that it's "the true story" when not even the four gospels can agree what happened.