Crafty CAFTA Maneuvering

I’m not too familiar with the arguments supporting and opposing the legislation that squeaked by early this morning in the House of Representatives. Until I do some more research on the policy, I’m stuck between obeying two contradicting policies that I like to follow. Since I studied economics, I tend to be in favor of legislation that promotes free trade, but as a general rule, I also oppose approving policies that add more unnecessary acronyms to the wonk’s lexicon. But, this post isn’t about my endorsement or opposition to the bill, which already passed – and besides, there’s no way that more than one, maybe two Congressmen read this blog. What did strike me this morning is that while reading about the bill’s narrow passage in the Washington Post, I came across this paragraph:

The last-minute negotiations for Republican votes resembled the wheeling and dealing on a car lot. Republicans who were opposed or undecided were courted during hurried meetings in Capitol hallways, on the House floor and at the White House. GOP leaders told their rank and file that if they wanted anything, now was the time to ask, lawmakers said, and members took advantage of the opportunity by requesting such things as fundraising appearances by Cheney and the restoration of money the White House has tried to cut from agriculture programs. Lawmakers also said many of the favors bestowed in exchange for votes will be tucked into the huge energy and highway bills that Congress is scheduled to pass this week before leaving for the August recess.

Woah, there, hold on a second. I can understand the behind the scenes arm-twisting by Republican leadership, and I can even understand that the passage of this bill probably added a few pieces of pork to upcoming legislation. But did I just read in the Washington Post that (unnamed) Congressmen were promised fundraising appearances by the Administration? That is definitely not legal. Cast your memory back to an earlier flap involving . A House Ethics Committee report detailed the allegations by Rep. Nick Smith (R-Michigan) that Tom Delay and the House leadership tired to convince him to vote for a Medicare reform bill with a $100,000 bribe and the promise to endorse his son, who was planning a run for Congress. As noted by Timothy Noah, "United States Code, Title 18, Section 201, ‘Bribery of public officials and witnesses,’ states that a bribe can be ‘anything of value.’ There's an exception for horse-trading confined wholly to government business—you vote for my bill and I'll vote for yours—because that's constitutionally protected.” But even without proving that there was a the cash offer (Smith backed off that assertion), offering an endoresment is something of value - you can't do that, and you obviously can't offer to help fundraise for a candidate, that surely has value.

So can somebody tell me how what was described fairly specifically in a nation’s leading newspaper doesn’t constitute another violation of federal law, if not at least House ethics rules? Oh, Tom Delay, have you learned nothing from your three previous admonishments by the Ethics Committee? Well, actually, that committee can barely even meet, let alone complete objective investigations, so I’m pretty sure that Republican leadership can rest easy for now.


Laboring Under False Assumptions

I generally tend to dismiss accusations of a widespread liberal media. Those claims almost always come from conservatives during an argument, and are generally just used as a tactic to distract from whatever issue is at hand, or to instill confusion if something unfavorable is cited as fact. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post once observed, it’s the political equivalent of blaming the referee. I genuinely believe that the mainstream media, in general, tries to remain objective (the only possible exception is probably in cases of self-interest; I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard reporters and anchors express sympathy for Judith Miller’s situation, for example).

So I have to say that I was a little surprised to hear the amount of coverage that seemed sympathetic to the split between a few unions and majority of the AFL-CIO. Here’s a portrait from the New York Times, and here’s a story from NPR. Both articles paint a picture of personal anguish, and of a foundering movement. While the latter is certainly factual, the former probably isn’t, unless it’s intended to reflect the reported personal relationship between Andy Stern (of the Service Employee’s Union) and his former mentor, the AFL-CIO’s John Sweeney, but I doubt that. Yes, this is a big story, with possibly big implications, but why are so many of the stories personal in nature?

Let’s stop and think about this for a second – the one change in labor’s status is its ability to lobby on national issues. The split doesn’t affect overall trends in union membership, which have been on the decline for decades anyhow. The AFL-CIO is really more of a conglomerate, a union of unions. So every worker who was covered by a union’s protective umbrella still has that service when his next contract negotiation rolls around. What has changed is labor’s ability to campaign nationally – to lobby members of Congress on relevant bills, and to support Democratic candidates at a national level (so, umm, that would be presidential candidates). When you think about it that way, it’s hard to feel too badly, or to understand the personal portraits and emotions that are being drawn during this split. If, for example, the sugar, auto, or corn lobbies suddenly experienced a rift and/or decline in influence, I doubt that these portraits would be framed so compellingly. True, unions represent the interests of their members (workers), but at the national level, the efforts of the AFL-CIO are quite abstract. And make no mistake about it, the AFL-CIO doesn't lobby for workers, it lobbies for its members (in other words, probably not for you). All local concerns, immediate concerns for workers, like wages, health benefits, and the absolute inability to get fired, still reside with individual unions and contract negotiations.

So am I trying to imply in this post that the media really does have a liberal bias? Nah, I just think that the reporters are mistaken here; they're trying to make the story more compelling, but in doing so, are falsely assuming that unionized workers have something personal at stake. I also think that the split won't be the crisis that recent reports may imply. Union membership will remain fairly steady, and Democratic candidates, particularly Congressional candidates in the Rust Belt, will continue to receive heavy support from Union households. What may change is that the Union movement might use this opportunity to reexamine its long term strategies, and maybe even reemerge as a more effective political force. I think that rumors of labor’s impending death are greatly exaggerated.


The 12 Hour Gap

So what can you do in twelve hours? Former White House counsel spent twelve hours sitting on the information that the Justice Department would be looking into who leaked Valerie Plame’s CIA affiliation to columnist (and certified Evil Minion) Robert Novak. Well, that’s almost accurate - after Gonzales was notified at 8:30 P.M. on September 29, 2003, he immediately informed the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card. Gonzales did not notify the rest of the staff until 8:00 A.M. the next day.

I heard Gonzales on CBS’ “Face the Nation” this Sunday and thought that I was hearing breaking (and fairly interesting) news. After all, you have to wonder why Gonzales didn’t immediately send a memo/email to the entire White House staff. Once they were notified, staff members would be prohibited from destroying any relevant documents and emails. So why would Gonzales inform Card, but nobody else on the White House staff for 12 hours? Joe Biden followed on the program and posed the question quite well: “The real question now is, who did the chief of staff speak to? Did the chief of staff pick up the phone and call Karl Rove? Did the chief of staff pick up the phone and call anybody else?” As summarized by Biden, a large sector of the public immediately became suspicious – why the delay? What if Card had secretly warned staffers to dispose of crucial documents? After all, it's not illegal to dispose of related documents until one has been notified of an investigation. I was wrong about the breaking news angle, though. Dan Froomkin pointed out in the Washington Post that Scott McClellan revealed the exact same sequence of events in a October 1, 2003 briefing. "Don't remember any of that? Not your fault. It didn't get much ink,” Froomkin noted, speculating that the press has become more suspicious of the White House as of late, and therefore pounced upon the rediscovery of the gap.

So why has the press and/or public become suspicious of an administration coverup now? What's the big deal about learning now about this twelve hour gap? After all, the administration has pretty much always shown a real penchant for not sharing information. I’ll list a few examples here, just off the top of my head. Remember when Vice President Cheney invoked executive privilege to block the release of documents showing the formulation process for his energy task force? That fight went all the way to the Supreme Court. During the bipartisan 9/11 committee investigation, the White House did its best to prevent sharing relevant documents (such as presidential daily briefings) with the committee, whose members complained that without access, the report would not be able to “withstand the laugh test.” General Taguba’s report following his investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison abuse allegations was also classified, though Pentagon officials couldn’t come up with a national security-related reason for the secrecy. Time Magazine did find, though, that the Pentagon was worried about possible political reactions to the report. There are also reportedly 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission’s report that outline connections between Al-Qaeda and the Saudi government that the administration redacted for national security reasons. These are just examples that I remember, though. The man in charge of national security classifications spoke up last year, alarmed that the volume of classified material was growing at an amazing rate, and he warned that that “[i]n no case can information be classified in order to conceal violations of law or to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency.” Even setting aside official classifications, The Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood recently compiled a laundry list of other government resources, many of which were quite useful to scientists, historians, wonks, and the general public, that have quietly been removed from the public domain.

And getting back to the subject at hand (the twelve hour gap, remember?), I find it pretty hard to believe that Gonzales immediately thought to give the heads-up/wink-wink to Card, and resulting window for document disposal, on the spot. This theory is about as close to plausible as the one that proposed that the entire L.A. police department decided at 5:00 A.M. on June 13, 1994 to frame O.J. Simpson for his ex-wife’s murder. But the reason why this conspiracy theory will persist (and may very well hold veracity) is that our government has already demonstrated a penchant for withholding information, sometimes for its own sake, sometimes to avoid embarrassment, and sometimes for genuine security concerns. Of course, part of the reason for withholding some information is that it means the public must increasingly rely on information that has gone through, or been influenced by the White House. With the absence of good independent information, White House logic goes, Americans will come to rely on the Administration’s information. Maybe that’s why reporters were thrown off the scent of Bush’s recent Supreme Court Nominee, or why news footage so often shows Bush in front of wildly enthusiastic (hand-picked) crowds at semi-public town hall meetings. And I doubt I need to remind you of repeated examples of the Administration’s spin melting with supposedly independent reports.

A large chunk of the public's reaction has become, however, that the absence of information proves any theory – classic conspiracy theory thinking. I can just see a whole new generation of crummy Hollywood movies based on the premise of a malevolent government using the CIA to do all sorts of bad things. By trying to control the information available to the public, the administration has ironically decreased its ability to effectively spread its message, since every statement is heard with suspicion. After all, the public has few, if any, ways to verify the Administration’s claims. I have to say that I really don’t think that Gonzales would have knowingly done anything to impede an investigation. But it’s just so easy for me to distrust the Administration that it’s also easy to believe that someone in the White House probably did do his best to take advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves for obfuscation, delay, or outright lying. In short, I’ve become much more receptive to conspiracy theories, for better or for worse. I genuinely hope that the twelve hour gap is meaningless, but I'll remain just a little skeptical.


Do Ask, Do Tell

Now for a slight change in topic. . . I'm not a big NPR listener, but I did hear an interesting feature on "This American Life" this weekend on gay marriage. What's it about? Dan and Terry, a gay couple, are raising their six year old adopted son, DJ. Almost everyone in Dan's family (his mother, father, and grandparents) want the couple to get married, but DJ disapproves.

I recommend spending the 11 minutes to hear the story. Here's the audio link for the program; skip forward to 18:06 to hear the gay marriage story (if you use RealPlayer, you can right-click on the player and select "seek to," then enter the time). I kind of feel badly for DJ, who seems genuinely confused about the whole issue, and who serves to offer a pretty interesting, somewhat innocent perspective on the issues involved. On the whole, though, I think he benefits from having an open upbringing. Hopefully, this will get you to think of something other than the Supreme Court, terrorism, or Count Chocula's tragic alcoholism (forthcoming, I'm sure, on Access Hollywood), at least for a few minutes.


You Heard it at GC&F First,?

There’s an Op-Ed today in the New York Times by guest columnist Olivier Roy (a professor at the modestly titled School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) that more or less echoes exactly what Chevron wrote here on Tuesday concerning the London attacks. Once again, GC&F proves itself to be at the forefront of political commentary and/or dead presidential musings.

Interestingly, Slate’s Fred Kaplan makes a subtler point. At first blush, the article appears to advocate an expedited withdrawal from Iraq and Middle East, as Kaplan argues (with some research to back his contentions) that much of the recent terrorism centered in (or coming from) Iraq has more to do with nationalism than with religious fervor. I think, however, that Kaplan is pointing to a broader issue – that as much as the West has been deathly afraid of insulting Muslims with unfounded suspicion, most acts of terrorism from “fundamentalists” have little to do with Islam. Rather, while most fundamentalists may claim to use religious tenets at their moral justification, in actuality, they tend to attract more recruits by capitalizing on preexisting cultural hatred, namely anti-Western sentiment, anti-Americanism, and general disenfranchisement. As Kaplan notes, there are a lot of nationalistic and sectarian scores that are being settled (in Iraq), all of which conflate possible solutions to ending terror attacks, other than, you know, killing all of the terrorists. Again, I think that this point strengthens the case against appeasement put forth by Chevron and Roy.


A Lesson From Paris

I've already described my intellectual reaction to the attacks, and I think it’s worth adding that there’s nothing in Chevron’s post with which I disagree. But in reading Chevron’s most recent comments about the 7/7 attacks, I realized the clear differences in political attitudes across the pond. I had heard of those in Great Britain who used the London bombings to advance their isolationist and/or anti-Iraq cause. Yet I can’t think of a single elected official in America who has come anywhere near advocating an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, or any other similar appeasement strategy. Hell, I can’t think of any American political organization that’s calling for immediate withdrawl; Move On.org doesn’t even broach the subject. Even as the left-most hack in America vehemently maintains that invading Iraq in March of 2003 was a poor policy choice, he is also quick to add the disengagement from Iraq (let alone the Middle East) is not a feasible option.

What has struck me so clearly since pondering Chevron’s comments are the amazing similarities between the UK’s political fallout, and that of France during World War II. “Huh?” you say, “Tri-Cup, have you been taking your meds?” Bear with me on this one for a second. The subject of France has been percolating for me for a few days. First, there was the recent passing of Bastille Day, the annual festivities where French commemorate that famous event in 1789 when the peasants stormed the Bastille, shouting the everlasting revolutionary slogan “Nous sommes des énormes oiseaux!” Second, I’ve just finished reading a book that chronicled France under Nazi occupation. The similarities in political fallout are there.

As you are probably aware, France fell to the Nazis in an embarrassingly short six weeks. Despite their (admittedly quite stupid) military preparations for a German invasion along the Maginot Line, the French essentially hoped to appease the Germans in any way possible, hardly caring when Germany annexed Czech and Polish territory. Both Frenchmen and their leaders put so much hope into appeasement that when Germany invaded, the French essentially defeated themselves. Colonel Charly of the French Army was killed by his own men, for ordering them to fight. Soldiers melted into the countryside. In all, over 2 million French fighters were taken prisoner, a huge ratio when compared to the 90,000 troops killed by the Germans. France’s politicians were no better, burning most of the government’s documents in Paris (covering the city in black smoke) just six days after Germans entered French territory. The shock and humiliation spread quickly, and it was common to see “Betrayed, Not Beaten” on the backs of retreating military vehicles. The French were quick to blame their British Allies (many Frenchmen already distrusted the Brits), who they felt had alternatively (1) not appeased the Germans sufficiently, and oddly (2) not fought the German onslaught hard enough in the French countryside. Oddly, the French populace was initially quite welcoming to their German invaders (rather than, say, blame the Germans for the invasion), and German soldiers in Paris were initially treated as tourists, paying in the little sidewalk cafes. The French (and their ensuing Vichy government) spent the rest of the War trying to justify that they felt it would lend to their lack of resistance. Henri Frenay summarized the Vichy strategy thusly: “It was essential to be in the victor’s camp and for the moment they believed in a German victory.”

Now, in the case of London, there’s nothing for British officials to be embarrassed about; you can’t prevent every attack in a free society. But there is a sense of rage, and a sense of humiliation that follows when you feel that your safety has been compromised. Americans felt it on 9/11, but were able to generally steer the feelings in a positive direction: donating to victims, thanking first responders, volunteering for the armed forces, and toppling the Taliban in short order. Like France, however, many in the U.K. just seem to be directing the anger into their preexisting diatribes, namely anti-Americanism and anti-Bush rhetoric. This happened to some extent in America as well. Jerry Falwell used the tragedy to condemn gays (though he quickly apologized), and the administration’s Karen Hughes spun the attacks into her anti-abortion message. But, for the most part, Americans came together after the attacks, sensibly trying to smooth internal political divisions and to pursue terrorists. The net effect may have been to boost Bush’s (domestic) credibility, but that was hardly a concern; Bush is a lot less of a threat to any American than a fundamentalist. Perhaps Brits should take a cue from their American allies: try focusing your concern and anger at the tolerance of Madrassas in Pakistan, or at other Arabs praising the attacks.

I’m not trying to make the argument that America was able to channel its fear/anger into solely productive channels. Frankly, I think that much of the American energy that the attacks spawned was quashed, as government officials urged the public to more or less go about its business, or perhaps fulfill its patriotic duty by shopping; Americans were ready to sacrifice. I’m of the opinion that Americans would have fully supported a much larger scale invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and western Pakistan (which is part of the territory of a nuclear power in name only. Everyone seems to agree that the western sections are lawless, tribal areas that can function, de facto, as part of Afghanistan). You could certainly make the case that our invasion of Iraq was also a byproduct of 9/11 fear, and not perhaps the best use of American life and resources in pursuit of terrorism in 2003. Given current circumstances, though, I think that the consensus is that a rapid withdrawal would produce a lawless area perfect for spawning more terrorists.

But I do think that France's recent history vividly illustrates that dangers of defeatism, as well as the inability to come together fight a common, much more brutal enemy. Terrorist attacks should not be used an excuse to funnel new passion into preexisting hobby horses. As much as I don’t respect George Bush on many issues, he does have a fairly principled view against terrorism, and has directed the vast resources of the U.S. in pursuing that goal. I hope that Blair can sway public opinion back in his favor, or I'm afraid that his own principled stand may cost him his job, and that could be the first step to the U.K.'s own lasting sense of defeatism.


Did Iraq cause 7/7?

Needless to say, July 7 was pretty harrowing for me. As I walked to work, I hardly thought anything of the two police cars that screamed down the wrong side of the road (the right side of the road for this Yank) near the Holborn tube station. But when I got to work and learned that there was an explosion in the tube near Aldgate East, I panicked. I knew my girlfriend took the bus to work, but her office is so close to Aldgate East...

She was fine. I even got a text message from her later in the day, when cell phone bandwidth was relinquished by the emergency services: "Entire underground just shut down. Can't get on a bus for the life of me." When she sent that text, she had no idea how true that second sentence was.

Right now, I'd rather not write about my emotional reaction to the bombings, if you please (hint: they were more intense than I'd expected, but didn't surface for days). Instead, I'd like to discuss the emergence of an orthodoxy that's emerging among many on the left. The new mantra -- that Britain's participation in the Iraq War is what made the country a target for terrorist attacks -- is being chanted by scores of people, including my current manager at work and at least one good friend (who approvingly linked to this noxious article).

It's also patently ridiculous.

First things first. Of course al Qaeda and its affiliates (they might have been homegrown, but there's little doubt that the 7/7 bombers were "handled" by a non-British national...and it's certainly the case that they considered themselves soldiers of al Qaeda) are targeting countries that are seen as close allies of the US. Part of al Qaeda's stated strategy is to divide the West. The electoral response to the Madrid bombings was the intended consequence of the bombings, as al Qaeda spokespeople have subsequently bleated.

The Iraq-7/7 mantra -- which never EXPLICITLY fesses up to its George Galloway-esque solution: complete Western disengagement from the Arab world -- demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the role of agency in the so-called "War on Terror." It links up with that tired leftist line: "The West gets attacked when it does things that it shouldn't be doing in other parts of the world." The syntactical use of the passive voice is very telling, since this line of argument rarely seeks to understand what motivates these fanatics...it assumes that American (and British)
wrongdoings in the Middle East somehow stoke Muslims into a dervish-like frenzy as automatically as a match lights newspaper.

But that assumption flies in the face of the wealth of knowledge we have about the motivations of radical Islamism. Bin Laden founded al Qaeda largely in response to the US presence in Saudi Arabia (Look, mom! The 1991 Gulf War led to 9/11!). But the grievances of al Qaeda are not about U.S. troops. Hell, they aren't even about Israel (though boy, isn't Israel an amazing recruitment mechanism?). Screw the idea that al Qaeda hates the "freedom" of the West. What they hate is that they don't have a global caliphate ruling the world.

A medieval caliphate is their STATED aim...which is why conservatives are so fond of comparing Islamism to Fascism or Stalinism. Here, conservatives (and several firebrand liberals like Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens) are right. The Nazis were not content with putting only Europe in chains...they wanted world domination -- a thousand-year Reich modelled on the Roman Empire. The Soviets wanted the global proletarian revolution. And al Qaeda will not be satisfied until it runs the world.

Do the mantra-chanters really believe that if the West pulled all of its troops
out of the Muslim world (and if Israel were to cease to be populated with Jews), al Qaeda would lose its purpose and dissolve? Did Hizbullah dissolve when Israel pulled out of Southern Lebanon? Nope. These murderous ideologues will attack every country that does not conform to their barbaric ideology.

But then why have the major bomb attacks been against US allies? Easy: the TIMING of bombings is a matter of geopolitical strategy. If the Radical Islamists can convince people that only the US and its closest allies will be targets, they know they won't have to deal with a concerted offense from the West. 7/7 was as much about Iraq as it was about Israel or about Afghanistan or about the 1956 Suez Crisis or, for that matter, the Iron Sheik.

The first British fighters killed during the invasion of Afghanistan were fighting for the Taliban. Islamic acts of terror across Europe began well before Bush sent troops into Iraq (and in countries that didn't even support the Iraq war). Bombings of French synagogues have been going on for years. Theo van Gogh was murdered in 2004 by a radical Islamist, but Dutch jitters about radical Islamism within the Netherlands began years ago -- they're what motivated the rise of Pym Fortuyn. The argument that non-Arab Muslims are merely reacting to injustice in Iraq belies the seductive power of Islamist ideology ON ITS OWN. It is also incorrect. This blood-curdling flash presentation catalogues every al Qaeda or al Qaeda-affiliated attack since 1998. Notice how many of those attacks were in India and Pakistan...

Make no mistake about it. As much as I loathe many of the policies pursued by the Bush administration, the Bushies did not invent al Qaeda. And al Qaeda is the unspeakably barbaric enemy. We might differ strongly on tactics in this struggle...but let's remember that readers of this blog are all on the same side. It's the side that wants to eliminate Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth. I'm perfectly content to differ with people on the Iraq War. But if you differ, then offer an alternative to fight this ideological monstrosity. There are plenty of viable ones...but pretending that it's all our fault is not one of them.


Democracy In Action?

Among the many fears articulated by those opposed to invading Iraq was an innate fear of Arab democracy. After all, it wouldn't be shocking to find that a majority of Iraqi citizens would want to, to pick an example at random, bomb the bejesus out of Israel. Nonsense, huffed the neocons, who dubbed those claims racist. I'm not sure, though, that it was a racist claim (i.e. liberals believed that Arabs were incapable of making humane and/or just decisions), or more of a fear of the Arab culture. Note that there are multiple ethnicities in Iraq, though it seems like they've all been pretty violent. The objectionists had a point, though, putting power in the hands of the ordinary people of any society is a sobering prospect. After all, we did it here in the U.S., and in 2003, it didn't take much before our representatives (and the public) were for, to pick another example at random, bombing the bejesus out of Iraq.

At any rate, recent reports show that the White House was worried about the very same thing. Seymour Hersh writes in the New Yorker "A State Department official confirmed that there was an effort to give direct funding to certain candidates. 'The goal was to level the playing field.'" So the big American thumb was on the scale, just to make sure the election wasn't a horse race for religious zealots. This is pretty big stuff. Anyone remember the flap over Gore accepting funding from foreigners? The RNC was aghast at the time. Apparently, though, this revulsion to foreign interference in a national election only applies to this country - the kind of John Bolton exceptionalism, more typical of the French, that alienates the rest of the world. White House officials have issued some vague denials, but nothing that actually denies the substance of Hersh's article. This is some interesting reporting. Read the article.

The Same Lame Plame Game

I hope that this is my last Plame leak related post, since I’m running out of things that rhyme with “Plame.” The Sunday shows were filled with mostly useless speculation about who may have leaked what, who might be indicted, and a little more mindless speculation about who Bush might nominate for the Supreme Court.

Considering the guests that were booked, was astoundingly uninformative. Matt Cooper went on first, and Russert treated him with kid gloves. Russert allowed Cooper to more or less skate by the question of why he felt that it would have been legitimate to defy a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which Cooper had planned to do. How this differentiates Cooper from equally rabid ideologues like Roy Moore is beyond me.

The next segment of MTP was unadulterated spin from both sides. did his best to channel the late Johnny Cochrane, repeatedly insisting that the reported revelations this week “exonerates and vindicates, it does not implicate” . Mehlmen didn’t really go into details about the claim of vindication, but it did rhyme quite nicely. It was also more than just a little hypocritical to paint Rove as the victim. Go for it, Mehlman: “Karl Rove is a good man, he is an honest man. He works every single day for this country, and the notion that people are trying to rush to judgment to smear him for political gain is outrageous and it's wrong.” All of those things might be true, though I don’t think that they’re self evident. It’s nonetheless close to impossible to feel sorry for Karl Rove. Whether or not you agree with his goals, I think that you can recognize that Karl Rove has been involved in smearing his fair share of political opponents over the years. While his strongest opponents have accused Rove of steering the administation in the direction of being downright Nixonian, you need only look at Bush’s former opponents to notice that they’ve almost all been smeared on a personal basis. It’s also worth noting that almost every fundamental assertion that Rove and the Bush administration have made have looked less credible over time. That is, the more information that eventually comes to light, the less accurate the statements made or propagated by Karl Rove seem to be. This includes a whole wide range or topics other than Rove’s involvement in media leaks, like the involvement of the energy industry in shaping national policy, the existence of WMDs in Iraq, the connections between Saddam’s regime and Al-Qaeda, Bush’s stint of honorable service in the National Guard, and John Kerry’s supposed obsession with applying “global test” before implementing new foreign policy, to name a few.

But let’s not forget, John Podesta, who was also hypocrite on MTP for condemning the Bush administrations dishonest representations over Rove’s involvement in the leaks. Podesta’s former boss will always take the cake for the outright falsehood “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Plus, Clinton wrote the book on flimsy legalisms by smoking pot without inhaling and reshaping the legal definition of “is.” Podesta offered nothing constructive to say, and didn’t even offer particularly good sound bytes of outrage. He also had no response to Mehlmen’s assertion that the Democrats have offered not positive agenda of their own, which is true. The obvious defense here is that the Democrats don’t possess any forum in which to advance their agenda. That may not be the actual reason why Democrats aren't advocating an agenda, but it's better to offer some defense than to spend all of your T.V. minutes sputtering about how Karl Rove is a meanie.

The end result was that, once again, Sunday talk did nothing more than obfuscate the facts known by the public. I’m not sure why I bother to watch each week, when I know that at best, the shows function as more of an amusing true/false exam than news. Just step back and apply your own little smell test. Did Karl Rove break the law? Hmmm, hard to know. But did the Bush administration create a political problem for itself? Yep. And I don’t see how Sunday’s shout-fest helped to resolve anything. But I'm sure the arguements will continue. After all, it's sexier than talking about Social Security.


The Same Plame Game

I feel a little more confident about my previous post, where I discussed Scott McClellan’s handling of the recent spate of (unanswered) questions about 's alleged leak of Valerie's Plame's covert position at the CIA. I had previously asserted that McClellan has basically resorted to stonewalling, followed by a personal appeal to the press. Newsweek’s Richard Wolfe and Holly Bailey wrote a commentary one day after my post, stating that the emerging scandal “leaves White House aides with only one escape route, short of telling the full story about what Rove said and what Bush knew. That escape route is to fall back on personal charm and goodwill.”

The bad news is, though, that the most recent poll numbers indicate that personal charm might not carry Bush, or his administration, too far. Tim Russert breaks it down for us TV viewers: “[t]he Bush White House always felt whether you agreed or disagreed with the president on any issue, there was a sense that he was honest and straightforward. The president may be losing some of that trust.” He then points to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that indicates that 41% of Americans think that Bush is honest and straightforward, and 45% say that he is not. Ah, but this poll was conducted before the Plame issue started popping up in the news again, so the numbers may be lower right now. Feel free to check out the full poll results.

Do I sound a little smug over Bush’s continuing run of bad news? Maybe a little. But I think that I’m happier to find that some credentialed news people agreed with something that I wrote. Grover Cleveland would be proud. And hungry.

Also, thanks to another real journalist, the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin, whose links I've blatantly exploited here.


A Familiar Face On Jeopardy

Picture me sitting down to another cuptastically awesome takeout dinner last night, and flipping on Jeopardy in time to see the start of Double Jeopardy. After hearing a few quick responses from the guy on the left (the defending champion), named David, something dons on me – he looks kind of familiar. Holy shnikes, yes, that’s Dave Madden ’03! I couldn’t believe it, but check out his preview clip on the official Jeopardy website. Yup, that’s Madden all right, who became a six-day champion last night. He easily beat the other two contestants, who looked like they would be more comfortable answering the celebrity-grade questions. Wow – once upon a time I had hired him to run Tiger Foods. Actually, the last time that I talked to him, we were sitting in Karen’s Chinese Restaurant, talking to the eponymous Karen about different ways to drum up more late night Chinese food deliveries. If you can, check the mini-Ken Jennings tonight on ABC.


The Plame Game

If you’re trying to avoid working too hard and are a huge dork (check both for me), you’ve probably been following the ongoing Washington drama following Michael Isikoff’s scoop that Karl Rove was Matt Cooper’s “double super secret” source. Perhaps if Cooper had added "and no tagsies-backsies," his source could have remained anonymous - I'm pretty sure that it's buried in the controversial National Cooties Act of 1997. Alas, "double super secret" alone just isn't as iron clad as it used to be. . .

I’ve been particularly interested in the White House’s response to the bombshell, which may or may not have any legal implications, but certainly creates political complications. Both yesterday’s and today’s press briefing sessions with Scott McClellan provided some great examples of political kabuki theater. Most of the time, members of the press came up with new and more aggressive ways of asking “what the fuck, Scott?!” and McClellan responding “I’ve been told not to tell you anything.” I acutally feel badly for him – not that I was ever a big fan of his, but I do think that he is the recipient of a disproportionate amount of blog-spawned criticism simply because he become the personification of the White House; it’s much easier to hate a person than an abstract policy.

In addition to McClellan’s repeated evasive responses about not being able to comment on anything that he interpreted as being related to this “ongoing investigation,” there was one defense in particular that he employed that stuck me. Take, for example, this exchange from yesterday:

Q: Scott, I think your barrage today in part because we -- it is now clear that 21 months ago, you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstratively false. Now, are you concerned that in not setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?
McCLELLAN: Again, I'm going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time. Dana, you all -- you and everybody in this room, or most people in this room, I should say, know me very well and they know the type of person that I am. And I'm confident in our relationship that we have. But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that's once the investigation is complete. I'm not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.

McClellan made a very similar statement today:

Q: I'm not talking about the case. Can you just address -- do you feel like there's a [White House] credibility problem?
McCLELLAN: I think you all in this room know me very well. And you know the type of person that I am. You, and many others in this room, have dealt with me for quite some time. The President is a very straightforward and plainspoken person, and I'm someone who believes in dealing in a very straightforward way with you all, as well, and that's what I've worked to do.

In both statements, McClellan resorted to a very personal assurance, and this is something that has struck me as a defining characteristic of the current administration. People of different political stripes hold varying interpretations as to its merit, but I think that we can all stipulate to the fact that personal relationships, and loyalty, are highly prized within the administration. Rice and Rove received sizable promotions in the second term, while Powell and O'Neill were handed a chilly shoulder. I'm certainly not the first to point out these traits of loyalty (if you're a Bush supporter) or nepotism (if you're a Bush opponent), but I am surprised to find McClellan trying to apply this approach to the press. What happened to administration's view that the press is a filter? Now McClellan is trying to use personal friendships with reporters in order to try to get softer questions? Sounds kinda like he wants a filter now.

While it may be debatable as to whether strong personal networks are advantageous within the executive branch (I believe that they certainly aren't, but I concede that everyone may not agree with that position), it would be unambiguously bad if journalists and government officials formed closer bonds. As it stands today, the Washington press corps and the executive branch are already fairly cozy, agreeing to regular "background" briefings by "senior administration officials." And let's not forget those swank social events like the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where this year Laura Bush generated gobs of glowing press reviews. It's essential that a barrier between the press and government reamin. Karl Rove himself said in April of this year that the press is "less liberal than it is oppositional . . . [r]eporters now see their role less as discovering facts and fair-mindedly reporting the truth and more as being put on the earth to afflict the comfortable, to be a constant thorn of those in power, whether they are Republican or Democrat." Ari Fliescher more or less echoed that sentiment in his book, which didn't say much else. It's the press corps' job to hold McClellan to task, especially given his fairly long (and unambiguous) history of comments on the Plame affair. This sort of "you'll just have to trust me" response is probably what Rove gave to McClellan, which is exactly what put the press secretary in a tight spot. This kind of explanation may be acceptable within the administation, where personal intergrity is all the rage. But it's not surprising that the press won't let the issue rest; that kind of flimsy response doesn't satisfy the press. They're not your friends, Scott, and Rove probably shouldn't be either.


On London

I spent the evening of July 7th on the shores of the beautiful Clear Lake, a bucolic scene just a little north of California’s more famous Napa Valley. It wasn’t until late in the evening that I heard about the London bombings.

I’m not sure that there is much to say about these attacks, other than to acknowledge that they occurred, and to condemn them. These events are almost impossible to analyze, especially for somebody who knows people who are living in London and could have been in harm's way. I spent some time trying to figure out the logic that drives Al Qaeda to commit these atrocities. What strikes me is their signature precision and coordination: four bombs in the same city in just one hour. And while I’m amazed at how any group could use this kind of sophisticated and rational planning in the service of what often seems like irrational, if not incoherent, ideology, it’s certainly not humanity’s first example - both fascism and communism operated in much the same way. Both systems were often riddled with loopholes, even mutually exclusive ideas. But both systems also thrived on local order and precision, at least on paper.

That’s why I found William Saletan’s analysis of current terrorist strategy helpful. While each and every politician has tried to draw lessons from 9/11 and other attacks for the public (airport screeners should be government employees, we should remove Saddam Hussein from power, the attacks "changed the equation" for American foreign policy), Saletan deciphers Bin Laden’s strategy, more or less without bias: “Bin Laden's whole game plan is to turn the people of the democratic world against their governments. He thinks democracies are weak because their people, who are more easily frightened than their governments, can bring those governments down.” I think that people of almost any persuasion can stipulate to the above, succinct analysis. What unsettles me is the fact that this exact strategy has worked in the past. The Third Republic of France fell quickly and dejectedly to the Germans exactly because of a complete lack of popular will on the part of the French to support their politicians and homeland. America should hardly point fingers, though. Communists easily exploited the American public’s weakness of will and willingness to compromise to receive favorable settlement terms in Korea in 1953. And I think that everyone knows that Bin Laden was deeply impressed by the American public’s strong opposition to our intervention policy in Somalia, following the famous “Blackhawk Down” incident.

It’s an important point, however, that it’s not just democracies that are subject to divorce from their public’s views. Saddam’s forces have twice refused to stand and fight for his policies and power, and in North Korea, the conflict was, in practice, fought almost entirely with Chinese “volunteer” forces, while North Korean troops looked for chances to defect. In fact, regimes and groups that repress free ideas and discussion are more likely to suffer a violent reversal in public opinion. I emphasize this only because I think that Bin Laden’s strategy can work just as well for the United States. Al Qaeda understands that importance of psychological battles, while the Bush administration has been slow to advance its front. For all his talk about liberty, Bush has chosen to preach to the choir – Americans and Europeans already believe in democratic ideals. In addition to obvious delays in setting up and operating our foreign “information” operations, the Bush administration has also failed to win public support in almost any country other than the United States, as much of the world now sees China as a more favorable country.

Yes, our duty as Americans is to not bow to pressure from terrorists. I’ll even grant the administration that it is our duty to be “extra vigilant.” But it’s also our government’s duty to win the war on tyranny and fundamentalism that it has declared. I can think of no more effective strategy for the United States than to divorce the Arab world from Al Qaeda and similar groups. We need to take a page from the Bin Laden playbook, and win over the citizens of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and others. The United States must show them that there are alternative points of view to consider besides those of Wahabi Islam. Until we present these citizens of the world with a viable alternative to fundamentalism and bombs (either indiscriminate or “smart”) we won’t have even begun to fight fundamentalism – and no amount of public vigilance alone will solve that problem.


Race to the Bottom

Political correctness has reared its head and its newest victim is a reality show. ABC cancelled its new, heavily promoted series “Welcome to the Neighborhood” before the first episode hit the airwaves.

OK, so it's hard to be upset about the loss of one reality show from the airwaves, especially one that doesn't seem to involve much sluttyness or plastic surgery. I already don’t care who is going to be America’s next soap star, cooking show host, or dysfunctional family. I can’t help but be amused, though, at the stir that this show in particular has caused. The premised of the show was that ABC was giving away a nice home in a ritzy Texas development, but that the contestants vying for the property had to win approval from their future neighbors. To add to everyone’s general amusement, ABC selected the usual assortment of colorful families, including a gay couple with an adopted son and a family of Wiccans.

Liberal groups were upset that while the series did show the growth of the disapproving neighbors, as they began to bond with the various families, it still presented people with intolerant views on television, at least in the first show. “Why should people of color and others ... be humiliated and degraded to teach white people not to be bigots?" said Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. "That's not good for race relations in America.” I guess that also assumes that only white people can be bigots. Conservative groups, meanwhile, also wanted to keep the show off of the airwaves for fear that it depicted conservative Christians as intolerant. I’m not sure that there’s any way around that second point – conservative Christians are, kind of by definition, intolerant of gays, for example. But the liberal objection mystifies me even more. Should ABC not be allowed to film actual people expressing their own intolerant views, even for the purpose of trying to change that view? I don’t see how refusing to admit that bigotry still exists is an effective remedy.

Even more disconcerting than the flimsy and shortsighted objections to the show (how did these activists see these advance screenings, anyhow, is this standard procedure?) on the part of activists, were their tactics to keep it from airing, which amounted to little more than blackmail. Several groups banded together and threatened to sue ABC under the Fair Housing Act. Let’s think about why this threat is nonsensical. First of all, whether or not ABC violated the law, why would these groups choose to sue only if the series aired? The show was already filmed and the house already awarded, so if the premise of the show was discriminatory, why should it matter whether or not the violation was shown on television? Second, and more substantially, these activists have a weak case, at best, under the actual law. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination (on the basis of race, sex, familial status, etc.) to be a factor during the course of selling or renting a dwelling. ABC, though, was neither selling nor renting the house, but giving it away. When did prizes and gifts fall under federal protection against discrimination? If that’s the case, then every charitable organization that runs a road race is going to have to do something about all of those cars that they keep awarding to the fastest runners (who tend to be Kenyan), and I’m going to have to give a whole lotta Christmas presents to Latinos this year, or I could be in big trouble too. Virgilio Elizondo was right – future Christmases will be Mestizo.

Stepping away from the details for a moment, this fear of controversy, and fear of making the public reassess its opinions on race isn’t healthy. Clinton tried to open a dialogue on race, but the expert panels tended to stick to expected complimentary platitudes and vaguely praise diversity. I also think that ABC deserves a little credit for trying to use what’s generally considered to be a base genre and use it positively. ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” may be cheesy, in its combination of Amish-like barn raising and over-the-top product placement, but it also helps families in need and encourages community involvement. By the same token, all accounts indicate that this current show changed the attitudes of the contestants involved, and challenged their use of stereotypes – perhaps it could have done the same for a wider audience. Then again, we might offend some audience members. Perhaps we should stick to a better use of the public airwaves: watching people eat worms.

On an administrative note, I will be vacationing in California for the rest of the week, so it's possible that GC&F may become a little quiet for a couple days.


Supreme Mystery

If conventional wisdom (and 12,000 blogs) are correct, perhaps the US is in for the mother of all culture wars. I have already heard the radio advertisements (admittedly via the free publicity of wonk-oriented shows), which amazingly manage to subtly suggest that the non-existent Supreme Court nominee probably teleconferences with the Pope each morning before commuting in his oversized, Constitution-burning, SUV. Opposing advertisements have and will continue to helpfully point out that the people who put on these pre-emptive liberal opposition adds shouldn't point fingers, seeing as how their morning routine includes snarfing down a fetus McGriddle and punching Jesus on the way out the door to their eco-groovy Priuses (Pria?).

It’s true that O’Conner was often the deciding vote on the court, though not shocking – there’s only nine judges, and that’s counting Clarence Thomas, who may debatably be just a really big cyst growing out of Antonin Scalia. But as much as I am interested to see who the president nominates, I really can’t get excited about the debate, which has mysteriously already begun quite publicly. First of all, these public campaigns ignore the major obstacle that most Americans won’t know anything about the nominee, nor what qualifications are needed to be appointed. The whole point of representative government is that we have regular, knock-down, drag-out arguments over elected officials so that we don’t have to deal with this kind of nuanced, complex proceeding. Second, isn't it clear that most politicians and interest groups have already formed a decision, regardless of the nominee?

It seems to me that the vacancy, while important, is just another opening for the same shrill partisan groups to have another go at each other. I don’t know about the senators, but it appears that lobbyists and special interest groups have already started their pitches before the “short list” has even been aired. While the Supreme Court does have a tremendous influence over citizens’ lives, it’s a muted effect, at best. Sure, there was Bush v. Gore, and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, but there weren’t many other earth-shattering moments, and the latter of these wasn’t even a close decision. And think about the decisions that were just announced – how much press did they receive? At best, they played second fiddle to the gossip swirling around possible retirements, possible replacements, and other pointless rumors related to the cult of personalities on the bench. Let's face it, these culture wars are really mostly about symbolism, not about policies that will affect the lives of our citizens. I believe, though I can't prove, that in the end, the battle over the nominee itself may leave a larger impact on America's political landscape than the effect of the new Justice's legal decisions.

So I’m battening down the hatches for news programs filled with gossip-related slander, discussions of pubic hairs in carbonated beverages, and other meaningless rancor. Meanwhile, we can all ignore the deficit (budget, trade, or Pez), missing troops in Afghanistan, and on what, exactly, our Social Security Trust Fund was spent. I'll just have be content to make a few sarcastic comments, ignore C-SPAN entirely, and work on my sock tan. They're coming back, I swear. What do you mean, "they were never in?"

Franz Ferdinand (not the band)

You might as well have just killed an Austrian archduke, given the Great War that will be unleashed this summer. The most powerful woman in American history is exiting the public stage, and after her, the deluge. Justice O'Connor has been the key swing vote on a wide variety of contentious issues, including abortion. In many a 5-4 case, she was number 5. And thus her replacement will thus wield an enormous amount of clout on the Court.

I've looked ahead to this battle in a post on Myllyrd Fyllmore...