2008/03/31

Classic statement

From the Toronto Globe & Mail:

Mr. Bush, it has been said, compares himself to Harry Truman, a president who left office dogged by an unpopular war and low public approval, but who is today viewed as one the 20th century's finest presidents.
It is possible that posterity will be equally kind to Mr. Bush. But if you're going to compare yourself to Mr. Truman, it helps to have your own equivalent of the Marshall Plan, the containment policy against Russia, the formation of NATO, the defence of South Korea and desegregation of the armed forces on your resume. What in the Bush legacy even comes close?

2008/03/25

John McCain and foreign policy expertise

Should we listen to John McCain when he states his opinions about foreign policy matters? According to the political director of NBC News Chuck Todd:

MR. RUSSERT: McCain had some problems when he was in Jordan, he talked about al-Qaeda being trained by the Iranians.
MR. TODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And then, then Lindsey Graham, who he was with, and then Joe Lieberman both tried to say to him, al-Qaeda is Sunni, not trained by the Shiite Iranian government. Does that kind of stumble hurt a McCain candidacy?
MR. TODD: . . . You know, he's -- because of the age issue, he can't ever look like he's having a senior moment. So instead, he's better off going ahead and saying, you know, OK, so he misspoke. Even if he gets dinged on the experience stuff, "Oh, he says he's Mr. Experience. Doesn't he know the difference between this stuff?" He's got enough of that in the bank, at least with the media, that he can get away with it. I mean, the irony to this is had either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama misspoke like that, it'd have been on a running loop, and it would become a, a big problem for a couple of days for them.[emphasis in blog post]

Here's Howard Kurtz's explanation as to what John McCain's foreign policy expertise consists of:


I think to say he doesn't have experience in this area is simply not true. He has more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined when they were presidential candidates. He led a Navy squadron during the Vietnam War. He's been in the forefront of national security debates for two decades. He just completed his eighth visit to Iraq. He was a major proponent of the surge.

Okay, let's take these one at a time. Does he have "more" than three other past candidates? Sure, but remember, G.W. Bush ran two oil companies, Arbusto and Spectrum 7, before becoming President. Crude oil went for $16.45 a barrel in November 2001 and went for $84.70 in January 2008 and goes for $101.73 today (March 25). So I very much question what "experience" means examined in isolation from other factors. As the administration's press spokesperson points out, Bush's policy on oil prices leaves quite a bit to be desired:


MS. PERINO: Well, as the President said yesterday, he would have liked OPEC to have made a different decision. He is disappointed that they decided not to increase production. He does not think it's a good idea for their biggest customers, such as the United States, to have an economic slowdown, in part contributable to -- because of high gas prices. We know that there is high global demand and there is tighter supply. So what we would like is to see an increase in supply from OPEC.
Obviously they decided not to do that this time. In the meantime what we need to continue to do is have more domestic exploration and production here, in environmentally friendly ways, and to do what the President just said two hours ago, which is to constantly look for alternatives in renewable energies that can help power our economy in a way that would help take the pressure off of prices.

Alternative energy would me a marvelous idea. Sure would be nice if the US actually pursued that idea.


McCain's Navy experience: Not really sure this constitutes "foreign policy experience." He flew an A-4 Skyhawk back during the Vietnam War, dropping bombs on targets in Vietnam. Now, had he been a Green Beret, dealing with Vietnamese up close and personal, that might legitimately be called "foreign policy experience."


Taking part in foreign policy debates: This certainly counts to a degree, but as with Bush's energy company experience (Remember, Arbusto and Spectrum 7 both went bankrupt) the specific details are hugely significant. Was McCain right in his predictions?


Meanwhile, in discussions over proposed U.S. action against Iraq, McCain was a strong supporter of the Bush position.[117] He stated that Iraq was "a clear and present danger to the United States of America,"[117] and voted accordingly for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002.[117] He anticipated that the U.S. forces would be treated as liberators by most of the Iraqi people.[126] In May 2003, McCain voted against the second round of Bush tax cuts, saying it was unwise at a time of war.[119] By November 2003, after a trip to Iraq, McCain was publicly questioning Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, saying that more U.S. troops were needed;[127] the following year, McCain announced that he had lost confidence in Rumsfeld.[128]

I certainly agree that Rumsfeld was a grossly incompetent Secretary of Defense, but I reached that conclusion during the sacking of Baghdad in April 2003, that opinion was cemented by the break-up of Saddam Hussein's army in May 2003, which Rumsfeld signed off on. And yes, I also agree that it was and remains an awful idea to have lower taxes in wartime. Wartime is a time for sacrifice by all concerned. If the US is going to spend $3 trillion to fight the Iraq War, that payment should be made up-front and not passed on to future generations. But I don't think McCain's position on Iraq has proven to be a wise one. At best, he was overly trusting of the Bush Administration's 935 lies as to why the war was needed.


McCain's' eight visits to Iraq: I'll let Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) answer that one:


“Have you been to Iraq?” Graham responded.

“You haven’t been to Iraq, Lindsey,” Webb riposted. “You go see the dog and pony shows, that’s what congressmen do.”

As Jonathan Finer explained: "Prescient insights rarely emerge from a few days in-country behind the blast walls."

Major proponent of the "Surge": Juan Cole explains that the "Surge" (Really an "escalation") is nothing to write home about.

But the troop escalation has failed to stop bombings in Baghdad, and the frequency and deadliness of attacks increased in February and March, after falling in January.

So, in short, I'm not really sure that Howard Kurtz makes a convincing case that McCain really has anything "in the bank" when it comes to foreign policy expertise.

2008/03/21

Question raised by exchange

Dan Froomkin of the WaPo reprints an exchange between White House Spokesperon Dana Perino and the genuine reporter (Compared to the rest of the White House press corps) Helen Thomas:

Thomas: "The American people are being asked to die and pay for this. And you're saying they have no say in this war?"
Perino: "No, I didn't say that Helen. But Helen, this president was elected --"
Thomas: "Well, what it amounts to is you saying we have no input at all."
Perino: "You had input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up. . . . "
Thomas: "Supposed to be a government for the people, of the people, by the people?"
Perino: "I would submit to you that people across America, if asked what type of a President do you want: one that stands on principle or that one that chases polls? And I think that they would want --"
Thomas: "What's the principle of going to war against the people who did nothing to us?"
My question is: How many reporters knew in 2000 that this is what Bush's view of the office was, but chose to give him a pass anyway? Al Gore was described as a serial sigher and habitual exaggerator. "Gore was 'pandering' on [the Cuban boy] Elian [Gonzales], and Bush was not—though both held the exact same position." Completely normal conduct by the Bush and Gore campaigns were treated as stark, black-and-white opposites (See the final example in the referenced piece) by the Washington DC press corps.

Why were reporters in 2000 covering for Bush?

2008/03/20

My, my, so many issues...

So many stories, where does one begin?

New York Times joins President Bush's attack on PBS by citing familiar right-wing talking points. Can't be bothered to do any original reporting, can't be bothered to get comments from PBS or PBS defenders, can't be bothered to examine how public feels about PBS (Attitudes are generally highly positive), makes lazy assertion that cable news covers much of what PBS covers (Tens of millions of Americans either can't afford cable or don't want to spend the money on cable) and

Despite the fact CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News broadcast more than 2,000 hours each month, those PBS news programs -- broadcasting less than 10 hours each month, combined -- still manage to cover issues and topics, as well as conduct interviews with prominent guests, that the cable channels ignore.

Of course, this attack occurs just when:

PBS' distinguished Frontline series will mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion by airing Bush's War, which PBS describes as television's definitive documentary analysis of the war.

Gee, I wonder if there's any connection?

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In positive news, Norfolk VA had 60 people protesting the Fifth Anniversary of the start of the Iraq War (I spent from 1991 to 1996 in Norfolk as a sailor, so I recognized where they were). New Jersey protests are covered here and I did a photo-essay here. The progressive Darcy Burner helped to devise a Democratic plan for withdrawal from Iraq. Strongly recommend that anti-war forces push for this plan!

But Burner herself must take a back seat to the plan, which is perhaps even more impressive: a thorough, comprehensive approach not just to solving the immediate issues around the Iraq conflict but also the systemic issues that go deeper. The idea is not just to end the war and bring peace and stability to Iraq, but to keep such a blunder from happening again.

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Asked about his meeting with family members of those killed in battle, Bush responded: "I try to get them to talk about their loved one. I want to learn about each individual person who sacrificed,...And to a person, nearly, I have been told that whatever you do, Mr. President, complete this job. Don't -- and basically what they're saying is, don't let politics, don't let the Gallup poll, don't let a focus group cause you to make a decision that is not in the best interests of our country...

And if the family members don't follow the approved script? "Chen described one encounter in August 2006, when Bush told an accusing widow: 'I'm really not here to discuss public policy with you,' " "Rather than entering into a substantive debate with angry relatives, he disengages."

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Raddatz: "Two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting, and they're looking at the value gain versus the cost in American lives, certainly, and Iraqi lives."
Cheney: "So?"
Raddatz: "So -- you don't care what the American people think?"
Cheney: "No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls. Think about what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had paid attention to polls, if they had had polls during the Civil War. He never would have succeeded if he hadn't had a clear objective, a vision for where he wanted to go, and he was willing to withstand the slings and arrows of the political wars in order to get there."
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Twice now, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has had to correct Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The latest was when McCain called the Jewish holiday of Purim the local "version of Halloween." Lieberman manfully took the blame:

And it's my fault that I said to Senator McCain that this is the Israeli version of Halloween. It is in the sense because the kids dress up and it's a very happy holiday and actually it is in the sense that the sweets are very important of both holidays.

Which is fine, but shouldn't someone who's basing his whole campaign on his national-security expertise be aware of details like that? If McCain got something wrong on price supports for wheat or the US negotiating position on steel tariffs, that would be understandable. But to confuse the Sunni al Qaeda with Shiite Iran is just absolutely amazing (In the piece, Joe Klein tries to describe McCain's mistake as a "brain fart," meaning McCain normally knows better, but just slipped up this once, Greenwald cites two more instances within the week where McCain said the same thing, meaning no, it wasn't a "brain fart," McCain is either consciously and deliberately lying or McCain, like President Bush, doesn't think the distinctions between the myriad problems in Iraq are terribly consequential.) Greenwald then examines the hesitancy of liberals to criticize McCain for statements like this, noting that this is an entirely one-sided problem. Conservatives don't seem to have any difficulty criticizing Clinton or Obama. The point where the press corps' being "in the tank" got just absolutely ridiculous was when Wolf Blitzer actually edited a tape (or demanded that a flunky edit it for him) so as to make McCain appear more on the ball than he really was. Very, very sad when one has to physically alter evidence so that the facts appear to fit one's storyline.

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Jon Stewart interviewed Grover Norquist on the 11th. Norquist is the Republican strategist who says: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years," he says, "to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." A poster of a flooded New Orleans with this statement superimposed over it shows us what Norquists' goal actually means for us in real life. My problem with Norquists' idea is that when one walks into a shoe store (Or a motorboat shop or a real estate office, or a lawnmower shop), one brings two things in with them: a desire to purchase the product and the means to do so. Capitalism works fine when these two factors are present.

But when one needs an education, the means aren't always there. It's not the case that society can tell in advance who needs an education and who doesn't. General Ulysses S. Grant was okay at being an Army officer, but did poorly at business. He was unsuccessful at pretty much everything before he rejoined the Army and was put in charge of the Army of the Tennessee, where he took Vicksburg. In command of all Union forces, he prevailed over the South. As President, he was again pretty unsuccessful and he died broke. It's simply impossible to tell whether one is making a successful investment with the costs of an education until many, many years after the fact.

The market model doesn't really apply to health care, either. One requires medical care whether one can pay for it or not. Sure, one can limit medical care to those who can pay for it, but that means that millions of families will go broke due to elder relatives who have used up their retirement savings and who still need expensive care, which in the absence of national health care plans, will drain the family finances.

Sure, we could adopt a very cold, heartless attitude towards those who need care, but I was once watching a TV movie where a woman was trapped under a fallen section of roof. Her lover wanted to stay with her, even though the area was rapidly filling with water. I said "He can still get out. Why doesn't he take off?" The fellow with me said "Why? What would his purpose in living be if he has to live without her?" Callow youth though I was, I didn't have an answer for that and still don't. There are things that are more important than mere survival.

2008/03/10

Douglas Feith coming out with book

Douglas Feith, the "stupidest fucking guy on the planet," is in the middle of putting out a 900-page book that praises Bush, Cheney and of course Doug Feith, and condemns Colin Powell, Paul Bremer, the whole State Department and various generals. Very notably, Feith notes that Bush made the declaration that "war [with Iraq] is inevitable" at an 18 Dec 2002 National Security Council meeting. The blogger Digby shows that Bush followed this momentous announcement with many public statements saying he hadn't made up his mind yet.

Personally, I've always thought of Bush's UN speech of 12 Sep 2002 as pretty much the raison d'etre (Latin: the reason for the existence of) speech of the Iraq War, the date when the Bush Administration's course was firmly set and Bush made it clear that he would have his war no matter what. And of course, the Bush biographer quoted in an archived Downing St Memo screenshot shows that Bush wanted to be seen as a "Commander-in-Chief" which of course could be accomplished by starting a war with Iraq.

The really amazing part of Feith's book-to-be is Feith's apparent faith in Ahmad Chalabi, the guy who was described by the young Iraqi woman blogger Riverbend as:
.
..not just a puppet- he's a mercenary. He encouraged the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maimed the country itself. He supported the war and occupation vehemently and fabricated lies about weapons and threats to further his cause. He's a criminal- and a lousy one at that.

Chalabi's return to Iraq was hardly a "Napoleon-returning-from-Elba" kind of return. The NY Times points out that:

When the [December 2005] election came, Chalabi was wiped out. His Iraqi National Congress received slightly more than 30,000 votes, only one-quarter of 1 percent of the 12 million votes cast — not enough to put even one of them, not even Chalabi, in the new Iraqi Parliament.

And yet, this is the guy that Feith apparently thinks was the savior of Iraq:

Others have criticized Feith's plan as relying too heavily on Iraqi exile politicians, including Ahmed Chalabi. Feith says that he considered Chalabi one of the most astute and democratically minded Iraqis but that he had no special brief for him. Instead, he charges that the State Department, the CIA and the military's Central Command were pathologically opposed to the exiles and to Chalabi in particular.

But what exactly was Feith's idea for running Iraq after the invasion?

The idea to which Feith appears most attached, and to which he repeatedly returns in the book, is the formation of an Iraqi Interim Authority. Feith's office drew up a plan for the body -- to be made up of U.S.-appointed Iraqis who would share some decision-making with U.S. occupation forces -- in the months before the invasion. [emphasis added]

Gee, I wonder which "U.S.-appointed Iraqis" Feith could have in mind? What's probably the most amusing statement in the review is: "...secret information was not necessary to understand the threat Hussein posed."

Erm, actually, it was. Saddam Hussein, no matter how evil, no matter how bloodthirsty, may be an awful fellow that people wish to dispose of, but to be considered a threat requires showing, through evidence, that his country could militarily threaten the US and/or it's close allies. That proof "had to" be manufactured because there was simply no proof to be had.

And oh, yes! It seems that "Saint John The Maverick" McCain was a strong supporter of...wait for it...Chalabi!

2008/03/05

Heads up on upcoming media narrative

Glenn Greenwald makes the case that "Tony Rezko" is threatening to become Obama's "Whitewater," that the traditional media is already starting to make noises about this fellow with a Syrian, vaguely sinister-sounding name. I did a search of the Inky on "rezko" and got 23 hits for March 4th & before.
Greenwald being a lawyer who worked in precisely the type of cases Rezko is allegedly involved in, exhaustively searched for evidence of anything sinister about the Rezko story and came up bone-dry.
Please keep an eye out for any stories involving Tony Rezko in connection with Barack Obama and subject these stories to vigorous criticism!