4/09/2004

Rice

The 9/11 commission today fell into the tempting trap of partisan politics. Conservatives fed the lobs, and Rice slammed. Liberals, as usual, asked the more substantive questions. The best questions, I felt, came from Congressman Tim Roemer. Here are some of the highlights:

"ROEMER: Across several administrations of both parties, the response was insufficient. And tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on a war footing.

"You're the national security advisor to the president of the United States. The buck may stop with the president; the buck certainly goes directly through you as the principal advisor to the president on these issues.

"And it really seems to me that there were failures and mistakes, structural problems, all kinds of issues here leading up to September 11th that could have and should have been done better.

"Doesn't that beg that there should have been more accountability? That there should have been a resignation or two? That there should have been you or the president saying to the rest of the administration, somehow, somewhere, that this was not done well enough? "



And later...

"ROEMER: You had an opportunity, I think, with Mr. Clarke, who had served a number of presidents going back to the Reagan administration; who you'd decided to keep on in office; who was a pile driver, a bulldozer, so to speak -- but this person who you, in the Woodward interview -- he's the very first name out of your mouth when you suspect that terrorists have attacked us on September the 11th. You say, I think, immediately it was a terrorist attack; get Dick Clarke, the terrorist guy.

"Even before you mentioned Tenet and Rumsfeld's names, "Get Dick Clarke."

"Why don't you get Dick Clarke to brief the president before 9/11? Here is one of the consummate experts that never has the opportunity to brief the president of the United States on one of the most lethal, dynamic and agile threats to the United States of America.

"Why don't you use this asset? Why doesn't the president ask to meet with Dick Clarke?"



It's certainly worth watching the tape or reading the transcripts to witness these great moments. Rice's responses lacked substance (once again, I use that word). Time and time again, she says: no evidence existed to suggest that we were under immediate threat (which is true). But as the top administration official responsible for national security, it's your job to notice those unlikely threats and respond to them.

TNR's &c. makes some good points about Rice's testimony:

"This is probably not the most novel point, but watching Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission this morning I was amazed at how much of her defense of the administration hinged on such a literal interpretation of responsibility. Rice argues that the White House would have "moved heaven and earth" to prevent the 9/11 attacks had someone, somewhere just told them exactly when and where the attacks were going to take place. Because no one did, the administration cannot be considered negligent. Now, I don't mean to suggest that the administration could have prevented the attacks. But there's obviously a lot of territory between acting on highly specific intelligence that happens to fall in your lap and doing everything in your power to defend the country against a horrific terrorist attack. Just being willing to do the former doesn't necessarily imply that you're doing the latter."



As Roemer said, someone ought to have resigned after the attacks. Someone should have taken responsibility. The president--who should have said, the buck stops here--ought to have accepted partial responsibility. Yes, he would have been vulnerable to criticism, and yes, it would have left him open to Democratic attacks; but had it been handled in an honorable and graceful way, such an apology would have disarmed his critics and given Bush a political advantage.

Finally, the Center for American Progress has issued a response to Rice's testimony. Here's what they have to say:

CLAIM: "We decided immediately to continue pursuing the Clinton Administration's covert action authorities and other efforts to fight the network."

FACT: Newsweek reported that "In the months before 9/11, the U.S. Justice Department curtailed a highly classified program called 'Catcher's Mitt' to monitor al-Qaida suspects in the United States." Additionally, AP reported "though Predator drones spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times in late 2000, the Bush administration did not fly the unmanned planes over Afghanistan during its first eight months," thus terminating the reconnaissance missions started during the Clinton Administration. [Sources: Newsweek, 3/21/04; AP, 6/25/03]

CLAIM: "The strategy set as its goal the elimination of the al-Qaida network. It ordered the leadership of relevant U.S. departments and agencies to make the elimination of al-Qaida a high priority and to use all aspects of our national power -- intelligence, financial, diplomatic, and military -- to meet this goal."

FACT: 9/11 Comissioner Jamie Gorelick: "Is it true, as Dr. Rice said, 'Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership'?" Armitage: "No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11." [Source: 9/11 Commission testimony, 3/24/04]

CLAIM: "We bolstered the Treasury Department's activities to track and seize terrorist assets."

FACT: The new Bush Treasury Department "disapproved of the Clinton Administration's approach to money laundering issues, which had been an important part of the drive to cut off the money flow to bin Laden." Specifically, the Bush Administration opposed Clinton Administration-backed efforts by the G-7 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that targeted countries with "loose banking regulations" being abused by terrorist financiers. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration provided "no funding for the new National Terrorist Asset Tracking Center." [Source: "The Age of Sacred Terror," 2003]

CLAIM: "We moved quickly to arm Predator unmanned surveillance vehicles for action against al-Qaida."

FACT: According to AP, "the military successfully tested an armed Predator throughout the first half of 2001" but the White House "failed to resolve a debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate the armed Predators" and the armed Predator never got off the ground before 9/11. [Source: AP, 6/25/03]

CLAIM: "We increased funding for counterterrorism activities across several agencies."

FACT: Upon taking office, the 2002 Bush budget proposed to slash more than half a billion dollars out of funding for counterterrorism at the Justice Department. In preparing the 2003 budget, the New York Times reported that the Bush White House "did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators" and "proposed a $65 million cut for the program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants." Newsweek noted the Administration "vetoed a request to divert $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism." [Sources: 2001 vs. 2002 Budget Analysis; NY Times, 2/28/02; Newsweek, 5/27/02]

CLAIM: "While we were developing this new strategy to deal with al-Qaida, we also made decisions on a number of specific anti-al-Qaida initiatives that had been proposed by Dick Clarke."

FACT: Rice's statement finally confirms what she previously – and inaccurately – denied. She falsely claimed on 3/22/04 that "No al-Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration." [Washington Post, 3/22/04]

CLAIM: "When threat reporting increased during the Spring and Summer of 2001, we moved the U.S. Government at all levels to a high state of alert and activity."

FACT: Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush Administration "did not give terrorism top billing in their strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI." Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff until Oct. 1, 2001, said during the summer, terrorism had moved "farther to the back burner" and recounted how the Bush Administration's top two Pentagon appointees, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, "shut down" a plan to weaken the Taliban. Similarly, Gen. Don Kerrick, who served in the Bush White House, sent a memo to the new Administration saying "We are going to be struck again" by al Qaeda, but he never heard back. He said terrorism was not "above the waterline. They were gambling nothing would happen." [Sources: Washington Post, 3/22/04; LA Times, 3/30/04]

CLAIM: "The threat reporting that we received in the Spring and Summer of 2001 was not specific as to...manner of attack."

FACT: ABC News reported, Bush Administration "officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks that bin Laden's terrorist network might try to hijack American planes." Dateline NBC reported that on August 6, 2001, the President personally "received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane." Rice herself actually admitted this herself, saying the Aug. 6 briefing the President received said "terrorists might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft." [Sources: ABC News, 5/16/02; NBC, 9/10/02]



And there's more:

CLAIM: "I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning, that planes might be used as weapons." [responding to Kean]

FACT: Condoleezza Rice was the top National Security official with President Bush at the July 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa. There, "U.S. officials were warned that Islamic terrorists might attempt to crash an airliner" into the summit, prompting officials to "close the airspace over Genoa and station antiaircraft guns at the city's airport." [Sources: Los Angeles Times, 9/27/01; White House release, 7/22/01]

CLAIM: "I was certainly not aware of [intelligence reports about planes as missiles] at the time that I spoke" in 2002. [responding to Kean]

FACT: While Rice may not have been aware of the 12 separate and explicit warnings about terrorists using planes as weapons when she made her denial in 2002, she did know about them when she wrote her March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed. In that piece, she once again repeated the claim there was no indication "that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles." [Source: Washington Post, 3/22/04]

August 6 PDB

CLAIM: There was "nothing about the threat of attack in the U.S." in the Presidential Daily Briefing the President received on August 6th. [responding to Ben Veniste]

FACT: Rice herself confirmed that "the title [of the PDB] was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'" [Source: Condoleezza Rice, 4/8/04]

Domestic Threat

CLAIM: "One of the problems was there was really nothing that look like was going to happen inside the United States...Almost all of the reports focused on al-Qaida activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa...We did not have...threat information that was in any way specific enough to suggest something was coming in the United States." [responding to Gorelick]

FACT: Page 204 of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 noted that "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August [2001]." In the same month, the Pentagon "acquired and shared with other elements of the Intelligence Community information suggesting that seven persons associated with Bin Laden had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States." [Sources: Joint Congressional Report, 12/02]

CLAIM: "If we had known an attack was coming against the United States...we would have moved heaven and earth to stop it." [responding to Roemer]

FACT: Rice admits that she was told that "an attack was coming." She said, "Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer: Unbelievable news coming in weeks, said one. Big event -- there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar. There will be attacks in the near future." [Source: Condoleezza Rice, 4/8/04]

Cheney Counterterrorism Task Force

CLAIM: "The Vice President was, a little later in, I think, in May, tasked by the President to put together a group to look at all of the recommendations that had been made about domestic preparedness and all of the questions associated with that." [responding to Fielding]

FACT: The Vice President's task force never once convened a meeting. In the same time period, the Vice President convened at least 10 meetings of his energy task force, and six meetings with Enron executives. [Source: Washington Post, 1/20/02; GAO Report, 8/03]

Principals Meetings

CLAIM: "The CSG (Counterterrorism Security Group) was made up of not junior people, but the top level of counterterrorism experts. Now, they were in contact with their principals." [responding to Fielding]

FACT: "Many of the other people at the CSG-level, and the people who were brought to the table from the domestic agencies, were not telling their principals. Secretary Mineta, the secretary of transportation, had no idea of the threat. The administrator of the FAA, responsible for security on our airlines, had no idea." [Source: 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, 4/8/04]

Previous Administration

CLAIM: "The decision that we made was to, first of all, have no drop-off in what the Clinton administration was doing, because clearly they had done a lot of work to deal with this very important priority." [responding to Kean]

FACT: Internal government documents show that while the Clinton Administration officially prioritized counterterrorism as a "Tier One" priority, but when the Bush Administration took office, top officials downgraded counterterrorism. As the Washington Post reported, these documents show that before Sept. 11 the Bush Administration "did not give terrorism top billing." Rice admitted that "we decided to take a different track" than the Clinton Administration in protecting America. [Source: Internal government documents, 1998-2001; Washington Post, 3/22/04; Rice testimony, 4/8/04]

FBI

CLAIM: The Bush Administration has been committed to the "transformation of the FBI into an agency dedicated to fighting terror." [responding to Kean]

FACT: Before 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft de-emphasized counterterrorism at the FBI, in favor of more traditional law enforcement. And according to the Washington Post, "in the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows." And according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service, "numerous confidential law enforcement and intelligence sources who challenge the FBI's claim that it has successfully retooled itself to gather critical intelligence on terrorists as well as fight crime." [Source: Washington Post, 3/22/04; Congressional Quarterly, 4/6/04]

CLAIM: "The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state and law enforcement agencies and specifically stated that, although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its U.S. field offices to increase surveillance of known suspects of terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities." [responding to Gorelick]

FACT: The warnings are "feckless. They don't tell anybody anything. They don't bring anyone to battle stations." [Source: 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, 4/8/04]

Homeland Security

CLAIM: "I think that having a Homeland Security Department that can bring together the FAA and the INS and Customs and all of the various agencies is a very important step." [responding to Hamilton]

FACT: The White House vehemently opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland security. Its opposition to the concept delayed the creation of the department by months.

CLAIM: "We have created a threat terrorism information center, the TTIC, which does bring together all of the sources of information from all of the intelligence agencies -- the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and the INS and the CIA and the DIA -- so that there's one place where all of this is coming together." [responding to Fielding]

FACT: "Knowledgeable sources complain that the president's new Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which reports to CIA Director George Tenet rather than to Ridge, has created more of a moat than a bridge. The ability to spot the nation's weakest points was going to make Homeland Security different, recalled one person involved in the decision to set up TTIC. But now, the person said, 'that whole effort has been gutted by the White House creation of TTIC, [which] has served little more than to give the appearance of progress.'"  [Source: National Journal, 3/6/04]
IRAQ-9/11

CLAIM: "There was a discussion of Iraq. I think it was raised by Don Rumsfeld. It was pressed a bit by Paul Wolfowitz."

FACT: Rice's statement confirms previous proof that the Administration was focusing on Iraq immediately after 9/11, despite having no proof that Iraq was involved in the attack. Rice's statement also contradicts her previous denials in which she claimed "Iraq was to the side" immediately after 9/11. She made this denial despite the President signing "a 2-and-a-half-page document marked 'TOP SECRET'" six days after 9/11 that "directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq." [Source: Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04, 3/22/04; Washington Post, 1/12/03]

CLAIM: "Given that this was a global war on terror, should we look not just at Afghanistan but should we look at doing something against Iraq?"

FACT: The Administration has not produced one shred of evidence that Iraq had an operational relationship with Al Qaeda, or that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks on America. In fact, a U.S. Army War College report said that the war in Iraq has been a diversion that has drained key resources from the more imminent War on Terror. Just this week, USA Today reported that "in 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq." Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) confirmed this, noting in February of 2002, a senior military commander told him "We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq." [Sources: CNN, 1/13/04; USA Today, 3/28/04; Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), 3/26/04]

War on Terror

CLAIM: After 9/11, "the President put states on notice if they were sponsoring terrorists."

FACT: The President continues to say Saudi Arabia is "our friend" despite their potential ties to terrorists. As the LA Times reported, "the 27 classified pages of a congressional report about Sept. 11 depict a Saudi government that not only provided significant money and aid to the suicide hijackers but also allowed potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to flow to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups through suspect charities and other fronts." Just this week, Newsweek reported "within weeks of the September 11 terror attacks, security officers at the Fleet National Bank in Boston had identified 'suspicious' wire transfers from the Saudi Embassy in Washington that eventually led to the discovery of an active Al Qaeda 'sleeper cell' that may have been planning follow-up attacks inside the United States." [Source: LA Times, 8/2/03; CNN, 11/23/02; Newsweek, 4/7/04]


Hughes

Last week, I wrote about Karen Hughes and the potential threat she poses to the Kerry campaign. I believes she's under-appreciated among liberals; the New Republic seems to disagree, saying "the return of Karen Hughes is bad for Bush." I barely understood the piece, with it's complicated links between Hughes, Derek Parfit, and Ken Curtis/Fetus. Anyway, there was one part--the section discussing Hughes' success in attracting traditionally non-Republican groups like women--I found fascinating. I couldn't have said it better:

"What do Parfit and Festus have to do with Bush? Karen Hughes is well-loved in the Bush camp, and is credited with crafting the compassionate message that helped draw suburban women into the GOP fold in 2000. Arguably the only electric bits in her book are those that describe tiffs with Karl Rove. That the president's two most trusted advisors haven't always seen eye to eye is well-known, and this creative tension has generally been viewed as a good thing. Many believe that the Bush political operation went astray with her departure, and that her return will herald a successful return to the center for the administration.

...

"In contrast to Rove, Hughes is known as a champion of micro-initiatives, symbolic, centrist gestures designed to win over stray voters here and there. Unlike Rove's war president, Hughes's Bush is a bundle--of warmth, goodness, and old-fashioned values, but also new-fangled ones like tolerance, compassion, and understanding. He is more Derek Parfit's conception of a human being than a transcendent whole. What's more, the Bush of Ten Minutes from Normal, while not indecisive, needs to be taken care of. Which is how Hughes apparently sees her central role in this campaign. Hughes describes how her fondness for Bush grew--along with her instinct to shield him from his enemies--in 1994: "The air of arrogant superiority Texas Democrats directed at George W. Bush would be echoed by the press and national Democrats later, when he ran for president," she writes, "and each time it only made me more committed to his cause." Hughes's Bush is someone whose very appeal derives from the fact that others deride him.

"It's said that Hughes strongly recommended going atomic against Richard Clarke."

10 Years

Another ten year anniversary has passed: Kurt Cobain's death. I'm not sure if there's any way to relate it to Rwanda, and don't think I'd want to. The New York Times had an outstanding Op-Ed by Thurston Morre of Sonic Youth on the legacy of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Here's a wonderful passage:

"When Kurt died, a lot of the capitalized froth of alternative rock fizzled. Mainstream rock lost its kingpin group, an unlikely one imbued with avant-garde genius, and contemporary rock became harder and meaner, more aggressive and dumbed down and sexist. Rage and aggression were elements for Kurt to play with as an artist, but he was profoundly gentle and intelligent. He was sincere in his distaste for bullyboy music — always pronouncing his love for queer culture, feminism and the punk rock do-it-yourself ideal. Most people who adapt punk as a lifestyle represent these ideals, but with one of the finest rock voices ever heard, Kurt got to represent them to an attentive world. Whatever contact he made was really his most valued success.

"You wouldn't know it now by looking at MTV, with its scorn-metal buffoons and Disney-damaged pop idols, but the underground scene Kurt came from is more creative and exciting than it's ever been. From radical pop to sensorial noise-action to the subterranean forays in drone-folk-psyche-improv, all the music Kurt adored is very much alive and being played by amazing artists he didn't live to see, artists who recognize Kurt as a significant and honorable muse. "

The Masters

Come on Tiger. You have it in you. Now start bringing us some results.

Sudan Update

This story offers some hope in what seems to be an otherwise hopeless world. Sudan's government and the two main rebel groups have struck up a cease-fire. For the Dafur region, this means that humanitarian groups will soon be able to return and provide relief. And for Nicholas Kristof, this could be among his greatest accomplishments. Last week, Kristof of the Times wrote three editorials on the genocide in Sudan. I have no evidence to back this up, but I suspect that Kristof's pieces sparked an interest within the White House. Perhaps they placed some pressure on the warring parties, and from there, we have a cease-fire.

All of this happens ten years after Rwanda. I've been skeptical as to whether the Unites States would live up to the promise of "never again." This time, it seems we've done the right thing.

Then again, I could be completely wrong, and it's all just a coincidence.

Vegas

For some reason, I'm fascinated by this story. This man is putting all of his worldly possession into hands of lady luck. He either has tremendous faith, or he just doesn't give a shit. Either way, I like it.

4/07/2004

Today in Iraq

You can't help but be surprised by the escalation of violence in Iraq. Pundits have warned for months of the declining security situation, but no one predicted that civil war would break out this soon, before the June 30th handover. What seems to have happened is that extremist Sunnis and extremist Shiites have formed an unlikely alliance to force out the United States.

And for the first time since Bush declared an end to major combat, we're fighting pitched battles. In some cities and areas, we've lost control over local governments. "[F]ollowers of a rebel cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, took over several towns, including Kut, where Ukrainian troops withdrew under pressure. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry in Kiev reported the pullout, which in effect ceded control of the city to Mr. Sadr's supporters," as the New York Times reports.

There were two things I noticed in this Times piece, one could potentially be good for the United States, the other bad. First, the good:

"Insurgent bands of fighters appear to be united in a way that is more concurrent than coordinated, more opportunistic than driven by an operational decision to merge forces.

"The most likely explanation for the coincident eruptions of violence, many Iraqis believe, is that Sunnis and Shiites are each watching the other's assaults, first in Falluja last week and then in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf and at least three other southern cities over the weekend, sensing that the American forces were overstretched."

The alliance between Sunni and Shitte extremists--if you can call it an alliance--seems shaky at best. They haven't yet formed a united front, and probably won't anytime soon. Therefore, any progress they make against American troops will inevitably be offset by inter-"alliance" conflict. I believe this flare up in violence will only be a temporary situation.

Now for the bad news. "An official in the occupation authority said Wednesday that allied and Iraqi security forces had lost control of the key southern cities of Najaf and Kufa to the Shiite militia, conceding that months of effort to win over the population with civil projects and promises of jobs have failed with segments of the population.

""Six months of work is completely gone," the official said. "There is nothing to show for it."

"He cited reports that government buildings, police stations, civil defense garrisons and other installations built up by the Americans had been overrun and then stripped bare, of files, furnishings and even toilet fixtures.""

It's apparent that we've made no progress in large parts of the country. We have yet to gain the trust of the Iraqi people, which is critical if we're to have any success in Iraq. So we now have to ask ourselves, Where do we go from here? How do we change our approach, our strategy, our attitude in order to win over the hearts of Iraqis? Time's running out, and no one seems to have answers.

This outburst in violence should send a clear message to the administration: We have to change our policies. Unfortunately, this White House is known for sticking to its guns. Bush's motto, "Steady in Times of Change," is the last thing we need in Iraq.

Paglia

We all know that the digital age can provide a world of wonders for today’s youngsters. But the effects of digital media can be quite damaging for a developing mind, as a recent study suggests. The study, which included 1,345 children between the ages of 1 and 3, found that for every hour a preschooler watches television each day, their chances of developing attention deficit problems later in life increase by approximately 10 percent.

Camille Paglia, whom I consider to be one of today’s greatest thinkers, has just published a paper that plays on a similar theme. She argues that students have become accustomed to the quick, flashy images found in today’s media, and as a result, their attention spans have diminished. She proposes that a humanities-based curriculum should adapt to these changes, and teach student how to understand and interpret these images. Here’s a portion of the paper. I know it’s long, but read it:

“Interest in and patience with long, complex books and poems have alarmingly diminished not only among college students but college faculty in the U.S. It is difficult to imagine American students today, even at elite universities, gathering impromptu at midnight for a passionate discussion of big, challenging literary works like Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov—a scene I witnessed in a recreation room strewn with rock albums at my college dormitory in upstate New York in 1965. As a classroom teacher for over thirty years, I have become increasingly concerned about evidence of, if not cultural decline, then cultural dissipation since the 1960s, a decade that seemed to hold such heady promise of artistic and intellectual innovation. Young people today are flooded with disconnected images but lack a sympathetic instrument to analyze them as well as a historical frame of reference in which to situate them. I am reminded of an unnerving scene in Stanley Kubrick's epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an astronaut, his air hose cut by the master computer gone amok, spins helplessly off into space. The new generation, raised on TV and the personal computer but deprived of a solid primary education, has become unmoored from the mother ship of culture. Technology, like Kubrick's rogue computer, HAL, is the companionable servant turned ruthless master. The ironically self-referential or overtly politicized and jargon-ridden paradigms of higher education, far from helping the young to cope or develop, have worsened their vertigo and free fall. Today's students require not subversion of rationalist assumptions—the childhood legacy of intellectuals born in Europe between the two World Wars—but the most basic introduction to structure and chronology. Without that, they are riding the tail of a comet in a media starscape of explosive but evanescent images.

“The extraordinary technological aptitude of the young comes partly from their now-instinctive ability to absorb information from the flickering TV screen, which evolved into the glassy monitor of the omnipresent personal computer. Television is reality for them: nothing exists unless it can be filmed or until it is rehashed onscreen by talking heads. The computer, with its multiplying forums for spontaneous free expression from e-mail to listservs and blogs, has increased facility and fluency of language but degraded sensitivity to the individual word and reduced respect for organized argument, the process of deductive reasoning. The jump and jitter of U.S. commercial television have demonstrably reduced attention span in the young. The Web too, with its addictive unfurling of hypertext, encourages restless acceleration.

“Knowing how to "read" images is a crucial skill in this media age, but the style of cultural analysis currently prevalent in universities is, in my view, counterproductive in its anti-media bias and intrusive social agenda. It teaches students suspicion and paranoia and, with its abstract European terminology, does not offer an authentic anthropology of the North American media environment in which they came to consciousness. Post-structuralism and postmodernism do not understand magic or mystique, which are intrinsic to art and imagination. It is no coincidence that since postmodernist terminology seeped into the art world in the 1980s, the fine arts have receded as a major cultural force. Creative energy is flowing instead into animation, video games, and cyber-tech, where the young are pioneers. Character-driven feature films, on the other hand, have steadily fallen in quality since the early nineties, partly because of Hollywood's increasing use of computer graphics imaging (CGI) and special effects, advanced technology that threatens to displace the live performing arts.



“Works that make the most immediate as well as the most lasting impact on undergraduates, I have found, usually have a magic, mythological, or intensely emotional aspect, along with a choreographic energy or clarity. Here is a quick overview of objects from the Western tradition that have proved consistently effective, as assessed by student performance on midterm and final exams. Among ancient artifacts, the bust of queen Nefertiti, with its strange severity and elegance; the monumental Hellenistic sculpture group of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons being strangled by serpents; and the Varvakeion Athena, our small Roman-era copy of the colossal, chryselephantine statue of the armed Athena from the Parthenon. The latter in particular, with its dense iconography of coiled serpent, winged Victory, triple-crested helmet, and aegis with gorgon's head medallion, seems to burn its way into student memory. Images from the Middle Ages, aside from elegant French Madonnas and Notre Dame's gargoyles and flying buttresses, have proved less successful in my experience than the frankly carnal images of the Italian Renaissance. A dramatic contrast can be drawn between Donatello's sinuously homoerotic, bronze David and his late, carved-wood Mary Magdalene, with its painful gauntness and agonized posture of repentance. Two standards never lose their power in the classroom: Botticelli's Birth of Venus, where the nude goddess of love stands in the dreamy S-curve of a Gothic Madonna, and Leonardo's eerie Mona Lisa, with its ambiguous lady, barren landscape, and mismatched horizon lines. From Michelangelo's huge body of work, the deepest response, independent of the students' religious background, has been to his marble Pietà, where a ravishingly epicene dead Christ slips from the lap of a heavily shrouded, strikingly young Mary, and second to a surreally dual panel in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Temptation and Fall: on one side of the robust tree wound by a fat, female-bodied serpent, sensual Eve reaches up for the forbidden fruit, while on the other, an avenging angel drives the anguished sinners out of paradise.

“Because of its inherent theatricality, the Baroque works resoundingly well with undergraduates. Paramount exhibits are Bernini's designs for St. Peter's Basilica: the serpentine, 95-foot high, bronze pillars of the Baldachino (canopy) over the main altar; or the elevated chair of Saint Peter—wood encased in bronze and framed by a spectacular Glory, a solar burst of gilded beams. Next is Bernini's Cornaro Chapel in Rome's Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, with its opera-box stage setting, flamboyant columns of multicolored marble, and over the altar the wickedly witty marble-and-bronze sculpture group, Ecstasy of St. Teresa, where spiritual union and sexual orgasm occur simultaneously.

“Nineteenth-century Romantic and realist painting offers a staggering range of image choices. Standouts in my classes have included the following: Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, a grisly intertwining of the living and the dead, bobbing on dark, swelling seas against a threatening sky. Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus, inspired by a Byron poem, with its swirl of luxury and butchery around the impassive king of Nineveh, who has torched his palace and capital. Turner's The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (chronicling a disaster Turner witnessed in 1834), where nature conquers politics and the Thames itself seems aflame. (Of several views in this series, the version owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art is best because most panoramic.) Manet's Girl at the Bar of the Folies Bergère, a penetrating study of social class and exploitation amid the din and glitter of modern entertainment: we ourselves, thanks to a trick mirror, become the dissolute, predatory boulevardier being waited on by a wistful young woman lost in the harsh night world of the city.

“Twentieth-century art is prolific in contrasting and competitive styles but less concerned with the completeness or autonomy of individual images. Two exceptions are Picasso's still intimidatingly avant-garde Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, with its brothel setting, contorted figures, and fractured space, and second, his monochrome mural, Guernica, the most powerful image of political protest since Goya, a devastating spectacle of fire, fear, and death. Also unfailingly useful are Hollywood glamour stills from the 1920s to the 1950s, which are drawn from a slide collection that I have helped build at the University of the Arts since 1990. I view these suave portrait photos, with their formal poses and mesmerizing luminosity, as true works of art in the main line of Western culture.

“But an education in images should not simply be a standard art-survey course—though I would strongly defend the pedagogical value of survey courses, which are being unwisely marginalized or dismantled outright at many American colleges. Thanks to postmodernism, strict chronology and historical sweep and synthesis are no longer universally appreciated or considered fundamental to the graduate training of humanities professors. But chronology is crucial if we hope, as we must, to broaden the Western curriculum to world cultures. To maintain order, the choice of representative images will need to be stringently narrowed. I envision a syllabus based on key images that would give teachers great latitude to expand the verbal dimension of presentation, including an analysis of style as well as a narrative of personal response. I will give three examples of prototypical images for my proposed course plan. They would play on students' feeling for mystery yet ground them in chronology and encourage them to evaluate historical evidence. The first example is from the Stone Age; the second from the Byzantine era; the third from pre-Columbian Central America."

Only Poor Kids Left Behind

According to the AP, “Eleven states will get less federal money for poor students next school year” as a result of No Child Left Behind. Those states include Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. You may notice that six of those (Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) are considered to be battleground states from the 2004 election. Kerry and crew, hit this one hard!

The Center for American Progress says that the situation is more severe than what’s reported in this AP article:

“Department of Education data obtained by the Center of American Progress, formerly unavailable to the public, reveals the problem is even worse than previously reported. Data detailing cuts at the local level shows over 7,000 school districts – not just in 11 states but across the nation – will face significant cuts in federal funds to help disadvantaged kids in reading, math and other subjects. Nearly half of all school districts and millions of children will be affected.

“The Bush administration's persistent underfunding of federal education programs is largely responsible for the cuts. For 2004, the President has spent more than $6 billion less in Title I education funding than he committed to when he signed the No Child Left Behind Act.”

4/06/2004

Questions on Brooks

David Brooks’ December 2001 Atlantic piece is now getting a thorough examination, and some are questioning whether the Times Op-Ed columnist fabricated bits of information for the piece. The controversy erupted when Sasha Issenberg wrote a piece for Philadephia magazine, which looks at some of the research and evidence backing Brooks’ article. Brooks had traveled to Franklin County, Pennsylvania to examine the differences between this rural county and Brooks’ home county of Montgomery County, Maryland. The point was to show that the cultural divide between “Red” states and “Blue” is widening. It didn’t seem to matter that Pennsylvania and Maryland, having both voted for Gore, are blue states.

Issenberg followed Brooks’ footsteps and discovered that many of Brooks’ observations were in fact false. This is from Issenberg’s Philadelphia pieces (quotes are from the Brooks piece):

“As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. “On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu—steak au jus, ‘slippery beef pot pie,’ or whatever—I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee’s,” he wrote. “I’d scan the menu and realize that I’d been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and ‘seafood delight’ trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.”

“Taking Brooks’s cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The “Steak and Lobster” combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. “Most of our checks are over $20,” said Becka, my waitress. “There are a lot of ways to spend over $20.”
“The easiest way to spend more than $20 on a meal in Franklin County is to visit the Mercersburg Inn, which boasts “turn-of-the-century elegance.” I had a $50 prix-fixe dinner, with an entrée of veal medallions, served with a lump-crab and artichoke tower, wild-rice pilaf and a sage-caper-cream sauce. Afterward, I asked the inn’s proprietors, Walt and Sandy Filkowski, if they had seen Brooks’s article. They laughed.

“I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work. I told him about my trip to Franklin County, and the ease with which I was able to spend $20 on a meal. He laughed. “I didn’t see it when I was there, but it’s true, you can get a nice meal at the Mercersburg Inn,” he said. I said it was just as easy at Red Lobster. “That was partially to make a point that if Red Lobster is your upper end?” he replied, his voice trailing away. “That was partially tongue-in-cheek, but I did have several mini-dinners there, and I never topped $20.””

Following this report, the New Republic published an article in defense of Brooks. The Daily Howler points out that this is the same publication that once featured Stephen Glass as one of its star reporters. It ought to be more careful when criticizing or defending the integrity of a questionable piece. Here’s what they had to say:

“In my mind, the real question here is why this otherwise thin anti-Brooks piece is resonating so much, particularly with liberals and other journalists. I think it has something to do with a sense of ideological betrayal on the one hand, and jealousy on the other. As my colleague Frank Foer suggested yesterday around the water cooler (and--note to Issenberg--I mean that figuratively, not literally), liberals still can't seem to get over the fact that the warm, fuzzy David Brooks they got to know on PBS has turned out to be such a fire-breathing conservative on the Times op-ed page. Meanwhile, I get the impression that journalists like me are perpetually annoyed that Brooks has, in a sense, been a highly successful journalistic entrepreneur: That is, he managed to invent (or, as it happens, revive) a genre of writing that's proved both incredibly popular and engaging while at the same time requiring much less effort than would be involved in literally chronicling various events, institutions, and trends--which is the standard journalist way of doing things. It's not surprising that this makes the rest of us resent him--if only a little bit. That doesn't mean we should feel free to pummel him.”

TNR doesn’t deny that some of Brooks’ facts are shaky. It’s just that such a story doesn’t merit a 3,000-word attack piece. And the amount of attention that the Brooks attack piece has received, as TNR suggests, is based on a certain schadenfreude among fellow journalists. If TNR’s defense of Brooks is based solely on the size and intensity of the criticism, then I don’t buy it.

Nader Update

Nader’s schemes to get on state ballots do not seem to be paying off. In Oregon—a pro-Nader state if there is such a thing—Ralphie failed to recruit the 1,000 people necessary to place him on the ballot.

Here’s the AP’s account:

Of all states, Ralph Nader should have had no trouble getting onto the Oregon presidential ballot given the support he's had here.

Most political observers had expected Nader would easily draw enough supporters at a Monday evening petition-signing rally intended to make Oregon the first state to qualify Nader for the 2004 ballot.

But only 741 people showed up — far short of the 1,000 required by Oregon law.

4/05/2004

Nader Today

It has been roughly a month since Nader made his announcement, and we're now beginning to see the effect of his candidacy. Those polls that factor in Nader show Bush with a marginal advantage over Kerry. However, those findings could easily be misunderstood. Die-hard Nader supporters would never have supported Kerry, even if Nader had remained out of the race. Kerry, a candidate who voted for the Iraq war and for the Patriot Act, would have had a difficult time attracting those from the extreme left. Ultimately, most committed Nader voters would have stayed home on election day.

There are also those Nader voters who are tentatively supporting the canidate, but will change their allegiance once election day approaches. When the reality sets in that Bush could potentially be re-elected, those voters will start to think rationally about Nader's chances.

Here's the Note's summary of Nader news:

The Washington Post's Brian Faler on Nader's ballot access challenges. Nader needs to get some 620,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states. He's going after the most difficult states first and in some cases getting creative. He's in Portland today to take advantage of an obscure law that gets him on the ballot if he can wrangle up 1000 petition-signers and get them together in one room. LINK

And, says Faler:

"Nader will run with at least one party -- his own. The candidate recently created the Populist Party, under whose banner he will run in states that require fewer signatures from new parties than they do from individual candidates. In North Carolina, for example, election officials ask for about 100,000 signatures from independent candidates but fewer than 60,000 from people organizing new parties."

The New York Times' John Tierney on Republican donors to Nader's campaign. Turns out that some people who had previously given money to Bush or to the Republican Party also gave Nader some dough. But conspiracy theorists will be disappointed so far. It seems the motives for the giving don't have much to do with political intrigue after all. LINK

The culprits? Among them pizza magnate Jeno Paulucci, who calls Nader "a good guy" and also the eponymous host of game show "Win Ben Stein's Money" who says of his $2000 donation to Nader:

"If he gets into the debates and raises issues about securities fraud that no one else has raised, I consider it money well donated."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman writes that Nader's run has made him something of a pariah among liberals and former supporters. Nader himself lists the deserting stars. LINK

"Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins . . . not to mention Danny Glover, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Moore, Willie Nelson."

In the end, though, Polman asks an excellent question:

"If liberals are really so determined to vote Democratic and take no risks this year, why are they worried about Nader in the first place? That's what he's wondering. And most polls thus far don't paint Nader as a major threat to Kerry. But, as a national Democrat said privately the other day: "We're still very sensitive, almost superstitious, about anything related to the devastating outcome in 2000."

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg says early polls giving Nader anywhere from 3-5 percent, don't represent reality and that his draw will most likely end up being less.

"There are still enough backpack carrying, anti-corporate vegans to get 1 or 2 percentage points in the general election. "

But "does this mean that on Nov. 3 we won't look at Nader's vote in Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon or New Mexico and conclude that he "cost" Kerry a state or two and therefore the election? Of course not. If an election is close enough, anything is possible."

Iraq's Decline

Everyone has noticed that the past few days have marked a turing point for Iraq. I woke-up this morning thinking that yesterday's events were the quivalent of an Iraqi Tet Offensive. Ted Kennedy seems to agree. In a speech today at the Brookings Institution, Kennedy described Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam."

And at Healing Iraq, a blog run by an Iraqi dentist, you'll find a frightening account of yesterday's and today's events:

"A coup d'etat is taking place in Iraq a the moment. Al-Shu'la, Al-Hurria, Thawra (Sadr city), and Kadhimiya (all Shi'ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad) have been declared liberated from occupation. Looting has already started at some places downtown, a friend of mine just returned from Sadun street and he says Al-Mahdi militiamen are breaking stores and clinics open and also at Tahrir square just across the river from the Green Zone. News from other cities in the south indicate that Sadr followers (tens of thousands of them) have taken over IP stations and governorate buildings in Kufa, Nassiriya, Ammara, Kut, and Basrah. Al-Jazeera says that policemen in these cities have sided with the Shia insurgents, which doesn't come as a surprise to me since a large portion of the police forces in these areas were recruited from Shi'ite militias and we have talked about that ages ago. And it looks like this move has been planned a long time ago.

"No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Al-Mahdi are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47's are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically. Baghdadis are horrified and everyone seems to have made up their mind to stay home tomorrow until the situation is clear.

"Where is Shitstani? And why is he keeping silent about this?

"I have to admit that until now I have never longed for the days of Saddam, but now I'm not so sure. If we need a person like Saddam to keep those rabid dogs at bay then be it. Put Saddam back in power and after he fills a couple hundred more mass graves with those criminals they can start wailing and crying again for liberation. What a laugh we will have then. Then they can shove their filthy Hawza andmarji'iya up somewhere else. I am so dissapointed in Iraqis and I hate myself for thinking this way. We are not worth your trouble, take back your billions of dollars and give us Saddam again. We truly 'deserve' leaders like Saddam.

"UPDATE: Sorry for the depressing note. It seems like everything is back under control, at least from what I can see in my neighbourhood. There is an eerie silence outside, only dogs barking. Until about an hour ago, it sounded like a battlefield, and we had flashbacks of last April. I don't know what happened, but there were large plumes of smoke from the direction of Adhamiya and Kadhimiya. I wanted to take some pictures but my father and uncle both said they would shoot me on the spot if I tried, they were afraid the Apaches would mistake us for troublemakers and fire at us. I'm dreading tomorrow."

Global Warming? Haven't Heard of It

The Observer got its hands on some real juicy material. Someone sent the paper a copy of an email sent by the White House to the press secretaries of all the Republican congressmen, instructing them on how to address questions on the environment. The White House's choice of defense? Deny. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the memo is the heading: "From Medi-Scare to Air-Scare," as if these issues aren't problems, just point of hysteria. And I quote from the Observer:

"It tells them how global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening', oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing', and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people'.

"The email - sent on 4 February - warns that Democrats will 'hit us hard' on the environment. 'In an effort to help your members fight back, as well as be aggressive on the issue, we have prepared the following set of talking points on where the environment really stands today,' it states.

"The memo - headed 'From medi-scare to air-scare' - goes on: 'From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on forests; from the muddled talk on our nation's waters to the convolution on air pollution, we are fighting a battle of fact against fiction on the environment - Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming "Doomsday!" when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.'

"Among the memo's assertions are 'global warming is not a fact', 'links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy', and the US Environment Protection Agency is exaggerating when it says that at least 40 per cent of streams, rivers and lakes are too polluted for drinking, fishing or swimming.

"It gives a list of alleged facts taken from contentious sources. For instance, to back its claim that air quality is improving it cites a report from Pacific Research Institute - an organisation that has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998."

While we're on the subject of New York Times Op-Ed columnists, William Safire's piece in the today's Times was a new low. Using the analogy of a floo floo bird, Safire suggests that we're paying too much attention to previous intelligence failures. And instead of obsessing over past mistakes, we should be discussing and debating tomorrow's policies. He's partly right; we do have to focus our energies and efforts on figuring out al Qaeda's next move.

But Safire forgets one important fact: that the success of our future intelligence work will come partly from understanding the intelligence failures of the past. As a staunch conservative, Safire is only playing the role of a Bush defender, giving a half-ass attempt to redirect America's attention from the 9/11 proceedings.

I Matched with Jayson Blaire?

Oh boy, oh boy. Find out which New York Times Op-Ed columnist you are! Thank god I didn't get Maureen Dowd. I wish I had matched with David Brooks, but alas, I'll have to settle for Thomas Friedman:

You are Thomas L. Friedman! You're the foreign affairs expert. You're liberal on most issues, except you're a leading voice in the pro-war movement. You're probably the most popular columnist at the Times, but probably because you play both sides of the Iraq issue and relish your devotion to what you call "fanatical moderatism." You sure can write, but you could work on your sense of humor.

4/04/2004

Liberal Media

With Wednesday's launch of the Air America Radio network, you would think that it was a good week for liberal media. Instead it was a disaster.

CNN has been suffering from a decline in viewership for years now. And perhaps the quality of content has also been falling. This week, CNN's two major blunders--one with Wolf Blitzer, another involving Daryn Kagan--gave us some insight into the channel's recklessness. (I guess that's the risk you have with running a 24-hour news channel.) Here's the recap from Salon's War Room site:

(From April 1, 2004) David Letterman and CNN are squabbling over a clip Dave showed on Monday night of a boy yawning behind President Bush. Here's a description from the newsletter of The Late Show Home Office, the Wahoo Gazette. From the sound of it, CNN really screwed up on this one.

"Last night we showed a clip of the President giving a speech. Behind him stood a lad who was obviously bored silly. The 14-year-old or so yawned, scratched, yawned, yawned, checked his watch, bent over, stared at the ceiling, and then fell asleep during the President's speech. It was very funny. So funny, in fact, that CNN replayed the clip Tuesday during their broadcasts. But, but, but, the first time is was shown, CNN anchorwoman Daryn Kagan reported that the White House said the clip was a total fake, it was merely the Late Show having fun with their ability to edit and do TV tricks. Dave says what the CNN reporter said was an out and out 100 percent lie. A couple hours later, CNN anchor person Kyra Phillips reported that the kid was at the speech but not where the Late Show had him. Dave again makes the claim, "That's an out and out absolute 100 percent lie. That kid was exactly where we said he was." It's true. The speech was at a Florida Rally on March 20th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Dave is irked that the White House was trying to make him look like a jerk. But he's glad he got his side of the story out in the open."

But there's more. The Washington Post TV column says that not long after Letterman said on the air that CNN was lying, he "read one of his trademark cards that he's always fiddling with, and started to laugh: "God almighty, my life just gets more and more complicated. You know, just a minute ago . . . I was ranting and raving about the White House. According to this, CNN has just phoned and, according to this information, the anchorwoman misspoke, they never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake. 'What good does that do me? . . . I've already now called them liars. I think from now on we're going to have to start looking into things,'" Letterman said. 'Why start now?' his bandleader Paul Shaffer said. 'Because everything was fine, except now I've called the White House liars, and you know what that means -- they're going to start looking into my taxes!'"

A CNN spokeswoman told the Post that the problem had arisen due to "a misunderstanding among staff," but would not elaborate.

(From April 2, 2004) In his New York Times column today Paul Krugman lets Wolf Blitzer have it – again. To recap the Blitzer-Krugman flap: In his column last week, Krugman cited a comment Blitzer made on CNN, sourcing unnamed White House officials, that former counterterrorism chief and White House critic Richard Clarke had a "weird" personal life. Blitzer took issue with Krugman's column, and defended his citing of anonymous sources in a smear of Clarke by saying he was referring to comments made two days prior on CNN by National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson. Here's what Wilkinson said: "He sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden, and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of 'X-Files' stuff."

Krugman went to the source of Wilkinson's allegation, on page 246 of Clarke's book "Against All Enemies." Clarke wrote: "Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed … It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush."

Krugman writes: "That's not 'X-Files' stuff: it's a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense. Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure — as Mr. Wilkinson obviously was — that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later."

So, just to make sure we're on the same page here: An administration official on Blitzer's show questions Clarke's sanity by distorting something in his book about Bush's policy toward Osama bin Laden. The smear goes unchallenged. Two days later, Blitzer refers to smear but in such vague terms that viewers can only imagine just what "weird" behavior Clarke is up to. When challenged by Krugman, Blitzer defends himself using videotape of original smear, again without challenging it. Let's see if Wolf responds to Krugman's latest column in any appropriate way. Like, say, with an apology.

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has another good poston this whole fiasco, saying: "People like Blitzer have to decide what to do about this White House. Wilkinson laughed in Blitzer's face when he peddled his fake, phony spin. But the Bush aide also did something more serious -- he laughed in the face of Blitzer's viewers. The time has come for people like Blitzer to decide what to do about that."

The whole thing is really kind of funny, even if it makes CNN look pathetic. Krugman, for his part, sees something more sinister at work: A pattern of CNN running willy-nilly with information from anonymous White House officials, and getting themselves into a pickle -- and misinforming however many thousands of Americans watching -- when the information turns out to be flat wrong. Krugman writes: "There's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from 'the White House,' then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity."



Also this week, the Atlanic published Howell Raines' account of the Jayson Blaire scandal. I'm half-way through the piece, and from what I've read, Times critics will surely be pleased with Raines' message. The former executive editor describes the inner struggle that's tearing apart the Times, and the culture of complacency that's increasingly making the paper irrelevant. It's a battle between those motivated to achieve, to succeed, to produce strong work, to bring change to the Times, and those who settle for mediocrity and resist change. The Times' attitude of superiority has allowed the paper to decline to point where its future is now jeopardized, Mr. Raines argues.

Bob Edwards' dismissal from "Morning Edition" showed that NPR, too, has its problems. According to CNN (look, I'm still citing that dreadful source): "Spokeswoman Laura Gross said NPR's programming and news management made the change because they're trying to refresh all the network's broadcasts." Such a bold change can only suggest that there's serious trouble at America's source for liberal radio.

And finally, we're back to Air America Radio. The pundits have questioned for months whether there's a market for liberal talk radio. Some have said no, that a liberal agenda cannot be translated into the harsh, dirty, negative style of talk radio. Others have said yes, that the liberals can talk just as critically as conservatives, and that a market for liberal radio does exist. Who knows. But so far the quality of programming at Air America Radio has been dismal. Perhaps I haven't listened to enough talk radio, but it sounds like a foreign language to me. Angry rants are usually backed by muddled logic, and that seems to be the case with Air America Radio as well as with the rest of talk radio.