4/16/2004

Way to Go, Cuba

Oliver Stone gets a good chuckle out of torture and authoritarianism. In an interview for Slate, Ann Louise Bardach grills Stone on his time with Castro and his film Looking for Fidel. Read the transcript and you won’t believe what’s said. Here’s the most shocking part:

ALB: Did it strike you as interesting that at one point in the scene with the prisoners, Castro turned to the prisoners' defense lawyers, who just happened to be there, and he says, "I urge you to do your best to reduce the sentences"?

OS: I love that. I thought that was hilarious. Those guys just popped up.

ALB: Is there a show-trial element here?

OS: Yeah. I thought that was funny, I did—the prosecutor and Fidel admonishing them, to make sure they worked hard. There was that paternalism. I mean "father knows best," as opposed to totalitarianism. It's paternalism, that's what I meant. It's a Latin thing.


In other Cuba news, Oxblog gives a report on the Cuban thugs at the United Nations in Geneva:

"The beating by Cuban officials of a member of a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations in Geneva should be considered a criminal act for which the Cuban government must be censured, Freedom House said today.

"After the United Nations Commission on Human Rights narrowly passed a resolution today critical of Cuba, members of Cuba's governmental delegation attacked Frank Calzon, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Free Cuba.

"The attack took place inside the United Nations building in Geneva.

"Witnesses said a Cuban delegate punched Mr. Calzon, knocking him unconscious. UN guards reportedly protected him from further assault by additional members of the Cuban delegation. The attack occurred shortly after the Commission passed a resolution critical of Cuba's human rights record."

Alternative News in the Middle East

If you have some spare cash, send it this way. Al Jazeera is about as fair and balanced as Fox News, and the Middle East is in desperate need of an alternative and legitimate news source. Give some money to Spirit of America and help them equip Iraqi news channels in the Sunni triangle.

Liberals For the War

Wow. Andrew Sullivan linked to this Times piece yesterday, praising Berman for his intelligent and articulate case for the war. As a liberal, my belief sometimes falters, and I question whether it was the right thing to do. But then I read a piece like this, and my faith is restored. Liberals need to remind the rest of the world that we’re committed to ridding the world of authoritarian regimes. I couldn’t have said it better:

“Some people argue that anti-totalitarian revolutions can never be brought about from outside. The history of World War II says otherwise. Some people respond with the observation that Germany, Italy and Japan are nothing like the Muslim world. In Afghanistan, the American-led invasion has nonetheless brought about an anti-totalitarian revolution. A pretty feeble revolution, true — but even feeble progress suggests large possibilities.

“The whole point in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, from my perspective, was to achieve those large possibilities right in the center of the Muslim world, where the ripples might lead in every direction. Iraq was a logical place to begin because, for a dozen years, the Baathists had been shooting at American and British planes, and inciting paranoia and hatred against the United States, and encouraging the idea that attacks can successfully be launched against American targets, and giving that idea some extra oomph with the bluff about fearsome weapons. The Baathists, in short, contributed their bit to the atmosphere that led to Sept. 11. Yet Iraq could also boast of liberal democrats and some admirable achievements in the Kurdish north, which meant there were people to support, and not just to oppose. Such were the hopes.


“Nobody can doubt, however, that even in its planning stages, the invasion and occupation of Iraq were depressingly bungled. The whole thing was done in an odd mood of hysteria and parsimony, a bad combination. It is tempting to conclude that, all in all, we would have been better off staying out of Iraq altogether — and maybe this will turn out to be the case.

“But everyone who feels drawn to that conclusion had better acknowledge its full meaning: the unavoidable implication that we would be better off today with Saddam Hussein in power; better off with economic sanctions still strangling the Iraqi people; better off with American army bases still occupying Saudi soil (Osama bin Laden's original grievance against us); and better off without the progress on weapons proliferation in the Muslim world (unless you believe in the sheer-coincidence theory, in which case, you think that progress would have happened willy-nilly). That is a pretty horrifying set of alternatives.



“But the bigger problem has to do with public understandings of the war. People around the world may not want to lift a finger in aid so long as the anti-totalitarian logic of the war remains invisible to them. President Bush ought to have cleared up this matter. He has, in fact, spoken about conspiracy theories and hatred (including at Tuesday's press conference). He has spoken about a new totalitarianism, and has even raised the notion of a war of ideas.

“But Mr. Bush muddied these issues long ago by putting too much emphasis on weapons in Iraq (and his gleeful opponents have muddied things even further by pretending that weapons were the only reason for war). He muddied the issues again by doing relatively little to promote a war of ideas — quite as if his loftier comments were merely blather. His national security statement of 2002 flatly declared that totalitarianism no longer existed — a strange thing to say. War requires clarity. Here is incoherence.


“After the Spanish election last month, America needed to reach out to the new Spanish leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and his voters. Mr. Bush was in no position to do this, given that in November he had delivered a speech that was all-too characteristically insulting to the European left. Instead, it was Senator John Kerry who made a public appeal to Mr. Zapatero to keep troops in Iraq.

“I wish the Democrats would follow Mr. Kerry's example and take it a step further by putting together a small contingent of Democrats with international reputations, a kind of shadow government — not to undermine American policy but to achieve what Mr. Bush seems unable to do. The Democrats ought to explain the dangers of modern totalitarianism and the goals of the war. They ought to make the call for patience and sacrifice that Mr. Bush has steadfastly avoided. And the Democratic contingent ought to go around the world making that case.”

Carlyle

The Carlyle Group, the famous and powerful private equity group, once had George W. Bush on its board. What did they think of his performance? David Rubenstein, the co-founder and managing director, wasn’t too impressed. From Unfogged:

“...when we were putting the board together, somebody [Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth.

“I said well we're not usually in that business. But okay, let me meet the guy. I met the guy. I said I don't think he adds that much value. We'll put him on the board because - you know - we'll do a favor for this guy; he's done a favor for us.

“We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years - you know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.

“He said, well I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.

"And I said, thanks - didn't think I'd ever see him again. His name is George W. Bush. He became President of the United States. So you know if you said to me, name 25 million people who would maybe be President of the United States, he wouldn't have been in that category. So you never know. Anyway, I haven't been invited to the White House for any things.”

Monorail, Monorail, Monorail

It’s eight months away, but I now know what I want for Christmas.

Or maybe this. At $425K, it’s a bargain.

Oh, I'm in Love

Greatest bands playing today? Franz Ferdinand, the Shins, and My Morning Jacket are at the top of my list. But Wilco. Wilco, Wilco, Wilco. Oh, how I dream of Wilco. You can listen to the new album, A Ghost is Born, in its entirety on the band’s site. Get Tweedy out of rehab and get the band on the road.

4/15/2004

The Sharon/Bush Agreement

Yesterday’s announcement that Bush will support Sharon’s proposals has been interpreted as a radical change in American policy. Here’s the Times' analysis. As always, I’m not sure what I think. Unilateral withdrawal: good; No right of return: good; recognition of remaining settlements in the West Bank: very, very, very bad.

I’ve asked some friends for their responses. My wonderful and brilliant co-worker Michelle Tsai sent me this:

“bush is on the road to more strife in the middle east. for all the talk from condi on why the US lacked a strategy for dealing with al qaeda –let’s see, the exact quote is “America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working.”—the administration seems blind to the fact that supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank will hurt the Israel-Palestine peace process, and that in turn will diminish the chances for a more peaceful occupation of Iraq. if the US cannot attempt to appear impartial in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then countries in the middle east will have little reason to trust the US as a negotiator, an arbitrator, a partner, much less a benevolent occupying force.

“in a few years there will be more Palestinians than Israelis in Israel/west bank/gaza, and I don’t think that a fence, even one with implicit support from the US, can shield Israelis from the rage that’s been brewing for decades. obviously, no plan will work unless it is considered fair by both parties. the geneva accords were probably the most feasible compromises--they’d bargained the divisions of cities, block by block, building by building—and bush should have used his influence to widen support for that proposal. yes, only a minority of Israelis supported the accords, and Arafat and many palestinians still believed that the right of return was essential, but I believe both those things could have changed over time.”

Davi Bernstein? You’re the expert. What’s going on with this Bush/Sharon agreement?

Oh, Canada

We often think of our northern neighbor as a friendlier, more rational version of America. Nope. Canada has begun a campaign to crack down on free speech:

From U.S. News:

‘”Canada is a pleasantly authoritarian country," Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said a few years ago. An example of what he means is Bill C-250, a repressive, anti-free-speech measure that is on the brink of becoming law in Canada...

“Since Canada has no First Amendment, anti-bias laws generally trump free speech and freedom of religion. A recent flurry of cases has mostly gone against free expression. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that a newspaper ad listing biblical passages that oppose homosexuality was a human-rights offense. The commission ordered the paper and Hugh Owens, the man who placed the ad, to pay $1,500 each to three gay men who objected to it. In another case, a British Columbia court upheld the one-month suspension, without pay, of a high school teacher who wrote letters to a local paper arguing that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation but a condition that can and should be treated. The teacher, Chris Kempling, was not accused of discrimination, merely of expressing thoughts that the state defines as improper.”

And InstaPundit links to a case where the Canadian government is trying to shut down a critical blog site.

I guess the pot smoking has made them paranoid.

Blame It on Jersey

I know, I know. I promised to never refer to poll numbers, but this I find too troubling to ignore. My over-simplistic theory for why Kerry will win has been shattered, all because of New Jersey. I’ve said all along that Kerry will easily carry those states in which Gore won by a large margin (more than 5%). Those 12 swing states (Florida, New Hampshire, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada, and Tennessee went to Bush; New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania went to Gore) will be where the battle is fought. Gore’s swing states—if you look at high level of voter turnout for the Democratic primaries—will almost certainly go Democrat again. However, Bush’s swing states are shaky, especially in New Hampshire (the primary got the Democrats motivated and organized), Ohio (outsourcing and unemployment has especially hurt the manufacturing sector, which is Ohio’s bread and butter), Missouri (again, unemployment), and Nevada (where a Hispanic vote is taking shape).

But now it looks as though New Jersey could be considered a swing state. What the hell is going on?

The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll on New Jersey says, “Bush and Kerry are running closely, with Bush getting 40% of the vote and Kerry 41%. When "leaners" are included, Kerry leads Bush within the poll's margin of error by 48-47%.”

DavidNYC at the Swing State Project assures us there’s nothing to worry about. But I’m not sure. Here’s what he says:

“Kos has a post up with some new polls for OR, WA and NJ. The first two, being legit swing states, are quite close - but surprisingly, Jersey is close as well. Put simply: This really doesn't make much sense. There's a big discussion going on in the comments about this, where DHinMI says that the sample may skew Republican (can't statisticians correct for that?) and DL reminds us that Gore carried the state by a whopping 16 percentage points (56-40). Several posters also bring up the fact that NJ voters have kicked Republicans out of every statewide office as well.

"All of these things add up to the point that NJ is simply not in play. I promise. If Dubya carries the Garden State, I, DavidNYC, the ultimate New York snob, pledge to move to Jersey and do voter registration every day for a year.”

Scandal Update

For Senator Chris Dodd, his troubles will soon be a thing of the past. He has apologized for the Lott-like comments he made earlier this month. Dodd had praised Sen. Robert Byrd, saying he would have been a great senator and leader at any time in history, including the Civil War. The problem though was that Byrd had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But the scandal is already two weeks old, and not much action has been taken by Dodd’s critics.

For the U.N., however, things don’t look so good. It turns out their oil-for-food program in Iraq was one heck of scam. Insight reports:

“A team of international forensic investigators is preparing to blow the lid off the much-disputed U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq and will present new evidence of corruption at an upcoming congressional hearing that directly will implicate world leaders and top U.N. officials, Insight has learned.

“Investigators, led by Claude Hankes-Drielsma and the KPMG accounting firm, currently are in Baghdad sifting through mountains of Saddam Hussein-era records seized from his Oil Ministry and the State Oil Marketing Organization that detail payments by Saddam to his legions of foreign friends and political supporters. An Iraqi newspaper, Al-Mada, published the list of 270 recipients of special "allocations" (also known as vouchers) in January.

“In a scathing letter sent to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on March 3, which he made available to Insight, Hankes-Drielsma called the U.N. program "one of the world's most disgraceful scams," and said that "based on the facts as I know them at the present time, the U.N. failed in its responsibility to the Iraqi people and the international community at large."”

4/14/2004

Idiot Watch

I've said this before: there are as many nuts on the left as there are on the right. It's wonderfully amusing, in both cases, when they enter their worlds of revisionist history.

Here's an example of a right-wing conspiracy theorist at work. Yes, the Fifth Column will soon seize power.

Iran

Iran is one of few places in the Middle East where a budding democratic movement has actually taken root. It's also one of the few places in the region where the U.S. government has little influence. Are our policies working? Hmm.

The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran says the government responded to yesterday's protests with "bullets and tear-gas."

Civil Liberties

Yesterday we had the Muzzle Awards from the The Thomas Jefferson Center. And today, we have the launch of Watching Justice, a non-partisan, watchdog website that monitors the DOJ. Check it out.

Veeps

Looking for your VP candidate? You'll find them here. Fill out your preferences, and out pops your candidate.

The Neoconservative Response

The Los Angeles Times spoke with William Kristol, a neocon’s neocon and a fierce supporter of the war (like me), to get his reaction to the president’s press conference:

“"I was depressed," said conservative strategist William Kristol, one of the war's most vocal proponents. "I am obviously a supporter of the war, so I don't need to be convinced. But among people who were doubtful or worried, I don't think he made arguments that would convince them. He didn't explain how we are going to win there."

No Apology

Salon’s War Room has also noticed that the same question kept coming up again and again during last night’s press conference. “To his obvious chagrin, several reporters harped on something similar. Did the president feel personal responsibility for Sept. 11th? What was his biggest mistake since 2001? Would he apologize for 9/11? Is it fair for critics to say he never admits a mistake? Was he a failed communicator?”

My advice to the president: just say the “the buck stops here!” Whether he’s to blame or not for Sept. 11 (I think any rational person would agree that he’s not at fault), Bush ought to say he takes responsibility for the government’s failures. The American public seeks leadership, and the Bush administration has not stepped up.

Here were last night’s questions. The War Room also points out some of the errors and deceptions buried in Bush’s responses.

“Q: "Do you feel personal responsibility for Sept. 11th?"
A: "There are some things I wish we'd have done, when I look back. I mean, hindsight's easy. It's easy for a president to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place. For example, a Homeland Security Department."

“Q: "One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9-11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism, and do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made?"
A: "The country wasn't on war footing, and yet we're at war ... There was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale."

“Q: "Two weeks ago, a former counterterrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9-11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you prepared to give them one?"
A: "... As I mentioned, I oftentimes think about what I could have done differently. I can assure the American people that had we had any inkling that this was going to happen, we would have done everything in our power to stop the attack. Here's what I feel about that: The person responsible for the attacks was Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible for killing Americans."

Q: "In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you'd made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You've looked back before 9-11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9-11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have learned from it?"
A: "I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. John, I'm sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could've done it better this way or that way. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn't yet."

Q: "I guess I'd like to know if you feel, in any way, that you have failed as a communicator on this topic."
A: "Gosh, I don't know. I mean ... You know, that's, I guess, if you put it into a political context, that's the kind of thing the voters will decide next November. .... One thing is for certain, though, about me, and the world has learned this: When I say something, I mean it. And the credibility of the United States is incredibly important for keeping world peace and freedom."

Swing States

You may have noticed by now that I avoid polls at all cost. They’re completely unpredictable, and they rarely give an accurate portrait of public sentiment. Absolutely worthless. The only time I’ve prayed that a poll was correct was in the days leading up to Iowa, with Kerry surging in the Zogby poll. That was beautiful.

So how do you predict what the outcome will be in November? Look at the effect that Bush’s policies have had on swing states.

Last week I wrote that No Child Left Behind will decimate schools in key battleground states. This week, I’m focusing on military reserves.

Swing states—or purple states, if that’s you’re preferred terminology—are being hit hard by the extended deployments to Iraq. Not only do the military families suffer, but so do the local economies; as the Note points out, “It's not unusual for the military to delay a unit's return, but the economic repercussions can be excessively painful, especially if these reservists are the ones who run gas stations, operate in emergency rooms, police the streets, and fight fires.”

Here are some stories from the local front:

The Oregonian tells us, “Citizen soldiers: Called to fight, on the cheap.” “So now that tens of thousands of citizen soldiers are leaving their civilian jobs to serve alongside active-duty soldiers with better equipment, including stronger body armor, and more extensive health care and retirement benefits, most of them are just sucking it up.”

The Associated Press reports that reserve units from New Hampshire will be spending more time in the Middle East. “A New Hampshire-based Army Reserve unit that spent nearly a year in Iraq will not be returning home on Easter Sunday as expected, family members were told Saturday”

From the Albuquerque Journal, we hear, “The quiet was deafening in Staff Sgt. Donald Evans' bedroom. The 41-year-old medic had trained himself to listen while he slept. He was ready for sounds that would send him to a nearby bunker — the boom of explosives, the rattle of small arms fire, the whizzing of rockets overhead.”

The Duluth News Tribune publishes a list of Wisconsin soldiers killed in Iraq.

And the Miami Herald reports on an Ohio reservist who committed suicide when he failed to get a promotion after returning from Afghanistan.

The Note responds to all of these articles by saying “most military families vote Republican and they support President Bush.” But that’s not necessarily the case. Last month, Ryan Lizza wrote on the military vote for TNR:

“But Kerry advisers and outside academics who study the armed services divide the military vote up into four basic categories--current service members, reservists and National Guard members, military families, and veterans--each with a varying degree of potential for the Democratic nominee this year.



“Kerry may have a greater opportunity still pursuing the votes not of soldiers themselves but of their families. "The one place where Kerry has an appeal is military households," says Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University who studies the political culture of the military and is generally skeptical of claims that Democrats have an opening with military voters. "He may have an advantage there. Not all of them, but the ones of National Guard or Reserve who are over-mobilized or poorly mobilized to serve in Iraq." One of the few pieces of recent data about how these families feel about Bush doesn't bode well for him. A poll in September pegged Bush's approval rating at 36 percent among the relatives of servicemembers.”

Bush Tonight

For what they're worth, here are my initial impressions on the president's performance. Let's start with the superficial: He couldn't have picked a worse tie. As Rooftop Report points out, "Not for nothing, but shouldn't Bush have worn a tie that didn't reflect a rainbow on to the screen? I thought they tested that kind of stuff." I could barely pay attention to the actual content of speech. The whole time I was distracted by that pretty rainbow show. Who knows, maybe that was a ploy to distract listeners.

And did I hear him say Secretary of State Rumsfeld? Or did the pretty rainbow also bring on aural hallucinations? Maybe this was Bush's way of announcing that the Defense Department had taken over the State Department.

Now, to the actual substance of the speech. As someone who supported the underlying motives for the war (i.e., establishing a democracy in the Middle East, liberating an oppressed people), I agreed with much of what Bush said. Yes, this is a struggle between the civilized and "uncivilized" peoples of the world. Yes, we have to do whatever it takes to win. And yes, the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein.

However, he spoke on very, very broad terms. The only details he spoke of were on the June 30th handover. As Bush says, we have to follow through on the June 30th date to show that we stand by our word (and to prove that we don't have imperialistic intentions). The problem is, there are no legitimate Iraqi leaders to assume control. The Governing Council? What a joke. Sistani? Ha! When a reporter asked about the issue, Bush responded by saying, "We'll see."

Now for THE QUESTIONS....There were a few who stood up and asked their question with courage. One reporter (from the Washington Post?) asked why Bush and Cheney were appearing together before the 9/11 commission. The commission had asked that the two appear separately. When Bush tried to duck the issue, the reporter jumped on it.

The most worthy question of the night was asked a number of times: Why does the Bush administration continue to deny that it has made any mistakes?

Finally, who the hell was that Fox reporter? Only a Fox reporter would ask such a soft question. Essentially, he informed us: the FBI was responsible for putting together an inaccurate PDB for August 6. And he asked, Does Bush blame the FBI? Wow!

4/13/2004

Africa Report

I've been meaning to do this for a while, and hopefully it will continue on into the future. Africa does not get nearly enough attention in the media, so in an attempt to give the continent more visibility, each week I'm going to try to summarize the top news coming out of Africa.

And this week was a busy one.

1. Of course, Rwanda marked the ten-year anniversary of its genocide. I could talk endlessly on this subject, as it's probably the one historical event I've studied more than any other. It's an important lesson that we haven't yet learned. With the 9/11 commission, we hear a lot of talk on the U.S. government's failure to act or respond. Well, it happened before 9/11, WITH RWANDA.

2. Sudan's ceasefire is on shaky ground. The State Department though says the "violence in Sudan's Darfur region appeared to be diminishing a day after it cited unconfirmed reports of attacks by government-backed militias despite a cease-fire." Hmmm... I'm beginning to wonder if it's the government's job to underestimate humanitarian crises.

And as usual, the U.N. is left begging for money. "The United Nations launched an appeal Monday for $114 million in humanitarian aid for the troubled Darfur region of western Sudan, where the U.N. humanitarian chief says a scorched-earth campaign of ethnic cleansing is taking place."

3. Algeria makes its way towards democracy. Despite the fact that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won 85% of the vote in the Thursday election, the Associated Press reports:

"Thursday's contest was billed as a crucial test of democracy, and foreign observers — though few — praised one of the cleanest elections ever in the Arab world. In a first, the army declared neutrality in the election, appearing to leave the politics to politicians."

4. This story is from a few weeks ago, but it's worth bring up again. Equatorial Guinea put down a coup attempt back in March. Nothing unusual, except for the story behind the coup. The officials were tipped off when Zimbabwe seized an American-owned plane with 67 mercenaries from South Africa on their way to Equatorial Guinea. The New York Times reported in this story titled "Where Coup Plots Are Routine, One That Is Not":

"This malarial West African dictatorship quashed another coup attempt this month, which is like saying the corner 7-Eleven served up another Slurpee. Quashed coups (five since 1996) are a political staple here, so routine that some say the government stages and then quashes them to burnish its image of invincibility.

"But the coup this month was different. Nobody could make this coup up."

"The coup attempt of 2004 features a dysfunctional ruling family, a Lamborghini-driving, rap-music-producing heir apparent and a bitter political opponent in exile who insists that Equatorial Guinea is run by a gonad-eating cannibal. It is said to involve a Lebanese front company, a British financier, an opposition figure living in exile in Spain and some 80 mercenaries from South Africa, Germany, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

"Its messy denouement unfolded not in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea's capital, but 2,100 miles away, aboard an American jet in Zimbabwe.

"With such a polyglot cast, this whodunit has become almost a parlor game among Africa watchers. Not since Christmas 1975, when Moroccan palace guards shot 150 suspected plotters in the city soccer stadium to a band's rendition of ''Those Were the Days, My Friend'' has a botched takeover set tongues wagging so briskly.

"''Normally, the people involved are just rounded up, paraded before the state media, and then they disappear forever,'' said Patrick Smith, the editor of the London-based newsletter Africa Confidential, which has scooped competitors on the coup's juiciest details. ''This one is the most extraordinary ever.''

"Until lately, few cared. Equatorial Guinea, a Spanish colony for 190 years, was seen as a sweltering backwater, so destitute that many citizens foraged for food. But in the mid-1990's American drillers struck oil, and everything changed.

"Today, this Maryland-size nation has $5 billion in American oil rigs and drilling gear parked offshore, pumping 350,000 barrels of petroleum a day. Washington is reopening an embassy closed in the mid-1990's after the ambassador, a vocal human rights critic, began getting death threats.

"Most Equatorial Guineans remain subsistence-level survivors. But the president since 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, owns mansions in Maryland and Virginia and banks up to $700 million a year in oil revenues in personally controlled accounts.

"As Mr. Obiang said at a news conference on Wednesday in his meticulously restored ceremonial palace, having money is a mixed blessing, seeing as so many people want to take it away. Participants in this month's quashed coup were promised a share of the oil wealth if their takeover had succeeded, he said.

"Instead of benefiting those it is supposed to, 'it is causing them a lot of problems,' he said through an interpreter.

"Yet, toppling Equatorial Guinea's government would be no mean feat, because removing the president would barely scratch the surface. The military is peppered with Mr. Obiang's cousins and nephews. One of his sons is the natural resources minister. A brother-in-law is the ambassador to Washington.

"A brother, Armengol Ondo Nguema, is a top internal security official and, according to a 1999 State Department report, a torturer whose minions urinated on their victims, sliced their ears and rubbed oil on their bodies to lure stinging ants.

"Finally, a second son, Teodoro Nguemo Obiang, is the infrastructure minister and his father's anointed successor. To the dismay of some relatives, he also is a rap music entrepreneur and bon vivant, fond of Lamborghinis and long trips to Hollywood and Rio de Janeiro, who shows few signs of following his father's iron-fisted tradition."


Africa Pundit links to a site that suggests that the mercenaries were after Charles Taylor:

"The former Liberian strongman, with a $2m price on his head, is currently residing in Calabar, across the Bay of Biafra from the island of Bioko and its capital, Malabo. Well-placed security sources in South African maintained in confidence that Taylor was the target, although they knew nothing of the geography of Equotorial Guinea or where the former Liberian strongman was housed. The route between Malabo and Calabar, where Taylor is housed in a guarded compound, and the Niger Delta is perhaps one of the best plied of west African smuggling channels."


Free Expression

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia...Do the scandals ever end? First, he hopped on Cheney's jet for a duck hunting trip, and then proceeded to get angry when people suggested there may be a conflict of interest in a Cheney-related case before the Court. Next, he disqualified himself from the Pledge of Allegiance case for commenting on the case before it got to court. Good one.

And of course, for the past week, there have been multiple stories on the tape erasure incident. Last Wednesday, a federal marshal asked two reporters to turn off their tape recorders and hand over the tapes when Scalia spoke at a Presbyterian Christian High School. The story even reached the New York Times' Op-Ed pages (once again, about a week late). Bob Herbert writes:

"When agents acting on behalf of a Supreme Court justice can just snatch and destroy information collected by reporters, we haven't just thumbed our nose at the Constitution, we've taken a very dangerous step in a very ugly direction. The depot at the end of that dark road is totalitarianism.

"I called Jane Kirtley, a professor of media, ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, and asked her what was wrong with what the marshal did. She replied, "Everything."

"Not only was it an affront to the Constitution to seize and erase the recordings, Ms. Kirtley believes it was also a violation of the Privacy Protection Act, a law passed by Congress in 1980."

Here are Scalia's apology and the NYT reponse.

Of course I mention all of this because, today The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression released their Muzzle Awards, an award given to those people and institutions who have stood in the way of free expression. There were some outstanding winners this year, and I'm sure Scalia will make an excellent candidate for next year's award. Fine job, ladies and gentleman. Here are this year's recipients:

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum

The U.S. Department of Defense

The United States Secret Service

The Albemarle County (VA) School Board

Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey

CBS Television

The University of New Orleans Administration

The Administration of Dearborn High School (Michigan)

The South Carolina House of Representatives

The Parks and Recreation Division of Broward County (Florida)

Jeff Webster of Soldotna, Alaska, and the Unnamed Arsonist of Harrisonburg, Virginia

The Arizona State License Commission

The Pilot Point (Texas) Police Department

It's a First

Hate mail. Awesome. This one's getting framed.

This is What the Internet Has Brought Us

Here are two, very strange web cams.

First, the Germans have gone crazy for "Pig Brother." Reuters reports:

"A German Web site dubbed "Pig Brother" has attracted more than a million visitors in under two weeks with its 24-hour live Webcam coverage of a family of wild boar, the site's creators say.
 
"The site, launched in March by the German Hunting Protection League, offers day and night coverage of three males, three females and more than 50 offspring in an enclosure in their natural habitat of the Eifel mountains in western Germany."

Then Burger King has an interactive chicken site, Subservient Chicken, where you can order a man dressed as a chicken to do anything you like. If someone can explain to me how they do this, I would appreciate it. Of course, it would be ridiculous to pay 50 guys 24 hours a day to dress as chickens. Then again, these chickens know how do some funky moves that I wouldn't expect programmers to cover. Please, an explanation.

Mosaics

Who else but Chris Schlottmann could deliver like this? He provided me with not just one, but two Bush mosaics. The first I mentioned earlier--a picture of Bush composed from the photographs of dead soldiers. The second...well, I had a hard time stomaching this one. All I have to say: get ready to see about a thousand assholes. Jesus.

Mystery Solved

My high school friends will appreciate this one: the Bird has been found. Unfortunately, the Bird in this case is not the soon-to-be-famous artist, Nick Mauss, but rather the name of Donald Rumsfeld’s early-morning briefing. It’s kind of an internal Pentagon blog.

The WSJ reports:

"At 5 a.m. every business day, the first copy of one of Washington's most sought-after publications rolls off a printer deep in the Pentagon. An aide hustles it quickly to the waiting black, bulletproof SUV that picks up Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for work.

"By the time he leaves for the office just before dawn, Mr. Rumsfeld is studying the report by the glow of a dome light in the back seat. He is an early riser and one of his first acts as defense secretary was making the publication's deadline 45 minutes earlier so he could read it on the way to work.

"The publication Mr. Rumsfeld can't do without doesn't contain classified information or sensitive intelligence. Instead, it dishes up an exhaustive collection of the day's most influential military reporting from around the world.

"The Current News Early Bird, or simply "the Bird," as it's known around the Pentagon, is compiled by a staff of four Pentagon employees from a grubby building it shares with a sheet-metal-workers union in downtown Alexandria, Va. Articles from major publications such as the New York Times and the London Telegraph jostle with squibs from more-obscure journals, such as Inside Missile Defense and Manufacturing & Technology News."

The Bird shows how, in a capital where information is a precious currency, even a humble news digest can take on huge influence if it has the right readers. With two U.S. wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and military affairs dominating headlines, the Bird has become indispensable for many people in Washington. It has been cited in Harvard dissertations and congressional testimony and spawned copycat publications in other government offices.

Liberals v. Conservatives

Jonah Goldberg in the National Review has launched an articulate and well-thought-out attack on Alan Wolfe. I disagree with the argument that there no longer exists a place for old-time liberals within the Democratic party. But, whatever. Buried in the piece you’ll find a wonderful contrast between liberals and conservative:

"So here's my theory about Wolfe (for more on my views about him, click here): He's an old, crotchety, and brilliant liberal who has to walk among academics and journalists who call themselves liberals but really aren't. Much like Clinton Rossiter was in his day, Alan Wolfe is a real liberal — the good kind — but he's been left behind by the times. He should have switched to neoconservatism along with the Huntingtons, Thernstroms, Kristols, and Lipsets, years ago. Instead he decided to stick around his old haunts. Perhaps it is because he loathes the label "conservative" so much he just couldn't put it on. Maybe it's because he wants to fight the good fight for the word "liberal" from behind enemy lines. Whatever. The fact remains that he hangs with the insane-clown posse of the academic Left every day. He writes for partisan-liberal journals (though his book reviews in The New Republic are still among my favorite things to read). So, every now and then he needs to wallop the "other side" — i.e., conservatives — to maintain his bona fides.

"You can even find evidence of this in Wolfe's essay. Many of the views he ascribes to 'liberals' actually count as fairly conservative these days. 'Liberals insist that there exists something called Society independent of the state,' writes Wolfe. Okay, but I fail to see how that makes the Democratic party any more of a natural home for the (classical) liberals he's describing than the Republican party.
Wolfe then writes:

"Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency — conservatives always find cases of emergency — the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

"There's simply no way Wolfe can write the above if by liberal he means the rank-and-file of the Democratic party or the broader Moveon.org crowd who have not only a totalistic view of politics but who have done more to desecrate the doctrine of politics ending at the waters edge than any group in modern memory. And that's the point. He's referring, in his words, to "liberals, properly speaking." This is — I hope — code for the sort of classical liberals of the 19th century who believed in a limited state and in something called "Society.""

Naked Ashcroft

Don't click on this link if you're sensative to nudity, but if porn's your thing, you'll get a kick out this. Ashcroft critics have gone nuts over his attack on the porn industry; I'm sure he'll love this one.

A similar composite was created for Bush using the photographs of soldiers killed in Iraq. Unfortunately, I can no longer find it. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this link.

Woods Gives Up Golf for the Military Life

I'm still recovering from that wonderful finish at the Masters (NPR said it was best finish since '86, when Jack Nicklaus defeated Greg Norman). Phil Mickelson was my favorite growing up, and he deserved it.

But here's a strange follow-up on the Masters: Tiger Woods is spending a week training with the Green Berets. Hopefully this'll bring some focus back to his game.

Presidential Ties

Interested in finding out where Bush gets his ties? How about Kerry's? All of those red and blue (and in Kerry's case, pink) ties must have come from somewhere. Where else, but Greenwich, CT.

Newsday reports:

"Both men are wearing ties from Greenwich-based Vineyard Vines during this year's campaign for president.

"Kerry, the Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts, recently bought 400 custom-made ties and 100 custom-made scarves for his campaign, the Greenwich Time reported Monday. Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, designed the accessories with the help of Vineyard Vines owners Shep and Ian Murray.

"Kerry's ties feature American flag decals and the initials "JK."

"Vineyard Vines ties often are set in subtle patterns against pastel colors, with whimsical decorations including martini glasses, mermaids and hammocks.

...

"Republicans spotted in Vineyard Vines ties include President Bush, former President Bush, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg...Other customers have included Democrats Bill Clinton, Howard Dean and Robert Kennedy Jr."

So this is how I become powerful...Shop for Vineyard Vines ties

4/12/2004

Idiot Watch

Oh, the horror. Today I came across Blogs for Bush, where they were celebrating a recent milestone: "Well, Bush-bloggers, in 5 months our community has grown, and today I'm pleased to announced that more than 400 blogs have joined our Blogroll For Bush."

However, as I read along in the comments, I came across these priceless entries:

"let's start placing bets as to how many there will be by Election Day...
Posted by: Aaron at April 9, 2004 12:53 PM

"I'll predict at least 3 blogs for every Electoral College vote Kerry gets.
Posted by: Brian B at April 9, 2004 01:44 PM"

I couldn't stop laughing. Yes, "Bush Thought" in action. In case you didn't get it, "Brian B" predicts that the better Kerry does, the more successful Blogs for Bush will be. Priceless.

High-Tech and Politics

Could Silicon Valley reach its political potential this year? Two recent articles suggest that we'll see a more politically savvy Silicon Valley soon. That means a Silicon Valley that can actually hold some influence over Washington's policies.

From the New Republic:

"When industry representatives came to D.C., they tended to speak of broad-minded, long-term goals, like encouraging innovation or creating space for venture capital, without translating them into specific policy proposals that Beltway insiders could understand. National Journal, for example, recently wrote about a meeting that took place two years ago between House Speaker Dennis Hastert and tech industry leaders; Hastert quickly ended the session when it became clear that they weren't there to discuss a particular proposal, but rather America's status as a technology leader.

"The industry's failure to connect in Washington was basically the result of two factors. For one thing, scrambling for political favors and government resources seemed unnecessary during the late-1990s boom, when high-tech companies foresaw a future of unlimited, market-driven growth. What's more, the libertarian ethos of Silicon Valley translated poorly into the world of political lobbying. This didn't mean that companies didn't lobby--just that their efforts were usually disorganized, and that they tended not to work together. There were high-tech lobbying groups aplenty--the Technology Network, the American Electronics Association (now the AeA), the Electronics Industry Alliance, the Computer Systems Policy Project, the Information Technology Industry Council--but they shared a mentality that prized individual accomplishment over cooperation. Meanwhile, Microsoft and other industry giants were large enough to look out for themselves, and were unwilling to encourage industry-wide coordination that might threaten their positions as the high-tech chorus masters. "Starting with mid-1990s and the dot-com boom, high-tech executives were reluctant to get into public policy," says John Palafoutas, senior vice president at AeA. "They're basically libertarians in the way they approach government, and so it was always difficult to help companies engage Washington."

"That all changed, however, with the one-two punch of the dot-com collapse and the wave of corporate scandals. By mid-2002, many in Washington had concluded that business was too loosely regulated, and that new oversight mechanisms--including mandatory expensing of stock options--were needed. This change in climate served as a wake-up call to the high-tech industry, which could no longer ride the crest of an economic boom, and now found itself facing skepticism from lawmakers and the prospect of new regulations.

...

"They reached out to think tanks to provide intellectual heft--the American Enterprise Institute, for example, recently held a symposium on the dangers of expensing stock options. And they conducted numerous CEO "fly-ins" to D.C., most recently bringing more than 70 Silicon Valley small-business leaders to canvas Capitol Hill. It's a good bet that when they sat down with lawmakers this time, they set aside platitudes like technology leadership."




The New York Times--once again, following in the footsteps of another publication (the Howell Raines argument)--has a piece on Silicon Valley's political contributions. It seems evenly split between Bush and Kerry, with some favoring Bush's "pro-business attitude" and others supporting Kerry's pro-research policies.

Here's part of the article:

"But Mr. Gorenberg, who has been raising money for Senator Kerry's presidential bid for almost a year, argues that many high-tech executives approve of Mr. Kerry's record on technology issues.

""There has been a general feeling that Kerry, in the Senate, has been helping to move issues forward," he said, adding that Senator Kerry has visited with Silicon Valley executives at least 17 times since 2001.

"Among Senator Kerry's proposals are a permanent tax credit for research and development, incentives to promote the adoption of broadband networks nationwide and the elimination of capital gains taxes for new investments in small companies that are held for at least four years.

""Silicon Valley culture is pretty charged up," said Mr. Larsen of E-Loan, referring to Senator Kerry's supporters. "Gore's campaign was humiliating. Nothing frustrates the Silicon Valley crowd more than losing.""

Thoughts on Iraq

You may think I'm naive, but I'm going to suggest something hopelessly optimistic: the recent swell in violence (and the cease fire) in Iraq could produce an unexpected and successful outcome for the United States and Iraq. We're now engaging the radicals in some sort of dialogue. And if this cooperation continues, the rebels could develop a vested interest in the future of a democratic Iraq. These are people who have felt marginalized since Iraq's liberation, who hate the Governing Council. This is an opportunity to talk with these people, to try to convince them we're a fair and rational people. But, there are a lot of "ifs" in what I've just said, and I doubt the Bush administration has the diplomatic foresight to seize this opportunity.

Now, I'm trying to make a distinction between the rebels/radicals, who are mostly native Iraqis and who may have some (probably few) legitimate claims to unfair treatment by the Americans, and the terrorists, who are mostly foreigners and who live on an irrational hatred for the United States. The latter we have to destroy. There's no negotiating with them. I'm not sure if you can make a distinction between these two groups, but hopefully it's possible.

This is Why We Have Taxes

Here's a sad instance of where government policies and real-life disasters overlap. This time, it's lead levels in water. The Chicago Tribune reports on a public safety crisis in Washington:

"In what some are calling a major--and avoidable--public health crisis, thousands of homes and schools in the Washington area have been found to have water with exceedingly high lead levels.

...

"Many believe the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority did not inform residents of the problem in a timely manner. On April 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) said the water authority violated federal law by failing to properly notify residents. At least one resident has filed a lawsuit.

...

""It is probably a signal that similar problems may exist in many other systems nationwide," Ellen Silbergeld, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University, recently told the House Government Reform Committee (news - web sites).


"The EPA's rules on lead are too lax generally and not adequately enforced, experts say. And in many places, water monitoring is not as exacting as it should be, critics charge."


Also today, the Washington Post had a story on budget cuts in the national lead poisoning prevention program--a 20% cut from last year's figures. "[T]he proposed cut could mean that as many as 40,000 homes nationwide would not be made lead-safe next year."

According to the report:

"The $139 million Bush budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development's lead hazard control program is down from this year's $174 million expenditure. Advocacy groups say the proposed cut could mean that as many as 40,000 homes nationwide would not be made lead-safe next year. Jane Malone, housing policy director for the Alliance for Healthy Homes, said the cut would eliminate a $50 million HUD fund that awards competitive grants to cities or states with large numbers of older homes where lead-based paint was used."

Good Thing I Have That Bunker in the Arctic

Here's a "catastrophe calculator" for those excessive worriers. You can now figure out what sort of danger you'd be in if an asteroid were to hit Earth. "This program will estimate the seismic, blast wave, and thermal effects of an impact as well as the size of the crater produced by the impact. The crater size is determined using pi-scaling." Good to know.

USA Today gives one scenario:

"I started by dropping a 9.3-mile-wide (15-kilometer) asteroid — the estimated size of the suspected dinosaur killer — on San Francisco.

"The Bay Area doesn't do so well.

"The resulting crater, at 113 miles (181 kilometers) wide, pretty much tells the story. The entire metropolis vanishes faster than you can say where you left your heart. What isn't consumed is knocked over in an earthquake of magnitude 10.2, bigger than any in recorded history. Heat from a scorching fireball would turn much of the state, and parts of others, into toast.

"The quick end to the Bay Area turns out to be a blessing compared to what Los Angeles residents face.

"About 10 seconds after impact, radiation from the fireball sears Southern California, igniting clothing and even plywood. Within two minutes the ground under Hollywood begins to shake. Weak brick structures crumble. Concrete irrigation ditches are damaged. Frame houses not properly bolted to their foundations are knocked off. Even tree branches fall.

"And then it gets nasty."

And in Dover, Three Chimps Were Spotted...

Here are two, animal-related stories. They're stupid, but funny.

BBC is making a movie about the Tamworth Two (or Butch and Sundance)--two pigs who escaped from a slaughterhouse five years ago, and who became international celebrities once their story reached the papers. For those fans of the Office, you'll be excited to hear that Actress Lucy Davies, who plays Dawn, will provide the voice for Sundance.

This line is so sad, it almost makes me want to become a vegetarian: "The plucky porkers escaped the abattoir knife in the western English town of Malmesbury by burrowing under a fence and swimming across an icy river to freedom." But no, I love bacon too much.

Also, a German cat went on a hunger strike after being removed from his owner. The cat's diet of 4.4 pounds of mince a day wasn't very healthy; when officials found Mikesch, he was six times the weight of a normal cat. "[He] was so overweight he could not take more than four steps without becoming exhausted."

God, I'm embarrassed for posting these stories.

Gullible Liberals

The third segment on last night's "60 Minutes" looked at the impending--or more accurately--the immediate AIDS problem in India. Bob Simon said some critics suggest the administration has focused too much attention on absolute disaster areas, like Africa and the Caribbean, and neglected upcoming disasters like India. But as the New Republic points out, the Bush administration hasn't done much with the AIDS crisis in Africa, despite all the rhetoric.

"The problems with Bush's plan come down to two fundamental issues, the first of which is money. As The New Republic has noted before (see "Talk Is Cheap," July 21, 2003), initially the Bush administration strongly implied it would spend $3 billion per year over five years to fight aids in Africa and the Caribbean. But the White House's 2004 budget request asked Congress for only $2 billion (after some Democrats made a stink, Congress ultimately voted to spend $2.4 billion), and its 2005 budget proposal, now before Congress, calls for only $2.8 billion for its aids plan. The administration responds that it is merely "ramping up" the funding for its aids program and that, beginning with the 2006 budget, it will spend more than $3 billion per year. But, with budgetary pressures sure to increase in the next few years and with Bush having already pocketed the political capital he received from his aids proposal, it's dubious the full funding will ever come."

Here are most brilliant portions:

"Alas, some 14 months after Bush announced his aids plan, it seems the left's cynicism was warranted. As it has so many times before--whether with the No Child Left Behind Act or the Iraq war--the Bush administration's implementation has betrayed those liberals who gave the president's early rhetoric the benefit of the doubt."

And later:

"All of which has led some liberal critics of Bush's aids plan to conclude that the administration devised the plan--which is being run by former Eli Lilly CEO Randall Tobias--purely as a gift to U.S. drug companies. "They are trying to hand the U.S. global aids plan over to Big Pharma," Health GAP's Sharonann Lynch recently complained to The Washington Post. Once, we'd have said that charge was ridiculous. No longer. "

Like TNR, I was a moderate liberal who supported some of Bush's initiatives, like his AIDS plan, the Iraq war, and No Child Left Behind. And in each of these cases, President Bush deceived us. Either with a lack of funding or exaggerated intelligence reports, Bush failed to live up to his promises.

He Looks Great With His Copy of the Weekly Standard

Maybe you don’t see eye-to-eye with those Queer Eye folks. Maybe they’re a bit too liberal for your tastes. Then the Web’s got the program that’s perfect for you: Right-Wing Eye for the Liberal Guy.

Republican Convention

Thanks to Mr. Noah Chernin for sending me this link. The NYPD are sure going to have their hands full this summer/fall with the Republican Convention.

McCain is Out

I guess all good things have to come to an end. Yesterday, on “Meet the Press,” Sen. McCain insisted that he would not run as John Kerry’s vice presidential candidate under any circumstances. Maybe having pro-lifer on the ticket wouldn’t have been such a smart idea.

I'm Booking My Ticket to Vegas

This man is my hero. I was sure he'd lose it all.

4/11/2004

9/11 Commission

With all of the discussion over the 9/11 hearings, I'm surprised I haven't heard anyone mention Bush's business school background. I agree with what all of the pundits have said: neither administration is to blame for the attacks; bureaucratic lag is at fault. What will ultimately be learned from the hearings is this: we need to attack the bureaucratic barriers within the American government, and create greater cooperation between the various intelligence agencies.

However, we also have to remember that Bush was the first president to have earned an MBA. He campaigned as a candidate who understood organizations, bureaucracies, administrative hierarchies and the inherent weaknesses within those systems. The tensions between the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies had been well documented for years and years. Bush, the candidate, certainly knew about that problem. You would think that, as a student of business, Bush would make an FBI/CIA overhaul a top priority for his new administration. Sadly, that was not the case.

Today's Alamo

Bush has retreated to Crawford, Texas in the wake of last week's Iraqi upheaval. With the release of the Alamo, I can’t help but think that Bush has set himself up for a political slaughter. His recent “vacation,” though, isn’t anything out of the ordinary; Bush has been absent from Washington for 40% of his administration, according to the Washington Post. Here Kerry’s response:

"Campaigning in Milwaukee, Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, said: "I notice President Bush is taking some days off down at Crawford, Texas, and I'm told that when he takes days off, you know, he totally relaxes: He doesn't watch television, he doesn't read the newspapers, he doesn't make long-term plans, doesn't worry about the economy. I thought about that for a moment. I said, sounds to me like it's just like life in Washington, doesn't it?"

"White House communications director Dan Bartlett retorted that Bush is "not skiing" in Texas, as Kerry did on a recent vacation in Idaho. He said Bush remains in contact with his military advisers and is spending Easter weekend with his family. "Most Americans will understand that," Bartlett said.

"This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency."

Bush, Another Failed Business Venture

With all of the discussion over the 9/11 hearings, I'm surprised I haven't heard anyone comment on Bush's business school background. I agree with what all of the pundits have said: neither administration is to blame for the attacks; bureaucratic lag is to blame. What will ultimately be learned from the hearings will be this: we need to attack the bureaucratic barriers within the American government, and create greater cooperation between the various intelligence agencies.

However, we also have to remember that Bush was the first president to have earned an MBA. He campaigned as a candidate who understood organizations, bureaucracies, administrative hierarchies and the inherent weaknesses within those systems. The tensions between the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies were well known for years and years. Bush, the candidate, certainly knew about that problem. You would think that, as a student of business, Bush would make an FBI/CIA overhaul a top priority for his new administration. Sadly, that was not the case.