5/07/2004

Human Rights

It’s well known that President Bush prides himself on having the strongest human rights record of any American president (or at least that’s what he likes to say).

Contrary to his claims, this release from the State Department sums it up:

Notice to the Press
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 4, 2004

Postponement of Release of “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2003-2004”

The release of “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2003-2004” scheduled for May 5, 2004 has been postponed for technical reasons that have held up completion of the report. We will announce a new date for the release of the report once it reaches the final stage of printing.
2004/489

[End]

Released on May 4, 2004

Apologies

Over the past few weeks, I’ve posted a number of items on the use of apologies in modern politics. It started last month with the president’s press conference, when reporter after reporter asked Bush to speak on the administration’s failures. No luck there. Bush denied that there were any problems, and continued to speak on the coalition’s success in liberating Iraq. Unfortunately for the administration, the subject didn’t die with the press conference.

The Abu Ghraib affair strikes at the heart of this issue and it will serve as a character test for the Bush administration. So far it has done a miserable job, but yesterday the president muttered a few words—one of them being the dreaded “s” word. Finally!!! I’d count it as a miracle.

TNR and Salon’s War Room have both done a thorough job following the “apology” case. Read how Chris Strohm in TNR ranks the most recent apologies:

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt
Kimmitt, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, yesterday gave the most sincere apology of any American to date: "My Army's been embarrassed by this," he said. "My Army's been shamed by this. And on behalf of my Army, I apologize for what those soldiers did to your citizens. It was reprehensible and it was unacceptable. And it is more than just words, that we have to take those words into action and ensure that never happens again. And we will make a full-faith effort to ensure that never happens again."

Army Major General Geoffrey D. Miller
Miller, who was brought in last month to replace Brigadier General Janis Karpinski as the superintendent of prisons, also directly apologized to Iraqis Wednesday. "I would like to personally apologize to the people of Iraq for the actions of the small number of leaders and soldiers who violated our policy and may have committed criminal acts. We are investigating those acts as rampantly as possible and will bring those responsible to the bar of justice."

Both Miller and Kimmitt get extra credit for their compelling use of the second person in addressing Iraqis directly--rather than talking generally about how terrible the abuses were, as others have done.

President George W. Bush
In interviews with Al-Arabiya and Al Hurra satellite television networks yesterday, Bush said the actions were "abhorrent" but offered no apology. "We've discovered these abuses. They're abhorrent abuses," he said during the Al Hurra interview. "The actions of these few people do not reflect the hearts of the American people. The American people are just as appalled at what they have seen on TV as Iraqi citizens have. The Iraqi citizens must understand that."

Bush's statement falls short on a few counts. First, he didn't apologize. (Of course, as we know, he never does.) Then, rather than speaking to Iraqis directly, he spoke about them in the third person: "The Iraqi citizens must understand that." Sounds more like a command than an expression of contrition.
Finally, worse than not bothering to apologize himself, Bush let his spokesman apologize for him. "We've already said that we're sorry for what occurred and we're deeply sorry to the families and what they must be feeling and going through as well," Scott McClellan said later in the day. "The president is sorry for what occurred and the pain that it has caused."

Reporters pointed out that Bush hadn't actually apologized. "The president is deeply sorry," McClellan restated. "I'm saying it for him right now." Well, that settles it.

Colin Powell
Powell pulled the exact same move as Bush--declining to apologize, and letting his spokesman do it for him. "We are all terribly distressed and shocked by those photos and by what those photos said about the manner in which the troops there were doing their job," he said. "And as you've heard the president, you've heard Secretary Rumsfeld, myself and others say, it's unacceptable. We are a nation that believes in justice. We are a nation that's governed by the rule of law, and nowhere is that more the case than in the armed forces of the United States."

On Saturday, Powell's spokesman, Richard Boucher, had offered the State Department's apology, saving his boss the indignity of having to do it himself. Boucher told The Boston Globe that the United States is "very sorry" that the abuse occurred, and will do everything in its "power to make sure it doesn't happen again."

John Kerry
Kerry ranks low on this list because, given the chance to show how he might have handled this situation better than his rival, he simply demurred. He was, to be sure, critical. "The horrifying abuse of Iraqi prisoners, which the world has now seen, is absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable," he said. "And the response of the administration, certainly the Pentagon, has been slow and inappropriate." But he remained noncommittal when pressed by reporters on whether Bush should apologize to the Iraqi people or whether he would apologize if he were president. He said the investigation first needs to determine how high up the chain of command responsibility goes. "The person who speaks on behalf of [the United States], the president of the United States, needs to offer the world an explanation and needs to take appropriate responsibility," he said. "And if that includes apologizing for the behavior of those soldiers and what happened, we ought to do to that."

Joe Lieberman
Not to be outdone by Kerry, Lieberman went ahead and made himself an apologist for Bush's failure to apologize. Asked about Bush's remarks, he said: "It sure seemed to me that the tone of all of this was that we regret it. It was effectively an apology."

Donald Rumsfeld
Never the best at owning up to mistakes, Rumsfeld seems to believe that an apology from the United States should be assumed or implied. When prompted for an apology, Rumsfeld gave one of his typical responses: "Oh my goodness. Anyone, any American who sees the photographs that we have seen has to feel apologetic to the Iraqi people who were abused, and recognize that that is something that is unacceptable and certainly un-American." It's as if he's saying that what took place was so terrible, so obviously worthy of an apology, that it would be beneath him to actually offer one. Classic Rumsfeld logic.

End result: no apology.

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski
The most blatant failure to apologize has come from the person who probably should be taking the most responsibility. Karpinski, who was in charge of the prison system when the abuses occurred, has not apologized and even resists accepting blame for the incident. "I certainly take the responsibility for some of this because those soldiers were assigned to a company under my command," she told CNN on Tuesday. "Blame? I don't think that the blame rests with me or with the 800th MP Brigade. In fact it's unfair because we had 3,400 soldiers and 16 facilities and this was the only facility where interrogation operations were taking place and this is the only facility where there were infractions."

Jeopardy

I already have my Ti-Vo set for next week’s "Jeopardy." What a lineup: Ari Fleisher vs. Aaron Brown, Bob Woodward vs. Tucker Carlson. Oh boy, I can’t wait. My money’s on Tim Russert.

Disgusting...

For all those wishing to fulfill their sadomasochistic fantasies, visit these sites:

1. You too can become an interrogator at an Iraqi prison. And you can escape that pesky Code of Military Justice by working as an independent contractor. (The latest I’d heard, those two contractors implicated in the scandal were still working in Iraq.)

2. Before there was the Abu Ghraib affair, there were the doctored/un-doctored photos of the American soldier with his offensive and inappropriate sign. Now you can fill out that sign anyway you like. Some of the samples are pretty funny.

Rummy



On Wednesday, there was a leak from within the White House; it was said that President Bush reprimanded Rumsfeld for his handling of the Abu Ghraib affair. Bush apparently told the Defense secretary that he he was unhappy with Rumsfeld's performance and that we wish the secretary had notified him sooner.

But hold on a second. There was actually a leak? It’s well known that this administration does all it can to prevent leaks. And at such a critical moment, someone broke that sacred barrier?

I doubt it. To me, it looks as though this was a politically motivated move. The administration has put this message out in order to save its credibility and take some of the heat off Rumsfeld. What it says is that, “Yes, we’ve punished Rumsfeld. He knows he’s been a bad boy. Can we now move on?”

Since Kerry sealed the nomination, the media has raced through a scandal a week—sometimes two in a week. It’s nearly impossible to keep up. But you’ll notice this—each of the key players in Bush’s war cabinet has been under the spotlight at one point or another: Rice saw her moment of crisis with the 9/11 commission; Powell took some heat for his stubborn obedience to Bush in the lead up to the war, despite his “Pottery Barn” objections; and Cheney’s Westminster College speech was severely criticized by the school’s president.

No wonder the administration believes it can ride this one out. All the others have escaped punishment.

Yes, they’ll hold onto Rumsfeld—until he becomes a threat to Bush’s reelection. If the Abu Ghraib affair continues to grow, and continues to draw hash attacks, then Rove will have to consider its effects on the reelection campaign. And once Rove has doubts, you can probably say goodbye to Rumsfled.

Plenty of people are already saying that Rumsfeld should leave. For those views, read the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Tom Harkin. And there’s a petition.

5/05/2004

From the Fringe

It’s time for an update on those fringe candidates. I’ve been praying, praying, praying that “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore will jump into the race. He’d be a nice antidote to the Nader threat.

Read this recent piece in Salon:

“Meanwhile, the 57-year-old Moore is acting more and more like a candidate as he crisscrosses the country, speaking at gatherings of Christian rightists, home-schoolers and state conventions of the far-right Constitution Party, which was on 41 state ballots in the 2000 election, and is courting Moore to head its ticket. If he ran on the Constitution Party ticket, he would probably be on more state ballots than Nader this year. With 320,000 members it is the third-largest party in the U.S, in terms of registered voters.”

At the same time, Nader has struggled to get on state ballots. The Washington Times says:

“Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's campaign workers say they have been prevented by city ordinances from gathering signatures to get their candidate on the presidential ballot in Texas and other states.

“The impediment comes on the heels of a failed effort to use a simple ballot-access procedure in Oregon and highlights the difficulties that Mr. Nader, who announced his independent candidacy in February, is having getting his name on state ballots.

“He is not officially on the presidential ballot in any state yet, though Nader campaign officials say the process is still in its early stages.”


I’m still amazed that Nader attracts 6% of voters in the most recent Quinnipiac Poll. How can this be?

Christopher Hayes in TNR gives an excellent analysis of Nader's supposed support. According to Hayes, those voters who say they support Nader aren’t necessarily liberals or progressives; most likely they’re independents (roughly a third of all voters identify themselves as independents), who respond favorably when pollsters labeled Nader as an independent.

Here’s what Hayes writes:

“In fact, the more credible possibility is one that few Democrats seem to have considered: that the folks supporting Nader aren't progressives--or, for that matter, potential Kerry voters--at all; rather, they're largely apolitical types who, when queried by pollsters, default to any available third-party candidate.

“If you believe the first theory, then Nader's current support is coming mainly from those who backed Kucinich in the primaries and other left-wingers. These voters want a higher minimum wage, a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and universal health care.



“If you believe the alternative theory about Nader's support, then 5 percent of voters aren't choosing him because they agree with his politics, or even because they know that much about him. Rather, they say they're voting for Nader because he is referred to by pollsters as an "independent," and they are independents. "I think you basically have people that are not paying that much attention," says liberal pollster Ruy Teixeira, "and they're asked a horse race question: Would you vote for Republican George Bush, Democrat John Kerry, or independent Ralph Nader? And people say, 'What the hell, independent Ralph Nader.'" This doesn't mean that they are going to actually vote for Ralph Nader when the time comes. Says Teixeira, "My feeling is that it is a very light preference." (For the record, the ABC and Newsweek polls both identify Nader as an "independent"; the CBS poll does not, but it does identify Kerry as "the Democrat" and Bush as "the Republican," so it seems reasonable to guess that most voters infer Nader--the only candidate of the three not identified with a party--to be an independent.)”

Backlash

Last week, the liberal establishment went nuts, asking, why hasn’t Kerry’s responded to Bush’s attacks? where are the counter-attack ads? when will Kerry launch his campaign message? and so on. Well, there’s a backlash.

Chuck Todd in the Washington Monthly thinks Kerry has a chance of winning by a landslide. Is Bush the new Carter? Maybe.

Modern elections tend to work as referendums on the sitting president, and incumbents tend to win or lose by large margins. Polls for the 2004 campaigns say the race is remarkably tight, suggesting that Bush will not win by a large margin. The assumption then is that he’ll lose by a large margin.

“If you look at key indicators beyond the neck-and-neck support for the two candidates in the polls--such as high turnout in the early Democratic primaries and the likelihood of a high turnout in November--it seems improbable that Bush will win big. More likely, it's going to be Kerry in a rout.

“In the last 25 years, there have been four elections which pitted an incumbent against a challenger--1980, 1984, 1992, and 1996. In all four, the victor won by a substantial margin in the electoral college. The circumstances of one election hold particular relevance for today: 1980. That year, the country was weathering both tough economic times (the era of "stagflation"--high inflation concurrent with a recession) and frightening foreign policy crises (the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). Indeed, this year Bush is looking unexpectedly like Carter. Though the two presidents differ substantially in personal style (one indecisive and immersed in details, the other resolute but disengaged), they are also curiously similar. Both are religious former Southern governors. Both initially won the presidency by tarring their opponents (Gerald Ford, Al Gore) with the shortcomings of their predecessors (Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton). Like Carter, Bush is vulnerable to being attacked as someone not up to the job of managing impending global crises.

“Everyone expected the 1980 election to be very close. In fact, Reagan won with 50.8 percent of the popular vote to Carter's 41 percent (independent John Anderson won 6.6 percent)--which translated into an electoral avalanche of 489 to 49. The race was decided not so much on the public's nascent impressions of the challenger, but on their dissatisfaction with the incumbent.
“Nor was Carter's sound defeat an aberration. Quite the opposite. Of the last five incumbent presidents booted from office--Bush I, Carter, Ford, Herbert Hoover, and William Howard Taft--only one was able to garner over 200 electoral votes, and three of these defeated incumbents didn't even cross the 100 electoral-vote threshold: --1992: 370 (Bill Clinton) to 168 (George H. W. Bush) --1980: 489 (Ronald Reagan) to 49 (Jimmy Carter) --1976: 297 (Jimmy Carter) to 240 (Gerald Ford) --1932: 472 (FDR) to 59 (Herbert Hoover) --1912: 435 (Woodrow Wilson) to 88 (TR) to 8 (Taft)”


Tim Grieve in Salon also diagnoses the hysteria as “premature panic”:

“Yes, the Kerry campaign has been slow to organize itself, to get campaign operations up and running in could-be-crucial states like Ohio and Arizona, to define Kerry and to set him apart from Bush on the critical question of Iraq, to respond to -- or to take the high road above -- the incessant smears from the White House and its waves of surrogate attackers. But the race is young, Democratic strategists say, and this Bush is as vulnerable as the last one was.”

Bush's Race Politics

What the hell is he talking about? After last month’s press conference, a few critics ridiculed the president for his comments on skin color and democracy. It was probably an attempt to brand pacifists as racists; but still, it made no sense (Is anyone saying that Iraqis can’t govern themselves because they have darker skin? Does Bush believe that white is America’s official skin color?)

You would think that the race/democracy argument would be placed on the backburner after its disastrous debut. But no, Bush decided to recite it again last Friday while speaking with journalists in the Rose Garden.

According to the Washington Post:

“President Bush said yesterday that people who have skin that is "a different color than white" are capable of self-government.

...

‘"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern," Bush said.

‘"I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."

...

“White House press secretary Scott McClellan was peppered later with questions about what Bush meant. Bush never says who the people are who think that, and McClellan did not, either.”

Salon’s War Room responds to Bush’s comments to by pointing out:

“Actually, many others in the world join with the president in believing non-whites and Muslims can take part in democracy. In fact, the world's largest democracy is India where 125 million Muslims are among the more than 1 billion participating in self-government. And there's Bangladesh, a democracy with a Muslim majority. And let's not even start rattling off all the democracies where people with skin "a different color than white" live and vote. According to Freedom House, 121 of the world's 192 governments, or 63 percent, are electoral democracies, although the range of freedom and openness varies.”

Drugs

Marijuana’s up while LSD is down.

Sudan Update

I’ve offered plenty of criticism on the New York Times in the past, but occasionally the paper does deserve some credit. No other major paper or news source has covered the Sudan crisis as thoroughly as the Times.

The Sudanese government has permitted a band of Arab henchman to carry out a genocide in Darfur in the southern region, and the U.N. and the world community have turned their backs. The Times had a picture similar to this on its front page:



Today there were more stunning developments, as Sudan won reelection to the U.N. Human Rights Committee. I’m speechless (then again, with the U.N.’s record, maybe it shouldn’t be so surprised.)



And the U.S. walks out. Read this article:

'"Sichan Siv, the U.S. delegate to the council, accused Sudan of having no right to sit on the rights commission because of ethnic cleansing in Darfur where government troops are accused of backing Arab militia which pillage black Africa villages, raping and killing. The Khartoum government denies it is involved in ethnic cleansing.

'"The United States will not participate in this absurdity,'' said Siv before briefly walking out of council chambers. "Our delegation will absent itself from the meeting rather than lend support to Sudan's candidacy.'''

Sadr

Moqtada al-Sadr has been a dreadful nuisance for the U.S.-led coalition in recent weeks. Before he burst onto the scene back in April, few Americans knew about this man and his heritage. If you’d like to learn more about him, read this impressive profile by the Christian Science Monitor.

On April 24, the New York Times reported that Sadr was holed up in Najaf with some unhappy neighbors. According to the piece:

“But the soldiers he denounced were not Americans but members of the ragtag Shiite militia known as the Mahdi Army. Dozens of them, bristling with Kalashnikovs and grenade belts, surrounded the shrine even as Mr. Kubanchi spoke.

“They and their young spiritual leader, Moktada al-Sadr, had brought their war with the Americans to Najaf nearly three weeks ago, when they retreated here after a short-lived revolt against the occupation forces. More than 2,500 American soldiers have encircled the city in an attempt to flush out Mr. Sadr -- and the residents here are caught in the middle.

“''It's not brave to take refuge in the house or the mosque or the markets and use women and children as human shields,'' Mr. Kubanchi said of the Mahdi Army. ''They are people who are trying to cheat you, and they are people from the regime of Saddam Hussein, former intelligence officers. They want to drag you into battle to be destroyed. If that happens, the soldiers will attack Najaf, and our enemies will happily see our blood flow.''

“The standoff in Najaf has turned into a showdown between the clerics of the city and Mr. Sadr, as the religious and tribal leaders here try to nudge their unwanted neighbor out of town.”


Sadr’s neighbors have now had enough. Reuters says that some Shiite leaders are speaking out, voicing their criticisms of Sadr’s tactics. From Reuters:

“Iraqi Shi'ite political leaders called on Moqtada al-Sadr to disarm on Tuesday and vowed to forge a domestic solution to the brewing crisis involving the anti-U.S. cleric and the country's holiest cities.

“The move is the first collective effort by Sadr's political rivals to try to avoid further violence in Najaf and Kerbala, and regain political ground lost to the firebrand cleric, whose nationalist brand of Islam has gained him support.

‘"It is a shame to ask the occupation forces to solve this problem," Shi'ite leader Mohammad Bahr al-Uloum told a meeting of Shi'ite parties, including those on the Governing Council.”


I’d guess that this is part of the fall-out from those disastrous and devastating prison photos. The U.S. coalition is now launching a major overhaul its PR image. In addition to releasing hundreds of detainees from prison, the CPA is probably encouraging Shiite clerics to assume more control. Who knows, this may bring some sort of resolution.

5/04/2004

Al Franken's Competitors

It’s well known by now that Air America Radio has had some trouble paying its bills. Yes, the liberal news market hasn’t fully developed.

But that hasn’t stopped two well-known Democrats from entering the worlds of journalism and commentary.

Dean is in Hollywood this week, talking with Paramount Domestic Television. It’s rumored that he may get his own show.

And today, Gore announced that he had bought Newsworld International. He hopes “to build youth-oriented cable television network he hopes will become an independent voice in a media industry dominated by large conglomerates.”

Who knows. There’s still hope for liberal media.

Chickenhawk



It’s old news, but I get a kick out of the picture.

Links

Here are two useful sites I’ve found.

1. NGOWatch: A site that monitors non-government organizations. It looks good, but beware: it’s “a project of The American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society.”

2. MilitaryCity.com: A memorial to those killed in Iraq.

Cheney and the Draft

The Times takes a look at Cheney’s neglected deferment history. This excerpt is unbelievable:

“On Oct. 6, 1965, the Selective Service lifted its ban against drafting married men who had no children. Nine months and two days later, Mr. Cheney's first daughter, Elizabeth, was born. On Jan. 19, 1966, when his wife was about 10 weeks pregnant, Mr. Cheney applied for 3-A status, the "hardship" exemption, which excluded men with children or dependent parents. It was granted.”

Read the rest of the piece to find out how Cheney secured the other four deferments (“Five deferments [in total] seems incredible to me," said David Curry, a professor at the University of Missouri in St. Louis who has written extensively about the draft…” )

Conservatives for Kerry

While liberal pundits have been shouting and screaming over the Kerry campaign, two conservative have come out and said, "Kerry is on task" (or Bush is off task). David Brooks wrote an excellent piece for yesterday’s Times. I would agree with nearly everything he said, except for the line “Nobody is passionate about John Kerry.”

Democrats, though, will have their confidence restored with Brooks' message: the Kerry campaign is realigning itself for the general election. Part of that means taking on a more moderate and centrist tone. It also means listening to both the liberals and moderates within the party.

"They should relax. John Kerry is doing exactly what he should be doing right now. He is in a post-primary molting season. He's emerging from the shadow of Howard Dean and becoming more like the policy twin of Joe Lieberman: a pro-trade, fiscally conservative centrist Democrat who is willing to pour more troops into Iraq to win the war.

"If Kerry had charged ahead with a primary-season message, he would have come out as the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. He would have still been wailing about Benedict Arnold C.E.O.'s and Iraq's descent into a new Vietnam. He would have stressed the evils of globalization, and blamed the Bush administration for exaggerating the terror threat to stoke a climate of fear.

"That's a one-way ticket to McGovernsville. Even liberals know liberalism doesn't win general elections; that's why they decided not to nominate Dean in the first place. So Kerry is absolutely correct to take some time off, retool the message and play the quadrennial game that smart nominees play: Shaft the Left.



"Kerry now insists he is not "a redistributionist Democrat." He flees from the word "liberal." He is quick to mention his support for the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing bill. His Clintonesque "Contract With the Middle Class" speech last week was straight out of the gospel of the Democratic Leadership Council. His speech on Iraq on Friday, while a tad vacuous, sounded more like a Bush speech than a Ted Kennedy speech.




"Nor is the process over. Compared with the Gore effort, this is a pretty inclusive campaign. The Kerry people take input from all wings of the Washington Democratic establishment. And all the factions recognize that Kerry can't just present a laundry list of policies. He has to come up with a narrative in which he casts himself as an Andrew Jackson-style populist reformer, incorporating the policies of the center with the anti-plutocrat language of the left. That's what the big brains are working on now."


Then today, in the Washington Post, George Will offered some advice to the Bush team: start “seeing the realities of Iraq.” Will takes the campaign to task for the mindless comments on skin color and democracy, and says Bush better develop a more sophisticated and insightful understanding of Iraq:

‘“That is one way to respond to questions about the wisdom of thinking America can transform the entire Middle East by constructing a liberal democracy in Iraq. But if any Americans want to be governed by politicians who short-circuit complex discussions by recklessly imputing racism to those who differ with them, such Americans do not usually turn to the Republican choice in our two-party system.

“This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how "all people yearn to live in freedom" (McClellan). And about how it is "cultural condescension" to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a "myth" that "our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture" because "ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit" (Tony Blair).

“Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Here we reach the real issue about Iraq, as distinct from unpleasant musings about who believes what about skin color.



“Ron Chernow's magnificent new biography of Alexander Hamilton begins with these of his subject's words: "I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." That is the core of conservatism.

“Traditional conservatism. Nothing "neo" about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix.”

This is similar to what I said yesterday in regards to the no-apology policy; if Bush has any hopes of winning reelection, he better work on restoring his credibility.

5/03/2004

And The Award Goes To Kofi Annan..

What are U.N. ambassadors discussing these days? The oil-for-food scandal? The upcoming transition in Iraq? The Sudan crisis?

No, they’re trying to get their acting careers off the ground. It seems some ambassadors are upset that they’ve excluded from the upcoming Sydney Pollock-Nicole Kidman-Sean Penn film, which is set at the UN.

From the BBC:

“Jordan's UN ambassador, Prince Zeid Al Hussein, said: "It's a great shame we weren't allowed to have bit parts in this movie because we're very familiar with the setting.

‘"We're very familiar with the work of interpreters... and we feel well attuned to do that sort of thing."

“Mr Arias added: "My opportunity to have a nomination for the Oscar next year went away because of some stupid regulation."’

I hope he’s joking.

Veeps

Why do I do this? Everyday I post another update on the Veeps race. I know, as does everyone else, that it’s pointless to speculate on the contest. When the candidate is announced a week or two before the convention, most people--even the pundits--will be surprised by Kerry’s choice. Who would have guessed that Gore would choose an Orthodox Jew for a New England state? With Clinton, it was a risk to have two, young Southerners on the same ticket. And Cheney couldn’t offer a state saturated with electoral votes. So why shouldn’t we expect another unlikely candidate this year?

Fine. Now that we know it’s all fun and games, why not speculate a bit? My NCAA picks went out the window after the first weekend; maybe I’ll have better luck with CNN’s VP bracket.

And Robert Novak made the case today for Sen. Biden, who, over the past year, has made himself into a high-profile Democrat with a respectable foreign relations background. I still don’t know why he didn’t run for the No.1 job.

The Apology

So much has already been said about the Bush non-apology policy. That wave of interest probably reached a peak the night of President Bush’s press conference, when a number of journalists asked Bush to comment on his earlier mistakes. Of course, Bush stonewalled them, saying his presidency had a spotless record.

Nothing infuriates me more about the Bush administration than this policy of non-apology. It’s blatant intellectual dishonesty. It reminds me of Bush’s history on certain scientific and environmental issues: the administration will distort facts to the benfit of its own policies. Honesty and integrity will always be sacrificed for some political gain (though, in the case of the non-apology, the gain is marginal, if not nonexistent).

Jacob Levy in TNR summaries it best when he says: “Why is the administration's non-apologetic line so disastrous? In part because taking responsibility would strengthen its hand considerably. The White House has lost credibility in Iraq as well as with the American public about its seriousness in the project of stabilizing the occupied country. That loss of credibility is now spiraling.”

A presidency can longer survive once it loses its credibility. And slowly but surely, the American public is waking up to the fact that Bush's credibility gap has turned into a credibility canyon.

On the subject of political apologies, read John Leo’s piece in the Daily News. He describes the types of apologies employed by politicians. There's the misdirection conditional (Sen. Dodd), the accusatory nonconditional (Richard Clarke), and so on. It’s a very intelligent piece.

Buffet Joins Kerry Team

You may remember that Warren Buffett advised Arnold Schwarzenegger on economic matters during Schwarzenegger’s run for the governorship. It worked for the Terminator, and now Buffet is advising Kerry. It’s a good move for the Kerry camp.

Africa Update

I promised last month to provide a weekly summary of the news from Africa, and by now, the second installment is long overdue. As you’d expect, there’s much to report.

1. Nigeria: Tensions between Nigerian Muslims and Christians have been on the rise for the past few weeks. On Friday, Reuters reported that more than 100 people were killed and 1,000 injured in clashes between rival tribes. Also last week, the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara installed Sharia as state law. And today the BBC says the police broke up opposition protests that were scheduled in Lagos and Abuja.

2. Tanzania: Police arrest and question a militant Islamic cleric on his involvement with various arson and bombing incidents.

3. Uganda: Civil war continues to plague northern Uganda.

4. South Africa: Last month, the A.N.C. increased its presence within the South African government. Just days after the election, a whites-only enclave, Orania, started issuing its own currency. The act can only be interpreted as a move towards self-governance and independence. And Salon asks us to "Meet the Buppies,” South Africa’s new black elite.

5. Sudan: Amnesty International says fighting continues in the Darfur region, despite the April 8 ceasefire agreement.

Condi Update

Last week I posted on Condi’s recent slip at a dinner party (‘"As I was telling my husb—" before abruptly breaking off and correcting herself: "As I was telling President Bush."’). Laura Kipnis at Slate gives a more in-depth look at the incident, and explains how it relates to today's scandal-driven media:

“If the media get whipped up when politicians make slips of the tongue, lining up to play the interpretation game, it's like co-dependents handing a corkscrew to an alcoholic: a form of complicity. Bush and Rice assure us that we're winning the war as the body count mounts, the administration vastly expands presidential power and executive secrecy, and the press keeps busy parsing sentences and monitoring slips, including jumping all over Bush for stumbling on the dumb press conference question about his "biggest mistake" since 9/11. As if there were one mistake that could be singled out?”

WHCD

Leno missed some and hit some at Saturday’s White House correspondents’ dinner. But that’s as far as I got. CSPAN’s coverage only showed the dinner itself, and all the action apparently takes place later in the night at the Bloomberg after party. I was told that my invitation was lost in the mail. Here’s the Times’ summary:

“The Bloomberg party is where C-Span meets "Access Hollywood" to create a nerdier stepsister of Vanity Fair's Oscar fete. (Celebrities expected to appear this year include Drew Barrymore, Anna Kournikova and Drew Carey, though not Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York, who as a public official is now significantly distanced from the company he founded, Bloomberg L.P.) It's the most desired ticket in a town where other much-sought invitations include those to Alan Greenspan's Fourth of July rooftop bash and the White House Easter Egg Roll.



“Bloomberg extends only 700 invitations, which, when all is said and done, inflate to 1,000 guests. Those automatically included are senior White House officials, top political appointees and the members of Congress who are expected to be at the dinner. After that, it becomes a capricious free-for-all that leaves some of Washington's most recognized names stranded on the sidelines.

“The groveling e-mail, cajoling voice mail messages and gift baskets start flowing from Capitol Hill and from newsrooms weeks in advance. Their destination: anyone who has an association with Bloomberg, even friends of people who once worked for Bloomberg.”

Kerry Biking

Kerry falls off his bike. A metaphor for his campaign? He left uninjured, so that’s a good sign.

5/02/2004

Edwards

Bob Edwards, you’ll be missed. For years and years, I listened to Morning Edition as I got ready for school. I have too may fond memories to select just one.

Scammer Update

A few days ago I linked to a site that has one man’s correspondences with a group of Nigerian con-artists. Having read those emails, I was shocked to read this story: a Harvard professor fell for the scam. The guy not only destroyed himself, but he lost savings given to him by co-workers. The co-workers put up the money, thinking it was going to a SARS charity. Read this story; it’s unbelievable.

"Former Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researcher and Harvard University professor Weldong Xu, 38, was contacted by the lads from Lagos and promised $50m in quick profit.

"We assume that the usual "unforseen expenses" scenario soon kicked in, since Xu began to solicit funds for his philanthropic far-eastern venture.

"Among the 35 individuals who fell for the scam was a friend who remortgaged his house to support Xu's initiative. Boston police detective Steve Blair noted: "These are co-workers who trusted him and believed in him and took him for his word."'

RoveHos

For all those Karl Rove fans out there, here’s the site for you.

Brock

The New York Times reports that David Brock “will start a new Internet site this week that he says will monitor the conservative media and correct erroneous assertions in real times.” (Sounds like the Center for American Progress’ “Claim vs. Fact” database.) The project is funded with $2 million given in donations to Brock by liberals contributors.

If you’ve forgotten Brock's career as a conservative, Clinton basher turned vengeful Democrat, read these pieces: David Horowitz’s “Believe David Brock at your own risk” and Christopher Hitchens' "The Real Dvid Brock."

The Veep Race

Larry Sabato with the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia gives his views on the strongest candidates for Kerry’s VP slot. The Sabato analysis seems sound: look at the few battleground states, look at which candidates would bring his (yes, most of them are men) battleground state into the Kerry camp, and look at which states mean the most for Kerry’s electoral count.

Till now, I’ve said both Sen. Evan Bayh and Gov. Bill Richardson would make good picks, and both men do make Sabato’s list. Also top candidates, according to Sabato, are John Breaux, Dick Gephardt, Jay Rockefeller, and Sam Nunn as a wild card choice.

Here’s his reasoning:

“Sophisticated polling is needed to determine which ones have the best chance to guarantee a Kerry victory in their states. Richardson is a sure bet for New Mexico, but the prize is small and would likely go Democratic anyway. Could he also carry Arizona? Jay Rockefeller, we'd bet, could tip West Virginia to Kerry. John Breaux in Louisiana and Evan Bayh in Indiana have tougher tasks in their very pro-Bush states--but what a prize either state would be! How would Bush recover? Dick Gephardt has never run statewide in a Missouri election, so Kerry would be right to demand some Show-Me evidence that the congressman could perform the trick. If Gephardt can pass the test, he would be golden for this ticket.

“The wild card would make for a fascinating race in the Peach State. At one time the king of Georgia's political mountain, Nunn has been out of the news since leaving the Senate in early 1997. Does he still have the old magic? Could he force Bush to spend real money in a dark-Red state? Would his encyclopedic knowledge of foreign and domestic policy--not to mention the national security issue--outweigh his vote against the 1991 Persian Gulf War (reinforcing Kerry's own anti-war vote)?

“So many questions, so little time for the Kerry campaign to answer. Yet the choice of Kerry's VEEP is more critical than many would concede. It will significantly help to fill in the many blank spaces Americans have in their portrait of the Democrat who would be President.”

Bush Likes To Eat Mints While Naked?

Bush, the mint lover? Bush, the naked debater? Two separate pieces I read this weekend described Bush in those situations.

First, the New Republic retells a portion of the Woodward book, in which Bush hordes the mints placed out before a meeting of the Joint Chiefs. You’ll get a chuckle when they compare Bush to Homer Simpson.

Then today the Times gave a summary of a supposed debate that took place between Kerry and Bush in the locker room at Yale. The debate was over “busing,” but it’s unclear what sort of busing they were discussing: busing children to wealthier school districts or the Freedom Rides. The real question though is whether they were naked or not, according to the Times.

Corzine

Sen. Corzine got a favorable job assessment in today’s Times. No longer is he the man who bought his way into the U.S. Senate. Now he’s the man bringing in the money for the Senate’s Democrats.

The piece also teased Democrats with a beautiful yet delusional vision: a Senate in the hands of Democrats:

“[Corzine] got the job for a simple reason, said Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader: nobody else asked for it.

"That was in December 2002 when, Mr. Daschle said, "the prospects for success looked less than encouraging." But the party has gotten some lucky breaks. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Republican of Colorado, unexpectedly decided to retire. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, faces a tough primary challenge. And the Democrats have recruited strong candidates in unlikely states, like South Carolina.

"Some independent experts now say the idea of a Democratic Senate, while still a long shot, is no longer so far-fetched.

'"I would say right now Republican chances of holding onto the Senate have dropped from 80 to 90 percent to, say, 60 percent," said Charlie Cook, publisher of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Five or six months ago, you might have said, `Corzine, he's working hard, but he got dealt a bad hand of cards.' But he's got to have a real spring in his step today."

"Mr. Corzine, 57, does not have a spring in his step; he has been hobbling around on crutches, plagued by what his doctors say is an old football injury or gout. But he has been relentlessly cheery about Democratic prospects, telling contributors that if the election were today, the Senate would be 52-to-48 Democratic. Republicans call it fuzzy math, especially in light of Senator Arlen Specter's victory in Pennsylvania's Republican primary this week."

Kerry Hysteria

This Sunday, the hysteria over the Kerry campaign finally reached the front page of the New York Times. The piece raised the same issues and asked the same questions we’ve heard time and time again: where's Kerry? why hasn’t he set his campaign message yet? and why doesn’t he counter Bush’s attacks with stronger responses?

Not to worry, I say. The report briefly discusses the view advanced by some calmer Democrats:

“Mr. Kerry's aides and some Democrats outside the campaign described the concerns as overstated, and said that any drift that might be taking place now would have little meaning next fall. They said Mr. Kerry had used the spring to raise money and that a war room and offices in Ohio and other battleground states would open shortly. And they noted that independent organizations had picked up a lot of the slack so far with big expenditures on television advertising and get-out-the-vote operations.
"This campaign has got six months to go," said Steve Elmendorf, a deputy campaign manager. "He goes out daily and talks about his vision for the country and his vision for the future. You have to take the long view here. You're not going to win every day, and you're not going to win every week."

“Mr. Elmendorf added, "I know people are feeling anxious timing-wise, but you have to build a national campaign."

“Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, said Mr. Kerry was "doing better than he's perceived to be doing," adding, "He's starting to get his sea legs."

‘"I'm not worried — I really am not," Mr. Biden said. "Democrats are so, so, so hungry to defeat Bush that they get so up when things look up and get so down when things look down."’


Ryan Lizza in the New Republic offers an excellent analysis of the Kerry strategy. Kerry is taking the heat now with the belief that the Bush’s message and resources will wear out later. This will ultimately allow Kerry to offer a move effective message late in the campaign. Hence, the Rope-a-dope. It’s a reckless move, buy the strategy could pay off.

From Lizza's "Rope-a-dope":

“But, whatever the explanation, the Kerry strategy may not be so bizarre. Indeed, after absorbing the full brunt of Bush's most concentrated attack for eight weeks, the race is essentially tied. And that is before Kerry has really started to return his fire. When I asked one of Kerry's most influential advisers about the criticism of the campaign's decision to lay low through March and April, he sharply dismissed the complaints and pointed out that just because Kerry has been almost invisible over the last eight weeks doesn't mean the campaign hasn't been doing anything. He pointed to the Iowa caucuses, where the campaign quietly laid the groundwork for victory even as the press dismissed Kerry as a goner and hinted at a similar effort this time around. "I'm not paying attention to you guys anymore," he said.

“So what has Kerry been doing in the weeks since clinching the nomination? Raising money--more money than any presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, has ever raised in a single quarter. While Bush burned through over $50 million in the last two months, almost one-third of the total he has raised, Kerry banked $55 million.

“The Bush strategy was to use the ad blitz to put the race away by the end of April. But Kerry's money has exposed several flaws in the Bush campaign's assumptions about the race. First of all, the White House originally assumed that a bloody Democratic primary would force the eventual nominee to spend so much money that he would be hemmed in by restrictive spending caps that come with taking federal dollars. But, following Howard Dean's lead, Kerry opted out of that system and its rules for the primaries.

“More important, the White House assumed the Democratic nominee would simply have no money to spend. But, within 48 hours of Super Tuesday, March 2, Kerry raised $4.6 million online. The money never stopped pouring in. Kerry raised $42.8 million in March alone, fueled by 200,000 individual online donations. "That allowed us to bridge the gap as we got into the traditional fund-raising," says Michael Meehan, a senior Kerry aide. On March 29, Kerry pivoted to wealthier donors and embarked on a monthlong fund-raising tour to hit up $2,000-check-writers in 20 cities. As Tad Devine, a senior Kerry strategist, pointed out in an April 21 call with reporters, Al Gore had just $9 million to spend from Super Tuesday to the convention. John Kerry will have about $100 million.”

Gaddis Book

Two weeks ago, I bought a copy of John Gaddis’ new book, titled Surprise, Security and the American Experience, and since then I’ve been reading it alongside Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. There’s no real connection between the two, but both are great works. For the Gaddis book, read this Commentary review.

Gaddis argues that Bush’s policies of unilateralism, preemption and hegemony are not new trends within American foreign policy, but they’ve in fact been the dominant forces in shaping America’s relations with the rest of the world for centuries. Most of his argument is based on his rendition of the history and effect of unexpected invasions on America soil (British invasion of Washington in August, 1814 and Pearl Harbor). His points are intriguing and convincing. I’d highly recommend reading this book.