California: Old v. New Politics
While California Democrats are focused on the tight June 6 gubernatorial primary between Phil Angelides against Steve Westly, another intensely competitive Democratic race is drawing serious interest far beyond the 12th Assembly District which includes western San Francisco… read full story
The most interesting acknowledgement in their joint news conference Thursday night was the concession by Bush and Blair that personal mistakes were made in the clumsy execution of the Iraq war.
A defensive Bush told the New York Times… read full story
NFL Spends Bucks, Defers Decision
Skittish NFL owners Tuesday moved nearer the goal line on whether to return professional football to the nation’s second-largest media market, deciding to spend $10 million to help Los Angeles and Anaheim with design and engineering sites at two… read full story
NFL Draft: L.A. or Anaheim
A special committee of NFL owners meets today in Denver and will make a presentation to the entire membership tomorrow about returning professional football to the Loa Angeles area for the first time since 1994. The owners are expected… read full story
New U.S. Refrain: Fence Me In
The lyrics of Cole Porter’s classic 1940s song, “Don’t Fence Me In,” have taken on a chilling new meaning in Bushworld. The hysterical illegal immigration debate shows no sign of resolution soon with the Senate voting to construct a… read full story
Politics: Will Text Messages Replace the Internet?
Three years ago Joe Trippi, the pioneering manager of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, brought blogging to politics. In a provocative Newsweek web exclusive (5.19), the strategist, who I first met in L.A. during Walter Mondale’s ill-fated 1984 campaign,… read full story
Arnold Repays; He and Antonio Bond
Arnold Schwarzenegger, still unpopular and facing reelection, is moving at flank speed to make nice with some of the Democratic-leaning constituencies he deeply angered with a special election campaign last November when all four of his reform initiatives lost.… read full story
Bush and Latinos
The tardy decision by President Bush - made on a long April weekend in California - to address the festering issue of undocumented immigrants and tighter border security and controversial use of the National Guard in a nationally televised… read full story
L.A. Times Backs Angelides
Sunday’s endorsement by the Los Angeles Times of Phil Angelides over Steve Westly in the June Democratic primary for governor is somewhat curious.
The editorial notes that both wealthy candidates ought to pose a formidable challenge to incumbent… read full story
Legal: Database Phone Spying?
Just in. As I suspected, that snap Washington-Post-ABC News poll showing overwhelming support for last week’s revelation by USA Today that the secret National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans since… read full story
Big Brother and You
W.’s cryptic statement Thursday denying that the government is “mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans” to protect them from another al Qaeda attack is a revived Republican effort to play the fear card. It may… read full story
Pat Brown, Tony Snow and stuff…
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s State of the State address promised the biggest infrastructure bond package for the November ballot since the legendary gubernatorial reign of Pat Brown 45 years ago. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the governor and Democratic… read full story
Weekender: W. Meltdown and more…
Administration stumbles continue. W, newly self-proclaimed at Oklahoma State University this weekend as a fellow ìcowboy,î sees his poll numbers plunge anew; signs of a divide deepen within GOP House and Senate ranks as midterms approach. Bill Fristís 100-buck gas rebate was a maximum gaffe; don’t expect the feds to investigate possible oil gouging; and forget illegal immigrant reform this year.
Voters sense the deck chairs are falling overboard and, well, itís too late for a crash attempt at rebranding. The party opposite here, like the Tories in Britain, doesnít have a real plan yet but, hey, they donít need one with lifejackets in the water. But, despite Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s disclosure of an activist agenda, it’s too soon for bombast.
Wís choice of Porter Goss was a predictable disaster for an already demoralized CIA after the incompetent George Tenet got a Congressional Medal of Freedom for telling 43. what he wanted to hear about Iraq. Reports surface of a high-ranking CIA scandal involving gambling, bribes and womenÖCan Gen. Michael Hayden, W.ís reported choice and architect of the domestic eavesdropping program, win Senate confirmation?ÖIsnít the battle for control of intelligence now between Haydenís boss, DNI John Negroponte, and the even more controversial and publicly heckled Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon?
Tricky Dick Cheney, whose poll positives near single digits, works former Soviet satellites adjoining Russia in a renewed push for democratic reforms. An outraged Moscow media views the shadow president as trying to restart the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, hosting the G8 summit in July, will push back. Didnít W. say once he looked into Vís soul and could work with him? Hint: Itís about Iran and nukes…As for Karl Rove, W’s consigliere, the hunch grows a decision is near on a possible indictment.
California: Last weekís L.A. debate between Phil Angelides and Steve Westly for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination did nothing to discourage earlier polling data that Westly is still significantly ahead and a cooler challenger for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
On the day of massive L.A. immigrant rallies, the governor left the state and neither Democratic challenger issued a statement. But on Friday Schwarzenegger, a U.S. and Austrian citizen, attacked both W. and Congress for failing to enact a sensible immigration policy. Adroit, if ironic, the move by his ex-W. operatives aims to recast him as a REPUBLICRAT.
Recap: Weekís well-read previous posts zeroed on political and fiscal aspects of NFL return to L.A. area. Ownersí committee heard L.A. and Anaheim lobby for new teams. Itís now clear the league, expected to finance two stadiums, will decide on one venue before the other late this month or before yearís end. Anaheim is a less complex deal to assemble. But three committee owners who’ve lived in L.A. strongly favor a reconstructed Coliseum as a better entertainment value ñ Hollywood before Disneyland. Is it an omen?read full story
NFL Coin Toss: L. A. or Anaheim?
An 11-member special committee of National Football League owners took a huge step forward this week in Texas to bring professional football back to the Los Angeles area after both the Rams and Raiders left in 1994. The return… read full story
NFL Decision on L.A., Anaheim Nears
Is the long Kabuki dance on whether the NFL will return to the Los Angeles area after the Rams and Raiders left in 1994 about to end?
In Dallas today a special 11-member committee of owners will hear from L.A. Coliseum and Anaheim reps. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wants “another team or two,” and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will lead the lobbying effort. A final decision is expected later this month when all 32 owners huddle.
League officials have worked hard to make the possibility a reality but no source will say how the owners will vote when they meet in Denver May 23-24. Relocating one or two teams rather than expanding beyond the current 32 seems probable.
The most informed thinking is the league will take one of three actions: pick one site or both, or pick one site now and reserve another for later, or put two teams in one stadium. The ownersí thinking may be clearer after the special meeting.
While Los Angeles is regarded as the favorite, speaking to the Orange Council Business Council on April 23, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue broadly hinted that an Anaheim venue might offer a cleaner immediate land deal. A new stadium could be built in the Angel Stadium parking lot, to open play in 2009.
Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers, who covered the NFL as a reporter for years and has strong San Diego connections, wrote Sunday that Anaheimís best chances of winning league favor rest with the Chargers who will be free to make a deal to move beginning in January.
Simers suggested that the NFL might put off the Coliseum in the short term to lock up Anaheim for the Chargers. ìIf the NFL agrees to sign a lease in May and begins funding construction, building would begin after the 2007 USC football season with an NFL team opening play in the Coliseum in 2010.î
The Saints or Vikings are seen as the most likely occupants of a reconfigured stadium, which would rise within the outer walls of the historic oval.read full story
Phil or Steve: Who Can Beat Arnold?
Phil Angelides, by winning the Democratic Party endorsement, remains alive for governor, and Steve Westlyís solid statewide poll lead hits a speed bump. Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a lucky break, aided by what ex-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown described as a ìfamily fightî before the June 6 primary.
Winning the party endorsement is not an automatic ticket to the nomination. John Van de Kamp narrowly won it in 1990 but lost the primary to Dianne Feinstein.
Angelides, 52, a Sacramento-born liberal, faces stiff, but not impossible, odds to overtake Westly. The conventional wisdom is that a winning Democrat runs left to attract liberal voters in the primary then paddles back to the center in a general election. The state Treasurer is banking on heavy GOTV union and activist support.
But a must-read San Francisco Chronicle report Friday reveals that a generational primary shift may be unfolding between two parts of the California Democratic party - establishment and anti-establishment - with implications far beyond the state.
Bruce Cain, the respected UC Berkeley political science professor, said it appears that Westly and his campaign team ìhave recognized there really are people in the Democratic Party who are likely to turn out in the primaryî beyond traditional labor activists and advocates.
The ìThree Mísî matter in politics: money, momentum and message. Westly, the more centrist candidate, owns the first two so the decisive showdown in the next five weeks will turn on which side airs the most compelling ìvalueî ads to woo a large undecided Democratic electorate.
Angelides calls himself the most committed to Democratic values, describes himself as the ìanti-Arnoldî and implies Westly is ìArnold Liteî despite the fact he joined with the governor and top elected state Democrats to successfully pass two deficit-restructuring measures.
Westly, 49, the state Controller, who was born in Arcadia, and is described as a ìSilicon Valley Democrat,î opposes taxes as a ìlast resort.î His ubiquitous TV ads hammer home the point he is a different kind of Democrat.
A rare debate in L.A. this week may help to answer the central question before primary day ñ will Angelides, or Westly, appeal more to disillusioned moderate swing Democrats who voted for Schwarzenegger and now want him out?
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Annals of Hypocrisy: Rush Limbaugh
Famous people are often treated differently than most of us when they get in trouble. Consider the case of Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show radio host, who was charged with prescription drug fraud, pleaded not guilty and made a deal Friday in Florida to avoid prosecution on whether he improperly used painkillers.
An iconic conservative voice since the mid-80ís, heís played a central role both in rallying support for the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994, in leading the drum beat to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998 and regularly demonizing Democrats.
Limbaughís arrogant posture has long set the tone for a generation of extreme conservative television and radio hosts - and yes, wing-nut bloggers ñ for absolute legal, moral and political certainty on every issue affecting the body politic.
In October 1995, Limbaugh said on his former television show that ìif people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up.î
In 2003, Florida law enforcement officials began a three-year investigation of Limbaugh after a tabloid report quoted his maid as saying that she had helped him obtain OxyContin, a time-release narcotic. That October he said on the air that he was addicted to painkiller and would enter a rehabilitation program which he did.
Rush got a sweetheart deal in avoiding a criminal conviction with prosecutors agreeing to drop the fraud charge in 18 months if he agrees complies with all the court guidelines. “They slapped his hand and thatís all,î said Debra Opri, a celebrity lawyer and frequent television analyst. ìHe doesnít have to stand trialÖand thatís it. He walks.î
Itís Limbaughís rant about cracking down on drug users and his own actions that should raise questions about hypocrisy among his devoted but brainwashed fans.
(First in an occasional series)
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Democratic Gubernatorial Showdown
California convention delegates will decide Saturday in Sacramento whether the party should officially endorse either state Treasurer Phil Angelides or state Controller Steve Westly for governor before the June 6 primary. The winner needs 60 % of the delegate votes.
The party has not endorsed a gubernatorial candidate in a contested primary since 1990 when state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp beat Dianne Feinstein when he topped the 60% hurdle by six votes in a recount. It didnít matter. Feinstein won the primary.
On paper, Angelides, the more liberal candidate, is the heavy favorite of the party establishment. Heís backed by U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, the California Labor Federation and the California Teachers Assn.
Recently, Angelidesí advisers have dampened expectations, saying he will be happy to simply outpoll Westly among the estimated 1,800 delegates. Westlyís goal is to block an outright nomination. Both candidates are multi-millionaires, with Westly having far deeper pockets.
Until February, the populist Angelides led by 8% before the more centrist Westly introduced himself to voters in a series of feel-good TV ads. He’s now ahead in every area of the state with an 11% lead that represents a 19-point turnaround in just two months.
Now an admitted underdog, Angelides, who may have made a strategic mistake by pledging to raise business taxes, is being heavily outspent on television. A controversial committee, funded by a longtime friend and former business partner Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and his daughter, has contributed $5 million to the candidate representing firefighters and law enforcement for ads to get him back into the race.
With over a third of Democrats still undecided, the last month of the campaign will be a negative and nasty donnybrook. The advantage remains with Westly unless union leaders decide to go all out for Angelides now instead of saving their war chest to unseat Arnold Schwarzenegger, their real enemy, in November. For the governor, Angelides presents a far juicer target.
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Can Rove Save GOP Majority?
Karl Rove has been relieved of his responsibilities for White House domestic policy but keeps the title. George W. Bushís ìbrainî is now the indispensable force in plotting Republican political strategies ahead of the November midterm elections.
But yesterday Rove testified for three hours before a federal grand jury investigating the 2003 leak of a CIA operativeís identity, appearing voluntarily at the request of the chief federal prosecutor. His appearance marked the fifth time he has appeared to testify. U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald advised his attorney that he was ìnot a target of the investigation,î but added no decision has been made about charges.
Should Rove be indicted, and given the free fall in Bushís approval ratings, it would be a potentially fatal blow to GOP hopes of retaining their majority in the wake of damaging new poll data.
A national survey by the Pew Research Center of 1,501 Americans this month suggests voters are mad as hell with Congress, with independents heavily leaning Democratic and, with Bush fatigue, signs Republican candidates may bear the brunt of public disillusionment.
A strong appetite for change in Washington has two thrusts: 1) a majority of voters would like to see most members of Congress defeated, and 2) a sizable minority want their representative turned out in the midterms.
Both indicators reflect anti-incumbent sentiment not seen since late in the historic 1994 campaign, just before Republicans gained control of Congress. The Democratsí current 10-point lead is only one of a handful of occasions since 1994 when either party has held such a sizeable advantage in the congressional horse race.
The Democratic candidate is favored over the Republican by 17% among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, by 8% among white mainline Protestants, and by 12% among voters in the Midwest.
The Democratic candidate is tied with the Republicans among other groups that the Democrats lost in recent elections, including whites, men and Sourthners.The Democrats have wide leads in the West (23%) and Northeast (19%); in February 2002, the GOP held a slight advantage in both regions.
Whatís most impressive throughout the 15-page Pew report is the crucial swing role of independent voters. Half of them (51%) favor the Democratic candidate in the district compared with just 31% who say they will vote Republican. More than in any recent election, far more independents (62%) say the issue of who controls Congress will be a factor in their vote this fall.
Especially worrisome for Republicans is the current 20-point Democrat lead among independents. Four years ago, the Democratic and Republican candidates were essentially tied among independents (42% R, 39% D).
Assuming he is not charged Rove’s greatest challenge will be to offset the strong desire expressed by the public for policies and programs that are different from the current administration. The survey is the most negative evaluation of Congressís record since 1997.
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Hydrogen Man, Voter Anger
George H.W. Bush, during the 1992 presidential election against Bill Clinton, mocked Al Gore as ìozone man.î His son, George W. Bush, from the same anti-environmental oil dynasty, sneered in the 2000 campaign that Gore ìlikes electric cars. He doesnít like making electricity.î
Bush 43, the ìdecider who decides what is bestî and scorned the Kyoto agreement on global warming, spent an Earth Day marked by record-breaking gas prices promoting his passion for hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars as the fuel of the future.
How ironic that ìhydrogen manî would attempt to be perceived as proactive on energy independence with escalating gas prices nearing $4 bucks at the pump. Offering millions of angry motorists sympathy, without any sign of personal intervention, is a bad omen.
The president has yet to satisfactorily explain why heís gutted the Environmental Protection Agency or failed to act decisively on tightening U.S. fuel-efficiency standards like China, Japan and the European Union have done.
Yet, the presidentís feel-good prediction is that todayís children would take their driving- tests in hydrogen-powered cars. Many analysts dispute this prediction, saying the concept is good but a hydrogen energy system will take decades and billions of dollars to develop.
In his Jan. 31 State of the Union address 43 decried the nationís ìaddiction to foreign oil.î If heís serious about jumpstarting a moribund domestic legacy, he should take up a Democratic proposal and convene a bipartisan national energy summit.
Unless he alights from the bubble soon, hydrogen manís ìtough summerî remark about tight gasoline supplies may well ignite a ìtough fallî for Republican candidates. On this issue, voters arenít partisan!
Bush to California: No Federal Money
No, the headline is not quite ìBush to California: Drop Deadî in response to a request to W. by Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant a preemptive federal disaster declaration the governor wanted as heavy rains have endangered 29 levees in several northern counties. How about this twist: ìWe Repair, You Pay?î
Clearly, the president did not buy the governorís concern about the serious threat to the Sacramento Delta, Instead, he granted a rare waiver allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to accept about $23 million in California money into its account. It will serve as an advance down payment to start levee repairs this summer and fall.
Sure, down the line, the waiver might help in getting future federal funds or expedit getting permits. The real question is will California ever be reimbursed?
The Democratic spin is Schwarzeneggerís failure to get immediate federal money shows he has no real clout with the White House. Republicans will argue that the governor put a successful process in motion to prevent a Katrina-like emergency.
Itís not a secret that neither Bush 41 nor Bush 43 has ever had any fondness for spending federal dollars like Bill Clinton did in the Democratic-leaning Golden State.
On ìMeet the Press,î the governor was asked whether he is a ìBush Republican.” No, he replied, ìI am an Arnold Republican.î Given the bizarre tensions between them, one might speculate it is one politically petty reason , aside from not bending the rules requiring an actual disaster, why the president failed to be generous on Friday.
Yesterday, in West Sacramento, the president again failed to address the region’s flood control problem even as he spoke on a helipad less than 100 yards from a levee holding back the Sacramento river.
Schwarzenegger, in San Pedro for Earth Day, slammed Bush for failing to provide emergency funds for levee repair. “The response…is unacceptable. We have seen what happens in New Orleans when the people waited for the federal government.” Is the governor still a Republican?
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Bush: Risky California Weekend?
Surprise! Surprise! Given his terrible environmental record, virtual lame duck President Bush will spend this weekend in California where heíll fundraise, lunch with military families and celebrate Earth Day on Saturday with a tour of the California Fuel Partnership in West Sacramento - his first visit there since 2001.
Appearing with him is embattled Rep. John Doolittle, who sponsored the Hydrogen Infrastructure Project that received $5 million to speed development of nonpolluting hydrogen-powered cars.
The proximity of Doolittle to Bush, and at some point with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose recent shots at the administration for being slow on environmental change, are cannon fodder for intense media coverage. It starts with the Roseville congressman who reportedly has been linked to scandals surrounding three top Republican figures.
Brent Wilkes, identified in court documents as a co-conspirator in the bribery case of now imprisoned Rep. Randy ìDukeî Cunningham, also gave Doolittle $46,000; Doolittle has contributed to resigned former House majority leader Tom DeLayís political fund and strongly defended him; and Doolittle is among congressman who have received donations from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
More interesting is the dilemma facing Schwarzenegger, seeking re-election this fall. How does he deal with the unpopular W.? His performance as president was rejected by 56% of Californians two months ago in a Field Poll. The poll also showed 65% opposed his handling of the Iraq war.
In February, the governor, who needs Democrats and independents to win, tried to distance himself from the president on NBCís ìMeet the Press.î Asked if he was a ìBush Republican,î Schwarzenegger replied that he was an ìArnold Republican.î
Trying to position himself as more moderate than most conservative Republicans, while pandering to the latter, Arnold now finds himself in a political Catch-22. By adding several top Bush-Cheney operatives who have worked out of the White House he appears disingenuous. How can the ex-Mr. Olympia flex his muscles while standing on his head and still keep a straight face?
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California Governor’s Race: T-Word
Benjamin Franklin famously said, ìnothing is certain but death and taxes.î The ìT-Word,î a perennial hot button issue in U.S. politics, has surfaced again in the state race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Former governors Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan got away with raising taxes but state voters recalled Gray Davis, who did it in 2003. Both multimillionaire Democratic candidates, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, back Proposition 82, a $2-billion tax that would fund a statewide preschool program on the June ballot. Taxes would increase for very wealthy individuals or couples.
Angelides, the state Treasurer who portrays himself as a populist, would raise even more taxes for education and to close a so-called structural deficit. For the hard-charging former Sacramento real estate developer who championed tax increases in 2003 and 2004 and is backed by labor and most Democratic leaders, itís a huge gamble. Candor about raising taxes can destroy a candidate. Walter Mondale learned that losing to Reagan in 1984.
Westly, the Los Angeles-born former eBay executive whose wealth far exceeds his opponent, trailed Angelides by 8% in a February Field Poll before he introduced himself to voters in a series of feel-good TV ads. The result has been startling.
Although over a third of Democrats are undecided, the state Controller now leads in every area of the state and among every subgroup in a new poll. His 11-point lead represents a 19-point turnaround in two months.
Railbirds expect Angelides, whose history of negative ads began with his flagrant 1994 primary attack on Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti for opposing abortion rights, to repeat the drill. My hunch remains that a less abrasive Westly may win on the strength of his unlimited TV blitzkrieg.
In head-to-head match-ups Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gains on his rivals; both beat him in February; tied with Westly he beats Angelides by 4%.
But only 36% of the electorate are inclined to support the governor in November. If the primary becomes a nasty donnybrook and Angelidesí coalition rescues him, Schwarzeneggerís marginal odds of winning may increase.read full story
Dobbs Lectures Schwarzenegger
Lou Dobbs, whose CNN rants now surpass those of the conservative FOX network on the illegal immigrant issue, lectured California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week about his Monday opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.
The governor, who backs a guest-worker plan opposed by Dobbs, aped Ronald Reaganís belief about an immigration policy ìthat both strengthens our borders and welcomes immigrants.î He dropped his harsh comment 3/28 in the Los Angeles Times that ìgranting citizenship to people who are here illegally is not just amnesty- itís anarchy, but wrote:
To pursue a policy of compassion, Congress must attack the problem, not people. Compassionate immigration policy will acknowledge that immigrants are just like us: Theyíre moms and dads looking for workÖAny measure that punishes charities and individuals who comfort or help immigrants is not only unnecessary, but un-American.
Unimpressed, Dobbs chided the governor with a dismissive insistence that Congress must first ìsecure the bordersî before any serious reform can be discussed.
Just to make Dobbsí disappointment clear, Schwarzeneggerís photo was displayed above a caption reading ìActing Governor.î A cheap shot, it hurts CNNís image even as the network shamelessly promotes a host who fuels xenophobia and backs a draconian GOP-passed House bill making it a felony to immigrate illegally or help someone who has.
The immigration issue is risky in the gubernatorial campaign as Latinos make up 14 percent of the California electorate, more than double that in 1994. That year GOP Gov. Pete Wilson won a landslide reelection. by embracing a ballot measure which denied education and other public services to illegal immigrants.
Wilsonís victory resulted in a long-term backlash which has badly damaged Republicans ever since. Neither the governor nor the two candidates for the Democratic nomination in June, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly, can afford to ignore the subject. The governor is an Austrian immigrant. Angelides is the son of an immigrant mother. And Westlyís wife immigrated here from China as a child.read full story
Bush: Today Iraq, Tomorrow Iran?
As disorder and instability in Iraq reach a new tipping point, the April 17 issue of The New Yorker raises the serious prospect of President Bush going to war, if necessary, to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon by destroying deep underground targets with tactical nuclear weapons.
First, the Sunday New York Times cited an internal staff report by the U.S. Embassy and the military high command in Baghdad that underscores shifts in the Iraq war over three years; it provides a sobering analysis of Iraqís politics, economy and security, rating the overall stability of six of the 18 provinces ìseriousîand one ìcritical.î
The report conflicts with public statements by top U.S. politicians and military officials. The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilizad, has said the invasion opened a ìPandoraís box,î warning a civil war could engulf the entire Middle East and that ìmuch work remains.î
It also underscores the growing power of rival militias in southern Iraq, and the growing power of Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties, several of which the U.S. helped into power. Now Bush is prepared to play the Iran card.
In the must-read New Yorker article, now online, Seymour M. Hersh writes Bush, while publicly advocating diplomacy to deny the Iran the bomb, is focused on denying Tehran the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium. Unnamed military and intelligence officials suggest the Administration has increased clandestine ground operations inside Iran and intensified operational planning for a major air attack, long a neocon Middle East dream.
Other points: a conviction within the U.S. military and the international community Bush wants regime change and sees Iranís anti-Israel president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the new Saddam Hussein but with more credibility and power; serious misgivings about the nuclear option within the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; recent Bush talks with a few key senators and members of Congress, including at least one Democrat, without dissent.
One House member opined that ìthe most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision.î My two cents is that, failing in Iraq after talking to a higher father than his own, Bush 43 will try to recoup in the hope his lasting legacy may be Iran. With this scenario, forget the troop withdrawal issue!
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Endnote: Joe Biden told HBOís Bill Maher Friday that he would seek the Democratic nomination in 2008. John Kerry, queried by NBCís Tim Russert Sunday, said heíd decide by yearís end whether to try again. Asked about his biggest mistake in blowing the election, Kerry haltingly said it was insufficient TV money to match Bush in the stretch. Nonsense. His fatal error was not doing ì60 Minutesî early, rebutting Vietnam Swift Boat veterans who attacked his patriotism, and convincing voters he had command presence and would be a tough president who regretted his vote for the war.
Hooray for Harry Taylor
Real political theater happened yesterday when W. addressed an open-forum event in Charlotte, N.C. Harry Taylor, 61, did something that no frustrated Democrat has yet been able to accomplish since John Kerry blew the 2004 election. Taylor stood up in the balcony and told off the president.
Abandoning the drill of screened audiences and scripted meetings, the forums represent a new PR effort by W. to confront his falling public approval and appear more spontaneous and unafraid of criticism. The response has generally been a love fest.
That is until the commercial real estate broker challenged the president and rattled off a series of grievances on war, liberty, domestic eavesdropping and quality of life issues.
ìYou never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that,î Taylor said. ìBut while I listen to you about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me with charges. To try and preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food.î
Many in the audience of a nearly 1,000 booed but W., to his credit, took the criticism in stride. He refused to apologize for the eavesdropping, boasted about building democracy in Iraq, said that if he didnít think victory was possible heíd bring the troops home and justified the decision to go to war.
When an angry citizen has to guts to tell the president of the United States to his face that ìI hope, from time to time, that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself,î heís expressing the frustration of a majority of Americans about this administration.
Taylor’s three minutes of fame is in contrast to the failure of Democrats to get beyond talking the talk about a plan for victory. So far, there has not been a single, unified and compelling voice such as the improbable real estate guy was able to articulate.
Would W., a hard-liner on leaks, have been so sweet had Taylor asked him about authorizing White House official ìScooterî Libby to disclose secret intelligence information to reporters in an attempt to discredit a CIA adviser whose views undermined the rationale for invading Iraq? Replying it was legal would only beg the Nixonian question about using such data for political advantage.read full story
Iraq, Bloody Iraq
The Los Angeles Times, in a feat of award-winning journalism, published a three-part series this week that addressed the hush-hush issue of the more than 17,000 American troops that have been seriously wounded since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
I say hush-hush because it appears that the Bush administration has gone to far greater lengths to discourage media coverage of this carnage than previous administrations during Vietnam. The ìMission Accomplishedî slogan after the fall of Baghdad turned out to be cruel hoax.
The Times series told the stories over 13 pages of five men injured last November as a reporter and photographer followed them through a system of military medical care described as more advanced than in any previous conflict.
But it is the bloody front-page pictures and inside each day that show how most of the wounded have been victims of explosive devices similar to mines in earlier wars which sensitizes one about the reckless rush to war without ample pause or preparation - factors which have turned the nation strongly against it.
For a generation of Americans who will do almost anything to avoid suffering, these pictures are sobering confirmation that it exists, in battle, as in life.
Retired Maine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command and a special envoy to the Middle East who endorsed Bush in 2000, soon compared Iraq war strategy to a ìbrain fartî emitted from a Bush ìpolicy wonk.î Addressing the Naval Institute in the fall of 2003 he summed it up:
ìOur feelings and sensitivities were forged on the battlefields of Vietnam, where we heard the garbage and the lies. And we saw the sacrifice. We swore never again would we allow it to happen. And I ask you, is it happening again? And youíre going to have to answer that question, just like the American people are. And remember, every one of those young men and women that come back [a casualty] is not a personal tragedy, itís a national tragedy.î
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Paging Paul Conrad
Longtime Los Angeles Times readers remember that political cartoons appeared on the editorial page much of the time three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Conrad was itís chief editorial cartoonist from 1964 to 1993. Liberals applauded, conservatives jeered and guess what? ñ Conradís pen and slashing one-line captions sold newspapers.
Then, more than 20 years ago, Conradís controversial work, and generally less compelling cartoons since, were abruptly shifted to the op-ed page.
Thatís why last week it was stunning to see a cartoon about U.S. immigration policy in the space normally occupied by the second of three essays on the editorial page. Undistinguished, it was drawn by Christophe Vorlet for the Times Editorial Board.
Is this more tinkering by Andres Martinez, the youthful opinion page editor and protÈgÈ of Michael Kinsley, founder of Slate, the on-line magazine, whose brief reign as a virtual Times editor telecommuting mostly from Seattle ended after several bizarre and controversial misjudgments?
Or does the brief cartoon repositioning signal yet another daunting editorial experiment by the Times, struggling under the demanding revenue yoke of Tribune Co. ownership as it attempts to staunch a national trend of declining newspaper circulation and advertising revenue?
Hereís the point. Conradís observations still reportedly appear in newspapers worldwide, are syndicated by the Chicago Tribune with the Times owning the L.A. area syndicated rights as of last year. Ironically, his work rarely appears in the paper where he became famous.
While at the newspaper he was honored with six Distinguished Service Awards for Editorial Cartooning by the Society for Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi (SDX) ñ the only journalist s to win that many SDX awards in any category since the competition began in 1932.
Asked by Random Lengths, a L.A. Harbor area weekly, last summer why he hasnít seen one of his cartoons in the Times, Conrad replied: ìYou wonít. They just wonít do it ñ even if they agree with it.î
Since the Times no longer has an in-house cartoonist and, for the most part, carries a rather mediocre roster of op-ed columnists (in contrast to the New York Times and Washington Post), itís not surprising the section is a rare must read. In contrast, Dean Baquet, the paperís new editor who won a Pulitzer Prize for investigating reporting at the Chicago Tribune, has assembled several I-Teams which have started producing significant journalism.
Carrying Conrad once again might help the paper restore the biting edge it’s opinion pages once had under Otis Chandler.read full story
Antonio’s First Test
As todayís front-page analysis by the Los Angeles Times’ Jim Newton points out, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosaís best moment in the wake of last Saturdayís massive pro-immigrant rally may have been to urge rebellious students to return to class.
But the telling photo of the mayor, speaking with the media, as school board member David Tokofsky whispers in his ear, is a strong metaphor of the difficulty he faces in fortifying his electoral base while not appearing to pander to ethnic politics.
Ace Smith, one of his political sidemen, calls him ìthe voice of reason.î I had a very different view after hearing him make a political statement to students at noon on Monday and then hours later urge them to go back to school. That hardly shows command presence by a charismatic and nationally ambitious politician entering his 10th month in office.
Aside from the fact that tens of thousands of downtown workers were inconvenienced for two days this week because Spring St. between Temple and First Street was shut down to deal with the student protest and the loss of millions in government aid, there is a larger issue here.
It is that Villaraigosa, who showed little interest in education politics during much of last yearís campaign, and was initially ambivalent after taking office, has now made taking control of Los Angeles schools a key centerpiece of his otherwise overcrowded political agenda.
His recent pilgrimage to see how New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg runs city schools attracted a gaggle of L.A. media. A great photo op on both coasts, it serves to raise expectations about local reform. But Villaraigosaís halting first reaction to the student walkout does not inspire confidence regardless of the spin.read full story
A Sleeping Giant Awakes
The politics of illegal immigration, reflected in last Saturdayís peaceful march by 500,000 in Los Angeles - born as an eleven-family Spanish pueblo - in reaction to a harsh Republican-passed House bill in December, has triggered a national firestorm, action in the Senate and a test of President Bushís remaining power.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, almost certainly affected by televised images of tens of thousands of Latinos, together with union and religious demonstrators waving banners and flags, found a bipartisan compromise. It sent a more lenient bill to the full Senate that would create a temporary worker program and a process for legalizing the nationís illegal immigrants -but arguably not granting amnesty.
Late Tuesday it appeared that Republican conservatives, fearing a huge loss of the crucial Latino vote in this yearís mid-term elections, might strike a compromise which would prop up a slumping W. His major problem remains Iraq which incredibly still lacks a functioning government and is in a predictable sectarian civil war. Unfiltered news still trumps White House optimism and Rummy spin.
It is quite possible, however, that strident opponents of illegal immigration, such as Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), egged on by conservative talk radio hosts and Lou Dobbs, CNNís pompous, one-man answer to FOX News, may cause enough commotion to force the delay of any GOP decision on the issue until next year. Too risky now?
A survey of legal immigrants by the respected Florida-based Latino pollster Sergio Bendixen, a Democrat, finds that 67% of legal immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa believe anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in the U.S., and 64% feel that sentiment is fueled by racism. The pollster thinks the White House is more concerned about Tancredo that the Democrats.
The immigration issue has suddenly impacted on the California gubernatorial election. In an adroit and timely response after the Los Angeles eruption, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. îI am an immigrant,î he said, calling for a comprehensive new law that respects immigrants and protects the nation.
His two Democratic opponents were not as quick on the draw. LA Weekly columnist and blogger Bill Bradley quoted state Controller Steve Westlyís press secretary as opposing the House bill because ìit criminalizes undocumented workers.î
Bradley cited a transcript in which Univision reporter Pablo Espinoza asked state Treasurer Phil Angelides about the infamous HR 4437 which House GOP leaders in the last 24 hours have soured on as a realistic solution. Angelides said he didnít know about it.
While Angelides has overwhelming support among elected California Democrats my hunch is Westly may win the June primary.
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Arnold’s $$$$$$ ‘Artillery Shell’
Itís certain that Arnold Schwarzenegger, seeking a second term, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, each seeking the Democratic nomination, will raise tens of millions of dollars to be competitive. The expenditures to the governor’s campaign manager is whatís raising eyebrows.
Consider the sum paid to Steve Schmidt, his new manager. Capitol Weeklyís Shane Goldmacher reported last week that in less than two months on the job Schmidt - with three $26,250 paychecks - is on a pace to earn more than $470,000 during the governorís race. A source close to the campaign said there was ìa signing bonus componentî to the salary figures ñ a practice not unprecedented but said by operatives in both parties to be uncommon in California.
Like Schwarzenegger, state Treasurer Angelides and Controller Westly are serious multimillionaires. But the sums theyíve paid to their campaign managers marks each so far as cheapskates. By contrast, the governor has spent over $14 million on campaign consultants since 2003.
Cathy Calfo, Angelidesí campaign manager has received more than $215,000 in payments stince she joined the campaign dating back to September 2004. Jude Barry, managing Westly, with the campaign since April 2005, has been paid $60,000, with another $10,000 going to his consulting firm.
Is Schmidt, 35, worth it? His resume suggests that the Californian is a budding GOP star ñ player in the 2004 Bush re-election campaign; senior media adviser to Dick Cheney; overseer of the nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito; and with close ties to Karl Rove.
Schmidt, who ran Republican Matt Fongís unsuccessful 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, insists his issues are policy and issues. But a talent for uncanny media spin and rapid response, which prompted Newsweek to call him a political ìartillery shell,î appealed to the macho Schwarzenegger.
Regardless of who wins the June primary, Angelides and Westly each has tested media operatives quite capable of engaging Schmidt whose candidate remains highly unpopular in current polls. Donnybrook best describes the general election.
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Bush v. Thomas: Lost in Translation
Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, has never minced words in asking presidents tough questions since John F. Kennedy. But she once called George W. Bush the worst president in U.S. history and was not called on at a news conference for over three years.
On Tuesday, in his macho ìbring ëem onî campaign to convince Americans that the unpopular war in Iraq is worth fighting, the president joked with Thomas and granted her a question.
Suggesting that every reason heís given has turned out not to be true, Thomas asked: ìWhy did you really want to go the war?
Bush said: ìI didnít want war.î
Thomas interrupted twice before he replied ìno president wants war,î
Bush said his rationale for the defense of the country changed after 9/11: ìWhen we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American peopleÖ.make sure that we didnít allow people to provide safe haven to an enemyÖ. thatís why I went into Iraq.î
Thomas: ìThey didnít do anything to you, or to our country.î
Bush: ìExcuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for Al Qaeda. Thatís where Al Qaeda trainedÖ.î
Thomas: ìIím talking about IraqÖî
Bush: ìHelen, excuse me. Thatís where ñ Afghanistan provided safe haven for Al QaedaÖ.thatís where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.î He explained that he also saw a threat in Iraq, which he hoped to solve diplomatically.
Thomas: Ögo the warÖî
Bush: Since Saddam Hussein did not get the message of the world, ìI had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did and the world is safer.î
Any objective analysis of this exchange suggests a stunning presidential non sequitur. Thomas pressed him on Iraq. His bizarre, amnesia-like response focused on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan where the real problem was and is ñ not on Iraq as the rationale for a war the administration has since admitted lacked any connection. Bush said his successors would decide when to remove all American troops from harmís way. It absolves him of responsibility for the end game, exposes the incompetence of a failed expedition and confirms why Americans donít trust him.
Tagliabue, Rice and L.A. Football
The retirement of Paul Tagliabue as National Football League commissioner after a 16-year tenure that created the nationís richest and most powerful sports empire is a momentous event. Who will succeed the czar who brought long-term labor peace to the league, and how will his departure affect the return of pro football to the Los Angeles Coliseum?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the noted football groupie, has long made no secret of her interest in the job and Tagliabue has spread some catnip by saying the process is wide open. But any decision by her to leave the White House at a time when the Bush presidency is in a free fall appears very remote.
Just as Tagliabue, a league lawyer who was the NFLís representative and unofficial lobbyist in Washington before he succeeded Pete Rozelle when he stepped down in 1989, the odds heavily favor the new commissioner coming from inside. Roger Goodell, the NFLís chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay are the leading contenders.
The more intriguing question is Tagliabueís known interest in trying to get a team back to Los Angeles. He was quoted Monday as saying his biggest regret as commissioner was allowing both the Rams and Raiders to leave after the 1994 season ñ the Rams to St. Louis and the Raiders to Oakland.
Rumors are hot on both coasts that the commissioner, who made a tour of possible stadium sites in the greater Los Angeles area last fall, may return again for a fresh visit in late April or early May before a league meeting later that month ñ the last before October.
This visit, with the NFL-labor collective bargaining issue now settled, could be crucial in jelling an agreement to fulfill Tagliabueís wish. That said, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission must get its ducks in order. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa need to step up and make a deal happen.
As for Condi Rice, I see her as owner of the new NFL Los Angeles Bulldogs when the 1940sí era Pacific Coast League franchise is reborn on the Coliseum gridiron in 2010.read full story
Arnold the Moderate: Will Voters Buy It?
Any doubts about the political orientation of Arnold Schwarzenegger will be reinforced by the presence of so many moderate Republican fat cats at his big Beverly Hills fundraiser tonight. As the Brentwood governor fights off criticism from his once strong conservative base that he is too liberal, this money crowd will fuel his re-election bid.
The business-friendly New Majority, an expanding California GOP political action committee, will have at least four members at the head table as $100,000 donors ñ a windfall collectively that will give the campaign and the state party over $500,000.
The governorís campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, told the Associated Press that the PAC ìcares deeply about the future of California.î(A top W. 43 aide, Schmidt most recently was press secretary for Vice President Dick Cheney and a key media strategist in the successful confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.)
Schwarzennegerís relationship with the group coincides with his 2002 debut in state politics when PAC supporters contributed heavily to a successful ballot proposal to fund after-school programs. Some members have been among the governorís top donors since he took office in 2003, raising over $10 million for his political projects.
One of his biggest donors is Paul Folino,, chairman of the computer-components maker Emulex Corp., who has given more than $1 million in cash and services to Schwarzenegger. He told AP ìthe governor is a moderate Republican.î
Many PAC founding members are longtime donors to former moderate Republican governor Pete Wilson. They include Irvine Co. developer Donald Bren who spent more than $350,000 for lobbying in 2005-06 on several state matters, including dealings with the governorís office.
But this sometimes cartoon-like governor, who flexes to his own drummer, faces serious re-election problems. He needs 80% of the Republican vote but today is far short among conservatives The latest Field Poll has him favored by just 37% of all voters.
His political failure to persuade legislators to put a huge public works on the June ballot denies him a crucial campaign leadership tool. Specifically, Republicans rebuffed his call to borrow up to $68 billion for construction costs, balking at the cost of over $3.7 billion a year to pay it off. Gov. Wilson, faced with legislative resistance in 1991 to raising income taxes during a budget crisis, had enough clout with Republicans to get the votes he needed. It’s a bad omen for this governor.
Retired Justice O’Connor Speaks Out
Thanks to rawstory.com, a transcript of NPR News legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg’s coverage of Sandra Day OíConnorís tough and news worthy speech at Georgetown University last week became available. While not broadcast, it was ignored by the Washington media establishment.
Totenberg described the opinionated remarks by the retired Supreme Court justice as forceful, noting that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.
OíConnor began by conceding that courts do have the powers to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it, ìreally, really angry.î But she continued, if we donít make them mad some of the time we probably arenít doing our job as judges.
She said the nationís founders wrote repeatedly that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from other branches of government those rights and privileges would mean nothing.
Taking aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay without naming him, she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when he took after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayers and the Terri Schiavo case.
Worse still, OíConnor noted death threats against judges are increasing. It doesnít help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and the decisions the senator disagrees with. She didnít name the senator but Totenberg said it was Texas senator John Cornyn.
OíConnor said she is against judicial reforms driven by naked partisan reasoning, pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish.
The Arizona Republican, long a swing vote on the Supreme Court, said it takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship but we should avoid those ends by avoiding those beginnings.
During his State of the Union address W. took note of the presence in the House chamber of newly sworn Justice Samuel Alito. He also paid tribute to the retired OíConnor. I then expected the camera to zoom in on the gallery. But, tellingly, she was not observed.read full story
Iraq: The Long Goodbye
With Iraq on the precipice of civil war, an optimistic President Bush blindly continues to insist to the chorus that ìwe have a comprehensive strategy for victory.î But two-thirds of Americans disagree and the refrain from his conservative allies grows significantly more muted.
The president joked at the Gridiron dinner: ìYou know there are all these conspiracy theories that Dick runs the country, or Karl runs the country. Why arenít there any conspiracy theories that I run the country?î Well, whatever the truth the buck stops with the commander-in-chief. But he is in such denial of reality that unless Iraq stabilizes within months his legacy in history will be sealed.
I mean, hereís a president who three years ago this coming Monday unilaterally attacked Iraq to make the U.S. safer without any viable strategic post-war plan, and now is suddenly sounding the alarm against isolation and making the case for international cooperation. Goodbye, Freedom fries. Hello, French fries!
The real story is how prominent conservatives have turned on W. The columnist George Will pointed out that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are ìmore dangerous than they were.î Blogger Andrew Sullivan said, ìWe have learned a tough lesson.î
William F. Buckley, Jr., the conservative high priest, said Bush has ìa very difficult internal problem here because the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-blown pronouncements ñ the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.î
The most significant defection and powerful indictment of the war on Iraq and the role of neoconservatives ideas in shaping that decision ñ in terms of implementation and its aftermath ñ is a new book, “America at the Crosroads,” by Francis Fukuyama, - a provacative must read. It shatters any doubts about W.ís mishandling of this catastrophe.
Fukuyama, whose best-selling 1992 book, ìThe End of History and the Last Man,î was a classic neo-conservative text on the end of the cold war and the global march of liberal democracy. A star neoconservative himself, Fukuyama studied with or was associated with such leading neoconservative luminaries as Paul D. Wolfowitz and William Kristol.
Beginning in 1998 he urged President Clinton to take a harder line on Iraq and after 9/11 called for a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Two years later, in a Washington Post op-ed article, he began to voice concerns ìabout how the reaction to 9/11 will lead to a world in which U.S. policy and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern.î
Fukuyama wrote a blistering critique of the neoconservative push for war that was published in The National Interest in the summer of 2004 which summarizes many of the arguments detailed in the explosive book which Michiko Kakutani reviewed in The New York Times on March 14. He writes, ìneoconservativism, as a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something that I can no longer support.î
read full story
W. Loses His Groove
The Financial Timesí headline said it all about the collapse of the Dubai Ports World deal: ìArab Ally Senses Bush No Longer in Control in Washington.î The president may not be a lame duck yet but Congress has asserted itself; Republicans are no longer rubber-stamps; and Democrats get a midterm boost.
My previous posts - (2.19); (2.22); (2.26); and (2.28) ñ made the point that, aside from the firestorm over the pre-9/11 connection the United Arab Emirates had with Osama bin Ladin, the real national security issue involves container inspection. Foreign companies manage most of the terminals at American ports, and foreign governments control some. The Dubai fiasco, still unravelling, is another case of a tired administration and president asleep at the switch.
The two busiest ports in terms of cargo value in the billions ñ Los Angeles and Long Beach ñ lease space to foreign operators. At the former, China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Denmark; Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong at the latter.
Itís absurd to assert that inspection of containers by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection is really effective regardless of who operates the terminals. The reality is that the level of inspection is no more than 5% and, in the case of the Department of Homeland Security, reportedly about 1%.
In foreign ports, there is little sophisticated surveillance of container cargo headed for U.S. ports which could contain weapons of mass destruction. DHS spent about $1.6 billion on port security in FY 2005.
As with U.S. troops, proper protection at the ports matters. Consider that as the U.S. begins its fourth year in Iraq, the annual cost of military spending is growing. Monthly expenditures there are running at $5.9 billion. The U.S. commitment in Afghanistan ñ now zooming out of control - is about $1 billion.
The major domestic issue in the midterm elections must be to divert some of those billions into real homeland security at the ports. While nervous Republicans are jumping into lifeboats and rowing away from a sinking W., fumbling Democrats should seize the moment - and the issue.
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Humor Politic: God’s Lawyers Upset
The British public and press are not reacting well to Prime Minister Tony Blairís recent invocation of divine intervention in the Iraq war. Heís ignored the counsel of his former communications guru, Alastair Campbell, who quipped: ìWe donít do God.î
The Spoof, a British, online humor publication, satirized Blairís finding-religion moment in playing a Bush toady with this headline: ìGod considering legal action over Blair invasion claim.î
It declared that ìThe British government…[is]Öengaged in last-ditch attempts to avert a diplomatic crisis between Heaven and 10 Downing Street following claims byÖBlair that God himselfÖpersonally ordered the liberation of the Iraqi oil fieldsÖî
The Spoof added that Blairís claim was ìimmediately condemned by Godís lawyersÖî
I am unable to confirm a similar effort by the U.S. Justice Department to avert a crisis between Heaven and the White House. Alberto Gonzales is known to be very concerned about leaks.read full story
W. Order: Target Journalists
The Washington Post reported Sunday the White House has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. Presidents since FDR have complained about leaks but W. could surpass Nixon in media paranoia.
Not since 1969, when Nixon, Atty. General John Mitchell, and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger determined to crack down on ìnational security leaksî ñ which led to RNís downfall and his inability to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers, the most massive leak in history ñ has there been anything comparable to this multi-pronged federal probe.
The investigations involve possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSAís warrantless domestic surveillance program. It was the NSA program, which caused W. to call the leak ìa shameful actî that ìwas helping the enemy.î
No president since the disgraced Nixon has been more willing to take on journalists in an overt and aggressive campaign if necessary. W. may vent about the U.S. being in a state of war. But such rhetoric has an Orwellian ring, implying that any responsible editor would deliberately provide aid to terrorist groups.
The response to the Post story by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, was blunt:
“There’s a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries…and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public’s business risk being branded as traitors…some days it sounds like the administrationís declaring war at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad.î
Sen. John D. Rockefeller, the intelligence committee vice chairman, cited the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose identity was leaked to the media. He suggested damaging intelligence revelations comes primarily from Executive Branch officials with an agenda - not rank-and-file operatives employees of the intelligence agencies.
There is the testimony of ìScooterî Libby, former chief of staff to Dick Cheney, who said in federal court papers that his ìsuperiorsî authorized him to disclose a classified government report.
A powerful refutation of the obsession with undue secrecy was once offered by Richard Neustadt, professor of government at Harvard who said ìleaks playÖa vital role in the functioning of our democracy, adding ìleaks generally do not occur in dictatorships.îread full story
God and Iraq
The dramatic shift in U.S. opinion against the Iraq war revives the moral debate among all Christians about invoking God to justify it. The decision by President Bush, approved by Prime Minister Tony Blair, festers anew.
On CBS Newsí í60 Minutesí, in April 2004, journalist Bob Woodward, talking about his new book, ìPlan of Attack,î was permitted by the president to quote him directly. Having given the order to go to war, W. told the Washington Post reporter:
ìIím surely not going to justify war based on Godís willÖNeverthelessÖI pray that I be as good a messenger of his will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for forgiveness.î
Woodward asked Bush whether he asked his father, former president, George H. W. Bush, for any advice:
ìWell, noÖHe is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength. Thereís a higher father that I appeal to.î
Blair, also a Christian, in a ITV talk show broadcast Saturday said for the first time God influenced his deliberations when he sent British troops to Iraq.
ìThat decision has to be taken and lived with. I think if you have faith about these things, then you realize that judgment is made by other peopleÖIf you believe in God, itís made by God, as well.î
Forgiveness and good conscience, while moral attributes, do not remove the question about whether Bush rushed to war without exercising proper discernment. Despite affirmation by White House propagandists, the decision lacked support of the Catholic Church.
Just before the war, Pope John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to Washington. The message: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.
Pope Benedict XVI, then the ranking Cardinal at the Vatican, said in September 2002 he did not believe a unilateral military attack by the United States would be morally justifiable, under the current circumstances, adding that the phrase ìpreventive warî does not appear in the Catholic Catechism.
The morality of the war also has consequences for the 2008 presidential campaign. A majority of Democratic senators supported the war, but soul-searching to renounce their votes in view of new facts remains almost nonexistent.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the putative favorite for the party nomination, is a classic study in timidity and equivocation ñ a poor substitute for decisive new leadership.read full story
Arnold the Gladiator
Just asking: Is Arnold Schwarzenegger really serious about being governor or is the former world-class bodybuilder and Hollywood action star reverting to type? Barring a last minute stay for critical state business, he’ll star as a ìgladiatorî god to launch a weekend fitness expo in Ohio.
A blood-and-guts gladiator match is touted as the spectacular kickoff of the annual Arnold Fitness Expo and Arnold Classic, a mixture of competitions and challenges in 30 sports this weekend in Columbus.
But critics wonder anew whether his current political role is really a cover for an unrequited passion for an emergent sport, touted in ads, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, ìas pure might battling pure fear,î a marriage of ìraw power and brute forceî complete with girls, guts, blood and plenty of grit.
Last fall, the governor signed legislation paving the way for gladiator fighting to be legal in California ñ where the first such state-sanctioned card, described by a pay-for-view fight promoter as ìlegalized barroom brawlsî, is planned for next week in San Jose.
The sport is also known as cage fighting or mixed martial arts. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who will headline a $$$$ fundraiser for the governor this month in Beverly Hills, has condemned it as ìbarbaricî cockfighting with humans.
Schwarzeneggerís fascination with bread and circuses comes as a new Field Poll reveals that while he’s still unpopular with voters, his studied remake has given a slight boost to his re-election prospects. Field pollster Mark DiCamillo says many voters are still reappraising him. It’s not surprising.
ìTheyíre a little puzzled because theyíre not sure which Schwarzenegger theyíll see, the more bipartisan governor or the partisan Republican of 2005.î Hereís a hint: On ìMeet the Pressî this past Sunday he described himself as an ìArnold Republican.î
Will his machismo play, especially with women and conservative voters, succeed? He needs 80% of the Republican vote to win re-election. The new survey notes his conservative support has fallen from 61% last fall to 54% today. Perception matters in politics and the image of the ìgladiatorî card, which finally caught up with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, could send Arnold back to Muscle Beach.read full story
The Los Angeles Times produced an epic tribute Tuesday to honor Otis Chandler, its legendary publisher who inherited a stodgy family jewel in 1960 and, for the next 20 years, transformed a parochial, right of center, broadsheet into a major American paper.
If a Pulitzer Prize is awarded for obits, the draft filed by the late David Shaw before his death Aug. 1, and Mitchell Landsberg, who re-wrote the text and did additional reporting, qualifies ñ and not just because the farewell runs 13,500 words.
It’s a candid, revealing piece - warts and all ñ about the tumultuous history under three Chandler publishers, starting with Harry Chandler, Otisí grandfather; Norman Chandler, his father - and very influential mother, Dorothy ìBuffî Chandler. How Otis followed an unexpected path as a maverick to remake the paper over 20 years with top talent, often to the displeasure of many family members, is riveting.
That the family, majority Times Mirror stockholders, sold out to the Tribune Co. in 2000, and Otisí disenchantment with its management leading to his praise for the merger, is covered in unvarnished detail.
For a city with so little understood history, the obit is mportant to educate a new generation of readers, and for newly arrived editors and reporters to grasp in the wake of Tribune-mandated buyouts which cost the paper valuable institutional memory.
It was refreshing for many of us who remember the Otis era to see the Timesí former Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Paul Conradís soaring eagle tribute on the op-ed page. Conrad, love him or loathe him, made these pages sizzle. It’s no longer true.read full story
Red-Flag Port Warning Ignored
A just released Dec. 13 intelligence assessment by the U.S. Coast Guard of Dubai Ports World and its United Arab Emirates owners raises new questions about the White House deal.
ìThere are many intelligence gaps, concerning the potential for DPW or P&O assets to support terrorist operations, that precludeî the completion of a thorough threat assessment of the merger. ìThe breath of the intelligence gaps also infer potential unknown threats against a large number of potential vulnerabilities.î
The Coast Guardís red-flag warning was completed just over a month before the six-port deal received government approval Jan. 17, with W. out of the loop. Before a bipartisan uproar, the deal was to become effective this week.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senate Homeland Security Chairwoman, asked, ìHow could there not have been the 45-day investigation thatís clearly required by law?
Is it any wonder that W.ís approval ratings have reached an historic low?read full story
Arnold’s Makeover: Is It Credible?
Arnold Schwarzenneger was elected as a bipartisan reform governor. But the defeat of his special-election reform initiatives last fall places his re-election prospects in jeopardy. Wounded, with a 35% approval rating, can he still snatch victory from defeat?
After pandering to the right wing, the makeover Republican is headed back to the center where his winning margin in 2003 came from Democrats and independents. Over the weekend he addressed a state GOP convention in San Jose with delegates unhappy with his hiring of liberal Democratic strategist Susan Kennedy as chief of staff and strategist.
Aping the late Democratic Gov. Pat Brown, he again pitched his $222 billion infrastructure package to rebuild roads, schools, waterways and flood systems ñ calculated to help him regain support from constituencies he lost last year ñ while asserting a traditional GOP boldness ìto take the people forward.î
On NBCís ëMeet the Pressí Sunday, an ebullient Schwarzenegger refused to say heís running as a Bush Republican but rather as an ‘Arnold Republican’ to serve everyoneî - asserting the state is better off than four years ago.
On an ominous note, his biggest convention applause line was not about borrowing billions to rebuild the stateís public works. It was mention of conservative Sen. Tom McClintock, his main GOP 2003 opponent in the recall campaign. That McClintock, a candidate for lieutenant governor, disagrees with Schwarzenegger on many policies demonstrates just how much the governor needs 80% of the party vote to win. The governor said he has it now, but MTP moderator Tim Russert correctly said it is just 66%, to an inaudible reply.
Schwarzenneger trails two Democrats, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly; women are skeptical about him; and Bushís unpopularity hurts him with Democrats and independents with Latinos, in a switch, leaning heavily Democratic in early polls.
The governorís has also hired two White House operatives, Matthew Dowd, who engineered both Bush presidential wins, and Steve Schmidt, the former media ìartillery shellî for Dick Cheney and Samuel Alito. Badly trailing multimillionaires Angelides and Westly in fundraising, the governor has Sen. John McCain, the champion of campaign finance reform, headlining a March 20 dinner. Head table seating with the incumbent starts at 100 grand.
Schwarzeneggerís best hope may be a Democratic donnybrook that will leave the winner vulnerable. Ironically, often contradictory reporting by the print media and quotes from academic pundits suggest the Democratic contenders inspire little passion. That said, the governor is not an even-money bet today.
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It’s About Container Security, Stupid!
Intense political debate continues over approval of the White House deal for a Dubai-owned company to take over operations at U.S. ports. But Sunday TV chat confirms there is no serious debate over container security, the core problem.
Critics worry terrorists could infiltrate the company; ex-colleagues lobby Congress for approval; W., who considers United Arab Emirates a close ally, despite past connections between 9/11 hijackers and UAE, suggests criticism of Arab ownership may have racial overtones.
The discussion should be more nuanced. In fact, foreign management of the American ports in not new as the role played by companies in China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and European trading partners - and not government owned - illustrates. The ineffective argument by the White House is that port security is the responsibility of the Coast Guard and Custom officials. That a failed Department of Homeland Security is now a major player in the port issue is, after Katrina, chilling.
The UAE deal plays directly into 9/11 fears and the specter of terrorists from the Middle East penetrating U.S. port defenses as an episode of ì24,îthe celebrated Fox television drama graphically demonstrated a year or so ago.
A New York Times analysis (2/23) suggests the Bush administrationís real port problem is how long it has taken the federal government to set and enforce security standards - and to provide the technology to look inside millions of containers that flow through them. Only 4% or 5% of those containers are inspected and there is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed. (Today’s report from Dubai in the NYT describes gamma-ray scanner devices inside containers at the port as “antiterrorism measures still far short of what is needed to ensure security, U.S. auditors and maritime experts say.”
Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander and port security expert on the Council of Foreign Relations, describes the real fear if a nuclear weapon is put inside a container: ìIt will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, even before he gets to the terminal.î
With W., a president come lately on a critical issue - and his conservative base in rebellion over the port deal - the trump-card boast of Karl Rove ñ ìDemocrats are pre-9/11, Republicans post-9/11î ñ is now oh so yesterday. The party opposite momentarily appears more hawkish in the polls on security issues ñ a turnover of no small consequence in Election 2006.
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W: Port Security Catch-22
A blindsided W. threatens his first veto of any bipartisan legislation seeking to block the administrationís decision to allow a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates to assume management of key U.S. ports.
Homeland security, a phrase the maximum leader patented, has unexpectedly created perhaps the greatest crisis of his presidency. Conservatives are already calling it ìanother Harriet Miers moment.î
While the United Arab Emirates is an ally of the U.S., opponents note 9/11 hijackers traveled through the UAE and jihadists affiliated with al Qaeda have used its banking system.
A stunned president, unaccustomed to back talk from Republicans, including the congressional leadership, demanded opponents ìstep up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a British company.”
The issue has clearly touched a national nerve. Within minutes after the subject became the lede on CNN, the network received more than 3,000 e-mails condemning the scheduled takeover of ports in New York, Philadelphia, Newark, Baltimore, Miami and New Orleans.
Bush insisted that he did not see the issue as a political fight but it is one. Majority Republicans, facing re-election and fearing a backlash, worry about being called ìsoft on securityî ñ giving the Democrats a dream turnover issue to exploit.
Unless heís able to effectively kill legislation that would block the port deal ñ or accedes to a 45-day review before it becomes effective early next month - the ìwar of terrorî president will face a stupefying Catch-22: back down, or make good on his veto threat. An override would badly damage his legacy.
See 19 Feb. Body Politic Post.read full story
Cheney, Libby, Intel Leaks
Dick Cheney remains incandescent. The guy he shot in a hunting accident hoped he hadnít caused trouble. W. said Cheney acquitted himself on Fox News. Now, a federal prosecutor says Tricky Dick 2ís former chief of staff wants to thwart the criminal case against him.
Scooter Libby was indicted on charges of perjury and obstructing of justice in an investigation of who revealed secret intelligence information about the identity of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Wilson. Through his attorneys, Cheneyís most trusted aide wants sensitive government documents, including the Presidentís Daily Brief for nearly a year for his defense.
The prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, in a court filing late last week told a federal judge that defendants like Libby had an incentive to derail their trials by asking for sensitive documents that the government might not want discussed openly.
Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, called the request for the daily brief ìbreathtakingî and ìa transparent effort at graymail.î Thatís the practice of discouraging a prosecution from proceeding by contending that a defendant may need to disclose classified or sensitive information as part of a complete legal defense.
John D. Cline, a San Francisco lawyer representing Libby, challenged the allegation. He told the New York Times that a 1980 law made graymail impossible because the government knew exactly what information the defense was seeking, and a judge must rule on whether it was necessary to the defense case.
Legal jousting aside, what makes the Libby case, slated for trial next January, riveting is what Cheney said in a Feb. 15 interview on Fox News, his favorite network. He revealed he had the authority to declassify intelligence information, citing an executive order that specifies who has classification authority. Besides the president, he said, it ìalso includes the vice president.î
Cheney declined to say if he had ever directed information to be declassified on his own. Significantly, he also said he could not discuss whether he told Libby to leak secrets.
But Libby, the National Journal reported this month, has testified that his superiors directed him to provide reporters with facts from the National Intelligence Estimate in 2003 to bolster the administrationís case for the invasion of Iraq that the United States led.
If Libby was given the authority to out Wilson, who was his direct control at the highest level of government?
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Arab Co. Control of U.S. Ports?
The Bush administration is defending approval of a $6.8 billion sale that gives a company in the United Arab Emirates control over six major American ports. The White House considers the UAE an important ally in the fight against terrorism.
It is another myopic rationale for how President Bush parses the war on terrorism. Islamic nations like the UAE and Pakistan are considered to be on our side. But are they? Why is Pakistan so deliberately ineffective in hunting down Osama bin Ladin?
Note that the FBI considered the UAE an important operational and financial base for the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Note also that UAE was one of only three nations to recognize the now-toppled Taliban in Afghanistan and a key transfer point for shipment of smuggled nuclear components sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by the now-pardoned Pakistani scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
A secretive U.S. government panel that considers security risks of buying or investing in American industry, and includes representatives from key federal departments, could have asked W. to block the purchase. But it unanimously agreed that the transaction should not be halted.
Shipping terminals in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia will be affected by the sale to Dubai Ports World. That the Homeland Security department, which has listed major ports along the East and West coasts among top terrorist targets, signed off is less than satisfactory based on its poor performance record on Katrina.
(On CNN today, HS chief Michael Chertoff defended the deal, said the Coast Guard is in charge and the subject is “classified.” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, citing the Los Angeles port, demanded briefings.)
Equally astonishing is that the president, who insists 9/11 mirrors his view of radical Islamic terror, has not been pressed by the mainstream media to reconsider the White Houseís earlier approval of DP World.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D- N.J. told the Associated Press, which broke the story, he will introduce legislation to prohibit companies owned or controlled by feoign governments from running port operations in the United States. Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., facing a tough re-election fight, has urged the president to prevent the sale.
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Cheney: Why Not Full Disclosure?
The vice president accidentally shot a friend while quail-hunting on a Texas ranch early last Saturday evening. The president was informed third hand; the White House waited almost 24 hours instead of issuing an immediate response. The rest is like a bizarre remake of ìWag the Dog.î
The prominent Texas attorney, well known to the president, was treated at the scene by Secret Service agents, transferred to a local Corpus Christi hospital, had a minor heart attack and is now recovering.
The Secret Service informed local police, a guest said it was the victimís fault and Dick Cheney, too busy to comment, decided the ranch owner should first give the story to the local newspaper Sunday morning. The story was posted on its web site at 1:30 p.m. and news agencies get it an hour later.
At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. told the president about a hunting accident involving Cheneyís party. At 7 p.m., after speaking with the ranch owner, Karl Rove broke the news to George W. Bush. The presidentís consigliere, aware of the political ramifications, wanted the White House to issue a brief statement. But there was none because Bush was weak and Cheney insisted on complete control.
That Bush would defer to the famously reclusive Cheney when the administration is already far down in public opinion, and under siege on almost every domestic and foreign policy issue, reveals more than anything else that the vice president is really the shadow president. Think absolute executive power, CIA leak case, neocons, Iraq, energy task force secrets. The list is long.
It confirms my belief that Bush 41 and his closest associates wanted Cheney on the ticket to baby sit Bush 43 but, boy, how that strategy has backfired. Privately, Republicans are concerned Cheney is toast ñ a joke and no longer a political asset.
ìStar Warsî filmmaker George Lucas best captured Cheney, saying this week in the empire Congress is irrelevant ìbecause the emperor controls everything.î Asked who the emperor might be, he said, ìItís not who you think. The emperor works behind Darth Vader.î The implication was Cheney would be cast as the behind-the-scenes-villain.
Yesterday, Cheney finally bowed to White House pressure. Reinforcing his disdain for mainstream media, he gave an exclusive interview to the conservative Fox cable network. Appearing contrite, he accepted full responsibility for the incident, insisting the delay was for ìaccuracyî in reporting but expressed no regret. Whoís buying it?
Basic instinct matters.
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The Troubles in Iraq
Condi Rice downplays the key role played by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr in the unexpected nomination of Ibrahim al-Jafaari to continue as Prime Minister in the next Iraq government. Jafaariís retention appears to confirm the growing strength of anti-U.S. fundamentalists within the new Iraqi Parliament.
How naÔve is Rice? Has she forgotten that the messianic Sadr led two violent uprisings against the U.S. occupation and the interim government in 2004, controls the largest bloc of seats within the Shiite alliance and recently visited Iran and Syria and is reported to have expressed solidarity with their hostility to the U.S.?
Jafaariís retention is a stunning setback for secular forces in Iraq and a fresh blow to President Bushís dream of democracy. A moderate Islamist with strong ties to Iranian leaders, he is criticized for failing since taking office in 2004 to significantly improve security in Iraq, permitting abuse and allowing death squads to the kill Sunni Arabs by the Shiite-dominated government.
The failure of the expected nominee, Adel Abdul Mahdi, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, makes power sharing with the main Kurdish and Sunni groups more difficult. This is especially the case if the alliance led by the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, whom the U.S. favors, is excluded from the cabinet.
Anything short of a stunning compromise, as insurgent violence continues unabated in and around Baghdad, is certain to spark anew the bitter debate on selective U.S. intelligence to justify a conclusion that the president decided to attack well before the March 2003 invasion.
Paul R. Pillar, the former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East from 2000 until last year makes credible arguments, dismissed by Republicans as ìpre-war intelligence myths,î in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
* The administration ìwent to war without requesting ñ and evidently without being influenced by ñ any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq.î
* It ìrepeatedly called on the intelligence community to uncover more material that would contribute to the case for war,î including information on the ìsupposed connectionî between Hussein and Al Qaeda, which analysts had discounted.
* Intelligence community assessments before the invasion indicated a postwar Iraq ìwould not provide a fertile ground for democracyî and would need ìa Marshall Plan-type effortî to restore its economy despite its oil revenue.
* The first request he received from a Bush policymaker for an assessment of post-invasion Iraq was ìnot until a year after the war.î
* That assessment, completed in August 2004, warned that the insurgency in Iraq could evolve into a guerilla war or a civil war. Bush, who told voters during the 2004 campaign that the mission was going well, described the assessment to reporters as ìjust guessing.î
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The Kickapoo Identity
When asked about Jack Abramoff on Jan. 26, President Bush replied, ìI donít know him.î But a photo of him and the disgraced lobbyist appear together in a photo on the Time Web site that is the first published image of the two together in the same room. What does it mean?
Scott McClellan says it means nothing, is one of thousands of photos the president has taken with thousands of people over the last five years and has no relevance to the Justice Department investigation of Abramoff. Still, the scandal cast a dark shadow over a weekend Republican retreat in Maryland where Bush reassured the faithful about his weak poll standing. If the GOP really cares about the appearance of a conflict in a midterm election year, it means something.
Time and the New York Times published the photo Saturday showing Bush greeting Chief Raul Garza, leader of the Kickapoo tribe in southwest Texas at the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House on May 9, 2001. Abramoff is looking on from the background and, yes, Karl Rove is seen in a partial profile watching from the presidentís right shoulder.
Although it is not clear what contact Abramoff had, if any, with the president during the 20 minutes the session lasted, the picture taken by a White House photographer is revealing. It demonstrates that the lobbyist, anxious to demonstrate his political influence with Indian tribes, was able, with the aid of senior administration officials, to penetrate the innermost sanctum of government.
NYT reported that the photograph was provided to it by Chief Garza, under indictment on federal charges of embezzling money from his tribe, who said he had ìnothing to hideî in his dealings with Abramoff and the White House. His lawyer said the lobbyist arranged for the chief to attend the meeting, ostensibly for a group of state legislators supportive of Bushís 2001 tax cut plan. Also in attendance was Grover Norquist, a leading conservative tax strategist and friend of Abramoff.
While Abramoff never got the contract to represent the tribe and its lucrative casino, the ìKickapoo Identityî ñ a mere photo op or more ñ is a classic metaphor for influence peddling at the summit in Washington.read full story
Bush: Recycling the News
President Bush disclosed yesterday new details of a foiled terrorist plot to fly a highjacked jet into a Los Angeles skyscraper, the tallest building on the West Coast, and crediting international cooperation in the war on terrorism with thwarting the 2002 scheme.
His speech appeared to confuse and stun many, gave the impression that Republicans want to make national security the #1 issue in the midterm elections and caused a peevish Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to vent that the White House had not given him advance notice.
While some details are new - the planned use of a ìshoe bombî by hijackers to access the cockpit door - neither Bush nor the White House gave any real reason beyond Rovian spin for releasing details of a plot they first disclosed last October. In fact, most of what Bush said about the plot was already recycled news.
The Sunday Times (London) reported on March 28, 2004 that Osama Bin Laden ordered his operations chief, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to prepare for an attack on Heathrow soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. as part of a two-pronged assault, with a cryptic reference to the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
On March 31, 2004, the Los Angeles Times confirmed that an attack on the Library Tower was planned but never carried out. ìWe were made aware of that information last spring,î said John Miller, the LAPDís top anti-terrorism official (now a rising figure in the FBI) who detailed a number of immediate measures to heighten security and implement high-rise evacuation drills after the plot was uncovered.
Miller said the Joint Terrorism Task Force first learned of Al Qaedaís aborted plans for a second wave of attacks in 2003, according to the Times story. It noted that ìtwo law enforcement sources said that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in March 2003, reportedly told his interrogators that the Library Tower ñ now known as the U.S. Bank Tower ñ was targeted along with Chicagoís Sears Tower.î
It is known that L.A. public officials, including then-Councilman Villaraigosa, were privy to briefings on the Al Qaeda plot by Miller three years ago, making his rant a little disingenuous. The mayor told AP that he was amazed that the president would make an announcement on national TV without informing his office. But his office said the White House made such a disclosure on Wednesday.
Villaraigosa issued a reassuring statement updating many of the precautions detailed by Miller in 2003. But Kevin Roderick, editor of laobserved.com, was not reassured by the mayorís math that LAFD helicopters can evacuate 350 people an hour off the roof of a burning building. ìHow many hours would it take to clear a sixty-story office tower?î
The mayor did get a live shot on CNN, but so what? Bush daily plays the network like a fiddle.read full story
Lobby Reform: McCain-Obama Duel
The riveting exchange of letters on lobbying ethics reform this week between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was refreshingly transparent and a departure from the phony collegiality that governs rhetorical exchanges in the U.S. Senate.
It suggested that trouble lies ahead in ongoing bipartisan efforts to come up with legislation governing relations with lobbyists in the wake of the guilty plea by superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.
A petulant McCain accused the freshman senator of ìpartisan posturingî on ethics reform ñ a charge turned aside by Obama as puzzling and regrettable
Based on Obamaís previous letter thanking McCain for the invitation to a meeting to discuss reform proposals, McCain wrote ìI concluded your professed concern for the institution and the public interest was genuine and admirable. Thank you for disabusing me of such notions.î
Obama responded he had no idea what ìprompted your responseÖThe fact that you have now questioned my sincerity Öis regrettable but does not in any way diminish my deep respect for you nor my willingness to find a bipartisan solution to this problem.î
Three points to consider:
First, Republicans, not Democrats, are at the center of the Abramoff scandal. They are angry at attempts to link the lobbying issue to what Democrats call the Republican ìculture of corruption.î
Second, McCain, certain to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, understands the problem but hopes to be the un-wingnut who can appeal to Democrats and independents. While a media favorite, his emotional outburst suggests heís politically thin-skinned and vulnerable in the long run.
Third, Obamaís parry of McCainís attack was both deft and cool. He made headlines as keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and won election to the Senate. He is the Democratsí fastest rising star.read full story
Bush Budget: What About Justice?
Say a long goodbye to President Bush as a ìcompassionate conservative,î the promise he made on taking office in January 2001. That month the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget would run a huge surplus, in excess of $5.6 trillion between 2002 and 2011.
This week, as Bush releases his new budget plan, the budget office predicts deficits for the five years starting Oct. 1 totaling more than $2.2 trillion. Making tax cuts permanent, 9/11, a recession and dramatic increases in on national security are the reason.
The priorities in the presidentís $2.77 trillion plan, increased spending on the military and domestic security, come at the expense of addressing the huge budget deficit by deeply slashing domestic programs, including health and human services and education.
His obsessive mantra of ìprotecting our citizens and our homelandî may assuage fiscal conservatives by slowing the rate of spending but the larger question is whether, in a midterm election with control of Congress by Republicans at stake, voters will buy his package in November. Or decide W. has his priorities confused.
I mean, the discretionary military budget is up 6.9% and does not include supplemental appropriations of at least $50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and an increase of 1.3 % for homeland security. Consider big funding drops in vocational education, slowing the growth of Medicare and eliminating a food program for low-income women, infants, children and people over 60.
ìA budget is a statement of moral choices, and this budget makes the wrong choices,î said John Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
I recall the warm embrace of Bush and Bono of U2 at the recent National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The Irish rock star said:
ìHereís some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the worldís poor. America would be taken up with itís own problems of safety. And itís true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.î
In complimenting America, Bono made clear help was not about charity but about justice. I question whether Bush understands the distinction.read full story
White House Confidential
ìFleischer recalled that Libby ëadded something along the lines of, you know, this is hush hush, nobody knows about this.î
The noir language echoes ìL.A. Confidential,î James Ellroyís crime novel about LAPD and Hollywood corruption in the late 1940s. The quote, from then White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, refers to his lunch with I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheneyís then chief of staff, on July 7, 2003.
Itís fact, not fiction, part of newly released pages of a formerly secret legal opinion by a federal appeals judge about the identity of a CIA officer at the heart of the criminal leak case involving Libby, as reported by the New York Times.
Judge David S. Tatel ës written opinion disclosed that Libby acknowledged to prosecutors that he had heard directly from Cheney about Valerie Wilson, married to Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who criticized the Bush administrationís about Iraq policy. That was more than a month before the columnist Robert Novak first disclosed her identity on July 14, 2003.
The new material amplified and provided new details outlined in the October 2005 indictment of Libby which accused him of falsely telling reporters that he had first learned about Ms. Wilson from reporters when, in fact, according to the charging document he learned about it from government officials like Cheney. (Libbyís lawyers hint his defense strategy may be that his preoccupation with affairs of state may have led to ìimperfect recall.î)
Judge Tatelís formerly secret opinion were reportedly largely drawn from affidavits supplied by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case who is the U.S. Attorney in Chicago.
The new information includes the lunch at which Libby told Fleischer about Ms. Wilson and that she had sent her husband to Africa to examine intelligence reports indicating that Iraq sought to buy uranium ore from Niger. Judge Tatel wrote that Fleischer described the lunch to prosecutors as ìkind of weird,î noting that Libby ìoperated in a very closed-lip fashion.î
Several pages of the opinion, said to contain information about Fitzgeraldís investigation of Karl Rove, the senior White House political adviser, remained under seal. Rove has not been charged but remains under investigation.
Credit release of the new material to lawyers for the Wall Street Journal - a major First Amendment ruling for the right of public access to court records. It raises fresh questions about the hush hush world of the shadowy Cheney, principal architect of the decision to attack Iraq without evidence of WMD ñ or any uranium ore from Niger.read full story
Super Bowl 40: L.A. Bid Stalls
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference that negotiations between the league and the players union about a new collective-bargaining agreement are not going well. Without a deal, rumors about a special ownersí huddle before their March meeting to consider a Los Angeles franchise are now DOA.
It is known while L. A. is on the agenda for discussion in Orlando, Tagliabueís priority is a new collective bargaining agreement next month. Given recent rhetoric by the NFL Players Association he acknowledged that the labor issue is a complication which must be resolved prior to putting a franchise in the City of Angels.
Without an extension, the commissioner said relative to L.A., ìissues of how to ensure the proper private financing for a stadium and related issues would be very difficult to resolve.” Still, he added, ìa lot of things get done at the 11th hour and 59th minute.î
Sundayís Super Bowl is the 40th since the first played in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was a time when professional football was still a game, not a billion-dollar business, and when John Q. Public could afford a couple of tickets. If the NFL and the players union ever get real MAYBE the city can field a team before 2010.read full story
NFL, L.A. Coliseum Update
The years long kabuki dance between NFL owners and the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission about the possible return of a team to the famed oval, without professional football since the Raiders left after the 1994 season, nears an end.
Sundayís Super Bowl game between the Steelers and Seahawks in Detroit marks the 40th anniversary of the first championship playoff in the Coliseum between the Packers and the Chiefs, with owners about to decide at their March meeting in Orlando whether or not to return to the City of Angels.
But informed rumors now are that a decision on Los Angeles could be made at a special meeting of league owners in the next couple of weeks. The caveat is that the NFLís long-running collective bargaining issues with the players association are resolved as a deadline nears.
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State of the Union 2006
There were striking contrasts Tuesday night between President Bushís more somber and modest menu of domestic ideas and the Democratic response by newly elected Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine about ìa better wayî to run the nation.
Bush, mindful of his legacy and a crucial midterm election, outlined proposals on health, education and energy. The most striking was the declaration that the U.S. must get over its addiction to oil, setting a goal of replacing 75% of the nationís Middle East oil imports by 2025 with ethanol and other energy sources.
Given that Bush 41 and Bush 43 made their marks in the oil business the comment seems slightly disingenuous - all the more so because of their longtime coziness with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Arab states friendly with the U.S., in contrast to oil-rich regimes in unstable Iraq and nuclear crazed Iran.
Bush, of course, has mentioned less dependence on oil in four State of the Union addresses while Nixon and Carter made the same hollow promises to make the U.S. self-sufficient in energy.
The president broke no new ground on foreign policy; defending the war on terror, justifying his secret domestic spying program without warrants and never mentioning withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a top poll concern with voters.
A few TV pundits thought the ingenue Virginia governor was not muscular enough and failed to lay out an alternative Democratic agenda which, of course, is not really surprising because no coherent one exists.
But Kaine hit the right notes, blasting the administrationís poor choices and bad management in Iraq, responding to Hurricane Katrina and a lack of focus on the nationís health care system. ìThe federal government should serve the American people.î
Some party activists and liberal blogs were uncomfortable with the choice of Kaine because during last yearís campaign the former Jesuit missionary in Honduras invoked his religious beliefs. What a hypocriticial reaction! As the first Roman Catholic governor of Virginia, he opposed abortion and the death penalty, but assured Virginians that he would uphold the law on both.
That Kaine defeated Bushís candidate in a Red state sends a strong message to the national Democratic party that it needs to get real, shift away from it’s tired New York-Boston-Washington beltway mindset and find a fresh new face to recapture the White House in 2008.
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Halliburton: U.S. Contract Funds Missing?
Another good reason for public anger about the Bush administrationís fiscal mismanagement of the war in Iraq is a rebuilding scandal involving billions of U.S. contracting money, which may have gone missing.
The Wall Street Journal (1/17) reported that more than 18 months after the Pentagon disbanded the Coalition Provisional Authority that ran Iraq, neither the Justice Department nor a special inspector general has moved to recover large sums suspected of disappearing through fraud and price gouging in reconstruction. One unit of Halliburton Co., which Dick Cheney ran for five years, is under scrutiny.
The Pentagonís inadequate preparation for war, ranging from insufficient vehicle armor to substandard body armor, each resulting in the deaths of countless Americans, is well known. But less understood is the lack of pursuit to trace what happened to the money or make recipients pay back ill gotten gains. The inspector generalís office said it doesnít plan to ask the Justice Department to file lawsuits or to conduct widespread audits of individual contracts to look for fraud.
The Journal said one question facing the government is whether to seek recovery of funds paid to the largest contractor, Halliburtonís KBR unit, which was awarded multibillion-dollar no-bid contracts beginning shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq to rebuild oil fields and provide logistical support for the U.S. military.
The Pentagonís audit-contracting arm found expenses of $1.4 billion unsupported by documentation on KBRís two largest contracts, valued at a total of $9.5 billion. The audit agency recently passed its findings on to the Justice Department, to consider whether a criminal complaint is warranted. But the agencyís calls to withhold Halliburton payments have been resisted by Pentagon units that awarded the contracts.
Cheney, U.S. News & World Report reported, has long believed in privatization of some government operations. So itís not surpassing that Halliburton, where he made $40 million, would be the major beneficiary of outsourcing.
Last Friday, increasingly profitable Halliburton said it would offer minority shares in its also profitable KBR unit, even amid criticism of its contracts in Iraq. Former employees have said that the company exposed American troops and civilians at a military base in that country to contaminated water.
With the U.S. deficit rising to $8.2 trillion, the scandal should make good campaign fodder in the mid-term elections. Are Democrats capable of making it a serious corruption issue?read full story
L.A. Politics: Arriba Villaraigosa
As L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa begins his eighth month in office the speed of his initial ascent into national politics astonishes. Heís already spoken to mayors at Harvardís JFK School and in Washington, D.C. He gives the Spanish-language Democratic response to the Presidentís State of the Union speech on Tuesday.
I view Villaraigosa, who rose rapidly to become Assembly Speaker in Sacramento only to lose in 2000 for mayor to James K. Hahn before crushing him last year, as a charismatic, if restless, Latino political star in a hurry to move upward.
The City News Service budget since last summer is a barometer of his daily appearances across the city, dwarfing outreach by any previous mayor. With multi-faceted goals including homelessness, transit and education, such visibility leads some media critics to question whether he has enough time to govern.
At Harvard, Villaraigosa outlined his political vision, passionately calling himself a ìproud progressive.î He described cities as ìone place where progressive leaders hold power,î citing mayors that have represented both political parties over the past decade.
He described reforming public schools as the ìcentral public policy issue of our time,î and while never seriously raising the subject until midway through the 2005 campaign, praised mayors Richard Daley in Chicago and Michael Bloomberg in New York City for ìreinventing urban education.î
Reprising much of his Harvard rhetoric before the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week, Villaraigosa focused with equally fresh passion on poverty. As chairman of a national task force on poverty, the ambitious mayor got both media exposure, a national stage and will work with Washingtonís Brookings Institution on a new anti-poverty initiative.
But his bold plan to get the Legislature in 2007 to allow voters to decide whether he, too, can reinvent urban education by taking over the huge Los Angeles Unified School District, reform it and appoint the school board may be a reach too far minus a compelling explanation. His negative rhetoric has angered both elected board members and the powerful teachersí union, which raised over $850,000 to elect him.
Villaraigosaís hubris rests on a single poll his office commissioned private poll showing him with an 82% approval rating. Aping the George Bush re-election boast, the mayor said heíd use his political capital to succeed. But such passion could be in a race against time and higher ambition. His refusal to pledge to serve two terms until 2013 to insure reform suggests a more lofty progressive agenda either in Sacramento or, more likely, Washington.read full story
Return of a Maverick
It’s refreshing that a famous liberal California Republican maverick, Pete McCloskey, is again taking on the establishment after almost a quarter of a century out of Congress. His June primary target is six-term Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy), chairman of the powerful House Resources Committee.
Pombo, McCloskey says, has taken more money than any other California congressman from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, stymied efforts to further investigate former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, done nothing to reduce emissions in the Central Valley and has eroded the Endangered Species Act, which McCloskey authored in 1972.
A decorated Marine combat veteran who opposed the Vietnam War a generation ago, McCloskey, who represented Palo Alto, said his party “has shifted away from the values I knew.î Identifying himself with another maverick, Sen. John McCain, his platform calls for “a return to GOP traditional values of honesty, high ethical principles, fiscal responsibility and a reasonable balance between economic balance and environmental protection.î
He calls Pombo, 43, who represents the conservative leaning 11th Congressional District, largely in the San Joaquin Valley ìan embarrassment.î
McCloskey, 78, is a big underdog but heís been there before. In 1972, he challenged President Nixon on Vietnam and finished second in the 1982 GOP Senate primary, which ended his career. Still, despite a huge war chest, Pombo is vulnerable and McCloskey is likely to attract serious free media attention.
In November, Democrats need to win a net 15 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives. McCloskey urged Republicans to support John Kerry for president in 2004. Short of an upset, he could well become an improbable stalking horse to weaken Pombo against the eventual Democratic nominee. George Bush beat Kerry by only 3% in the district.
Maverick is a word in the dictionary associated with one who is unorthodox in political views. It goes back to Samuel Maverick, son of an Anglican minister in England, who settled in Massachusetts about 1624. McCloskey’s reappearance helps encourage serious debate in a nation that needs it.
Spy Game: Circle 2/6
Bush increases his defense of a secret domestic spying program and denies it violates civil liberties, implying Democrats are not sufficiently committed to national security. But many Republicans and traditional conservatives join Democrats in challenging the surveillance program, skeptical about a precedent-setting bypass of federal courts.
The White House intensifies its campaign to justify warrantless NSA wiretapping - a Rove reprise of the 9/11 card seen as a winning strategy in this yearís elections, a fresh way to bash Democrats and to affirm Cheneyís obsession with more robust presidential power. It is a high-risk, partisan ploy edging on a violation of constitutional provisions protecting Americansíprivacy to justify the war on terror.
John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Richard Lugar are among GOP lawmakers who doubt Bush has the legal authority to conduct such surveillance. David Keene, Paul Weyrich and Grover Norquist are among authentic conservatives who have formed a group, Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances, to press for ìsubstantive oversight hearings.î Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will hold hearings starting Feb. 6.
On Monday, Bush spoke at Kansas State University, the same campus where in 1970 Nixon defended his prosecution of the war in Vietnam. He said with a chuckle, ìYou know, its amazing that people say to me, ëWell, he was just breaking the law.í If I wanted to break the law, why was I briefing Congress?î Heís misstating the facts about such briefings and the congressional resolution passed after the 2001 attacks.
The White House defends the lack of briefings for the full House and Senate intelligence committees. It points to secret briefings of the Gang of 8 as evidence of its transparency in bypassing the FISA court to provide the administration with the ìspeed and agilityî to detect Al Qaeda suspects. In fact, two were known to it before 9/11 and escaped apprehension.
The top leadership of both parties was never fully informed of the scope of Bushís assumption of inherent powers after 9/11. When Democrat Jay Rockefeller complained about this to Cheney in a written note he never received a reply. The issue has now been joined.read full story
Quick preview: Nuke-prone Iran plays the oil card; stocks tumble; Iraq vote; Roveís tired message, weak Dean response and Osama; Arnoldís re-election problem.
Iranís nuclear intentions escalate. John McCain says itís the most serious threat since the end of the Cold War. The world is vexed with UN sanctions questionable. Would the U.S. stage a military strike to end the threat? Hawk Dick Cheney said last week the option should remain on the table, adding, ìLetís leave it there.î Analysts fret about rising oil costs because of the unresolved stalemate. Prices at the pump could reach $3-a-gallon ñ a political disaster for W. Eleven days after headlines proclaimed that the Dow pushed past 11,000, with investorsí optimism rising, only to tumble Friday in sharpest one-day decline since May 2003.
The Shiite-Kurd bloc fell just short of forming a new government without Sunni Arabs, behind the insurgency. The U.S. challenge: speed the process to form a broader coalition government with Sunni participation - a process that may take months. Donít expect quick U.S. troop withdrawals. Crash focus is to prevent religious Shiite and Sunni religious parties from gaining control of the army and police. Translation: avert civil war. The list led by Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon hero who smoozed with Cheney only weeks ago, failed to win a single seat.
Karl Rove, still twisting in the wind in the ongoing CIA-leak investigation, tells edgy GOP leaders how to retain control in fall elections. He flays Democrats and, in a tired echo of 2004, makes national security the major difference between the parties, ignoring GOP opposition to both the surveillance program and the Patriot Act. The response by DNC chairman Howard Dean is weak. Trying to fault W. for keeping Rove around while the leak case remains unresolved is not a recipe for winning. Maureen Dowdís biting column said what Dr. Dean failed to say: ìThe White House has always seemed less compelled to capture Osama than to use him and as a pretext for invading Iraq and as a political selling point.î Impressive CBS reporter Laura Logan cut to the chase, and moved past redundant chatter about the new Osama warning, in pressing senators Lieberman and Roberts on ìFace the Nationî about an emerging young generation of jihadists worldwide.
A major Schwarzenegger re-election problem is his base. Conservatives cheer hiring of Steve Schmidt, Cheneyís media brain, and Matthew Dowd, Bushís chief strategist in 2004. But hard-liners threaten withdrawal of the partyís endorsement at their convention next month unless the governor fires liberal Democrat Susan P. Kennedy, his new chief of staff, and architect of his center-left drift. Unspoken but whispered: is the Last Action Hero really a donkey in elephantís clothing? He will survive in San Jose but be forced to pander more to the wing nuts.
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What Makes Arnold Run?
Gov. Schwarzeneggerís surprise appearance Monday at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast in San Francisco attended by big-name Democrats, labor and community leaders again displayed a lifetime career obsession: the will to win.
Ignoring his fall special election disaster, Republicans and tough talk about labor unions, the governor sounded like a Kennedy Democrat on issues like public service and equal education for children. Yes, heís paddling rapidly back to the center, maybe even left.
A few awed liberals opined that his shift is bad for Democrats. Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, now a lawyer-lobbyist who facilitated his appearance and offered effusive praise, said his successful re-emergence means Democrats are in trouble. But his last-minute presence caused uproar. The furious head of the cityís labor council said, ìWillie was pimping him in front of us,î noting unions spent over 18 months and millions to defeat the governorís proposals.
Schwarzeneggerís comeback began with his State of the State address when, aping liberal Democrat Pat Brown nearly a half century ago, he introduced a multi-billion construction and innovation program to fix the stateís infrastructure.
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, noting how California has changed, wrote ìItís good to mimic Pat Brownís leadership ñ his political courage, negotiating skills and focused tenacity. Schwarzenegger still hasnít proved heís capable of that.î
His controversial budget has angered Republican fiscal conservatives, liberal advocates for the poor and caused the stateís nonpartisan analyst to say his proposed spending plan means spending more and not reducing the stateís multibillion dollar deficit.
A San Jose State University Survey and Policy Research Institute poll, Jan. 2-6, shows some growth in support for the governor among moderates and a statistical dead heat with liberal Democratic rivals, state treasurer Phil Angelides and state controller Steve Westly.
The bad news in his transparent makeover is that about half of voters say his decision to call a special election and the defeat of his ballot measures has made it less likely they will back his re-election.
So the ìRepublicratî label is fitting ñ recruiting liberal Democrat Susan Kennedy as chief of staff/political guru, and hard line conservative Steve Schmidt, the White House mediameister for Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. That said, the governor still faces the political equivalent of a steep Austrian Alps climb. Charisma alone wonít cut it with swing voters.
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Iran: Nukes, Holocaust & Iraq
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line conservative elected president of Iran last June, has made two things perfectly clear: he will continue Iranís controversial nuclear program and further his attempt to destroy Israel.
A defiant Ahmadinejad, saying Iran would press ahead with its nuclear program, told Western governments Saturday that he is unafraid of the threat of economic sanctions because ìultimately they need us more than we need them.î The Iranian oil minister on Sunday issued an oil price warning should sanctions be imposed.
President Bush has said that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is ìa grave threat to security.” Russia and China agreed with the U.S. and European allies that Iran must suspend its nuclear program. But both, with strong trade ties to Iran, stopped short Monday of demanding a referral for sanctions to the UN Security Council - a setback for the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Moscow, raised hell with Vladimir Putin who favors a compromise.
The Washington Post said Ahmadinejad in his news conference described it ìlaughableî that his assertions in October that Israel be ìwiped off the map,î and his reference to the Holocaust as ìmythî may have seeded doubts out the peaceful nature of Iranís nuclear program.
But on Sunday Iran said it would sponsor a conference to examine scientific evidence supporting the Holocaust, the Nazisí slaughter of 6 million European Jews during World War II. This taunting escalation is viewed as Ahmadinejadís next move to threaten the existence of the Jewish state.
His statements reflect the established positions of Iranís unelected officials, ultimately approved by the nationís supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Iraq, here is the critical political question: Is Iraqi democracy compatible with Iranian theocracy?
While there are Shiite majorities in each country, it is unclear whether the Shiites in Iraq are a unified force, or if Teheran could exercise suspected undue influence on a friendly Baghdad as the struggling new government unfolds. Iraqi Shiites are Arab, not Persian like their Shiite counterparts. They did not rise up against Saddam or fight for Iran in the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Donald Rumsfeld alleged Iranian-sponsored fighting forces were inside Iraq during the war against Saddam, presenting a threat to U.S. troops. Shiite domination of the new Iraqi government, coupled with Ahmadinejadís hatred for the U.S., endangers Bushís murky Iraq ìstrategy for victory.î A secular-led Sunni civil war, discounted by Washington, would bring the explosive democracy-theocracy issue quickly to the fore.read full story
Weekend: Of Many Issues
Al-Qaeda No. 2: Going into the weekend, citing unnamed American intelligence agents, U.S. networks reported a CIA airstrike on a remote border village aimed at killing terrorist mastermind Ayman al-Zawahri. The mission failed but killed at least 17 people, enraged thousands of tribesmen, was condemned by Pakistan. The Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council all said they had no knowledge on reports concerning al-Zawahri. Fresh failure in decapitating Al-Qaeda or just more bureaucratic bungling? To be a fly on the wall when John Kerry meets over the weekend in Pakistan with President Musharraf, Bushís pal and strangely equivocal ally in the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden. Oh wellÖ
Artful New Jersey Dodger: Judge Alito is less like Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. on constitutional interpretation and originalism and closer to Justice Scalia than Thomas. Despite liberal posturing, odds portent a messy full Senate fight but confirmation ñ a big win for ìheck of a guyî Bush, with little else to cheer about, and uncertainty about Senate races this year. ABC News figured Alito over 18 hours responded to 677 questions over three days. A Judiciary Committee tally showed that, in exchanges with 18 members, Alitoís time exceeded the Senatorsí time asking only 9 times in attempting to learn his views of critical issues like presidential power and abortion. It was an ominous Democratic strategy failure - talking more and listening less. The garrulous Joe Biden, for one, talked for almost 47 minutes; Alitoís response: just under 19 minutes.
Hardball Arnold: New indication the California governor is a Republicrat even as he pretends to move to the center. First, he hires Susan Kennedy, a lifelong Democratic consultant strategist as his new chief of staff. He also dispatches the turncoat liberal to woo wealthy GOP fat cat donors for his reelection effort, giving them private access for cash, And yes, besides a state salary, sheís being paid extra with campaign funds. Second, Schwarzenegger has hired tough guy Steve Schmidt, 35, media guru in Alitoís nomination battle. Part of the ìrapid responseî team in W.ís re-election, Schmidt has since been Vice President Cheneyís PR chief. Has he also been advising Cheney confidante Scooter Libby, indicted in the CIA leak case?
300 Millionth Baby: With the population growing by one person every 14 seconds ñ and a baby born every 8 seconds - the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the a baby born this year will become the 300 millionth American. William Frey, a demographer with the University of Michigan, predicts the baby ìwill be a Mexican Latino in Los Angeles County, with parents who speak Spanish at home and with siblings that are bilingual.î With conception of a “million-dollar baby” sometime this month, most likely in the West or suburban South, political futurists may already be speculating about the direction of a ìYî generation.
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Sectarian War: Questions for W.
Two stories in the New York Times, one Jan. 7 and another today, raise new questions about the war in Iraq and the present volatile situation. The first said U.S. officials were talking with local Iraqi insurgent leaders to exploit a rift that had opened between homegrown insurgents and radical groups like Al Qaeda, and an opportunity to draw Sunni Arabs more into the political process.
The Jan. 7 dispatch, ignored by main stream media, said the talks have made little progress because of a demand for a timetable for withdrawal of American forces - a Sunni demand, which Bush has repeatedly refused. Todayís story tells of several clashes between local fighters from the Islamic Army and Al Qaeda fighters, including a battle fought Oct. 23 near Baghdad and others across the Sunni Triangle in recent months.
These battles, including mostly Iraqi nationalists and ex-members of Saddam Husseinís Baath Party, suggest an undeclared sectarian war is raging and undercuts explicit or implied links between Saddam and Al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks ñ Bushís justification for the U.S. invasion.
My November 30 post, ìThe Cover Up Continues,î quoted from a report by Murray Waas the previous week in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after the attacks:
ìPresident Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and there was scant evidence that Iraq had any collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.î
Waas also found ìfew credible reportsî of Iraqi-Al Qaeda contacts involved Husseinís efforts to infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as anathema to his secular regime. Remember that in 1983 Reagan emissary Donald Rumsfeld physically embraced Saddam as a secular ally in the U.S. struggle in the war against Iranís theocratic rulers. Iran today is again a player.
The growing sectarian strife does underscore the importance Bush attaches to involving Sunni Arabs in a national government coalition since Shiite and Kurdish political groups did not win enough seats to form a government coalition of their own. But secular-religious tensions remain high. Shiites accuse Sunnis of encouraging violence, while Sunnis accuse Shiite-controlled security forces of assassination and torture.
That Sunni leaders are known to be discussing setting up armed local militias to protect residents from assaults from Shiite police and troops is another strong indication that internal strife within Iraq is near a tipping point.
Bush insists he will settle for ìnothing less than complete victoryî in Iraq. But he is staring at a no-win possibility unless the Sunni-Shiite situation is resolved: draw down U.S. troops soon, or keep them there for a generation to defend democracy in Mesopotamia, a war-zone graveyard for centuries.
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The Alito Quiz
Today, as hearings begin on the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito Jr., the expectation was that they would be quite different than those for Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. four months ago. Partisans on both sides thought they would take a sharp ideological turn.
It has not happened because the public is not yet engaged and see the Alito process a lot less like the explosive ideological clashes in the past involving Robert H. Bork and Clarence Thomas and more focused, as in the case of Roberts, on demeanor and substance.
While Alito says he will follow the law, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will key on his past statements about such issues as presidential power, abortion and other hot buttons in an attempt to put him on the defensive. And perhaps drop a bombshell in an attempt to derail him.
Short of that, and as recent polls have shown, Alito may be on the path to confirmation. A groundswell of opposition has not yet developed and the Democrats so far have failed to make an overarching argument that his confirmation would move the swing vote held by Justice Sandra Day OíConnor further to the right.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told the Washington Post the holiday break worked to the advantage of Alito. Rather than giving opponents time to organize, ìit gave the public time to be complacent.î
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, completed Jan. 8, indicates a majority of Americans favor Alitoís confirmation and an even bigger proportion believe he would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
There is danger for the Democrats in attempting a filibuster, especially since many must run for re-election in Republican-held states. The biggest problem today for the party opposite is that the rank-and-file has not been galvanized ñ 40% supporting the appointment, and 39% opposed. Even liberals narrowly outnumber supporters in opposition.
Kennedy, Leahy and their colleagues have to hope that the 20% of Americans who are undecided about the nominee get fired up enough by the hearings in the next 72 hours to electrify public interest and force W. back to the drawing board. Possible but not probable.read full story
NFL Stadium Battle in LA
ìCuriouser and curiouser,î as Alice cried out in ìAlice in Wonderland,î best describes a politically charged game involving negotiations between rival local interests with the National Football League to return professional football to Los Angeles.
A united Coliseum Commission, with the powerful backing of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, supports a reconfigured Coliseum and has worked closely on a stadium deal with the NFL for years.
Then, on Dec. 29, the Boston Herald dropped a holiday bombshell. It disclosed that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was in stealth negotiations with the NFL to build a 65,000 seat stadium with an entertainment center and retail space on the parking space surrounding Dodger Stadium ñ a nonpareil site for a crown jewel multiplex.
Bizarrely dubbed ìFive Ton Gorilla,î the proposal cited documents, authenticated by the Dodgers, revealing that McCourtís representatives held secret meetings with NFL officials last fall in Los Angeles even as the league has continued to focus publicly on the Coliseum site. After the story broke, many local political figures expressed outrage at the duplicity of McCourt and the NFL.
McCourt responded that he is a strong supporter of bringing the NFL to the city and made it ìabundantly clear that I support the (Los Angeles) Coliseum as the site for the NFLís new team.î (He unsuccessfully sought to buy the Red Sox in 2001 and build a new stadium on his South Boston land.). But the full story remains to be told.
Among intriguing questions:
* What is the pivotal role and conflict, if any, of Latham & Watkins, the powerful L.A. law firm which represents the Dodgers, the NFL and USC?
* When NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue met with Villaraigosa last November did he mention the secret McCourt talks and, if so, did the mayor mention them to the Coliseum Commission?
* Did McCourt or his associates brief Villaraigosa about the proposal and, if so, was the Commission informed?
* Is USCís Board of Trustees committed to the Coliseum in adjoining Exposition Park where the football Trojans play, or is McCourtís venue seen internally as a better option?
Trivia note: The fledgling NFL had a history, if not gridiron success, with Brooklynís football Dodgers. Playing in Ebbets Field (1930-1944) the team never won a championship and finished second four times in the NFL East.read full story
Language Flaw in Iraq
President Bush says heís impressed when somebody comes up to him and speaks Texan. ìI know they appreciate Texas culture.î
So heís proposed spending over $100 million on educational programs to expand the teaching of Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and other languages typically not taught in public schools. But this fact alone underscores that the lack of such training is a long term weakness in U.S. education; in military terms it exposes a clear and present danger in the ìwar on terror.î
The president told college and university presidents last week the effort would play a critical role in national security and lead to American studentsí gaining a better understanding of foreign cultures. Robert Birgeneau, chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley, told the New York Times he was among presidents last year in Washington who discussed similar language issues with the CIA. His understanding was that ìtheir needs are desperate.î
Such concern remains a major flaw in Bushís questionable ìPlan for Victory.î James Fallows argued in the Atlantic Monthly last month that an orderly exit from Iraq depends on a viable security force and the ability of the U.S. military to solve its major language problems.
He wrote that U.S. forces and trainers should have about 22,000 interpreters instead of just one or two per company. This omission represents another failure of the White House to prepare troops for battle and keep them out of harmís way. A secret Pentagon study has found 80% of marines killed in Iraq could have survived if they had extra body armor.
The language blunder can only be corrected by crash language training of thousands of military personnel. ìWhen somebody takes the time to figure out how to speak Arabic, it means theyíre interested in somebody elseís culture,î W. opined. Now that it’s been figured out for him, how serious is he about fixing the problem?read full story
Jack in a Box
Itís not a happy new year for the Washington establishment. In the biggest federal corruption scandal to hit Congress in a generation, superlobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.
The longtime Republican operative has agreed to spill the beans about powerful congressmen, aides and lobbyists with whom he has done business to reduce a long prison sentence. Emerging from federal court dressed in a black trench coat and matching fedora and looking like a Mafia Don in a remake of “The Godfather,” he represented an extreme outreach of power in trading influence from the time the GOP took control of the House in 1994.
Whatís worrisome to members of Congress about the bribery case is that many of its elements include solicitation transactions that routinely occur daily in Washington. But the flamboyant Abramoff set a new standard for ethical impropriety and government for sale by providing lawmakers with exotic trips, free meals and lavish entertainment.
Nothing better illustrates the uneasy relationship between government and money than the unbelievable reaction of California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. He represents some coastal cities in southern Los Angeles and Orange counties, has been a pal of Abramoff for two decades and provided a loan reference for his purchase of the SunCruz casino fleet in 2000.
ìI think heís been dealt a bad hand and the worst, rawest deal Iíve ever seen in my life. Words like bribery are being used to describe things that happened every day in Washington and are not bribes.î The feds disagree.
Rohrabacher, a freebie at Signatures, Abramoffís posh former power restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue ñ and whose name had a FOO (Friend of Owner) Comp designation next to it - dined once or twice a month there and said the meals fell under the friendship designation in House rules. He told the New York Times that he tried to take Abramoff out regularly, paying for the lobbyistsí meals in return.
Although some powerful Democrats received money from Abramoffís clients, Republicans may have more to worry about in the November 2006 midterm elections. Key players in the Abramoff network included indicted former majority leader Tom DeLay; Ohio Rep. Bob Ney; and the conservative lobbyists Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. House Speaker Dennis Hastert hastened this week to give $60 grand he received to charity.
This scandal raises comparisons with the Teapot Dome bribery scandal in the 1920s that ruined the reputation of Republican President Warren G. Harding and lingered for a decade afterwards. Teapot Dome never reached Harding personally. But it ruined his administrationís reputation. One wonders how far this investigation will extend, how effective Abramoff’s testimony will be and how close it may come to the Bush White House.
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W. and Fourth Amendment
Consider this outrageous presidential statement to justify a questionable legal act: ìIf somebody from Al Qaeda is calling you, weíd like to know why.î Yes, George W. Bush is so obsessed with another Al Qaeda attack that heís authorized warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens ìto find out what the enemy is thinking.î
His first remarks of 2006, a vigorous defense of the NSA program as a matter of national security, were intended to deflect bipartisan congressional inquiries this month into his authorization of spying as ìnecessaryî to protect the U.S. in the war on terrorism.
The NSA is required to seek permission, on a case by case basis, from a special panel of federal judges before conducting any type of domestic surveillance. But the president insists that the congressional authorization to use force against Al Qaeda, passed after 9/11, allowed him to approve NSA intercepts without a court order.
Did Bush overstep his constitutional authority and violate a law intended to prevent the government from spying on its citizens without court approval? That question took on alarming new meaning New Yearís Day.
The New York Times reported that a top Justice Department official, James B. Comey, in March 2004 objected to aspects of the NSAís domestic surveillance program and refused to sign on to its continued use amid concerns about its legality and oversight. Comey was acting attorney general during Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft’s hospitalization hospitalization for gallbladder surgery.
Two of Bushís top aides, chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. and then-White Counsel Alberto Gonzales, made an emergency visit to Ashcroft ìbecause they needed him for certification.î The Times wrote it is unclear ìwhether the White House ultimately persuaded Ashcroft to give his approval to the program after the meeting or moved ahead without it. Comey could not be reached for comment.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has asked Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), just as concerned, to request testimony from Card Jr., Gonzales and Ashcroft. The nation is approaching another Nixonesque moment. Bush ought to read the Fourth Amendment again, and very carefully.
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Arnold: A Second Close-Up
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers the customary State of the State address this Thursday. After the disastrous failure of his ìyear of reformî ballot crusade, can the one-time bodybuilder overcome his demonized image with a political makeover?
Respected California historian Kevin Starr thinks the governor can recoup. In the Sunday Los Angeles Timesí ëCurrentí he admits a minor role as historical consultant in the address where the governor will outline a bold program of infrastructure construction and innovation, principally financed by a $25-billion-to $27-billion bond issue.
The USC professor sees the reconciliation of Schwarzenneger and former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis as a good bipartisan omen. The dream of a bold new public vision that former Gov. Earl Warren first outlined in 1944, sustained by him and continued by governors Goodwin Knight and Pat Brown into the 1960s is for Starr the key to Schwarzeneggerís comeback.
Less sanguine about a rebound is veteran Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters who thinks the new year raises more questions than answers about Schwarzeneggerís ìseesaw governorship.î
He wonders whether the governor can re-energize his disaffected Republican base, cool to his ballot measure crusade and livid about the appointment of longtime liberal Democratic activist Susan Kennedy (a former Davis operative) as his savvy chief of staff.
Walters questions whether there is any way, short of a tax increase, to balance the deficit-plagued state budget and whether Democrats, interested in a big infrastructure package, would leverage a much weakened governor by demanding that he sign Democratic bills heís rejected in the past.
Democrat Maria Shriver - who abstained from her husbandís doomed campaign, which pandered to business and the hard right, and alienated nurses, teachers, and law enforcement ñ upstaged her party by recruiting the turncoat Kennedy.
Glimpses of a ìnew Arnoldî are emerging. Nominating state appeals justice Carol Corrigan, a moderate, to succeed ultra-conservative Janice Rogers Brown on the California Supreme Court has won praise. On Thursday heíll propose raising the stateís minimum wage by $1 after vetoing a similar measure two years in a row.
With an unfavorable approval rating below 40%, the repackaged Republicrat needs more than a vision to repair his image. A Democratic gubernatorial primary donnybrook in June between the liberal multimillionaires, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly, might help.read full story
New Year 2006
Political pundits make their predictions; people of good faith agree or disagree; the search for justice, peace and happiness remains unrequited. Consider the value of mindfulness in a turbulent world:
And now let us believe in the long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been.
óThe poet Rainer Maria RilkeTo return to the present is to be in contact with life. Life can be found only in the present moment, because ëthe past no longer isí and ëthe future has not yet come.í
óThe Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh
Life and Death
A somber W. continues to liberate the “way forward” in Iraq, apparently still believing a military solution in Baghdad will snatch victory from defeat despite the grim conditions on the ground.
But the real news, as 2006 ended,… read full story
A Five Ton Gorilla?
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt authorized senior executives to hold secret meetings with NFL officials this fall in a strong pitch to bring pro football back to Los Angeles, even as the league continues to focus publicly on the Coliseum and Anaheim, the Boston Herald first reported yesterday.
A detailed plan, ìProject Five Ton Gorilla,î would give the former Boston land mogul, who bought the baseball team nearly two years ago from News Corp., control of two major sports franchises in a huge media market. McCourt proposed to build a 65,000-seat stadium on a huge parking with a giant retail complex tract around Dodger Stadium. Copies of leaked documents and mailed to the Herald by an anonymous tipster were authenticated by Dodger officials, the paper said.
The Los Angeles Times today quoted political leaders who, together with county and state officials, have long been united behind the Los Angeles Coliseum as the NFL appears closer to selecting one or more stadium sites in Southern California, expressed dismay at McCourtís insensitivity and covert action.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he had to believe McCourt ìdidnít understand the depth and extent of the community consensus behind the Coliseum as an NFL team in Los Angeles.î Greg Aiello, the league spokesman, told the Times ìwe told the McCourt group we were not interested in proceeding unless we are able to close deals with the Coliseum and Anaheim.î Question: who is the McCourt group, anyway?
Ever since a 1958-land swap referendum, narrowly passed, which gave Chavez Ravine to the Dodgers in a sweetheart stadium deal, the property has been controversial. Former Dodger owner Peter OíMalley expressed interest in building an NFL stadium but was persuaded by civic leaders instead to get behind the Coliseum.
The real story here is the chutzpah of McCourt, derisively called ìThe Parking Lot Attendantî by the Timesí columnist T. J. Simers. He bought the Dodgers with borrowed money, has made disastrous ownership decisions on and off the field, and often seems less interested in promoting the ìDodger Blueî brand than making the team a West Coast version of the Red Sox.
The Herald reported, ìFrank McCourtís advisers warned he could expect ëheatí if the news of his play for a NFL franchise became public. The move could raise questions among both Los Angeles Dodgers fans and Major League Baseball, one Dodger executive said.î It has. What a PR gaffe!read full story
Ethics Scandal: Will Jack Sing?
The new year starts with high anxiety in the Capitol. Will the indictment of Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud in Florida in a corruption scandal taint members of Congress who must face voters in 2006?
Anxiety, from the White House down, is fueled by published reports that Abramoff is close to a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. A deal could jell in early January. The negotiations are complicated because they involve prosecutors, in both Miami and Washington where the once powerful lobbyist is the subject of a federal influence-peddling investigation.
While plea negotiations continue in that case, prosecutors believe there is evidence of a corruption scheme involving more than a dozen lawmakers and former staffers, who worked closely with Abramoff and accepted gifts and favors in return. If he becomes a star witness in the biggest congressional ethics scandal since 1992, when it was disclosed that 350 House members were allowed to bounce checks with impunity at the House bank, will the domino theory be in play?
Abramoff ís influence was astonishing on Capitol Hill: 210 current members of Congress received contributions from him or his clients. But 25 lawmakers received $25,500 or more ñ 20 were Republicans and five were Democrats but, as the Los Angeles Times reported, none of the Democrats got money directly from Abramoff. Democrats say the GOP has brought a ìculture of corruption and cronyismî to the capital.
In California, the Sacramento Bee on Dec. 11 identified eight members of the California GOP delegation who have documented ties, through campaign finance or lobbyist disclosure forms, to companies and individuals under scrutiny in the Randy “Duke”îCunningham defense-industry bribery case and others, including Abramoff and his dealings with Indian tribal clients. Republicans say the scandal is bipartisan, noting 40 of 45 Senate Democrats got money from Abramoff clients.
Jesse Unruh, the late Democratic Speaker of the California Assembly, famously coined the phrase, ìmoney is the motherís milk of politics.î The color of lobbyistsí money is what now nourishes political corruption in Washington.
As 2005 fades to yesterday, the fear among lawmakers is a replay of the 1992 ethical backlash which drove dozens of members from Congress ñ not Tom DeLayís association with Abramoff ñ and what happens if Jack spills the beans.read full story
Karen of Arabia
One sympathizes with Karen P. Hughes, a W. political mom, long time confidante and communications adviser who is now undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her job is to improve the tattered image of the United States and expand support for its policies abroad ñ not only in Europe and Asia but also notably in the Arab world.
It has proven to be a daunting PR task as was evident from her first Middle East trip in September, where she introduced herself as a ìmomî and was confronted by angry women who criticized support for the war in Iraq and American support for Israel. It was a reminder, as the New York Times pointed out Monday, that Hughesís mission is ìan uphill battle.î
Hughes was a member of the secret White House Iraq Group which plotted propaganda for a buildup to the war seven months before launch. She’s raced beyond the State Departmentís quickened rapid response to what news outlets are saying about U.S. policies in the Middle East. She now appears on Al Jazeera, the popular Arabic satellite TV station, linked by the Pentagon to Islamic extremists, in an unapologetic response to anti-American rhetoric.
The State Department has doubled the number of its interview in Arabic to about 100 this year. But Hughes now has a bigger communications challenge: to ensure that an orderly exit of U.S. troops from Iraq requires a language component to complement a viable Iraqi security force.
James Fallows writes in the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly the Iraqis arenít even close, and the White House has never taken the problem urgently. (See 12/1 post, ëFatal Exit Flaw: No Iraq Army.í He blames much of the problem on the inability of the military to solve its major language problems, citing a credible Marine source as saying U.S. forces and trainers should have about 22,000 interpreters instead of just one or two per company.
For Hughes to preach about democracy and womenís rights in Egypt, even though Hosni Mubarak, a close U.S. ally, ignores them in practice is troubling enough. But the Pentagonís inexcusable planning failure to provide enough Arabic speakers in the military to help expedite a withdrawal from Iraq is unpardonable.
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Alito Memos: Absolute Power?
Unlike Harriet Miers, Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alioto has the legal qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court. But three memos just released by the National Archives will seriously complicate his Senate confirmation hearings beginning Jan. 9.
Two memos raise constitutional questions about the allocation of power among the three branches of government: does the sitting federal judge lean too heavily toward the executive? Vice President Cheney demands a strong and robust expansion; passionately arguing the president ìneeds to have his constitutional powers unimpairedÖ. in terms of the conduct of national security policy.î
The first memo defended the right of government officials to order domestic wiretaps for national security, favored by Cheney and President Bushís rational for secret NSA spying on U.S. residents in the war on terror without a warrant. Written when a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, Alioto argued that the attorney general should be immune from lawsuits when citizens are illegally wiretapped. A 1985 Supreme Court ruling rejected the principle because it would deny citizens their constitutional rights
The second memo concerns a bold proposal to grab more power for the president away from Congress when signing bills into law. By making a ìsigning statementî about the meaning of the law, Alito hoped that the focus would shift away from well-established ìlegislative intentî and admittedly toward more ìpresidential intent.î
In a third memo, also requested by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, the nominee wrote in 1985 that the government should ìmake clear that we disagree with Roe v Wade.î Justice Sandra Day OíConnor, whom Alito would succeed, supported the landmark 1973 decision affirming a womanís constitutional right to an abortion.
Alito focused on a woman making an informed choice, one would hope in part weighing moral considerations. But heís sought to assure senators that concerning abortion as a justice he would put his private views aside and follow the law.
Scrutiny of the judge will intensify as other memos are examined and partisan battle lines harden. Yes, it will be a new Bush donnybrook.
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Paging George Orwell
In the 1940-1950 era, the conservative Oakland Tribune and the then equally conservative Los Angeles Times - read publishers Joseph Knowland and Harry Chandler - were the most powerful political newspapers in California. Now the Tribune is furious with President Bush for authorizing domestic electronic spying by the NSA.
Poynterlineís Romenesko reports the paper has asked its readers to heed Orwellís warning and link Bush with Big Brother: **
ìTo that end, weíre asking for your help: Mail us or drop off your tattered copies of ë1984í. When we get 537 of them, weíll send them to every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate and to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.î
Itís a paradox. But true conservatives ñ notably columnists - are as worked up about Bushís tinkering with the protections of the Fourth Amendment as the most outspoken zealots at the ACLU.
** Read my 12/19 post: "Bush and Big Brother."
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Tale of Two Cities
A state Assembly race in San Francisco normally attracts zero interest beyond the city limits. But the June primary between Supervisor and moderate Democrat Fiona Ma against Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District member and the more progressive Democrat Janet Reilly is different.
Not only is it one of the most closely watched Assembly races in years but the winner of the primary in the heavily Democratic 12th District is virtually assured of replacing Assemblyman Leland Yee, a state Senate candidate. The battle between Ma and Reilly, each well funded, has also drawn attention in Washington and Los Angeles.
Sen. John Kerry kicked off Reillyís campaign with a major San Francisco fundraiser. Former Assembly Speakers Leo McCarthy and Antonio Villaraigosa have also endorsed her, while Ma is a protÈgÈ of legendary former Senate President Pro Tem John Burton.
Reilly is married to Clint Reilly, once a major political consultant who managed Richard Riordanís winning 1993 L.A. mayoral campaign and is now a San Francisco real estate magnate. The couple held two fundraisers in the city for Villaraigosa during his 2005 campaign for L.A. mayor.
Last month, the new mayor reciprocated by appearing at a fundraiser for Janet Reilly at Lucyís El Adobe CafÈ in Hollywood, for two generations a political-cultural salon and longtime hangout for Jerry Brown and major Democratic politicians, where he praised her stands on health and environmental issues. Incredibly, the ubiquitous Villaraigosa, whoís more visible than any mayor in memory since taking office in July, had never before been to the popular Mexican restaurant.
Owner Lucy Casado, who backed incumbent Mayor Jim Hahn, a longtime patron, warmly welcomed Villaraigosa at the Reilly event and showed him the eastern wall of the main dining room covered with inscribed photos of some of the most famous names in American politics and pop culture.
As the L.A. Independentís Tony Castro reported, the politically ambitious mayor said three times,ì I want my picture on that wall.î Casado has not yet received a photo.
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Polls, W. and Iraq
Polls are snapshots of a moment in time and fleeting. New data on President Bush vis-a-vis Iraq is revealing.
The good news for Bush is a Washington Post-ABC News Poll taken between last Thursday and Sunday showing his overall approval rating at 47%, up from 39%, with 52% negative. His approval on Iraq jumped 10 points to 46%. On fighting terrorism it stood at 56%, up 8 points from November.
The huge turnout in last weekís elections in Iraq, and the White House PR offensive - five speeches and a news conference in 19 days - has sharply jump started support for Bush among his core supporters. But movement among Democrats, independents and moderates has been negligible. And 60% of those sampled still say they do not believe Bush has adequately explained why the U.S. is in Iraq and about the same percentage said the administration lacks a clear plan to succeed.
In his Monday news conference, the president spoke about millions of Iraqis ìlooking forward to the future with hope and optimism.î In a televised address Sunday night he referenced an ABC News Poll conducted with Time and several news organizations just before the election indicating 7 in 10 Iraqis ìsay their lives are going well.î
The president conveniently left out key poll data about Iraqi public opinion, which indicates deep resentment with the occupation despite all the Bush-Cheney happy talk about freedom and democracy: Just 46% said their country was better off than before the war; half said it was wrong for the U.S. to invade in 2003. Two-thirds said they opposed the continued presence of U.S. troops, and almost half said they would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.
Preliminary election returns yesterday suggest a strong victory for a coalition of Iranian-backed Shiite religious parties. Sunni and secular political parties claim the national election was rigged, demand a new vote, hint at new insurgent violence and threaten to both sabotage and delay the formation of a new government.
The New York Timesí conservative columnist David Brooks correctly worries that to avoid a civil war ìit is essential that the U.S. remain in Iraq until we are sure the central government is strong.î But on this first day of winter, an omninous moment is approaching,
If the Sunni Arabs are shut out of power the U.S. occupation could end up with a pro-Iranian, theocratic government with American troops trapped in a quagmire. If so, forget the polls because Bush and his "strategy for victory" will be toast.
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Why Oversight Matters
Quote of the day:
ìI do not think you can argue today that Congress is a coequal branch of government: it is not. It has basically lost the war-making power.î
Lee H. Hamilton, former Democratic congressman from Indiana and vice-chairman of the 9/11 commission.read full story
Bush and Big Brother
The New York Timesí stunning revelation that President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency in 2002 to conduct an electronic eavesdropping program within the United States without first obtaining warrants from a secret court that oversees intelligence matters raises a number of serious constitutional issues.
Bush defended his action, calling it ìfully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authoritiesî in an unusual Saturday radio address. He didnít say why he felt it necessary to assert extraordinary claims of war-making presidential power and circumvent a system under current law when he could have obtained emergency warrants from the court. Every major decision concerning his aggressive war on terror has involved key principles in rejecting the authority of the courts and Congress.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a Supreme Court decision more than 30 years ago raises questions about Bushís position, noting a special court exists that could rule over surveillance requests. The paper cited a 1972 ruling when justices unanimously rejected President Nixonís contention that he had the power to order wiretapping without a warrant to protect national security, citing the 4th Amendment and then-Justice Lewis Powell, a Nixon appointee, in delivering the court’s ruling.
In another significant Sunday story, a high-ranking intelligence official with first-hand knowledge told the Washington Post that Vice President Cheney, then-CIA Director George Tenet and NSA Director Michael Hayden, then a lieutenant general and the NSA director, briefed four key member of Congress on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14 of 2001 about the agencyís new domestic surveillance soon after Bush signed a highly classified directive that lifted some restrictions.
Administration officials made clear that Cheney was announcing a decision, not asking permission of Congress. How much legislators learned is in dispute. But former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate intelligence committee, told the Post in two weekend interviews that he remembers no discussion of expanding NSA eavesdropping ñ and no mention of Bushís intent to bypass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The NSA fallout affects the future of the broad antiterrorism bill known as the Patriot Act which expanded the presidentís authority and expires Dec. 31. On Friday a bipartisan Senate vote blocked the billís reauthorization, sharply elevating the debate between national security, personal privacy and civil liberty issues.
Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who leads the Judiciary Committee, said full oversight hearings on the eavesdropping program ìwould take precedence over every other itemî except the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Bushís deliberate “need to know” monitoring of U.S. citizens by a super secret agency whose duties were previously almost exclusively obtaining overseas intelligence, darkly suggests what could happen without Congressional oversight some year in America.
Remember George Orwellís novel, published in 1949, which takes place in 1984 and presents an imaginary future where a totalitarian state controls every aspect of life, even peopleís thoughts, and whose leader and dictator is Big Brother?
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Torture Ban: More Doublespeak?
President Bushís agreement to accept a formal ban on torture, after threatening a veto and resisting it for months as a signature issue in his war on terror, is a rare defeat for him and major victory for Sen. John McCain.
The real question, after the high fives and good news, is whether McCainís triumph signals a complete ban on torture.
The ban was clear when the Republican-controlled House voted 308 to 122, with 107 GOP members lining up with the Democrats, to support the McCain measure. The Senate approved it in October by 90 to 9 as part of a military spending bill, which may yet be the joker in the deck.
Despite the feigned truce in the Oval Office between the two sometime rivals, Bushís forced smile could not conceal a blunt political fact: just 13 months after his reelection and with terrorism his highest priority, his leadership is weakened. His credibility among European allies is almost nonexistent and his party is splintered over major domestic issues including rebuilding the Gulf coast and immigration reform.
McCainís success appears to be a major defeat for Vice President Cheney who fought hard to block a truce and get Congress to exempt covert CIA intelligence officers from the Arizona senatorís legislation.
But, watching Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales on CNN soon after the Bush-McCain handshake, one got the distinct impression that doublespeak still plays a role in torture and will be defined the way the White House chooses. Gonzales made it clear that torture meant the intentional infliction of ìsevereî physical or mental harm.
Also morally troubling is that McCainís amendment is attached to a scary bill introduced by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. The current version appears to allow coerced confessions, which might strip U.S. courts, including the Supreme Court, of the power to review detentions.
As the New York Times editorial board opined, ìWhat is at stake here, and so harmful to Americaís reputation, is the routine mistreatment of prisoners swept up in the so-called war on terror.îread full story
Bush on VI Day
President Bushís address on the eve of Iraqís first parliamentary elections reprised his Dec. 1 mantra in Annapolis: ìWe will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than total victory.î
His then reference to VJ Day, when Japan surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri, set the stage for his muscular rhetoric about victory in Iraq. But in the real world, illusions of victory - VI Day in Iraq - can be as deceptive as the U.S. found out in Vietnam.
I mean, to use Bushís criteria, how do you determine when a) the terrorists and “Saddamists” can no longer threaten Iraqís democracy; b) Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens; and c) Iraq is no longer a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on the U.S?
His articulation of what constitutes victory is now more somber and nuanced than only weeks ago. The concession of intelligence mistakes, that successful voting wonít make the insurgents give up and the call for ìpatienceî by both Iraqis and Americans will only escalate the U.S. debate about whether the war is already lost ñ more blood, sweat and tears. What are the generals telling Jack Murtha in private?
Bush’s statement that the U.S. ìdid not choose war ñ the choice was Saddam Husseinísî ñ an attempt to counter a strong impression by a majority of Americans that the Iraq invasion was a war of choice, or that senators had as much intelligence information as he did - are blatantly untrue and the administration knows it.
More compelling to me was how Bush tried to associate the cause for freedom in Iraq with how President Harry Truman successfully planted the seeds of freedom and democracy in Japan after World War II.
It is a terrible analogy. Unlike the fall of Saddam, Hirohito remained on the throne after the war and the Japanese were a peaceful and unified society under the U.S. occupation ñ quite the opposite of the Iraqis, divided since ancient times by tribal, religious and family feuds.
The reaction of Democratic leaders is predictable: Bush has yet to spell out the remaining political, economic and military benchmarks that must be met to claim victory. While correct, the party opposite has failed to articulate a compelling vision of its own ñ how a secular democracy in Iraq, given the clear animosity between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, can survive and avoid the eventual fate of Yugoslavia.
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Joe Lieberman and Iraq
The powerful editorial board of the Wall Street Journal rewards political friends and attacks political enemies.
This week it rushed to defend Joe Lieberman, the 2000 running mate of Al Gore and the Democrat from Connecticut, who has dared to agree with President Bush that the U.S. must and will win the war, from colleagues in the Senate.
The presidentís new cheerleader, in Iraq four times in 17 months, told the Hartford Courant he is unapologetic about his defense of Bushís Iraq policy. îI think Bush has it right.î He denied he is a neocon but added that some of his best friends are.
Lieberman sees the importance of rare bipartisan sentiments and draws a parallel from the early days of the Cold War. Then a Democratic President, Harry Truman, tried to build alliances to fight Communism despite fierce criticism from many Republican conservatives, notably their Senate leader, Bob Taft of Ohio.
But Arthur Vandenberg, a GOP Senator from Michigan and longtime isolationist, stood up to support Truman and a bipartisan ìcontainmentî strategy was born - which could have worked with major U.S. allies in Iraq had not Bush willed a first-strike rush to war.
The Journal’s editorial predictably seizes on Lierbermanís scenario and suggests that if Democrats are smart theyíll listen to what heís saying about the defeatist message theyíre now sending about Iraq, and U.S. foreign policy in general.
But to imply that the Connecticut senator is a credible reincarnation of Vandenberg is mind-bending, both in terms of history and the moment. He lacks the political skill the Michigan senator brought to bear in forging true bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan or NATO.
ìWhen Vandenberg spoke,” his official Senate biography reads, ìthe Senate chamber filled with senators and reporters, eager to hear what he had to say.î Lieberman is no Vandenberg but a Bush toady squirming within the Democratic caucus.
As the Courant noted, Liebermanís political fate was sealed with a kiss, planted on his cheek by Bush, just after the President delivered his State of the Union address. Truman was blunt but never a fool.read full story
Losing New Orleans
On Sundayís ìMeet the Press,î during conversation about the continuing impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, Timeís Mike Allen visibly stunned panelists by noting that President Bush has not visited the city since Oct. 11, two months to the day.
When Bush flew into the city soon after the worst natural urban disaster in American history, using the floodlighted St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square as stagecraft, he promised to ìdo what it takesî to rebuild New Orleans. ìThere is no way to imagine America without New Orleans. This great city will rise again.î
Despite the shuck and jive, the unimaginable is now possible. New Orleans has slipped from the administrationís priority agenda and the city that put Anderson Cooper into the prime-time anchor chair at CNN now gets scant media attention after just over 14 weeks.
On Nov. 20, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans carried an extraordinary editorial on its front page demanding the nation, and especially the federal government, not abandon the flood-ravaged city. A week later, the paperís editor, Jim Amoss, in an Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post reprised Bushís words. ìThenì, he wrote, ìthe lights went out, and the president left. Vast swaths of the city have been left in darkness ever since.î
ìRebuilding New Orleans is our breakfast-table conversation, our lunchtime chatter, our pillow talkÖWe want word from Washington that a great city will not be left to die,î describing the flooding as a ìfederal engineering failure with multi-billionñdollar consequences.î
Sundayís New York Times editorial said ìwe are about to lose New Orleans,î describing the current construction as a ìrudderless ship,î focusing on the levee system and suggesting that rumbles about the proposed cost of better levees have grown louder in Washington. ìOnly the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action.î
The price tag for higher levees is well over $32 billion ñ just 1.2% of this yearís estimated $2.6 trillion dollar budget. Compare that with total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror, which have topped $300 billion.
The newsweeklies buzz about fresh new ideas the president would like to accomplish in 2006. Adjusting his billion-dollar infrastructure priorities to favor the Gulf Coast and New Orleans - not Iraq or Baghdad ñ would be a small step toward redeeming his promise to the Big Easy. Today, betrayal is the operative word.read full story
Gene McCarthy: Man of Conscience
Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, 89, the Minnesota liberal Democrat and one-time college professor whose insurgent campaign toppled President Lyndon Johnsonís re-election drive in New Hampshire amid the Vietnam War tumult of 1968, died Saturday. But he forced the Democratic Party to take his anti-war message seriously.
An angry McCarthy, after hearing the Johnson administration arrogantly defend its right to reinterpret the Constitutional war-making powers of Congress, shouted in a Capitol corridor 15 months before the 1968 election, ìThere is only one thing to do ñ take it to the country.î
Deciding to challenge Johnson, the senator, a former Catholic novice monk in the Benedictine order, said, ìThere comes a time when an honorable man simply has to raise the flag.î
His death is a dÈj‡ vu moment for a sputtering Democratic Party. A shameful number of Senate Democrats voted for the Iraq war, including many potential 2008 candidates - with the notable exception of the McCarthyesque anti-war Russ Feingold. Perhaps some solons may now find the courage to unequivocally speak out.
Interviewed a month before the 2003 invasion, McCarthy compared the Bush administration with the characters in the William Golding novel, ìLord of the Flies,î in which a group of boys stranded on an island turn to savagery.
ìThe bullies are running it,î McCarthy said, ìBush is bullying everything.î
At the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles McCarthy nominated Adlai E. Stevenson, a twice-defeated candidate for president as delegates were preparing to select John F. Kennedy. ìDo not reject this man who made us all proud to be Democrats.î He never quite matched that electrifying moment as an acid-tongued campaigner in 1968, which attracted a legion of followers to his insurgent message.
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, McCarthy lost the nomination to Hubert H. Humphrey in a riotous Chicago donnybrook. For decades afterwards he played the self-styled Democratic Party scold and contrarian ñ endorsing Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in 1980. He left the Senate in 1970. Quirky yes but, as has been observed, cant free which marks him as a rare and seminal U.S. political figure.
In 1993, the New York Times asked McCarthy, who ran for president four times, whether he still had the Presidential bug - a phrase William Safire describes in his New Political Dictionary as a mythical insect whose bite results in Presidential fever.
He relied, ìWe McCarthys live a long time. My grandfather made it to 98Ö. Iíve still got time for ñ letís see ñ five more tries.î Baseball, politics, poetry and theology were his metaphors for life. But he had a sardonic sense of humor, long gone missing.read full story
Doublespeak on Torture
President Bush says ìwe do not do torture.î But questions persist about the administrationís equivocal position on the moral issue and the CIAís treatment of detainees in American custody.
The spark igniting the furor was a Nov. 2 Washington Post article which reported the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important Al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe.
The Post said the secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up nearly four years ago at various times in at least eight countries. Known as ìblack sitesî in classified government and congressional documents, their existence and locations are known only to Bush and a handful of U.S. officials and top intelligence officers in host countries.
Spiegel Online, the German newsweekly, has reported that 437 secret CIA flights to transport terror suspects through Europe have passed through German airports since 2001, more than three times those previously reported.
The torture issue has put Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the defensive in Europe about where the U.S. draws the line. She reassured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the U.S. would not tolerate torture and, while not admitting mistakes, promised to correct any that had been made. But there was no admission or denial of secret prisons.
Administration doublespeak going back to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales’ 2002 memo regarding the treatment of detainees captured in Afghanistan has done little to erase skepticism here and abroad about U.S. credibility despite Riceís impassioned argument for aggressive intelligence gathering, within the law, to save lives endangered by terrorists.
The impression remains that since 9/11 the U.S. has violated international law by sending suspects to sites, never acknowledged by the CIA, where it knows, as the New York Times noted, ìthat they will be tortured.î
Republican Sen. John McCain, tortured while a prisoner in Vietnam, is sponsoring an amendment whose language was approved by the Senate in a 90 to 9 vote. It would put into law the banning of cruel and degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
The predictable stumbling block is the fierce resistance of Vice President Cheney who wants Congress to exempt covert CIA intelligence officers from McCainís legislation. The Arizona senator says he will not compromise with the White House on the words in his amendment. Negotiations continue admid reports of an internal administration debate.
. The hawkish Cheney will continue lobbying for a CIA option on torture. Will Bush veto the bill if it gets to the Oval Office?
The Challenge Facing DeLay
A new poll released Monday night suggests that almost half of Texas registered voters in the solidly Republican House district of Rep. Tom DeLay would likely vote for an unnamed Democratic opponent next year.
The survey, taken Thursday through Sunday by CNN/USA Today/Gallup, surfaced hours after a judge dismissed a conspiracy charge against the powerful GOP leader but upheld the money-laundering counts.
The decision not to dismiss the criminal case complicates the chance of DeLay to regain his position as House majority leader when Congress resumes in January.
With the combined fallout from Delayís legal woes, the guilty plea by California Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham in a bribery scandal and the unfolding federal case against lobbyist Jack Abramoff with House implications ñ to say nothing about President Bushís problems - the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has reason for concern with the approaching mid-term election.read full story
Sign of the Times
The most recent editorial bloodbath at the Los Angeles Times, ordered by the parent Tribune Company, signals yet another devastating loss of institutional memory with the departure of many respected journalists.
The dismissal of Robert Scheer, the liberal op-ed columnist, has been widely noted as a new publisher adds more unimpressive conservative voices to a page where informed bipartisan contributors once triggered passionate discussion ñ and reaction to Pulitzer Prize cartoonist Paul Conrad.
Little has been said about the editorial page, now run by its youthful editor, L.A. newcomer Andres Martinez. Buyouts and transfers have gutted what was once an informed editorial board. Martinez has still to impress longtime readers and itís not just because of the extra-large type.
Consider the headline in Mondayís lead editorial: ìHail to the chief (of staff).î
The reference is to Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggerís new chief of staff, the well credentialed, and liberal, Democratic activist Susan Kennedy. The editorial notes many of the Republican and Democratic faithful are unhappy, if for very different reasons. That ìboth sides are overreactingî is to misread a real political dynamic.
The editorial questions the motives of pundits and others looking for a ìdeeper meaning in the governorís choice,î and opines there is no reason to doubt Schwarzeneggerís word and insistence that there will be no change in direction or political agenda.
It is a preposterous assumption that, coming off a near Humpty Dumpty-like fall in the wake of his special election defeats last month, the still politically inept governor will not be forced to change direction and modify his political agenda if he expects to win a second term.
The editorial buys into the governorís indication ìhe will be more of a manager in the office and less of a showman outside of it,î leaving Kennedy to make it happen.
Donít believe it. Mr. Olympia didnít get from Austria to Hollywood and Sacramento by being an office manager. Heís still an actor ñ willful, cunning, disciplined ñ whose favorite adjective is ìFantastic.îread full story
1.3 Trillion Dollar War
The actual cost of disasters like Katrina have a way of creeping well beyond initial estimates, Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting and finance at Harvardís Kennedy School of Government, writes this month in a Atlantic Monthly finance column.
Bilmes, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce, notes that besides this year’s hurricane disasters, coupled with extremely high military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, are likely to prolong and worsen U.S. budget deficits for the next 20 years. So far the U.S. has spent $275 billion on military operations in both countries.
ìThis is just the tip of a very large iceberg. The costs of continuing operations run at $100 billion a year. When one adds in the long-term costs, including interest payments on war debt and disability benefits that we will owe veterans for decades, the total cost of the war will exceed $1.3 trillion.î
With the federal government already running a deficit close to $400 billion, Bilmes estimates we will be forced to borrow to pay most of these costs, saddling our economy with nearly $1 trillion in extra debt, owed primarily to Asian central banks.
With President Bush on a war-related spending spree, the deficit should be a key issue for the party opposite in the 2006 mid-term election. But the Democratic leadership has yet to demonstrate that it has a prudent plan to capitalize on the fiscal incompetence of this administration.read full story
Arnold: Now a Republicrat?
The 2006 California gubernatorial race just got more interesting with the stunning disclosure by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, after the failure of his ìyear of reformî initiatives, that heís named a longtime liberal Democratic activist, Susan P. Kennedy, as his chief of staff.
In an extreme attempt to remake his more recently perceived image as a right-wing conservative, the governor seems to have adopted the ìcanoe theoryî of politics long practiced by former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, a master of reinvention: ìPaddle a little to the right, straight ahead or a little to the left.î
Republican conservatives are furious about a betrayal by the governor for whom they went all to help defeat Gov. Gray Davis, the Democrat Schwarzenegger crushed in the 2003 recall election. Their lament: was he really a closet liberal on conservative issues?
But Mervin Field, the dean of California pollsters, sees the move as a plus for the governor - reaching back to his moderate image when elected. He believes that image may appeal to increasingly independent state voters who are reliable swing voters. Many Democrats agree. Conservatives may be angry but Field told The San Francisco Chronicle “that for every two votes he loses, he picks up three somewhere else.î
That said, Iím far from convinced that grassroots Democrats ñ union members, teachers, nurses and public safety employees - will soon forget the bitter initiative campaign the governor waged against them when it comes to Campaign 2006.
Kennedy, his new top aide, was deputy chief of staff and cabinet secretary to Davis. She is former executive director of the California Democratic Party and communications director for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In 1992, as the partyís director, the intensely partisan Kennedy worked for the state chairman, Phil Angelides, now state treasurer and one of two major candidates for the Democratic nomination to run against Schwarzenegger next year.
Some Democratic operatives who know her liberal philosophy were taken aback by Kennedyís statement she supported and voted for all the governorís failed initiatives and is intent on breaking up the partisan gridlock in Sacramento.
A major player in recruiting Kennedy was the governorís wife, Democrat Maria Shriver, who sat out the initiative campaign and, in another ironic move, recently hired the former Cabinet secretary to Davis, Daniel Zingale, to be her chief of staff. Even former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, whose operatives gave Schwarzenegger conflicting advice, had high praise for Kennedyís political moxie. Go figure!
My Nov. 11 post suggested the governorís best hope for reelection might be the formation of a quasi-coalition government ñ certain to put movement conservatives, editorial writers and wing nuts ìon code red alert.î Whether he will now reposition himself as a Republicrat ñ or pull an Ariel Sharon stunt and abandon the GOP to run as an independent ñ is the intriguing question.read full story
Fatal Exit Flaw: No Iraq Army
President Bush still doesn’t get it. After Baghdad fell, he was flown onto an aircraft carrier and prematurely declared victory with a giant ìMission Accomplishedî banner strung from the Flag Bridge.
At the U.S. Naval Academy yesterday the stage of a huge hall of the campus was adorned with a giant background emblazoned with the words, ìPlan for Victoryî where he again used a military venue in an attempt to regain public confidence about his management of the war in Iraq.
It was a sobering speech he should have made two and a half years ago after the invasion. He laid out what he called a strategy for victory ñ a copycat version of the Afghanistan mission, rejecting artificial timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops and offering a first vague hint of extricating American forces. What it lacked was a specific vision to avert a quagmire - a clear “they stand up, we stand down” policy which now appears inoperable in the short run.
His remarks coincided with a 35-page document outling a new strategy he candidly said, ìwill take time.î The report says increasing numbers of Iraqi troops have been equipped and trained ñ an assertion disputed by military commanders in the field ñ and a point Bush conceded in noting U.S. forces cannot withdraw until sufficient Iraqi forces are able to ensure stability and public order.
Here is the underreported, and central, flaw in Bushís strategy - and the subject of a must-read essay, ìWhy Iraq Has No Army,î by James Fallows in the December issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
An orderly exit depends on a viable security force. But Fallows contends the Iraqis arenít even close, and the White House has never taken the problem urgently. He blames much of the problem on the inability of the military to solve its major language problems, citing the author T.X. Hammes, who was then in Iraq and a Marine colonel, saying U.S. forces and trainers should have about 22,000 interpreters instead of just one or two per company.
Fallows believes the U.S. must choose one of two difficult alternatives:
ìIt can make the serious changes ñ including certain commitments to remain in Iraq for many years ñ that would be necessary to bring the Iraqi army to maturity. Or it can face the stark fact that is has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly.î
read full story
The Coverup Continues
An increasingly defensive President and Vice President continue to hammer on a central theme: there was either an explicit or implied link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in terms of the 9/11 attacks - sufficient justification to rush to war in Iraq when the real enemy was operating out of Afghanistan.
But in another piece of serious investigative reporting about the Bush administrationís prewar propaganda last week, Murray Waas wrote this in the nonpartisan National Journal that 10 days after the attacks:
ìPresident Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the attacks and there was scant evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda.î
This information was contained in the Presidentís Daily Brief, a CIA assessment also shared with the vice president and other high government officials.
Waas also finds ìfew credible reportsî of Iraq-Al Qaeda contacts involved Husseinís efforts to infiltrate Islamic terrorist groups, which he regarded as anathema to his secular regime. Apparently the Iraqi dictatorís antipathy to Islamic radicals in 2001 was the same as in 1983.
That year, Donald Rumsfeld, a Reagan emissary, embraced Saddam as a secular ally in the U.S. struggle against Iranís theocratic fascist rulers. Contemplate this cynical flip-flop about making nice then with a bloody tyrant and wonder how Rumsfeld can today keep a straight face in his Pentagon briefings.
The New York Timesí Frank Rich has it right: Bush and Cheney should release the rest of the Presidentís Daily Briefs and other prewar documents that are trickling out instead of fighting the release of such information. That should include unclassified documents found in post-invasion Iraq requested from the Pentagon by the pro-war, neoconservative Weekly Standard.
Instead, the undynamic duo continues to dissemble. Rumsfeld, 22 years after embracing Saddam, now says ìitís timeî for the Iraqis to take charge of their country. No wonder a growing majority of Americans will question today’s rosy new White House strategy for victory which so differs from the facts. Update to follow.read full story
Selling the Iraq War
While it has yet to attract any serious mainstream media interest, a Rolling Stone story published online Nov. 17, ìThe Man Who Sold the War,î by journalist James Bamford, is an absolute holiday must-read given the raging national debate over the accuracy of pre-war intelligence.
Anyone trying to understand how the White House secretly engineered consent for the propaganda campaign to invade Iraq may be well ahead of the snail-like pace of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence by following the trail uncovered by Bamfordís expose. It suggests deceit and deception at the highest levels of government despite angry daily denials by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.
A key player in all this, and the centerpiece of the article, is John Rendon, a leader in the strategic field known as ìperception management.î The translation: manipulating information ñ and, by extension, the news media - to achieve the desired result. Rendon has parlayed being a one-time Democratic Party organizer into being perceived behind the scene as Kuwait liberator and secretive Pentagon propagandist for hire.
His firm, The Rendon Group, has made millions off government contracts since 1991, when TRG was hired by the CIA to help ìcreate conditions for the removal of Hussein from power.î
In a rare interview, Rendon ìboasted openlyî to Bamford of ìthe sweep and importance of his firmís efforts as a ìfor-profit spy.î Is this the “smoking gun” article that exposes this administration? It depends on whether the Capitol’s inbred “Gang of 500” decides to take it seriously.read full story
New U.S. Isolationism?
This Thanksgiving, and as the holiday season accelerates, Americans are turning inward in response to rising concerns about the Iraq war and increased anti-American sentiment everywhere. That’s the tentative legacy of Bush 43.
The finding about unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy, in a survey by Pew Research in association with the Council on Foreign Relations - reported by The New York Times Nov. 18 ñ is significant because it is such a large sample.
It includes 2,006 adults from the general public and 520 influential Americans in fields including foreign affairs, security, religion, science, engineering and the military surveyed Sept. 5 to Oct. 31.
The overall result provides sobering clues for candidates in both the Senate and House before the mid-term election next year.
Such isolationist feelings among the public might appear to be a paradigm shift. But, quite the contrary, the same sentiment followed the Vietnam War in the 1970s and at the end of the cold war in the 1990s. At the same time, the poll indicated Americans are feeling less unilateralist than in the recent past.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed from the public said the U.S. should play a shared leadership role, and only 25% said they wanted the country to be the most active nation in international leadership - another slam at Bushthink.
Reaction to the war had a ìprofound effectî on how the public and opinion leaders ìview Americaís global role, with majorities from each sector saying they disapproved of Bush’s job as president. While 52% of the public was negative, the figure was higher among opinion leaders.
Forty-two percent of the public said they agree that the U.S, should ìmind its own business internationally ñ up from 30% in a similar poll in Dec. 2002, before the Iraq invasion. The result appeared to indicate less support for the Bush thesis about promoting democracy in other nations.
On establishing a stable democracy in Iraq, the public was more optimistic than opinion makers, with 56% expecting success.read full story
No Hooray for Hollywood
With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced to a political tower of jelly after blowing all his ìyear of reformî initiatives, the mainstream media has buzzed for months about the prospect of a Democratic actor emerging to challenge him in next yearís general election.
Even though I posted several months ago that senior Democratic state officials told me that Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner both said that they would not run, the media drumbeat has continued ñ with a much greater focus on the more outspoken Beatty taking the catnip.
Guess what? A new Field Poll shows that while both actors are well known, both are getting thumbs down from voters. Reinerís favorable was 25% with 41% negative. Beattyís favorable was 16% compared with 48% unfavorable. Even worse, the political junkie struck out with Democratic, Republican and independents voters equally.
The surprise is that the two well-funded Democratic contenders for the June nomination, State Controller Phil Angelides and state Treasurer Steve Wesley ñ still considered featherweights by the political pundits ñ are known by about a third of voters and viewed favorably by those who know them.
Schwarzenegger is more popular in China, where he just returned from a trade mission, than in California where 92% of voters know him - but 54% donít like him very much.
Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, suggested that the governor has an opportunity between now and next November to ìattract attention and change his image.î
Anything is possible with Schwarzenegger. But it is a very steep hill for him to climb with a campaign apparatus in ruins as he attempts in the coming months to forge a quasi-Republicrat coalition.
His conservative base, now shaky, will likely jell. But California is a heavily Democratic state where heís angered so many constituencies that the odds favor the party opposite today.read full story
The Washington Postís Bob Woodward explained and defended in a sometimes halting way his silence on the CIA leak probe last night on CNNís ìLarry King Live.î
He dismissed claims by critics, notable within his own newspaper and in the blogosphere, that he should have revealed his role in the CIA leak case when he discussed the investigation on news interviews, specifically the night before the indictment of Scooter Libby on Oct. 28.
I thought the most revealing comment Woodward made was that he had seen no evidence yet that the Bush administration conspired to discredit a critic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, or disclose that his wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover operative. Had he been looking for it?
The Postís assistant managing editor twice passionately described his ìincredibly aggressive reporting mode,” saying he called his still secret source when it became apparent after the indictment of Libby by Fitzgerald that there was an earlier disclosure about Plame than on June 23, 2003 when Libby spoke to Judith Miller of The New York Times.
In a surprise, the usually unctuous King asked some fairly probative questions. Editor & Publisher have a rough transcript of the complete CNN interview.
Ironically, Woodwardís CNN appearance coincided with the death in Paris yesterday of Hugh Sidey, whose close relationships with Americaís chief executives appeared in Time magazineís ìThe Presidencyî column over four decades.
The ìgentleman journalistî tended to focus on the personal dimensions of those in power and, whether critical or sympathetic, often endeared himself to the Oval Office. He discussed his close relationships with several presidents in a 1996 interview with Washingtonian magazine.
Admitting that he was perhaps too close to Reagan, he said: ìHe didnít use me, I simply liked him too much.î Hmm.read full story
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