The Coverup Continues

29 November 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Selling the Iraq War

26 November 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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New U.S. Isolationism?

23 November 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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No Hooray for Hollywood

23 November 2005 |permalink | email article

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. 

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Woodward Explains

22 November 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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LAT: Thinking Smaller

20 November 2005 |permalink | email article

The Los Angeles Times today published a compelling piece of enterprise reporting, certain to intensify the debate over the questionable use of prewar intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq.

It details how German handlers of ìCurveball,î an Iraqi informant with alleged ties to sources of Ahmad Chalabi, said they told U.S. officials that his information about Saddam Husseinís suspected weapons of mass destruction was ìnot proven.î But President Bush and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used it in key prewar speeches.

The Times’ new editor, Dean Baquet, said recently that his paper is considered one of the top four in the nation, along with The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Washington Post. And he strongly praised the work of its foreign correspondents.

The bad news is the paper, included in a sale by the Times-Mirror Corp. controlled by the Chandler family, to the Tribune Company for $8.3 billion is on another big cost-cutting spree. That Chicagoís obsession with making more money, and making it faster, signals to some the company may soon put itself on the market.

Jeff Johnson, the paper’s new publisher, said given the current business climate the job reductions were necessary to succeed starting in 2006. Parroting what media tycoon Rupert Murdoch told American publishers early this year - that online journalism is the future - Johnson mentioned ìinvesting heavily in our online business.î

Baquetís e-mail followed, noting significant cuts at NYT, WSJ and other Tribune papers. He said 85 newsroom jobs would be lost by yearís end, adding that due to financial pressures, the paper is on a very short time frame with employees having only until this Friday to apply for a separation package. After that, ìwe will decide which positions must be eliminated through layoffs.î Tragically, many veteran reporters will leave, with some younger ones, as before, picked off by NYT.   

The timing of these e-mails coincided with one about a year-end holiday campaign appeal to help eliminate childhood hunger by the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. Some reporters who received the e-mail said the request for money, and having the separation deadline fall on the day after Thanksgiving, was ìinsensitive.î

Insensitive yes, but not as insensitive as on Jan. 5, 1962 when publisher Norman Chandler called the afternoon Los Angeles Mirror staff together and said the publication would cease publication that day.

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Kerry: Swift-Boaters Beware

20 November 2005 |permalink | email article

ìI wonít stand for the Swift-boating of Jack Murtha,î John Kerry said in a fiery Senate speech before a rancorous House debate Friday night on whether to begin pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq within the next six months.

Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), 73, a pro-defense Democrat, a decorated Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam combat and a respected House member on military matters, had just called for a withdrawal within six months. 

The move by the reliable conservative stunned the White House. A GOP smear linked him with the leftist anti-war crowd, being a Marine coward and siding with terrorists. (Sensing Murtha might have traction, President Bush today in China softened the attack saying there is nothing unpatriotic about opposing his strategy.)

Kerry, also a decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic nominee, was attacked by the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth group that challenged his war record in the best-selling book, ìUnfit to Command.î

Appearing on ìNBC Newsí Meet the Pressî Jan. 30, Kerry attributed his defeat to 9/11. But Tim Russert asked him why he responded so slowly to the attack. Kerry replied: ìI could have, and should have, faster and more forcefully.î

His failure remains a great mystery. Thereís reason to suspect that his nomination bravo - ìIím John Kerry and Iím reporting for dutyî - belied deep divisions among his too large gaggle of advisers about what strategy to pursue.

Had he been in command, gone on ì60 Minutes,î successfully defused the Swift Boat attack, and allayed doubts about his conflicting war votes, he probably would have carried Ohio and won the election.

Was Kerryís spirited defense of Murtha a hint that the senator, in the dark night of his soul ñ and with 2008 in mind - now wants to exorcise his Swift-boater mistake and redeem himself? The jury is out. 

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Woodward and CIA Leak Case

19 November 2005 |permalink | email article

On Thursday The New York Times asked Benjamin C. Bradlee, the executive editor during Watergate and now vice president at large for The Washington Post, a question about how far he though interest in the Bob Woodward affair might spread beyond the newsrooms of The Post and its competitors.

Bradlee replied: ìOutside the Beltway I feel this story has very minor interest.î

Bradley’s response, while protective of the famous Watergate reporter who has damaged the Postís credibility and his own by being too cute by half, is troubling.

The CIA leak investigation, in which the celebrity-driven Woodward is now entangled, does not yet rise to the level of the Watergate scandal. But to imply that outside Washington there is little national media interest in the outcome of a new grand jury - which could put Woodward and his secret source before it to explore the episode ñ is to belie the facts.

Bradlee has been an iconic figure in investigative journalism for decades. His comment mirrors the insular political hubris of the Capitolís ìGang of 500.î But it also insults the intelligence of an edgy nation and the ascendant blogosphere.

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Quagmire: Goodbye Iraq?

18 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Like a swift moving Southern California wildfire, the debate over Iraq has shifted overnight from a bitter partisan fight over prewar intelligence to an even bigger one: bringing the troops home and questioning whether the war is worth fighting.

A stunning indicator of this sea change was yesterdayís call by a longtime pro-Iraq war hawk, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), for an immediate troop withdrawal ìbecause our military is suffering, the future of our country is at risk.î 

The weighty presence of the conservative Murtha, 73, a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran, who called the Iraq campaign ìa flawed policy wrapped in an illusion,î cannot be easily dismissed.î Responding to Dick Cheneyís acid counterattack that ìcertain politicians were ìlosing their memoryî in supporting the war, Murtha replied: ìPeople with five defermentsî had no right to make such remarks.î

President Bushís been preaching democracy to China and ñ consider this - thanking Mongolia for being part of the ìcoalition of the willing.î Now, his ìwar on terrorî crusade is fast approaching a Catch-22 situation not unlike that faced by Presidents Johnson and Nixon over Vietnam.

I have long believed, despite big differences, there are compelling comparisons between the war in Iraq and the one in Vietnam. 

A new USA/CNN/Gallup Poll confirms that U.S. public opinion toward Iraq and the choices ahead are very similar to public attitudes toward Vietnam in the summer of 1970, a pivotal year with public unrest and antiwar protests. 

More than half of those surveyed want troops withdrawn from Iraq within the next 12 months. In a Gallup Poll in July-August 1970, just less than half wanted to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam within 12 months.

Opposition to the Iraq war crosses party lines. A record 60%, including one in four Republicans, said the war ìwasnít worth it.î One in three wanted the troops out within a year; 67% of Democrats and 56% % of independents had the same timeline. For the Bush crowd who imprudently rushed to war, this is a political disaster in the making.

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Deep Throat Redux

16 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal which unmasked Richard Nixon. They became the storied reporters of a generation, made the Washington Post famous, and ìDeep Throatî a symbol of secret leaks, shadowy venues and political corruption.

But the disclosure that Woodward, now the Post’s assistant managing editor and best-selling celebrity author, waited more than two years before disclosing to the senior Post editor a conversation he had in 2003 with a White House official about CIA agent Valerie Palme, is a disgrace to journalism - and tarnishes the reputation of a newspaper second to none in breaking stories of major interest.

In view of the investigation of the leaks into Plameís outing, which mushroomed into a national scandal, Woodward’s action suggests comparisons with the recent demise of the New York Times’ Judy Miller who also excelled in courting the powers that be.

Woodward testified under oath Monday in the leak case that a senior administration official told him about Plame and her position at the CIA nearly a month before her identity was disclosed. The previously undisclosed conversation took place after the official alerted Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald to it on Nov. 3 ñ but would not allow Woodward to discuss their conversations publicly.

(The late disclosure seriously complicates Fitzgerald’s perjury case against Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s former alter ego, and fuels intense new speculation about the original Plame leaker. Among big-name denials none had yet come from the vice president.) 

Woodward, who apologized to an upset Leonard Downie Jr., the Postís executive editor, said he held the information back because he was worried that he might by subpoenaed by Fitzgerald and was trying to protect his sources. ìIím in the habit of keeping secrets,î he said. So, apparently, was Miller. 

Itís a story that once again thrusts journalistic conduct into the leak debate when the focus should be on White House misconduct. It exposes Woodwardís long suck-up relationship with a willing Bush White House, and may explain his special access as the man to spin. His new book on the president’s second term appears next year .

The Postís acceptance of an arrangement whereby Woodward spends much of his time researching books while giving the paper first excerpts and occasional tidbits in his reporting is puzzling. One anonymous Post reporter was quoted as saying that this editorial understanding, which may marginally benefit the paper, is a ìconstant source of tension in the newsroom.î  But Ben Bradlee, the Postís former executive editor during Watergate - and Woodwardís longtime protector and father figure - predictably defends Woodward’s course of action in the case.

Village Voice media critic Sydney H. Schanberg best captured Woodward: ìHis remarks about the Fitzgerald investigation convey the attitude of a sometime reluctant insider reluctant to offend ñ and that is hardly a definition of what a serious independent reporter is supposed to be. Itís a far piece from Watergate.î

Keeping secrets for personal gain, as Woodward has now discovered, can create credibility problems. 

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The Alito Bombshell

15 November 2005 |permalink | email article

The disclosure in a job application by Samuel A. Alito Jr. seeking a promotion in the Reagan administration 20 years ago, when he wrote that the Constitution ìdoes not protect the right to an abortion,î gives liberals fresh ammunition to derail his confirmation as Sandra Day OíConnorís replacement to the Supreme Court in January.

ìI am and have always been a conservative,î he wrote, citing Barry Goldwaterís 1964 presidential campaign, strong disagreement with the liberal Warren Court and the conservative National Review magazine as influences on his views.

These views and legal philosophy may have changed since he was 35. But they will now become the center of a more intensive, multi-million dollar TV ad campaign on the brink of the holiday season as both conservatives and liberals battle to define a Republican appeals court judge whose decisions are often seen as adhering to legal precedent.

New Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., a fellow Catholic, also personally opposes abortion but said he would follow the law.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Judiciary Committee chairman who supports abortion rights, said the disclosure makes certain that how Alito would value precedents upholding abortion rights will now face greater scrutiny. The judge has reportedly said he respects the Roe v Wade decision. Previous nominees to the high court have refused to answer controversial questions but Alioto’s vetting is now certain to be more compelling.

The disclosure ironically comes at a time when a liberal coalition was already preparing to broaden the nomination fight beyond abortion to a focus on hot button issues like employment discrimination and police searches. The veteran conservative direct mail king Richard Viguerie has promised a fight to the end.

Last July 7, in a New York Times op-ed piece, “When Ronnie Met Sandy,” about how Reagan chose OíConnor for the court in the first place, his biographer Lou Cannon noted that President Bush should follow his model and ìgive greater weight to politics and intuition than ideology.î

Cannon noted that times have changed on abortion since OíConnorís confirmation in 1981, when many conservatives shared the libertarian views of the Old Right, epitomized by Sen. Barry Goldwater and the mantra that government had ìno business in the board room or the bedroom.î

He recalled that ìMr. Reagan himself had signed a permissive abortion-right bill as Governor of California in 1967, although he later disavowed the measure.î

Ironically, the Reagan Presidential Library made the controversial Alioto document public on Monday.

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Bush, Iraq and the Truth

12 November 2005 |permalink | email article

The buck stops with President Bush. He’s now been personally drawn into defending his actions in the battle over prewar intelligence and justification for the Iraq War. The fact is his crowd has obsessed with regime change in Iraq as far back as the 1991 Gulf War - a decade before the 9/11 suicide bomber outrage morphed into the catchy   ìwar on terrorî brand-name phrase he repeats daily.

With a record low approval rating and a majority who now believe he has no credibility about the reason for the war, Bush said in a Veterans Day speech that accusations by Democrats that he misleads the nation and manipulated intelligence about the threat from Iraqís weapons program were ìdeeply irresponsible,î and sent the wrong signal to Americaís enemies and U.S. troops.

This defensive counterattack, coordinated with the Republican National Committee, is a diversionary tactic to imply that justification for the war centered on a conviction that foreign intelligence services, Democrats, Republicans - even the United Nations ñ all believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It’s a cover thatís long since since been blown.

While heís acknowledged some prewar intelligence failures, the president has justified the invasion on other, far less compelling grounds including a reason to topple Hussein and bring democracy liberate Iraqis ñ sidestepping the fact that Iraq is now the breeding ground for terrorists that Afghanistan once was. 

Still troubling today are repeated and unsuccessful efforts by the White House and neoconservatives in the past to persuade the CIA to embrace the view that Iraq provided support to Al Qaeda. It has been reported that early in 2003 former CIA director George Tenet and then Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected elements of a draft speech by aides to Vice President Dick Cheney intended to present the case for war, calling them exaggerated and unsubstantiated by intelligence.

The New York Times reported Saturday that 2002 statements by Cheney ìthat Hussein could acquire nuclear weapons ìfairly soon,î and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldís assertion that Iraq ìhas chemical and biological weapons,î have been proven overstated or wrong. Why wasnít the total focus then on Osama bin Laden, the master terrorist who slipped away at Tora Bora?

Significantly, the Office of Special Plans began soon after 9/11 to implement a strategy for regime change long pushed by neocons. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith began working closely with both Rumsfeld and Cheney to facilitate a result.

Most revealing of all about Bushís duplicity and early commitment to start a war was the secret formation in August 2002 of the White House Strategy Group - seven months before the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. The nine-member roster included key Bush loyalists: Karl Rove; I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby; Condoleezza Rice; Stephen Hadley; Andrew Card; Mary Matalin; and Karen Hughes.

WHIG was the marketing arm of the Republican Party whose purpose was to sell the invasion to the public. Card set it up and Rove was the chair to coordinate all executive branch elements of the special operation, according to Wikipedia, the online dictionary. WHIG’s function then was precise: combat critics and according to a strategy memo at the time, “Question the motives of Democrats who supported the war but now are criticizing the president.” Sound familiar?

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the investigation into the leak of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plameís identity subpoenaed all records and notes of WHIG activities in March of 2004. Libbyís indictment and a possible trial now become far more potentially significant.

Bushís new offensive to justify his leadership - and the shadowy activity of Cheney - disrespect full disclosure and the truth. Thatís why the second phase of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into postwar intelligence now becomes so important.


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Arnold: A Mini-Mea Culpa

11 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger this week reverted to his acting skills with a quick second take after flubbing his first one.

In post-election comments after the decisive public rejection of four ballot measures he pushed as part of his so-called reform agenda, he said: ìThe buck stops with me.î There was no apology to still angry opponents or for spending $50 million of taxpayer money for an unpopular special election.

Acting more like a winner than a loser, he swiftly changed reels, pledging more collaboration with majority Democrats. And, in an unprecedented gesture, he reached out to legislative foes to help draft his State of the State address ñ the centerpiece for his 2006 policy goals.

Republican reaction to the debacle was interesting. Some Republicans, citing historic GOP comebacks, tried to find some sunshine in defeat. But two prominent conservative strategists. Arnold Steinberg and Ken Khachigian, correctly criticized the governorís highly paid campaign team for their negative TV ads, excessive spending and inept advice. Imagine the reaction after Schwarzenegger said he would not dismiss any of them.

The pivotal person now ñ who received a maxima mea culpa in this fascinating bit of domestic theater - was Schwarzeneggerís wife, Maria Shriver. He ignored her counsel not to hold a special election. A Kennedy clan member, she backed her husbandís run for governor but remained silent on the initiatives.

But Shriver took considerable campaign flak because the initiatives, notably one aimed at curbing the power of unions, was considered contrary to the ideals of the Democratic Party her family has long supported.

The First Lady is critically important in overcoming the impression, especially among women and Democrats who viewed Schwarzenegger as a moderate in the 2003 recall, that he has moved closer to the right.

Shriver has named a former top aide to recalled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis as her chief of staff, She is reportedly talking to other members of the Davis administration to add liberal ballast to an attempt by the governor to regain the center.

How such a cozy possible scenario - Democrats in high posts interfacing with the much-criticized Team Schwarzenneger consultants - can succeed politically seems to me highly questionable.

That is, unless the unpopular governor believes a quasi-coalition government is his best hope to remain in office. Even the possibilty of such a bizarre happening is enough to put already concerned conservatives like the Wall Street Journalís editorial board, The National Review, The National Standard, and wing nuts on code red alert.

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The Warren Beatty Buzz

10 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Unlike conservative Arnold Schwarzenegger, the liberal Warren Beatty is an instinctive political animal. Beatty is at once smart, compelling and a goad. Most important, heís never been coy about spreading a little political catnip around occasionally to make a point over the years to tease the media.

In a front page, three-byline, headline story today The Los Angeles Times sniffed plenty of catnip, asking ìIs He Auditioning for Office?

I donít know whether the prominent placement was to assuage angry liberals, concerned that the paper is dropping iconic left-wing columnist Robert Scheer at yearís end, or give the small gaggle of churlish conservative activists another chance to nip at the Timesí heels.

For months now, Beatty has been on the campaign trail, attacking Schwarzeneggerís four initiatives before various union groups and hearing the ìRun, Warren, Runî phrase from some Democratic activists ñ sort of a one-man truth squad more recently accompanied by his very savvy wife, the actress Annette Bening.

On election night, Beatty and Bening got more media attention than the governor in his concession speech. That comparison again fueled the notion that Beatty might be flirting with a candidacy for governor next year.

Beatty told the Times, ìI donít want to run, but I would have no inhibition at all. Let me put it another way: I feel I would have a perfect right to change my mind.î The statement is consistent with whatís heís said in the past.

Frank Mankiewicz, a veteran adviser to Democratic candidates and Robert Kennedyís presidential campaign press secretary said it best, telling the paper ìNo, I donít believe he will run. But he does want to figure. He thinks he can be valuable.î

I covered Beatty for over 30 years, both in my late newsletter, The Political Animal, and as a longtime columnist for the old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Mankiewicz and others quoted in the story have it right.

But, with a lull in California politics, look for the mainstream media and bloggers to chew on the headline for a long time.

One thing is certain. The buzz made Warren Beattyís day.

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Faith: New Democratic Campaign Model?

09 November 2005 |permalink | email article

I was interested in the comment of Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, on National Public Radio about the resounding victory of Democrat Tim Kaine over Republican Jerry Kilgore in this week’s Virginia gubernatorial race.

The Democratic lieutenant governor won, said Mehlman, President Bushís 2004 campaign manager, because he ran a Republican style race. While a false conclusion, it was a revealing indication that the party chief is concerned about a possible GOP meltdown in next year’s mid-term elections.

Mehlman, a favorite of Bushís chief adviser, Karl Rove, rushed the president into a Richmond airplane hanger for an eleventh hour campaign event in an attempt to rally the GOP faithful but it fizzled.
Kllgore accused Kaine of being too liberal for conservative Virginia. But Kaine crushed him in the northern part of the state and got more than 60% in Fairfax County, home to one in seven Virginia voters. He also beat Kilgore in the outer suburbs, which Republicans need to offset the Democratic advantage inside the Capital Beltway.

The real point that Mehlman choose to ignore is that Kaine becomes the first candidate since the reinstatement of the death penalty to win the governorship of a Southern state despite his personal opposition to it. But, as a practicing Catholic, Kaine said he would follow the law on capital punishment and protect the right of abortion which he also opposes.

As the Washington Post observed, the Kaine win presents ìan intriguing campaign model for Democrats, in which faith plays an important role.î On election night Kaine said ìthat faith in God is a value we can all share regardless of party.î Whenís the last time a prominent Democratic candidate dared to say that?

John Kerry, had he been been more forthcoming in explaining his religious beliefs, might be president today.

Kaineís win in a Red State also demonstrates the appeal of Virginiaís popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner who appears headed toward a 2008 presidential bid.

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Arnold: Total Recall

09 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the self-proclaimed reform governor, wasnít on the ballot in yesterdayís California election. But his political fantasy, passing four big initiatives ñ teacher tenure, union dues, redistricting and a centerpiece-spending cap ñ crashed and burned. And he with them. 

The muscleman-turned action hero, who fancied himself as a reincarnation of Californiaís progressive Gov. Hiram W. Johnson, founder of the initiative movement in 1911, predictably turned out to be a less than an authentic model for change.

For an immigrant who has never suffered professional defeat in any occupation, the depth of the loss has to shatter any illusion that his famed discipline and will alone can someday vault him into the presidency. 

Schwarzenegger naively failed to grasp that winning a 2003 recall election against an inept incumbent is quite different than a poorly advised decision to call an unpopular special election months before the regular one ñ a miscalculation that cost well over $200 million.

The electorate showed that it is no longer in awe of his Mr. Olympia persona. It saw through his faux populist campaign trashing teachers, nurses, unions, and law enforcement ìspecial interestsî while he was raising tens of millions from special interest corporations and wealthy individuals in the name of the people.

It was not another “fantastic” Hollywood movie ending ñ let alone another Jay Leno moment - for the conservative Republican who showed rare humility in Beverly Hills last night. He said he looks forward to ending the negative campaign and meeting with Democratic legislative leaders in Sacramento on Thursday to discuss new ideas before his trade mission to China. Seeing Maria Shriver standing nearby and kissing him twice, one had the sense that, as she said to her husband early in the campaign, “it’s time to come home.”

But the liberal actor Warren Beatty, an effective Democratic surrogate, appeared puzzled by the governorís sudden bipartisan talk, suggesting in interviews it was a shame that the governor had caused so much money to be spent to restore some civility to government and public service.

With his political reputation in tatters, the question now is whether Schwarzenegger, whoís announced heíll seek a second term next year, has really learned anything from this debacle. Just before the election he mused about ideas for 15 new initiatives ñ a scary suggestion which could trigger an even more obscene spending orgy in í06.

It will be a long winter for the governor with much to ponder. Heíll need to shuck the arrogance, bombast and the bluster, recruit a fresh team and replace former consultants to former Gov. Pete Wilson who spent his millions and gave terrible advice, and figure out how to revive a dead Republican party.

In the end, celebrity alone does not a make a political leader. Ronald Reagan was the great exception. 



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Torture: Is Cheney in Charge?

08 November 2005 |permalink | email article

On primary day, a year after George W. Bush just managed to be pushed over the goal line by Ohio and win reelection, the first voter clues about his leadership on the Iraq war will soon be more apparent. National polls offer strong negative hints.

A drive to complete the second phase of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the rush to war, thanks to Democratic prodding, shows new promise with a scheduled Nov. 14 update.

But the major hot button issue today is about the use of torture of prisoners of war.

It is a fight being led by Vice President Cheney in a largely unpublicized campaign to stop Congress from imposing more restrictive rules on the handling of terror suspects with an explicit ban on torture.

Supporters of the no-torture wording, which proponents say is supported by majorities in both houses of Congress, have threatened to put such language in every bill the Senate considers until it becomes law. The measureís final form is being negotiated with the House and the White House, but Cheneyís shadowy presence behind the throne is clear.

Late last week, Sen. John McCain, tortured while a prisoner in the Vietnam War, convinced the Senate by a voice vote to add a related military bill as a backup. He flayed the administrationís position that prisoners ìcan, apparently, be treated inhumanely.î

The ban would establish the Army Field Manual as the guiding authority on interrogations in interrogations and prohibit, ìcruel, inhumane and degrading treatmentî of prisoners. Cheney, clearly the architect of aggressive interrogation of some detainees, made an impassioned plea to Republican senators over lunch last week to reject McCainís amendment, but he may be losing ground.

President Bush, in somewhat oblique language yesterday about anti-terror efforts, said that ìanything we doÖto that endÖany activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.î But his remarks, and Cheneyís effort to exempt the CIA from legislation against torture, suggest for many members of Congress that the administration has learned little from the recent Iraq prison-abuse scandals. The outcome of this fight has important implications for the 2006 mid-term elections and the remainder of Bushís presidency.

Again, it comes back to flaws in intelligence assessments about starting a preemptive war that has boomeranged.

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NFL Speeds California Expansion Study

06 November 2005 |permalink | email article

National Football League owners are actively discussing additional stadium sites in California and have dispatched Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to the state this month to both evaluate current facilities problems in franchise cities, and assess others who want a venue, I have learned.

Tagliabueís itinerary includes San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego, where the 49ers, Raiders and Chargers play, and Los Angeles and Anaheim, each vying for a franchise, including meetings with the governor and affected city mayors.

NFL owners were scheduled to meet Oct. 26-27 in Kansas City, partly to discuss the still unsettled future of the New Orleans Saints, and its potential move to Los Angeles in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But the meeting was postponed after the death of the New York Giantsí iconic owner Wellington Mara, 89, the NFLís patriarch and a team owner since 1930.

Mara’s death, as the New York Times noted, comes at a time when the NFL is losing its links to the past and faces a challenge to its tradition and business model when the league meets again Nov. 15.

After the postponed Kansas City conclave, the league formed a special operations unit, ironically titled the ìLos Angeles Working Groupî - composed of majority owners Robert Kraft (New England Patriots); Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers); Pat Bowlen (Denver Broncos); Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys); and Tagliabue ñ to move the stadium issue along quickly

While Los Angeles remains a favorite, with solid civic and political support behind its to bid to return professional football to the Coliseum for the first time in 13 years, the issue of NFL expansion, regardless of the Saintsí status, has now significantly broadened to include the entire state.

Unlike the Patriots, the 49ers and Raiders lack new stadiums, and the Chargers say their situation about getting a new facility is complicated by politics and the cityís financial problems.

So several scenarios could potentially unfold starting as early as next year, including possible relocation of the San Diego and New Orleans franchises, and greenlighting new stadiums in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

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Dean Baquet and the Big Squeeze

04 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Dean Baquet, the formidable new Los Angeles Times editor, spoke with refreshing candor this week at a Zocalo forum in Little Tokyo about guiding one of the nationís most influential dailies, and struggling to maintain editorial content while coping with the Tribune Company, its Chicago-based owner and most prestigious asset.

(Ken Auletta, in the Oct. 10 issue of The New Yorker, wrote a prescient piece, ìFault Line,î asking whether the Times can survive its owners.)

Baquet, interviewed by the writer Kevin Roderick, a former Times editor whose blog, L.A. Observed, best chronicles the pulse beat of the city, appeared at first downbeat concerning ìanxiety in the newsroomî and tension about another round of mandated layoffs, rumored to be imminent.

It was incessant cost-cutting by the business side of the Tribune Company which led to the resignation in July of John S. Carroll, the newspaperís editor for five years. He hired Baquet, then the New York Timesí national editor, as managing editor soon after his own arrival. Under their leadership, LAT won 13 Pulitzer Prizes.

Baquet, 49, who is African-American, was raised in a working class New Orleans neighborhood, worked in that city for seven years as a journalist and was hired in 1984 by the Chicago Tribune where he won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering City Hall corruption. In 1990 he joined The New York Times.

He almost left with Carroll who urged him to consider his obligations to the people they both had hired. He recalled, ìCarroll was right. I stayed partly because I love the paperÖitís worth fighting for. Ultimately, itís a winnable fight.î 

ìThe Times is the great test case,î Baquet said, echoing a belief expressed by Carroll to Auletta that the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal are Americaís best newspapers because they are controlled by families ñ the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, and the Bancrofts, respectively ñ who value the quality of their papers above short-term financial performance.

(Ironically, the Tribune Company paid $8.3 billion to buy the 116-year-old Times Mirror Company - including the Times, its crown jewel - in 2000 from its controlling shareholders, the Chandler family. Until then, the Chandlers rounded out the publishing dynasties described by Carroll. That sale caused the Times’ current problem.)

Sidestepping the paperís circulation and advertising difficulties ñ and ignoring often churlish sniping by a handful of bloggers - Baquet said ìwe want to talk to the city about how much we care ñ we can do this.î He cited a recent series of unexpected front-page stories on homelessness by the columnist Steve Lopez as the kind of enterprise reporting that will make compelling reads.

With a reputation for being involved in every aspect of coverage and well respected by the staff, Baquet said subjects high on his reporting budget include immigration and education.

Asked about a serous loss of of institutional memory at the paper through attrition, layoffs and buyouts, Baquet did not really address the issue. But he told Auletta that when he and Carroll arrived, the paper lost a whole generation of talent ñ maybe thirty people in all.î (Some veteran staffers complain that a few recent hires, both mid-level editors and reporters, were insufficiently vetted and lack any real knowledge of the city or the issues.)

Investigative reporting, Baquetís passion, is a priority and several ìIî teams are in play. He cited ongoing major series on the Getty Museum and Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, which won a Pulitzer Prize, as examples. ìYou will see more,î noting a big work in progress on the L.A. County budget which he said the Board of Supervisors “may not like.î

After the forum, I asked Baquet why the old ìMetroî section, the heart of local L.A. coverage in the past, was renamed ìCaliforniaî ever since Carroll arrived. ìWe talked about it and decided that, since the Times circulates in counties all around Los Angeles, the new name seemed more appropriate.î

But he candidly told Auletta, ìwe havenít mastered making the paper feel like it is edited in Los Angeles.î My impression is that if anyone can restore the daunting balance between the goals of journalism at the Times and the financial needs of the corporate bosses in Chicago, it is Dean Baquet.

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Ask Scott McClellan

03 November 2005 |permalink | email article

Significantly missing in the Bush administrationís long awaited plan to deal with the threat of avian pandemic flu is any suggestion of a much broader role for the armed forces.

The president first ominously hinted at such a role in his Sept. 15 televised speech from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. But three weeks later in a news conference he surfaced the subject in asking Congress to let the U.S. military play a broader role in enforcing quarantines and other emergency measures.

That W. might be considering revision or repeal of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, a Civil War-era law which bars federal troops from carrying out law enforcement-duties inside the U. S. during peacetime, short of insurrection, immediately drew fire from both ends of the political spectrum ñ from the ACLU to the Paul Weyrichís Free Congress Foundation.

But Scott McClellan, Bushís spokesman, made clear soon after the New Orleans speech that Posse Comitatus ìwas an issueî that the administration was in the early stages of discussing.

Yet, as The Washington Post noted today, the plan ìoutlines no role for the militaryî as raised by the president a month ago.

Did the White House decide any reference to Posse Comitatus was really a bad idea or, given its current major problems - and mixed reception to the flu plan - decide tinkering with the act now was sufficient reason to quietly down periscope?

Itís a pertinent question for McClellan in the daily White House press gaggle. Who will ask it?

The Pandemic Problem (October 8)

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Senate Rule 21

02 November 2005 |permalink | email article

The Democrats finally got their act together yesterday and administered a surprise spanking to hubris-crazed Republicans and a White House in disarray. It took a bold move by Harry Reid of Nevada, the normally soft-spoken Senate minority leader.

Reid aroused long somnolent Democrat colleagues on a festering subject which has roiled the country and forced the Republican majority to address the Bush administrationís use of intelligence to justify the Iraq war and jump start the Senateís willingness to examine it.

The successful Democratic maneuver, condemned by the Republicans, was the first time in 25 years that one party invoked little used Senate Rule 21, a closed session without consulting the other party.

Majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, initially outraged after losing control of the chamber of two hours, agreed to a six-senator bipartisan task force to report by Nov. 14 on the ìintelligence committeeís progress of the phase two review of the prewar intelligence and its schedule for completion.î

Partisan fireworks aside, the closed session was a mini-exorcism for liberals and many Democratic lawmakers who in 2003 were lured into support for the war: allegations that President Bush and his aides exaggerated Iraqís intelligence capacities and terrorism connections with Al Qaeda and then resisted inquiries into intelligence failures.

The Democrats have clearly been emboldened by Fridayís indictment of I. Lewis ìScooterî Libby, an architect of the war and alter ego of Vice President Dick Cheney, on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

Karl Rove, still twisting in the wind, masterminded President Bushís decision to nominate Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court just four days after the Harriet Miers debacle. It was a clever attempt to divert attention from 2000 dead American soldiers and quickly change the subject.

But Reidís adroit maneuver checkmated the White House and put the Democrats back in the game on Iraq, a major issue in the 2006 mid-term elections.

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