A Five Ton Gorilla?

29 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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!

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Ethics Scandal: Will Jack Sing?

29 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Karen of Arabia

27 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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?

26 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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

24 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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

22 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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

21 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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

20 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Bush and Big Brother

19 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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?

17 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.î

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Bush on VI Day

15 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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

14 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Losing New Orleans

13 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Gene McCarthy: Man of Conscience

10 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Doublespeak on Torture

08 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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?

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The Challenge Facing DeLay

06 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Sign of the Times

06 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.î

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1.3 Trillion Dollar War

04 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

She writes:

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.

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Arnold: Now a Republicrat?

01 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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.

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Fatal Exit Flaw: No Iraq Army

01 December 2005 |permalink | email article

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


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