Wednesday, February 28, 2007

More like this, please

From the St. Petersburg Times:

Gray weapons market clouds Iran role. The article makes the blindingly obvious point that the arms cache the U.S. recently showed off is as phony as a 3-dollar bill:

In a series of media briefings this month, the U.S. military has displayed mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb alleged to have been made in Iran. The military has acknowledged there is no direct evidence the Iranian leadership is responsible, and the Bush administration denies it is building a case for attacking Iran as it did with Iraq in 2003.

But skepticism abounds about the origin of the weapons, with critics wondering why those alleged to have been made in Iran had markings in English, not Farsi. And Monday, the New York Times printed a letter from an Iranian diplomat who said dates on some of the weapons shown - including a warhead marked 5-31-2006 - prove the U.S. claims are "preposterous."

"The dates are in the American date format - month first, day second - whereas the rest of the world does not use this format," wrote M.A. Mohammadi, press secretary for Iran's U.N. mission. Iran and most other countries put the day first, followed by month and year.
I'm betting these guys forged notes explaining absences from school and signed them, "Billy's Mom."

But they aren't just relying on the markings on the munitions to conclude they come from Iran. There's another pillar holding up this argument -- they have eliminated internal (Iraq) sourcing because of the sophistication of the work.

Now let's line that one up with the rest of the Bush propaganda output, shall we? OK, follow closely:

1. Iraq is a success. Everything is going great, rebuilding, rebuilding, rebuilding. Just one bombing a day. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

2. How do we know the weapons we found come from Iran?

Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says Iraq at one time would have been able to manufacture many of the types of weapons now being seized by U.S. forces.

"Truth is, these aren't so sophisticated to say DIO has to make them," said Cordesman, referring to the Tehran-based Defense Industries Organization. "Any really good machine shop with automated metal lathes and normal tools could make them.

"The problem is that in a lot of Iraq, very little is working and things it would have been very capable of doing several years ago would be much more difficult today."

Cognitive dissonance. It's the new black.

Monday, February 26, 2007

More wild speculation

If you haven't yet read Sy Hersh's latest, I highly recommend it. Most of the attention has rightfully focused on Hersh's frightening reporting on Iran, and the sensational claim that the Bush Administration is supporting Sunni terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda, but there was also this:

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Iran-Contra was the subject of an informal “lessons learned” discussion two years ago among veterans of the scandal. Abrams led the discussion. One conclusion was that even though the program was eventually exposed, it had been possible to execute it without telling Congress. As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office”—a reference to Cheney’s role, the former senior intelligence official said.

I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence official that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State. (Negroponte declined to comment.)

The idea that Negroponte, drenched as he is in Honduran and Nicaraguan blood, is the principled dissenter here should shock even the most cynical observer. But that isn't what I want to focus on either.

Think about the Bush Administration's belief that it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants, and that it sees the Congressional power of the purse as an inconvenience, a problem best avoided. Think about the fact that high-level folks in the Bush Administration are reviewing the Iran-Contra debacle as a plan that mostly worked. Now put Hersh's story together with this one:

The Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said Tuesday.

The money, which had been held by the United States, came from Iraqi oil exports, surplus dollars from the U.N.-run oil-for-food program and frozen assets belonging to the ousted Saddam Hussein regime.

Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
And, finally, this, from two years ago:

Nearly $9 billion of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction is unaccounted for because of inefficiencies and bad management, according to a watchdog report published Sunday.

An inspector general's report said the U.S.-led administration that ran Iraq until June 2004 is unable to account for the funds.

"Severe inefficiencies and poor management" by the Coalition Provisional Authority has left auditors with no guarantee the money was properly used," the report said.

"The CPA did not establish or implement sufficient managerial, financial and contractual controls to ensure that [Development Fund for Iraq] funds were used in a transparent manner," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., director of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

I am second to no man in my lack of faith in the competence of this Administration. You can never dismiss out of hand the possibility that stories like these reflect sheer incompetence. But I am also suspicious of coincidences, and there are a few too many here. So I'd like to suggest a theory to tie the facts together: what if what we have isn't evidence of incompetence, but a scheme to address what Cheney saw as the real problem with Iran-Contra -- the pesky need to account for spending? What if the pallets of cash were not lost, but were set up deliberately to give the Administration a substantial off-the-books slush fund? Wouldn't that neatly explain their apparent ability to fund the very people they publicly claim are our sworn enemies? (Recall that we were generous patrons of Saddam before we were against him, and that bin Laden was America's BFF before he became our enemy, too.)

Congress would never approve of the spending Hersh mentions, and the Administration would never ask for it publicly. What that should mean is that it doesn't happen. But what should happen and what this Administration does have little to do with each other.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Off the cynicism scale

Frequent local gadfly TA constant accuses me of insufficient cynicism. If I worked like the MSM, I'd simply point out that most people I know think I'm too cynical, and blithely conclude that I must be about right.

But via a Daily Kos diary comes an indication that TA might just be right -- a serious inside-the-Beltway uber-macher has turned the volume knob on my Armageddon piece to 11.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski took the false flag scenario further than I could have dreamed:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

That quote is from his written statement (PDF). Lest you think I must be misinterpreting Zbig's point, the LA Times ran an opinion piece from him that connects the dots with a big fat Sharpie:

Indeed, a mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potential expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the decisive ideological struggle of our time...

I thought I was way ahead of the curve positing an Administration so morally bankrupt that they would run a false flag operation in the Persian Gulf. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that they would be willing to plant the false flag on our own soil. And here it comes from the man who, thirty years ago, held the same position Colin Powell and Condi Rice once held and Stephen Hadley now holds.

You win, TA. I'm simply not up to the task of charting the depths of such evil.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evil portents

Second blogger quits Edwards campaign - Yahoo! News

A second blogger working for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards quit Tuesday under pressure from conservative critics who said her previous online messages were anti-Catholic.

Melissa McEwan wrote on her personal blog, Shakespeare's Sister, that she left the campaign because she was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the level of attention focused on her and her family."

Shakespeare's Sister is a reader of this blog. She and I have emailed back and forth a bit. I was very happy to hear that she got the gig with Edwards, and am very sad that she no longer has it. It's bad for her, and it's bad for the rest of us.

I know everyone is focusing on impending war with Iran, increasing disaster in Iraq, and the imploding good will for the cowardly Democrats in Congress. All important stuff, to be sure. But what happened to Shakes and Amanda matters to all of us.

You can look at this episode through a micro lens, and see it as petulant scandal-mongering from the loathsome William Donohue. But I see it as ominous and brimming over with long-term nastiness.

As I said a ways back, the powerful do not attack the inconsequential. The liberal blogosphere is starting to matter, and some powerful people are starting to see value in getting a piece of our mojo. Most of the effort expended on lefty blogs has been aimed at influencing the path and voice of the Democratic Party. At first we were barking at the moon, but lately we have started to accomplish these things, and I think we have more than a little bit to do with whatever spine the Dems are now showing (leave for another time the question of how much spine that actually is).

And that scares the piss out of people like Bill Donohue. Folks like him liked it when the Democratic wing of the Democratic party had no voice. They much prefer to see both parties connected to and focused on the money and K Street and Big Religion.

So I see the assault on these two bloggers as a highly strategic act of intimidation against all of us, and against those who might bring us inside their (vastly more lucrative) tent. They are telling all of us that every word a blogger ever wrote will be used against anyone with the temerity to hire us.

What does the Right get out of that intimidation? Lots. The Right benefits immensely from the tight integration between the money and power on the one hand and the energy and intellect (well, relatively speaking) from the Wingnut Welfare crowd on the other. Cut off the support and stop the spinning of the revolving door, and they would suffer.

The liberal side of the ledger has virtually no real counterpart. But recently we who blog have started to supply a piece of that role. If we can move into important roles in campaigns and easily move back and forth between the real and virtual worlds, the energy level in the blogosphere will increase because it will be a viable path to influence and sustainable income and careers and the like.

That is not an attractive scenario to the far Right. They like the existing asymmetry.

So nipping such bridge-making in the bud is a high priority for Donohue and his ilk. If they can make hiring us a high-risk move for political campaigns, risk-averse Dems (that would be all of them) will stay away. If they can keep the path from blogging to mainstream Democratic politics blocked, bloggers will, like Billmon and Berube', increasingly fade away. If they can force us to sound as bland and inoffensive as NPR, whatever influence we have will evaporate in a sea of beige.

The specific cudgel they took up this time was allegedly offensive statements about religion. Next time it will be about our lack of civility. They have a perfect Catch-22: they hypocritically insist on white bread public discourse. They dominate the loudest media. All of which means that we have little choice but to speak in public the way they do in private if we want to be heard. But if we do not play by their rules, they feel free to ignore the substance of our speech anyway.

Publicly, the Edwards campaign said (more or less) the right things. Privately, I'd wager that we won't be seeing any more bloggers coming on board major campaigns any time soon. Which is likely to be a problem for all of us.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Serious Reservations

I heard a report today that it is now very likely that California will move its primary up from June to February.

I live in California, and I have been bothered for a long time by how meaningless my primary vote has been. So you would think I would be overjoyed by this prospect, right?

Think again.

I have never liked the fact that a small number of folks -- folks who are a highly skewed sample of America writ large -- in effect choose our president. California doesn't look like New Hampshire or like Iowa. I'd like to see people who think like me and have similar interests to mine having a voice that matters. But after a few years of immersion in the blogosphere, I think there is a bigger problem with moving the decisive battlefield to my adopted home state.

The one to one, small-market style of politics that decides the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses is seen as a quaint anachronism. But I think there is an aspect of that process is incredibly valuable -- and nobody else is talking about it. The handful of folks who decide who wins in Iowa and New Hampshire tend to see the candidates in person. Hell, in New Hampshire, they may shake hands and talk to each candidate several times. That's what retail politics is all about -- direct, unfiltered contact.

California's population is roughly 25X New Hampshire's and more than 10X Iowa's. Retail politics is simply impossible here, even for candidates for statewide office. Politics here is wholesale -- we see our politicians via the intermediation of the media. Which means our view is filtered by that media.

So a necessary consequence of the schedule change is going to be to give even more power to a press that has shown itself utterly incapable of rising above the sophomoric, reductionist nonsense that is all they seem to aspire to. When the press controls the picture, all anyone hears about is the horse race and today's gotcha moment. Discussions of issues and policy in the California primary will be as rare as surfers in new Hampshire. The tabloid coverage will be all anyone will have to go on when they vote, because there won't be a real alternative. (There's us, of course, but I'll be shocked if large numbers of voters suddenly head for the blogosphere.)

The other reason this change bothers me is the way in which the race will be even more about the Benjamins. Where do you think an under-funded candidate will stand a better chance of outperforming his or her budget -- Iowa, or the most expensive media market in the country?

Realistically, the race for the Democratic nomination is now likely to be reduced to two candidates even before it starts. The cost of competing in California will be in the tens of millions of dollars, and thus the self-fulfilling perception that nobody but Obama and Clinton can raise money will suck the oxygen away from everybody else.

Which means I still won't have much of a voice. But the childish fools in the media will
loom even larger than before.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

He knows of what he fartsspeaks

Think Progress » Rep. Rohrabacher: Global Warming May Have Been Caused By ‘Dinosaur Flatulence’

This week, Congress held its first hearing on the landmark IPCC report on climate change. That report concluded that global warming is “unequivocal” and human activity is the main driver, “very likely” causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.

During the hearing, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) — one of the 87 percent of congressional Republicans who do not believe in man-made global warming — questioned the authors of the report about a period of dramatic climate change that occured 55 million years ago. “We don’t know what those other cycles were caused by in the past. Could be dinosaur flatulence, you know, or who knows?’

There are many reasons I moved away from Orange County seven years ago. But here's one of them: Dana Rohrabacher was my Congressman.

He wasn't the only reason I voted with my feet. But he was one of them.

Update: Orange County is getting another round of nutshell-moment publicity for this:

No one disputes that an on-duty Irvine police officer got an erection and ejaculated on a motorist during an early-morning traffic stop in Laguna Beach. The female driver reported it, DNA testing confirmed it and officer David Alex Park finally admitted it.

When the case went to trial, however, defense attorney Al Stokke argued that Park wasn’t responsible for making sticky all over the woman’s sweater. He insisted that she made the married patrolman make the mess—after all, she was on her way home from work as a dancer at Captain Cream Cabaret.

“She got what she wanted,” said Stokke. “She’s an overtly sexual person.”

A jury of one woman and 11 men—many white and in their 50s or 60s—agreed with Stokke. On Feb. 2, after a half-day of deliberations, they found Park not guilty of three felony charges that he’d used his badge to win sexual favors during the December 2004 traffic stop.

Dana Rohrabacher plus this plus "Housewives of Orange County."

Nostalgia just ain't what it used to be.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Why I love Patrick Fitzgerald

When Plamegate/Traitorgate was first tantalizing us (it seems like half a lifetime ago), the possibility of taking down Turd Blossom and/or Big Time was the mechanical rabbit that made all us blog greyhounds run. So far, at least, that goal still seems out of reach, at least in the perp walk sense. But it became obvious to me almost a year and a half ago that Fitz was accomplishing another, equally important task -- lancing the boil on the national bum that is the Washington press corps.

From my piece, which I titled "Miasma of Putrefaction," from November 2005:

General Electric is a huge conglomerate. I’m sure the folks in the news room will insist that they are free to follow their stories wherever they lead. But do you really believe that anyone who works for a company that expects more than $3 billion in revenue from rebuilding Iraq is going to be fearless about biting the hand that feeds it? Flash Occam’s Razor in a confrontation with Tim Russert and Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell and Pete Williams and tell me what explanation best fits the data. There is room to speculate about the motives behind their dereliction: simple cowardice could also explain some of their actions. Maybe laziness explains most of the rest. But consider this: Russert defends the exchange with Libby detailed in Libby’s indictment as a call in which Libby complained about how the network had covered Libby – a complaint Russert says he passed directly to the president of NBC News. What Russert did may be an appropriate response at People Magazine, but here betrays dangerous levels of dysfunctional symbiosis.

And Russert’s weekly kabuki theater, in which he failed for two years to so much as acknowledge his own role in the underlying scandal he discussed? Russert defends by saying that Fitzgerald asked him to remain silent. But Fitzgerald’s white hat does not change the fact that Russert yet again considered himself more beholden to his subjects than to his audience.

Back then, we were Kremlinologizing, trying to extrapolate the real story from hints and tidbits that the mainstream ignored. Now Fitz has these put these cretins onstage in a public trial, and their malfeasance is there for all the world to see.

From AMERICAblog:

Tim Russert, who blabbed to the FBI about his conversation with Scooter Libby, thought the Valerie Plame leak was 'really big.' Funny how no one at NBC bothered to share the 'really big' leak with their viewers. A 'really big' story that they never told:

Mr. Russert, who limped into the courtroom Wednesday using a crutch because of a broken ankle, recalled that conversation for Mr. Fitzgerald, who took less than nine minutes to draw out the account, in which Mr. Russert said that Mr. Libby was “agitated” about Mr. Matthews.

Asked how he could tell Mr. Libby was agitated, Mr. Russert replied: “He said, ‘What the hell’s going on with Hardball. Dammit, I’m tired of hearing my name over and over again.’ ”

Mr. Russert insisted that it “would be impossible” for him to have told Mr. Libby about Ms. Wilson in their conversation on July 10 or 11, 2003, “because I didn’t know who that person was until I read the Bob Novak column.” He said that, when he read it on July 14, he said to himself, “Wow, this is really big.”

You said it to yourself? You run the Washington bureau of NBC News. Your news team repeated the White House denials for years. You knew the White House was lying. Now, that's a "really big" story. Tim Russert, like most of the Washington press corps, blew it.

I think "blew it" gives Russert far too much credit, unless your mind takes you places Ted Haggard apparently no longer goes. By the rules Russert and so many of his pals accept without question, he did nothing wrong. To adapt a concept from a nearby scandal, this is not proper venue for the incompetence dodge. This sordid tale reveals the deep and fundamental corruption that is central to their mission as they understand it. I am confident that, in the minds of Russert and Judith Miller, and of their ilk, their only mistake was in getting caught. The idea that their primary obligation might be to tell the truth to the public would be as foreign as if it had been written in Sanskrit.

This sickness is so pervasive, even Olbermann just parroted the company line. Keith just said (not exact quote) that Russert was able to talk publicly today for the first time.

With all due respect, horseshit. Russert was under no legal obligation to avoid talking about the case. And in fact he did talk about it -- he just didn't tell the truth about it. The only reasons he didn't talk until now are (a) because he is so used to being a toady that it was inconceivable that he might speak out of school and/or (b) because he knew the whole thing would reveal (and has now revealed) what a pathetic toady he really is.

That is why we are dirty hippies. That is why blogs are so essential, and why the comfortable are so intent on stifling our influence. The folks whose job it is to afflict the comfortable have become far too comfortable sharing cocktail weenies with the morally afflicted.

Update -- Ariana:

Tim Russert's handling of his involvement in Plamegate speaks volumes about the very chummy relationship that has developed between the Washington press corps and government officials, and reflects badly on Russert's commitment to journalistic transparency and to keeping the public -- and even NBC management -- informed...

Update II -- Jane Hamsher:

(Libby defense attorney Ted) Wells wants to call Andrea Mitchell when the defense begins next week, hoping to somehow establish that Russert might have known that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA before the time he spoke to Libby on the phone. He'll also try to put Jill Abramson on the stand to impeach Judy Miller's credibility.

Delish. If Libby's team could actually take down Russert and Mitchell and one or two more "journalists," I might just accept their scalps in exchange for Libby's.

Update III -- Eric Boehlert has the line of the week:
Let's face it, ... Fitzgerald has consistently shown more interest -- and determination -- in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant D.C. newsroom of The New York Times.

Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid D.C. press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men -- not journalists -- who were running down leads, asking tough questions and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.

It's true that Fitzgerald's team had subpoena power that no journalist could match. But reporters in this case had a trump card of their own: inside information. Sadly, most journalists remained mum about the coveted and often damning facts, dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House's obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame.

So as the facts of the White House cover-up now tumble out into open court, it's important to remember that if it hadn't been for Fitzgerald's work, there's little doubt the Plame story would have simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.

In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse. Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.

Watergate in reverse -- that is a perfect encapsulation of the failure of the press here. It shows how far Bob Woodward has fallen, and how far his profession has sunk overall.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Plamegate: Same shit, very different day

I have been trying to follow the Libby trial. I've enjoyed reading about the Queen of Iraq and her flop sweat, about the unambiguous evil that Dick Cheney is being revealed beyond a shadow of a doubt to be, and lots of other fun stuff. And I have seen that it has been getting a fair amount of media play -- not quite as prominently it deserves, and not always with the accuracy the Plame-obsessed demand, but certainly better than what we saw a few years ago.

And that brings up a pretty fundamental point -- the change in media context in the last couple of years. Think about the way the press reacted to the State of the Union speech. Major news outlets actually fact-checked the thing. The "surge" was met with near-universal skepticism. The move in Congress to stop it has generally gotten "serious" coverage -- serious being the common Beltway shorthand for "stuff we agree with." Sure, there is still plenty of willful blindness to skewer. But it no longer has the field to itself.

When Patrick Fitzgerald indicted Scooter Libby, I was part of the large contingent of lefties who thought that the fate of the Republic might well rest on Fitz's shoulders. Remember the "Fitzmas" hysteria? And the disappointment when our only present was Scooter, rather than the Architect? Fitz may still deliver a knockout blow. But I think the big takeaway here is that, against all expectation, that right uppercut may not be necessary. The Administration is now so far behind on points that, at least in terms of public opinion, victory is mathematically impossible.

How did it happen? I think Fitz played a vital role, but I also think it is evidence of the power of the army of Lilliputians. I think it is reasonable to argue that we would not be where we are without the blogosphere. On a day-to-day basis it often seems like the stupid is omnipresent, and that our effect is like water on a vary large rock. But comparing press coverage during the early days of Fitz's investigation (of his work, but also of Bush and Iraq) and now shows that change is coming not in geologic time, but on a ramp that is starting to approach real time.

I don't want to overstate the importance of this aspect of things -- we have not eliminated Bush/Cheney's ability to wreak havoc in Iraq, Iran and of course here at home. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't acknowledge the progress that has been made.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Feel better?

Gates says U.S. not planning for war with Iran

WASHINGTON - The United States is not planning for a war with Iran and instead is trying to stop them from contributing to the violence in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.

"The President has made clear, the Secretary of State has made clear, I've made clear ... we are not planning for a war with Iran," he told reporters.

However, attentive readers may recall that our government did not plan for the war in Iraq, either.

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