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  xFriday, July 18, 2003

white house smear campaign update


First the White House apparently blows the cover of a CIA agent, now it's tipping off its pet gossip coumnist that a journalist who's written stories critical of the Administration's policies is not only gay but also -- gasp! Canadian!

(via CalPundit)




  x

the 'responsibility president'


Talking Points Memo outlines the hostile questioning new White House press secretary Scott McClellan when asked if President Bush took responsibility for his words in the State of the Union speech. Read the whole transcript...it's truly amazing, and one almost feels sorry for McClellan. Money quote one:
QUESTION: And so when there's intelligence in a speech, the President is not responsible for that?

Money quote two:
QUESTION: Scott, on Keith's question, why can't we just expect, basically what would be a non-answer, which is, of course the President is responsible for everything that comes out of his mouth. I mean, that's a non-answer. Why can't you just say that?

Scott McClellan: This issue has been addressed over the last several days.

QUESTION: Why won't you say that, though, that's, like, so innocuous and benign.

Scott McClellan: The issue has been addressed.

...need I remind all and sundry that Bush campaigned on a platform of responsibility?
(TPM also takes note of the fact that George Tenet apparently named names in Senate testimony about just who at the White House kept pushing for inclusion of the bogus African uranium claim in Presdiential speeches.)

But hold on -- that was jyst Bush's newbie press flack. Surely, given the opportunity, Bush would accept responsiblity himself, right?

Ummm....no.

Busy, Busy, Busy has a follow-up on Bush being asked the same question later that's so good I just have to cite the whole thing:
MR. BUSH: "Well, first, I take responsibility for putting our troops into action. And I made that decision because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our security and a threat to other nations. I take responsibility for, making the decision, the tough decision to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein. Because the intelligence, not only our
intelligence but the intelligence of this great country [gesturing towards P.M. Blair], made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat to security and peace. I say that because he possessed chemical weapons and biological weapons. I strongly believe he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons programs. And I will remind the skeptics that in 1991 it became clear that Saddam was much closer to developing a nuclear weapon than anyone had imagined. He was a threat. I take responsibility for dealing with that threat. We're in a war against terror. And we will continue to fight the war against terror. We're after al- Qaeda, as the Prime Minister accurately noted and we're dismantling al-Qaeda. The removal of Saddam Hussein is an integral part of winning the war against terror. A free Iraq will make it much less likely that we will find violence in that immediate neighborhood. A free Iraq will make it more likely we'll get a Middle-Eastern peace. A free Iraq will have incredible influence on the states that could potentially unleash terrorist activity on us. And, yeah, I take responsibility for making the decisions I made."

The portion of Mr. Bush's response in which he takes responsibility for his own words is highlighted in bold.


Last night at the dinner table, I was telling my lovely wife about the Administration's unconvincing performance, when our (nearly) four-year-old asked us who Bush was.

Cecilia: Who's Bush?

Me: He's our president, and he did something that he won't take responsibility for.

Cecilia: But I do.

It's a truly sad commentary when not only is a (nearly) four-year-old generally more willing to accept responsibility for her behavior, but that she recognizes how wrong it is when a President tires to weasel out of it.




  x

jaquandor explains it all


Byzantium's Shores keeps its eye on the ball with regard to the continuing arguments about prewar intelligence.
[T]his wasn't a case of bad intelligence. It was a case of bad intelligence that was identified as bad intelligence, and then was used anyway by people who either should have known it was bad intelligence and were thus inept, or did know it was bad intelligence and were thus deceitful. I'm always amazed at the sheer amount of smoke-and-mirrors foolery that can erupt around something that's really not that complicated.

I give Tony Blair full marks for passion and eloquence, but Jaqandor's point is spot-on. It isn't a matter of history "forgivng" him and Bush if they were wrong about the threat they portrayed Saddam as posing. As many are pointing out across the the blogosphere -- for example, the just-back-from Europe Matthew Yglesisas -- the humanitarian benefits of removing Saddam are not in dispute. But Blair and Bush didn't base their case on humanitarian intervention, they based it on claims of an Iraqi threat that are appearing increasingly threadbare day by day.

Speaking of which, this morning's op-ed by David Ignatius in the WaPo wonders why we haven't heard more from several acptured Iraqi officials -- unless their statements would undermine Bush's and Blair's contentions.

History may forgive Blair and Bush for launching an unprovoked war to depose Saddam. History should not forgive them for deceiving their citizens in order to do so.

Update: John Dean examines the case for war Bush outlined in the State of the Union speech and concludes that the evidence seems to support hardly any of it at all, let alone the bogus uranium claim. Dean -- who knows the ramifications of such a statment -- calls for a special prosecutor.

(via a CalPundit comment thread)




  x

busy morning


....so posting will be delayed until the afternoon. My apologies.




  xThursday, July 17, 2003

escalation


Kevin Drum points to a trio of articles indicating that Administration officials -- who are security-obsessed when it comes to maintaining secrecy about their own actions -- appear to have blown a CIA agent's cover as part of an effort to discredit an Administration critic. CalPundit comments:
This just gets uglier and uglier, and I hope the mainstream press — having finally smelled blood — will follow this up. If Corn's accusations are true, this is an appalling abuse of power by the administration that not only blows an agent's cover, but reduces the effectiveness of an important CIA program and makes it harder for the CIA to recruit similar agents in the future.

I hope they think it was worth it.

I would point out, of course, that lack of "human intelligence" assets has been one of the problems plaguing the CIA recently.

This development is simply outrageous. Perhaps this time, principled conservatives who genuinely care about national security with join in condemning this reprehensible action. Heads need to roll on this one -- an administration official who blows the cover of a CIA agent should lose his or her job at the very least.

Update: Mark Kleiman has a "Say it ain't so, Joe" moment:
If true, it would be just too ugly for words: much, much lower and shabbier, by the rules these folks play by, than anything else this Administration has done to date.

...If Wilson's wife isn't a CIA agent, her ability to do her actual job (she works for a consulting firm) has been compromised, as have her personal relationships. The lives of people she has met with abroad, who might be suspected of having given her sensitive information, have been put at risk. Perhaps she has been put at risk, too.

If she is a CIA agent, her life has certainly been put at risk, and the lives of her foreign sources have been put at grave risk. That reduces our ability to collect intelligence in the future. Of course, on this hypothesis her career is over, now that her cover has been blown. In addition, whoever gave Novak the information (though not Novak himself) is guilty of a felony punishable by five years in prison.

...[T]his latest -- if true, which we, or at least I, don't know -- would involve a completely different magnitude of villainy. Deliberately outing one of your own spies as an act of political revenge would be a truly unforgivable deed, and one that wouldn't become any more forgivable if tomorrow MI5 produced an invoice for 300 tons of yellowcake with Saddam Hussein's signature and thumbprint on it as the recipient.

As I just commented on a thread at Electrolite:
As Mark Kleiman said more eloquently than I, it *doesn't freakin' matter* if Mrs. Wilson is CIA or not. What matters is that two -- count 'em, two -- sources in the Amdinistration told a journalist for use in publication -- in short, blew her cover. The only alternative explanation I can come up with is that Novak just made the whole thing up (in which case he's set himself up for a dandy libel suit).

If she is not a CIA agent, her professional and personal reptuations have been damaged.

If she *is* a CIA agent, her professional and personal reputations have been damaged, her value as an intel asset is now zilch, and the information may literally have put her life -- or more likely, the lives of her contacts -- in danger.

And for what?

There's simply no good interpretation to this sordid event. At the very least, Mrs. Wilson's repuation has been sullied, whether the information is true or not. But what's worse is that this Administration that is definitely obsessed with secrecy and, we're supposed to believe, concerned about national security apparently did so out of sheer pique. It's simply unforgivable.

Unforgivable indeed. Novak could and indeed should protect the identities of his sources, but the Bush Administration, if it has an ounce of integrity, should either expend every effort to discover and discipline the authors of this smear or apoligize abjectly to Mrs. Wilson -- at the very least.

I'm not holding my breath.

Update 2: Mark Kleiman (thanks for the courteous email, Mark!) now thinks there's no longer reason to doubt the story, and so heads must roll. I agree.




  x

lovecraft link of the day


A Shoggoth on the Roof is a musical based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Excellent!

(via FARK)




  x

gop fundraising scandal uncovered?


Well, this stinks to high heaven:
Republican state attorneys general in at least six states telephoned corporations or trade groups subject to lawsuits or regulations by their state governments to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, according to internal fundraising documents obtained by The Washington Post.

One of the documents mentions potential state actions against health maintenance organizations and suggests the attorneys general should "start targeting the HMO's" for fundraising. It also cites a news article about consolidation and regulation of insurance firms and states that "this would be a natural area for us to focus on raising money."

These documents obtained by the WaPo certainly give the appearance of an implied quid pro quo for campaign contributions.

Opponents of campaign finance reform cite free speech concerns, and they have a point. However, free speech can be limited for a compelling interest, and I contend that dissolving a campaign finance system that becomes tantamount to open bribery is one such interest. The American people must have assurances that big campaign contributions don't buy access and influence.




  x

quote of the day


Stephen Charest summed it all up nicely in a comment thread at The Left Coaster: "No matter how noble your goals are, when you lie to the people, especially about a cause in which you are asking our men and women to give their lives, you have breached your trust."

Meanwhile, P.L.A. documents how conservatives Jonah Goldberg and Bill Bennett are on record as agreeing that Presidential honesty matters.




  x

guerilla war cited again


Military officials in Iraq have admitted US troops face a guerilla war, despite earlier lame denials by Donald Rumsfeld et al. In one disturbing development, anti-occupation forces fired an antiaircraft missile at a C-130 cargo plane landing at Baghdad's airport, in what the Pentagon admitted was a another of several failed attempts to down a transport.

Update: The ever-reliable Billmon has yet another series of quotes tracing the Adminitration's prevarication characterization of the resistance to the US occupation.




  x

zing!


This morning's analysis by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post of the woes the Bush Administration is experiencing now that they're being held accountable for their claims on Iraq contains a zinger in the fourth graf:
It is too early to know whether the controversy will fade or provide Democrats with political traction. For the moment at least, Bush has little to fear. The majority Republicans in the House and Senate, convinced the Democrats have overreacted, are nearly unanimous in opposing hearings on the matter. But that could change. [Emphasis added]

Perish forbid the GOP would let partisan politics impede the investigation of what's now obvious was majorly flawed presentation of intelligence to sell Bush's war.

And is it just me, or does that sentence imply that Bush has something to fear from hearings?

There's also this:
Some Democrats think the damage to Bush could go well beyond the Iraq issue. One of Bush's most valuable attributes has been his reputation for honesty and straight talking. But the controversy has caused the White House to appear slippery. In moments reminiscent of the Clinton presidency Bush and his aides have sought to parse phrases -- they have called the disputed claim "technically accurate" because it was pinned on British intelligence -- and they have said it is time to "move on," the same phrase Clinton aides used. Also, a president who came to office criticizing those who would blame others for their problems has put responsibility on the CIA and the British.

These notions, of course, are nothing new to those who read this blog and others. The difference is that now editors appear to have stopped assuming Bush is a "straight shooter" and are taking a look at whether Bush's rhetoric matches reality. As I've observed many times in the past, that development can't be good for Bush.




  xWednesday, July 16, 2003

no-blogging zone


I have some project deadlines I need to work on, so blogging will likely be light to nonexistent for the rest of the day.

In the meantime, enjoy yourselves with this Virtual Bubble Wrap, via Geisha asobi blog.




  x

bush (non-)credibility update)


Walter Pincus in a page-one story in today's Washington Post points out that the African uranium claim was far from the only bit of bogus information in Bush's 2003 State of the Unions speech, In fact, the uranium claim -- while known to the Administration at the time to be bunk -- was the only element of Bush's attempt to paint the frightening picture of a nuclear-armed Saddam that hadn't yet been publicly challenged.
In recent days, as the Bush administration has defended its assertion in the president's State of the Union address that Iraq had tried to buy African uranium, officials have said it was only one bit of intelligence that indicated former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program.

But a review of speeches and reports, plus interviews with present and former administration officials and intelligence analysts, suggests that between Oct. 7, when President Bush made a speech laying out the case for military action against Hussein, and Jan. 28, when he gave his State of the Union address, almost all the other evidence had either been undercut or disproved by U.N. inspectors in Iraq.

By Jan. 28, in fact, the intelligence report concerning Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa -- although now almost entirely disproved -- was the only publicly unchallenged element of the administration's case that Iraq had restarted its nuclear program. That may explain why the administration strived to keep the information in the speech and attribute it to the British, even though the CIA had challenged it earlier.

For example, in his Oct. 7 speech, Bush said that "satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at [past nuclear] sites." He also cited Hussein's "numerous meetings with Iraqi nuclear scientists" as further evidence that the program was being reconstituted, along with Iraq's attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes "needed" for centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

But on Jan. 27 -- the day before the State of the Union address -- the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported to the U.N. Security Council that two months of inspections in Iraq had found that no prohibited nuclear activities had taken place at former Iraqi nuclear sites. As for Iraqi nuclear scientists, Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council, U.N. inspectors had "useful" interviews with some of them, though not in private. And preliminary analysis, he said, suggested that the aluminum tubes, "unless modified, would not be suitable for manufacturing centrifuges."

The next night, Bush delivered his speech, including the now-controversial 16-word sentence, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Of his October examples, only the aluminum tubes charge remained in January, but that allegation had a subtle caveat -- he described the tubes as merely "suitable" for nuclear weapons production. Without the statement on uranium, the allegation concerning aluminum tubes would have been the only nuclear-related action ascribed to Hussein since the early 1990s.

And the tubes had already been questioned not only by IAEA, but also by analysts in U.S. and British intelligence agencies.

The story goes on to explain in detail just how smelly the nuclear-tube claim was; this was no mere dispute over two possible uses, but rather a group of hardline analysts (*cough*Cheney*cough) clinging to a threadbare story despite the fact that the tubes were entirely unsuitable for nuclear weapons production without extensive modification.

Bush, of course, didn't admit any question of their purpose in the SotU, but rather used the weasel word "suitable" to describe their potential.

It's high time principled conservatives wake up and smell the coffee. Regardless of their individual belief that war against Iraq was justified, there's no question now that the President was used highly deceptive scare tactics to gain support for a war that the public was not exactly enthusiastic about. Ignoring these developments, linking to a conservative columnist questions some minor component of the avalanche of evidence, or playing intricate parsing games to come up with some interpretation of Bush's words that might technically be true do not at all absolve them of responsibility for supporting a war launched under false pretenses.

Frankly, the conspicuous failure of several of my conservative friends whom I generally regard as principled to own up to the flaws in Bush's case -- even if it will mean conceding that skeptics like myself were right in their prewar questioning of that case -- stuns and saddens me.





  xTuesday, July 15, 2003

anime link of the day


project a-ko fan service

Susanna kindly emailed me about this Stephen den Beste post on "fan service." Mr. Oni kindly emailed me to mention that he'd submitted my own definition from back in February to Untold Millions' post (scroll down to July 15) critical of SDB's description; I'm flattered that UM called mine "much more satisfactory."

By the way, the image is from the hilarious anime movie Project A-Ko (fan site), which positively drips with fan service. Indeed, it almost doesn't count, as its origins as a hentai anime are revealed in plenty of racy images (let's face it; panty shots don't count for much in a movie in which two of the princlipal characters are shown topless). Still, the numerous parodies, anime in-jokes and various mecha also count as fan service.




  x

astronomy post of the day


The Next Century of Spaceflight. c00L!

(via Byzantium's Shores, who also has an excellent essay on the human voice I'm sure my lovely wife -- who's a music teacher and a superb singer -- will appreciate.)




  x

bush (non-)credibility watch redux


The Left Coaster has a good post tracking the, ah, evolving statements of the Bush Administration regarding pre-9/11 warnings, from "There were no warnings!" to "There were no specific warnings!" to "We didn't know they'd fly planes into buildings!" (as if that excuses an utter failure to take preventative steps against hijacking) to "We had warnings, but what were we supposed to do about it?!"

Perhaps in this new atmosphere, Bush may finally be held accountable for his own failure to do anything to prevent the terrorist attack that occurred on his watch.




  x

bush (non-)credibility watch


P.L.A. has a must-read post about the erosion of Bush's credibility. It points out the encouraging development that while stories questiong Bush's feeble credibility -- and even outright whoppers -- were difficult to sell to editors stll drinking the "straight shooter" Kool-Aid, holding Bush accountable for his statments is now firmly in the public agenda. And, of course, that isn't good news for Bush.

Update: Talking Points Memo has more of the same: "The disquieting fact is that these whoppers aren't even getting reported any more because it's become a given among reporters and editors that most of what the president is saying on this subject has little connection to anything that's actually going on. And the two keep diverging more and more. It's almost as if the shakier the evidence gets the more certain he becomes about what the evidence was supposed to prove."




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idiotic editorial of the week


Busy, Busy, Busy and CalPundit point to this Wall Street Journal editorial saying that intelligence services should provide data that supports policy makers' predetermined decisions. Perish forbid policy makers should base their actions on what their intelligence services tell them. The dangerous idiocy of this position boggles the mind.




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milestone of the day


Late last night, the hit counter passed 35,000. Thanks for visiting!




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iraq fib two-fer


The Washington Post gives Bush both barrels this morning (that darn liberal media!).

In "President Defends Allegation On Iraq," Dana Priest and Dana Milbank note that Bush's latest position is at odds with the defense his aides have used. Bush returns to the already-debunked claim that the Administration didn't know the uranium story was bogus until after the State of the Union address.
President Bush yesterday defended the "darn good" intelligence he receives, continuing to stand behind a disputed allegation about Iraq's nuclear ambitions as new evidence surfaced indicating the administration had early warning that the charge could be false.

Bush said the CIA's doubts about the charge -- that Iraq sought to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore in Africa -- were "subsequent" to the Jan. 28 State of the Union speech in which Bush made the allegation. Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

Bush's position was at odds with those of his own aides, who acknowledged over the weekend that the CIA raised doubts that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger more than four months before Bush's speech.

The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

In the face of persistent questioning about the use of intelligence before the Iraq war, administration officials have responded with evolving and sometimes contradictory statements. The matter has become increasingly charged, as Democrats demand hearings about Bush's broader use of intelligence to justify the Iraq war.

The president's remarks yesterday came as evidence emerged that the administration had information that seemed to guarantee that Iraq probably could not acquire nuclear material from Niger. A four-star general, who was asked to go to Niger last year to inquire about the security of Niger's uranium, told The Washington Post yesterday that he came away convinced the country's stocks were secure. The findings of Marine Gen. Carlton W. Fulford Jr. were passed up to Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- though it was unclear whether they reached officials in the White House.

That's why it's always the cover-up that kills, folks; people notice when you change your story or when your alibis contradict each other. If memory serves me right, that's one of the elemnary rules of police interrogation: let 'em talk, and catch 'em in a lie.
Bartlett, discussing the State of the Union address, said last week that "there was no debate or questions with regard to that line when it was signed off on." But on Friday, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said there was "discussion on that specific sentence, so that it reflected better what the CIA thought." Rice said "some specifics about amount and place were taken out." Tenet said Friday that CIA officials objected, and "the language was changed."

Fleischer said yesterday Rice was not referring to the State of the Union reference but to Bush's October speech given in Cincinnati -- even though Rice was not asked about that speech. Fleischer said that while the line cut from the October speech was based on the Niger allegations, he said the State of the Union claim was based on "additional reporting from the CIA, separate and apart from Niger, naming other countries where they believed it was possible that Saddam was seeking uranium."

But Fleischer's words yesterday contradicted his assertion a week earlier that the State of the Union charge was "based and predicated on the yellowcake from Niger." Rice was asked a month ago about Bush's State of the Union uranium claim on ABC's "This Week" and replied: "The intelligence community did not know at the time or at levels that got to us that there was serious questions about this report." But senior administration officials acknowledged over the weekend that Tenet argued personally to White House officials, including deputy national security adviser Stephen Hadley, that the allegation should not be used in the October speech, four months before the State of the Union address.

(Milbank also noted the hard time the White House press corps gave Ari Fleischer on his last day on the job.)

Meanwhile, David Broder thinks that being caught in the uranium fib may mean Bush has jumped the shark.
If President Bush is not reelected, we may look back on last Thursday, July 10, 2003, as the day the shadow of defeat first crossed his political horizon. To be sure, Bush looks strong. The CBS News poll released that evening had his approval rating at 60 percent, with solid support from his own party, a 26-point lead among independents and a near-even split among Democrats. Two-thirds of those surveyed could not name a single one of the nine Democrats vying for the right to oppose him.

But "The CBS Evening News" that night was like Karl Rove's worst nightmare, and the other network newscasts -- still the main source of information for a large number of Americans -- were not much better.

The headlines announced by John Roberts, substituting for Dan Rather on CBS, were: "President Bush's false claim about Iraqi weapons; he made it despite a CIA warning the intelligence was bad. More Americans say U.S. is losing control of Iraq. Also tonight, food lines in America; they're back and getting longer."

...Even after CIA Director George Tenet tried to take responsibility for the foul-up, the White House faces a credibility gap that reaches down into the non-discovery of the weapons of mass destruction Bush and his top associates said Saddam Hussein was amassing to threaten the United States.

And the doubts don't stop there. Two and a half months after Bush proclaimed victory in Iraq -- "mission accomplished" -- CBS reported that only 45 percent of the public now believes the United States is in control of events there. On the question of credibility regarding weapons of mass destruction, 56 percent say Bush administration officials were hiding important elements of what they knew or were outright lying.

The next day a Washington Post-ABC News poll reported that while Bush's approval score was still at a healthy 59 percent, there had been a 9-point drop in less than three weeks both in his overall rating and on the question of confidence in his handling of Iraq. Ominously, the poll found a dramatic reversal in public tolerance of continuing casualties, with a majority saying for the first time that the losses are unacceptable when weighed against the goals of the war.

...If Iraq looks increasingly worrisome on TV and in the polls, the economy is even worse. CBS found jobs and the economy dwarfing every other issue, cited by almost four times as many people as cited Iraq or the war on terrorism. On that black Thursday for the administration, first-time unemployment claims pushed the number of Americans on jobless relief to the highest level in 20 years.

And the most troubling pictures on any of the three broadcasts were those of a line of cars, stretching out of sight down a flat two-lane road in Logan, Ohio -- jobless and struggling families waiting for the twice-a-month distribution of free food by the local office of America's Second Harvest. The head of the agency said, "We are seeing a new phenomenon: Last year's food bank donors are now this year's food bank clients." Said CBS reporter Cynthia Bowers, "You could call it a line of the times, because in a growing number of American communities these days, making ends meet means waiting for a handout."

Some may say, "Well, it's one day's news," or dismiss it all as media bias. But that does not dissolve the shadow that now hangs over Bush's bright hopes for a second term.

Of course, it's important to remember that prior to July 10, all those situations were equally true; it's just that public perception of that reality seem to be taking hold. And most importantly, the so-called "liberal media" may be finally starting to wake up to the notion that the "Bush is a trustworthy straight-shooter" label they tagged him with in the election may not be entirely -- or even technically -- accurate.

Update: Tim Dunlop points out one bewildering bit of Bush-wa:
Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." [Ed: emphasis added]


This is either a barefaced lie, evidence of a man with the memory span of a goldfish or the first signs of complete mental breakdown.

...If Bush didn't lie before the war, he is now.


Update 2: Regarding Bush's bizarre statement that "we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in," CalPundit nails it: "I'm trying to figure out some charitable interpretation of this, but I just can't. What the hell is he talking about?"




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gop defecit watch


Briefly noted in the WaPo: Budget Deficit May Surpass $450 Billion
War, tax cuts and a third year of a flailing economy may push this year's budget deficit past $450 billion, according to congressional sources familiar with new White House budget forecasts. That would be 50 percent higher than the Bush administration forecast five months ago.

The deficit projection due out today is nearly $50 billion more than economists anticipated just last week, and it underscores the continuing deterioration of the government's fortunes since 2000, when the Treasury posted a $236 billion surplus. That represents a fiscal reversal exceeding $680 billion.

"It's shock and awe," said a senior Republican Senate aide.

The 2003 forecast -- part of the White House's annual midterm budget update -- easily tops the previous record $290 billion deficit of 1992, even when adjusted for inflation. The red ink now exceeds the entire military budget. Measured against the size of the economy, however, the deficit still has not reached the levels of the Reagan era. It also may prove slightly inflated, because it includes some White House policy proposals that may not be enacted this year.

Still, the political ramifications began to manifest themselves even before the new numbers were officially released. Yesterday, the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, a deficit watchdog group, declared the first six months of this year "the most fiscally irresponsible in recent memory," as Congress and the administration embarked on "a schizophrenic pursuit of small government tax policies and big government spending initiatives. . . . Policymakers need to stop the hemorrhage of red ink, face up to the necessary trade-offs and negotiate a new balanced budget plan."

Bush and his pet GOP Congress are writing checks that, sooner or later, taxpayers will have to cash. How cowardly, and how typical.




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inconceivable


According to the Washington Post, prosecutors are so insistent to defy a judge's ruling that accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui be allowed to question an al Qaeda figure in US custody that they're willing to see charges against him dismissed.
The Justice Department yesterday refused to produce a key witness in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, defying a federal court order and acknowledging that the judge will likely dismiss the indictment against the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The government's action raises the possibility that the case against Moussaoui could move to a military tribunal, but Justice Department officials indicated last night that they were determined to keep it in the civilian courts and that they intend to appeal any dismissal of the charges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

But first, prosecutors must go before the federal judge who ordered that they produce the witness, Ramzi Binalshibh, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema likely will impose sanctions for the government's failure to allow Moussaoui and his attorneys to question Binalshibh. The expected punishment is the dismissal of the charges, but Brinkema could choose lesser consequences, such as removing the death penalty as an option, reducing the charges or striking all mentions of Binalshibh from the indictment.

I've never been able to make sense of the Bush Administration's approach to prosecuting accused terrorists in the wakeof 9/11 -- it's a bizarre patchwork of secret detentions, civil trials, indefinite military incarceration and promised military tribunals. While I have reservations about the tribunals -- see this chart at CalPundit for an indication why -- I actually believe that as an admitted member of al Qaeda, Moussaoui would have been a prime candidate for one. Yet the government insisted on going forward with what has proved to be a strange and confusing civilian trial. But because it did so, I assumed the government's case was strong.

If speaking to Binalshibh would undermine the government's case, that raises the possibility that, while definitely a Bad Man, Moussaoui might actually be innocent of involvement in 9/11. The US is within its rights to hold Moussaoui as a threat to national security, but switching venues in order to avoid an unfavorable ruling is simply unacceptable. A shadow legal system to which the prosecution can turn whenb it can't meet its burden of proof -- a kangaroo court in which guilt is predetermined -- has no place at all in a democracy, even one struggling with terrorism.

Speaking of CalPundit, he's none too happy about this situation either.




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wasted


From my reading (and viewing of films such as Full Metal Jacket), troops in Vietnam referred to fatalities as being "wasted." That term leaped to mind when I read this post at Daily Kos (warning: graphic photo), and this eloquent eulogy to the fallen soldier in the comment thread:
That soldier probably died in about 300 seconds--300 seconds to see the horror of one's body mutilated and torn apart, 300 seconds to wish a kiss for loved ones, 300 seconds to fight desperately for life, only to lose, lose as the blood spilled and dripped, game over.

Then I think of this guy's mother--how joyous she was at the pregancy news, the pictures she saved of his first birthday, the bronzed baby booties, all the money, time and sweat educating him, training him, sustaining him.

All gone. All gone in 300 seconds in a foreign place, an ugly violent death, all for lies.

I've had similar thoughts to those expressed in the second paragraph. The soldiers, Marines, and other service members who die in Iraq had parents who loved, raised and cherished them. All so they could be sent off to be sacrificed on the altar of Bush's ambition.

One of the things that infuriates me about this war is that I was never convinced of its necessity. Devleopments after the war, at the very least, have proven beyond any doubt that the urgency simply did not exist.

Bad policy can affect lives and generate misery, but in general. Bush's bad policy cost lives, and is continuing to cost lives. Lives that are unique, precious, and irreplacable. Lives of people who have parents, perhaps spouses, perhaps children. Yes, soldiers die in war. That grim necessity is why full-scale war ought to be reserved only for cases of real necessity. In carelessly discarding that tradition, Bush has wasted hundreds of American -- and an untold number of Iraqi -- lives. Simply unforgivable.




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3rd id update


The other day, I noted the pleasing development that the Pentagon has decided to rotate the 3rd Infantry Division, which has borne the brunt of the fighting in the Iraq war, home. Well, no such luck.
In an abrupt about-face, the U.S. military said Monday thousands of troops from the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) would stay in Iraq until further notice instead of returning by September in line with an announcement only last week.

The division has already had a protracted stay in Iraq since it was the first American unit to enter Baghdad during the war.

A U.S. soldier was killed in a Baghdad ambush Monday, bringing the death toll of U.S. troops killed in hostile action since U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq on March 20 to 146, one less than the 1991 war over Kuwait.

Thirty-two U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Bush declared major combat over on May 1. [Ed: I believe that figure indicates killed by hostile fire.]

The announcement comes directly after India shunned a US plea for troops, citing the lack of UN mandate in the Iraq situation.

This situation is another shameful example of the Bush Administration's incompetence over Iraq. As Bush's insistence that Iraq posed an immediate threat seems more tawdry with each passing day, it becomes clear that the Administration need not have alienated the UN and longtime allies in its inexorable insistence on immediate war. Yet that inflexible march to war is having direct and detrimental consequences in the aftermath. And sadly, it's our troops and their families who suffer. This "now you're going home, now you're not" reversal raises serious questions not only of the Administration's competence but of its presumed commitment to US troops and a strong military. And it is sure to create a shameful amount of suffering among the families of soldiers.

With more guerilla attacks expected, one wonders how many American soldiers will bleed to death with their final thought being how they were almost -- almost -- rotated home. For the present, though, it seems the battle-weary 3rd ID isn't going to beshort any time soon.




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tia update


Wired News reports that the Senate's defense appropriations bill denies all funding to the controversial Total Terrorism Information Awareness program, which would create a massive database of activities of law-abiding citizens, ostensibly to detect patterns indicating if someone is a terrorist.
The Senate's $368 billion version of the 2004 defense appropriations bill, released from committee to the full Senate on Wednesday, contains a provision that would deny all funds to, and thus would effectively kill, the Terrorism Information Awareness program, formerly known as Total Information Awareness. TIA's projected budget for 2004 is $169 million.

TIA is the brainchild of John Poindexter, a key figure from the Iran-Contra scandal, who now heads the research effort at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Critics on the left and right have called TIA an attempt to impose Big Brother on Americans. The program would use advanced data-mining tools and a mammoth database to find patterns of terrorist activities in electronic data trails left behind by everyday life.

The Senate bill's language is simple but comprehensive: "No funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense ... or to any other department, agency or element of the Federal Government, may be obligated or expended on research and development on the Terrorism Information Awareness program."

The removal of funds from the program marks the strongest Congressional reaction to TIA since it first gained prominent media attention in November 2002.

This development is excellent, but of course is not the final word until the appropriations bill is passed and signed.





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cartoon link of the day


My local paper had a roundup of new cartoons aimed at a mature male audience.
A nasty rodent lawyer, a sex kitten superhero and a dog and cat awash in a spray of bodily waste in "Ren & Stimpy's Adult Party Cartoon" are definitely not for the "Rugrats" set -- save perhaps for the latter's familiarity with bodily fluids. The Strip, which premiered June 26, offers the newest of a growing number of late-night cable cartoons aimed at an adult audience, which shouldn't automatically be confused with a mature one.

The reconstituted TNN, which would have been virile Spike TV by now if not for a lawsuit, is throwing the cartoon kitchen sink at the young men it hopes to attract.

"Men like sexy, funny, gross-out, clever, dark humor," TNN executive vice president Kevin Kay says. [Ed: Sign me up for all of the above except "gross-out."]

Later hours allow more freedom to push the envelope, without forfeiting the chance to snag a sizable cable audience. Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (Sunday-Thursday, 10 p.m.), a three-hour mix of comedy and Japanese adventure anime, has scored big teen and young-adult ratings, especially with young men. In the May sweeps, it drew more men 18 to 34 than David Letterman.

The article mentions a new animated version of "Spider-Man" to appear on MTV Fridays at 9 p.m. It follows the adventures of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is in college; the article cites episodes to touch on drinking, hazing and unrequited love. Actually, since Spider-Man really did deal with issues like that -- and employed a recurring theme of unrequites -- the new version sounds interesting, and the evening MTV audience seems appropriate.

I can remember when MTV actually showed music videos most of the time. I suppose that's what VH-1 is for now...




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anime link of the day


The Anime Web Turnpike, one of the best-known and most comprehensive sources for anime news, reviews, and links, has debuted a new version. Stop by and check it out.

(via Anime Online; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)




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iraq situation update


Tacitus takes the antiwar bloggers to task for following the casualty count closely but not celebrating the appointment of a governming council in Iraq. Fair enough; here are my comments, cross-posted from a discussion thread at CalPundit.

Although I opposed the war in Iraq -- and partially on the grounds that the post-war situation would be much more difficult than Bush and Company seemed to imply -- I agree that we now have no choice but to stay the course there. We can't afford to fail; much more so than before, Iraq truly is a vital American security concern.

I, for one, am willing to accept this development as a positive sign. (Kudos, for example, for including three women on the 22-member council.) However, it really doesn't matter what bloggers on either side of the issue here think. The vote that counts comes from the Iraqi people, and the jury's still out there, according to the WaPo:

Although Bremer and his top political aides contend that the council's members represent a cross-section of the country and will have wide public support, it is not clear how Iraqis will react to a group that was handpicked by the occupation authority. While some Baghdad residents said they would adopt a wait-and-see attitude, others dismissed the group as American lackeys. "We cannot trust them," said Mohammed Abbas, an Oil Ministry employee who joined legions of Iraqis in watching the announcement of the council on live satellite television.

And I can't say the Bush Administration's track record in Afghanistan gives me much confidence. Leaving the Taliban matter aside, the fact is that we sponsored a loya jirga there, but now its rulers have control only of Kabul, and only barely that. I see little to indicate that Karzai's government is expanding its authority over the warlords, let alone the Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds along the Pakistani border.

The United States was able to establish friendly governments in Vietnam, too. That's the easy part. Getting the populace to accept those governments as legitimate is the hard part, and then the governments must actually have the ability to govern.

So yes, it's a positive development -- a welcome and badly needed one. But no, we have not established an independent government yet, nor is our involvement with Iraq anywhere close to over.

So, yes, it's a positive development, and one we should all hope takes root. But it remains to be seen whether this council will be successful in its mandate, and make no mistake about it, the US is still occupying Iraq and facing no small amount of hostility in doing so. Success will be truly measured when our soldiers are no longer dying there.




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iraq deception update


Wow. The realization that Bush was deceptive in selling his coveted war with Iraq certainly seems to have taken hold. Sunday's Reuters story is headlined, "Bush Aides Seek to Put Out Credibility Firestorm."
Top aides to President Bush insisted on Sunday he did not hype Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction as they sought to put out a political firestorm ignited by a disputed statement he made in his case for war.

But questions about Bush's credibility persisted, threatening to further erode public support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and create more difficulty at home for U.S. ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The key element is that the Administration's multiple denials, deferrals and dodges simply don't add up. Particularly contemptible is the excuse that Bush's false indictment of Iraq for allegedly seeking uranium was "technically true," since Bush was just relaying what the British believed. This whole controversy erupted when the Administration admitted that the accusation should not have been in the speech because it was based on forgeries, and -- moreover -- the Administration knew it at the time. (And, I might add, the uranium claim is far from the only one that has proven not to hold water.)

The Washington Post relayed in a page-one story on Sunday the embarrassing revelation that Tenet personally intervened to have the uranium reference removed from a Presidential speech in October. The story raises the question that, if Tenet and the CIA clearly wanted the reference out, who exactly kept putting it in?

Supermarket shoppers all over America will see, right next to the checkout lines, Time's cover story questioning Bush's credibility.

Meanwhile, bloggers have been busy, of corse. Check out what CalPundit, Daily Kos, Eschaton, Pandagon, Talking Points Memo and The Left Coaster have to say...start there and scroll down, in each case; there's lots there. CalPundit, in particular, has an excellent essay on wht the uranium claim matters

Bush's problem is, now more and more people are starting to realize that it does, and all that that implies.

Update: Now this is getting simply surreal: Bush Defends Intelligence As 'Darn Good'
President Bush defended the quality of intelligence he receives as "darn good" despite an uproar over disputed reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa for nuclear weapons.

Bush said Monday he remained convinced that Saddam Hussein was attempting to develop a weapons program that threatened the world and justified the United States going to war against Iraq.

"Our country made the right decision," Bush said.

Bush spoke with reporters at the end of an Oval Office meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"When all is said and done the people of the United States will realize that Saddam Hussein had a weapons program," Bush said.

"I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence and the speeches I have given are backed by good intelligence," Bush said. However, the administration has acknowledged the uncertainty of remarks Bush made in his January State of the Union address about Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium in Africa.

Of course, anyone who relied on an unprecented doctrine of "preventative war" would need to always defend the quality of intel the White House receives -- the whole house of cards falls apart otherwise.

But these unsupported assertions -- flying more and more in the face of overwhelming reality -- are getting old fast. Notice how the confidence that we'll find the actual weapons Bush kept citing is gone, with a lame reference to "weapons programs" in its place. Could one ask for a more clear acknowledgement that the prewar assertions were bogus?

And is it just me, or is Bush's inarticulateness increasing? Maybe it's a desire to seem like his former "straight shooter" image, but CalPundit speculates that Bush simply isn't used to dealing with a non-complacent press.





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