Saturday, April 24, 2004

Doomsday Bill vs. Armageddon Plan 

I guess these poor, naive legislators have not yet been filled in on the details of the Armageddon Plan, which would make speedy elections unnecessary by eliminating Congress altogether. From Reuters:
The U.S. House of Representatives mulled its own possible demise on Thursday as it approved doomsday legislation to speed its replacement in case of a widespread loss of lawmakers.

Passed on a 306-97 vote, the measure would require special elections within 45 days if more than 100 of the 435 House members were ever wiped out.

Such mass casualties would hamper the chamber's ability to conduct business -- such as helping provide funding and advice for any retaliation against a hit on Capitol Hill.

"The tragic events of September 11, 2001, made clear that -- much as we might wish otherwise -- that at some point in the future it may be necessary to replace a large number of members of this body killed in some type of terrorist attack," said Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican . . . .

While the bill won broad support, Baird and several other members, mostly Democrats, complained it was inadequate and would leave the House for too long with too many empty seats.

Many favored some sort of a constitutional amendment that would allow seats to be more quickly filled, possibly by the appointment of successors by governors or state legislatures. [Rep. Brian]Baird has proposed an amendment that would allow members to name potential successors.

The U.S. Constitution permits gubernatorial appointments to replace deceased senators. But it requires that all House members be elected, and backers of the House-passed bill said they want to keep it that way in "the people's house" . . . .

[The bill's sponsor, Rep. James] Sensenbrenner, like many Republicans, predicted Baird's proposed constitutional amendment would fail, but said, "We ought to see who wants to have our replacements be elected or our replacements be appointed."

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Wanted: One Miller-Griller 

Via David Ehrenstein's Fablog: Adam Moss of New York magazine has reportedly commissioned Franklin Foer to do an investigative piece on WMD propagandist Judith Miller, who patriotically abetted the war effort by funnelling great gloppy gobbets of unsubstantiated hooey onto the front page of the New York Times just as quickly as Ahmed Chalabi, the Willy Wonka of hooey, could churn 'em out. New Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent has officially declined to comment on Ms. Miller's misadventures, which preceded his watch. Mostly. He thinks.

Thanks to reporters like Miller, we have news stories like this. I've always said the only reason they keep her on the payroll is to make Jayson Blair feel even worse.

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This One Goes Out to GWB 

Lambert (of Corrente) has the lyrics to "The Duke of Plaza-Toro," from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers.

What can I tell you? It cheered me up.

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Armageddon, Here We Come 

The match is lit, and it's thisfaraway from the powderkeg, and the dry-drunk who's holding it falls off scooters, chokes on pretzels, needs oral summaries of two-page PDB's, and takes his instructions directly from God and Dick Cheney. Barring a miracle, the grim joke of Election 2000 is about to end in an even grimmer punchline, one borrowed from Fredric Brown's "The Weapon": only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot.
Facing one of the grimmest choices of the Iraq war, President Bush and his senior national security and military advisers are expected to decide this weekend whether to order an invasion of Falluja, even if a battle there runs the risk of uprisings in the city and perhaps elsewhere around Iraq.

After declaring on Friday evening in Florida that "America will never be run out of Iraq by a bunch of thugs and killers," Mr. Bush flew to Camp David for the weekend, where administration officials said he planned consultations in a videoconference with the military commanders who are keeping the city under siege.

In Iraq on Saturday, a day of widespread violence, at least 14 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad when mortar bombs and rockets were fired into a crowded market in Sadr City, the poor neighborhood that is the stronghold of a rebel Shiite cleric who has declared solidarity with the Sunnis fighting Americans in Falluja . . . .

The chief of the American occupation authority, L. Paul Bremer III, visited Falluja on Saturday with Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq, to consult with frontline commanders. They appeared to be making a last-ditch effort for a negotiated settlement.

But in Washington, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has expressed strong doubts that the Falluja political and business figures the Americans are talking to hold any sway over the insurgents . . . .

The president and his advisers, said officials familiar with the deliberations, are keenly aware that if the operation to root out the insurgents kills many civilians — or simply appears to when reports are broadcast on Arab networks — it could spark uprisings elsewhere around Iraq, from Baghdad even to some Shiite strongholds where tolerance of the American occupation has worn thin.

In Washington, officials still describe the fear of uprisings in Iraq as a theory, one they say may be overblown. But it clearly has Mr. Bush and his advisers deeply concerned . . . .

Mr. Bush is described by many officials as convinced that if the insurgents hold off American forces there, they will try to do the same in other Iraqi cities.
The Dreyfuss Report links to a NYT article from Thursday, in which a senior U.S. military officer says "We have the potential to turn this into the Alamo if we get it wrong." Bob Dreyfuss himself adds:
If the United States goes full-force into Fallujah, it will be a Pyrrhic victory: from the ruins of that city, hatred of America will rise all over Iraq. (If the United States attacks Najaf, where Muqtada al-Sadr is holed up, it's curtains for the occupation.)

About 3,500 Marines, backed by air power, have surrounded Fallujah, preparing for a showdown in the next few days. Already hundreds of Iraqis have died in the siege, including many civilians, women and children among them. The siege of Fallujah is being watched intently across Iraq, and it is turning the Iraqi people—even fence-sitters—against the U.S. occupation. An Iraqi in Baghdad, interviewed by the Times, puts the crisis in perspective.
"Four American people were killed in Fallujah. Because of that, 500 people were killed in Fallujah. The message of the Americans is that 'we have the power.' Iraqis will never accept that."
Driving the coming assault on Fallujah is a combination of two forces: the U.S. neocons, who are constantly demanding renewed demonstrations of the "shock and awe" philosophy that got us into in the first place, and the U.S. military, which is operating out of sheer revenge motive over the spectacle of the four Americans whose bodies were burned and mutilated in the city.

It's a slow-motion catastrophe happening before our eyes.
Even the British, who want no part of potential massacres in Fallujah and Najaf, are trying to distance themselves from the "brutality" of the American forces. As Gen. Mike Jackson explained: "The phrase I use for this is, we must be able to fight with the Americans, that doesn't mean we must be able to fight as the Americans, if you see my distinction."

In other news, suicide bombers in boats attempted to take out the offshore oil terminal at Basra, through which most of Iraq's oil exports flow.

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All Good Things Must Come to an End 

Let's hope the Baghdad sewage system is fully operational by June 30, because thief, liar, swindler, fraud, and beloved neocon pet Ahmed Chalabi is about to get flushed. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, having evaluated the year-long train wreck that is the Iraqi Governing Council, is advising the U.S. to take the mulligan, and Ahmed has fucked both friend and enemy so badly, so openly, so often that at this point even Cheney and Wolfowitz are washing their hands of him:
The United States and the top U.N. envoy to Iraq have decided to exclude the majority of the Iraqi politicians the U.S.-led coalition has relied on over the past year when they select an Iraqi government to assume power on June 30, U.S. and U.N. officials said yesterday.

The latest shift in policy comes as the U.S.-led coalition has to resolve some contentious and long-standing issues before the transfer takes place. Earlier this week, the coalition moved to allow former Baath Party members and military officers to return to government jobs.

At the top of the list of those likely to be jettisoned is Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite politician who for years was a favorite of the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney, and who was once expected to assume a powerful role after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials acknowledged.

Chalabi has increasingly alienated the Bush administration, including President Bush, in recent months, U.S. officials said. He generated anger in Washington yesterday when he said a new U.S. plan to allow some former officials of Hussein's ruling Baath Party and military to return to office is the equivalent of returning Nazis to power in Germany after World War II.

Chalabi has headed the committee in charge of removing former Baathist officials. In a nationwide address yesterday designed to promote national reconciliation, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said complaints that the program is "unevenly and unjustly" administered are "legitimate" and that the overall program has been "poorly implemented."

That criticism may curtail Chalabi's influence over the removal of former officials -- and his power over the employment and income prospects of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Washington is also seriously considering cutting off the $340,000 monthly stipend to Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions. This would be a major change, because the INC has received millions of dollars in U.S. aid over the past decade as the primary vehicle for supporting the Iraqi opposition.

Chalabi is part of a wider problem, however. Polls indicate that most of the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council have little public support nine months after they were appointed. The lack of popular backing is the main reason the United States and United Nations are seeking a new body to govern Iraq before national elections are held in January 2005, U.S. and U.N. officials said.
As Josh Marshall says, "the real question is whether we should take this man into custody now, while we are still the sovereign authority in the country, to ensure that he can be held to account for pocketing US taxpayer dollars and helping bamboozle the country into war with his phony intelligence findings."

Another approach would be to drive him out of the Green Zone, drop him off in Sadr City, and force him to walk three blocks without his bodyguards so that he might be greeted, hailed, and showered with rose petals by those upon whom he has helped bestow the full blessings of democracy.

Yo, Ahmed! How does it feel to be the Darrell Issa of Iraq?

UPDATE: The ever-reliable Juan Cole gives us a nice snapshot of the IGC's current configuration:
The current IGC is a mixture of warlords with militias, corrupt expatriate politicians, and token independents. When asked to appoint a cabinet full of ministers to run the bureaucracies last summer, they typically put in relatives or cronies. The oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum is actually the son of Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, an IGC member, and is related by marriage to Ahmad Chalabi. The recently appointed minister of trade, Ali Allawi, is the nephew of Ahmad Chalabi, as well.

Chalabi was behind the dissolution of the Baath army, and an extreme program of de-Baathification that purged even minor members of the party. By the way, no such extreme denazification was attempted in Germany after WW II. Party members who had taught elementary school just went on teaching elementary school after the National Socialists collapsed. Much of Germany's post-war bureaucracy was run by former party members. The important thing was only that they hadn't been guilty of crimes. This point is made well by Billmon.

Given the extreme alienation of Sunni Iraqis from the Coalition (30% believe it is legitimate to do violence against Coalition troops) has forced Bremer and the Coalition to rethink allowing Chalabi to purge so many thousands of technocrats, and to continue to control them politically forever after (the US military handed over to Chalabi large numbers of files on party members, which is outrageous--the files should be under the control of the Iraqi state, not a private citizen).

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Friday, April 23, 2004

The Biggest, Best Lies Your Tax Money Could Buy 

My only question: if, Allah forbid, Ahmed Chalabi were to be burned alive, decapitated, and dismembered by the grateful citizens of Iraq at 12:01 AM on July 1, 2004 . . . how much could we reasonably hope to get back on the dollar? From Knight-Ridder:
An Iraqi exile group may have violated restrictions against using taxpayer funds to lobby when it campaigned for U.S. action to oust Saddam Hussein, according to documents and U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

If the charge - which is the subject of an upcoming probe by Congress' General Accounting Office - is borne out, it means that U.S. taxpayers paid to have themselves persuaded that it was necessary to invade Iraq.

Officials of the Iraqi National Congress, which played a central role in building support for last year's invasion of Iraq, deny that the group crossed the line prohibiting lobbying, or that it broke any other rules.

But officials at the State Department, which managed the INC's U.S. government grant, said they believe it did, despite what a senior official said were repeated warnings to the group to avoid lobbying "or even the appearance of same."

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the government's dealings with the INC, a favorite of some Pentagon officials and advisers, remain highly controversial. State Department officials, along with many intelligence officers, have been longtime critics of the group and want to minimize the group's role in post-Saddam Iraq . . . .

Two senators, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, to determine whether the INC violated lobbying rules . . . .

The INC, an umbrella group for anti-Saddam Iraqi exiles, received at least $18 million in U.S. funds between 1998 and 2003, according to a January report by the Congressional Research Service.

Its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad and has been pushed by some Pentagon and White House officials as the next leader of Iraq.
UPDATE: Baghdad bookies who have been following Juan Cole's latest reports are not altogether optimistic that Mr. Chalabi will be around long enough to be decapitated, dismembered, etc.:
Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army militia, said in his Friday prayers sermon at the Kufa mosque on Friday that he will resort to the use of suicide bombings in confronting the American-led Coalition if they launched an attack on the city of Najaf . . . .

Muqtada said to thousands of worshippers who crowded the mosque that Najaf "will never fall to the hand of the Occupiers." He added, "The men of the resistance will spill their own blood in defending their holy city." He said that numerous men and women had come to him asking permission to implement a suicide bombing . . . .

The thronging crowds chanted slogans in support of Muqtada and criticizing not only the occupation forces but also the Interim Governing Council, whom they branded infidels.

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Latest in an ongoing series of Articles Everyone Else Has Already Linked To: David Sirota of the Center for American Progress on the blatant illegality of the $700 million diversion.

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Do As Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law 

Q. What is the main difference between the Bush administration today and the Reagan administration in the golden era of the Iran-Contra scandal?

A: Nowadays, they don't even bother to preserve deniability. From Sidney Blumenthal:
The serious constitutional issues and governmental abuses, the methods and even the continuity of some personnel that Woodward catalogues evoke memories of the Reagan Iran-contra scandal. That involved a network of aides outsourcing US foreign policy to circumvent the separation of powers - selling missiles to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan contras. The Iraq war was conceived by the president and his war cabinet in an apparent effort to evade constitutional checks and balances. In Iran-contra, the national security council, CIA and Pentagon were stealthily exploited from within; in Iraq, they were abused from the top.

When the Iran-contra scandal was revealed, the Reagan administration was placed into receivership by the old Republican establishment. Neoconservatives and adventurers, criminal or not, were purged, from Elliott Abrams to Richard Perle. Now they are at the centre of power . . . .

Bush gazes upward for guidance, or turns to Cheney. Judgment Day may not come before election day. Here on earth, the Republican establishment that rescued Reagan after Iran-contra has become superannuated and powerless. There is no one to intervene.

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Do We Understand Each Other? Good. Now Show Me the NOFORN Map 

As James Ridgeway here elucidates, the phrase "oil crisis" means one thing to the American consumer, and something altogether different to our betters in the House of Bush/House of Saud:
The bedrock of the relationship between the U.S. and the Saudi royal family is Aramco, which began as a joint venture between the international oil giants Standard Oil and Texaco for exploration and development of the kingdom's immense oil and gas reserves, a business endeavor producing billions of dollars in revenues for the royal family. That money is turned right around and paid to American defense contractors for armaments of all types. Woodward says Bandar realized that Bush would need to show some economic progress before the 2004 election and that meant getting Saudi help in dropping the price of oil. "They're high," Woodward told 60 Minutes, referring to oil prices. "And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."

Of course, the Saudis aren't talking about a drop in prices to Joe Six Pack, the prince's term for the American public. It means a drop in price to the American oil men in an effort to inflate their profits, because, after all, they are major supporters of Bush and have been pumping money into his campaign.

However, what the prince told Woodward, and what was going down in Washington after 9-11 are two different things. Flooding the market with oil can mean different things to different people at different times.

As Bush was ramping up for the Iraq war, OPEC feared that the U.S. would use its expected new-found control of Iraqi oil to hurt the cartel's power. In the fall of 2002, Saudi oil people in Washington were speculating (i.e., warning) that should the U.S. invade Iraq and then turn around and flood the market with Iraqi oil in an effort to wreck OPEC, Saudi Arabia was prepared to open the gates and together with Iran, the region's other big producer, flood the world oil markets, forcing prices downward. The last thing on anyone's mind was helping out consumers. As always, the suckers were paying top dollar for gasoline, home heating oil, and natural gas purchased from the big international companies, which still control international markets because of their clamp on refining and distribution.

If the Saudis decided to let the so-called free market take over, flooding the globe with crude and sending oil prices into a steep dive, then the U.S. would be faced with a true nightmare. Lower prices would finish off not only smaller international companies that had been enticed into the oil play by high prices, but could wipe out the domestic oil companies in the U.S., causing sheer political hell for President Bush in his little oil bastion of Houston.
UPDATE: Josh Marshall asks a string of possibly-related questions:
At the same time [September 2001] Centcom was tasked with drawing up plans to attack the Taliban -- in fact, in the very same document -- they were also tasked with putting together plans to seize the oil fields of southern Iraq -- same document, same order.

Whose idea was that? And why were we dividing the war planners' time with gaming out this oil fields gambit when they had the more pressing issue of planning the Afghanistan war? And why the idea of seizing Iraq's oil fields in the first place?

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What You Don't Know Won't Hurt Bush 

Historian Allen Weinstein is the President's nominee to replace John Carlin as Archivist of the United States. John Dean, whose new book is Worse Than Watergate, examines the circumstances of Weinstein's appointment and concludes that, as usual, the fix is in :
Indeed, within the archival and historical communities, the nomination has sent sirens screaming and bells clanging. No fewer than nine professional organizations that deal with government records have expressed concern -- faulting Weinstein for his excessive secrecy.

As I have argued in my latest book, President Bush has had a problem with excessive secrecy for quite awhile. As Governor of Texas, he made sure to block any later access to his gubernatorial records. As President, he has tried to seal off the government from scrutiny in numerous ways.

Such secrecy is not a partisan matter. Rather, it is an issue of good government versus bad government -- and secrecy smells of bad government.

Why is President Bush so eager to switch archivists? Bruce Craig of the National Coalition for History explains that the Administration is likely motivated both by "the sensitive nature of certain presidential and executive department records expected to be opened in the near future," and also by "genuine concern in the White House that the president may not be re-elected."

Craig also notes that "in January 2005, the first batch of records (the mandatory 12 years of closure having passed) relating to the president's father's administration will be subject to the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and could be opened."

Finally, Craig (like many others) also reports that there is White House concern about the release of the 9/11 Commission records.
The article contains plenty of good background material on Bush's various (successful) maneuvers to hide his Texas gubernatorial records from public scrutiny, not to mention his attempt to overturn the 1978 Presidential Records Act by executive fiat.

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It's Just the Crack Talking 

And please, interpret that subject heading any way you like. From yesterday's CPA press briefing (link via Cursor):
MR. SENOR: On your second point -- or your final question -- I'll let General Kimmitt handle the front end -- we have been told by -- our delegation has been told by Fallujan leaders that many of the individuals involved with the violence are on some -- are on various drugs. It is part of what they're using to keep them up to engage in this violence at all hours. And the Fallujans leaders, the political and civic leaders with whom we've been talking, have repeatedly expressed this to be a serious problem, that the drug use by those engaged in the violence is something that we need to address. And so it was based on those recommendations that that was included in the communique, the joint communique. And it is one of the issues that we want to take on.

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When Prophecy Fails 

With all due respect to Mr. Teixeira (see below), I am now advising the two Zemblan patriots I had lunch with on Wednesday to give in to despair. President Neck & Neck With a Box of Rocks continues to command overwhelming support from voters whose main source of news is the sloppy drunk on the next barstool over:
A new poll shows that 57 percent of Americans continue to believe that Saddam Hussein gave "substantial support" to al-Qaida terrorists before the war with Iraq, despite a lack of evidence of that relationship.

In addition, 45 percent of Americans have the impression that "clear evidence" was found that Iraq worked closely with Osama bin Laden's network, and a majority believe that before the war Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction (38 percent) or a major program for developing them (22 percent).

There's no known evidence to date that these statements are true.

U.S. weapons inspector David Kay testified before Congress in January that no weapons were found and prewar intelligence on Iraq was "almost all wrong." CIA Director George Tenet last month rejected assertions by Vice President Dick Cheney that Iraq had cooperated with al-Qaida.

Despite that record, many Americans continue to believe that the threat from Iraqi weapons and its alleged links to terrorism justified the war. That conviction correlates closely with support for the war and President Bush, the poll released Thursday found.

For example, among those who say most experts agree that Iraq had banned weapons, 72 percent plan to vote for Bush . . . .

The PIPA poll did have several warning signs for the administration, as respondents have become more pessimistic about the prospects for success in Iraq.

The number of those who believed the year-old war would result in greater peace and stability in the Middle East has dropped from 56 percent in a Gallup poll in May 2003 to 40 percent last month in the PIPA poll.

And for the first time, a majority of Americans - 51 percent - said they thought that a majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to leave. The survey was completed before the worst violence of the occupation erupted in April.
While the last few paragraphs are encouraging, the big news in this article is that the ignoramus bloc is still large enough to elect a president all by itself.

It's easy (and correct) to blame the press for failing -- or refusing -- to do its most basic job, that of informing the public. It's easy (and correct) to blame the electorate for its own apathy and intellectual laziness. But I wonder if there isn't something a little scarier going on as well.

Is it simply that people don't know the facts? Or is it that facts don't matter?

In 1956, Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken and Stanley Schachter published When Prophecy Fails, which is perhaps the classic study of cognitive dissonance and "crisis faith." The book dealt with an apocalyptic cult organized around a small-town housewife who claimed to be receiving messages from aliens. According to Mrs. Marian Keech, the world was about to be destroyed, but a handful of believers would be rescued (by flying saucer, naturally) on the eve of the cataclysm. Roughly a dozen townspeople joined her circle; they quit their jobs, pulled the kids out of school and, on the appointed date, removed their belts and watches and metallic jewelry and gathered in a field to await the arrival of their alien saviors.

Who didn't show up.

Worse yet, the world didn't even end. Needless to say, there was great disappointment among the members of the cult. But did they smack themselves on the head and say "Boy, what chumps we were, this woman is plainly nuts"? No, they didn't. Although it seems counterintuitive, in the wake of the "disconfirmation" their belief grew stronger. They still assumed the end was nigh; they still assumed the saucers would whisk them off to safety; they just decided they had gotten the dates wrong. From an article by Randall Watters:
Festinger observes: "A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

"We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks. But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief.

"Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view."

When Prophecy Fails focuses on the failure of prophecies to come true, termed disconfirmation by Festinger, and the accompanied renewal of energy and faith in their source of “divine guidance”. His theory presupposes the cult having certain identifying features, such as
  • belief held with deep conviction along with respective actions taken;

  • the belief or prediction must be specific enough to be disconfirmed (i.e., it didn’t happen);

  • the believer is a member of a group of like-minded believers who support one another and even proselytize.
All of these characteristics were present in the saucer cult. Of particular interest in Festinger’s book is how the followers of Mrs. Keech reacted to each disconfirmation (failed date). Little attempt was made to deny the failure. The strength to continue in the movement was derived, not largely from the rationalizations, but from the very energy of the group itself and its dedication to the cause. This explains why proselytizing was so successful later in reinforcing the group’s sagging belief system. Festinger relates:

"But whatever explanation is made it is still by itself not sufficient. The dissonance is too important and though they may try to hide it, even from themselves, the believers still know that the prediction was false and all their preparations were in vain. The dissonance cannot be eliminated completely by denying or rationalizing the disconfirmation. But there is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.

"Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something there would be no question at all as to the validity of this belief. It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselyting following disconfirmation. If the proselyting proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it."
Is it wrong to say that the Republican "base," which now comprises roughly 40% of American voters, is in essence a gigantic saucer cult?

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Take Heart 

Yesterday I was having lunch with a pair of Zemblan patriots who'd been driven to the brink of despair by President Pull My Finger's latest poll numbers, which have inexplicably improved despite several weeks' worth of setbacks and embarrassing revelations. To them I can only say what Ruy Teixeira says -- Don't Panic! -- because Bush is not gaining any ground in the nineteen battleground states where the election will be decided:
. . . I know many are worried that Bush's ads in the battleground states have worked and that, to be doing so well in general, he must be making serious progress in those contested states.

To which I say: wrong! The Annenberg election survey results I reviewed earlier showed that Kerry's favorabilty rating remained unchanged in the battleground states and that persuadable voters were uninclined to drink the Republican Kool-Aid about Kerry flip-flopping, believing Bush, more than Kerry, exhibited that behavior.

And now check out these just-released findings from the same ABC News poll that contributed to Democrats' anguish about Bush being ahead. According to data in The Hotline (I can't find any link yet on a public website, but I'm sure one will eventually appear), Kerry is ahead of Bush by 4 points in the battleground states (50-46). He's even ahead of Bush by 2 points in these states with Nader thrown into the mix and drawing a ridiculous 7 percent.

Note also that Bush's approval rating in the battleground states is 49 percent, 2 points under his national rating and that his approval rating on the economy in these states is just 41 percent, 3 points under his national rating.
(Link via Josh Marshall.)

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Dropping Like Butterflies 

From Zemblan patriot J.D.: 114 species have become extinct since the passage of the Endangered Species act in 1973, mostly because of political interference and bureaucratic delays:
"These species never had a chance," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the center. "If extinction is the ultimate criteria by which to judge . . . implementation of the Endangered Species Act, the failure has been spectacular" . . . .

In the 30-year history of the Endangered Species Act, 1,260 plants and animals have been listed as "threatened" or "endangered." According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, just 39 species have been removed — nine because they went extinct.

The center's study found that 88 other species had gone extinct because of delays of up to 20 years after they were first identified as in trouble. They blamed the delays on political interference and efforts to allow controversial dams and other developments to go through.

In the case of the San Gabriel Mountains blue butterfly, the center found that U.S. Forest Service staff drained the one meadow where it was surviving in 1985. When Fish and Wildlife Service officials ultimately decided it should be a candidate for protection in 1989, it was long gone.

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Diebold on the Ropes 

Updating our story from Tuesday: a California panel has formally recommended that SOS Kevin Shelley decertify the Diebold voting machines used in Kern, San Joaquin, Solano and San Diego counties.
The panel discovered last November that Diebold had installed uncertified software on the machines.

The voting panel also recommended to Shelley that he ask the state attorney general to examine the possibility of bringing civil and criminal charges against Diebold for violating California election codes, which state that vendors cannot change software without notifying the secretary of state's office. The codes also say that no vendor can install uncertified software on voting systems.

"This doesn't solve the problems," said Tab Iredale, a Diebold developer. "It just sets a tone of confrontation at a time when we should be working together to address issues with the certification process."
Nor will sending the bank robber to jail "solve the problem" of getting the bank's money back once he's spent it. But it will make all the other banks feel a teeny bit safer, no?

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Something Else You Don't See Every Day (Okay, Maybe Every Other Day) 

Another Certified 100% Authentic White House Press Pool Report (#2 in a series):
Pool Report #1 / April 22, 2004 / AAFB to Wells, Maine

Three smoke-belching Marine One Sikorsky choppers came hovering in to Andrews Air Force Base at 9:45 a.m. on Earth Day. The passengerless decoy looped around the airport's tower and headed back to the west. The other two landed; six Secret Service agents disembarked from one; President Bush, Karl Rove, Andy Card, Scott McClellan etc. from the other.

The president, wearing a bluish-gray suit, white shirt and red tie, strode in his bowlegged Texan way across the tarmac, looking tan and fit and rested. He gave his trademark wave from the top of the stairs to the Little AF1 (perhaps a nod to Earth Day) and ducked in. Wheels up at 10 a.m.; breakfast was a rolled omelet tortilla (a shopping list on a galley door had directed one Air Force One staffer to pick up 17 dozen eggs and some pica de gallo sauce ("Shoppers," the note said).

Scott McClellan gaggled. Transcript out. He opened with much on Earth Day and, after a spellbinding tutorial on wetlands by James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality ("It's great for wildlife!"; see transcript for where money will come from for the newly announced program), McClellan returned for a few moments before landing. He said the United States would "welcome a U.N. resolution" to encourage more countries to help in Iraq. Throughout the gaggle, McClellan dodged AF1 stewards shuttling dishes and silverware down the narrow aisle, sometimes breaking off for 10-20 seconds in the middle of a sentence, then resuming. (Despite his tielessness, McClellan, who has been coaxed out of wearing button-down collar shirts, was wearing a spread collar. The Fashion Police have been alerted.)

AF1 landed at 11:07 and made a U-turn on the narrow runway. A Coast Guard officer with an expansive fruit salad on his chest came down the press aisle carrying the nuclear football. The throng parted. "We always let the football through," one photog said.

At 11:13, Bush disembarked, wearing a gray jacket, a blue shirt, dark pants and small hiking boots or, maybe, trail boots. Card and Rove apparently coordinated their outfits; each wore a green jacket, khaki pants and boots. They looked like the Nature network's version of Frick and Frack.

Bush greeted some people at the bottom of the stairs and, when chatting with a pair of volunteers under the wing, pulled off the difficult "double shoulder pat." He then nodded a lot and smiled. Then left.

The 24-vehicle motorcade snaked through the woods, past small homes and smaller trailers, some with wells out front. Along the route, a few people stood in their driveways and waved. Near the reserve, about 100 people were gathered on both sides of the streets; some signs -- "We Support Bush" and "God Bless Our Troops"; on the other side of the street: "Clear Skies, Bush Lies" and "Our Clean Air Has Been Bushwhacked."

The motorcade drove by the filing center and into the woods, down a muddy path. POTUS and his nature-loving pool then walked down an even muddier path covered with hundreds of pounds of fresh wood chips, which didn't help much. Bush was so far ahead of the pool and the trailing Secret Service agent that he was not seen for several hundred yards. When spied, he was talking with reserve manager Paul Dest and his mother, Barbara Bush, who lives in nearby Kennebunkport. She veered off to chat with Card and Rove near the end of the path, which opened into a clearing, sharing a laugh with the Nature Boys and shouting up to her son: "He's lucky. I was just trying to save him." (No clue what that meant.)

Bush, out of earshot now to your pool, approached a little makeshift table (some plywood held up by sawhorses), turned around and said: "I don't know where mom is." She then hurried up as her little boy said: "Hey mom." He chatted with Curtis Cain and Bob Ludwig (see White House sheet on event participants) about something, then, with mom, moved to his left onto a makeshift walkway constructed of fresh wood (another tribute to Earth Day). As they walked down, mom whispered to son and they both laughed and laughed. Bush looked to your pool and said: "I'm not telling you what she just told me." Your pooler guesses it was something quite complimentary, even laudatory, about the media.

The pool had been told on AF1 that POTUS would join in a water-testing project. Your pool has no clue if he did. First, White House staffers held the writers 100 feet back as the stills stomped over the marshy salt tundra (altering nature for centuries), but then waved us through. When we got near a little dock by a small pond (or perhaps an inlet from the nearby Atlantic Ocean), Bush said to one of four people putting on a show: "What are you doing here?" One woman, reaching in to a white bucket, said they had some "striper bait."

Staff then hustled the pool out. The word "mummichog" (sp?) was overheard as the pool crunched over the salt marsh. Apparently, the president's Earth Day event is to remain secret. Staff promised details; they did not materialize.

On our way out, Card said loudly, "Mummichog. Mummichog." Could be code. Who knows.

The pool walked past a shiny black SUV that had been backed up down the muddy path. A half-dozen Secret Service agents, some with scoped rifles in bags, moved around nervously.

The president stayed down in the area for another 10 minutes before arriving on stage for his speech.

Joseph Curl
The Washington Times

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As Long as We're Releasing Documents . . .  

. . . there are 28 pages Marie Cocco would love to see declassified:
These are the 28 pages in the December 2002 report of the joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They've been blacked out by the Bush White House.

The president has refused congressional pleas to declassify a chapter "suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States." The specific source of foreign support by all accounts is the Saudi government . . . .

At the moment, federal investigators are probing Riggs Bank, an esteemed Washington institution that was, until last month, chief banker for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia. They're reportedly pursuing evidence of money laundering in the movement of Saudi funds abroad. The scrutiny touches on Saudi-sponsored charitable organizations and whether they bankroll terrorists. Among the funds looked at, according to The Washington Post, are the personal accounts of the Saudi ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The prince is a real newsmaker these days. His chats with President George W. Bush and other top administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, during the secret planning for the Iraq war are recounted by Woodward in his new book, "Plan of Attack." One such meeting took place on Jan. 11, 2003, and, according to Woodward, Bandar was shown a military map labeled "TOP SECRET NOFORN." That's security-speak for classified information that is not to be shown to any foreign national.

Bandar demanded a meeting with the president, and two days later he got it. Woodward's account has Bandar learning of the president's decision on war before Colin Powell, the laughably out-of-the-loop secretary of state. In the diplomatic hierarchy as seen by the Bush foreign policy team, Bandar outranks those sissies at Foggy Bottom.

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Cronyism: Export #1 

Josh Marshall on Salem Chalabi, "Director General" of the coming Saddam tribunal, nephew of Ahmed, and by all accounts a chip off the old block:
After American troops deposed the former regime, you see, Salem put out a shingle offering help to companies trying to land lucrative Iraqi reconstruction deals paid for with U.S. tax dollars. Salem’s shop is called the Iraqi International Law Group. And you can still visit it online at www.iraqlawfirm.com.

If you were a company looking to get on the Iraq-reconstruction gravy train, Salem was probably a good place to start. Not only did he have the ear of his uncle Ahmed Chalabi, with his close ties to the Pentagon and his seat on the Interim Governing Council, but his business partner Marc Zell was pretty well-connected, too.

Who’s Marc Zell, you ask? Allow me to explain.

Zell is the longtime law partner of Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith, one of the Bush administration’s prime architects of the drive for war with Iraq. Feith’s Pentagon office, meanwhile, is the one charged with doling out Iraqi reconstruction contracts . . . .

And, of course, it’s not just Chalabi, who could have accomplished little if any of this on his own. It’s his friends in the Pentagon — folks like Feith — who have facilitated all these shenanigans and excesses with a mix of American money, guns, and their political control over the American occupation authority.

On that last count, consider the fact that the Coalition Provisional Authority — which is still the sovereign authority in Iraq — allowed [Ahmed] Chalabi to confiscate the archives of the former regime’s secret police in order to blackmail his political foes in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Just how this advances American interests, Iraqi interests, or the rule of law in Iraq is really hard to fathom.

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In Other News, Jesus Wept 

Via Atrios. I haven't seen the actual language of the bill, but if the description below is accurate, wouldn't it allow a doctor to withhold treatment from Catholics?
Doctors or other health care providers could not be disciplined or sued if they refuse to treat gay patients under legislation passed Wednesday by the Michigan House.

The bill allows health care workers to refuse service to anyone on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

The Republican dominated House passed the measure as dozens of Catholics looked on from the gallery. The Michigan Catholic Conference, which pushed for the bills, hosted a legislative day for Catholics on Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The bills now go the Senate, which also is controlled by Republicans.

The Conscientious Objector Policy Act would allow health care providers to assert their objection within 24 hours of when they receive notice of a patient or procedure with which they don't agree. However, it would prohibit emergency treatment to be refused.
UPDATE: Our esteemed colleagues at Musing's Musings report that Colorado is just as bad. Is there a national movement afoot to deny medical care to minorities that happen to be out of favor with the Republican party? And what was the last country to adopt a national eugenics policy?

Was it by any chance the one my old man went to war against?

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Is It Too Soon for a Pre-Emptive Strike on Tijuana? 

"Blowback?!" the President later exclaimed. "Shit fire, Condi! I thought you said the problem was wetbacks." From the New York Times:
President Bush expressed no surprise on Wednesday that the majority of Americans think it is somewhat likely that there will be a terrorist attack in the United States before the November election, and he suggested that they had a reason to be concerned.

"Well, I understand why they think they're going to get hit again," Mr. Bush told 1,500 American newspaper editors and publishers gathered for an annual convention at the Omni Shoreham. He added, "This is a hard country to defend" . . . .

"Our intelligence is good," he said. "It's just never perfect is the problem."

Singling out Texas, the president said: "It is difficult to stop people coming across the Rio Grande River, whether they be people looking for work or people looking to do harm. And so I can see why people feel that way."

Mr. Bush's remarks reflected concern at the White House about a potential terrorist attack on American soil before the Nov. 2 election, and they echoed comments made on Sunday by Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, that the administration was worried that terrorists groups could find the election "too good to pass up."

Mr. Bush spoke for 44 minutes to the editors in off-the-cuff remarks that drew on familiar phrases from his speeches of the last two and a half years. Mr. Bush, who is not fond of the press as an institution, jokingly referred to the editors and publishers on the dais as "the politburo," and then said he would be glad "to duck some questions."

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Swift and Pitiless Retribution 

The cargo worker who took the now-famous photo of flag-draped coffins being loaded onto a plane in Kuwait (see update below) has predictably gotten the ax "for violating U.S. government and company regulations."

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The Coldest Line of the Week 

. . . comes from Juan Cole:
It was quite an experience to be on the same panel on Tuesday with Richard Perle and Toby Dodge, before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Perle wasn't added until the last minute, and it is mysterious why he was there, since ours was supposed to be an "expert" panel.
Cole does a characteristically deft dissection of Perle's remarks here, and posts a transcript of his own testimony, concerning U.S. mistakes in Iraq and how to fix them, here.

Cole also reports that, according to a story circulating in Iraq, the family of murdered cleric Sayid Abdul Majid Al-Koei has absolved Muqtada al-Sadr of any responsibility for the crime. (The ongoing siege of Najaf was triggered, at least in part, by the CPA's decision to enforce a year-old warrant for Sadr's arrest.)

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Everything Is Permitted 

The question is not whether the Constitution grants Bush the right to detain prisoners with no due process (it doesn't). The question is whether Bush gets to suspend the Constitution when the urge strikes him:
The U.S. Supreme Court began weighing the historic question of the power of a wartime president on Tuesday, hearing the first of a series of challenges to the Bush administration's policy of holding what it calls "enemy combatants" without trial.

At least five of the nine justices raised grave questions over U.S. President George W. Bush's contention that a nation at war against terrorism has the right to hold almost 600 prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba without charging them or permitting them access to courts or legal advice.

"It seems rather contrary to an idea of a constitution with three branches that the executive would be free to do whatever they want — whatever they want — without a check," said Justice Stephen Breyer . . . .

John Gibbons, representing 16 detainees from Kuwait, Britain and Australia, argued the Bush administration was trying to establish a "lawless enclave" at Guantanamo where they would be outside scrutiny and checks.

The Bush administration has maintained it is protecting the nation in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and in a country at war, the president has the responsibility to keep the enemy detained.

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But the Sumbitch Can Toss Back a Six-Pack Like Nobody's Business 

Daily Kos sums up the controversy over Kerry's newly-released war records:
Kerry: Intelligent, mature and rich in educational background and experience, Ens Kerry is one of the finest young officers I have ever met and without question one of the most promising.

Bush: Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of report.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

War Is the Health of the State 

Peter Preston in the Guardian, wondering how and why America became such a "weak democracy":
The people have a vote (if registered). They can be, and often are, involved in community politics. But real politics is the preserve of the few. And the few, like Marie Antoinette reaching for the ginger biscuits, are perennially edgy about their authority. Television and radio have given the president the added aura of supreme power. They have helped to free him from the web the founding fathers wove. He has a digital bully pulpit now. But he runs what Ivie calls a "rhetorical presidency" - full of "images, phantasms, tropes and insecurity". That means "governance by crisis".

Modern history makes the case. First the mutual phantasm of the cold war, then the dominoes of Vietnam falling. If no more suitable dragon than General Noriega presented itself, there was always a "war on drugs" to wage or forget, as necessary. And today there is that "war on terror". If war is crisis, then war is also the stifling of debate in weak democracies.

"Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" while criticising the Bush administration's methods of fighting terror at home and abroad provide "aid to terrorists". That's attorney general John Ashcroft testifying to the Senate after 9/11. "See how dissent terrorises democracy while political quiescence promotes peace and security," says Ivie dryly. "Democratic dissent has turned oxymoronic" . . . .

Let's be clear where the blank rhetoric of good and evil, white and Arab, democracy and utter destructiveness, is leading us. It is designed to make democratic dissent seem treacherous. It renders argument damnable or deluded. It makes zapping Falluja or Najaf a no-brainer. It means the force-feeding of democracy, or else. And its feebleness - nay, feeble-mindedness - is manifest.

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Ex-Spooks Say the Darnedest Things 

Courtesy of Hesiod, a report on the campus speaking tour of Robert David Steele, a covert CIA operative from 1979 to 1988, who during a recent visit to Butler University advanced some rather lively theories about George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden:
While addressing a number of international current affairs, Steele’s main focus was stressing the need to bring “open-source intelligence” (OSINT) to the forefront of the American public.

“[People] are just sleepwalking through the destruction of America [and if they] don’t wake up, we’re basically going to have the country sold out from under us,” he said . . . .

Identifying himself as a moderate Republican and a “moral capitalist,” Steele freely and heavily criticized the former Clinton administration, the Bush administration and the Kerry campaign, and made no apologies for it . . . .

As for the Bush administration, Steele paraphrased by saying that Bush “is drunk behind the wheel of the nation.”

“I know George Bush believes God is talking to him. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s Dick Cheney whispering in his ear,” he said.

Steele maintained that under Bush’s watch, a “100-year, six-front war” has been launched.

“It’s not only delusional, it’s destructive,” said Steele, when asked about Bush’s plan for the War on Terror. “Your grandchildren will be impoverished because of the debt being run up today.”

Steele estimated that if Bush wins the 2004 election — which Steele believes he will — another 5,000 troops will come home in body bags over the next four years, as well as another major attack on American soil.

As for the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, when asked if bin Laden could have been captured by covert means after 9/11, Steele said, “Oh, absolutely.”

According to four different sources, Steele said that bin Laden is currently believed to be in a Pakistani hospital, but that Pakistanis are now not terribly sure that they want to hand him over to Bush. The Pakistani people are starting to see Bush as a bigger threat than Kerry would be, if elected.

Among the problems of his campaign, Steele insisted that: Kerry’s staff was incompetent, focusing too much of his rhetoric toward the inside of the Beltway instead of toward everyday citizens, he is too intertwined with the “Clintonites” and that Kerry has so far failed to rally constituencies that would potentially be supportive, including Greens, Independents, Libertarians, and moderate Republicans, such as Steele himself.

Unless Kerry takes on new campaigning tactics, Steele said “voting for Kerry is like taking a placebo”. . . .

"I do not underestimate the ignorance of the U.S. government… Washington does not want to be smart; Washington wants to get rich on the side and that’s out of your pocket,” Steele said.

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Something You Don't See Every Day 

An actual White House press pool report, authentic down to the typos, sent my way by an impeccable source whose name I would only reveal under torture, and even then not until two or three minutes in:
POOL REPORT #2, 4/20/04

Because of the small size of the reception room at the River Club in New York, the pool was unusually small for the New York leg. Therefore your pooler sought help from unconventional places. The following is the first known pool report to be written by White House press secretary Scott McClellan:

"Along the motorcade route to the airport were many well-wishers and supporters and only a handful of protesters. Governor Pataki and Congressman Reynolds joined the President in the limo, and boarded Air Force One for the short flight to New York. Karl Rove was spotted wearing socks with no holes visible to your pooler. Air Force One was wheels up at 11:17am EST and touched down at JFK at approximately 12pm EST.

"The Italian meatball sub was more than enough to keep your poolers satisified on an otherwise uneventful flight."

All in all, a fine effort, for a flak. And your pooler does not disagree with Scott's premise. It should be noted that the AP reporter on the ground in Buffalo estimated 500 demonstrators, but only a fraction of that were visible to POTUS entourage. Signs included one proclaiming "Bush: You're Fired" and another that read "Bush Lies, People Die." There were indeed many well wishers, including one with a sign proposing a "BUSH/RICE" ticket. On AF1, the inflight movie selection was The Fog of War (2003) for the second time in a week. Your pooler did not necessarily see any symbolism in this but is aware that others might. It was further learned by your pooler that McClellan was ribbed by the president for getting a haircut that was even shorter than the newly cropped POTUS do.

Potus deplaned with a jocular salute, followed by Pataki, Card and Rove. A lovely chopper flight over Brookly on a sunny, 68 degree day left him at the Wall Street zone at 12:25. The motorcade went north on the FDR drive and up First Avenue and past the United Nations without stopping. Again, symbolism at your discretion. The River Club provided a fine pool hold with nibbles such as crunchy pickles, and a view over the East River.

What follows is more detail than most desire but surely not enough for the insatiable New York press corps, which apparently did not have a representative in the room.

In the ballroom, Pataki introduced Potus and " a friend of New York" and friend of Israel. There were only 12 tables in the windowless room with 10 at each. Centerpieces were orange and yellow flowers. On the tables were remains of salads, raspberry/whipped cream desserts, and red and white wine. A shrimp dish was also alleged by Stanzel, who further informed your pool that the overall take was $3.75 million for the Victory 2004 committee, in intervals of $25,000. Roughly 130 attendees. Stanzel also said the first lady raised $800,000 for Victory 2004 in Louisville today. This was the 2nd Victory 2004 event for Potus after the one in the LA area.

Distributed among the various tables were: Jack Oliver, Andy Card, Mike Bloomberg, Rove, Pataki, Potus, Mercer Reynolds, Al Hoffman, Peter King, Vito Fossella, and Elaine Chao's father. The setting was intimate, even confined, and your pool was ushered in and out for remarks only so could not buttonhole attendees. There were about 20 women in the room, and a handful of attendees of Asian/Middle Eastern/Hispanic appearance, with white men making up the balance. Two men wore skullcaps. The attendees-- who seemed to have particular appreciation for the Potus "death tax" joke -- were weirdly still and quiet for Potus speech, and Potus opted to give his usual stump speech. The result was a flat delivery with Potus hurrying along when applause lines frequently did not produce the desired effect. A half dozen people were spied dozing off during the speech, but your pooler can identify only one, Larry Leeds, who was, unfortunately for him, seated directly in front of the pool. Card, too, seemed to be battling drowsiness. Other name tags spotted: John Bonomo, Steven Levy, Ted Forta, David Knott. At one point the room was so still that the dropping of a piece of cutlery caused a stir. Potus reached JFK at 2:50.

Angie C. Marek/U.S. News
Dana Milbank/Washington Post
Scott McClellan/Freelance

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The Five Stupidest Arguments in BlogWorld Today 

As selected by the esteemed Max B. Sawicky:
1. The comparison of Thurmond/Lott to Byrd/Dodd. I know Dodd apologized, but for what? Saying something harmless that provoked a stupid reaction? Giving Armstrong Williams, a certifiable fool, something to talk about? I really don't get it. Dodd said Byrd would have been an asset to the nation at any time in its history. The reference was obviously to Byrd at his modern best, not the Byrd who took a leading role opposing civil rights legislation, much less the youthful Klan member over half a century ago.

2. The Memo of Mass Destruction. As Assistant-something-or-other in Clinton's DoJ, Jamie Gorelick writes a memo alleged by the R's to have crippled the Bush Administration's ability to combat terrorism. A f*cking memo. A MEMO. Not even a regulation, much less a statute. Couldn't John Ashcroft, as one of his first official acts, have written a memo of his own entitled, "Jamie's memo sucks"? What kind of excuse is that?

3. The Politicized 9-11 Commission. Judgements of criminal culpability or civil liability aside, politics is the way decisions are made in a democracy. We like that because it's better than, say, dictatorship. Decision-making is more costly, but the results command greater legitimacy and support. The beef with commissioners should not be that they are political, but that their points are not well-founded, if they aren't.

4. The Plame Game. The Bushies were caught dead to rights on this. Determining the perpetrators would be elementary for the president, were he so inclined. Where is the justification in bloviating about the hubbie's political allegiance, in light of that indubitable fact?

5. Musical job surveys. When one survey showed no job growth, an assortment of people demanded we consider the other survey, which came off better. More lately, the bad numbers on the first survey turned around, while the numbers on the other went south. The reaction of the White House's defenders was to hype the good numbers and ignore the bad ones.

My best explanation is that out of good intentions -- believing that a Bush victory is good for the country -- people feel content to purvey what they understand to be bullcrap.

UPDATE: I'll have to add one, the carping about Kerry's military service, which I think Kevin Drum has nailed pretty well. The question is whether any bloggers have thrown in with this right-wing piffle. Hold on a second while I check my bookmark folder of bad blogs . . . . Bingo. The imputation is of some parallelism between Kerry's unrevealed service records and Bush's. Of course the diff . . . oh never mind.
Max is also trying to compile a list of the ten best counts on which to impeach President Bush, but has so far been unable to winnow it down.

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The Government Lie That Established the Government's Right to Lie 

Gary Farber of Amygdala links to a superb L.A. Times article in which "a plane crashes at the dawn of the Cold War, and the government seeks a special legal privilege. Its claim sows the seeds of the Patriot Act":
Although U.S. vs. Reynolds wasn't familiar to the public, law students everywhere knew it to be the landmark 1953 ruling that formally established the government's "state secrets" privilege — a privilege that has enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents and block troublesome civil litigation, including suits by whistle-blowers and possible victims of discrimination.

U.S. vs. Reynolds' ramifications reach beyond civil law: By encouraging judicial deference when the government claims national security secrets, it provides a fundamental basis for much of the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including the USA Patriot Act and the handling of terrorist suspects.

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"I Am the Wife of a Soldier" 

From the comments section of Catch.com (courtesy of Digby):
I am the wife of a soldier who was just officially extended yesterday. He has been in Iraq for nearly one year. He has proudly served his tour, and we were planning for his arrival home next week. Here's a true story. A group of soldiers from his unit went to BIAP to wait for their return flight to Germany, where we are based. They were turned away and told that they were being kept in Iraq indefinitely. On the way back to their base in Baghdad proper, they were ambushed. The unit had their first casualty that night. My husband should have been with them, as he is one of their medics, but he was supposed to drive the ambulance to Kuwait the next day, so they told him to stay back and get some rest. I am sickened by this whole betrayal of trust and abuse of our volunteers. If Bush and Co. get reelected, start moving your military age men to Canada, because the draft will be reinstated. Nobody deserves this kind of a back stabbing. Least of all the men and women who have signed up to protect our country. This extension was a death sentence for that poor soldier. This extension cost three children their father. And it will cost much more.

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Coalition of the Absquatulating 

Poland's out.

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Why God Gave Us TiVo 

Zemblan patriot S.O. beseeches his fellows to watch tomorrow's PBS rebroadcast of the Charlie Rose show from earlier this evening, in the course of which guest Bob Woodward refutes various criticisms (by the White House and Colin Powell) of his new book. Woodward also has more to say about the President's answering to a "higher father" -- chilling stuff.

UPDATE: If you are of sturdy constitution and would like to know more about Christian fundamentalism, biblical prophecy, the Rapture, and how all of the above have somehow come to shape American foreign policy, click here.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

California Goes After Diebold 

And may the dominos start falling. From the Oakland Tribune, the single most heartening story of 2004 to date, by Ian Hoffman:
Attorneys for Diebold Election Systems Inc. warned in late November that its use of uncertified vote-counting software in Alameda County violated California election law and broke its $12.7 million contract with Alameda County.

Soon after, a review of internal legal memos obtained by the Oakland Tribune shows Diebold's attorneys at the Los Angeles office of Jones Day realized the McKinney, Texas-based firm also faced a threat of criminal charges and exile from California elections.

Yet despite warnings from the state's chief elections officer, Diebold continued fielding poorly tested, faulty software and hardware in at least two of California's largest urban counties during the Super Tuesday primary, when e-voting temporarily broke down and voters were turned away at the polls.

Other documentation obtained by the Tribune shows that the latest approved versions of Diebold's vote-counting software in this state cast doubt on the firm's claims elsewhere that it has fixed multiple security vulnerabilities unearthed in the last year.

"In California those issues can be addressed," said Diebold spokesman David Bear. "They were addressed in Maryland, and they could be changed in California."

California elections officials said they are perplexed that Diebold apparently hasn't changed practices since a December audit revealed uncertified software running in every county that it serves.

"Diebold may suffer from gross incompetence, gross negligence. I don't know whether there's any malevolence involved," said a senior California elections official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't know why they've acted the way they've acted and the way they're continuing to act. Notwithstanding their rhetoric, they have not learned any lessons in terms of dealing with this secretary (of state)."

The memos show that for months, Diebold attorneys at Jones Day have been exploring ways to keep the nation's second-largest electronic voting provider from losing an eighth of the national market . . . .

It is a critical moment for Diebold, for electronic voting in California and for at least some of the 19 counties statewide that purchased Diebold voting systems for more than $50 million.

On Wednesday, state elections officials begin debating their advice to Shelley on whether to disallow some or all Diebold voting systems, or all touchscreen voting machines, from the November elections . . . .

In drafts of a Feb. 13 letter to state regulators, Diebold's attorneys declared that Diebold makes no changes to electronic devices that the company and its predecessor have been programming for at least five years.

The drafts show they staked out a firm position that a critical piece of Diebold's voting system -- its voter-card encoders -- didn't need national or state approval because they were commercial-off-the-shelf products, never modified by Diebold.

But on the same day the letter was received, Diebold-hired techs were loading non-commercial Diebold software into voter-card encoders in a West Sacramento warehouse for shipment to Alameda and San Diego counties.

"They were still crunching and working on that software in the middle of February," said James Dunn, who worked as an assembly technician in Diebold's Sacramento warehouse.

More than 600 of the devices froze or displayed unfamiliar screens and error messages on the morning of Super Tuesday, for failure rates of 24 percent in Alameda County and about 40 percent in San Diego County.

Diebold Elections executives were told in October by state officials to ensure every piece of its voting systems was fully tested and approved by national and state authorities.

But Diebold resisted, arguing that the encoders didn't need testing and approval because they were a "peripheral" device on its voting systems and that the devices were common, commercial products.

That was true for the hardware. But not the software.

In fact, Diebold engineers were writing and rewriting the software at DESI headquarters in Texas and in Sacramento, supplying the latest versions two weeks before the encoders failed at high rates in the Super Tuesday presidential primary.

Diebold eventually sent a sample of the encoders to an outside lab, but it didn't have time for more than cursory testing . . . .

An outspoken tech complained about the poor quality controls and the failure of the devices when sapped of power.

"He was gone. They fired him," Dunn said. "The attitude among the others there was, 'I don't care how screwed up these things are, I'm going to keep quiet. I'm not going to get fired.'"

A Diebold software engineer pressed her superiors to allow testing of all the devices before they were shipped to Oakland, San Diego and elsewhere, but the tests -- successful creation of voter cards -- were performed only on the last 10-15 percent of the devices, Dunn said . . . .

Diebold's claims to California elections officials, through its attorneys, that it doesn't modify the encoder software is blatantly untrue, according to Dunn and electronic-voting opponent Jim March.

"That's a lie," March said.
Related story: Memos Detail Lawyers' Strategies, by Ian Hoffman:
In a series of internal memos, attorneys for Diebold Election Services Inc. depict California as a legal minefield where the electronic-voting giant faces a false-claims lawsuit, potential grand jury investigations, investigations by state and local elections authorities and lawsuits by counties.

Starting Wednesday, California elections regulators will debate punishing Diebold for fielding unapproved voting systems in violation of state law. They could ban the use of some or all Diebold equipment in California elections, even bar the nation's second largest voting-systems provider from doing business in the largest state . . . .

If the plaintiffs prove that Diebold knowingly made misrepresentations to local governments to win voting-systems contracts, such as its $12.7 million sale to Alameda County and its $31 million sale to San Diego County, Diebold could face punitive damages for up to three times the contracts' value.

Jones Day also had begun analyzing Diebold's risk of criminal prosecution, at a two-month cost of $25,000 to $40,000.

The internal memos show the firm already has concluded that California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has evidence that Diebold violated state election laws in at least Los Angeles, Lassen and Trinity counties.

State law requires Shelley to refer those violations to the local district attorneys or the state attorney general for prosecution, the internal memos show.

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Light Blogging Ahead 

Blogging here at KoZ will be sporadic for the next couple of days. We hope to resume our usual frenetic schedule by Friday afternoon. (Although if something really interesting happens, you can bet we'll be on it like a mustard plaster.)

In the meantime: Be Cool But Care.

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Don't Cry for Me, Fallujah 

Hesiod has tracked down the unsavory C.V. of South African national Gray Branfield, a "civilian security contractor" killed (and reportedly decapitated) in Iraq last week.

It's reassuring to know that the forces of liberation have placed their security in such, shall we say, "reliable" hands.

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Fables of the Reconstruction 

The latest in a series of Articles Everyone Else Has Already Linked To, this one describing a secret Coalition Provisional Authority memo which in essence concludes that the invasion and occupation of Iraq have been one long clusterfuck.

Daily Kos speculates that the author of the memo is Michael Rubin, "card-carryng neoconservative and 'scholar' at the American Enterprise Institute. Working out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he is a staff adviser for Iran and Iraq and a member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He is also an Iraq adviser for the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans."

UPDATE (4/21): Kos has added a link to the memo itself.

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Good Riddance, Wacko 

From a Dateline NBC interview with Bruce Buckheit, former Director of Enforcement at the EPA, who left his job in disgust last December:
A new government report found that the air in 31 states, affecting nearly 160 million people, fails to meet new federal health standards for smog. Part of the reason is pollution coming from big coal-burning power plants. For decades, the Clean Air Act helped improve air quality, a man named Bruce Buckheit helped enforce it. But now, this former top government official has given up his job, frustrated because he says the country is taking a giant step backwards -- and that you and your children may soon see the difference in the air you breathe.

Stone Phillips: “Among the major sources of air pollution in this country where do coal fired power plants rank?”

Bruce Buckheit: “They're number one. By an order of magnitude. There is no one that comes close.”

Buckheit says the nearly 400 coal fired plants scattered across this country, generating more than half of the electricity we use, are dirty old dinosaurs overdue for extinction.

Buckheit: “Can anybody imagine a situation where we have plants that were built in 1950 still emitting as if they were located in China or Mexico? I mean, this country's better than that.”

“If we were still enforcing the Clean Air Act the way it should be enforced I would still be there.”

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Twenty Years Ago, He Would've Chosen "the Bottle in Front of Me" 

Because every now and then we like to see you smile through the tears and the racking sobs, here's ex-Python Terry Jones to explain why the invasion of Iraq was quite literally a no-brainer:
Everyone agrees that President George Bush's lobotomy has been a tremendous success.

Dick Cheney, the vice-president, declared that he was fully satisfied with it from his point of view.

"Without the lobotomy," Mr Cheney told the American Academy of Neurology, "it might have proved difficult to persuade the president to start wars all around the world without any good pretext. But the removal of those parts of the brain associated with understanding the outcome of one's actions has enabled the president to function fully and without hesitation. Even when it is clear that disaster is around the corner, as it is currently in Iraq, the chief executive is able to go on TV and announce that everything is on course and that he has no intention of changing tactics that have already proved disastrous.

"I would like to commend the surgeons, nurses and all involved with the operation," said Mr Cheney.

Similarly, Donald Rumsfeld regards the surgery as an unqualified success. He writes in this month's American Medical Association Journal: "The president's prefrontal leucotomy has successfully removed all neural reflexes resistant to war-profiteering. It is a tribute to the medical team who undertook this delicate operation that, no matter how close the connection between those instigating military action and the companies who benefit from it, the president is able to carry on as if he were morally in the right."
(Link courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D.)

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It Is My Nephew's Dream to Bang a Gavel 

The IGC has appointed the tribunal that will preside over Saddam's trial, and if you were cynical enough to imagine that convicted con man, U.S. puppet, U.S. puppeteer and all-around money hole Ahmed Chalabi would be chosen to head it up, you may now breathe a big old sigh of relief:
Salem Chalabi, a U.S.-educated lawyer and nephew of the head of the Iraqi National Congress, was named as general director of the tribunal, and he has named a panel of seven judges and four prosecutors, INC spokesman Entefadh Qanbar said . . . .

The court and prosecutors will determine charges against Saddam and his former officials, Qanbar said, adding that more judges will be hired for the tribunal.

The judges and prosecutors will undergo training, including in international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said.

A committee of Iraq's Governing Council selected Chalabi as head of the court under a law passed earlier by the council and approved by top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer. The INC, headed by council member Ahmad Chalabi, has a seat on the committee.

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Still, It Was Worth It 

You will no doubt be as shocked as I am to learn that the White-Collar Riot in Florida in 2000 may have been off the books. From an FEC news release:
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has entered into a conciliation agreement with Bush-Cheney 2000, Inc. resulting from the failure to report to the FEC receipts and disbursements associated with its recount activities. Bush – Cheney 2000, Inc. has agreed to pay a $90,000 civil penalty.

According to the conciliation agreement, Bush – Cheney 2000 held a bank account designated “Bush-Cheney 2000, Inc. – Media.” After the November 7, 2000 presidential election, the Committee redesignated this bank account “Bush-Cheney 2000, Inc. – Recount Fund” and used the account to raise funds and pay costs associated with the recount. However, the Committee failed to include that activity in disclosure reports filed with the Commission.
Ninety G's! A penalty of this magnitude should guarantee an honest, transparent campaign in the fall, wiping out, as it does, a good 90% of the cash raised in 2000 by any one of Bush's 214 "pioneers."

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Now They Really, Really Envy Our Freedom 

Our old allies Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah (see update below) are singing in harmony these days:
Arabs in the Middle East hate the United States more than ever following the invasion of Iraq and Israel's assassination of two Hamas leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in comments published Tuesday.

Mubarak, who visited the United States last week, told French newspaper Le Monde that Washington's actions had caused despair, frustration and a sense of injustice in the Arab world.

"Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region," he said in an interview given during a stay in France, where he met President Jacques Chirac Monday.

He blamed the hostility partly on U.S. support for Israel, which assassinated Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi in a missile strike in the Gaza Strip Saturday weeks after killing his predecessor, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

"At the start some considered the Americans were helping them. There was no hatred of the Americans. After what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented hatred and the Americans know it," Mubarak said.

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We Do Do Body Counts 

Because the U.S. military "avoids keeping any sort of running tallies, particularly when things are going badly" -- as Tommy Franks famously said, "We don't do body counts" -- Newsweek has gallantly pitched in with "Box Score for the War," from which the figures below are taken. The article was published on Friday and losses over the weekend were heavy, so the casualty figures are already out of date:
150,000. The estimated number of all coalition forces in Iraq, of which about 124,000 are Americans and 26,000 are others. A total of 35 countries contributes forces, but most number less than 1,000. Some, like Mongolia, are in the low two digits. Only the British, with about 11,000 troops, have a significant force.

20,000. The number of U.S. troops who are being told this week that they’ll have to stay in Iraq another 90 days, even though they’ve completed their one-year “boots on the ground” deployment.

8,875 to 10,725. The minimum and maximum estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq so far, according to IraqBodyCount.org, an organization of British and American academics. Other groups have even higher estimates.

3,466. The total of American soldiers wounded in action in Iraq through April 17, 2004, according to the Pentagon. There’s a lot of controversy about these figures, which do not include many minor wounds, although they do include some soldiers who are wounded and returned to duty. Other estimates of wounded American soldiers range as high as 15,000.

793. Total coalition soldiers killed in Iraq since the war began, according to the U.S. Army’s Central Command, as of April 17, 2004. Of those, 579 were killed in action. 690 of the dead are American soldiers of which 501 are officially listed as KIA or hostile action. Besides the Americans, soldiers from El Salvador, Thailand, Spain, Italy, Britain, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Denmark and Bulgaria have lost their lives.

600. The number of people killed during the current siege of Fallujah, according to hospital officials there. They’re estimating though, since many dead are not brought to the hospital but buried immediately according to Islamic traditions. Most of them are civilians, and the majority women and children, according to these officials, whose accounts are impossible to verify since no independent journalists have been able to visit Fallujah.

600. The number of people killed during the current siege of Falluja, according to spokesmen for the Marines’ First Division besieging that city, who say that 95 percent of the victims are military-age men, and the others are human shields used by the resistance there. Again, a number that is impossible to verify. “That just proves that the Marines are very good at what they do,” one official said.

20, 70, 50. The numbers of daily resistance attacks against coalition forces in Iraq a month ago, a week ago, and on April 17 respectively, according to confidential security reports from the Coalition Provisional Authority.
UPDATE (via Cursor): "Read the story behind a photo of flag-draped coffins being loaded into a cargo plane in Kuwait, which an Editor & Publisher article says "no major news organization would touch" when it first surfaced last week. The Memory Hole has more photos."

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Monday, April 19, 2004

Withdrawing Just a Little Bit 

Thomas Oliphant examines the particulars of Ariel Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw from (or, to use the term Sharon prefers, "evacuate") the Gaza strip, recently endorsed by President In Case of Rapture, This Oval Office Will Be Even More Vacant:
But the images of withdrawal and evacuation are flagrantly false. As substantial majorities of Israelis in public opinion polls going back years have wanted, the scheme envisages no troops and no settlements inside its borders after the end of next year. But from the actual text of the Israeli and US documents about this farce it helps to list the "howevers."

The so-called withdrawal will not include a 200-yard-wide strip connecting extreme southern Gaza to Egypt, which Sharon insists be occupied by the Israeli military (as opposed to the UN or even the United States) to combat widespread tunneling for smuggling purposes.

It will not include any change in the Israeli insistence on controlling every inch of Gaza's airspace and patrolling at will and monitoring all ship traffic along the Mediterranean coast. This "external envelope" on Gaza's land will continue.

Gaza must be free of "armaments," and Israel reserves the right to enter militarily any time it wants for security reasons. Gaza's government will not be permitted to invite any international forces into its territory unless Israel agrees.

On the one hand, the Sharon scheme's claim is that this "evacuation" will mean -- assuming it is completed at the end of next year -- that "there will be no basis for the claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied territory." On the other hand, it says that the existing means of providing water, power, sewage, and telecommunications to the Palestinians will be maintained -- an acknowledgment of Israeli responsibility commensurate with occupation.

In short, the "withdrawal" from Gaza by the end of next year will leave Israel in control of Gaza by every mechanism of control except occupation itself. There can be arguments about the security issues behind all these exceptions, but there can be no argument that they don't amount to direct control of Gaza.
UPDATE (4/20): King Abdullah II of Jordan (interviewed below), one of our closest allies in the Middle East, has blown off his scheduled meeting with Bush. "Jordanian officials said the visit had become impossible in light of Mr. Bush's recent support for Israel's territorial claims in the West Bank." In the same article, Bill Clinton offered his opinion of the Sharon plan:
"Do I think this Gaza proposal is a good thing?" he asked at a panel discussion sponsored by Tel Aviv University at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. "I certainly do, but I think it has to be part of a larger strategy to re-engage."

He said: "Israel has successfully eliminated the second Hamas leader in a short period of time and does not wish to deal with the P.L.O. Well, who are they going to deal with?"

The Clinton administration viewed settlements as obstacles to peace and final borders as negotiable only between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He alluded to those differences only vaguely by discussing the plan as a good first step and by pointing out that "it's no good for Israel to make a deal with the U.S. because we don't live there."

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Why Democracy Is Better Than Communism 

1.) Communism. From the New York Times:
Before his high-profile visit to China last week, Vice President Dick Cheney insisted that Beijing leaders allow him to speak, live and uncensored, to the Chinese people . . . .

Anyone who tuned in to CCTV-4, China's all-news television channel, shortly after 10 a.m. on Thursday could watch Mr. Cheney deliver an address to students at Fudan University in Shanghai. A State Department translator provided simultaneous interpretation.

But the broadcast received no advance promotion or even a listing in the Chinese news media and was not repeated. The authorities promptly provided leading Web sites with a "full text" of the vice president's remarks, including his answers to questions after the speech, that struck out references to political freedom, Taiwan, North Korea and other issues that propaganda officials considered sensitive.

The censorship showed that even a hopeful sign of political progress in China can be more like a mirage. Officials sought to convey a relaxed attitude about what Mr. Cheney might say in public but worked to alter the record. "What they do to control the media is sometimes surreal," said Yu Maochun, a China expert at the United States Naval Academy who noticed discrepancies between Mr. Cheney's speech and the Chinese transcript. "Censorship is a habit they can't kick."
2.) Democracy. From the Daily Trojan:
One of [author of The Price of Loyalty Ron] Suskind's most severe critiques of Bush was not only Bush's lack of press conferences but also his management of those conferences.

For each press conference, the White House press secretary asks the reporters for their questions, selects six or seven of the questions to answer and those reporters are the only ones called upon to ask their questions during the press conference, Suskind said.

This system makes it so that the president has answers already prepared for questions that he knows will be asked, Suskind said.

"He needs unmanaged time in front of the nation right now," Suskind said. "The White House has to engage in a way that it hasn't engaged in before."

Suskind also said that the White House uses intimidation to force writers into only writing favorable stories about the administration.

"If you write something the White House doesn't like, they take you in and say, 'If you ever write something like you did today, nobody from the White House will ever talk to you again,'" Suskind said. "(The White House is) pissed, and ... angry."
Compare and contrast.

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And Even If I Did Say It, I Was Simply Praising His "Efficiency" 

From tomorrow's NYT story, in which various White House officials deny that money was diverted from the hunt for Osama to chase Saddam:
The book [Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward] had the administration on the defensive on a number of fronts on Monday. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell disputed Mr. Woodward's account in several respects. He said that he had not been hesitant about taking on Saddam Hussein if diplomacy failed, that he had an excellent relationship with Vice President Dick Cheney and that he did not recall referring to officials at the Pentagon loyal to Mr. Cheney as the "Gestapo office."

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