Friday, July 18, 2003

Everybody wish Nelson Mandela a happy birthday.

When I first learned of Mandela he was still in prison, and it's still unbelievable to me that in the space of my relatively short lifetime that he went from serving a life sentence to president of South Africa.

You can read the text of his "I am prepared to die" speech here.

I was battling rush-hour traffic during a thunderstorm yesterday while listening to this press conference. I consider it a minor miracle that I didn't get into an accident when I heard the following:

I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, because the intelligence — not only our intelligence but the intelligence of this great country," Mr. Bush said, referring to Mr. Blair's Britain, "made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat to security and peace."

Would somebody please explain to this man the difference between taking reponsibility and taking the credit? Taking responsibiltiy implies that one is held to account for failures and mistakes as well as the successes. But why bother? Getting on this administration for misuse of language while occasionally fun is pretty useless.

I wasn't paying much attention to the BBC versus the British Government row so waking up to the news of Dr. David Kelly's death was a shock.

Speculation is bound to run wild over the next several days. It's hard to know what to think. The implications are pretty ominous.The tragedy here strikes me as being threefold
--the death of a man caught in a battle over credibility.
--the fact that a search for a larger truth turned into an exercise in scapegoating.
--the fact that politics has become more important than truth.

This piece does a good job of summing all this up.

In the light of what has happened, BBC journalists may be asking themselves whether they should have behaved differently. It is hard to see how. The nature of their investigation goes to the heart of how a free press should operate independently and in the public interest.

The government, however, cannot be let off the hook. It has demonstrated a profound contempt for the most basic conventions governing relationships between press and politicians. It is possible that, as a result, a man has died.

As a price to pay in the battle for political survival, that is unforgiveable.

UPDATE: Josh makes a reasonable point that Kelly's death was likely a suicide. In a less surreal world I might agree.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

The truth will set us free.
The nightmare continues.

General Abizaid said, "It's unclear, but it's troubling, that Al Qaeda either look-alikes or Al Qaeda people are making an opportunity to move against us." The Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, whose camps in northeastern Iraq were attacked during the war, is also trying to reconstitute within Iraq, and foreign money is underwriting some of these terrorist efforts, General Abizaid said.

Of the anti-American forces operating in the central and north-central parts of Iraq, where American forces have come under heaviest attack, General Abizaid, "They're better coordinated now."

The insurgents, he said, are showing "some level of regional command-and-control" that indicates planning beyond individual small groups striking only at targets of opportunity.

General Abizaid refused to be drawn into discussing whether his assessment of the insurgent threat in Iraq contradicted that of Mr. Rumsfeld or other officials; he said that the description of "guerrilla tactics" was proper "in strictly military terms."

But General Abizaid said that, at present, the force of about 147,000 American troops and 13,000 allied forces on the ground in Iraq was sufficient.

"I think our current force levels are about right," he said. "If the situation gets worse, I won't hesitate to ask for more."

General Abizaid also said that anti-American forces had fired two surface-to-air missiles at American aircraft within the last two weeks; one of them was today. Those attacks on C-130 cargo planes also indicate an escalation in the weapons used against allied forces, beyond automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

"Matter of fact, I was on the deck of a C-130 the other day, and we had a missile warning," General Abizaid said. "And the guy made a hard right bank. And we fired off all of our flares and, you know, we looked out there. And these were guys from the Oklahoma National Guard, and they actually thought it was fun. I was terrified."

This next part will make you cry.

Pentagon officials also disclosed today that there have been about five deaths among troops assigned to the Iraq mission that commanders say might have been suicides. As inquiries continue, one official said the suspected suicides were not clustered in any single time period that might indicate a related cause.

Goddamn you Bush.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Did the Mike Savage debacle teach people nothing?

IT IS A TOUCHDOWN at the old-boy network when ESPN hires Rush Limbaugh for pregame blabber about pro football. It is an extra point when the media think nothing of this event. They both should be penalized for roughing the past.

And just so we're all clear about that past...

Limbaugh has feasted off berating feminists, gay men and women, and people of color. African-Americans have come in for supercharged blasts of his hot air. In the 1970s, Limbaugh told an African-American caller, ''Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.''

Limbaugh has always had crime and black people on the brain. He once said, ''Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?'' He said, ''The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.'' When Spike Lee said that African-American children should be allowed to skip school to see his movie on Malcolm X, Limbaugh said: ''Spike, if you're going to do that, let's complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the theater, and then blow it up on their way out.''

What connections Limbaugh has made between people of color and sports are dubious at best. When a Mexican won the New York marathon, Limbaugh said, ''An immigration agent chased him the last 10 miles."

I'm less outraged and disgusted by this than I am bewildered. What are the folks over at ESPN thinking? My instincts tell me that this won't work for the same reason the Savage show didn't work. Still I have a hunch that Rush is a little better at behaving himself in public.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Continuing Battle Over Affirmative Action

You just can't take your eyes off these people for a moment.

Ward Connerly isn't going to let a little thing like a Supreme Court decision stop him. He's spoiling for a fight and he knows what he's doing.

In order to force a referendum on affirmative action, Connerly would need to collect 317,757 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the 2002 governor's race. "The Washington Post" reports that the ACRC is also setting its sights on ballot initiatives in Colorado, Missouri; the Florida cities of Orlando, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale; and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The initiative strategy has worked before; in 1996, amidst widespread national media attention, Connerly successfully promoted Proposition 209, a California initiative banning race-based preferential treatment in state and local governments. In 1998, Washington state passed a similar measure.  

It gets worse. Because the Supreme Court found that the points system used by the University of Michigan was unconsitutional, anti-affirmative action groups have launched a witchhunt at universities demanding that they disclose their methods of selecting minority students. The crytically named Center for Equal Opportunity is at the center of this initiative. Ward Connerly and CEO president, Linda Chavez, are partners in crime.

The first thing you should do is sign the petition. Yes I know you've sent a dozen of these already, but one more can't hurt. As for the second thing--well all I can say is be as vigilant as it is possible to be with so many issues to keep track of. The Supreme Court did not strike down affirmative action because they--and the rest of the country--recognize that inequalities make it necessary. This is good news because it makes Ward Connerly's job that much harder. We need to step up that support and stand by the schools with progressive diversity programs.

If you want to read more on who Connerly is, this is a good place to start. Note how the usual suspects keep turning up.

Who's Who in the ACRI

While the Institute is usually presented as if it were founded and run by Connerly alone, he had some important help - all of it from rich, white, well-funded, conservative political activists. The other founders of the Institute are: 12

Thomas L. Rhodes - Co-Chairman, ACRI; Board Member, Bradley Foundation

Clint Bolick - Director of Litigation, Institute for Justice

Grover Norquist - President, Americans for Tax Reform

Quenton Kopp - State Senator, San Francisco.

Click on the links in the article for more info.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Well today is Ari’s last day and what a run he’s had! In a way I’ll miss him, not for the horrifying hilarity of his press briefings, or for his snarky hall-monitor persona, but for what he taught me about the nature of truth; namely that you can lie every single day and not be struck dead by lightening or have your head explode.

One of the disadvantages of religious education is that it can lead you to have unrealistic expectations. I don’t want to get into a whole discussion of how realistic or unrealistic heaven, hell, miracles, etc. are. I’m simply talking about the fact that when you lie lightening doesn’t strike you dead. Most of us know that lightening does not strike people who lie either through personal experimentation or hearsay. But when we encounter people who lie easily and often we flinch inwardly and maybe step back a few feet.

Even if you aren’t religious, the truth still means something. The general view is that the human mind can only take so much inconsistency before it short circuits, leading to mental breakdowns and sometimes Barbara Walters’ specials. So when we see people who lie often and easily we wonder how they stay so happy and healthy with their heads intact.

This made watching Ari so infuriating. There he was--lying through is teeth--and NOTHING WAS HAPPENING TO HIM. Where was the wrath of God? Where was that moment of self-revelation? It just wasn’t fair. And that taught me that indignation at lying only wears you out. We’ve got take that indignation to the next step; calling them out on the criminal implications of those lies. I mean look at the rhetoric they are throwing at us over Yellowcake. “Well, we weren’t completely truthful, but we were technically accurate, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter, because Saddam Hussein was an evil, evil dictator,” Lies, half-truths, and omissions don’t mean anything to these people. I think it’s time to stop accusing and start prosecuting.

Well perhaps Ari’s early exit could be a sign of something along the lines of a minor breakdown. But unless there is a mea culpa memoir in the future, we’ll never know. So for the very last time: Ladies and Gentleman, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.

P.S. Today is also Bastille Day in France. I’m not sure if that means anything or if it’s worth drawing parallels. I merely think it’s interesting.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Must Reads

Thank God this Niger Uranium story doesn't seem to be going away despite the attempts to brush it aside.

This piece in TIME Magazine does a good job of laying out the chronology of the debate over the intelligence. It also states quiet clearly that there was a good deal of White House influence involved in the push to use the intelligence.

When it got to Washington, the Iraq-Niger uranium report caught the eye of someone important: Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, told TIME that during one of his regular CIA briefings, "the Vice President asked a question about the implication of the report." Cheney's interest hardly came as a surprise: he has long been known to harbor some of the most hard-line views of Saddam's nuclear ambitions. It was not long before the agency quietly dispatched a veteran U.S. envoy named Joseph Wilson to investigate. Wilson seemed like a wise choice for the mission. He had been a U.S. ambassador to Gabon and had actually been the last American to speak with Saddam before the first Gulf War. Wilson spent eight days sleuthing in Niger, meeting with current and former government officials and businessmen; he came away convinced that the allegations were untrue. Wilson never had access to the Italian documents and never filed a written report, he told TIME. When he returned to Washington in early March, Wilson gave an oral report about his trip to both CIA and State Department officials. On March 9 of last year, the CIA circulated a memo on the yellowcake story that was sent to the White House, summarizing Wilson's assessment. Wilson was not the only official looking into the matter. Nine days earlier, the State Department's intelligence arm had sent a memo directly to Secretary of State Colin Powell that also disputed the Italian intelligence. Greg Thielmann, then a high-ranking official at State's research unit, told TIME that it was not in Niger's self-interest to sell the Iraqis the destabilizing ore. "A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus," Thielmann said later. "This wasn't highly contested. There weren't strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down."

Except that it wasn't. By late summer, at the very moment that the Administration was gearing up to make its case for military mobilization, the yellowcake story took on new life. In September, Tony Blair's government issued a 50-page dossier detailing the case against Saddam, and while much of the evidence in the paper was old, it made the first public claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. At the White House, Ari Fleischer endorsed the British dossier, saying "We agree with their findings."

Officially we had the same information that the British did, only our intelligence called it into question and their's did not. So spin like this isn't going to fly.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, echoing Rice in an appearance on ABC's "This Week," said the statement was "technically correct" because Bush noted the source of the claim was Britain.

BTW: If you missed Bill Moyers interview with Jon Stewart, you can read the transcript here
Jon never fails to impress and entertain. I really wish Moyers had tried to pin him down about trying to stay a centrist when the rhetoric of the right was so militant it pretty much called moderates leftists.

I think I've found the most hysterical quote yet.

Well, there's something rather, to be a bit impolite, Clintonian about saying it was factually correct that the British were reporting it, when the CIA knew very well that the report was very dubious.

Well, when in doubt blame Clinton.