Friday, April 30, 2004

AND IN OTHER NEWS What exactly does Gov. John Rowland think he's doing?

THE TOLL Drudge has this letter from Sen. John McCain to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, regarding that company's decision to pre-empt tonight's name-reading of Iraq war dead on Nightline.

Some stinging stuff.

UPDATE: Atrios has the skinny on Sinclair.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

MAKE HUGHES APOLOGIZE Planned Parenthood has started a petition demanding that Karen Hughes apologize for her remarks associating the pro-choice position with the terrorist mentality.

The plan is to deliver the petition to Hughes during her upcoming book tour.

CAVEAT EMPTOR The New York Times includes the following disclaimer in today's A1 story about the conclusions of a Defense Intelligence Agency report:
While the report cites specific evidence, other important assessments of American intelligence on Iraq have been challenged and even proven wrong.

Unfortunately, it's a disclaimer that, for the foreseeable future, ought to be tacked on to every article based on the findings of US intelligence agencies.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

PADILLA WATCH Audio of today's oral arguments in Rumsfeld v. Padilla are now online. PBS has them here [Real Player]. (The court seems to have spent a good chunk of time debating procedural and jurisdictional questions.)

UPDATE: No sign of a free transcript, but I've gone ahead and transcribed one exchange that's worth taking a look at--from Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement's argument on behalf of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld:

Justice Anthony KENNEDY: What rights does Padilla have--if any, in your view--that a belligerent apprehended on the battlefield does not have? Is Padilla just the same as someone you catch in Afghanistan?

Deputy Solicitor General Paul CLEMENT: I think for purposes of the question before this court--the authority question--he is just the same. It may be that [at] an appropriate juncture, when the court has before it the question of what procedure should be applied, that you would want to apply different procedures in a case like this--

KENNEDY: And can you punish him?

CLEMENT: Could we punish him? Certainly, we could punish him if we decided to change the nature of our processing of him. I mean, as this court made clear in a hearing--

KENNEDY: Could you shoot him when he got off the plane?

CLEMENT: No, I don't think we could for good and sufficient reasons of discretion...

Justice Ruth Bader GINSBURG: What inhibits it? If the law is what the executive says it is...what is it that would be a check against torture?

CLEMENT: Well, first of all, there are treaty obligations, but the primary check is that, just as in every other war, if a US military person commits a war crime by creating some atrocity on a harmless, a, y'know, a detained enemy combatant or a prisoner of war, that violates our own conception of what's a war crime, and we'll put that US military personnel on trial in a courtmartial...

So there you have it. It's not the federal constitution that prevents the government from summarily executing American citizens. It's good and sufficient reasons of discretion.

And the only thing that limits this authority is the nation's treay commitments and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Guess it's a good thing we have such benevolent, farsighted generals...

UPDATE UPDATE: The New York Times has a bit more.

MOVIE OF THE WEEK With some regular readers approaching their ten-year high school reunions this fall, it may be worth revisiting Jonathan Demme's odd and absorbing SOMETHING WILD.

A road flick featuring what may be the best ten-year reunion sequence of all time, the film shifts tone at least twice--in what seem like calculated efforts to rebel against genre expectations. I'm not sure that Demme and screenwriter E. Max Frye quite pull it off, but it's a blast to watch them try.

And with Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels--in mid-1980s incarnations--in the lead roles, a great soundtrack and (presumably for the sake of independent film street cred) both John Waters and John Sayles showing up in bit parts, what more could you ask for?

NEXT STOP, IPO? You may have noticed that the Blogger banner ad, normally situated at the top of the page, has disappeared. The absence of ads is only temporary, however--the first phase of a site overhaul that will shift CONTRAPOSITIVE's financial burdens and potential rewards (such as they are) from the control of Blogger.com over to the custody of your humble narrator.

CONTRAPOSITIVE, in other words, is going for-profit. (Think of it as a newspaper where the editorial side and the business side share a single mind.)

The aim, ultimately--phase two--will be to begin selling viewer eyeballs to the highest bidder. No joke.

Consider yourself forewarned.

CHENEY FLASHBACK From UPI, July 31, 2000:
Cheney's position on trade with "rogue" nations--both as a politician and as a businessmen--is consistent. As a congressman from Wyoming from 1979 to 1989 he opposed sanctions against South Africa. As defense secretary from 1989 to 1993 he opposed them against Iraq, favoring military action instead. And at the helm of Halliburton, he oversaw a 1998 merger with Dresser Corp., a company that had contracts to retool oil rigs in Iraq. And while Halliburton sold that part of its business earlier this year (a spokesman for Dallas-based Halliburton said the partnership no longer fit with the products or services the company provides), Halliburton continues to do business with "states of concern" such as Syria.

"States of concern" is the official term now favored by the State Department to describe countries it believes support terrorism or are intent on building weapons of mass destruction.

On the eve of the President's and Vice President's tag-team testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it's worth taking a moment to step back and remember who we're dealing with here.

SPECTER SURVIVES Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has survived a primary challenge from right-wing favorite Rep. Pat Toomey. The final margin was 51% to 49%, with 15,000 votes separating the two candidates.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

PICKLE WATCH The Senate Judiciary memo-pilfering matter has now been referred by the Justice Department to an acting U.S. Attorney for investigation.

UPDATE: A brief recap of where the controversy stood before last night can be found here. And here's what CONTRAPOSITIVE had to say about the matter way back in early March:

In truth...the Pickle Report leaves many of the most salient questions about the hacking unanswered: We still don't know who (aside from some right wing publications) the downloaded documents were ultimately passed along to, what uses they were put to, and whether Miranda and Lundell were taking their orders from anyone else.

Those questions are as pertinent now as they were then.

Monday, April 26, 2004

LOVE CONQUERS ALL On Monday, the Daily News ran this follow-up on the Central Park tree-climbing story.

Here's a short excerpt:

"There's really no age on love," said Montero, who spoke with Rund by phone yesterday.

Rund apparently feels the same way, said a friend, Martin Rivera, who cares for Rund's grandfather and who sought an order of protection last week against Rund after an angry confrontation that involved a knife.


H.A.L. THE BLOG? R. Robot, a blogger whose snarky, right-wing rants make just enough sense to be provocative...turns out to be a computer.

On the blog's right sidebar, there's a cool feature that allows you to insert your name--or someone else's--into a future R. Robot post. Funny stuff.

UPDATE: Early this afternoon, R. Robot had this to say about your humble narrator:

The most contemptibly depraved of the bigots, Contrapositive.Blogspot.Com, insults Dick Cheney again. "Is there any evidence that Iraq 'thinks they might want to team up with terrorists,' as the President said?" he said at an Ojai drum circle. If these people hate America so much, maybe they should move to Basra.

When abominably degenerate people resort to that most outrageously low refrain of "no blood for oil," are they insinuating that oil isn't worth dying for? It is tempting to accept this verdict as all the proof needed that George W. Bush is solidly on the right track. But the argument needs to be addressed, not because it is foolish but because it is the fashion among fools, and because those fools are bizarrely cunning fools.

For the record, I've never been part of an Ojai drum circle.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

DISGUSTING Here's Karen Hughes on the topic of abortion, as quoted by the Daily Kos:
"I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life," she said. "President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life." (Emphasis added.)

We've all grown accustomed to the political exploitation of 9/11 by the Bushies. But this has got to be some kind of new low.

PADILLA WATCH The New York Times fronts this long piece about "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla in Sunday's editions. The article--which has some new details and a lot of fresh background--is well worth reading.

Readers new to CONTRAPOSITIVE may want to have a look at this December 2003 post about one blogger's search for Padilla down in Charleston, South Carolina.

BANDAR GETS CREAMED President George W. Bush had a hard time on Meet the Press a few weeks back, but it was nothing compared to the battering received by Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar this morning.

I wasn't exactly rooting for Bandar to emerge from the interview triumphant, but by the end of the show, I felt embarrassed for him. Some of the exchanges with host Tim Russert were just plain difficult to watch.

The interview also happened to make a bit of news--about the effort to spirit Saudis out of the US while flight restrictions were still in effect, in the days after 9/11.

Bandar suggested that, despite the FBI's denials, the Bureau did play a role in securing flights for members of the Bin Laden family and other Saudis:

MR. RUSSERT: But, Prince, here's the question. This is a photograph of you with the president down at his Crawford ranch. He brought his family. Alison Walsh of The New Yorker wrote you are almost a member of the Bush family. That was her interpretation after doing an enormous amount of research. And 140 Saudis did leave the United States when Americans couldn't fly. The FBI agent--the FBI spokesman, John Inurelli, said, "I can say unequivocally that the FBI had no role in facilitating these flights." Jim Thompson on the 9-11 Commission asked Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, "Did you, the State Department authorize this?" "No, sir." I asked the vice president of the United States on this program, did he know anything about it? "No, sir." Hundred and forty Saudis leave the country two days after September 11, and nobody knows who gave permission. You don't know anything about it. You didn't ask anyone for permission.

PRINCE BANDAR: No, no, no, no.

MR. RUSSERT: You didn't facilitate it in any way. The planes were just allowed to...

PRINCE BANDAR: No, Tim. No, no, no. no. This is becoming exotic now. We had those people in the country, and a lot of them were relatives of the bin Laden family going to school, from teen-agers to some people in college. And we told--asked the FBI that those people are scattered all over America and with tempers high at that time, rightly so, we were worried that somebody and emotions will hurt them.

MR. RUSSERT: So who did you call for permission?

PRINCE BANDAR: We didn't call for--we asked them...


PRINCE BANDAR: ...is it possible? The FBI.

MR. RUSSERT: You called the FBI?


MR. RUSSERT: And they gave permission?

PRINCE BANDAR: And the FBI, according to Richard Clarke in his testimony, called him and he said, "I have no problem if the FBI has no problem." So we gathered them all in here, and then once they were here, they left.

So who's lying--Bandar or the FBI?

Seems like just the kind of question someone in the White House press corps ought to ask Scott McClellan come Monday morning.

Friday, April 23, 2004

FRIDAY FLASHBACK Atrios tips us off to this Chicago Reader article, which has Paul Bremer saying the following on February 26, 2001:
The new administration seems to be paying no attention to the problem of terrorism. What they will do is stagger along until there's a major incident and then suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, shouldn't we be organized to deal with this?' That's too bad. They've been given a window of opportunity with very little terrorism now, and they're not taking advantage of it. Maybe the folks in the press ought to be pushing a little bit.

RISE OF THE BLOGS? The Friday edition of the New York Times is awfully blog-heavy.

First, there's the front-page photo of military caskets, a snapshot that became available--the accompanying article explains--courtesy of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Memory Hole.

The Times, apparently believing it owed readers an explanation for why it'd been scooped (and by a website!) gave its executive editor and another media heavyweight opportunities to clarify:

"We were not aware at all that these photos were being taken," said Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times.

John Banner, the executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," said, "We did not file a F.O.I.A. request ourselves, because this was the first we had known that the military was shooting these pictures."

Then, The Times runs an op-Ed line-up that includes both Ryan Lizza and Joshua Marshall.

True, both writers have mainstream journalism credentials. But their most interesting work--and almost certainly, most widely read--can be found on their blogs: Campaign Journal and Talking Points Memo, respectively.

So--have we reached some sort of tipping point? I doubt it.

But the distinction between mainstream media and internet chatter is definitely starting to blur...

THE PEPSI GENERATION One of the strangest, most fascinating newspaper stories I've ever read can be found in today's editions of The New York Times.

For those blocked by the Times' firewall, here are a couple of the 367-word article's more puzzling disclosures:

The two people, identified by the police as a 32-year-old man with feminine breasts and a 17-year-old boy, shouted threats at rescue workers and drank soft drinks. They also had oral sex, witnesses told the police.

Three hours into the standoff, an officer handed the 32-year-old man a can of soda. He flung it to the ground and shouted: "This is a Coke. I wanted vanilla Diet Pepsi."

UPDATE: Newsday has photos. Reuters has names. And the story has now spread all the way to Australia.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

HABEUS CORPUS Daily Kos follows the firing (by Maytag Aircraft, a military contractor) of the woman who snapped a photo of 20 flag-draped coffins headed home from Iraq. Her husband was also canned.

HEAVEN ON A SHOESTRING This week's Village Voice has an interview with Sam Shepard focusing mainly on the playwright's reminiscences of the Days of Heaven shoot, and his sense of Terrence Malick, the film's director.

Among Shepard's recollections:

And then the notorious shot of Richard Gere falling face first into the river—that was shot in a big aquarium in Sissy Spacek's living room. They had to convince Richard to do this—he said, "Are you crazy?" Terry begged him.

Not exactly earth-shattering stuff. But still, worth reading for some rare commentary on the making of a masterpiece.

MORE HOUSEKEEPING CONTRAPOSITIVE is now available via RSS feed. (There's a handy link to the feed on the page's right sidebar.)

If you have no idea what this means...don't worry about it. If you know exactly what this means...maybe you can clue in the rest of us?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

POOR THEATER I was skeptical--and so was Kevin Drum--about Ron Suskind's recent claim that the Bush administration solicits questions from reporters before press conferences, and then calls on those reporters whose questions are acceptable to the White House.

But this e-mail exchange, forwarded to Drum, leaves me more than a bit puzzled.

UPDATE: Daniel Okrent, the New York Times Public Editor, has categorically denied that the New York Times submits press conference questions in advance. Not clear why it took two tries to get a straight answer on this, but in any event, Okrent has now answered the allegation. (The ball is now, it appears, in Suskind's court.)

MOVIE OF THE WEEK Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me is another one of those movies that received a lot of positive press upon its release, only to be ushered quickly out of the public discussion. An examination of the relationships among a brother, sister, and her son, the film benefits from Lonergan's tight, spare writing and solid performances from Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney.

The story lacks the neat, satisfying ending that would have made the movie an easier sell with mainstream audiences. But it's a much better film for having resisted that particular temptation.

THE 'C' WORD More than two years after the President found himself in hot water for describing the war on terror as a "crusade," the Bush camp is using the 'c word' in a fundraising letter to supporters, Atrios notices. (As in, the President has been, "leading a global crusade against terrorism.")

Haven't they learned anything? you might ask.

But of course they have: They've learned that making coded religious appeals to their right-wing base is a sure-fire way to boost fundraising totals.

HOME NEWS Courtesy of a search at a cool new site called Technorati, we have confirmation of a CONTRAPOSITIVE first: This blog is now listed on the "blog roll" (a kind of recommended reading list) of Corrente--a relatively widely-read political blog.


Monday, April 19, 2004

HOLDING HIS OWN John Kerry was far from perfect yesterday on Meet The Press. But he exceeded my expectations.

Noam Scheiber thinks he handled a couple of questions particularly well.

Friday, April 16, 2004

MORE THAN WORDS Joshua Marshall evaluates the Bush team's lofty Iraq rhetoric, finds it wanting, and explains why that matters.

BUSH'S LOST SUMMER Wednesday, I wrote a post exploring how the conventional wisdom about presidential vacations lined up with the August, 2001 reality. But it's worth taking a moment to consider another lesson of this week's revelation about the contact--or really, lack of it--between the President and George Tenet during August, 2001.

And that is: One of the most striking things about Tenet's admission was that it seemed so, well, surprising. After the examination of millions of documents and thousands of hours of 9/11 Commission testimony (not to mention 43 months of news coverage) you'd think by now we'd know all there was to know about the actions of the President--and his White House--in the months leading up to September 11, 2001.

And yet, people like 9/11 Commission member Timothy Roemer (who has been charged, for months now, with uncovering the truth about the months preceding 9/11) and the editors of The New York Times (who gave the disclosure prominent A1 placement) seemed shocked--or at least taken aback--by Tenet's testimony.

Of course the reason they were surprised is that the official line out of the Bush camp for months has been as simple as it was, apparently, disingenuous--that Tenet briefed Bush every day.

And so we now know that the scope and complexity of the White House's project of obfuscation and misdirection was more ambitious than even the cynics had believed. The Bushies may not have told us that up was down, but they seem to have tried awfully hard to create that impression.

Clearly, even commentators critical of the President haven't been working aggressively enough to tease the reality of the months leading up to 9/11 apart from the administration's version of events.

So in the spirit of unblinkered reflection, I spent some time last night looking at news accounts of the action in Crawford, Texas on August 7, 2001--the day after the famed Bin Laden PDB.

That week is full of newspaper stories about Presidential jogging, fishing, brush-clearing, etc. But the Associated Press account of the President's August 7 activities is the one that sticks out:

President Bush rolled out of his ranch at dawn Tuesday for golf and talk, saying he is thoroughly at home amid the outdoor play and work of his Texas vacation.


The president, who received his daily security briefing while his motorcade traveled to the golf course, said he is making progress on a number of issues. (Emphasis added.)

So there it is.

The White House can spin and obfuscate all it wants. The fact of the matter is, during a month of heightened terrorism threat, when warnings of an impending attack were pouring into US intelligence agencies--and the day after he received a PDB titled Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States--the President of the United States took his daily security briefing...in a limo on the way to his golf game.

He golfed, incidentally, at Ridgewood Country Club in Waco. Mapquest estimates a 33 minute ride from Crawford.

But I'd be willing to bet that, with the benefit of a presidential motorcade, the 18 mile trip can be completed in 20 minutes flat.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan has more.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

SETTLING Billmon has some thoughts about the Bush administration's new posture on the Israel-Palestine issue.

ANYONE SEEN POWELL? With the Iraq situation continuing to evolve, and new, important developments on the Israel-Palestine front, shouldn't we have seen a bit more of the Secretary of State in recent days?

JUSTICE AT GUANTANAMO? James Yee, the Muslim chaplain who was suspected of involvement in a Guantanamo Bay spy ring, but later charged with adultery and downloading pornography, was cleared by an Army general yesterday on all charges.

Yee endured 76 days of solitary confinement during the investigation of his alleged crimes.

What are the chances that the people responsible for this fiasco get fired?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

GONE FISHING Part of the conventional wisdom (at least as I have received it) about presidential vacations is that they aren't true vacations. Because the work of a president never really stops--it just gets relocated.

Now Atrios notices that--contrary to the insinuations of just about everybody in the White House--during August, 2001, Bush did not talk, not once, with CIA head George Tenet.

Not in person, not by phone, and not by video phone.

Not before the PDB, not after the PDB. Nada.

And yet, here's Bush last night:

As a matter of fact, I was dealing with terrorism a lot as the president when George Tenet came in to brief me. I mean, that's where I got my information.

But not once during August, 2001.

Think about that.

UPDATE: Tenet has amended his testimony--he is now asserting that he met twice with the President during August, 2001.

So, to put it another way, during a month of elevated terrorism threat, when warnings of an impending attack were pouring into US intelligence agencies, the President of the United States met a grand total of two times with the man from whom he, "got [his] information."

MORE FROM THE RIGHT Here's bleeding-heart liberal Rich Lowry (of The National Review) on Bush's performance last night:
His dodge of the Mike Allen question about why he was testifying jointly with Dick Cheney before the 9/11 Commission was so transparent it was hard to watch. His fumble of the Sammy Sosa/mistakes question was also cringe-inducing and inexplicable, since he had handled other versions of the question earlier just fine.

MOVIE OF THE WEEK A critical hit during its limited theatrical release in late 1999 and early 2000, AMERICAN MOVIE has since disappeared into the cinematic ether.

But Chris Smith's film deserves the kind of attention garnered by cult documentaries like CRUMB and, more recently, SPELLBOUND.

The story of Mark Borchardt's quixotic efforts to complete the short film that he believes will launch his movie career, AMERICAN MOVIE is a fascinating study of what happens when inexhaustible ambition slams up against an unforgiving reality.

The movie was criticized by some for judging Borchardt and then laughing at him. But that criticism misreads Smith's subtle, noble project here.

THE UNSPEAKABLE THOUGHT At the end of last night's press conference, my head was swimming. But one thought overwhelmed the rest: He's just not up to it.

And let me be clear about what I mean.

The President may be a strategic genius away from the cameras. I have my doubts--believe me--but I concede it's at least possible that on a person-to-person level, he's a great leader, motivator and manager.

Still, in times of crisis, every president must have a command--beyond the level of bumper sticker phrases--of the arguments and ideas that are shaping the actions of his administration. And he must able, and prepared, to communicate those arguments to the American people, and to the world.

As reluctant as mainstream pundits have been to say it, last night's press conference made it clearer than ever that George W. Bush simply isn't up to that task.

DEPT. OF EXEGISIS From the lede of a front page story by Andrew Jacobs and Simon Romero in today's New York Times:
They were driven by the promise of six-figure salaries or a powerful sense of patriotism. For others, the decision to sign up for a job in the cauldron of Iraq was motivated by desire to help ordinary Iraqis improve their lives. Among the tens of thousands of American citizens working in Iraq, few could have imagined how dangerous their jobs would become. (Italics added.)

Hate to nitpick here, but few could have imagined? I can understand few would have expected. But one of the arguments made by informed war critics (in obscure places like, um, the op-Ed page of The New York Times) was that an invasion of Iraq might very well end in something like chaos.

Here's Bill Bradley in The Washington Post on February 2, 2003:

What will happen when the shooting stops is far from clear. If we are to be seen as more than transparent hypocrites, we will have to not only win a war and maintain a military presence in Iraq, but also to preside over the development of democracy in a country that makes the former Yugoslavia seem homogeneous. This is a multi-year commitment that could take thousands of U.S. lives and billions of dollars, yet there appears to be no plan for carrying it out.

So let's put an end to this few could have imagined nonsense. Right now.

Anyone who gave serious thought to the post-war situation could have imagined scenarios similar to--and worse than--the status quo. To suggest otherwise is to engage in revisionism.

AND ANOTHER THING: A few paragraphs down, Halliburton spokesman Wendy Hall, commenting on the disappearance of Halliburton workers and the subsequent discovery of mutilated bodies, says:

"Our workers in Iraq are courageous volunteers in service to their country and their loved ones."

The sentiment is, of course, entirely valid. All the same, if I was the brother or son of a solider camped out on the outskirts of Falluja, I don't know how I'd feel about her appropriation of the word "volunteers."

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

AS GERGEN GOES... David Gergen--second only to David Broder as a Washington media bellweather--just told the Charlie Rose audience that tonight's press conference gave him a "queasy feeling."


AND FROM THE RIGHT Here's bleeding-heart liberal Jonah Goldberg on tonight's press conference:
I am sure there is a brilliant, well-formulated and principled rationale on offer at the White House to justify Bush's refusal to admit any pre-9/11 mistakes. But I haven't heard it and I think Bush is making a mistake by not offering some token answer that changes the subject. But what I find amazing is that Bush didn't even prep an answer -- even a glib one -- to the question. He was asked it in one form or another a bunch of times and he even said he was "put on the spot" by the question. I thought he was sincere in his flummoxed-ness. You'd think someone would tell Bush that he could just say "Oh I wish I'd realized just how deep the structural problems at the FBI were," or "I wish we'd passed the Patriot Act before hand." The answer doesn't even have to be a good one, it just has to show that he's reflected on his pre-9/11 tenure in office enough to come up with something substantive.

DEPARTMENT OF WHA? From the transcript:
QUESTION: Mr. President, why are you and the vice president insisting on appearing together before the 9-11 commission? And, Mr. President, who will we be handing the Iraqi government over to on June 30th?

BUSH: We'll find that out soon. That's what Mr. Brahimi is doing. He's figuring out the nature of the entity we'll be handing sovereignty over.

And, secondly, because the 9-11 commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I was asking why you're appearing together, rather than separately, which was their request.

BUSH: Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9-11 commission is looking forward to asking us. And I'm looking forward to answering them.

You'd think they'd have prepared him better on that one, no?

DEFLATING As of 9:06 pm, our President has twice declined the opportunity to take any responsibility for 9/11. Not on behalf of himself, not on behalf of his administration.

Not even a token allusion to the fact that, ultimately, he was the man in charge of defending the country at the time of the attacks. Instead, we get a Clintonesque, legalistic defense of the administration's behavior.

Not exactly a surprise. But still.


PRESS CONFERENCE FLASHBACK Here's Elisabeth Bumiller (according to Atrios) giving her take on the last prime-time Bush press conference:
"I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

Thankfully, things (at 8:57 pm) are looking a little more argumentative this time around.

Unfortunately, it's too little, too late.

WHY THE PRESS CONFERENCE? Because David Broder, the walking instantiation of conventional wisdom in Washington, had the following to say during Sunday's taping of Meet The Press:
BRODER: Well, it’s been a terrible week or 10 days for this country and therefore for the administration. But I think compounding it has been the fact that of all moments, the president chose this moment to disappear. At a time when the country really needs to hear from a president, from its president, and the world needs to hear from the president, he’s gone silent on us, and it’s inexplicable to me.

Later, he added:
BRODER: Tim, what strikes me about this is that the two White House officials who briefed reporters yesterday when this was released were asked: What did the president do when he got this memo? And they said, "Well, we can't discuss the president's response." That's stunning to me because it fits into what I'm afraid has been a pattern of passivity on the part of President Bush in dealing with this whole question of terrorism, a pattern that continues even today when we don't know where the president is in his thinking about what's happening now in Iraq, what's happening with the 9-11 Commission. The country needs a president at moments like this.

Monday, April 12, 2004

POLITICAL SECURITY Kevin Drum makes an important point about the two-year campaign of misdirection that preceded Saturday's de-classification of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

ASHMERE ON MY MIND Few CONTRAPOSITIVE readers will be interested in this item from The Berkshire Eagle. But those readers--and they know who they are--will be keenly interested.

(Official comment can be found here.)

Friday, April 09, 2004

RICE WRAP There were few revelations during Thursday's 9/11 Commission hearing. But one kernel of new information did surface during an exchange between Rice and former Sen. Bob Kerrey.

Characterizing the (still classified) Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) of August 6, 2001--the one titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States"--Rice told Kerrey:

It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.

As Atrios has pointed out, minutes later Kerrey closed out his section of the hearing with this:
KERREY: In the spirit of further declassification, this is what the August 6th memo said to the president: that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking. That's the language of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August.

RICE: And that was checked out and steps were taken through FAA circulars to warn of hijackings.

In Friday's editions of The New York Times, Philip Shenon interprets Kerrey's remark--and Rice's tacit acceptance of it--as confirming that the PDB itself included the sentence:

"The F.B.I. indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking."

Now, I'm inclined to believe that Shenon has done his homework here.

And if he's right, it means Rice believes there's more than a semantic difference between the President having been alerted to suspicious activity consistent with preparations for hijacking and the President being given warning of a threat.

The distinction, for Rice, seems to hinge on whether the information was derived from a specific nugget of new threat information, or was instead the product of ongoing analysis of available intelligence. (At least, that's the best I can do to unpack what she might have in mind.)

But if that even counts as a true distinction, it's one that doesn't carry much of a difference.

Which is to say that, while Rice's core claim may be "legally accurate," it's more about spin than substance.

The problem with her line of reasoning is that it depends on a vision of the presidency as a fundamentally passive office, and of the PDB as a kind of classified Page Six--full of interesting gossip and juicy details, but not the kind of source you'd consult if you were trying to figure out how to plan your next month.

To Rice, it seems, only the communication of a specific threat by the FBI to a particular target within a defined period of time would have been enough to trigger presidential action.

Which sort of makes the entire intelligence gathering and sorting process--a business based, almost by definition, on the analysis of incomplete information--seem like a vast waste of time.

ANOTHER POINT: I do think Rice was legally accurate in her testimony. But calling "historical information" what the FBI clearly meant to characterize as an ongoing pattern of behavior (actions "consistent with preparations for hijacking") is pretty close to the line.

A FINAL QUESTION: What was Kerrey doing, exactly, when he said, "In the spirit of further declassification..."? Was he truly taking it upon himself to go public with classified information? I know he's gutsy--but is he really that gutsy?

UPDATE: Saturday's Times adds context and TAPPED has more analysis.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

HMM... Atrios links to this bizarre White House Compassion Photo Album. See any themes?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

MOVIE OF THE WEEK It's been years since I last saw Mikey and Nicky, and I don't think I've spotted a single reference to the movie since.

Written and directed by Elaine May, this small, simple film could probably have been a two-man play. But by casting John Cassavetes and Peter Falk in the starring roles, May turned a potentially taut, straightforward mob flick into something more improvisational, and more unusual.

The result is the kind of film Cassavetes himself might have made if he was more interested in narrative storytelling. In other words, it's odd, compelling and very much worth seeing.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY Is it just me, or does it seem like all sorts of US-based reporters in Iraq have re-embedded with the US military? They haven't been embedded all this time, have they?

Seems like there's a story there...

LAST-MINUTE CONDI QUERY Dr. Rice, your spokesman has said:
"No reports of the use of airplanes as weapons were briefed or presented to Dr. Rice prior to May 2002."

Given that intelligence about planes being used as weapons was discussed widely in the press in the weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, why did it take seven months after 9/11 for you to finally became aware of this threat?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

POETRY IN STASIS Happy Passover.

Monday, April 05, 2004

GENDER BENDING Doug Wright's I AM MY OWN WIFE has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

BELATED PHOTO Here's a shot of a Billionaire for Bush in action at the United For Peace and Justice rally on March 20 in New York.

Willow Lawson for CONTRAPOSITIVE

In related news, the Billionaires have launched a blog.

KOS IN THE MINESHAFT For the past several days, there's been a controversy brewing about comments posted by Marcos Zuniga (aka Kos) at the Daily Kos--a prominent blog to which CONTRAPOSITIVE has linked fairly frequently.

Matt Stoller has the most complete run-down.

It's a complicated, convoluted story. But it seems to be the first example of a new, blog-specific kind of controversy.

So it's one of those precedent-setting, medium-defining developments that might be worth following...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

KICKING HUBBARD UPSTAIRS Last Week, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger appointed a new Dean of Columbia Business School: B-School professor Glenn Hubbard.

If the name rings a bell, it may be because you remember Hubbard from his recent stint as head of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisors.

You may even remember his statements bemoaning the "current fixation" with budget deficits, or the time he called "nonsense" the view that higher deficits lead to lower growth.

Brad DeLong tackled the issue of Hubbard's willingness to let Republican ideology trump the facts in this January 2003 post. DeLong makes a strong case that during his time in the Bush administration, Hubbard wound up essentially bartering his acadmic integrity for a seat at the Big Boys table.

So why is Bollinger rewarding bad behavior?

Friday, April 02, 2004

EVEN MORE LETTERMAN Let me be clear: The significance of Lettermangate isn't that some kid got bored during a speech by the President. It isn't even that CNN gave viewers the false impression, for a time, that the clip [real player] in question had been doctored.

What's significant about the flap--and what demands scrutiny--is CNN's behavior. Specifically, viewers deserve an account from CNN of:

1) How it came to report--twice--that the White House was calling Letterman's clip doctored footage.

2) The process by which the network decided, ultimately, to retract that characterization of the White House's position.

To this point, CNN has said only that the reporting was the result of a "misunderstanding among our staff." And just about everyone in the mainstream press--except Paul Krugman--has accepted that characterization.

Consider the following headlines:

CNN's goof leads to slip by Letterman
Bush speaks, a boy yawns, and then Letterman and CNN get confused
CNN errs on reporting Bush-Letterman bit
Letterman, CNN Involved In Comedy Of Errors
Letterman bit mixed up when CNN gets involved

All of these headlines, it's worth noting, were used by editors to plug the same underlying AP story. And that story appears not to include any original reporting on CNN's claims--AP scribe Frazier Moore appears just to take CNN's explanation at face value.

Problem is, CNN's explanation stinks.

To be more specific:

If CNN's erroneous reporting was truly the result of a "misunderstanding among [CNN's] staff," ("Not 'according to the White House,' Kyra. I said 'according to Clyde Strauss.'"), then why did the network first report:

We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren't really reacting.

and then two hours later switch to:
We're told that the kid was there at that event, but not necessarily standing behind the president.

before finally dropping the claim altogether?

Isn't the more plausible explanation something like this:

White House--irate about CNN's decision to air the clip--phones the network. Scolds CNN for running "fake" late night comedy footage. Producer rushes clarification to newsroom.

Hours pass.

Producer starts to hear information contradicting White House claims. Producer phones White House, which changes its story. Somewhat.

Hours pass.

CNN realizes White House had story wrong.

Producer wants to protect important White House source. Points out that his original discussion, now that he thinks about it, was sorta kinda off-the-record.

CNN comes up with the "misunderstanding among our staff" explanation, and runs with it.

Now. I have exactly zero independent corroboration for this version of events.

But doesn't believing this version make more sense than accepting that CNN, over the course of an afternoon, twice interrupted its regular programming for the sole purpose of correcting the record on the Letterman clip--and the White House's characterization of the footage--and that no one ever in fact spoke to the White House?

One Final Point: Howard Kurtz gets a lot of heat from bloggers for being both the Washington Post's media critic, and the host of a show for CNN, a network he's supposed to be covering.

Kurtz's willingness--or failure--to dig below the surface of Lettermangate will speak volume about his ability to balance the two commitments, and about his integrity more generally.

UPDATE: Frazier Moore retreats a bit in his latest dispatch for the AP. While in his previous article on Lettermangate he proclaimed:

The truth was: The White House never complained, and the footage was real.

the story that will run in tomorrow's papers takes a slightly different tack:
Later the network said Bush administration officials hadn't complained. (Emphasis added.)

Good to see Moore has decided to adopt a neutral tone. Still he's not exactly dripping with skepticism...

UPDATE UPDATE: CNN has provided Campaign Desk with a more nuanced version of its original explanation. However, that bit of elaboration notwithstanding, the network has still not answered the key questions.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

LETTERMAN UPDATE Campaign Desk takes us almost up-to-date on the David Letterman vs. The White House controversy.

On tonight's show (which aired after Campaign Desk ran its piece) Letterman held firm on his version of events, telling viewers that his "high-ranking, high-placed source" continues to maintain that the White House did indeed contact CNN.

"The whole thing just smells," Letterman opined. "It all seems a little too tidy."

NY COMMUTERS BEWARE The Daily News is reporting that New York City officials are being pressured by the Secret Service to close Pennsylvania Station for at least part of the GOP Convention.

(For what it's worth, The New York Times offers a completely different analysis in this late-February story.)

I can certainly understand why law enforcement officials might want to shutter Penn Station (which sits more or less on top of Madison Square Garden) during the convention. And I'm sure steps could be taken to mitigate the impact of a shut down.

But even so, a blanket cancellation of Penn Station train service seems to me like a recipe for mass transit paralysis.

Maybe not as bad as we saw during last year's blackout. But it won't be pretty.

IN YOUR DREAMS Just One Minute links to this Drudge parody, complete with a mix of (working) spoof and non-spoof links.

JOINT SESSION Josh Marshall has a question about the bizarre new tag-team stipulation for the President's and Vice President's testimony before the 9/11 Commission. For some reason, it's a question no one in the press is tackling.

THAT LIAR LETTERMAN Atrios is following a flap about a clip David Letterman aired on his Tuesday night show. During the day today, CNN reported twice that the White House had called Letterman's clip doctored footage--before later retracting that characterization of the White House's position.


Meanwhile, Letterman says that his source confirms that the White House did indeed talk to CNN about the clip.

Who do you believe?

UPDATE: CNN is maintaining that they never heard from the White House about the clip. But the network doesn't seem to be offering any account of how an "incorrect" characterization of the White House's position snuck its way into the mouths of two different anchors...

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.