Tuesday, August 31, 2004

BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT Elisabeth ("it's frightening to stand up there") Bumiller cautions:
It was unclear if Mr. Bush had meant to make the remark to Mr. Lauer, or if he misspoke.
Here's the full exchange (via Andrew Sullivan):
LAUER: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you'll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war of ter--on terror? For example, in the next four years?

Pres. BUSH: I have never said we can win it in four years?

LAUER: No, I'm just saying, can we win it? Do you say that?

Pres. BUSH: I don't--I don't think we can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the--those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in part of the world, let's put it that way. I have a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us. And that's necessary. I'm telling you it's necessary.
Set aside for a moment the President's tendency to butcher his syntax. Is there anything intrinsic to this exchange that suggests he misspoke?

And can you envision a prominent White House correspondent giving our last president this kind of latitude to revise and extend his remarks?

Anyone else think Bumiller is showing a bit too much deference here?

Saturday, August 28, 2004

GOSS'S PEOPLE Ever daydream about working at the CIA? A multiple-choice questionnaire has been posted on the CIA's website, to help prospective job applicants find out where they might fit at the agency.

Check a few boxes and get instant results.

(According to the Q & A, CONTRAPOSITIVE is a potentially "good match" for the Clandestine Service. Hmm...)

AND ANOTHER THING: There's a small note at the bottom of the quiz, noting:

The CIA does not record or retain any of the information obtained in the Career Director. The results are for your information only.
Hope the programmers in the agency's IT department had a good laugh over that one...

Friday, August 27, 2004

TWO FROM THE TIMES From the ridiculous:
Showing none of the alarm about the North's growing arsenal that he once voiced regularly about Iraq, [President Bush] opened his palms and shrugged when an interviewer noted that new intelligence reports indicate that the North may now have the fuel to produce six or eight nuclear weapons.
to the sublime:
If an idea is funny, the troll raises a trident. If a gag falls flat, it lowers a mace and grunts. Mr. Colbert doesn't trust his own judgment. "I always love all of the ideas," he says, giving the troll a peck on its ugly cheek.

CHENEY VS. CAPITALISM Trapper John over at Daily Kos surmises a thing or two about our Vice President from a recent Cheney shopping jaunt.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

EARLY WELCOME Here's The Plaza Hotel--earlier today:

(Photo by Russell.)

(For New York novices: The "TRUTH" arrow is pointing uptown, toward Central Park. The "BUSH" arrow points in the general direction of Madison Square Garden.)

Rest assured, there's plenty more where that came from.

UPDATE: CBS' local affiliate has the scoop.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

MORE ON PUERTO RICO San Juan correspondent Gabrielle Paese--of The Puerto Rico Herald--writes with a couple more salient facts about the island and the Olympics:

1) If Puerto Rico were to win a gold medal (it's never happened--the island's best finish was a 1984 silver in boxing) La Borinqueña is the song that would be played.

2) Puerto Rico sent five boxers to the US-boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics. Who knew?

BUSH GETS A PASS Here's George W. Bush yesterday (via Digby):
QUESTION: But why won't you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?

BUSH: I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV, all the 527s. That's what I've said.

I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but to use for other purposes as well.

I, frankly, thought we'd gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to once and for all get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising.


BUSH: I don't think we ought to have 527s.

I can't be more plain about it. And I wish -- I hope my opponent joins me in saying -- condemning these activities of the 527s. It's -- I think they're bad for the system. That's why I signed the bill, McCain-Feingold.
Here's George W. Bush on McCain-Feingold at the bill's signing (via Atrios):
However, the bill does have flaws. Certain provisions present serious constitutional concerns. In particular, H.R. 2356 goes farther than I originally proposed by preventing all individuals, not just unions and corporations, from making donations to political parties in connection with Federal elections.

I believe individual freedom to participate in elections should be expanded, not diminished; and when individual freedoms are restricted, questions arise under the First Amendment.
What are we supposed to take away from this?

George W. Bush originally thought that McCain-Feingold (whatever its virtues) was overbroad--a threat to individual freedom. He now professes to believe that the law doesn't go far enough.

This kind of radical shift is important, newsworthy stuff.

Has the President's understanding of the First Amendment evolved? Is he planning legislation to ban advertising by 527s? Will he counsel other Republicans not to get invovled with these organizations?

White House reporter aren't likely, of course, to cover Bush's remarks from a policy angle. Even The New York Times--which fronts the story in today's editions--focuses just about exclusively on the anti-Kerry veterans context.

But the fact that we're in the middle of a campaign isn't the only reason Bush will get away with such a transparent contradiction: Part of the reason members of the press will give him a pass, surely, is that they don't believe he's truly in charge.

"He's just gone off the talking points," the thinking goes. "He doesn't really know what's going on. Better check with Scott McClellan for the 'official' line."

Sad but true. The lower the media's opinion of an officeholder's intellect, the more leeway the official has to play fast and loose with the facts.

Don't expect a President Kerry to get this kind wiggle room.

AND ANOTHER THING: It's difficult to pin a precise meaning on the following turn of phrase:

I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money.
Was this a slip? Is Bush suggesting--as he seems to be--that he's prepared to call off his dogs if Kerry would agree to do the same?

Isn't this an implicit admission that the Bushies and the anti-Kerry veterans are less independent of each other than the law requires?

Friday, August 20, 2004

MOVIE OF THE MONTH I'm still not sure how WITHNAIL AND I made it onto my radar--it landed mysteriously in my NetFlix queue--but Bruce Robinson's 1987 comedy is that rare animal: a successful buddy flick.

The film is apparently a cult classic in the UK, and it's not hard to see why: Robinson's offbeat, stylized approach shouldn't work, but it's exactly right for the material. Withnail and the narrator, a couple of out-of-work actors in late-60s London, flee the city for a couple days of peace and quiet at the rural country house of Withnail's Uncle Monty.

What follows is a kooky twist on the city slicker genre. There are farm animals, of course, and awkward encounters with locals. But the dead-on acting makes even predictable twists enjoyable, covering up a couple false moments in the process.

And the surprising ending rings true--its poignant enough to make you realize that between the laughs, Robinson has quietly told a very good story.

SELF-INFLICTED SCRATCHES Joshua Marshall tackles the anti-Kerry veterans story.

He includes an exchange--from one of the President's "Ask President Bush" event--that I hadn't read about or seen in print before:

Q: On behalf of Vietnam veterans -- and I served six tours over there -- we do support the President.

I only have one concern, and that's on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never -- no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange because it's never been changed in the regulations.

Yet, we've got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That's a lot of tours.

Let's see, who've we got here? You got a question?
He "appreciates" it. Period. End of story.

It's time for this man to go home.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

STATISTICAL SIGNIFICANCE Kevin Drum teaches us all a thing or two about margin of error.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

UGH From today's New York Times:
In choosing Mr. Cipel [as his homeland security adviser], Mr. McGreevey decided to forgo the services of Louis Freeh, the former F.B.I. director, who offered to take the job of New Jersey's antiterror chief without pay.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY? Why does Puerto Rico have its own Olympic team? It's a question that's been making the rounds since the island's basketball squad trounced their American, um, compatriots.

But even the Puerto Ricans I've asked don't have an answer.

So I got in touch with Gabrielle Paese, an Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star and a columnist for the Puerto Rico Herald. Paese, acknowledging that the issues involved are murkier than one might expect, noted that Puerto Rico fielded its first Olympic team in 1948, the same year the island was granted limited governmental autonomy.

But the Puerto Rican Olympic history that she directed me to (translated automatically, and erratically, by Google) doesn't link the two dates in any way.

In fact, it makes the United States seem peripheral to the entire matter, focusing exclusively on the island's petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as if Puerto Rico could have started competing at any time.

So was it the island's new status that made the difference? Are the two dates coincidental? Was something else at play?

A couple hours later, I appear to be more or less back where I started.

UPDATE: Slate intern Alexander Barnes Dryer solves the mystery here:

Puerto Rico can send athletes to Greece because the International Olympic Committee...has recognized the island's National Olympic Committee. Such committees are the official representatives of each Olympic delegation and are approved only after meeting criteria established by the IOC.

But while the standards such national committees must meet are clear, the rules governing who can form them are considerably murkier. The Olympic Charter explains that "the expression 'country' means an independent State recognized by the international community," and the IOC recognized Puerto Rico as such an entity in 1948.

Although the United States granted the island the right to elect its own governor in the same year, that power is nothing like full independence. The US Department of the Interior still classifies Puerto Rico as an "insular area" of the United States—a "jurisdiction that is neither a part of one of the several States nor a Federal district."

But apparently the IOC considers insular areas sufficiently independent to participate in the games; the committee recognized the US Virgin Islands in 1967, Guam in 1986, and American Samoa in 1987.
So, the IOC--not exactly a model of clarity and precision. In fact, it looks like there's been a bit of fudging going on here.

Wouldn't be surprised if we hear more about this in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 16, 2004

HOMELAND INSECURITY The following Q & A appeared as part of the FYI column in the City section (distributed in New York City only) of Sunday's New York Times.
Q. For the past few years, on weekdays, one to three cars with government plates have often been parked next to the armed forces recruiting station on the expanded sidewalks in Times Square. Last year there were even lines painted for parking spaces. This is legal?

A. A recruiting officer in the station said the cars were government vehicles used on the job by the recruiting officers.

You might think a regulation or an official permission existed to explain the presence of the cars. But apparently not.

Tom Cocola, a spokesman for the city's Department of Transportation, responded to an inquiry with the following message: "We will speak to the local precinct about enforcement, for we don't want vehicles to park in this space, either."

Calls to the police for a response were not returned.

Let's break this down:

We're talking here about some of the most trafficked real estate in America--from a security standpoint, it's no exaggeration to call the space outside the Armed Forces Recruiting Center the most sensitive patch of sidewalk in the entire country.

And what have we learned from The Times?

That several 3,000+ pound metal boxes have been stationed in this delicate area without the city's permission--indeed, illegally--on and off for the last couple years.

THAT SAID: Maybe the local police precinct has a deal worked out with the recruiters. Maybe their license plates are on file, their cars are routinely inspected, and the men themselves have been thoroughly vetted and screened.

On the other hand, maybe the cops at the precinct house just aren't keen on confronting military men--especially over something as minor as a few improvised parking spots.

I know where I'd put my money.

NOW: One of the things we were supposed to have learned from 9/11 is that blind faith does not constitute a security program.

The point is not that the recruiters involved ought to be suspected of being terrorists. It's that their military credentials shouldn't buy them exemption from common sense precautions.

To put it simply: If there are going to be 3,000 pound metal boxes parked in the middle of Times Square, they ought to be have an awfully good reason to be there. And they should be inspected regularly--whoever happens to own them.

If we can't get something this simple right, how are we ever going to meet the more difficult security challenges?

Friday, August 13, 2004

HYPOTHETICAL IMPERATIVE Noam Scheiber takes John Kerry to task for recent comments about his Iraq war vote. He (Scheiber) has got a point.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

MAN WITHOUT A COOKIE The new reduced fat oreo contains fewer trans fats than the classic version. But where does that reduction come from?

The reduced fat cookie contains:

while the regular version has:
All the other ingredients are the same.

I have no idea what polyglycerol esters of fatty acids are (a Google search produces this page, among others) but I'm willing to admit that the name gives me pause.

In other sobering trans fat related news, Toni over at the Weston Bakeries consumer relations divisions today confirmed to CONTRAPOSITIVE that there are currently no plans to introduce a trans fat free line of Entenmann's cookies, or to eliminate trans fats from Entenmann's products.

A sad day, indeed.

For more information on the dangers of trans fats and some products that avoid them, check out this site, maintained by Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

RED STATE POSTCARD There's a subconscious battle being waged in Aberdeen, South Dakota--between Main Street and the interstate; between a tight little grid of old brick buildings and the big box architecture of national retail chains.

It's a battle being fought, of course, all over the country.

But surprisingly, in Aberdeen the downtown business district is holding its own:

(Photos by Willow Lawson.)

Looking south down Main Street, past the Aberdeen Community Theater.

Main Street sports a diner, an independent coffee shop and a community playhouse. New buildings have sprouted up among the older structures, and the historic Alonzo Ward Hotel, currently undergoing restoration, is said to be slated for a condominium conversion.

The avenue also happens to be home to both Tom Daschle's re-election headquarters and the Silver Dollar strip club.

In short, it's got a little something for everyone.

In a state obsessed with highways, who would have thought that a city of 24,000 would be able to maintain an attractive, viable downtown?

It isn't the only surprise South Dakota has in store for coastal visitors.

Somewhere along Highway 12.

There's The Corn Exchange, a Rapid City restaurant, serving up food that gives New York's top-tier kitchens a run for their money.

There's the charming Hotel Alex Johnson, with its illustrious history and heavy Twin Peaks vibe.

There's the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site--an honest-to-goodness decommissioned nuclear missile launch facility--which the National Park Service has quietly opened to tourists.

And there are the Badlands, with views every bit as magnificent as those found at the more popular national parks.

The Badlands, with your humble narrator in the foreground.

True, cell phone service is worse than spotty. (Or so I'm told.) And an unscientific survey of the state's three largest cities yielded not a single for-sale copy of The New York Times.

(Also worth noting: caffeine-addicted, Starbucks-dependent visitors are advised to bring their own coffee, or to suffer the consequences.)

George Washington--from an angle his handlers didn't want you to see.

But, that said, the state's got a lot more going for it than city dwellers would expect based on South Dakota's place--or lack of place--in the popular imagination.

My enthusiasm may wane come November--South Dakota backed President Bush 60% to 38% in 2000--but for the moment, I heartily recommend a visit.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

GOOD SHABBOS, YO Sunday editions of The New York Times inform us that the rapper Shyne--the one-time Sean ("P. Diddy") Combs protege currently serving a ten-year sentence for a nightclub shooting--has embarked on a new spiritual path.
"[Shyne] recently began observing the Jewish Sabbath, a nod, he says, to his great-grandmother, an Ethiopian Jew."
Judaism: It's not just for Madonna anymore.

DEPT. OF EXEGISIS In a post too sharp not to link to, Brad DeLong dissects President Bush's response to a question from the audience at the recent UNITY: Journalists of Color convention.

Thursday, August 05, 2004


I have nothing against Eckhart--as an actor or a (peripheral) subject of pop culture interest. But clearly, Stewart would've been happier talking to just about anyone else; the project Eckhart was promoting, SUSPECT ZERO, seems pretty stale; and the man didn't seem to have much of value to say.

What's more, it's not like Eckhart is the kind of front-and-center pop culture icon whose thoughts are of inherent interest to viewers.

So how did he get on the show?

The scheduling of an Eckhart-level star isn't, I don't believe, a function of a weak pool of available interviewees or the logistical complications involved in pulling together a fresh half hour every night. And I don't think it can be explained by the general public's insatiable appetite for the wisdom of marginal celebrities.

Instead, from what I've been able to glean, it comes down to something simpler but perhaps more insidious: back-scratching.

Consider, for instance, two of the guests slated to sit down with Stewart next week: Bill Clinton and Tom Cruise.

Both of these men have agents. They have publicists and bookers and managers. And just about all of these handlers have clients other than their franchise stars.

So--want to land Tom Cruise? Woo his publicist by penciling in a Famke Janssen [real player]. Want to sweeten the pot for Bill Clinton's schedulers? Seal the deal with his book editor by tossing in a few minutes with a Greta Van Susteren [real player].

Of course, I'm more or less speculating here. And even if I'm right, it may never be that explicit.

And even if it is that explicit, Stewart does a far better job than Leno and Letterman of scheduling guests who actually have something to say.

Just goes to show the strength of the showbiz tide he's swimming against.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

CAMERA OBSCURA According to today's New York Times, there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. None.

BILLIONAIRES WARM UP It looks like the Billionaires for Bush had a successful trial run at the Democratic National Convention last week.

Now they're heading off on a "Get On The Limo" tour through the midwest (the Limo Tour blog is here). And then it's onto the Million Billionaire March in Manhattan, to coincide with the Republican National Convention.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

CREDIBLE THREAT Billmon has the definitive cynical take on the recent spate of terror warnings.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

NOT THE FIRST TIME? Remember Florida's felon/purge list? The one Governor Jeb Bush scrapped in early July after embarrassing details emerged about its contents?

A quick recap:

1. Florida hires a private company to generate a list of disqualified voters--primarily new felons, who automatically lose their right to vote under Florida law. The list is designed for local supervisors of elections, who will use it to purge ineligible voters from their rolls.

2. Because the felon/purge list caused so much controversy in 2000--evidence suggests that it illegally disqualified at least some eligible voters--media organizations and liberal groups ask to see the list.

3. State officials refuse to release it.

4. Media organizations sue for access.

5. The state's privacy arguments are rejected by a Tallahassee judge, and the list becomes public.

6. Within a week of the list's release, reporters notice that of nearly 48,000 names on the list, only 61 (or .1%) belong to Hispanics. By contrast, more than 22,000 belong to African-Americans. (In Florida, Hispanics are a Republican-leaning voting bloc while African-Americans are solidly Democratic.)

7. Florida withdraws the list. "We are deeply concerned and disappointed that this has occurred," wrote Secretary of State Glenda Hood, a Republican. Gov. Jeb Bush added, "Not including Hispanic felons that may be voters on the list . . . was an oversight and a mistake."

As I digested these developments, I wondered:

If the Florida list for 2004 was set to purge a disproportionately small number of Hispanics--a crucial voting bloc for Republicans in Florida--how did the list treat Hispanics in 2000?

THE NUMBERS Some digging led me to Guy Stuart, a professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and the author of an impressively-thorough paper (.pdf) on African-American over-representation on Florida's 2000 list.

What did I find out?

According to Stuart, 1,241 Hispanic names made their way onto 2000 list. Which means that, while the list wasn't as egregiously unrepresentative back then as it was this time around, Hispanics were nonetheless substantially under-represented in 2000: only 4% of names on the list were Hispanic in a state where Hispanics make up 11% of registered voters.

So what's going on? Were large numbers of Hispanics omitted from the 2000 list? Or, to put it more sharply: Is it possible that it took the illegal votes of Hispanic felons to put Bush over the top in 2000 in Florida?

The short answer is that the numbers, by themselves, aren't persuasive evidence for either of those conclusions. On the other hand, the discrepancy between Hispanic representation on the voter rolls and on the felon/purge list strikes me as being large enough to demand an explanation, and Stuart agrees.

(Because his research focused almost exclusively on the disproportionately high number of African-American names on the felon/purge list in 2000, the under-representation of Hispanics wasn't something Stuart had considered until I asked him about it.)

Additional research would be required, Stuart believes, to determine why Hispanic were under-represented. And the discrepancy could certainly have an innocent explanation. He floated the following conspiracy-free theory as an example:

[Perhaps] the population of Hispanic registered voters is different from the population of Hispanic felons and ex-felons, more so than is the case for African-Americans. Part of this may have to do with citizenship issues--are non-citizen Latinos more likely to commit felonies? Or is it simply the case that registering to vote in the Latino community is a better indicator of being a "good citizen" than it is in the African-American community? So if the overlap between registered voters and felons is less in the Latino community, then you can expect under-representation.

Still, even as Stuart termed that explanation plausible, he conceded that he wasn't convinced by it.

Neither am I.

Anyone with a thick rolodex and a Big Media byline willing to take a closer look?

FOOTNOTE / SHAMELESS PLUG: Glad this post has generated so much interest. New to CONTRAPOSITIVE? Here are a pair of "greatest hits":

BUSH'S LOST SUMMER: On August 6, 2001, President Bush was told that Osama Bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States. So how did the President spend August 7?

RICE'S LOOP: What didn't Condi know and when didn't she know it?

THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES How did the convention go for Kerry and the Democrats? Ask NewsHour contributor and New York Times columnist David Brooks:
I thought [Kerry's daughters] did a superb job of setting him up and in the introduction of his speech he talked about his mother and the Girl Scouts and riding his bike in East Berlin. I said that was sort of new, not entirely new.

But, you know, it introduced him quite well to the American people. So this was a guy who opened up a little more than usual, and I don't know if it will totally dispel the aloof charge but he did quite a lot better.


This was a [Democratic] party that six months ago seemed to be moving to the left, a lot of energy on the left, Howard Dean on the left, Michael Moore on the left.

What we saw this week was the rise of a muscular centrism, and that's going to be quite effective. The Republicans are going to come back on their first night with their own version of centrism, Giuliani, McCain, Schwarzenegger. They've better be positive.

I think the lesson for Republicans is you're not going to destroy this guy John Kerry. You're not going to disqualify him from being president after this week. You're going to have to make the other alternative that you've got your own version of muscular centrism.

Voters don't have to risk with somebody new because they've got somebody acceptable. Maybe [Republicans] do have to get a little more positive from here on out.

--Brooks on The NewsHour, July 29, 2004.

The Great Co-opter [Kerry] has to try gauzily to please everyone. He has to play to the 86 percent of the delegates who say the U.S. should have stayed out of Iraq, as well as the Clintonite foreign policy elites who supported the war. He has to play to the Sharptons as well as the Liebermans.


What the Democratic Party is going through is not yet a genuine muscular centrist revival. As a friend joked, from the voters of Iowa to the delegates in Boston, there's been a vast left-wing conspiracy to present a candidate who looks like a muscular moderate, but they picked someone who is not in his heart of hearts a muscular moderate, or anything else.

--Brooks in The New York Times, July 31, 2004.

The July 31 column would have been due--at the very latest--early in the evening on the 30th. So we're talking about an evolution that took place over less than 24 hours.

I'd love to see a record of phone calls in to Brooks during that period.

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