Thursday, March 30, 2006

FLASHBACK With Zacarias Moussaoui and Nicholas Berg's dad both in the news, it's worth resurrecting this utterly bizarre CNN story from May 5, 2004:
When Nicholas Berg took an Oklahoma bus to a remote college campus a few years ago, the American recently beheaded by terrorists allowed a man with terrorist connections to use his laptop computer, according to his father.

Michael Berg said the FBI investigated the matter more than a year ago. He stressed that his son was in no way connected to the terrorists who captured and killed him.

Government sources told CNN that the encounter involved an acquaintance of Zacarias Moussaoui -- the only person publicly charged in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

According to Berg, his son was taking a course a few years ago at a remote campus of the University of Oklahoma near an airport. He described how on one particular day, his son met "some terrorist people -- who no one knew were terrorists at the time."

At one point during the bus ride, Berg said, the man sitting next to his son asked if he could use Nick's laptop computer.

"It turned out this guy was a terrorist and that he, you know, used my son's e-mail, amongst many other people's e-mail who he did the same thing to," Berg said.

Government sources said Berg gave the man his password, which was later used by Moussaoui, the sources said.
I've never known what to make of this piece, but it's always smelled fishy to me. And if there's been any follow-up reporting since May 2004 about Berg's computer, I'm not aware of it.

I don't have a particular sinister interpretation in mind--I'm just puzzled. It seems like there has to be more to this story.

Monday, March 27, 2006

JAMES STANDS DOWN Via MyDD we learn that Newark Mayor Sharpe James will not seek re-election.

If you've seen STREET FIGHT, you know that this is good news for Newark, and for democracy.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

BURYING THE LEDE? Ten paragraphs into Monday's bombshell in The New York Times:
Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation [with Iraq], including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire.
From paragraph twenty:
At their meeting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair candidly expressed their doubts that chemical, biological or nuclear weapons would be found in Iraq in the coming weeks, the memo said.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

GENDER BENDER In today's Times, Jennifer Delahunty Britz, dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, writes:
We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.
Is this really true? What's the evidence?

If admissions deans at elite colleges actually admitted to giving male applicants preferential treatment, there would be a public outcry. As well there should be.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

NUMBERS Number of US military fatalities in Iraq since the war began: 2321

Number of "laughter episodes" noted in the official White House transcript of the President's morning press conference: 21

Saturday, March 18, 2006

RANGEL GETS FEISTY Nearly everyone agrees that Democrats have a lot to learn from Republicans in the area of message control. The GOP has a stronger message machine, a better coordinated media apparatus, etc.

But one area where Democrats lag which receives little scrutiny is in deploying ridicule to shape the political narrative.

Republicans harnessed the power of ridicule expertly in 2000, dismissing Vice President Al Gore as a serial fibber and environmental looney. Now and then, the Bush campaign did engage Gore's policy arguments. But a great deal of time was spent simply laughing at the man.

Similar things can be said about the Republican hit-job on John "looks French" Kerry.

And yet, with the President's approval rating hovering in the 30s--with the Republican congress down double-digits on a generic congressional ballot--it's amazing how little outright ribbing the GOP has been receiving at the hands of Democrats.

So it was heartening to see Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) step up to the plate Friday on Kramer & Company against Rep. David Dreier (R-CA):

Rep. DREIER: Charlie, will you co-sponsor...

Rep. RANGEL: I really...

Re. DREIER: Will you co-sponsor my ethics and lobbying reform bill that I introduced last night?

Rep. RANGEL: If enough...

Rep. DREIER: I really want you on board.

Rep. RANGEL: If enough Republicans are not indicted to vote for it I might take a look at it.

Rep. DREIER: You know, come on, Charlie, you know that it's a problem that hits both political parties and we're trying to do it in bipartisan way.

Rep. RANGEL: I better check with Tom DeLay and Abramoff. Unless they changed their registration, it appears to me that...

Rep. DREIER: Oh, you know, let me--do you want me to start naming...

Rep. RANGEL: ...Democrats were cut out of it.

Rep. DREIER: Do you want me to start naming Democrats who are facing ethical challenges? I'm not going to do it as you just have.

Rep. RANGEL: Well, I'll do it: Duke Cunningham, Ney...

Rep. DREIER: They're not Democrats. And I'm not going to start naming Democrats.

Rep. RANGEL: I'll, you know, I'll even...

Rep. DREIER: But the American people get it. The American people get it.

Rep. RANGEL: This thing is so close to the White House.

Rep. DREIER: They know it is an issue that hits both political parties. But we are working to clean that up. And let me just ask you...

Rep. RANGEL: No, no. You want to talk about names, we're talk about the vice president.

Rep. DREIER: You want to get off on--No. What I want to talk about--what I want to talk about...

Rep. RANGEL: We'll talk about...

Rep. DREIER: What I want to talk about is the sustained economic growth that we're enjoying. And the fact of the matter is, if we saw the pursuit of what we're seeing Senator Russ Feingold trying to impeach the president. You know, John Conyers, if he were to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the National Journal last month did a piece in which they talked about how that would be one of the first items is...

Rep. RANGEL: Let me make it clear...

Rep. DREIER: ...impeachment of the president. Which is just...

Rep. RANGEL: Let me make it clear. If Democrats be in control I can guarantee you as long as Dick Cheney is vice president, we will never, never, never impeach--impeach Bush. You can depend on that.
Whether Rangel struck the right balance is an open question. But with the Republican party in turmoil, his dismissive, jokey approach absolutely belongs in the Democratic arsenal.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PROGRESS If you've sensed a creeping terseness here at CONTRAPOSITIVE in the last couple weeks...well, guilty as charged.

The news has been so bad for so long that we've found it difficult, at least at times, to distill all the frustration and disappointment into constructive commentary.

Consider three observations aired here on January 10, 2005:

1. The invasion of Iraq has been a catastrophe in geopolitical, military, human and moral terms.

2. Victory in the war on terror remains uncertain. If the Bush administration believes that defusing the most serious threat of our time requires defeating jihadist terrorists in countries not named Iraq, there's little tangible evidence for it.

And if the President's team is working day and night to complete the difficult, boring work of securing nuclear material, protecting chemical plants and beefing up port security, they aren't doing a very good job of getting the word out.

3. Our federal government is on a path to fiscal ruin. And the people in charge are intent on accelerating its progress in that direction.
These words, accurate at the time, ring truer today than ever before.

The Iraq war remains a disaster. Our homeland security infrastructure is still woefully inadequate. And the nation's finances worsen by the day.

Granted, not all the news has been bad: Just yesterday, there was word that the UAE ports controversy--and the subsequent debate about port security--had yielded close to $1 billion in additional funding for our ports.

Of course, that's about how much we spend in Iraq every five days.

But hey--at this point, we'll take progress where we can get it.

UPDATE: Looks like we spoke to soon. Kevin Drum reports:

Today, House Republicans voted almost unanimously against an amendment to beef up port security and install radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry. They also blocked consideration of an amendment to require 100% scanning of shipping containers entering the United States. I think this tells you just how seriously they take the actual threat of a nuclear Iran.

NOTE TO REPORTERS: The next time a Republican politician tells you that a nuclear Iran is intolerable, the first question you should ask is whether said politician supports funding for serious port security. If the answer is anything other than a firm and passionate "yes, dear God, yes," you should end the interview and walk away. You are talking to a partisan shill, not someone genuinely concerned about national security.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

KUSHNER ON THE RECORD The Playgoer continues to follow the MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE story. The story seems to be gathering steam.

Friday, March 10, 2006

ORACLE OF REDMOND Via Smart Money magazine: "Two years from now, spam will be solved."
--Bill Gates, January 23, 2004

Thursday, March 09, 2006

LOSING UGLY Nasty, brutish and long:

Q That's a very nice filibuster. You've been asked very simple questions. Is he going to veto it, or is he speaking some sort of real compromise?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let's talk about a really simple question. I don't think you can simplify it that way.

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because it takes things out of process of where things are. And I know you might want to simplify --

Q All right, then where are they?

MR. McCLELLAN: But I want to give you an accurate reflection of where things are.

Q Do you have a proposal to compromise with all the opposition?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm trying to tell you and you keep wanting to jump in.

Q No, you jump to 10 other subjects. It's very -- it's on the table.

MR. McCLELLAN: Because they talked about those other subjects, as well.

Q I didn't -- we didn't ask you that.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but I think it's important to put it in context.

Q No --

MR. McCLELLAN: So the American people have an accurate reflection --

Q Now we know -- what would he do? In view of the overwhelming opposition --


Q -- does he have a plan to --

MR. McCLELLAN: You've asked your question, let me try to respond to you.

Q Okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the approach we're taking is working with members of Congress to move forward, and that's exactly where we are. That's where things are.

Q But does he have an idea of how it can be compromised?

MR. McCLELLAN: How what can be --

Q This whole business of the ports.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why those discussions are ongoing.

Q Well, what's being discussed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I mean, one area where we're talking about moving ahead is on CFIUS reform. That means improving and reforming --

Q It shouldn't be retroactive.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the process that's underway.

Q Scott, just back to the veto. You said that this doesn't mean the President is changing his position. His position before was that he would veto it. Why can't you say whether or not you still -- he has that position?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's talk about --

Q Are you backing off?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's talk about that -- no, what we're doing is trying to work together with Congress to move forward and to find a resolution to this issue. And there were very good discussions earlier today with Republican leaders who were over here for a regularly scheduled meeting. The President, when he was asked that -- he was asked that question. He was asked that question I guess a week or two -- a couple weeks ago, and he responded to that question. But where we are in the process right now is working together with members to resolve this matter and to move forward.

Q I understand that you want to move forward and you want to resolve this process. But by saying it doesn't mean the President is changing his position, that means he would still veto it.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it's an accurate reflection to try to suggest that lines are being drawn or that veto threats are being issued, because what we're doing is emphasizing -- focusing on ways we can work together.

Q So you're backing off that, or you're not backing off it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just said that --

Q He would still veto it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, see, you're trying to draw lines. We're trying to work --

Q The President drew the lines, I didn't draw the lines.

MR. McCLELLAN: He was asked a specific question a couple weeks ago, so let's put it in context.

Q And we're asking you a specific question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me put it in context. What the President is doing is reaching out to congressional leaders. We're reaching out to congressional leaders and we're talking about how we can move ahead together. I don't know how I can be more accurate in terms of the way I reflect where things are than I am right now, because that's where they are.


Q Scott, does the President regret -- given what's happened with these discussions with Congress, does the President regret calling reporters to the front of Air Force One to issue the veto threat, stepping off the helicopter and coming over to us and reiterating the veto threat? Would this all -- this conversation have unfolded differently if the veto threat was never made?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President called reporters up to the front to talk about his trip and to talk about important priorities that we were focused on.

Q Which happens every time, happens every trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's done it on a number of times, a number of occasions. I can go back and pull those transcripts for you.

Q It was kind of an uncommon thing, though, to then step off and repeat it. He had a point he wanted to make.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, let's put it in context, too, though. He was asked a specific question, and he was expressing what his position is and what his views are.


Q Scott, can I just review what the President said? You keep talking about this context. What do you say to those in Congress who plan to take legislative action? This is February 21st in Air Force One, President Bush said, "They ought to listen to what I have to say about this. They ought to look at the facts and understand the consequences of what they're going to do. But if they pass a law, I'll deal with it with a veto." I don't understand why you're saying you're not drawing lines in the sand? That's a line in the sand.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you where the emphasis is right now, and where things are in terms of the process and the discussions. Again, that was a question he was specifically asked a couple weeks ago.

Q If he was asked it again today, what would he say?

MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, he would say what I'm saying right now, so I think I've expressed our views.

Q That you're moving forward. He would not say again, I would veto it?

MR. McCLELLAN: It doesn't change what I just said. Again, look at the meeting that took place earlier today, and let me again describe for you the nature of that meeting. The nature of that meeting was to talk about how we can continue to work together on important priorities and how we can move forward on other issues. And one of the issues the President brought up was this very issue.

But to try to suggest we're trying to continue to get into drawing lines or issuing veto threats is not --

Q But you are backing --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- is not --

Q You are backing --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- is not where things are.

Hang on, let me finish.

No, I didn't say that. I said that our position hasn't changed, but our -- where we are right now in the process is, working with Congress to try to find a way forward. I know that there's sometimes a tendency to simplify things, but it takes it out of context when you do that. And that's why I'm stressing to you where things --

Q Well, he put it pretty simply when he said he would veto it.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I'm trying to stress to you where things are right now.

Q All right, but did the President --

Q But the line in the sand was drawn. And if you're saying, no, no, no, we're not backing off, the position is just the same, the position isn't just the same if you're not drawing a line in the sand, because the President drew a line in the sand.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I gave you an accurate description of where things stand. I don't think anything changes in terms of what I just said earlier in this briefing.

Q Scott, but you're giving the impression that you're backing from the veto threat?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just answered that question earlier.

Q So you're not doing that?

Q You're not backing off?

Q The President is not backing off?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think people in this room are trying to get us into drawing lines with Congress. We're trying to work with Congress to move ahead.

Q You drew the line.

Q We didn't draw the line.

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's where we are.

Q You did it.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually, David, I didn't. What I'm saying is that we're all working together to try to find a way ahead. So I didn't do that.

Q The President drew the line. Martha just read it to you. I mean, he did it, and you are not willing to stand up there, --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q -- and say the President still has the view that he would veto it.

MR. McCLELLAN: He was asked a specific question. And as I said, his views and what he has expressed are what they are, and they remain the same. But where we are right now in the process, David, is trying to work together to move forward. And so I don't think anybody is trying to -- from our side it trying to get into drawing lines. We're trying to work together to move ahead. And I don't know how clearer I could be, but that's the accurate reflection of where things are. It's not an accurate reflection to suggest otherwise. And so what I'm trying to do is put this in context for you all in this room. And you can keep asking the same question, but I'm giving you an accurate reflection of where things stand in this process. And that's the best I can do.

Thank you.

END 1:31 P.M. EST

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

DUMP THE SAT Yet another reason.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

SEEMS LIKE A BARGAIN Looking to relocate? Have I got an apartment for you!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

CHURCHILL HE AIN'T George Will kids himself:
Today, with all three components of the "axis of evil"--Iraq, Iran, North Korea--more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002, the country would welcome, and Iraq's political class needs to hear, as a glimpse into the abyss, presidential words as realistic as those Britain heard on June 4, 1940.
Don't hold your breath.

THEATRICAL RELEASE A controversy is brewing at New York Theatre Workshop over that company's decision to cancel a production of MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE, a play about the American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.

The Playgoer has all the details.

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