Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Dean Does It Well, the Deaniacs just broke their own Democratic quarterly fundraising record, edging up to just shy of $15,000,000.

Dean has his share of liabilities, no question. But this is a pretty stunning achievement.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Why Now? The first question that needs to be asked, of course, is why Ashcroft chose this moment--with the Plame investigation out of sight and out of mind for weeks--to recuse himself.

If you're ready to chalk it up to bureaucratic inertia, or the notion that Ashcroft's been slowly, methodically weighing the opinions of his lawyers...well, I've got an Italian milk company to sell you.

Plame Watch Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation into the leaks that led to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Bring On the Hebrews "We decided, well, he was never going to belong to the Maidstone Club, anyway."--Howard Dean's mother, Andree Maitland Dean, on her son's decision to marry Judith Steinberg, a Jew, in the December 28, 2003 New York Times. (The Maidstone Club, an East Hampton country club to which Mrs. Dean belonged, refused for decades to admit blacks and Jews.)

Some of My Best Friends Are Butlers "When I was growing up, we didn't even treat the servants like servants."--Howard Dean's mother, Andree Maitland Dean, on her upbringing in the December 28, 2003 New York Times.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Next Time, Try Chaos "Our government couldn't even come up with a plan for postwar Iraq — thank goodness, too, because any 'plan' hatched by technocrats in Washington would have been unfit for Iraqi reality. "--David Brooks, in an otherwise unobjectionable column [registration required] in the December 27, 2003 New York Times.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Padilla Watch Here's another page devoted to the Padilla case. It has some good links, not to mention t-shirts and executive order greeting cards.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

First Mark Rich, Now This Lenny Bruce is in the news today.

Bruce is one of those people whose name gets dropped all the time, and yet his groundbreaking comedy is, I suspect, seen a lot less often than it's discussed.

This concert film is a good introduction to his unique brand of social commentary. (The "Thank You, Masked Man" cartoon at the end is particularly memorable.) Check it out.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Padilla Watch Ruth Wedgwood, a former federal prosecutor, defends [registration required] the Bush administration's detention of Jose Padilla on the Op-Ed page of today's New York Times, and she makes a few good points.

But after referencing the 9/18/2001 joint congressional resolution, which she quotes as having

authorized the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against "those organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001" in order to "prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States. [Her emphasis]

she makes a dubious claim, asserting:

Congress surely intended that Qaeda operatives who are planning direct attacks against American targets should also be restrained, at least when no other legal method is available.

A couple points are in order.

I don't have the congressional resolution in front of me, and am not (as Ms. Wedgwood is) a lawyer. But, to me, it seems a bit of stretch to read the authorization to use "necessary and appropriate force" as a license to deny normal due process protections to American citizens arrested on American soil.

If we lived in a country with no written constitution, and without a body of law that dealt with the detention of citizens without charges, then, maybe, Wedgwood's reading of the resolution would be plausible. Against the background of these institutions, though, her interpretation seems awfully, ahem, expansive.

And second, it's a bit disingenuous to say that "congress surely intended" to permit the kind departure from the norm that the Padilla detention represents. After all, the votes on the resolution were 98-0 and 420-1 in the Senate and House, respectively--and yet the detention of Padilla was bitterly controversial from day one.

So what gives?

Did a civil liberties hawk like Sen. Pat Leahy really think he was voting to support denying American citizens arrested on American soil fundamental legal protections? Did Rep. Barney Frank?

The Center Beckons Here's an underreported bit of news from the Washington Post's recent analysis of its own national poll.

The Post-ABC poll suggests that Dean's recent surge has come disproportionately from Democrats who do not closely identify with their party. In mid-October, Dean claimed the support of one in six Democratic-leaning independents and an equal proportion of party rank and file. Today, he gets significantly more support from independent Democrats (35 percent) than he does from party faithful (26 percent).

The poll, as published, isn't as helpful as it might be--it doesn't explain with any precision, for example, what it means to be an "independent Democrat" or a member of the "party faithful."

Still, whatever you make of these terms, the poll's results do seem to demonstrate rather clearly that Dean's base of support is made up of more than rabid left-wingers and liberal misfits.

Memo to the folks at Dean HQ: Start thinking about some tangible, meaningful ways to reach out to independents and liberal Republicans. (How about a proposals for a substantial increase in the number of US troop deployments to Afghanistan, for starters?)

And do the reaching out sooner rather than later. Once the nomination is sealed up, it'll look an awful lot like pandering.

Rice on the Hot Seat Time magazine reported earlier this week that National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice is resisiting requests by the Kean Commission on the 9/11 attacks that she testify in public, under oath.

And who could blame her?

Suppose you had the words "national security" in your job title, had access to all levels of intelligence, and had asserted in the aftermath of 9/11 that, "[No one] could have predicted that they would try to use a…hijacked airplane as a missile."

And then suppose it came out that at least a dozen pre-9/11 intelligence reports had suggested just such a possibility.

You wouldn't want to have to explain yourself either.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Notable Quotables I don't subscribe to the view that Howard Dean has boxed himself into an ideological corner--I think he still has plenty of time to position himself as a moderate for the general election campaign (although I'd like to see him start moving in that direction.) And I don't believe he's so bellicose that he'll never win the hearts and minds of independent voters (although I wish he'd spend more time talking about his impressive record in Vermont and less time lashing out at Republicans).

But over the past couple weeks I have grown concerned about Dean's prospects: I'm getting very worried about his ability to survive an entire campaign season without crippling himself with sloppy, misleading statements.

You've heard about many of these statements, no doubt. But the candidate added another unfortunate comment to his collection yesterday, one that has gone almost unnoticed: Dean is quoted on the AP wire as saying, "I'm the only person [running for president] who has done anything about trying to get health care.''

Take a minute to think about the silliness of this claim.

Now, maybe the statement was taken wildly out of context. But even if it was, it's hard to understand how Dean could have let such an unqualified, generalized assertion out of his mouth. After all, this is exactly the kind of demonstrably false, quotable nugget that he's had to apologize for in the past. And his advisers, presumably, have been hard at work scrubbing these kinds of flourishes from his rhetorical repertoire.

So what's the story? Why is it so hard for him to settle for something like, "In Vermont, I achieved healthcare gains that are light years ahead of the accomplishments of the other candidates"? (A bit more cumbersome, granted. But at least it's defensible.)

It's time Dean figured out a way to stop himself from making these kinds of overbroad statements. And fast.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

They Said That "Like a blight on the family."--Mary T. Tompkins-Freeman, a niece of Strom Thurmond, characterizing the announcement by Essie Mae Washington-Williams that she is Thurmond's daughter. (As quoted in the December 20 edition of the New York Times.)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

TNR Turns Up The Heat Jonathan Chait over at The New Republic has just launched an anti-Dean blog that's worth taking a look at.

The Deaniacs will likely rant and rave about this development, but as someone who is sympathetic to (although not rabidly enthusiastic about) the idea of Dean as the Democratic nominee, I see it as entirely positive. The fact is, Dean has yet to persuade a lot of smart, fair-minded people in the Democratic party that he is a viable nominee. His team doesn't need to agree with these critics, but if they are going to unite the party--let alone win the election--they will need to listen to the arguments made by people like Chait, and be ready to learn from them.

Padilla Watch The Bush administration does not have the legal authority to treat Padilla as an enemy combatant, a federal appeals court ruled today.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Maimonides Would Be Proud Okay, so I ripped this link off of Andrew Sullivan. Still, check it out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Searching for the Brig Sitting at home a couple weeks ago with little to do, I decided to track down Jose Padilla.

Okay, so it was a little more premeditated than that. And finding Padilla wasn't the only reason my girlfriend and I traveled to Charleston, SC in early December. But after reading dozens of news reports about Padilla's travails--each of which, inevitably, includes language about him being held in a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina--I was awfully tempted to do some poking around.

If you've been sleeping on the job, here's the skinny: Padilla, an American citizen, is reputed by the US government to have met with Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2002. He later returned to the US, allegedly as part of a plan to buy radioactive materials and set off a dirty bomb. Arriving in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Padilla was detained and sent to, you guessed it, a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

One year later, Padilla still hasn't been charged with a crime, and the government continues to deny him permission to speak to a lawyer. Such unusual treatment is, as even Bush's own former Assistant Attorney General euphemistically concedes, "legally unsustainable."


We arrive in glorious old Charleston.

After consulting a couple of sources and doing a bit of digging around, it comes out that Padilla isn't in Charleston at all, but is instead being held at the Navy Consolidated Brig just outside the city, in a base that spans from the town of Hanahan to the town of Goose Creek.

So we map out a route, slip into Investigative Journo Mode, and head off by car. Before we know it, though, we're running into blockades like this one:

Willow Lawson for CONTRAPOSITIVE

And while I don't expect to be able to saunter up to Padilla's window and wave hello, the barbed wire, checkpoints, and strategically placed trees and shrubs soon make it clear that we're not likely to set eyes on the brig at all, let alone get any sense of what's going on inside.

Still, venturing onto a dock just outside of Navy property, I do manage to snap this paparazzi-type zoom shot of a vessel sitting off in the distance--one that seems like it's got some serious brig potential.

Jose Padilla's digs?

So--an investigative triumph? A blogging coup?

Alas, no. Unfortunately, research ultimately reveals [registration required] that, contrary to my prior understanding of the meaning of the word brig ("2. A jail or prison on board a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessel."), Padilla is being housed on land ("3. A jail or guardhouse, especially on the premises of a U.S. military installation.")

And so, with its savvy exploitation of the ambiguities of the English language, the administration has gotten the better of me yet again. Curses.

Anyway, click here [registration required] for a nice overhead shot of the facility.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A Very Short List It's early to be thinking about VP possibiities, but it's worth taking a minute to sort through a dilemma that Howard Dean will face if he's the nominee.

The problem boils down to this:

Dean will be eager to pick a running mate with foreign policy expertise. But he'll also be eager--for the sake of ideological consistency, if nothing else--to pick someone who agrees with him on Iraq. After all, if the Iraq issue is the crucial test of judgment that Dean has presented it as, how can he credibly champion a running mate who, in his thinking, failed that test?

So the sensible thing for Dean to do, it seems, would be to choose a Democrat with strong credentials on international issues who opposed the war.

Problem is, there aren't exactly tons of these people floating around.

Need a review? Here's a list of Democrats in the senate who opposed the Iraq war resolution that has, rightly or wrongly, come to be seen as a proxy vote for or against the war itself:

Akaka, Hawaii; Bingaman, N.M.; Boxer, Calif; Byrd, W.Va.; Conrad, N.D.; Corzine, N.J.; Dayton, Minn.; Durbin, Ill.; Feingold, Wis; Graham, Fla.; Inouye, Hawaii; Kennedy, Mass.; Leahy, Vt.; Levin, Mich.; Mikulski, Md.; Murray, Wash.; Reed, R.I.; Sarbanes, Md.; Stabenow, Mich.; Wellstone, Minn.; Wyden, Ore.

Now, Dean could choose someone in the House. But there aren't too many House members out there with foreign policy gravitas. (Can you name any?)

He could also choose someone outside of government completely. But after spending a couple hours brainstorming, the only realistic options I come up with are George Mitchell and Wesley Clark. (Madeleine Albright and Samuel Berger, to me, seem flat-out implausible.) And each of these men has his own drawbacks. George Mitchell is a northeasterner who opposed the 1991 war resolution. And Clark...well he and Dean have already traded their share of nasty barbs.

So that brings us back to the Senate.

Out of the 21 senators, 1 is dead (Wellstone), 4 are recent arrivals (Corzine, Dayton, Reed and Stabenow), 4 are disqualified because of their lefty reputations (Boxer, Kennedy, Leahy and Feingold), 3 are unlikely for geographic reasons (Akaka, Inouye and Conrad), and 5 have no foreign policy expertise to speak of (Bingaman, Durbin, Mikulski, Murray, Wyden). So that takes us down to 4. And Robert Byrd is Robert Byrd, so we're left with 3:

Bob Graham, Florida
Carl Levin, Michigan
Paul Sarbanes, Maryland

The good news is that these are three serious, thoughtful public servants. But none of them has any star power; Graham gave off a kooky vibe during his aborted presidential campaign; Levin is a bit wonkish; and Sarbanes is geographically unhelpful.

Still, it looks like Dean's campaign strategy leaves him stuck with one of them (or Mitchell, or Clark).

Of course, Dean could still go ahead and pick a war-supporter like Joe Biden or, my flavor of the week, Bob Kerrey. But if he goes that route, he's going to have an awful lot of explaining to do.

UPDATE A friend adds Gary Hart to the list of plausible Dean VPs, and then makes a more explosive suggestion, one that seems to have landed in my blindspot: What about Al Gore? ("It seems this guy is destined to be a career VP," the friend writes, "and, the truth is, he's pretty damn good at it.")

The idea of Gore even considering another stab at VP sounds downright nutty at first blush. But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes: Clearly, this is a man with unfinished business; he's almost-visibly itching to get back in the game; and he's in a great position to demand a sizable portfolio of issues from Dean.

If nothing else, it's a tantalizing possibility, and one I'm surprised, frankly, the celebrity-obsessed, Hillary-touting mainstream press hasn't yet explored.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Off Again CONTRAPOSITIVE, weather permitting, will be on hiatus, yet again, starting this weekend. (I know, I know.) But if all goes well, there be some interesting new content posted here on the week of the 13th.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Trippi Takes the Long View An intriguing development over at the Dean campaign: Grassroots guru Joe Trippi hit Deaniacs on Tuesday with an e-mail urging them to contribute to Rep. Leonard Boswell's (D-IOWA) Congressional campaign. And at this hour, the Dean site is providing Boswell some choice free web real estate--a prominently-placed Boswell button graces the homepage.

So, what's behind the move?

On the one hand, by making such a visible pitch for Boswell, Trippi and Co. underscore to the Dean grassroots, and more than rhetorically, that working for Dean isn't the only way to have an impact--that there are any number of ways to advance the goals of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party."

So, including such "affiliate advertising" (if you will) on the site might be thought to risk diluting Dean support by disentagling the grassroots movement that is the Dean candidacy from the identity of the man himself.

On the other hand, if Boswell receives a deluge of contributions over the next several days, here's what else is likely to happen:

1) Headlines in Iowa papers about the role of deanforamerica.com in the uptick. Iowa Democrats take appreciative notice.
2) More important, headlines in Roll Call. Congressional Democrats take notice. And maybe some of the Dean-wary centrists start to think about what a little button on the Dean site could do for them...

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

DeLay Comes Around The change of plans was inevitable, but the charade was fun while it lasted.

Monday, December 01, 2003

You've Got to Be Kidding This report about a just-plain-wacky plan for lodging Republicans during the 2004 convention is a must-read.

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