Wednesday, March 31, 2004

GORE FLASHBACK From an Associated Press story that ran April 30, 2000:
Al Gore on Sunday went after George W. Bush's approach to foreign policy, saying the Republican presidential candidate ''dangerously fixates on the Cold War past'' in a mentality that will not serve the best interests of the United States and the rest of the world.


Gore dismissed Bush's foreign policy as lacking on 21st century national security challenges such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, the global environment and international family planning, for which Gore supports additional U.S. aid.

''One has to assume that these gaps in Governor Bush's foreign policy views and experience will be filled by the ideologies and inveterate antipathies of his party the right-wing, partisan isolationism of the Republican congressional leadership,'' Gore said.

Not a bullseye, maybe. But he doesn't miss by much...

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

MOVIE OF THE WEEK John Huston's Fat City is the kind small, quiet film that could never get made in this country today.

The movie tells the story of Tully (Stacey Keach)--a small-time, over-the-hill boxer eager to make a comeback--and Ernie (Jeff Bridges), his young protege.

Nothing blows up, no one gets naked and there's no sign of Apollo Creed. Just subtle acting, strong storytelling and (if memory serves) some very good photography.

DRAWING A LINE Mark A. R. Kleiman strikes the right tone in his post about protesters who swarmed Karl Rove's house on Sunday.

Monday, March 29, 2004

BILLIONAIRE BLITZ The Billionaires for Bush got some good press over the weekend. From the New York Times Magazine's account of a recent Billionaire event on Long Island:
''How many of you Billionaires put somebody to work, huh?'' a Bush supporter named Nick Diaz shouted.

''Work?'' replied Phil T. Rich (otherwise known as Andrew Boyd). ''We've put 2.7 million people out of work.''

''You're barking up the wrong tree,'' Diaz huffed. ''Why are you here? Nobody's going to listen to you.''

But, of course, everybody was listening to them.

Gotta love 'em.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

RICE'S LOOP Writing in Saturday editions of The Daily News, Kenneth R. Bazinet and Thomas M. DeFrank provide a couple of wisps of information about Condoleeza Rice's closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commision.

But they bury a startling admission from Rice's spokesman:

Rice, who has refused to testify before the panel under oath and in public, met with the commission privately for four hours Feb. 7.

One issue was her May 16, 2002, statement at the White House when she said, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center . . . that they would try to use . . . a hijacked airplane as a missile." Intelligence reports had detailed such plans as much as five years before 9/11.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 panel, said that during a closed door session Rice revised that statement.

"She corrected [herself] in our private interview by saying, 'I could not anticipate that they would try to use an airplane as a missile,' but acknowledging that the intelligence community could anticipate it," Ben-Veniste said.

"No reports of the use of airplanes as weapons were briefed or presented to Dr. Rice prior to May 2002," said her spokesman Sean McCormack. (Empahsis added.)
Let's step back for a moment and think about what this means.

Rice is stating for the record that, while intelligence about planes being used as weapons existed prior to 9/11, she was unaware of it.


A bit troubling? Absolutely. But not news.

But her spokesman seems to be suggesting that, even after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rice continued to be unaware of this intelligence for another seven months.

That is absolutely shocking.

It's shocking because after 9/11, the existence of such intelligence was widely discussed--and not just in classified memos or CIA briefings. It was discussed in the nation's newspapers.

Here's Matthew Brzezinski in a 4700-word Washington Post Magazine story:

Philippine and U.S intelligence officials said, the Bojinka operation called for a second, perhaps even more ambitious phase, as interrogators discovered when they pressed Murad about his pilot's license. All those years in flight school, he confessed, had been in preparation for a suicide mission. He was to buy, rent, or steal -- that part of the plan had not yet been worked out -- a small plane, preferably a Cessna, fill it with explosives and crash it into CIA headquarters.

There were secondary targets the terrorist cell wanted hit: Congress, the White House, the Pentagon and possibly some skyscrapers. The only problem, Murad complained, was that they needed more trained pilots to carry out the plot.
So there it is--terrorists had contemplated using planes as weapons. The publication date?

December 30, 2001.

That's four full months before Rice's spokesman says she learned of the threat.

And it isn't just a question of a single reference in a single article. Here's Simon Reeve, in an Los Angeles Times op-Ed published five days after 9/11:

One of Yousef's conspirators trained as a pilot at U.S. flight schools, before graduating from an academy in North Carolina with a temporary commercial pilot's license. In a chilling precursor to the attacks last week, Yousef wanted his friend to fly a plane loaded with chemical weapons into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Here's Dan Murphy, writing for the Christian Science Monitor on February 14, 2002:
The arrests from the 1995 airline bombing plot also provided the first foreshadowing of the Sept. 11 attacks. During the Filipino interrogation - Murad later alleged he was severely tortured - Murad said he and Yousef had toyed with the idea of hijacking a plane and flying it into the Pentagon or the CIA. Murad had even studied at a US flight school in 1992. "My sense is when we reported this to the USA they didn't believe us very well,'' says Jose Almonte, who was the National Security Adviser at that time. Frankly, I was thinking they were just dreaming also. It was a failure of imagination on our parts."
In short, if Rice wasn't the last person to learn of this threat, it's fair to say she got wind of it pretty late in the game.

And that's a pretty damning thing to say about Rice and her staff (including Richard Clarke). She is, after all, the National Security Advisor.

Was Rice not reading the newspapers? Do reporters have better sources at the CIA than she does? How could such crucial information fail to make its way into the NSA's post-9/11 briefings?

There are more than enough questions to go around.

However. That said.

There's another--more cynical--way to look at the comments from Rice's spokesman. And that is:

Maybe Rice did know of these threats. Maybe Clarke himself briefed her on them. And maybe her spokesman's denial on her behalf is just a way to justify her May 16, 2002 "I don't think anybody could have predicted..." remark--which was itself an attempt to muddy the waters about the state of pre-9/11 intelligence.

I don't know.

One thing is clear though--having Rice testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission would be a good way to start the process of finding out.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Condi's People Rich Lowry at The National Review says that Condoleeza Rice should quit whining (not his words) and just testify publicly before the 9/11 Commission.

Bumiller Whiffs Atrios catches Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times making a bizarre confession.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

More Clarke One thing I've found striking about the 9/11 Commission testimony thus far is how defensive even the Clinton officials have been.

With the exception of Clarke, the witnesses (in the excerpts I've seen) don't sound like they've been scratching their heads for the last two and a half years, asking, "What more could we have done?"

Instead, people like Albright and Berger get pretty close--at least in moments--to arguing that they'd done everything possible to fight terrorism.


Anyway, Daily Kos has some worthwhile comments on Clarke.

UPDATE: Ryan Lizza debunks another Clarke smear.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Belly of the Beast Ed Gillespie and friends will be in Times Square on Thursday doing voter registration and--we can only hope--getting an earful from New Yorkers.

UPDATE: According to The National Review, the GOP will be at MTV around 2pm on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Movie of the Week We start off this new CONTRAPOSITIVE feature--focusing on films slightly off the beat path--with Krzysztof Kieslowski's THE DECALOGUE: Ten one-hour films originally produced for Polish TV, each loosely inspired (sometimes very loosely) by one of the ten commandments.

Sounds cheesy, yes. But Kieslowski (the man behind the Red, White and Blue trilogy) keeps things interesting by steering clear of religiosity and instead going for maximum ambiguity.

In short, it's worth adding--if you have one--to your queue.

Clarke Round-Up Ryan Lizza highlights the through-the-looking-glass quality of some of the Administration attacks on Clarke. One particularly inspired passage:
Maybe some scenes from Clarke's book would jog the vice president's memory. Clarke was the guy standing in Cheney's office on the morning of 9/11 with Rice in the minutes after the first attack. He's the guy that Condi turned to and asked, "Okay, Dick, you're the crisis manager, what do you recommend?" Later in the day he was also the guy standing in between Rice and Cheney in the White House Situation Room. He was the one whose shoulder Cheney placed his hand on when he asked, "Are you getting everything you need, everybody doing what you want?" Cheney might also remember Clarke as the guy who asked Cheney to request authorization from Bush to shoot down any hijacked airplanes. He may also recall him as the man who briefed Bush when the president finally arrived back at the White House. In other words, Cheney neglected to inform Limbaugh's audience that Clarke didn't move to cyberterrorism until a month after 9/11.

And on Lizza's Campaign Journal blog he adds this surprising footnote.

MORE: Here's Tom Daschle's statement.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Urban Legends It's about time someone with a big megaphone decided to look at how the reality of 9/11 lines up with the Bush administration's mythmaking.

Blame Game Dick Cheney on Richard Clarke (on Rush Limbaugh):
The only thing I can say about Dick Clarke is he was here throughout those eight years going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center in '98 when the embassies were hit in east Africa, in 2000 when the USS Cole was hit, and the question that out to be asked is, what were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?

Direct Hit Billmon covers all the bases in his run-down of the Richard Clarke 60 Minutes interview.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Not-So-Rapid Response In this morning's New York Times, Steven R. Weisman informs [registration required] us that:
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sought this weekend to allay the furor in the Middle East over the Bush administration's proposed democracy initiative for the region, assuring the leaders of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that there was no intention to impose reforms on their countries.

Let's set aside what use there is for a Middle Eastern "democracy initiative" that doesn't include pressure on Saudi Arabia.

My questions is, What is John Kerry's view of this development? Why can't I find a single article on Google News with a comment from the inevitable Democratic nominee?

Kerry spent the entire primary campaign telling voters he was ready for a fight. And, sure enough, the Bushies are now "bringing it on."

But Democrats are still waiting for the first hints of a counterpunch.

Powell's comments are as good a place as any to start hitting back.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Kerry's Big Chance A rare CONTRAPOSITIVE thought about the Iraq war. Or, at least, the war's ramifications for the current debate:

During the run-up to the Democratic primaries, Howard Dean--the front-runner for what seems, in retrospect, like 80-90% of the process--had an incentive to conflate two distinct issues:

1) Whether it ever makes sense to mount the kind of agressive, pre-emptive invasion of which the Iraq war was an example.

2) Whether it made sense to attack Iraq specifically in the manner (and context) in which the Bush administration chose to attack it.

It was in Dean's interest to conflate these issues because he was looking to maintain the support of his fervently anti-war base without turning off voters who, while not pacifists, were fervently anti-this-war. (Together, those two groups added up to a majority of Democrats.)

And while all the blurring didn't serve Kerry or Edwards, teasing the issues apart would have meant, for them, spending more time discussing their Iraq votes--which was the last thing they wanted to do. So they let Dean's framing of the debate on Iraq go more or less unchallenged.

Flash forward to today.

Kerry's opponents--now Republicans--have inherited Dean's Iraq frame, and given it a bit of a twist. For Dick Cheney et. al., you can be a critic of the Iraq war or you can be a supporter of the war on terrorism. But you can't be both.

This is ludicrous, but it's the argument that's being made.

So it's now very much in Kerry's interest to emphasize the distinction Dean worked so hard to obscure--to argue that in a post-9/11 world, it may be important to "take the fight to our enemies," but that Iraq was the wrong enemy, fought in the wrong way at the wrong time.

(This isn't, um, exactly the cast Kerry put on the issue during the primary campaign. But it's an argument, as the Democratic nominee, he's in a position to make.)

Moreover, while the nation remains divided about the Iraq war, voters still favor Bush by wide margins on foreign policy and security issues. So making this kind of hawkish case ought to have the virtue of enhancing Kerry's terror-fighting credentials as well.

The question is, why isn't Kerry making it? Or, as Kevin Drum muses:

John Kerry, I think, is probably every bit as anti-terror as Bush, but like most Democrats he seems too afraid of sounding jingoistic to really make a full-throated "terrorists are bastards and we will never surrender to them" speech. Why is that?

Kerry's failure to take a louder, tougher stand on issues relating to terrorism and national security is especially puzzling given the willingness of a fence-sitter like Andrew Sullivan to point out:

Wouldn't [Kerry] be obliged to continue Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and even, as he has already promised, actually increase troop levels in those countries? I don't think it's out of the question. John McCain knows Kerry and says he doesn't believe he'd be "weak on defense." Sometimes, a Democrat has to be tougher than a Republican in this area--if only to credentialize himself. I can certainly conceive of Richard Holbrooke being a tougher secretary of state than Colin Powell.

So would Kerry be as tough as Bush? Of course he would. Looking forward, there isn't a single terrorism-related issue where Kerry has taken what can fairly be called a "softer" line than Bush.

So why aren't Kerry's people making the kind of case Sullivan is making?

Or, to put it differently, why are they spending time talking about the importance of intelligence, port security and paying members of the armed forces a living wage when everyone already knows where a Democratic nominee is going to be on these issues?

I genuinely don't know.

But it seems to me that the way to make news--and the win the attention of undecided voters--would be to challenge the Bush administration directly on its weaknesses in the war on terrorism. To say that a Kerry administration would be prepared to send 150,000 troops to Afghanistan; to announce a new get-tough approach with Saudi Arabia and Yemen and Syria; to focus attention on the Administration's ineptitude in its handling of North Korea and Iran.

What could Kerry possibly lose by making this argument?

And if Kerry managed to throw some blustery language into the mix...well, that wouldn't be terrible either.

Now maybe Kerry's people have thought of all this. Maybe they're biding they're time, and they don't want to put their cards on the table too early.

I certainly hope so.

Still, delay is dangerous--especially with Bush's huge financial advantage. At this moment, the Kerry camp has a real opening. Let's hope they don't squander it.

Little Early? This from Reuters on the Chen assassination attempt:
[The government of Taiwan] also ruled out political motivation for the assassination attempt on Chen while he was campaigning on Friday in his home town, the southern city of Tainan.

I'm not a law enforcement expert or anything, but don't you usually wait till you have a suspect till you start ruling out these kinds of things? Isn't this sort of jumping the gun?

Rumsfeld Redux One more thought about Donald Rumsfeld's recent appearance on Face the Nation.

When you look at the clip [windows media player] closely, one thing that's striking about it is how utterly unprepared Rumsfeld is to be confronted with his own past statements.

He gets a bit caustic, attributing to "mythology" the perception that the Iraq threat was hyped. And he slams Bob Schieffer, calling him a "critic" for suggesting that the threat was ever portrayed as "immediate."

It's as if he genuinely had no idea that he (or other administration officials) ever used any misleading language at all.

I don't want to read too much into this. But it seems safe to say, certainly, that Rumsfeld hasn't been pulling his hair out over questions about his credibility.

It doesn't surprise me that he would be ornery and combative in discussing questions about WMD intelligence. But the total lack of reflection is a bit scary.

Bushies for Burma It's sort of hard to believe, but it appears that at least one official Bush campaign apparel item was manufactured in Burma--a military dictatorship subject to a US import ban.

Just as odd is the explanation given by the President of the Spalding Group--the campaign's merchandise licensee:

"We have found only one other in our inventory that was made in Burma. The others were made in the U.S.A." He said the company had about 60 of the fleece pullovers in its warehouse, and that a supplier included the Burma product by mistake.

How does this work? The manufacturer cranked out a grand total of two fleeces at a Burmese plant? And then shifted production to the US? It doesn't pass the smell test.

But something tells me we'll be hearing more about this.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Khaled Colbert? The New York Times highlights [registration required] an Egyptian theatre piece that seems to be more or less channeling The Daily Show with John Stewart.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Rumsfeld Stumbles Kevin Drum--who is now blogging for Washington Monthly--has a link to this [windows media player] clip from last week's Face the Nation. It's a rare, delicious example of the Secretary of Defense thrown off of his game.

In fact, he's pretty much reduced to a stuttering mess.

UPDATE: MoveOn.org seems to have turned the bit into an ad.

Pickle Watch Senate Sergeant at Arms William Pickle has, as expected, referred the file-pilfering matter to the Justice Department.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Here Comes Obama Atrios has a profile of tonight's Democratic primary winner in the race for the open senate seat in Illinois. (In Democratic-leaning Illinois, he's the automatic general election front-runner.)

An interesting biography and an impressive resume...

Nation Building The New Republic, an early supporter of the war in Iraq, has since had some second thoughts. In this strong editorial [registration required] the editors ably demonstrate just how precarious the future of Iraqi "democracy" really is.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Portability A fun NY Observer-ish type story about cell phones, Chris Rock and celebrity. (Via Eric Alterman.)

Wishful Thinking Daily Kos has up a great piece illustrating the administration's tendency--in situations where the facts are unknown--to respond to politically unhelpful evidence by cautioning the public against "jumping to conclusions."

And yet, when evidence--even weak evidence--plays into their political agenda, they are quick to take it as decisive proof of whatever conclusion favors them.

Look. This is a practice that every administration--and every political entity--engages in to some degree.

But the Bushies have made a fetish of it.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Mixed Signals Billmon has a good post up about the people behind a downright bizarre presidential politics poll--in which a majority of those surveyed said that they think terrorists are hoping Sen. John F. Kerry wins the November election.

The poll, Billmon is quick to note, also shows Kerry ahead of Bush 47 percent to 45 percent among the very same respondents.

For the Bushies these days, even the smears smear back.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Softening Up I have to admit that I'm a bit befuddled by the argument (which now has the support of Republicans, Russ Feingold, and the New York Times editorial page [registration required]) that MoveOn and other politically-oriented groups are violating the spirit of McCain-Feingold--or the goals of "campaign finance reform" in general--when they launch ad campaigns critical of the President.

I'm not a lawyer, so let's deal with the legal question first.

MoveOn and similar groups are typically referred to as "527s," in honor of the section of the tax code that regulates them.

And according to a memo on the website of Center for Public Integrity--a campaign finance watchdog and critic of groups like MoveOn: "527s may raise unlimited amounts of money from virtually any source and can spend those funds on just about any election-related activity except contributing directly to federal candidates."

No one has accused these groups of funneling money to candidates, so that would seem to settle the legal question. It settles it for me, anyway, until evidence to the contrary emerges. (It also explains why The Times, for example, accuses such groups of "subverting" McCain-Feingold rather than "violating" it.)

So the question becomes: What is it about such ad campaigns that unlevel the playing field? Or pollute the political system? Or poison the electoral process?

And that's where I get lost.

I get lost because McCain-Feingold, to my mind, was always about getting the political parties--and by extension federal candidates--out of the business of raising unlimited ("soft money") donations.

True, there were a few worthwhile new disclosure-related mechanisms, and a couple (distasteful, in my view) provisions regulating what outside groups can and can't do in the last few weeks of a campaign.

But the point of the legislation was never to squelch off all political dialogue or make it impossible for rich people to influence the debate.

Instead, the central thrust of the law was to change the climate in Washington so that elected officials would no longer be in a position to shake down corporations and wealthy individuals for million dollar donations. And so that those corporation and individuals, in turn, would no longer be--because of their largess--in a position to dictate legislation.

It remains to be seen whether that goal will be accomplished. But it seems safe to say, thus far, that neither John Kerry nor George Bush (nor either of their campaigns) has surrendered anything in the way of ideology--or spent time or energy--courting donors to America Coming Together or the Club For Growth. No photo-ops, no off-the-record chats, no hunting trips.

So I have a tough time seeing, at least at this stage, just what sort of tainting effect these ad campaigns are supposed to be having.

Another Point: Why are Republicans, who opposed McCain-Feingold bitterly right up until the end, now reading hyperstrict provisions into the law?

One thing that's going on here is that while Republican party fundraising totals typically dwarf those of the Democrats, left-leaning groups seem to be winning the 527 money race.

The early conventional wisdom, to the extent that one has emerged, is that this reversal points to a donating asymmetry: Conservative contributors, when they give money, are eager to support particular candidates. Liberals, however, may be more comfortable than their right-wing counterparts donating to abstract causes.

There are a number of reasons why this might be the case. (I have my own theories.) But it will be interesting to watch all this play out.

Phantom Menace From Rich Lowry at the National Review:
This charge in the Bush ads is kind of made up, but seems to be playing amazingly well.

Well that says it all, doesn't it.

Hack Watch Some late night weirdness on the Judiciary Committee memos front. Joshua Marshall has details.

Zogby Steps Up Pressure is building (link courtesy of Ryan Lizza) on President Bush to pull his controversial campaign ad.

No--not the one with the firefighters. A new ad released earlier today!

Here's what James Zogby (yes, that Zogby) had to say:

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, urged Bush to withdraw one of the new ads because it illustrates the section on terrorism with a picture of an olive-skinned man with bushy eyebrows.

"If they wanted to put Osama bin Laden up there that's fine, but using just a face stereotypes," Zogby said.

I don't have my scorecard handy, but I think that makes the Bushies two for two.

Time to circle the wagons?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Days After There's been little talk, in recent months, about the special treatment members of the Bin Laden family seem to have received in the wake of 9/11. But Salon, (in a rare totally-free article) picks up the ball, and fills in some details.

Some highlights from Craig Unger's piece:

A 49-year-old former policeman turned private investigator named Dan Grossi got a call from the Tampa Police Department. Grossi had worked with the Tampa force for 20 years before retiring, and it was not particularly unusual for the police to recommend former officers for special security jobs. But Grossi's new assignment was very much out of the ordinary...

Grossi was told to go to the airport, where a small charter jet would be available to take him and the Saudis on their flight. He was not given a specific time of departure, and he was dubious about the prospects of accomplishing his task. "Quite frankly, I knew that everything was grounded," he says. "I never thought this was going to happen." Even so, Grossi, who'd been asked to bring a colleague, phoned Manuel Perez, a former FBI agent, to put him on alert. Perez was equally unconvinced. "I said, 'Forget about it,'" Perez recalls. "Nobody is flying today."

The two men had good reason to be skeptical. Within minutes of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration had sent out a special notification called a NOTAM -- a notice to airmen -- to airports all across the country, ordering every airborne plane in the United States to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible, and prohibiting planes on the ground from taking off. Initially, there were no exceptions whatsoever. Later, when the situation stabilized, several airports accepted flights for emergency medical and military operations -- but those were few and far between.

Nevertheless, at 1:30 or 2 P.M. on Sept. 13, Dan Grossi received his phone call. He was told the Saudis would be delivered to Raytheon Airport Services, a private hangar at Tampa International Airport. When he arrived, Manny Perez was there to meet him.

At the terminal a woman laughed at Grossi for even thinking he would be flying that day. Commercial flights had slowly begun to resume, but at 10:57 A.M., the FAA had issued another NOTAM, a reminder that private aviation was still prohibited. Three private planes violated the ban that day, in Maryland, West Virginia and Texas, and in each case a pair of jet fighters quickly forced the aircraft down. As far as private planes were concerned, America was still grounded.

Then one of the pilots arrived. "Here's your plane," he told Grossi. "Whenever you're ready to go."


Grossi and Perez say they waited until three young Saudi men, all apparently in their early 20s, arrived. Then the pilot took Grossi, Perez and the Saudis to a well-appointed 10-passenger Learjet. They departed for Lexington at about 4:30.

"They got the approval somewhere," said Perez. "It must have come from the highest levels of government."


"Flight restrictions had not been lifted yet," Grossi said. "I was told it would take White House approval. I thought [the flight] was not going to happen."


How did the Saudis go about getting approval? According to the Federal Aviation Administration, they didn't and the Tampa flight never took place. "It's not in our logs," Chris White, a spokesman for the FAA, told the Tampa Tribune. "It didn't occur." The White House also said that the flights to evacuate the Saudis did not take place.

According to Grossi, about one hour and 45 minutes after takeoff they landed at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, a frequent destination for Saudi horse-racing enthusiasts such as Prince Ahmed bin Salman. When they arrived, the Saudis were greeted by an American who took custody of them and helped them with their baggage. On the tarmac was a 747 with Arabic writing on the fuselage, apparently ready to take them back to Saudi Arabia. "My understanding is that there were other Saudis in Kentucky buying racehorses at that time, and they were going to fly back together," said Grossi.

In addition to the Tampa-Lexington flight, at least seven other planes were made available for the operation. According to itineraries, passenger lists and interviews with sources who had firsthand knowledge of the flights, members of the extended bin Laden family, the House of Saud and their associates also assembled in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, D.C, Boston, Newark, N.J., and New York.


According to the same source, a young female member of the bin Laden family was the sole passenger on the first leg of the flight, from Los Angeles to Orlando. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, boarding any airplane was cause for anxiety. But now that the name Osama bin Laden had become synonymous with mass murder, boarding a plane with his family members was another story entirely. To avoid unnecessary dramas, the flight's operators made certain that the cockpit crew was briefed about who the passengers were -- the bin Ladens -- and the highly sensitive nature of their mission.

However, they neglected to brief the flight attendants.

On the flight from Los Angeles, the bin Laden girl began talking to an attendant about the horrid events of 9/11. "I feel so bad about it," she said.

"Well, it's not your fault," replied the attendant, who had no idea who the passenger really was.

"Yeah," said the passenger. "But he was my brother."

"The flight attendant just lost it," the source said.

Attention NYT, CNN and friends: The ball's in your court...

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Maverick Remember CONTRAPOSITIVE's slightly absurd Feb. 7 post ("Meme of the Week") speculating about the conditions under which Sen. John McCain might consider endorsing the Democratic nominee?

McCain may reverse himself tomorrow, but this afternoon he's making news. And, in case you were wondering, it's not the kind of news that's likely to help the President.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Mostly True West Sam Shepard has shut down a female production of True West, Playbill On-Line reports.

Krugman's Column In what seems like a first, The Times lets Paul Krugman get away with a graphic-heavy column [registration required] in today's editions.

What's next? Twice-a-week crayon drawings by Maureen Dowd?

Paper Trail Even people over at The National Review are starting to get worried about the perils of paperless e-voting.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Full Report Kevin Drum has the full Pickle report (as a large PDF file), along with a brief summary of its findings. I'll have more on this later.

UPDATE: Having now read the report, I think it's fair to say that Drum's summary hits all the key points. The only other fresh information worth mentioning is the finding that Jason Lundell--the hacker--continued to supply documents to Manuel Miranda even after Miranda had left the Judiciary Committee staff.

UPDATE UPDATE: The Hill reports that it may soon be up to the Secret Service (an executive branch agency and a division of the Treasury Department) to decide whether the hacking matter will ultimately be referred to the Justice Deptartment.

Pilfergate Joshua Marshall picks up the Judiciary Committee memo story this morning. In fact, he seems to have gotten a hold of the Pickle report itself.

The key nugget:

If you look at pages 21-22 of the report...you see that Jason Lundell--the little gizmocrat who first discovered he could get access to the memos--was also responsible for "speaking with the Department of Justice Legislative Affairs and Legal Policy representatives."

So he worked in a liaison capacity with the people who run the judicial appointments at Justice.

It turns out there's a footnote to that sentence I just quoted.

And when you go to the bottom of the page you see that footnote reads: "As of the time this report is being completed, the Department of Justice still has under consideration investigators' request to interview the employee who Mr. Lundell reports having contacts with."

Now, they spent more than a couple days working on this report. So I think that's gentle and generous way of saying that the Justice Department declined to make this person available for an interview.

Then if you hop down to pages 48-49, you'll see that in his final interview with investigators, Manuel Miranda--the guy at the center of all this--for the first time mentioned that a backup disk of the documents had just come into his possession and that he got it from "a friend of his from outside the Senate" who had made the backup for him. This friend had just recently reminded him that the backup existed.

Now, here's the key.

The report says Miranda "declined to give investigators the name of the friend stating that he did not want to prolong the investigation. He also refused to give investigators the names of his White House legislative contacts for the same reason."

I bet Martha Stewart wishes she'd known about this right of non-prolongation, don't you?

Clearly, the entire situation needs to be explored by law enforcement officials with subpoena power. But if the Justice Dept. wasn't ready to cooperate with Pickle's investigation, how can it be trusted to helm an independent inquiry?

Hmm... "There's many reasons not to use real firemen. Mainly, its cheaper and quicker."--An anonymous Bush campaign media adviser explaining the campaign's decision to use actors dressed as firemen, rather than genuine firefighters, in a new TV ad. (As quoted in Newsweek. Link courtesy of Atrios.)

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Ashcroft's Pickle According to this A.P story, legal questions raised by the Judiciary Committee file pilfering controversy will likely be dealt with at the Justice Department:
Hatch wouldn't commit to the idea but said prosecutors likely will handle the issue. "Certainly whether there was criminal conduct here or not is going to have to be determined by people outside of the committee," he said.

And the ball keeps bouncing...

Reader Rep Daniel Okrent over at The Times finally gets around to discussing Elisabeth Rosenthal's mid-February recycling of a quote from Charleston native George Meagher. (See FUZZY MATH.)

To his credit, though, Okrent takes Rosenthal and her editors to task.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Tragicomedy Is That Legal has a great satirical look at the new Bush ads. (Link courtesy of Daily Kos.)

Friday, March 05, 2004

Dept. of Exegesis Some thoughts on the Judiciary Commitee hacking report (the Pickle Report), in the form of a dissection of The New York Times' coverage from this morning's paper:

1) Summarizing the report, Neil A. Lewis delivers this account of how the pilfering began:

An inexperienced computer coordinator did not make files adequately inaccessible...Lundell [a Republican staffer] observed the coordinator opening files with a few key strokes and then copied what he had done.

Now, right off the bat, this is interesting. It means that we are dealing not with a computer hotshot or an aide absently clicking his way around the server, but instead someone who a) watched a systems administrator manipulate files, b) gleaned a thing or two about the server's structure from the administrator's manipulations and c) realized that he could use the administrator's technique to read Democratic files surreptitiously.

I'd asked, previously, whether the pilfering would ultimately be seen as akin to someone stumbling upon a secret memo left in plain sight, or more like someone walking into an unlocked office and scanning everyone's desk for revealing documents.

Lewis' characterization certainly points to the latter interpretation.

In fact, the better analogy, it seems, is to someone who watches a locksmith open a door, and then goes around the corner and jimmies his way into his neighbor's house.

2) Given the nature and extent of the pilfering, it's not surprising that Sen. Orrin Hatch, the committee's Republican chairman, felt compelled to respond to the report this way (according to Lewis' quote):

"I am mortified that this improper, unethical and simply unacceptable breach of confidential files occurred."

Some folks on the right are outraged that Hatch would "cave" in to Democrats on this issue. But what else could he say? "They were just kidding around?"

The intrusion was deliberate, extensive and prolonged. Miranda and Lundell downloaded 4,670 documents for crying out loud! Even a Republican foot solider like Hatch can't just brush that aside.

3) Another tidbit worth scrutinizing:

Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wrote to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales asking if his office received any of the stolen information. Gonzales offered a denial, saying: "I am not aware of any credible allegation of White House involvement in this matter."

As Joshua Marshall has explained, Gonzalez's response isn't a true denial. All Gonzales has said--if you take a close look at the statement--is that he knows of no "credible allegation" (emphasis added) that the White House was involved.

But that's not the same as denying any involvement outright. If the White House has learned anything from the Clinton administration, it's how to counter charges without flatly denying them.

In truth, and as Leahy's question implies, 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.

It's certainly possible that the two aides were acting by themselves, and that they never relayed their findings to anyone else working on the Judiciary Committee.

But that seems fantastically unlikely.

4) Finally, a few words about the headline that the Times' piece was give in the San Francisco Chronicle:

GOP stole peek at Dems' papers

"Stealing a peek" is a good way to describe what's going on when a group of twelve-year-old boys wander over to the porn rack at a local video store.

But the unethical downloading of 4,670 Democratic documents over eighteen months seems to launch Miranda and Lundell straight out of "peeking" territory.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Fall Guys Here's an early story about the Judiciary Committee hacking report. More on this tomorrow.

Non-Denial Denial The report on the Judiciary Committee pilfering investigation will be out later today, although it may not be released to the public.

Meanwhile, Joshua Marshall brings us up-to-date on the White House angle.

Branding The Bush Camp looks like it's ready to do some serious merchandising. The flight suit action figure can't be far behind...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Public Service The New York Times reports that for the year ending in June, Kurt Landgraf, President of the Educational Testing Service--the nonprofit that writes the SAT--tormented high schoolers to the tune of $879,000.

That sum includes a bonus of $350,000.

All About Timing Ryan Lizza has an interesting post exploring why it might make sense for the Kerry camp to throw out the rulebook and pick a VP nominee well before the convention.

Moral Arithmetic I'm a big fan of Joshua Marshall, but in this post, he follows a line of reasoning I've never quite been able to understand:
Iraq has a population of just under 25 million. The United States is home to a tad over 290 million. In other words, there are well over ten times as many Americans as Iraqis.

So, to get a feel for the impact of these attacks on the country, the number of people who lost loved ones, know others who did, and so forth, multiply that death toll by 11 or 12 times in order to get a feel for the number in American terms.

What is this supposed to mean exactly? And where does it end--with a single homocide in Monaco worth 100 in New York?

I do understand what Marshall--and others who make this kind of point--are trying to get at. But can't we just be satisfied with saying that the slaughter of 200 innocents--wherever it occurs--represents an enormous tragedy? Do we really want to subscribe to the idea that a death in Baghdad causes twelve times the pain of a death in Boston? Or only half the pain of a death in Belarus?

Once you pick it apart, Marshall's notion--that a death's impact depends on the size of the society in which it occurs--starts to look awfully morally suspect.

If a parallel is absolutely necessary, the better comparison would be apples-to-apples: to juxtapose the impact of 200 deaths in Iraq to the trauma that would be caused by an equivalent tragedy in similarly-populated Texas.

But even that doesn't tell us much.

Better just to say that 200 people are dead. That it's a crime and a shame. And to acknowledge that our country--and this government--has an obligation to help stop the carnage.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Gotchapalooza Campaign Desk adds its voice to the chorus of Elisabeth Bumiller bashers.

Hack Watch Tuesday edition of The Hill carries a report promising "new information" about the Judiciary Committee hacking controversy. But there's less to this story than meets the eye.

Here's the opening graf:

The Senate sergeant at arms' final report on whether Republican aides hacked into Democratic Judiciary Committee files has been delayed as a former committee aide stepped forward with new information that seems to undercut Democratic claims that a criminal investigation was warranted.

And later:
A former aide assigned to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Friday signed a sworn affadavitt [sic] stating that between October 2001 and September 2002, Republican and Democratic staffers on the Judiciary Committee could easily access each other's private documents on the committee's shared computer server.

So where (aside from the fact that the report's been delayed) is the new information?

We've known from the start that the files were accessed on Republican computers. And we've known from early on that the GOP's "clean-hands" defense would hinge on the lack of password protection on the Democratic documents.

Neither of those points has been in question for some time. The Republicans argument has always been that Democrats' failure to secure their files was, as the former Grassley aide tells The Hill, "sort of like leaving a memo face up on your desk and leaving for the weekend."

The real question is whether Sergeant at Arms Pickle will buy into that Republican line of reasoning.

So--is pointing and clicking your way into files you know aren't yours more like stumbling upon a secret memo that's been left in plain sight? Or is it more like walking into an unlocked office and scanning everyone's desk for revealing documents?

It's a stickier question than Republicans affiliated with the Judiciary Committee--or The Hill, it seems--would have us believe.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Bush Country? I think it's a bit early for Daily Kos to be more or less declaring Florida a lost cause for the Democratic presidential nominee in November. Still, the Sun-Sentinel's poll numbers are striking:
Asked to choose between the president and his likely Democratic challenger, Florida voters favored Bush over John Kerry by 47 percent to 42 percent. Bush held a slightly wider lead over Democratic candidate John Edwards, 49 percent to 41 percent.

As Kos points out, that's one the best recent results for Bush in a battleground state.

But let's keep things in perspective: 23% of the likely voters polled had no opinion of John Kerry (compared to 4% for Bush); a plurality chose "Economy/Jobs" as the most important issue in picking the next president (a situation, if it holds, that is likely to help the Democrats); and the margin of error was + or - 4%.

So Kerry is somewhere between 1% and 9% behind in a historic swing state where nearly a quarter of likely voters have no opinion of him and where the "Economy/Jobs" will be a central issue.

And he's likely to be the beneficiary of high turnout from an energized base, still seething over the 2000 result.

Those are odds that I'm willing to take.

Center Stage Wonkette has the goods on Elisabeth Bumiller's nearly Woodruffian (Woodruff-esque?) performance at Sunday's Democratic debate.

UPDATE: Digby has more.

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