Saturday, September 30, 2006

A New African War Zone

By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
PAOUA, Central African Republic

My aim in bringing Casey Parks, the winner of my contest for university students, to this war-torn land wasn’t to have her held at gunpoint. That was quite an accident — both times.

My purpose was actually to emphasize the urgency of ending the genocide in Darfur before it destabilizes even more of Africa. The malignancy has already spread to Chad, and now it is beginning to destroy the Central African Republic as well.

Sudan has in effect invaded the Central African Republic with a proxy force of Chadians whom it armed and transported to a remote airstrip in Sudanese Antonov aircraft. Now those troops are living in caves in the northeast part of this country and recruiting local people to fight. When the dry season comes in another month or so, that force of 500 troops will presumably join a larger force of Sudanese puppets in trying to overthrow the government of Chad and perhaps of this country as well.

The north of the Central African Republic is now a war zone, with rival armed bands (some from the government) burning villages, kidnapping children, robbing travelers and killing people with impunity.

The country is already unstable for its own reasons, and its own government has much to answer for, but the Sudanese incursion and the small arms rippling out from Darfur have left this region in complete chaos. The violence has driven 100,000 villagers from their homes, and the U.N. calls it “the world’s most neglected crisis.”

Casey and I traveled here in a five-vehicle U.N. convoy, including two pickups full of well-armed soldiers. But the presence of soldiers discourages frank interviews with peasants who have been attacked by soldiers, so we twice left the escorts behind and drove through hard-hit villages.

After we had stopped at the eerily empty village of Bottolna and explored a bit, a man named Dominique Dondjoube crept out of a hiding place and told us that most of the villagers were hiding in the bush — where they were dying from bad water, malaria and malnutrition. “Just yesterday, three children died of malnutrition,” he said. They were a 6-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl, and a 3-month-old girl whose mother had no milk because of the lack of food.

In a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, a French doctor was treating Arthur Demongoy, a 2-year-old suffering from severe malnutrition. Children like Arthur are heartbreakingly impassive; they are so starved that they never cry, for every calorie goes to keeping them alive.

“Everything was burned in our village, and all our money was taken, and that’s why we have no food,” explained his mother, Sylvie.

But while a handful of brave aid workers and Catholic missionaries, Europeans and Africans alike, work in this region, they have been shot at and robbed. At some point the danger could force them to pull out.

Indeed, as Casey and I drove on one isolated, rutted road that forced us to drive slowly, we encountered just the kind of menace that has terrorized local people and aid workers: Two men stepped out from the brush on the side of the road, waved rifles and ordered us to stop.

The bandits eventually let us go on, and we continued down the road to interview local people. But since there was only one road into the area, we had to go back the same way — and then were held up again, by the same two men.

That kind of random violence is incredibly infectious, and the legacy of Darfur may be that all of Chad and the Central African Republic will collapse into Somalia-style anarchy. In an interview with Casey and me, President François Bozize of the Central African Republic offered an excellent suggestion: With the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur delayed indefinitely because of Sudan’s defiance, post them in the meantime in Chad and the Central African Republic — while still pushing to get them into Darfur itself.

When President Bozize traveled to the U.S. this month for the U.N. General Assembly, the Bush administration made available a mere deputy assistant secretary of state to talk to him. That’s ridiculous, sending a signal that we’re not engaged in Darfur’s regional crisis and don’t care what Sudan does to this country.

If President Bush is serious about genocide, an immediate priority is to stop the cancer of Darfur from spreading further — which means working with France to shore up both Chad and the Central African Republic. (France has troops in both countries.) It also means putting U.N. peacekeepers in both places. Right now.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The Meaningless Debate Over the Latest National Intelligence Estimate

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
IF your head hurts from listening to the Washington furor over the latest National Intelligence Estimate, by all means tune it out. The entire debate is meaningless except as a damning election-year indicator of just how madly our leaders are fiddling while Iraq burns.

The supposedly shocking key finding in the N.I.E. — that the Iraq war is a boon to terrorism — isn’t remotely news. It first turned up in a classified C.I.A. report leaked to the press in June 2005. It’s also long been visible to the naked eye. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted before any revelations from the N.I.E., found that nearly half the country believes that the Iraq war is increasing the terrorist threat against America and only 12 percent thinks the war is decreasing that threat. Americans don’t have to pore over leaked intelligence documents to learn this. They just have to turn on the television.

Tonight on “60 Minutes,” Bob Woodward will spill another supposedly shocking intelligence finding revealed in his new book: a secret government prediction that the insurgency will grow worse next year. Who’d have thunk it? Given that the insurgency is growing worse every day right now — last week suicide bombings hit a record high in Baghdad — the real surprise would be if the government predicted an armistice. A poll released last week by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland found that about 6 in 10 Iraqis approved of attacks on American forces. Tardy investigative reporting is hardly needed to figure out that the insurgency is thriving.

“The insurgents know what they are doing,” Mr. Woodward is to say on CBS, according to an advance excerpt. “They know the level of violence and how effective they are. Who doesn’t know? The American public.” He accuses the administration of keeping such information out of sight by stamping it “secret.” All this, too, apparently comes as eye-opening news to Mr. Woodward three and a half years into the war; his new book’s title, “State of Denial,” has a self-referential ring to it. But the American public does know the level of violence all too well, and it also knows how the administration tries to cover up its failures.

That’s why long ago a majority of that public judged the war a mistake and Mr. Bush a dissembler. It’s only the variations on the theme that change. When the president declared last month that “the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together,” reality was once more busily contradicting him. The Los Angeles Times reported that a third of that government wasn’t showing up to parliamentary sessions and that only 1,000 Iraqi soldiers answered the American call for 4,000 reinforcements in the do-or-die battle to secure Baghdad.

Against this ominous reality, the debate over the N.I.E. is but a sideshow: politics as usual on both sides. The president reluctantly declassified what had already been leaked, somehow hoping he could override the bad headlines with Pavlovian repetition of shopworn slogans. (He said America must “stay on the offense” four times in one speech on Friday alone.) Democrats are huffily demanding that the White House release more than a few scraps of the 30-page-plus N.I.E., a debating point with no payoff. The N.I.E. is already six months out of date, and Americans can guess most of it, classified or not. In this war at this late stage, the devil can be found everywhere, not merely in the details.

The facts of Iraq are not in dispute. But the truth is that facts don’t matter anyway to this administration, and that’s what makes this whole N.I.E. debate beside the point. From the start, honest information has never figured into the prosecution of this war. The White House doesn’t care about intelligence, good or bad, classified or unclassified, because it believes it knows best, regardless of what anyone else has to say. The debate over the latest N.I.E. or any yet to leak will not alter that fundamental and self-destructive operating principle. That’s the truly bad news.

This war has now gone on so long that we tend to forget the early history that foretold the present. Yet this is the history we must remember now more than ever, because it keeps repeating itself, with ever more tragic results. In the run-up to the war, it should be recalled, the administration did not even bother to commission an N.I.E., a summary of the latest findings from every American intelligence agency, on Iraq’s weapons.

Why not? The answer can be found in what remains the most revealing Iraq war document leaked to date: the Downing Street memo of July 23, 2002, written eight months before the invasion. In that secret report to the Blair government, the head of British intelligence reported on a trip to Washington, where he learned that the Bush administration was fixing the “intelligence and facts” around the predetermined policy of going to war in Iraq. If we were going to fix the intelligence anyway, there was no need for an N.I.E., except as window dressing, since it might expose the thinness of the administration’s case.

A prewar N.I.E. was hastily (and sloppily) assembled only because Congress demanded it. By the time it was delivered to the Capitol after much stalling, on Oct. 1, 2002, less than two weeks remained before the House and Senate would vote on the Iraq war resolution. “No more than six senators and only a handful of House members got beyond the five-page executive summary,” according to an article last spring in Foreign Affairs by Paul Pillar, the C.I.A. senior analyst for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005. In a White House press briefing after the war started, an official said Condi Rice hadn’t read it at all, leaving that menial duty to her retinue of “experts.”

When one senator who did read the whole N.I.E., the now retired Democrat Bob Graham of Florida, asked that a declassified version be made public so that Americans could reach their own verdicts on the war’s viability, he was rebuffed. Instead the administration released a glossy white paper that trumpeted the N.I.E.’s fictions (“All intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons”) but not its doubts about much-hyped evidence like aluminum tubes and uranium from Africa. The only time the president cared about the N.I.E., a document he never wanted, was when he thought it would be politically useful in fighting growing criticism in 2003 that he had manipulated prewar intelligence. Then he authorized his own cherry-picked leaks, which Scooter Libby fed to Mr. Woodward and Judith Miller of The Times. (Neither wrote about it at the time.)

As the insurgency continued to grow in the fall of 2003, the White House again showed scant interest in reality. The American military’s Central Command called for an N.I.E. instead. The existence of this second N.I.E. was only discovered in February of this year by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder Newspapers. It found that the growing violence in Iraq was “fueled by local conditions — not foreign terrorists — and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.” Yet the president ignored that accurate intelligence, refusing to raise troop levels and continuing to argue erroneously that the insurgency was mainly linked to Saddam and Al Qaeda. Three years later, he still makes that case rather than acknowledge that our troops are caught in the cross-fire of a civil war.

Having ignored the facts through each avoidable disaster, the White House won’t change its game plan now. Quite the contrary. Its main ambition seems to be to prop up its artificial reality no matter what the evidence to the contrary. Nowhere could this be better seen than in Ms. Rice’s bizarre behavior after the Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace slapdown on Fox News. Stung by the former president’s charge that the Bush administration did nothing about Al Qaeda in the eight months before 9/11, she couldn’t resist telling The New York Post that his statement was “flatly false.”

But proof of Ms. Rice’s assertion is as nonexistent as Saddam’s W.M.D. As 9/11 approached, both she and Mr. Bush blew off harbingers of the attacks (including a panicked C.I.A. briefer in Crawford, according to Ron Suskind’s “One Percent Doctrine”). The 9/11 commission report, which Ms. Rice cited as a corroborating source for her claims to The Post, in reality “found no indication of any further discussion” about the Qaeda threat among the president and his top aides between the arrival of that fateful Aug. 6 brief (“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”) and Sept. 10.

That the secretary of state would rush to defend the indefensible shows where this administration’s priorities are: it’s now every man and woman in the White House for himself and herself in defending the fictions, even four-year-old fictions, that took us into the war and botched its execution. When they talk about staying the course, what they are really talking about is protecting their spin and their reputations. They’ll leave it to the 140,000-plus American troops staying the course in a quagmire to face the facts.

Photo credit: Frank Rich. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Jagshemash, Premier Bush

By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times
Borat Sagdiyev, the Kazakh television reporter with the bushy mustache and cheap gray suit, showed up at the White House this week with an invitation for the man he calls the “mighty U.S. warlord.”

He wanted to invite “Premier George Walker Bush,” along with “other American dignitaries” like Mel Gibson and O.J. Simpson, to a screening of his new documentary about his anti-Semitic, misogynistic, scatological trek across America, followed by a cocktail party/summit meeting, no doubt featuring Kazakh-mopolitans made with fermented horse urine.

“We’ll make discussion of cooperation between the two countries at Hooters,” Borat told a befuddled White House guard.

Borat, of course, is Sacha Baron Cohen, the successor to Peter Sellers, a wildly original and brainy Cambridge grad and observant Jew from a distinguished British family. His HBO characters, the rapper Ali G, the fashion reporter Bruno, and Borat, collide with reality, exposing prejudice and puncturing pomposity.

The real Kazakhstan dictator was honored by President Bush at a state dinner this week. Nursultan Nazarbayev may have a corrupt and authoritarian regime where political opponents have been known to die very, very suddenly, but, hey, he’s got oil and he’s an ally in the war on terror. Respec’, as Ali G would say.

So Mr. Cohen popped up as well, loping around D.C. to promote his new movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” The satirist held a news conference in front of the Kazakh Embassy — as real officials inside fumed — to proclaim that any protestations that Kazakhstan treats women equally or tolerates all religions are “disgusting fabrications” by “evil nitwits” in rival Uzbekistan.

Mr. Cohen is a genius at turning reality into farce, taking lowbrow humor to high places, but he has met his match in W.

With the publication of parts of the classified intelligence report showing that the Bush administration has expanded the terrorist threat, as well as the books “State of Denial” by Bob Woodward, “Hubris” by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, and “Fiasco” by Thomas Ricks, all detailing the bumbling and infighting of Bush officials on Iraq, it’s a tossup as to where we can find the most ludicrous, offensive and juvenile behavior — in the new Borat movie or the Bush White House. Let’s compare and contrast:

At a Southern society dinner, an etiquette coach teaches Borat how to excuse himself to go to the bathroom. But when he returns to the table with a toilet doggie bag, no one laughs.

W. and Karl Rove “shared an array of fart jokes,” Mr. Woodward writes. A White House aide put a toy that made a flatulence sound under Karl’s chair for the senior staff meeting on July 7. When they learned of the terror attacks in London, the prank was postponed. But several weeks later, “the device was placed under Rove’s chair and activated during the senior staff meeting. Everyone laughed.”

Borat likes to wrestle guys naked. Karl liked to show W. his battery-powered “Redneck Horn,” blasting obscenities and insults like “Hey, hogneck, who taught you how to drive?” in a Southern drawl.

Family values in Borat’s comic portrait of Kazakhstan are reflected by his sister, an incestuous hooker, the town rapist, a cow in the bedroom, and the annual Pamplona-like “Running of the Jew.”

Mr. Woodward writes about Bush family values, or the “Running of the WASP.” Even though Poppy Bush found his old G.O.P. nemesis Donald Rumsfeld “arrogant, self-important, too sure of himself and Machiavellian,” the author notes, W. chose Rummy as defense chief, feeling “it was a chance to prove his father wrong.”

Borat had a fantasy life in which he would bag — literally — Pamela Anderson and yoke her happily ever after to a plow on his farm. Dick Cheney had a fantasy life in which he would bag Saddam’s W.M.D. by occupying Iraq. In July 2003, Vice and Scooter Libby pored over fragments of intelligence intercepts, trying to figure out where on earth those elusive W.M.D. were. Mr. Woodward notes that Cheney staffers even called the chief weapon hunter with satellite coordinates for possible hidden caches.

Borat thinks Pamela is silly to object to animal torture, just as Vice thinks the press is silly to object to prisoner torture.

After much chaos, Borat gives up on Pamela and marries a prostitute. After much chaos, and even though Laura wants Rummy out, W. sticks with him at Vice’s insistence.

No doubt. For lowbrow antics and silly stunts, W. is the clear winner. Respec’.

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

From the Big Apple to The Big Nanny

Hear! Hear! Tierney has grown as frustrated as I with our government's ridiculous paternalism. How about this, all you government officials -- instead of trying to protect us ignoramuses from consuming unhealthy foods or otherwise endangering ourselves, why not sink a bunch of money into an improved education system that teaches critical thinking so that everyone can make intelligent decisions about how to lead their lives without any interference from you?

Hey, who knows -- if every citizen can learn to think critically, they may even start to vote for representatives who spend their time doing something more meaningful that trying to treat us all like infantile idiots. Ya think?

One Cook Too Many
By John Tierney
The New York Times
In the annals of medicine, New York’s health commissioner deserves to be remembered as The Doctor Who Mistook His Diploma for a Hat. After a career in public health — his résumé lists previous jobs like epidemiologist, clinician and “community organizer” — Thomas Frieden decided he was entitled to wear a chef’s toque.

He tried persuading the city’s restaurants that their food would taste the same if they got rid of cooking oil and other substances with trans fatty acids, but most of the cooks stubbornly preferred to trust their customers’ taste buds. If you’ve compared a trans-fat McDonald’s French fry with Wendy’s trans-skinny version, you will understand the customers’ reaction.

Now that persuasion has failed, Frieden wants to force the restaurant cooks in New York to follow his recipe — and soon, he hopes, the rest of America will have to go along too. He justifies his fiat by comparing it to New York City’s pioneering ban of lead paint a few decades ago. But the analogy just shows that his understanding of epidemiology and public-health policy isn’t much better than his taste in French fries.

Most scientists — at least the ones not serving under Mayor Michael Bloomberg — do not regard McDonald’s French fries the way they regard lead paint. Lead has long been recognized as a potent poison, and taking it out of paint was undeniably good for people’s health. But the campaign to take trans fat out of French fries might not do any good, and it might even do harm.

For all the rhetoric against trans fats, they’re not worse for you than the old-fashioned saturated fats in lard and butter and various cooking oils. As Gina Kolata reported in The Times last year, the scientific consensus from the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, and the Food and Drug Administration is that trans fats are on a par with saturated fats.

A few researchers do believe trans fats are worse, but the evidence is too weak and contradictory to justify new public policies (particularly considering how often researchers have changed their minds in the past about what’s healthy). David Kritchevsky of the Wistar Institute, an independent nonprofit research center, calls trans fat the “panic du jour.”

“The New York policy is an overreaction,” he told me. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat trans fat, but it’s nothing I’d go out of my way to avoid. It’s essentially another saturated fat.”

Food companies and restaurants voluntarily switched to trans fats to appease consumers and food activists worried about saturated fats. Now that those same activists have made trans fat the new bogeyman, restaurant chains and food companies are again looking to appeal to their customers with healthier alternatives — and when they find them, they’ll switch again voluntarily, without any legal compulsion from New York.

But if New York arbitrarily imposed a deadline, the simplest way to comply would be to go back to using saturated fats. The food wouldn’t be any healthier, but it would sound more virtuous after the grandstanding by Bloomberg and his health commissioner about their heroic reduction of trans fats. So New Yorkers could well decide that it was safe to eat extra fries and doughnuts and cheesecake, which would just increase their risk of heart disease.

And then what would the First Chef do? Ban New York pizza and cheesecake? That sounds ridiculous now, but if you’re determined to improve people’s diets, saturated fats are a more logical problem to address than trans fats because we consume a lot more of them.

You can make a case for a law requiring restaurants to tell people what’s in their food. But Frieden’s edict goes well beyond that — and well beyond past public-health measures like the bans on lead paint and smoking in restaurants. This is the biggest step yet in turning the Big Apple into the Big Nanny.

Those previous bans were justified as public-health measures to protect innocent victims from hazards created by others: the smoke coming from other people’s cigarettes, the lead chips falling from walls that had been painted years or decades earlier by someone else.

But if New Yorkers consume trans fat at McDonald’s or Chinese restaurants, it’s because they ordered it themselves. Telling them what kind of fat they’re buying might be useful. But they’re perfectly capable of figuring out what to eat. Chef Frieden can leave the ordering to them.

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

2001 Memo Reveals Rice's Pants on Fire

No surprise here. Read all about it in The Raw Story | 2001 memo to Rice contradicts statements about Clinton, Pakistan.

Be sure to read the memo entitled "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects," received by Rice just five days after Bush was sworn into office, which directly contradicts statements she made to reporters earlier this week -- and vindicates Clinton's assertions on Fox News.

Photo credit: Condoleezza Rice. (RAW STORY)

"State of Denial"

(Click photo for Larger View)

Book Says Bush Ignored Urgent Warning on Iraq

Hopefully, Bob Woodward is about to redeem himself from his heretofore toady relationship with the White House, as evidenced by unchallenged, accepted at face-value, White House assertions forming the substance of his last so-called historical efforts.

In his new book, "State of Denial," hopefully, Woodward will have regained his journalistic soul and reported more discerningly, this time differentiating White House propaganda from the facts.

I await the book's release eagerly. Until then, The New York Times offers a preview. I believe Woodward will also be appearing in various TV news shows this weekend, discussing the book.

Photo credit: (Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times) President Bush at Camp David in June during a teleconference on Iraq with Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Oliver Stone: Bush Has Set U.S. Back 10 Years

CIARAN GILES, Associated Press Writer:
SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain - Filmmaker Oliver Stone blasted President Bush Thursday, saying he has "set America back 10 years." Stone added that he is "ashamed for my country" over the war in Iraq and the U.S. policies in response to the attacks of Sept. 11....
Read more of Stone's excellent comments.

Torture Wins, We All Lose

AlterNet reports: Torture is here, the Dems couldn't get it together

In the video below, "Hillary gives a history lesson on America's first run-in with the ethics of torture featuring Washington and the vicious Brits...."

Trouble watching this video? Click Here.

Related Articles:

Special investigation: Leading up to 9/11

Olbermann: Did Bush try to stop bin Laden in his first eight months in office?
"Countdown" rises to Bill Clinton's challenge and assess President's Bush efforts to stop al Qaida in his first eight months in office.
Read a transcript and watch the video HERE.

Creepy or Not? You Decide

Update: Shortly after posting this, CNN reported that Foley has stated that he is no longer seeking re-election. So, I guess there isn't anything to decide -- creepy, it is. See: Foley Resigns From Congress Over E-Mails
GOP Members Knew Of Rep. Foley's Emails To Minors For Months...
ABC News reports:

Sixteen-Year-Old Capitol Hill Page Concerned About E-mail Exchange with Congressman

A 16-year-old male former congressional page concerned about the appropriateness of an e-mail exchange with [Congressman Mark Foley] alerted Capitol Hill staffers to the communication....

The concerned young man alerted congressional staffers to the e-mails. In one e-mail, the former page writes to a staffer, "Maybe it is just me being paranoid, but seriously. This freaked me out."

Foley's office acknowledges that Foley wrote the e-mails to the young man but says they were completely innocent and that Foley is at most guilty of being "too friendly and too engaging" with young people.

The e-mails were sent from Foley's personal AOL account, and the exchange began within weeks after the page finished his program on Capitol Hill. In one, Foley writes, "did you have fun at your conference…what do you want for your birthday coming up…what stuff do you like to do."

In another Foley writes, "how are you weathering the hurricane…are you safe…send me an email pic of you as well…"

The young man forwarded that e-mail to a congressional staffer saying it was "sick sick sick sick sick."
Read more.

Rove: Jack who?

Abramoff and Rove Had 82 Contacts, Report Says
A bipartisan Congressional report, completed by the House Government Reform Committee, documents hundreds of contacts between White House officials and the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partners. The report, based on email messages and other records subpoenaed from Mr. Abramoff's lobbying firm, found 485 contacts between Mr. Abramoff's lobbying team and White House officials from 2001 to 2004, including 82 with Mr. Rove's office.
Photo credit: (Carlos Barria/Reuters) Jack Abramoff, the former Washington lobbyist, is to begin serving his prison term in November.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Islam and the Pope

I thought I'd add a bit of Hindu wisdom as a preface to Tom Friedman's latest op ed:

“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”

“Faith... Must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies.”

“The most heinous and the most cruel crimes of which history has record have been committed under the cover of religion or equally noble motives”

-- Mahatma Gandhi

Islam and the Pope
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
We need to stop insulting Islam. It’s enough already.

No, that doesn’t mean the pope should apologize. The pope was actually treating Islam with dignity. He was treating the faith and its community as adults who could be challenged and engaged. That is a sign of respect.

What is insulting is the politically correct, kid-gloves view of how to deal with Muslims that is taking root in the West today. It goes like this: “Hushhh! Don’t say anything about Islam! Don’t you understand? If you say anything critical or questioning about Muslims, they’ll burn down your house. Hushhh! Just let them be. Don’t rile them. They are not capable of a civil, rational dialogue about problems in their faith community.”

Now that is insulting. It’s an attitude full of contempt and self-censorship, but that is the attitude of Western elites today, and it’s helping to foster the slow-motion clash of civilizations that Sam Huntington predicted. Because Western masses don’t buy it. They see violence exploding from Muslim communities and they find it frightening, and they don’t think their leaders are talking honestly about it. So many now just want to build a wall against Islam. It will be terrible if Turkey is blocked from entering the European Union, but that’s where we’re heading, and the only thing that will halt it is honest dialogue.

But it is not the dialogue the pope mentioned — one between Islam and Christianity. That’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. What is needed first is an honest dialogue between Muslims and Muslims.

As someone who has lived in the Muslim world, enjoyed the friendship of many Muslims there and seen the compassionate side of Islam in action, I have to admit I am confused as to what Islam stands for today.

Why? On the first day of Ramadan last year a Sunni Muslim suicide bomber blew up a Shiite mosque in Hilla, Iraq, in the middle of a memorial service, killing 25 worshipers. This year on the first day of Ramadan, a Sunni suicide bomber in Baghdad killed 35 people who were lining up in a Shiite neighborhood to buy fuel. The same day, the severed heads of nine murdered Iraqi police officers and soldiers were found north of Baghdad.

I don’t get it. How can Muslims blow up other Muslims on their most holy day of the year — in mosques! — and there is barely a peep of protest in the Muslim world, let alone a million Muslim march? Yet Danish cartoons or a papal speech lead to violent protests. If Muslims butchering Muslims — in Sudan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Jordan — produces little communal reaction, while cartoons and papal remarks produce mass protests, what does Islam stand for today? It is not an insult to ask that question.

Muslims might say: “Well, what about Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo or Palestine? Let’s talk about all your violent behavior.” To which I would say: “Let’s talk about it! But you’ll have to get in line behind us, because we’re constantly talking about where we’ve gone wrong.” We can’t have a meaningful dialogue if we, too, are not self-critical, but neither can Muslims.

Part of the problem in getting answers is that Islam has no hierarchy. There is no Muslim pope defining the faith. There are centers of Muslim learning, in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but their credibility with the masses is uneven because they’re often seen as tools of regimes. So those Muslim preachers with authenticity tend to be the street preachers — firebrands, who gain legitimacy by spewing hatred at both their own regimes and the Western powers that support them.

As a result, there is a huge body of disenfranchised Sunni Muslims, who are neither violent fundamentalists nor wannabe secularists. They are people who’d like to see a marriage between Islam and modernity. But right now there is little free space in the Sunni Muslim world — between the firebrand preachers and the “official” ones — for that synthesis to be discussed and defined.

I had hoped Iraq would be that space. Whenever people asked me how I’d know if we’d won in Iraq, I said: when Salman Rushdie could give a lecture in Baghdad. I’m all for a respectful dialogue between Islam and the West, but first there needs to be a respectful, free dialogue between Muslims and Muslims. What matters is not what Muslims tell us they stand for. What matters is what they tell themselves, in their own languages, and how they treat their own.

Without a real war of ideas within Islam to sort that out — a war that progressives win — I fear we are drifting at best toward a wall between civilizations and at worst toward a real clash.

Photo Credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Platform of Bigotry

By Bob Herbert
The New York Times
George Allen, the clownish, Confederate-flag-loving senator from Virginia, has apparently been scurrying around for many years, spreading his racially offensive garbage like a dog that should be curbed. With harsh new allegations emerging daily, it’s fair to ask:

Where are the voices of reason in the Republican Party — the nonbigoted voices? Why haven’t we heard from them on this matter?

Mr. Allen has long been touted as one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. But this is a man who has displayed the quintessential symbol of American bigotry, the Confederate battle flag, on the wall of his living room; who put up a hangman’s noose as a decoration in his law office; who used an ethnic slur — macaca — in an attempt to publicly embarrass a 20-year-old American student of Indian descent; and who, according to the recollections of a number of his acquaintances, frequently referred to blacks as niggers.

The senator has denied the last allegation. But his accusers are low-keyed, straight-arrow professionals who have no obvious ax to grind. They, frankly, seem believable.

Dr. R. Kendall Shelton, a North Carolina radiologist who played football with Mr. Allen at the University of Virginia in the 1970’s, recalled a number of incidents, including one in which Mr. Allen said that blacks in Virginia knew their place. Dr. Shelton said in a television interview that he believed then, and still believes, that Mr. Allen was a racist.

Beyond the obvious problems with the senator’s comments and his behavior is the fact that he so neatly fits into the pattern of racial bigotry, insensitivity and exploitation that has characterized the G.O.P. since it adopted its Southern strategy some decades ago. Once it was the Democrats who provided a comfortable home for public officials with attitudes and policies that were hostile to blacks and other minorities. Now the deed to that safe house has been signed over to the G.O.P.

Ronald Reagan may be revered by Republicans, but I can never forget that he opposed both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the mid-1960’s, and that as a presidential candidate he kicked off his 1980 general election campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which just happened to be where three civil rights workers — Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney — were savagely murdered in 1964.

During his appearance in Philadelphia, Reagan told a cheering crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.”

The lynching of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney (try to imagine the terror they felt throughout their ordeal) is the kind of activity symbolized by the noose that Senator Allen felt compelled to put up in his office.

One of the senator’s Republican colleagues, Conrad Burns, is up for re-election in Montana. He’s got an ugly racial history, too. Several years ago, while campaigning for a second term, Mr. Burns was approached by a rancher who wanted to know what life was like in Washington. The rancher said, “Conrad, how can you live back there with all those niggers?”

Senator Burns said he told the rancher it was “a hell of a challenge.”

The senator later apologized. But he has bounced from one racially insensitive moment to another over the years, including one occasion when he referred to Arabs as “ragheads.”

You don’t hear President Bush or the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, or any other prominent Republicans blowing the whistle on the likes of George Allen and Conrad Burns because Republicans across the board, so-called moderates as well as conservatives, have benefited tremendously from the party’s bigotry. Allen and Burns may have been more blatant and buffoonish than is acceptable, but they have all been singing from the same racially offensive hymnal.

From the Willie Horton campaign to the intimidation of black voters in Florida and elsewhere to the use of every racially charged symbol and code word imaginable — it’s all of a piece.

The late Lee Atwater, in a 1981 interview, explained the evolution of the Southern strategy:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger! By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”

It’s been working beautifully for the G.O.P. for decades. Why would the president or anyone else curtail a winning strategy now?

Photo credit: Bob Herbert. (The New York Times)

Davey's Grand Delusion

David Brooks has proved himself, once again, to be either a neo-con shill or the most ignorant journalist on earth. His entire premise -- and his characterization of the left -- is based almost entirely on BushCo propaganda, not fact.

Enough. I know many of you like to read Brooks, but it is entirely too time consuming and frustrating to refute this same nonsense weekly. I will post a link to Davey's op eds, but from now on, if you want to read this rubbish -- and I cannot understand why you would -- you will have to pay the New York Times for the "privilege" of doing so.

The Grand Delusion
By David Brooks
The New York Times
You probably know Daniel Defoe as the author of “Robinson Crusoe,” but he was also a journalist, and in 1705, he noticed a gigantic change occurring around him. “The Power of Nations,” he wrote, “is not now measur’d, as it has been, by Prowess, Gallantry, and Conduct. ’Tis the Wealth of Nations that makes them Great.”

In other words, nations had begun measuring themselves not by whom they conquered, but by how they fared in the competition for economic success. This was a major shift in consciousness, and as the great historian of nationalism, Liah Greenfeld, observes, today you can see a wide variety of societies — the U.S., Japan, China, India, Europe — that define their national greatness in this way.

The Arab world, though famous for its bazaars, has not defined national glory economically, Greenfeld adds. Instead, the rising radical groups today define greatness negatively through acts of anti-Western defiance.

Superseding market entrepreneurs, there are terror entrepreneurs competing to see who can issue the most militant call and perform the most galvanizing act of violence. They are driven by resentment toward the West, but also by the internal competition for prestige and standing.

To his eternal credit, after 9/11 George Bush quickly understood that the terror threat was fundamentally an ideological threat, a product of deep historical consciousness. To his eternal discredit, he didn’t commit enough resources to successfully defeat and discredit that ideology. The chance to deliver the sort of blow that the Six Day War delivered to an earlier version of Arab nationalism may now be lost.

As a result, as the National Intelligence Estimate makes clear, the West now faces a diverse and metastasizing set of foes. The report also makes clear that while the Iraq war has so far enhanced the prestige of the terrorists, Iraq remains the crucial battleground where they will either gain glory or face humiliation.

If we lived in a serious political culture, we’d be discussing what we’ve learned from Iraq and how to proceed. Instead, all of Washington is involved in a juvenile game of gotcha. Bill Clinton is fighting about what did or didn’t happen 10 years ago. The White House is still exaggerating the positive. Democratic senators purr like happy kittens as retired generals slam Donald Rumsfeld, and then stop up their ears when those same generals call for more troops and a longer war.

Voters now confront a Republican Party that understands the breadth of the threat but has bungled the central campaign, and a Democratic Party that is quick to criticize but lacks an understanding of the jihadists and a strategy for confronting them.

Worse, more and more people are falling for the Grand Delusion — the notion that if we just leave the extremists alone, they will leave us alone. On the right, some believe that if we just stop this Wilsonian madness of trying to introduce democracy into the Arab world, we can return to an age of stability and balance. On the left, many people can’t seem to fathom an enemy the U.S. isn’t somehow responsible for. Others think the entire threat has been exaggerated by Karl Rove for the sake of political scaremongering.

Perhaps it’s understandable that many Americans would fall for this Grand Delusion. The Israelis, who have more experience with Islamic extremism, recently did. They imagined that they could build a security barrier and unilaterally withdraw from their historical reality. It took the war in south Lebanon to make them see there is no way to unilaterally withdraw. There is no way to become a normal society. Even if they pulled out of Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, they would still have to confront an existential foe, so long as the forces of political Islam continued to wage their competition for anti-Semitic glory all around.

The blunt fact is that groups of Islamic extremists will continue to compete and grow until mainstream Islamic moderates can establish a more civilized set of criteria for prestige and greatness. Today’s extremists are not the product of short-term historical circumstances, but of consciousness and culture. They are not the fault of the United States, but have roots stretching back centuries. They will not suddenly ignore their foe — us — when their hatred of us is the core of their identity.

The National Intelligence Estimate predicts terror violence will get worse in the years ahead. The scarier estimate was made by a veteran of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in conversation with his grandson who now lives in Boston: “This is forever.”

Photo Credit: David Brooks. (The New York Times)

What Every American Must Understand

Philip Slater: Why America's First Major Terrorist Attack is Forgotten, and what it Shows us | The Huffington Post:
"...Americans need to wake up to the fact that right-wing Republicans don't believe in democracy and never have. They have always admired military dictatorships and seem to be working hard to set up the equivalent here in the United States. Their goal is to create an authoritarian government, with control of the media and the judiciary; to weaken all restraints on executive power and eliminate democratic freedoms; to undermine the public education system through fiscal starvation and rote learning, so that the poor will learn only enough to follow orders; and to create the kind of economic inequality so many Third World countries enjoy--by filling the pockets of a tiny group of extremely rich individuals and impoverishing the rest, thereby providing a mass of cheap labor. This policy began under Ronald Reagan and has made huge leaps under the Bush regime. We don't have too much further to go to achieve this right-wing 'ideal'.

The 'war' on terror was a pretext to help achieve this goal. By defining the crime of 9/11 as a 'war', and invading Iraq--though the perpetrators of that crime, and its leader, were all Saudis--Bush could dress up in an unearned uniform and declare himself a 'war president' with near-dictatorial powers, treating all who disagreed with him as enemies and traitors. As a 'wartime President', Bush has declared that our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, international treaties, and international law, don't apply to him.

If our country's increasing disaffection with this Pinochet wannabe reaches serious proportions what will he do? Declare martial law, like his South American idols? And will Americans lie down docilely, content with their TiVos and ipods?

One of the many ironies of modern American life is that our military establishment--never the first group that comes to mind when we think of democratic institutions--is so disgusted with the irrationality of the neo-cons that it may turn out to be our best protection against becoming a full-fledged dictatorship."

URGENT ACTION: Support Boxer, Dodd's PAPER BALLOT Bill!



Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) - RECOGNIZING AT LAST THE PERIL IN NOVEMBER -- introduced EMERGENCY LEGISLATION this week to protect the upcoming election! See NYTimes p.A 22 today (9/27/06)

The "CONFIDENCE IN VOTING ACT OF 2006" will protect the votes of 40% of the American electorate that currently depend on all-electronic voting machines - not only to COUNT their votes but to CAST them. The "CONFIDENCE IN VOTING ACT OF 2006" provides funding for states to supply "contingency" paper ballots as an option for voters who choose them, and in cases where machine malfunctions disenfranchise waiting voters.

Participation by Registrars would be voluntary. Nationwide election protectors, many of whom are strictly non-partisan, nonetheless support this legislation to let local officials know they will be reimbursed by the federal government for doing the right thing. It must pass FAST to assure elections proceed without failure on November 7.


As reported on the Brad Blog (, "The inclusion of Dodd as a co-sponsor on the Senate legislation is no small coup, as he was one of the original co-sponsors of the HAVA legislation of 2002 which this bill would amend. Until now, he and the other bi-partisan co-sponsors of that original legislation have been reluctant to open HAVA to amendment."

The legislation "would refund state and county voting jurisdictions that offer paper ballots as an option to voters, and requires such jurisdictions post "in a conspicuous manner at the polling place, a notice stating that contingency paper ballots are available at the polling place and that a voter may request to use such a ballot at the voter's discretion."

Call the Congressional Switchboard 202-225-3121 and ask for your Senator. Or write a short e-mail note in your own words supporting the "Confidence in Voting Act of 2006" which is so new it doesn't have a number. We're going fast. You need not show deep understanding of the complexities of e-voting to be effective. YOU ARE ASKING FOR PAPER BACK-UP BALLOTS TO AVOID DISENFRANCHISEMENT BY MACHINE! CONTACT YOUR SENATOR -- AND ANY FEDERAL LEGISLATOR WITH WHOM YOU HAVE INFLUENCE - TODAY!


Iraq “Cause Célèbre” for Islamic Militants

Newly declassified portions of the most recent National Intelligence Estimate released this afternoon confirm the intelligence community's original assertion that Iraq has created more terrorists and made us less -- not more secure. In other words, Bush's policies have accomplished the exact opposite of what was intended.

According to the report, the Iraq war has "become the ‘cause célèbre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.” Further, it found that "the underlying factors fueling the spread of the [jihadist] movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the time frame of this Estimate.”

The time frame? Approximately five years, according to Frances Fragos Townsend, White House adviser on homeland security.

The New York Times highlights four factors cited by the report that fuel "the spread of Islamic militancy:
  1. entrenched grievances and a sense of powerlessness
  2. the Iraq 'jihad'
  3. the slow pace of reform in Muslim nations
  4. and 'pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslims.'"
In conclusion, despite King George's assertions to the contrary, the war in Iraq and the policies that led to it have been utterly and completely counterproductive.

Bush was asleep at the wheel and did nothing to avert terrorism in the first eight months of his Presidency. He was asleep at the wheel when we were attacked on 9/11 and sat in a school room doing nothing while the nation was under attack. He went after the "perpetrators" of 9/11 in Afghanistan and failed to get Osama bin Laden, because he was more concerned with attacking Iraq, a country which bore zero responsibility for 9/11 and had no ties to terrorists.

If fighting terrorism is the goal -- as purported by this administration ad nauseam for the last 5 years -- then they have clearly failed. Yet the message from the King's Castle is the same: "stay the course."

One would have to have more than one screw loose to buy into that advise. This cabal has misled us with their lies and incompetence more often than most people brush their teeth. Enough!!

Impeach, people, impeach.

Related Must Reads:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Full o' Bushit

Friedman is correct in asserting the Bush has done nothing to shake our dependence on foreign oil. He fails to discuss why he has done nothing: Bush and his cabal are up to their elbows in the pockets of the oil companies. They need oil -- enough to wage wars with oil-rich countries like Iraq -- to "fill up" their personal and political coffers.

It's fine to criticize the leaders of oil-rich countries. It's just that morally, American policies have helped to justify the positions of some of those leaders; the world sees them as reacting more or less reasonably to the one-way-my-way, war mongering policies of the "Fill 'Er Up" buffoon currently residing in the White House.

Fill 'Er Up With Dictators
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
Are you having fun yet?

What’s a matter? No sense of humor? You didn’t enjoy watching Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez addressing the U.N. General Assembly and saying of President Bush: “The devil came here yesterday, right here. It smells of sulfur still today.” Many U.N. delegates roared with laughter.

Oh well then, you must have enjoyed watching Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad breezing through New York City, lecturing everyone from the U.N. to the Council on Foreign Relations on the evils of American power and how the Holocaust was just a myth.

C’mon then, you had to at least have gotten a chuckle out of China’s U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, trying to block a U.N. resolution calling for the deployment of peacekeeping troops to Sudan to halt the genocide in Darfur. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the China National Petroleum Corporation owns 40 percent of the Sudan consortium that pumps over 300,000 barrels of oil a day from Sudanese wells.

No? You’re not having fun? Well, you’d better start seeing the humor in all this, because what all these stories have in common is today’s most infectious geopolitical disease: petro-authoritarianism.

Yes, we thought that the fall of the Berlin Wall was going to unleash an unstoppable wave of free markets and free people, and it did for about a decade, when oil prices were low. But as oil has moved to $60 to $70 a barrel, it has fostered a counterwave — a wave of authoritarian leaders who are not only able to ensconce themselves in power because of huge oil profits but also to use their oil wealth to poison the global system — to get it to look the other way at genocide, or ignore an Iranian leader who says from one side of his mouth that the Holocaust is a myth and from the other that Iran would never dream of developing nuclear weapons, or to indulge a buffoon like Chávez, who uses Venezuela’s oil riches to try to sway democratic elections in Latin America and promote an economic populism that will eventually lead his country into a ditch.

For a lot of reasons — some cyclical, some technical and some having to do with the emergence of alternative fuels and conservation — the price of crude oil has fallen lately to around $60 a barrel. Yes, in the long run, we want the global price of oil to go down. But we don’t want the price of gasoline to go down in America just when $3 a gallon has started to stimulate large investments in alternative energies. That is exactly what OPEC wants — let the price fall for a while, kill the alternatives, and then bring it up again.

For now, we still need to make sure, either with a gasoline tax or a tariff on imported oil, that we keep the price at the pump at $3 or more — to stimulate various alternative energy programs, more conservation and a structural shift by car buyers and makers to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“If Bush were the leader he claims to be, he would impose an import fee right now to keep gasoline prices high, and reduce the tax rate on Social Security for low-income workers, so they would get an offsetting increase in income,” argued Philip Verleger Jr., the veteran energy economist.

That is how we can permanently break our oil addiction, and OPEC, and free ourselves from having to listen to these petro-authoritarians, who are all so smug — not because they are educating their people or building competitive modern economies, but because they happen to sit on oil.

According to, in 2005 Iran earned $44.6 billion from crude oil exports, its main source of income. In the same year, the mullahs spent $25 billion on subsidies to buy off the population. Bring the price of oil down to $30 and guess what happens: All of Iran’s income goes to subsidies. That would put a terrible strain on Ahmadinejad, who would have to reach out to the world for investment. Trust me, at $30 a barrel, the Holocaust isn’t a myth anymore.

But right now, Chávez, Ahmadinejad and all their petrolist pals think we are weak and will never bite the bullet. They have our number. They know that Mr. Bush is a phony — that he always presents himself as this guy ready to make the “tough” calls, but in reality he has not asked his party, the Congress, the people, or U.S. industry to do one single hard thing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Bush prattles on about spreading democracy and freedom, but history will actually remember the Bush years as the moment when petro-authoritarianism — not freedom and democracy — spread like a wildfire and he did nothing serious to stop it.

Photo credit: Thomas Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The Hillary Dilemma

MoDo tackles the 'Hillary Dilemma:' How to blend sexuality and strength successfully. The column is mostly lightweight.

My only contention: calling Chavez "a world class nutbar." C'mon, Maureen, do your homework, and you'll find he is anything but. Jerry Falwell -- well that's another story.

Another Clinton Seduction
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia
At least Jerry Falwell didn’t say Hillary smelled of sulfur.

But he did say that if she runs for president, she will bedevil evangelicals and fire them up to vote Republican with a dark force exceeding even Lucifer.

I suppose, since Senator Clinton’s shrill right-wing critics usually portray her as a witch, being promoted to devil can count as a feminist triumph. And she’s in good bipartisan company with the president, who was also cast as the devil by a world-class nutbar.

Hillary is morphing from workhorse back to show horse, paving the way for her historic presidential race with a series of big policy speeches. And she is taking on the other dynasty more energetically.

“I’m certain that if my husband and his security team had been shown a classified report entitled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States,’ he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team,” she crisply told reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday.

Forty years after feminism brashly burst forth, female leaders are still struggling to figure out how to blend sexuality and strength in way that will not backfire. Consider Hewlett-Packard, the progressive Silicon Valley company. Carly Fiorina was fired as chairman and chief executive after a stereotypically alpha male reign, while Patricia Dunn lost her job as chairman after she used what some critics called a stereotypical “Mean Girls” subterfuge to spy on male board members rather than confronting them directly over leaks.

Hillary is also trying different methods, searching for the key that would allow her to break into the ultimate mahogany-paneled men’s club at 1600 Penn. She will try to get back to the West Wing based not on what she has done in the Senate, but on how she has done it.

She has been like a silent-film star, lacking a voice in this chilling time when the Bush administration has Photoshopped the Constitution, portrayed critics as traitors, and spurred terrorism with a misconceived and mismanaged war in Iraq.

Explaining why she had not taken any unpopular stances and championed no big ideas, Hillary answered Joshua Green more like diva than devil in the upcoming cover story for The Atlantic Monthly: “Everything I do carries political risk because nobody gets the scrutiny that I get. It’s not like I have any margin for error whatsoever.”

She has transformed her method from bulldozing alpha in the White House — high-handed, unilateral and insensitive on health care — to coalition-building gamma in Congress. Now the woman who hated being called first lady charms with the most handkerchief-dropping feminine wiles and stratagems, from fetching coffee for senior male Senate colleagues to stepping to the background so that preening male peacocks can hog the live shot.

As one of her male aides bragged to Mr. Green, it’s so effective because the men who tried to impeach her husband don’t expect the former first lady of the United States “to ask if you want two lumps of sugar.”

“Fetching coffee, I think, is too much,” said Michael Morris of the Columbia Business School. “But any good politician is a good flirt. Bill Clinton seduced every woman and every man he met.”

One Hillary aide recently crowed to me about the surprising number of her male colleagues who have crushes on her. And the Rev. Falwell may have missed her bonding with conservative lawmakers at Hill prayer breakfasts. As Mr. Green writes, Hillary and Sam Brownback worked together on legislation after the Kansas conservative gave testimony at a prayer breakfast that he realized it was a sin to have trashed her.

It may not be turning the other cheek for Hillary, so much as triangulating the other cheek. “The Warrior,” as her staff calls her, has not forgotten what she learned from her consort. The Clintons once polled on where to go on vacation when they were in the White House (Dick Morris advised that a camping trip would play well with swing voters), and now Mr. Green reports that the Clintons moved to Chappaqua at least partly in response to polling data.

He also writes that in 2003, the pollster Mark Penn created a 007-secret team to determine whether Hillary could break her pledge to serve a full Senate term and still have enough political clout to wage a presidential run — an assertion that Mr. Penn neither confirmed nor denied.

It may not smell of sulfur, but it smacks of truth.

Photo credit: Maureen Dowd. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Olbermann: No More Free Pass, Mr. Bush

Another heartfelt, courageous, "Special Comment" from the Bloggerman. It's about time this was said in the mainstream media -- I've been waiting over five years .... from the bottom of my soul, my thanks to Keith Olbermann.


You can also watch the video at Crooks & Liars or here.


A Textbook Definition of Cowardice by Keith Olbermann:
And finally tonight, a Special Comment about President Clinton’s interview. The headlines about them are, of course, entirely wrong. It is not essential that a past president, bullied and sandbagged by a monkey posing as a newscaster, finally lashed back.

It is not important that the current President’s portable public chorus has described his predecessor’s tone as “crazed.”

Our tone should be crazed. The nation’s freedoms are under assault by an administration whose policies can do us as much damage as al Qaida; the nation’s marketplace of ideas is being poisoned by a propaganda company so blatant that Tokyo Rose would’ve quit.

Nonetheless. The headline is this: Bill Clinton did what almost none of us have done in five years. He has spoken the truth about 9/11, and the current presidential administration.

"At least I tried," he said of his own efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. "That’s the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They had eight months to try; they did not try. I tried."

Thus in his supposed emeritus years has Mr. Clinton taken forceful and triumphant action for honesty, and for us; action as vital and as courageous as any of his presidency; action as startling and as liberating, as any, by any one, in these last five long years.

The Bush Administration did not try to get Osama bin Laden before 9/11.

The Bush Administration ignored all the evidence gathered by its predecessors.

The Bush Administration did not understand the Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S."

The Bush Administration did ... not ... try.

Moreover, for the last five years one month and two weeks, the current administration, and in particular the President, has been given the greatest “pass” for incompetence and malfeasance in American history! Read more.


Survival by Ecotourism

Where Gorillas and the Antelope Play
By Nicholas D. Kristof
The New York Times
BAYANGA, Central African Republic

The first thing they tell you here is not to play with the gorillas or the elephants.

A young male elephant gored a young Italian woman here when he attempted to play with her. And if you creep too close to the gorillas, a 375-pound silverback will charge you and, if you’re lucky, stop inches from you and slap the ground in rage.

But even if you can’t play with the animals, you can ogle them — and there are few places in the world as good for that as this remote jungle where the Central African Republic, Cameroon and the Congo Republic come together. And now the three countries have joined forces to preserve this jungle by establishing adjoining national parks that cover an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

It’s part of a growing trend that deserves strong support from the West: poor countries seeking economic opportunities by protecting nature rather than pillaging it. The grandest and most unlikely of these experiments is this one, for the Central African Republic may be the single most wretched country in the world: life expectancy is 38, and every year it falls by another six months. One-fifth of children die by the age of 5. Outside the capital, government is only a rumor.

Yet while many national parks in Africa exist primarily on paper, this one is real. Game wardens patrol vigorously: they pursue poachers across international borders, and seized 70,000 snares last year alone.

This is the only place in the world to see western lowland gorillas (even more elusive than the mountain gorillas of Rwanda). Casey Parks, the student journalist traveling with me, and I spent two hours with 13 gorillas.

We stayed at least 30 feet away to avoid being charged, but there was one moment when our guide froze and whispered to us that a female was asking the silverback to charge us. Fortunately, the silverback adopted a typical husband’s approach in dealing with a demanding wife: he pretended he didn’t hear.

The World Wildlife Fund is nurturing this attempt to develop ecotourism. It has a team, including American student volunteers, hanging out with gorillas all day every day, habituating them so that tourists can see them.

It’s a delicate balance, for the tourists could bring diseases that would kill gorillas. It may also be more difficult for a silverback to entice females into his harem if humans are around. Yet if the gorillas can lure rich Westerners here, ecotourism could become a more sustainable economic pillar than slash-and-burn logging. For now, fewer than 1,000 foreigners visit the park each year.

Many Africans resent the parks, partly because they allocate vast resources to saving animals for rich foreigners to enjoy — in regions where humans routinely die for lack of a few dollars.

“That’s where conservation got it wrong in the past,” said Chloe Cipolletta, an Italian who has lived with the gorillas for the last nine years. It’s crucial, she said, that conservation programs benefit people as well as animals, and so the WWF has hired 31 of the local Bayaka Pygmies as trackers and guides, and others earn money by showing tourists how to catch antelope with nets.

The first night I arrived here, crossing a river from Cameroon in a canoe and then jouncing over ruts to get to a Pygmy village, I was led to somebody I thought was a local chief — and then he stepped from the darkness and turned out to be a tall white man who greeted me in very American English. Louis Sarno, originally from New Jersey, explained that he once heard Pygmy music on the radio and was so entranced that he made a visit 20 years ago — and stayed.

Mr. Sarno married a local woman and learned the language. He endures bouts with malaria, goes on weeks-long hunting trips in the jungle with the others, and fits in remarkably well (except that he’s a lousy spear hunter).

Now he has become a fierce advocate for the “forest people,” as Pygmies often prefer to be called. Mr. Sarno notes that logging has benefited corrupt leaders while doing nothing for the villagers, and so he welcomes the ecotourism experiment as a last best hope for local people.

Africa can be a grim continent, and the news usually focuses on genocide, corruption and disease. But in the audacious dream to preserve this rain forest and the way of life of people in it, you see Africa’s glory, fighting to survive.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kristof. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)