Saturday, September 30, 2006

“It was not a graceful exit.”

So said congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), according to the New York Times. Republicans on Capitol Hill had hoped to finish the session by passing legislation with which to bash Democrats as being soft on terror etc. Instead, they went back to their districts with a new scandal brewing.
Congressman Mark Foley abruptly resigned as details of unavory messages between him and teenaged congressional pages hit the media. The scandal quickly leapt beyond Foley's personal conduct to the question of what the GOP leadership knew and when did it know it:
The highly publicized case of Mr. Foley, who served in the House leadership as a deputy whip, threatened to build into an institutional scandal as House leaders acknowledged that they had known about the messages for nearly a year, but had relied on Mr. Foley’s word that nothing inappropriate had occurred.
But that was not all. Republicans were unable to win final approval of a bill to regulate domestic wiretapping, which Democrats feared would become a political weapon more potent than the bill governing terrorism suspects. The disclosure of a National Intelligence Estimate saying the war in Iraq was fueling terrorism called attention to the issue Democrats most want to campaign on — discontent with the administration’s handling of the war. A new book by Bob Woodward did the same, claiming that the administration had ignored high-level warnings that it would need more troops.
As September comes to a close, the Republican playbook is losing it old magic. Today, as the UPI reports, the Democrats picked an Iraq veteran to deliver the response to the president's Saturday radio address:
Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in an Iraq helicopter crash, is also running for Congress and used the radio forum to chide the president over the "cut-and-run" allegations levied against Democrats over the Iraq war.
The National Guard major took issue with use of the term by Republicans including her opponent, State Sen. Peter Roskam.
"I didn't cut and run, Mr. President," Duckworth declared. "Like so many others, I proudly fought and sacrificed."

Friday, September 29, 2006

Not a Good Month for Bush and his Apologists

No one can be surprised that the Republicans have been seeking to keep the war on terror front and center in this election season. How's it going for them? Not as they hoped. Let's look at the last month.
September started with commemoration of the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which kept the media busy for the first week. I don't think that President Bush and his apologists made much headway in denting the public view of the federal handling of the disaster as a disaster.
Next up was the fifth anniversary of 9/11, which Republicans hoped would set the tone for fall campaign season. ABC produced a fictional docudrama, "The Path to 9/11, which instead of leaving Democrats cringing in fear at once again being called soft of terror, created a firestorm of criticism based on its protrayal of events that never happened.
It didn't help that after five years, more people are asking about Osama what's his name and why, as the Washington Post reported, we don't have a clue as to where he's hiding. As for Afghanistan, this week's cover story of Newsweek International is the resurgence of the Taliban:
Ridge by ridge and valley by valley, the religious zealots who harbored Osama bin Laden before 9/11—and who suffered devastating losses in the U.S. invasion that began five years ago next week—are surging back into the country's center.
Democrats were expected to be put on the defensive by Republican legislation to give President Bush the authority to do what he already thought he could do in terms of secret prisons, military tribunals and torture, without regard to the niceties of the Geneva Conventions. Republicans hoped to maneuver wimpy Democrats into showing that they cared more about terrorists' rights than about protecting our citizens. Instead, we saw a protracted argument between Bush and his fellow Republicans about the importance of international law in protecting our men and women in uniform.
The focus on the war on terror was intended to draw attention away from Iraq. But somehow, the mess found its way back into our conciousness. The Senate Inteligence Committee released two reports on Iraq that included this conclusion:
Postwar information supports prewar Intelligence Community assessments that there was no credible information that Iraq was complicit in or had foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qa'ida strike.
The leaking of a national intelligence estimate reinforced these questions as to whether the war in Iraq is making us safer from terrorism.
And today, we read that Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, presents a devastating picture of our national government unable to come to terms with the mess they created in Iraq. Among the revelations the New York Times describes is this remarkable picture of the vice president micro-managing the work of weapons inspectors:
Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.
Bush and his supporters saw a glimmer of hope in the fiery speeches from anti-U.S. leaders, notably Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, but just pointing out that some folks don't like us doesn't help given the relentless bad news and the time elapsed since we were attacked. Yes, we know it's a dangerous world, but after five years, shouldn't we be making progress against our adversaries?
The GOP playbook isn't working for three reasons. First, facts have a way of coming to the fore despite the most determined political strategy. Second, authoritative voices, including the intelligence community and high profile military veterans in the U.S. Senate, have questioned the fundamental assumptions of Bush's foreign policy. Third, Democrats are speaking out more forcefully.
As E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in the Washington Post, Bill Clinton's angry outburst on Fox News a week ago has had a galvanizing effect on the public discourse:
By choosing to intervene in the terror debate in a way that no one could miss, Clinton forced an argument about the past that had up to now been largely a one-sided propaganda war waged by the right. The conservative movement understands the political value of controlling the interpretation of history. Now its control is finally being contested.
Instead of playing offense, Republicans are continually being forced to respond to events beyond their control and to the arguments of their critics.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Scientists and Engineers Support Thinking

Having bravely declared this blog to be in favor of thinking, I noticed this NYT piece about a new 527 organization, Scientists and Engineers for America, which launched its Website with a pro-thinking manifesto:
Scientists and engineers have a right, indeed an obligation, to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interests ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research.
We ask every American who values scientific integrity in decision-making to join us in endorsing a basic Bill of Rights for Scientists and Engineers.
Herein, their Bill of Rights:
1. Federal policy shall be made using the best available science and analysis both from within the government and from the rest of society.
2. The federal government shall never intentionally publish false or misleading scientific information nor post such material on federal websites.
3. Scientists conducting research or analysis with federal funding shall be free to discuss and publish the results of unclassified research after a reasonable period of review without fear of intimidation or adverse personnel action.
4. Federal employees reporting what they believe to be manipulation of federal research and analysis for political or ideological reasons should be free to bring this information to the attention of the public and shall be protected from intimidation, retribution or adverse personnel action by effective enforcement of Whistle Blower laws.
5. No scientists should fear reprisals or intimidation because of the results of their research.
6. Appointments to federal scientific advisory committees shall be based on the candidate’s scientific qualifications, not political affiliation or ideology.
7. The federal government shall not support any science education program that includes instruction in concepts that are derived from ideology and not science.
8. While scientists may elect to withhold methods or studies that might be misused there shall be no federal prohibition on publication of basic research results. Decisions made about blocking the release of information about specific applied research and technologies for reasons of national security shall be the result of a transparent process. Classification decisions shall be made by trained professionals using a clear set of published criteria and there shall be a clear process for challenging decisions and a process for remedying mistakes and abuses of the classification system.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

For Those Who Want to Think

The public discourse is going to get noisier and noisier in the next six weeks. So taking a cue from Bill Clinton's remark about the voters from last Friday, "They just want to think it through."
His comment brought to mind the 1960 version of
Inherit the Wind, a fictional protrayal of the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a young schoolteacher was prosecuted and convicted of teaching evolution. Spencer Tracy plays trial lawyer Henry Drummond (meant to portray Clarence Darrow, who represented John Scopes), who interrogates Fredric March, who plays Matthew Harrison Brady (meant to portray William Jennings Bryant) in their courtroom clash.
At the end of a hot day in the courtroom, Tracy turns and points to his client and exclaims, "This man wishes to be accorded the same privilege as a sponge! He wishes to think!"
I know that emotions (mine included) will run high as November 7 approaches. I'm excited about the prospects for Democrats to win control of the House and possibly the Senate. But between now and election day, I will do my best to be a blogger for those who want to think things through.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"They just want to think it through."

So said former President Clinton, minutes after his smackdown of Chris Wallace on Fox News, when he went on Countdown with Keith Olbermann and spoke to the policy wonk in each of us:
I‘ve gotten a lot of big crowds this year of people on are unusually quiet because they just want to think. They‘re tired of this labeling and name calling and we‘re not patriotic and all that. They know that‘s all a bunch of bull and they just want to think it through.
Of course, thinking through the reasons given for going into Iraq and the actual results is not helpful to Bush and the Republicans in power who sent us there. What were those reasons?
1. We were told Iraq had WMDs. That turned out not to be the case.
2. We were told Iraq was somehow connected with al Qaeda. That turned out not to be the case.
3. We were told that transforming Iraq would create a domino effect of moderation in the region. That turned out not to be the case.
In fact the opposite has occured. Instead of encouraging our friends, Bush's Iraq debacle has emboldened our enemies. The four pages of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Bush allowed to be released do not present a picture of progress:
Al-Qa’ida, now merged with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.
Bush's supporters have complained that the leak of portions of the NIE was politically motivated. But it seems to me that having facts and findings that give us more to think about in the weeks before the elections is a good thing. We just want to think it through.

John Bolton Will not Be Confirmed

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note reports that the nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations is now dead:
The last pre-election loophole through which John Bolton's confirmation might have snuck through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was at 2:15 this afternoon at a previously called "business meeting" of the Committee.
That meeting has been cancelled -- and with it even the dimmest chance of John Bolton being confirmed as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Some have said that another effort could be mounted during a lame duck session of Congress, but there are several Republicans who will not feel bound by the White House in that circumstance; Dems as well -- who will vote against cloture on the floor of the Senate were it to get out of Committee then.
So, it's over. Wow.
John Bolton might agree to serve as the uncompensated Ambassador to the UN in a second recess appointment, or might agree to serve as a recess appointed political deputy at the UN and made "acting Ambassador and Chief of Mission" at a pay cut.
Either way, Ambassador Bolton will fill his term as the only unconfirmed Ambassador at the United Nations in American history.
Bolton was sent to the UN via a recess apointment after his nomination stalled in the Senate in July of last year. Even among the neocons who believe that diplomacy is for girly men, Bolton stood out as being contemptuous of the chain of command and all too willing to undermine colleagues in the State Department when it suited his ideological purposes.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Farewell to the Delawarean

The anonymous blogger known as The Delawarean called it quits yesterday. An unusually literate sort, he adpated these famous lines from T.S. Eliot in his final post:
This is the way the world blog ends
This is the way the world blog ends
This is the way the world blog ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Just to be sure we wouldn't think of him as too highfalutin', he closed with these words:
Elvis has left the building.
This nameless blogger distinquished himself with his thoughtfulness, his lucid prose and his wit as evidenced by this photo from his profile. We should all wish him well as he gets on with his life.

Righting the Ship of State

Joe Biden and Wes Clark are two of the strongest voices criticizing our current foreign policy, whose credibility is underscored by their willingness to offer prescriptions for extracting the United States from the mess that the current Republican regime has created.
Nancy at The Delaware Way highlights this story on new discussions on federalism in Iraq. Nancy correctly points out that Joe Biden has proposed just such a federalist approach as way to overcome sectarian divisions in Iraq--an approach I have previously mentioned.
Wes Clark focuses on Afganistan in this piece published in Newsweek International. The fact that Afganistan is now at risk is just more evidence that our president has not kept his eye on the ball.
Over the weekend, findings of a national security estimate were brought to light, findings that findings cast further doubt on the wisdom and efficacy of our current foreign policy. Because we are governed by a system that allows for dissent, statesmen like Senator Biden and General Clark are free to criticize our current policy and offer policy alternatives to make us safer instead of fueling further disorder in the world. When it is hard to identify any area in which Bush and his apologists have been able to advance the national interest, such dissent should not only to be tolerated, but should be welcomed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Maybe Time for a Change of Course?

From the Washington Post, this is our foreign policy at work:
A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.
Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Al Qaeda: Are we making any progress anywhere?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Property Interests, not Property Rights

Prompted by this post at Mike's Musings on the curious names of suburban subdivisions and this post on New Castle County's Comprehensive Plan at The Delaware Way, I have been thinking about the balance between land use regulation and the rights of property owners.
We often hear the phrase "property rights" from those opposed to new or different zoning and land use regulations. Those who use this phrase couple it with the idea that new restrictions on land use constitutes takings of property by government, and that land owners whould be compensated for newly restrictive regulations affecting their land.
The concept of rights in our system of government is a powerful one, going back to the Declaration of Independence, in which we are said to enjoy "inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In this conext, and in the public imagination, rights are inviolate and not negotiable. But because of the tradeoffs involved, the specifics of zoning laws are necessarily negotiable, which is why I prefer to think in terms of interests, not rights, when it comes to managing land use.
Zoning and other land use regulation are designed to protect neighbors from deleterious effects from nearby properties. There are many ways in which activities on one property can affect another: pollution, heavy traffic, noise, blocking sunlight, soil erosion, increased hazard from flooding, to name but a few. The nexus of relationships in any sophisticated community precludes recognition of simplistic claims of property rights, and instead requires a balancing of competing claims of individual and community interests.
No individual claim of property rights can or should trump the interest of the community to reasonably manage land use in its jurisdiction. In return, the standards of fairness and due process are set high enough to make it difficult to change the zoning for a particlular property.
I sat in Wilmington City Council on Thursday night as a rezoning ordinance was tabled due to lack of support. Because the rezoning had been tabled by the city's Planning Commission, three quarters of the members of Council had to approve the ordinance for it to pass. The votes weren't there and the ordinance was held.
This was a useful example of how our system works: Instead of recognizing the simplistic notion of property rights, we have a system that makes it difficult to enact new restrictions on land use without amble opportunity for all involved to make their case.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Voodoo Economics and Social Security, Part 2

At the end of my first post in this series on Social Security, I offered this provocative quote from our president on March 16 of last year:
Personal accounts do not solve the issue.
To be fair, and to move the discussion along, here an expanded quote of what he said about personal accounts:
Personal accounts do not solve the issue. But personal accounts will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever emerges as a Social Security solution.
And the reason why is because a personal account would enable a worker to, voluntarily, by the way -- this is a voluntary program, you can choose to join or choose not to join. The government is not making you do that, it's your option, and you can decide whether or not you want to put some of your own money aside in a conservative mix of stocks and bonds to earn a better rate of return than that which you would earn -- your money would earn inside the Social Security system. And over time, that compounds, it grows, and you would end up with a nest egg you could call your own.
Bush's claim that his private accounts will allow participants to "earn a better rate of return" than it would now is confusing at best. My money isn't earning interest for me inside the system--it's contributing to a pool that insures that all participants have a minimum income. Retirement benefits are not based on the rate of return of the payroll taxes paid into the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, but are calculated using an actuarial formula. (We'll look at the financial health of the Trust Fund in a upcoming post.)
Some retirees collect more than they contributed to the system and some collect less. Is that fair? Free market purists believe it isn't. But Social Security wasn't created as an investment program; it was designed to create a minimum income for retirees.
A dollar cannot be in two places at the same time. Payroll taxes diverted into private accounts would no longer be available to pay for guaranteed retirement benefits. Put another way, Bush wants to at least partially convert Social Security from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan, which would necessarily erode the guaranteed minimum income.

Changes Coming to New Castle County's Comprehensive Plan

Nancy at The Delaware Way knows a thing or two about open space preservation. So when she posts about New Castle County's updating its Comprehensive Plan, you should pay attention. NCC's Comp Plan is the document that guides zoning decisions for more than half a million residents (62 percent of Delaware's population). Nancy describes how The Committee of 100 is trying to shape the process to make it easier to develop open space and even historic sites.
NCC has a page with links to meeting minutes, growth scenarios, population projections, water and wastewater studies, surveys and policy research--more than you may ever want to know on planning (even my eyes glaze over).
The page includes maps that provide a bird's eye view of competing scenarios for future development:
Scenario 1 - Existing Future Land Use Map
Scenario 2A - Mixed Use Center Development
Scenario 3A - Accelerated Southern Buildout with Mixed Use Centers
Scenario 4A - Centralized Southern Development with Mixed Use Centers
Scenario 5 - Northern Redevelopment
Scenario 5A - Northern Redevelopment with Mixed Use Centers
Scenario 6 - Slower Growth
If you care which of these scenarios shapes future growth, then you need to make your views known to your county government. These maps provide the big picture, but details matter. Pay close attention to the draft reports on infrastructure, economic development, infill, transportation and development permitting. These drafts will shape the way our local governments will manage growth for years to come.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Interior Department Auditors Blocked from Doing their Jobs

Dana at Delaware Watch has already commented on this story in the New York Times:
Four government auditors who monitor leases for oil and gas on federal property say the Interior Department suppressed their efforts to recover millions of dollars from companies they said were cheating the government.
The auditors contend that they were blocked by their bosses from pursuing more than $30 million in fraudulent underpayments of royalties for oil produced in publicly owned waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Dana covers the topic pretty well, so I'll just add one thought: Absent any evidence that Interior Department officials were actually taking bribes, we are left to conclude that these government employees think it's somehow in the public interest that oil companies are getting away with underpaying for the federal government's assets.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Voodoo Economics and Social Security, Part 1

By popular demand, we are going back to look at the younger Bush's determination to divert Social Security taxes to private investment accounts. While you may have thought his plan was dead, Reuters reports that he hasn't given up:
President George W. Bush hopes to revive his plan to overhaul the U.S. Social Security retirement program if his Republican party keeps control of the Congress in the November midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
But first, via TNR, we take a look back at his father's thoughts on the subject in 1987:
I think it's a nutty idea to fool around with the Social Security system and run the risk of [hurting] the people who've been saving all their lives.... It may be a new idea, but it's a dumb one.
This is the same George H. W. Bush who once referred to supply side theories as "voodoo economics." His comment on Social Security was prompted by a question from fellow presidential candidate and former Delaware governor Pete du Pont, who last year referred to Social Security as "Socialism's Last Redoubt."
Now, my loyal readers know better than to expect that their favorite policy wonk would rise to Pete's bait and leap to man the ramparts in a last ditch stand for socialism in America--at least not without doing his homework. No, my loyal readers expect a mind-numbing, multipart series that will overwhelm them with facts, figures and sheer tedium.
Before we get started, here's a provocative quote from the younger Mr. Bush:
"Personal accounts do not solve the issue," Bush said at a White House news conference.
Which raises the question of what Bush's personal accounts would accomplish. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Suburban Sprawl in Sussex

Living as I do in a venerable city neighborhood, I am not confronted on a daily basis by the absurdities of suburban sprawl. Mike's Musings has an engaging post on the faux traditional developments springing up in Sussex County:
We have more than a few subdivisions with pretentious names like "The Enclave" or "The Preserves." Near my home, you will find Wolfe Runne, which we here in town refer to as "Wolf-EE Run-EE."
My current favorite (and I use that word advisedly) is "The Ridings at Rehoboth." "Ridings," I guess to highlight the horsey-ness of our area. Actually, the horsey area is a bit farther west. But we'll let that go.
Apologists for suburban sprawl argue that the marketplace is all the justification needed for the social ills of unchecked suburban sprawl. But, as we have learned through hard experience, markets aren't always right, as Ada Louise Huxtable writes in The Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion:
I do not deny the needs and tastes well served by those artificial environments that are as American as sliced Wonder Bread. . . But the common belief that they represent some kind of immutable, preordained, or universal people's choice, that they have come about through the true exercise of the natural laws of democratic taste and free enterprise, is a fallacy.
Mike links to an interesting blog, DenverInfillBlog, that tracks redevelopment projects in a city that is more than two centuries younger than Wilmington.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Delawareliberal on Mike Castle's Special Interest Legislation

Nothing says wonky so much as a multipart series requiring solid homework. Jason at Delawareliberal is wonking up a a storm with his multipart series on Mike Castle's narrowly crafted legislation that seems designed to benefit the biotech company Syngenta. Read the series from the beginning: Part I, Part II, Part IIb and Part III.
And be sure to read Part IIIb, which features this comment from Dave from FirstStatePolitics on why we can't afford to go back to PAYGO, the principle of paying for spending increases when they are enacted:
I am against PAYGO right now because politicians are impotent when it comes to fixing entitlements, and that will result in colossal spending increases, which would mandate colossal tax hikes. If the spending can be curtailed, then we can go with PAYGO. I'm not against it in principal.
The impotent politicians he refers to are of course all Republican. The impotence he refers to may or may not be related to the inconvenient fact that the GOP has been in control of the White House and both house of congress for the last four years.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Men of intemperate minds cannot be free."

Edmund Burke wrote these words in 1791, though he could be describing the delusional ways of Washington in recent years. Burke is something of a hero to Andrew Sullivan and other conservatives, many of whom despair of the willfulness of those in power who chafe at the legitimate restraints imposed by our system of government.
Sullivan write in the Sunday Times of his discontent with the current Republican regime in Washington:
[Bush's] legacy...includes two bungled wars, a doubling of the national debt, a ruination of America’s moral high ground in the war against Islamist terror, the worst US intelligence fiasco since the Bay of Pigs, and the emergence of Iran as a regional and potentially nuclear power with control of the West’s energy supplies.
But the damage to America itself — to its cultural balance and constitutional order — is just as profound. In a recent CNN story on Southern women and the Republicans, one voter explained: “There are some people, and I’m one of them, that believe George Bush was placed where he is by the Lord. I don’t care how he governs, I will support him. I’m a Republican through and through.”
American conservatism has gone from being a political philosophy rooted in scepticism of power, empirical judgment and limited government into an ideology based in born-again religious faith, immune to empirical reality and dedicated to the relentless expansion of presidential clout. It sanctions wiretapping without court warrants, indefinite detention without trial and the use of torture.
In criticizing the excesses of the current regime, Sullivan quotes a fellow conservative as describing the U.S. Constitution as "Burkean," refering to its systems of checks and balances. Edmund Burke, who as a member of Parliament defended the rights of the British colonies, is still quoted by conservatives who believe in limited government. Those in power who believe that they can conduct our nation's affairs as they see fit (as long as a lawyer says it's okay) might take pause from Burke's Second Speech on Conciliation with America in 1775:
It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason and justice tell me I ought to do.
The best hope for the kind of conservatism Sullivan prefers, he says lies with a small fragment of the Republican Party:
It turns out that the US does have a functioning opposition party after all. It’s called the authentically conservative wing of the Republicans.
The trouble for principled conservatives is that they have to stand up to the current regime in defiance of Karl Rove's game plan, or continue to put their principles aside and keep their silence for the duration of the election campaign in the hope of maintaining the GOP's hold on power.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Trenchtown, Iraq

This is what passes for progress in Iraq. The New York Times reports that the government in Iraq is planning to isolate the chaos in Baghdad from the chaos in the rest of the country:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 15 — The Iraqi government plans to seal off Baghdad next month by ringing it with a series of trenches and setting up dozens of traffic checkpoints to control movement in and out of the city of seven million people, an Interior Ministry spokesman said today.
The effort is one of the most ambitious security projects in recent memory, with cars expected to be funneled through 28 checkpoints along the main arteries snaking out from the capital. Smaller roads would be closed off. The trenches would run across farmland or other open areas to prevent cars from evading the checkpoints, said the ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf.
And to think it's only been 1,234 days since Mission Accomplished Day.
Credit where credit is due: The Cunning Realist used the headline "Trenchtown" in reference to this story; I added "Iraq" which completes the reference to the Bob Marley song.

“What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’?”

So asked our president yesterday. The Washington Post reports that Bush is threatening to close down interrogation of terror suspects and blame those who want the U.S. to adhere to the Geneva Conventions:
The president's threat to end the interrogation program seemed to make little impression on the Republican dissidents who have balked at his interpretation of the Geneva Conventions. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), two of four Republicans who voted against Bush's position on Thursday, again rejected his logic after the news conference, and a fifth Republican senator, Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), joined the rebellion against the president.
The issue, as New York Times reports, is reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions:

The dispute centers on whether to pass legislation reinterpreting a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3 that bars “outrages upon personal dignity”; the Supreme Court ruled that the provision applies to terrorism suspects. Mr. Bush argued that the convention’s language was too vague and is proposing legislation to clarify the provisions. “What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’?” he said at one point.
Mr. McCain and his allies on the committee say reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions would open the door to rogue governments to interpret them as they see fit.
"Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries, with less respect for basic human rights, that they could issue their own legislative 'reinterpretations,' " McCain said in a written statement. "This puts our military personnel and others directly at risk in this and future wars."
As for Colin Powell, Bush said his former secretary of state isn't thinking clearly:
He also discounted an argument made in a letter from Mr. Powell that his plan would encourage the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”
Asked about that analysis, Mr. Bush said, “If there’s any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it’s flawed logic.”
Bush and his apologists had reasoned that shifting the focus from Iraq to terrorism would work to their political advantage. It's doesn't seem to be working out as they hoped.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Republicans Divided, Senate Committee Defies Bush over Military Tribunals

A majority of voters having turned against the war in Iraq, Republican strategists are hoping to use congressional votes on security issues in the election this year. As the Washington Post reports, three prominent GOP senators are making that more difficult:
A Senate committee rebuffed the personal entreaties of President Bush yesterday, rejecting his proposed strategies for interrogating and trying enemy combatants and approving alternative legislation that he has strenuously opposed.
The bipartisan vote sets up a legislative showdown on an issue that GOP strategists had hoped would unite their party and serve as a cudgel against Democrats in the Nov. 7 elections. Instead, Bush and congressional Republican leaders are at loggerheads with a dissident group led by Sen. John McCain (R), who says the president's approach would jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops and intelligence operatives.
McCain has teamed up with committee chairman John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (all military veterans) in offering legislation that respects the Geneva Conventions. Susan Collins of Maine and all of the Democrats on the committee joined the three in sending the bill to the Senate floor.
A number of judge advocates general had opposed Bush's proposal. So eyebrows were raised when they agreed to sign a letter under pressure from the White House:
Senior judge advocates general had publicly questioned many aspects of the administration's position, especially any reinterpreting of the Geneva Conventions. The White House and GOP lawmakers seized on what appeared to be a change of heart to say that they now have military lawyers on their side.
But the letter was signed only after an extraordinary round of negotiations Wednesday between the judge advocates and William J. Haynes II, the Defense Department's general counsel, according to Republican opponents of Bush's proposal. The military lawyers refused to sign a letter of endorsement. But after hours of cajoling, they assented to write that they "do not object," according to three Senate GOP sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were divulging private negotiations.
Graham, a former Air Force judge advocate general, promised to summon the lawyers to a committee hearing and to ask for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding the letter.
Retired general Colin Powell also opposed Bush's proposal, which prompted White Hose spokesman Tony Snow to say that Powell doesn't know what he's talking about:
"They don't understand what we're trying to do here," he said of Powell and retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., who wrote a similar letter. Asked if Powell is "confused," Snow said, "Yes."
As previously noted, those opposing Bush on the treatment of terror suspects aren't softies, but are concerned about the treatment of U.S. citizens serving in uniform.

Wilmington Getting Warmer

The News Journal today reports that Wilmington is getting warmer:
After rising slowly for three decades, the average temperature in Wilmington spiked in the first half of the year, a sign global warming is hitting home, a nonprofit research group said Thursday.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group's report found that the January to June average temperature of 51.6 degrees this year was 2.5 degrees warmer than the average for those six months from 1971 to 2000.
Six months of above average temperatures in one city does not constitute convincing evidence of global warming, as the state's climatologist pointed out:
Delaware's state climatologist David R. Legates, reviewed the state's own temperature data for Wilmington and found nothing alarming.
"There is no trend at all for Wilmington," Legates said, adding that since 1946, there has been a slight warming that is not necessarily connected to global warming.
I would guess that no scientist would argue for a connection between temperatures in Wilmington and global climate trends. So I checked U.S. PIRG's Website to see if the research dug a little deeper:
To examine how these recent temperature patterns compare with temperatures over the last 30 years, U.S. PIRG analyzed government temperature data from 255 major weather stations in all 50 states and Washington , D.C. for the years 2000-2005 and the first six months of 2006. This recent data was compared to “normal” temperatures for the three decades spanning 1971-2000. Key findings include:
• Nationally, between 2000 and 2005, the average temperature was above normal at 95% of the locations, indicating widespread warming. In addition, nights are getting warmer; the average minimum (nighttime low) temperature was above normal at 92% of the locations examined.
Playing up the local angle is a nice hook to generate news stories around the country. But the danger Delaware may face from global warming is not higher temperature but higher sea levels:
The impact from rising temperatures may be dramatic in a coastal state like Delaware, said John Byrne, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy.
Weather will likely be more extreme and when it is wet, there will be floods. When it is dry, there will be drought, he said.
As sea levels rise, salt water will move further north into the Delaware River and threaten drinking water supplies and critical fish and animal habitats, he said.
These effects could be felt, even if we avoid the nightmare scenario of city neighborhoods underwater, pictured in a previous post here. The image of Wilmington is from a hack of Google Maps by blogger Alex Tingle.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Economic Disincentives for Recycling in Delaware

Loyal readers know that there is little that warms my heart so much as wonky economic analysis in support of responsible environmental policy.
Writing in the News Journal, former DNREC secretary Nick

The true cost of trash disposal is often hidden in the local tax bill when it is provided as a government service or for a flat fee when offered by a private service. It is important for consumers to understand the true cost, and to pay for service based on the amount of waste they generate. This is known as "pay as you throw."
Thus, the more you recycle, the less you pay for waste disposal. By way of example, my household consists of three adults and four pets. We have twice-weekly trash pickup. We generally have only one kitchen bag of trash per week. We recycle cardboard, glass, aluminum and bimetallic cans, batteries, rags, newspapers, magazines and office paper.
Unfortunately, under a flat fee arrangement, we pay the same as everyone else for trash disposal.
The good news about Delaware's low recycling rate is improving Delaware's low recyling rate is not terribly difficult or expensive:
Politics aside, this is one of the easiest of Delaware's environmental problems to fix.

Yup. He Voted.

For the hard core political junkies among us struggling to decompress, we have Mike's Musings, which offers this meditation on going to the polls on Tuesday:
Yup. I Voted.
I did my civic duty today, just like I was asked to by the nice man from the party who called last night. I voted in the Delaware Primary Election this evening at the polling place of the 1st Election District of the 37th Representative District.
Once again, we see why Mike's Musings is the place to go to lower your blood pressure.
Photo: Mike Mahaffie

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Delaware GOP in Disarray

Will Rogers once said, "I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Were he alive today, he might say the same about Delaware Republicans.
24 hours after the polls closed, the story from yesterday's primary is the repudiation of the Delaware GOP's endorsed candidates. In the News Journal, Ron Williams wrote:
You have to search far and wide for wins by the Republican endorsed candidates, statewide or locally.
Dana at Delaware Watch wrote:
US Senate Republican-endorsed candidate Jan Ting barely eked out a 300 vote victory over the non-endorsed candidate Mike Protack, and latecomer Christine O’Donnell won a surprising 17.4% of the vote. In short, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate couldn’t manage to win the majority of the votes in the race. This is a colossal embarrassment for the Republican Party and might generate some Republicans to renew their claims that it’s time for new leadership in the Republican Party.
The much ballyhooed endorsed Republican John Feroce, running for the 14th State Senate District seat, only managed to gain 30 more votes than his opponent Barbara Allsopp. Ms. Allsopp is reportedly asking for a recount. Perhaps even more significant than Feroce’s thin margin of victory is that for all his vaunted charisma he could only generate 360 votes.
In perhaps the most lackluster victory of the evening, Nick Manolakos only managed to inspire 513 voters in a district of 5,885 registered Republicans. (The 20th Representative District is notoriously politically active.) It was enough for him to defeat the Republican Party endorsed candidate Brian Moore.
And, as Dave at First State Politics noted, there is U.S. Grant:
It all happened in a fast and furious manner, as most election returns do, but I remember feeling shock, especially watching Ulysses Grant beat Jack Peterman, which has to go down as one of the big upsets in primary history.
We'll allow Dave his hyperbole. It's easy to get caught up in the moment on election night. In contrast to the pain for the GOP organization, not a single Democratic endored candidate lost yesterday. The bottom line is, as Celia Cohen reported, the GOP organization looks pretty weak:
In a state increasingly trending Democratic, it was a stunning rebuke that exposed the Republican organization as internally weak and acutely vulnerable on Election Day on Nov. 7.
I'm not clear as to how the GOP's internal weakness will play out in this year's general election. The only statewide election in pla this year is for attorney general. I do wonder at how the GOP's disarray could affect the party in 2008, when they will be trying to win an election for governor after 16 years.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Delaware Primary Results

Get your Delaware primary result here.
9:30 update:
The big news is the strong showing of Michael Protack, who is trailing Jan Ting by 85 votes. Jason at Delawareliberal calls it "a vote of no confidence to the GOP leadership."
With 8 of 21 districts reporting, Harris McDowell has a lead of 36.7% over Charles Potter, Jr.
9:50 update:
Jan Ting has a slim lead over Protack.
Harris McDowell, who has seen his share of tough elections, won with 60.1% of the vote.
State reps Dennis Williams, Hazel Plant, Helene Keeley and Diana McWilliams are on their way.
With 12 of 14 districts reporting, Gerald Brady has a 20 vote lead over Loretta Walsh.
9:59 update:
With 13 of 14 districts reporting, Brady leads Walsh by 11 votes.
10:58 update:
I just got back from Councilman Brady's house. (He lives about four blocks away.) After leading by 11 votes with one district left to report, he ended up winning by 111 votes.
All went according to form for Delaware Democrats. The incumbents easily won against their various challengers. Things were a bit more exciting for the Delaware GOP, which is to be expected given the Democratic trend here in recent years.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Keith Olberman at Ground Zero

With a picture of the hole in the ground at the site of the World Trade Center, Keith Olberman spoke eloquently of our president's squandered leadership:
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.
The President -- and those around him -- did that.
They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."
When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:
Who has left this hole in the ground?

Who Lost Anbar Province?

The Washington Post reports that Colonel Pete Devlin, the Marine Corps' chief of intelligence in Iraq, has provided the Pentagon with a depressing assessment of the situation in Anbar province:
Devlin reports that there are no functioning Iraqi government institutions in Anbar, leaving a vacuum that has been filled by the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, which has become the province's most significant political force, said the Army officer, who has read the report. Another person familiar with the report said it describes Anbar as beyond repair; a third said it concludes that the United States has lost in Anbar.
It has been 1,826 days since we were attacked. It has been 1,271 days wince we invaded Iraq and 1,229 days since President Bush declared an end to combat operations under a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." In contrast, World War II lasted 1,365 days, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to Japan's surrender on board the USS Missouri.
Five year after we were attacked, we read that al Qaeda is gaining ground and has become the preeminent political power in western Iraq. Imagine reading that Germany or Japan was gaining control of territory occupied by U.S. troops at a similar stage of WWII.

Five Years Later

I remember the lonely feeling in my office in Philadelphia five years ago; everyone else had left early. Because trains and buses were shut down most of the day, I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get home to Wilmington. Phones were jammed, so I had a hard time connecting with my then wife, who had gone to a friend’s house.
September 11, 2001 was the one day in our national life when we experienced war on our soil. I eventually got home that day, but learned a little about living with the disruptions of that many less fortunate people endure ever day.
Today, our stature around the world has been diminished. Our president's misadventure in Iraq has weakened us militarily and eroded our influence. Our adversaries have been emboldened, as we have become caught in the middle of a sectarian civil war that has little to do with our national interest. As for the man who led the attacks against us five year ago, we literally don’t have a clue where he is.
At home, our president, who once proclaimed himself “a uniter, not a divider,” has led us into a grim political war of attrition in which his critics are blamed for our country’s lost influence abroad.
We can find comfort in remembering other dark hours in our history. My parent's generation can take justifiable pride in what the United States accomplished in the five years following Pearl Harbor. But five years after 9/11, I find little cause for comfort or satisfaction.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Secretary Rice: "There were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda."

Condoleeza Rice, appearing on Fox News today, insists that Iraq and al Qaeda were linked:
There were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
This is one contrary conclusion from the Senate Intelligence Committee report, "Postwar Findings about Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How they Compare with Prewar Assessments":

So far, I've only started to review the reports. As I have said, I plan to spend some time going over these reports, instead of watching ABC's fictionalized version of 9/11.
As for bin Laden, the Washington Post reports that we have no idea where he is:
The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bush and Cheney Can't Turn Back the Hands of Time

It's not as though we haven't seen it coming. So reports, like this from the New York Times, that Bush is trying to use the 9/11 anniversary to regain some of his lost political stature barely qualify as news:
When President Bush and his top aides gathered in July to sketch out a strategy for the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, it was clear to all that they had to try to reset the clock — back to a time, before Iraq, when portraying Mr. Bush as a steely commander in chief was a far simpler task, and before Hurricane Katrina, when questions about the administration’s competence did not weigh so heavily.
From those discussions emerged the speeches Mr. Bush has delivered over the last week, the leading edge of a remarkably intensive and aggressive campaign in which he has tried to regain ground he has lost for more than two years, by turning the conversation away from Iraq and back toward the broader war on terror.
It is a carefully calibrated strategy that will continue in coming days, first with an appearance Sunday morning by Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the vehicle he used to advantage at key moments after Sept. 11 and then Mr. Bush’s appearance that night at ground zero in New York and a prayer service at St. Paul’s Chapel.
Actually, there is very little about the BushCheneyRove strategy that could be called subtle or "carefully calibrated" as the Times put it. But that's not why it won't work.
First, they are up against the laws of thermodynamics. We don't quite know why, but the arrow of time flows in one direction. They can't turn back the clock, and they can't erase the record of what has happened since.
Second, no matter how hard Bush tries to make terrorism, not Iraq, the subject over the last few days, he no longer controls the public discourse on terror and Iraq.
The furor over the fictional docudrama on ABC has crowded the airwaves this week. It's hard to make the case that Democrats in general, and Clinton in particular, are soft on terror when the story is about a docudrama about real events that just makes stuff up.
As for using the debate in congress over military tribunals to paint Bush's critics as soft on terror, it turns out that the principle alternative to Bush's plan has been put forward by three prominent Republican senators.
And then there is the pesky problem of the record of the last five years. The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday released two lengthy reports on the inteligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq. In normal circumstances, releasing such a report on a Friday would consign it to the dustbin of journalism, but not in this instance, because of the 9/11 annivesrary and because it will take journalists and observers several days to read the things.
Things are getting hotter for Donald Rumsfeld. Yesterday, the Hampton Roads edition of published this story on Rumsfeld's refusal to do any rational planning for occupying a Middle Eastern country:
Months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forbade military strategists from developing plans for securing a post-war Iraq, the retiring commander of the Army Transportation Corps said Thursday.
In fact, said Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, Rumsfeld said "he would fire the next person" who talked about the need for a post-war plan.
Rumsfeld did replace Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff in 2003, after Shinseki told Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to secure post-war Iraq.
Part of the Bushies' "carefully calibrated strategy" for the next few days includes another appearance by Dick Cheney back on "Meet the Press." I would be surprised if, in the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Tim Russert isn't ready for this. Here's a famous comment from Cheney on March 30, 2003:
Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.
Here's what Cheney said on the program on September 14, 2003:
We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved. The Iraqis [are] providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.
Russert hasn't been shy about replaying such clips in the past. I expect Cheney will be ready for the questions and do his best to avoid being pinned down. But in the process, he will also have a tough time controlling the discussion.
Bush, Cheney and their apologists will try, but they can't turn back the clock, and they can't erase the record of the last five years.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Recommended Nonfiction Reading

For those disinclined to waste time on ABC's fictional docudrama, "The Path to 9/11," may I suggest some nonfiction reading. The Senate Intelligence Committee today released two reports on the inteligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq:
"Postwar Findings about Iraq's WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How they Compare with Prewar Assessments"
"The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress."
Reuters has this preview of the first report:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saddam Hussein provided no material support for al Qaeda and had no relationship with al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, despite claims by administration officials including President George W. Bush, said a Senate report released on Friday.
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, drawing on a previously undisclosed 2005 CIA assessment, was released as Americans prepared to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.
The two reports runs 151 pages and 211 pages respectively, which make them just long enough to fill six hours I might otherwise have wasted in front of the boob tube. I'll have more on these long-awaited reports in the next few days.

A Republican Fight over Military Tribunals

Not surprisingly, George Bush and his supporters are trying to paint Democrats as weak on terror as they struggle with legislation setting up a legal process for prosecuting terror suspects. The problem, as the New York Times reports, is that the debate pits Bush, Cheney and company against fellow Republicans and even military lawyers:
The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terrorism suspects before military tribunals met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally.
Democrats, meanwhile, said they were inclined to go along with Senate Republicans drafting an alternative to the White House plan, one that would allow defendants more rights. That left Republicans to argue among themselves about what the tribunals would look like and threatened to rob the issue of the political momentum the White House hoped it would provide going into the closely fought midterm elections.
Why would military lawyers presume to disagree with the commander in chief?
Brig, Gen. James C. Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines, said that no civilized country should deny a defendant the right to see the evidence against him and that the United States “should not be the first.”
Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the judge advocate general of the Army, made the same point, and Rear Adm. Bruce E. MacDonald, the judge advocate general of the Navy, said military law provided rules for using classified evidence, whereby a judge could prepare an unclassified version of the evidence to share with the jury and the accused and his lawyer.

One of the most prominent advocates for an alternative approach is Lindsey Graham, who has moer than a passing familiarity with the military justice system:
“It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of alternative legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge.
Senators John McCain and John Warner have joined Graham in arguing that the U.S. system of military justice that would be considered fair is used to prosecute Americans. As the Washington Post reports, the three have put forward an alternative proposal:
A rival set of rules circulated earlier this week by Warner, McCain and Graham would bar any use in the trials of secret evidence or information obtained from "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" and would admit information from coercive interrogations only if the military judge found it reliable and pertinent. The proposal would allow trials to be closed only to protect information that would damage national security, leaving out any reference to "the public interest" as a reason.
Why should we care how foreigners are treated? Many who have served in uniform believe that the treatment of U.S. military personnel by foreign powers is linked to how we treat foreign fighters. Simply put, U.S. military leaders have long supported the Geneva Conventions because they believe that these basic international standards protect Americans.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Why I Like Boing Boing

For those suffering from an overabundance of seriousness of purpose, we have this sampling of today's posts from Boing Boing:
"How to find confidential reports with Google" describes how obstensibly intelligent persons post confidential stuff on Websites.
"Funny Japanese and Korean TV commercials" includes an infamous noodle slurping ad.
"Vanity Fair's excellent prank" links to a bogus newsstand cover for The Weekly Standard the folks at
Vanity Fair published.
"Cardboard standup bass" descibes how to make an upright bass from a cardboard box and weed whacker twine.
Perhaps the most arcane is "Mary Worth cartoon reenactments: comic strip as Bergman film": a mashup of the boring comic strip with the black and white films of Ingmar Bergman.
"Stephen Hawking: Help Wanted" links to a want ad for an assistant to the famed physicist.
Okay, this does actually contain some serious public policy content: "The High Cost of Free Parking" links to this post at on the hidden social and economic costs that go into providing free parking for workers or customers.
Finally, there is "Three-hole punch debut, April 1940" linking to a 1940 Popular Science article on the still highly useful invention.
And all of this is from the last 24 hours.

9/11: Fact and Fiction

It's usually easy to tell fact from fiction on television. If I'm watching actors playing characters with names like "President Bartlett," "National Security Advisor Nancy McNally" and "Admiral Percy Fitzwallace" on "The West Wing," I would conclude I'm watching fiction.
If I'm watching actors playing characters with names like "President Clinton," "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright" and "National Security Advisor Sandy Berger" in the ABC documdrama "The Path to 9/11," I would conclude I am watching a portrayal of history. Apparently, I would be wrong.
As the Washington Post reports,
some of those portrayed in the docudrama have objected to scenes of events that never happened:
Among the scenes that the Clinton team said are fictional:
· Berger is seen as refusing authorization for a proposed raid to capture bin Laden in spring 1998 to CIA operatives in Afghanistan who have the terrorist leader in their sights. A CIA operative sends a message: "We're ready to load the package. Repeat, do we have clearance to load the package?" Berger responds: "I don't have that authority."
Berger said that neither he nor Clinton ever rejected a CIA or military request to conduct an operation against bin Laden. The Sept. 11 commission said no CIA operatives were poised to attack; that Afghanistan's rebel Northern Alliance was not involved, as the film says; and that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet decided the plan would not work.
· Tenet is depicted as challenging Albright for having alerted Pakistan in advance of the August 1998 missile strike that unsuccessfully targeted bin Laden.
"Madame Secretary," Tenet is seen saying, "the Pakistani security service, the ISI, has close ties with the Taliban." Albright is seen shouting: "We had to inform the Pakistanis. There are regional factors involved." Tenet then complains that "we've enhanced bin Laden's stature."
Albright said she never warned Pakistan. The Sept. 11 commission found that a senior U.S. military official warned Pakistan that missiles crossing its airspace would not be from its archenemy, India.
Granted, there is room for some gray area in portrayals of history, particularly if there are gaps in the historical record. But the record is extensively documented in the 9/11 Commission Report. (My copy runs to 567 pages, including appendices and notes.)
As clips from the docudrama have dribbled out, those featured in the fabricated scenes are hopping mad:
Former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright called one scene involving her "false and defamatory." Former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said the film "flagrantly misrepresents my personal actions." And former White House aide Bruce R. Lindsey, who now heads the William J. Clinton Foundation, said: "It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known."
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger have objected to the fabircations in the production. The New York Post reports that Bill Clinton is angry as well:
A furious Bill Clinton is warning ABC that its mini-series "The Path to 9/11" grossly misrepresents his pursuit of Osama bin Laden - and he is demanding the network "pull the drama" if changes aren't made.
Clinton's attorneys fired off this letter to CEO Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney, which owns ABC:
September 1, 2006
Dear Bob,
As you know, ABC intends to air a two part miniseries, “The Path to 9/11,” which purports to document the events leading up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. ABC claims that the show is based on the 9/11 Commission Report and, as Steve McPherson, President of ABC Entertainment, has said: “When you take on the responsibility of telling the story behind such an important event, it is absolutely critical that you get it right.”
By ABC’s own standard, ABC has gotten it terribly wrong. The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has a duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely. It is unconscionable to mislead the American public about one of the most horrendous tragedies our country has ever known.
Despite several requests to view the miniseries, we have not been given the courtesy of seeing it. This is particularly troubling given the reputation of Cyrus Nowrasteh, the drama’s writer/producer. Mr. Nowrasteh has been criticized for inaccurately portraying historical events in the past. In response to previous criticism, he has even said, “I made a conscious effort not to contact any members of the Administration because I didn’t want them to stymie my efforts.” Indeed, while we have not been given the courtesy of a viewing, based upon reports from people who have seen the drama you plan to air, we understand that there are at least three significant factual errors:
-- The drama leads viewers to believe that National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the CIA that he would not authorize them to take a shot at bin Laden. This is complete fiction and the event portrayed never happened. First of all, the 9/11 Commission Report makes clear that CIA Director George Tenet had been directed by President Clinton and Mr. Berger to get bin Laden (p. 199 & 508-509). Secondly, Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism from 1999-2001, has said, on more than one occasion, “Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”
In addition, ABC’s own counter-terrorism consultant, Richard Clarke, has said that contrary to the movie:
1) No US military or CIA personnel were on the ground in Afghanistan and saw bin Laden;
2) The head of the Northern Alliance, Masood, was nowhere near the alleged bin Laden camp and did not see bin Laden; and
3) CIA Director Tenet said that he could not recommend a strike on the camp because the information was single-sourced and there would be no way to know if bin Laden was in the target area by the time a cruise missile hit it.
As Clarke and others will corroborate, President Clinton did in fact approve of a standing plan to use Afghans who worked for the CIA to capture bin Laden. The CIA’s Afghan operatives were never able to carry out the operation and the CIA recommended against inserting Agency personnel to do it. The Department of Defense, when asked by President Clinton to examine the use of US troops to capture bin Laden, also recommended against that option.
-- The drama claims that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright refused to sanction a missile strike against bin Laden without first alerting the Pakistanis and notified them over the objections of the military. Again, this is false.
-- Using newsreel footage of President Clinton, the drama insinuates that President Clinton was too pre-occupied with the impeachment and the Lewinsky matter to be engaged in pursuing bin Laden. This allegation is absurd and was directly refuted by ABC News consultant Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies: “Clinton made clear that we were to give him our best national security advice without regard to his personal problems. ‘Do you recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.’ If we thought this was the best time to hit the Afghan camps, he would order it and take the heat.”
While these are three examples that we are aware of that are utterly baseless, they are clearly indicative of other errors in the substance and bent of the film. Indeed, the overall tone in the advertisements we’ve seen for this drama suggest that President Clinton was inattentive to the threat of terrorism or insufficiently intent upon eliminating the threat from bin Laden. Note that the 9/11 Commission Report says:
-- We believe that both President Clinton and President Bush were genuinely concerned about the danger posed by al Qaeda.” (p. 349)
-- “By May 1998 … clearly, President Clinton’s concern about terrorism had steadily risen.” (p. 102)
-- “President Clinton was deeply concerned about bin Laden. He and his national security advisor, Samuel ‘Sandy’ Berger, ensured they had a special daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on bin Laden’s reported location.” (p. 175)
-- “President Clinton spoke of terrorism in numerous public statements. In his August 5, 1996, remarks at George Washington University, he called terrorism ‘the enemy of our generation.’” (p. 500)
We challenge anyone to read the 9/11 Commission Report and find any basis for the false allegations noted above or the tenor of the drama, which suggests that the Clinton Administration was inattentive to the threat of a terrorist strike.
Frankly, the bias of the ABC drama is not surprising given the background and political leanings of its writer/producer, Mr. Nowrasteh, which have been well-documented on numerous conservative blogs and talk shows in his promotion of this film. Mr. Nowrasteh’s bias can be seen in an interview he gave to David Horowitz’s conservative magazine Frontpage, during which he said:
"The 9/11 report details the Clinton’s administration’s response – or lack of response – to Al Qaeda and how this emboldened Bin Laden to keep attacking American interests. The worst example is the response to the October, 2000 attack of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen where 17 American sailors were killed. There simply was no response. Nothing."
But as Sandy Berger told the 9/11 Commission: “[T]o go to war, a president needs to be able to say that his senior intelligence and law enforcement officers have concluded who is responsible.” And as the 9/11 Commission report repeatedly acknowledges, the US did not have clear evidence of bin Laden’s connection to the attack on the USS Cole before the end of the Clinton Administration (p. 192, 193, 195 & executive summary).
While ABC is promoting “The Path to 9/11” as a dramatization of historical fact, in truth it is a fictitious rewriting of history that will be misinterpreted by millions of Americans. Given your stated obligation to “get it right,” we urge you to do so by not airing this drama until the egregious factual errors are corrected, an endeavor we could easily assist you with given the opportunity to view the film.
Bruce R. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
William J. Clinton Foundation
Douglas J. Band
Counselor to President Clinton
Office of William Jefferson Clinton
An ABC spokesman responded to critics that they haven't seen the entire film, which has been provided to right wing bozos like Rush Limbaugh, though not to President Clinton or anyone who served during his administration:
ABC spokesman Jonathan Hogan last night defended the miniseries as a "dramatization, not a documentary, drawn from a variety of sources, including the 9/11 commission report, other published materials and personal interviews."
"Many of the people who have expressed opinions about the film have yet to see it in its entirety or in its final broadcast form," he said. "We hope viewers will watch the entire broadcast before forming their own opinion."
I hope viewers will make up their minds after reviewing the historical record. The entire 9/11 Commission Report, a bestseller that was nominated for the National Book Award, is available online.