Now Cough

Thursday, March 31, 2005

"Dead Wrong"

Not Failure of Imagination. Just FAILURE

So The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction just issued its report on, well, intelligence capabilities of the US regarding weapons of mass destruction.

The answer: WE ARE SCREWED.

The panel delivered a complete flunking grade to the CIA and the whole spy outfit whose gargantuan budget is kept from taxpayers.

I think the CIA, NSA and FBI and the nine other intelligence bureaucracies are scapegoated here. They should not be left off the hook. But the president and his very small coterie of liars/policymakers were full and leading partners of this whole mess.

We know from Ron Susskind's account of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil that targeting Iraq was on the agenda in January 2001 as soon as the Bush administration took office. We know that immediately after the 9-11 attack that the president confronted former terrorism advisor Richard Clarke and pressed him to get more informtion about Iraq, despite the fact that Clarke and others could find no ties at all between Saddam Hussein and the 9-11 attacks.

This administration also would not tolerate any real debate, any nuance, any equivocation on what raw intelligence revealed.

So, this isn't just a failure of intelligence. That failure dovetailed perfectly with an administration intent on war. The Commission claims 'there is no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.'

As Todd Purdum puts it by quoting from the Commision's report in Friday's New York Times(reg. required):

"It is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence analysts worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom," the commission said. But that understated indictment is about the extent of the commission's effort to explain the responsibilities of the nation's highest officials for one of the worst intelligence failures of modern times.

Some are going to grab that conclusion and run with it, claiming the intelligence wasn't politicized. Maybe it wasn't--but certainly the top policymakers distorted the information from the Intelligence Community. There is no re-examination of that concern in this report. The president kept its charter narrow--only focused on the Intelligence Community and only regarding weapons of mass destruction.

The report runs over 600 pages.

Most worrisome is that the panel found that the situation isn't getting any better in regard to similar global threats. In other words, we have no consistently credible intelligence about North Korea and Iran. How bad is it? Taxpayers will not know by reading the report. The critical CURRENT intelligence problems identified by the Commission remain classified.

Think anything substantial will change within the Intelligence community? Well, given the lackluster White House leadership after the 9-11 Commission Report, I wouldn't hold my breath.


PS: Remember CIA Director George Tenet getting the Freedom Award from the president? What WAS that about?


The Lehrer News Hour conducted a Q-and-A segment with Paul Wolfowitz tonight. He's one of the architects of the Iraq War and all but guaranteed to head the World Bank. Why do the people who didn't ask the right questions, in fact discouraged those questions regarding the rationale for war, get rewarded?

Rest in Peace

Terri Schiavo is one of the few now completely spared the bedside analysis of her struggle, exploitation and death. She died this morning.

Every patronizing, grandstanding geek is now making political hay on her grave. Including our supercilious Theocrat in Chief:

``The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak,'' Bush said. ``In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in favor of life.'

Of course there were NO serious doubts and questions by numerous doctors who had spent time with her: Mrs. Schiavo was determined years ago to be in a persistent vegetative state. Who she was as a sentient person left this world long ago. But science and medicine and facts have never been a favorite of the president or his right wing ilk (see first item). These are the same people who, 500 years ago, would glean cosmic messages from animal entrails.


Now if only someone would pull the feeding tube from Fox's Sean Hannity, the fascist radio host who was broadcasting outside of Mrs. Schiavo's hospice. Respectful? Dignified? Try grotesque.

Hannity's been in a vegetative state for a long time. Plus, for a guy who derides modern society for a lack of civility, I am shocked, shocked to hear him talk like this (children, cover your ears):

At least we can all resume our interest in the Jacko trial.


Ted Koppel announced today he will step down as the anchor of ABC's Nightline in early December. One of the few true reality shows that matters--because it deals in facts and hard questions--won't be the same at all. Maybe he has even had simply enough of the idiocy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Feeding Tube


I am completely at sea regarding that poor woman in Florida who may or may not want to die, who may or may not be aware of what is going on, who may or may not have told her husband what he claims she did.

Congress and the president must have the divine wisdom that others don't possess. That is why the president flew back from Texas at taxpayers' expense, woke up at 1:11 AM and signed into law a measure Congress quickly passed that only applies to this one woman. It prevents a feeding tube from being removed from her, whether she or her husband or her doctor prefer to do so.

My mother, who died 35 years ago, had a DNR--a Do Not Resuscitate order. My father had the terrible duty of instructing the doctors to follow through with that. That decision was between my mother and God, and my father and the doctors. It was awful. Thank goodness no idiotic congress or president, who are committed to 'life,' came near it.

The Risks of Mooning

I am sitting on a futon at my brother's house, their cat Lucy next to me. Lucy's mood changes in the blink of an eye: this morning in the bathroom she came close to surgically removing one of my fingers. And, she was purring.

Last night my nephew Christopher had finished his bath; his sister Ally was getting ready to jump in the tub. Chris saw an opportunity and took it. He pushed his bare butt in the direction of Ally's face.

For Chris there was hell to pay. Though it seemed to me he did what any 7 year old boy would attempt under the circumstances. Ally is not permanently scared.

I had a hard time hiding my laughter.

Applying for a Grant

Once again, Benjamen Walker exhibits his wacky brilliance: Listen

Thursday, March 17, 2005


No Torture, Please

From yesterday's press conference with the president:

Q Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and expanded the practice of what's called rendition, of transferring individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people under custody?

THE PRESIDENT: The post-9/11 world, the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. That was the charge we have been given. And one way to do so is to arrest people and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves. We don't believe in torture. And -- ...

Q As Commander-in-Chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating an individual that the United States can't?

THE PRESIDENT: We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country.


Speaking of Uzbekistan....

Human Rights Watch says "The [Uzbek] government has made no visible progress on ending the use of torture in practice and only minimal progress on implementing the recommendations made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture after his visit to Uzbekistan in 2002. Torture and ill-treatment remain pervasive throughout the Uzbek criminal justice system, and occur with near-total impunity.  more

And, the president must have forgotten what his own State Department did regarding Uzbekistan more than a year and a half ago: U.S. Cuts Aid Over Rights Concerns

Monday, March 14, 2005

What War on Terror?

Failure of Imagination Part...oh, hell I have lost Count

Are any alarm bells going off anywhere?

A joint FBI/Department of Homeland Security report has found non commercial aircraft are especially vulnerable to being used by terrorists intent on another attack.

Drive by your local small airport anytime, day or night and there is no security. The one closest to me in Montclair is right next to a huge shopping mall. A terrorist barely needs an imagination to connect those dots.

Drive down the West Side Highway in Manhattan and you'll pass a helicopter pad where tourists jump aboard a whirlybird for a breathtaking 10 minute flight over the city's skyscrapers. I am sure they don't screen passengers very closely, what with flights taking off and landing every few minutes.

There is a serious noncommercial aviation lobby that will fight new restrictions just as strongly as commercial aviation has.

Now, let's say you were Michael Chertoff, the new head of the Dept. of Homeland Security. What conclusions would you draw from the courtroom murder spree, escape and hostage taking last week in Atlanta? Every security expert asked says the deputies at the courthouse were not paying attention to what was being shown by security cameras. The assault and shooting of the deputy escorting the killer was captured on video!

So, who is watching at the airport? Who is watching all the doors, all the luggage portals, all the loading docks? Are people paying attention? I suspect...not.

We can all tsk tsk about what happened in Atlanta. But, that's a preview of coming attractions. So is the fact that potential terrorists can still purchase guns and other weapons in this country (thank you NRA, but when you have thousands dead let's have that debate about the Second Amendment) .

It's called connecting the dots. When President Dimwit gets done ruining Social Security, maybe he'll wake up to everything he is not doing to keep us safe.

Stegner on Calamity

"Order is indeed the dream of man, but chaos, which is only another word for dumb, blind, witless chance, is still the law of nature."

"You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

-- Crossing to Safety
Wallace Stegner

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Off Mic

Eat the Press

Not looking too good.

So my good friend Rachel and I were in a new (snooty) restaurant last night in DC. After waving off the obnoxious waiter for the millionth time (Quentin..with an 'i'), Rachel and I were deep into a conversation about public radio when who should appear coming from the back of the restauarant?

Tim Russert. Host, anchor, editor of Meet the Press, Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News and...god knows what else.

I gotta tell ya, it must have been a bad week.

Tie askew. Face flush and moist. His eyes had that thousand mile stare you get from driving all night with AM Christian radio on...

Tim was headed for the bar. I am too classy to turn around, but Rachel reports babes and a drink were served.

A cup of 'courage' perhaps?


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Media Matters

What's the Frequency, Kenneth?

Dan delivered a dose of Courage tonight.

A classy though dated farewell. "Courage." Well, he clearly was speaking for himself but I also detected a wistfulness: a reminder of the courage it took to get through the broadcast, leave under a cloud and appeal to those whom he would like to embrace who just might share his qualities of ballsiness.

As The New York Times put it tonight:

At the close of his final broadcast, Mr. Rather was given a standing ovation by dozens of CBS employees gathered around his desk, a show of solidarity that clashed with the peevish mutterings of newsmen and executives higher up in the network chain of command. The network's grumpy old men, from Mike Wallace to Don Hewitt, took potshots at Mr. Rather at his most vulnerable moment, undermining any lingering claim they had to being the Wise Men of the Tiffany Network. Walter Cronkite was the worst, emerging from his twilight to tell CNN that he wished Bob Schieffer had replaced Mr. Rather years ago.

I thought the on camera applause by colleagues was wonderful and moving. None of the sterile adios from Tom Brokaw, talking into studio cameras controllled--literally--by computer.

Hey Hey Hezbollah

Oh terrific.

The Bush administration is swallowing hard and might accept a role for Hezbollah in Lebanon. So much for those who practice or support terrorism.

Reason for Excitement

My good colleagues Christopher Lydon and producer Mary McGrath will soon be practicing their style of intelligent, cutting edge and challenging journalism with a new public radio program called Open Source.

They and the good people at PRI, Public Radio International, are making this possible along with some key public radio stations.

As The Boston Phoenix put it:

The new, one-hour show — to be called Open Source — will be heard Monday through Thursday at 7 p.m., and will be distributed through Public Radio International (PRI), National Public Radio’s smaller rival. [Lydon] expects it to be similar to The Connection, the WBUR program that he and McGrath launched in the early 1990s. The main difference, Lydon says, is that the new show will be more tightly integrated with the Internet, through streaming audio, podcasts, e-mail, and blogs, which will give him a potentially international audience right from the first day, and will lend Open Source an interactive flavor as well. Indeed, he says he and McGrath may begin to offer the program over the Internet even before going on the air. Open Source is scheduled to debut locally [in Boston] on May 30, and to be offered nationally through PRI starting on July 4.

"I hope the range of the listenership will basically be global. Through a very active Web site, we’ll be engaging people before, during, and after the program on each subject," Lydon says, declaring himself to have "a blogger’s enthusiasm about this." He adds: "We just want to make the show incredibly zesty and original and fresh.... We’re just happy to be cranking." Says McGrath: "It’s an incredible opportunity for us, and we’re enormously grateful to everybody" — that is, PRI, WGBH, and UMass Lowell.

Chris and Mary and PRI will deliver a superb show that will rock your world. Listen, participate, critique--and spread the word!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dan. Done

Me and Dan

It's a small thing, smaller than a Texas chigger buried in an armadillo's ass.

But I had one brief encounter with Dan Rather and it is something I have thought of a lot since the screwed up Bush National Guard story.

One night during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, I was hosting the chats taking place at AOL on this huge story. We had thousands of people online and I was part of a small team that booked big name commentators and guests who AOL users could query about this historic event.

Dan Rather was the expert guest that night.

He had spent the day covering the hearings in DC, anchored his nightly news show, and then was booked to do the AOL chat. Millions of guys in his perch would have blown it off. He did not.

Right on time, the phone rang next to the computer. "Hi, this is Dan Rather." He was in a limo racing to the airport, but here he was ready to answer questions as I typed the responses to thousands of AOL customers. The level of trust is enormous. He never asked for any of the responses to be read back to him. Rather was gracious, incredibly fair and even handed in his answers (it is easy to spout off--he did not), articulate and just plain---excellent.

My opinion of Rather changed that night. He might have some odd quirks and mannerisms, but this night he revealed what I think of as the real Dan: the character it takes to show up on time no matter what, do his job fairly without exploiting his position, and being a gentleman.

"Thank you. I enjoyed that. Good evening..." and, he was gone.

Let's not forget when a lot of people claim to 'speak truth to power,' Dan Rather has actually done that in the biggest pressure cooker events. Most notably to Richard Nixon's face. And, in a gutsy hard encounter with the first President Bush on live TV about the Iran Contra scandal. The gloves were off. He didn't back down. And he took a lot of crap for that.

Outside of the 60 Minutes people and Ted Koppel, you don't see any of the anchors getting into the news mosh pit like that. Katie and Matt? Please. Brian Williams, without making himself the story, nope. Peter, as much as I like him, nope.

Dan is an original. A character and a bit wacko. But he is an old school news guy. He and his producers screwed up. Big. Class act that he is, you don't hear him whining or blaming others even as colleagues trash his ass.

You tell me who has his act together.

Monday, March 07, 2005

No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition

(go ahead, look it up...)

Kudos to 60 Minutes and ABC News for detailed and clear stories about rendition (why does this remind me of the word Render?)---the US practice of taking people from one place to another against their will to answer questions. Actually, to take them by force from a country where they might live or be visiting to a place where criminal inquiries might also involve boiling, beating, electrical shocks and other methods that encourage talking.

And screaming.

This is the sort of stuff that's against US law on US turf. But in other countries with bit more public disregard for civil liberties, torture is sort of a quaint cultural thing.

Look, I'm as willing as anyone to use extraordinary means to track down and disable terrorists or people who support terrorists.

But I draw the line where our methods involve murder, torture and brutality. Heck, if that is a practice the US (doesn't really) approve because they would prefer (not to) know because any human being with a civilized conscience is appalled at barbarity, then why have a policy called rendition in the first place?

Oh--ABC's Terry Moran asked that of White House officials today and, to quote him, these administration spokesmen (do they really say this with a straight face) insisted that taking suspects to Egypt, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and other Medieval countries makes it easier to question them in their own languages and with cultural nuance specific to their backgrounds.

Yeah, my Uzbeq dictionary falls short when trying to ask a suspect " Tell us about the people you met with a year ago or I'll cut your balls off and kill your children."

Helps to have allies at times like that.

Here is some of the tortured language and developments when the Bush administration practices torture while denying it does:

The Nation

The Washington Post's copies of 'legalizing' interrogation techniques

Orwellian White House

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Failure of Imagination Part 2

Procurement of Body Bags Probably Went Swimmingly

The families of troops in Iraq have not forgotten even if Donald Rumseld has.

Why did it take so long to get body armor to the troops and why are so many still waiting for adequate armor to protect vulnerable Humvees from roadside bombs?

The New York Times has an infuriating story about why it took so long for the troops to get body armor in this article this evening. (reg required).

"In the case of body armor, the Pentagon gave a contract for thousands of the ceramic plate inserts that make the vests bulletproof to a former Army researcher who had never mass-produced anything. He struggled for a year, then gave up entirely. At the same time, in shipping plates from other companies, the Army's equipment manager effectively reduced the armor's priority to the status of socks, a confidential report by the Army's inspector general shows.(emphasis mine) Some 10,000 plates were lost along the way, and the rest arrived late. "

The NYT notes that many of our allies ignored going through the Pentagon to get body armor and contracted directly with a manufacturer in the US. Those soldiers started getting their armor in 12 days.

" 'This is a new age in war with an enemy that adapts faster than we do,' said Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., retired, a former head of the Army War College. 'Al Qaeda doesn't have to go to the Board of Accountability in order to develop a new roadside bomb or triggering device.' "

Their statements to the contrary, that message doesn't appear to have gotten through to the Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon or the White House. The insurgents are adapting faster. The administration has, once again, demonstrated a lack of imagination in anticipating the threats and responding.

Rumsfeld's credbility on this entire issue is, to put it mildly, poor.

This an excerpt from Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 17 (emphasis mine, below):

"The Army has stepped up production of armored Humvees by more than 1,000 percent since mid-2003, when its forces began to face the improvised explosive device threat in Iraq – from 35 per month in May 2003 to 450 monthly by December 2004. (Yes, but when precisely did that jump occur? Me thinks it was after the soldier confronted Rumsfeld before Christmas.)
I am told by General Casey that as of this week, (It is General Casey's butt on the line here?) with a few exceptions, U.S. military vehicles in Iraq carrying American troops outside of protected areas will have appropriate armor. (what does appropriate mean?)
In addition, since March 2003, the military has produced in excess of 400,000 sets of body armor  --  up from 1,200 sets produced per month to over 25,000 produced per month. (Date range for when this got ramped up?And it gives the impression that everyone is protected.)
The Department recognizes the critical importance of safeguarding the troops in the field.  So the military has made force protection institutionalized across the Services as part of their core capabilities. (Read this carefully--it is a goal, the way it is stated. It is part of a core capability but there is no wording here confirming the Pentagon is there yet.)

Friday, March 04, 2005


Stinkin' Lincoln

Just left a lovely post dinner chat on the Upper East Side with my good pal Jed Miller and his friend Susan.

But as I approached the Lincoln Tunnel the traffic backed up into a frustrating, pokey line of angry drivers. Here it is, almost midnight and the tunnel is backed up. However, it soon became clear--the police cars with flashing lights--that the police were screening for someone or something. All cars entering the tunnel were forced into one lane and an officer looked in each car; in some cases asking to see the IDs of the occupants. When I pulled up, the cop took one look at me and asked a perfunctory "Sir, did you have anything to drink this evening?" That wasn't the question I expected so I said "No." Of course, I had had a drink but many hours earlier.

In any case, the police, if they were screening for a terrorist, could safely now say that this was merely a sobriety check point. But when I emerged from the tunnel in NJ, it was clear the police presence did not have anything to do with breathalyzers. Police cars with flashing lights had channeled all the incoming traffic to a single lane there, too.

Terrorism jitters related to the information out of Spain alledging that the train bombers there had detailed drawings of Grand Central Terminal?

Will we even know?

White Heat

Martha Stewart. Free at last. She just left the Big House in WV along with, it's reported, a hair dresser en route to the private jet waiting for her at Greenbrier Valley Airport.

Some people -- you know who you are -- insist that she was convicted and went to jail precisely because she is Martha Stewart. The argument goes that if she were a man, she never would have gone to jail for what she did.

I disagree. The WorldCom, HealthSouth and Enron prosecutions are going to end up with men in stir. She violated securities laws, not for a lot of money in the end, in order to increase her wealth. She got caught. She served her time.

Gotta run--my celebratory souffle and Welcome Back Martha wreath made from palm fronds need attention.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

No SH#@&T Sherlock

This Just In

Let's see, it has been about 120 days since Election Day and The New York Times is now reporting:

New Poll Finds Bush Priorities Are Out of Step With Americans (registration required)

The gist?:

Americans say President Bush does not share the priorities of most of the country on either domestic or foreign issues, are increasingly resistant to his proposal to revamp Social Security and say they are uneasy with Mr. Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the retirement program, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

In other words, President 'Mandate' is heading off in directions both foreign and domestic that are out of step with most Americans.

The 48% of Americans who voted against this joker already knew that. Now a good portion of those uninformed, slobbering masses who turned this Republic over to the Neanderthals for another 4 years have woken up.

Too damn late.

Watch for the spin to go into even higherr gear.

Pants on Fire

Spitballs Against Terrorism

Always a bit Orwellian too see 'The President' talk about the 'war' on terrorism.

He was yacking this morning during the swearing in of Michael Chertoff as the new head of Homeland Security. I heard 'The President' make a reference to the 911 Commission and the role of first responders (poor cops and fireman were stacked on chairs behind him, props in an age of terror) even as this administration has CUT money for the training and support of those same people.

He also makes a fool of himself talking about how we have terror on the run and that Osama is still in hiding. That's a silly spin on how we haven't captured him yet.

1500+ US troops dead now in Iraq. Lost count of the Iraqi death toll.

But we have these terrorists on the run. Reassuring.


If you watch CNN like I do all day, it is easy to predict the story lineup for the last 2 weeks:

* latest death toll in Iraq
* Jacko wacko trial in California
* BTK killer
* random awfulness---missing children, murdered judge---fill in the blank
* Winter weather


And when oh when will they kill off Crossfire? Liar/tool Roberrt Novak is still on the air. Sheesh. And the show is a circus--a depressing, end of democracy circus.