Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Specter: McConnell Letter Doesn’t Cut It, Waiting To Hear Directly From Gonzales


Yesterday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, gave the Bush administration until noon today “to resolve the controversy over apparent contradictions in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s congressional testimony.”

Missing the noon deadline, the White House released a letter this afternoon from Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, which stated “one particular aspect” of the NSA’s domestic spying program, “and nothing more, was publicly acknowledged by the President and described in December of 2005.” Gonzales was also supposed to provide a letter of clarification to Specter by noon, but it has not been sent.

On CNN’s The Situation Room this evening, Specter briefly responded to McConnell’s letter, saying “I am not prepared to say” Gonzales didn’t lie “until we get Attorney General Gonzales’ letter.”

Host Wolf Blitzer asked Specter how he would respond to an unsatisfactory letter from Gonzales. “If you’re not satisfied with that letter, I assume your conclusion will be like other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he did lie,” said Blitzer.

“Well, if he doesn’t have a plausible explanation then he hasn’t leveled with the Committee, that’s right,” responded Specter.


BLITZER: Did the attorney general lie?

SPECTER: He did not tell us the whole story when he denied being involved in the U.S. attorney replacements. He was contradicted by three of his top deputies and by documentary evidence, emails. When you come to a question of whether he leveled with the committee. When he said that there was no disagreement within the administration on the Terrorist Surveillance Program. That depends upon the interpretation of the letter, which the director of National Intelligence McConnell, was sent today to Sen. Leahy and me. And beyond that, on the interpretation of those facts by…

BLITZER: Well, let me refer to this letter because this is a very complex letter, and a lot of it, to average people will sound like gobbledegook, but you’ve been given secret briefings, classified information, which obviously you’re not going to reveal. But based on what you’ve been told, and this letter from the Director of National Intelligence, does this clarify on behalf of Alberto Gonzales that he didn’t lie?

SPECTER: I am not prepared to say until we get Attorney General Gonzales’ letter. I was promised this letter from Admiral McConnell and a letter from Attorney General Gonzales today at noon. This one came at mid-afternoon. And I’ve been asked not to comment about it until we have the Gonzales letter. But the Gonzales letter will, in effect, interpret this letter. I can’t comment on it though, Wolf, without getting into classified information. And that, of course, I will not do.

BLITZER: So at this point, you’re not ready to say he lied or didn’t?

SPECTER: That’s right. I’m only prepared to say that there is a question that has been raised by what is in Admiral McConnell’s letter. And Attorney General Gonzales is on the verge of providing the information — to atleast give his side.

BLITZER: And you’re saying he was supposed to give you that letter by noon, it still hasn’t arrived. If you’re not satisfied with that letter, I assume you’re conclusion will be like other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he did lie.

SPECTER: Well, if he doesn’t have a plausible explanation then he hasn’t leveled with the Committee, that’s right.

Lawmakers Being Investigated

Members of Congress recently under scrutiny by federal authorities:


Senate Republicans:

_Ted Stevens of Alaska, sixth term. Stevens is under a federal investigation for his relationship with Bill Allen, an oil field services contractor who was convicted this year of bribing state lawmakers. Agents from the FBI and Internal Revenue Service searched the senator's Alaska home on Monday.


House Republicans:

_Don Young of Alaska, 18th term. Young is under federal investigation as part of an ongoing corruption probe, according to a federal law enforcement official. Part of the Young investigation involves his campaign finance practices.

_John Doolittle of California, ninth term. The FBI in April searched his home in Oakton, Va., where his wife Julie ran a bookkeeping and event-planning business. Among her clients was now-jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

_Jerry Lewis of California, 15th term. Prosecutors are examining his dealings with lobbyists and contractors during the time he chaired the House Appropriations Committee.

_Gary Miller of California, fifth term. FBI agents have interviewed officials in two towns that purchased property from Miller about the nature of the transactions and the tax implications. Miller denies any wrongdoing and says FBI agents have not contacted him.

_Rick Renzi of Arizona, third term. FBI agents recently raided his wife's insurance business amid reports that Renzi paid substantial back taxes to settle charges that his businesses improperly paid for his first congressional campaign.


House Democrats:

_William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, ninth term. Awaiting trial in January on federal charges of taking more than $500,000 in bribes by using his office to broker business deals in Africa. He pleaded innocent in June to the 16-count indictment. FBI agents raided his congressional office and his home, where they found $90,000 in a freezer.

_Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, 13th term. Mollohan stepped down from the House ethics committee after federal agents began a probe of federal funds he helped steer to nonprofit groups he founded.

Rudy Can’t Fail?

Rudy, Play Like a Champion Today: His Republican opponents seem not to have noticed, but Rudy Giuliani is winning the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, says The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti in a cover story on the state of Giuliani’s presidential bid.

“The conventional wisdom holds that as grassroots conservatives wake up to Giuliani’s differences with them on issues like abortion, they will ditch him in favor of someone else,” Continetti writes. “That may be happening to some extent, but it hasn’t knocked Giuliani out of first place or undermined the rationale for his candidacy.”

Continetti doesn’t discount the considerable obstacles facing Giuliani on his way to the nomination. For one thing, his lead is shrinking:

Charles Franklin, a political scientist and polling expert at the University of Wisconsin, estimates that the mayor’s support has fallen around 8 percentage points nationally since March. The trend in support for Giuliani in Iowa and New Hampshire is also downward. So far, Sen. John McCain’s estimated 10 percentage point decline nationally, and the hemorrhaging of cash and staff from his campaign, has overshadowed Giuliani’s downward trend. But the trend is there.

Continetti adds, “And all of this is just the beginning. The attacks on Giuliani’s business interests, former associates, and operatic personal life will mount as 2008 approaches.”

Still, Republican primary voters see two reasons to stick with Giuliani, Continetti says. One, they want to beat Hillary Clinton, who they presume will be the Democratic nominee, and they think Giuliani is the most electable Republican in the race. Two, Republican voters seem to think Giuliani is the candidate who can win the war in Iraq. Continetti writes:

When audiences question Giuliani, they tend to ask him about the war and what he would do to prosecute it. In the day I spent following Giuliani across western Iowa, during which the mayor spoke to hundreds of people, exactly two audience members asked him questions dealing with social issues. One man wanted to know about Giuliani’s “family, faith, and politics.” One woman wanted to know the mayor’s stance on gay rights. And that was all. It may be that the audiences who go see Giuliani are self-selected–that is, those voters who would ask social-issues questions know how he differs from them, and so don’t bother to go at all. It also may be that the Republican party is undergoing a genuine realignment in priorities.

There is no doubt that “a Giuliani candidacy would alter the Republican party,” Continetti writes. “For one, it would de-link the Republican presidential nominee from opposition to Roe v. Wade for the first time in decades. And it would divorce the Republican presidential nominee from much of the conservative movement for the first time since 2000.”

Fortunately for Giuliani, “Many people, including most of his competitors for the Republican nomination, don’t seem to have thought through the consequences of Giuliani’s ascendance,” Continetti concludes. He adds, “It could be that most Republican elites assume the prospect of a Giuliani nomination to be so unlikely that they act as if he were not in the race at all.”

And they may not figure it out until it’s too late.

Chris Suellentrop


Department of Sidestepping

Fredo, you’re my attorney general and I love you. But don’t ever potentially commit perjury while testifying before Congress again: Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus finds herself in “an unaccustomed and unexpected position: defending Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.” Marcus thinks Gonzales chose his language carefully enough to avoid committing perjury when he misled Congress about the nature of the conversation that took place in John Ashcroft’s hospital room. But that’s about the only nice thing she has to say about him:

In his Senate testimony last week, Gonzales once again dissembled and misled. He was too clever by seven-eighths. He employed his signature brand of inartful dodging — linguistic evasion, poorly executed. The brutalizing he received from senators of both parties was abundantly deserved.

But I don’t think he actually lied about his March 2004 hospital encounter with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Although “Congress deserves better than technically correct linguistic parsing,” Marcus writes, perjury is still “a crime that demands parsing.” She writes:

The Supreme Court could have been writing about Gonzales when it ruled that “the perjury statute is not to be loosely construed, nor the statute invoked simply because a wily witness succeeds in derailing the questioner — so long as the witness speaks the literal truth” — even if the answers “were not guileless but were shrewdly calculated to evade.”

Consequently, the calls by some Democrats for a special prosecutor to consider whether Gonzales committed perjury have more than a hint of maneuvering for political advantage. What else is to be gained by engaging in endless Clintonian debates about what the meaning of “program” is?

Rather, lawmakers need to concentrate on determining what the administration did — and under what claimed legal authority — that produced the hospital room showdown. They need to satisfy themselves that the administration has since been operating within the law; to see what changes might guard against a repetition of the early, apparently unlawful activities; and to determine where the foreign intelligence wiretapping statute might need fixes.

Chris Suellentrop

Democratic-led House votes tougher ethics rules

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats won power last year amid a spate of mostly Republican scandals, overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday to toughen congressional ethics and lobbying rules and laws.

Key provisions require greater disclosure of pet projects slipped into massive spending measures, prohibit pensions to lawmakers convicted of bribery and require disclosure of campaign donations lobbyists collect for members of Congress.

On a vote of 411-8, the House passed the measure and sent it to the Senate for anticipated final approval. A number of Senate Republicans, whose party controlled Congress much of the past decade, have complained the measure does not go far enough, but a Senate aide said most Republicans appeared to support it.

Advocacy groups have urged its passage. If the Senate gives it final congressional approval, President George W. Bush is expected to sign the legislation into law.

"Today is a proud day for this body, and a dramatic example of how the Congress that was elected last November pledging to clean up the 'culture of corruption' is making good on its promise," declared House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland....

White House hasn't responded to request for info on Gonzales testimony


The White House has refused to comply with a Republican senator's request for information about Alberto Gonzales's conflicting testimony on a secret surveillance program by a 12 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that he requested from the Bush administration a "letter addressing that question [of Gonzales' veracity] from the administration" by noon Tuesday, according to The Hill. He promised to release the letter to the media, but so far the word from Judiciary Committee staff is that no letter has arrived.

It is unclear whether the administration is refusing Specter's request outright or is simply tardy in delivering its response. A spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman who also is expected to receive the administration's response, told RAW STORY early Tuesday afternoon that no letter had arrived yet.

Specter's office was releasing little information Tuesday. The senator has been critical of Gonzales's performance and lack of credibility in his past testimony, but so far Specter has not signed on to a Democratic proposal for a special counsel to investigate whether the attorney general perjured himself. It remained unclear whether Specter would be pushed to join the Democrats in their call for investigation based on the Bush administration's failure to respond to his questions.

"I cannot speculate as to what will happen," Specter spokeswoman Blair Latoff said in an e-mail to RAW STORY Tuesday. "No idea which way Senator Specter is leaning."


Rice, Gates win no new Arab help in Iraq

SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - The United States won no specific new promises of Arab help for struggling Iraq after a gathering Tuesday of several nations listed as recipients of an expanded aid and weapons package for friendly states in

Iraq's Arab neighbors repeated a general pledge to promote stability in Iraq, torn by more than four years of war and bitter sectarian divisions that have killed thousands and driven far more from their homes.

"I think we know what the obligations of the neighbors are," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, adding that Egypt and other U.S. allies are working to meet past promises of relief of Iraq's heavy international debt, additional foreign aid and help tamping down violence inside Iraq.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are making a rare joint show of diplomatic force during two days of meetings with Arab allies — part of an 11th-hour effort to rally diplomatic and practical help for the U.S.-backed Shiite-led government in Baghdad. The tour also opens talks on a proposed U.S. arms package for Arab states worth more than $20 billion........

Dodd To Go On O'Reilly Show To Defend YearlyKos

By Greg Sargent

Dem Presidential candidate Chris Dodd has agreed to go on Bill O'Reilly's show to defend YearlyKos against O'Reilly's ongoing assault against the gathering and against DailyKos, Dodd's spokesperson confirmed to Election Central.

The move is significant because it will make Dodd the first Presidential candidate to personally appear on a leading right-wing show for the explicit purpose of defending the liberal blogosphere. It's got to be seen as a sign of the times -- and of current shifts in Democratic politics -- that a Presidential candidate would view such an appearance in defense of Kos' liberal blogging community and the netroots in general as an asset to a Presidential campaign.

Dodd's spokesperson, Hari Sevugan, tells Election Central that the Senator will hit O'Reilly hard for his smear tactic of selecting a few isolated comments out of literally hundreds of thousands or even millions of comments to smear the whole site and the netroots in general.

"Democrats aren't going to be lectured to by Bill O'Reilly about the crudeness of language," Sevugan says. "Senator Dodd will point out O'Reilly's hypocrisy in singling out a handful of these comments and talking about how extreme they are when many of the comments O'Reilly himself has made have been equally extreme and disturbing."

"To pick three or four out of millions of comments in the blogosphere is patently unfair," Sevugan continued. "But it's not surprising that O'Reilly would employ such a tactic."

Hillary's spokesperson, Howard Wolfson, has already appeared on O'Reilly to fight back against his campaign against YearlyKos.

That Dodd would see the potential for political gain in such a move is representative of a larger development in Campaign 2008 that we've noted here before: The more and more frequent use by the Dem campaigns of aggressive pushback against right wing media figures, on behalf of themselves and others, to appeal to Dem primary voters in general and the netroots in particular. We've already seen Bill Clinton's on-air criticism of Fox News' Chris Wallace, the Edwards' campaign's repeated attacks on Ann Coulter, and the Dem boycotts of the Fox-sponsored debates.

And now Dodd's appearance on O'Reilly. The Dodd campaign -- like the other campaigns -- has aggressively courted the lib blogosphere, defending YearlyKos early on and signing up with the Reid-Feingold Iraq withdrawal amendment, among other things.

Dodd will appear on O'Reilly tomorrow night.

Iraqi premier faces revolt within party

BAGHDAD -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces a revolt within his party by factions that want him out as Iraqi leader, according to officials in his office and the
political party he leads.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, al-Maliki's predecessor, leads the challenge and already has approached leaders of the country's two main Kurdish parties, parliament's two
Sunni Arab blocs and lawmakers loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Jaafari's campaign, the officials said, was based on his concerns that al-Maliki's policies had led Iraq into turmoil because the prime minister was doing too little
to promote national reconciliation.

The former prime minister also has approached Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric,proposing a "national salvation" government to replace the al-Maliki coalition. The Iranian-born al-Sistani refused to endorse the proposal, the officials said....

Soldier Admits Lesser Crimes in Iraq Killings

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky.(AP) — A soldier accused of acting as a lookout while other troops raped a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killed her, her parents and her sister pleaded guilty to some lesser offenses on Monday as his court-martial on rape and murder charges began.

The defendant, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman of the 101st Airborne Division, admitted arson, conspiracy to obstruct justice, wrongfully touching a corpse and drinking. His lawyer, Craig Carlson, said Private Spielman’s plea was part of an agreement with prosecutors involving crimes to which he had already confessed in interviews with military investigators.

Private Spielman, 22, of Chambersburg, Pa., still faces trial on the more serious charges. Though he is not accused of directly taking part in the attack, a soldier present at a crime can be convicted under military law if he had prior knowledge it would occur.

The defense has argued that Private Spielman had no such prior knowledge. But two of the three other soldiers who have pleaded guilty in the case have told investigators that he knew of the plan to rape the girl, Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, and was present when they discussed details over swigs of whiskey.......

Media Matters for America

AP: Obama "scoffs at suggestions of Muslim leanings because he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia"

In a July 30 Associated Press article on the religious backgrounds of the 2008 presidential candidates, reporter Tom Raum wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), "whose middle name is 'Hussein' -- scoffs at suggestions of Muslim leanings because he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. He is a member of the United Church of Christ." Raum gave no indication as to what "suggestions of Muslim leanings" encompass, but previous allegations that Obama was a practicing Muslim as a child in Indonesia and attended a "madrassa" have been refuted, respectively, by the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press itself. Read more

LA Times article contradicts author's analysis that Dems don't want to talk "about al Qaeda or terrorism"

In a July 29 article, Los Angeles Times staff writer Doyle McManus asserted: "It's easy to tell the difference between the two parties on foreign policy in this presidential campaign. The Democrats all want to talk about getting out of Iraq, but not so much about Al Qaeda or terrorism. The Republicans all want to talk about terrorism, but not so much about Iraq." McManus also reported a "chasm between the two parties' worldviews, one focused on battling the threat of radical Islam, the other on ending the war."

McManus claimed that this was a "problem" that both parties face because "most Americans want answers to both questions, not just one or the other." But later in the article, McManus undermined his own statement that the Democratic presidential candidates "all want to talk about getting out of Iraq, but not so much about Al Qaeda or terrorism": He acknowledged that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "talks about terrorism as a priority"; that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "also talks about terrorism, but puts his emphasis more strongly on diplomacy"; and that former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) "has staked out distinct positions on both Iraq and terrorism." Read more

Wash. Post reported Republican claim of "do-nothing" Congress, ignored GOP "obstructionist" strategy

In a July 30 article discussing a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman wrote that negative congressional approval ratings "have buoyed Republicans as they attack what they call a Democratic 'Post Office Congress' -- unable to accomplish much more than renaming federal buildings" and that "[o]ne GOP tactic is to slap a 'do-nothing' label on Democrats."

Weisman went on to quote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claiming that Democrats have "apparently squandered whatever political capital they may have achieved with the American people last November the 7th in a record short period of time." But while Weisman noted that Democrats "have passed half" of their "6 for '06" domestic legislative agenda, he left out the role of Senate Republicans in blocking Democratic initiatives, which they have done at an unprecedented rate -- apparently as part of what Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) has described as an "obstructionist" strategy.
Read more

Purporting to document Pollack's evolving views on Iraq, CNN left out his original gung-ho Iraq "tune"

During the July 30 edition of CNN Newsroom, anchor Heidi Collins introduced Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution by saying that Pollack "has been a vocal critic of the administration's handling of the [Iraq] war, but he says that an eight-day visit has changed his outlook a bit."

Collins also said that Pollack's "tune is changing a bit" with respect to the war. Pollack went on to discuss how a recent visit to Iraq has left him "more optimistic" about the war. However, while focusing on Pollack's criticisms of the "handling" of the war, Collins failed to note that Pollack was an influential proponent of the Iraq invasion before it happened, leaving viewers with the impression that Pollack was a war opponent who has become more supportive of the war. Pollack's 2002 book on the subject was titled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House). Read more

Monday, July 30, 2007

DAVID BROOKS: Edwards, Obama and the Poor

Suppose you were going to decide your vote for president entirely on the issue of who could best reduce poverty. Who would you vote for?

You’d start by focusing your attention on the candidates who have invested the most time in the issue, John Edwards and Barack Obama.

You’d find that both have a multilayered view of poverty. We used to have debates in which liberals emphasized the lack of jobs and conservatives emphasized personal behavior. But in the post-welfare-reform world, it’s pretty obvious that everything feeds into everything else. For Edwards and Obama, poverty flows from a lack of jobs and broken families, bad schools and bad role models, no training and no self-control.

For both candidates, you have to attack everything at once. You have to holistically change the environment that structures behavior. The question is how to do it.

Obama and Edwards agree on a lot, but in this matter they emphasize different things. As Alec MacGillis of The Washington Post observed, Edwards emphasizes programs that help people escape from concentrated poverty. Obama emphasizes programs that fix inner-city neighborhoods. One helps people find better environments, the other seeks to strengthen the environment they are already in.

Edwards would create a million housing vouchers for working families. These would, he argues, “enable people to vote with their feet to demand safe communities with good schools.” They’d help people move to where the jobs are and foster economic integration.

The problem with his approach is that past efforts at dispersal produced disappointing results. Families who were given the means to move from poor neighborhoods to middle-class areas did not see incomes rise. Girls in those families did a little better, but boys did worse. They quickly formed subcultures in the new communities that replicated patterns of the old ones. Male criminality rose, but test scores did not.

Obama, by contrast, builds his approach around the Harlem Children’s Zone, what he calls “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort.” The zone takes an area in Harlem and saturates it with childcare, marriage counseling, charter schools and job counselors and everything else you can think of. Obama says he’ll start by replicating the program in 20 cities around the country.

The problem here is that there are few historical examples of neighborhoods being lifted up at once. There are 4,000 community development corporations around the country and they have not lifted residents out of poverty. The positive influences in the center get overwhelmed by the negative peer influences all around.

The organizations that do appear to work, like the Harlem Children’s Zone (there’s no firm data yet), tend to have charismatic leaders like Geoffrey Canada who are willing to fight teachers’ unions and take on bureaucracies. It’s not clear whether their success is replicable, let alone by the federal government.

What we have, then, is two divergent approaches, both of which have problems and low odds of producing tremendous success. If you find that discouraging, welcome to the world of poverty policy.

If I had to choose between the two, I guess I’d go with the Obama plan. I’d lean that way because Obama seems to have a more developed view of social capital. Edwards offers vouchers, job training and vows to create a million temporary public-sector jobs. Obama agrees, but takes fuller advantage of home visits, parental counseling, mentoring programs and other relationship-building efforts.

The Obama policy provides more face-to-face contact with people who can offer praise or disapproval. Rising out of poverty is difficult — even when there are jobs and good schools. It’s hard to focus on a distant degree or home purchase. But human beings have a strong desire for approval and can accomplish a lot with daily doses of praise and censure. Standards of behavior are contagious that way.

A neighborhood is a moral ecosystem, and Obama, the former community organizer, seems to have a better feel for that. It’s not only policies we’re looking for in selecting a leader, it’s a sense of how the world works. Obama’s plan isn’t a sure-fire cure for poverty, but it does reveal an awareness of the supple forces that can’t be measured and seen.

Last week I cited data on rising earnings among the working poor. I should have made it clear that the data referred to poor households with children, since poor households without children did not enjoy those gains.

JUDITH WARNER: ‘24’ as Reality Show

“I hope people will make the distinction between television and reality.”

Jack Bauer stood with his back to the sea, the variegated light of early evening playing upon the features of his careworn face. Pondering the future, he lifted a cigarette to his lips, its golden ember a searing reminder of his perpetual courtship of death ...

Sorry, I got confused.

Let me start again.

Kiefer Sutherland was smoking a cigarette and fielding reporters’ queries at a Fox TV party on the Santa Monica pier last week, when the issue was raised of how, well, freaky it is that his show’s first female president will make her debut just in time for the Iowa caucuses.

There is a difference, he suggested, between “24” and real life. “But,” he went on, “I can tell you one thing. We had the first African-American president on television, and now Barack Obama is a serious candidate. That wasn’t going to happen eight years ago. Television is an incredibly powerful medium, and it can be the first step in showing people what is possible.”

I giggled a bit nastily over this at first. What was next — claims that fingering China as a one-nation axis of evil on “24” had presaged the country’s exposure this spring as the source of all perishables tainted and fatal? That screen first lady Martha Logan’s descent into minimadness anticipated Laura Bush’s increasingly beleaguered late-term demeanor? (Has anyone but me noticed her astounding resemblance to Dolores Umbridge in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”?) That foolish Vice President Noah Daniels’s narrowly averted war with the Russians had its real-life equivalent in recent Bush-Putin wrangling over Eastern European missile defense systems?

Silliness upon silliness. But still, something about this idea of “24” as a political crystal ball spoke to me. So, eager to get some advance notice on what we might one day see in a woman president (What to Expect if You’re Expecting Another Clinton), I went to the show’s Web site, looking for season seven clues.

I didn’t find any. Instead, I spent a marvelous afternoon browsing through “research” files on Joint Direct Attack Munition missiles, suitcase nukes, hyocine-pentothal (a fictional drug), C-4 explosives, A.A. sponsors and Air Force Two (not technically a plane). I learned, to my surprise, that Jack Bauer has a bachelor’s in English literature, and that Audrey Raines — not surprisingly — is a product of Brown and Yale. It was like shopping in a mall without windows, gambling in a casino without clocks — a total, disorienting departure into a self-contained alternate reality.

Kiefer Sutherland and I may both be silly, but we’re not the only people guilty of blurring the boundaries when it comes to “24.” In recent weeks, a surprising number of journalists have seemed ready to play along with the conceit that the fictional creation of the show’s first female chief executive could actually have some bearing on the American political scene. The Hollywood Reporter, for one, proclaimed this change “could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

I don’t remember people holding their breath for major political developments every time a new season began on “The West Wing.” There’s something different, I think, about “24” that gives its cartoonishness a bizarrely compelling sense of reality.

The past six or so years — the years of the show’s existence — have given us a parade of imagery seemingly tailor-made for Bauer’s TV world. The crumbling of the World Trade Center, Saddam Hussein in a hole, stress-deranged U.S. soldiers-turned-prison-block-pornographers — the dividing line between what’s believable and what’s not, between fantasy and reality, has become utterly permeable.

What was once unimaginable, or imagined only for entertainment value in “Die Hard”-type thrillers, is now all too real. Anything is possible in a world of falling towers and Abu Ghraib. Kiefer Sutherland’s magical beliefs about his show’s potential impact on politics are forgivable. Even quaint.

The big difference, unfortunately, between real life and small-screen fiction is that, on “24,” Jack Bauer actually catches the bad guys and saves the world. Good guys are incorruptible; fatuous politicians are made to pay for their sins. There is redemption; there is comeuppance.

Oh, and torture works.

Judith Warner is the author of “Perfect Madness” and a contributing columnist for TimesSelect. She is a guest Op-Ed columnist.

FBI, IRS searching (Senator) Stevens' Girdwood house

Anchorage Daily News

Federal law enforcement agents are currently searching the Girdwood home of Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, an FBI agent said.

"All I can say is that agents from the FBI and IRS are currently conducting a search at that residence," said Dave Heller, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Anchorage office. The search began this afternoon, he said......

Free John Walker Lindh?

If it’s good enough for Scooter Libby, it’s good enough for the American Talib: The Los Angeles Times editorial page wants President Bush to commute the prison sentence of John Walker Lindh. The editorial states:

John Walker Lindh broke the law. He pleaded guilty to the one crime of which he was guilty — aiding the Taliban — and to carrying a gun and hand grenades in the service of that regime’s war against the Northern Alliance. For that, he deserved to go to prison, and he should not receive a pardon. He is a felon, and his record should never be cleared.

The issue, then, is not Lindh’s guilt but his sentence. He was ordered to spend 20 years in prison, far longer than comparably situated defendants. Maher Mofeid Hawash pleaded guilty to violating the same law, and, after he agreed to cooperate, the government recommended that he serve seven to 10 years in prison. Yaser Esam Hamdi, who fought with Lindh in the Taliban military, was released back to Saudi Arabia in 2004, having spent less than four years in custody. David Hicks, an Australian, pleaded guilty to terror charges before a military commission and was sentenced to nine months. Of all the suspects rounded up across the world in the administration’s war on terror, only shoe bomber Richard Reid, who actively attempted to destroy a plane in flight, is serving a longer sentence than Lindh.

Chris Suellentrop


Surge Protectors

Time political columnist Joe Klein isn’t persuaded by the optimistic take in today’s New York Times Op-Ed by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack, in which O’Hanlon and Pollack suggest that the surge has “the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.”

I agree with many, but not all, of the conclusions,” Klein writes, “but you really can’t write a piece about the [war] in Iraq and devote only two sentences to the political situation, which is disastrous and, as [Gen. David] Petraeus has said, will determine the success or failure of the overall effort.” He continues:

It could be argued that what the U.S. military is now accomplishing is clearing the field of foreigners — i.e. the Al Qaeda in Iraq foreign fighters — so that the indigenous Sunnis and Shi’ites can go at each other in a full-blown civil war, complete with Srebrenica style massacres … I see absolutely no evidence that the majority Shi’ites are willing to concede anything to the minority Sunnis, and there are significant signs that Baghdad is being ethnically cleansed.

The progress made against Al Qaeda in Iraq “should not be extrapolated into anything resembling optimism,” Klein writes. The progress, “such as it is,” has been made in primarily Sunni areas, he adds. “But Iraq is primarily a Shi’ite country — and we’re not doing so well with those guys, especially the most prominent of them, Muqtada al-Sadr.”

Chris Suellentrop

A very special Night School--LIVE from YearlyKos

Date: Thursday August 2nd
Time: 5:30-6:30pm Central Time

Join the DFA Night School for a special training live from YearlyKos in Chicago! Chris Bowers from Open Left and Katrina Baker from Living Liberally will be joining us as we talking about building a local netroots community.

The Internet has fundamentally changed how people engage in the political process. This session we’ll focus on how you can use online tools to build up a progressive community in your area. Then we’ll show you how to leverage that community to engage your local Democratic Party, making it more active and responsive to progressive values.......


Reports: Russia to sell long-range fighter jets to Teheran

Jerusalem Post

Israel is looking into reports that Russia plans to sell 250 advanced long-range Sukhoi-30 fighter jets to Iran in an unprecedented billion-dollar deal.

According to reports, in addition to the fighter jets, Teheran also plans to purchase a number of aerial fuel tankers that are compatible with the Sukhoi and capable of extending its range by thousands of kilometers. Defense officials said the Sukhoi sale would grant Iran long-range offensive capabilities.

Government officials voiced concern over the reports. They said Russia could be trying to compete with the United States, which announced over the weekend a billion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Despite Israeli and US opposition, Russia recently supplied Iran with advanced antiaircraft systems used to protect Teheran's nuclear installations. At the time, Moscow said it reserved the right to sell Iran weapons, such as the antiaircraft system, that were of a defensive nature.......

Iraqis Bask in Rare Joy After Soccer Win

BAGHDAD - Tens of thousands of Iraqis from the Shiite south to the Kurdish-dominated north poured into the usually treacherous streets Sunday to celebrate a rare moment of joy and unity when the national team won Asia's most prestigious soccer tournament.

The revelers spanning the country's sectarian and ethnic divisions danced, sang and waved flags and posters of the team after Iraq beat three-time champion Saudi Arabia 1-0 to take the Asian Cup.

Chants of "Long live Iraq" and "Baghdad is victorious" rang out across the country as Iraqis basked in national pride. Some of the revelers - mostly men - took their shirts off to display the red, white and black colors of the Iraqi flag painted on their chests.

Reporters of the state Iraqiya television wrapped themselves with the national flag as they interviewed people celebrating in the streets. Some joined in the chanting.....

NGOs report humanitarian crisis in Iraq

LONDON - About 8 million Iraqis — nearly a third of the population — need immediate emergency aid because of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, relief agencies said Monday.

Those Iraqis are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter, said the report by Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee network in Iraq.

The report said 15 percent of Iraqis cannot regularly afford to eat, and 70 percent are without adequate water supplies, up from 50 percent in 2003. It also said 28 percent of children are malnourished, compared with 19 percent before the 2003 invasion.....

US envoy accuses Saudis on Iraq


The US ambassador at the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, has accused Saudi Arabia of undermining efforts to stabilise Iraq.
Mr Khalilzad said he was referring to Saudi Arabia in an article last week in which he said US friends were pursuing destabilising policies.

His comments came just hours before a Middle East tour by the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates.

The two top officials will visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt together.

Ms Rice and Mr Gates are expected to ask Saudi King Abdullah for greater cooperation on Iraq.

Arms deal

Mr Khalilzad told CNN in an interview that his opinion piece for the New York Times last week was referring to Saudi Arabia among other countries.

"We would expect and want them to help us on this strategic issue more than they are doing. And at times, some of them are not only not helping, are doing things that undermine the effort to make progress," he said.....

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 301

July 30, 2007 - Going, Going, Gonzales Edition

Alberto Gonzales (1) appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee and gives the worst performance since Keanu Reeves in "Dracula" - but his friends in the White House (2) think he deserves an Oscar. Meanwhile, Republican Presidential Candidates (5) are demonstrating their bravery, Bill O'Reilly (8) is foolishly taking on the blogs, and Carl Wimmer (10) responds!

FRANK RICH: Who Really Took Over During That Colonoscopy

THERE was, of course, gallows humor galore when Dick Cheney briefly grabbed the wheel of our listing ship of state during the presidential colonoscopy last weekend. Enjoy it while it lasts. A once-durable staple of 21st-century American humor is in its last throes. We have a new surrogate president now. Sic transit Cheney. Long live David Petraeus!

It was The Washington Post that first quantified General Petraeus’s remarkable ascension. President Bush, who mentioned his new Iraq commander’s name only six times as the surge rolled out in January, has cited him more than 150 times in public utterances since, including 53 in May alone.

As always with this White House’s propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush’s relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the “main man.” He is the man who gives “candid advice.” Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

And so another constitutional principle can be added to the long list of those junked by this administration: the quaint notion that our uniformed officers are supposed to report to civilian leadership. In a de facto military coup, the commander in chief is now reporting to the commander in Iraq. We must “wait to see what David has to say,” Mr. Bush says.

Actually, we don’t have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September “is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy.” In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) — full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy. As Michael Gordon reported in The New York Times last week, General Petraeus has collaborated on a classified strategy document that will keep American troops in Iraq well into 2009 as we wait for the miracles that will somehow bring that country security and a functioning government.

Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam,” he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon’s own June report.

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. “Training is on track and increasing in capacity,” he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no “surge” would have been needed more than two years later. We would not be learning at this late date, as we did only when Gen. Peter Pace was pressed in a Pentagon briefing this month, that the number of Iraqi battalions operating independently is in fact falling — now standing at a mere six, down from 10 in March.

But even more revealing is what was happening at the time that General Petraeus disseminated his sunny 2004 prognosis. The best account is to be found in “The Occupation of Iraq,” the authoritative chronicle by Ali Allawi published this year by Yale University Press. Mr. Allawi is not some anti-American crank. He was the first civilian defense minister of postwar Iraq and has been an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; his book was praised by none other than the Iraq war cheerleader Fouad Ajami as “magnificent.”

Mr. Allawi writes that the embezzlement of the Iraqi Army’s $1.2 billion arms procurement budget was happening “under the very noses” of the Security Transition Command run by General Petraeus: “The saga of the grand theft of the Ministry of Defense perfectly illustrated the huge gap between the harsh realities on the ground and the Panglossian spin that permeated official pronouncements.” Mr. Allawi contrasts the “lyrical” Petraeus pronouncements in The Post with the harsh realities of the Iraqi forces’ inoperable helicopters, flimsy bulletproof vests and toy helmets. The huge sums that might have helped the Iraqis stand up were instead “handed over to unscrupulous adventurers and former pizza parlor operators.”

Well, anyone can make a mistake. And when General Petraeus cited soccer games as an example of “the astonishing signs of normalcy” in Baghdad last month, he could not have anticipated that car bombs would kill at least 50 Iraqis after the Iraqi team’s poignant victory in the Asian Cup semifinals last week. This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn’t account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

On “Meet the Press,” Lindsey Graham, one of the Senate’s last gung-ho war defenders in either party, mentioned General Petraeus 10 times in one segment, saying he would “not vote for anything” unless “General Petraeus passes on it.” Desperate hawks on the nation’s op-ed pages not only idolize the commander daily but denounce any critics of his strategy as deserters, defeatists and enemies of the troops.

That’s because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush’s claims of seeking “candid” advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

Two weeks ago, in his continuing quest for “candid” views, Mr. Bush invited a claque consisting exclusively of conservative pundits to the White House and inadvertently revealed the real motive for the Petraeus surrogate presidency. “The most credible person in the fight at this moment is Gen. David Petraeus,” he said, in National Review’s account.

To be the “most credible” person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for “kicking some butt” in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon’s pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to “our own debates at the birth of our nation,” as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

Mr. Bush has become so reckless in his own denials of reality that he seems to think he can get away with saying anything as long as he has his “main man” to front for him. The president now hammers in the false litany of a “merger” between Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and what he calls “Al Qaeda in Iraq” as if he were following the Madison Avenue script declaring that “Cingular is now the new AT&T.” He doesn’t seem to know that nearly 40 other groups besides Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have adopted Al Qaeda’s name or pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden worldwide since 2003, by the count of the former C.I.A. counterterrorism official Michael Scheuer. They may follow us here well before any insurgents in Iraq do.

On Tuesday — a week after the National Intelligence Estimate warned of the resurgence of bin Laden’s Qaeda in Pakistan — Mr. Bush gave a speech in which he continued to claim that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” makes Iraq the central front in the war on terror. He mentioned Al Qaeda 95 times but Pakistan and Pervez Musharraf not once. Two days later, his own top intelligence officials refused to endorse his premise when appearing before Congress. They are all too familiar with the threats that are building to a shrill pitch this summer.

Should those threats become a reality while America continues to be bogged down in Iraq, this much is certain: It will all be the fault of President Petraeus.

The Spitzer Fallout, So Far

So much for the slow dog days of summer. From YouTube’s laughs to Obama’s gaffes, from Alberto Gonzales’s stonewall to Robert Mueller’s tell-all, it was a huge week for the blogosphere. But among all the mayhem, one story that readers outside New York may not have followed closely was the travails of our governor, Eliot Spitzer, whose aides, it turns out, attempted to strongarm the state police into helping them build a case against the State Senate leader, Joe Bruno, for unauthorized use of state aircraft.

A local story? To some extent — but given New York’s prominent place among the states and Spitzer’s seemingly limitless ambition, it’s of national significance, and bloggers everywhere are tuning in with interest. One of the best sources of inside details has been John Riley at Newsday’s Spin Cycle blog, who now is questioning the conclusion of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s otherwise withering report on the Spitzer administration’s action that the governor’s aides didn’t break the law:

We’re hearing from some people that it might not be “unauthorized” for the state police superintendent to gin up a report on orders — the superintendent can “authorize” what he wants as long as it’s not illegal — and that the “benefit” would have to be personal to the person who engaged in the act. That might be a problem since technically any political benefit would go to Spitzer. But, on the other side: How could it be “authorized” for Spitzer’s aides to tell the state police that there was a FOIA request for certain documents when there wasn’t? And what if Spitzer told his aides to execute the plan, and was behind the whole thing? Then wouldn’t he personally reap the “political” benefit?

Likewise, law professor Stephen Gillers of New York University told The Times he feels “that the attorney general was premature in his conclusions. He cited one particular section of the state penal law, Official Misconduct, which says that a public servant is guilty of a misdemeanor if he commits an ‘unauthorized exercise of his official functions’ with the ‘intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another person of a benefit.’ ‘It’s certainly sufficient to warrant investigation and prevent the attorney general from saying no laws were broken without further investigation,’ Professor Gillers said.”

In any case, the voters seem to think there are unanswered questions. “Eight in 10 voters said they think the New York governor should testify in any further investigation into an alleged plot by his aides to use state police against Republican Senate leader Joseph Bruno,” according to a new WNBC/Marist College poll. “Half of New Yorkers also suspect Gov. Eliot Spitzer knew more than he has said about the plot.”

Matt Yglesias of The Atlantic, viewing things from Washington, feels that Cuomo is in the right, if for all the wrong reasons:

“But Cuomo, rather than acting as first and foremost a loyal Democrat and seeking zealously to shield Spitzer from scrutiny, is acting first and foremost as a selfish, ambitious politician happy to embarrass both Spitzer and Bruno in hopes of himself becoming governor some day,” Yglesias laments.

“Much of the crisis in Washington today boils down precisely to the congressional GOP’s unwillingness not so much to ‘do the right thing’ but unwillingness to even be petty and power-hungry; their decision to see their job as backstopping the president come what may rather than to jealously horde the powers of their own offices.”

Investor’s Business Daily’s editorial writers are wallowing in the governor’s mistakes: “New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the one president ever forced to resign seem to have a lot in common. But at least Nixon waited a little while before using the tools of state against his political enemies.”

And U.C.L.A. law professor Stephen Bainbridge has some rhetorical fun: “Can you imagine what Attorney General Spitzer would have done to a corporate CEO who told two of his executives to stonewall and who tried to fight off an investigation?”

Republican New York City Councilman Jimmy Oddo, however, tells the New York Observer’s Politicker blog that the G.O.P. should play this carefully. “I just think that my party needs to play this one smart and not to overplay their hand,” Oddo informs Azi Paybarah. “With some prodding, I would continue to allow the governor to inflict these wounds to himself. If we overplay our hand, the public will say, ‘a pox on both your houses.’… If our focus is 100 percent on this, and we forget to do policy, it’ll come back and recoil. We should be doing a nice mix of policy and substance as you help the governor self destruct,” he said.

Well, the next step seems to be the governor’s, and a little birdie informs me that he’s penned an Op-Ed piece for Sunday’s Times that offers an apology and a call for voters to move on. I think we’d all admit that an apology from Eliot Spitzer is a pretty remarkable thing; but then, New Yorkers being New Yorkers, how many really think this is all behind us?

Tobin Harshaw

PAUL KRUGMAN: An Immoral Philosophy

When a child is enrolled in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (Schip), the positive results can be dramatic. For example, after asthmatic children are enrolled in Schip, the frequency of their attacks declines on average by 60 percent, and their likelihood of being hospitalized for the condition declines more than 70 percent.

Regular care, in other words, makes a big difference. That’s why Congressional Democrats, with support from many Republicans, are trying to expand Schip, which already provides essential medical care to millions of children, to cover millions of additional children who would otherwise lack health insurance.

But President Bush says that access to care is no problem — “After all, you just go to an emergency room” — and, with the support of the Republican Congressional leadership, he’s declared that he’ll veto any Schip expansion on “philosophical” grounds.

It must be about philosophy, because it surely isn’t about cost. One of the plans Mr. Bush opposes, the one approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate Finance Committee, would cost less over the next five years than we’ll spend in Iraq in the next four months. And it would be fully paid for by an increase in tobacco taxes.

The House plan, which would cover more children, is more expensive, but it offsets Schip costs by reducing subsidies to Medicare Advantage — a privatization scheme that pays insurance companies to provide coverage, and costs taxpayers 12 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare.

Strange to say, however, the administration, although determined to prevent any expansion of children’s health care, is also dead set against any cut in Medicare Advantage payments.

So what kind of philosophy says that it’s O.K. to subsidize insurance companies, but not to provide health care to children?

Well, here’s what Mr. Bush said after explaining that emergency rooms provide all the health care you need: “They’re going to increase the number of folks eligible through Schip; some want to lower the age for Medicare. And then all of a sudden, you begin to see a — I wouldn’t call it a plot, just a strategy — to get more people to be a part of a federalization of health care.”

Now, why should Mr. Bush fear that insuring uninsured children would lead to a further “federalization” of health care, even though nothing like that is actually in either the Senate plan or the House plan? It’s not because he thinks the plans wouldn’t work. It’s because he’s afraid that they would. That is, he fears that voters, having seen how the government can help children, would ask why it can’t do the same for adults.

And there you have the core of Mr. Bush’s philosophy. He wants the public to believe that government is always the problem, never the solution. But it’s hard to convince people that government is always bad when they see it doing good things. So his philosophy says that the government must be prevented from solving problems, even if it can. In fact, the more good a proposed government program would do, the more fiercely it must be opposed.

This sounds like a caricature, but it isn’t. The truth is that this good-is-bad philosophy has always been at the core of Republican opposition to health care reform. Thus back in 1994, William Kristol warned against passage of the Clinton health care plan “in any form,” because “its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas.”

But it has taken the fight over children’s health insurance to bring the perversity of this philosophy fully into view.

There are arguments you can make against programs, like Social Security, that provide a safety net for adults. I can respect those arguments, even though I disagree. But denying basic health care to children whose parents lack the means to pay for it, simply because you’re afraid that success in insuring children might put big government in a good light, is just morally wrong.

And the public understands that. According to a recent Georgetown University poll, 9 in 10 Americans — including 83 percent of self-identified Republicans — support an expansion of the children’s health insurance program.

There is, it seems, more basic decency in the hearts of Americans than is dreamt of in Mr. Bush’s philosophy.

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF: The Voters Speak: Baaa!

Right now the pundit with perhaps the most outstanding record thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton has the best chance of becoming president, with Bill Richardson enjoying the best shot of becoming vice president.

That pundit is not a human but rather Intrade, a political betting Web site (www.intrade.com) that has regularly proven more accurate than polls and political experts alike. In the last presidential election, it called the winner accurately in each of the 50 states.

That’s a tribute to what is called “the wisdom of crowds,” the notion that the collective judgment of many people is typically more accurate than the judgment of even a very well-informed individual. If you collect a bunch of guesses about, say, the weight of an ox, the average estimate will be eerily accurate.

For the record, Intrade’s bets at this very early stage give Mrs. Clinton a 27 percent chance of becoming president, followed by Barack Obama and Rudy Guiliani, each at about 20 percent; Fred Thompson, 15 percent; and Mitt Romney, 8 percent.

Yet while crowds may be good at making predictions, they’re often lousy at recognizing their own self-interest. That problem is explored in the best political book this year: “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies.”

This book, by Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, does a remarkably thorough job of insulting the American voter. The cover portrays the electorate as a flock of sheep.

“Democracies frequently adopt and maintain policies harmful for most people,” Professor Caplan notes. There are various explanations for this — the power of special interests, public ignorance of details, and so on. But Mr. Caplan argues that those accounts fall short.

“This book develops an alternative story of how democracy fails,” he writes. “The central idea is that voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.”

Mr. Caplan identifies four areas, all related to economics, of “systematic error” — where voters routinely prefer policies that are contrary to their interests.

The first is a suspicion of market outcomes and a desire to control markets. The most efficient way to address climate change would be a carbon tax that would build on the market mechanism, but that’s barely on the national agenda.

The second is an anti-foreign bias, a tendency to underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners. That leads to counterproductive curbs on trade.

The third is a neo-Luddite bias against productivity gains that come from downsizing or “creative destruction.”

The fourth is a pessimistic bias, a tendency to exaggerate economic problems.

Mr. Caplan focuses on economics, but there is also some evidence from research in psychology of other systematic errors — for example, that we habitually exaggerate military risks compared with, say, health risks. That might explain why we’re fighting a war in Iraq as opposed to a war on diabetes.

“I see neither well-functioning democracies nor democracies hijacked by special interests,” Mr. Caplan writes. “Instead, I see democracies that fall short because voters get the foolish policies they ask for.”

It’s true that nobody ever made money betting on the high level of campaign discourse. When George Smathers successfully ran for the Senate, legend has it (he denied it) that he took advantage of his constituents’ limited vocabulary by alleging that his opponent was “a shameless extrovert” who had “before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.”

Churchill was right about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. Yet we should be able to respond to evidence of democracy’s failings with something more than Churchillian resignation. So why not address the problem in our education system, by teaching basic economics and statistics in high schools?

Students usually now encounter statistics, if at all, in college. But simple statistics could easily be taught along with algebra in high school. Likewise, principles of economics could be taught in social studies classes.

This brief exposure wouldn’t solve the problems of democracy. But it might help just a bit in reducing systematic errors and biases.

Then we might emerge with crowds that are not only brilliant at judging the weight of an ox, but also wiser in setting national policy.

You are invited to comment on this column at Mr. Kristof’s blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground.

US anger grows over Saudi Arabia's stance on Iraq

Scotland on Sunday

DURING a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest Iraq's prime minister could not be trusted.

One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, warning him to lie low during an American troops increase aimed in part at al-Sadr's militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Maliki was an agent of Iran.

The American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately protested to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, contending that the documents were forged. But the Saudis remained sceptical, adding to the deep rift between America's most powerful Sunni Arab ally and its predominantly Shi'ite neighbour, Iraq.

Now, Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia's counter-productive role in the Iraq war. They say that, beyond regarding Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups inside Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia, and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official claims to have seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Maliki.

Officials in Washington have long resisted blaming Saudi Arabia for the chaos and sectarian strife in Iraq, choosing instead to pin blame on Iran and Syria. Even now, military officials rarely talk publicly about the role of Saudi fighters among the insurgents in Iraq.

But the Bush administration's frustration has increased in recent months because it appears Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to undermine the Maliki government.

The Saudi government has hardly masked its intention to prop up Sunni groups in Iraq. For the past two years it has stressed the need to counterbalance the influence Iran has there. King Abdullah is said to have warned Vice-President Dick Cheney last autumn that Saudi Arabia might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq's Shi'ites if the United States pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Months ago, Saudi Arabia made a pitch to enlist other Persian Gulf countries to take a direct role in supporting Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, according to former US ambassador Edward W Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan. He said that, during a recent trip to the region, he was told Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council - which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman - to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq.

The closest the administration has come to public criticism was an article about Iraq in the New York Times by Khalilzad, now the US ambassador to the United Nations. "Several of Iraq's neighbours - not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States - are pursuing destabilising policies," he wrote.

Administration officials said Khalilzad was referring specifically to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates......

U.S. denies Petraeus has poor ties with Iraq PM

BAGHDAD, July 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Sunday dismissed reports that the top U.S. general in Iraq, General David Petraeus, had a stormy relationship with Iraq's prime minister, but said the pair had "very frank talks".

Tensions have surfaced between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and U.S. officials as he comes under increasing pressure from Washington to speed up passage of legislation seen as crucial to easing violence between the country's Shi'ite and Sunni Arabs.

But a British newspaper reported on Saturday that the situation had got so bad that Maliki had asked U.S. President George W. Bush to remove Petraeus, who is directing Bush's new counter-insurgency strategy.

"This is a totally fabricated story," said Petraeus's spokesman, Colonel Steve Boylan.

"They have very frank, open, and perhaps direct conversations and continue to do so. Based on what is at stake here, that is what is needed and it should be expected that both are able to have very open and frank dialogue," he said.

The Daily Telegraph characterised the relationship between the two as stormy and said they had frequent shouting matches. "I can't deal with you anymore. I will ask for someone else to replace you," Maliki told Petraeus at one meeting, it said.

The newspaper and another media report said at one video teleconference with Bush, Maliki, angry over the U.S. military's alliance with some Sunni Arab tribal groups, had threatened to arm Shi'ite militias.......

Iraqi leader tells Bush: Get Gen Petraeus out

Daily Telegraph

Relations between the top United States general in Iraq and Nouri al-Maliki, the country's prime minister, are so bad that the Iraqi leader made a direct appeal for his removal to President George W Bush.

Although the call was rejected, aides to both men admit that Mr Maliki and Gen David Petraeus engage in frequent stand-up shouting matches, differing particularly over the US general's moves to arm Sunni tribesmen to fight al-Qa'eda.

One Iraqi source said Mr Maliki used a video conference with Mr Bush to call for the general's signature strategy to be scrapped. "He told Bush that if Petraeus continues, he would arm Shia militias," said the official. "Bush told Maliki to calm down."

At another meeting with Gen Petraeus, Mr Maliki said: "I can't deal with you any more. I will ask for someone else to replace you.".....

Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over Spying

WASHINGTON — A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The N.S.A.’s data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the N.S.A. program.

Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program “confirmed” by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.

If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.

But members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been briefed on the program, called the testimony deceptive.

“I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best,” said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, joining three other Democrats in calling Thursday for a perjury investigation of Mr. Gonzales.

“This has gone on long enough,” Mr. Feingold said. “It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought.”......

Bush Aide Blocked Report - Global Health Draft In 2006 Rejected for Not Being Political

Washington Post

A surgeon general's report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration's policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate. A copy of the report was obtained by The Washington Post.

Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Richard H. Carmona, who commissioned the "Call to Action on Global Health" while serving as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, recently cited its suppression as an example of the Bush administration's frequent efforts during his tenure to give scientific documents a political twist. At a July 10 House committee hearing, Carmona did not cite Steiger by name or detail the report's contents and its implications for American public health.

Carmona told lawmakers that, as he fought to release the document, he was "called in and again admonished . . . via a senior official who said, 'You don't get it.' " He said a senior official told him that "this will be a political document, or it will not be released.".....