Wednesday, February 28, 2007

DAVID BROOKS: A Critique of Pure Reason

All the presidential candidates this year will talk about education. The conventional ones will talk about improving the schools. The creative ones will talk about improving the lives of students.

The conventional ones, though they don’t know it, are prisoners of the dead husk of behaviorism. They will speak of education as if children were blank slates waiting to have ideas inputted into their brains with some efficient delivery mechanism.

The creative ones will finally absorb the truth found in decades of research: the relationships children have outside school shape their performance inside the school.

The conventional candidates will give the same old education reform speeches, trumpeting this or that bureaucratic reshuffle. The creative ones will give speeches like the one David Cameron, who is reviving the British Tory party, gave last month. They will talk, as Cameron did, about the mushy things, like love and attachment, and will say, as Cameron did, “Family relationships matter more than anything else.”

They will understand that schools filled with students who can’t control their impulses, who can’t focus their attention and who can’t regulate their emotions will not succeed, no matter how many reforms are made by governors, superintendents or presidents.

These candidates will emphasize that education is a cumulative process that begins at the dawn of life and builds early in life as children learn how to learn. These candidates will point out that powerful social trends — the doubling of single-parent families over the past generation, the rise of divorce rates — mean that government has to rethink its role. They’ll note that if we want to have successful human capital policies, we have to get over the definition of education as something that takes place in schools between the hours of 8 and 3, between the months of September and June, and between the ages of 5 and 18.

As Bob Marvin of the University of Virginia points out, there is a mountain of evidence demonstrating that early childhood attachments shape lifelong learning competence.

Children do have inborn temperaments and intelligence. Nevertheless, students make the most of their natural dispositions when they have a secure emotional base from which to explore, and even the brightest children stumble when there is chaos inside.

Research over the past few decades impressively shows that children who emerge from attentive, attuned parental relationships do better in school and beyond. They tend to choose friends wisely. They handle frustration better. They’re more resilient in the face of setbacks. They grow up to become more productive workers.

On the other hand, as Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania has found, students who do not feel emotionally safe tend not to develop good memories (which is consistent with cortisol experiments in animals). Students from less stimulating environments have worse language skills.

The question, of course, is, What can government do about any of this? The answer is that there are programs that do work to help young and stressed mothers establish healthier attachments. These programs usually involve having nurses or mature women make a series of home visits to give young mothers the sort of cajoling and practical wisdom that in other times would have been delivered by grandmothers or elders.

The Circle of Security program has measurably improved attachments and enhanced social skills. The Nurse-Family Partnerships program, founded by David Olds, has produced rigorously examined, impressive results. Children who have been in this program had 59 percent fewer arrests at age 15. (Presidential candidates are commanded to read Katherine Boo’s Feb. 6, 2006, New Yorker article to get a feel for how these programs work.)

It’s important not to get carried away. “Enhancing Early Attachments,” a review of the literature edited by Lisa Berlin and others, is filled with phrases like “marginal success” and “modest but significant benefits.” But these programs can be expanded.

And one thing is clear: It’s crazy to have educational policies that, in effect, chop up children’s brains into the rational cortex, which the government ministers to in schools, and the emotional limbic system, which the government ignores. In nature there is no neat division. Emotional engagement is the essence of information processing and learning.

In Britain, where both David Cameron and Gordon Brown have grappled with this reality, policy is catching up with the research. In the United States, we are forever behind. But that won’t last. This year, some smart presidential candidate will help us catch up.

BOB HERBERT: Slavery Is Not Dead. It’s Not Even Past.

The Rev. Al Sharpton seemed subdued, quiet, reflective — which was unusual.

Just when we thought the news couldn’t get any weirder, we learned this week, via The Daily News, that Mr. Sharpton’s great-grandfather was a slave who was owned by relatives of Senator Strom Thurmond, the longtime archsegregationist who ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948.

“There’s not enough troops in the Army,” Mr. Thurmond told a screaming crowd during that campaign, “to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our schools and into our homes.”

Mr. Sharpton seemed a little shaken by the revelation. “You’re always kind of thinking that your ancestors were slaves,” he said. “But this was my grandfather’s father. I knew my grandfather. It’s eerie when it becomes so personal.”

The days of slavery are closer than we tend to think, and they were crueler than we tend to realize. Mr. Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was sent with his wife and two children from South Carolina to Florida so a woman named Julia Thurmond Sharpton could send them out as laborers to pay off debts left by her late husband.

Julia Sharpton was a first cousin, twice removed, of Strom Thurmond.

“They were sent there solely for that reason,” Mr. Sharpton said. “To make money to pay her debt. It was just so clear that they were nothing but property. The complete dehumanization — I don’t think I fully understood it until this hit home.”

There’s a great deal that Americans don’t fully understand about slavery. It’s such an uncomfortable subject that the temptation is to relegate it to the distant past and move on. But the long tentacles of that evil institution are still with us. Slavery was the foundation of the thriving consumer society that we have today and the wellspring of the racism that still poisons so many white attitudes and black lives.

The sheer size of the phenomenon of slavery, which was woven into the very being of the early Americas, is not well known today. The historian David Brion Davis, in his book “Inhuman Bondage,” tells us:

“By 1820 nearly 8.7 million slaves had departed from Africa for the New World, as opposed to only 2.6 million whites, many of them convicts or indentured servants, who had left Europe. Thus by 1820 African slaves constituted almost 77 percent of the enormous population that had sailed toward the Americas, and from 1760 to 1820 this emigrating flow included 5.6 African slaves for every European.”

For most of the time between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the United States was governed by presidents who owned slaves.

One of the points Mr. Davis stressed was that the commodities produced in such tremendous volume by slaves — sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, cotton — were crucial to the formation of the world’s first global mass market.

“From the very beginnings,” wrote Mr. Davis, “America was part black, and indebted to the appalling sacrifices of millions of individual blacks who cleared the forests and tilled the soil. Yet even the ardent opponents of slaveholding could seldom if ever acknowledge this basic fact.”

Instead of reaping rewards for this seminal role in the creation of a rich and powerful nation, blacks have been relentlessly vilified by a profoundly racist society and frozen out of most of the nation’s bounty. Consigned to the bottom of the caste heap after emancipation, and denied some of the most basic human rights, blacks became the convenient depository of whatever blame and negative stereotypes whites chose to cast their way.

The abject state ruthlessly imposed upon blacks for so long became, perversely, proof of their inferiority. Blacks gave whites of all classes someone to look down upon.

Slavery, like the past, as Faulkner reminded us, is not dead. It’s not even past. It’s not something that you can wish away.

The other night Reverend Sharpton flew into Miami to attend a conference. At the airport someone asked for his autograph.

“It was the first time in my life that I thought about why my name is Sharpton,” he said. “I mean this whole thing is as personal as why your name is what it is. You’re named after someone who owned your great-grandparents.”

Army Times: Walter Reed patients told to keep quiet

Army Times

Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

“Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,” one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

It is unusual for soldiers to have daily inspections after Basic Training.

Soldiers say their sergeant major gathered troops at 6 p.m. Monday to tell them they must follow their chain of command when asking for help with their medical evaluation paperwork, or when they spot mold, mice or other problems in their quarters.

Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The Pakistani establishment has made a deal with the Taliban through a leading Taliban commander that will extend Islamabad's influence into southwestern Afghanistan and significantly strengthen the resistance in its push to capture Kabul.

One-legged Mullah Dadullah will be Pakistan's strongman in a corridor running from the Afghan provinces of Zabul, Urzgan, Kandahar and Helmand across the border into Pakistan's Balochistan province, according to both Taliban and al-Qaeda contacts Asia Times Online spoke to. Using Pakistani territory and with Islamabad's support, the Taliban will be able safely to move men, weapons and supplies into southwestern Afghanistan. The deal with Mullah Dadullah will serve Pakistan's interests in reestablishing a strong foothold in Afghanistan (the government in Kabul leans much more toward India), and it has resulted in a cooling of the Taliban's relations with al-Qaeda.

Despite their most successful spring offensive last year since being ousted in 2001, the Taliban realize they need the assistance of a state actor if they are to achieve "total victory". Al-Qaeda will have nothing to do with the Islamabad government, though, so the Taliban had to go it alone.

The move also comes as the US is putting growing pressure on Pakistan to do more about the Taliban and al-Qaeda ahead of a much-anticipated spring offensive in Afghanistan. US Vice President Dick Cheney paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan on Monday to meet with President General Pervez Musharraf.

The White House refused to say what message Cheney gave Musharraf, but it did not deny reports that it included a tough warning that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy.

A parting of the ways

The Taliban saw that after five years working with al-Qaeda, the resistance appeared to have reached a stage where it could not go much further.

Certainly it has grown in strength, and last year's spring offensive was a classic example of guerrilla warfare with the help of indigenous support. The application of improvised explosive devices and techniques of urban warfare, which the Taliban learned from the Iraqi resistance, did make a difference and inflicted major casualties against coalition troops.

However, the Taliban were unable to achieve important goals, such as the fall of Kandahar and laying siege to Kabul from the southern Musayab Valley on the one side to the Tagab Valley on the northern side.

Taliban commanders planning this year's spring uprising acknowledged that as an independent organization or militia, they could not fight a sustained battle against state resources. They believed they could mobilize the masses, but this would likely bring a rain of death from the skies and the massacre of Taliban sympathizers. Their answer was to find their own state resources, and inevitably they looked toward their former patron, Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda does not fit into any plans involving Pakistan, but mutual respect between the al-Qaeda leadership and the Taliban still exists. All the same, there is tension over their ideological differences, and al-Qaeda sources believe it is just a matter of time before the sides part physically as well.......

Iran threatens to pursue Kurdish rebels inside Iraq

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards will pursue Kurdish rebels inside Iraq's borders if Baghdad fails to expel them from border zones, the head of the elite force warned on Wednesday.

"I warn the Kurdish movements of Iraq and Iranian anti-revolutionary armed rebels linked to foreigners that the Iraqi government must expel them from the region," said Yayha Rahim Safavi, according to the Mehr news agency.

"Otherwise, the Revolutionary Guards will view it as its right to chase and neutralise them beyond borders to defend its own security and that of the Iranian people," he said.

Safavi was speaking at the funeral for 14 Iranian military personnel killed in a helicopter crash last week during an operation against rebels close to the Turkish border in West Azarbaijan province.

"The United States and the Zionists seek to incite insecurity in Iran by allocating millions of dollars, equipping and financing satellite televisions and buying arms for these groups," Safavi added.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

MAUREEN DOWD: Ozone Man Sequel


Al Gore now has a movie with an Oscar and a grandson named Oscar.

Who could ask for anything more?

Al Gore could.

The best ex-president who was never president could make one of the most interesting campaigns in American history even more interesting. Will he use his green moment on the red carpet in black tie to snag blue states and win the White House?

Only the Goracle knows the answer.

The man who was prescient on climate change, the Internet, terrorism and Iraq admitted that maybe his problem had been that he was too far ahead of the curve. He realized at a conference that “there’re ideas that are mature, ideas that are maturing, ideas that are past their prime ... and a category called ‘predawn.’

“And all of a sudden it hit me,” he told John Heilemann of New York magazine last year. “Most of my political career was spent investing in predawn ideas! I thought, Oh, that’s where I went wrong.”

As Mr. Gore basked Sunday night in the adoration of Leo, Laurie David and the rest of the Hollywood hybrid-drivers, Democrats wondered: Is this chubby guy filling out the Ralph Lauren three-piece tuxedo a mature idea or an idea that’s past its prime?

With Hillary overproduced and Barack Obama an unfinished script, maybe it’s time to bring the former vice president out of turnaround.

Hillary’s henchmen try to prognosticate the Goracle’s future by looking at his waistline, according to Newsday; they think if he’s going to run, he’ll get back to fighting weight.

With her own talent for checking the weathervane, Hillary co-opted Mr. Gore’s eco-speak right after the Oscars, talking environment throughout upstate New York. Given his past competition with Hillary, Mr. Gore must have delighted in seeing his star rise in Hollywood as hers dimmed.

If he waits long enough to get into the race, all the usual-suspect-consultants will be booked — which would be a boon for Mr. Gore, since his Hessian strategists in 2000 made him soft-pedal the environment, the very issue that makes him seem most passionate and authentic. The same slides about feedback loops and the interconnectedness of weather patterns that made his image-makers yawn just won his movie an Academy Award.

But what’s going on in his head? Like Jeb Bush, Al Gore was the good son groomed by a famous pol to be president, only to have it snatched away by a black sheep who didn’t even know the name of the general running Pakistan (the same one he just sent Vice to try to push into line.) It must be excruciating not only to lose a presidency you’ve won because the Supreme Court turned partisan and stopped the vote, but to then watch the madness of King George and Tricky Dick II as they misled their way into serial catastrophes.

Even though Chickenhawk Cheney finally got close to combat in Afghanistan, his explosive brush with a suicide bomber has not served as a wake-up call about the danger of Osama bin Laden’s staying on the lam, and Afghanistan’s slipping back into the claws of the Taliban and Al Qaeda while we are shackled to Iraq.

A reporter asked Tony Snow yesterday what the attack on the Bagram Air Base that targeted the vice president and killed at least 23 people said about the Taliban’s strength. “I’m not sure it says anything,” he replied.

Mr. Gore must be pleased that he’s been vindicated on so many fronts, yet it still must rankle the Nobel Peace Prize nominee to hear the White House spouting such dangerous nonsense. He must sometimes imagine how much safer the world would be if he were president.

The Bush-Cheney years have been all about dragging the country into the past, getting back the presidential powers yanked away after Watergate, settling scores from Poppy Bush’s old war, and suppressing scientific and environmental advances. Instead of aiming for the stars, the greatest power on earth is bogged down in poorly navigated conflicts with ancient tribes and brutes in caves.

Surely the Goracle, an aficionado of futurism, must stew about all the time and money and good will that has been wasted with a Vietnam replay and a scolding social policy designed to expunge the Age of Aquarius.

When he’s finished Web surfing, tweaking his PowerPoint and BlackBerrying, what goes through his head? Does he blame himself? Does he blame the voting machines? Ralph Nader? Robert Shrum? Naomi Wolf? How about Bush Inc. and Clinton Inc.?

With the red carpet rolled up, the tux at the cleaner’s, and the gold statuette on the director’s mantle, not his, the Goracle is at his Nashville mansion, contemplating how to broker his next deal. Will he cast himself as the savior of the post-Bush era, or will the first Gore in the Oval Office be Karenna, mother of Oscar?

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN : Outsource the Cabinet?

Yes, it’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words — but some are worth a whole dictionary. I came across one the other day on The story was headlined “Israeli Minister in Vision Gaffe.”

Next to it is a picture showing Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, inspecting troops on the Golan Heights alongside Israel’s military chief of staff, Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. Both men are peering into the distance through binoculars, but with one big difference: Mr. Peretz was watching the maneuvers through binoculars with the lens caps still on. ...

“According to the photographer,” the BBC reported, “Mr. Peretz looked through the capped binoculars three times, nodding as Gen. Ashkenazi explained what was in view.”

Oh my, I’d rather misspell “potato” on national TV than be remembered for that.

That picture is so evocative not only because Mr. Peretz — a former labor organizer — has already been savagely criticized for being out of his depth as defense minister. It’s also because much of Israel’s leadership seems to have blinded itself lately with all sorts of bizarre and criminal behavior.

Where do I start? Israel’s police commissioner just resigned after an investigative committee criticized his actions in a 1999 case involving an Israeli crime family. His resignation came in the wake of a rape allegation against Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, as well accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the suspension of his office director, whose house arrest is part of a widening investigation into the Tax Authority — whose chief also just resigned under a cloud. The finance minister is being questioned about embezzlement at a nonprofit, and the former justice minister has been convicted of indecent behavior for kissing a female soldier against her will. There’s more, but I don’t have space.

Here is the really bizarre thing: Israel’s economy — particularly its high-tech sector — has never been better.

“The economy is blooming, growing in the last quarter of 2006 by almost 8%,” said Sever Plocker of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, who is one of Israel’s top economics writers. “Foreign direct investment is flowing in at unprecedented rate — $13.4 billion in 2006. The high-tech sector exports are approaching $18 billion, and the stock exchange is at an all-time high. The shekel is stronger than ever, the inflation nonexistent. Interest rates are lower than in U.S. or Britain, the budget deficit less than 1% of G.D.P., and the balance of payments is positive, which means Israel achieved its economic independence and is actually a net creditor to the rest of the world.

“In short, we never had it so good in the economy.”

Yossi Vardi, one of the founding fathers of Israel’s high-tech industry, told me that in the last month alone, four start-ups that he was an investor in were sold: one to Cisco, one Microsoft, and two to Israeli companies. “In the last nine months I’ve probably invested in at least nine new companies,” added Mr. Vardi, all started by “kids 25 to 35 years old.”

So maybe Israel doesn’t need any cabinet ministers? It’s not so simple. When the cabinet is so weak, no peace deal is likely with the Palestinians because no leader has the strength to push it through — and that is a ticking time bomb. Moreover, high-tech doesn’t employ a lot of people, and if the cabinet that should be looking out for the rest of Israel is hobbled — another bomb is ticking.

“Almost half of the population does not enjoy the boom,” Mr. Plocker said, noting these statistics: The unemployment rate is 8.3 percent. Israel’s poverty rate is still the highest in the West, by far: 24.4 percent of the entire population and 35.2 percent of all children are described as poor, living under the official “poverty line.” In the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sectors, child poverty is especially high: more than 50 percent. The real income of the poorest quarter of Israelis is lower than six years ago.

“There is a growing feeling that something is deeply rotten in the Israeli political system,” Mr. Plocker e-mailed, “as it can’t deliver a decent social policy — reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment — even during the good times.

“Tom, I never saw in the streets of Israel such a total contempt for the government by almost everybody — the poor and the rich, the Jews and the Arabs, the left, the right and the collapsing center. This is the essence of our situation — a contrast between the ‘you never had it so good’ economy and the ‘you never had it so bad’ government. This is the spring of our discontent. Excuse me for being rather lengthy, but it hurts.”


by Steve Young

At long last, General Pace, have you no conscience?

You as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should know that there are American troops in harm's way. And, no, I don't mean that they are under the command of this president.

It's that stoo-pid report of yours that says because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there is a significant risk that the U.S. military won't be able to fully respond to another crisis.

Report, schmort. Didn't you get the memo? The Vice President just had a friend who traveled from Baghdad to Basra and "found the situation dramatically improved from a year or so ago."

Perhaps, instead of issuing reports that sound like they were dictated by bin Laden you should have read the headline this morning.

23 Killed in Attack. Cheney OK.

Did you read that? Cheney was okay. And that was only 14 nameless deaths. Christ, General, over 3100 hundred of our soldiers have died in Iraq and the Vice President is still okay. If the Vice President can survive with that kind of carnage why would a lack of readiness be any less progressable?

Really, sir, how the hell is your report going to create any fear in the next country we're going to invade? Iran. North Korea. Granada. Pick one. Now they'll think we're just warmongering out of our ass.

And what makes you think war readiness has anything to do with how ready we are to fight a war? They're only words, sir. Words aren't worth diddly if you don't say them. If they're not worth saying then you don't say them. It's like saying that, in some way, the Veterans benefits the Republican congress had spent years cutting had some negative effect on Walter Reed Hospital's treatment of our wounded and sick. Like rats read committee reports.


US 200-year porn sentence stands


The US Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by a high school teacher from Arizona sentenced to 200 years in jail for possessing child pornography.

Morton Berger had claimed the sentence was so disproportionate to his crime it breached the constitution.

If the 52-year-old had been tried in a federal court or lived elsewhere he would have received a lighter sentence.

But he was living in Arizona when he was caught with thousands of images of child abuse on his computer.

Stark differences

The state has the nation's toughest laws on child abuse and exploitation.

Indeed, the prosecutor had asked for a 340-year sentence but the trial judge imposed the minimum of 10 years for each of 20 images - to be served consecutively for a total of 200 years without the possibility of probation, early release or pardon.

Mr Berger's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

They argued the sentence was wildly disproportionate - much longer than that for rape or even second degree murder and claimed it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

The state of Arizona argued each image of child abuse was a separate crime so the sentences had to run consecutively.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal and gave no reason but the case has highlighted stark differences in sentencing policy across the US.

Honeybees Vanish, Leaving Keepers in Peril


David Bradshaw has endured countless stings during his life as a beekeeper, but he got the shock of his career when he opened his boxes last month and found half of his 100 million bees missing.

In 24 states throughout the country, beekeepers have gone through similar shocks as their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation’s most profitable.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said from an almond orchard here beginning to bloom. “Box after box after box are just empty. There’s nobody home.”

The sudden mysterious losses are highlighting the critical link that honeybees play in the long chain that gets fruit and vegetables to supermarkets and dinner tables across the country.

Beekeepers have fought regional bee crises before, but this is the first national affliction.

Now, in a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, bees are flying off in search of pollen and nectar and simply never returning to their colonies. And nobody knows why. Researchers say the bees are presumably dying in the fields, perhaps becoming exhausted or simply disoriented and eventually falling victim to the cold.

As researchers scramble to find answers to the syndrome they have decided to call “colony collapse disorder,” growers are becoming openly nervous about the capability of the commercial bee industry to meet the growing demand for bees to pollinate dozens of crops, from almonds to avocados to kiwis. ....

Iraqis Reach an Accord on Oil Revenues

BAGHDAD, Feb. 26 — The Iraqi cabinet approved a draft of a law on Monday that would set guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenues and foreign investment in the immense oil industry. The endorsement reflected a major agreement among the country’s ethnic and sectarian political blocs on one of Iraq’s most divisive issues.

The draft law approved by the cabinet allows the central government to distribute oil revenues to the provinces or regions based on population, which could lessen the economic concerns of the rebellious Sunni Arabs, who fear being cut out of Iraq’s vast potential oil wealth by the dominant Shiites and Kurds. Most of Iraq’s crude oil reserves lie in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.

The law also grants regional oil companies or governments the power to sign contracts with foreign companies for exploration and development of fields, opening the door for investment by foreign companies in a country whose oil reserves rank among the world’s three largest.

Iraqi officials say dozens of major foreign companies, including ones based in the United States, Russia and China, have expressed strong interest in developing fields or have done some work with the Iraqi industry. The national oil law would allow regions to enter into production-sharing agreements with foreign companies, which some Iraqis say could lead to foreigners reaping too much of the country’s oil wealth.

Iraqi officials say all such contracts will be subjected to a fair bidding process, but American inspectors have reported that the upper echelons of the government, including the senior ranks of the Oil Ministry, are rife with corruption. There are also fears among non-Americans that American companies could be favored.

Media Matters for America February 27, 2007

"Democratic pollster" Caddell: If Obama or Richardson sought votes based on their race/ethnicity, "people would hang them high"
On the February 23 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Fox News contributor Pat Caddell asserted that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) presidential campaign is "saying, 'Vote for me because I'm a woman' " and declared, "If [Sen.] Barack Obama [D-IL] was out there saying, 'Vote for me because I'm black,' or ... [Gov.] Bill Richardson [D-NM] said, 'Vote for me because I'm a Hispanic,' people would hang them high." Co-host Sean Hannity introduced Caddell as a "former Democratic pollster." Read more

Fox News' Cameron assigned racially charged comments to "Clinton campaign"
While discussing state Sen. Robert Ford's racially charged comments about why he is supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination over Sen. Barack Obama, Fox News' Carl Cameron attributed Ford's comments to the "Clinton campaign." But Cameron did not present, nor could Media Matters for America find, any evidence showing that Ford is either a paid consultant or a staff member of Clinton's presidential campaign, and Clinton's campaign has disavowed Ford's comments. Read more

On Chris Matthews Show, Cramer called Edwards "the equivalent on Wall Street of -- he's Trotsky"
On the February 25 edition of the NBC-syndicated Chris Matthews Show, during a discussion of presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), host Chris Matthews said to roundtable guest Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money, "You don't like [Edwards] because he's against free trade," to which Cramer replied, "He's a tort lawyer for heaven's sake. He's a -- that's the equivalent on Wall Street of -- he's [Russian communist leader Leon] Trotsky." Read more

CNN's Collins: "He was once the biggest loser; today just call Al Gore an Oscar winner"
On the February 26 edition of CNN Newsroom, while playing a clip of Davis Guggenheim, director of the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, and former Vice President Al Gore, the film's narrator, accepting the award for Best Documentary Feature during the Academy Awards, host Heidi Collins said, "He was once the biggest loser; today just call Al Gore an Oscar winner." Read more

Interviewing Energy secretary, Blitzer failed to explain that Bush policy could allow emissions increase
On the February 22 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer allowed Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to tout President Bush's environmental record by stating that "this president has put us on a path of reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of our economy by 18 percent" without explaining that reducing "greenhouse gas intensity" is not the same as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that a reduction in intensity could occur even as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Read more

John Stossel: Global warming "may be a good thing"
On the February 23 broadcast of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program, John Stossel claimed that "you can't deny that the globe has warmed" but added that global warming "may be a good thing." Stossel, who is co-anchor of ABC's 20/20, then asked: "And is it a catastrophe, where we have to wreck the lives of poor people and turn our freedom over to [former Vice President] Al Gore and he'll tell us what we can drive and whether we can air-condition our house? And even if he does that, it's not going to make any difference." Read more

Wash. Post baselessly linked Abramoff to Democratic fundraisers
A front-page, February 24 Washington Post article by staff writers Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and John Solomon baselessly linked current Democratic fundraising efforts to the scandal surrounding former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The article, which reported that "congressional Democrats have enlisted their committee chairmen in an early blitz to bring millions of dollars into the party's coffers," reported that "[c]ritics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November." The article twice suggested that Democrats' fundraising from former Abramoff clients was inconsistent with their 2006 campaign pledge to end the Washington "culture of corruption." Read more

Jack Kelly column repeats "slow bleed" rhetoric, results of dismissed poll
In a February 25 column, Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette national security writer Jack Kelly repeatedly suggested that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) had "outlined" a "slow bleed" strategy for dealing with the administration on Iraq without noting that the term "slow bleed" was invented by the media, has been promoted by the Republican Party, and is not used by Democrats, as Media Matters for America has noted (here, here, here, and here). In the column, which bore the sub-headline, "A 'slow bleed' strategy to stop the surge probably would backfire on the Democrats," Kelly wrote: Read more

Wash. Post parroted White House claim that Iraq war was authorized by U.N. Security Council
Disregarding its own reporting, The Washington Post uncritically reported the White House's claim that "the United States went [into Iraq in March 2003] as a multinational force under United Nations authorization to take military action against Iraq." In fact, days before the invasion, the Bush administration failed to obtain the votes necessary from the U.N. Security Council clearly authorizing new military action against Iraq. Read more

On Fox, Pinkerton claimed Wash. Post Walter Reed story was "going after the administration from the right"
During the February 24 edition of Fox News Watch, Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton claimed that the reason it took the media so long to report on deteriorating conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center was because "the media typically come at the Bush administration from the left" by criticizing the Iraq war. "The idea of going after the administration from the right as it were," Pinkerton continued, "that we're not supporting the troops enough, not [providing] body armor enough, not [protecting] Humvees enough, not helping at Walter Reed enough -- that is an angle that most reporters don't naturally think of when they're waking up" because "they come from a different ideological perspective." Read more

Christopher Layne: Dick Cheney has led America down the road to hell in Iraq

VICE President Dick Cheney's Friday speech to the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue in Sydney was merely a stale rehash of justifications for the George W. Bush administration's policies, especially in the Middle East; policies that have been rejected by a majority of the American public and by Congress.

Still, Cheney's comments are important because they demonstrate that he and Bush are determined to give no ground in their goal of attaining victory in Iraq.

In November 2006, of course, the Democrats won a resounding triumph in the US congressional elections: a victory that was essentially a repudiation of the administration's Iraq policy.

It was widely speculated that the election returns - coupled with the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, and Robert Gates's appointment as Secretary of Defence - heralded the return of the foreign policy realists to influence in Washington, and a major shift in the administration's Iraq policy.

But Bush's surge-escalation in Iraq, and Cheney's Sydney speech indicate that the administration remains indifferent to the views of Congress and the American electorate, and to the counsels of the foreign policy realists who held high office in the George H. W. Bush administration. Already having put itself in a deep hole in Iraq, the administration seems determined to dig itself an even deeper one.

As The Economist recently observed: "Dick Cheney comes across as a man firmly in grip of an ideology". The ideology in question is that of the American neo-conservatives who favour a strategy so muscular as to be described glowingly by its proponents as the blueprint for an American "empire". American power is a fact of geopolitical life and invokes frequent comparisons with the Roman Empire at its zenith.

For policymakers, however, the important questions are how and for what purposes will US power be used? Here, the administration has succumbed to hubris.


Christopher Layne holds the George Bush School of Government and Public Service Faculty Professorship of International Affairs at Texas A & M University. He is author of The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Cornell University Press, 2006).

Hersh: Bush Funneling Money to al-Qaeda-Related Groups

New Yorker columnist Sy Hersh says the "single most explosive" element of his latest article involves an effort by the Bush administration to stem the growth of Shiite influence in the Middle East (specifically the Iranian government and Hezbollah in Lebanon) by funding violent Sunni groups.

Hersh says the U.S. has been "pumping money, a great deal of money, without
congressional authority, without any congressional oversight" for covert operations in the Middle East where it wants to "stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence." Hersh says these funds have ended up in the hands of "three Sunni jihadist groups" who are "connected to al Qaeda" but "want to take on Hezbollah."

Hersh summed up his scoop in stark terms: "We are simply in a situation where this
president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11."

Hersh added: "All of this should be investigated by Congress, by the way, and I trust it will be. In my talking to membership - members there, they are very upset that they know nothing about this. And they have a great many suspicions."


China rejects U.S. criticism of military build-up

Feb 27, 2007 — BEIJING (Reuters) - China dismissed U.S. criticism of its military build-up on Tuesday, saying the world's most populous country was an important force for world peace.

Vice President Dick Cheney raised concerns about China's military build-up last week and said an anti-satellite test was not consistent with Beijing's stated goal of a "peaceful rise."


"China adheres to the road of peaceful development, and it is an important power for the preservation of the world peace and promotion of world development," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a news conference on Tuesday.

"It can be proved from China's stance and the role it has played in North Korea's nuclear issue," Qin said, adding that China had also opposed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their carriers.

Iran ready to strike US 'anywhere' if attacked - diplomat

MOSCOW (AFX) - Iran is ready to strike back against the United States 'anywhere' if attacked, Iranian ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying Tuesday.

He added, however, that Teheran was ready to consider direct talks with Washington on Iran's nuclear programme, Interfax news agency reported.

'If the Americans do something foolish and attack Iran, I am sure that the Iranian people will give a very instructive lesson,' Ansari said, speaking at a conference in Moscow devoted to the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

'We will be able to give a worthy, adequate response, and I don't doubt that Iran would make such a response immediately after the attack. We also do not limit the territory for such a response -- it could be anywhere,' Ansari said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blast outside Afghan base; Cheney unhurt


An explosion outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan went off Tuesday as Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting, causing an unknown number of casualties but apparently not putting the vice president in danger, officials said.

The blast happened at the first gate outside the base at Bagram, and there were an unknown number of casualties, said Kabir Ahmad, the district chief of the Bagram region.

Maj. William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was intended as a threat to the vice president, who was “safely inside the base” during the blast.

U.S. Agrees to Meeting with Iran and Syria


The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month -- as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq.

In joining the Baghdad conference, the administration is tiptoeing into what has become one of the most contentious issues in the roiling Iraq debate. Critics for months have been urging the administration to end its diplomatic isolation of Iran and Syria and begin a constructive dialogue with them about how to stabilize Iraq. Even former secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has generally supported administration policy on Iraq, argued in an op-ed piece last weekend that it’s time to end the diplomatic quarantine and convene an international conference on Iraq.

The Iraqi government is expected to announce the regional conference as early as Tuesday. The government will invite representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States -- in addition to all of its Mideast neighbors.

Though it will bring together American, Syrian and Iranian representatives, the Baghdad meeting doesn’t signal a direct U.S. diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria. A senior State Department official said Monday night that it wasn’t likely there would be separate bilateral meetings with Iran or Syria. Rather, the planned Baghdad meeting is an extension of the administration’s current policy of using the Iraqi government as the channel for discussions with Iran and Syria about Iraqi security.

The initial meeting, tentatively planned for the first half of March, will be at the ambassadorial level, the State Department official said. The American representative will be Zalmay Khalilzad, the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, or his successor, Ryan Crocker. Khalilzad has long favored direct meetings with Iran. If the initial meeting goes well, a second meeting at the foreign minister level is planned for April....

Gen. Pace: Military Capability Eroding

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Strained by the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a significant risk that the U.S. military won't be able to quickly and fully respond to yet another crisis, according to a new report to Congress.

The assessment, done by the nation's top military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, represents a worsening from a year ago, when that risk was rated as moderate.

The report is classified, but on Monday senior defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity, confirmed the decline in overall military readiness. And a report that accompanied Pace's review concluded that while the Pentagon is working to improve its warfighting abilities, it "may take several years to reduce risk to acceptable levels."

Pace's report comes as the U.S. is increasing its forces in Iraq to quell escalating violence in Baghdad. And top military officials have consistently acknowledged that the repeated and lengthy deployments are straining the Army, Marine Corps and reserve forces and taking a heavy toll on critical warfighting equipment.

The review grades the military's ability to meet the demands of the nation's military strategy _ which would include fighting the wars as well as being able to respond to any potential outbreaks in places such as North Korea, Iran, Lebanon, Cuba or China.

The latest review by Pace covers the military's status during 2006, but the readiness level has seesawed back and forth during the Iraq war. Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the risk levels are classified, said the risk for 2005 was moderate, but it was assessed as significant in 2004.

His assessment was submitted to Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the beginning of this year, and therefore does not reflect the latest move to pour 21,500 more troops into Iraq over the next few months.

Gates delivered Pace's assessment to Congress, along with a six-page report on steps the Pentagon is taking to address the problem _ including new efforts to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and requests for more money to repair and replace equipment. On Monday, the Pentagon released most of Gates' report, except for a few sections that were classified as secret.

That report concluded that "world events and regional trends add up to increased challenges to our nation's security." And it said the decline in readiness is also affected by whether other federal agencies and other nations are fulfilling their commitments.

There have been long-standing complaints that the State Department has not met its responsibilities in Iraq, particularly in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts, as well as buttressing the political development of the Iraqi government.

In his report, Gates also discussed efforts to repair and replace equipment worn out in combat, beef up recruiting and retention, and make better use of the National Guard and reserve forces. It also details how the Pentagon will use billions of dollars in the proposed budget, including plans to modernize aircraft and weapons, develop better detection and countermeasures for weapons of mass destruction, increase the size of the special operations forces, and boost the nation's missile defense.

Gore Responds To Drudge’s Latest Hysterics

Responding to Drudge’s latest attack, Vice President Gore’s office told ThinkProgress:

1) That his family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.

2) Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint — a concept the right-wing fails to understand. Gore’s office explains:

What Mr. Gore has asked is that every family calculate their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible. Once they have done so, he then advocates that they purchase offsets, as the Gore’s do, to bring their footprint down to zero.

These are the lengths that climate skeptics must go to suppress action on global warming. There is no meaningful debate within the scientific community, so the right-wing busies itself with talk about how much electricity Al Gore’s house uses — and even then they distort the truth.

U.S. Vice President Cheney Visits Afgahanistan In Unannounced Trip

BAGRAM AIR FORCE BASE, Afghanistan, Feb 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan on Monday for talks with President Hamid Karzai on how to guard against an anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban.


The United States is bolstering its troop presence in Afghanistan by 3,200 to help combat a resurgence by the Taliban that could threaten efforts to stabilize the country.

The Bush administration has called on NATO to provide additional troops and equipment when needed to ensure success in Afghanistan, and to lift restrictions on where and how their forces can fight to give commanders flexibility.

U.S. officials also have made it clear to Karzai that more action was needed to eradicate poppy cultivation, which increased markedly last year and provided the Taliban with money to buy weapons.

Cheney in surprise Pakistan talks


US Vice-President Dick Cheney has met President Pervez Musharraf on an unannounced visit to Pakistan.

The two men were expected to discuss Pakistan's role in the fight against the Taleban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a key ally in the "war on terror" but Washington has been alarmed by the Taleban's growing strength in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Mr Cheney's trip coincides with one by UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, She also met President Musharraf. ...

US hint on North Korea sanctions


A US Treasury delegation is in Macau to discuss lifting sanctions imposed on a bank in the Chinese territory accused of helping North Korea launder money.

An official said the treasury was ready to "begin taking steps" to settle the dispute over Banco Delta Asia.

The sanctions, imposed last year, led to the freezing of some $24m of North Korean funds.

The North insisted the issue be dealt with as part of nuclear talks which saw a breakthrough on 13 February.

Under the agreement, North Korea agreed to "shut down and seal" its nuclear programme in exchange for aid, ahead of the programme's eventual abandonment.

South Korea said on Monday that preparations were under way to send $20m worth of fuel oil shipments to the North, as one of the first steps under the agreement.

The announcement came a day before the two Koreas resumed ministerial talks in Pyongyang.

The talks were suspended after the North carried out missile and nuclear tests last year.

In a further sign of renewed diplomatic activity, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, is reported to be flying to the US at the end of this week to meet his American counterpart Christopher Hill. ....

Top Iraqi official escapes blast


A blast at an Iraqi ministry during a ceremony attended by Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi has killed six people, although he only received minor wounds.

Police said more than 25 people were injured in the blast at the Public Works Ministry in central Baghdad.

It was unclear if this was an assassination attempt. Top Iraqi leaders are often militant targets.

The minister, who was taken to hospital to be treated for minor wounds, had just arrived when the blast occurred.

"We heard explosions and saw smoke, so we turned round and left. The vice president is at home and he's OK," an aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, later reports said the minister was taken to hospital to be treated for minor wounds. ....

Media Matters for America February 26, 2007

Dowdunit: Columnist instigated personal hit on Clintons from "reluctant" Geffen

In an article for the March 5 edition of Newsweek about Maureen Dowd's controversial February 21 New York Times interview (subscription required) with Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a longtime donor to former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) who is supporting Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Evan Thomas reported that Dowd told the magazine, in Thomas' words, that during her interview with Geffen, "Geffen did not seem out to get the Clintons," adding: "Dowd says Geffen was initially reluctant to be interviewed for her column. ... Dowd says she was the one who brought up questions about Bill Clinton's past as a campaign issue." Read more

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 280

February 26, 2007 - Not An Oscar Special Edition

Welcome to the 280th edition of the Top 10 Conservative Idiots. It's become a bit of a tradition over the last several years for me to do a special edition the day after the Oscars, but this week I just didn't really feel like it, for a couple of reasons. First, I haven't been able to turn the TV on all week without encountering incredibly tedious and equally soul-destroying coverage of Anna Nicole Smith or Britney Spears, which hasn't really put me in the right frame of mind to write a "celebrity" edition, and second, the news out of Walter Reed and Iraq - which has been largely ignored by the mainstream media in favor of stories about Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears - doesn't really deserve to be lumped in with a Hollywood awards ceremony.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Substance Over Image

Six years ago a man unsuited both by intellect and by temperament for high office somehow ended up running the country.

How did that happen? First, he got the Republican nomination by locking up the big money early.

Then, he got within chad-and-butterfly range of the White House because the public, enthusiastically encouraged by many in the news media, treated the presidential election like a high school popularity contest. The successful candidate received kid-gloves treatment — and a free pass on the fuzzy math of his policy proposals — because he seemed like a fun guy to hang out with, while the unsuccessful candidate was subjected to sniggering mockery over his clothing and his mannerisms.

Today, with thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead thanks to presidential folly, with Al Qaeda resurgent and Afghanistan on the brink, you’d think we would have learned a lesson. But the early signs aren’t encouraging.

“Presidential elections are high school writ large, of course,” declared Newsweek’s Howard Fineman last month. Oh, my goodness. But in fairness to Mr. Fineman, he was talking about the almost content-free rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — a rivalry that, at this point, is mainly a struggle over who’s the bigger celebrity and gets to lock up the big donors.

Enough already. Let’s make this election about the issues. Let’s demand that presidential candidates explain what they propose doing about the real problems facing the nation, and judge them by how they respond.

I know the counterargument: you can’t tell in advance what challenges a president may face, so you should vote for the person, not the policy details. But how do you judge the person? Public images can be deeply misleading: remember when Dick Cheney had gravitas? The best way to judge politicians is by how they respond to hard policy questions.

So here are some questions for the Democratic hopefuls. (I’ll talk about the Republicans another time.)

First, what do they propose doing about the health care crisis? All the leading Democratic candidates say they’re for universal care, but only John Edwards has come out with a specific proposal. The others have offered only vague generalities — wonderfully uplifting generalities, in Mr. Obama’s case — with no real substance.

Second, what do they propose doing about the budget deficit? There’s a serious debate within the Democratic Party between deficit hawks, who point out how well the economy did in the Clinton years, and those who, having watched Republicans squander Bill Clinton’s hard-won surplus on tax cuts for the wealthy and a feckless war, would give other things — such as universal health care — higher priority than deficit reduction.

Mr. Edwards has come down on the anti-hawk side. But which side are Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama on? I have no idea.

Third, what will candidates do about taxes? Many of the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. Should they be extended, in whole or in part? And what do candidates propose doing about the alternative minimum tax, which will hit tens of millions of middle-class Americans unless something is done?

Fourth, how do the candidates propose getting America’s position in the world out of the hole the Bush administration has dug? All the Democrats seem to be more or less in favor of withdrawing from Iraq. But what do they think we should do about Al Qaeda’s sanctuary in Pakistan? And what will they do if the lame-duck administration starts bombing Iran?

The point of these questions isn’t to pose an ideological litmus test. The point is, instead, to gauge candidates’ judgment, seriousness and courage. How they answer is as important as what they answer.

I should also say that although today’s column focuses on the Democrats, Republican candidates shouldn’t be let off the hook. In particular, someone needs to make Rudy Giuliani, who seems to have become the Republican front-runner, stop running exclusively on what he did on 9/11.

Over the last six years we’ve witnessed the damage done by a president nominated because he had the big bucks behind him, and elected (sort of) because he came across well on camera. We need to pick the next president on the basis of substance, not image.

BOB HERBERT: Mud, Dust, Whatever

If Bill and Hillary Clinton were the stars of a reality TV show, it would be a weekly series called “The Connivers.” The Clintons, the most powerful of power couples, are always scheming at something, and they’re good at it.

Their latest project is to contrive ways to knock Barack Obama off his white horse and muddy him up a little. A lot, actually.

Most of the analyses after last week’s dust-up over David Geffen’s comments to Maureen Dowd have focused on whether the Clintons succeeded in tarnishing the junior senator from Illinois. What I found interesting was that no one questioned whether the Clintons would be willing to get down in the muck and start flinging it around. That was a given.

When Senator Obama talks about bringing a new kind of politics to the national scene, he’s talking about something that would differ radically from the relentlessly vicious, sleazy, mendacious politics that have plagued the country throughout the Bush-Clinton years. Whether he can pull that off is an open question. But there’s no doubt the Clintons want to stop him from succeeding.

Senator Obama has come riding out of the wilderness (all right, Chicago) to stand between the Clintons and their dream of returning to the White House and resuming what they will always see as the glory years of the 1990s.

He hurts Senator Clinton in myriad ways. In all the uproar over Mr. Geffen’s comments, hardly anyone has said they were wildly off the mark. There would be no Obama phenomenon if an awful lot of people weren’t fed up with just the sort of mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners politics that the Clintons and the Bush crowd represent. Senator Obama — at least for the time being — is an extremely attractive alternative.

Right behind that as a factor is the distinct possibility that Mr. Obama will ride off with the black vote, without which the Clintons are doomed. Those who joked that Bill Clinton was the first black president are now confronted with someone who might be the real deal.

Senator Obama is also much freer to take fresh stands on the issues. His camp has been delighted, for example, to watch Senator Clinton twist herself into a pretzel on Iraq. From day care to health care to trade and beyond, Mr. Obama is free to offer something new. He’s not tied to the Clinton experience, the Clintonian way of viewing the world.

And, finally, this campaign is not the be-all and end-all for Senator Obama. More easily than the Clintons, he can afford to make mistakes. He does not have to win this election. He can fight another day. In the absence of any catastrophic misstep, he could be selected as a vice-presidential candidate this time around. (It’s not too hard to imagine a John Edwards-Barack Obama pairing.) He can run again for president four years from now, or eight years from now.

His future, as Yogi might have said, is all in front of him.

The Clintons were fresh once. I remember the exhilarating bus tour they took with Al and Tipper Gore right after Bill Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination in the summer of 1992. There was a spontaneous quality to that tour and a sense that these four young leaders represented a new dawn of American politics.

Almost 15 years later, Hillary Clinton has to fight the perception that she is chasing yesterday’s dawn. She has the benefit of universal name recognition, uniformly high poll numbers and trainloads of campaign cash. But she still gives the impression that she’s riding the political high wire with the mixed blessing of Bill Clinton planted firmly on her shoulders.

It’s ironic that the first woman with a real shot at the presidency comes off not as a compelling underdog but as the powerful front-runner at the controls of a ruthless political machine.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Senator Obama is really offering a new, more hopeful brand of national politics. But here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for a candidate making his first foray into the crucible of presidential politics:

Don’t listen to those who tell you not to fight back against the Clintons. You will not become president if you allow yourself to become their punching bag. Keep in mind the Swift-boating of John Kerry. Raising politics to a higher level does not mean leaving oneself defenseless.

DAVID BROOKS: Mosh Pit Meets Sandbox

Can we please get over the hipster parent moment? Can we please see the end of those Park Slope alternative Stepford Moms in their black-on-black maternity tunics who turn their babies into fashion-forward, anticorporate indie-infants in order to stay one step ahead of the cool police?

Can we stop hearing about downtown parents who dress their babies in black skull slippers, Punky Monkey T-shirts and camo toddler ponchos until the little ones end up looking like sad-parody club clones of mom and dad? Can we finally stop reading about the musical Antoinettes who would get the vapors if their tykes were caught listening to Disney tunes, and who instead force-feed Brian Eno, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens into their little babies’ iPods?

I mean, don’t today’s much-discussed hipster parents notice that their claims to rebellious individuality are undercut by the fact that they are fascistically turning their children into miniature reproductions of their hipper-than-thou selves? Don’t they observe that with their inevitable hummus snacks, their pastel-free wardrobes, their unearned sense of superiority and their abusively pretentious children’s names like Anouschka and Elijah, they are displaying a degree of conformity that makes your average suburban cul-de-sac look like Renaissance Florence?

Enough already. The hipster parent trend has been going on too long and it’s got to stop. It’s been nearly three years since reporters for sociologically attuned publications like The New York Observer began noticing oversophisticated infants in “Anarchy in the Pre-K” shirts. Since then, the trend has exhausted its life cycle.

A witty essay by Adam Sternbergh announced the phenomenon in an April 2006 New York magazine. Sternbergh described 40-year-old men and women with $200 bedhead haircuts and $600 messenger bags, who “look, talk, act and dress like people who are 22 years old,” and dress their infants as if they’re 16. He called these pseudo-adults “Grups,” observing that they smashed any remaining semblance of a generation gap.

He noticed that the music of the parental generation sounds exactly like the music of the kids’ generation. They have the same rock star fashion sense, and share the same taste for distressed denim. He found a music video director, Adam Levite, who had a guitar collection propped up in his TriBeCa loft, and then similar miniature versions of the same guitars for his 6-year-old son, Asa.

Then came the hipster parents’ own online magazine,

Babble is a normal parental advice magazine submerged under geological layers of attitudinizing. There are articles about products from the alternative industrial complex (early ’60s retro baby food organizers). There’s a blog from a rock star mom (it’s lonely on the road). There’s a column by L.A.’s Rebecca Woolf, a sort of Silver Lake Erma Bombeck. (“Who says becoming a mom means succumbing to laser tattoo removal and moving to the suburbs?”)

On top of that there’s been a flourishing of the movement’s official gathering site — the message board complex Here, highly educated parents trade tips about the toxic dangers of aluminum foil. Stay-at-home Martyr Mommies trade gibes with their working mom frenemies. High-achieving types try to restrain their judgmental, perfectionist tendencies with self-mockery: “I horrified myself the other day when I found myself being surprised that Angelina [Jolie] would let Zahara eat Ms. Vickie’s chips. Shoot me before I turn into a sanctimommy!”

Finally, in a sign that the hip parenting thing has jumped the shark, the movement got its own book, the indescribably dull “Alternadad,” about a self-described whiny narcissist who tries not to let his son’s birth get in the way of his rock festival lifestyle. Surely a trend has hit absurdity when you have a book in which the most memorable moment comes when the writer succumbs to the corporate temptations of Toys “R” Us.

Let me be clear: I’m not against the indie/alternative lifestyle. There is nothing more reassuringly traditionalist than the counterculture. For 30 years, the music, the fashions, the poses and the urban weeklies have all been the same. Everything in this society changes except nonconformity.

What I object to is people who make their children ludicrous. Innocent infants should not be compelled to sport “My Mom’s Blog Is Better Than Your Mom’s Blog” infant wear. They should not be turned into deceptive edginess badges by parents who refuse to face that their days of chaotic, unscheduled moshing are over.

For God’s sake, let’s respect the dignity of youth.

US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran

Telegraph UK

America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.

In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime.

In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials.

Iran 'launches rocket into space'


Iran has successfully fired its first rocket into space, Iranian state television has announced.

It gave few details about the rocket or its range, but said that it had carried cargo intended for research.

Iran already has a civilian satellite programme but has relied on Russia to put its satellites into orbit.

The launch - if confirmed - comes at a time of mounting tension between Tehran and the West over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are due to meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of more sanctions over the nuclear issue.

On Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered another defiant speech insisting there is no going back on Iran's nuclear programme.

In a speech in Teheran, likened his country's nuclear programme to a train with no brakes and no reverse gear.

One of his deputy foreign ministers, Manouchehr Mohammadi, said they had prepared themselves for any situation arising from the issue, even for war.

The BBC's Frances Harrison's in Tehran says the timing of the rocket launch announcement is clearly confrontational.

Iran's message is that sanctions will not prevent it from joining the space club now that it claims to be a member of the nuclear club based on its limited enrichment of uranium, our correspondent says.

Britain's former ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the BBC that, if confirmed, such a move could destabilise the Middle East:

"It is a matter of concern. Iran's potential nuclear military programme, combined with an advanced missile capability, would destabilise the region, and of course if there were a bomb that could be placed on the end of this missile, it would in breach of Iran's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty."

Iranian TV broke the news of the reported test saying :"The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space.

It quoted the head of Iran's aerospace research centre, Mohsen Bahrami, as saying that "the rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence".

The ballistic technology used is believed to be an extension of Iran's long-range Shahab-3 missile, our correspondent says.

According to our correspondent, military experts believe that if Iran has sent a rocket into space it means scientists have mastered the technology needed to cross the atmospheric barrier.

In practice, they say, that means there is no technological block to Iran building longer range missiles now, something that will be of great international concern.

In 2005, Iran's Russian-made satellite was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

But shortly afterwards Iranian military officials said they were preparing a satellite launch vehicle of their own and last month, they announced they were ready to test it soon.

US generals 'will quit' if Bush orders Iran attack

The London Times

Some of America's most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

"There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran," a source with close ties to British intelligence said. "There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible."


A generals' revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. "American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired," said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

FRANK RICH: Where Were You That Summer of 2001?

“UNITED 93,” Hollywood’s highly praised but indifferently attended 9/11 docudrama, will be only a blip on tonight’s Oscar telecast. The ratings rise of “24” has stalled as audiences defect from the downer of terrorists to the supernatural uplift of “Heroes.” Cable surfers have tuned out Iraq for a war with laughs: the battle over Anna Nicole’s decomposing corpse. Set this cultural backdrop against last week’s terrifying but little-heeded front-page Times account of American “intelligence and counterterrorism officials” leaking urgent warnings about Al Qaeda’s comeback, and ask yourself: Haven’t we been here before?

If so, that would be the summer of 2001, when America pigged out on a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks. The intelligence and counterterrorism officials back then were privately sounding urgent warnings like those in last week’s Times, culminating in the President’s Daily Brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The system “was blinking red,” as the C.I.A. chief George Tenet would later tell the 9/11 commission. But no one, from the White House on down, wanted to hear it.

The White House doesn’t want to hear it now, either. That’s why terrorism experts are trying to get its attention by going public, and not just through The Times. Michael Scheuer, the former head of the C.I.A. bin Laden unit, told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann last week that the Taliban and Al Qaeda, having regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, “are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States” (the real United States, that is, not the fictional stand-in where this same scenario can be found on “24”). Al Qaeda is “on the march” rather than on the run, the Georgetown University and West Point terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman told Congress. Tony Blair is pulling troops out of Iraq not because Basra is calm enough to be entrusted to Iraqi forces — it’s “not ready for transition,” according to the Pentagon’s last report — but to shift some British resources to the losing battle against the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

This is why the entire debate about the Iraq “surge” is as much a sideshow as Britney’s scalp. More troops in Baghdad are irrelevant to what’s going down in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The surge supporters who accuse the Iraq war’s critics of emboldening the enemy are trying to deflect attention from their own complicity in losing a bigger battle: the one against the enemy that actually did attack us on 9/11. Who lost Iraq? is but a distraction from the more damning question, Who is losing the war on terrorism?

The record so far suggests that this White House has done so twice. The first defeat, of course, began in early December 2001, when we lost Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora. The public would not learn about that failure until April 2002 (when it was uncovered by The Washington Post), but it’s revealing that the administration started its bait-and-switch trick to relocate the enemy in Iraq just as bin Laden slipped away. It was on Dec. 9, 2001, that Dick Cheney first floated the idea on “Meet the Press” that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It was “pretty well confirmed,” he said (though it was not), that bin Laden’s operative Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague months before Atta flew a hijacked plane into the World Trade Center.

In the Scooter Libby trial, Mr. Cheney’s former communications aide, Catherine Martin, said that delivering a message on “Meet the Press” was “a tactic we often used.” No kidding. That mention of the nonexistent Prague meeting was the first of five times that the vice president would imply an Iraq-Qaeda collaboration on that NBC show before the war began in March 2003. This bogus innuendo was an essential tool for selling the war precisely because we had lost bin Laden in Afghanistan. If we could fight Al Qaeda by going to war in Iraq instead, the administration could claim it didn’t matter where bin Laden was. (Mr. Bush pointedly stopped mentioning him altogether in public.)

The president now says his government never hyped any 9/11-Iraq links. “Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq,” he said last August after finally conceding that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact everyone in the administration insinuated it constantly, including him. Mr. Bush told of “high-level” Iraq-Qaeda contacts “that go back a decade” in the same notorious October 2002 speech that gave us Saddam’s imminent mushroom clouds. So effective was this propaganda that by 2003 some 44 percent of Americans believed (incorrectly) that the 9/11 hijackers had been Iraqis; only 3 percent had seen an Iraq link right after 9/11.

Though the nonexistent connection was even more specious than the nonexistent nuclear W.M.D., Mr. Bush still leans on it today even while denying that he does so. He has to. His litanies that we are “on the offense” by pursuing the war in Iraq and “fighting terrorists over there, so that we don’t have to fight them here” depend on the premise that we went into that country in the first place to vanquish Al Qaeda and that it is still the “central front” in the war on terror. In January’s State of the Union address hawking the so-called surge, Mr. Bush did it again, warning that to leave Iraq “would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy.”

But now more than ever, the opposite is true. It is precisely by pouring still more of our finite military and intelligence resources down the drain in Iraq that we are tragically ignoring the lessons of 9/11. Instead of showing resolve, as Mr. Bush supposes, his botch of the Iraq war has revealed American weakness. Our catastrophic occupation spawned terrorists in a country where they didn’t used to be, and to pretend that Iraq is now their central front only adds to the disaster. As Mr. Scheuer, the former C.I.A. official, reiterated last week: “Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If you want to address the threat to America, that’s where it is.” It’s typical of Mr. Bush’s self-righteousness, however, that he would rather punt on that threat than own up to a mistake.

That mistake — dropping the ball on Al Qaeda — was compounded last fall when Mr. Bush committed his second major blunder in the war on terror. The occasion was the September revelation that our supposed ally, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had negotiated a “truce” with the Taliban in North Waziristan, a tribal region in his country at the Afghanistan border. This truce was actually a retreat by Pakistan, which even released Qaeda prisoners in its custody. Yet the Bush White House denied any of this was happening. “This deal is not at all with the Taliban,” the president said, claiming that “this is against the Taliban, actually.” When Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson of The Washington Post reported that same month that the bin Laden trail was “stone cold” and had been since Mr. Bush diverted special operations troops from that hunt to Iraq in 2003, the White House branded the story flat wrong. “We’re on the hunt,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ll get him.”

Far from getting him or any of his top operatives dead or alive, the president has sat idly by, showering praise on General Musharraf while Taliban attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan have increased threefold. As The Times reported last week, now both bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be “steadily building an operations hub” in North Waziristan. We know that last year’s London plot to bomb airliners, like the bus-and-subway bombings of 2005, was not just the work of home-grown jihadists in Britain, but also of Qaeda operatives. Some of the would-be bombers were trained in Qaeda’s Pakistan camps much as their 9/11 predecessors had been trained in Afghanistan.

All of this was already going on when Mr. Bush said just before the election that “absolutely, we’re winning” and that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” What’s changed in the few months since his lie is that even more American troops are tied down in Iraq, that even more lethal weapons are being used against them, that even more of the coalition of the unwilling are fleeing, and that even more Americans are tuning out both the administration and the war they voted down in November to savor a referendum that at least offers tangible results, “American Idol.”

Yet Mr. Bush still denies reality. Ten days ago he told the American Enterprise Institute that “the Taliban have been driven from power” and proposed that America help stabilize the Pakistan border by setting up “Reconstruction Opportunity Zones” (remember that “Gulf Opportunity Zone” he promised after Katrina?) to “give residents the chance to export locally made products to the United States, duty-free.” In other words, let’s fight terrorism not by shifting America’s focus from Iraq to the central front, but by shopping for Taliban souvenirs!

Five years after 9/11, the terrorists would seem to have us just where they want us — asleep — even as the system is blinking red once again.