Wealthy Frenchman

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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?

Monday, February 26, 2007

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.

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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Al Qaeda Resurgent

NYT Editorial February 25, 2007

Almost five and a half years ago, America — united by the shock of 9/11 — understood exactly what it needed to do. It had to find, thwart and take down the command structure of Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 innocent people on American soil. Despite years of costly warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq, America today is not significantly closer to that essential goal.

At a crucial moment, the Bush administration diverted America’s military strength, political attention and foreign aid dollars from a necessary, winnable war in Afghanistan to an unnecessary, and by now unwinnable, war in Iraq. Al Qaeda took full advantage of these blunders to survive and rebuild. Now it seems to be back in business.

As our colleagues Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde reported last week, American intelligence and counterterrorism officials believe that Al Qaeda has rebuilt its notorious training camps, this time in Pakistan’s loosely governed tribal regions near the Afghan border. Camp graduates are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq — and may well be plotting new terrorist strikes in the West.

The same officials point to more frequent and more current videos as evidence that Al Qaeda’s top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri — once on the run for their lives and unable to maintain timely communications with their followers — now feel more secure. Al Qaeda is not as strong as it was when its Taliban allies ruled Afghanistan. But, the officials warn, it is getting there.

Al Qaeda’s comeback didn’t have to happen. And it must not be allowed to continue. The new Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan do not operate with the blessing of the Pakistani government. But Pakistan’s military dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has not tried very hard to drive them out. In recent months he has virtually conceded the tribal areas to local leaders sympathetic to Al Qaeda. President Bush needs to warn him that continued American backing depends on his doing more to rid his country of people being trained to kill Americans.

Washington also has to enlist more support on the Afghan side of the border. NATO allies need to drop restrictions that hobble their troops’ ability to fight a resurgent Taliban. Afghan leaders need to wage a more aggressive campaign against corruption and drug trafficking. And Washington needs to pour significantly more money into rural development, to give Afghan farmers alternatives to drug cultivation. One reason General Musharraf has been hedging his bets with the Taliban and Al Qaeda is his growing doubt that Washington is determined to succeed in Afghanistan.

Having failed to finish off Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Washington now finds itself fighting Qaeda-affiliated groups on multiple fronts, most recently in Somalia. Al Qaeda’s comeback in Pakistan is a devastating indictment of Mr. Bush’s grievously flawed strategies and misplaced Iraq obsession. Unless the president changes course, the dangers to America and its friends will continue to multiply.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

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.

This is no way to treat a wounded warrior: Walter Reed Hospital’s flaws are indefensible

By Ann McFeatters

WASHINGTON - A day at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is an eye-opener - about our soldiers, our government generally and the Bush administration.
I visited the renowned hospital after The Washington Post exposed serious problems at the center, where as many as one-fourth of our injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are treated.
The Post reported that soldiers are housed in deteriorated conditions of mold, mice infestations and disrepair. Facilities for amputees are inadequate. Depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome are often overlooked. Nightmarish paperwork stymies even the most aggressive.
What I saw was not a lack of caring or quality medical care. But I found a soldier without his legs sent in four different directions for four forms over the course of a day. His exhausted wife, near tears, was pushing him in a wheelchair through ice.
I talked with a woman whose husband has been in and out of Walter Reed for nearly two years after losing his face in war. His wife had nothing but praise for his plastic surgeons. But she said Walter Reed’s bureaucratic morass is unbelievable.
I saw the family of a soldier whose helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. He has badly broken legs, a cracked pelvis, a broken jaw, a collapsed lung and a punctured eardrum. Six of his teammates hovered near him, caring for his family, who had flown across the country, including his disabled father.
His fellow soldiers said he described the pain as “intolerable” after his first surgery, but that he was more concerned about the fate of his friends. Eight did not survive. Eager to help, one of his comrades went looking for a video-game console. “At least his hands are OK,” he said.
In recent days, the commander at Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George Weightman, and the Army’s surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, have been all over TV, saying the problems at the facility are being fixed and that they are “extremely proud” of the work their staffs are doing.
But the point is that crumbling infrastructure, inhumane bureaucracy and inadequate treatment for mental disorders have been known about for years and have been permitted to continue.
The month before The Post’s series ran, a conference on “quality of life” problems faced by soldiers, their families and civilian staff at Walter Reed found a long list of “issues.” They included: soldiers not getting benefits to travel as scheduled; lack of direction for emergency family care; unequal benefits based on the locale where a soldier is injured and not on the extent of injuries; and no overall plan to help wounded warriors through their convalescence.
When former defense chief Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush were planning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, did they never think to determine how the wounded would be helped? Did they not know that today’s injured soldiers are dealing with far more horrific injuries than in the past because battlefield medicine keeps more of them alive?
Walter Reed is supposed to close in 2011. But facilities to handle its patients have not been built, renovated or expanded. Funds may not be scarce for cool new weapons, but they are exceedingly scarce for real soldiers.
If the Army is broken, as many believe, Rumsfeld and Bush broke it. And fixing it is proving more difficult than fixing the courageous soldiers the administration sent to war and who came back broken.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Disgusting treatment for those to whom we owe so much

By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

There's a great deal more to supporting our troops than sticking a $2 yellow ribbon magnet made in China on your SUV. There's a great deal more to it than making "Support Our Troops" a phrase that every politician feels obliged to utter in every speech, no matter how banal the topic or craven the purpose.

This week, we were treated to a new expose of just how fraudulent and shallow and meaningless "Support Our Troops" is on the lips of those in charge of spending the half a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money that the Pentagon eats every year.

The Washington Post published an expose, complete with photographs, revealing that for every inpatient who's getting the best medical treatment that money can buy at the main hospital at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, there are 17 outpatients warehoused in quarters unfit for human habitation.

Some of the military outpatients are stuck on the Walter Reed campus, a couple of miles from the White House and the Capitol, for as long as 12 months. They've been living in rat and roach-infested rooms, some of which are coated in black mold.

There was outrage and disgust and raw anger at this callous, cruel treatment of those who have the greatest claim not only on our sympathies but also on the public purse. Who among the smiling politicians who regularly troop over to the main hospital at Walter Reed for photo-op visits with those who've come home grievously wounded from the wars the politicians started have bothered to go the extra quarter-mile to see the unseen majority with their rats and roaches?

Not one, it would seem, since none among them have admitted to knowing that there was a problem, much less doing something about it before the reporters blew the whistle.

Within 24 hours, construction crews were working overtime, slapping paint over the moldy drywall, patching the sagging ceilings and putting out traps and poison for the critters that infest the place.

Within 48 hours, the Department of Defense announced that it was appointing an independent commission to investigate. Doubtless the commission will provide a detailed report finding that no one was guilty - certainly none of the politicians of the ruling party whose hands were on the levers of power for five long years of war. They will find that it all came about because the Army medical establishment was overwhelmed by the caseload flowing out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, brave soldiers who were wheelchair-bound with missing legs or paralysis, have been left to make their own way a quarter-mile to appointments with the shrinks and a half-mile to pick up the drugs that dim their minds and eyes and pain, and make the rats and roaches recede into a fuzzy distance.

All this came on the heels of my McClatchy Newspapers colleague Chris Adams' Feb. 9 report that even by its own measures, the Veterans Administration isn't prepared to give returning veterans the care they need to help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal, mental health ailments.

Nearly 100 VA clinics provided virtually no mental health care in 2005, Adams found, and the average veteran with psychiatric troubles gets about a third fewer visits with specialists today than he would have received a decade ago.

The same politicians, from a macho president to the bureaucrats to the people who chair the congressional committees that are supposed to oversee such matters, have utterly failed to protect our wounded warriors. They've talked the talk but few, if any, have ever walked the walk.

No. This happened while all of them were busy as bees, taking billions out of the VA budget and planning to shut down Walter Reed by 2011 in the name of cost-efficiency.

Among those politicians are the people who sent too few troops to Afghanistan or Iraq, who failed to provide enough body armor and weapons and armored vehicles and who, to protect their own political hides, refused to admit that the mission was not accomplished and change course.

But it's they who are charged with the highest duty of all, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural in 1865: "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."

How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning? How dare they ever utter the words: Support Our Troops? How dare they pretend to give a damn about those they order to war?

They've hidden the flag-draped coffins of the fallen from the public and the press. They've averted their eyes from the suffering that their orders have visited upon an Army that they've ground down by misuse and over-use and just plain incompetence.

This shabby, sorry episode of political and institutional cruelty to those who deserve the best their nation can provide is the last straw. How can they spin this one to blame the generals or the media or the Democrats? How can you do that, Karl?

If the American people are not sickened and disgusted by this then, by God, we don't deserve to be defended from the wolves of this world.

A Cat Without Whiskers



So some guy stands up after John McCain’s luncheon speech here yesterday to a group of business types and asks him a question.

“I’ve seen in the press where in your run for the presidency, you’ve been sucking up to the religious right,” the man said, adding: “I was just wondering how soon do you predict a Republican candidate for president will start sucking up to the old Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party?”

Mr. McCain listened with his eyes downcast, then looked the man in the eye, smiled and replied: “I’m probably going to get in trouble, but what’s wrong with sucking up to everybody?” It was a flash of the old McCain, and the audience laughed.

Certainly, the senator has tried to worm his way into the affections of W. and the religious right: the Discovery Institute, a group that tries to derail Darwinism and promote the teaching of Intelligent Design, helped present the lunch, dismaying liberal bloggers who have tracked Mr. McCain’s devolution on evolution.

A reporter asked the senator if his pandering on Roe v. Wade had made him “the darling and candidate of the ultra right wing?” ( In South Carolina earlier this week, he tried to get more evangelical street cred by advocating upending Roe v. Wade.) “I dispute that assertion,” he replied. “I believe that it was Dr. Dobson recently who said that he prayed that I would not receive the Republican nomination. I was just over at Starbucks this morning. ... I talk everywhere, and I try to reach out to everyone.”

But there’s one huge group that he’s not pandering to: Americans.

Most Americans are sick and tired of watching things go hideously backward in Iraq and Afghanistan, and want someone to show them the way out. Mr. McCain is stuck on the bridge of a sinking policy with W. and Dick Cheney, who showed again this week that there is no bottom to his lunacy. The senator supported a war that didn’t need to be fought and is a cheerleader for a surge that won’t work.

It has left Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, once the most spontaneous of campaigners, off balance. He’s like a cat without its whiskers. When the moderator broached the subject of Iraq after lunch, Mr. McCain grimaced, stuck out his tongue a little and said sarcastically, “Thanks.”

Defending his stance, he sounds like a Bill Gates robot prototype, repeating in a monotone: “I believe we’ve got a new strategy. ... It can succeed. I can’t guarantee success. But I do believe firmly that if we get out now we risk chaos and genocide in the region.”

He was asked about Britain’s decision to withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq. “Tony Blair, the prime minister, has shown great political courage,” Mr. McCain said. “He has literally sacrificed his political career because of Iraq, my friends,” because he thought “it was the right thing to do.”

He said he worried that Iranian-backed Shiites were taking more and more control of southern Iraq. (That was probably because the Brits kept peace in southern Iraq all along by giving Iranian-backed Shiites more and more control.) And he noted that the British are sending more troops to Afghanistan, “which is very necessary because we’re going to have a very hot spring in Afghanistan.”

But then he got back to Tony Blair sacrificing his political career, and it was clear that he was also talking about himself. When a reporter later asked him if Iraq might consume his candidacy, he replied evenly: “Sure.”

I asked him if he got discouraged when he reads stories like the one in The Wall Street Journal yesterday about Ahmad Chalabi, the man who helped goad and trick the U.S. into war, who got “a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration’s new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.”

Or the New York Times article yesterday about a couple of Iraqi policemen who joined American forces on searches in Baghdad, but then turned quisling, running ahead to warn residents to hide their weapons and other incriminating evidence.

He nodded. “I think one of the big question marks is how the Maliki government will step up to the plate,” he said.

And how, I asked him, can Dick Cheney tell ABC News that British troops getting out is “an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well,” while he says that Democrats who push to get America out would “validate the Al Qaeda strategy.” Isn’t that a nutty?

But Senator McCain was back on his robo-loop: “I can only express my gratitude for the enormous help that the British have given us.”

Sometimes I miss John McCain, even when I’m with him.

Colorless Green Ideas


The factual debate about whether global warming is real is, or at least should be, over. The question now is what to do about it.

Aside from a few dead-enders on the political right, climate change skeptics seem to be making a seamless transition from denial to fatalism. In the past, they rejected the science. Now, with the scientific evidence pretty much irrefutable, they insist that it doesn’t matter because any serious attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions is politically and economically impossible.

Behind this claim lies the assumption, explicit or implicit, that any substantial cut in energy use would require a drastic change in the way we live. To be fair, some people in the conservation movement seem to share that assumption.

But the assumption is false. Let me tell you about a real-world counterexample: an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

There’s nothing heroic about California’s energy policy — but that’s precisely the point. Over the years the state has adopted a series of conservation measures that are anything but splashy. They’re the kind of drab, colorless stuff that excites only real policy wonks. Yet the cumulative effect has been impressive, if still well short of what we really need to do.

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade’s energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled: after a decade of rapid progress, improvements in auto mileage came to an end, while electricity consumption continued to rise rapidly, driven by the growing size of houses, the increasing use of air-conditioning and the proliferation of appliances.

In California, by contrast, the state continued to push policies designed to encourage conservation, especially of electricity. And these policies worked.

People in California have always used a bit less energy than other Americans because of the mild climate. But the difference has grown much larger since the 1970s. Today, the average Californian uses about a third less total energy than the average American, uses less than 60 percent as much electricity, and is responsible for emitting only about 55 percent as much carbon dioxide.

How did the state do it? In some cases conservation was mandated directly, through energy efficiency standards for appliances and rules governing new construction. Also, regulated power companies were given new incentives to promote conservation, via rule changes that “decoupled” their profits from the amount of electricity they sold.

And yes, a variety of state actions had the effect of raising energy prices. In the early 1970s, the price of electricity in California was close to the national average. Today, it’s about 50 percent higher.

Incidentally, since someone is bound to mention it: the California energy crisis of 2000-2001 has nothing to do with this story. That crisis was caused by market manipulation — we’ve got it on tape — made possible by ill-conceived deregulation, not conservation.

Back to California’s success. As the higher price of power indicates, conservation didn’t come free. Still, it’s striking how invisible California’s energy policy remains. It’s easy to see why New York has much lower per capita energy consumption than, say, Georgia: it’s a matter of high-rises versus sprawl, mass transit versus driving alone. It’s less obvious that Los Angeles is a much greener city than Atlanta. But it is.

So is California a role model for climate policy? No and yes. Even if America as a whole had matched California’s conservation efforts, we’d still be emitting about as much carbon dioxide now as we were in 1990. That’s too much.

But California’s experience shows that serious conservation is a lot less disruptive, imposes much less of a burden, than the skeptics would have it. And the fact that a state government, with far more limited powers than those at Washington’s disposal, has been able to achieve so much is a good omen for our ability to do a lot to limit climate change, if and when we find the political will.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

From Anna to Britney to Zawahri


Have they buried Anna Nicole Smith yet?

Are you kidding? Ms. Smith may be dead and rapidly decomposing, but there’s too much fun still to be reaped from her story to let it die just yet. This is world-class entertainment: Larry King, “Today,” CNN, The New York Times.

Even the judge in the televised hearing over what to do with Ms. Smith’s remains is milking his 15 minutes, like Judge Ito of O. J. Simpson fame. In a burst of wisdom from the bench, the judge, Larry Seidlin, said, “Like a Muhammad Ali fight, sometimes you have to wait the whole 10 rounds.”

When we were kids we were taught not to laugh at people who were obviously mentally or emotionally disturbed. With Ms. Smith, who was deeply and unmistakably disturbed, we put her on television and laughed and laughed. Would she say something stupid, or spill out of her dress, or pass out in public from booze or drugs? How hysterically funny!

Then her son died. Then she died, leaving an orphaned infant daughter. Instead of turning away chastened, shamed, we homed in like happy vultures. Whatever entertainment value Ms. Smith had when she was alive increased exponentially when she was kind enough to die for us. Now she’s on the tube around the clock.

The story, as they say, has legs.

There are other stories out there, but they aren’t nearly as much fun. The Times reported on Monday, for example, that Al Qaeda is getting its act together in Pakistan and is setting up training camps in an area that, apparently, we don’t dare trespass in.

According to the article, “American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.”

The article went on to say, ominously, “The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.”

I imagine that there are a fair number of television viewers and newspaper readers who have trouble distinguishing the relative importance of celebrity stories, like the death of Anna Nicole Smith, from other matters in the news, like the reconstitution of forces responsible for the devastating Sept. 11 attacks.

If air time is any guide, there’s no contest. It’s been obvious for the longest time that the line between news and entertainment has vanished. News is entertainment. And the death of Anna Nicole Smith is more entertaining — for the time being, at least — than the war in Iraq or the plodding machinations of bin Laden and Zawahri.

Paris Hilton and Britney Spears were on the cover of Newsweek last week with the headline “The Girls Gone Wild Effect.” When you turned to the story, there was a full-page picture of the former best friends, with a glassy-eyed Britney looking for all the world like a younger version of Anna Nicole Smith.

The lead-in to the article said in large type: “Paris, Britney, Lindsay and Nicole — They seem to be everywhere and they may not be wearing underwear.”

The nation may be at war, and Al Qaeda may be gearing up for a rematch. But that’s no fun, not when Britney is shaving off her hair and Jennifer Aniston is reported to have a new nose and the thrill-a-minute watch over Anna Nicole’s remains is still the hottest thing on TV.

It was Neil Postman who warned in 1985 that we were amusing ourselves to death. I’m not sure anyone knew how literally to take him.

More than 20 years later, the masses have nearly succeeded in drawing the curtains on anything that’s not entertaining. No one can figure out what do about Iraq or Al Qaeda. A great American cultural center like New Orleans was all but washed away, and no one knows how to put it back together. The ice caps are melting and Al Gore is traveling the land like the town crier, raising the alarm about global warming.

But none of that has really gotten the public’s attention. None of it is amusing enough. As a nation of spectators, we seem content to sit with a pizza and a brew in front of the high-def flat-screen TV, obsessing over Anna Nicole et al., and giving no thought to the possibility that the calamitous events unfolding in the world may someday reach our doorsteps.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Obama’s Big Screen Test



Hillary is not David Geffen’s dreamgirl.

“Whoever is the nominee is going to win, so the stakes are very high,” says Mr. Geffen, the Hollywood mogul and sultan of “Dreamgirls,” as he sits by a crackling fire beneath a Jasper Johns flag and a matched pair of de Koonings in the house that Jack Warner built (which old-time Hollywood stars joked was the house that God would have built). “Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.

“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”

Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O’Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the Dreamworks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary’s hackles.

She didn’t stand outside the gates to the Geffen mansion, where glitterati wolfed down Wolfgang Puck savories, singing the Jennifer Hudson protest anthem “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But she’s not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, either. Hillary loyalists have hissed at defecting donors to remember the good old days of jumping on the Lincoln Bedroom bed.

“Hillary is livid that Obama’s getting the first big fund-raiser here,” one friend of hers said.

Who can pay attention to the Oscar battle between “The Queen” and “Dreamgirls” when you’ve got a political battle between a Queen and a Dreamboy?

Terry McAuliffe and First Groupie Bill have tried to hoard the best A.T.M. machine in politics for the Missus, but there’s some Clinton fatigue among fatigued Clinton donors, who fret that Bill will “pull the focus” and shelve his wife’s campaign.

“I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Mr. Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they’ll wait until Hillary’s the nominee to use it. “I think they believe she’s the easiest to defeat.”

She is overproduced and overscripted. “It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Mr. Geffen says. “She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

The babble here is not about “Babel”; it’s about the battle of the billionaires. Not only have Ron Burkle and David Geffen been vying to buy The Los Angeles Times — they have been vying to raise money for competing candidates. Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate, is close to the Clintons, and is helping Hillary parry Barry Obama by arranging a fund-raiser for her in March, with a contribution from Mr. Spielberg.

Did Mr. Spielberg get in trouble with the Clintons for helping Senator Obama? “Yes,” Mr. Geffen replies, slyly. Can Obambi stand up to Clinton Inc.? “I hope so,” he says, “because that machine is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.”

Once, David Geffen and Bill Clinton were tight as ticks. Mr. Geffen helped raise some $18 million for Bill and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom twice. Bill chilled at Chateau Geffen. Now, the Dreamworks co-chairman calls the former president “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.”

They fell out in 2000, when Mr. Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Mr. Geffen’s request for one for Leonard Peltier. “Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?” Mr. Geffen says. “Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

The mogul knows it’s easy to mock Hollywood — “people with Priuses and private planes” — and agrees with George Clooney that it’s probably not helpful for stars to campaign for candidates, given the caricatures of Hollywood.

I ask what he will say if he ever runs into Bill Clinton again. “ ‘Hi,’ ” he replies. And will he be upset if Hillary wins and he never gets to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom again?

“No,” he says with a puckish smile. “It’s not as nice as my bedroom.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

White House delivers surge in lies, hypocrisy


The hypocrites, mostly conservative Republicans, are at it again. Led by President Bush, they are spewing nonsense about Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and anyone else who opposes Bush's order to "surge" 21,500 U.S. service personnel into Iraq.

These Republicans, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, are accusing Democrats of not supporting our troops because they back a nonbinding resolution opposing the surge and have hinted that they may try to cut off money for troops in the field if the surge fails to pan out as the "new way forward in Iraq."

To surge or not to surge could be a great and honest national debate. It certainly is a needed debate. But we are not having an honest debate.

We are being fed devious semantics about who supports our troops and who does not. To Republicans backing the surge, wanting to bring our troops home and take them out of harm's way is tantamount to being the enemy of our troops.

Think how illogical this position sounds: If you want to save the lives our soldiers, if you do not want to see another limb blown off, if you do not want to see another brain pierced by shrapnel and if you want little children to see their parents return home safely from the battlefield, you do not support the troops.

Instead, you are portrayed as aiding and abetting the terrorists and demoralizing our troops. Listen to Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas: "The enemy wants our men and women in uniform to think that their Congress doesn't care about them ...that they're going to cut the funding and abandon them and their mission."

Unaccountably, at least to me, this kind of hogwash actually works with many Americans. It also works well with some foreign leaders who support Bush's Iraq policies. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose nation has fewer than 2,000 troops in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, is a good example. Last week, Howard suggested that terrorists would dance in the streets and toss candy and flowers if Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama - who opposed the Iraq war from the outset - were elected president. By the way, not one Australian soldier has been killed in combat in Iraq.

But back to reality - to the United States, where more and more families grieve each day for their loved ones lost or severely wounded in Iraq.

Here is a substantive example of the reality of who supports the troops and who does not. The Washington Post reported last week that the Army, which has suffered the largest number of fatalities, began the Iraq war in 2003 with an estimated $56-billion shortage of equipment - including advanced Humvees equipped with armor kits designed to reduce troop deaths from roadside bombs.

Well, guess what? Nearly four years later, the Army, the Marine Corps and the National Guard still do not have an adequate number of Humvees equipped with the needed FRAG Kit 5 armor manufactured with more flexible materials that slow projectiles and contain debris, thus causing fewer deaths.

Is this support of our troops?

Pentagon brass and the president have known about these shortages from the beginning. And, while saber rattling, they have known all along that serious shortages of the new armor have been responsible, directly and indirectly, for hundreds of U.S. deaths.

Is this support of our troops?

It is not. Yet the president remains hell-bent on a surge of thousands of troops into Iraq. An Army spokesman said that while thousands of additional troops will be deployed to Baghdad by the end of March, the armor upgrade of Humvees there will not be completed until summer. Even now, we are seeing a U.S. escalation of street patrols in Baghdad.

To send in more troops is unconscionable. Bush and his supporters have no moral basis to lecture those who oppose the surge when they know full well that the military has a shortage of new Humvee armor.

This is not supporting our troops. This is needlessly sending our troops to their deaths.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wrong Is Right


Many people are perplexed by the uproar over Senator Hillary Clinton’s refusal to say, as former Senator John Edwards has, that she was wrong to vote for the Iraq war resolution. Why is it so important to admit past error? And yes, it was an error — she may not have intended to cast a vote for war, but the fact is that the resolution did lead to war; she may not have believed that President Bush would abuse the power he was granted, but the fact is that he did.

The answer can be summed up in two words: heckuva job. Or, if you want a longer version: Medals of Freedom to George Tenet, who said Saddam had W.M.D., Tommy Franks, who failed to secure Iraq, and Paul Bremer, who botched the occupation.

For the last six years we have been ruled by men who are pathologically incapable of owning up to mistakes. And this pathology has had real, disastrous consequences. The situation in Iraq might not be quite so dire — and we might even have succeeded in stabilizing Afghanistan — if Mr. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney had been willing to admit early on that things weren’t going well or that their handpicked appointees weren’t the right people for the job.

The experience of Bush-style governance, together with revulsion at the way Karl Rove turned refusal to admit error into a political principle, is the main reason those now-famous three words from Mr. Edwards — “I was wrong” — matter so much to the Democratic base.

The base is remarkably forgiving toward Democrats who supported the war. But the base and, I believe, the country want someone in the White House who doesn’t sound like another George Bush. That is, they want someone who doesn’t suffer from an infallibility complex, who can admit mistakes and learn from them.

And there’s another reason the admission by Mr. Edwards that he was wrong is important. If we want to avoid future quagmires, we need a president who is willing to fight the inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom on foreign policy, which still — in spite of all that has happened — equates hawkishness with seriousness about national security, and treats those who got Iraq right as somehow unsound. By admitting his own error, Mr. Edwards makes it more credible that he would listen to a wider range of views.

In truth, it’s the second issue, not the first, that worries me about Mrs. Clinton. Although she’s smart and sensible, she’s very much the candidate of the Beltway establishment — an establishment that has yet to come to terms with its own failure of nerve and judgment over Iraq. Still, she’s at worst a triangulator, not a megalomaniac; she’s not another Dick Cheney.

I wish we could say the same about all the major presidential aspirants.

Senator John McCain, whose reputation for straight talk is quickly getting bent out of shape, appears to share the Bush administration’s habit of rewriting history to preserve an appearance of infallibility. Last month he asserted that he knew full well what we were getting into by invading Iraq: “When I voted to support this war,” he said on MSNBC, “I knew it was probably going to be long and hard and tough, and those that voted for it and thought that somehow it was going to be some kind of an easy task, then I’m sorry they were mistaken.”

But back in September 2002, he told Larry King, “I believe that the operation will be relatively short,” and “I believe that the success will be fairly easy.”

And as for Rudy Giuliani, there are so many examples of his inability to accept criticism that it’s hard to choose.

Here’s an incident from 1997. When New York magazine placed ads on city buses declaring that the publication was “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for,” the then-mayor ordered the ads removed — and when a judge ordered the ads placed back on, he appealed the decision all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Now imagine how Mr. Giuliani would react on being told, say, that his choice to head Homeland Security is actually a crook. Oh, wait.

But back to Mrs. Clinton’s problem. For some reason she and her advisers failed to grasp just how fed up the country is with arrogant politicians who can do no wrong. I don’t think she falls in that category; but her campaign somehow thought it was still a good idea to follow Karl Rove’s playbook, which says that you should never, ever admit to a mistake. And that playbook has led them into a political trap.

The Real Patriots


If we could manage to get past the tedious and the odious — like the empty speculation on whether a woman can win, or whether Barack Obama is black enough — we might be able to engage the essential issue facing the U.S. at this point in our history.

And that is whether, once the Bush administration has finally and mercifully run its course, the country goes back to being a reasonably peaceful, lawful, constructive force in the world, or whether we continue down the bullying, warlike, unilateral, irresponsible, unlawful and profoundly ineffective path laid out by Bush, Cheney & Co.

The question is not so much whether a Republican or a Democrat takes the White House in the next election; it’s whether the American people can take back their country.

I don’t think most Americans are up for perennial warfare. And whatever the polls might say, it’s very hard for me to accept that the men and women who rise from their seats and cover their hearts at the start of sporting events are really in favor of dismantling the system of checks and balances, or holding people in prison for years without charging them, or torturing prisoners in U.S. custody, or giving the president the raw power and unsavory privileges of an emperor.

It was Richard Nixon who said, “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, operating behind the mammoth fig leaf of national security, took this theoretical absurdity to heart and put it into widespread practice.

There are, however, many thoughtful Americans who want to stop this calamitous disregard for the rule of law, two of whom I’ll mention today — Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr. and Senator Chris Dodd.

Mr. Schwarz is one of the most decent men I’ve known. I covered him when he was the chief lawyer for New York City during the Koch administration. He was then, and still is, the quintessential straight arrow.

In the 1970s Mr. Schwarz was chief counsel for the Church Committee (named after its chairman, Senator Frank Church), which uncovered extraordinary abuses and led to historic changes in the nation’s intelligence services. He is now the senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

To say that Mr. Schwarz is disturbed by some of the things that have occurred during the presidency of George W. Bush is an understatement. In a book to be published next month by The New Press, “Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror,” Mr. Schwarz and a colleague at the Brennan Center, Aziz Z. Huq, write:

“For the first time in American history, the executive branch claims authority under the Constitution to set aside laws permanently — including prohibitions on torture and warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. A frightening idea decisively rejected at America’s birth — that a president, like a king, can do no wrong — has reemerged to justify torture and indefinite presidential detention.”

Undermining checks and balances here at home and acting unilaterally abroad have made us less safe, said Mr. Schwarz. Some of the actions the U.S. has taken “have so hurt our reputation,” he said, “that Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay have become in many eyes more the symbol of America than the Statue of Liberty.”

Senator Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is running for president, has introduced legislation that would definitively bar the use of evidence obtained by torture or coercion, reinstate full U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions and restore rights of habeas corpus for certain terror suspects that were stripped away by the federal government last year.

(Habeas corpus is a legal proceeding that allows suspects to challenge their detention in a court of law. To get a sense of its significance, imagine that you were locked up somewhere and were not permitted to show that a mistake had been made, that you were innocent. Imagine that you, or a loved one, were held under those circumstances for a period of years, or forever.)

Senator Dodd said this corrosion of the rule of law has been tolerated primarily because “people have been frightened.” As he put it, in an atmosphere of crisis, “the temptation to succumb to the demagoguery of these things is strong.”

The senator and Mr. Schwarz, in their different ways, are among the many quiet patriots who are spreading the word that the very meaning of the United States, the whole point of this fragile experiment in representative democracy, will be lost if the nation’s ironclad commitment to the rule of law is allowed to unravel.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oh What a Malleable War

MAYBE the Bush White House can’t conduct a war, but no one has ever impugned its ability to lie about its conduct of a war. Now even that well-earned reputation for flawless fictionalizing is coming undone. Watching the administration try to get its story straight about Iran’s role in Iraq last week was like watching third graders try to sidestep blame for misbehaving while the substitute teacher was on a bathroom break. The team that once sold the country smoking guns in the shape of mushroom clouds has completely lost its mojo.

Surely these guys can do better than this. No sooner did unnamed military officials unveil their melodramatically secretive briefing in Baghdad last Sunday than Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blew the whole charade. General Pace said he didn’t know about the briefing and couldn’t endorse its contention that the Iranian government’s highest echelons were complicit in anti-American hostilities in Iraq. Public-relations pandemonium ensued as Tony Snow, the State Department and finally the president tried to revise the story line on the fly. Back when Karl Rove ruled, everyone read verbatim from the same script. Last week’s frantic improvisations were vintage Scooter Libby, at best the ur-text for a future perjury trial.

Yet for all the sloppy internal contradictions, the most incriminating indictment of the new White House disinformation campaign is to be found in official assertions made more than a year ago. The press and everyone else seems to have forgotten that the administration has twice sounded the same alarms about Iranian weaponry in Iraq that it did last week.

In August 2005, NBC News, CBS News and The Times cited unnamed military and intelligence officials when reporting, as CBS put it, that “U.S. forces intercepted a shipment from Iran containing professionally made explosive devices specifically designed to penetrate the armor which protects American vehicles.” Then, as now, those devices were the devastating roadside bombs currently called E.F.P.’s (explosively formed penetrators). Then, as now, they were thought to have been brought into Iraq by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Then, as now, there was no evidence that the Iranian government was directly involved. In February 2006, administration officials delivered the same warning yet again, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Timing is everything in propaganda, as in all showmanship. So why would the White House pick this particular moment to mount such an extravagant rerun of old news, complete with photos and props reminiscent of Colin Powell’s infamous presentation of prewar intelligence? Yes, the death toll from these bombs is rising, but it has been rising for some time. (Also rising, and more dramatically, is the death toll from attacks on American helicopters.)

After General Pace rendered inoperative the first official rationale for last Sunday’s E.F.P. briefing, President Bush had to find a new explanation for his sudden focus on the Iranian explosives. That’s why he said at Wednesday’s news conference that it no longer mattered whether the Iranian government (as opposed to black marketeers or freelance thugs) had supplied these weapons to Iraqi killers. “What matters is, is that they’re there,” he said. The real point of hyping this inexact intelligence was to justify why he had to take urgent action now, no matter what the E.F.P.’s provenance: “My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we’re going to do something about it, pure and simple.”

Darn right! But if the administration has warned about these weapons twice in the past 18 months (and had known “that they’re there,” we now know, since 2003), why is Mr. Bush just stepping up to that job at this late date? Embarrassingly enough, The Washington Post reported on its front page last Monday — the same front page with news of the Baghdad E.F.P. briefing — that there is now a shortfall of “thousands of advanced Humvee armor kits designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs.” Worse, the full armor upgrade “is not scheduled to be completed until this summer.” So Mr. Bush’s idea of doing something about it, “pure and simple” is itself a lie, since he is doing something about it only after he has knowingly sent a new round of underarmored American troops into battle.

To those who are most suspicious of this White House, the “something” that Mr. Bush really wants to do has little to do with armor in any case. His real aim is to provoke war with Iran, no matter how overstretched and ill-equipped our armed forces may be for that added burden. By this line of thinking, the run-up to the war in Iraq is now repeating itself exactly and Mr. Bush will seize any handy casus belli he can to ignite a conflagration in Iran.

Iran is an unquestionable menace with an Israel-hating fanatic as its president. It is also four times the size of Iraq and a far more dangerous adversary than was Saddam’s regime. Perhaps Mr. Bush is as reckless as his harshest critics claim and will double down on catastrophe. But for those who don’t hold quite so pitch-black a view of his intentions, there’s a less apocalyptic motive to be considered as well.

Let’s not forget that the White House’s stunt of repackaging old, fear-inducing news for public consumption has a long track record. Its reason for doing so is always the same: to distract the public from reality that runs counter to the White House’s political interests. When the Democrats were gaining campaign traction in 2004, John Ashcroft held an urgent news conference to display photos of seven suspected terrorists on the loose. He didn’t bother to explain that six of them had been announced previously, one at a news conference he had held 28 months earlier. Mr. Bush played the same trick last February as newly declassified statistics at a Senate hearing revealed a steady three-year growth in insurgent attacks: he breathlessly announced a thwarted Qaeda plot against the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles that had already been revealed by the administration four months before.

We know what Mr. Bush wants to distract us from this time: Congressional votes against his war policy, the Libby trial, the Pentagon inspector general’s report deploring Douglas Feith’s fictional prewar intelligence, and the new and dire National Intelligence Estimate saying that America is sending troops into the cross-fire of a multifaceted sectarian cataclysm.

That same intelligence estimate also says that Iran is “not likely to be a major driver of violence” in Iraq, but no matter. If the president can now whip up a Feith-style smoke screen of innuendo to imply that Iran is the root of all our woes in the war — and give “the enemy” a single recognizable face (Ahmadinejad as the new Saddam) — then, ipso facto, he is not guilty of sending troops into the middle of a shadowy Sunni-Shiite bloodbath after all.

Oh what a malleable war Iraq has been. First it was waged to vanquish Saddam’s (nonexistent) nuclear arsenal and his (nonexistent) collaboration with Al Qaeda. Then it was going to spread (nonexistent) democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it is being rebranded as a fight against Tehran. Mr. Bush keeps saying that his saber rattling about Iran is not “a pretext for war.” Maybe so, but at the very least it’s a pretext for prolonging the disastrous war we already have.

What makes his spin brazen even by his standards is that Iran is in fact steadily extending its influence in Iraq — thanks to its alliance with the very Iraqi politicians that Mr. Bush himself has endorsed. In December the president welcomed a Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, to the White House with great fanfare; just three weeks later American forces had to raid Mr. Hakim’s Iraq compound to arrest Iranian operatives suspected of planning attacks against American military forces, possibly with E.F.P.’s. As if that weren’t bad enough, Nuri al-Maliki’s government promptly overruled the American arrests and ordered the operatives’ release so they could escape to Iran. For all his bluster about doing something about it, Mr. Bush did nothing.

It gets worse. This month we learned that yet another Maliki supporter in the Iraqi Parliament, Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Ebrahimi, was convicted more than two decades ago of planning the murderous 1983 attacks on the American and French Embassies in Kuwait. He’s now in Iran, but before leaving, this terrorist served as a security adviser, no less, to the first Iraqi prime minister after the American invasion, Ibrahim al-Jafaari. Mr. Jafaari, hailed by Mr. Bush as “a strong partner for peace and freedom” during his own White House visit in 2005, could be found last week in Tehran, celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution and criticizing America’s arrest of Iranian officials in Iraq.

Even if the White House still had its touch for spinning fiction, it’s hard to imagine how it could create new lies brilliant enough to top the sorry truth. When you have a president making a big show of berating Iran while simultaneously empowering it, you’ve got another remake of “The Manchurian Candidate,” this time played for keeps.

Will Other Mortgage Dominoes Fall?

Gretchen Morgenson

IT’S amazing how long it can take investors to see that the wheels are coming off a prized investment vehicle. Denial, after all, is a powerful thing.

But when an imperiled favorite happens to be a pool of asset-backed securities — especially those involving home mortgages — denial can be compounded by outright blindness to the real risks of that investment. That may explain why, even as everyone concedes that the subprime or low-grade mortgage market has fallen into the sea, the vast pools of mortgage-backed securities built in part on those risky mortgage loans still appear to be on solid ground.

Investors, chasing the buzz of ever higher yields, have flocked into the mortgage-backed market in recent years. Nobody wants to think that the possibility of a wide-ranging subprime debacle is also a harbinger of looming problems for investments tied to those loans. But the reality is that these vehicles — and the collateralized debt obligations that hold them — are not as secure as many believe. And that has broad implications for the capital markets.

Consider how torrid the issuance of these securities has been in recent years. In the last three years, for example, big banks and brokerage firms almost doubled the amount of residential loans they issued, going to $1.1 trillion last year from $586 billion in 2003. Many of these loans have been packaged into collateralized debt obligations and sold to pension funds, hedge funds, banks and insurance companies. For example, 81 percent of the $249 billion in collateralized debt obligation pools in 2005 consisted of residential mortgage products.

Collateralized debt obligations are made up of different segments — known as tranches — based on credit quality. Because buyers of these securities were looking for yields, subprime loans make up a large portion of most collateralized debt obligations.

Wall Street, of course, has coined major money in this area. Mortgage-related activities at the major firms generate an estimated 15 percent of total fixed-income revenue, according to Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein.

BUT few seem worried about what might happen to these players if tremors in the subprime market worsen, or if supposedly more-creditworthy loans in the upper tranches begin to go bad.

One of the arguments for why mortgage loan pools have held up even as the subprime mortgage industry has collapsed is that their collection of a wide array of debt obligations provides a margin of safety. In addition, downgrades on these loans from the major rating agencies have been relatively modest.

This is puzzling, given the wreckage in the subprime market — lenders going bankrupt, stocks of issuers falling, default rates on new loans well above historical averages. Last year, Moody’s Investors Service, for example, downgraded only 277 subprime home equity loan tranches, just 2 percent of the home equity securities rated by the agency. So far this year, the firm has issued 30 downgrades, mostly on mortgages issued from 2001 to 2004. Among the 2005 and 2006 issues, many of which are defaulting at high velocity, Moody’s has put 62 tranches on review for possible downgrade. That is less than 1 percent of the total subprime deals rated in those years.

“Seeing weaknesses in collateral or subprime loans, we have increased our loss expectations by 25 to 30 percent,” said Debashish Chatterjee, a senior analyst in the residential mortgage-backed securities area at Moody’s. “We see the ratings outstanding on deals securitization in 2005 and 2006 and have taken steps to provide credit enhancement on them.”

But credit enhancement does not necessarily involve cash. Instead, the cushion can be additional mortgages or loans, which may also become vulnerable.

It is becoming clear, however, that subprime mortgages are not the only part of this market experiencing strain. Even paper that is in the midrange of credit quality — one step up from the bottom of the barrel — is encountering problems. That sector of the market is known as Alt-A, for alternative A-rated paper, and it is where a huge amount of growth and innovation in the mortgage world has occurred.

The Alt-A segment of the market used to consist of mortgages issued to professionals — like doctors — with unpredictable incomes. Now Alt-A is dominated by so-called affordability mortgages — adjustable-rate interest-only loans, 40-year loans and silent-second loans. You, dear risk-taking homeowner, know all about these loans that allowed people to buy a house that might have been beyond their means but looked attractive because they didn’t need to make payments on the principal in the early years.

In 2006, according to UBS, interest-only loans, 40-year mortgages and option-adjustable-rate mortgages comprised more than 75 percent of Alt-A issuance. These loans often have little documentation of a borrower’s income and rack up higher mortgage debt against the value of the underlying collateral (i.e., the house). UBS said that 76 percent of adjustable-rate interest-only loans written in 2006 had low documentation, while 57 percent had loan-to-value ratios greater than 80 percent. No surprise, then, that 3.16 percent of these loans are already delinquent by two months or more.


Last week, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services put 18 classes of securities from 11 residential mortgage pools on watch for a downgrade. Alt-A loans were among those on the watch list, but S.& P. said its move to credit watch status on these mortgages would have no impact on outstanding C.D.O. ratings.

Relying on rating agencies to analyze the risk in collateralized debt obligations may be unwise, however. Back in May 2005, Alan Greenspan noted the complexity of collateralized debt obligations and the challenges they pose to “even the most sophisticated market participants.” He warned investors not to rely solely on rating agencies to identify the risks in these securities.

THAT is also the view of Joshua Rosner, a managing director at Graham & Fisher & Company, and Joseph R. Mason, associate professor of finance at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. The pair published a paper last week, “How Resilient Are Mortgage-Backed Securities to Collateralized Debt Obligation Market Disruptions?” analyzing C.D.O.’s. The Hudson Institute, a nonpartisan policy research organization in Washington, financed their research.

Mr. Mason and Mr. Rosner find that insufficient transparency in the C.D.O. market, significant changes in asset composition, and a credit rating industry ill-equipped to assess market risk and operational weaknesses could result in a broad financial decline. That ball could start rolling as the housing industry weakens, the authors contend.

“The danger in these products is that in changing hands so many times, no one knows their true make-up, and thus who is holding the risk,” Mr. Rosner said in a statement. Recent revelations of problem loans at some institutions, he added, “have finally confirmed that these risks are much more significant than the broader markets had anticipated.”

Mr. Mason and Mr. Rosner say it is only a matter of time before defaults in mortgage pools hit returns in collateralized debt obligation pools. Of greater concern, they say, will be the effect on the mortgage market when investors, unhappy with poorly performing C.D.O.’s, sell them and move on to other forms of collateral. They cite the manufactured housing market as a disturbing precedent; after that market collapsed in 2002, managers of collateralized debt obligations avoided the sector.

A similar shrinkage could occur in the residential mortgage sector as defaults mount. “Decreased funding for residential mortgage-backed securities could set off a downward spiral in credit availability that can deprive individuals of homeownership and substantially hurt the U.S. economy,” the Mason/Rosner paper said.

So far, the pain from subprime defaults has been muted. Market participants are cheered that lenders are finally tightening their loan standards, albeit a bit late. Unfortunately, the damage of the mortgage mania has been done and its effects will be felt. It’s only a matter of when.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Giant Doom Magnet

So I was sitting around watching “Oprah” yesterday afternoon when I realized how I could stop W. and Crazy Dick from blowing up any more stuff.

All I needed to do was Unleash my Unfathomable Magnetic Power into the Universe!

Energy flows where intention goes. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Anyhow, Oprah taught me how to stop abusing myself and learn The Secret. I finally get it: because the Law of Attraction dictates that like attracts like, my negativity toward the president and vice president is attracting their negativity and multiplying the negative vibrations in the cosmos, creating some sort of giant doom magnet.

I need to examine my unforgiving stance toward them and use my power of visualization to let them know that in my consciousness and awareness, they cannot determine my destiny. I am severing those emotional and vibratory tonalities that keep me tied to their toxic energy, causing me to repeat the same old pattern of bemoaning in the newspaper their same old pattern of blundering in the Middle East.

Oprah did her second show in eight days on “The Secret,” the self-help book (and DVD) by Rhonda Byrne, an Australian reality-TV producer. The book hit No. 1 on the USA Today best-seller list this week.

At first glance, “The Secret” might seem like inane piffle, a psychobabble cross between Dr. Phil and “The Da Vinci Code,” a new-age spin on Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 classic, “The Power of Positive Thinking” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” But that’s a negative way of thinking.

James Arthur Ray, a teacher of The Secret method, who talked to Oprah, says it’s “very, very scientific.”

“If you think you’re this meat suit running around, you know, you have to think again,” he said. “You’re a field of energy in a larger field of energy.”

Oprah enthused that The Secret “really is touching a nerve around the world” because “so many people are hungry for guidance and meaning.” Ms. Byrne claims it improved her eyesight; others say it works on everything from weight loss to panic attacks to getting rich to snagging the mate of your dreams or a good parking space.

“We create our own circumstances by the choices that we make, and the choices that we make are fueled by our thoughts,” Oprah explained in her first show. “So our thoughts are the most powerful thing that we have here on earth. And based upon what we think — and [what] we think determines who we are — we attract who we are into our lives.”

Or as the book so eloquently puts it, “You must feel good about You.”

If it works on eyesight, can’t it work on foresight? Can’t we use The Secret on the secretive Bush White House to prevent a calamity in Iran?

According to the Sacred Principles set out by the Law of Attraction Specialists, the universe responds to your thoughts. So if I want certified chuckleheads to stop mucking up American foreign policy, all I have to do is let the universe know. I forgive the president for being a goose and the vice president for being a snake, and I start thinking about the sort of amazing, or even mildly competent, leaders I deserve to have in my life.

Maybe W. should read the book. He likes things biblical, and “The Secret” says it takes its Creative Process from the New Testament.

He would learn, as Mr. Ray said, that “trying is failing with honor,” adding: “Take the word ‘try’ out of your vocabulary. You either do it or you don’t.”

W. could have applied that to Iraq, where he has always done only enough to fail, including with the Surge.

A main tenet of The Secret is learning to avoid the chain reaction of churlishness, which begins with a single thought: “The one bad thought attracted more bad thoughts, the frequency locked in, and eventually something went wrong. Then as you reacted to that one thing going wrong, you attracted more things going wrong.”

It’s an apt description of Iraq policy. A bad thought that led to more bad thoughts, and the negative frequency is now locked in on Iran, which is responding with its own negative frequency.

With The Secret, W. will realize that all he needs to do to change his current reality is admit that it’s fake. (Similar to the wisdom of Dorothy clicking her shoes three times.)

Once he stops his chain reaction of negative thought, I can stop my chain reaction of negative thought. And then there will be peace on earth and parking spaces for everyone.

Insurgents -- they buy American

The administration's latest memory lapse is remembering where our enemies in Iraq got their weapons.
Rosa Brooks

February 16, 2007

ACCORDING TO the defense lawyers at his trial, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby didn't lie to investigators about his role in outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. He was just so darn busy with pressing national security matters that he kept forgetting the chummy chats about Plame he'd had with NBC's Tim Russert and Time magazine's Matt Cooper — not to mention his two-hour lunch on the same subject with Judith Miller (late of the New York Times).

The ladies and gentlemen of the press appear skeptical about Libby's "bad memory" defense. But, personally, I find his claim entirely credible.

After all, in the run-up to the Iraq war, President Bush was so busy with pressing national security matters that he completely forgot to ask any questions about the gaping holes in the intelligence presented to him. Condoleezza Rice was so busy with pressing national security matters that she forgot to take false information about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction out of Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, even though the CIA told her that it was false. Dick Cheney was so busy with pressing national security matters (water-boarding prisoners; shooting small animals) that he totally forgot you're not supposed to pressure people to come up with bogus intelligence in the first place.

And the easily forgettable journalists mentioned above were so busy enjoying their access to administration national security officials that they forgot that journalists are supposed to actually investigate stuff, instead of just breathlessly repeating what an "anonymous source" told them over lunch.

Given all the forgetting that was going on back in 2003, why shouldn't we believe that Scooter had a faulty memory too?

Astute observers will have noticed that there's still an awful lot of national security-related forgetting going on today. The Bush administration, for instance, has already forgotten that relying on questionable intelligence can lead to disaster and has taken to announcing direct Iranian involvement in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq as if it were incontrovertible fact.

According to some anonymous U.S. officials at a very secret, no-recording-or-photography-allowed session in Baghdad on Sunday, U.S. forces have discovered Iranian-made components in some of the bombs used by Iraqi insurgents. Naturally (having forgotten that there might be no war in Iraq at all if it hadn't been for excessive media respect for anonymous sources), every U.S. media outlet dutifully played along and reported the claims. Of course, those claims are hard to verify because both the evidence and the identity of the officials are secret.

Meanwhile, Bush, who keeps forgetting that our intelligence has at times been dangerously wrong, insists that he "can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops…. When we find the networks that are enabling these weapons to end up in Iraq, we will deal with them."

Reinforce your bomb shelter, President Ahmadinejad.

Oh, wait; I forgot something too! (Just so you know, I'm also really busy thinking about pressing national security matters.) My fellow Americans, it is my duty to reveal to you that Iran is not the only powerful state that's arming the Iraqi insurgents. On the contrary. There's equally solid evidence that another major world power has been providing the Iraqi insurgents with thousands of new RPGs, machine guns, sniper rifles and other weapons.

Just who is behind this act of hostility? The United States — or anyway, the U.S. Department of Defense.

You heard me. According to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, about 14,000 of the weapons bought (with your tax dollars!) for distribution to Iraqi security forces got, um, misplaced somewhere between getting to Iraq and being transferred to the Iraqi army and police. Instead, analysts say, many of those weapons ended up in the hands of You Know Who.

And that's not even counting the weapons that do get delivered to the Iraqi forces but are "lost," and then reappear shortly thereafter in black market weapons bazaars, where they can be bought by the bad guys and used against our troops.

Is Bush aware that an agency of the U.S. government is providing weapons to the Iraqi insurgents? Or is he so busy with other pressing national security matters that he forgot to read the inspector general's report?

As with Iran, I suppose it doesn't really matter whether Bush knows that U.S. weapons are ending up with insurgents. He said it best himself, when discussing the Iranian government's responsibility for supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents: "Either [top Iranian officials] knew or didn't know" that Iranian weapons were going to end up with insurgents, but "what matters … is that they're there. What's worse, that the government knew or that the government didn't know?"

Indeed. But do me a favor, OK? If you pass this along, just say you forgot where you read it.

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