Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Plame and the Path to War

The LA Times just published an in-depth article that does a splendid job of laying out the path to war and Plamegate's role within the larger picture. While it was beyond the scope of the article to cover the aluminum tube debacle, the Curveball debacle, and other details, this account does a splendid job of collating many previously established storylines into one coherent source.

This article is particularly good at the office politics angle. I must confess that the Bush administration often reminds me of the administration at a school where I once taught. There's a similar love of shooting-from-the-hip and going on instinct, a lack of curiosity and a disdain for planning, an anti-empiricism and a disappointing hubris. It takes a good leader to realize that respectful dissent is the ultimate sign of fealty, not disloyalty... Paul O'Neill's greatest lament with Bush was that he lacked "honest brokers" who would speak truth to power without a political agenda.

While some of the office politics in the Bush administration should seem familiar to just about everyone, the difference is that a turf war on this level can and does cost lives. The degree of professionalism and competence required for effective government at this level can be staggering. On this note, regarding Iraq, to hell with ideology for a moment - evaluate the Bush administration based on performance.

(Although registration at the LA Times is free, I've used a Yahoo link for the article instead for easier access.) Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Lack of Intelligence Behind "Intelligent Design"

The best cartoon I've yet seen on Intelligent Design:

A more comprehensive post to follow later.

A Light Bulb to Answer the Radio Silence

Sorry, folks, I've collected material (some good stuff) to blog about, but I'm currently racing to finish writing a script for a deadline. In the meantime, I leave you with a joke...

I love light bulb jokes, and this particular one first appeared among former Clinton aides back when Kerry was running for President. The scariest thing is, it's hardly changed at all since then, and I would hope it wouldn't still be so timely:

How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?


1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed;

2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed;

3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb;

4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for eternal darkness;

5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton for the new light bulb;

6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a step ladder under the banner 'Bulb Accomplished';

7. One administration insider to resign and in detail reveal how Bush was literally 'in the dark' the whole time;

8. One to viciously smear No. 7;

9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light-bulb-changing policy all along;

10. And finally, one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Pattern of Skullduggery

Sorry, yes, another Plamegate entry. I find it a fascinating glimpse into how politics actually work, from bureaucratic turf wars to smear campaigns and backstabbing to the relationship between reporters and politicians to the active distortion and obfuscation of the truth for political gain. At least two reporters feel as I do... You can hear Adam Liptak of The New York Times and Anne Marie Squeo of The Wall Street Journal discussing it with Terry Gross on NPR here.

Several good timelines of this affair have sprung up on the web, but one of the more interesting is a recent article by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who’s been doggedly pursuing this for some time. He recaps no less than eleven security breaches. This particular version has interactive footnotes, but no article links (alas).

Regardless of how Novak changes his version of events, and how Rove claims a reporter fed him the covert information on Valerie Plame Wilson, I keep coming back to an article The Washington Post ran way back on September 27, 2003. The money quotation, also used in part by Waxman, is:

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

It’s very, very hard to believe otherwise. If only the Bush admin had heralded the cardinal rule of DC, “The cover-up is almost always worse than the crime.”

At this point, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus and the official who leaked to him have both been interviewed by Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald. Pincus writes about this, and about the journalistic ethics he practices regarding confidential sources here . Even though Pincus was leaked the material about Valerie Plame Wilson on July 12, 2003, before Novak’s article was published, Pincus relates:

I didn’t write about that information at that time because I did not believe it true that she had arranged his Niger trip.

The first of Pincus’ three standards for granting confidentiality is:

Determining whether the information is credible and verifiable.

Compare this behavior with Novak’s. Pincus later wrote about what the official told him in a October 12, 2003 article. He recounts:

I wrote my October story because I did not think the person who spoke to me was committing a criminal act, but only practicing damage control by trying to get me to stop writing about Wilson.

Again, compare this with Novak. Both reporters were leaked the same essential information, but Novak ran with it and Pincus didn’t. Pincus apparently did not print the information because he correctly viewed it as damage control or spin, and because his instincts were correct — the “leak” was not true; Plame did not arrange for her husband’s trip (although she did play a peripheral role, which has been consistently distorted by some parties). Pincus’ invoked standards suggest that he would have confirmed the leaked information first before publishing it, but apparently he did no feel the info was credible enough to begin with to bother to do this.

Apparently, at least four other reporters were leaked the same information. Yet they, like Pincus, did not run it, probably for similar reasons. But Novak was all too willing to print what he was fed.

To Novak’s credit, he did at least half-heartedly try to confirm the story by calling the CIA, but as recounted earlier, when he was told not to use Valerie Plame Wilson’s name, he ignored this. At least one pundit has posited that Novak took the denials he received as proof he was on to something, and this is likely what he thought... but it’s still sloppy reporting, with Novak all too willing and eager to bear some pretty brackish water for the Bush administration.

Novak's Shifting Accounts

I was working on a new entry that was going to highlight Novak's shifting versions of events regarding his outing of Valerie Plame Wilson, when I stumbled upon an entry at the site Media Matters for America which linked the articles I was planning to use and added a few other quotations I hadn't seen to boot. The site definitely leans liberal, but they try to correct anyone who makes an innaccurate claim. Here's the link to their nice recap.

Barring some bizarre revelation to explain these contradictions, it's pretty clear Novak has lied somewhere along the line. Did he also lie under oath to the grand jury? He seems to be feeling a great deal of stress, as witnessed by his now much ballyhooed incident at CNN, where he exclaims "bullshit" and then walks off. I had read about it, but finally saw it here. It really is pretty bizarre.

This whole affair should be wrapping up soon.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Denver Three Update

Some new information has surfaced in the case of the Denver Three. Jim VandeHei in The Washington Post covers the basics here.

The Denver Post weighs in with an editorial, which observes that

The "case" of the Denver Three isn't the biggest political scandal going, but it does seem to provide an intriguing look into how the White House works to control its image and message at what are purported to be public events. It also bespeaks an unseemly pettiness.

Finally, Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer weighs in with a request for his money back, since his tax dollars paid for the event and many other aspects of the whole debacle.

I still find this case troubling. What most likely happened is that a White House staffer got overzealous, and threatened three people based on their perceived political leanings. Perhaps he was young, sincere, and stupid.... fine. The entire matter could likely have been solved if the staffer was reprimanded, and made to apologize to the three people he kicked out. Of course, while government agencies are generally loathe to admit mistakes, this White House is especially stubborn, even arrogant, in its refusal to do so. The Denver Three incident is more troubling because of it’s part of pattern. It’s well documented that Bush normally only speaks before pre-screened audiences. There are also numerous, deserved lawsuits pending due to the unprecedented arresting, restraining and cordoning off of even polite protesters.

(Now, personally, I feel it’s fine to protest someone outside a speaking hall, for example, but it’s rude in most every case to disrupt the speech itself. Boo if you must, or ask a probing question at the end, but dissent should be smart or your cause loses credibility. I’m no fan of Arnold Swarzenegger, but I thought it was bush league for groups to shout throughout his entire commencement speech at Santa Monica College a couple months ago, while he talking about how a teacher changed his life. Yes, the man may be an ass, but why spoil the day for the students who are graduating as well? Protest before and after, and picket his office, but let the kids enjoy their day... If they’re the only ones doing the booing, I’m a little more sympathetic, but how often does a bodybuilding, action movie star actually lavish praise on an English teacher? Many faculty and students apparently stood and turned their backs on Swarzenegger, a more mature form of silent protest that is certainly appropriate, I’d say... while it may make some people uncomfortable, it registers disapproval without being disruptive. But for the yellers, decry his hypocrisy for his assault on the education budget afterwards, by all means, but the value of education and Swarzenegger’s policies towards it were no longer the story in the news, it was the shouting only. The First Amendment is about protecting the speech you don’t like... And what’s cathartic is not always effective in the long run.)

Back to the Denver Three. The Secret Service is within their rights not to press charges for the “impersonation of a Secret Service officer,” but the fact remains that the staffer broke the law (assault, and violation of the three’s civil rights). The Secret Service, and now the museum, is covering for him. To me, this indicates that they are sympathetic to the staffer and unsympathetic to the people he bounced. Perhaps the most blatant line of bullshit is Colorado U.S. Attorney Bill Leone’s statement that:

"Criminal law is not an appropriate tool to resolve this dispute," Leone said in a statement Friday. "The normal give and take of the political system is the appropriate venue for a resolution."

Leone clearly wishes this would just go away. Of course, officials are not releasing the name of the guilty party here, so it’s not really possible to use the “political system.” The staffer screwed up. His higher-ups apparently do not give a damn. They should. But then again, rather than apologizing for telling a Senator “go fuck youself,” Vice President Cheney instead said on the air that he “felt good” about doing so. Given that culture, given that example, we can be disappointed but not surprised by this minor but very telling incident in Denver. And since the perpetrators won’t apologize, by all means, sue their asses.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Novak Strikes Back

Did you know that Robert Novak's nickname, once upon a time, was The Prince of Darkness? (I am not making that up.) He recently struck again, justifying his role in Plamegate. Read the article for yourself, in which he responds to then CIA spokesman Bill Harlow's account of their interaction. One paragraph floored me:

So, what was "wrong" with my column as Harlow claimed? There was nothing incorrect. He told the Post reporters he had "warned" me that if I "did write about it her name should not be revealed." That is meaningless. Once it was determined that Wilson's wife suggested the mission, she could be identified as "Valerie Plame" by reading her husband's entry in "Who's Who in America."

What... planet... is... he from? Does “don’t use her name” now mean, “feel free to identify her by other means, just don’t use her name?” I know lawyers who wouldn’t buy this one! Is this the sort of rationalization that allows him to sleep at night?

The details of Novak’s account have changed a few times. He offers a semi-apology for outing Plame, but none for his motivations. Perhaps he was driven by the thought of a scoop, but he was clearly unconcerned that the (misleading) information was fed to him by two senior Bush staffers. Novak was in such a mad rush to discredit Wilson, he even told a complete stranger on the street Plame’s status as a covert op! Professionally driven to chase what seemed like a hot lead? Possibly. Overly-eager, willing shill and partisan hack? Likely. His credibility is not exactly sterling, but his sense of morality is repugnant.

The best immediate retort to Novak I’ve yet seen (more are sure to follow) is from Valerie Plame’s CIA classmate, the now retired Larry Johnson, a Republican who’s been disgusted by this whole debacle. (His previous writings and interviews have been extremely illuminating on the whole covert status issue, and I'll link them if there's interest.)

Perhaps when all is said and done, Dark Prince Novak shall be vindicated. But I ain’t holding my breath.

The Denver Three

It's been a while since we've heard any news of the Denver Three, and the latest news is, as one of them says, disappointing but not surprising. This brief article from The Rocky Mountain News will bring you up to speed and up to date.

It never ceases to astound me that those folks who make the biggest show of how patriotic they are often are the most hostile to civil liberties. If you're truly a strict constructionist, wouldn't you be a fierce advocate for The Bill of Rights? Wouldn't you laud the ACLU, versus denouncing them as commies?

Of course, who cares if a few hippies get tossed from a publicly-funded event because (according to the current official line) a White House staffer didn't like their bumper sticker?

Video Ho-ing

Regardless of how one feels about the new book Confessions of a Video Vixen, I think we can all agree that our lexicon is all the richer for the introduction of the new term “video ho-ing.” Speaking as a former high school English teacher, I can confirm this one will get wide usage. Last year gave us “wardrobe malfunction,” and now “video ho-ing” seizes my #2 spot for the year so far (#1 to follow shortly in another post). I’m still unclear as to who specifically deserves credit for this term, so before inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary, further research is warranted.

The Washington Post offers two interesting articles on the book. The first is a general article which observes, among others things, that the sinner-finding-redemption book is a tried and true formula. Vixen’s author Karrine Steffans, fomerly “Super Head,” claims to be a writer first and foremost, and perhaps the book possesses sincerity beyond its commercial aspirations. Still, it’s certainly true that the “I once was lost but now am found” narrative allows for wallowing in salacious details of sex, drugs, and scandal while assuming a stance of piety. Often the authors have mixed feelings about their pasts, glorifying their behavior even as they claim to decry it. (If you listen to Henry Hill’s commentary on the Goodfellas DVD, he’s grateful to be free of some of his murderous associates, but you can tell he also misses those amazing seats at the Copacabana.) Meanwhile, Vixen’s book cover ain’t exactly a recruitment poster for the convent.

WP writer Donna Britt’s scathing reaction to the book comes in part from interviewing a DC mother of two daughters. One can disagree, but one sentence hit me hard:

"The perception is that if you dress or act a certain way, you'll be taken care of."

This used to be called the Prince Charming myth, where the Prince swept in on his gleaming white charger to rescue the poor hapless woman, who was supposed to wait patiently for this external savior... (Perhaps Steffans’ film deal will be with Disney, who can redo Snow White as Pimp Charming and the Seven... oh, I just can’t finish that sentence.)

On a related note, Slate recently featured a good article on Liz Goldwyn’s HBO doc, Pretty Things, about stripping in the burlesque era. Reviewer Rachel Shteir observes that:

The problem with Pretty Things is that the story Goldwyn really wants to tell is how striptease transformed her from ugly duckling to sexually confident swan.


Goldwyn worships the strippers as models of sexual self-empowerment, but the film is confused by the projection of her own post-feminist ideas about sex onto these women, and her desire to wield the kind of sexual power she sees them as having had.

Goldwyn is not the only woman ever to feel this way, and surely her feelings of empowerment are positive for her. Yet these three articles taken as whole do underline that not every choice is right for every person.

Pop culture narratives have embraced “the makeover” as a vehicle for feminine transformation for ages. (Innocuous or not, the final message of Grease appears to be: if he doesn’t like you way you are — change!) However, in the past decade many pop culture narratives have also pushed the idea that a woman is only truly liberated if she is overtly sexual. Madonna clearly feels it’s her calling to writhe about on a stage in front of a thousand people in an S&M brassiere and dental floss, but does Laura Bush feel the same? I think not! (Jenna Bush, perhaps...) Now, I have yet to meet a single straight man who enjoys listening to Madonna outside of a dance club context, but her shtick is plainly her shtick, and not something someone else has chosen for her.

In this day and age, must a young woman be chaste, or perceived to be so? Must she be overtly sexual? It’s natural for teenagers especially to try out a variety of identities and roles as they search for the right one... but must there be only a narrow range of identities to choose from? This is ultimately why I found these articles interesting, because “identity politics” usually involves trying to limit or disparage someone else versus embracing and expanding identity (witness the nasty terms “oreo” and “banana.”) Cornel West has bemoaned that “black culture” is assumed to be street culture and cannot be anything else. Barack Obama had a line in his rousing speech at the Democrat National Convention that referenced “the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.” Finally, on Ebert & Roper, Roger Ebert, when reviewing Friday Night Lights, observed the football-obsessed culture that envelops high-school kids in Texas and wondered, what about the kid who wants to do drama instead?

Perhaps Karrine Steffans can address these issues in her next book. (Let’s give the drama hos some love, too.)