Friday, February 18, 2005

Gannongate Gets Deeper

At first, I saw the Jeff Gannon story as one more example of the Bush administration's shameless message crafting policy. It didn't matter to them if they had to rile up fear, exaggerate evidence, minimize the President's press conferences, or even hire reporters to guarantee control over their message. Gannon was just one more part in that. Here was a no talent, no experience schmuck willing to sit in the White House press corps and lob softballs for the administration to jack out the park -- of course they'd take advantage.

Gannon was exposed as a fraud (later as a hypocrite) and lost his position of access. Case closed. Or so I thought.

But the depth of Gannon's fraud was not the end of the story. As more people began to look into who Jeff Gannon/J.D. Guckert really was, it became clear that this was a person who'd been given extraordinary access to the Bush administration. Gannon was one of the first 'journalists', for example, to have knowledge of the Joe Wilson/Valerie Plame memos.

John Aravosis at AMERICAblog, who's done an amazing job of covering this story from the start, has some pretty disturbing new information that goes far beyond anything we could possibly have imagined. According to Aravosis, "a news producer for a major network" has told him that Gannon had advanced information as to the specifics of the invasion of Iraq.

According to the producer, Gannon specifically told them that in four hours the president was going to be making a speech to the nation announcing that the US was bombing Iraq. The producer told me they were surprised that Gannon, working with such a small news outfit, could have access to such information, but "what did you know, he was right," the producer said today. The producer went on to say that Gannon often had correct scoops on major stories, including information about Mary Mapes and the Dan Rather BUSH/AWOL scandal that this news outlet got from Gannon before any had the information publicly.
Now, this could be a producer who's miffed because a prostitute who didn't spend the money to go to journalism school, yet still sat in the White House press pool, had better access than himself. But this would be a pretty reckless thing to say if no one else would be willing to corroborate it, and a network news producer would know that.

Another thing I'd like to see cleared up would be what this producer means in saying that Gannon had the Mapes/Rather, Bush/AWOL story before anyone else "had the information publicly." If he means that Gannon had the scoop before the mainstream media, he could have just been among the first to pick it up from the bloggers -- his position at Talon News/GOPUSA would support that.

However, if he means that Gannon had the scoop before anyone had started questioning the authenticity of the documents, then this is potentially a major scandal. This would seem to indicate that the AWOL memos were indeed, as many people have speculated, a pro-Bush time bomb, set to explode in Rather's face when they were outed as forgeries, effectively choking off all debate about Bush's Vietnam-era service record. That Gannon had advanced knowledge that the documents were fakes lends credence to that theory. I don't pretend to know the answer here.

But the biggest story here is that Jeff Gannon -- a shady figure with a White House day pass and seemingly extensive access to the Bush administration, all with a fake name, but without a Secret Service background check -- allegedly told other journalists the exact time that the invasion of Iraq would take place. Aravosis brings up two key questions on this issue:

Even if Gannon were part of a press gaggle that was told embargoed information about the war by the White House, this producer alleges that Gannon would have broken any such embargo, which is a security risk to the operation, and more generally shows that concerns about Gannon's White House access posing a risk to national security might now be warranted.

If the White House did a briefing and Gannon were included, this would mean ANYONE could walk in off the street, say they're a reporter, and provided by they don't have a criminal record, the White House will simply tell them at what hour we're launching a major attack? And if there was no briefing for reporters, then how did Gannon allegedly find out?
To clear up some confusion on the right about Gannongate, Gannon is not the issue. We don't care if he's a male escort or if he's a tax cheat of if he doesn't have an expensive education. Rather, we care that, at best, Gannon represents a corrupt White House communications establishment and that, at worst, he represents an administration that is willing to cavalierly flaunt national security interests in favor of political point scoring.

posted by Scott | 2/18/2005 | |

Thursday, February 17, 2005

In Other News...

I don't typically do this, but these two items struck me as worth commenting on.

1. Two NASA scientists contend that there is life on Mars. Not was. Is.

The two scientists, according to sources at the Sunday meeting, based their case in part on Mars’ fluctuating methane signatures that could be a sign of an active underground biosphere and nearby surface concentrations of the sulfate jarosite, a mineral salt found on Earth in hot springs and other acidic bodies of water like Rio Tinto that have been found to harbor life despite their inhospitable environments.

2. Bruce Springsteen has a new album coming out at the end of April, titled 'Devils & Dust'. (That's kind of political, right?) It was produced by Brendan O'Brien, who was also responsible for 'The Rising' which was the first recording in years that did Bruce any justice.

Oddly, it's just a Bruce Springsteen record, rather than the full Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band line-up we've gotten used to again in the recent past. Or maybe not so oddly, when you consider the loose 'rock, acoustic, rock, acoustic' pattern he's fallen into over the course of his career. This new one is obviously much more acoustic than rock.

Either way, I know I'm psyched.


In case you were wondering, yes, I do find it pretty funny that I give the same weight to 'life on Mars' as I do 'new Springsteen record'. What do you expect from a Jersey boy like me?

posted by Scott | 2/17/2005 | |

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Middle East On War Footing

Okay, that headline is the most obvious thing I've ever written in my life. But I'm talking about the whole Middle East here, not just the usual suspects.

It seems that someone may or may not have fired a missile from an aircraft at a site that may or may not be a nuclear reactor in Iran. I'm posting the whole story from MSNBC. My apologies for the blatant theft...

TEHRAN, Iran - An unknown aircraft fired a missile on Wednesday in a deserted area near the southern city of Dailam in the province of Bushehr where Iran has a nuclear power plant, Iranian state television said.

"A powerful explosion was heard this morning on the outskirts of Dailam in the Bushehr province. Witnesses said that the missile was fired from an unknown plane 12 miles from the city," Iran's Arabic language Al-Alam said, according to Reuters.

Separately, the Associated Press quoted an Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman, who said that he could not confirm reports that anti-aircraft fire has been shot off near an Iranian nuclear facility.

And Reuters reported an Israeli security source, who denied any Israeli involvement in the reported explosion.

Iran's Russian-built 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactor, its only nuclear power plant, is due to start operating in Bushehr province in late 2005.
According to the right wing Israeli security site DEBKAfile, Iranian television has gone wall to wall with coverage of the apparent attack. Immediately, American stock futures tanked and oil prices spiked. Essentially, futures traders are betting on war:

S&P 500 futures slipped 5 points, below fair value accounting for interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract.

Dow Jones industrial index futures were down 33 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 6 points.

"The tensions have been rising between the U.S. and Iran as of late. This explosion basically sent chills down the spines of futures traders," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. in Chicago. "Oil prices reacted immediately and rallied up to the highs and this caused a corresponding drop in stock prices."
This comes hot on the heels of Israel's announcement that Iran is likely six months away from building a nuclear arsenal. The most chilling part of the story in light of the current events?

Israel, believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, has hinted it could hit Iran militarily to stop it getting the bomb.

"They are trying very hard to develop the nuclear bomb. This kind of extreme regime with a nuclear bomb is a nightmare, not only for us," Shalom told reporters.
And all of this follows a series of events in Lebanon that have heightened tensions between the United States and Syria, leading Syria and Iran just this morning to declare solidarity with each other "to confront threats."

Massive amounts of American troops are obviously on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan on either side of the Iranian border. I have absolutely no idea what's going on, but I can say that if Israel attacked Iran this morning, they did so in wreckless disregard for not only the safety of our armed forces, but also for the safety of their own people. Likewise, if this was an American attack, I'm not at all convinced that the move was wise.

Going back to my previous theory about the al-Hariri assassination, while it seems unlikely they'd have the ability to pull it off, it does seem that al Qaeda is the one player in all of this with the most to gain by fomenting a total war in the Middle East. Let's see how everything shakes out.


Apologies for the duplicate postings this morning -- Blogger had some hiccups. Anyway, it turns out that Israel, America, and al Qaeda are all innocent of this morning's 'bombing' in Iran. There was some post-missile/rocket theory speculation that was Donnie Darko to blame, but even that came up empty.

The actual culprit? Dam work.

TEHRAN, Iran - An explosion in south Iran, initially reported as caused by a missile, was blasting work during the construction of a dam, a senior military officer confirmed to state television on Wednesday.

"What happened was only a natural part of building work. These were heavy blasts carried out for the construction of the dam," said Ali Reza Afshar, deputy to the chief of staff of the armed forces.
One way or the other, I'm glad I compiled all of this information about the current state of things in the Middle East. It seems that Iranian television, at least, has a heightened sense of awareness of the volatility in the region. Maybe we should be paying a bit more attention, as well.

posted by Scott | 2/16/2005 | |

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why Do Republicans Hate Civility?

This afternoon, I almost linked to this item from The Hill, about the new 'Center Aisle Caucus' being started in the House by Steve Israel, a New York Democrat, and Tim Johnson, an Illinois Republican.

Johnson said it would be difficult to form a consensus on contentious social issues like gun control, so the caucus instead would to focus on issues such as Social Security and veterans' benefits.

The Center Aisle Caucus will focus on both process and policy, Israel said, because "a vindictive process leads to poor policy."
It may seem cheesy, but this is definitely something that gives me some hope for our government. Some days it seems like we should just give up and have it out in a Civil War. But here are two lawmakers willing to tell everyone to cool it so things can actually get done in Congress.

So why am I posting this now? I found the following tonight over at NRO's The Corner:

The caucus is supposedly going to "elevate the discourse" on "policy" as well as "process." The Republican involved in setting up the caucus, Tim Johnson of Illinois, is practically owned by the National Education Association. That may be an uncivil thing to say, but it's true.
Posted at 04:29 PM
I think we were talking about rigid ideological litmus tests the other day, right? How great is it that Ramesh's litmus test isn't even ideological, but rather straight partisan? I love the way he wants to devolve things to a 'how dare you talk to Democrats -- they have cooties' level.

You know that Ramesh Ponnuru? Don't talk to him. I heard he smells...

posted by Scott | 2/15/2005 | |

The al-Hariri Assassination

The blogosphere seems strangely quiet on this matter, but I think it's more just a matter of not knowing what to make of it than not caring. Let me start out by saying that the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri yesterday was horrifying. Nowadays, when one thinks of Middle Eastern ultraviolence, Iraq, Israel, and Gaza are the usual suspects. Lebanon has been relatively peaceful and quiet in the recent past, especially with the ending of its fifteen-year-plus-long civil war in 1990. This bombing changes all of that.

I have no idea who was behind the murders. There seems to be a growing consensus that it very well might have been Syria pulling the strings, as al-Hariri's criticism of Syria's occupation of Lebanon had been growing for some time. There is even some talk that al-Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, had been working with the secularist Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, Maronite Christian Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, and possibly the Bush administration to work around Syria to push for Lebanese recognition of Israel. All three men are, or were, staunch critics of the Syrian occupation and had recently been preparing to welcome back to Lebanon Christian General Michel Aoun, who is exiled in France.

Is your head spinning? Because mine is.

To sum up, while we've been sleeping, or at least paying attention to Iraq, Israel, Valentine's Day, the lack of an NHL season, and Jose Canseco, here's what we've missed. A group of diverse Lebanese leaders had been working to convince President Emile Lahoud that Syrian occupation is a bad thing. The United States has been quietly building up pressure for Syria to get out of Lebanon based on UN Security Council Resolution 1559. In response, Lahoud has decried US 'interference' in Lebanese/Syrian affairs and Hezbollah has pledged to fight the resolution, as it also stipulates that they should disarm. The aforementioned diverse leaders have also been in talks to bring a popular anti-Syrian Christian General back to the country in time for national elections in May -- and, oh yeah, by law the President must be a Christian. Said leaders may have been in back channel talks with Israel and the United States. And one of said leaders was just murdered in a massive car bombing, which both the U.S. (cautiously) and France (outright) are blaming on Syria.

That's all sort of scattered, but I hope it helps paint a picture. There's a very good chance Syria and/or Hezbollah were behind this assassination. If they were, sparks are going to fly. For skeptics of the Bush administration's militaristic foreign policy, this is a tough situation. The neocons have been looking mighty hard for an excuse to take down the Baathist regime in Syria. And this assassination may mean that they now have one. But unlike the sexed up 'evidence' of WMD in Iraq, this seems -- at first blush -- pretty legitimate to me.

So if Syria was behind this and the President wants to invade... let's just say I won't be taking part in any anti-war rallies. That said, I'd also argue that if France is so pissed, they should also feel free to lay the smackdown themselves. Our men and women in uniform are pretty tied up as it is.

First and foremost, I would caution all sides domestically to find out the truth first and then act or react accordingly. On the one hand, no one should ever be murdered for seeking peace and independence. On the other, we've seen where over-reaction and conclusion-jumping has gotten us.


Turns out I jumped the gun a bit in saying that the progressive blogosphere has been quiet on this, as it seems that Matt Yglesias beat me to the punch on the topic by a few hours. Basicially, we agree on the issues, and both of our posts highlight a problem the Bush administration is going to face in ramping up their rhetoric against Syria. We've been burned by them before and find it hard to trust them. This skepticism won't be limited to just the lefty blogosphere, either. After Iraq, very few people will be ready to jump in the ideological sack with the administration too fast.

Yglesias also points to a blog that's probably going to get very popular in the coming days and weeks, Joshua Landis' Syria Blog. I'm glad to know that my first comment to my wife ("oh man, Syria's screwed") was quite similar to his first comment to his wife ("the Syrians will be blamed for this"), if not quite so eloquent.

Already, the commentary at his site is very informative.


So al Qaeda has apparently denied any jihadist involvement in the al-Hariri assassination, pointing fingers instead at Lebanese, Syrian, or (of course) Israeli intelligence. Any of the three are actually not unlikely candidates. The Israeli motive would be to frame Syria and get the U.S. to knock off Assad. The Lebanese motive would be the elimination of opposition to President Lahoud. And the Syrian motive, as has been discussed (yes, I am pretty disturbed by the fact that I agree with al Qaeda's political analysis), would be the elimination of an enemy of their occupation of Lebanon.

Now, I lean toward the latter, but take another look at the former. No, I am absolutely not suggesting that Mossad had anything to do with this. But al Qaeda themselves would have a very similar motive for murdering al-Hariri, if looking toward a different goal. Sizing up the growing tensions between America and Syria over Lebanon, what better way to expand the war in the Middle East than the assassination of an American ally? And doesn't expanding the war fit perfectly into al Qaeda's plans?

Admittedly, this is a bit conspiratorial and I might be giving them too much credit. But if I told you on September 9, 2001 that the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud was meant to decapitate the Northern Alliance in preparation for an all-out American assault on Afghanistan, you'd also have thought I was nuts.

posted by Scott | 2/15/2005 | |

More 2008 Than You Can Shake A Stick At

I remember the days when the only person with a site dedicated to covering nothing but the primaries was... uh... me. I'm not very good at it anymore -- too much griping about other issues -- and a number of good folks have picked up my slack, like Frank at Primary 2008 and Chris (a semi-frequent DW commenter) at Forty-Four.

Add to the growing rolls another DemWatch commenter and Yankee Conservative blogger Aaron, with Election Watch 2008. I look forward to seeing his thoughts on 2008 in a forum all his own, hope he still finds time to spark conversation here in the peanut gallery, and wish him all the best.

And it's not a 2008 site, but another frequent commenter, Deborah White of the liberal evangelical blog Heart, Soul & Humor has taken over as editor of's U.S. Liberals site. I'm very excited to see what she brings to the table over there.

I claim no credit for all of their hard work, but I'll be damned if I'm not a wee bit proud...

posted by Scott | 2/15/2005 | |

Monday, February 14, 2005

Wanted: Democratic Toughness

Matt Yglesias pointed out at Tapped a few days back that the UK's Labour Party has been doing a much better job of being tough and on-message than our Democrats. (Click the links to see what he's talking about.) He's exactly right. One thing I've long thought the American Democrats should do is rebrand the party's image with the help of the folks who rebranded Labour a few years back. Oliver Willis' Brand Democrat campaign is a good start, but as much as I believe in bottom-up reform, this is really something that needs to be directed by professionals. Mind you, I don't necessarily mean DC-insider, Bob Shrum-type professionals, but professionals none the less.

Josh Marshall pointed out one example of new Democratic message toughness today at LA Sen. Mary Landrieu's homepage. In branding the Bush budget, she's gone a long way to help brand herself. Clean, stark graphical text highlight "The President's Budget: The Path To A Debt Society -- Increasing Our National Debt and Shortchanging Louisiana's Future."

Finally... a Democrat who gets the difference between 'nails on a blackboard' and 'tough as nails'.

posted by Scott | 2/14/2005 | |

More Meaningless Numbers... Almost

If the 2008 Presidential race comes down to either Hillary Clinton v. Condoleezza Rice or John Kerry v. Condoleezza Rice, I'll eat my proverbial hat. But those are exactly the match-ups conservative pollster Scott Rasmussen recently polled on. You're probably caught this elsewhere this morning, but the results were Hillary - 47%, Condi - 40% and Condi - 45%, Kerry - 43%. Interesting that Hillary beats Condi at the moment, but ultimately -- say it with me -- meaningless.

There are some numbers buried in the poll that aren't quite so meaningless, however. Check out these statistics:

Fifty-one percent (51%) of voters believe that Senator Clinton is politically liberal while 27% say she is a moderate. For Senator Kerry, 46% said liberal and 31% moderate.
These results were pretty tight, with all three candidates in the forties and no one winning a majority of support in either match-up. In one poll, the Democrat wins; in another, the Republican. This suggests that the polling sample was pretty evenly balanced, ideologically speaking.

However, the more liberal Democrat does better than the one seen as more moderate. One could chalk this up to the fact that people are relatively comfortable with Hillary. (Something I would never guess, but it's possible.) Or that they're uncomfortable, post-election, with Kerry. (Something I would guess pretty readily.)

No matter what the answer, the results of this poll tell me that the American people are not quite so sour on the 'liberal' label as is constantly reinforced by the popular narrative. For voters, it's not about labels like liberal, moderate, or conservative. It's much more about the candidates, both as people and as lawmakers.

posted by Scott | 2/14/2005 | |

On The Phony 'Litmus Test'

Someone please explain this to me... The leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate -- the highest ranking Democrat in the whole United States government -- Harry Reid, is pro-life. Christie Whitman, former New Jersey Governor and head of the EPA, wrote a book about how moderate, pro-choice Republicans like herself are being increasingly marginalized by the GOP. And yet, the popular spin is that the Democratic Party is the one with the strict ideological litmus test on reproductive rights.

I heard two bits of related news this morning that didn't seem to line up.

First, the Justice Department, at the behest of Bush administration officials, has removed from federal guidelines on treating rape victims language that suggests providing victims with information about emergency contraception.

A few minutes later, listening to Cokie Roberts' Political Wrap segment, I learned from the esteemed Ms. Roberts that electing Howard Dean to the DNC chair was a mistake because he's unapologetically pro-choice and the Democratic Party is hurt by its 'litmus test' on choice.

What? What kind of crazy-assed Bizarro world am I living in? Did I not wake up this morning? Am I stuck in some kind of fever dream in which up is down and right is left? That's seriously the way things are starting to feel.

Here's the difference between the two parties on choice: the official GOP position is to take its view that abortion is wrong and make it law, criminalizing the practice; the official Democratic position is to take its view that abortion is a very personal decision and "should be safe, legal, and rare."

Those two positions clearly manifest themselves in the stories I just mentioned. Both the pro-choice Howard Dean and the pro-life Harry Reid can be counted among the upper echelons of leadership in the Democratic Party. Dean has even welcomed pro-life Democrats, pointing out that, unlike pro-life Republicans, they back up their pro-life stance for the unborn with a pro-life stance in supporting extensive healthcare and development programs for children and families.

The Republican leadership has enforced its hard-line pro-life view on the law enforcement establishment so that rape victims should be forced to give birth to their attackers' children. I don't even think I need to get into the fact that emergency contraception prevents pregnancy rather than ceasing it. It's one thing to oppose abortion or advocate personal responsibility in the form of abstinence. But it's another thing altogether to demand pregnancy even when responsibility was not at issue and abortion can be otherwise avoided.

So with that in mind... tell me again about this 'litmus test'?

posted by Scott | 2/14/2005 | |
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