The Keen Meme Memo <$BlogRSDUrl$>

A Journal of Politics, Policy and Progress

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Josh Marshall on the White House:

"...beside the possibility that the White House's favored Iraqi exile was an Iranian agent, that the spy chief just got canned, that the OSD is wired to polygraphs, and that the president has had to retain outside counsel in the investigation into which members of his staff burned one of the country's own spies, I'd say the place is being run like a pretty well-oiled machine."

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Two days ago Brad De Long wondered:

A top Bush aide says that two-thirds of Bush's high political appointees are likely to be fired to "kick-start" a second term. But if a "kick-start" is needed, why haven't they been fired already? And if they have been doing a good enough job to be still in office, why do they need to be fired in January 2004?

Today the White House has a measured response:

"GEORGE Bush, the United States president, last night praised the outgoing top US officer in Iraq in a bid to quash suggestions he was being replaced because of the prisoner-abuse scandal."

The house cleaning has to be slow, so as not to appear as an admission of mistakes. But it is happening. DiIullio. Garner. O'Neill. Sanchez. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Bush speech fails to quell controversy about US course in Iraq 

President Bush's speech on US policy in Iraq has failed to subdue critics as the resolution put forward by the Bush administration is already growing more controversy.

According to the AP:

"Germany and China today praised as positive a U.S.-British blueprint for giving Iraqis power to run their own government after more than a year of unrelenting violence under an American-led occupation.

But France and Russia, which have all-important veto power on the UN Security Council, greeted the blueprint only half-heartedly, with French leaders complaining the measure may not go far enough in handing future Iraqi leaders real authority."

The governments of France would like the new Iraqi government to "have a say in the actions of US-led forces." Meanwhile, another member of the UN security council with veto power would like to see who will be in the new Iraqi government before it votes for a UN resolution on Iraqi sovereignty.

"As far as the content of the new resolution is concerned, it should be an answer to the concerns of Iraqi society," said a [Russian] ministry comment posted on its web site (

"In that sense, we assume that the document should be adopted after UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy L. Brahimi informs the UN Security Council of the results of his mission and an interim government is formed in Iraq," it added.

The demands of UN security council members place considerable constraints on the Bush administration as it scrambles to assemble a new government for Iraq before the June 30 deadline.

This is an ironic twist on the run-up to war: not only did the Bush Administration need the approval of the UN Security Council to legitimately go into Iraq (which it did not get) but it needs the Council's approval to get out.

"U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush are counting on UN backing for their work in Iraq to ensure troops eventually can leave the region." (Bloomberg).

The perils of unilateral military action are well-illustrated by Blair and Bush's predicament.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

And according to this article in USA Today Chalabi's supporter's have "cut him loose". But look closer. The following passage seems to contradict this claim:

Richard Perle, a former top Pentagon adviser and supporter of the Iraq war, called the raid "appalling" and said it has shaken his faith in the Bush administration's commitment to promoting democracy in Iraq. Perle said Chalabi, who holds degrees from MIT and the University of Chicago, would be an excellent choice to lead a democratic Iraq.

So there are still neocons in Washington who have not given up on their pipe dream of seeing Chalabi in charge of Iraq.

What this tells me is that an important split must have occured withing the Administration which left the hard core of neocon stalwarts in the cold. The article characterizes the raid as

...a belated victory for the State Department and CIA, which have accused Chalabi of supplying false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and misusing U.S. taxpayers' funds. Those agencies have clashed with the Pentagon and Vice President Cheney's office about many aspects of Iraq policy, including who should govern the country after Saddam Hussein.

In effect it is a victory for State and the CIA, but that does not mean that the raid was executed of their volition. A big shift must have taken place within the thick walls of the CPA. To me this inducates that the announcement of who will lead Iraq on July 1 is nearby and Chalabi is in the way.

Speculations abound...

Shroeder opposes sending NATO troops to Iraq 

According to this article in the New York Times German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder thinks NATO troops would not play a constructive role in Iraq, arguing that the troops, if sent there, would not have the confidence of the Iraqi people. Schroeder plans to voice his concerts at the NATO meeting in Istanbut, where he will recommend against NATO involvement.

This is a problem not only for Bush, but potentially for Kerry too, if he gets elected. By the time November comes around any interest among NATO members in participating in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq may be so low 'multilateralism' may be an impossibility.

Chalabi's home and headquarters raided; Bremer keeps distance 

Iraqi police raided the home of Ahmed Chalabi and the headquarters of the Iraqi National Congress he heads. Theories on the meaning of the raid diverge. Some say it is actually an attempt by the Coalition Provisional Authority to elevate Chalabi's standing among Iraqis; others claim it is a response to Chalabi's plans to subvert the provisional government which will assume sovereignty on July 1. It is clear, however, that L. Paul Bremer, the US Envoy to Iraq is trying to keep his hands free of this.

A spokesman for the United States occupation authority acknowledged that there was American involvement in the operation but asserted that it had been planned and led by the Iraqi police.

"It was an Iraqi-led investigation, it was an Iraqi-led raid, it was the result of Iraqi arrest warrants," Dan Senor, the chief spokesman for L. Paul Bremer III, the top American administrator in Iraq, said.

Mr. Senor asserted that Mr. Bremer "did not know the operation was occurring today" and was notified only after it had been completed.

Ok, that's a pretty pathetic denial. Did he think the raid would take place tomorrow?

Friday, April 23, 2004

Sovereignty My A$$ 

Another Orwellian moment sponsored by the fibsters in the Bush Administration. Remember the June 30th deadline for handing over sovereignty to Iraq? If you answered "yes" then the White House spits "fogetaboutit!" right back at you. According to an official at the State Department the new Iraqi government set up by the CPA to manage the country after June 30th will not have the power to make new laws. Key posts in the new government will be staffed with officials recommended by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Not only will Iraqis not get an elected government, not even one selected by gerrymandered caucases, the new officialdom will arrive handcuffed and on a leish. Bringin' democracy to Iraq sure comes in a strange package. This new big idea creates several unique philosophical questions. For example: can a "government" that can not make laws be called a government? And can a state with such a "government" be considered sovereign? Even Vichy France could write laws. What next? Baseball without bats?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Great Moments in Propaganda Journalism: Up is Downey 

Take a look at the headline of today's WP article by Kirstin Downey: "Plan Expands Eligibility for Overtime Pay". Sounds so certain, so unambiguous, you can almost feel those extra bills crowding in your pocket. "The plan" is the FairPay Initiative unveiled by the Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on April 20. You may wonder "what is Bush's Secretary of Labor doing expanding entitlements to the worthless lazy wretches who actually have to work?" Doesn't this cut against the grain of conservative ideology? Whatever happened to "tough love" and self-reliance? If you are asking yourself these questions you may find the FairPay overtime standards vaguely reminiscent of the Clear Skies initiative, which lowered pollution standards.

But Downey has no place in her head for such simplistic analogies. After all, the Department of Labor press release loudly exclaims that "Workers Win!" under the new rules.

The author finds the giddiness contagious: "The Labor Department will allow workers who earn up to $100,000 a year to be eligible for overtime pay, a substantial shift upward from an earlier proposal that Democrats had promised to make an issue in the presidential campaign" exclaims the first sentence of the article. This is better than anyone had wished for! "More low-wage workers would become automatically eligible for overtime under the final rules" elaborates the second paragraph. In paragraph four we get a brief mention that a reasearch organization has found that 8 million workers would loose their overtime pay under the new regulations, but "Elaine L. Chao has countered that the original rules would cost fewer than 1 million more highly paid workers their overtime checks, while expanding overtime eligibility to millions of lower-wage workers." Ok, case closed, time to move on. Paragraphs 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13 are unambiguously positive to the new overtime standards--plain regurgetations of the DOL press release praising the new standards. In paragraph 9, some disembodied ramblings, without support, context or statistics, from Tom Harkin, who is criticizing the new standards.

In the last paragraph we get a hint that the "research organization" that found that the new regulation will lead to a loss of overtime pay for 8 million workers is no other than the Economic Policy Institute, whose vice president Ross Eisenbrey is quoted. In a brazen propaganda spin deserving of Joseph Goebbels, Downey writes that Eisenbrey "said it sounded as though the department 'had made some positive changes'... but he said he would reserve judgment until he could review the actual regulations."

This is what Mr. Eisenbrey really said:

"Any day now, the Bush administration will issue new rules that could deprive more than 8 million American workers of overtime pay. When it does, expect more talk about how the rules are good for workers.

"Don't believe it. The administration's claims about its overtime rules haven't been any more reliable than its predictions about job creation or Medicare costs. The ones who will reap the benefits of these new rules are not working Americans but their employers.

"The new rules will make it much easier for employers to reclassify workers as managers or administrators, making them ineligible for time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week. The Department of Labor claims that only 644,000 workers will lose overtime pay, but their own data show what a gross underestimate that is. When you factor in all the workers whose jobs could be reclassified, it's not 644,000 who will lose out--already far too many--but 12 times that many.

Without examining closely EPI's estimates we should suspend judgement on their accuracy too, but putting a positive spin on Mr. Eisenbrey's comments is scandalous. This article does not deserve to be published in a major paper. Compared to the WSJ article "US Plans to Issue New Set of Rules On Overtime Pay" by McKinnon and Pierceall, the Downey article is sheer Bizarro.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

"Actionable Intelligence" is a Fig Leaf 

In their defense against questions posed by journalists and members of the Commission investigating the 9/11 hijackings the Bush Administration has erected a brilliant and highly effective set of rhetorical defenses. The head bulwark is the claim that the Administration had no "actionable intelligence" prior to the 9/11 attacks. During her testimony to the Commission National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice reiterated the claim that the Administration did not know when, where and how terrorists would attack the US. This is a fairly worn line of defense, one that Rice offered as early as May 2002 when she said: "I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." Knowledge of the "whens, wheres and hows" is what is now commonly referenced by the useful phrase "actionable intelligence." Incidentally saying we had no actionable intelligence is much fancier and sexier than simply admitting you did not know what is essentially your job to know, and it serves the useful purpose of diverting attention from follow-up questions dealing with why you did not know what you were supposed to know. A lesson to all you students, if you are ever asked why you failed that math course instead of clumsily admitting that you did not know where the class would meet nor at what time, nor would you know the course material even if you did know the time and location, just say: "I did not have enough actionable intelligence to pass." Period. End of story.

A more substantive line of inquiry for those trying to understand why and how the hijackings succeeded is answering the question: why did the Administration not know what it should have known? And these are precisely the questions phrases like "actionable intelligence" and "silver bullet" are intended to pre-empt. Instead of consoling ourselves with the hollow answers that the Administration did not have enough information to prevent the attacks we can ask whether the Administration could have done more to obtain "actionable" information.

As things now stand the information available to the Administration prior to 9/11 is looking more actionable, but first, let us consider the task of preventing an attack of 9/11 caliber. It is much more difficult to prevent a conspiracy of 5 then a conspiracy of fifty. In a way, the magnitude of the attacks made the task of subverting Al-Qaida's plans easier for US intelligence agencies. There were 19 known hijackers in the air on September 11, 2001. To operationalize the hijackings Al-Qaida had to have a sizeable number of personnell to provide financial and logistical support, communication, couriers and scouts: members assisting with travel and immigration authorities. The recently released August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief says as much:

"Al-Qa'ida members--including some who are US citizens--have resided or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks."

Let us assume that from top-to-bottom, from Bin Laden himself to the 19th hijacker there was one logistical support operative for every suicide hijacker. That would make for about 40 conspirators, many traveling in and out of the US, some tracked by US and foreign intelligence agencies. More from the PDB:

An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told an ___ service at the same time that Bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative's access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.

Remember that two of the known hijackers were on the FBI's watch list. We also have to consider that the attacks were planned from Afghanistan, requiring rather long lines of communication. The longer the lines of communication, the more points are available for interception. Also keep in mind, that the hijacking 19 were using unprotected chat software at public internet cafes to communicate. What would an Administration intent on preventing an imminent attack by these foreign fighters have to do to thwart it?

Firstly, find known and suspected Al-Qaida members and track them;
Secondly, intercept lines of communications and let one conspirator take investigators to others;
Thirdly, accumulate sufficient evidence to break up the conspiracy and arrest, try or deport those involved.

These are practicable steps on the way to actionable intelligence, steps the executive authorities, it seems, failed to take. Why?

Between the lines of the released PDB are written other questions:

What steps were taken to track the movement of known and suspected Al Quaida operatives in and out of the US?

It appears that an Egyptian Islamic Jihad operative was in contact with a foreign or domestic intelligence service and an Al Qaida member involved in preparations for an attack on the US. Were steps taken to find and track the Al Quaida member via the EIJ operative? If not, why?

Note the language used in the PDB: "the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks". Not "allegedly" or "supposedly", but "apparently". If US intelligence knew something about Al Quaida's supporting operatives what steps were taken to find and track them?

The August 6 PDB suggests that some degree of monitoring did, indeed, take place: "...FBI information ... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." We need to know more about this "suspicious activity" in to determine whether its classifications as "not actionable" is appropriate or a tragic misjudgement.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Flooding the Mainstream 

In an article with a title vaguely reminiscent of a Dean campaign press release circa June 2003--"Democrat Kerry Raises $10 Million Through Internet in 10 Days"--Bloomberg reports:

"John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic U.S. presidential nominee, has raised $10 million from donations made on the Internet since he won nine of 10 primary contests on March 2, his campaign said.

The total is more than the $8 million Kerry raised from all donors in February, when he still faced primary challenges from other Democrats."

The line between "insider Kerry" and "Dean--the outsider," has been erased. In the long run, a more democratic political process will diminish the relevance of "candidate Dean", just as it will extend the political innovations of the Dean campaign. The more candidates rely on small contributions from individual voters the more they will act like brazen ousiders. They will want to learn why we sponsor their tickets and will give us what we pay for.
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