Saturday, October 30, 2004

Osama's "gift"

The very idea that having Osama bin Laden pop up on a video four days before the election could be a good thing for President Bush is just Bizarre! But here you have Bush campaign officials calling it "a gift."
It would seem to me that having verification that Osama is still alive and doing well 3 1/2 years after 9-11 would be a reminder of Bush's utter failure to bring him to justice.

Some people are speculating that Osama is trying to influence the election with his sudden reappearance. They say that the video will scare people into voting for Bush and will also take attention away from Bush's major screwup with the missing explosives at Al-Qaqaa. I doubt that it will have a significant impact, but I don't doubt that Osama is hoping it will give Bush a boost. Why wouldn't he want the guy who can't catch him to be elected?

Imagine an evil version of the Roadrunner urging people to vote for Wile E. Coyote to continue being his chief nemesis.
There goes Wile E. Bush with his Acme WMD detector that leads him in the wrong direction and blows up in his face. Meanwhile Osama Roadrunner races off in the opposite direction. Beep! Beep!

No, we have to be smart if we are going to catch Osama. You don't do it by launching a poorly planned war against a country that had nothing to do with 9-11 and no al-Qaeda connections (at least before we turned the whole country into a giant al-Qaeda recruiting center).
Bush has led us down the wrong path and that is the main reason of many why he should not be elected president. If nothing else, Bush should have made capturing Osama his No. 1 priority after 9-11. He could have screwed everything else up - wrecked the economy, run up huge deficits, lost 2 million jobs, turned our allies against us, etc. - but as long as people thought he was hot on Osama's trail they would have stayed behind him and he would be winning this election hands down. But he dropped the ball in Afghanistan and then decided to play a different game altogether.

I had gotten to the point like many other people where I imagined and hoped that Osama had crawled into a cave somewhere and died. But unfortunately the new tape shows that not only is he still with us but he seems to be in pretty good shame. He doesn't look like someone who has been living in a cave all this time trying to avoid detection.
Perhaps that is because all of our military and intelligence resources have been redirected and stretched to the breaking point during this long snipe hunt in Iraq.

I suppose the rightwing reaction to this news is predictable, but I can't get over how bizarre it is. Imagine for a moment if Al Gore was president right now and the Osama tape pops up right before the election. The rightwingers would have been pulling their hair out by the fistful and shrieking at the top of their lungs about how Gore had failed to keep the country safe and needs to be removed from office immediately. Is there any doubt that would have been the reaction?

Friday, October 29, 2004

A poor excuse

Now we have conclusive proof that the missing explosives were still around when U.S. troops arrived at Al-Qaqaa.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Videotape shot by a Minnesota television crew traveling with U.S. troops in Iraq when they first opened the bunkers at the Al-Qaqaa munitions base nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein shows what appeared to be high explosives still in barrels and bearing the markings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But what I am still having trouble understanding is why it matters when the stuff disappeared. Maybe someone can help explain it to me. Let us say for arguments sake that Saddam had his troops move the explosives before the war started even though that theory has now been shot down. Why would that make the actions of this administration any better?

We know that the International Atomic Energy Agency says it repeatedly warned US to secure the Iraqi explosives. And we know that the administration now claims not to have known the explosives were missing before the new Iraqi government issued a statement just a month ago. If the Bush administration had been doing its job they would have made sure that a sufficient number of troops were ordered to go in and secure the Al-Qaqaa facility right away - but that didn’t happen.

Let me try an analogy here. Let’s say you are at a restaurant with a friend eating lunch. As you are walking out of the restaurant your friend turns to you and says he left his sunglasses (a nice pair of Ray-Bans) back in the booth. But he is in a big hurry to get back to work so you tell him to go on and you will get his sunglasses and give them to him later. But as you are walking back into the restaurant you meet some other friends and start chatting with them. Afterwards you absentmindedly leave the restaurant without ever checking the booth for the glasses. About a week goes by before you see your friend again and he asks about the glasses. You say “Oops, I never checked on them.” So you go back to the restaurant and sure enough the glasses are gone. Your friend starts to get upset, but you say “Hold on there, buddy! There is a good chance that someone might have taken the glasses before I would have had the chance to go back inside and get them. So it’s not my fault.”

Should your friend be happy with that explanation? Why should we be happy with the Bush administration’s explanation in this case?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Unusual Kerry endorsements

Here are some folks whose endorsement of John Kerry comes as a bit of a surprise:

Christopher Hitchens - the contrarian columnist for Slate and Vanity Fair who used to be a big-time lefty writing a column for The Nation for years and years before suddenly doing an about face and morphing into a hawkish neo-con during the Clinton years.

Mickey Kaus - another Slate columnist who has spent 90 percent of his time bashing first Al Gore and then John Kerry.

Jesse Ventura - the former governor of Minnesota and a political independent.

Angus King - the former governor of Maine and a political independent who endorsed Bush in 2000.

Daniel W. Drezner - a moderate conservative blogger and political science profesor at the University of Chicago who was a foreign policy advisor for the Bush - Cheney campaign in 2000.

Andrew Sullivan - The conservative blogger and one-time editor of The New Republic who consistently attacks Democrats.

John Eisenhower - the son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Media Bias, or the lack thereof

I’ve been in journalism now for about 15 years. During that time I’ve worked for papers in mostly liberal Connecticut (Shoreline Times) and mostly conservative Texas (Kerrville Daily Times, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal). Based on my experience, which I acknowledge is not overly vast, I believe that most charges of media bias whether from the right or left are overblown.
I was politically active in college - working on local campaigns and writing letters to the editor - but when I took my first newspaper job I realized that aspect of my life would have to be put on hold. I wasn’t going to be as extreme as one reporter I met in Connecticut who said that he never voted in order to maintain his neutrality, but I also did not want anyone to be able to accuse me of introducing bias into my reporting.
Most of the reporters I have had the pleasure to know and work with have been fairly liberal in their politics with a few exceptions. But they generally weren’t as interested in politics as I was and didn’t keep up with it like I did. I could always rattle off the members of the House of Representatives (state or federal) the way most people could name the players on their favorite football team. So it didn’t take long for me to land the political beat at each newspaper I worked at. As the political reporter I was always very much aware that anything I wrote would be scrutinized by people looking to bolster their preconceived notions of media bias. So I always bent over backward to be as fair and accurate in every story I wrote.
I would occasionally run across people who were difficult to work with because of their perceptions of the media - liberals who didn’t trust somebody who worked at a “conservative” paper, or conservatives - religious right in particular - who didn’t trust any media period. But most of the people who I would call politically savvy were easy to work with and understood how the process works.

How it works:
Newspapers are businesses and they are in the game to make money. They make money by building up a large circulation base and then selling it to advertisers. The money they collect in subscription fees is just a small supplement to the overall budget which is supported by advertising. If they could sell newspapers that were filled with nothing but advertising they would do so in a heartbeat and fire all the reporters and editors who are considered non-revenue generating. But they can’t which is why reporters still have jobs.
Most newspapers have about 60 percent of their space filled with advertising (including classifieds) leaving about 30 to 40 percent for the news hole. A lot of this space is filled with regular features and columns they get from wire services leaving just a portion for local news copy. As a reporter you quickly realize that your role in life is to fill space and to do so on a daily or weekly basis. In the newspaper business it doesn’t matter what you did yesterday, the editor always wants to know “what have you done for me lately.”
Newspapers try to be perceived as being right square in the middle of where they see their community being in order to cast the widest net for building up circulation figures. They don’t want to go too far to the left or right for fear of losing subscribers and thus losing ad revenue.

Now some people will always see bias in the media because their views are more intense or extreme than what they see reflected in the paper. But the lack of a right-wing or left-wing slant on the news is not the same thing as liberal or conservative bias.
There will always be things in the newspaper that will irritate partisans on either side of an issue. I find things to gripe about all the time. But I also know that my views are not always in synch with the “mainstream” and because I know how the system works I am not surprised to see things I disagree with. That doesn’t mean that newspapers never make mistakes or go too far in trying to be “objective.” But broad condemnations of the media as being biased are generally overblown and ill informed.
But I also think that media criticisms such as that being done by my blogging buddy Alamo Commando are a good thing. I think it is healthy for the news media to be aware that they are being constantly scrutinized even if all the criticisms are not always fair. At least these folks are reading the newspaper every day and what more can you ask? The scariest thing for us newspaper folk are the people who never bother to read a paper. You know, like President Bush.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Patriotic dissent

There was a somewhat disturbing and distressing political story in the Express-News on Saturday. It was about a small uproar in the West Texas town of Mason that occurred after a grieving mother stood up at a memorial service for her son who was killed in Iraq and told the crowd that they should not vote for John Kerry or else her son’s death would be in vain.

I think it is incredibly sad that this mother would think that her son’s death might be in vain under any circumstances. As the story notes, the young soldier had told his mother shortly before his death that he was concerned that a victory for John Kerry would mean that U.S. troops would immediately be withdrawn from Iraq and he felt that they were doing good work and that the people there needed them. That is a truly noble and admirable sentiment and something that we can all take pride in to know that we have soldiers who are so committed to helping other people around the globe.

First, I think it is pretty clear that we are not going to be pulling out of Iraq anytime soon regardless of who wins the election. But secondly, the problem is that we did not go to Iraq on a humanitarian mission to help the Iraqi’s. There are dozens of countries where oppressed people would probably welcome our military coming in to overthrow a corrupt or oppressive regime and help them rebuild afterward. That is not the point of our military. We went to war because we were attacked and we were led to believe that Iraq was not only working with the people that attacked us but that they had stockpiles of WMDs that posed an immediate threat to our existence.
The fact that none of that has borne out is not a poor reflection on our soldiers. It does not demean their service or denigrate their loss. But it does bring into question the judgement of this administration which we now know had mixed intelligence but chose to emphasize only that which matched their predisposed ideological assumptions while ignoring the rest.

You do not have to continue to believe that Saddam was linked to 9-11 in order to support our troops and appreciate their service and sacrifices. However, some people obviously do believe this and they see anyone who questions those tenets of the invasion as being somehow unpatriotic and perhaps even treasonous. This is very much unfair.
I do not recall back in 1980 that supporters of Ronald Reagan were ever labeled unpatriotic because they were turning against President Carter during the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis. This argument that we can’t change horses in midstream is a poor excuse for electing a leader and sets a dangerous precedent for future presidents who would be tempted to launch a war to assure themselves a second term.

I believe a change of administration will help our situation in Iraq and will also restore accountability to a White House that has for too long been making poor decisions while shifting the blame and responsibility on to others.

The worst news yet?

This is truly awful. The gross incompetence of this administration seems to have no bounds.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 24 - The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives - used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons - are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.

The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year.

So along with the priceless art work and museum treasures that were looted shortly after the invasion, we now find out that 380 tons of explosives also disappeared while the Bush team was preoccupied making sure the headquarters for Iraq's oil ministry was secured.

People have been wondering where the insurgents were getting all their armaments from. Now we know. Bush allows 380 tons of the stuff to be looted under his watch and then says "Bring 'em On!"

The Bush administration has managed to keep this bit of news underwraps for 18 months. Incredible! And they claim that Condi Rice didn't find out about it until just a month ago. Why does she still have a job? Why can't we have competent people in Washington instead of this? I don't even care what political party. John McCain would not have been this incompetent, I can assure you.


The Bush administration has no response to this shocking news. Absolutely none!
Here is all that they have had to say so far:

The Bush campaign dismissed Kerry's criticism but did not specifically address the issue of the missing explosives, the Associated Press reported.

"John Kerry has no vision for fighting and winning the war on terror, so he is basing his attacks on the headlines he wakes up to each day," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.

Pathetic. Really, truly pathetic.

There is no way they can defend this kind of massive incompetence, so their only answer is to try and ignore it and change the subject to attacking John Kerry just like they have done throughout the entire campaign.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Home Games

During the National League Championship Series the St. Louis Cardinals won every home game (4 in St. Louis) and lost every away game (3 in Houston). So far that pattern is repeating in the World Series with the Cardinals losing their first two away games in Boston.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this time they will only have three home games as opposed to the four they had against Houston.
While I am pulling for the BoSox to finally break their curse, I can't help but think that it would be richly ironic if the Cards were to go down 0-3 and then come back with four straight victories and do to the Red Sox what they did to the Yankees. But then again that would probably be too cruel a fate even for a Red Sox fan to suffer.