Saturday, July 17, 2004

Hang ten

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry kite surfs off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. (AFP/Luke Frazza)

Cinema of cynicism

How did the irreverent prankster Michael Moore ever become a prominent media figure - much less the left's new hope for ousting US president George W Bush from power?

Following the Oscar he received for his gun culture documentary Bowling for Columbine, and the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore and his projects have been obsessively followed by the media. He was recently featured on the cover of Time magazine, while every aspect of the wheeling and dealing surrounding the distribution and rating of Fahrenheit 9/11 was documented to death (1).

When it was recently rumoured that Moore would make a documentary about UK prime minister Tony Blair, and then Moore denied the rumour, and then he suggested that perhaps he would make such a documentary after all, each of these inane developments was reported separately as though it were a significant news story (2).

What has Moore done to deserve this level of attention? There's no doubt that he's a smart operator when it comes to self-promotion, but that alone can't explain it. His critics have noted his tendency to exaggerate the forces that conspire to stop him from getting his message out to the public, for example his claim that the publisher HarperCollins tried to suppress his book Stupid White Men, and his claim that Disney - not to mention Moore's perennial adversary, 'someone connected to the White House' - tried to suppress the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 (3). This kind of conspiratorial hype helps Moore to sustain his radical image, when the truth is that he couldn't be a more mainstream figure.

The handful of conservative cranks who actually did try to get Fahrenheit 9/11 banned from US cinemas actually played right into Moore's hands, allowing him to depict himself as the oppressed underdog (4). In fact, Moore expresses a set of increasingly popular attitudes toward politics. In particular, he embodies a vivid strain of contemporary cynicism, with his suspicion of any political or commercial vested interest that fails to justify itself in ethical terms. Naked ambition, more than anything else, is anathema to Moore.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has struck a chord because it provides a narrative of world events since Bush became president in 2000 that chimes with popular political attitudes. This is a dubious achievement, which involves mystification rather than enlightenment, but it is an achievement nonetheless. Anyone who feels estranged from American politics - and who finds it difficult to position themselves in relation to Bush's presidency, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the subsequent wars on terror, Afghanistan and Iraq - can come out of Fahrenheit 9/11 feeling as though they understand how these things relate to one another, and are justified in feeling angry about them.

The anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation and anti-war movements of recent years have also sprung from popular disaffection with politics. But without any body of substantial ideas that might cohere these causes, they have failed to sustain their momentum and their raison d'ĂȘtre. Exploiting the build-up to the forthcoming US presidential elections in November, Fahrenheit 9/11 cannily repackages the misadventures of the Bush administration to date, so as to provide a fresh outlet for people's bottled-up resentment.
Moore's critics tend to replicate his own vices
The film tells us that Bush stole the presidency, that he failed to avert (and possibly colluded in) the 9/11 attacks, and that he concocted his subsequent wars as a means of pursuing commercial interests revolving around oil. It also tells us that in doing all of this, Bush devastated the previously idyllic country of Iraq, and needlessly killed and maimed well-meaning American soldiers - soldiers recruited from the ranks of the hard-working poor under false pretences. Moore's narrative is ingeniously assembled to give the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the US military, and the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, equal victim status - and to cast the Bush administration as the antagonist in relation to all of them. Above all, the film, and in fact Moore's entire oeuvre, revolves around the consecration of victimhood.

After all, this is a man who hides behind the crippled, the bereaved, and the deceased whenever he tries to make a point. In Bowling for Columbine, he swaggers into Kmart's head office pushing a wheelchair-bound, bullet-ridden teenager, and demands that the supermarket chain stop selling bullets. Later in the same film, he brandishes a photograph of a deceased child at the veteran actor and National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston, and when Heston walks away from him, Moore nonchalantly props the photograph up in the grounds of Heston's residence. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore dwells interminably on the angst of a woman whose son was killed while serving in Iraq, as she weeps in her home, and then weeps again before the White House.

The assumption that underlies Moore's work is that victims have greater moral authority than anyone else, simply by virtue of their victimhood. This approach does a disservice to those disenfranchised individuals it purports to help, because it casts their predicament in crude emotional terms and thus precludes arriving at a rational understanding of it. Such an approach may appear compassionate, but it is actually about the egotistical display of Moore's own emotional credentials. This can be seen everywhere in Moore's work, whether in his patronising habit of hugging and consoling distraught interview subjects on camera, in his account of encountering a homeless man ('I emptied my pockets and gave him everything I had'), or in his proud boast that he positively discriminates when recruiting employees ('five of my last hires have been black') (5).

A fashionable self-loathing also runs throughout Moore's work. He has apologised for being white ('you name the problem, the disease, the human suffering, or the abject misery visited upon millions, and I'll bet you ten bucks I can put a white face on it'); for being a man ('how many women have come up with the idea of exterminating a whole race of people?'); for being a glutton ('if you and I would eat less and drink less, we'd live a lot longer'); and for destroying the environment ('I'm a walking ecological nightmare'). And of course, he never misses an opportunity to rag on America - his response to the UK government's participation in the Iraq war was: 'Your people read! They think! They discuss politics! They know where Iraq is! Did you think you were leading a nation of Americans?' (6)

Moore's critics tend to replicate his own vices. They resort to ad hominem attacks upon him that are simply a mirror image of his vacuous attacks upon them (see, for example, the new documentary Michael Moore Hates America and the new book Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man). Or they engage in endless 'Fisking' - the method of pedantic, point-by-point refutation commonly employed on weblogs (and named after the Independent correspondent Robert Fisk, bĂȘte noire of right-wing bloggers) (7).

Moore has already scuppered such vulgar criticism of his vulgar work, going to great lengths to ensure that Fahrenheit 9/11 is immune to Fisking. He boasts that 'three teams of lawyers and the venerable one-time fact-checkers from the New Yorker went through this movie with a fine-tooth comb'. And in a sign of his commitment to free speech and open debate, he threatens that 'any attempts to libel me will be met by force', and that if his critics 'persist in telling lies...then I'll take them to court' (8).

Elsewhere, Moore has been accused of being manipulative, and even - ludicrously - of producing the equivalent of Nazi propaganda. Such accusations risk demonising him simply for having a particular point of view. There is nothing wrong with an opinionated individual making opinionated documentaries from a partisan perspective. To suggest that there is something wrong with this betrays contempt for people's ability to watch something and make up their own mind about it.

read more

9/11 Commission Finds Ties Between al-Qaeda and Iran

Senior U.S. officials have told TIME that the 9/11 Commission's report will cite evidence suggesting that the 9/11 hijackers had previously passed through Iran

9/11 hijackers had previously passed through Iran,

Next week's much anticipated final report by a bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iran—just weeks after the Administration has come under fire for overstating its claims of contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 "muscle" hijackers—that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengers—passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guards—in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnel—and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.

The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.

The Iran-al Qaeda contacts were discovered and presented to the Commissioners near the end of the bipartisan panel's more than year-long investigation into the sources and origins of the 9/11 attacks. Much of the new information about Iran came from al-Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S. government, including captured Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organized the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts culled by analysts at the NSA. The findings were sent to the White House for review only this week. But Commission members have been hinting for weeks that their report would have some Iran surprises. As the 9/11 Commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, said in June, "We believe....that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

These findings follow a Commission staff report, released in June, which suggested that al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support. A U.S. indictment of bin Laden filed in 1998 for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa said al-Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States." But the Commission comes to no firm conclusion on al-Qaeda's involvement in the Khobar disaster.

Since 9/11 the U.S. has held direct talks with Iran—and through intermediaries including Britain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia—concerning the fate of scores of al-Qaeda that Iran has acknowleded are in the country, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior U.S. official called al-Qaeda's "management council". The U.S. as well as the Saudis have unsuccessfully sought the repatriation of this group, which is widely thought to include Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, as well of other key al-Qaeda figures.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Running on Urban Mythology

Before Kerry plays the race
he should check the facts in
his deck.


Senator John Kerry made a fantastic statement while speaking to a predominantly black audience in Indianapolis last Tuesday. Admonishing the Bush administration for calling "[the Kerry campaign] pessimists for speaking truth to power," he stated: "Don't tell us disenfranchising a million African Americans and stealing their votes is the best we can do. This time, in 2004, not only will every vote count — we're going to make sure that every vote is counted."

Kerry's statement came just a few days after a dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by the immediate past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D., Texas), sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting that the U.N. provide election observers to monitor the 2004 U.S. presidential election. The representatives contend that U.N. involvement is necessary to prevent a repeat of "the nightmare of the 2000 presidential election."

The representatives cite as the basis of their request certain alleged findings of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that countless Floridians were denied the right to vote in 2000 and that "the disenfranchisement of Florida's voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of black voters and in poor counties."

The theme of massive black disenfranchisement and stolen votes has been repeated ad nauseam since 2000, and has become more pronounced and hysterical during the current election cycle. (In December 2000, Rep. Johnson asserted on the floor of the House that there was overwhelming evidence that George W. Bush had lost the Florida popular vote.) John Kerry referred to alleged voter harassment and intimidation while speaking to a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition audience last week.

The allegations that a million African Americans were disenfranchised, harassed, and intimidated from voting, and thus had their votes stolen, are utterly false. The allegation that George W. Bush lost the popular vote in Florida is also completely false.

The six-month investigation of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found absolutely no evidence of systematic disenfranchisement of black voters. The investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice also found no credible evidence that any Floridians were intentionally denied the right to vote in the 2000 election.

Many Florida voters, irrespective of race, spoiled their ballots by mistake. But voter error is not the same thing as "disenfranchisement" and it certainly isn't evidence of a nefarious plot to steal black votes.

In fact, Florida 2000 was not a startling anomaly. Ballot-spoilage rates across the country range between 2-3 percent of total ballots cast. Florida's rate in 2000 was 3 percent. In 1996 it was 2.5 percent.

Glitches occur in every election. Some glitches are massive, others not. This is not to downplay the problem, but to put it into perspective. For example, the number of ruined ballots in Chicago alone was 125,000, compared to 174,000 for the entire state of Florida. Several states experienced voting problems remarkably similar to those in Florida. But the closeness of the 2000 election in Florida, and the attendant electoral implications, placed the state at the fulcrum of a remarkable opportunity for racial demagoguery.

The myth that President Bush lost the popular vote, even though a million black Democrats were supposedly disenfranchised, has also become a verity. This, despite the fact that every single vote count — including those conducted by various media — unequivocally establishes that Bush won. In fact, the Miami Herald election 2000 report notes that had the looser count standards sought by Al Gore been employed, Bush's margin would've increased. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, in counties using punch-card voting, mismarked ballots were more likely to affect Bush than Gore.

The toxic claim that countless blacks were denied the right to vote isn't simply irresponsible, it dangerously undermines public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system. It's compounded by a host of other pernicious urban legends that filter through the black electorate each election cycle, such as the perennial claim that the Voting Rights Act is about to expire, stripping all black Americans of the right to vote.

These cynical efforts may succeed in stirring up the base, but at the expense of inflaming racial resentment and suspicion. Yet those who once obsessed over the incendiary effects of the Willie Horton ad don't seem equally concerned about politicians who traffic in tales of massive disenfranchisement on a third-world scale. At this writing, a quick Nexis scan shows not one challenge to Senator Kerry's outlandish claims.

Kofi Annan, not surprisingly, rejected the congressmen's appeal for election monitors. But if Annan changes his mind, the investigations of both the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Department of Justice reveal where the U.N. may wish to send its observers: Under Florida law, responsibility for the conduct of elections falls upon county supervisors. The Justice Department found that three Florida counties committed violations of the Voting Rights Act during the 2000 presidential election. (The infractions were that some poll workers had been hostile to Hispanic voters and bilingual assistance hadn't been provided to some Haitian and Hispanic voters.) The next time Senator Kerry tells a black audience about massive disenfranchisement, he might also inform them that in none of the offending counties was the county supervisor a Republican — and in 24 of the 25 counties with the highest ballot spoilage — er, disenfranchisement — rates, the county supervisor was a Democrat. (In the remaining county, the supervisor was an independent.) Perhaps then he'll better appreciate the consequences of playing the race card.

— Peter Kirsanow is a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

campaign bus

Bush Country

President Bush looks out the window of his campaign bus as he travels to Fond du Lac, Wisc., Wednesday, July 14, 2004. Bush began his second bus tour of Wisconsin in two months in staunchly Republican Milwaukee suburbs Wednesday.

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Wilson contradictions leave Democrat senators speechless

Like Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark, the most remarkable aspect of last week's Senate Intelligence Committee report is what its Democratic members did not say.


They did not dissent from the committee's findings that Iraq apparently asked about buying yellowcake uranium from Niger. They neither agreed to a conclusion that former diplomat Joseph Wilson was suggested for a mission to Niger by his CIA employee wife nor defended his statements to the contrary.

Wilson's activities constituted the only aspects of the yearlong investigation for which the committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, was unable to win unanimous agreement. According to committee sources, Roberts felt Wilson had been such a ''cause celebre'' for Democrats that they could not face the facts about him.

For a year, Democrats have been belaboring President Bush about 16 words in his 2003 State of the Union address in which he reported Saddam Hussein's attempt to buy uranium from Africa, based on British information. Wilson has been lionized in liberal circles for allegedly contradicting this information on a CIA mission and then being punished as a truth-teller. Now, for committee Democrats, it is as though the Niger question and Joe Wilson have vanished from the Earth.

Because a Justice Department special prosecutor is investigating whether any crime was committed when my column first identified Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA employee, on advice of counsel I have not written on the subject since October. However, I feel compelled to describe how the committee report treats the Niger-Wilson affair because it has received scant coverage except in a few media outlets. The unanimously approved report said, ''interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD (CIA counterproliferation division) employee, suggested his name for the trip.'' That's what I reported, and what Wilson flatly denied and still does.

Plame sent out an internal CIA memo saying ''my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.'' A State Department analyst told the committee about an inter-agency meeting in 2002 that was ''apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife, who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue.''

The committee found that the CIA report, based on Wilson's mission, differed considerably from the former ambassador's description to the committee of his findings. That report ''did not refute the possibility that Iraq had approached Niger to purchase uranium.'' As far as his statement to the Washington Post about ''forged documents'' involved in the alleged Iraqi attempt to buy uranium, Wilson told the committee he may have ''misspoken.'' In fact, the intelligence community agreed that ''Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Africa.''

''While there was no dispute with the underlying facts,'' Chairman Roberts wrote separately, ''my Democrat colleagues refused to allow'' two conclusions in the report. The first conclusion merely said that Wilson was sent to Niger at his wife's suggestion. The second conclusion is devastating: ''Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided.''

The normally mild Roberts is harsh in his condemnation: ''Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people, that the vice president had lied, and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. . . . [N]ot only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true.'' Roberts called it ''important'' for the committee to declare much of what Wilson said ''had no basis in fact.'' In response, Democrats were silent.

Former Ambassador Still Featured on Kerry Website as Example of 'Honesty'...

A Letter from Joe Wilson
on John Kerry

John Kerry Website,

I'm not a politician and I'm not a political partisan. I've served under Presidents from both parties. My loyalty has always been to country and constitution.
The first President Bush appointed me as Ambassador to two African countries and President Clinton put me in charge of African Affairs at the National Security Council. So when this President Bush's Administration sent me to Africa to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein was seeking to buy materials for weapons of mass destruction, I was ready to serve.

But I wasn't ready to keep quiet when this President misled the nation in his State of the Union Address. Because of that, leakers in the Bush White House illegally revealed that my wife worked in the CIA - endangering her life and that of my family. They tried to intimidate me and others who were willing to speak up and tell the truth.

"...I wasn't ready to keep quiet when this President misled the nation in his State of the Union Address..."
Some people have said I was courageous to speak truth to the power of the Bush White House. But let me tell you, what I have done doesn't hold a candle to the courage that John Kerry showed as a young man and throughout his political career. I am supporting him for President because he has been willing to tell the truth no matter what the pressure. He is ready to restore truth and honor to the White House. And I hope that everyone else who is outraged by this Administration and who wants to change America will join me in doing all you can to make John Kerry our next President.

"...John Kerry...has the personal courage and integrity that I want in the leader of our great nation..."
In deciding on the best candidate to support in next year's election, I looked for qualities that are important in a President: leadership, experience and courage. There are many candidates who possess admirable traits but only one who has summoned the nerve to stand up to our government and for what's right over and over again: John Kerry.

To speak out against bad policies after a career of accomplishments, as I recently did, is a civic duty. To do so as a young person, as John Kerry did, in the face of the unremitting official hostility to end a bad war, is truly inspiring. John Kerry didn't have to go to Vietnam. He volunteered and served bravely earning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. And when he came home as a decorated hero, he didn't have to fight the war. But John Kerry helped lead the fight to end the war, he earned the wrath of Richard Nixon and his cronies, and he won the respect of Americans for his courage.

"...I am honored to endorse John Kerry and to commit myself to his campaign to wrest our democracy back from those who have so squandered the public trust..."
Throughout his career in public service he has been ready to hold government accountable again and again. He blew the whistle on Ronald Reagan and Oliver North's secret war in Central America. He exposed Manuel Noriega's drug laundering operation. And he wrote a nationally acclaimed book on fighting global terrorism long before September 11th.

John Kerry is a decorated veteran, an experienced public servant, and a man of integrity. But most of all, he has the personal courage and integrity that I want in the leader of our great nation.

George Bush's Administration has betrayed our trust - I know that personally. I am honored to endorse John Kerry and to commit myself to his campaign to wrest our democracy back from those who have so squandered the public trust.

I hope you will join us.

- Joe Wilson

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Just your average Democrat donors


Michelle Malkin

July 7, 2004

The self-proclaimed Party of the Little People is rolling in cash, and Democrats are positively gloating. "The strength of the small donor has helped level the financial playing field with the Bush campaign," Mary Beth Cahill, Sen. John Kerry's campaign manager, crowed last week.

Just who are these "small donors" -- these ordinary Americans, these average Joes and Janes, filling the Democratic Party's coffers?

They are regular folks such as
Beth Dozoretz, Washington doyenne and suspected facilitator of the infamous Marc Rich pardon under the Clinton administration, and Bernie Schwartz, former CEO of the disgraced Loral Corp., which paid $20 million in fines for its too-cozy relations with China that apparently endangered national security under the Clinton administration. This year, for their prodigious giving habits, Dozoretz was designated a Democratic National Committee "trustee" and Schwartz was named a DNC "patriot."

(The Democrats, by the way, insisted on concealing the names of these "trustees" and "patriots" until the Washington Post shamed them into disclosing their identities.)

They are joined by typical donors such as Rick Yi, an Asian-American businessman and former Kerry fund-raising vice chairman who passed the plate to his girlfriend (whose immigrant status and donor eligibility were immediately suspicious) and to old pals such as Chun Jae Yong, the recently arrested son of a disgraced former South Korean president. Yong faces charges of tax evasion on $14 million in inheritance money. While the Kerry campaign has returned Yong's money, both Kerry and the Democratic Party have held on to an estimated $500,000 in Yi-raised funding.

And then there are common Democrat givers such as Connie Milstein. She is just like you and me. If you happen to be the pampered heir to a multibillion-dollar real estate fortune in New York City. Milstein calls herself "an ordinary Park Avenue matron." Really. She is just your usual elbow-rubbing, partisan fundraiser/philanthropist/business mogul next door.

During the 1999-2000 election cycle alone, Milstein contributed at least $932,515 to various Democratic party soft money accounts, and spread another $40,000 in hard money donations to various candidates and political committees. In the fall of 2000, Milstein did what any regular Democrat donor would do: She flew herself to Milwaukee and bribed homeless people to vote for Al Gore in exchange for cigarettes. Milstein was caught on video by local ABC affiliate WISN-TV toting bags of cancer sticks for vagrants outside the Milwaukee Rescue Mission.

Then chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Major Supporters Committee, Milstein told the TV station she was an official representative of the Gore campaign and "was asked to come down and ring doorbells, go to shelters, see if I can get as many people as I could out to the polls."

It was just your run-of-the-mill campaign to smoke out (er, get out) the vote. Honest.

Wisconsin outlaws the procurement of votes with gifts worth more than $1. It's a felony. But what average Democrat donor lets a little thing like illegality get in the way? Milstein received a flimsy slap on the wrist and a puny $5,000 civil fine. Big whoop. She probably drops that much in one afternoon at Cristophe's (he's the high-priced barber of other ordinary Democrat folks with ordinary hair such as John Kerry-Heinz and Bill Clinton).

After the smokes-for-votes debacle, Milstein went right back to raising money for the Party of the Little People. And the party gladly accepted. In 2001, Milstein -- known campaign finance con artist -- gave $50,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In 2002, Milstein donated $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC), $50,000 to the DCCC, and $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). In 2003, she donated $25,000 to the DNC and another $25,000 to the DCCC, in addition to $19,000 in hard money donations to congressional and presidential candidates, including Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry. In 2004, Milstein has given at least $4,000 to the Friends of Hillary and $1,000 to the DCCC.

So, let us hail the diversity of everyday Democrat donors: The pardon-pushing socialite. The Communist-coddling corporate sellout. The reckless Asian-American rainmaker. And the nicotine-stained heiress/almost-felon who keeps on giving.

It's a bankroll that looks like America. Really.

Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist and maintains her weblog at

In Desperate Move, Kerry Adopts Puppy

I guess with John Kerry's choice of John Edwards as his running mate, he really does want to stand up for all Americans, from those worth only $60 million to those worth in excess of $800 million.

July 7, 2004

In one of the many stratagems Democrats have developed to avoid telling people what they believe, all Edwards wants to talk about is his cracker-barrel humble origins story. We're supposed to swoon over his "life story," as the flacks say, which apparently consists of the amazing fact that ... his father was a millworker!

That's right up there with "Clinton's stepdad was a drunk" and "Ted Kennedy's dad was a womanizing bootlegger" on my inspirational life-stories meter. In fact, I'm immediately renouncing my university degrees and going to work for the post office just to give my future children a shot at having a "life story," should they decide to run for president someday.

What is so amazing about Edwards' father being a millworker? That's at least an honorable occupation -- as opposed to being a trial lawyer. True, Edwards made more money than his father did. I assume strippers make more money than their alcoholic fathers who abandoned them did, too. This isn't a story of progress; it's a story of devolution.

Despite the overwrought claims of Edwards' dazzling legal skills, winning jury verdicts in personal injury cases has nothing to do with legal talent and everything to do with getting the right cases -- unless "talent" is taken to mean "having absolutely no shame." Edwards specialized in babies with cerebral palsy whom he claimed would have been spared the affliction if only the doctors had immediately performed Caesarean sections.

As a result of such lawsuits, there are now more than four times as many Caesarean sections as there were in 1970. But curiously, there has been no change in the rate of babies born with cerebral palsy. As The New York Times reported: "Studies indicate that in most cases, the disorder is caused by fetal brain injury long before labor begins." All those Caesareans have, however, increased the mother's risk of death, hemorrhage, infection, pulmonary embolism and Mendelson's syndrome.

In addition, the "little guys" Edwards claims to represent are having a lot more trouble finding doctors to deliver their babies these days as obstetricians leave the practice rather than pay malpractice insurance in excess of $100,000 a year.

In one of Edwards' silver-tongued arguments to the jury on behalf of a girl born with cerebral palsy, he claimed he was channeling the unborn baby girl, Jennifer Campbell, who was speaking to the jurors through him:

"She said at 3, 'I'm fine.' She said at 4, 'I'm having a little trouble, but I'm doing OK.' Five, she said, 'I'm having problems.' At 5:30, she said, 'I need out.'"

She's saying, "My lawyer needs a new Jaguar ... "

"She speaks to you through me and I have to tell you right now -- I didn't plan to talk about this -- right now I feel her. I feel her presence. She's inside me, and she's talking to you."

Well, tell her to pipe down, would you? I'm trying to hear the evidence in a malpractice lawsuit.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde on the death of Little Nell, one must have a heart of stone to read this without laughing. What is this guy, a tent-show preacher? An off-the-strip Las Vegas lounge psychic couldn't get away with this routine.

Is Edwards able to channel any children right before an abortionist's fork is plunged into their tiny skulls? Why can't he hear those babies saying, "Let me live! Stop spraying this saline solution all over me!" Edwards must experience interference in channeling the voices of babies about to be aborted. Their liberal mothers' hands seem to muffle those voices.

And may we ask what the pre-born Jennifer Campbell thinks about war with Iraq? North Korea? Marginal tax rates? If Miss Cleo here is going to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, I think the voters are entitled to know that.

While making himself fabulously rich by taking a one-third cut of his multimillion-dollar verdicts coaxed out of juries with junk science and maudlin performances, Edwards has the audacity to claim, "I was more than just their lawyer; I cared about them. Their cause was my cause."

If he cared so deeply, how about keeping just 10 percent of the multimillion-dollar jury awards, rather than a third? In fact, as long as these Democrats are so eager to raise the taxes of "the rich," how about a 90 percent tax on contingency fees?

For someone who didn't care about the money, it's interesting that Edwards avoided cases in which the baby died during delivery. Evidently, jury awards average only about $500,000 when the babies die, and there is no disabled child to parade before the jury.

Edwards was one of the leading opponents of a bill in the North Carolina Legislature that would have established a fund for all babies born with cerebral palsy. So instead of all disabled babies in North Carolina being compensated equitably, only a few will win the jury lottery -- one-third of which will go to trial lawyers like Edwards, who insists he doesn't care about the money.

Despite the now-disproved junk science theory about C-sections preventing cerebral palsy that Edwards peddled in the channeling case, the jury awarded Edwards' client a record-breaking $6.5 million. This is the essence of the modern Democratic Party, polished to perfection by Bill Clinton: They are willing to insult the intelligence of 49 percent of the people if they think they can fool 51 percent of the people.

So while Michael Moore, Al Franken, George Soros, Crazy Al Gore and the rest of the characters from the climactic devil-worshipping scene in "Rosemary's Baby" provide the muscle for the Kerry campaign, Kerry picks a pretty-boy milquetoast as his running mate, narrowly edging out a puppy for the spot. Just don't ask the Democrats what they believe. Edwards' father was a millworker, and that's all you need to know.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Florida Felons for Kerry

TAMPA -- It's another case of sound and fury, signifying Democrats.

By Larry Thornberry
Published 7/13/2004 12:06:57 AM

Florida may or may not be as critical to the outcome of the presidential race this year as it was in 2000. But the race here will likely be close again. The outcome might depend on an unlikely group: criminals.

In preparation for Nov. 2, Florida Democrats are busy polishing up one of their favorite urban legends. The one that says Republicans prevented qualified Democrats from voting in Florida in 2000 -- that's why George Bush won the state and the election -- and are trying to run the same scam again this year.

The current issue, consuming reams of newsprint across the Sunshine State, has to do with a state-generated list of more than 47,000 possible felons, who elections supervisors need to determine voter eligibility on before election day. Democrats have a high level of interest in the list because -- what a surprise! -- almost 60 percent of the people on the list who were registered to vote are Democrats and only about 20 percent Republicans.

Florida is one of not a few states where people convicted of felonies don't automatically have their civil rights -- including the right to vote -- restored at the completion of their sentences. The reason being, if you can't obey the laws, why should you be involved in picking who makes them or enforces them? There's a process for rights restoration that felons must apply for. Many don't bother.

There's a thorough process for vetting the possible felons list before it goes to supervisors, and then supervisors do their own investigations. Anyone moved into a non-voting category receives a certified letter informing him of the action in time for the issue to be contested before election-day. The process isn't perfect but it's pretty good. With few exceptions, people who show up on election day and find they are not on voter rolls have only themselves to blame.

But none of this prevents Democrats from hamming it up and trying to manufacture the impression that George W. Bush and his evil minions are working night and day to keep Democrats -- particularly black Democrats -- away from the polls in Florida.

Most of the daily media in the state have been happy to go along with the gag. No newspaper, for instance, has asked any prominent Florida Democrat, "Aren't you the tiniest bit embarrassed that one of your party's most reliable voter blocks is criminals?"

In fact, none of the sensible questions about this issue are being asked. Try to bring the subject up with testosterone-challenged Republicans and you get bobbing and weaving that would have made Sugar Ray Robinson whistle through his teeth. "Well, we won't be bringing that up in the campaign," or "that's an issue for appropriate authorities at the appropriate level, in the course of time, subject to certain constraints," and other dithers that make me wonder if the guy is related to Sir Humphrey Appleby on Yes, Minister.

Try to ask a Democratic Party official about the issue and he won't return your call.

Supervisors of election across the state are feeling the pressure. Most know that if they try to remove voters from the list they'll certainly be blasted by Democrats and almost as certainly not supported by Republicans. As a high percentage of people on the list is black, the charge of racism is just waiting to be launched at any supervisor with the temerity to do this part of his/her job.

To wit, July 10 Florida's chief elections official, Republican Secretary of
State Glenda Hood, essentially threw in the towel and said her office had made a serious error in the infamous list -- not including felons who identified themselves as Hispanics -- so she no longer wishes supervisors to use any statewide list to question potential voters.

So there you have it. The Democrats, like that ant, have high hopes -- based at least partly on a much hoped-for high turnout of criminals on Nov. 2. It's impossible to tell how many felons will vote who shouldn't, or what effect these votes will have on the outcome.

I recently said to a friend, who's a Democrat, "I've had some bumper stickers made up. They say 'Another Felon For Kerry.' How many do you want for your Democrat pals?" He laughed. But he also looked like he'd just swallowed a carpet tack.

Larry Thornberry is a writer living in Tampa.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The World’s Most Dangerous Terrorist

Who is Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi? And why are so many governments scared to death of him?

A 'wanted' poster distributed by the U.S. Army shows an image of Zarqawi

By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Updated: 6:33 p.m. ET June 23, 2004June 23 -
With his audacious threat to assassinate the new Iraqi prime minister, Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi appears to have eclipsed Osama bin Laden as the single most dangerous threat to U.S. interests in the world today—and is proving just as elusive, according to U.S. intelligence officials.


U.S. officials suspect that Zarqawi—who is believed to have orchestrated the recent beheadings of American contractor Nicholas Berg and South Korean hostage Kim Sun Il—is holed up with followers in the rebellious Iraqi city of Fallujah. Since last weekend, U.S. forces have launched a handful of missile strikes on suspected “safe houses” in the Sunni Triangle city in a major new campaign to finish off the terrorist and members of his gang.

As in the ultimately futile bombardment of bin Laden’s former hideout in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, however, U.S. officials concede there are no indications they have hit or injured Zarqawi himself. Some officials privately acknowledge they are not positive Zarqawi is still in Fallujah.

Indeed, while missile strikes in the radical Sunni stronghold continue, some U.S. sources officials say that Zarqawi may actually be directing or instigating events in the town by telephone from elsewhere in Iraq. His crucial role in the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, however, cannot be underestimated: a Pentagon official says Zarqawi appears to be behind an alarming number of homemade bombs which are being planted in Iraq; such makeshift bombs, known to the military as “improvised explosive devices,” or IEDs, are being discovered at the rate of 800 per month—or more than 25 per day, NEWSWEEK has learned.

Even as the threat posed by Zarqawi increases, senior Bush administration officials concede that their understanding of who he is—and how he fits into the broader jihadi network exemplified by bin Laden—is evolving and may be more complex than was publicly presented 18 months ago in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The first high-level Bush administration references to Zarqawi came in October 2002 when President Bush, in a speech in Cincinnati, laid out the case against Saddam’s regime by emphasizing what he described as “high-level contacts” between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda. One prominent example cited by the president was the fact that “one very senior Al Qaeda leader [had] ... received medical treatment in Baghdad this year”—a reference to Zarqawi. Then, in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Colin Powell described Zarqawi as “an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda lieutenants.”

But just last week, in little-noticed remarks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld conceded that Zarqawi’s ties to Al Qaeda may have been much more ambiguous—and that he may have been more a rival than a lieutenant to bin Laden. Zarqawi “may very well not have sworn allegiance to [bin Laden]," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing. “Maybe he disagrees with him on something, maybe because he wants to be ‘The Man’ himself and maybe for a reason that’s not known to me.” Rumsfeld added that, “someone could legitimately say he’s not Al Qaeda.”

Rumsfeld’s comments essentially confirm the contents of a German police document, first reported by NEWSWEEK last year, that quoted a terrorist defector from Zarqawi’s network in Afghanistan describing the group as operating in “opposition to Al Qaeda.”

Whatever his relationship to Al Qaeda before the war, there seems little doubt that Zarqawi’s own terrorist network—which is believed to include Kurdish and possibly ethnic-Arab jihadi fighters—has coalesced into a persistent and growing menace to U.S. interests in the region and is acting in concert with, or in parallel to, bin Laden’s interests. .

This week, a voice message purporting to be Zarqawi threatened to kill new Iraqi Prime Minister Awad Alawi with a “sure sword” because he was “a symbol of evil, an agent of infidelity and a hypocrite.” U.S. intelligence officials are now analyzing the tape to determine if it is in fact Zarqawi’s voice. Earlier voice analysis convinced the CIA that Zarqawi was the person who narrated the gruesome video in which a group of masked men beheaded American hostage Nicholas Berg several weeks ago, and that Zarqawi himself wielded the knife.

U.S. officials also say they believe that associates of Zarqawi carried out the beheading this week of Korean hostage Kim, who was shown in a previous video desperately pleading for his life. U.S. intelligence also believes that Zarqawi was behind several major terrorist attacks in Iraq last year, including the bombing of local U.N. headquarters and the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, an attack on a mosque which killed a pro-U.S. Shiite ayatollah and a bombing of an Italian paramilitary outpost.

Zarqawi has also been linked to terrorist activities outside of Iraq. Jordanian TV recently broadcast a lengthy report in which terrorist suspects described how Zarqawi put together a plot to blow up American and Jordanian government targets in and around the capital, Amman, using what Jordanian authorities claimed was some form of chemical weapon. The Jordanians claimed that if the plot had succeeded it could have killed as many as 80,000 people. The Jordanians also alleged that Zarqawi was going to use a network of associates based in Syria to help set up the plot.

Zarqawi was apparently born in 1966 to a family of Jordanian Palestinians who lived in the village of Zarqo not far from Amman. One of 10 siblings, he dropped out of high school to study the Qur'an, whose contents he learned by heart. Working for the municipality where his family lived, he married and started his own family. But in the l980s he left his family to join the Islamic mujahedin in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. He returned to Jordan a rabid jihadi, and soon after his return reportedly was imprisoned by the Jordanian government for more than seven years, apparently because of his extreme political and religious views.

More radicalized then ever after his release from prison, he subsequently moved his family with him back to the Afghan-Pakistan border where he immersed himself once again in radical Islamic activities—initially working for Islamic charities and then forming his own militant group called Al Tawhid, based at its own training camp near Herat, Afghanistan. Its members had to be Jordanians who were willing to pledge themselves to overthrow the current Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamic regime.

He showed up on the radar screens of Jordanian authorities again in late l999 when he was suspected of masterminding an elaborate terrorist plot to strike U.S. and Jordanian targets in Jordan during the Millennium celebrations. Zarqawi’s network of contacts is believed to extend as far north as London, as far west as the Iberian peninsula (where he may have had some influence over the militant cell that carried out the March 11 bombings of commuter trains in Madrid) and as far east as the wild-west Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia, which jihadi forces allegedly used as a major transit point for Islamic fighters heading to fight Russian forces in the rebellious province of Chechnya.

The net effect of Zarqawi’s activities is to cast a mood of pessimism over U.S. officials in Iraq as they prepare to hand over “sovereignty” to the new interim government headed by Allawi on June 30. Officials note that, in what appeared to be a lengthy message to Al Qaeda leaders (found earlier this year in the possession of a captured terrorist suspect), a writer pleaded with Al Qaeda for help in the jihad against American invaders. The writer also expressed a desire to set Iraq’s minority Sunni population against its majority Shiites. That writer, officials say, was Zarqawi. Some U.S. officials think that’s exactly what the huge increase in the planting of homemade bombs signals. Zarqawi “wanted to get a Shia-versus-Sunni insurgency going—an open insurrection, the whole country blowing up,” says one U.S. official, adding that Zarqawi also seems to want credit for his handiwork. “There’s a great deal of ego here.”

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc

More Distortions From Michael Moore

Some of the main points in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ really aren’t very fair at all
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Updated: 6:26 p.m. ET June 30, 2004

June 30 - In his new movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” film-maker Michael Moore makes the eye-popping claim that Saudi Arabian interests “have given” $1.4 billion to firms connected to the family and friends of President George W. Bush. This, Moore suggests, helps explain one of the principal themes of the film: that the Bush White House has shown remarkable solicitude to the Saudi royals, even to the point of compromising the war on terror. When you and your associates get money like that, Moore says at

one point in the movie, “who you gonna like? Who’s your Daddy?”
But a cursory examination of the claim reveals some flaws in Moore’s arithmetic—not to mention his logic. Moore derives the $1.4 billion figure from journalist Craig Unger’s book, “House of Bush, House of Saud.” Nearly 90 percent of that amount, $1.18 billion, comes from just one source: contracts in the early to mid-1990’s that the Saudi Arabian government awarded to a U.S. defense contractor, BDM, for training the country’s military and National Guard. What’s the significance of BDM? The firm at the time was owned by the Carlyle Group, the powerhouse private-equity firm whose Asian-affiliate advisory board has included the president’s father, George H.W. Bush.
Leave aside the tenuous six-degrees-of-separation nature of this “connection.” The main problem with this figure, according to Carlyle spokesman Chris Ullman, is that former president Bush didn’t join the Carlyle advisory board until April, 1998—five months after Carlyle had already sold BDM to another defense firm. True enough, the former president was paid for one speech to Carlyle and then made an overseas trip on the firm’s behalf the previous fall, right around the time BDM was sold. But Ullman insists any link between the former president’s relations with Carlyle and the Saudi contracts to BDM that were awarded years earlier is entirely bogus. “The figure is inaccurate and misleading,” said Ullman. “The movie clearly implies that the Saudis gave $1.4 billion to the Bushes and their friends. But most of it went to a Carlyle Group company before Bush even joined the firm. Bush had nothing to do with BDM.”
In light of the extraordinary box office success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and its potential political impact, a rigorous analysis of the film’s assertions seems more than warranted. Indeed, Moore himself has invited the scrutiny. He has set up a Web site and “war-room” to defend the claims in the movie—and attack his critics. (The war-room’s overseers are two veteran spin-doctors from the Clinton White House: Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani.) Moore also this week contended that the media was pounding away at him “pretty hard” because “they’re embarrassed. They’ve been outed as people who did not do their job.”
In response to inquiries from NEWSWEEK about the Carlyle issue, Lehane shot back this week with a volley of points: There were multiple Bush “connections” to the Carlyle Group throughout the period of the Saudi contracts to BDM, Lehane noted in an e-mail, including the fact that the firm’s principals included James Baker (Secretary of State during the first Bush administration) and Richard Darman (the first Bush’s OMB chief). Moreover, George W. Bush himself had his own Carlyle Group link: between 1990 and 1994, he served on the board of another Carlyle-owned firm, Caterair, a now defunct airline catering firm.
But unmentioned in “Fahrenheit/911,” or in the Lehane responses, is a considerable body of evidence that cuts the other way. The idea that the Carlyle Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of some loosely defined “Bush Inc.” concern seems hard to defend. Like many similar entities, Carlyle boasts a roster of bipartisan Washington power figures. Its founding and still managing partner is David Rubenstein, a former top domestic policy advisor to Jimmy Carter. Among the firm’s senior advisors is Thomas “Mack” McLarty, Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, and Arthur Levitt, Clinton’s former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. One of its other managing partners is William Kennard, Clinton’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Spokesman Ullman was the Clinton-era spokesman for the SEC.
As for the president’s own Carlyle link, his service on the Caterair board ended when he quit to run for Texas governor—a few months before the first of the Saudi contracts to the unrelated BDM firm was awarded. Moreover, says Ullman, Bush “didn’t invest in the [Caterair] deal and he didn’t profit from it.” (The firm was a big money loser and was even cited by the campaign of Ann Richards, Bush’s 1994 gubernatorial opponent, as evidence of what a lousy businessman he was.) Most importantly, the movie fails to show any evidence that Bush White House actually has intervened in any way to promote the interests of the Carlyle Group. In fact, the one major Bush administration decision that most directly affected the company’s interest was the cancellation of a $11 billion program for the Crusader rocket artillery system that had been developed for the U.S. Army (during the Clinton administration)—a move that had been foreshadowed by Bush’s own statements during the 2000 campaign saying he wanted a lighter and more mobile military. The Crusader was manufactured by United Defense, which had been wholly owned by Carlyle until it spun the company off in a public offering in October, 2001 (and profited to the tune of $237 million). Carlyle still owned 47 percent of the shares in the defense company at the time that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—in the face of stiff congressional resistance—canceled the Crusader program the following year. These developments, like much else relevant to Carlyle, goes unmentioned in Moore’s movie.
None of this is to suggest that there aren’t legitimate questions that deserve to be asked about the influence that secretive firms like Carlyle have in Washington—not to mention the Saudis themselves (an issue that has been taken up repeatedly in our weekly Terror Watch columns.) Nor are we trying to say that “Fahrenheit 9/11” isn’t a powerful and effective movie that raises a host of legitimate issues about President Bush’s response to the September 11 attacks, the climate of fear engendered by the war on terror and, most importantly, about the wisdom and horrific human toll of the war in Iraq.
But for all the reasonable points he makes, on more than a few occasions in the movie Moore twists and bends the available facts and makes glaring omissions in ways that end up clouding the serious political debate he wants to provoke.
Consider Moore’s handling of another conspiratorial claim: the idea that oil-company interest in building a pipeline through Afghanistan influenced early Bush administration policy regarding the Taliban. Moore raises the issue by stringing together two unrelated events. The first is that a delegation of Taliban leaders flew to Houston, Texas, in 1997 (”while George W. Bush was governor of Texas,” the movie helpfully points out) to meet with executives of Unocal, an oil company that was indeed interested in building a pipeline to carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan.The second is that another Taliban emissary visited Washington in March, 2001 and got an audience at the State Department, leaving Moore to speculate that the Bush administration had gone soft on the protectors of Osama bin Laden because it was interested in promoting a pipeline deal. "Why on earth would the Bush administration allow a Taliban leader to visit the United States knowing that the Taliban were harboring the man who bombed the USS Cole and our African embassies?" Moore asks at one point.
This, as conspiracy theories go, is more than a stretch. Unocal’s interest in building the Afghan pipeline is well documented. Indeed, according to “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to Sept. 10., 2001,” the critically acclaimed book by Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll, Unocal executives met repeatedly with Clinton administration officials throughout the late 1990s in an effort to promote the project—in part by getting the U.S. government to take a more conciliatory approach to the Taliban. “It was an easy time for an American oil executive to find an audience in the Clinton White House,” Coll writes on page 307 of his book. “At the White House, [Unocal lobbyist Marty Miller] met regularly with Sheila Heslin, the director of energy issues at the National Security Council, whose suite next to the West Wing coursed with visitors from American oil firms. Miller found Heslin…very supportive of Unocal’s agenda in Afghanistan.”
Coll never suggests that the Clintonites’ interest in the Unocal project was because of the corrupting influence of big oil. Clinton National Security Council advisor “Berger, Heslin and their White House colleagues saw themselves engaged in a hardheaded synthesis of American commercial interests and national security goals,” he writes. “They wanted to use the profit-making motives of American oil companies to thwart one of the country’s most determined enemies, Iran, and to contain the longer-term ambitions of a restless Russia.”
Whatever the motive, the Unocal pipeline project was entirely a Clinton-era proposal: By 1998, as the Taliban hardened its positions, the U.S. oil company pulled out of the deal. By the time George W. Bush took office, it was a dead issue—and no longer the subject of any lobbying in Washington. (Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force report in May, 2001, makes no reference to it.) There is no evidence that the Taliban envoy who visited Washington in March, 2001—and met with State Department and National Security Council officials—ever brought up the pipeline. Nor is there any evidence anybody in the Bush administration raised it with him. The envoy brought a letter to Bush offering negotiations to resolve the issue of what should be done with bin Laden. (A few weeks earlier, Taliban leader Mullah Omar had floated the idea of convening a tribunal of Islamic religious scholars to review the evidence against the Al Qaeda leader.) The Taliban offer was promptly shot down. “We have not seen from the Taliban a proposal that would meet the requirements of the U.N. resolution to hand over Osama bin Laden to a country where he can be brought to justice,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at the time.
The use of innuendo is rife through other critical passages of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The movie makes much of the president’s relationship with James R. Bath, a former member of his Texas Air National Guard who, like Bush, was suspended from flying at one point for failure to take a physical. The movie suggests that the White House blacked out a reference to Bath’s missed physical from his National Guard records not because of legal concerns over the Privacy Act but because it was trying to conceal the Bath connection—a presumed embarrassment because the Houston businessman had once been the U.S. money manager for the bin Laden family. After being hired by the bin Ladens to manager their money in Texas, Bath “in turn,” the movie says, “invested in George W. Bush.”
The investment in question is real: In the late 1970’s, Bath put up $50,000 into Bush’s Arbusto Energy, (one of a string of failed oil ventures by the president), giving Bath a 5 percent interest in the company. The implication seems to be that, years later, because of this link, Bush was somehow not as zealous about his determination to get bin Laden.
Leaving aside the fact that the bin Laden family, which runs one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest construction firms, has never been linked to terrorism, the movie—which relied heavily on Unger’s book—fails to note the author’s conclusion about what to make of the supposed Bin Laden-Bath-Bush nexus: that it may not mean anything. The “Bush-Bin Laden ‘relationships’ were indirect—two degrees of separation, perhaps—and at times have been overstated,” Unger writes in his book. While critics have charged that bin Laden money found its way into Arbusto through Bath, Unger notes that “no hard evidence has ever been found to back up that charge” and Bath himself has adamantly denied it. “One hundred percent of those funds (in Arbusto) were mine,” says Bath in a footnote on page 101 of Unger’s book. “It was a purely personal investment.”
The innuendo is greatest, of course, in Moore’s dealings with the matter of the departing Saudis flown out of the United States in the days after the September 11 terror attacks. Much has already been written about these flights, especially the film’s implication that figures with possible knowledge of the terrorist attacks were allowed to leave the country without adequate FBI screening—a notion that has been essentially rejected by the 9/11 commission. The 9/11 commission found that the FBI screened the Saudi passengers, ran their names through federal databases, interviewed 30 of them and asked many of them “detailed questions." “Nobody of interest to the FBI with regard to the 9/11 investigation was allowed to leave the country,” the commission stated. New information about a flight from Tampa, Florida late on Sept. 13 seems mostly a red herring: The flight didn’t take any Saudis out of the United States. It was a domestic flight to Lexington, Kentucky that took place after the Tampa airport had already reopened.
It is true that there are still some in the FBI who had questions about the flights-and wish more care had been taken to examine the passengers. But the film’s basic point—that the flights represented perhaps the supreme example of the Saudi government’s influence in the Bush White House-is almost impossible to defend. Why? Because while the film claims—correctly—that the “White House” approved the flights, it fails to note who exactly in the White House did so. It wasn’t the president, or the vice president or anybody else supposedly corrupted by Saudi oil money. It was Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism czar who was a holdover from the Clinton administration and who has since turned into a fierce Bush critic. Clarke has publicly testified that he gave the greenlight—conditioned on FBI clearance.
“I thought the flights were correct,” Clarke told ABC News last week. “The Saudis had reasonable fear that they might be the subject of vigilante attacks in the United States after 9/11. And there is no evidence even to this date that any of the people who left on those flights were people of interest to the FBI.” Like much else relevant to the issues Moore raises, Clarke’s reasons for approving the flights—and his thoughts on them today—won’t be found in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” nor in any of the ample material now being churned out by the film-maker’s “war room” to defend his provocative, if flawed, movie.
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Punitive liberalism

It has long been recognized that liberalism and feelings of guilt go together as predictably as tea and crumpets.alt="5 pillars">

In the title essay of his remarkable book The Chatham House Version, Elie Kedourie criticizes the anti-Western bias of Arnold Toynbee's multi-volume A Study of History. ("In my eyes," Toynbee wrote in his concluding volume, "the west is a perpetual aggressor.") Kedourie points out that behind Toynbee's impressive erudition ("the far-fetched analogies, the obscure references, the succession of latinate, polysyllabic words") one discerns "the shrill and clamant voice of English radicalism, thrilling with self-accusatory and joyful lamentation. Nostra culpa, nostra maxima culpa: we have invaded, we have conquered, we have dominated, we have exploited."

One finds the same emotional compact among liberals in this country: a conviction of superior virtue punctuated by declarations of unappeasable guilt. Whose guilt? Ours--or, to be more precise--yours: all you who have not yet fully acknowledged the miserable condition of Western society, especially the more affluent purlieus of Western society, and above all those parts of affluent Western society that happen to be white, male, and Christian.

This phenomenon, though long recognized, has not been properly named--not, at any rate, until now. In the current issue of The Weekly Standard, James Piereson does us the service of finally naming this beast: "punitive liberalism."

In an article called Punitive Liberalism: What Reagan vanquished, Piereson describes the way Ronald Reagan provided an antidote to the poison of liberal guilt that had circulated through the body politic since the 1960s.

From the time of John Kennedy's assassination in 1963 to Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, the Democratic party was gradually taken over by a bizarre doctrine that might be called Punitive Liberalism. According to this doctrine, America had been responsible for numerous crimes and misdeeds through its history for which it deserved punishment and chastisement. White Americans had enslaved blacks and committed genocide against Native Americans. They had oppressed women and tyrannized minority groups, such as the Japanese who had been interned in camps during World War II. They had been harsh and unfeeling toward the poor. By our greed, we had despoiled the environment and were consuming a disproportionate share of the world's wealth and resources. We had coddled dictators abroad and violated human rights out of our irrational fear of communism.
Piereson's great insight is to stress the punitive, the chastising side of this orgy of guilt. Liberals come telling us they are making a better world; they omit to mention that what they mean by "a better world" is a world that is distinctly worse for certain groups, in particular groups that liberals decided had hitherto been unfairly privileged. "The punitive aspects of this doctrine," Piereson writes,
were made especially plain in debates over the liberals' favored policies. If one asked whether it was really fair to impose employment quotas for women and minorities, one often heard the answer, "White men imposed quotas on us, and now we're going to do the same to them!" Was busing of school children really an effective means of improving educational opportunities for blacks? A parallel answer was often given: "Whites bused blacks to enforce segregation, and now they deserve to get a taste of their own medicine!" Do we really strengthen our own security by undercutting allied governments in the name of human rights, particularly when they are replaced by openly hostile regimes (as in Iran and Nicaragua)? "This"--the answer was--"is the price we have to pay for coddling dictators." And so it went. Whenever the arguments were pressed, one discovered a punitive motive behind most of their policies.
It was, as Piereson notes, one of Reagan's great achievements to overcome, at least temporarily, the emotional mandate of punitive liberalism. Piereson quotes from Reagan's speech at the Republican Convention of 1980: "My fellow citizens," Reagan said, "I utterly reject that view. The American people, the most generous on earth, who created the highest standard of living, are not going to accept the notion that we can only make a better world for others by moving backwards ourselves." What a breath of fresh air, especially after four years of Jimmy "Mr. Malaise" Carter!
The question that confronts us now is what reservoirs of confidence we still can draw upon. Did Reagan really "vanquish" punitive liberalism, or did he merely rebuff it momentarily? It seems pretty clear that "we have scotched the snake, not killed it." But at least now we know what we are fighting. Punitive Liberalism is alive and well in the Democratic Party, at The New York Times, in our courts and universities. It would be nice if another Ronald Reagan were to appear and remind us that we cannot move forward by moving backwards. Until then, we can be grateful for Piereson's attack on euphemism. The first step towards freedom is calling things by their real names. With the phrase "Punitive Liberalism," we at last have a truthful name for the toxic doctrine that would have us believe success is a form of failure.