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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Sunday, 11 December 2005

Topic: Breaking News

Teeing Up the Week - Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Keith Olbermann has this daily news show on MSNBC, Countdown, that always opens with the question, "Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" The show, the most popular of anything MSNBC runs and fast gaining a following, doesn't run on the weekend, but the producers really should think about a Sunday afternoon edition, because that's when the news organizations tee up the week with a scoop or two, or something sure to cause a buzz.

Sunday, December 11, was no different. Dana Priest over at the Washington Post seems to have had this Sunday off - no insider CIA stories confirming our chain of secret prisons, or how we get the wrong people, do nasty things with them, and when we realize they're nobodies, drop them in the Macedonian forest with no papers and no cash, and tell their home governments not to say anything. Dana had done enough.

So, "Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?"

Time Magazine Reporter Sacrifices Her Career to Save Karl Rove's Career

Time appears on the newsstands Monday mornings, but the content is available on the net a day ahead of the hard copy. And the headline here may or may not be unfair. What Vivica Novak (no relation to Bob Novak) has to say is here - in the matter of the CIA leak investigation she seems to have provided Karl Rove's attorney, a source who became a good friend, clear warning, early on, that Karl Rove actually did speak to Time's Matt Cooper about the CIA spy whose career the White House had to dismember in the process of trying to make the spy's husband appear opportunistic and wrong. That husband had said, nope, Saddam was not trying to buy uranium and build a nuclear bomb or three - he went and looked, and nothing of the sort was so.

The vice president's chief of staff, Libby, had been indicted for obstructing any look into the matter (five felony counts). You're really not supposed to blow the cover of CIA agents. There are laws. And you're really not supposed to lie and cheat to make sure no one can find out what actually happened. Scooter, in the latter case, had been a bad boy, or so the indictments charge.

Anyway, it seems this Novak woman unwittingly worked with Rove's attorney to make sure Rove didn't get caught the same way. She implies she was used, but basically, she let on that her colleague Cooper had talked with Rove about the woman spy, on some very specific dates, and that led the attorney - no dummy - to get Rove to go back and change his testimony to the grand jury investigating this. Otherwise, they'd have nailed him for perjury. This was a useful heads-up.

This Novak woman from Time seems real sorry about all this. She says she really didn't want to be part of the story. She just hates when that happens.

Of course she betrayed Cooper, her friend and colleague, who was trying to keep all this Rove business secret to "protect his source." Heck, he was willing to go to jail over the matter - and she was speaking "out of school" to Rove's attorney the whole time.

And of course she never told her employer, the magazine, what was going on, even after she hired her own attorney, and even after she gave testimony to the grand jury. Well, specifically, she didn't tell here editors what she had done until after she had hired her own lawyer and debriefed with the investigator, Patrick Fitzgerald. She didn't tell them until she got a formal subpoena.

And of course she kept reporting on "the CIA leak story" as if she knew nothing and wasn't involved with any of this at all. Time didn't know. Cooper didn't know. No one knew.

She's now on a "mutually agreed upon" leave of absence from the magazine. One assumes the editors are drinking heavily.

Jeralyn Merritt, the famous criminal defense attorney in Denver, has much more here. Basically, this woman saved Karl's bacon. The president keeps his key advisor.

What to make of all this?

"Insider Journalism" is tricky.

Judy Miller, late of the New York Times, gave us all those pre-war scoops about aluminum tubes for making bombs and mobile chemical weapons labs and anything else Chalabi and his team in the vice president's office could think of. She carried their water for them and overrode everyone else at the Times to plant the stories. She had the inside scoop. She knew people - important people. She got the "real" story. But none of it was so.

What does that tell you?

In a rather sarcastic manner Jack Shafer here argues outsiders know more than insiders. The Knight-Ridder reporters, he shows, were pretty much right on all matters, using what was available to everyone, tapping a few low-level confidential sources, and actually thinking about it all. They may be third-string and out of the loop, but they were even better than the CIA on most things. Looking in from the outside keeps you from being spun. In the run up to the war, they "were able to piece together a more accurate picture of Iraq's capabilities based on public information and interviews with midlevel and career sources than all the president's men, who drew on testimonials from administration stars, political appointees, and the intelligence establishment." In short, instead of swooning, they were reporting.

That sort of thing isn't very sexy. You don't get to appear on all the political shows on television. You don't socialize with the big boys - you don't chat with the key players. You just get the story right.

Perhaps Fox News will pick up this Novak woman.

First the Germans, Now the French - We TOLD You All This Was Bogus

Ah, the local paper out here, the Los Angeles Times, broke this one Sunday, December 11, with French Told CIA of Bogus Intelligence - and the subhead is "The foreign spy service warned the U.S. various times before the war that there was no proof Iraq sought uranium from Niger, ex-officials say."

The opening four paragraphs -
More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.

The previously undisclosed exchanges between the U.S. and the French, described in interviews last week by the retired chief of the French counterintelligence service and a former CIA official, came on separate occasions in 2001 and 2002.

The French conclusions were reached after extensive on-the-ground investigations in Niger and other former French colonies, where the uranium mines are controlled by French companies, said Alain Chouet, the French former official. He said the French investigated at the CIA's request.

Chouet's account was "at odds with our understanding of the issue," a U.S. government official said. The U.S. official declined to elaborate and spoke only on condition that neither he nor his agency be named.
You get the idea. And the scoop here is last week big guns on both sides of the Atlantic said that just as the CIA asked Joe Wilson to look into the matter, the CIA pulsed the French, and came up empty there too.

Think about that. The line from the administration and all the supporters of the war is that we may have been mistaken, but everyone in the world thought Iraq had nasty weapons and was going nuclear. Except last week the Germans said the source on the existence of those mobile weapons labs was a drunk and totally unreliable, and they told us, and we knew it. Now the French say the whole Niger yellowcake business was bogus, and they told us, and we knew it. France's Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure told us, again and again. The CIA officer notes that, well, they did. Alain Chouet, France's former chief of counterintelligence, backed up by a former CIA official, is clear on this.

The Italians tried to sell the famous forged documents proving Saddam's agents were buying up yellowcake. They didn't buy them. These were their operations in Niger. Duh.

And the CIA had rejected the documents.

So the documents got to the White House through the back door - Cheney and Rumsfeld had set up alternative intelligence operations to bypass the old bureaucracy and get the real story. In good faith, perhaps, they wanted to protect America - and thought the CIA and all the rest were pretty useless.

They could do better than the professionals? Something like that.

It didn't work out.

"When Bush gave his State of the Union address in January 2003, citing a report from the British that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium in Africa, other French officials were flabbergasted." No kidding. Would they have been sidéré? Whatever.

Of course it is hard to see where this story goes from here.

No matter how many times the administration is "busted" on such matters we are where we are - the president is in office for three more years and the Democrats are in such disarray there is no chance anyone will see a majority of Democrats in either the house or senate, or any Democrat (or even anyone whose last name isn't Bush) in the White House, in the next fifty to sixty years. Voters are defensive. Rather than admit they elected some real dangerous goofballs, they'll not admit that and keep voting for such folks.

So it doesn't matter very much.

Israel to the Rescue

The real scoop of Sunday, December 11, concerns the middle member of the Axis of Evil, Iran. In the Times of London (UK, not Canada), Uzi Mahnaimi reporting from Tel Aviv, and Sarah Baxter from Washington, give us this: Israel Readies Forces For Strike On Nuclear Iran.

Oh yeah? The opening line - "Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran, military sources have revealed."

Well, they did the job in Iraq way back when.

Find details here from Marc Schulman in American Future, but note this -
If a military operation is approved, Israel will use air and ground forces against several nuclear targets in the hope of stalling Tehran's nuclear programme for years, according to Israeli military sources. It is believed Israel would call on its top special forces brigade, Unit 262 - the equivalent of the SAS - and the F-15I strategic 69 Squadron, which can strike Iran and return to Israel without refuelling.

"If we opt for the military strike," said a source, "it must be not less than 100% successful. It will resemble the destruction of the Egyptian air force in three hours in June 1967."

Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the Israeli military intelligence chief, stepped up the pressure on Iran this month when he warned Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that "if by the end of March the international community is unable to refer the Iranian issue to the United Nations security council, then we can say the international effort has run its course".

The March deadline set for military readiness also stems from fears that Iran is improving its own intelligence-gathering capability. In October it launched its first satellite, the Sinah-1, which was carried by a Russian space launcher. "The Iranians' space programme is a matter of deep concern to us," said an Israeli defence source. "If and when we launch an attack on several Iranian targets, the last thing we need is Iranian early warning received by satellite."

Russia last week signed an estimated $1 billion contract - its largest since 2000 - to sell Iran advanced Tor-M1 systems capable of destroying guided missiles and laser-guided bombs from aircraft. "Once the Iranians get the Tor-M1, it will make our life much more difficult," said an Israeli air force source. "The installation of this system can be relatively quick and we can't waste time on this one."

The date set for possible Israeli strikes on Iran also coincides with Israel's general election on March 28, prompting speculation that Sharon may be sabre-rattling for votes. Benjamin Netanyahu, the frontrunner to lead Likud into the elections, said that if Sharon did not act against Iran, "then when I form the new Israeli government, we'll do what we did in the past against Saddam's reactor, which gave us 20 years of tranquillity".
Well, that's cheery. Who doesn't like tranquility? But this may not get us that.

Note This Will be Ugly -
I'll be the first to admit that Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this. If she does not act, and no one else (read; The United States) does either, she faces nuclear annihilation. On the other hand, an attack on Iran by Israel would bring down the wrath of world on her head. That is, the wrath that she doesn't already constantly receive in such an undeserved and unfair manner. What to do, what to do?

That's a tough one. It would appear to me that Israel's best hope is that the ever-improving situation in Iraq will drive up George Bush's poll numbers giving him the political punch to carry out the attacks without Israeli participation. And even then this would be no easy call for Bush.

We would be attacking and destroying Russian built facilities, filled with Russian technology and staffed by no small number of Russian scientists and technicians, some of whom would no doubt perish in any attack. The fallout with Russia would be of earthquake proportions.

The fallout with the Iranian government? Well, who cares? However, the Iranian people, the majority of whom seem to support efforts by The United States to help them in their cause for freedom from the Mullahs, might well react negatively towards overt American military action against their country. Man, what a mess this is going to be. "Ugly" comes to mind.
Wait a second! Israel's best hope is that the "ever-improving situation in Iraq" will drive up George Bush's poll numbers giving him the political punch to carry out the attacks "without Israeli participation." That's thin hope.

Let's assume this is all idle speculation, or a contingency plan that gets put on the shelf. We probably have a contingency plan for invading Portugal under certain circumstances, like a sudden uptick in their production and export of "fado" albums.

For idle speculation on this Israeli planning see Steve Bainbridge of UCLA here - "Can Israel Stop Iran from Going Nuclear? Can Anyone?" Also see Hugh Hewitt here - "It is a terrible task that cannot be postponed much longer."

Here's the denial -
The senior Defense Ministry official for diplomatic policy refrained Sunday from ruling out a future Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites, saying that "at the moment" the emphasis was on international diplomatic pressure, and that the details in a British newspaper report saying plans were being prepared for such an operation appeared "more imaginary than real."
That's not very comforting, but it's something.

The Russians are in Iran, helping with this and that, selling them this and that. And this will be a news story when the United States or Israel suggests any Russians in Tehran and some other parts of Iran take a vacation - go home and see mom and the wife and kids for a week or two. Until then, this item is a semi-scoop - interesting but not news, yet.

Bubble Boy Returns

As with Time, the other big weekly, Newsweek, appears on the newsstands Monday mornings, but their content is available on the net a day ahead of the hard copy. The cover story is amusing, but won't have traction. It's been done before, and this is just filling in detail - Bush in the Bubble.

The idea here is this: "He has a tight circle of trust, and he likes it that way. But members of both parties are urging Bush to reach beyond the White House walls. How he governs - and how his M.O. stacks up historically."

So we're talking historical perspective here, not news per se. Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history? It's been said before, but actually, never in such detail and in such an organized manner. It's long, but fascinating.

What's immediately fascinating is who is quoted -
- A White House aide, who like virtually all White House officials (in this story and in general) refused to be identified for fear of antagonizing the president...

- According to senior Pentagon officials who did not want to be identified discussing private meetings...

- One House Republican, who asked not to be identified for fear of offending the White House...

- ... this official, who did not want to be identified discussing high-level meetings ...

- A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified...

- ... a senior aide who wouldn't be identified talking about his boss ...

- ...a GOP staffer who did not want to be identified criticizing the president ...
These folks are scared. Why?

Two nuggets. This -
Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon. It's not that he is a socially awkward loner or a paranoid. He can charm and joke like the frat president he was. Still, beneath a hail-fellow manner, Bush has a defensive edge, a don't-tread-on-me prickliness. It shows in Bush's humor. When Reagan told a joke, it almost never was about someone in the room. Reagan's jokes may have been scatological or politically incorrect, but they were inclusive, intended to make everyone join in the laughter. Often, Bush's joking is personal - it is aimed at you. The teasing can be flattering (the president gave me a nickname!), but it is intended, however so subtly, to put the listener on the defensive. It is a towel-snap that invites a retort. How many people dare to snap back at a president?
And this -
Bush generally prefers short conversations - long on conclusion, short on reasoning. He likes popular history and presidential biography (Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington), but by all accounts, he is not intellectually curious. Occasional outsiders brought into the Bush Bubble have observed that faith, not evidence, is the basis for decision making. Psychobabblers have long had a field day with the fact that Bush quit drinking cold turkey and turned around his life by accepting God. His close friends agree that Bush likes comfort and serenity; he does not like dissonance. He has long been mothered by strong women, including his mother and wife. A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified was startled when Secretary of State Rice warned him not to lay bad news on the president. "Don't upset him," she said.
But isn't that what we pay him for - to deal with what is upsetting and do what he, and the government, can about it? Surely we do not employ this man as our chief public servant to avoid unpleasantness, exercise four hours a day, get to bed by ten (both these apparently true), and watch ESPN for hours a day?

The authors, Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, lay out many, many details that suggest a level of indifference, if not denial, "that is dangerous for a president who seeks to transform the world." They do point out that all presidents face "a tension between sticking to their guns and dealing with changing reality." And yes, it can be a mistake "to listen too closely to the ever-present (and often self-aggrandizing) critics." They are just pointing out that the idea that any president can go it alone "is, to say the least, problematic."

Others are more alarmed, if not worried sick that we're in real trouble. Between this purposeful intolerance of anything upsetting, and the idea Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will take care of what the president proudly chooses to miss in details and concepts, when the state is not rudderless it's heading in some mighty strange directions.

Okay, this is not a news story you will be talking about tomorrow, as Keith Olbermann would say. It's a backgrounder.

But it's one hell of a backgrounder. And it already has generated a wide array of comment.

"Which of these news stories will you be talking about tomorrow?" That depends on what happens on any given tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 20:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 12 December 2005 07:17 PST home

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