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Friday, April 13, 2007

Paying the Price - New York Times

Paying the Price - New York Times

April 12, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Paying the Price

You knew something was up early in the day. As soon as I told executives at MSNBC that I was going to write about the “60 Minutes” piece, which was already in pretty wide circulation, they began acting very weird. We’ll get back to you, they said.

In a “60 Minutes” interview with Don Imus broadcast in July 1998, Mike Wallace said of the “Imus in the Morning” program, “It’s dirty and sometimes racist.”

Mr. Imus then said: “Give me an example. Give me one example of one racist incident.” To which Mr. Wallace replied, “You told Tom Anderson, the producer, in your car, coming home, that Bernard McGuirk is there to do nigger jokes.”

Mr. Imus said, “Well, I’ve nev — I never use that word.”

Mr. Wallace then turned to Mr. Anderson, his producer. “Tom,” he said.

“I’m right here,” said Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Imus then said to Mr. Anderson, “Did I use that word?”

Mr. Anderson said, “I recall you using that word.”

“Oh, O.K.,” said Mr. Imus. “Well, then I used that word. But I mean — of course, that was an off-the-record conversation. But ——”

“The hell it was,” said Mr. Wallace.

The transcript was pure poison. A source very close to Don Imus told me last night, “They did not want to wait for your piece to come out.”

For MSNBC, Mr. Imus’s “nappy-headed ho’s” comment about the Rutgers women’s basketball team was bad enough. Putting the word “nigger” into the so-called I-man’s mouth was beyond the pale.

The roof was caving in on Mr. Imus. More advertisers were pulling the plug. And Bruce Gordon, a member of the CBS Corp. board of directors and former head of the N.A.A.C.P., said publicly that Mr. Imus should be fired.

But some of the most telling and persuasive criticism came from an unlikely source — internally at the network that televised Mr. Imus’s program. Women, especially, were angry and upset. Powerful statements were made during in-house meetings by women at NBC and MSNBC — about how black women are devalued in this country, how they are demeaned by white men and black men.

White and black women spoke emotionally about the way black women are frequently trashed in the popular culture, especially in music, and about the way news outlets give far more attention to stories about white women in trouble.

Phil Griffin, a senior vice president at NBC News who oversaw the Imus show for MSNBC, told me yesterday, “It touched a huge nerve.”

Whether or not Mr. McGuirk was hired for the specific noxious purpose referred to in the “60 Minutes” interview, he has pretty much lived up to that job description. He’s a minstrel, a white man who has gleefully led the Imus pack into some of the most disgusting, degrading attempts at racial (not to mention sexist) humor that it’s possible to imagine.

Blacks were jigaboos, Sambos and Brilloheads. Women were bitches and, above all else, an endless variety of ever-ready sexual vessels, born to be degraded.

The question now is how long the “Imus in the Morning” radio show will last. Just last month, in a reference to a speech by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Selma, Ala., Mr. McGuirk called Mrs. Clinton a bitch and predicted she would “have cornrows and gold teeth” by the time her presidential primary campaign against Senator Barack Obama is over.

Way back in 1994, a friend of mine, the late Lars-Erik Nelson, a terrific reporter and columnist at The Daily News and Newsday, mentioned an Imus segment that offered a “satirical” rap song that gave advice to President Clinton on what to do about Paula Jones: “Pimp-slap the ho.” Mr. Nelson also wrote that there was a song on the program dealing with Hillary Clinton’s menstrual cycle.

So this hateful garbage has been going on for a long, long time. There was nothing new about the tone or the intent of Mr. Imus’s “nappy-headed ho’s” comment. As Bryan Monroe, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, told me the other night, “It’s a long pattern of behavior, and at some point somebody has to say enough is enough.”

The crucial issue goes well beyond Don Imus’s pathetically infantile behavior. The real question is whether this controversy is loud enough to shock Americans at long last into the realization of just how profoundly racist and sexist the culture is.

It appears that on this issue the general public, and the women at Mr. Imus’s former network, are far ahead of the establishment figures, the politicians and the media biggies, who were always so anxious to appear on the show and to defend Mr. Imus.

That is a very good sign.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Many Plans, No News - New York Times

Many Plans, No News - New York Times

March 30, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Many Plans, No News

In the Middle East today, home of the invention of algebra, a new math seems to have taken over. It is subtraction by addition. It goes like this: Add more trips to the region by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who doesn’t seem to have any coherent strategy — to an emotionally stale, restated Saudi peace overture to Israel, and combine it with a cynical Hamas-Fatah cease-fire accord and an Israeli prime minister so unpopular his poll ratings are now lower than the margin of error, and you’ll find that we’re actually going backward — way back, back to the pre-Oslo era.

Only the bad guys make history in the Middle East today. Only the bad guys have imagination and resolve. Arab, Palestinian and Israeli “moderates” are just watching. Their leaders have never been weaker, and America has never been more feckless in framing clear choices to spur them to action.

We could be and should be doing better. Nearly seven years ago, President Bill Clinton put forward something called the “Clinton plan” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time, the U.S. laid out its own detailed design of a fair deal between the parties. That plan called for Israel to give up 95 percent of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem; for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to Palestinian areas but not to Israel; for the most populated Jewish settlements around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to remain in place and the others to be removed; and for Palestinians to be compensated for those settlements with land swaps and other arrangements from Israel.

Yes, Yasir Arafat rejected it at the time, and even the Israelis never fully embraced the plan as it was, but everyone knew then and knows now that the Clinton plan is the only realistic framework for peace. The Bush team took the view that since Arafat wouldn’t accept it, the Clinton plan was a dead letter and therefore could be and should be forever sidelined. They also put themselves on the sidelines of Arab-Israeli diplomacy for six years, rather than sell anything with the name “Clinton” on it.

So instead of constantly telling the parties that the Clinton plan was the only viable basis for peace, and that U.S. diplomacy would be devoted to building a context for Palestinians and Israelis to act on that plan and a U.S. team to execute it, President Bush gave us scattershot visits by his secretaries of state and minimalist, stopgap measures to engineer cease-fires or talks about talks. Who can name them? “The Mitchell plan,” “the quartet,” “the Zinni mission,” “the Tenet plan,” “the road map,” the “two plus four plus four framework” and soon the “six plus two” framework.

You can make fun all you want of Bill Clinton’s “naïve” Middle East peace passion, notes Mr. Clinton’s top negotiator, Dennis Ross, but the fact is four times more Israelis and Palestinians died fighting each other during the “realistic,” “pro-Israel,” sideline-sitting Bush years of 2001 to 2005 than in the “naïve” decade of intense U.S. peacemaking — dominated by President Clinton — from Madrid to Oslo, 1991 to 2000.

Had the Bush-Rice team stuck with the Clinton plan, today, at a minimum, it would have been locked in as the only acceptable formula for peace, and at a maximum we might have gotten there. But the Bush philosophy seems to have been: “A.B.C. — anything but Clinton,” said Gidi Grinstein, who heads Reut Institute, Israel’s premier strategy policy group. “But by not endorsing the Clinton parameters, we are back with plans that are much worse.”

Indeed, all that is on the table now is the restated Saudi peace initiative, calling for full peace with Israel after full withdrawal and justice for Palestinian refugees — with no maps, details or Arab plan for how to pursue it with Israel. And we have the Saudi-brokered Mecca peace accord between Hamas and Fatah, which doesn’t even acknowledge Israel.

If you read the Mecca agreement, said Mr. Ross, “Israel appears only as an adjective, not as a noun. Israel only appears in the agreement modifying words like ‘aggression’ and ‘occupation,’ but never appears as a noun — much less as a state to be recognized.”

That is what happens when America leaves a vacuum. Others fill it with peace plans that fit their needs first and the needs of a real peace second.

The Bush team reminds me of someone who buys a rundown house that comes with remodeling plans by Frank Lloyd Wright, but insists instead on using drawings submitted by the next-door neighbors. You get what you pay for. Or what you don’t pay for.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Troika and the Surge - New York Times

The Troika and the Surge - New York Times

March 21, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

The Troika and the Surge

President Bush’s Iraq surge policy is about a month old now, and there is only one thing you can say about it for certain: no matter what anyone in Congress, the military or the public has to say, it’s going ahead. The president has the authority to do it and the veto power to prevent anyone from stopping him. Therefore, there’s only one position to have on the surge anymore: hope that it works.

Does this mean that Democrats in Congress who are trying to shut down the war and force a deadline should take the advice of critics and shut up and let the surge play out?

No, just the opposite. I would argue that for the first time we have — by accident — the sort of balanced policy trio that had we had it in place four years go might have spared us the mess of today. It’s the Pelosi-Petraeus-Bush troika.

I hope the Democrats, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, keep pushing to set a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq, because they are providing two patriotic services that the Republicans failed to offer in the previous four years: The first is policy discipline. Had Republicans spent the previous four years regularly questioning Don Rumsfeld’s ignorant bromides and demanding that the White House account for failures in Iraq, we might have had the surge in 2003 — when it was obvious we did not have enough troops on the ground — rather than in 2007, when the chances of success are much diminished.

Because the Republicans controlled the House and Senate, and because many conservatives sat in mute silence the last four years, the administration could too easily ignore its critics and drag out policies in Iraq that were not working. With the Democrats back in Congressional control, that is no longer possible.

The other useful function Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues are performing is to give the president and Gen. David Petraeus, our commander in Iraq, the leverage of a deadline without a formal deadline. How so? The surge can’t work without political reconciliation among Iraqi factions, which means Sunni-Shiite negotiations — and such negotiations are unlikely to work without America having the “leverage” of telling the parties that if they don’t compromise, we will leave. (Deadlines matter. At some point, Iraqis have to figure this out themselves.)

Since Mr. Bush refuses to set a deadline, Speaker Pelosi is the next best thing. Do not underestimate how useful it is for General Petraeus to be able to say to Iraqi politicians: “Look guys, Pelosi’s mad as hell — and she has a big following! I don’t want to quit, but Americans won’t stick with this forever. I only have a few months.”

Speaker Pelosi: Keep the heat on.

As for General Petraeus, I have no idea whether his military strategy is right, but at least he has one — and he has stated that by “late summer” we should know if it’s working. As General Petraeus told the BBC last week, “I have an obligation to the young men and women in uniform out here, that if I think it’s not going to happen, to tell them that it’s not going to happen, and there needs to be a change.”

We need to root for General Petraeus to succeed, and hold him to those words if he doesn’t — not only for the sake of the soldiers on the ground, but also so that Mr. Bush is not allowed to drag the war out until the end of his term, and then leave it for his successor to unwind.

But how will General Petraeus or Congress judge if the surge is working? It may be obvious, but it may not be. It will likely require looking beneath the surface calm of any Iraqi neighborhood — where violence has been smothered by the surge of U.S. troops — and trying to figure out: what will happen here when those U.S. troops leave? Remember, enough U.S. troops can quiet any neighborhood for a while. The real test is whether a self-sustaining Iraqi army and political consensus are being put in place that can hold after we leave.

It will also likely require asking: Are the Shiite neighborhoods quieting down as a result of reconciliation or because their forces are just lying low so the U.S. will focus on whacking the Sunnis — in effect, carrying out the civil war on the Shiites’ behalf, so that when we leave they can dominate more easily?

When you’re sitting on a volcano, it is never easy to tell exactly what is happening underneath — or what will happen if you move. But those are the judgments we may soon have to make. In the meantime, since Bush is going to be Bush, let Pelosi be Pelosi and Petraeus be Petraeus — and hope for the best. For now, we don’t have much choice.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Marching With a Mouse - New York Times

Marching With a Mouse - New York Times

March 16, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Marching With a Mouse

There aren’t a lot of environmental groups with their own investment bank consultants, so when you hear that Environmental Defense has just hired the boutique Wall Street firm Perella Weinberg Partners, you know that we’re in a new world. Every college activist should study this story, because it is the future. In the old days, when activists wanted something done, they held a sit-in or organized a protest march. Now they hire an investment bank.

O.K., maybe every activist group can’t afford Goldman Sachs, but such groups should nevertheless analyze how Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council used the Internet and the market to save the planet from tons of CO2. The story started last year when a giant Texas power company, TXU, announced plans to build 11 coal-fired, CO2-belching power plants, raising the ire of environmentalists worried about climate change. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense, which has an office in Texas, wrote to John Wilder, TXU’s chairman, and asked for a meeting, but was brushed off. TXU made it clear that it was on a fast track to build its plants and had the governor of Texas on its side.

Talk about not knowing what world you’re living in.

So Environmental Defense and its allies turned to the Web and created the Stoptxu.com Web site, which put out regular electronic newsletters on the TXU plans and built a national constituency opposed to the deal. They also took TXU to court.

None of that might have been enough, though, had the big buyout firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group not teamed up to offer to buy TXU in February — a deal valued at $45 billion that would be the biggest leveraged buyout ever. But there was a catch: “The buyers did not want to take over a company enmeshed in a war with environmentalists,” Mr. Krupp said, “so they came to us and said, ‘We only want to go forward if you and NRDC will praise what we are trying to do here.’ ” Mr. Krupp and NRDC were ready to engage, but only if the deal could be made more climate-friendly.

“The negotiations involved talks over 10 days,” Mr. Krupp said, “and the key session was compressed into 17 hours in the Oriental hotel in San Francisco from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning.”

Eventually, the private equity group agreed to cut the number of new TXU coal plants from 11 to 3, to support a U.S. cap on greenhouse gas emissions and to commit TXU to plowing $400 million into energy-efficiency programs and doubling its purchase of wind power. In return, the environmentalists blessed the deal, but Mr. Krupp also hired Perella Weinberg to negotiate the fine print.

That is a pretty good day’s work for people who had no money on the table. There are a lot of lessons here.

First, Mr. Krupp said, “what is the message when the largest buyout in history is made contingent [by the buyers] on winning praise for its greenhouse gas plan? ... The markets are ahead of the politicians. The world has changed, and these guys see it.”

TXU not only didn’t understand that the world was getting green; it didn’t understand that the world was getting flat. “Going online,” Mr. Krupp said, “we shifted this from a local debate over generating electricity to a national debate over capping and reducing carbon emissions.” So, what TXU had hoped would be just a local skirmish was instead watched on computer screens in every global market.

The Internet age is an age of transparency, when more people than ever can see right into your business and judge you by your deeds, not words. TXU could not manage its reputation by just hiring a P.R. firm and issuing a statement — because, thanks to the Internet, too many little people could talk back or shape TXU’s image on a global basis through the Web, for free.

“The reputations of companies are going to be less determined by the quality of their P.R. people and more by their actual actions — and that empowers more of an honest debate on the merits,” said Mr. Krupp, adding, “It’s just harder to keep bad environmental news secret and expect the public to sit on its hands in the Internet era.”

Message to young activists: If you do your homework, have your facts right and the merits on your side, and then build a constituency for your ideals through the Internet, you, too, can be at the table of the biggest deal in history. Or as Mr. Krupp puts it: the TXU example shows that truth plus passion plus the Internet “can create an irresistible tide for change.”

Paul Krugman is off today.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Indentured Servants in America - New York Times

Indentured Servants in America - New York Times

March 12, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Indentured Servants in America

A must-read for anyone who favors an expansion of guest worker programs in the U.S. is a stunning new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that details the widespread abuse of highly vulnerable, poverty-stricken workers in programs that already exist.

The report is titled “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States.” It will be formally released today at a press conference in Washington.

Workers recruited from Mexico, South America, Asia and elsewhere to work in American hotels and in such labor-intensive industries as forestry, seafood processing and construction are often ruthlessly exploited.

They are routinely cheated out of their wages, which are low to begin with. They are bound like indentured servants to the middlemen and employers who arrange their work tours in the U.S. And they are virtual hostages of the American companies that employ them.

The law does not allow these “guests” to change jobs while they’re here. If a particular employer is unscrupulous, as is very often the case, the worker has little or no recourse.

One of the guest workers profiled in the report was a psychology student recruited in the Dominican Republic to work at a hotel in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The woman had taken on $4,000 in debt to cover “fees” and other expenses that were required for her to get a desk job that paid $6 an hour.

But after a month, her hours were steadily reduced until she was working only 15 or 20 hours a week. That left her with barely enough money to survive, and with no way of paying off her crushing debt.

The woman and her fellow guest workers had hardly enough money for food. “We would just buy Chinese food because it was the cheapest,” she said. “We would buy one plate a day and share it between two or three people.” She told the authors of the report: “I felt like an animal without claws — defenseless. It is the same as slavery.”

Steven Greenhouse of The Times recently reported on a waiter from Indonesia who took on $6,000 in debt to become a guest worker. He arrived in North Carolina expecting to do farm work but found that there was no job for him at all.

The report focused primarily on the 120,000 foreign workers who are allowed into the U.S. each year to work on farms or at other low-skilled jobs. In most cases the guest workers take on a heavy debt load to participate in the program, anywhere from $500 to more than $10,000. Worried about the welfare of their families back home, and with the huge debt hanging over their heads, the workers are most often docile, even in the face of the most egregious treatment.

The result, said the report, is that they are “systematically exploited and abused.”

Some of the worst abuses occur in the forestry industry. The report said, “Virtually every forestry company that the Southern Poverty Law Center has encountered provides workers with pay stubs showing that they have worked substantially fewer hours than they actually worked.”

A favorite (and extremely cruel) tactic of employers is the seizure of guest workers’ identity documents, such as passports and Social Security cards. That leaves the workers incredibly vulnerable.

“Numerous employers have refused to return these documents even when the worker simply wanted to return to his home country,” the report said. “The Southern Poverty Law Center also has encountered numerous incidents where employers destroyed passports or visas in order to convert workers into undocumented status.”

Without their papers the workers live in abject fear of encountering the authorities, who will treat them as illegals. They are completely at the mercy of the employers.

President Bush has been relentless in his push to greatly expand guest worker programs as part of his effort to revise the nation’s immigration laws. To expand these programs without looking closely at the gruesome abuses already taking place would be both tragic and ridiculous.

“This is not a situation where there are just a few bad-apple employers,” said Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has initiated a number of lawsuits on behalf of abused workers. “Our experience is that it’s the very structure of the program that lends itself to abuse.”

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans - New York Times

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans - New York Times

March 12, 2007

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

WASHINGTON, March 9 — The trickle of states moving their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5 has turned into an avalanche, forcing all the presidential campaigns to reconsider every aspect of their nominating strategy — where to compete, how to spend money, when to start television advertising — as they gird for the prospect of a 20-state national Primary Day.

In the last two weeks, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, dispatched the director of his political action committee to run his primary campaign in California, where a bill to move the primary to Feb. 5 is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, announced that he had won the endorsement of Richard J. Codey, a former acting governor of New Jersey, testimony to the state’s new status as it readies to shift its primary to Feb. 5 from June.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, held a rally the other day in Texas, and aides to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the New York Republican, said staff members would be sent to California, Florida and Missouri, as both candidates prepare for expected Feb. 5 primaries in those states.

“It’s becoming a brush fire out there,” Mr. Obama said in an interview.

Mr. McCain, remarking on the difference from the last time he ran for president, suggested that the front-loaded primary day was not a good development. “I don’t think there’s enough exposure of the candidates the way that there used to be, having to go state by state by state over a long period of time,” he said.

For the most part, the candidates and their aides cannot quite figure out what all this turmoil means for them. The changes, which are shaping up to be the most substantial alteration ever to a campaign calendar in a single election cycle, have heightened the volatility of the most wide-open presidential race in 50 years, one with large and well-financed fields of contenders.

Aides to the candidates said they were debating whether the changes would mean that the nominations would effectively be settled on Feb. 5, by which point easily 50 percent of the delegates are likely to have been chosen, or whether a few strong candidates would divide the Feb. 5 take, forcing the campaign to stretch on for months. That could, oddly enough, make those fewer states sticking to later primaries vital players in the election cycle.

The changes are forcing candidates to decide whether Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with contests before Feb. 5, will become more influential as contenders look for early victories to give them momentum. And with as many as 23 states voting on a single day — more states than are typically considered competitive in a general election — candidates must decide which ones to ignore, given the demands on their time and bank accounts.

“This primary season is turning into the most challenging Rubik’s Cube that we’ve faced in our lifetime,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the counsel to Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is seeking the Republican nomination, and one of his party’s leading experts on election law, pointing to the calendar, the fund-raising demands and the absence of a front-runner in either party.

For Democrats, the prospect of a mega-primary has created a new calculation about the importance of black voters, already a constituency being fiercely courted by Mr. Obama, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black president, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. There are hardly any black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; by contrast, they could play an important role in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New York.

The early primary drive is the latest evidence of the national parties’ continuing decline in influence over the nominating process. A Democratic Party effort to force states and candidates to abide by the calendar, with threats of refusing to seat delegates chosen by states that defy its rules, seems doomed to fail, with candidates and states saying they will ignore it.

The developments have stirred despair among some Democratic National Committee officials, who pushed through a new calendar this year that sought to dilute the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire by letting Nevada and South Carolina hold nominating contests before Feb. 5. Nevada’s Democratic caucus will be five days after the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, and South Carolina’s primary will be at least a week after the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

Donna Brazile, one of the Democratic Party leaders involved in pushing through those changes, said she believed that Iowa and New Hampshire were now more powerful than ever because of the move toward Feb. 5. “I am very alarmed,” Ms. Brazile said. “This is the opposite of what we are trying to do.”

But Tom McMahon, the executive director of the Democratic Party, said in an interview that having Nevada and South Carolina go earlier had allowed the party to achieve its main goal. “We’ve been able to insert diversity where diversity didn’t occur before,” Mr. McMahon said, “and we are able to preserve more small states to allow more candidates to get into this.”

With 11 months before the Iowa caucuses, what is most striking, campaign officials said, is just how much uncertainty there is about this most fundamental part of a campaign: when people are going to vote. The National Association of Secretaries of State reported that 23 states were either considering moving to Feb. 5 or certain to do so. But that number changes daily as bills move between legislative committees and to governors’ desks.

The importance of Iowa and New Hampshire has emerged as one of the critical questions for the campaigns.

Some analysts said the winners in the early states would emerge with so much momentum and favorable news media attention that they would dominate the national primary to follow and lay claim to their party’s nomination, much the way Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts captured the Democratic nomination in 2004 after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But others said having a 20-state primary a week later would allow candidates who performed weakly in the early states to rebound, particularly if they had the advantage of money or name recognition.

Mr. Giuliani’s aides suggested they might not spend as much time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire as other candidates, given his potential strength on Feb. 5 in places like California and New Jersey, two states with a more moderate electorate than Iowa and South Carolina.

“We have the ability to play the game a little differently,” said Mike DuHaime, who is running Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. “It’s not a matter of saying the early states aren’t important, because they are. It is just a matter of realizing that, unlike past primaries, there are many more states this year that will help decide the nominee.”

Terry Nelson, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appeared to have adopted what he called a Feb. 5 strategy, which he said could be a dangerous miscalculation by ignoring the states deciding before then. “It doesn’t diminish the influence and impact of the earlier states,” Mr. Nelson said of the shift to Feb. 5, “because it’s going to be very difficult for any campaign to build the resources you need to compete in all of these states.”

On the Democratic side, aides to Mr. Edwards are hoping for big victories in Iowa and South Carolina to make up for any advantage Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have because they are so much better known and may prove to be more effective at raising money.

There is near-universal agreement among officials of both parties that the new calendar will give a huge advantage to well-known candidates, in particular Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Beyond that, California and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani than are Iowa and South Carolina, with their many conservative voters.

The uncertainty goes beyond how many states will move their primaries to Feb. 5, and it seems to be starting a war between the states.

“California wants a piece of the presidential primary action, and it is willing to harm the country to get it,” The New Hampshire Union Leader said in a blistering editorial attacking California for encroaching on what had been New Hampshire’s early-primary turf.

New Hampshire officials are threatening to move their primary to before Jan. 22, asserting that the shift by Nevada violated a New Hampshire law requiring that it be first in the country. Iowa officials have responded by saying that if New Hampshire moves its primary, it will move its caucus to eight days before the primary.

That has set off a reaction in Michigan, the state that started pushing for others to go early in the first place. “It’s a terrible thing, it’s a real problem,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “We’re going on the 9th unless some state, such as New Hampshire, breaks the scheduling rules, and then we’re going to move it up.”

Cassi Feldman contributed reporting from New York.

NY Times- Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

March 12, 2007

Early Primary Rush Upends ’08 Campaign Plans

WASHINGTON, March 9 — The trickle of states moving their 2008 presidential primaries to Feb. 5 has turned into an avalanche, forcing all the presidential campaigns to reconsider every aspect of their nominating strategy — where to compete, how to spend money, when to start television advertising — as they gird for the prospect of a 20-state national Primary Day.

In the last two weeks, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, dispatched the director of his political action committee to run his primary campaign in California, where a bill to move the primary to Feb. 5 is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, announced that he had won the endorsement of Richard J. Codey, a former acting governor of New Jersey, testimony to the state’s new status as it readies to shift its primary to Feb. 5 from June.

Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, held a rally the other day in Texas, and aides to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the New York Republican, said staff members would be sent to California, Florida and Missouri, as both candidates prepare for expected Feb. 5 primaries in those states.

“It’s becoming a brush fire out there,” Mr. Obama said in an interview.

Mr. McCain, remarking on the difference from the last time he ran for president, suggested that the front-loaded primary day was not a good development. “I don’t think there’s enough exposure of the candidates the way that there used to be, having to go state by state by state over a long period of time,” he said.

For the most part, the candidates and their aides cannot quite figure out what all this turmoil means for them. The changes, which are shaping up to be the most substantial alteration ever to a campaign calendar in a single election cycle, have heightened the volatility of the most wide-open presidential race in 50 years, one with large and well-financed fields of contenders.

Aides to the candidates said they were debating whether the changes would mean that the nominations would effectively be settled on Feb. 5, by which point easily 50 percent of the delegates are likely to have been chosen, or whether a few strong candidates would divide the Feb. 5 take, forcing the campaign to stretch on for months. That could, oddly enough, make those fewer states sticking to later primaries vital players in the election cycle.

The changes are forcing candidates to decide whether Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with contests before Feb. 5, will become more influential as contenders look for early victories to give them momentum. And with as many as 23 states voting on a single day — more states than are typically considered competitive in a general election — candidates must decide which ones to ignore, given the demands on their time and bank accounts.

“This primary season is turning into the most challenging Rubik’s Cube that we’ve faced in our lifetime,” said Benjamin L. Ginsberg, the counsel to Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is seeking the Republican nomination, and one of his party’s leading experts on election law, pointing to the calendar, the fund-raising demands and the absence of a front-runner in either party.

For Democrats, the prospect of a mega-primary has created a new calculation about the importance of black voters, already a constituency being fiercely courted by Mr. Obama, who is seeking to become the nation’s first black president, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. There are hardly any black voters in Iowa and New Hampshire; by contrast, they could play an important role in California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and New York.

The early primary drive is the latest evidence of the national parties’ continuing decline in influence over the nominating process. A Democratic Party effort to force states and candidates to abide by the calendar, with threats of refusing to seat delegates chosen by states that defy its rules, seems doomed to fail, with candidates and states saying they will ignore it.

The developments have stirred despair among some Democratic National Committee officials, who pushed through a new calendar this year that sought to dilute the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire by letting Nevada and South Carolina hold nominating contests before Feb. 5. Nevada’s Democratic caucus will be five days after the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, and South Carolina’s primary will be at least a week after the Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

Donna Brazile, one of the Democratic Party leaders involved in pushing through those changes, said she believed that Iowa and New Hampshire were now more powerful than ever because of the move toward Feb. 5. “I am very alarmed,” Ms. Brazile said. “This is the opposite of what we are trying to do.”

But Tom McMahon, the executive director of the Democratic Party, said in an interview that having Nevada and South Carolina go earlier had allowed the party to achieve its main goal. “We’ve been able to insert diversity where diversity didn’t occur before,” Mr. McMahon said, “and we are able to preserve more small states to allow more candidates to get into this.”

With 11 months before the Iowa caucuses, what is most striking, campaign officials said, is just how much uncertainty there is about this most fundamental part of a campaign: when people are going to vote. The National Association of Secretaries of State reported that 23 states were either considering moving to Feb. 5 or certain to do so. But that number changes daily as bills move between legislative committees and to governors’ desks.

The importance of Iowa and New Hampshire has emerged as one of the critical questions for the campaigns.

Some analysts said the winners in the early states would emerge with so much momentum and favorable news media attention that they would dominate the national primary to follow and lay claim to their party’s nomination, much the way Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts captured the Democratic nomination in 2004 after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But others said having a 20-state primary a week later would allow candidates who performed weakly in the early states to rebound, particularly if they had the advantage of money or name recognition.

Mr. Giuliani’s aides suggested they might not spend as much time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire as other candidates, given his potential strength on Feb. 5 in places like California and New Jersey, two states with a more moderate electorate than Iowa and South Carolina.

“We have the ability to play the game a little differently,” said Mike DuHaime, who is running Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. “It’s not a matter of saying the early states aren’t important, because they are. It is just a matter of realizing that, unlike past primaries, there are many more states this year that will help decide the nominee.”

Terry Nelson, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said Mr. Giuliani’s campaign appeared to have adopted what he called a Feb. 5 strategy, which he said could be a dangerous miscalculation by ignoring the states deciding before then. “It doesn’t diminish the influence and impact of the earlier states,” Mr. Nelson said of the shift to Feb. 5, “because it’s going to be very difficult for any campaign to build the resources you need to compete in all of these states.”

On the Democratic side, aides to Mr. Edwards are hoping for big victories in Iowa and South Carolina to make up for any advantage Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama have because they are so much better known and may prove to be more effective at raising money.

There is near-universal agreement among officials of both parties that the new calendar will give a huge advantage to well-known candidates, in particular Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama. Beyond that, California and New Jersey are likely to be more receptive to Mr. Giuliani than are Iowa and South Carolina, with their many conservative voters.

The uncertainty goes beyond how many states will move their primaries to Feb. 5, and it seems to be starting a war between the states.

“California wants a piece of the presidential primary action, and it is willing to harm the country to get it,” The New Hampshire Union Leader said in a blistering editorial attacking California for encroaching on what had been New Hampshire’s early-primary turf.

New Hampshire officials are threatening to move their primary to before Jan. 22, asserting that the shift by Nevada violated a New Hampshire law requiring that it be first in the country. Iowa officials have responded by saying that if New Hampshire moves its primary, it will move its caucus to eight days before the primary.

That has set off a reaction in Michigan, the state that started pushing for others to go early in the first place. “It’s a terrible thing, it’s a real problem,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. “We’re going on the 9th unless some state, such as New Hampshire, breaks the scheduling rules, and then we’re going to move it up.”

Cassi Feldman contributed reporting from New York.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

N.Y. Times- A Libby Verdict

March 7, 2007
Editorial

A Libby Verdict

There will be a great deal written and said in coming days about the frustrations of the Scooter Libby verdict — that it did not tell us whether someone deliberately blew Valerie Plame Wilson’s cover or erase serious concerns about the prosecutor’s abuse of the First Amendment. Let’s focus first on what the verdict does say.

One of the most senior officials in the White House, Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was caught lying to the F.B.I. He appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq. He was charged with those crimes, defended by the best lawyers he could get, tried in an open courtroom and convicted of serious felonies. Mr. Libby walked freely out of the court, had his say in public and will be allowed to appeal.

It was another reminder of how precious the American judicial system is, at a time when it is under serious attack from the same administration Mr. Libby served. That administration is systematically denying the right of counsel, the right to evidence and even the right to be tried to scores of prisoners who may have committed no crimes at all.

And although we still do not know the answer to the original mystery, the case provided a look at the methodical way that Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby, Karl Rove and others in the Bush inner circle set out to discredit Ms. Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson IV. Mr. Wilson, a career diplomat, was sent by the State Department in 2002 to check out a British intelligence report that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the government of Niger for a secret nuclear weapons program. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

In July 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote in an Op-Ed article in The Times that what he had found did not support that claim. The specter of a nuclear-armed Iraq was central to Mr. Bush’s case for rushing to war. So, the trial testimony showed, Mr. Cheney orchestrated an assault on Mr. Wilson’s credibility with the help of Mr. Libby and others. They whispered to journalists that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and that nepotism was the reason he had been chosen for the trip.

That is what we know from the Libby trial, and it is some of the clearest evidence yet that this administration did not get duped by faulty intelligence; at the very least, it cherry-picked and hyped intelligence to justify the war. What Mr. Wilson found, and subsequent investigations confirmed, was that there was one trip in 1999 — not “recently,” but four years before Mr. Bush’s statement — by an Iraqi official to Niger and that during that trip, uranium was never discussed.

What we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover. That is a serious offense, which could have put her and all those who had worked with her in danger. We also do not understand why the federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, chose to wage war with the news media in assembling his case, going so far as to jail a Times reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal the name of a confidential source.

The potential damage from that decision remains of real concern. But it was still a breath of fresh air to see someone in this administration, which specializes in secrecy, prevarication and evading blame, finally called to account.

N.Y. Times - An Unjust Expulsion

March 8, 2007
Editorial

An Unjust Expulsion

The Cherokee Nation’s decision to revoke the tribal citizenship of about 2,800 descendants of slaves once owned by the tribe is a moral low point in modern Cherokee history and places the tribe in violation of a 140-year-old federal treaty and several court decisions. The federal government must now step in to protect the rights of the freedmen, who could lose their tribal identities as well as access to medical, housing and other tribal benefits.

This bitter dispute dates to the treaties of 1866, when the Cherokee, Seminole and Creek agreed to admit their former slaves as tribal members in return for recognition as sovereign nations. The tribes fought black membership from the start — even though many of the former slaves were products of mixed black and Indian marriages.

The federal courts repeatedly upheld the treaties. But the federal government fanned the flames when a government commission set out in the 1890s to create an authoritative roll of tribal membership. Instead of placing everyone on a single roll, it made two lists. The so-called blood list contained nonblack Cherokees, listed with their percentage of Indian ancestry. The freedmen’s list included the names of any black members, even those with significant Cherokee ancestry.

The issue exploded in the 1980s when tribal authorities excluded the freedmen from voting on the grounds that they weren’t Cherokee by blood. The Cherokee version of the Supreme Court ruled last year that the law was unconstitutional. The expulsion vote was a response to that ruling and to a pending federal lawsuit by the freedmen, which charges both the tribe and the federal government with violating the treaty and the Constitution.

Advocates for the expulsion say it is about self-determination. But the tribal history makes clear that it is about discrimination — and that it is illegal. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has been curiously silent, should bring the Cherokee government into compliance with the law and require it to restore the tribal rights of the expelled members.

N.Y. Times - Denying Rights in Nigeria

March 8, 2007
Editorial

Denying Rights in Nigeria

A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation — proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo — has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria’s powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies — as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill’s vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a “same sex amorous relationship” — which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex — would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.

The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.

Efforts to pass the bill last year stalled in part because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. Now its backers are again trying to rush it through, and Washington and Brussels need to speak out against it. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.

N.Y. Times - The Gonzales Eight

March 8, 2007
Editorial

The Gonzales Eight

Americans often suspect that their political leaders are arrogant and out of touch. But even then it is nearly impossible to fathom what self-delusion could have convinced Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico that he had a right to call a federal prosecutor at home and question him about a politically sensitive investigation.

That disturbing tale is one of several revealed this week in Congressional hearings called to look into the firing of eight United States attorneys. The hearings left little doubt that the Bush administration had all eight — an unprecedented number — ousted for political reasons. But it points to even wider abuse; prosecutors suggest that three Republican members of Congress may have tried to pressure the attorneys into doing their political bidding.

It already seemed clear that the Bush administration’s purge had trampled on prosecutorial independence. Now Congress and the Justice Department need to investigate possible ethics violations, and perhaps illegality. Two of the fired prosecutors testified that they had been dismissed after resisting what they suspected were importunings to use their offices to help Republicans win elections. A third described what may have been a threat of retaliation if he talked publicly about his firing.

David Iglesias, who was removed as the United States attorney in Albuquerque, said that he was first contacted before last fall’s election by Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico. Ms. Wilson, who was in a tough re-election fight, asked about sealed indictments — criminal charges that are not public.

Two weeks later, he said, he got a call from Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, asking whether he intended to indict Democrats before the election in a high-profile corruption case. When Mr. Iglesias said no, he said, Mr. Domenici replied that he was very sorry to hear it, and the line went dead. Mr. Iglesias said he’d felt “sick.” Within six weeks, he was fired. Ms. Wilson and Mr. Domenici both deny that they had tried to exert pressure.

John McKay of Seattle testified that the chief of staff for Representative Doc Hastings, Republican of Washington, called to ask whether he intended to investigate the 2004 governor’s race, which a Democrat won after two recounts. Mr. McKay says that when he went to the White House later to discuss a possible judicial nomination (which he did not get), he was told of concerns about how he’d handled the election. H. E. Cummins, a fired prosecutor from Arkansas, said that a Justice Department official, in what appeared to be a warning, said that if he kept talking about his firing, the department would release negative information about him.

Congress must keep demanding answers. It must find out who decided to fire these prosecutors and why, and who may have authorized putting pressure on Mr. Cummins. And it must look into whether Senator Domenici and Representatives Wilson and Hastings violated ethics rules that forbid this sort of interference. We hope the House committee will not be deterred by the fact that Mr. Hastings is its ranking Republican. The Justice Department also needs to open its own investigation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s claim that these prosecutors were fired for poor performance was always difficult to believe. Now it’s impossible.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Obama: Man of the World

March 6, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Obama: Man of the World
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

WASHINGTON

The conventional wisdom about Barack Obama is that he’s smart and charismatic but so inexperienced that we should feel jittery about him in the Oval Office.

But that view is myopic. In some respects, Mr. Obama is far more experienced than other presidential candidates.

His experience as an antipoverty organizer in Chicago, for example, gives him a deep grasp of a crucial 21st-century challenge — poverty in America — that almost all politicians lack. He says that grass-roots experience helps explain why he favors not only government spending programs, like early childhood education, but also cultural initiatives, like efforts to promote responsible fatherhood.

In foreign policy as well, Mr. Obama would bring to the White House an important experience that most other candidates lack: he has actually lived abroad. He spent four years as a child in Indonesia and attended schools in the Indonesian language, which he still speaks.

“I was a little Jakarta street kid,” he said in a wide-ranging interview in his office (excerpts are on my blog, www.nytimes.com/ontheground). He once got in trouble for making faces during Koran study classes in his elementary school, but a president is less likely to stereotype Muslims as fanatics — and more likely to be aware of their nationalism — if he once studied the Koran with them.

Mr. Obama recalled the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer, reciting them with a first-rate accent. In a remark that seemed delightfully uncalculated (it’ll give Alabama voters heart attacks), Mr. Obama described the call to prayer as “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset.”

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s own grandfather in Kenya was a Muslim. Mr. Obama never met his grandfather and says he isn’t sure if his grandfather’s two wives were simultaneous or consecutive, or even if he was Sunni or Shiite. (O.K., maybe Mr. Obama should just give up on Alabama.)

Our biggest mistake since World War II has been a lack of sensitivity to other people’s nationalism, from Vietnam to Iraq. Perhaps as a result of his background, Mr. Obama has been unusually sensitive to such issues and to the need to project respect rather than arrogance. He has consistently shown great instincts.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Africa last year hit just the right diplomatic notes. In Kenya, he warmly greeted the president — but denounced corruption and went out of his way to visit a bold newspaper that government agents had ransacked. In South Africa, he respectfully but firmly criticized the government’s unscientific bungling of the AIDS epidemic. In Chad, he visited Darfur refugees.

“My experience growing up in Indonesia or having family in small villages in Africa — I think it makes me much more mindful of the importance of issues like personal security or freedom from corruption,” he said, adding: “I’ve witnessed it in much more direct ways than I think the average American has witnessed it.”

As a senator, Mr. Obama has not only seized the issue of nuclear proliferation, but also the question of small arms. For a majority of the world’s inhabitants, those AK-47s and R.P.G.’s are the weapons of mass destruction.

So how would an Obama administration differ from the Bill Clinton presidency in foreign policy? One way, he said, would be a much greater emphasis on promoting education, health care and development in Africa and other poor regions — not just for humanitarian reasons, but also with an eye to national security.

“If we can’t take what, relative to our military hardware and defense budgets, are a pittance, and put some resources into these areas, we will not be secure,” he noted, adding: “The Marshall Plan was part of a security strategy; it wasn’t simply charity.”

Mr. Obama thumps the White House on trade and foreign investments, like the Dubai ports deal — but he isn’t demagogic in the way that too many Democrats have been. And three years ago, Mr. Obama was quoted in The Chicago Tribune as making hawkish comments about a military strike on Iran, but in the interview he pirouetted and noted that one of the lessons of Iraq is that “being trigger-happy ... is a recipe for disaster.” That’s a welcome sign of growth.

So, granted, Mr. Obama lacks the extensive experience at top levels of diplomacy of, say, Dick Cheney or ... oh, never mind.

What sets Mr. Obama apart is the way his training has been at the grass-roots rather than in the treetops. And that may be the richest kind of background of all, yielding not just experience, but also wisdom.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Kristof has hit on Obama's greatest strength. He is someone who is world wise from the ground up. He has experienced the world from the perspective of everyday people, not the protected, insular, protected environments that are the only way that most politicians and the wealthy see the world. He has a realistic view of the world and is not likely to make the same ignorant miscalculations that were made by the Bush Cheney administration.

John H. Armwood

No Comfort

Editorial The N.Y. Times

No Comfort


What part of “Japanese Army sex slaves” does Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for?

The underlying facts have long been beyond serious dispute. During World War II, Japan’s Army set up sites where women rounded up from Japanese colonies like Korea were expected to deliver sexual services to Japan’s soldiers.

These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army’s involvement is documented in the government’s own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993. The unofficial fund set up to compensate victims is set to close down this month.

And Mr. Abe wants the issue to end there. Last week, he claimed that there was no evidence that the victims had been coerced. Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn’t the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.

Mr. Abe seems less concerned with repairing Japan’s sullied international reputation than with appealing to a large right-wing faction within his Liberal Democratic Party that insists that the whole shameful episode was a case of healthy private enterprise. One ruling party lawmaker, in his misplaced zeal to exculpate the Army, even suggested the offensive analogy of a college that outsourced its cafeteria to a private firm.

Japan is only dishonored by such efforts to contort the truth.

The 1993 statement needs to be expanded upon, not whittled down. Parliament should issue a frank apology and provide generous official compensation to the surviving victims. It is time for Japan’s politicians — starting with Mr. Abe — to recognize that the first step toward overcoming a shameful past is acknowledging it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Obama’s Big Screen Test

February 21, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Obama’s Big Screen Test
By MAUREEN DOWD

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

Hillary is not David Geffen’s dreamgirl.


“Whoever is the nominee is going to win, so the stakes are very high,” says Mr. Geffen, the Hollywood mogul and sultan of “Dreamgirls,” as he sits by a crackling fire beneath a Jasper Johns flag and a matched pair of de Koonings in the house that Jack Warner built (which old-time Hollywood stars joked was the house that God would have built). “Not since the Vietnam War has there been this level of disappointment in the behavior of America throughout the world, and I don’t think that another incredibly polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is — and God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? — can bring the country together.

“Obama is inspirational, and he’s not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq. And I’m tired of hearing James Carville on television.”

Barack Obama has made an entrance in Hollywood unmatched since Scarlett O’Hara swept into the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Instead of the Tarleton twins, the Illinois senator is flirting with the DreamWorks trio: Mr. Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave him a party last night that raised $1.3 million and Hillary’s hackles.

She didn’t stand outside the gates to the Geffen mansion, where glitterati wolfed down Wolfgang Puck savories, singing the Jennifer Hudson protest anthem “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But she’s not exactly Little Miss Sunshine, either. Hillary loyalists have hissed at defecting donors to remember the good old days of jumping on the Lincoln Bedroom bed.

“Hillary is livid that Obama’s getting the first big fund-raiser here,” one friend of hers said.

Who can pay attention to the Oscar battle between “The Queen” and “Dreamgirls” when you’ve got a political battle between a Queen and a Dreamboy?

Terry McAuliffe and First Groupie Bill have tried to hoard the best A.T.M. machine in politics for the Missus, but there’s some Clinton fatigue among fatigued Clinton donors, who fret that Bill will “pull the focus” and shelve his wife’s campaign.

“I don’t think anybody believes that in the last six years, all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,” Mr. Geffen says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they’ll wait until Hillary’s the nominee to use it. “I think they believe she’s the easiest to defeat.”

She is overproduced and overscripted. “It’s not a very big thing to say, ‘I made a mistake’ on the war, and typical of Hillary Clinton that she can’t,” Mr. Geffen says. “She’s so advised by so many smart advisers who are covering every base. I think that America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms.”

The babble here is not about “Babel”; it’s about the battle of the billionaires. Not only have Ron Burkle and David Geffen been vying to buy The Los Angeles Times — they have been vying to raise money for competing candidates. Mr. Burkle, a supermarket magnate, is close to the Clintons, and is helping Hillary parry Barry Obama by arranging a fund-raiser for her in March, with a contribution from Mr. Spielberg.

Did Mr. Spielberg get in trouble with the Clintons for helping Senator Obama? “Yes,” Mr. Geffen replies, slyly. Can Obambi stand up to Clinton Inc.? “I hope so,” he says, “because that machine is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.”

Once, David Geffen and Bill Clinton were tight as ticks. Mr. Geffen helped raise some $18 million for Bill and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom twice. Bill chilled at Chateau Geffen. Now, the DreamWorks co-chairman calls the former president “a reckless guy” who “gave his enemies a lot of ammunition to hurt him and to distract the country.”

They fell out in 2001, when Mr. Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Mr. Geffen’s request for one for Leonard Peltier. “Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?” Mr. Geffen says. “Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”

The mogul knows it’s easy to mock Hollywood — “people with Priuses and private planes” — and agrees with George Clooney that it’s probably not helpful for stars to campaign for candidates, given the caricatures of Hollywood.

I ask what he will say if he ever runs into Bill Clinton again. “ ‘Hi,’ ” he replies. And will he be upset if Hillary wins and he never gets to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom again?

“No,” he says with a puckish smile. “It’s not as nice as my bedroom.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Trial Spotlights Cheney’s Power as an Infighter

February 20, 2007

Trial Spotlights Cheney’s Power as an Infighter


By JIM RUTENBERG

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 — A picture taking shape from hours of testimony and reams of documents in the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. shatters any notion that the White House was operating as a model of cohesion throughout President Bush’s first term.

The trial against Mr. Libby has centered on a narrow case of perjury, with days of sparring between the defense and prosecution lawyers over the numbing details of three-year-old conversations between White House officials and journalists. But a close reading of the testimony and evidence in the case is more revelatory, bringing into bolder relief a portrait of a vice president with free rein to operate inside the White House as he saw fit in order to debunk the charges of a critic of the war in Iraq.

The evidence in the trial shows Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Libby, his former chief of staff, countermanding and even occasionally misleading colleagues at the highest levels of Mr. Bush’s inner circle as the two pursued their own goal of clearing the vice president’s name in connection with flawed intelligence used in the case for war.

The testimony in the trial, which is heading for final arguments as early as Tuesday, calls into question whether Mr. Cheney, known as a consummate inside player, operated as effectively as his reputation would hold. For all of his machinations, Mr. Cheney’s efforts sometimes faltered as he tried, with the help of Mr. Libby, to push back against critics during a crucial period in the early summer of 2003, when Mr. Bush’s initial case for war was beginning to fall apart. In some of their efforts, Mr. Cheney and his agent, Mr. Libby, appeared even maladroit in the art of news management.

While others on the White House team were primarily concerned about Mr. Bush, the evidence has shown that Mr. Libby had a more acute concern about his own boss. Unbeknownst to their colleagues, according to testimony, the two carried out a covert public relations campaign to defend not only the case for war but also Mr. Cheney’s connection to the flawed intelligence.

In doing so, they used some of the most sensitive and classified intelligence data available, information others on Mr. Bush’s team was not yet prepared to put to use in a public fight against a war critic.

A Quiet Scramble

At one point in the trial an adviser to Mr. Cheney recounted leaving a room in discomfort when she heard Mr. Libby sharing information from one of the government’s most highly classified documents, not knowing Mr. Libby had secret presidential approval in hand. In his own testimony, Mr. Libby told of a failed effort to stanch negative coverage from Chris Matthews of MSNBC by trying to exploit a rivalry between him and Tim Russert, the Washington bureau chief at NBC News.

Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were trying in particular to distance the vice president from an assertion that Saddam Hussein had sought large quantities of nuclear material in Africa that was ultimately deemed questionable.

Mr. Cheney was given ownership of the claim by a former ambassador, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who wrote in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on July 6, 2003, that he had been dispatched to Africa because of questions by Mr. Cheney’s office. Mr. Wilson wrote that he returned from Africa highly doubtful about the claim and reported that to the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

When Mr. Bush repeated the claim months later — in a 16-word sentence of his 2003 State of the Union address weeks before the Iraq invasion — Mr. Wilson wrote that he was compelled to question publicly whether Mr. Cheney had ignored his findings because they were inconvenient to the case against Iraq.

Even prosecution witnesses have testified that while Mr. Cheney had asked for more information about the accusation that Mr. Hussein sought uranium in Africa more than a year before the invasion, he did not know that Mr. Wilson was sent to investigate. And, witnesses said at trial, he did not learn about the trip until Mr. Wilson began to make his case publicly. This might explain why Mr. Cheney was so intent on debunking Mr. Wilson.

News of Mr. Wilson’s mission, its findings and Mr. Cheney’s supposed role in his assignment first surfaced two months before he stepped forward with his article, in reports that described him only as an anonymous former ambassador. Mr. Wilson decided to reveal himself after concluding that his anonymous account was not being taken seriously enough, according to testimony.

But those earlier reports prompted a quiet scramble by Mr. Libby to figure out who this anonymous ambassador was, who had sent him on his mission and what had happened with his findings. By the time Mr. Wilson came forward, Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney knew that Mr. Wilson had been dispatched to Africa by the C.I.A. unit where his wife, Valerie, worked. The eventual exposure of her identity as a covert operative set forth the investigation that led to Mr. Libby’s trial this year.

Mr. Libby faces charges that he lied to authorities who were looking into whether, in defending against Mr. Wilson’s accusations, the administration intentionally exposed the identity of Mrs. Wilson to undercut her husband and clear Mr. Cheney. A jury will decide if Mr. Libby misled investigators or, as his defense asserts, lost track of what he said or learned amid a hectic schedule.

White House officials denied several requests for comment about the testimony and the story it generally tells, citing a reluctance to comment on anything involving the trial.

Declassifying and Leaking

Mr. Wilson’s July 6 article was, in Mr. Libby’s view, “a very serious attack.” In his grand jury testimony, which was shared in the current trial, he said the charges amounted to a potentially severe blow to the administration credibility.

And the day after the Op-Ed article ran, the president’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said the White House had lost confidence in the uranium assertion.

Mr. Libby’s notes from a White House meeting of senior presidential advisers on the morning of July 8 — the sort of meeting that staff members rarely discuss publicly — read, “Uranium story is becoming a question of the president’s trustworthiness.” The notes quote Karl Rove, the presidential adviser tasked with Mr. Bush’s re-election, as lamenting, “Now they have accepted Joe Wilson as credible expert.” The notes reflected a general concern that the White House was not moving swiftly enough to contain the damage.

What others present at that White House meeting did not know was that Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney were already conducting their own quiet campaign. Its purpose was to show not only that the White House had ample reason to believe the flawed intelligence even after Mr. Wilson’s mission but also to defend against Mr. Cheney’s alleged connection to the uranium claim.

Mr. Libby testified to the grand jury that an angry Mr. Cheney had by then already directed him to approach a reporter he regarded as suitable, Judith Miller of The New York Times, to make his case. Mr. Libby was under instruction to describe the vice president’s ignorance of Mr. Wilson’s mission and to discuss parts of the National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 as well as another intelligence document showing the C.I.A. continued promoting the theory about Iraq’s efforts to acquire uranium months after Mr. Wilson’s trip.

The release of the intelligence estimate was a sensitive issue. Others in the administration had considered doing so that spring when Mr. Wilson’s claim first surfaced, but faced resistance from the C.I.A. One investigator questioned in the trial testified that Mr. Libby’s notes indicated that George J. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, was personally opposed to doing so.

Mr. Libby said he found a way around that resistance by getting backdoor approval from the president. In a hush-hush meeting described in testimony, Mr. Libby asked the vice president’s chief counsel, David S. Addington, whether the president could declassify intelligence personally, effectively without C.I.A. knowledge or approval.

Mr. Addington testified that as he explained to Mr. Libby that indeed the president could do so, Mr. Libby shushed him. “He extended his hands out and pushed down a little like that, that would indicate, ‘Hold your voice down,’ ” Mr. Addington said at the trial. Mr. Libby testified that Mr. Cheney then went to Mr. Bush and got a presidential declassification.

White House officials have said Mr. Bush did not know how Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby intended to use the intelligence.

Mr. Libby’s attempt to use the newly declassified data with Ms. Miller failed. He met with her for two hours at the St. Regis Hotel on July 8.

But, as Mr. Libby told the grand jury, going to Ms. Miller was “a poor choice” because she never used the information.

Cathie Martin, Mr. Cheney’s former communications director, recalled her discomfort at seeing Mr. Libby reading from the estimate later in the day while he called back reporters covering the story, at Mr. Cheney’s direction, among them Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.

Other senior officials were perplexed when they apparently saw some of Mr. Libby’s handiwork from those phone calls in action. After Ms. Mitchell reported that night on NBC News that “The White House blamed an October C.I.A. report for ignoring Wilson’s information,” the president’s deputy national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, indicated that he had got an earful from Mr. Tenet, according to Ms. Martin’s testimony.

Ms. Martin testified that at a senior staff meeting the following morning Mr. Hadley strongly hinted he thought she was responsible and told her the finger-pointing had been a disservice to the president. According to Ms. Martin’s testimony, Mr. Libby let her take the blame and “looked down” as Mr. Hadley shared his chagrin. Mr. Cheney, she said, later told her not to worry about it.

Spinning Wheels

It was one of several times when Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney were portrayed as disregarding Mr. Hadley, who now holds Condoleezza Rice’s former title of national security adviser but was then her second in command.

At a meeting on July 10, Mr. Hadley had suggested to Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney that the intelligence estimate could be leaked to a friendly reporter, Mr. Libby testified that his notes said. But neither he nor Mr. Cheney told Mr. Hadley that they had started trying to do so days earlier.

But all the same, their effort was by no means a smashing success.

Mr. Libby was frustrated that Mr. Matthews of MSNBC, for instance, was continuing to assert that Mr. Cheney had ignored Mr. Wilson’s findings.

His notes indicate that Mary Matalin, the longtime Cheney political adviser, suggested that he call Mr. Russert to complain. NBC is a co-owner of MSNBC. “Call Tim. He hates Chris,” Mr. Libby’s notes read, according to testimony. His later call to Mr. Russert, he lamented to the grand jury, did not bear fruit.

The notes also indicated that Ms. Matalin said the White House needed a “Tenet-like” statement to clear the president. In fact, Mr. Tenet released a statement the following day — after tense negotiations with Mr. Libby and Mr. Hadley — taking responsibility for the bad intelligence.

Mr. Fleischer testified that he was pleased with the statement as the president’s spokesman; Ms. Martin testified that it did not go far enough from the perspective of her office. And under the direction of the vice president, Mr. Libby continued his public relations push.

With the West Wing and the C.I.A. seemingly in open feud, it ultimately fell to Mr. Hadley to step forward and say on July 22 that it was his fault that the questionable claim wound up in the president’s speech.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Obama Wouldn't Be First Black President

Obama Wouldn't Be First Black President
By Aysha Hussain

You've seen the headlines: "Are Americans Ready for a Black President?" "Is Obama Black Enough?" "Obama: America's First Black President?"

Ever since the nation first met Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2004, his race has been called into question more times than Michael Jackson's. Obama is clearly a black man, but is this really a breakthrough? Some blacks say Obama isn't "black enough," which seems ironic because for many blacks, former President Bill Clinton was "black enough." In 2001, Clinton was honored as the nation's "first black president" at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C.

Were there other "black" presidents? Some historians have reason to believe people don't really understand the genealogy of past U.S. Presidents. Research shows at least five U.S. presidents had black ancestors and Thomas Jefferson, the nation's third president, was considered the first black president, according to historian Leroy Vaughn, author of Black People and Their Place in World History.

Vaughn's research shows Jefferson was not the only former black U.S. president. Who were the others? Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. But why was this unknown? How were they elected president? All five of these presidents never acknowledged their black ancestry.

Jefferson, who served two terms between 1801 and 1809, was described as the "son of a half-breed Indian squaw and a Virginia mulatto father," as stated in Vaughn's findings. Jefferson also was said to have destroyed all documentation attached to his mother, even going to extremes to seize letters written by his mother to other people.

President Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president, was in office between 1829 and 1837. Vaughn cites an article written in The Virginia Magazine of History that Jackson was the son of an Irish woman who married a black man. The magazine also stated that Jackson's oldest brother had been sold as a slave.

Lincoln, the nation's 16th president, served between 1861 and 1865. Lincoln was said to have been the illegitimate son of an African man, according to Leroy's findings. Lincoln had very dark skin and coarse hair and his mother allegedly came from an Ethiopian tribe. His heritage fueled so much controversy that Lincoln was nicknamed "Abraham Africanus the First" by his opponents.

President Warren Harding, the 29th president, in office between 1921 and 1923, apparently never denied his ancestry. According to Vaughn, William Chancellor, a professor of economics and politics at Wooster College in Ohio, wrote a book on the Harding family genealogy. Evidently, Harding had black ancestors between both sets of parents. Chancellor also said that Harding attended Iberia College, a school founded to educate fugitive slaves.

Coolidge, the nation's 30th president, served between 1923 and 1929 and supposedly was proud of his heritage. He claimed his mother was dark because of mixed Indian ancestry. Coolidge's mother's maiden name was "Moor" and in Europe the name "Moor" was given to all blacks just as "Negro" was used in America. It later was concluded that Coolidge was part black.

The only difference between Obama and these former presidents is that none of their family histories were fully acknowledged by others. Even though Obama is half-white, he strongly resembles his Kenyan father. And not only is Obama open about his ancestry, most people acknowledge him as a black man, which is why people will identify Obama, if elected, as the first black president of the United States.

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For such dramatic claims one would hope that the writer would provide some substantive proof such as DNA tests of the descendants of these presidents. I believe that it is likely that a large number of southern whites have African blood however I would like to see more direct evidence.

John H. Armwood

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Putin Pushes Back

February 14, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist
Putin Pushes Back

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Foreign policy experts are still trying to parse Vladimir Putin’s weekend blast against America, which he described as a brutish country that “has overstepped its national borders, in every area.” But rather than asking what exactly motivated Mr. Putin to lash out at the U.S. in this way, the question we should be asking is: why do remarks like these play so well in Russia today?

I’ve just returned from Moscow and I can tell you what analysts there told me, what even Russian liberals reminded me of: NATO expansion. We need to stop kidding ourselves. After the end of the cold war and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the Bush I and Clinton administrations decided to build a new security alliance — an expanded NATO — and told Russia it could not be a member.

And let’s not forget that the Russia we told to stay out in the cold was the Russia of Boris Yeltsin and his liberal reformist colleagues. They warned us at the time that this would undercut them. But the Clinton folks told us: “Don’t worry, Russia is weak; Yeltsin will swallow hard and accept NATO expansion. There will be no cost.”

So, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic were invited to join NATO in 1997, and Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia followed in 2002. Lately, there has been talk of Ukraine and Georgia also joining.

I believe that one reason Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. officer and cold warrior, was able to come to power after Mr. Yeltsin was partly due to the negative vibes of NATO expansion. We told Russia: Swallow your pride, it’s a new world. We get to have spheres of influence and you don’t — and ours will go right up to your front door.

But now that high oil and gas prices have made Russia powerful again — the gasman of Europe — Mr. Putin is shoving Russia’s resurgent pride right back in our face. In effect, he is saying to America: “Oh, you talkin’ to me? You thought you could tell me that the cold war was over and that NATO expansion was not directed at Russia — but we couldn’t be members anyway. Did you really think we were going to believe that? Well, now I’m talkin’ to you. Get out of my face.”

Mr. Putin was only slightly more diplomatic in his Munich remarks, where he said: “The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance. We have the right to ask, ‘Against whom is this expansion directed?’ ” We all know the answer: it’s directed against Russia. O.K., fine, we were ready to enrage Russia to expand NATO, but what have we gotten out of it? The Czech Navy?

For those of us who opposed NATO expansion, the point was simple: there is no major geopolitical issue, especially one like Iran, that we can resolve without Russia’s help. So why not behave in a way that maximizes Russia’s willingness to work with us and strengthens its democrats, rather than expanding NATO to countries that can’t help us and are not threatened anymore by Russia, and whose democracies are better secured by joining the European Union?

I got an earful on this from Russians. “NATO expansion was not necessary,” Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the last liberal Duma members who is ready to openly criticize the Putin government, said to me: “In the current world, Russia is not a military danger for any neighbor. It was the wrong concept. You need another architecture.”

Aleksei Pushkov, who has a foreign policy news show on Russian TV, said: “NATO expansion was a message to Russia that you are on your own. Russians were unhappy. We said: ‘The cold war is over, so what is this? They are moving a military alliance toward Russia’s border.’

“At the time of NATO expansion, I was running around the world saying one thing: ‘Don’t do it, or, if you do, stop with the Baltic states because you are losing Russia,’ ” Mr. Pushkov added. “And the answer I got was fantastic: ‘What can Russia do? What measures can you take?’ I said, ‘We can’t take any measures. You are losing an ally. Because there is a deep tectonic shift in the Russian psyche that says, ‘These guys are about exploiting Russia’s weakness. They don’t want it as an ally, but as a junior partner that will be like a little dog doing whatever they say.’ ”

I’m not here to defend an iron-fisted autocrat like Mr. Putin. But history is prologue. The fact is, we helped to create a mood in Russia hospitable to a conservative cold warrior like Mr. Putin by forcing NATO on a liberal democrat like Mr. Yeltsin. It was a bad decision and one that keeps on giving. Just when we need to be getting Russia’s help, we’re getting its revenge.

Outside Pressures Broke Korean Deadlock

February 14, 2007

News Analysis

Outside Pressures Broke Korean Deadlock

By DAVID E. SANGER

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 — It is hard to imagine that either George W. Bush or Kim Jong-il would have agreed even a year ago to the kind of deal they have now approved. The pact, announced Tuesday, would stop, seal and ultimately disable North Korea’s nuclear facilities, as part of a grand bargain that the administration has previously shunned as overly generous to a repressive country — especially one that has not yet said when or if it will give up its nuclear arsenal.

But in the past few months, the world has changed for both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kim, two men who have made clear how deeply they detest each other. Both are beset by huge problems, and both needed some kind of breakthrough.

For Mr. Bush, bogged down in Iraq, his authority undercut by the November elections, any chance to show progress in peacefully disarming a country that detonated a nuclear test just four months ago could no longer be passed up. As one senior administration official said over the weekend, the prospect that Mr. Bush might leave Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea more dangerous places than he found them “can’t be very appealing.”

Still, the accord came under fast criticism from right and left that it was both too little and too late.

For years, Mr. Bush’s administration has been paralyzed by an ideological war, between those who wanted to bring down North Korea and those who thought it was worth one more try to lure the country out of isolation. In embracing this deal, Mr. Bush sided with those who have counseled engagement, notably his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and her chief negotiator, Christopher R. Hill. Mr. Bush took the leap in the hope that in a few months, he will be able to declare that North Korea can no longer produce fuel for new nuclear weapons, even if it has not yet turned over its old ones.

For Mr. Kim, the nuclear explosion — more of a fizzle — that he set off in the mountains not far from the Chinese border in October turned out to be a strategic mistake. The Chinese, who spent six decades protecting the Kim family dynasty, responded by cutting off his military aid, and helping Washington crack down on the banks that financed the Cognac-and-Mercedes lifestyle of the North Korean leadership.

“As a political statement, their test was a red flare for everyone,” said Robert Gallucci, who under President Clinton was the chief negotiator of the 1994 agreement with North Korea, which collapsed four years ago. “It gave President Bush and the Chinese some leverage.”

Mr. Gallucci and other nuclear experts agree that the hardest bargaining with world’s most reclusive, often paranoid, government remains ahead.

Over the next year, under the pact, the North must not only disable its nuclear reactors and reprocessing facilities, it must lead inspectors to its weapons and a suspected second nuclear weapons program. And to get to the next phase of the agreement, the one that gives “disarmament” meaning, North Korea will have to be persuaded to give away the country’s crown jewels: the weapons that make the world pay attention to it.

But before the administration faces off against Mr. Kim in Pyongyang, it will have to confront the many critics of the deal here at home. As the White House took credit on Tuesday for what it called a “first step,” it found itself pilloried by conservatives who attacked the administration for folding in negotiations with a charter member of what Mr. Bush called the “axis of evil,” and for replicating key elements of Mr. Clinton’s agreement with North Korea.

At the same time, Mr. Bush’s advisers were being confronted by barbs from veterans of the Clinton administration, who argued that the same deal struck Tuesday had been within reach several years and a half-dozen weapons ago, had only Mr. Bush chosen to negotiate with the North rather than fixate on upending its government.

In fact, elements of the new decision closely resemble the Clinton deal, called the Agreed Framework. As it did in that accord, the North agrees to “freeze” its operations at Yongbyon, its main nuclear facility, and to allow inspections there. And like that agreement, the new one envisions the North’s ultimately giving up all of its nuclear material.

In two respects, however, the new accord is different: North Korea does not receive the incentives the West has offered — in this case, about a year’s supply of heavy fuel oil and other aid — until it “disables” its equipment at Yongbyon and declares where it has hidden its bombs, nuclear fuel and other nuclear facilities. And the deal is not only with Washington, but with Beijing, Moscow, Seoul and Tokyo.

“We’re building a set of relationships,” Ms. Rice argued Tuesday, saying that the deal would not have been possible if she and President Bush had not been able to swing the Chinese over to their side. Mr. Bush has told colleagues that he believes the turning point came in his own blunt conversations with President Hu Jintao of China, in which, the American president has said, he explained in stark terms that a nuclear North Korea was more China’s problem than America’s.

But the administration was clearly taken aback on Tuesday by the harshness of the critique from the right, led by its recently departed United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton, who charged that the deal “undercuts the sanctions resolution” against the North that he pushed through the Security Council four months ago.

Democrats, in contrast, were caught between enjoying watching Mr. Bush change course and declaring that the agreement amounted to disarmament-lite. “It gives the illusion of moving more rapidly to disarmament, but it doesn’t really require anything to happen in the second phase,” said Joel Wit, who was the coordinator of the 1994 agreement.

The Bush administration is counting on the lure of future benefits to the North — fuel oil, the peace treaty ending the Korean War it has long craved, an end to other sanctions — to force Mr. Kim to disclose where his nuclear weapons and fuel are stored.

Mr. Bush’s big worry now is that Mr. Kim is playing the administration for time. Many experts think he is betting that by the time the first big deliveries of oil and aid are depleted, America will be distracted by a presidential election.

But Mr. Bush could also end up with a diplomatic triumph, one he needs desperately. To get there, he appears to have changed course. Asked in 2004 about North Korea, he said, “I don’t think you give timelines to dictators and tyrants.”

Now he appears to have concluded that sometimes the United States has to negotiate with dictators and odious rulers, because the other options — military force, sanctions or watching an unpredictable nation gain a nuclear arsenal — seem even worse.