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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Obama’s Big Screen Test

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


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


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.


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


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


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.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Build-a-War Workshop

February 10, 2007

The Build-a-War Workshop

It took far too long, but a report by the Pentagon inspector general has finally confirmed that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s do-it-yourself intelligence office cooked up a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda to help justify an unjustifiable war.

The report said the team headed by Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy, developed “alternative” assessments of intelligence on Iraq that contradicted the intelligence community and drew conclusions “that were not supported by the available intelligence.” Mr. Feith certainly knew the Central Intelligence Agency would cry foul, so he hid his findings from the C.I.A. Then Vice President Dick Cheney used them as proof of cloak-and-dagger meetings that never happened, long-term conspiracies between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden that didn’t exist, and — most unforgivable — “possible Iraqi coordination” on the 9/11 attacks, which no serious intelligence analyst believed.

The inspector general did not recommend criminal charges against Mr. Feith because Mr. Rumsfeld or his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, approved their subordinate’s “inappropriate” operations. The renegade intelligence buff said he was relieved.

We’re sure he was. But there is no comfort in knowing that his dirty work was approved by his bosses. All that does is add to evidence that the Bush administration knowingly and repeatedly misled Americans about the intelligence on Iraq.

To understand this twisted tale, it is important to recall how Mr. Feith got into the creative writing business. Top administration officials, especially Mr. Cheney, had long been furious at the C.I.A. for refusing to confirm the delusion about a grand Iraqi terrorist conspiracy, something the Republican right had nursed for years. Their frustration only grew after 9/11 and the C.I.A. still refused to buy these theories.

Mr. Wolfowitz would feverishly sketch out charts showing how this Iraqi knew that Iraqi, who was connected through six more degrees of separation to terrorist attacks, all the way back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

But the C.I.A. kept saying there was no reliable intelligence about an Iraq-Qaeda link. So Mr. Feith was sent to review the reports and come back with the answers Mr. Cheney wanted. The inspector general’s report said Mr. Feith’ s team gave a September 2002 briefing at the White House on the alleged Iraq-Qaeda connection that had not been vetted by the intelligence community (the director of central intelligence was pointedly not told it was happening) and “was not fully supported by the available intelligence.”

The false information included a meeting in Prague in April 2001 between an Iraqi official and Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 pilots. It never happened. But Mr. Feith’s report said it did, and Mr. Cheney will still not admit that the story is false.

In a statement released yesterday, Senator Carl Levin, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has been dogged in pursuit of the truth about the Iraqi intelligence, noted that the cooked-up Feith briefing had been leaked to the conservative Weekly Standard magazine so Mr. Cheney could quote it as the “best source” of information about the supposed Iraq-Qaeda link.

The Pentagon report is one step in a long-delayed effort to figure out how the intelligence on Iraq was so badly twisted — and by whom. That work should have been finished before the 2004 elections, and it would have been if Pat Roberts, the obedient Republican who ran the Senate Intelligence Committee, had not helped the White House drag it out and load it in ways that would obscure the truth.

It is now up to Mr. Levin and Senator Jay Rockefeller, the current head of the intelligence panel, to give Americans the answers. Mr. Levin’s desire to have the entire inspector general’s report on the Feith scheme declassified is a good place to start. But it will be up to Mr. Rockefeller to finally determine how old, inconclusive, unsubstantiated and false intelligence was transformed into fresh, reliable and definitive reports — and then used by Mr. Bush and other top officials to drag the country into a disastrous and unnecessary war.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

So Far, Obama Can’t Take Black Vote for Granted

February 2, 2007

So Far, Obama Can’t Take Black Vote for Granted

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 — He is hailed by his supporters as the hope of an increasingly multicultural nation, a political phenomenon who can wow white voters while carrying the aspirations of African-Americans all the way to the White House.

So why are some black voters so uneasy about Senator Barack Obama?

The black author and essayist Debra J. Dickerson recently declared that “Obama isn’t black” in an American racial context. Some polls suggest that Mr. Obama trails one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the battle for African-American support.

And at the Shepherd Park Barber Shop here, where the hair clippers hummed and the television blared, Calvin Lanier summed up the simmering ambivalence. Mr. Lanier pointed to Mr. Obama’s heritage — he is the American-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — and the fact that he did not embody the experiences of most African-Americans whose ancestors endured slavery, segregation and the bitter struggle for civil rights.

“When you think of a president, you think of an American,” said Mr. Lanier, a 58-year-old barber who is still considering whether to support Mr. Obama. “We’ve been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn’t feel right to some people.”

On Wednesday, the question of race took center stage in the presidential campaign because of remarks that Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, made about Mr. Obama. Mr. Biden characterized Mr. Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” and then spent the day — his first as an official presidential candidate, explaining and apologizing for his remarks.

But among many blacks, the awkward and painful debate about race, immigrant heritage and the presidency has been bubbling for months.

Mr. Obama certainly has prominent black supporters and many shake their heads with exasperation at such talk about a man they see as the first African-American with a real shot at the presidency.

His supporters say his background only enhances his appeal as someone who has addressed the concerns of black Americans as a community organizer in Chicago, a state legislator in Illinois and a senator in Washington.

“He has a track record for being concerned about people who are poor, and it seems to be genuine,” said Carol M. Swain, a black professor of political science at Vanderbilt University who has written about black politics. “Not only do I think that black Americans will embrace Barack Obama, but I think they will do it with enthusiasm.”

Indeed, many pollsters and analysts believe Mr. Obama’s life story of growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia with his mother and his maternal grandparents and of his struggle to define his own racial identity will resonate with voters across ethnic and color lines.

But while many whites embrace Mr. Obama’s melting pot background, it remains profoundly unsettling for some blacks who argue that he is distant from the struggles and cultural identities of most black Americans. The black columnist Stanley Crouch has said, “When black Americans refer to Obama as ‘one of us,’ I do not know what they are talking about.”

Ms. Dickerson echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve got nothing but love for the brother, but we don’t have anything in common,” said Ms. Dickerson, who wrote recently about Mr. Obama in Salon, the online magazine. “His father was African. His mother was a white woman. He grew up with white grandparents.

“Now, I’m willing to adopt him,” Ms. Dickerson continued. “He married black. He acts black. But there’s a lot of distance between black Africans and African-Americans.”

Mr. Obama’s strategists are keenly aware of the gap and are trying to address it. On Martin Luther King’s Birthday, he spoke at a scholarship breakfast alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Mr. Jackson introduced him by saying, a “new president is in the house.”

Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, who is an African-American, were also on the February cover of Ebony.

Mr. Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, both former black presidential candidates, have declined to formally endorse Mr. Obama so far.

But Julian Bond, the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has described him as “tremendously appealing.” Several black Democrats in Congress, including Representatives John Lewis, the civil rights pioneer from Georgia; Jesse L. Jackson Jr. of Illinois, the son of Jesse Jackson, and Artur Davis of Alabama, have supported his presidential bid.

His supporters, who note that he carried the black vote in his Senate race, say they are unperturbed by a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that found that 20 percent of black voters surveyed supported Mr. Obama while 60 percent supported Mrs. Clinton. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus nine percentage points.

Emil Jones Jr., the president of the Illinois state senate and one of Mr. Obama’s early mentors, says he is frustrated by black voters who question Mr. Obama’s Kenyan heritage. As a state legislator, Mr. Obama had the support of voters in his district, which is 67 percent black.

“He doesn’t share the same kind of background as most African-Americans, but he’s addressed those issues that related to underprivileged communities throughout Illinois,” said Mr. Jones, who is black.

Mr. Obama describes himself as an African-American, and as a young man, he has said, he yearned to be accepted by black Americans.

Mr. Obama declined to be interviewed, but in his memoir, published in 1995, he acknowledged being dogged by “the constant, crippling fear that I didn’t belong somehow, that unless I dodged and hid and pretended to be something I wasn’t, I would forever remain an outsider, with the rest of the world, black and white, always standing in judgment.”

Still, Mr. Biden’s remarks this week only heightened concerns among some blacks who believe that Mr. Obama, as the son of a black Kenyan, is more politically palatable to white voters because he is viewed as less confrontational and less focused on redress for past racial injustices than many black Americans descended from slaves. In that context, he resembles the last black man deemed to be a powerful presidential contender, Colin L. Powell, who flirted with a White House bid in 1995.

Discussing his appeal to white voters at the time, Mr. Powell, the light-skinned son of Jamaican parents, noted that he spoke English well and was not confrontational. He concluded by saying, “I ain’t that black.”

Philip Kasinitz, a sociologist at the City University Graduate Center, said such a description might as easily apply to Mr. Obama. “He’s identifiably black, but in many ways he’s outside of normal race relations,” said Mr. Kasinitz, who has studied black immigrants in New York City politics. “He’s a black politician for whom whites don’t have to feel guilty.”

Ronald Walters, who advised Mr. Jackson’s presidential campaigns, said Mr. Obama’s campaign “evokes something which is very much in vogue, this notion of diversity that is not rooted in a compensatory concept.”

“He’s going to have to win over some African-Americans,” said Mr. Walters, who is black and heads the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland. “They have a right to be somewhat suspicious of people who come into the country and don’t share their experience.”

In the 1990s, the number of blacks with recent roots in sub-Saharan Africa nearly tripled while the number of blacks with origins in the Caribbean grew by more than 60 percent, according to the State University of New York at Albany. By 2000, foreign-born blacks constituted 30 percent of the blacks in New York City and 28 percent of the blacks in Boston, according to demographers at Queens College.

Several leaders of the civil rights era had immigrant roots, including Stokely Carmichael, who was born in Trinidad; and Shirley Chisholm, the former presidential candidate and the first black woman to be elected to Congress. Her father was born in Guyana and her mother in Barbados.

Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign, said she believed that Mr. Obama could woo black voters.

“Barack will tell us that we don’t have to go back to being just a white America or a black America, that we can now become something else, together,” said Ms. Brazile, who is unaffiliated with any presidential candidate.

“That’s the promise of his campaign,” she said, “and his challenge.”

Sabrina Pacifici contributed research for this article.

Barack Obama’s blackness: Stop It Already.

To the blacks who are questioning Barack Obama’s blackness: Stop It Already.

There is a saying that goes something like this: black folks are like a bunch of crabs in a bucket. As soon as one makes it to the top, he is pulled right back down by his own [1]. While it is no secret that the path to success for blacks is an oft tumultuous one due to “the system”, what does not get addressed as frequently is the fact that some black Americans hate to see one of their own make it to the Promised Land.

I had no idea when Barack Obama announced his presidential exploratory committee that he would have to work so hard for the approval of black Americans — you know, the ones “whose ancestors endured slavery, segregation and the bitter struggle for civil rights.” Instead, I thought that Obama’s appeal, just like Obama himself, would cross color boundaries. I believed that most, if not all, black Americans would do their homework on Obama’s commitment to the black community instead of defaulting to the played out, unprogressive ‘you don’t know my struggles’ bit to justify why “Obama isn’t black” (with all due respect to Debra J. Dickerson, she’s out of her gord on this topic). Boy was I wrong.

The New York Times has an article today entitled “So Far, Obama Can’t Take Black Vote for Granted” that sheds light on the ridiculousness of some black writers, politicians and community members in regard to their perception of Barack Obama’s blackness. The article predictably starts off by building Obama up as the great “hope” and then brings his messiah like figure back down to earth, questioning why “some black voters are so uneasy” about Barack Obama. Here is what a Mr. Calvin Lanier (who, not coincidentally, was interviewed in a barber shop) had to say:

“When you think of a president, you think of an American,” said Mr. Lanier, a 58-year-old barber who is still considering whether to support Mr. Obama. “We’ve been taught that a president should come from right here, born, raised, bred, fed in America. To go outside and bring somebody in from another nationality, now that doesn’t feel right to some people.”

There are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For starters, Barack Obama is an American. Foreign-born citizens are not allowed to run for the presidency of the United States. If they were, then Mr. ‘I’ll Be Back” Schwarzenegger’s name would have come up a long time ago. Secondly, well, there is no secondly. The statement made above is about as accurate as the claim that Barack Obama was raised a Muslim (he is in fact a Christian) to discredit him as a viable candidate for the White House. And you thought Keith Ellison had it rough.

Debra Dickerson’s ‘gem’ of an article was quoted, in which she expanded on the topic with the following:

“I’ve got nothing but love for the brother, but we don’t have anything in common,” said Ms. Dickerson, who wrote recently about Mr. Obama in Salon, the online magazine. “His father was African. His mother was a white woman. He grew up with white grandparents.

“Now, I’m willing to adopt him,” Ms. Dickerson continued. “He married black. He acts black. But there’s a lot of distance between black Africans and African-Americans.”

Again, there are a couple of things wrong with that statement. For starters, Dickerson operates off of the assumption that you have to have something in common with a presidential candidate in order to vote for him, instead of basing her decision to support a candidate off of his tangible track record of helping the black community and the working class community at large.

Bill Clinton was not called the “first black president” because he had skin color or oppression in common with black people. It was because the black community felt like he gave a damn. Bill Clinton’s grandparents were white and his mother was white. Surely Dickerson isn’t performing a one drop of white blood test on Barack Obama to negate the experiences he has had as a black American. She should know better than anyone else that no matter how you grew up, you’re still a nigger to the other side when you walk outside of the house wearing black skin. (And what does “he acts black” mean anyway?)

All I can say is thank goodness Barack Obama married a black woman or every single black writer like Dickerson would have proclaimed Obama not only not black, but a traitor to the race that won’t even allow him to be called a black American. The potential cognitive dissonance is staggering, really.

The list of blacks who are questioning Obama’s “blackness” includes Stanley Crouch (I don’t know who is black like him). Too, the media continues to focus on the fact that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who both ran for president and both miserably failed, haven’t publicly endorsed Barack Obama. (As if their endorsements actually mean anything. No disrespect to Sharpton or Jackson, but they have never been, and will never be Martin Luther King Jr. reincarnates. Just because they endorse or refuse to endorse the first real possibility of a black president since Colin Powell means absolutely nothing to me.)

The only real glimmer of hope in the New York Times article is the prominent black figures who recognize Obama’s background as an appealing factor rather than a ‘not black enough for us’ factor. Carol M. Swain of Vanderbilt University notes Obama’s proven track record “for being concerned about people who are poor” (which, if you haven’t noticed, includes a lot of black people). Julian Bond, the chairman of the NAACP has stated that Obama is “tremendously appealing”, and many black Democrats have publicly endorsed Obama.

It is not the black politicians who support Obama that stick out to me, really. It is the black Americans who are writing that Obama isn’t black enough who make me want to vomit. What the fuck do they want from him?

Why has Obama’s blackness quotient been added to the list of requirements that some of black America needs in order to vote for him? Did they ever have this “simmering ambivalence” towards a white presidential candidate because they grew up with white mothers and grandparents?

Barack Obama is like the Tiger Woods of politics. He’s trying to get past race and he’s being skewered for it by many a black folk. I have a sinking suspicion, however, that if he were to win the presidency, every black person from here to the Canadian border would anoint him as the great black hope. They did it with Tiger in golf, and they’ll do it with Obama in the White House.

An aside: why does the fact that many whites support Obama scare black people? I don’t get it.

[1] I think I heard Isaiah Washington’s character say that in Romeo Must Die. I’m so serious.

Date Published: February 2, 2007

Herman Badillo is a hero for our time

New York Daily News - Badillo is taking naysayers to school

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Herman Badillo is a hero for our time.

Badillo, born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, has impeccable credentials - he's been a congressman, a borough president, a deputy mayor of New York and chairman of the board of the City University of New York. He has not only been around the block, he has been in the neighborhoods and has thought long and hard about the various obstacles to those minorities presently given to accepting low levels of performance as "normal" or "cultural." He knows enough about human beings to recognize that once their value system includes and celebrates high academic achievement, most of the problems disappear.

One of the things that has held minorities back is that many have lost sight of the value of the high standards that provide success in this country.

The result was that too many people have begun to see actual shortcomings as "cultural" styles that have to be defended against racism. Not being able to read, for instance, or not being able to speak English are not "cultural choices"; they are examples of an impermanent condition that can be cured by instruction.

Badillo, in his new book, "One Nation, One Standard," shows he is well aware of the fact that minority students from the Middle East and Asia don't rebel against high standards of academic performance; they go about mastering them, which is the only explanation when it is obvious that the same level of performance is seen in black and Latino students who do the same thing.

At one point, there was even a discussion in America of "black English," as though it was a cultural choice and not a lack of mastering the language.

Arguments about cultural relativity did not serve black and Latino students well, nor did so many special programs that did not live up to the ultimate job, which is educating children so well that they can make career choices rather than have to settle for what little their skills can do for them in the workplace.

The liberals who secretly did not believe that black and Latino students were capable of rising to the challenge chose to remove as many challenges as possible in the interest of "fairness," while the world of work moved along as it always had, not hiring them. It was never recognized that being trapped in the world of the poor because one is barely educated is a lot harder on the individual than putting in long hours of study when necessary.

Badillo recognizes the problems and rightly believes that Latinos and the nation at large will benefit from the imposition of high standards and the removal of the lower standards that express more condescension than any kind of actual regard for student potential.

In a period when public education is so slippery with snake oil, it is inspiring to read the words of someone who is not afraid to stand up to a self-serving and incompetent vision that sabotages black and Latino students.

Badillo knows that an inferior education is the equivalent of offering a pat on the back with hands that have razor blades between the fingers.

The little cuts are disguised by the backslapping but, in the long run, the wounds will result in one career corpse after another. Herman Badillo is trying to shed a light on the situation. He is a hero for our time.

The Oil-Addicted Ayatollahs

February 2, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

The Oil-Addicted Ayatollahs


There may be only one thing dumber than getting addicted to consuming oil as a country — and that is getting addicted to selling it. Because getting addicted to selling oil can make your country really stupid, and if the price of oil suddenly drops, it can make your people really revolutionary. That’s the real story of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union — it overdosed on oil — and it could end up being the real story of Iran, if we’re smart.

It is hard to come to Moscow and not notice what the last five years of high oil prices have done for middle-class consumption here. Five years ago, it took me 35 minutes to drive from the Kremlin to Moscow’s airport. On Monday, it took me two and half hours. There was one long traffic jam from central Moscow to the airport, because a city built for 30,000 cars, which 10 years ago had 300,000 cars, today has three million cars and a ring of new suburbs.

How Russia deals with its oil and gas windfall is going to be a huge issue. But today I’d like to focus on how the Soviet Union was killed, in part, by its addiction to oil, and on how we might get leverage with Iran, based on its own addiction.

Economists have long studied this phenomenon, but I got focused on it here in Moscow after chatting with Vladimir Mau, the president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy. I mentioned to him that surely the Soviet Union died because oil fell to $10 a barrel shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev took office, not because of anything Ronald Reagan did. Actually, Professor Mau said, it was “high oil prices” that killed the Soviet Union. The sharp rise in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ’80s helped bring down the overextended empire.

Here’s the story: The inefficient Soviet economy survived in its early decades, Professor Mau explained, thanks to cheap agriculture, from peasants forced into collective farms, and cheap prison labor, used to erect state industries. Beginning in the 1960s, however, even these cheap inputs weren’t enough, and the Kremlin had to start importing, rather than exporting, grain. Things could have come unstuck then. But the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the sharp upsurge in oil prices — Russia was the world’s second-largest producer after Saudi Arabia — gave the Soviet Union a 15-year lease on life from a third source of cheap resources: “oil and gas,” Professor Mau said.

The oil windfall gave the Brezhnev government “money to buy the support of different interest groups, like the agrarians, import some goods and buy off the military-industrial complex,” Professor Mau said. “The share of oil in total exports went from 10-to-15 percent to 40 percent.” This made the Soviet Union only more sclerotic. “The more oil you have, the less policy you need,” he noted.

In the 1970s, Russia exported oil and gas and “used this money to import food, consumer goods and machines for extracting oil and gas,” Professor Mau said. By the early 1980s, though, oil prices had started to sink — thanks in part to conservation efforts by the U.S. “One alternative for the Soviets was to decrease consumption, but the Kremlin couldn’t do that — it had been buying off all these constituencies,” Professor Mau explained. So “it started borrowing from abroad, using the money mostly for consumption and subsidies, to maintain popularity and stability.” Oil prices and production kept falling as Mr. Gorbachev tried reforming communism, but by then it was too late.

The parallel with Iran, Professor Mau said, is that the shah used Iran’s oil windfall after 1973 to push major modernization onto a still traditional Iranian society. The social backlash produced the ayatollahs of 1979. The ayatollahs used Iran’s oil windfall to lock themselves into power.

In 2005, reported, Iran’s government earned $44.6 billion from oil and spent $25 billion on subsidies — for housing, jobs, food and 34-cents-a-gallon gasoline — to buy off interest groups. Iran’s current populist president has further increased the goods and services being subsidized.

So if oil prices fall sharply again, Iran’s regime will have to take away many benefits from many Iranians, as the Soviets had to do. For a regime already unpopular with many of its people, that could cause all kinds of problems and give rise to an Ayatollah Gorbachev. We know how that ends. “Just look at the history of the Soviet Union,” Professor Mau said.

In short, the best tool we have for curbing Iran’s influence is not containment or engagement, but getting the price of oil down in the long term with conservation and an alternative-energy strategy. Let’s exploit Iran’s oil addiction by ending ours.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

How Should We Interpret Biden's Comments About Obama?

From Susan Pizarro-Eckert,
Your Guide to Race Relations.
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How Should We Interpret Biden's Comments About Obama?

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” This quote comes from Senator Joe Biden, who recently announced he too was throwing his hat into the already crowded ring for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Since he made this statement, blogs have been buzzing. And key media personalities have requested that the Senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee clarify what he meant. (watch his response on YouTube.)

This scenario reminds me of that Geico commercial, the one in which the caveman sits across from the therapist who asks him why the company slogan "So easy a caveman can do it" is so offensive to him. Rather than answer the question, the caveman responds with a question of his own: "How would you feel if it said 'So easy a therapist can do it?' To this, the therapist cocks her head and confidently responds, "Well that wouldn't make sense." "Why," asks the caveman, "because therapists are smart?" In the Geico slogan "so easy a caveman can do it" the offensive subtext is obviously "...and as you know, cavemen aren't smart."

It seems to me that Biden's comment plays on the prevailing stereotypes about African-American males: that they are unintelligent, inarticulate, dirty/corrupt/criminal, and unattractive. The subtext of his comment becomes "...and you know those people are unintelligent, inarticulate, dirty/corrupt/criminal, unattractive." If we understand this, then we understand the context for his next comment, which is "It's a storybook, man."

When it comes to race, and comments about race, people are either so quick to defend, or attack, that we end up blind to what lies before our very eyes. But, what if we took Biden's comment out of a racial context? What if we pretended just for one moment that he had instead said, "I mean, you got the first mainstream woman who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking gal?” How would this comment have come across then? My guess would be major controversy about whether or not Senator Joe Biden is a chauvinist woman-hater and therefore, whether or not he is fit for the presidential role.

But Biden was referring to Obama's race. That's not my opinion; here's a direct quote: " got the first mainstream African-American..."

And because he targeted race in such a derisive manner (Are we really to believe that never before Obama has there been an "articulate," "bright," "clean," and "nice-looking" African-American in the mainstream eye?), I believe he invited the resulting controversy.

Still, some bloggers have written that they see no harm in his comments, explaining either that this says more about "Biden's tendency to run his mouth off, I think, than it is some indication of latent racism (written by Greg Tinti on The Political Pit Bull)," or, enlightening us all by clarifying that what the Senator really meant to say can only be understood if you add the context words he left out: specifically “presidential candidate....And I presume by “clean” he means “clean-cut” rather than “bathes regularly.” (written by James Joyner on Outside the Beltway)."

And still other bloggers, while acknowledging the arrogance and ignorance of Biden's comments, are taking this opportunity to slam Democrats for making a faux pas on a subject they usually attack Republicans for: "Maybe Biden has been hanging around Robert Byrd for a little too long...Anyway, it’s nice to see the Democrats come out and show you what they really think of minorities in this country. They always bring up race as an issue, and now you know why (See "And the Left Say WE'RE Racists?")."

But let's not forget: Biden is no stranger to controversy. He was a candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, but according to USA Today, withdrew from the race in 1987 amid accusations that he had plagiarized passages in his speeches. In addition, his earlier comments about not being able to go into a 7-eleven or Dunkin Donuts without an Indian Accent (CBS News) also managed to ruffle more than a few feathers.

What's your opinion? Were Biden's comments about Obama appropriate?...Participate in our forum poll.