A Reminder: What We Know

Q. What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time [on Iran supplying IEDs to Iraqi insurgents] will be accurate?

THE PRESIDENT: Ed, we know they’re there, we know they’re provided by the Quds force. We know the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. I don’t think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds force, go do this, but we know it’s a vital part of the Iranian government.

What does President Bush know, and when does he know it? It matters because, despite his insistence that he’s not spoiling for a war with Iran, the things he knows tend to take on a life of their own and consequences for everyone else. So: A look back at what the administration presented as fact during its campaign to launch the war in Iraq. The speaker unless otherwise noted is Bush; the source is whitehouse.gov.

August 26, 2002 (Vice President Cheney): Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.

September 26, 2002: We know that the Iraqi regime is led by a dangerous and brutal man. We know he’s actively seeking the destructive technologies to match is hatred. We know he must be stopped. The dangers we face will only worsen from month to month and from year to year. To ignore these threats is to encourage them. And when they have fully materialized it may be too late to protect ourselves and our friends and our allies. By then the Iraqi dictator would have the means to terrorize and dominate the region. Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX — nerve gas — or some day a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally.”

November 7, 2002: Well, I think most people around the world realize that Saddam Hussein is a threat. And they — no one likes war, but they also don’t like the idea of Saddam Hussein having a nuclear weapon. Imagine what would happen. And by the way, we don’t know how close he is to a nuclear weapon right now. We know he wants one. But we don’t know. We know he was close to one at one point in time; we have no idea today.

January 28, 2003: From three Iraqi defectors we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapons labs. These are designed to produce germ warfare agents, and can be moved from place to a place to evade inspectors. Saddam Hussein has not disclosed these facilities. He’s given no evidence that he has destroyed them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves.

March 6, 2003: We care about the suffering of the Iraqi people. I mentioned in my opening comments that there’s a lot of food ready to go in. There’s something like 55,000 oil-for-food distribution points in Iraq. We know where they are. We fully intend to make sure that they’re — got ample food. We know where their hospitals are; we want to make sure they’ve got ample medical supplies. The life of the Iraqi citizen is going to dramatically improve.

March 15, 2003: We know from prior weapons inspections that Saddam has failed to account for vast quantities of biological and chemical agents, including mustard agent, botulinum toxin and sarin, capable of killing millions of people. We know the Iraqi regime finances and sponsors terror.

April 12, 2003: As people throughout Iraq celebrate the arrival of freedom, America celebrates with them. We know that freedom is the gift of God to all mankind, and we rejoice when others can share it.

April 22, 2003 (Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary): Q But the primary motivation behind going into Iraq, at least as expressed by the administration at the time, was the danger presented by Saddam holding these WMDs. Even if they did not exist, does the administration think that going into Iraq was the right thing to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can’t share the premise. We know they exist and we’re confident they will be found.

Continue reading “A Reminder: What We Know”



Perusing the White House website this morning for more of the president’s wisdom, I came across the image to the left, which is still on public display. I see Senator Palpatine, in the middle; and Anikin, on the right. But I can’t quite place the figure on the left. Not the microphone–the other one.

Speaking of images, the San Francisco Chronicle this morning has a big front-page story on the identity of the source who in 2004 leaked transcripts from a federal grand jury to two reporters at the paper. Accompanying the story, both print and online, are pictures (different ones in each place, but taken at the same time and place by the same Chronicle photographer) showing the reporters, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, and their Hearst Corporation lawyer. But there’s someone else in the pictures, too: Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein, who is such a key part of today’s stories that he is never mentioned. So why did the paper, which has a stack of Williams/Fainaru-Wada images as high as an elephant’s eye (speaking figuratively), use pictures with Bronstein? I can’t believe Bronstein had anything to do with choosing the images. In some way, it looks like the boss’s vanity and self-importance have become institutionalized.

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Now Batting: The Decider

The most important words in 18th century American history: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the 19th: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

In the 20th:

First third: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Middle third: “I have a dream.”

Final third: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Too early to tell about the 21st century. If unreserved arrogance is the theme, Bush and his folks have a lock on it.

Super Citizen


It’s the bumper sticker on the car ahead of me at the light, University and 6th in Berkeley: “MY CHILD IS A SUPER CITIZEN AT NYSTROM SCHOOL.” In case you’re interested, Nystrom School is in the perennially trouble-beset Richmond school district, just north of Berkeley.


My first question is who came up with these “my kid’s an honor student”-type stickers? My second is does anyone, including the young Mensa aspirant whose achievement is being celebrated on the back end of mom’s car, react positively to these messages? I didn’t think so.

This one threw me a little, though. “Super citizen”? What do you have to do to earn that? Make it through a semester without shoving another kid down the stairs?

More ideas for parents who want to bumpersticker their kids’ achievements and milestones.

“My Daughter’s a Community College Dropout”

“My Kid’s a Student at the County Honor Farm”

“Our Child’s a G.E.D. Valedictorian”

“My Child Tested Negative”

“My Little Lad Got Life Without Parole”

“Proud Parent of a Republican”

“Our Son Says He’s in the Texas Air National Guard”

“Our Grandkids: We Love the Little Bastards!”

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Lincoln & Darwin Day: Lincoln, born the same date and year as Charles Darwin. “Happy birthday” doesn’t fit Lincoln. Too much tragedy, too much gravity there. As I’ve said before, I don’t know whether it’s the Illinoisan in me or not, but there’s no other figure in history who seems so close in every day life; and also so distant, always receding and unknowable. As to Darwin, there’s probably no single person who has more to do with how we–must I define “we”?–see our world, though he’s far from the palpable presence for me that his birthday-mate is.

Comic Nurse Day: An informant reminds me that it’s the Comic Nurse’s fortieth birthday. Happy birthday, Comic Nurse!

Nap Day:Study: Napping might help heart

“CHICAGO – New research on napping provides the perfect excuse for office slackers, finding that a little midday snooze seems to reduce risks for fatal heart problems, especially among men.

“In the largest study to date on the health effects of napping, researchers tracked 23,681 healthy Greek adults for an average of about six years. Those who napped at least three times weekly for about half an hour had a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart attacks or other heart problems than those who did not nap. …”


Best Lincoln Piece of the Day (sez me): “Lincoln Online,” by Tom Wheeler, in the Washington Post. Wheeler’s book, “Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails,” is an examination of Lincoln’s voluminous trove of … telegraph messages. Excerpt:

“Consider this glimpse into how Lincoln dealt with the war’s grinding pressures. The peripatetic Mary Todd Lincoln had wired from New York seeking cash. Her note’s perfunctory ‘Hope you are well’ was followed with instructions on where to send a check. Then she tacked on without punctuation a last-second message from their son, ‘Tad says are the goats well.’

The president promptly responded that the check would go in the mail, then seized on the query about the White House pets to comment on his own well-being: ‘Tell Tad the goats and father are very well — especially the goats.’ The few words speak volumes about Lincoln’s spirits and the refuge he found in wit.

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Sweeping the Nation

I laid a new word on Kate as she unoffensively walked the dog last night: “Obamania. What do you think?” After considering for several long milliseconds, she said, “God, that’s terrible.”

Terrible, yes, But also widely used. As of this morning, a Google search turns up 147,000 instances of “Obamania” on the Web. That’s up 1,000 from last night. And–a surprise to me–it’s not a recent coinage. The very first item in that list of 147,000 dates back to July 2004, the day after then Illinois state Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address to the Democratic convention. A leading promoter of the term Obamania: “The Daily Show,” which also shows up prominently among deployers of “Barack the vote” (791 instances). Obamarama scores 75,800. Obamarific: 23. Obamomentum: 1.

Coinages associated with other candidates?

Bidenmania: 6.

Kucinichmania: 231

Vilsackmania: 0

Vilsack fever: 3,290

Hillarymania: 938

Hillary fever: 385

Hillary syndrome: 223

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Thinking Man’s Media

Not long ago, an old Berkeley acquaintance introduced me to a friend of hers. The friend is something of a technology big thinker, the kind who does indeed have important insights but provokes a certain amount of hostility and snide comment through his habit of reminding people how important his insights are.

Because he is a better than passable writer, because he has accomplished significant things in the technology world, because he has been around for a long time and has a following, because a certain amount of controversy follows him and his pronouncements, and because he has got a smart agent, he is a good candidate for a book deal. All he needs is a book proposal his agent can go out and sell.

For whatever reason, The Thinker has not managed to write his proposal. I imagine that In his heart of hearts, he feels he doesn’t need one, that it’s a fussy demand imposed by an Old Media Establishment he believes his work has already doomed. Nonetheless, the requirement survives. The Berkeley acquaintance I referred to earlier tried to write a proposal for him, but it didn’t fly. We chanced to talk about The Thinker, and she suggested I meet him to see whether we might collaborate on the proposal and ensuing book. One of the incentives: “He’s willing to split the royalties–it could be a lot of money.” It could also be zilch.

Continue reading “Thinking Man’s Media”

Wrath of the Bird Man


Among the various schizoid tendencies evident in Berkeley life is the battle between the town’s self-conscious live-and-let-live creed and the habit of instructing fellow citizens about how they ought to behave. The laissez-faire creed honors panhandlers, naked pedestrians, tree sitters, borderline and full-blown mental cases and a panoply of other truth- and attention-seekers; the knee-jerk impulse to correct targets every manner of real and imagined infraction, public and private.

Today’s case in point: I took the dog down to the marina early in the afternoon. The weather was showery and there were few people around. As I usually do when the park is deserted, I let the dog run across the southeast meadow unleashed; he romps the quarter-mile or to the official off-leash area, stopping fifteen or twenty times along the way to check on ground-squirrel excavations.

This afternoon, an older woman walking a young black Lab preceded me across the open area As she walked along, she was intercepted by a long-haired, bearded man of middle age who was holding something up and shouting at her. When I got closer, I heard him yell, “Your dog should be on a leash! This is an extremely rare bird that a dog just killed!” And then, as I neared him, he turned on his heel and marched straight at me, thrusting the bird carcass toward me. “You have to leash your dog!” he shouted. “This bird was just killed by dogs.”

The guy (pictured above, in an actual action photo) was wearing a cap, and he had a dark green-and-black-plaid jacket on, and from a distance I wondered if he was some sort of park volunteer. So I said, “On whose authority?”

“What?” he asked.

“On whose authority do I need to put my dog on a leash?”

“On my authority — as a citizen!” he shouted.

OK: letter of the law, he was right. The place we were, dogs are supposed to be leashed. But like I said, with no one around, I let him run and follow the municipal code by picking up after him if he takes a dump. And I do keep an eye on whether he harasses birds, and although he occasionally will take a run at one of the big herons and egrets who show up to hunt in the meadow themselves, he has shown no interest in smaller birds like the unfortunate one the Unofficial Nature Warden was holding aloft. I told the man that as I walked on. I must have been a little too dismissive.

“This is not your property!” he screamed, stepping toward me. “This is not your fucking backyard!”

I looked at him for a moment, then remembered I had my camera. “Wait a minute–I want to take your picture,” I said. When I took the camera out, turned it on, and pointed it toward him, he threw the dead bird at my feet and turned and walked away. I noticed then that he had a plastic bag in which he was carrying his own camera. I told him I wanted him to come back and tell me about the bird, but he stalked off, saying that if he had to take his camera out and snap my picture, then the incident would become a matter for the police. He didn’t stop walking.

I looked at the bird. I couldn’t tell what kind it was. It could have been a shore bird, or it might have been one of the killdeer who settle down in the meadow after dark. It was impossible to tell what did it in, though there are feral cats around and other small predators that would be more likely to dispatch birds than dogs would. In fact, in all the times I’ve been down to the park, I’ve only seen one dog chase small birds, and it wasn’t close to catching anything, let alone killing it.

But protecting the birds down there wasn’t what the Unofficial Nature Warden was trying to do, anyway. He was just bearing witness to his sense of grievance about other park users flouting the rules. And for just a little extra spice in his existence, he might get off on bullying and intimidating the dog walkers he encounters. Several other people I met today said they’ve encountered him before and reported he was just as angry and confrontational as he was today.

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