Saturday, October 15, 2005

New Statesman: Barack Obama - America's Fastest-Rising Political Star

New Statesman:
Barack Obama
Cover story
Andrew Stephen
Monday 17th October 2005
10 people - Andrew Stephen on America's fastest-rising political star

There is no Washington animal quite so self-regarding as the newly elected US senator. Every two years, a new set rolls into town, and they always seem much the same: identikit middle-aged men of unwavering pomposity, each convinced that he is finally taking his rightful place in the world's most exclusive club. They blend in surprisingly quickly, too, whatever their party: even in 2005, the club remains overwhelmingly male (86 per cent) as well as white (98 per cent).

Just occasionally, though, that complacency is shattered. This year, a man who describes himself as "a skinny guy from the South Side with a funny name" took the oath of office and defied all the stereotypes: he was not only absurdly young (43) but was also articulate (a Harvard law degree) and of mixed race (black Kenyan father, white American mother with some Cherokee blood). Until four months earlier, he had not even used a teleprompter.

But from the moment in January when he raised his right hand to swear allegiance on the Senate Bible - his background is Muslim but he is Christian - Senator Barack Obama has been the hottest ticket in town: a political rock star for the Democrats who is courted by the media, swooned over by Georgetown hostesses and widely predicted to be heading for high office, perhaps even the highest office of all. His reaction? "Andy Warhol said we all get our 15 minutes of fame. I've already had an hour and a half. I mean, I'm so overexposed, I'm making Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

Washington has a habit of hailing new political celebrities, chewing them over and then spitting them out - but Obama has come to DC prepared to shoulder the burdens of high expectations. Indeed, the only problem may be that he seems a little too primed for political superstardom. He is a telegenic man who lights up parties and for whom the word "charisma" might have been invented; he has an attractive wife, also black and a successful lawyer, and two young daughters; politically, he has always said the right things at the right time; he has even published the obligatory autobiography, in which he confesses to youthful indiscretions with drugs (thus getting that issue behind him); he has a new $1.9m book deal, with $200,000 going to a children's charity, in the works.

Part of his CV is that he had a complex and even troubled upbringing. He was born in Honolulu where his parents were both students, but his parents divorced when he was two and his father - a member of the Luo ethnic group - eventually returned to Kenya. Obama saw him only once again before he was killed in a car accident in 1982. Meanwhile, his mother remarried and took the young Barack (who was by then calling himself Barry) to live in Indonesia; they returned to Hawaii when he was ten. His life continued its peripatetic pattern: he was educated at Occidental College in California, Columbia in New York and Harvard in Massachusetts, before finally putting down roots in Chicago. He joined the Trinity United Church of Christ and became involved in grass-roots Democrat causes while lecturing in law and working for a civil rights law firm.

Obama was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996 and - his one failure in politics - ran unsuccessfully for a Democratic congressional nomination in 2000. Adopted as candidate for the Senate in the 2004 elections, he had a stroke of luck: his strong Republican opponent was forced to drop out because of a divorce scandal, and was replaced by Alan Keyes, also black but a fully paid-up member of the loony Republican right. Obama swept into the Senate by a landslide.

He had first come into the national spotlight the previous summer when he was the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention in New York at which John Kerry was adopted as presidential candidate. Obama seized his opportunity for prime-time exposure with soaring oratory that offered something to everyone: "We worship an awesome God in the blue [Democratic] states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red [Republican] states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq, and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq."

This year he has already made Time's 100 most influential people list and has introduced his first legislation (to do with student grants). He is the only black person in the Senate and the fifth in history (the other non-white senator is Hispanic). There have been grumbles that he is too black for some white voters and too white for some black voters, but he is working to appeal to both. He is also co-operating closely with Senator Hillary Clinton. Might that be a clue to the identity of her running mate when she runs for the presidency in 2008?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


The Nexus of Politics and Terror (Keith Olbermann)

Secaucus - Last Thursday on Countdown, I referred to the latest terror threat - the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system - in terms of its timing. President Bush’s speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation.

I suggested that in the last three years there had been about 13 similar coincidences - a political downturn for the administration, followed by a “terror event” - a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning.

We figured we’d better put that list of coincidences on the public record. We did so this evening on the television program, with ten of these examples. The other three are listed at the end of the main list, out of chronological order. The contraction was made purely for the sake of television timing considerations, and permitted us to get the live reaction of the former Undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson.

We bring you these coincidences, reminding you, and ourselves here, that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called “the logical fallacy.” Just because Event “A” occurs, and then Event “B” occurs, that does not automatically mean that Event “A” caused Event “B.”

But one set of comments from an informed observer seems particularly relevant as we examine these coincidences.

On May 10th of this year, after his resignation, former Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge looked back on the terror alert level changes, issued on his watch.

Mr. Ridge said: “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on (alert)… there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said ‘for that?’”

Please, judge for yourself.

Number One:

May 18th, 2002. The first details of the President’s Daily Briefing of August 6th, 2001, are revealed, including its title - “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In U.S.” The same day another memo is discovered - revealing the FBI knew of men with links to Al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school. The memo was never acted upon. Questions about 9/11 Intelligence failures are swirling.

May 20th, 2002. Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares another terrorist attack “inevitable.” The next day, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide, and against New York City landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Number Two:

June 6th, 2002. Colleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley’s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers.

June 10th, 2002. Four days later, speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than a month.

Number Three:

February 5th, 2003. Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq’s concealment of weapons, including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike. Many in the UN are doubtful. Months later, much of the information proves untrue.

February 7th, 2003. Two days later, as anti-war demonstrations continue to take place around the globe, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites “credible threats” by Al Qaeda, and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison - who would become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster - advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack.

Number Four:

July 23rd, 2003: The White House admits the CIA -- months before the President's State of the Union Address -- expressed "strong doubts" about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. On the 24th, the Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued; it criticizes government at all levels; it reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future hijackers; and it concludes that Iraq had no link to Al-Qaeda. 28 pages of the report are redacted. On the 26th, American troops are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners.

July 29th, 2003. Three days later, amid all of those negative headlines, Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks.

Number Five:

December 17th, 2003. 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable. The next day, a Federal Appeals Court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation-bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges, and the chief U.S. Weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he has found no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, announces he will resign his post.

December 21st, 2003. Three days later, just before Christmas, Homeland Security again raises the threat level to Orange, claiming “credible intelligence” of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. Subsequently, six international flights into this country are cancelled after some passenger names purportedly produce matches on government no-fly lists. The French later identify those matched names: one belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a five-year old boy.

Number Six:

March 30th, 2004. The new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer tells Congress we have still not found any WMD there. On the 31st, after weeks of refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice finally relents and agrees to testify. On April 1st: Four Blackwater-USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah. The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is widely questioned.

April 2nd, 2004. The next day, Homeland Security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains, using fertilizer and fuel bombs - like the one detonated in Oklahoma City - stuffed into satchels or duffel bags.

Number Seven:

May 16th, 2004. Secretary of State Powell appears on “Meet The Press.” Moderator Tim Russert closes by asking him about the “enormous personal credibility” Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein. An aide to Powell interrupts the question, saying the interview is over. Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about Weapons of Mass Destruction was “inaccurate and wrong, and, in some cases, deliberately misleading.”

May 21st, 2004, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison are released. On the 24th - Associated Press video from Iraq confirms U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party -

killing more than 40.

Wednesday the 26th. Two days later, Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warn that intelligence from multiple sources, in Ashcroft’s words, “indicates Al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard,” and that “90 percent of the arrangements for an attack on the United States were complete.” The color-coded warning system is not raised, and Homeland Security Secretary Ridge does not attend the announcement.

Number Eight:

July 6th, 2004. Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry selects Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate, producing a small bump in the election opinion polls, and a huge swing in media attention towards the Democratic campaign.

July 8th, 2004. Two days later, Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about Al-Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn. Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, DeForest B. Soaries, Junior, confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming Presidential election in the event it is interrupted by terrorist acts.

Number Nine:

July 29th, 2004. At their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for President. As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats dominate the media attention over the ensuing weekend.

Monday, August 1st, 2004. The Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey, and Washington to orange. The evidence supporting the warning - reconnaissance data, left in a home in Iraq - later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out-of-date.

Number Ten:

Last Thursday. At 10 AM Eastern Time, the President addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.

At 3 PM Eastern Time, five hours after the President’s speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA Leak Grand Jury, and that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted.

At 5:17 PM Eastern Time, seven hours after the President’s speech has begun, New York officials disclose a bomb threat to the city’s subway system - based on information supplied by the Federal Government. A Homeland Security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is “of doubtful credibility.” And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days, and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. Local New York television station, WNBC, reports it had the story of the threat days in advance, but was asked by "high ranking federal officials" in New York and Washington to hold off its story.

Less than four days after revealing the threat, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says "Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future, we'll slowly be winding down the enhanced security."

While news organizations ranging from the New York Post to NBC News quote sources who say there was reason to believe that informant who triggered the warning simply ‘made it up’, a Senior U.S. Counter-terrorism official tells the New York Times: "There was no there, there."

The list of three additional examples follows.

Number Eleven:

October 22nd, 2004. After weeks of Administration insistence that there are terrorist plans to disrupt the elections, FBI, Law Enforcement, and other U.S. Intelligence agencies report they have found no direct evidence of any plot. More over, they say, a key CIA source who had claimed knowledge of the plot, has been discredited.

October 29, 2004. Seven days later - four days before the Presidential election - the first supposedly new, datable tape of Osama Bin Laden since December 2001 is aired on the Al-Jazeera Network. A Bush-Cheney campaign official anonymously tells the New York Daily News that from his campaign’s point of view, the tape is quote “a little gift.”

Number Twelve:

May 5th, 2005. 88 members of the United States House of Representatives send a letter to President Bush demanding an investigation of the so-called “Downing Street Memo” - a British document which describes purported American desire dating to 2002 to "fix" the evidence to fit the charges against Iraq. In Iraq over the following weekend, car bombings escalate. On the 11th, more than 75 Iraqis are killed in one.

May 11th, 2005. Later that day, an instructor and student pilot violate restricted airspace in Washington D.C. It is an event that happens hundreds of times a year, but this time the plane gets to within three miles of the White House. The Capitol is evacuated; Vice President Cheney, the First Lady, and Nancy Reagan are all rushed to secure locations. The President, biking through woods, is not immediately notified.

Number Thirteen:

June 26th, 2005. A Gallup poll suggests that 61 percent of the American public believes the President does not have a plan in Iraq. On the 28th, Mr. Bush speaks to the nation from Fort Bragg: "We fight today because terrorists want to attack our country and kill our citizens, and Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won."

June 29th 2005. The next day, another private pilot veers into restricted airspace, the Capitol is again evacuated, and this time, so is the President.


To summarize, coincidences are coincidences.

We could probably construct a similar time line of terror events and warnings, and their relationship to - the opening of new Walmarts around the country.

Are these coincidences signs that the government’s approach has worked because none of the announced threats ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public?

Is there, in addition to the "fog of war" a simple, benign, "fog of intelligence”?

But, if merely a reasonable case can be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country - questions about what is prudence, and what is fear-mongering; questions about which is the threat of death by terror, and which is the terror of threat.

Comments? E-mail:

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Saturday, October 01, 2005

"We hope for the best for Neil and his family."

Men of a certain age, to paraphrase that wonderful character, Edna Mode of "The Invincibles," are unstable. Prone to weakness. That's why we need religion in the first place - to give us a pure image of grace to strive toward, to contrast against the stinking hash we so often make of our actual lives.

Sure, they're sinners, hypocrites, liars. Aren't you?

At least sometimes? Maybe often?

-- Neil Steinberg, August 14, 2005, New York Daily News.

From your Chicago Sun-Times:
Chicago Sun-Times columnist and editorial board member Neil Steinberg was arrested at his home late Wednesday and charged with striking his wife during an argument.

Steinberg was charged with domestic battery and interfering with the reporting of domestic battery, both misdemeanors, Northbrook Police Sgt. Tony Matheny said.

The second charge stemmed from Steinberg taking the phone away from his wife to prevent her from calling police, Matheny said.

Steinberg appeared in court Thursday morning and was released on a recognizance bond.

"I'm deeply humiliated to have brought this misfortune on my family, and am eager to do what is necessary to set it right," Steinberg said Friday.

Steinberg said he had been drinking before the incident, and will enter alcohol counseling Monday.

Steinberg and his wife have been married for 15 years.

Matheny said there was a visual injury to her, but it did not require hospitalization. Wednesday's incident was the first report of domestic violence at the home, he said.

"We hope for the best for Neil and his family," said Sun-Times Editor John Barron.
Steinberg's column did not appear in Friday's paper. A note in the Sun-Times said he was "taking the day off."

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"Austin Mayor" is not a real name. "Austin Mayor" is not a title. "Austin Mayor" is a pseudonym. "Austin Mayor" is a simulacrum. "Austin Mayor" is performance art. "Austin Mayor" is a brand without a product. "Austin Mayor" is your imaginary friend.