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June 19, 2004

Quick one...

...or, every time I try to get out, they pull me back in. New York Times this morning:

Mr. Moore may also be criticized for the way he portrays the evacuation of the extended bin Laden family from the United States after Sept. 11. As the Sept. 11 commission has found, the Saudi government was able to pull strings at senior levels of the Bush administration to help the bin Ladens leave the United States. But while the film clearly suggests that the flights occurred at a time when all air traffic was grounded immediately after the attacks ("Even Ricky Martin couldn't fly," Mr. Moore says over video of the singer wandering in an airport lobby), the Sept. 11 commission said in a report this April that there was "no credible evidence that any chartered flights of Saudi Arabian nationals departed the United States before the reopening of national airspace" and that the F.B.I. had concluded that no one aboard the flights was involved in Sept. 11.

St. Petersburg Times, 6/9/04:

TAMPA - Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with most of the nation's air traffic still grounded, a small jet landed at Tampa International Airport, picked up three young Saudi men and left.

The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky.
The men, one of them thought to be a member of the Saudi royal family, were accompanied by a former FBI agent and a former Tampa police officer on the flight to Lexington, Ky.

The Saudis then took another flight out of the country. The two ex-officers returned to TIA a few hours later on the same plane.

For nearly three years, White House, aviation and law enforcement officials have insisted the flight never took place and have denied published reports and widespread Internet speculation about its purpose.

But now, at the request of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, TIA officials have confirmed that the flight did take place and have supplied details.

Update: Brendan from Spinsanity points out via email that the wording of the St. Petersburg Times article is vague enough that the out-of-country flight to which it refers could still have occurred after normal air travel resumed. That wasn't how I read the article, but it is at least a plausible interpretation, so I'm pulling my earlier suggestion that the NY Times needs to run a correction. (Not to imply that the Times gives a rat's ass what I think, of course...)

However: whatever the specifics are, it's pretty clear that a lot of people were lying about something.

Perez, the former FBI agent on the flight, could not be located this week, and Grossi declined to talk about the experience.

"I'm over it," he said in a telephone interview. "The White House, the FAA and the FBI all said the flight didn't happen. Those are three agencies that are way over my head, and that's why I'm done talking about it."

Various edits as I read through this. Now I have seriously got to get back to packing...


June 18, 2004


...I'm pretty much out of here for a couple of weeks. Too much to do, too little time. I may pop in occasionally, but I'm mostly handing the site over to Bob for awhile. Send your story tips to him, I'm not going to be checking email very often. See you in a few.

Breaking radio silence

I'll be on Air America sometime in the 11:00 hour this morning.

Me Write Pretty Someday -- Can you read Bush's briefing notes?

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

A source who prefers anonymity has sent Atrios a print-quality color photo of Bush at yesterday's cabinet meeting -- which clearly (if at a difficult angle) shows Bush's talking points in his own handwriting.

Yep, it's real -- you can see the notes in other photos of the same meeting, albeit not nearly as well. So for the first time, we get to see the little scratches Chimpy makes for himself so he doesn't need to call for Uncle Dick every five minutes.

There's something of an ongoing photoshop-decode-orama sweepstakes going on, trying to decipher the obliquely-shot bad handwriting done in a hurry by a stressed-out alcoholic who thinks he talks to God. Take a shot. See what you think.

Two pages are visible. To the best of my Photoshopping ability, it appears that the left page, torn from a legal pad, reads (keeping Bush's semi-literate capitalization and indenting intact):

Islam was A Threat -
SworN ENEMy of US Destabilizing Force in
Volatile part of world
weapons of mass d.
has [illegible, possible cross-out] - USED them

- Ties to terrorist orgs

- Contacts with Al Qaeda
over last DECADe

And with those 34 words, friends, repeating phrases he has already used a thousand times -- what, was he afraid he might forget them this time? -- Chimpy filled almost an entire page.

I say "almost" because the top of the page is obscured by a block of wood which seems to serve no other purpose. The word "Islam" is quite clear, although I originally assumed it said "Saddam," as almost everyone else seems to have assumed. I'll give Bush the benefit of the doubt and assume the note refers to Ansar Al-Islam, the Al-Qaeda connected group which set up shop in the hinterlands of northern Iraq.

(Incidentally, the large black blob isn't ink -- it's a binder clip.)

On Bush's right hand, a square page of notes has been shoved under the top of his legal pad. These are in ALL CAPS, and appear to be someone else's handwriting:

BOB HILLMAN [word crossed out] (DMN)

You guessed it -- these were the handpicked reporters to be called on, in the order they were to be called on.

Also note that after three and a half years, and Bush still doesn't know the press corps by name.

After his prepared statement, Bush first called on "Deb," whose question went (surprise!) straight to the talking points on Bush's left hand.

Next, Bush called on "Morgan" -- perhaps thinking of Captain Morgan rum -- whose question went off the board and asked about Donald Rumsfeld admittedly violating international law by ordering secret detentions. Bush responded (swear to God -- read the transcript) that Rumsfeld is "fabulous" and ended the session abruptly.

Two small notes here: whoever wrote this page misspelled the name "Riechmann," and the word crossed out seems to start with a capital D. I'm assuming it's "Dallas," as in "Dallas Morning News," which is where Bob Hillman works, and there simply wasn't space -- demonstrating that the inability to plan any goddam thing at all doesn't end with Bush himself.

Finally, there's a third piece of paper, still attached to the legal pad, but obscured by the call-on list. Notes appear at the visible bottom portion of the page, and what seems to be a last-minute Bush note-to-self appears vertically along the very right edge of the page, scrawled half-overlapping onto the call-on list, one word per line.

These are hard as hell to make out. If you can figure it out, by all means, share with the class.

The best I can make of the note at the bottom -- about a dozen words filling a third of a page:

- Multiple report [?] of [?] support of

contacts [?] with [?] Al Q.
Iraqis to Share

This part is blurry enough that "contacts with" might also say "costume maker" or "customer murder," although these seem less likely. Although don't be surprised if we start bombing Edith Head's estate.

The words "multiple," "support," and "contacts [?] with [?] Al Q." are underlined. So whatever the exact phrasing of the new bullshit is, we'll know pretty soon, and we'll hear it for weeks.

(Incidentally -- true story -- growing up, I had "multiple contacts" with the kid who lived next door to me. Later on, he crushed our neighborhood minister to death with his car. Which means, according to the current logic, that not only do I kill priests -- I must be stopped before I do it again.)

Finally, there's Bush's vertical note-to-self. This is the hardest to decipher of all, written across page edges, as if very much in a last-minute hurry:

Al Q.

how [?]
(underlined twice)
you [?]
[illegible; starts with a "C"]

I assumed this was "Saddam," too. But nope. And again, this was urgent enough for Bush to scrawl madly down the side of a page, like a kid afraid of forgetting a new vocabulary word and scribbling it on his hand just before a test.

So figure we'll be hearing some more about Al-Qaeda and Sudan in the coming days.

Possibly because they murder their customers.


June 17, 2004

Fun with Scottie

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

The following are cherry-picked excerpts of today's fun with Scottie McClellan, White House spokesliar, in the wake of the 9/11 panel's conclusion that Saddam and Osama didn't really adopt a shaved chimp after all.

Note that I'm including questions only, because there's no way to properly transcribe the pathetic squeaking and squirming noises made in response:

Q ... I'm just wondering if you could explain how those two disparate thoughts are completely consistent.

Q But that's in direct contradiction to what the 9/11 Commission has found.

Q And not only that, this President has said that he thought that Saddam Hussein would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army, as one of his forward armies. The 9/11 Commission is saying, contacts a relationship don't make.

Q Scott, do you really think people buy this?

Q Between what the facts are and what the reality is.

Q No, I'm also talking about facts. The President said he thinks that al Qaeda would like to be a forward -- that Saddam wanted to use al Qaeda as a forward army -- his words from, I believe, October 2002 at a Michigan rally.

This commission has said after its own investigation, and you were the ones who set up the commission, that there was no collaborative relationship. So the conclusion -- the question and conclusion seems to be that administration overstated the evidence that exists.

Q The New York Times says the President should apologize to the American people. Also, are you saying that the 9/11 report is wrong? Is that what you're saying that you reject the findings?

Q What are people supposed to conclude, that they're having lunch with each other?

Q You talk about deep, long-standing ties. What is that supposed to mean?

Q Why don't you just say the commission is wrong?

Q Well, because the terms that you did use, "deep, long-standing ties -- sinister nexus," and the President himself saying, "By removing Saddam Hussein we have removed an ally of al Qaeda," that means they are working together. Did Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda work together, where and when?

Q Well, what does "ally" mean?

Q That's an argument. Those are not facts.

Q That's just an argument. The facts as determined do not bear out that argument.

Q But you didn't find any.

Q Who has repudiated his own testimony.

Q I'm looking for facts.

Q Where was the threat?

Q Did he ever threaten the United States?

Q Scott, the last poll on the subject found that most Americans, more than half, believe that Iraq had some hand in the planning and the execution of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Do you believe that the White House, the administration has done anything to contribute to that misimpression? Do you believe that you have, in any way, at any time, overstated the ties, the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq?

Q ... Do you believe -- you're saying that the White House believes that administration officials bear no responsibility for this misperception of Iraq's role in 9/11 that polls indicate a good half of the American people have. Are you concerned about that? Two questions.

Q And you're not concerned about the -- it doesn't trouble you that so many people have this misperception?

Q It is a fact that --

Q -- that a number of people had this misperception. I want to know if you're concerned about that. Does it trouble you that so many Americans believe Saddam had a role in 9/11?

Q Scott, how much of a political problem is it for the President leading into a reelection campaign that one rationale after another for going to war in Iraq seems to be vanishing in terms of credibility?

Q So you don't see any political difficulty in these latest revelations, the fact that there's no weapons of mass destruction?

Q That's not true.

Q And you don't see any political price to be paid for the erosion of one justification --

Q -- after another before the war?

Q Well, the fact is -- the fact is there's been no WMD found. We clearly haven't been welcomed as liberators.

Q What I'm trying to get you to address, Scott, is that the political atmosphere surrounding this whole enterprise in Iraq clearly has shifted if you read polls. More and more people doubt the rationales for going to war. More and more people question --

Q I'm not trying to be argumentative, but clearly --

Q Clearly, Scott, obviously... the President's reelection hinges in large part on whether enough people believe that he made the right decision to do that. And how does he go about -- given all this news and evidence to the contrary and all that, how does he go about continuing to make this case between now and the next four, four-and-a-half months that the decision was the right one?

Q As a follow-up on my colleagues over here, do you think that if this was March 1, 2003, and the 9/11 report had come out, and we knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction, do you think the American people would have supported us going to war?

Q Scott, you said there is a misperception of what the commission said on ties to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, let me ask you this, did this administration commit any mistakes? Are you -- in other words, are you considered a perfect government?

Q A perfect government. I mean you are not accepting any --

Q No, this government -- the government of President George W. Bush.

Q You're perfect.

The rising disdain of the press corps would be positively delightful -- except for knowing that it took an unnecessary war, widespread torture, probable war crimes, and several high-level acts approaching treason to get the press to finally show a little proper skepticism.

Picky, I realize.

Clock ticking down

And I don't mean to the handover in Iraq. I've got a big, complicated move bearing down like a freight train. I think posting will become very sporadic, very soon. Bob may be picking up some of the slack if he has time.

Hunting of the President

Went to the premiere last night, along with Bill Clinton and Atrios. This, along with the F911 premiere Monday, is exactly two more glamorous film premieres than I have attended in seven years in New York City. Add to this a couple of relatively high-profile panels and an Air America interview on Friday, and my last few weeks in New York are turning into quite the whirlwind.

Joe Conason introduced me to Atrios at the after party. Spent awhile talking about the latter's dual career as a White House advisor-turned-gym-teacher. (I kid, of course. Or do I?)

Picture below of the three of us. That big blue circle makes Sid Atrios easy to spot in a crowd.

The movie opens Friday at the Angelika in New York. Full list of screenings available on the Hunting of the President website (click 'screenings' at the top).

One thought on this: don't make the mistake of thinking that, because it's about the Clinton impeachment, it's no longer relevant or timely. What this film is about, ultimately, is how the right wing works, behind the scenes--which makes it kind of a crash course in how we got into the mess we're in today. It's a good companion piece to a book I just finished, David Brock's Republican Noise Machine, which I also recommend.



June 16, 2004

Team Tobati

This is a group I'm donating some ad space to. Just wanted to make sure they don't get overlooked on the page. Here's one of their members describing their work:

We are a group of high school students from Kingswood-Oxford who are dedicated to helping the poor of a rural community in Paraguay called Tobati. Every March, the team takes around fifty students down to Tobati for ten days to work on various projects in Tobati. These projects are funded by donations to Team Tobati, which is a fully independent tax-exempt charity.

Our most recent accomplishment has been the construction of an education center for students in rural communities, which will be up and running this August. Currently no students from Tobati are able to go to college, and the mission of the education center is to prepare intelligent students for college entrance exams which will enable them to study at the university in the Paraguayan capital.

The other main goal of Team Tobati is to improve the health situation in Tobati. To that end, the team has funded the construction of expansions to the main health clinic in the town. The team also pays for three doctors from Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, to visit this clinic every week to provide health services. When students travel to Tobati every March, they are typically accompanied by about ten doctors from the United States to provide free health care for those two weeks.

More info here. Go visit. Give them a few bucks if you can. You can't save the world, but sometimes you can help make it a little better.



Vice President Dick Cheney said Saddam Hussein had "long-established ties" with al Qaida, an assertion that has been repeatedly challenged by some policy experts and lawmakers.

The vice president on Monday offered no details backing up his claim of a link between Saddam and al Qaida.

"He was a patron of terrorism," Cheney said of Hussein during a speech before The James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida. "He had long established ties with al Qaida."

9/11 commission:

WASHINGTON - Bluntly contradicting the Bush administration, the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported Wednesday there was "no credible evidence" that Saddam Hussein helped al-Qaida target the United States.


June 15, 2004

Fahrenheit 911

Went to the premiere last night, along with many fabulous celebrities. Martha Stewart! Leo DiCaprio! Spike Lee! Lots of people you vaguely recognize but aren't sure why! Lots of people you don't recognize at all who are nonetheless apparently very famous! And Bill O'Reilly--and Al Franken! It's true, they were in the same room at the same time--lucky it was a large theatre. I've met Al Franken three or four times, and in situations you'd think he might remember, but each time, I get a completely blank look, so last night I decided not to bother the man as he walked past me. As for O'Reilly, I'm not entirely sure he made it to the end of the film--I saw where he was sitting, but didn't see him after. Pity--I was hoping to ask him if he was ready to renounce the dark side now, because honestly, I don't know how anyone on his side of the fence could sit through that movie and not have at least a little self doubt at the end.

Seats were assigned--I was kind of off in the cheap seats, up in the balcony area. But then again, I was sitting directly behind Kurt Vonnegut, so there you go.

As for the movie itself--I think a lot of people will be surprised by this one. Michael himself is actually not in the film very much at all. There are only two set pieces featuring his usual gonzo wackiness (driving around the Capitol in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act over the loudspeaker, for one). There's narration throughout, particularly toward the beginning, but mostly he lets the material speak for itself--and it's strong enough material to shoulder the weight. It's a big film, which tries to cover a lot of ground, but then again, there's a lot of ground to be covered, from the 2000 election to the Bush family's close ties to the Saudis, from footage of U.S. soldiers glibly discussing civilian casualties to extended sequences with a Michigan mother whose son was killed in Iraq (in one scene, some braindead dittohead type in front of the White House tells her she should "blame al Qaeda" for the loss of her son). And there's some gruesome footage of the real cost of war--the image I'm having trouble shaking is that of an Iraqi man holding the corpse of a child accusingly toward the camera. No matter your ideological leanings, any parent--or anyone whose friends have kids, or frankly, any human being with an ounce of decency--has to shudder and feel a little sick about that.

So it's obviously not a film with as many laughs as, say, Roger and Me. You come out of it feeling pretty somber. But it's the right film for this moment, a film inextricably intertwined with the political season. It covers a lot of ground that the media have been too cowardly to cover for the past three years. In his closing remarks after the showing, Michael said he didn't know if it was going to change anyone's mind--but frankly, even if all it does is rally the base, that's a fine thing too. (A personal note on this: some of you may recall that I was collaborating with Michael on an animated film script, a couple of years back. Our financing for that one fell through, and F911 is the movie he made instead. And you know what? It's going to have a greater impact than our sly little animated satire ever would have. Who knows, maybe another year we'll get back to some version of that one--but I think it's better all around that things turned out this way.)

So. You're going to hear a lot of nonsense about Michael Moore over the next few weeks. You're going to read a lot of commentary about this film from people who haven't seen it, and you're going to read nitpicky bullshit from the usual self-appointed fact checkers. Not to mention a lot of truly ignorant bloviation about how much Michael "hates America." My advice is, ignore it all. Go see the movie, decide for yourself. And on the way out, be sure to tell the usher, or the manager if he or she is around, that you appreciate the theatre giving you the opportunity to do so. I suspect this movie's going to be kind of a rallying point--like a protest march, a way of saying look, we are here, which is partly why the right wing thugs don't want it to be shown.

Update: Franken is apparently saying that O'Reilly only lasted a quarter of the way through the film.

...check out this review--on the Fox News website, of all places.

As much as some might try to marginalize this film as a screed against President George Bush, "F9/11" — as we saw last night — is a tribute to patriotism, to the American sense of duty, and at the same time a indictment of stupidity and avarice.


June 14, 2004

One quick note

Here's a Republican PR firm trying to shut down Michael Moore's new film. (More on them here.) If you scroll down you'll see that they thoughtfully provide a list of email addresses for major theatre chains, so visitors to their site can let theatre owners know that they appreciate and patronize businesses that don't buckle under to right wing thuggery.

That's how we can use it, anyway.


June 13, 2004

Nothing to see here folks

At least not for the next few days--cartoon deadline, moving prep and some other stuff will be keeping me busy.


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