Here is a piece of mine in today’s New York Post saying some kind things about President Bush but calling to account the growing number of his conservative supporters who are using the present ceasefire on partisanship to score cheap political points.

Not linked on their site, but next to my column in the paper edition, is this column by Michelle Malkin. The article attacks Hillary Clinton for her behavior since the 9/11 calamity. I once met Michelle when we were a left-right pairing on C-Span’s Washington Journal a year or so back. And she was perfectly pleasant, friendly, and engaging. But her column today is one of the most vicious and indecent pieces of writing I have ever read.

Finally, here’s a column by Maggie Gallagher, also in today’s Post but not linked on their site, which takes me to task for my column in those pages last week.

My first thought was that she had simply misunderstood my point — willfully or no. More likely we simply disagree. That will be the placeholder for a more acidy response.

Okay, let’s file this one away under the heading of things that don’t have any clear significance to the present circumstance but are nonetheless so utterly bizarre that they are sure to kick up at least a few conspiracy theories.

You may remember from that presidential election we had a while back that President Bush once had an ill-fated oil company called Arbusto. Lotsa sweatheart deals, etc.

Well it turns out one of Bush’s big investors was Osama bin Laden’s elder brother Salem.

Hey … listen, I kid you not, as my dad would say.

The story was first floated in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera and then yesterday in Britain’s Daily Mail. I read the Daily Mail piece on Nexis but I can’t get a link for it. It’s summarized, though, in this article from the India Times.

According to the articles, the White House declined comment.

Could this be story be all smoke? Maybe, but it’s been printed in several reputable papers outside the United States. There are some further details in this article from last week in the SF Weekly.

I was just about to toss up a post asking whether there was really anybody who had any objections to letting airline pilots carry guns on flights. After reading a few articles, though, it does seem clear that there is at least one pretty good possible objection.

It changes the dynamics of hijackings entirely.

One of the things the WTC and Pentagon hijackers taught us is that getting guns on to planes is prohibitively difficult or at least needlessly risky. Yet with this reform every flight would start with a gun already on-board and in a sense in play. The question would only be who managed to get their hands on it.

On balance, I think arming the pilots is a good idea, and you could take plenty of precautions to deter or dash the plans of hijackers whose whole plan was to enter the plane unarmed and somehow get control of the captain’s weapon.

The one idea that seems clearly wrong, though, is the pilots’ association’s proposal to leave the decision to the individual pilots over whether or not to carry a weapon. I think we want to arm ’em or not arm ’em. After all, this isn’t about the pilots. It’s about the safety of the passengers and even more the safety of untold numbers of other innocents in targets of opportunity across the country. Let’s decide whether this makes commercial aviation more or less safe, and then tell the pilots how it’s gonna be.

I mean, imagine having your travel agent telling you, it’s a widebody, you’re in first class by the window, and Captain Scroggins is known to pack some serious heat

What’s the phrase?   “Some men are born great. Others have greatness thrust upon them. And still others are simply ridiculous hacks from whom no good can ever come.”

Or something like that.

Anyway, it brings me to the subject of Dan Quayle. I just walked home in the rain in the middle of the night and flipped on the TV to see this sorry chump rambling on about how we gotta get Saddam and he’s bad because he’s a terrorist and he’s bad and it’s not like the Gulf War but it’s like back in Desert Storm and yada and we gotta be wise and yada and we looked at the big picture yada …

It was pitiful. I can’t watch him talk without thinking I’m watching a grown man struggling to tread water in a pool that’s only three feet deep.

The peg for all this, I guess, is a recent meeting of something called the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board. It’s chaired by the Darth Vader of Republican defense policy hawks, Richard Perle, and it includes, inter alios, Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. They met last week and apparently decided that we need to go after Iraq after Afghanistan.

On the face of it this board sounds a bit like a virtual retirement community for has-been Republicans like Quayle to get together for old time’s sake over the situation room planning maps. But I actually remember a friend of mine (who really knows this stuff) telling me that it was a pretty big deal when Perle got appointed to chair it. So who knows.

Anyway, watching this wretched goof try to string together a few coherent thoughts on international terrorism made me shudder (reshudder?) at the thought that he ever could have been president. Whatever you think of our current president (and, as I’ve said, I’m giving him pretty good marks so far in this crisis) think what sort of jam we’d be in if this floundering bonehead were running the show.

It’s an overcast, gloomy, ominous day in Washington … One of the worst things these people did to us, I thought as I woke up this morning, was to make our optimism, our naivete — our best qualities — seem somehow shameful.

Could this be a strategy? If so, it would have the subtlety and cleverness of Sun Tzu.

It’s been no mystery and no surprise that the on-their-heels Afghan Northern Alliance, beaten back to a few obscure redoubts in their losing battle for control of their country, have pitched themselves as potential US allies in the fight against the Taliban.

But now they actually seem to be gaining victories on the ground. And in part it seems they’ve been able to accomplish this because the American build-up is tying down Taliban forces.

This is worth paying attention to.

Is this town big enough for Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz? I’m not sure it is.

There’s been a back-and-forth over the last week between Powell — as the point-man for slow and deliberate response — and Wolfowitz as the rep for overwhelming military retaliation on the model of Michael Corleone’s hit on all the family’s enemies at the end of Godfather I.

To date, much of this has been going on at the level of tea leaves. But it’s now escalating to the point where something or someone may have to give way.

I don’t have the transcript yet, but on This Week this morning Sam Donaldson was interviewing Powell. And in the course of that interview Donaldson pressed the Secretary of State on these internal disagreements within the administration. Particularly, Powell made a point of saying that whatever their private views, everyone in the administration is united following the president.

But he said everyone at the “cabinet level.” The clear target of that qualifier was Wolfowitz. So Powell wasn’t denying the rift; he was affirming it. And hurling what amounts to a pretty weighty accusation against the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

LATE UPDATE: Here’s the relevant portion of the interchange from the transcript posted at Washingtonpost.com.

DONALDSON: You’re a general. But you don’t sound very warlike, compared to other voices in this town, and some within the administration.

POWELL: The only voice that I try to compare myself to and to be consistent with is the president of the United States. All of his cabinet-level security advisers are in agreement with the policy direction he has given us, with the instructions he has given us, and the decisions he has made.

Mr. Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, myself, Dr. Rice, the secretary of the Treasury, the FBI, the attorney general, all working together, understand the instructions the president has given us.

Special thanks goes to TPM reader WM for sending along the link.

I guess it’s not surprising, given the torn emotions of these recent days, that I’ve gotten more slashing emails to Talking Points in the last week than I think I’ve ever gotten (e.g.: “But beyond these more particular points, I’d like to take this opportunity to question your basic integrity and humanity.”) The interesting thing though is that they’re coming in about equally from the right and the left, both reacting to the same posts, and both insisting that I’m coming down, egregiously, on the wrong side.

The ones that require some response are the ones from the left because many come from regular or longtime readers who are stunned by the line I’ve taken on recent events, and think I’ve changed by colors, spots … pick your metaphor.

Anyway, I think the issue here is that having the White House in Republican hands has obscured the coloration of my political opinions, making it seem like I’m a down-the-line liberal or lefty, when I’m not.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m criticizing The Nation’s take on this. As some of you know, my last job was as Washington Editor of the American Prospect. And the problem there was that I was not liberal enough — at least to certain particularly influential folks. But, okay, okay … I’m over that.

Anyway, the criticism, even vicious, is fine and welcome. But I haven’t changed. We’re just talking about different subjects.

Here’s a brief and perhaps not wholly successful attempt, on my part, to get at what we mean when we say that the terrorists who attacked New York and DC hate freedom and democracy.

Andrew Sullivan has now posted a riposte to my post about the slashing attacks he’s been making on moronic lefties who seem intent on finding ways to blame America for the greivous wound she has just suffered.

So where to start?

Let’s begin with the kicker at the end of the post: “Or does Marshall only object when I point out the defeatism and anti-Americanism of his buddies on the Left?”

My defeatist and anti-American buddies on the left? I wonder who those would be? Unless I’m not mistaken the post that Sullivan was responding to had me saying that I was “sickened” by Susan Sontag’s piece in the New Yorker and that I scrapped a column on other blame-America-first boneheads because they filled me with too much contempt.

So it really doesn’t seem like I’m objecting to bashing these folks; it seems like I am bashing them.

Another point. Sullivan apparently wants to run away from his earlier comments about a lefty “fifth column” in its “enclaves on the coasts.”

“By fifth column,” he writes, “I meant simply their ambivalence about the outcome of a war on which I believe the future of liberty hangs.” That’s well and good; but we’re not allowed to redefine the meaning of words and phrases just because we trip over them (paging Dr. Orwell). A fifth columnist isn’t a pitiful, Hamlet-esque lefty sitting in some non-chain coffee shop near Washington Square. The meaning is altogether different and more sinister.

But don’t take my word for it. Webster’s defines it as “a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders. [italics added]”

But let’s get down to brass tacks.

The beef I have with Sullivan is less about the specific people he’s attacked (a number of whom I’ve joined him in attacking) than the thick waves of hyperbole and bluster he’s kicked up around them. The real story today, as nearly as I can see it, is the broad unity in the country about the outrage that has been committed against us and necessity of responding with audacity and resolution. But Andrew insists on painting a picture with the same old hackneyed images and rancid cliches about salt-of- the-earth heartlanders and morally vacant or cowardly coastal cosmopolitans.

Andrew wants to jump to the rooftops to tell everyone that he’s unearthed these intellectually shabby lefty morons spouting off about root causes. But look, I can tell you from my previous employments that they’re not too hard to find. I’ve seen plenty. And really, so what? It’s a surprise that there’s a lunatic left? C’mon. We judge our seriousness not only by the quality of our prose and lucidness of our arguments but by the caliber and seriousness of the enemies we choose to take on. And in this case I can’t help thinking Andrew has fallen more than a bit short.

I have a very hard time knowing quite what to think about this back and forth between assorted lefty intellectuals on the one hand and Andrew Sullivan on the other.

I was myself sickened by Susan Sontag’s short piece in this week’s Talk of the Town. I actually wrote my own column about the contempt I feel for the press releases I get over the transom from outfits and organizations whose vision of the world and America is so myopic and hideous that they can’t seem to think of anything to say but that this tragedy is the result of our own perfidious actions abroad and that, in some sense never quite stated explicitly, it serves us right. But I eventually scrapped the column — at least for the moment — because I couldn’t come up with anything articulate beyond simple contempt.

It’s hard for me to know whether to feel more or less sickened by Sullivan’s vicious attacks on anyone who is even slightly off-message about this tragedy and more particularly the ugly and facile slurring of the “blue” states, the hackneyed attacks on “elites” (nothing so pitiful as a blue state elite raging against blue state elites), or the gratuitous and laughably forced swipes at the 42nd president.

(“In this, he is the antithesis of Clinton — a man who used emotion for effect and idled while our national security weakened. And unlike Clinton, Bush didn’t organize his schedule for photo-op political purposes.”)

This seems like a classic example of what I like to call a Godzilla vs. Mothra situation. Two comical and imbecilic monsters doing battle. And who to root for?

In my separate, previous life as an historian one of the things we learned was how to scrutinize the behavior of oppressed or powerless peoples for the subtle, even covert, ways they resisted oppression when outward rebellion or resistance was impossible or prohibitively dangerous.

This is a funny, clunky way of putting it. And if you’re a professional historian reading this or, god forbid, a sociologist and you’re thinking about writing in … no, don’t, ’cause I don’t wanna hear it.

Anyway, I used to do this with the 17th century New England Indians from my dissertation and it occurred to me today that with Democrats now being a politically oppressed group in Washington we might be able to scan their rhetoric or physical gestures for subtle signs of resistance.

And it turns out you can!

I haven’t been able to do any scientific study or tabulation of this but just watching TV tonight it seems to me that every Democrat I saw couldn’t help but praise something said recently by Colin Powell.

Our president is doing great, doing everything right, and that, that COLIN POWELL, he’s got it just right! What he said today… mmmmhh, outta the park.

I think the idea here is to send a very subtle signal that Don Rumsfeld is a scary Dr. Strangelove type freak. And this is the only way they have to say something, something to say about foreign policy.

Here’s an article in Jane’s (the defense and intelligence bible) which says that Israeli military intelligence thinks the state sponsor behind the WTC attacks is Iraq. Actually, Iraq in concert with al-Qaeda (bin Laden’s network) and a terrorist mastermind from yesteryear named Imad Mughniyeh. (You can find a similar article from a considerably more questionable source here.)

US sources have been reporting that the apparent ringleader of the recent attacks, Mohamed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Germany. But the US seems to be playing down this angle, at least for now.

This raises a slew of questions.

The first (and I say this as a Jew and a staunch, though Oslo-philic, zionist) is that you don’t have to think too long to come up with reasons why folks at Israeli military intelligence might want to get people looking in the direction of Iraq and particularly at one of their arch-enemies, Mughniyeh. It’s one thing to tell this to the US government. The standard is much lower for leaking such info to the press. And these sorts of ops tend to be so complex and tie together so many different kinds of people that it may be largely a matter of intepretation saying who’s really involved and who’s not.
Doesn’t mean it’s not true, just something to keep in mind.

On the other hand, if the question is, who has better penetration of Islamic radical groups, the Americans or the Israelis? That’s not too hard a question to answer, is it? And I have my own very well placed sources who think this sort of non-Osama-centric scenario is very, very plausible.

Second, it’s not completely clear to me why Iraq would want to involve itself in something like this. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t put anything past Saddam Hussein. But at heart I think he is all about survival and power, not ideology and certainly not Islam. He plays the Islamist card occasionally, but in an entirely cynical way. Getting caught with a hand in something like this would lead to a devastating response from us militarily, and deeply undermine his efforts to get France and Russia to get sanctions lifted. And it’s not completely clear what the Iraqis gain if no one knows they did it. Again, not saying it didn’t happen; and there are many good answers to the questions I’ve raised. (They did after all try to assassinate then-ex-President Bush in the early 1990s.)

But again, just worth considering.

Third, if the web of interconnections sketched out in the Jane’s article is accurate, then you’ve got something which really changes our understanding of the situation. That is, a confluence of Islamist terrorist organizations, secular terrorist organizations, and secular Arab states like Iraq working in concert.

This is a very post-9/11 Washington moment. It’s 3:30 in the morning and I’ve just been woken from my sleep by a large helicopter buzzing over and over my apartment building. My tense nerves are probably also quickened by the news (overplayed, I hope, here but also mentioned elsewhere) of rumors that some new attack, could be in store somewhere on Saturday the 22nd.

Let me briefly explain what this is about. A number of associates of the hijackers had bought tickets for flights on Saturday. A couple of them are still at large. The London Times really beats the drums about it and it is mentioned in the Washington Post and other American outlets, though a lot less prominently and with denials of a sort by American officials.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker told the Washington Post that “There is no credible evidence of any threat for Sept. 22.” And an “official” told the Associated Press that “We absolutely have no credible evidence to substantiate any major threat on that date although it did raise some suspicion” — which in case you’re asking, for my money, is a troublingly qualified response.

I spent part of the evening reassuring a friend that there likely wasn’t anything to this issue of Saturday, when all she and I had heard were rumors. But reading this stuff later in the evening I can’t deny that it made my body tighten and rippled at least echoes of tears under my eyes.

In any case, let me try to put the moment to some good use with this post. One of the occupational hazards of writing TPM is many readers’ distressing lack of irony or discernment. When I got to my computer just now I got an e-mail telling me that my line from yesterday evening (that “Democrats now being a politically oppressed group in Washington”) was “asinine.” I think this message actually came from a reasonably well-known columnist, who I went on TV with once, but I can’t be sure it’s her. She just shares the same name.

In any case, I wrote back and tried to deal with the matter as failing of diction rather than stupidity, noting that the more appropriate word might be “ironic” rather than “asinine.” But, to each her own, I guess.

I got another email from a conservative reader who agrees with me about Andrew Sullivan’s regrettable over-the-topedness but still says one can’t compare his scoring cheap political points with those who are, in essence, blaming the victims for this tragedy. I’m not sure I agree with the way this reader framed the distinction. But I think I probably do agree with him on the lack of a complete equivalence. So I take his point.

I had some questions about writing that post (which my friend Mickey Kaus has just linked to as a ‘Mezine Melee’) in large part because in person Andrew is mostly warm and kind-hearted; and he’s been generous to me.

I once told a friend that another on-air commentator wasn’t really an *$%hole, he just played one on TV. I’m not calling Andrew as $%#hole (far from it), but the broader concept, or rather distinction, applies. There are of course folks like David Horowitz who plays an *$#hole on TV and, as I learned from personal experience, really is an *$%hole. But I digress …

Anyway, those were my thoughts about the Sullivan post below. Though I was again disheartened by this late-night post which hits the ground praising Christopher Hitchens with lines like “Not everyone on the left has been craven” … and Hitchens “grasps what some other liberals haven’t” …

You get the idea.

So I still think my reader is right, that the equivalence is not quite there, that this kind of wild-eyed quality has just become Sullivan’s trademark. But somehow I keep expecting better. From those to whom much is given, much is expected.

The helicopter’s gone; so now I’m going back to sleep.

Pardon the slow flow of posts over the last few days, we’ll try to bump up the pace. But for the moment be sure to look at Paul Krugman’s column today in the New York Times. We’re going to be talking over the next few days about how Democrats can, and should, strike a balance between the immediate need for national unity and concerted action and committment to their own priorities and beliefs.

Partisanship, per se, really should be temporarily set aside. But it would be wrong to turn a blind eye to matters of enduring importance in the name of our current crisis — especially when the former can be shown to have little relation to the latter.

And here we have our case in point. Before last Tuesday we were already hearing some talk about a temporary cut in the capital gains tax. Then the argument was that it would scrounge together a few bucks to save the administration the embarrassment of dipping into the Social Security Trust Fund (which still matters and which we’ll be talking about). Now it’s a response to our national emergency.

This is cynical and crass on top of bad economics.

The arguments for cutting capital gains taxes as a way to stimulate growth are debatable at best. But honest supporters of this theory will freely concede that the argument only makes sense in the medium- to long-term. And plainly what the economy is in need of is short-term stimulus. In the long-term our situation is more or less exactly what it was ten days ago.

That of course doesn’t even get to the rather obvious point that there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of folks who want to cash in their investments.

Finally! Finally! Finally! As regular readers know, Talking Points’ usual MO is slashing or biting political criticism and satire, which is, needless to say, entirely inappropriate at the moment.

(Note: I will be getting back to some constructive criticism momentarily; but more of that in a moment.)

In any case, in such a moment of national crisis it’s hard to find people who are easily skewered and entirely appropriate to skewer. But I think I’ve found one.

As you may remember, during impeachment a law professor with a specialty in environmental law named Jonathan Turley became one of the most ubiquitous faces on chat shows high and low. He became the impeachment maven even though he had no clear expertise related to the questions at hand.

Well, now it turns out that there’s no end to Turley’s expertise! When I stopped by the website of The Hill — the Capitol Hill newspaper — today I noticed that today at 3 PM Hill editor Al “Eisele’s guest will be terrorism expert Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School.”

Who woulda guessed?!?!?!

Now obviously when I saw this the first thing that came to my mind was, hey, I haven’t had a good post in days, and this could be it! But I didn’t want to let my cynicism get the better of me. So I did a Nexis search of how many times Turley’s name has shown up within 25 words of the word “terrorism.”

Answer? Ten Times. Ever. And seven of those came after last Tuesday. Turley’s website doesn’t seem to mention the terrorism expertise either.

Now the old cynical Talking Points would have accused Turley of being a self-promoting hack. But that was then. And this is now. What I am thinking now is that it’s possible this expertise may have been based on undercover work Turley has been doing since impeachment. Perhaps even work undercover amongst the mujahids of Afghanistan. This would after all explain his absence from the airwaves since not too long after Bill Clinton sicced the CIA on bin Laden back in late 1998. It’s either that or Turley is shamelessly repackaging himself as a “terrorism expert” to grab a bit more TV face time.

Say it ain’t so, Jonathan!

Just a thought. Quite a bit is being made of the fact that Pakistan is one of only three countries to have recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. But you don’t hear so much about the fact that the other two are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The cable nets have been widely reporting Osama bin Laden’s purported denial of involvement in the horrific attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon. Now obviously there’s no reason to believe anything bin Laden says for any number of reasons.

But, in context, the denial isn’t even a denial. The key line is “I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks.”

But according to many area experts and ex-intelligence types I’ve spoken to recently bin Laden’s role is seldom to “plan” these events, as in exerting operational control. It’s more a matter of funding them, okaying them, training the perpetrators, and so forth.

I mean, not like we’re going to get into parsing with this #$%&@$*. But, you know, just FYI.

Alack! TPM has a rep for indicting others for being pitiful and lame. But this will have to be a TPM self-denunciation. Once before, a breakdown in the complex protocols used to update the Talking Points website resulted in the tragic loss of a week’s worth of postings. Regrettably, it has happened again! That would explain the lack of a link in the archive below for the week of September 8th-14th.

Now in the earlier incident last June I discovered, to my great surprise and gratification, that quite a few readers had either saved the page in question or had it cached on their machines. A few committed Poinsters sent these copies in and this led to the eventual recovery of said Points. (hint, hint …)

We’ll see if that happens again.

With the horror and trauma unfolding in our midst it may seem too trivial or crass to venture some media criticism. But allow me this. Huge events often bring new reporters or commentators to the fore. In this case, I think it’s an anchor: CNN’s Aaron Brown.

Brown’s not a new face. He’s been around for a couple decades and mainly at ABC as far as I know. He recently got hired by CNN and he was the first person on the air for the network within minutes of the original WTC attack.

(This may make it seem like I’m sort of Aaron Brown watcher. But actually I just got this info from this page. When I saw him on Tuesday morning I only had the vaguest sense of ever having seen the guy before.)

In any case, he’s just really, really good. In his TV manner he has an ingenuousness that feels, well … quite genuine and elicits or explicates new information that more stuffy or programmed questioners and anchors would never arrive at. He’s got this way of thinking aloud on air which, for me at least, really works.

In short, he rocks.

Many highbrow news commentators cultivate a rep for insight, wisdom and perspective but actually put out a product you might call ‘insightfulism’ – not insight, but a stylized way of talking about the obvious so that it seems penetrating, a way of packaging decent points with oblique language so that they seem like grand pronouncements.

Come to think of it, I think Brown’s got one of these characters as a new colleague. But let’s not go there.

The point is that CNN made a dynamite pick when they hired Brown.

This TPM post will likely be more undirected or
unfocused than usual. Let me try to get out a few thoughts, though.

First are the video feeds (now wall-to-wall on the cable nets) of these
family members with hastily pasted together xeroxes
of their loved ones
— a picture, a name, a few vital measurements —
straining to get these images in front of TV cameras to spread the word —
and always with the word “missing.”

I must say this was more than I could take. I don’t mean that this as
the accustomed phrase or as a euphemism. I mean it was more than I could
take. Partly out of personal concern and also because I now have to write
about this awfulness, I have like many of you been watching this coverage
almost non-stop since Tuesday morning. But these images were too much. I
found myself repeatedly, literally, lurching to grab my remote control and
turning the television off.

What is it about these images? I guess it’s the pure desperation of
these people. And their human and terribly understandable unwillingness to
come to fully recognize that desperation. It’s their denial. There is just
something (and I mean this in the most sympathetic sense of the
word
) pitiful about them, for those of us who are at least insulated
from immediate personal loss in this case can immediately recognize that
these people are “missing” only in the most grave and technical sense.
They’re dead. They’re all dead.

Certainly there will be a few miraculous stories with grieving families
who find a relative is one of the few John or Jane Does in a New York
hospital. But only a very, very few.

And it’s this denial, this desperation that just makes this stuff so
unbearable because it is a pain beyond grieving. When you see families in
full grief you have the sense that they have at least passed a first
threshold, and in some unfathomable sense their grief has begun to find
its way into graspable proportions. But these family members with these
pictures have … well it’s just too much to describe. Hope against hope,
at a certain point, becomes too searingly painful to watch, because the
disconnect between the glimmer of hope and the inevitable grief is just
too dissonant. And the presence of false hope just makes the true
hopelessness more difficult to defeat or overcome.

For us, the rest of us, all these pictures just bring the awfulness of
this to life in a way that goes completely beyond the numbers. And there
are so, so many. They overwhelm you in the watching.

I thought I’d be less fatigued than it turns out I am. So the rest will
come later this morning. Next up, the international reaction. And a few
comments from politicians that make you wonder.

As it happens, when this horror began I had been
doing reporting for a piece about Osama bin Laden for a couple months. A
bit of this went into an article
I wrote about bin Laden in Salon.com this afternoon. The following,
though, is a combination of information from a number of sources I spoke
with today and just thinking the matter through myself.

It’s been commonly stated over the last forty-eight hours that the twin
attacks on the the WTC and the Pentagon were of sufficient sophistication
that they necessarily required state support or the backing of a large and
extremely sophisticated terrorist organization.

But is this really true? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there
aren’t state sponsors of terrorism or that one wasn’t involved in this
tragedy. But was it necessary? I’m not so sure.

What was really needed. As nearly as I can figure, that would be …

a) perhaps a dozen people with the ability to fly a
commercial jetliner

b) some crude and easily obtainable weapons

c) detailed schedules and flight plans of commercial airlines

d) $500,000 or $1,000,000 to pay for miscellaneous expenses primarily
including housing and board for a few dozen individuals

e) sophisticated organizational skills to coordinate the activities
of a few dozen people while presumably keeping many of them unaware of
the activities of the others

Of course, one could easily
argue that the real issue is what superintending authority could bring all
these people together. That’s an extremely good question. And the point of
bringing this up is not to exonerate anyone, of course. But I think it’s
worth noting that at least from what we’ve heard what was really needed
here was not so much complex infrastructure, facilities, or resources as
several knowledgeable, experienced individuals and lots and lots of time.

I’ve gotten a few critical letters calling me out for
praising our president too fulsomely, or rather too reflexively in the
last post, particularly when I said he “came through with flying colors”
in his Tuesday night address to the nation.

There’s probably something to this. It’s probably more honest to say, simply, that he didn’t disappoint.
And that’s really no mean thing.

In any case, in moments like this (if one can use that phrase) I try to
adopt what I call the Clinton rule. If Bill Clinton were being attacked in
such and such a way would I think it was fair? I find this an instructive
rule in cases, for instance, like the time it took for President Bush to
make his way back to Washington.

The White House’s cryptic (but conspicuously open) announcement
that the White House and Air Force One were targeted seemed like a pretty
transparent effort to knock down criticism of how long the president staid
outside DC.

On the other, give the guy a *$#@%& break.

I mean, I’m sure whatever thinking went into keeping the president
hopping around the country wasn’t something that started with him or Karl
Rove, but rather the Secret Service and the military. But if this were
Clinton in this situation, I think I’d consider this sort of criticism
crass overkill. And it’s seems the same to me in this case.

Coming up next: if this is ‘war’, what could this require from us, and
what must it require of us? And perhaps most importantly, how
should our response differ — not quantitatively but qualitatively
— from earlier retaliations to terrorist attacks?

I’m not accustomed to watching George W. Bush give a
speech and hoping he hits it out of the park. But that was certainly my
feeling last night as the president addressed the nation about yesterday’s
bombing. And on balance I’d say he came through with flying colors.

And for all his faults — and, yes, he certainly has them — you can’t
have watched Rudy Giuliani over the last 36 hours without thinking that in
many important ways he has been a truly great Mayor of New York —
something many Dems like myself have long thought. And certainly moments
of stress and tragedy, which require steel and grit, are his best
moments
.

And it’s been pleasing to see how many Republicans and Democrats — all
of them as nearly as I can tell — have focused only on the requirements
of the moment, and resisted every opportunity to push even peripheral
partisan advantages.

Regrettably, though, there seem to be at least a few examples of the
cheapest, most craven opportunism. In this
column
in National Review Online, Larry Kudlow says that rising
to the challenge of the moment will cost of “hundreds of billions of
dollars” in new defense expenditures.

That may be debatable but certainly the impulse is legitimate and
understandable. And you can even cut Kudlow some slack for the cheap shot
implied by his charge that “terrorist invasion of the U.S. mainland
underscores the urgent need to rebuild the defense and national security
structure that has slowly but steadily eroded in recent years.”

This is after all a man with the vision and integrity of a
double-breasted suit.

But, according to Kudlow, this tragedy also means busting the lockbox,
ditching debt reduction, and having another round of massive tax
cuts!

Phony lockboxes must be thrown out the window. Unnecessary
obsessions over debt retirement must be driven away. Now is the time for
aggressive fiscal and monetary stimulus to promote growth and finance
freedom. Substantial tax cuts on individuals, businesses, capital
investment, and equipment depreciation should be immediately put into
place … Steps to promote energy production must be taken
aggressively.
In other words, the only patriotic response to
this horror is to enact the complete Bush legislative agenda!

What a shameless gambit.

David Horowitz trots out some similar
crap
. (“It’s time for those on the political left to rethink their
alliances with anti-American radicals at home and abroad.
“) But he’s
unworthy of mention; beneath contempt.

Nothing real to report beyond the obvious, horrifying
tragedy unfolding on your TV screen or computer monitor. My immediate
observations from DC have been posted
here
at Salon.com toward the bottom of the page.

TPM, of course, is normally all about arguments among us, among
Americans. But all of that falls deep into the background now. And my
support, and I’m sure yours too, is with our president, our armed
services, and all of those struggling mightily to save those who can still
be saved.

Here’s some news that should buoy Democrats and send a
chill through Republicans’ spines.

According to this newly-released
ABCNews-Washington Post poll
, 57% of Americans support trimming the
Bush tax cut to keep the budget in balance. Two-thirds oppose using
across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending to keep the budget numbers
in line. And a staggering 92% oppose using Social Security funds to pay
for other programs — precisely what the administration is now trying to
argue it is alright to do.

A close look at the poll’s methodology reveals that the measure isn’t
of likely voters or even registered voters, but merely adults. And that
should effect a slight Democratic tilt. But the overall results are
sufficiently decisive that this is just a footnote.

What does it mean? That the president and his party are in a lot of
trouble. And Democrats would seem to be taking exactly the right approach
by forcing the president to take the first stab at solving the problem he
created. As we noted here a little more
than two weeks ago
, this debate may seem like a jumble of numbers. But
it’s actually all about values, responsibility and trust – which is
precisely the sort of debate Democrats should want to be having with this
president.

The favored White House strategy is to tell the Democrats that
they should come up with their own way to solve the problem. But
this is a tack Democrats should welcome because the rejoinder is
elementary: This is the responsibility
era
. Don’t pass the buck. Don’t blame everyone else. Take
responsibility.

I have to admit this new
article
by Charles Babington in the Washington Post sorta
pisses me off. The article (“Tax
Cut Plan Filled With Dubious Spending Predictions
“) gives a bracingly
frank run down of all the false premises, implausible assumptions,
dishonest budget scoring gimmicks, and simple lies that went into making
the Bush budget appear (to the very credulous, mind you) to add up.

Here’s one brief passage from the article:

Why did congressional and White House negotiators adopt
these spending projections? Because without them, there was virtually no
way they could come up with numbers suggesting the nation could afford
to forego $1.35 trillion in revenue over 11 years.

The legislation is more political creature than fiscal plan. It
originated in George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. He called for
a $1.6 trillion tax cut, which the Senate eventually whittled to $1.35
trillion. Once they agreed on the targeted amount, negotiators juggled
projections and assumptions ­ several of them quite implausible ­ until
the numbers fit.

The problem is that there’s nothing in
Babington’s article that wasn’t completely obvious six months ago when the
Budget was being debated. So why wait till now to spill the beans?

I fear the answer is that during the actual debate the (foolish, to my
mind) canons of newspaper journalism (i.e., presenting both sides of the
argument) mandated that both sides’ arguments be presented with equal
merit, even though one was more or less false on its face.

Now that the whole thing has fallen apart after only a few months it’s
okay to state the obvious.

Great journalism.

Jacob Weisberg has an excellent
article
in Slate unpacking the unfolding anomaly of Democrats as the
party of fiscal discipline and Republicans as the party of scroungers and
deficiteers.

But there’s one point he doesn’t bring up; and it’s one that, as far as
I can see, hasn’t been mentioned much during the budget debate at all.

It’s true that Democrats historically have been the party unafraid of
modest deficit spending while Republicans were the ones who worshipped at
the altar of the balanced budget. But the present-day turnaround on fiscal
policy isn’t the only one that has taken place.

Unlike what we know today, the Democrats also used to be the party with
its strongest roots in the country’s hinterlands — the Mountain states,
the Prairie states and the South. Conversely the Republicans were the
party of the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and social-capital rich
states like Wisconsin.

(The classic example of this change comes in a comparison of last year’s
election map
and the map of the
1896 election
. Bryan, the Democrat, won virtually all the Bush states.
And McKinley, the Republican, won pretty much all the Gore states. More
recently, when Harry Truman won his upset
victory over Tom Dewey in 1948
the one region in which he was pretty
much shut out was the Northeast, the region which is now the Democratic
heartland. If you’ve got a moment you can see the trend over the course of
the century in this helpful list of
election maps
.)

The party of the Northeast and Upper Midwest has historically tended to
be the one favoring more disciplined fiscal policy while it’s the party
with its base in the South and the West which has preferred more
loosey-goosey financing.

In this current article
in the New Republic Robert Reich argues that Democrats got on the
fiscal discipline bandwagon by way of incidental or opportunistic
political calculations by Bill Clinton during the late 1990s (perhaps even
because of Monica). But I suspect this is something more fundamental, and
tied to the parties’ changing geographical bases.

If you want to read an article that combines
schadenfreude, back-stabbing, disloyalty, pitifulness and pettiness in the most pleasing way
imaginable then by all means READ THIS
ARTICLE
!

It’s about the bum’s rush Texas Republicans are giving to departing
Republican Senator Phil Gramm (“Texas
Republicans want Gramm out, Hispanic In.
“) As David Plotz makes clear
in this article,
Gramm is pretty far down the list of people who deserve sympathy for
anything. But this comes pretty close.

The story goes like this … Gramm’s departure creates several
opportunities and potential pitfalls for Republicans. The most obvious
opportunity is to hold the seat with an Hispanic Republican – thus
validating and augmenting the president’s efforts to create a more
Hispanic-friendly GOP. On the downside, Republicans could a) lose yet
another Senate seat and b) thoroughly embarrass the president by having an
Hispanic Democrat elected in 2002 from Bush’s home state.

So Texas Republicans want Gramm to resign and allow Gov. Rick Perry (an
unelected Governor, mind you) to appoint Rep. Henry Bonilla to replace
him, thus giving Bonilla a running start in his effort to win a full term
next November.

The Dallas Morning News correctly
notes
that this would avoid “a potentially brutal and costly
Republican primary.” But it would be more accurate, though admittedly
impolitic, to say that such a primary could be brutal, costly and
thoroughly discredit the notion that the Texas Republican party is built
upon a happy marriage of Hispanics and post-segregationist freaks. But,
you know, if they want to use the shorthand, that’s cool by me.

Anyway, what’s really striking about this situation is just how
publicly a handful of relative upstarts within the Texas GOP (Bush, Perry,
Bonilla) is telling
Gramm to get the hell of out of town. President Bush met with Perry at the
White House on Wednesday to discuss ways to get Gramm to resign and at
least one Texas Republican media consultant with close ties to Bush has
publicly told Gramm to pack it in.

Coming from a sitting president of Gramm’s own party the message Bush
is sending to the too-slowly departing senior Senator comes through pretty
clearly as:  GET THE *#$& OUT!   Go! Be Gone! LEAVE!
Enough with you! Go Away forever! NEVER COME BACK!!!

Meanwhile the shoving from Perry has become almost obscene, leading to
exchanges such as this one in today’s
Houston Chronicle
:

Gov. Rick Perry said Friday that U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm,
despite repeated denials from the senator’s office, is still considering
resigning so that Perry could appoint a successor and avoid a Republican
brawl over the plum political seat.

“Senator Gramm is still going through a thought process of whether or
not he would resign early. So I don’t think there’s been any change,”
Perry told reporters.

There certainly wasn’t any change in Gramm spokesman Larry Neal’s
response.

“Senator Gramm is not going through a thought process about
resignation. He has no intention of resigning,” Neal said.

Ouch!!!

Compassionate Conservatism was always, rightly, taken as a finger in
the eye of gloomy, nasty Republicans like Phil Gramm. But you’ve gotta
figure Gramm would like a little more compassion right about now.

Okay, as you must know, Talking Points has a network of spies across the country constantly sending in intelligence reports on all manner of political bigwigs and smallwigs. And I’ve been collecting a dossier of information on the semi-secret peregrinations of one-time nominal head of the Democratic party, Al Gore.

Now as long time TPM readers will know, I’ve been a longtime Gore supporter who’s of late become rather more skeptical. But as long as I’m going to hook you up with some quality info I thought it would make sense to get the ball rolling with some utterly trivial info about Gore and then we’ll move on to substance as we go.

So here’s the deal. I’m told he always refers to the prez as W. He’s packed on no more than ten pounds. No more. And when he talks to the assembled groups of former staffers and supporters what he really gets animated about is the environment (i.e., reverting to form).

Hey, what’s your problem? I said it we’d start trivial, didn’t I?