Josh Marshall

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Yet another John Kerry flipflop<$NoAd$> ...

No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council. And so, you bet. It's time for people to show their cards, to let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.

George W. Bush
White House Press Conference
March 6th, 2003

After insisting for a week that it would force a vote in the Council, the White House has over the last few days waffled about its intentions Today, administration officials did not rule out the possibility that the three leaders would decide on Sunday to abandon the resolution altogether.

The New York Times
March 15th, 2003

The United States, Britain and Spain at the United Nations _ facing certain defeat in the Security Council _ announced they would withdraw their resolution setting a deadline for full Iraqi disarmament and authorizing war.

March 18th, 2003

So many John Kerry flipflops.

This has me wondering.

If you've been reading the news the last few days you may have noticed this odd and somewhat mysterious story of a US-registered cargo plane loaded with 64 "mercernaries" and various military equipment which was impounded Sunday night at Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe "after its owners had made a false declaration of its cargo and crew."

When asked about it on Monday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "We have no indication this aircraft is connected to the U.S. government."

That seemed like a rather less than unequivocal response. And behind the scenes US government officials said they didn't believe the US government had any connection with this operation. But they wanted to make sure before saying anything definitive.

Now, if you look at the press accounts, what's caught people's attention is the US registry of the plane. Specifically, it's registered to a company called Dodson Aviation, which is based in Kansas.

Now, Dodson says they sold the plane to a "reputable" firm in South Africa about a week ago. "I think they were going to use it for charter flights," company director Robert Dodson told the Associated Press.

Now here's a little more detail.

Dodson Aviation of Kansas has a South African subsidiary, Dodson International Parts SA Ltd (According to their website, "Dodson International Parts SA (Pty) Ltd is the African division of United States based companies Dodson International Parts Inc. and Dodson Aviation. The company was established in 1998 and is based at Wonderboom Airport, Pretoria.") And it was from this subsidiary's hangar at an airport just north of Pretoria that the aforementioned mercenaries boarded the plane.

Now, here's where this gets a little murky.

I wanted to find out more about Dodson International Parts SA Ltd. What I found something out about was a company that sounded very similar: a South African company called Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They're also in the airplane business.

Not exactly the same name. But remember, the South African company is the subsidiary of two American companies, Dodson Aviation and Dodson International. If these aren't the same company, or closely related companies, I'd figure they often get confused for one another.

In any case, here's what I found about Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

They come up in the December 2000 Report of the Panel of Experts to the United Nations on Sierra Leone, in the section of the report dealing with the arms trade.

Here's the section that caught my eye (italics added) ...

187. Fred Rindel a retired officer of the South African Defence Force and former Defence Attaché to the United States, has played a key role in the training of a Liberian anti-terrorist unit, consisting of Liberian soldiers and groups of foreigners, including citizens of Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Niger and The Gambia.

188. The panel interviewed Mr Rindel extensively. Rindel was contracted as a security consultant by President Charles Taylor in September 1998, and training started in November 1998. The contract included consultancy services and strategic advice to convert Charles Taylor's former rebel militia into a professional unit. The Anti-Terrorist Unit is used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the Executive Mansion and the international airport, and to provide VIP Security and the protection of foreign embassies. The numbers trained were approximately 1200. Because of negative media attention, Rindel cancelled his contract in Liberia in August 2000.

189. In 1998, ECOMOG identified a plane, registration number N71RD, owned by a South African company, Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts, as having carried weapons to Robertsfield in September of that year. The plane is a Gulfstream 14-seater business jet that cannot be used for arms transport, but there are other relevant connections. Fred Rindel was the owner of Dodson. The company was closed on 31 December 1998, but during the period under investigation, the plane was leased to, and operated by, Greater Holdings (Liberia) Ltd., a company with gold and diamond concessions in Liberia. The plane was used for the transport of the Greater Holdings' staff to and from Liberia.

Mr. Rindel's name came up earlier in 2000 in testimony at the UN Security Council by then-UN Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke in a discussion of Sierra Leone (italics added) ...

In regard to arms trafficking to Sierra Leone, Mr. Chairman, we remain concerned and I would like to add a few more items to the record. The principal Africa countries involved in arms trafficking to the RUF - though they deny it - include Burkina Faso, Liberia and Libya.

In 1999, planes landed in Ouagadougou, allegedly coming from the Ukraine, with several tons of small arms and ammunition. This incident, which the Ukrainians say has stopped, is one that we believe should be brought to the attention of your committee.

In regard to trafficking, arms brokers have played a vital role in keeping the RUF supplied with weapons and other military materiel. A well-known arms and diamond dealer in Sierra Leone, Zief Morganstein, in July 1999 arranged for a Continental Aviation-based charter out of Dakar to fly a shipment of small arms from Bulgaria to Sierra Leone. Last year the RUF received 68 tons of weapons from Bulgaria, which Morganstein may have helped arrange. There have been other connections between former government officials from South Africa during its Apartheid regime who now operate as private individuals, including Fred Rindel, the South African Defense Attache in Washington, who now works as a security consultant in Liberia and trains Liberian troops and RUF insurgents. There are other charges about other businessmen who are reportedly helping the Sierra Leone government coming from various countries around the world.

Now, I've scanned the news coverage of this and I haven't seen any mention of this seeming connection. So perhaps these are two utterly unrelated companies?

As of Tuesday the situation in Zimbabwe seems to be calming down, though now there are apparently fears in Equatorial Guinea that these mercenaries were somehow intended to assist a coup in that country. (No, I can't keep up either.) "Some 15 mercenaries have been arrested here," the country's Information Minister Agustin Nse Nfumu told Reuters. "It was connected with that plane in Zimbabwe. They were the advance party of that group."

Equatorial Guinea is next door to Gabon. And Joe Wilson used to be the US Ambassador there back in the day. So maybe he can make some sense of this. I can't. But I'd be very interested to talk to the investigators who put together that UN report and see if there's any connection between Dodson International Parts SA Ltd and Dodson Aviation Maintenance and Spare Parts.

Another John Kerry flipflop ...<$NoAd$>

Senators Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Thursday proposed the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with the authority and resources to carry out its mission effectively, while still being accountable to the public.

Sen. Committee on Governmental Affairs
Press Release
October 11th, 2001

Q But if we're talking about consolidating all of these agencies, why not create a department of homeland security, as may lawmakers have suggested? And rather than take Customs, Border, whatever, and put it all under DOJ, why not bring it all under the auspices, under one umbrella of homeland security?

MR. FLEISCHER: The reason for that, John, is if you take a look at how the federal government is set up across the myriad of agencies or more than a dozen agencies, many of which have components that deal with homeland security in one form or another, I'm not aware of a single proposal on Capitol Hill that would take every single one of those agencies out from their current missions and put them under homeland security. So even if you took half of them out and put them under a Cabinet-level office of homeland security, the White House would still need, in the president's estimation, an adviser on how to coordinate all the myriad of activities the federal government's involved in. So, creating a cabinet office doesn't solve the problem. You still will have agencies within the federal government that have to be coordinated. So the answer is that creating a Cabinet post doesn't solve anything. The White House needs a coordinator to work with the agencies wherever they are.

Q So why, then, is the Lieberman bill a bad idea, in your estimation?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Lieberman bill. I don't -- (inaudible) -- specifics. Do you want to define the Lieberman bill?

Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing
March 19th, 2002

Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa, and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., Thursday called for a new structure within the executive branch to help fight the war against terrorism within United States borders. The proposal, building upon a bill introduced by Lieberman and Specter last year, would create a National Department for Homeland Defense to focus federal attention and resources on securing our borders and protecting the critical infrastructure.

Sen. Committee on Governmental Affairs
Press Release
April 11th, 2002

The Cabinet post idea has political appeal. For instance, a major sponsor is freshman Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who sees it as enhancing his credentials on terrorism-related issues in a tough re-election fight with the expected GOP primary winner, Rep. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the House subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Yet creating the 16th Cabinet department would represent an expansion of big government, a concept that the president makes a point of opposing.

Marianne Means
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
May 14, 2002

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said today he would advise President Bush to veto any legislation creating a congressionally authorized Office of Homeland Security if Congress approves a bill this year. "I'd probably recommend he veto it," Ridge told a National Journal Group editorial board meeting.

May 30, 2002

So tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single, permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people.

George W. Bush
Address to the Nation
June 6th, 2002

Hundreds of lawmakers attending the White House barbecue Wednesday night had no idea what was unfolding. The only two believed to have been briefed, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), were told during the picnic. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), author of legislation much like the White House's proposal, got a call from Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge Wednesday night asking about details of his bill -- but Ridge didn't give a hint of what was coming in the morning.

Washington Post
June 7th, 2002

I asked the Congress to work with me to come up with a new Department of Homeland Security to make sure that not only can this administration function better but future administrations will be able to deal with the true threats we face as we get into the 21st century, a Homeland Security Department which takes over the 100 different agencies and brings them under one umbrella so that there's a single priority and a new culture, all aimed at dealing with the threats ... The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President and future Presidents to better keep the American people secure.

George W. Bush
Trenton, New Jersey
September 23rd, 2002

Like there's not more where that came from?

"Full cooperation" is a many-colored <$NoAd$>thing.

From this morning's gaggle...

Q: Does the President want to really get to the bottom of the cause of 9/11? If he does, why would he limit his interview with the commission to one hour and for other officials, and, stonewall on documents?

McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought this up. This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to a legislative body in the 9/11 Commission. We have worked closely with the commission in a spirit of cooperation. And you only have to go back -- and I would appreciate it if you would report some of the facts of the type of access we have provided to the commission. We have provided the commission access to every bit of information that they have requested, including our most sensitive national security documents. And the commission chairman has stated such --

Q: Well, the commission certainly is not satisfied.

McCLELLAN: -- and as far as the President, the President looks forward to meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and answering all the questions that they want to raise.

Q: Why don't you just open the books and get to the truth? The American people deserve it.

McCLELLAN: Did you not hear what I just said, Helen? Have you not looked at the facts? I think you need to quit reading some of the coverage and look at the facts.

Q: You just said, “all the questions they want to raise.” That means he’s no longer going to limit it to an hour?

McCLELLAN: Well, that’s what it’s scheduled for now. But, look, he’s going to answer all the questions they want to raise. Keep in mind that the commission --

Q: If they’re still asking at one hour, he’ll still answer them?

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind that the commission has already had access to all the information they requested, as I just pointed out, including our most sensitive national security documents. That’s what I’m talking about when I’m talking about unprecedented cooperation. And the commission has also -- yes, let me finish --

Q: The issue is whether he’s limiting it to an hour --

McCLELLAN: Let me finish, Mark.

Q: -- and I’m asking a very simple question. If they’re still asking questions at one hour --

McCLELLAN: I think it’s important to point out the fact. Mark, let me finish. Mark, can I answer? Let me finish. It’s important that we point out these facts when we talk about this issue, because the facts have not been pointed out. The facts have not been pointed out. But the President -- I mean, the commission will be meeting with the President, after having talked for hours on hour with White House and senior administration officials. We’ve provided more than 2 million pages of documents; we’ve provided more than 60 compact disks of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. Dr. Rice met with the commission recently, and even though only five members of the commission showed up, she sat down and visited with them for some four hours.

Q: I appreciate that. You reported all that when you first told it to us. I’m asking --

McCLELLAN: No, I don’t think it was widely reported.

Q: Forgive me, I take responsibility for what I report, and I reported it.

McCLELLAN: I understand you -- I understand. But I take responsibility of talking to everybody here.

Q: Okay. All the questions that they have, he’s going to answer. If they’re still asking at one hour, is he still going to answer?

McCLELLAN: I just said that the President will answer all the questions that they want to raise. I think that’s important to point out. I mean, it’s important to point out the unprecedented cooperation we have provided to this legislative body. We have worked very closely with the commission.

Q: -- when?

McCLELLAN: Still working on the exact time for that, working with the commission.

Q: Should we expect it soon?

McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, soon. They have to -- they’re going to complete their report by the end of July now, so --

Q: Let me just ask this again. You’re going to -- you’re committing the President to answer every question raised by the panel in that interview with him?

McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to answering all the questions that they want to bring up.

Q: Which might mean that it would last longer than an hour.

McCLELLAN: Look, he looks forward to the meeting. Let’s let the meeting take place. Obviously, keep in mind everything that the commission has already had access to, everybody the commission has always talked to, and now they’re coming to the President to ask some questions of the President -- or the chairman and vice chairman will.

Q: I just want to clarify that you said that the --

McCLELLAN: No, no, I understand.

Q: -- President will respond to all of the questions the panel wants to raise.

McCLELLAN: Absolutely, of course. Of course.

Q: Personally?

McCLELLAN: Of course. And keep in mind that what we’re talking about here is a seven-eight month period. Not eight years. Now, these threats didn’t happen overnight. These threats have been building for some time. But this President has taken action to do everything we can to make sure something like September 11th never happens again. He is strongly committed to making sure that this administration works closely -- continues to work closely and cooperatively with the commission to make sure that if there’s anything else that they can bring to our attention to help us prevent attacks like that from happening every again, then we have that information.

Q: Scott, purely from a PR point of view, how do you respond to a criticism launched by Senator Kerry yesterday who said, “The President finds time to go to a rodeo, but he doesn’t have more than an hour for the 9/11 Commission?” -- wouldn’t you acknowledge that, however well you think the administration, the President, and however unprecedented you think the cooperation is, isn’t he vulnerable to some criticism --

McCLELLAN: Suggest -- look at the facts. I mean, I’ll just point out the facts. Not suggesting; I’m pointing out the facts.

Q: We would never suggest you do anything else, Scott. But my point is, don’t you think that there might be some kind of PR problem for the President when his chief challenger can say, you’ve got time to got to a rodeo, and you don’t have time for the 9/11 Commission?

McCLELLAN: That’s why it’s important for everybody to report all the facts and the type of cooperation we have provided to the commission, and the type of access we have provided to the commission. It is unprecedented. But in terms of those remarks, it appears that he does not want to let the facts get in the way of his campaign. The facts are very clear. This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 Commission, and provided access to every single bit of information that they have requested.

Q: Not unprecedented, I’m sorry. From Watergate on --

McCLELLAN: Go look at the chairman’s recent comments, Helen. I mean, I’ll be glad to go back through those.

Q: The only reason I won’t accept the word “unprecedented” is because, as I pointed out to you once before, President Ford actually testified in open session before the House Judiciary Committee --

McCLELLAN: Provided access to our nation’s most sensitive national security documents?

Q: Well, it depends on what aspect of --

McCLELLAN: Provide more than 2 million pages of documents? Provided access to hundreds of administration officials?

Q: So, but answer my question. When the President of the United States goes up to Capitol Hill, sits down in public session before an entire, full committee, and says, give me your best shot, how does the President sitting down for one hour --

McCLELLAN: Look at the facts of what we’ve done. Well, no, but keep in mind, you’re looking --

Q: We’re talking about the President’s time.

McCLELLAN: No, no, no, you’re missing the point, that the commission has already had access to everything that they’ve requested, including our most sensitive documents. They’ve already sat down and visited with White House officials and senor administration officials. And now they’ll have an opportunity to come to the President, and ask any question that they want to. The President is glad to answer their questions.

Q: So your view is that all the cooperation you’ve given -- the White House has given up to now makes it so that really an hour of the President’s time should be sufficient for them to get what they need out of him?

McCLELLAN: The President is going to make sure, as we have, that they have all the information that they need to do their job.

Q: Scott, just to make sure we’re on the same page --

Q: Scott, I think what’s puzzling everybody is why don’t you just say, instead of saying he’s staying for an hour, why not just say he’s going to sit there until the questions are answered?

McCLELLAN: I said he's going to answer all their questions.

Q: In one hour.

Q: Where is this one hour --

McCLELLAN: I'm not negotiating here from this podium with the commission.

Q: Nobody has asked -- Scott --

Q: -- one hour, is that what you’re saying?

Q: We're asking you to explain why there is this limit of an hour. Why not simply say -- forget the hour; the President is going to stay as long as he’s needed?

McCLELLAN: I think there are a lot of things that I pointed out. Go back to what the commission has already done, and then they will be sitting down with the President to visit with the President. And obviously, we're talking about -- we're talking about a seven-to-eight-month period here that they're going over. They're already going to have much of the information they need. Now they'll be coming to the President to ask some questions of him.

Q: Scott, since it now seems like the time --

McCLELLAN: Putting you next, Mike.

Q: Scott, since now seems like the time is negotiable, the President will now answer for as long --

McCLELLAN: I didn't say that. (Laughter.) Obviously, you work with the commission and you come to an agreement on the format and the setting for it. But I'm just stating a fact -- the President will answer all the questions they want to raise.

Q: I’m sorry, we all think you said it, so you said it. Okay? Is that a deal?

McCLELLAN: Putting words in my mouth? Just report what I said, is what I would appreciate.

Q: What you said doesn't make any sense, Scott. I mean, you're saying he'll answer all the questions --

McCLELLAN: Hold on. Norah has the floor.

Q: All right. Go ahead, Norah.

McCLELLAN: It's not free-for-all Tuesday.

Q: Now that the time limit has changed with the President, is also under negotiation the number of members who will be able to meet with the President? Because you've said -- you just said the commission has already had access to everything they have requested. But, in fact, the full commission is requesting to meet with the President, all the members, not just the chairman and the vice chairman.

McCLELLAN: Look, he will sit down -- he looks forward to sitting down with the chairman and the vice chairman. I pointed out to you that Dr. Rice made herself available to meet with all the commission; only five members showed up. There was another National Security Council official where only, I think, four showed up. There has not been one single commission member who has participated in every interview. I mean, they depend on others to provide them information. And so you have to look back at past practice and keep that in context, as well.

I encourage you all to go out and report all these facts and the American people have a clear understanding of the type of cooperation that this administration has provided to the commission, because it is unprecedented, it is very much in a spirit of cooperation, it is very much in a spirit of making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job and do so in a timely manner.

Obviously, when you're talking about legislative, executive branch, there are principles involved on certain matters. But we have bent over backwards to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job.

Q: Just to cross a “t” on Norah’s question, you referred to answering all the questions the panel has, answering all the questions the commission has. I thought that that meant more than the chairman and the vice chairman --

McCLELLAN: The meeting will be with the chairman and vice chairman. That's what ---

Q: Will it be for one hour or will it last --- (laughter).

McCLELLAN: We've been through this. I mean, I'm not looking at -- keep in mind -- I think it's important to report the facts of all the access that they've already had to information, which has been full access; all the access they've had to White House officials and administration officials; all the material that has been provided to them. And now they're coming to the President of the United States. Obviously, the President's most solemn obligation is the protection of the American people, and this President is acting to do everything we can to make sure something like September 11th doesn't ever happen again, by taking the fight to the enemy. And we're talking about -- we're also talking about a seven-eight month period, not an eight-year period. But these threats did not happen overnight, but this President is confronting them to make --

Q: Why does he complain all the time, then --

McCLELLAN: -- because he never forgets September 11th.

Q: Will the President apply a different standard and a different response to the intelligence commission that he appointed when he comes to talk with them?

McCLELLAN: What do you mean?

Q: Well, are these the same rules and arrangements by which he would testify ---

McCLELLAN: You're talking about an executive appointed independent commission -- Q: Right. Are these the exact same ---

McCLELLAN: --- and that's --- obviously, that’s just getting underway. And we're going to work -- the President has directed the administration to cooperate fully with that independent commission. And that's what we will. But you're jumping ahead of yourself at this point.

Q: That’s right, you're setting a precedent.

McCLELLAN: You're jumping ahead of yourself at this point. That commission is just getting underway.

Q: I’m jumping ahead of you, because you're setting a precedent with the President's --

McCLELLAN: The President has directed the administration to cooperate fully with the independent commission.

All right, one last one.

Q: Okay, so he will only testify for one hour -- that's a "yes"?

McCLELLAN: Well, that's what has previously been discussed with the commission. But I'm saying the President, of course, is going to answer all the questions they want to raise. I think that you all should make that distinction.

Q: It's scheduled for an hour; it might go longer.

Q: It might go longer?

McCLELLAN: Again, from this podium I'm telling you that the President, of course, will answer all the questions that they want to raise.

Spokeman's a tough job when you don't have a lot of good stuff to spoke.

From the president's first White House press conference, February 22nd, 2001 ...

Our budget is fiscally responsible. If enacted, it will reduced (sic) the deficit by an unprecedented amount over the next four years.

Bad budget intelligence from the CIA?

Of course, there was no deficit in 2001. So reducing it ... well, perhaps the whole thing was just a misunderstanding over plus and minus signs.

P.S. Special thanks to TPM reader PN for the quote.

Late Update: Several folks have written in to say that I'm being unfair to the president with this quote because he must have meant 'debt' and not 'deficit'. They may be right. But looking at the context, which you can find if you go through the link provided above, I don't think you can find any context which points in that direction. The only thing that points in that direction -- and it's a pretty good pointer -- is that the 'deficit' comment simply doesn't make any sense. So the only way to make sense of the comment is to assume he meant debt. Not of course that it really materially changes the underlying point since the debt has gone up by unprecedented levels, not down -- as could have been, as was, predicted at the time.

Sometimes a picture is worth <$Ad$>a thousand words.

But a good graph can be worth a thousand words, several good movies, a Raymond Chandler novel, true love, a lifetime supply of good cigars, and assorted other relics of the good life.

Paul Krugman's got one of those graphs in his Tuesday column.

Editorial Note: In the first draft of this post, "a lifetime supply of good cigars" was "a lifetime supply of Funyuns." But as I was hunting around for a Funyuns link (there could be no TPM without google) I found this rather critical article on the Funyun by Alissa Rowinsky in Flak Magazine. And I realized Funyuns are simply too awful for such a bequest to be considered a good thing even in jest. But the Funyun's loss was my gain, because Alissa's short piece has to be one of the funniest things I've read in a long time.

Up is down, baby!

WALLACE: Let's talk about that, because some families say that their biggest problem is that, at the same time the president is putting 9/11 in his campaign commercials, that he has sharply limited cooperation with the commission studying the 9/11 attacks.

RACICOT: You know, I don't believe the facts support that particular notion. The fact is that the president — this is a legislative inquiry. The president has agreed to an examination by the members of that particular commission. That is unprecedented. Typically that doesn't happen.

All of the documentation that they have requested has been provided at their request. I think their own assessment is that, in fact, the president has been entirely cooperative and trying to provide all the assistance...

That's Chris Wallace<$Ad$> interviewing the president's campaign chairman Marc Racicot yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

They've provided "all of the documentation"?

The president's been "entirely cooperative"?

Please tell me there's a penalty box for this kind of behavior.

As it happens, Racicot later tries to clarify his point after Wallace knocked him around a bit.

You'll remember, one of the big disputes now is whether all the commission members will be able to attend the interview with the president or just the two co-chairs.

When he came to this point, Racicot came up with this galactically silly argument ...

As a matter of fact, I might also point out that none of the members of the commission have been present for all of the interviews that have taken place, even those of Dr. Rice.

So apparently the restrictions are punishment for prior slacking off by the commission members.

Racicot's becoming the Tommy Flanagan of this campaign, Jon Lovitz's old 'Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket!' character from the old Saturday Night Live.

We'll be following up on this later. But apparently some of the president's most opprobrious surrogates have hit the airwaves this evening peddling their latest smear about John Kerry as a dupe or stooge for "communist North Korea".

Gettin' bad pretty quick, ain't it?

At one level of course this is just silliness. But it's no mystery what sort of dingbat imaginations and Hofstadterian impulses they're trying to tap.

It's a pale echo of the wingnut awfulness of the 'Manchurian candidate' smears the president's operatives mobilized against John McCain in South Carolina four years ago.

No surprise of course since it's coming from the same strategists.

Like we've been saying, a wounded, cornered animal.

Beware ...

At what point do you bend over backwards so far that you just fall on your face?

We've been talking this evening about a new CNN/USAToday Gallup poll that shows John Kerry beating President Bush by 6% points among likely voters in a three man race (with Nader) and 8% points in a two way race (without Nader).

Now, as of 10:30 PM on the east coast, if you go to the CNN website, on the front page you'll find the palpably ridiculous headline: "Poll: Mixed news for presidential candidates".

I mean, who came up with that headline?

With all the obvious caveats that polls eight months before an election don't necessarily tell you much about election day, there's no getting around the fact that this is a good poll for John Kerry and a pretty bad one for the president.

If you look down into the internals on both the USAToday and CNN sites you'll see a number of examples of this.

And yet on the CNN page with the actual story it says:"Kerry leads Bush in new poll: But most voters think president will be re-elected"

Skim down and you'll find that 52% of voters think Bush will win versus 42% who think Kerry will take it.

To me that seems like a pretty obvious lagging indicator for president who was extremely popular -- and seemingly assured of reelection -- but is now sinking fast.

But whatever it means, the idea that it makes the overall import of the poll "mixed news" is silly. A week from now, or a month from now, Kerry may be in the dumps. But this poll was good news for him and bad news for the president.

Why be afraid to say that? How now mau-mau?

Here we seem to have the answer to the question I posed earlier about 'likely' and 'registered' voters.

According to CNN's story on the new CNN/USAToday Gallup poll ...

The poll, released Monday, found that among likely voters, Kerry was the choice of 52 percent and Bush 44 percent in a two-way matchup, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points ...

Among registered voters, Kerry's lead over Bush narrowed from 8 percentage points to 5 points in a two-way race and from 6 points to 2 points in a three-way race.

That is because Democratic voters are indicating they are more likely to vote than the overall electorate -- something that has rarely happened in past elections and may be fueled by the interest in the recent Democratic primaries.

So there you have it. <$Ad$>When the pollsters restrict their count to 'likely' voters Kerry does better.

I'm not enough of a poll maven to give a precise enumeration or history, but that's really uncommon. Restricting down to 'likely' or even 'very likely' voters almost always gets you a more Republican-friendly number.

Notwithstanding the CNN story's reference to interest generated by the primaries, it seems to me that the most straightforward explanation of this is that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more energized, more committed to getting out and voting this year.

Of course, that energy could be a product of the primaries. But I suspect that gets the order of events, at least in part, wrong.

The fact that primaries turned out so well for the Dems -- and I mean this only in the limited sense of not producing a lot of intra-party dissension -- is a product of the energy and unanimity among Democrats over the central and overriding importance of ousting the president.