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Myanmar Guilty of "Criminal Neglect," Says Gates

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 5:14 PM EDT

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It's now been a month since Cyclone Nargis swamped the Burmese coast, inundating huge swaths of the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta and killing as many as 134,000 people. A further two million living amidst the flood damage are now at risk of disease, with tens of thousands facing the immediate threat of starvation, according to humanitarian NGOs.

Speaking at a security conference held in Singapore over the weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates accused Burma's military government of "criminal neglect" and warned that "unless the regime changes its approach, more people will die."

Some NGOs, frustrated with the pace of relief operations, are urging the U.S. military to launch a series of unilateral relief missions, with or without Burma's permission. (The moral dilemma at issue brings to mind a similar case, circa 2003, in which some humanitarians found themselves applauding the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein.)

But Gates, acknowledging that "it's becoming pretty clear that the regime there is not going to let us help," ruled out the possibility. "There is great sensitivity all over the world to violating a country's sovereignty, and particularly in the absence of some kind of U.N. umbrella," he said. Gates went on to deny that the American experience in Iraq had anything to do with its reluctance to go it alone.

Be that as it may, relief work is front and center in the Pentagon's emerging war on terrorism strategy. In my most recent piece for Mother Jones, I described a November 2005 policy statement, Directive 3000.05, which states clearly and for the first time that stability operations—Pentagon-speak for relief and humanitarian work—now rank of equal importance to combat missions. Already Burma has allowed 95 U.S. military relief sorties, carrying 1.5 million pounds of supplies, to land in the city of Yangon. But the far larger payload of humanitarian supplies now waiting aboard a fleet of U.S. naval ships (led by the USS Essex, pictured above, which alone carries 22 helicopters), has not been cleared for delivery. Helicopters could deliver supplies directly to where they are needed, but that, it seems, is the problem: the military regime fears any direct contact between its population and the U.S. military.

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Bo Diddley Dies at 79

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 3:38 PM EDT

mojo-photo-diddley.jpgLegendary guitarist Bo Diddley has died at age 79. The AP calls him "a founding father of rock 'n' roll whose distinctive 'shave and a haircut, two bits' rhythm and innovative guitar effects inspired legions of other musicians," while Billboard notes his contribution to the essential ingredients of contemporary music, saying his fuzzy, distorted guitar sound "perfectly complimented his frenetic songs, which he played on a homemade square guitar while decked out in dark sunglasses and a black hat. Similarly, his rhythmic, boastful vocal style predated rap by several decades." Across the pond, the UK Guardian also acknowledges Diddley's influence, saying his "signature "hambone" beat provided one of the original and most enduring rhythms in rock… [and provided] the foundations from which many musicians - including the British invasion bands of the 1960s - have built."

After the jump, some videos.

McClellan and Me, Part II: Did I Shift from Target to Influence?

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 12:01 PM EDT

Did I help motivate Scott McClellan to write his book blasting the Bush White House as a den of disingenuousness?

Over the weekend, Politico published McClellan's original proposal for his book. (Hat tip to Ryan Grim, who's written for Mother Jones, for snatching this scoop.) In the proposal McClellan promised, "I will look at what is behind the media hostility toward the President and his Administration, and how much of it is rooted in a liberal bias."

Yes, that ol' "liberal bias." McClellan promised to skewer the media for being run by out-of-touch left-leaning journalists:

Fairness is defined by the establishment media within the left-of-center boundaries they set. They defend their reporting as fair because both sides are covered. But, how fair can it be when it is within the context of the liberal slant of the reporting? And, while the reporting of the establishment media may be based on true statements and facts, is it an accurate picture of what is really happening? And, how much influence do the New York Times and Washington Post have in shaping the coverage? And, why does the media do such a poor job of holding itself to account, or acknowledging their own mistakes?

But, McClellan said in the proposal he would go beyond an examination of the MSMers:

In addition to covering the above issues and questions, I will get into the influence of activist liberal reporters, like Keith Olbermann, Nation editor David Corn, and Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin, and activist liberal media personalities, like Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bill Maher, and Arianna Huffington.

Well, in the end, it seems that I might have had some influence on McClellan, whom I tangled with at the White House. In two books, The Lies of George W. Bush and Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (the latter co-written with Michael Isikoff on Newsweek), I documented how the Bush administration wielded false information and half-truths (at best) as part of a PR campaign to win public support for the invasion of Iraq. That is exactly what McClellan describes and criticizes in his own book. By the way, the subtitle of my first Bush book was "Mastering the Politics of Deception." What's McClellan's subtitle? "Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."

So what happened to that "liberal bias." Once outside of the White House bubble, McClellan seems to have discovered that--guess what?--it was closer to the truth than his own press briefings.

Even Utah Not Thrilled to See Bush

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 11:33 AM EDT

Boy, did I get an earful from my mother this weekend! Not because I haven't come to visit lately, but because the president has. My parents live in Park City, Utah, which last week played host for a few hours to George W. Bush. When I spoke to my mom on Saturday, she was still fuming that Bush had some nerve coming to her town, mucking up traffic, forcing kids to stay out of school, scaring people with helicopters, and then sticking the local taxpayers with $30,000 in security costs, all so Bush can raise money for John McCain, who is afraid to be seen in public with him. What really irked my mom was that just two days after Memorial Day, not a second of Bush's visit involved paying a brief sympathy call to one of the many families in Utah who've lost loved ones in Iraq. Instead, Bush spent his time at the vacation manse of Mitt Romney, chatting up people who'd paid $35,000 a piece to get in the door.

My mom, admittedly a huge Hillary Clinton supporter, was practically spitting as she described how Bush and his enormous entourage that included no fewer than five military helicopters not only failed to meet a single non-donating peon during his visit, but also occupied 80 rooms at the exclusive Stein Erikson Lodge in Deer Valley, where suites even in the off-season will set you back $600 a night. The lodge is the most expensive, swanky resort in all of Park City, with twice-daily maid service, European spa offerings, four-star restaurants, and access to many mountain bike trails.

Prominent Clinton Backers Slowly Backing Off

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 11:31 AM EDT

Despite Terry McAuliffe's insistence that the race is not over and may not even be over when Obama gets to the (new) magic number of 2,118 delegates, the Clinton campaign is facing a serious challenge from within. Key surrogates are weakening in their support.

Here's former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack:

"It does appear to be pretty clear that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee. After Tuesday's contests, she needs to acknowledge that he's going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him."

Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

"It would be most beneficial if we resolved this nomination sooner rather than later... The more time we have to get through a general-election period and the more time we have to prepare in advance of the convention, the better."

Bush Pep Talk to Generals: "Stay Strong! Stay the Course! Kill Them!"

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 11:10 AM EDT

Here's an example of the President's motivational and oratorical power, from the autobiography of retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. Bush is speaking to his national security team and generals after the famous 2004 incident in which four contractors were killed in Fallujah:

"Kick ass!" he quotes the president as saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can't send that message. It's an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal."
"There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!"

Can you imagine what Bush's inevitable commencement speeches are going to be like in his post-presidency? "Take the road less traveled! Dare to be great! Follow your dreams! Be confident! At those times Jesus carried you! Kick ass!"

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At DNC Meeting, Obama Rules

| Sat May 31, 2008 9:17 PM EDT

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The rule-breaking Florida and Michigan primaries will count, but not as much, and not how Hillary Clinton wanted them to, the Democrats' Rules and Bylaws Committee decided Saturday in D.C. The Clinton campaign had asked that both states' delegations be seated in full, with full votes, according to the results of the states' January primaries. Instead, the 30-member RBC, citing party rules and the possibility of setting bad precedent for next primary season, voted to seat Florida and Michigan's delegates with a half-vote each.

In addition to halving the votes of Florida and Michigan delegates, the rules committee endorsed the Michigan Democratic Party's compromise 69-59 split on Michigan delegates. It was a move that especially enraged Clinton supporters. The Clinton campaign had asked for the 73 delegates it says she won in January's disputed primary, with 0 delegates going to Obama, who was not on the ballot. In Clinton's plan, the 55 remaining delegates would have been seated as "uncommitted" delegates, and would function essentially as superdelegates.

Not even the Clinton campaign's best-case scenario would have netted her enough delegates to catch Barack Obama in the delegate race. Still, today's decision, which netted Clinton just 24 delegates, was clearly a disappointment to the New York Senator's camp. But the Clinton campaign still had a choice. They could calmly but strongly express their disagreement with the decision, as Clinton adviser and rules committee member Harold Ickes did after the vote on the Florida delegation didn't go his way. Or they could cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the decision and accuse the rules committee of "hijacking" the will of the voters. That's what Harold Ickes did after his side lost the vote on the allocation of the Michigan delegates:

"I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," Ickes said. "Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path to party unity," he added. Then came the kicker: "Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee."

Harold Ickes Is Not Happy

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:40 PM EDT

It seems obvious now that there is majority support for the solution supported by the Michigan Democratic Party. That would mean 69 delegates for Hillary Clinton and 59 for Barack Obama (with each delegate getting one-half vote).

But Harold Ickes (and, by extension, Hillary Clinton) are very unhappy. "I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters," Ickes said. He used the word "hijack" a lot, and said "Hijacking four delegates is not a good way to start down the path to party unity." The big news of the day was the final words of Ickes' argument: "Mrs. Clinton has instructed me to reserve her rights to take this to the credentials committee." If the crowd in the meeting room is any indication, Mrs. Clinton's supporters want her to exercise that right.

It could be a bluff. But make no mistake: if Hillary Clinton takes this dispute to the credentials committee, she'll be going to the mattresses. Most of the top leaders of the Democratic party have indicated that they do not support this process extending to the convention. If Clinton wants to go down that road, she'll face a lot of opposition.

Before the final vote, Michigan Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer got a final chance to speak in favor of the motion supporting the party's 69-59 split. He thanked the committee for its consideration and promised to work hard for the Democratic nominee.

The measure passed, 19-8.

Now it's time to wait and see how the Clinton campaign responds. If Ickes' speech opposing the motion was any indication, they won't respond well.

Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver! Denver!

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:28 PM EDT

The Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting is getting fairly raucous. When the motion to fully seat Florida's delegation failed, the crowd started shouting: "Denver! Denver! Denver!" The debate is being constantly interrupted by heckling. But Alice Munro, speaking in the debate over giving the Florida delegates half-votes, called for unity. After having supported the first motion, Munro said: "The world's not perfect, but it's good. What this party needs is unity." Ickes echoed her sentiments.

The motion to give the Florida delegates half votes passed with 27 yes votes.

Rules Committee Votes Against Fully Seating Florida

| Sat May 31, 2008 7:09 PM EDT

The RBC returned after a three-hour lunch with a motion that Florida's delegates be seated in full with their full votes. The Clinton supporters on the committee apparently forced the vote. In support of her motion, committee member Alice Huffman emphasized that the Florida Democrats were not responsible for changing the date—that was the Republican-controlled legislature.

David McDonald, who opposed the motion, agreed with Huffman that it was not the fault of Florida voters that their primary didn't count. Yvonne Gates, who also opposed the motion, said "What we were trying to do was to respect the rules. It was not the voters fault. But when you have rules, they must be followed. And if they're not followed you have chaos."

Tina Flournoy, who is one of the two most avowed Clinton support, said she planned to "strongly support" the motion although it "has no chance" of passing.

Other committee members spoke in favor and against, but it was obvious that the motion was doomed from the start. It failed, 15-12.