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Russert Watch: Smokin' the Good Stuff

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The disconnect between reality and the dialog on this morning's Meet the Press was so acute I thought the dog had chewed the remote once again and tuned me in to Mystery Science Theater 3000.

First up was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace who seems to be the only man in America who thinks things are going, and I quote, "very, very well" in Iraq. He believes the only problem is the bad rap being given to to the war by a media obsessed with dwelling on the negative:

"I don''t think we''re getting the goodness out to the American people the way we should. Somehow we need to find a way to have balance in the amount of reporting that we're able to get out."

Pace then takes a detour into Bizarroworld and declares that the militias "are not a long term problem," poo-poohs the notion of escalating violence and impending civil war and takes heart in the active participation of the Iraqi people in fighting the insurgency:

MR. RUSSERT: General, many observers -- objective observers say that you cannot have an insurgency this robust without being enabled by the population. Now, Lawrence Kaplan in The New Republic, who'a supporter of the war, said that he wrote on a story of a young man that called emergency line 130 to report insurgents shooting mortars; no one answered the line. And then he said you don''t do it again because if you call that emergency line, insurgents get a hold of your phone number and come kill you.

GEN. PACE: Think about the two things that you said. One -- one was that they''re being supportive, and another is fear. I believe it's the fear factor, not the support factor. The tip line last March was getting about 400 tips per month. Now it''s upwards of 4,000 tips per month that are coming in from Iraqi citizens telling their government and telling us where -- --where problems are.

So the ten-fold increase in tips about insurgent violence is, you see, something to be encouraged by. It's not the result of an increase in the violence per se, it's because the Iraqi people have just become a lot more enthusiastic about helping out.

While others were happy to dunk their fingers in the purple ink, General Pace seems to have immersed his entire head. He's now Lizzie Grubman with oak-leaf clusters.

Next up, Russert had Jack Kemp and John Edwards who safely avoided almost every substantive development in the issues they were invited on to discuss. Father Tim broke out one of his patent-pending "gotcha, Democrat" moments on John Edwards because he -- like the majority of Americans -- has had a change of heart over his early support for the war. Edwards appeared quite surprised that this should be a cause for so much Timmeh triumphalism.

No doubt it secured Russert's invitation to this week's Cheney chili cook-out.

Then began the contortionist twists around the subject of the Dubai Ports World deal. Jack Kemp gave off merging into the wallpaper to announce that despite the fact that overwhelming numbers of Americans oppose the deal, their concern is undue because many US ports were already being operated by companies with ties to Communist China.

One wonders how he imagines the GOP base and the Reagan Republicans will find this comforting.

John Edwards then opined that the solution is to award the contracts to American companies and everyone spent a great deal of time talking about what boon companions we have in the United Arab Emirates. The successful avoidance of any discussion about the legitimate fears harbored by most Americans with regard to the deal was quite a feat.

Those fears were well articulated by Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Weisman, writing in the Washington Post:

Joseph King, who headed the customs agency's anti-terrorism efforts under the Treasury Department and the new Department of Homeland Security, said national security fears are well grounded.

He said a company the size of Dubai Ports World would be able to get hundreds of visas to relocate managers and other employees to the United States. Using appeals to Muslim solidarity or threats of violence, al-Qaeda operatives could force low-level managers to provide some of those visas to al-Qaeda sympathizers, said King, who for years tracked similar efforts by organized crime to infiltrate ports in New York and New Jersey. Those sympathizers could obtain legitimate driver's licenses, work permits and mortgages that could then be used by terrorist operatives.

Dubai Ports World could also offer a simple conduit for wire transfers to terrorist operatives in the Middle East. Large wire transfers from individuals would quickly attract federal scrutiny, but such transfers, buried in the dozens of wire transfers a day from Dubai Ports World's operations in the United States to the Middle East would go undetected, King said.

It's no surprise Kemp didn't bring this up -- the GOP, having pushed every button they could find to convince the country that Arabs=terrorists are now having a hard time splitting hairs between "good Arabs" and "bad Arabs." And Tim -- well he's got a fever for Lynne's chili, he's not going to risk it. But what does Edwards have to lose? Is he afraid that the "racist" grenade will be lobbed at him by people who've never given a happy hootie about civil rights as anything other than something to crush in the consolidation of their base? I'm guessing not, because the conversation then segues into Hurricane Katrina and Edwards appears to be openly courting the Lestor Maddox brigade in some new reverse Southern Strategy. Queried by Russert about the racial divide and Hurricane Katrina, and whether this has hurt the Administration in the eyes of African Americans, Edwards says:

And then, finally, and this is a critical component, responsibility matters. You know we, the American people, our country, we expect people that we're helping to help themselves. And where we -- we have to address things like teenage pregnancy. One -- --one of the things I find when I sit at these tables with families who live in poverty is the mother of four or five children has kids who are having kids. We have to do something about that.

There's really nothing quite like a panel full of white male millionaires scolding poor African American women about their reproductive irresponsibility, particularly in a conversation about the victims of Hurricane Katrina and in a week where South Dakota has passed a bill guaranteeing every rapist the right to have his fetus carried to term because women just really need to learn to keep their legs together.

Who knew the bigot vote was even in play?

That Edwards would not bring up the single biggest event of the week with regard to Katrina -- the tapes which show George Bush deliberately misled people about what he knew before, during and after the hurricane hit -- was quite the gift to the Administration. No doubt Lynne is penciling his name onto the invitation list as we speak. He can bring the potato salad.

As for me I'll just give the remote to the dog and hope that I eventually stumble on more substantive news, maybe Rita Cosby grilling Tito Jackson.