Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tim Russert

Don’t Let Door Hit You on Way Out, Pat

No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

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No sad farewell to Patrick Fitzgerald here. Nothing good the man did in his years as U.S. attorney in Chicago and assistant U.S. attorney in New York could ever make up for the appalling miscarriage of justice he perpetrated against Scooter Libby.

In case anyone has forgotten, Mr. F. went after Mr. Libby relentlessly, with what can only be described as a vengeance, as special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. NOT for “leaking” the lady’s name and status as a CIA covert “operative” to Robert Novak. Fitz couldn’t get Scooter for that because he knew perfectly well that the leak came from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. And because he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have a case to make on a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – which is why Armitage was never charged with anything.

But hey, a special prosecutor’s gotta do what a special prosecutor’s gotta do: indict someone for something. In this case, the anointed ham sandwich was Scooter Libby, indicted and then convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice — the “crime” of giving investigators an account of a conversation he’d had years earlier with Tim Russert that differed from Russert’s recollection.

Putting away Rod Blagojevich and a bunch of New York Mafiosi won’t make up for that. Nor will the conviction of the blind sheik.

So, as Mr. Fitzgerald goes off to a lucrative future in a fancy law firm, or even possibly to a status stint as FBI director, we should bid him goodbye and good riddance.

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Was Tim Russert Olbermann’s ‘Greatest Protector’?

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

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Scooter Libby Has His Say

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

Quin Hillyer of the Washington Times provides essential reading: an interview with Scooter Libby — the first time Libby has gone on the record to discuss his conviction and President Bush’s refusal to grant him a complete pardon. It should be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous was the decision to prosecute and how shaky was the evidence that Libby intentionally lied about hearing Valerie Plame’s name from Tim Russert. The key graph:

Never mind that Mr. Russert’s own memory had proved flagrantly untrustworthy in a previous instance. Never mind that equally famous journalist Bob Woodward testified that his own notes of a near-simultaneous conversation with Mr. Libby indicated that Mr. Woodward might have said to Mr. Libby what Mr. Libby remembered being told by Mr. Russert — in other words, that the conversations easily and innocently could have become conflated in Mr. Libby’s mind. And never mind that Mr. Libby was never shown to have a motive for lying about his conversation with Mr. Russert.

When considered with another solidly reported piece on the topic, one is left mystified as to how he could have been convicted, let alone denied a pardon. In his masterful analysis, Stan Crock explains:

Even at the end of the long ordeal, poor memory — and irony — continued to played a role. Libby called White House counsel Fred Fielding as the clock was winding down on Bush’s term to ask if he could meet with the president to make his case for a pardon. Fielding mentioned he had received a call from a senator who had defended Libby. That surprised Libby, who knew the senator but had not considered him an ardent supporter. And Libby suggested it might have been another senator who Libby knew had spoken to Fielding.

Libby, who answered questions for this article, asked Fielding three times if he was sure it was the senator Fielding mentioned, and Fielding insisted that it was. But a little later, Fielding realized that he had made a mistake and that the senator Libby had mentioned was the one who had called. “Fred,” Libby said wryly, “you could be indicted.” The incident evidently didn’t convince Fielding that Libby may have made a similar memory error. Fielding didn’t return calls seeking comment.

After reading through these and contemporaneous accounts of the trial and investigation (and when we consider Patrick Fitzgerald’s overzealousness, revealed in his most recent trial flop), one cannot but agree that something went terribly wrong. Or, put more bluntly: “And to Fred Fielding, wherever you are: Shame, shame, shame!”

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Dismantling Joe Klein

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this: Read More

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this:

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I reluctantly but foolishly said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical, and equivocal, in print–I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it–but skepticism and equivocation were an insufficient reaction, too.

Well, this admission marks progress of a sort, I suppose.

For the longest time, Klein denied ever having supported the war. He even complained about being criticized by liberals for his support of the Iraq war. “The fact that I’ve been opposed to the Iraq war ever since this 2002 article in Slate just makes it all the more aggravating,” Klein said.

But what proved to be even more aggravating to Joe is when people like Arianna Huffington and me pointed out that Klein supported the war immediately before it began, thus contradicting his revisionist claim.

For the record: On Feb. 22, 2003, Klein told the late Tim Russert that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 UN resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send the message that if we didn’t enforce the latest UN resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

It’s worth pointing out that to make a false claim and revise it in light of emerging evidence is something of a pattern with Joe. After all, he repeatedly and forcefully denied being the author of the novel Primary Colors until he was forced to admit that he, in fact, had written it. It takes him a while to grudgingly bow before incontrovertible evidence. But he does get there. Eventually. When he has no other choice.

4.  According to Klein:

In retrospect, the issue then was as clear cut as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.

Presumably, then, Klein believes that Great Britain declaring war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland (Great Britain and Poland were allies and shared a security pact) was a violation of an “essential” and “immutable” principle. So was the first Gulf War, when the United States repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. So was Tony Blair’s intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (the latter widely viewed as successful in helping save that West African country from barbarism and dictatorship). So, arguably, was the American Civil War; after all, Lincoln could have avoided war, had he given in on the matters of secession and slavery.

According to Klein, no war is justified unless a nation has been attacked or is under the direct, immediate threat of attack — which means interventions for the sake of aiding allies, meeting treaty obligations, averting massive humanitarian disasters, or advancing national interests and national security are always and forever off the table.

Klein’s arguments are those of a simpleton. He has drawn up a doctrine that isn’t based on careful reasoning, subtle analysis, or a sophisticated understanding of history; it is, in fact, a childish overreaction to the events of the moment. What Klein states with emphatic certainty one day is something he will probably jettison the next.

Iraq is a subject on which Joe Klein has been — let’s be gentle here — highly erratic. He both opposed and supported the war before it began. After the war started, he spoke hopefully about the movement toward democracy there. (“This is not a moment for caveats,” he wrote in 2005, after the Iraqi elections. “It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement — however it may turn out — and for hope.”) Now he refers to it as a “neo-colonialist obscenity.” President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” went from being something that “seem[s] to be paying off” and that might even secure Bush the Nobel Peace Prize to a “delusional farce.” Klein ridiculed the idea of the surge, referring to it as “Bush’s futile pipe dream,” before conceding that the surge was wise, necessary, and successful.

This is all of a piece with Klein. And there is a kind of poignancy that surrounds his descent. Once upon a time, Joe was a fairly decent political reporter — but somewhere along the line, he went badly off track. He has become startlingly embittered, consumed by his hatreds, regarding as malevolent enemies all people who hold views different from his. In the past, his writings could be insightful, somewhat balanced, and at times elegant. These days, he’s not good for much more than a rant — and even his rants have become predictable, pedestrian, banal. Witless, even.

This cannot be what Henry Luce envisioned for his magazine.

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Still Waiting For A Real Answer

Barack Obama was asked about Hamas at a press availability yesterday, although the media accounts did not mention it. The transcript contains this exchange:

Q: The other night John McCain suggested Hamas was a big supporter, and he would be their biggest nightmare?

BO: Well I actually responded to it fairly explicitly the other day. What I said was that this was ridiculous, that my position with respect to Hamas was identical to John McCain’s. That I’ve said we should not meet with them until they recognize Israel, until they cease terrorist activities, until they support previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I went on to say that this was an example of I think a distorting of my record that John McCain has been engaging in over the last couple of weeks, that again is not consistent of the image or what he said he wants this campaign to be about. I suggested he maybe lost his bearings. His team somehow took this as an ageist comment. How that was interpreted in that fashion is still not clear to me. Last I checked people lose their bearings at every age, but as I’ve said before: I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be isolated until such time as they recognize that terrorism is not a strategy is not a strategy for them to obtain their political goals.

Alas, no one saw fit to ask about Robert Malley’s meetings with Hamas. (Malley is the foreign-policy adviser Obama just let go.) Nor did reporters push Obama on the issue that started this discussion and that Obama is studiously avoiding: Hamas’ endorsement.

It’s fine and well for Obama to say in a general election setting that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but John McCain’s central point is correct: Hamas endorsed Obama. It is worth considering why. Is it because he favors direct, presidential talks with Hamas’ sponsor Iran.? Or because Hamas sees him as lacking resoluteness or as excessively sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? And it’s not as if Hamas is an isolated case of fringe groups and individuals favoring Obama.

The issue did come up in the Meet The Press roundtable. To his credit, Tim Russert repeated the basic facts of the Hamas endorsement. However, because the McCain team chose to respond last week by pouncing on the “lost his bearings” comment by Obama, the MTP conversation quickly digressed into the age issue. No mention was made of Malley’s meeting with Hamas. Jerry Seib did manage to work in this observation:

We’ve seen in our Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling all year, the one area where Republicans can still claim an advantage is national security and military affairs. The McCain people are going to go at that time and time again, and that’s why John McCain jumped on the Hamas statement so quickly.

So the bottom line: if the Hamas issue and Obama’s general popularity with fringe international groups are issues which the McCain team believes are relevant and helpful it will be up to them to articulate the issues (without diverting the attention of the press to McCain’s age or other unhelpful topics) and push Obama to answer.

Barack Obama was asked about Hamas at a press availability yesterday, although the media accounts did not mention it. The transcript contains this exchange:

Q: The other night John McCain suggested Hamas was a big supporter, and he would be their biggest nightmare?

BO: Well I actually responded to it fairly explicitly the other day. What I said was that this was ridiculous, that my position with respect to Hamas was identical to John McCain’s. That I’ve said we should not meet with them until they recognize Israel, until they cease terrorist activities, until they support previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I went on to say that this was an example of I think a distorting of my record that John McCain has been engaging in over the last couple of weeks, that again is not consistent of the image or what he said he wants this campaign to be about. I suggested he maybe lost his bearings. His team somehow took this as an ageist comment. How that was interpreted in that fashion is still not clear to me. Last I checked people lose their bearings at every age, but as I’ve said before: I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be isolated until such time as they recognize that terrorism is not a strategy is not a strategy for them to obtain their political goals.

Alas, no one saw fit to ask about Robert Malley’s meetings with Hamas. (Malley is the foreign-policy adviser Obama just let go.) Nor did reporters push Obama on the issue that started this discussion and that Obama is studiously avoiding: Hamas’ endorsement.

It’s fine and well for Obama to say in a general election setting that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but John McCain’s central point is correct: Hamas endorsed Obama. It is worth considering why. Is it because he favors direct, presidential talks with Hamas’ sponsor Iran.? Or because Hamas sees him as lacking resoluteness or as excessively sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? And it’s not as if Hamas is an isolated case of fringe groups and individuals favoring Obama.

The issue did come up in the Meet The Press roundtable. To his credit, Tim Russert repeated the basic facts of the Hamas endorsement. However, because the McCain team chose to respond last week by pouncing on the “lost his bearings” comment by Obama, the MTP conversation quickly digressed into the age issue. No mention was made of Malley’s meeting with Hamas. Jerry Seib did manage to work in this observation:

We’ve seen in our Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling all year, the one area where Republicans can still claim an advantage is national security and military affairs. The McCain people are going to go at that time and time again, and that’s why John McCain jumped on the Hamas statement so quickly.

So the bottom line: if the Hamas issue and Obama’s general popularity with fringe international groups are issues which the McCain team believes are relevant and helpful it will be up to them to articulate the issues (without diverting the attention of the press to McCain’s age or other unhelpful topics) and push Obama to answer.

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Didn’t They Listen To Tim Russert?

Perhaps the news hasn’t sunk in that the media declared the race over, but for now Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are holding up quite nicely. It will be a tad embarrassing for Barack Obama if Clinton thumps him in a couple of primaries. (This may explain why he’s off the trail for awhile and focusing on the general election–no use giving her the satisfaction of a spirited defense or depriving himself of a built-in excuse.)

Truth be told, lots and lots of Democrats are devoted to her, which makes her leaving the race that much harder. And it makes it all the more important that Obama settle the Michigan and Florida delegate fight with excessive care, do everything he can to refrain from unduly embarrassing her, and ignore her jibes about electability. No use arguing with poll numbers and giving visibility to her (annoyingly accurate) perception that the composition of Obama’s base, at least for now, is a recipe for problems in the fall.

Perhaps the news hasn’t sunk in that the media declared the race over, but for now Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are holding up quite nicely. It will be a tad embarrassing for Barack Obama if Clinton thumps him in a couple of primaries. (This may explain why he’s off the trail for awhile and focusing on the general election–no use giving her the satisfaction of a spirited defense or depriving himself of a built-in excuse.)

Truth be told, lots and lots of Democrats are devoted to her, which makes her leaving the race that much harder. And it makes it all the more important that Obama settle the Michigan and Florida delegate fight with excessive care, do everything he can to refrain from unduly embarrassing her, and ignore her jibes about electability. No use arguing with poll numbers and giving visibility to her (annoyingly accurate) perception that the composition of Obama’s base, at least for now, is a recipe for problems in the fall.

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Where Is Tim Russert?

Ten minutes into Barack Obama’s appearance on Meet the Press, one has to wonder who replaced Tim Russert with this pained, quiet-voiced, candy-dispositioned fanboy. “Could you have handled this better,” Russert asks Obama about Jeremiah Wright, “and what have you learned from this?” I think, maybe, it’s Barbara Walters in a wig. The interesting thing is that even with these softballs being thrown at him, Obama sounds uncertain and uncomfortable.

Ten minutes into Barack Obama’s appearance on Meet the Press, one has to wonder who replaced Tim Russert with this pained, quiet-voiced, candy-dispositioned fanboy. “Could you have handled this better,” Russert asks Obama about Jeremiah Wright, “and what have you learned from this?” I think, maybe, it’s Barbara Walters in a wig. The interesting thing is that even with these softballs being thrown at him, Obama sounds uncertain and uncomfortable.

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The World’s Smallest Violin

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see enough of Arianna Huffington. Or hear her voice as much as you’d like. Even with her website, her (semi-annual, clip-job) books, and her near-hourly appearances on radio talk shows and television gabfests, I’ve come to realize that I don’t get enough histrionic screeching in my life, and the only prescription is more Arianna Huffington.

And so it was with disappointment and shock that I read in Keith Kelly’s New York Post column the allegation that NBC and MSNBC have banned Arianna from appearing on air because she criticizes Tim Russert in her new book and at the HuffPo. (Kelly attributes the item to “sources.” Hmmmm. Any guesses as to who those “sources” were? ) Apparently, this awful news was delivered to Arianna while she dined with–who else?–Barbara Walters.

Arianna needn’t worry. She looks pretty busy this month. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see enough of Arianna Huffington. Or hear her voice as much as you’d like. Even with her website, her (semi-annual, clip-job) books, and her near-hourly appearances on radio talk shows and television gabfests, I’ve come to realize that I don’t get enough histrionic screeching in my life, and the only prescription is more Arianna Huffington.

And so it was with disappointment and shock that I read in Keith Kelly’s New York Post column the allegation that NBC and MSNBC have banned Arianna from appearing on air because she criticizes Tim Russert in her new book and at the HuffPo. (Kelly attributes the item to “sources.” Hmmmm. Any guesses as to who those “sources” were? ) Apparently, this awful news was delivered to Arianna while she dined with–who else?–Barbara Walters.

Arianna needn’t worry. She looks pretty busy this month. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

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Every Which Way on the NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at West Point last night, said that Iran remains “hell-bent” on acquiring nuclear weapons.

Does Michael Hayden, CIA director, agree? Speaking with Tim Russert  on Meet the Press on March 30, he said that “we stand by the judgment” in the NIE. That seems unequivocal.

But Hayden then began to equivocate. Russert asked him point blank: “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear program?” Here is the transcript:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I–personal…

MR. RUSSERT: Yes.

GEN. HAYDEN: Personal belief? Yes. It’s hard for me to explain. And, you know, this is not court of law stuff. This is, this is, you know, in terms of beyond all reasonable doubt, this is, this is Mike Hayden looking at the body of evidence. OK. Why would the Iranians be willing to pay the international tariff they appear willing to pay for what they’re doing now if they did not have, at a minimum, at a minimum, if they did not have the desire to keep the option open to, to develop a nuclear weapon and perhaps even more so, that they’ve already decided to do that? It’s very difficult for us to judge intent, and so we have to work back from actions. Why the continuing production of fissile material, and Natanz? They say it’s for civilian purposes, and yet the, the planet, the globe, states around the world have offered them fissile material under controls so they can have their, their, their civilian nuclear program. But the Iranians have rejected that. I mean, when you start looking at that, and you get, not just the United States, but you get the U.N. Security Council imposing sanctions on them, why would they go through that if it were not to develop the technology that would allow them to create fissile material not under international control?

What about Mike McConnell, director of National Intelligence? Here he is defending the NIE in congressional testimony on February 5:

I’d start by saying that the integrity and the professionalism in this NIE is probably the highest in our history in terms of objectivity, and quality of the analysis, and challenging the assumptions, and conducting red teams on the process, conducting a counterintelligence assessment about were we being misled or so on.

That sounds unequivocal. But then McConnell, too, begins to equivocate:

The only thing that they’ve halted was nuclear weapons design, which is probably the least significant part of the program. So if I’d had until now to think about it, I probably would have changed a thing or two.

So, with Secretary Gates joining in, we now have a trifecta of confusion. The top three intelligence and defense officials of the Bush administration are disavowing the NIE even as the adminstration stands by it.

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The Klein and the Fury

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

On Friday I wrote a response to Joe Klein’s most recent Time column – and apparently Joe didn’t like it very much. On Sunday he wrote not one but two responses to my posting. They are worth unpacking.

1. Klein refers to me as the “former chief White House propagandist for the Iraq war” and says “those who spent the past seven years as propagandists for the one of the worst, and needlessly blood-soaked, presidencies in American history, have such a fabulous record of self-righteous wrong-headedness that they needn’t be taken seriously at all.”

One might think that when it comes to Iraq, Klein would tread carefully. As I have pointed out here, here, and here, Klein, despite his efforts to make it appear otherwise, supported the Iraq war before it began.

On February 22, 2003, he told Tim Russert on his CNBC program that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 U.N. resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send that message that if we didn’t enforce the latest U.N. resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

Read the rest of Wehner’s article at COMMENTARY Online.

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What If It Were John McCain…

As Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination seemed to slowly evaporate with each passing minute of the debate last night, one could  imagine John McCain on that stage and how the confrontation might have differed. Clearly, McCain (who actually does have a health care plan) will need to become more proficient and show interest in health care reform, what is one of the top issues for non-GOP primary viewers (i.e, the people he did not reach and convince to vote for him in the primaries). Second, he will have to make the case for free trade and explain why it is Luddite-thinking to revert to a protectionist regime that will benefit neither ourselves nor those friends around the world Barack Obama speaks so affectionately about. He then will have to make the tougher argument that on the issue of Iraq voters should reward him for helping, in Obama’s words, to get us out of the ditch. He will point out that other than counseling in favor of retreat, Obama has contributed nothing to the effort to achieve military and political progress, and this bespeaks a lack of realism in his overall approach to foreign policy issues. (And McCain will want to know the answer to the inverse of Tim Russert’s question from last night: What do you do if Iraqis plead with us to stay and prevent genocide?)

And so it will go. There will be real contrasts, on real issues. Obama will not have the benefit of arguing that we have had enough Clinton for a lifetime or that his opponent is responsible for a hyper-partisan style of politics. (Indeed, McCain may turn the tables and argue he, not Obama, has been the one reaching across the aisle while Obama was stuck on the far Left of his party.) He will, however, have the benefit of youth, vigor, intelligence, and good humor. This will be one fun race.

As Hillary Clinton’s chances for the nomination seemed to slowly evaporate with each passing minute of the debate last night, one could  imagine John McCain on that stage and how the confrontation might have differed. Clearly, McCain (who actually does have a health care plan) will need to become more proficient and show interest in health care reform, what is one of the top issues for non-GOP primary viewers (i.e, the people he did not reach and convince to vote for him in the primaries). Second, he will have to make the case for free trade and explain why it is Luddite-thinking to revert to a protectionist regime that will benefit neither ourselves nor those friends around the world Barack Obama speaks so affectionately about. He then will have to make the tougher argument that on the issue of Iraq voters should reward him for helping, in Obama’s words, to get us out of the ditch. He will point out that other than counseling in favor of retreat, Obama has contributed nothing to the effort to achieve military and political progress, and this bespeaks a lack of realism in his overall approach to foreign policy issues. (And McCain will want to know the answer to the inverse of Tim Russert’s question from last night: What do you do if Iraqis plead with us to stay and prevent genocide?)

And so it will go. There will be real contrasts, on real issues. Obama will not have the benefit of arguing that we have had enough Clinton for a lifetime or that his opponent is responsible for a hyper-partisan style of politics. (Indeed, McCain may turn the tables and argue he, not Obama, has been the one reaching across the aisle while Obama was stuck on the far Left of his party.) He will, however, have the benefit of youth, vigor, intelligence, and good humor. This will be one fun race.

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Russert: Do You, as President, Reserve the Right to Re-Invade Iraq?

On this, perhaps the worst evening of Hillary Clinton’s professional life, Tim Russert isn’t exactly covering himself with glory either with his extremely peculiar questions.

On this, perhaps the worst evening of Hillary Clinton’s professional life, Tim Russert isn’t exactly covering himself with glory either with his extremely peculiar questions.

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Tim Russert: What Will You Do If Iraqis Say, ‘Get Out Now!’

Next question from Tim Russert: What will you do if Martians attack Indianapolis?

Next question from Tim Russert: What will you do if Martians attack Indianapolis?

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Tim Russert: Mrs. Clinton, May I Defeat You?

Russert asks Hillary to explain how she can promise to create 5 million new jobs when her promise to create half a million jobs in New York State in 2000 went unfulfilled. Her answer: It would have happened if Al Gore had been president. It’s a good question, actually, since a Senator’s promise to create jobs is a ludicrous joke in any case. But in this context, it’s just like he’s taken a shovel and thrown some more dirt on her campaign coffin.

Russert asks Hillary to explain how she can promise to create 5 million new jobs when her promise to create half a million jobs in New York State in 2000 went unfulfilled. Her answer: It would have happened if Al Gore had been president. It’s a good question, actually, since a Senator’s promise to create jobs is a ludicrous joke in any case. But in this context, it’s just like he’s taken a shovel and thrown some more dirt on her campaign coffin.

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Tim Russert: Senator Obama, May I Help Get You Elected?

Tim Russert just tossed Obama an unbelievable softball to allow him to offer the opinion that he doesn’t like NAFTA, he didn’t like NAFTA, he never liked NAFTA, NAFTA is bad, even people who like NAFTA who endorsed him said he hated NAFTA. Just in case you don’t understand this, Barack Obama doesn’t like NAFTA, and Tim Russert wants you to know it too.

Tim Russert just tossed Obama an unbelievable softball to allow him to offer the opinion that he doesn’t like NAFTA, he didn’t like NAFTA, he never liked NAFTA, NAFTA is bad, even people who like NAFTA who endorsed him said he hated NAFTA. Just in case you don’t understand this, Barack Obama doesn’t like NAFTA, and Tim Russert wants you to know it too.

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Obama Is Right

It is beyond reasonable dispute that Hillary Clinton supported NAFTA, and Tim Russert just made sure everyone knows it. She wants to renegotiate NAFTA but not quite get out of it. As wrong as Obama may be in junking the bipartisan support for free trade it is smart politics in a Democratic primary.

It is beyond reasonable dispute that Hillary Clinton supported NAFTA, and Tim Russert just made sure everyone knows it. She wants to renegotiate NAFTA but not quite get out of it. As wrong as Obama may be in junking the bipartisan support for free trade it is smart politics in a Democratic primary.

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Not The Expected Disaster

As Peter’s report on Iraq concilliation makes clear, there is a reasonable chance to achieve a good outcome in Iraq. The political ramifications of this should not be underestimated. Last night, Tim Russert gleefully attempted to force the GOP contenders to acknowledge that the Iraq war was not a mistake. This attempt to extract an “admission against interest” looks differently in light of the reality of events in Iraq and the turn in public opinion as conditions on the ground improve. Who will have the worst of it in November if there’s a McCain-Hillary match up: the candidate who voted for the war but then lost nerve and wants to pull the plug or the candidate who struggled mightily to rescue a decent result for America? (If the opponent is Obama the divide is similary striking, minus the hypocritical backtracking.) That, plus the belated recognition by the Democratic establishment and liberal media of the toxicity of the Clintons’ brand of politics, leaves open the possibility that 2008 may not be the Republican debacle so many expected.

As Peter’s report on Iraq concilliation makes clear, there is a reasonable chance to achieve a good outcome in Iraq. The political ramifications of this should not be underestimated. Last night, Tim Russert gleefully attempted to force the GOP contenders to acknowledge that the Iraq war was not a mistake. This attempt to extract an “admission against interest” looks differently in light of the reality of events in Iraq and the turn in public opinion as conditions on the ground improve. Who will have the worst of it in November if there’s a McCain-Hillary match up: the candidate who voted for the war but then lost nerve and wants to pull the plug or the candidate who struggled mightily to rescue a decent result for America? (If the opponent is Obama the divide is similary striking, minus the hypocritical backtracking.) That, plus the belated recognition by the Democratic establishment and liberal media of the toxicity of the Clintons’ brand of politics, leaves open the possibility that 2008 may not be the Republican debacle so many expected.

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Mitt’s Faith

I want to second Daniel’s point regarding the sheer meaninglessness of questions regarding campaigning, fundraising, and polls. Minutes ago, Tim Russert’s question citing a poll in which 44% of respondents claimed that a Mormon president could not unite the country was the lowest of blows. It is frankly painful to hear Romney’s faith regularly made an issue, and the implication of the question–that Romney’s faith is a divisive issue–is virtually self-fulfilling: how can any candidate who is forced to focus on his faith ever be perceived as a uniter, particularly when he represents a religious minority?

I want to second Daniel’s point regarding the sheer meaninglessness of questions regarding campaigning, fundraising, and polls. Minutes ago, Tim Russert’s question citing a poll in which 44% of respondents claimed that a Mormon president could not unite the country was the lowest of blows. It is frankly painful to hear Romney’s faith regularly made an issue, and the implication of the question–that Romney’s faith is a divisive issue–is virtually self-fulfilling: how can any candidate who is forced to focus on his faith ever be perceived as a uniter, particularly when he represents a religious minority?

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Bad Questions = Bad Debate

This debate is dull, in large part, because the questions are so lame. Tim Russert and Brian Williams don’t have any deep observations on policy or the state of the country. So instead, they pose synthetic questions asking the candidates to respond to polls or primary election results. They think they are asking substantive questions because they ask for “specific” answers. This is journalistic vanity at its worst. Even Russert’s phony grilling of how much Mitt Romney has contributed to his own campaign is a question about an issue that only the media cares about.

This debate is dull, in large part, because the questions are so lame. Tim Russert and Brian Williams don’t have any deep observations on policy or the state of the country. So instead, they pose synthetic questions asking the candidates to respond to polls or primary election results. They think they are asking substantive questions because they ask for “specific” answers. This is journalistic vanity at its worst. Even Russert’s phony grilling of how much Mitt Romney has contributed to his own campaign is a question about an issue that only the media cares about.

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Here Comes The Clinton Love

It didn’t take long for Bill Clinton to get his wish. The media is now bathing Hillary in the delirious adoration of which she’d been deprived during the Obama surge. If tears brought her to “likeable enough,” most everyone now seems to agree with Barack Obama when last night he pronounced Hillary “plenty likable.” Tim Russert had barely signed off before commentators began complimenting Hillary on taking the high road, taking control—in short, taking the debate. The first story to pop up on my Google News home page was entitled “Clinton Shines in Vegas.”

I think I saw the wrong debate. I saw the one in which both front-runners spent the first twenty-minutes to a half-hour in saccharine deference to each other, then about ten minutes in a shared state of wistful misgivings, and then divided the rest of the time between blaming their hirelings and splitting the hairs on their nearly identical policies. In fact, among the only things that did stick out in this blameless love-fest was the bristling calculation that seems lodged forever in Hillary’s throat—no matter what she says. Alessandra Stanley unintentionally nailed it in today’s New York Times when she described Hillary’s “using niceness like an ice pick.”

Yet, everyone’s been happily gouged. And she’s earning praise for the not-so-niceness, too. She said, “President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic.” Instead of being called out as the over-the-line trash-talking that it is, this declaration is now hailed as Hillary’s crowning moment.

Calling the President pathetic while overseas goes several steps beyond describing his “bunker mentality.” But then, Mike Huckabee, cherished as he was, isn’t a Clinton.

It didn’t take long for Bill Clinton to get his wish. The media is now bathing Hillary in the delirious adoration of which she’d been deprived during the Obama surge. If tears brought her to “likeable enough,” most everyone now seems to agree with Barack Obama when last night he pronounced Hillary “plenty likable.” Tim Russert had barely signed off before commentators began complimenting Hillary on taking the high road, taking control—in short, taking the debate. The first story to pop up on my Google News home page was entitled “Clinton Shines in Vegas.”

I think I saw the wrong debate. I saw the one in which both front-runners spent the first twenty-minutes to a half-hour in saccharine deference to each other, then about ten minutes in a shared state of wistful misgivings, and then divided the rest of the time between blaming their hirelings and splitting the hairs on their nearly identical policies. In fact, among the only things that did stick out in this blameless love-fest was the bristling calculation that seems lodged forever in Hillary’s throat—no matter what she says. Alessandra Stanley unintentionally nailed it in today’s New York Times when she described Hillary’s “using niceness like an ice pick.”

Yet, everyone’s been happily gouged. And she’s earning praise for the not-so-niceness, too. She said, “President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic.” Instead of being called out as the over-the-line trash-talking that it is, this declaration is now hailed as Hillary’s crowning moment.

Calling the President pathetic while overseas goes several steps beyond describing his “bunker mentality.” But then, Mike Huckabee, cherished as he was, isn’t a Clinton.

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