Friday, January 21, 2005

Dead Safire Still Yammering Away

Despite being completely sober--not even a cup of coffee since lunch--I managed to get through the latest Bill Safire column with only a minimal amount of gagging.

It takes guts to take on that peace-freedom priority so starkly. Bush, by retaliatory and pre-emptive decisions in his first term - and by his choice of words and his tall stance in this speech, and despite his unmodulated delivery - now drives his critics batty by exuding a buoyant confidence reminiscent of F.D.R. and Truman.

It takes "guts" to come out in favor of freedom? If you ask me, I think it's Bill who's starting to sound a little batty.

I thought we were to be spared the tired drivel of William Safire by now. Wasn't he sort of retiring, at least from the op-ed page, in order to spend his remaining days waiting for a decent funeral demonstrating his utterly useless knowledge of linguistic arcana?

Kevin Drum has a contrasting point of view on Speech Dubya: "I'll bet [Jonah Goldberg] a C-note that six months from now no one will remember a word he said." Drum also takes issue with Fred Barnes idiotic belief that Bush somehow fused idealism and realism in his "call for democracy:"

Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Whatever else you can say about George Bush, he hasn't done squat to move either of these countries into the ranks of democracy. He treats the theocrats in Saudi Arabia with kid gloves because they can jack up oil prices if they ever get pissed off at us, and he treats the military dictatorship in Pakistan with kid gloves because they provide a bit of help now and then while pretending to hunt down Osama bin Laden.

I guess the right can argue that at least Bush knows now who's the head of government in Pakistan...
On Promoting the Gay Agenda

Hint: it's not written on high quality, color coordinated stationery.

Supposedly it's to be found in videos featuring SpongeBob SquarePants.

I'm not kidding.

Jesus H. Christ (pun intended), do you think that maybe--just maybe--the REAL story here is a bunch of Jesus freaks with a little too much spare time on their hands?

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Conservative Christian groups accuse the makers of a video starring SpongeBob SquarePants, Barney and a host of other cartoon characters of promoting homosexuality to children...

"A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality," wrote Ed Vitagliano in an article for the American Family Association...

Christian groups however have taken exception to the tolerance pledge on the foundation's Web site, which asks people to respect the sexual identity of others along with their abilities, beliefs, culture and race.

"Their inclusion of the reference to 'sexual identity" within their 'tolerance pledge' is not only unnecessary, but it crosses a moral line," James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said in a statement released Thursday.

This one fails the laugh test--yet CNN, apparently with a straight face, concludes with

SpongeBob, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, was "outed" by the U.S. media in 2002 after reports that the TV show and its merchandise are popular with gays. His creator, Stephen Hillenburg, said at the time that though SpongeBob was an oddball, he thought of all the characters in the show as asexual.

It is not the first time that children's TV favorites have come under the critical spotlight of the Christian right. In 1999, the Rev. Jerry Falwell described Tinky Winky, the purse-toting purple Teletubbie, as a gay role model.

Two things: I'll admit that the only thing I know about SpongeBob SquarePants is that it's a cartoon--a FREAKING CARTOON, for chrissakes! Never seen it, never saw any products associated with it, never saw the balloon effigies that were floating around (I think) Burger Kings, etc...but it's a goddamn cartoon. Jesus freaks spending their waking hours obsessing over whether or not a cartoon character is gay is just...plain...weird. It speaks volumes.

Second--I honestly hope the cartoon character DOES promote tolerance. That's a good thing. And I'm goddamned sick and tired of hearing the "debate" over whether or not gays and lesbians are normal or depraved, degenerate rakes. Gays and lesbians are...(drumroll)...human beings. As such, they are capable of being as noble or as evil as anyone else, and it's not their sexual orientation that makes them good or bad.

Yesterday, James Wolcott had his own take on this, and it's worth noting.
I Dunno--Maybe the Norwegians are onto Something

In Norway, "Hook 'em horns" has a different meaning:

OSLO, Norway Jan 21, 2005 — President Bush's "Hook 'em, 'horns" salute got lost in translation in Norway, where shocked people interpreted his hand gesture during his inauguration as a salute to Satan.

That's what it means in the Nordics when you throw up the right hand with the index and pinky fingers raised, a gesture popular among heavy metal groups and their fans in the region.

The Mark of the Beast?
A Few Observations

After reading the tanscript of Judy Bachrach's statements on Faux News yesterday, I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that there probably won't be an encore.

Needlenose posted the link above, and cite a commenter at DailyKos as the source. Good for Bachrach--her observations are like a right cross to Barbara Boxer's left hook during the Rice hearings.

This morning I've been reading the ususal websites, trying to get a feel for the talking Chimp's inaugural address. Juan Cole links to a transcript (no, I haven't read it yet), followed by a pictoral commentary, then this conclusion:

Republicans who care about the Constitution should join Democrats who care about the Constitution in putting a stake through the heart of this abomination. A noble 200-year-old experiment in civil liberties and democracy, for which US troops are giving their lives, must not be ended by a single act of terrorism and a clique of authoritarians in Washington.

Bush's speech was about bringing liberty to the rest of the world. Let's see if he can first do something to restore to the American public the liberties we enjoyed, as free men and women, until 2001. Let's see if he can bring US government policies back into alignment with the Geneva Conventions and other international law on human rights, to which the US is signatory. Only then would he have earned the right to even think about trying to extend liberty to others.

On the other end of the spectrum, Nightline managed to come across last night as equally smug and banal. Barbara Walters (and her boots) traded gossip with Ted Koppel (ABC must have been taping the show in an airplane hanger--how else could those two egos fit in the same room?). I was able to stand about five minutes before shutting off the television and reading something a little more informative (Link provided by the newly reopened Whiskey Bar).

Anyway, the parties have mercifully ended, the hangovers are being nursed in the nation's capital (drinking expensive hard work), and reality has a way of rearing its ugly head just when you wish it'd go away: like this story in today's New York Times, noting yet another bomb explosion in liberated Baghdad. Jeez, "bomb of the month club" would be an understatement. I also noted the following--it was the second paragraph in the story:

Earlier, a First Infantry Division soldier was killed and another wounded in an operation north of Baghdad to kill or capture known insurgents, a statement from the division said.

Well, at least it made the second paragraph. Another Times article--about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi thumbing his nose at us--added the deaths as a parenthetical:

[An American soldier was killed by guerrillas during raids on suspected insurgent hideouts in central Iraq on Friday, the military said, according to Reuters. Another soldier was wounded in the raids near Duluiya, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.]

So much for "supporting the troops." I wonder how many deaths it will take before they don't even bother to report them...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Second Line

No, that doesn't JUST mean a change of nostrils for a red-eyed, pupils-dialating, heart-rate rising dauphin at Camp David.

Your Right Hand Thief has the first I've seen by way of report on the Jazz Funeral for Democracy. His post also suggests that our dear leader might do well to reflect on "how our foreign policy seems to conflict with the religious teachings you purport to cherish."

Despite what Oyster says, the pics are good--hopefully he'll have a few more to post, and at some point it'd be nice if the press published a report...
Wolfowitz: More Dead Iraqi Soldiers=Smashing Success!

You've gotta be kidding me. Wolfie's 'hair tonic' must be affecting his brain. Pandagon likens the Undersecretary's statement to plumbing: don't fix the toilet--just make sure someone else is in the bathroom when it overflows.

The number two Pentagon official said reducing American casualties in Iraq was more important than bringing US troops back home -- and pointed to the rising Iraqi death toll as evidence this strategy was working.

I'm more concerned about bringing down our casualties than bringing down our numbers," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview with PBS television's "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" program. "And it is worth saying that since June 1, there have been more Iraqi police and military killed in action than Americans." ...

The number of Iraqi troops and police officers being trained by the US military has now reached 120,000, according to the deputy defense secretary.

But he acknowledged "there are problems in the quality" of the Iraqi recruits, who he said have a tendency to disappear from their units without permission.

"Problems in the quality" of the recruits. That lends a whole new dimension--and maybe multiple dimensions--to the concept of understatement. He and Condi Rice should be laughed out of Washington.

There are dupes, there are really idiotic dupes, then you've got dupes that beg to be duped. Put Wolfie and Condi in the last classification.

The Iraq army is going to make ARVN forces look like Tiger Squadrons. For those who AREN'T insurgents who've infiltrated the ranks, life will be nasty, brutish, and short indeed. For Wolfowitz, they are a yellowing figleaf to cover what would have to improve before you could call it the festering sore that is our policy in Iraq. And, by refusing to recognize the very real problem of insurgents taking advantage of a gaping hole in the US strategy ("problems in the quality" of the recruits), the administration might as well be taping a giant "kick me" sign on its back.

Of course, most of the hot air masquerading as testimony is for domestic consumption--how high can they put the number of Iraqi "security forces" and still maintain at least a shred of credibility (answer: when you have a bleating, compliant media, the number can be quite high). At the same time, Wolfowitz's comments neither inspire much in the way of confidence nor are they, say, much of a recruiting slogan: "We Want You--To Take a Bullet for America."

But I'll bet Wolfowitz thinks it's just grand that "more Iraqi forces" are dying. That must really cut down on the number of condolence letters his boss has to sign.
Obfuscation...Is Hard Work

From Cursor, here's a Washington Post article that outlines the strategy of Team Bush--Term II: "no mistakes, no regret, no comment."

Maybe the members of the personal accountability administration were on drugs, maybe they're lying--or maybe they really are a bunch of dodderheads. But the collective amnesia is beginning to assert itself on a multi-agency basis:

Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush's pick to be attorney general, professed no recollection of his role in the writing of a controversial memo that narrowly defined what constitutes torture. This week, he refused requests to research the origin of the memo.

"I have no such notes and I have no present knowledge of any such notes, memoranda, e-mails or other documents and I have not conducted a search," Gonzales wrote in response to a request that he document his role. Even if he were to locate such documents, Gonzales added, they "would involve predecisional deliberations that I am not at liberty to disclose."

In written answers to [Senator Edward] Kennedy, Gonzales used the words "I am not at liberty to disclose" at least 10 times; "I do not recall" or "I have no recollection" six times; I did not "conduct a search" seven times; "I am not at liberty [to discuss certain matters]" 10 times; and "I have no present knowledge" seven times.

The Post piece also notes Joe Biden's irritation at the non-answers proffered by Condoleezza Rice as proof of her qualifications for office (By the way, Biden gets the treatment he deserves from both James Wolcott and Simbaud, the former likening him to a slugger who pops out, the latter dubbing him "Four Legs Good" for rolling over and voting "yea" on sending Rice's name to the full Senate.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, complained to Rice about her tight limiting of answers.

"The questions we asked, I thought, gave you an opportunity to acknowledge some of the mistakes and misjudgments of the past four years," he told Rice. "But instead of seizing the opportunity, it seems to me, Dr. Rice, you danced around it...

When it came to particulars, Rice often demurred. Asked about briefings on part of Iraq's weapons program, she said, "I'm sorry, I just don't remember." Pressed about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, she said, "I'm not going to speak to any specific interrogation techniques." When Biden asked about a possible agreement on Iran's nuclear program, she replied: "The answer, Senator, is I'm not going to get into hypotheticals till I know what I'm looking at. That's the answer."

The Bush White House, which has long complained about legislative encroachment on executive authority, dismissed the Democrats' complaints. "The president was very upfront with the American people about what we're facing in Iraq and what we're working to achieve in Iraq," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

But a number of constitutional experts -- some conservatives among them -- say the confirmation hearings underscore a lack of congressional oversight over the administration that could have a harmful effect on U.S. policies.

"It's a little bit appalling," Bruce Fein, a Reagan administration Justice Department official, said of the Bush administration's dealings with Congress. "A conservative should want greater congressional scrutiny -- it limits government, and it checks folly."

Hmm. Rice basically refuses to discuss ANYTHING. Could it be because she has no idea what she's talking about? I'm beginning to think so. As for the administration being "upfront with the American people about what we're facing in Iraq," well, that's a good one. Hey, Scott, what's next? Jokes about looking for WMD's? Oh wait, you've already done that--maybe you'll want to have some fun at the expense of those killed or wounded in Iraq--or their families.
On Impugning One's Integrity

Looking over some comments at The Angry Arab News Service, I came across Steve Expat's site. In this post he makes the exact point I was thinking while listening to Condoleezza Rice's exchange with Barbara Boxer:

Condaleeza Rice was offended that Barbara Boxer suggested she was lacking in integrity.

Note to Condi:

If you actually believed that there were WMD's and Nukes in Iraq then you are honest, yes, but you are also stupid and unqualified for any job in government, much less Secretary of State.
Cheney Pretends to be Shocked

CNN has a few lowlights of Dick Cheney's visit with fellow asshole Don Imus:

Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday that he overestimated the pace of Iraq's recovery from the U.S.-led invasion because he didn't realize the lasting devastation wrought by Saddam Hussein on his people after the first Gulf War...

"I would chalk that one up as a miscalculation, where I thought things would have recovered more quickly," Cheney said.

Earth to Dick: The aftermath of Gulf War I saw the imposition of the most severe economic sanctions in recorded history on Iraq. While I'm aware that you were busy engaging in private-sector stupidity for most of the 90's (assuming asbestos liability), you certainly should recall the sanctions themselves--hell, you helped impose them.

Well, maybe you thought that the oil-for-food shenanigans were cutting the pain just a little bit--sort of like the nitro pills you take for your bum ticker. After all, the evidence is pretty clear that the "scandal" wasn't exactly news--to you.
Freedom on the March

pResident Bush takes the oath of office in Washington DC.

At least I can get on to more important stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the Jazz Funeral for Democracy, nor could I scream while ensconsed in my cubicle, but work meant I was spared the spectacle.

So, the grayback, Ivy League, shit-kicker is promising more freedom, I hear. Liberty around the world. Now, that could mean more liberty for he and his cronies to continue on their chosen path (subscription or ad viewing required). Or perhaps it means more freedom for those Iraqis who apparently can't understand plain English. Or maybe it means freedom for retirees, survivors, and disabled citizens, who will no longer have to worry about whether or not their Social Security check is in the mail--because it won't be.

Or maybe he means more freedom of the kind meted out to the folks at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Or maybe he means the kind of freedom Iyad Allawi is so fond of in Iraq (I thought an armed society was supposed to be a polite society).

Enjoy the extra freedom. But remember, freedom isn't free...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Steamed or Fried Rice

So, last night, after deciding that I could handle watching Unforgivable Blackness despite it being a Ken Burns production (aside: I shudder to think what would happen if Ken Burns and George Stephanoupolis were ever to occupy the same room. The ensuing vacuum might take out the entire universe), I loaded up on various "medications" for an evening of Condoleezza Rice, courtesy of C-Span. It was like penance and redemption all rolled into one three hour package...

CNN reports that Condi made it through the committee by a 16-2 vote--Barbara Boxer and John Kerry (more on him in a moment) opting for thumbs down.

The penance part for me was watching Norm Coleman dance the oil-for-food-tango with Ms. Rice--if there was ever such a thing as an astroturf scandal, this has gotta be it. And, by sitting through this sack-of-shit round of questions, I think I've significantly reduced any purgatory time in the event that all that catechism nonsense I'm trying to forget somehow turns out to have a grain or two of truth.

Boxer, on the other hand, decided to remind the viewing public that the Senate is more than a rubber stamp agency. Good for her.

Since I've gotten off to such a late start here (more server stuff to deal with this morning--the good news is that the new machine is up, running, and apparently having no problems so far), I'll skip most of the details, save for noting that if you follow Rice's tortured (pun intended) logic, you could just as easily make a case for offing most Native American peoples as you can for invading Iraq. I hope we don't start hearing rumors about the Arapaho Weapons of Mass Destruction...

Speaking of native--I noticed that John Kerry is back to speaking fluent politicalese, after having a go at Campaign English. That's unfortunate: I thought maybe he'd learned a lesson or two from dealing with swing-state America, but I guess not. At least he voted against sending Rice's name to the full Senate...

Which got me thinking about something I put in the back of my head last fall, even as I preached the virture of A.B.B. to anyone within earshot: one BIG problem with the Democrats is that, even as they adapt to being entirely an opposition party, they STILL sound like politicians. Damn.

Even last night, with the exception of Senator Boxer, I kept seeing the same sort of half-question, half-droning oration of the kind that initially made me think John Kerry was going to have his ass handed to him during the primaries. And, you know what: people see through that bullshit. They may not understand the complexities, or the nuances of certain issues, but they know crap.

Oh--Rice managed to spew out plenty enough crap of her own, so it's not like I'm suggesting that the G.O.P. ISN'T doing this. Hell, at least one response to Obama Barak was so full of shit that I swear my television was beginning to smell. At other times, she filibustered with the best of them, spitting out foreignpolicybabble more or less at random. My guess is that she was either able to see the little lights that tell Senators their round is over--or, at the very least, was getting hand signals.

But, back to my point: if Democrats REALLY want to change their status, they might want to sound less like politicians, and more like citizens. For instance, as I watched Kerry, I kept thinking "just ask a fucking question." If you give Rice enough rope, she'll tie a noose and put it around her own neck in a blue-state second.

And that goes for everyone on Team Bush. Now, you actually have to PRESENT the rope to them--it's not like they're going to go out and find it themselves--but, once in their possession, believe me, they use it for only ONE THING. And the way to present the figurative rope is to simply ask questions--sort of like how journalist sort of used to do (I say "sort of" deliberately--journalists were never that pure, but they were slightly better in times past--these days, they're quasi-politicians and behave that way). I mean, jeez, TBogg notes that Rice, for instance, actually said (in regards to the August 6, 2001 P.D.B.) that "[it] does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States."

If I'd been on the 9/11 panel that day, I'd think I would've burst out in derisive laughter.

There are so many other things you can nail these folks on that it's silly--and all you have to do is make them answer. And, when folks like Rice scramble to run out the clock, you tell them, at first nicely, to "just answer the question," and, if they STILL try to bloviate, you maybe get a little less nice: "Excuse me, Ms. Rice, but you're spewing forth crap. Just answer the question please."

Now, I guess some folks will ask "but what about Barbara Boxer? She gave a speech..."

True--but Boxer also made it clear that she was doing just that. Also, she pulled no punches, and it's about goddamned time somebody did that.

Eventually, the public would realize that the bullshitters ARE the GOP. Just like, to use a now dated analogy, the public saw the difference between say, Nirvana and The Spin Doctors. Sure, the latter got themselves a video on MTV too, but does anyone really wish they had an original release of--well, whatever the hell album they came out with?

The Rethuglicans ARE The Spin Doctors--a bunch of half assed clowns who know just enough cliches to get a video of their own (and, thanks to a bleating, compliant media, plenty of air time for it to run). But scratch the surface and you see that underneath is--well, nothing. Not even a decent rhythm guitar...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Southern Pigeons?

I came across this about homing pigeons in The Science Times:

At first, the researchers found, the birds' routes were highly variable. But after a number of flights the birds began to follow the
same path from flight to flight, even though they were not necessarily the most direct routes home.

This route stereotypy, as it is called, implies that the birds use visual cues to navigate: they follow the same cues in order to reduce the memory load on their brains.

"We were also surprised that the routes were longer than they needed to be," Ms. Meade said. This implies that the pigeons use a chain of landmarks by themselves or in combination with compass bearings, but that they do not integrate direction and distance. If they did, Ms. Meade said, they would realize their routes are not the most efficient ones.

Is it possible that, in piegon brains, there's the rough equivalent of "follow the parish road for a spell, pass the whitewashed cypress barn, then take a left near the pecan tree just past the big live oak?"

Redneck pigeons--whod've thunk it?
Just Wondering

With evidence suggesting that Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn, is awash in hydrocarbons, how long will it take for the Bush administration to find "definitive proof" that there are also Weapons of Mass Destruction?

I can picture the dauphin now: " a threat."
Double Secret Probation

The Guardian UK reports on the Iraqi election and pre-election violence:

There is also a growing number of incidents south of Baghdad, even in previously quiet areas. Gunmen opened fire on a polling station in Musayib, 50 miles south of the capital. At least one guard and one insurgent were killed.

In the southern port city of Basra, mortars were fired at three schools that have been designated as voting centres. No one was injured but the schools were badly damaged. An additional 650 British troops from the Royal Highland Fusiliers arrived in the city on Sunday to boost security.

In the southern town of Numaniya, near Kut, gunmen shot dead the son of Habib Salman al-Katib, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shia clerical authority in Iraq. Several of his aides have been assassinated in recent days.

There have been other recent killings near Kut, once a peaceful Shia town, with several accounts of gunmen shooting drivers dead at checkpoints. At least 17 people died around the town in attacks on Sunday, including Iraqi policemen, national guardsmen, local government officials and Iraqis working for foreign companies involved in reconstruction projects.

What this means is that 'fourteen out of eighteen provinces free from violence" just isn't true. The "election" upcoming in Iraq, if you ask me, might well be memorable mainly in the sense that it will make Florida's during the Jeb Bush era seem clean in comparison...although here's hoping Jeb doesn't try to get any ideas...

Polling locations a secret until election day? How the hell will anyone know where to vote? Will they wait for someone to say, "psst...follow me..." And, given the "security situation," which is the polite way of saying "it's damn easy to get shot to pieces just going out of your house FOR ANY REASON," why would you trust ANYONE telling you the location of the "secret" polling place? Jeez, what a nightmare.

For those wishing to cast absentee ballots, well, at least they know where the polls are located--although some might find it easier to vote than others. Iraqis living in Switzerland, for example (about 9,000--6,000 who are eligible to vote), will have to travel twice to either France or Germany. Those in the US won't have to leave the country, but will have to get to one of exactly five locations--Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, or metro DC.

But at least the odds of getting shot or blown up are relatively minimal.

As for Bush himself, well, in interview after interview, he keeps demonstrating that he is so without a clue--about ANYTHING--that Dick Cheney ought to slap him silly, for the good of us all. Here's what he told CNN's senior White House Correspondent:

On improving intelligence
"Human intelligence, the ability to get inside somebody's mind, the ability to read somebody's mail, the ability to listen to somebody's phone call --that somebody being the enemy."

On perceptions of the United States in the Middle East
"The propagandists have done a better job of depicting America as a hateful place, a place wanting to impose our form of thought and our religion on people," he said.

"We're behind when it comes to selling our own story and telling the people the truth about America."

[there were]"some very difficult decisions that made public diplomacy hard in the Muslim world -- one was obviously attacking Iraq."

My gawd. I used to think that Bush's response to questions were much like contestant in a beauty pageant. I'll retract that--contestants in a beauty pageant tend to show a little more reflection and thought.

According to the article, Bush did another almost-apology about his use of the phrases "bring 'em on" and "dead or alive." Well, isn't that nice. He also showed his unlimited capacity for being both mule-headed and imperious--which he considers steadfast and plainspoken.

Oh--one other thing: Bush begins term two with an approval rating roughly the same as Richard Nixon's. Interesting.
Bush Solves "The Accountability Problem"

Sorry for the late start--last week's server install continues. I had to scavange an extra network card that would work with one of our boot disks in order to make a Ghost image of both the initial install (in case we ever have to put together another like machine) and the finished server (in case we ever have a meltdown of the kind I don't want to consider).

Sorry for the technobabble, but that IS what I get paid for...

Oh--my friend Benjamin alerted me to the actual Sy Hersh article somewhat mentioned below--my own link is to CNN summary of an interview with Wolf Blitzer. To be honest, I haven't yet read The New Yorker article, but it's on my agenda, once my paid work is complete.

I DID get a chance, though, to take a look at Krugman's op-ed in today's New York Times. As always, it's worth a look, even if decorum requires the Professor to tread lightly on the Bushoviks ("the Bush administration, without exactly lying, managed to keep most voters confused [on WMD's]."?).

But hey, when you work for the Times, I guess you've got to be careful--the circle tends to be a little tight.

Krugman major point is that the next Bush battle will be over Social Security. And the model for the battle will be Iraq. Hmmm. That could be looked at in both a positive and negative light.

On the one hand, it means fear-mongering of the highest order, with a side order of monotonous "on message" orations from everyone the Bush team can threaten, boss, beg, or cajole into toeing the line. Krugman notes--and I've seen plenty of posts and reports--that the Social Security administration itself being called upon to participate in its own gutting, as it were. You know, there was supposedly a time when a commanding officer, after a spectacular failure, was escorted down the hall and placed in a locked room with a bottle of whiskey and a revolver...but this is the first time I've ever seen someone--or, in this case, something--being punished for its success.

Which brings up Krugman's other point--that in the case of Social Security privitization (and in Iraq), what Bush has wrought is the overt politicization of government agencies that previously operated much more along the lines of professional, classified civil service. Hmmm.

Krugman closes with two points--the first being that the media, IF they did their job, would shed quite a bit of light on the scum that passes for truth with the Bush administration. The other point? The whole WMD snipe hunt was the "fool me once" moment...

You know, the only thing I'll add to Krugman's analysis is that, if Iraq IS the model for Social Security, then holy shit. The ONLY thing Iraq should be a model for is how NOT to do ANYTHING.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Reality Check

Counterpunch carries Robert Fisk's latest report:

"Hotel journalism" is the only phrase for it. More and more Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities. Some are accompanied everywhere by hired, heavily armed Western mercenaries. A few live in local offices from which their editors refuse them permission to leave...

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America's NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant "let alone the rest of Baghdad" lest they be attacked. Several Western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad...

...why do not more journalists report on the restrictions under which they operate? During the 2003 Anglo-American invasion, editors often insisted on prefacing journalists' dispatches from Saddam's Iraq by talking about the restrictions under which they were operating. But today, when our movements are much more circumscribed, no such "health warning" accompanies their reports. In many cases, viewers and readers are left with the impression that the journalist is free to travel around Iraq to check out the stories which he or she confidently files each day. Not so.

"The United States military couldn't be happier with this situation," a long-time American correspondent in Baghdad says. "They know that if they bomb a house of innocent people, they can claim it was a 'terrorist' base and get away with it. They don't want us roaming around Iraq and so the 'terrorist' threat is great news for them.

Fisk also compares the situation in Iraq today with that in Algeria in the 1990's, when a brutal campaign was fought between the faux-leftist government and Islamic rebels, and actually thinks it's worse in Iraq (not that many people were even aware of the horrible conflict in Algeria--short version: the government "cancelled" the 1991 elections after it became clear that the FIS, the Islamic Salvation Front, was winning the vote decisively--the ensuing conflict killed thousands).

Aside: James Wolcott, where I initially saw the link to Fisk's article, has an excellent "kiss-off" to those who've coined the ugly term "fisking" (my understanding is that it was in response to an article he wrote about nearly being killed in Afghanistan--Fisk had the temerity to suggest that rage against westerners wasn't necessarily to be unexpected from a group of people who'd been subject to the western machinery of war. Warbloggers use it when attempting to refute antiwar articles line-by-line. Good luck). Wolcott writes:

Apropos, the neo verb "fisk" and its variations are terms that will never besmirch on this site. Slurs on the name of a great and brave reporter, they gained currency among warbloggers not only because they caricaturize an ideological enemy but because "f---ing" sounds so much like "fisting," a sexual practice that excites certain verboten latent tendencies in many of them. It gives them an illicit tingle, f---ing a post. Oh well, everyone to his own hobbies, but not under my roof, mister.

Hear, hear.
More Good News

The New York Times reports on Governor Blanco's decision to pardon Betty Claiborne, whose "crime" was seeking to integrate the City Park swimming pool here in Baton Rouge back in 1963.

Additional details are here. Note that Ms. Claiborne was arrested and initially put in a four foot by four foot cell known as "the hole" for ten days before her family was able to raise enough money to bail her out.

Later, the city closed all public swimming pools for two years in order to avoid complying with a US Supreme Court decision that said "segregation of park facilities was unconstitutional."

For the record, City Park's pool never reopened, and was eventually filled in with concrete. According to the article, the concrete was added in the 1990's--although I thought it had been done earlier. Today, the building that presumably was the changing/shower area is an art gallery/public space. And, to be honest, if you go out and stand atop what was once the pool, you get a very lovely view of some of the most interesting topology here--a couple of rolling hills that are most likely a natural levee, as well as the (man-made, depression-era public works project) City Park Lake. Oh, and there's also a golf course. In fact, I might just take the short walk over as my own way to commemorate Martin Luther King Day--it's beautiful outside (a little chilly by southern standards--upper 40's--but hardly a cloud in the sky).

Let me offer my own small voice in commending the courage of Ms. Claiborne, her late sister, Pearl George, and the three other activists (who, alas, are not named in any article I've been able to locate). Challenging segregation at that time was not an act for the faint of heart. But it was the right thing to do. Governor Blanco's pardon is also the right thing to do--the city is far better thanks to their bravery.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Weekend blogging, alas, took second a back seat to more immediate concerns--a serious enough case of the grippe to turn Saturday and Sunday into endurance contests. Ugh. Getting sick when you're old is no fun.

I managed to stay literate to the extent that I was able to sit or lounge, finally starting a VERY nice Christmas gift from two very good friends--a copy of Stuff Happens--signed by author David Hare--which ran at the National Theatre in London last fall. My friends were able to see the show and I'm VERY glad I made their Christmas list.

This weekend was much better for Wilbert Rideau. Rideau was released from prison Saturday after a jury (brought to Lake Charles from Ouachita Parish to counter publicity) found him guilty of manslaughter in the death of Julia Ferguson in 1961. Originally convicted of murder and sentenced to death--three times--until the US Supreme court decision Furman v. Georgia changed the decision to life in prison, Rideau's case is a little complicated to summarize in just a few paragraphs, so anyone interested might want to look at The extremely short version is that by actually rehabilitating himself, Mr. Rideau earned the emnity of the state as opposed to its mercy. The website hasn't been updated all that recently, but there are a number of still-relevant observations, including the fact that all of those on death row when Rideau was convicted, with one exception (he died in prison), were eventually released, the longest serving 34 years (Rideau served 44 years).

This is not to justify his crimes--Mr. Rideau killed a person, and shot two others in the course of committing armed robbery. However, equal justice under the law is a central tenet of ANY system that purports to be fair. Rideau did NOT receive equal justice. He was treated unequally, and the evidence suggests he was treated this way BECAUSE he chose to do something with his life behind bars.

By the way--let's also have a rousing Bronx cheer for four Louisiana governers who showed all the backbone of a jellyfish when it came to Rideau's case. Governors Edwards, Treen, Roemer, and Foster could've joined the ranks of vertebrates, but chose to slither close to the ground on this instead. And kudos to the folks from Ouachita Parish who dispassionately heard the evidence, and judged accordingly. Rideau WAS guilty--of manslaughter. The man has served his time--let him get on with his life.

That was the good. As to the bad, well, the Kool-Aid and rose-tinted shade true believers in the Bush administration apparently can't get enough Iraq-type success--Quagmires R' Us, according to Sy Hersh, have put US commandos in Iran to look for Weapons of Mass Destruction and possibly prepare for armed raids, air strikes, or, believe it or not, invasion.


I'm hoping this is more smoke and mirrors as opposed to genuine planning, but Team Bush has shown a "damn the facts, full speed ahead" approach to everything they've gotten their grubby little fingers on thus far. And given the moron in chief's propensity for not wanting to hear any "bad" news, it's entirely possible they're thinking of broadening the quagmire. After all, it's just soldiers' lives, right? It's just civilians, right? Riverbend, by the way, has an excellent observation: 9/11 horror "justified" a response that's been, well, in my words, quite savage--yet Iraqis are supposed to accept invasion, occupation, and death as a matter of course. Her latest post is definitely worth reading.

Finally, when it comes to ugly, Chimpy McFlightsuit sure knows how to turn a phrase--or, when the phrase turns on him, he's learned how to express an almost culpa:Today in Iraq, a couple of days ago, carried a link to the entire "bring 'em on" statement--judge for yourself whether he was simply "rallying the troops," like a good cheerleader, or if his behavior was more along the lines of King George the Witless. Juan Cole makes some observations about the dauphin's response to Barbara Walters when asked about the distinct lack of WMD's in Iraq:

Bush's response contains three elements.

1) The US was not alone in being wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. All the other nations did, too.

2) Saddam was dangerous.

3) Absolutely.

When is someone going to call him on this inanity? The Belgians didn't have intelligence assets inside Iraq that could have given them an independent view of the question. Whatever the world believed, it mostly believed because the United States disseminated the information.

Moreover, it is not true that there were no dissenters. The State Department's own Intelligence and Research Division dissented. French military intelligence dissented. What Bush is saying is either untrue or meaningless.

As I have pointed out before, Saddam without weapons of mass destruction could not have been "dangerous" to the United States. Just parroting "dangerous" doesn't create real danger. Danger has to come from an intent and ability to strike the US. Saddam had neither. He wasn't dangerous to the US. It is absurd that this poor, weak, ramshackle 3rd world state should have been seen as "dangerous" to a superpower. That is just propaganda.

Calling Saddam "dangerous" as an existential element without regard to the evidence falls under the propaganda techniques of name-calling and stirring irrational fear.

As for "Absolutely," it is a weasel word. It is not an argument. It is a species of hand waving. It is cheap.

Bush has figured out, apparently, that some in the American public respond, rather like the apes to which they deny they are related, to posture, grunting and body language rather than to reason and evidence. When I see him smirking and gesturing, I can't help thinking of the ape General Thade (Tim Roth) in Tim Burton's remake of the Planet of the Apes, which used scientific findings about primate behavior and hierarchy to inform the acting.

"Absolutely" used in this way is a vocalization that actually functions as an intimidating agonistic display meant to close off further dialogue by the silverback.

What would happen if we turned away from the world of political theater to the real world? We would find a study by the National Intelligence Council which is quite alarming about Iraq and the future.

And, as to the Thade's accomplishment in invading Iraq? Cole goes on:

The National Intelligence Council, the think tank of the CIA, has concluded that Iraq has now succeeded Afghanistan as the training ground for professionalized terrorists.

Oh, almost forgot: the ancient site of Babylon, being used as a military base, has been damaged by coalition personnel. While this might not be as immediately tragic as the loss of life, it certainly doesn't speak well of us. And, on that subject, I guess anyone stopping by noted the conclusion of Spc. Graner's trial--he was found guilty on nine of ten counts of abuse of prisoners, and sentenced to ten years. In addition, he was demoted in rank, and will receive a dishonorable discharge. Some Iraqis are already expressing discontent with the length of his sentence and/or lack or remorse. To be honest, I think ten years is probably enough, provided he serves the complete sentence--and provided that the charges were accurate. However, as Rising Hegemon notes--pictorally--Graner seems to have a learning disability. Attaturk suggests this might not be an impediment to a political career with the GOP.