Saturday, May 10, 2003

Extreme Poverty Rises When Bushes Rule  

via The Children's Defense Fund from an idea by Bob Harris at Tom Tomorrow.

Wherever They Turn...  

They make a bad decision.
A Senate committee said Friday it had voted to lift a decade-old ban on the research and development of low-yield nuclear weapons, overriding Democratic arguments that repeal would damage U.S. efforts to stop the spread of nuclear arms.

"This is a major shift in American policy," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the panel's top Democrat. "It just sort of makes a mockery of our argument around the world that other countries -- India, Pakistan -- should not test and North Korea and Iran should not obtain."
I like that. "Just sort of makes a mockery..." That's real forceful.

At $5,000 An Hour, Bush Could Have Waited  

Good, don't let them get away with it.
Several administration officials Wednesday defended President Bush's flight on a Navy jet to an aircraft carrier last week, saying there was a minimal difference between the cost of the president flying to the ship in a jet versus flying in a helicopter.

The senior White House officials' comments came after questions about the cost and nature of the president's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln were raised by Democrats in recent days. Some Democrats have criticized Bush's national address from the carrier as little more than a campaign event for a president up for re-election in 2004...
Those partypoops! How could they?
Several senior White House officials told CNN there was a minimal difference between the cost of Navy jet landing or one with a Marine or Navy helicopter.

And at the Pentagon, several Navy officials said there was no delay or cost overrun due to Bush's trip to the carrier. The costs were roughly equal -- about $5,000 an hour, Navy officials said.
Yeah, right they're equal. And at 5 g's/hour, dude, with the government flat broke, couldn't you wait 'til shore? Oh, but hey, get a load of this:
The White House officials said the Navy recommended the jet as the safest mode of travel to the aircraft carrier because it offered the option to eject if the aircraft missed the deck on its approach for landing.
Oh, the images it conjures up! George W. Bush sailing through the air. Wheee! Y'know, if it was that goddam dangerous, wtf was George doing it for in the first place? And how come they were going to do it on a chopper first?

Oh, that's right, to thank the troops. He couldn't wait.

Karl Rove Is A Liar  

How on earth do they get away with this?
...if Mr. Rove has his red-white-and-blue way. Democrats can rightly fear an "October surprise" coming color-coded by Tom Ridge next time around.

"The country has not been hit since 9/11," Mr. Rove took care to note, as if tracking a new gross domestic product index as he fielded a question about the civil rights strictures of the Patriot Act.
Oh? And what was July 4, 2002 LAX?
An Egyptian immigrant who opened fire inside Los Angeles International Airport committed an act of terrorism, but he did it alone and was not tied to any terrorist organizations, federal officials have determined. Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, killed two people at the ticket counter of El Al, Israel's national airline, and wounded several others in the July 4, 2002 attack before he was fatally shot by an airline security guard. The Justice Department withheld characterizing the shooting while federal agents launched a worldwide probe. They determined it was terrorism related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, an FBI spokesman said. (AP)
So the United States was hit, you liar.

At the time of LAX, the Bushites were emphatic. No, it was not a terrorist attack.

Now it's a terrorist attack but not to a group. So that doesn't make it a real terrorist attack.

Well, that's a relief. Especially to the victims.

And let's not forget this one in Jordan that killed a US ambassador. Well, yes Karl, the country wasn't hit. Just the country's ambassador.

Aggregation of Church And State  

Sheesh! You have to watch these guys like a hawk.
The Bush administration has quietly altered regulations for the nation's leading job training program to allow faith-based organizations to use ''sacred literature,'' such as Bibles, in their federally funded programs. Civil liberties activists say the new rules blur the line between religion and government.

The change, made by the US Labor Department last month, could allow faith-based groups to use religious books as historical texts or as inspirational stories for job seekers, as long as organizations do not proselytize or conduct prayer sessions.

* * *

Opponents complain that Bush and his backers are using federal rules and bills authorizing individual social programs to get what he could not win in his broader faith-based initiative.

Katrina Leung's Republican Party Connections Disappear From News Coverage  

Thank you, thank you, Josh Marshall, for being all over the Katrina Leung story. He details the extent to which all of her Republican Party affiliations have literally disappeared from the coverage, yet they are at the center of the story. Go here and here. All the major media outliets have closed down on the Republican connection to Leung. Josh also links to information I did not yet have, that Leung was a voting member on the Republican Party's California central committe.
Katrina Leung seemed just the sort of woman the California Republican Party wanted in its ranks.

A Chinese American business consultant from Southern California, Leung spoke Cantonese, Mandarin and English with ease, was well connected and was eager to donate her energy and money to the GOP.

She gave thousands of dollars last year to gubernatorial candidates Richard Riordan and Bill Simon, and they thanked her by name in speeches and on Web sites. U.S. Rep. David Dreier liked his San Marino constituent so much that he recently appointed her as a voting member on the state party's central committee.
This is one helluva scary story.

Michael Totten: Builders and Defenders Analysis  

In an earlier post, I discussed Michael J. Totten's Builder's and Defenders. As mentioned earlier, I was not a little surprised, given the fact that it seemed to be written from a heavily biased right wing viewpoint that Michael claimed he was a "life-long liberal." So I took an hour and examined each statement.

I made some slight changes to the summaries posted earlier. Here are the updated summaries. In his piece, Michael clearly expresses approval for the right wing side of the spectrum by dissing liberals and leftists far more often than the right while praising right wing views and persons more often than left.

Unit of measurement is roughly one sentence. Sentences that were neither a praise or a diss were not counted.

Total number of praises of liberals/leftists/far leftists: 9
Total number of praises of right/far right: 20
Total Number of disses of liberals/leftists/far leftists: 46
Total Number of disses of right/far right: 20
Serious Distortions: 4


Outright Praise of Liberals:  8
Subtle Praise of Liberals/Leftists: 1
Outright Liberal Disses: 24
Outright Disses of the Far Left: 7
Subtle/Hedged Disses At The Liberals and the Left: 15
Outright Praise of the Right: 11
Subtle Praise of Right/Far Right: 9
Outright Disses of the Right: 9
Outright Disses of the Far Right: 2
Subtle/Hedged Disses of the Right: 9

I also promised you a full breakdown of how I analysed his post. You can find it here. I will correct obvious errors, but I stand by my interpretation of the sentences.

Leung Indicted  

Her Republican party activism was again not mentioned.

And the NY Times doesn't mention her Republican connections either.

But what was confirmed, at least per ABC, was that for 12 years, the FBI knew she was a double agent. Curiouser and curiouser.

Friday, May 09, 2003

From the Department of Home-Grown Fascism  

One more inadvertent lesson about freedom in America.
Some teachers in Oakland are rallying behind two students who were interrogated by the Secret Service. That followed remarks the teenagers made about the President during a class discussion. The incident has many people angry.

For years the classroom has been the setting for the free expression of ideas, but two weeks ago certain ideas led to two students being taken out of class and grilled by the United States Secret Service.

It happened at Oakland High. The discussion was about the war in Iraq. That's when two students made comments about the President of the United States. While the exact wording is up for debate, the teacher didn't consider it mere criticism, but a direct threat and she called the Secret Service.
There are way too many of these stories and one was enough.There is no justification for this.

None. None.

The Onion's Really Funny Today  

Bush, Blair Nominated for Nobel Prize for Iraq War. I nearly split a gut reading this. Why, haha, they even made the site look like it was a real Reuters news release!

via the comment board at Atrios.

Josh Marshall On Katrina Leung  

Finally, Josh Marshall has begun to blog about the Leung story. He has caught on to the fact that Leung's Republican party activism, which was intense, has been buried by the sclm, but he hasn't yet figured out what the story is about:
Here, though, is the deeper problem. What does it say about the Republican party that one of their activists was a spy? Not much. At least, not necessarily. It's embarrassing that one of their fund-raisers, someone who gave money to GOP politicians and no doubt rubbed shoulders with many of them, was a spy. But does it mean the Republicans are traitors? That they're compromised in some way? That they're soft on China?
It wouldn't mean much at all if that was the story. But the story is that Leung was involved in the illegal campaign finance scandal. To recap what I wrote earlier:

Katrina Leung appears to have been a conduit for illegal campaign donations from the Chinese to Republican candidates, according to reputable reports, during the time she was an important FBI asset. Her handler and lover JJ Smith was heavily involved in the investigation of similar activities involving the Democrats and the Chinese. These investigations have recently been called into question by people closely involved with them.

If Leung was illegally funding money to Republicans, it seems more than likely that Smith, an important FBI official, knew about it. It raises the question of whether he was actively involved in it himself and whether he was encouraged to do so by others. It also raises concerns that the investigations into alleged Democratic scandals were a diversion, to deflect attention away from the flow of some $2.5 million into Republican war chests from the Chinese.

Line Up, Boys And Drop 'Em For the Reverend. Gotta Make Sure You Ain't No Anti-Christ!  

“Who will the Antichrist be? ... Of course he’ll be Jewish... If he’s going to be the counterfeit of Christ, he has to be Jewish. The only thing we know is he must be male and Jewish.”

Jerry Falwell, as quoted in The Clinton Wars

More On Strauss  

Cursor brings an interview with Leo Strauss' most prominent critic of his politics:
'Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat,'' [Shadia Drury] said in a telephone interview from her office at the University of Calgary in Canada. ''Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them.''

''The Weimar Republic (in Germany) was his model of liberal democracy for which he had huge contempt,'' added Drury. Liberalism in Weimar, in Strauss's view, led ultimately to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Like Plato, Strauss taught that within societies, ''some are fit to lead, and others to be led'', according to Drury. But, unlike Plato, who believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that ''those who are fit to rule are those who realise there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior''.

For Strauss, ''religion is the glue that holds society together'', said Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neo-conservatives, has argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the founders of the U.S. republic.

''Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing'', because it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. ''You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty,'' according to Drury.

Strauss was also strongly influenced by Thomas Hobbes. Like Hobbes, he thought the fundamental aggressiveness of human nature could be restrained only through a powerful state based on nationalism. ''Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed,'' he once wrote. ''Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united - and they can only be united against other people''.

''Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat,'' Drury wrote in her book. ''Following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured. Had he lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, he would have been deeply troubled because the collapse of the 'evil empire' poses a threat to America's inner stability.''

''In Strauss' view, you have to fight all the time (to survive),'' said Drury. ''In that respect, it's very Spartan. Peace leads to decadence. Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in.'' Such views naturally lead to an ''aggressive, belligerent foreign policy'', she added.

As for what a Straussian world order might look like, Drury said the philosopher often talked about Jonathan Swift's story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. ''When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect.''

For Strauss, the act demonstrates both the superiority and the isolation of the leader within a society and, presumably, the leading country vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

Drury suggests it is ironic, but not inconsistent with Strauss' ideas about the necessity for elites to deceive their citizens, that the Bush administration defends its anti-terrorist campaign by resorting to idealistic rhetoric. ''They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy,'' she said.

Michael Totten: On the Internet No One Knows You're a Dog  

Kieran Healy recently criticized a a very odd post by Michael J. Totten. Actually Professor Healy didn't criticize it so much as eviscerate it. While Professor Healy's remarks are absolutely correct, there's one point he nudges up to, but doesn't state out right. Put baldly, is Michael Totten really the liberal he says he is?

In the post, Totten claims "I'm a life-long liberal." But he tears into liberals for their lack of interest in "real" history. As Totten cheefully admits, he is speaking in broad generalizations. The problem is that many of his generalizations are patently ridiculous. Professor Healy and others have gone into this, and I've posted some comments about the substance of his post as well. Here I want to address his style of argument, to make a point that goes much further than a trivial blogfight.

My instinct is generally to trust that bloggers are what they claim to be. But Michael's post seems to belie his claim to be liberal let alone non-partisan, which he also claims. He goes out of his way to trash liberals and the left. Likewise, he is fulsome in his praise of right wingers, including Joseph McCarthy. Whenever possible, Michael hedges his praise of liberals, and hedges his "dissing" of conservatives.

I took an hour to analyze this. Here's how it breaks down (I did not include his update comments in my analysis):
Praise and Disses By Political Orientation In Michael Totten's "Builders and Defenders"
Summary of Findings

Outright praise of liberals : 8

Outright praise of the right: 11

Outright disses of liberals/left: 31

Outright disses of the right: 4

Subtle praise of liberals/leftists: 1

Subtle praise of the right: 9

Subtle/Hedged disses at liberals/left: 15

Subtle/Hedged disses at the right: 9

Serious distortions of fact: 4
I'll post the "raw data" later today (and maybe prettify the above as well). By the way, while everything above is as accurate as I could make it (in fact I gave Michael every benefit of a doubt), I cannot resist poking a little fun at academic pomposity; hence, the title, if not the whole project. But let's be serious.

If you look at these numbers, I think it is clear that Michael is one weird liberal. He disses liberals a total of 46 times. He disses the right only 13 times. He praises liberals 9 times but praises the right 20 times.

But this "quantitative analysis" is not, eh, the half of it. He rips into a far left blog poster, i.e., someone of no importance, and praises the unfortunately far too influential Senator McCarthy's knowledge of Stalin (and not sarcastically, i.e., in the way the two resembled each other). While he rightly imputes paranoia to McCarthy, he hedges this by reminding us that McCarthy was sometimes right and his fears were sometimes well-grounded. There are plenty of other such examples in this post, where the argument is purposely loaded against liberals.

What is going on with this "life-long" liberal? I have some ideas, and I will post them soon.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Strauss (but not Richard or Johann!) and Mozart  

If you've been reading The New York Times or The New Yorker recently, then you've probably encountered references to the philosopher Leo Strauss , who is the important intellectual influence behind the so-called neo-cons. Is he worth reading? From what I can tell, no. Here's an online introduction to Straussian thought. He reminds me with his interest in secret knowledge only available to the few, the elite, of the Gnostics, but it seems less liberatory than they. He also reminds me of Ayn Rand, with his emphasis on moral absolutes, but without her ballsy, gutsy uncouthness that keeps your attention focused even when her writing or ideas are at their most sickening. Frankly, either assoiciation gets me more interested in wrestling with his ideas directly.

But it's a third Straussian tenet that I want to focus on, his reverence for classic literature.

As someone who had a semi-classic education - Latin, Ancient History, The Great Books - I certainly understand and admire great literature, art and thought and know how important the study of "the canon" is. What seems troubling about Strauss, and is certainly the case with many of his acolytes, is the assumption that a coherent political philosophy that addresses fundamental modern problems can be sensibly based on texts dealing with life 2500 years ago. What also is troubling is the reverence accorded these old texts, as if in some sense they are beyond any serious engagement on the level of their quality. In fact, with Strauss himself, the introductions to collections of his work, interviews with admirers, all have that aspect of a Great Man whose value is simply beyond serious discussion.

As a musician, one encounters this attitude as well, and it's exasperating. Take the case of Mozart. Virtually no one who knows anything about music would argue with the proposition that he was one of the greatest musical geniuses that ever lived. However, there are two ways of approaching his work. The most common is to treat the entire catalog, with the possible exception of some early juvenilia, as a sacred text, to be studied and admired, but beyond serious qualitive judgements. Its greatness, all of it, is beyond serious question.

Another approach, and I'll make no bones that I prefer it, is to believe that anything Mozart wrote, on the basis of prior reputation, is worth hearing. However, after studying the piece, it behooves each listener to engage with the specific work qualitatively. This means asking a presumptuous question: How good a job, really, did Mozart do here?

Even the highest authorities, like Mozart, must constantly be confronted and the worth of their output never assumed to be beyond question. In such an approach, aesthetics and understanding become dynamic processes of active engagement, not stiff rituals of worship.

In fact, if you do approach Mozart this way, you go on the most extraordinary journey. As I see his catalogue, roughly everything before k.271 is poor to mediocre, although there's some enjoyable listening in there. After k.271, around the time Mozart was 21, he begins to write awesomely great music. But not all of it is great. The piano sonatas are second rate, especially when compared to Haydn's. As Glenn Gould said (one of the few knowledgeable musicians who loathed Mozart thoroughly), his developments are atrocious, not that he had any good ideas to develop in the first place.

Also, Mozart at any age is quite capable of grinding out bad stuff even in his most respected idioms. The late g minor string quintet is, of course, one of the classic reasons why God may eventually forgive humans their sins. But there is an earlier quintet, I forget which one, that has a middle movement written in a lot of crude octaves and unisons. When I first heard it, I thought Mozart was on too tight a deadline to do something good. I later learned that was exactly the case.

Nevertheless, the worshippers refuse to criticize this piece. It is just a different kind of masterpiece from the G minor. I really don't think it is. I think it's too poorly written to be worth another listen.

The worshippers probably pity me my arrogance in questioning Mozart; I know they find it beneath themselves to discuss the worth of an individual work. I wonder, however, if they are missing out on one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of encountering a work of art: the encounter with art free of preconceptions of worth, so that the piece is forced to persuade you, to show its emotions, its meanings and speak to you as if for the first time to anyone.

In the case of Mozart, it allows one to hear the D Minor Concerto k.466 as a living, breathing organism, as something that has the power to amaze and stun in totally different ways every time you hear it.

Encountering art this way is not relaxing or consoling. Instead it is very challenging. When you unexepectedly encounter great art, however, and find yourself overwhelmed by your emotions all the while your mind is following the structural complexities, well, suffice it to say, that to my taste that ranks as one of life's peak experiences.

Boycott The Beatles Again!  

Oh, dear oh dear oh dear. The Mayor of London has called Bush "corrupt". And he adds, "This really is a completely unsupportable government and I look forward to it being overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown."

The official Bushland response came from Ari Fleischer: "I've never heard of the fellow."

Why should Ari know who the mayor of London is? I mean, it's not like foreigners knew who Giuliani was. Or who Bloomberg is.

(Didn't know The Beatles were boycotted before, huh? It happened on July 31, 1966 when an interview with John was published in the US. He said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Beatles records were burned and merchandise boycotted.)

Taliban, Driven From Kandahar, But Not Defeated  

According to this Times article via Cursor:
The Taliban presence is so strong that even many of those who have been refugees here for 20 years seem to believe that the Taliban will return to power in Afghanistan. "There will be fighting until the Taliban get power again," said Nur Mohammad, an Afghan shopkeeper. "God willing, they will force those infidels out of the country."

Leung: More Info On Sioeng, Chung, and Smith  

I just found some more info on the finance scandals. Most interesting stuff, and of course the story is more complicated than it looked earlier. I've annotated a question to the excerpt:
Leung's name does not appear in any public records as an information source or target of campaign finance investigations, although she probably knew many of those involved, Justice Department officials say.

But the officials say she was one of the key sources of information about Ted Sioeng, who along with his family and business associates contributed more than $400,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1995 and 1996, according to congressional records. Half of that money was wired from bank accounts in Hong Kong. Sioeng also contributed $150,000 to Republican causes. [Is this Leung's info or has any of it been substantiated?]

The investigations never proved whether Sioeng was acting as a conduit for Chinese money. Now, investigators in the Leung case wonder what role she may have played in the decision by Sioeng and 28 family members or associates to leave the United States or refuse to talk after the fund-raising scandal broke.

Another connection between the spy case and the fund-raising investigation involves Johnny Chung, who pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions and cooperated, initially in secret, with the FBI. Chung's FBI handler was Smith and Chung also was represented by Sun.

Chung testified before Congress that after he began cooperating, he received veiled death threats from a man in Beijing who claimed connections to a high-level Chinese intelligence officer. Chung and his family were placed under FBI protection and sent to a confidential location in California.

Court documents in a civil lawsuit filed by Chung against the government say Smith was "frustrated" by the leaks about Chung and believed they were coming from FBI headquarters or the Justice Department. Smith is quoted in court documents as telling Chung he would "cut all contacts with headquarters in D.C."

Don't Be Taken In  

Irking N.R.A., Bush Supports Ban on Assault Weapons. Wow! Has Bush decided to get in touch with his inner wuss? Is he supporting L-word positions?

Don't be silly. He's just agreed to renew an already existing bill. Why?
Advocates on both sides of the issue say the White House appears to have made a bold political calculation: that the risk of alienating a core constituency is outweighed by appearing independent of the gun lobby, sticking to a campaign promise and supporting a measure that has broad popular appeal. ... That position has forced Democrats in the Senate to reject plans for a more ambitious weapons ban.
Moreover, the bill is pretty worthless.
Unfortunately, the firearms industry has been very successful at evading the ban," Kristen Rand, the [Violence Policy Center's] legislative director, said. "Assault weapons remain a huge public safety problem."

FBI Lover of Republican Fundraiser And Accused Double Agent Indicted  

In keeping with its policy of not alluding to some politically uncomfortable facts regarding Katrina Leung, The New York Times reports today on the indictment of John J. Smith, her FBI handler and lover. I decided to write the reporter a letter, which serves as a good summary of what is so serious about this bizarre case (slightly revised):

Your article today regarding the indictment of "JJ" Smith describes Katrina Leung as "a businesswoman and political fund-raiser in Los Angeles." What is not mentioned is that Leung was a very active Republican fundraiser and contributor. This obscures some of this case's most troubling aspects.

Katrina Leung appears to have been a conduit for illegal campaign donations from the Chinese to Republican candidates, according to reputable reports, during the time she was an important FBI asset. Her handler and lover JJ Smith was heavily involved in the investigation of similar activities involving the Democrats and the Chinese. These investigations have recently been called into question by people closely involved with them.

If Leung was illegally funding money to Republicans, it seems more than likely that Smith, an important FBI official, knew about it. It raises the question of whether he was actively involved in it himself and whether he was encouraged to do so by others. It also raises concerns that the investigations into alleged Democratic scandals were a diversion, to deflect attention away from the flow of some $2.5 million into Republican war chests from the Chinese.

I've based the above on the following reports, among others:

The UPI on April 25, learned that "Senate investigators in 1996 suspected Leung as being a conduit for secret Chinese government payments to the Republicans, but the committee, headed by former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, dropped the inquiry before a report could be written. 'The money came out of Macao,' said one former congressional investigator, and 'was funneled through Taiwan.'" This can be found here.

During the Asian finance scandals of 1996/1997, she publicly defended Ted Sioeng, an Asian multimillionaire who "had donated to several Republican campaigns, including then-California state treasurer Matt Fong and a Republican think tank." Sioeng fled the country when it became known. Details can be found at here.

The Washington Post article adds that in addition, JJ Smith worked on the Johnny Chung investigation (involving alleged contributions to Democrats) while he was the handler and lover of Leung. In that article Senator Thompson said, "[Given Leung's arrest as a double agent for the Chinese, ] the question is, did she dampen the FBI's ardor on campaign finance? She could have been significant. I'm trying to figure it out myself."

Finally, an unnamed prosecutor quoted here alludes to the possibility that the information pointing to Democratic fundraising scandals may be suspect given the exposure of Leung's role in Chinese intelligence.

True, it all depends upon whether Leung was what Senate investigators suspected she was in '96, a financial conduit from the Chinese to the Republicans. Apparently, the Senate has decided not to revisit this, but they should. There is already far more reason to suspect something seriously amiss than there ever was during Whitewater at its height.

And the the issue involved - the illegal influence of an election by a foreign government under the noses, if not with direct knowledge, of the FBI - is extremely serious.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

William the Innumerate  

As reported all over the place including here, William J. Bennett, a truly sanctimonious and obnoxious but very influential right winger, has one helluva major gambling problem, having lost some 8 million bucks doing high stakes gambling over the past pile of years. While he says now he's no longer gonna gamble, which certainly must be a relief to Mrs. Bennett, that's not the major problem. The fact that he's a worldclass hypocrite and fraud is not the major problem either, except to those who actually believed him in the first place.

What is major bad is that Bennett is seriously innumerate. That is, Bennett can't, for the life of him, understand even the most elementary principles about how numbers work. "Advanced" math like the calculation of odds and averages are beyond him. Probability, which can get so dicey it can trip up experts,.. forget about it. If the subject interests you, this looks like a good lay discussion of probability (the author is no relation to Billy the Better as far as I know).

So, when Bill says that he came out about even over the 10 plus years of his career as a whale, I genuinely think he believes he's telling the truth. But probability dictates that this is, with near certainty, not the case. This is a fact he is intellectually incapable of understanding.

His extreme innumeracy makes him an easy mark not only for casinos, but for hucksters and con artists. Since he's in the right wing extremism racket yet commands enough respect to get his betting butt onto major news shows - or at least he used to - there's a lot of seriously weird people who are perfectly capable and willing to bamboozle Bill the Better with a bogus batch of statistics.

This can lead to some seriously ugly shit.

Once, Bennett took a break from losing his shirt in Vegas to bring America troubling news about its gay second-class citizens: Gay sex will kill you but fast. Bennett ominously cited research that demonstrated that the average gay guy lives until the age of 43 while straight guys live well into their 70's.

Therefore, guys, if you like other guys, don't get it on for two reasons. Most importantly, Bill Bennett doesn't like it. Secondly, you'll likely be spending your retirement pushing up daisies with your fellow Damned.

Atrios dredged up an article about this stuff and, of course, the reasoning is debunked in a few paragraphs that an 8th grader laboring without Bennett's handicap could understand (btw, the stat came from a genuine nutball who was drummed out of the American Psychological Association after complaints - fancy that! - about his research methodology). Bennett eventually issued a retraction but it was too late. An utterly groundless myth about gays settled down into the polluted sewers where right wing loons feast upon the latest racist and bigoted swill. Since people actually believe Bennett is an authority, imagine if you read this right after your son told you he was gay.

Of course, from Bill's priggish perch, you shouldn't be sleeping with your lover anyway, so big deal the number's a crock. But to the rest of us, for whom the world does not revolve around video poker, the distribution of statistics that couldn't possibly be accurate is a very big deal. When the person distributing the statistic touts himself as an expert but does not have the skills or the interest to verify the stat's accuracy, he has committed a serious ethical breach.

Now, I'll admit to a few partially-crocodilean tears at Bill's conditon, because his innumeracy and his gambling are cognitive deficits over which he has little control. But I am absolutely furious at the fact that he has caused serious anguish to folks who are not only entirely blameless, but responsible American citizens.

As long as he refuses to acknowledge his serious cognitive deficits, which lead him to misundertand both statistics and House Advantages, he is a very creepy fellow to have skulking around tv cameras or publishing houses spewing out opinions.

Not only does not know what he is talking about when it comes to quantitative data, he probably cannot ever know. And until he recognizes his problem publicly and stops covering his bigotry with a patina of empiricism, he will continue to preach to the converted, spreading inadvertent but nevertheless hateful falsehoods about innocent groups of people.

Tomasky Sees It  

Michael Tomasky has a terrific article on the character of the man who, by right, should be president right now. In his column in The American Prospect, Tomasky reminds us of Al Gore's tour of duty in Vietnam, which was smeared by the Bush thugs while they covered up the fact Bush went AWOL from the National Guard. I especially like the last paragraph, a wake-up call to a somnolent party:
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, needs to learn from the Gore experience that we are not dealing with people who play by any known rules. Such smear campaigns can't be ignored or wished away but have to be countered -- quickly, and on many fronts, from the cable shows to the major media to local newspapers and television stations across the country. Democrats already have one would-be president who was clearly the more honorable and qualified man but who's sitting at home in retirement. They can't afford to make it two.
Nor can the country afford it. When Tomasky means countering smear jobs on all fronts, I think he also means to counter at different rhetorical levels so the message is heard by many different kinds of people.

Tom Friedman: Master Of Analogy  

Like Rush Limbaugh consuming his fourth banana split in a row, Thomas Friedman stretches the limit of the possible. Consider the first clause to the lead of his latest column on Iraq:

"It isn't often you get to see a live political science experiment..."

Who could imagine that 12 common English words could be fused into such a powerful synthesis of emotional immaturity, wrongheadedness, and utter stupidity? But that's what a great writer does, expand our concept of what can be done with the simplest of materials.

But Friedman also is a superb craftsmen. Not content to let the rest of the column slide into merely bad prose, he writes:

" [I]nterim Iraqi authority should not focus on holding national elections — the hardware of democracy. Elections should come last. Instead, it must start with the software — building, brick by brick, the institutions of a free society..."

Hat's off, gentleman, a genius! Who knew that elections were the "hardware of democracy?" A merely talented writer, realizing that elections are the only way most citizens ever interact with their leaders would analogize, "Elections are the user interface of democracy." A garden variety great writer would know a little more about both elections and computers and write, "Elections are the Graphic User Interface of democracy." But a once in a lifetime prodigy is required to link democracy to hardware.

But wait, there's more! "[Elections] must start with the software - building, brick by brick, the institutions of a free society..."

Perhaps the full extent of Friedman's achievement here is lost on you, gentle reader. But consider. Do you think of software as bricks? Not I - I can't even think of a halfway decent building analogy for what software is (a factory maybe?), but bricks sure ain't it. Do you think of "the institutions of a free society" as software? Not I - if forced to use a high-tech analogy, the institutions of a free society ideally resemble a Beowulf Cluster.*

So in a brief phrase and a half, Friedman manages to combine three totally incongruent notions into an analogy of stupefying incoherence, PLUS he displays a thorough ignorance of the workings of government, of computers, and of the building industry. That's brilliance.

We are not worthy.

Nor are we worthy of the Times op/ed's other authors today: Maureen Dowd, who expends an entire column on the idiot Ali G; and Richard Norton Smith, who compares Bush favorably and in all seriousness to Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan.

*If the institutions of a free society are a Beowulf cluster, then the US government under Bush has replaced Linux with the latest version of Windows: riddled with bugs, entirely secret, and arbitrarily restrictive on your rights.

Let's Hope So  

Cheney Says He Will Be Bush's Running Mate in 2004. It will make it that much easier. I still have nightmares about a Bush/Rice ticket.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Hawash Update  

This Find Law analysis found by the great folks at Talk Left clues legal civilians in on the egregiously unconstitutional behavior of the feds during Mike Hawash's detention and arrest.
Hawash's case raises some very troubling questions: If the government had a basis for criminally charging Hawash all along, why didn't it offer that as the reason for his detention, rather than invoking the material witness statute? Was the reason for detaining Hawash as a material witness so that the government could use the intimidating confinement to obtain information, while avoiding the basic protections that are given criminal defendants? What motivated the government's conduct?

Many observers have been disturbed by detentions like Hawash's, especially because the government has made mistakes. In at least one case , the government obtained a false confession from a material witness who, the government had to later concede before a federal judge, had no terrorist connections.

Some have even suggested that this tactic is unconstitutional, as a Due Process violation or otherwise. In this column, I will argue that the government's tactics are, indeed, unconstitutional, for they violate the Fourth Amendment.

Al Qaeda: Crippled Or Hibernating?  

This article in the Washington Post finally got me worried about Al Qaeda again:
The failure of al Qaeda to launch terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies during the war in Iraq has bolstered a growing belief among U.S. intelligence agencies that 19 months of worldwide counterterrorism operations and arrests have nearly crippled the organization.
Hello? You think they're stoopid? They're gonna attack when the US most expects them to?

It took about three years from bin Laden's radicalization during Kuwait until the first WTC attack. If the US stays free from terrorist attacks from al Qaeda and now Iraqi terrorist groups from now until 2006, then I think we can safely say they're crippled.

The NRA's New Crusade  

Read all about the new plan to arm the most vulnerable of our fellow-citizens: Fetus Americans

The Niger Forgeries  

Note; This is primarily based on an earlier analysis I had done of Bush's remarks about Saddam's nuclear weapons combined with Joe Conason's analysis of new material which he discusses in his Salon blog. I've fleshed out details but the analysis of the new material is Conason's.

To those of us keeping a close tab on the Bush administration, it is simply accepted as common knowledge that they lie constantly, reflexively, blatantly, and often for no other reason than that they know they can lie.

But Bush's lying is not common knowledge to the American public, even those who don't hold him in high regard. How could this be? After all, they have long stopped bothering to cover their lies.

Possibly it has to do with the enormous extent of the lying Bush and Co. do. Taken individually, which is how most people encounter the lies, each one seems either relatively minor or explainable.

Here's a serious whopper. It is a matter of the gravest importance to Bush's credibility and competence to lead. Will it ever rise to the level of a major public scandal, a fate it fully deserves? I doubt it.

As Sy Hersh made abundantly clear in this New Yorker article, the documents obtained from Britain regarding the alleged sale by Niger of nuclear material to Iraq were crude fakes. They were so crude that the moment they were turned over to the UN weapons inspectors in late winter/early spring 2003, the inspectors knew them for what they were. Badly executed forgeries.

These documents were referred to by Bush in his State of the Union address last January. Was Bush lying in that address? When did the administration learn the Niger documents were fakes?

I recently had a run-in with a troll who said that Bush didn't lie because he couldn't possilby know they were fake at that time. I responded that Bush certainly was lying for two reasons:

1. Our intelligence service may be far from perfect, but they are not so dumb as to accept patently false documents as real. Therefore, whomever passed information on the Niger documents up the chain to Bush knew full well his or her words were knowingly based upon false information. Bush is responsible in a corporate sense for encouraging the dissemination of such a lie. He either tacitly, or more likely, verbally approved the use of highly dubious evidence provided it confirmed his pre-conceptions.

2. But there's also direct evidence Bush was himself lying. Take a look at what Bush actually said about the documents.
""The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
Notice the very, very careful hedging going on here: "The British Government has learned [not the US]...recently sought [did he get them?]."

It is precisely because Bush approved such weasly language that we know for a fact he's lying. Why? Because if he knew the documents are real it would have been phrased in Bush's aggressive style something like, "Through our friends the British, we have obtained incontrovertible evidence that Saddam Hussein was negotiating with an African country to obtain significant quantities of uranium." But the Niger documents were fakes, he knew it, but couldn't afford to discard them entirely. He CYA'd his mention of them

I told MSS these theories during a car trip recently. She was quite skeptical. She felt that point 1 was very weak, especially if I was pointing to a lie by Bush instead of one of his subordinates. Regarding point 2, this two was far from a blatant lie to her ears. It sounded more like careful wording than a lie. I tried to explain that one had to see these two in the context of Bush's entire presidency, but such an argument made no impression. A lie is a lie, and Bush's SOTU remark did not rise to the level of a lie.

In any event, here's the really big question that these theories raised: When did Bush know the documents were faked? A smaller, but equally important question also needs an answer: Is there any evidence that anyone high up, including Bush himself, was encouraging an atmosphere of lying to exaggerate the danger of Iraq's alleged wmd's?

This week, more evidence that Bush was indeed lying during the State of the Union address emerged. As for an atmosphere that encouraged lies, it was far more widespread than even a cynic like myself had imagined, according to a new Hersh article.

First, in the past week or so, the story about Iraq has profoundly changed. Bush's advisers on the Perle axis, talked with ABC news and let everyone know that they "weren't exactly lying" but had deliberately "emphasized" a WMD issue, which they knew wasn't a crucial matter. To them, the real reason to conquer Iraq was to gain a foothold in the Middle East as a way of stopping terrorism. So if no WMD's are ever found, big deal. Mission accomplished.*

Now, Sy Hersh, in a new article in The New Yorker teamed up with Nick Kristof in today's NY Times to make it nearly impossible to argue that Bush was not lying during the SOTU.

Hersh added more details about the atmosphere of deceit that Bush has created around him. Shulsky's "Cabal" was empowered, at least at the Rumsfeld level if not higher, to manufacture a case for Iraqi WMD's. Philosophically, via many Cabal members' acknowledged allegiance to the weird teachings of Leo Strauss, they felt obligated to lie in pursuit of "protecting" the country. In Chalabi and his henchmen at INC, they found willing accomplices in the manufacture of what was, regardless of whether wmd's are actually found, a completely bogus case for their existence.

Into an atmosphere, whose mission was to manufacture evidence where none existed, the British dropped the Niger forgeries. Kristof writes:
I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.
This means that when Powell gave his speech a year later, on February 5, 2003, he certainly knew the documents were fake. It explains the non-denial he offered when the fakes were publicly exposed: “If that issue is resolved, that issue is resolved.”

It also means that when Bush gave his State of the Union speech on January 28, 2003, he too knew the documents were fake.** He was right to hedge, because he knew he was lying to the American people.

*The uncomfortable facts that the war then had no legal basis nor did Saddam have anything to do with terrorism against the US seemed never to have entered their minds: attacking Iraq made as much sense as attacking Peru. One more lie that's not really a lie. What's also interesting about the ABC News article is that no attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq for humanitarian reasons was made.

**It's not believable, but it is barely possible that neither Powell or Tenet informed the White House about the forgeries. Again, given the widespread lying and disinformation that characterize, the Bushies, the probability that Bush didn't know is close to nil.

One More From Jon Stewart  

Chris Matthews [Host of Hardball]: Given the choice between Walter Cronkite and The Daily Show, I'd rather watch you.

Jon Stewart: (shocked pause, then in a serious voice): That's the saddest thing I ever heard.

Jon Stewart, WMD  

Being someone who turns on a tv primarily to watch reruns of The Thing From Another World starring Anthony Scalia James Arness as The Thing, I've been late to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I finally tivo'd it last week and caught the great debate. Like a two-bit moralizer encountering a $500/pull slot machine for the first time, I was hooked good.

Last night was a roundup of the presidential debate amongst the democrats. Stewart's analysis of Joe Lieberman's appeal:

"Vote for Lieberman if you really like Bush but just don't think he's Jewish enough."

It was, as the kiddies say, a coffee-coming-out-the-nose moment.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Learn To Be A Republican Troll! Lesson 1  

Hi, there! I'll bet you think Republicans spend hours honing and crafting those witty repartees you see on lefty comments boards. I'll bet you think it's really hard to sound like a right wing lunatic, a skill that takes years of practice. How could a mere lefty like me compete?

What?!?! Can't you liberals be right about anything?!??! (joke, haha)

It's easy! Introducing a do-it -yourself, stay-in-your-basement, learn-at-your-own-pace online course to turn you into a GOP - certified Republican Troll!

Think it's impossible? This course is guaranteed to transform anyone to the left of John Ashcroft (and that means you, buckaroo) into a rabidly conservative attack dog within just a few days!

Lesson 1: Two Wrongs Make A Rightwinger Right!

This is a practical course and we take all our models from actual specimens of rightwing trolling collected in the field. Today's yummy little nugget was posted by Jane Galt to CalPundit's comments for "Liberal Heroes:"
I used to think that the Republicans were clearly the party of insane people, unable to simply disagree with Clinton's policies, or even say that it was perfectly just that Clinton should have to answer questions about sex under oath pursuant to a law he himself had signed into being. Nothing would do but that the man be the anti-Christ. Now it turns out that the Democrats are capable of exactly the same irrational hatred.
Whoa! I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "Dang! How can I ever argue as logically as Jane Galt? She really knows what she's talking about." Well here's her simple little trick. Just apply this easy-to-remember template:
"It's true that in the past, conservatives were wrong to X [any right wing action/belief] but today, the liberals are wrong!
That's all there is to it. Remember it as "Two Wrongs Make A Rightwinger Right". Making up great trolls with it is a cakewalk!

Ok, let's do an easy one together.

Some liberals are blogging about judicial appointments and they're scoring points against true blue freepers faster than McCarthy could name commies. Quick! Two Wrongs Make A Rightwinger Right to the rescue:
1. Start with your template: It's true that in the past, conservatives were were wrong to X [any right wing action/belief] but today, the liberals are wrong!

2. Assign a date and the proper cause: It's true that during the Clinton years, conservatives were wrong to gratuitously block Judicial appointments but today liberals are wrong! [Cool! It already sounds pretty doggone convincing!!!]

3. Polish it a little It's true that during the Clinton years, conservatives were wrong to gratuitously block judicial appointments . But today, liberals are just as wrong to block Estrada and Owen!

4. Your'e done! Go and post your new masterpiece to a lefty law blog now and troll those MoFo's!
See how easy it is? Once you get comfortable with Two Wrongs Make A Rightwinger Right , it's amazing how much trollpower can get packed in a short paragraph. Let's take a look at how Jane Galt did what she did:
1. Copy the template: It's true that in the past, conservatives were were wrong to X [any right wing action/belief] but today, the liberals are wrong!

2. Assign a date and a behavior: It's true that during Whitewater, conservatives were were wrong to portray Clinton as the Anti-Christ but today, the liberals are wrong!

3. Punch up the language, focus it, and make the parallel clearer: During Whitewater, Republicans were the party of crazies. To call Clinton a flawed man didn't suffice. Clinton had to be called the Anti-Christ. But today, Democrats are just as crazy in their Bush-bashing!

4. Personalize it by "being above partisan politics", polish it, and finally, since it's about Clinton, remind the reader about his private life. And Jane's done:
I used to think that the Republicans were clearly the party of insane people, unable to simply disagree with Clinton's policies, or even say that it was perfectly just that Clinton should have to answer questions about sex under oath pursuant to a law he himself had signed into being. Nothing would do but that the man be the anti-Christ. Now it turns out that the Democrats are capable of exactly the same irrational hatred.
Amazing, eh? A simple formula, a total non-sequitur, some buzzwords, and whammo! You the Uber Troll, dude!

Look for more lessons in the Learn To Be A Republican Troll! series right here at Tristero! Meanwhile, here are two more examples of how to use Two Wrongs Make A Rightwinger Right. Study them carefully, and then write your own and store them in a file to use whenever you need to bust some liberal tuhkus.
Back during the Cold war, Liberals were right that the John Birchers wanting to leave the UN were wrongheaded buffoons. But today, the UN's just a bunch of obstructionist troglodytes who can't understand the world's passed them by. [Man! It's like having your very own mini-Perle whenever you need a totally specious argument!]

Back in the 60's, there really were sensible reasons to oppose the Vietnam War, but now you liberals can't see the point of using our troops to protect ourselves. [Send this clusterbomb of a troll to anyone who criticizes Rumsfeld, but watch out for falling body parts!]

The Party of "No"  

It must be great being a right wing strategist. Plenty of money and so many left wingers prepared to help you frame arguments to bash themselves with. On Tapped , Todd Gitlin is quoted from an essay in the Washington Post:
The conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan has opined that the antiwar left is expressing "some kind of rage at reality," and there's something to that. Helplessness is the main note. Where right-wing resentment is the resentment of the entitled and disappointed, left-wing resentment is the resentment of the forlorn. It is not part of the left's frame of mind to offer smart domestic security programs to counter Attorney General John Ashcroft's heavy hand. And perhaps most damaging, the left is not in the habit of proposing a constructive foreign policy. If empire is doomed, then what? If American or micro-coalition intervention is a bad idea, what is the role of liberal intervention -- by the United Nations or NATO or anyone?

The left is left with its "no." A no has its occasions. But for a force that aims for power, it won't do.
Thanks, Todd. Geez. And Tapped agrees, fercrissakes:
This is indubitably the case. And a party or movement that does not address Americans's fear of terrorist attack as ably as it does their fear of losing Social Security benefits will never be a majority one. Now that smart liberals have begun to recognize that the left has no national security policy, they have to take the plunge: Actually developing one.
Thanks a lot.

Man oh man? Don't they get it? First of all, this is only their perception. Second of all, it's not true, Third of all, they've just framed the issue perfectly for the Bushites who wouldn't be caught dead doing the same in public.

More on what these programs are in a later post. But folks, it is simply NOT the case that the left hasn't addressed these issues and proposed a policy. And, tactically, can we leave the job of knocking us about to the Right? If it were true about some issue, say, the liberal position on changes in foreign policy towards Pulau (an important member of the coalition of the willing, you may recall), don't you think a huddle amongst ourselves and an announcement of our position, or a range of positions, is a better strategy than beefing about it in public?

But I'm falling into the same trap here, criticizing my own. So, I'll just gather the proposals and pass them on to these guys.

Thanks, Anyway. I'll Take Paris.  

Bush is playing host to Australian Prime Minister John Howard at the ranch this weekend, the third foreign leader -- including British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish President José Mara Aznar -- whose strong support for the war has been rewarded with a Crawford overnight.
Mercury News

McCarthy Secret Transcripts Released  

Here's the scoop. 9000 pages of secret testimony from McCarthy's investigations, including Aaron Copland, Dashiell Hammett and many others. For those of you who don't know who McCarthy was, this might be a great place to start, but the site with the docs is already overloaded.

Iraq Today  

According to this article from the LA Times, the situation in Iraq has become a, a struggle in quicksand.
Nearly a month after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, the reconstruction effort is struggling to gain visibility and credibility, crime is a continuing problem, Iraqis desperate for jobs and security are becoming angry and the transition to democracy promised by President Bush seems rife with risk.

The continuing disorder in a country accustomed to the repressive but absolute stability provided by Saddam Hussein is fueling at least a deep skepticism about U.S. intentions and at worst a dangerous anti-Americanism. As competing religious, tribal and territorial political forces move to fill the void, they threaten to divide the country rather than unite it.

On many fronts, U.S. officials appear to have been unprepared for what awaited them in Iraq..."The Americans and the British became obsessed with getting rid of Saddam; they thought he was responsible for all the catastrophes in Iraq," said Wamid Nadmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University. "But they have opened a Pandora's box."
And what else could one expect from an administration who implemented a plan by a fellow so geographically challenged he thinks the UN is located on the Hudson River? Here's some details:
• The looting that began the day after Hussein's regime fell has yet to end. On Sunday, a crowd stormed into one of the palaces recently left unprotected by U.S. soldiers. Without a true police force in place, the wide-scale stealing has spawned a culture of lawlessness. Gun markets flourish on Baghdad's back streets, and armed robberies and carjackings have become common.

• Garner's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, responsible for running the country, has yet to make its presence felt. With mass media in the capital limited to two radio stations, the office hasn't figured out how to communicate with the Iraqi people. There is no U.S. government office accessible to ordinary Iraqis.

• Many key contracts for rebuilding Iraq were not awarded until after the war started, and many contractors are waiting in hotels in Kuwait for the green light from the U.S. military that it is safe to enter the country.

• As the U.S. tries to help set up a new Iraqi government, the exile groups that many U.S. officials hoped Iraqis would rally around have won little popular support. Meanwhile, the organizations that are showing political strength — including some Shiite Muslim groups backed by Iran — are potentially hostile to U.S. aims.
And how are American forces communicating with Iraqis?
Few if any people here have even heard of Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, who has kept such a low profile as to be almost invisible. Last week he issued a proclamation saying he was the lead authority and forbidding looting, reprisals and criminal activity. But it was never widely distributed, and few people even know about it.

As for Garner and his staff, they are just beginning to communicate with the public. Their few reconstruction steps — including giving out money to returning workers — have yet to be applied evenly throughout Iraq.

In Nasiriyah on Sunday, teachers demanded to be paid, and the newly constituted city council threatened to quit unless salaries were distributed to all government workers.
And what about the Bush efforts to get the government working?
More than anywhere, it is on the political front that the U.S. faces problems. The country is a barely intact jigsaw puzzle of competing groups divided by religion, tribal affiliation and ethnicity.

Washington's main entry to Iraq was via the exile groups it had sponsored in Britain and the United States. While those groups are organized and speak in the American idiom of democracy and governance, they have little support among the Iraqi public.

"They are the worst gamble the Americans could make," said Maher Abdullah, an anchor for the Al Jazeera satellite television channel who has followed Iraq for years. "Everybody's image here is that they are CIA agents. Whether that's true or false, it's what people believe. Secondly, most of these guys have been away for years. They don't know anything about the country, about people's day-to-day priorities."

That skepticism was on display at Friday prayers in the heavily Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Baghdad formerly known as Saddam City. As more than 20,000 men prepared their prayer mats for services, Gaylan Tayr, a writer, stood with several friends and rattled off the names of the exile political groups supported by U.S. officials.

"These parties are all new, and we don't know anything about them. They may be set up by the Americans, so how can we trust them? How can we vote for them?" he said...

A recent meeting of five exile leaders at a downtown Baghdad hotel looked like a scene out of "The Godfather, Part II." Snipers leaned out windows, and the pavement outside was lined with bodyguards who bristled with automatic weapons. A small group of U.S. troops, who escorted the heavily armed exiles to the hotel, was also on hand.

While U.S. officials have spoken repeatedly about the importance of indigenous Iraqi leaders, those who have broad recognition are primarily religious figures who, to varying degrees, support an Islamic government for Iraq. One of the first arrests made by U.S. forces in Baghdad was that of Sheik Mohammed Fartusi, a rising religious figure who is backed by the powerful Al Hawza movement, a Shiite Muslim group. It was unclear why he was detained.

Although the troops let him go within a few hours, the incident appalled many Shiites and raised Fartusi's profile...

While U.S. attention is focused on this kind of political maneuvering, other groups with little if any allegiance to Washington are quietly gaining ground in Baghdad's slums, the Shiite Muslim south of the country and Sunni Muslim tribal areas...

"We've made it very clear to Garner and the U.S. government that it's a bad mistake to bring Baathists back into a position of power. That's the fastest way to spawn anti-Americanism," said Sethna, the Iraqi National Congress spokesman. "The U.S. can't tell the bad guys from the good guys, and there are many, many people who are tainted by the former regime and who were corrupt. And I don't think the U.S. is even looking at that."

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Pop Quiz Update  

For those who haven't been following how systematically the news is reported in a distorted fashion, even by the most "respected" media yesterday's pop quiz might evince some skepticism. Indeed, my smart spouse (aka MSS) seemed highly skeptical, saying that the "closings of terrorist offices in Syria" reported in the Times article could just be a later development.

I must report that this time she is wrong. Here's the Times today. I picked it up at
Militant Palestinian groups in Damascus challenged today American statements that Syria had cracked down on them, and Syria's government sidestepped the issue, refusing to confirm one of the few concessions that seemed to emerge in a weekend visit by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Mr. Powell, after meeting on Saturday with President Hafez al-Assad of Syria in Damascus, said here at a news conference that there had been "some closures" of offices belonging to the groups. The State Department identified the organizations, which it lists as terrorist groups, as Hamas; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command; and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The Syrian government today declined to confirm the news, though. "You have to ask him what he meant," said Bouthaina Shaaban, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, referring to Mr. Powell. "I'm really not entitled to answer."
But maybe the situation is more complicated, for the article goes on:
As for the militant groups, their Damascus offices were at least taking telephone calls today.

"We heard nothing of that," referring to the orders to close, said a woman who answered the phone at al-Quds Radio, which is operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, General Command. "We are still working as you can hear. Nothing new." The office, adorned with a Che Guevara poster and pro-Palestinian slogans, occupies the first floor and basement of a downtown building.

Nevertheless, there were signs that something was changing. Local journalists in Damascus reported that the offices of the three groups named by the Americans were unusually quiet, with only skeleton staffs, relatively silent telephones and the absence of the usual hubbub on a normal work day for Syria. There were other hints as well.
So is it possible that the first article got it right? Well...we'll have to keep following it but don't hold your breath. And even if they do, it may not be that important if they just move to Lebanon:
Syria is the power broker in Lebanon, and Beirut is a couple of hours from Damascus, so a shifting of the groups' presence in Damascus could be cosmetic. "If they move to Lebanon, then from our point of view, it's just a trick because they could only do that if Syria allows them to," said Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel and former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.
This is a pattern, repeated over and over. The news is reported as an immediate diplomatic triumph which is then hedged and then turns out to be completely wrong. The Times did it on Turkey, they did it on the UN. They did it with that report by Judith Miller about the Iraqi scientist who confirmed the American line about Iraq's WMD's, all of which was hoohah.They're doing it now in Syria.

It's still possible for MSS to be skeptical. The next few days will tell, unless the story falls completely below the radar, which is more than likely.

Jay, We Hardly Knew Ye  

In an apparent acknowledgment that postwar reconstruction efforts in Iraq are floundering, the White House plans to name a politically astute career diplomat to replace Jay Garner as the civilian administrator of the country, sources said Thursday.

L. Paul Bremer, ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the Reagan administration, will report directly to the White House, sources said.

Patriot Act Psychosis  

I'm sorry, when this story was first mailed to me, it was so frightening I questioned its veracity. It came without attribution or a publication. Then it showed up on a hyper-radical site and, again, it seemed too, too much to believe. Now it's been published in a mainstream source the LA Times and has been archived over at Common Dreams.

I still find it hard to believe. But I do.

Two friends went to a Times Square area Indian Restaurant. Suddenly 5 police officers burst in.
The police placed their fingers on the triggers of their guns and kicked open the kitchen doors. Shouts emanated from the kitchen and a few seconds later five Latino men crawled out on their hands and knees, guns pointed at them.

After patting us all down, the five officers seated us at two tables. As they continued to kick open doors to closets and restrooms with their fingers glued to their triggers, officials in business suits emerged from the stairwell. Two walked over to our table and identified themselves as agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Homeland Security Department.

Having some limited knowledge of the rights afforded to U.S. citizens, I asked why we were being held. The INS agent said we would be released once they confirmed that there were no outstanding warrants against us and our immigration status was OK...

"You have no right to hold us," said Asher. But they explained that they did: This was a homeland security investigation under the authority of the Patriot Act...

When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official told me I did have the right to a lawyer but I would have to be taken to the station for security clearance before being granted one. When I asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy smile: "Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month."

We insisted that we had every right to leave and were going to do so. One of the police officers, with his hand on his gun, taunted: "Go ahead and leave, just go ahead." We remained seated.

Our IDs were taken. I was questioned why my license was from out of state and asked whether I had "something to hide." The police continued to hassle the kitchen workers, demanding licenses and dates of birth. One of the kitchen workers was shaking and kept providing the day's date — March 20, 2003 — over and over.

As I continued to press for legal counsel, a female officer put her finger in my face. "We are at war, we are at war and this is for your safety," she exclaimed. As she walked away from the table, she continued to repeat it to herself. "We are at war, we are at war; how can they not understand this?"...

After an hour and a half, the INS agent returned our licenses. An officer escorted us out. Before we left, the INS agent apologized...

Three days after the incident, I phoned the restaurant. The owner was nervous, embarrassed and did not want to talk about it. But I managed to ascertain that the whole thing had been one giant mistake.

A mistake. Loaded guns pointed in faces, people made to crawl, police officers kicking in doors, taunting, keeping their fingers on the trigger even after the situation was under control. A mistake.

And, according to the ACLU, a perfectly legal one, thanks to the Patriot Act.

The Grown Ups Are In Town  

Dave Neiwert points out this gratuitous act of journalistic fellatio from the Washington Post.

Seems like two college coaches have behaved in a very naughty fashion: drinking, going to topless bars, picking up girls, kissing coeds. They got fired for it. Okay, fair enough, they were bozos. But let's not miss a chance folks to make the point that what they did was not only stupid, but politically incorrect !
The coaching profession should take notice: Grown-ups are running this country again. Whether you like the fact or not, people such as Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are in charge, responsibility is the new chic and there is extremely low public tolerance for overserved boyish high jinks from people who are paid to be leaders.
First of all, let's get real, here. If behaving like a fool is now a political crime and Ashcroft's Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Propagation of Virtue really decides to go after college sports coaches with any sort of regularity, there only will be three left, none of whom drink, none of whom womanize, and none of whom knows how to coach.

As for the maturity of Rumsfeld and Cheney, hoo boy! Anyone who's ever seen Rumsfeld act out at his news conferences or knows Cheney's serial incompetence at everything he touches knows better than to hold them up as grown-ups.

Strange world we live in, when this kind of idiocy gets onto a sports page, usually the finest written and crustiest pages in a newspaper.

Son Of Tom  

I had no idea that the day after I excerpted Pynchon's Proverbs for Paranoids The Guardian would publish an extended excerpt from his new, not yet available, introduction to 1984. As always, more Pynchon is doubleplus good and a cause for celebration, perhaps of the fumious inhalatory sort that Messr's Mason and Dixon enjoyed at George Washington's hemp farm by the sharing of a pipe whilst wife Martha catered to their sudden and unaccountable Ravenous Hunger by supplying the duo with an endless supply of freshly baked Sugary Confections. On the other hand, best to wait 'til we're in Canada for that kind of party.

The authorial voice in the introduction is not the Zap Comix narrator of his fiction, but a darker, more brooding man. As an introduction to what makes Tom "Thomas Pynchon," best not to start here. This is Tom's other voice, for the most part. Anyway, here's the fellow on doublethink:
Doublethink also lies behind the names of the superministries which run things in Oceania - the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth tells lies, the Ministry of Love tortures and eventually kills anybody whom it deems a threat. If this seems unreasonably perverse, recall that in the present-day United States, few have any problem with a war-making apparatus named "the department of defence," any more than we have saying "department of justice" with a straight face, despite well-documented abuses of human and constitutional rights by its most formidable arm, the FBI. Our nominally free news media are required to present "balanced" coverage, in which every "truth" is immediately neutered by an equal and opposite one. Every day public opinion is the target of rewritten history, official amnesia and outright lying, all of which is benevolently termed "spin," as if it were no more harmful than a ride on a merry-go-round. We know better than what they tell us, yet hope otherwise. We believe and doubt at the same time - it seems a condition of political thought in a modern superstate to be permanently of at least two minds on most issues. Needless to say, this is of inestimable use to those in power who wish to remain there, preferably forever.
The last two sentences - that's the guy who wrote Gravity's Rainbow all right. Just capitalize "Those In Power" and put an ellipsis instead of a period after "forever..." and Shazam! there he is.

And here he is again, the author of the greatest fiction about science ever written -but not a sci-fi novel - who has always been a closet Luddite, a college buddy of the computer-bashing Kirk Sale.
What has steadily, insidiously improved since [1948, the year Orwell's novel was published], of course, making humanist arguments almost irrelevant, is the technology. We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In "our" 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.
Pynchon doesn't allude to his own involvement with 1984, the novel Vineland, a novel set in '84 that opens with not-so-ex-hippie Zoyd Wheeler donning a dress, picking up a chain saw and jumping through a huge window, a task he does once a year so that he can qualify for welfare. But then, in the conclusion, we get this sudden change of tone. Pynchon has been staring at a picture of Orwell with his adopted son, who when the picture was taken, was 2 years old. Pynchon believes, and I know he's right, that Orwell wrote the book for his kid as a warning. In the photo, the boy's smiling and:
It is the boy's smile, in any case, that we return to, direct and radiant, proceeding out of an unhesitating faith that the world, at the end of the day, is good and that human decency, like parental love, can always be taken for granted - a faith so honourable that we can almost imagine Orwell, and perhaps even ourselves, for a moment anyway, swearing to do whatever must be done to keep it from ever being betrayed.
And suddenly the later Pynchon shines out for, of course Tom is talking not about Orwell's son but about his own. His son must be just about the age that a smart kid would read 1984. So Tom wrote the intro for him, his own warning about a world that everyday finds itself in danger of making one truly nostalgic for the world of 1984, either Orwell's or the one we actually lived through.

Multiple Personality Disorder  

Ugh. Spent the morning on a post regarding why there are no American Vaclav Havels. Filled with elegantly reasoned arguments and witty repartee. Any conceivable objection was anticipated and debunked.

Totally irrefutable.

But after reading it over, I realized I didn't agree with any of it.

Shall We Hold a Demo July 4?  

The Bushites apparently want to celebrate the conquest of Iraq on July 4 weekend. I think that would be the perfect time, actually, to hold an anti-Bush rally.

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