Saturday, May 17, 2003

Reply to Michael Totten  

I've been thinking a great deal abou how to answer Michael Totten's open letter to me. In his reply to a series of posts of mine (here and here) which analyzed his "Builders and Defenders.", Michael wrote (the link is bloggered, scroll to May 12)
Tristero's urgent political goal is to defeat George W. Bush. He does not say, but I imagine he thinks, that I am not being helpful. I'm trashing my friends and giving ammunition to the enemy.
Regarding the first point, Michael is absolutely right. I think Bush represents a radical break with modern mainstream presidential philosophy in the United States, which until his election, ranged quite widely, from Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan.

Bush is far to the right of Reagan on nearly every issue. Whereas it is a toss-up as to which is the greater intellect or scholar, Bush - either as a result of his alcohol abuse or because of an underlying personality disorder that drove him to overdo the booze in the first place - is incapable of making rational decisions about the worth of the advice he is given. To compound the problem, Bush seems to genuinely believe he is called by God to lead; he makes decisions impulsively and promiscuosl; and, like most deeply insecure people, he refuses to acknowledge even the possibility he could make a mistake.

Bush is the worst president ever, as Helen Thomas put it, and the sooner he leaves office for whatever pleasures there might be in Crawford, the better for the country, and the world.

Michael is not quite as perceptive on the other point, perhaps because I haven't made it as patently obvious as my opinion of Bush. In his original post, Michael billed himself as a "life-long liberal". Yet, if you remove that phrase, and a similar one, "Builders and Defenders" is clearly a right wing screed. While using a carefully modulated "above the fray" voice, it is as immoderate in its contempt for liberals as I am immoderate in my contempt for Bush. But I do not bill myself a "life-long conservative". (Go here for a decent overview for the problems with Michael's argument and here for details of my analysis of anti-liberal/pro-conservative bias in the post.)

"Builders and Defenders" appears to be nothing more or less than a barely disguised attempt by a right-wing conservative in the Perle/Wolfowitz mode to hijack the word ”liberal” and apply it to a moderate-to-right political agenda.

I realize that asserting that Michael is not telling us his real political views is a serious thing to say. I hate saying so publicly; that was behind some of my delay in responding. But I have good reasons for thinking so. Until I read Michael's post, I had never heard a liberal claim, without a hint of irony, that "McCarthy knew Stalin well." And, while I've read numerous criticisms of liberals by other liberals, I had never come across any liberal who systematically loaded his arguments - as Michael does - so that he spends twice as much time trashing liberals and admiring conservatives as he does the reverse.

There are so many examples of poor logic and obvious pro-right bias that it is astounding how many people believe it to be thoughtful and balanced. It is neither. If Michael feels I need to further back this up, I will gladly post the drafts and notes I've done on his work that bolster my point.

So when Michael says that he imagines I think he is not being helpful, trashing friends and giving ammunition to the enemy, he is quite wrong. but in an interesting way.

True, he is not being helpful to liberals, but it is hard to believe he was ever serious about doing so. To demand that liberals study more about Iraq and Iran is an ignorant insult to the innumerable serious scholars who have done so far more than he, and with far more care and objectivity than The Cabal's circle has. For example, the papers available at Carnegie Endowment For International Peace will do perfectly well for starters.

It is also true that I think Michael is trashing friends, but I think of them as my friends, not his. To claim that The Nation has no articles worth reading about foreign policy while National Review has many is hardly a "non-partisan" -his phrase- observation. It's an assertion, which Michael does not, and cannot, back up. I think it is a ridiculous assertion.

As for giving ammunition to the enemy...what can I say? What better hammer to bash liberals relentlessly over the head with than an article ostensibly by a liberal that does it for them? And in, fact, "Builders and Defenders" was published in the Wall Street Journal's Online Opinion. It's hard to believe that its attraction to them was anything other than liberal bashing because, as Kieran points out, when it comes to ideas, there just simply aren't too many.

Again, to say that Michael is a Wolfowitz in Sheep clothing is something I've been loathe to do. However, if he is the liberal he claims to be, he simply must, for starters, unequivocally renounce his hedges and outright misrepresentations about what McCarthy was up to. As a real life-long liberal who hates communism, it is hard not to feel appalled when that drunken scoundrel's "erudition" is held up for my admiration.

Should liberals criticize each other in public? As a rule, I don't for very good reasons: Conservatives seem to enjoy it so much more and they are far more experienced at it. To bring up Reagan's reductio ad absurdum is besides the point. All it illustrates is Reagan's total lack of character. I'm not Reagan and I could never come close to being that foolish.

Besides, if Michael really IS the liberal he claims he is, I am clearly making an exception. And I've made others about whose committment to liberalism I have no doubt.

One final point. Michael was traumatized by 9/11 as was I, as was everyone around the world except for those who rejoice in the death of others. Michael saw the ruins of the Trade Center and saw that war had come to New York City.

I saw the very same ruins and I saw a failure by my government to protect me, my family, and my country.

There are always people "at war" with the United States. There will always be people prepared to do anything to kill Americans. But there has only been one government so incompetent that a bunch of sick creeps armed with the most primitive of weapons could invade our country with impunity and slaughter several thousand civilians in broad daylight.

That incompetent government is the Bush Administration.

Michael urges me to read three authors I've already read. I urge him, if he hasn't already, to read The Age of Sacred Terror.

Michael, there are at least two kinds of "9/11 liberals." You've moved to the right and support Bush's wars. But I, who never bothered to get politically involved after Vietnam ended, and who supported Gulf War I, looked at those ruins and realized that nothing constructive could ever be gained by war. Instead, it would only make things worse.

Well, you got your wars. But remember, it took about 3 years after Gulf War I before Bin Laden struck the Trade Center for the first time. Let's come back again in 3 years and see whether these wars were effective in deterring either bin Laden himself or the innumerable new bin Ladens born from the untotaled slaughter Bush's policies perpetrated in our name in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So far, there is not the slightest sign the wars are working.

In Texas, You Could Go To Jail For Joining Greenpeace  

But is it okay if my wife and I hug a tree every once in a while?
Texas bill 78(R) HB 443 defines an an "ecological terrorist organization" as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural resources." Greenpeace and the Sierra Club fit this definition.
If the bill passes, donating money to these organizations will result in a "state jail felony" and civil lawsuits.

New York has a similar bill.

Touche, Jeanne D'Arc  

She guides us through the backstory of one of the most heartwrenching of Kristof's columns. Jeanne makes it clear that when Bush cut funds for Africa as a sop to the religious right, numerous feminist groups did what they could to take up the slack. So you'd think they were in for some praise from the Times, right?
know why most African governments have done nothing to help fistula sufferers: those women are the poorest, most stigmatized, voiceless people on the continent. But since it is difficult to imagine a more important women's issue in the third world than maternal health, I don't understand why most feminist organizations in the West have never shown interest in these women either.
Y'know, this is starting to get discouraging.

Bill O'Reilly To Resign From Fox News  

Well, at least he promised to:

"If we don't find weapons of mass destruction in a week....allright?...and tons of them...I'll apologize to the American people...hell, I'll resign."

Thanks, Atrios, for reminding us.

Keep Prisoners Hungry: Saves Money, Keeps Them Weak  

Amazing no one thought of this before.
Compassionate conservatism at its best:
Minnesota is considering following Virginia's lead in serving only two meals per day on weekends, calling one of them ``brunch.'' Texas prisons have been ordered to cut inmates' daily calories.

The prison food proposals are among many cuts being considered as states struggle to balance their budgets. Thirty-four states have overspent their budgets for fiscal 2003, the National Conference of State Legislatures said last month, and 27 still have deficits to close before July 1. At least 19 are responding with plans to reduce prison budgets--and many are starting with the food tray...

``We have to make sure the rapists and murderers sacrifice like everyone else,'' said Minnesota state Rep. Marty Seifert, author of the state's ``brunch'' bill.
Now who can argue with that?

Never mind that it ain't that easy to be so petty:
Seifert first proposed cutting desserts for prisoners, only to be thwarted when the Department of Corrections said it would cost a half-million dollars more per year to withhold the dessert. Turns out Jell-O is a cheaper way to get prisoners the calories called for under voluntary national dietary standards than, for example, fruit.
Try, try again, Marty.

And how great an expense is prison food for some of our states?
Nevada lawmakers also considered cutting the food budget for prisons--a move opposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn, who said the state already pays more to feed the wild horses under state control than to feed its prisoners.
If ever anyone tells me that the US is a nation guided by Christian principles, I'm going to remember that.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Arguing With The Right  

This is an exchange between Richard Aubrey and myself on CalPundit's comment board. Kevin very kindly let me post it here.

The topic is whether racism still exists in the US. I fell into a very intense and extensive exchange where a lot of interesting rhetorical interplay ocurred. I learned a good deal about what works and what doesn't work when you're dealing with a right winger who won't stop bashing liberals.

I'll be pulling examples from this source material in the future but I thought someone else besides me might be interested in looking at the whole thing.

The Right Wing is Very, Very Cute Sometimes  

Check out the opening of Drezner's article pooh poohing The Cabal and Strauss
Conspiracies are all the rage in world politics these days. A majority of Arabs believe that Israel was responsible for the September 11 attacks. Antiwar activists believe that the U.S. government "created" Saddam Hussein.
See what I mean by cute? Drezner just associated an entirely preposterous rumor which has no credibility to a grossly exaggerated version of the very real story of the US's early support of Saddam. The implication? Anti-war activists are as nuts as folks who believe Israel did 9/11.

He knows it's nonsense. How do I know he knows? He's loaded his examples and cleverly ignored a very big elephant in the room. Let's go back to the beginning and read the entire first paragraph, all but the last sentence. As you're reading here's a question to ask yourself:

Which conspiracy theory did he conveniently ignore?

Hint: It has received hundreds of times the notice in the Western media that the ones he mentions have received. And it's just as batty:
Conspiracies are all the rage in world politics these days. A majority of Arabs believe that Israel was responsible for the September 11 attacks. Antiwar activists believe that the U.S. government "created" Saddam Hussein. And, of course, there's endless innuendo surrounding the relationship between prominent neoconservatives and U.S. foreign policy. Critics across the ideological spectrum accuse neocons of being a foreign policy cabal, stealthily fomenting their own conspiracy theories as a way of manipulating the Bush administration. Or are the critics themselves guilty of conspiracy-mongering?
Give up? Why, it's the infamous Osama/Saddam conspiracy that the Bush administration's been pushing since 9/12/01, of course. A conspiracy that, as far as is publicly known, is nothing but a fantasy.

So, let's cut to that last sentence in the paragraph:
Will the real paranoids please stand up?
Dr. Drezner knows they don't have to stand up. Because they've been hiding in plain sight.

The real paranoids are standing straight and tall, on the flight deck of aircraft carriers or advising the Defense Department while cutting sleazy business deals with insider info. Heck, they're in the Defense Department, with names like Wolfowitz or over at State, and they're called Bolton. Some even dubbed themselves The Cabal. As a joke. Ha ha, very funny.

And then, Dr. Drezner has the chutzpah to accuse The Cabal's critics of being "paranoid." Go and read it all. It's very instructive. And remember, even paranoids have real enemies. And you know the first thing that they'll do? They'll call you paranoid.

Yes, indeed, the right wing can be very, very cute.

US Used Torture In Iraq? Amnesty Investigating 20 Charges  

Oh, hell. Let this not be true.
Amnesty International is investigating claims that British and American troops tortured prisoners of war in Iraq with night-long beatings and, in at least one case, electric shocks, the group said Friday.

 The human rights organization gathered statements from 20 former detainees who said they had been kicked and beaten by soldiers while being interrogated, Amnesty researcher Said Boumedouha told a news conference in London.

One Saudi Arabian national claimed he was tortured with electric shocks, Boumedouha said.

* * *

 Britain's Ministry of Defense said it had not been contacted by Amnesty about the allegations and insisted prisoners taken by British forces were not mistreated.

''Those who were detained by British forces were treated in line with the Geneva Conventions and we had regular visits by the International Committee for the Red Cross,'' it said in a statement.

''If there are allegations then we will have to look at them and see if we can investigate.''

There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon.

Eric Alterman's Got Something Up His Sleeve  

Y' don't have to be an abuser to be an unscrupulous SOB and scandal monger. John Fund, editorialist of the Wall Street Journal, has apparently proved that. Eric Alterman's latest Nation column says he's convinced, that the widely reported abuse charges against Fund were made by a woman suffering from borderline personality disorder. Fair enough. The record stands corrected but it didn't need a whole valuable column to do it with. You'll have to wait until the polarity of the earth's poles switch before National Review returns the gesture, let alone some of the others. So why did Eric waste all that space?

Looked at closely, he's just throwing them a bone they'd grab anyway. So it stands to reason that he is inoculating himself against unfair bias for some future story that could be most interesting.

UPDATE: A correspondent notes, "I'm worried it's something other than a bias charge he's innoculating himself against."

Let the gossip columnists answer for themselves. But if we on the left do not stand up for inconvenient truths, really, what good are we? I don't mind the idea of a liberal Rush Limbaugh dishing it out on talk radio or cable TV the way we are always expected to take it. And I do admit to loving Media Whores Online , even though it leaps over the bounds of good taste with alarming frequency. But the smearing of Fund raises questions that define us morally and politically. It did not take a lot of investigation on my part to conclude that Pillsbury [Fund's accuser] was not the kind of source one could legitimately use to hang a man in public. Why were so many so eager to use her that way? No principle was at stake. It was all about payback.
I would amend Talbot's claim to read, "Ugly tactics make for ugly people." As with fighting the Stalinists in the cold war, or terrorists in our own day, if our enemies succeed in making us more like them, they can claim a kind of victory. To my genuine regret, John Fund comes out the winner in this tawdry story, alas, in more ways than one.

And You Thought The Iraq War Was Over  

Not by a long shot. Among other niceties, Perle and friends have made Iraq safe for communism.And everyon'e got a militia these days.

This report was written by Hassan Fattah, who apparently was able to roam outside the small, well patrolled American occupied area of Baghdad. If ever there was an argument for US papers hiring native Arab speakers as reporters, it is the necessity of having reports this complete and dispassionate.
The really scary part, however, may be yet to come. Thus far violence in Baghdad has been limited to unorganized gangs of looters carrying Kalashnikovs. But Iraqi security experts and other sources in the capital say that, under the nose of the American forces, Iraq's nascent political groups are forming armed militias and storing weapons as they prepare for a potential civil war for control of the country. In fact, The New Republic has learned, several Iraqis say even Hezbollah has formed a branch in Baghdad. Ultimately, if Baghdad's power vacuum is not filled soon, the rise of organized armed factions could turn Iraq's capital into a twenty-first-century version of 1980s Beirut.

* * *

At Baghdad's Al Nouman Hospital, sources say 35 women who were raped and left for dead have been brought into the ward in recent weeks. Iraqis have become paranoid, reaching for their guns any time a suspicious-looking pedestrian passes in front of their homes.

* * *

Since the fall of Saddam, more than 30 different political parties have established themselves in Baghdad, ranging from the Kurdish People's Front to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq ( SCIRI ), a theocratic group under the authority of newly returned Shia leader Mohammed Bakr Al Hakim. This should be a healthy sign. Except that, according to security sources, many of these parties have formed organized armed militias ranging in size from 500 men for Hizb Al Dawa, a leading theocratic Shia group, to more than 2,000 fighters for SCIRI , whose armed wing is called the Badr Brigade.

* * *

Even the long-repressed Iraqi Communist Party, led by aging Marxists, has supposedly set up a 600-man force.

* * *

A group made up of former Baathists is attempting to constitute a militia of Saddam loyalists. And security sources in Baghdad say that Hezbollah, one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world, is forming an Iraqi branch...

* * *

The militias have already begun to roam unchecked throughout Baghdad--except within a security perimeter surrounding the area where the American troops and most foreign journalists stay--and many other parts of the country.

* * *

According to Iraqis, the militias have become prevalent in southern, Shia-dominated towns as well, while, in northern Iraq, Kurdish militias--the offspring of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters who battled Saddam's army alongside American Special Forces--are defining their turf. Meanwhile, a Sunni Wahhabi party is said to have created an armed militia in Falluja, a town outside Baghdad.

* * *

In part, U.S. reluctance to take on the militias may be a product of the relative security of the part of Baghdad where most Americans are billeted. Though most of the capital remains highly unsafe, and militias are becoming increasingly prevalent, American officials and journalists do not often see the armed groups because they generally stay within the small area surrounding the U.S. compounds and the Palestine and Sheraton Hotels, an area protected by Abrams tanks and machine-gun-wielding soldiers.

Krugman On National Security, Bush Style  

The whole column is terrific. This is just a taste:
The truth is that the pursuit of televised glory — which led the Bush administration to turn its attention away from Al Qaeda, and to pick a fight with a regime that, however nasty, posed no threat — has made us much less safe than we should be.

Eisenhower And Phelps  

I've always loved this story and, after the previous post, remembered it, kind of as an antidote. I like to imagine how it happened, occasionally. I'm probably completely wrong, even though it's all true.

They're in the US Army headquarters for the European occupation, early fifties. It's not a stiff, formal, Hollywood-style crisp military scene. They're way above such crap. This is Eisenhower's office after all, no reason to make a display of obedience. You can tell, just by a glance, they're all smarter than hell or they wouldn't be there in the first place, and Eisenhower himself, smartest man in Europe. They're relaxed, comfortable with the line of authority because each one, especially Eisenhower, earns it.

As they go about the job of pasting Europe together, they're closer than cordial and friendly. Not unusual given the whole situation: they know exactly what to do inside a pressure cooker and they understand beyond conscious thought, and beyond doubt, that they themselves belong there.

There's the jokes, there's cocktails thursday at 5:00 with military regularity, there's everyone's smoking up a storm.

So here comes WAC Sergeant Johnnie Phelps, Ike's behind his desk, he's stopped writing the moment he sees her and looks up. Always respects her time, she's taken it for granted, it's how he is. They tell some quick stories and the meeting's starting just like all the others, 'cause Ike's no moron and he knows that he's going to ask Phelps to rat on some sister WACs. He doesn't want to be cruel, because he knows Johnnie's got a heck of a dilemma. But loyalty to friends can never be trumped by loyalty to the army, etc., etc. And the Army simply can't have a few sickos mucking up everything and maybe forcing normal girls to do things that might interfere with their marriageability. So casually, using her first name:

Johnnie, I've been hearing these rumors that we got a few slightly queer apples in our bunch. Hell, with 900 girls in the batallion, it's expected. Now you may know some of 'em and it may be tough on you if one of them's a friend of yours, but the Army wants them discharged. So I need a list of all the queer girls in two days so we can get this over with fast.

Instantly: Of course, sir. General Eisenhower, I should tell you what this list will look like, best I can figure - Southern accent, she never lost it. Y'see sir, this is one great battalion, we're the most decorated in the Army.

Eisenhower's got mild interest, condescending, friendly.

But there's more to these WACs than just medals, General. The newest stats just came in; we got the least AWOL's, hardly anyone has the clap, and sir? The pregnancy rate is so low, it's just about even with the numbers of boys who got pregnant over at the 101st.

Guffaw, Ike's amused, opens a humidor, pulls out a cigar. They chat a second about the latest secret affair among the officers: Ike always has the best gossip. But, he's caught on, sort of.

Okay, Johhnie, what's up? What are you trying to say?

Well sir - and without even a pause - it is my best estimate about 95% of the WACs we got here are queers.

Ike's been trying to get the cigar lit. No pause in his movement, he's got it started, puffs, puffs again, takes the cigar out of his mouth. Says to the cigar, what the hell you mean? He looks at her. You mean nearly every one of my girls, my best girls, is some kind of, of pervert? Hell... can't be. Sure, Sontino and Davis, Davis looks like a goddamm man anyway, for crissakes she'll never get married so why the hell not, but 95%...impossible. His face is confident, calm.

Yes sir, I'm quite sure. But there's something else you should know. She smiles, thinks, hell might as well. Half that list would tell him anyway just to see his reaction.

You see, General, when you get that list of queers, my name's gonna have to be right on top.

Eisenhower roars, oh cm'on Johnnie. He knows she's joking, 'course her name'll be on top, just military regulation in how you address a memo. She laughs too, easy:

No, sir. Y'see, that's why I know for a fact we're 95% lesbian. I normally wouldn't make it your business, General, but if I draw up this list and you discharge all us WACs, why you won't have no one left to do the filing or the typing. That's just the way it'll be. Just looking out for the Army's best interest -laugh from the General- Sir.

Ike's smiling, she's a riot. Phelps again:

And with all due respect, sir, if you have to discharge me, I just want to let you know...big sigh...I'm sure gonna miss those great martinis you make for us gals at Happy Hour. Johnnie flashes her most serious of serious looks.

Eisenhower laughs, just a bark, chokes up on the cigar smoke, shakes his head thinking, what a world, but she's no queer, just trying to stick up for some friends. Must be very good friends... That makes him pause. He studies her round face, cheerful, pretty, totally innocent. No...Then he looks at her again....No. I'd have known.

Beg your pardon, General?

It's the battalion secretary, she's sporting her usual Buster Keaton deadpan, they say smiling gives her a terrible rash. She's at the doorway, it's always open. Ike looks up. The secretary says quietly:

Sir, Sergeant Phelps has got things just a wee bit wrong about that list you want. Since I'm the one who's has to type it, I'll be putting MY name first.

Laughter, Johnnie and Ike's, maybe just one beat too long. None from the secretary, she's still channeling Keaton.

Ike's voice settles to a kindly back-to-business crisp: Ok, gals, scoot. Sergeant Phelps? Countermand that order. Hell, I gotta continent to run, I can't be bothered with what you WACs do every minute. Smile, shakes his head again, looks at a huge stack of orders needing attention. Johnnie turns to go, oops! She remembered. She turns back to Ike:

General Eisenhower, before I leave, I've been meaning to tell you. Your wife...

Jeeeeeeeeesus! Her, too? The secretary can't take any more.

Outside, you can hear the three laughing. The war's over, no reason not to laugh your head off. Who would have guessed? Everyone's always thought Ike was the worst joke mangler in any conceivable theater of war.

Somethin' new.

Tales From Bush's America  

I have two female friends, both straight. For a while they were very close, but never lovers. They were both incredibly beautiful, exciting women. Needless to say, they attracted lots of attention whenever they were together without a man. Whenever they wanted to blow off anyone who was trying to pick them up, they simply said they were a couple. Usually it worked. Sometimes, it made the guys more interested. Either way, it was funny and harmless.

Not any more.. Four women were at a bus stop, coming back from NYC early in the morning. Some guys came by and tried to pick them up. The girls said, not interested. One of the them told the guys that they were lesbians, and the men started to fight. Sakia Gunn, 15 years old, was killed. The clip below is from an account of her memorial vigil. The alleged killer has been arrested.
Sakia didn't like to see anyone in pain or sad," said Johnson.

"She always shared what she had and lived for the moment," added Walker.

Gunn's girlfriend, 19-year-old Jamon Marsh, told the crowd not to cry for Gunn "because that's what she would have wanted."

Nicole Ross, Gunn's best friend, said, "She's gone, but her spirit still lives with us." Ross said she wished she had the chance to tell Gunn goodbye.

While Gunn's family and friends reminisced with a shrine of candles, balloons and teddy bears as a backdrop, community activitists called for justice and an end to violence.
This is the reason so many of us, straight or gay, are in Santorum's face about gay rights. Our government officials have no business whatsoever even hinting in public that gays are in any way less than equal citizens, let alone perpetuating laws that make intimate behavior between agreeable partners illegal.

No, of course Santorum didn't kill her. But his innocence of this crime doesn't let him off the hook for contributing to a United States polity in which permission is given to think of lesbians, gays, and transgenders in any other way than as normal, loyal American citizens.

Shooting to Kill  

An extremely moving column by Bob Herbert on what it means to kill looters. He recalls reading Life Magazine in 1967. On the cover was a gruesome picture of a kid bleeding to death. He opens the magazine to read the story:
The article was about the Newark riots, one of the most violent outbursts of the 1960's...
I opened the magazine, still thinking about the kid on the cover. He was like zillions of kids I had grown up with. It was sad, depressing. Then I got to Pages 20 and 21. They are still shocking to me.

There, in a sequence of photos that would go on for four pages, was a guy I had known in my hometown of Montclair, N.J., a casual friend named Billy Furr.

The sequence starts with Billy looting beer from a liquor store. Then a squad car pulls up and police officers with shotguns jump out. Billy takes off, the tails of his light-colored shirt flapping. A uniformed cop in a yellow hard hat lifts his shotgun to his shoulder, aims and fires.

In a photo that covers two-thirds of Page 22, Billy lies on the blood-stained sidewalk, dead. On the next page was another photo of the 12-year-old boy. He was a bystander who was hit in the neck and thigh. Although seriously wounded, he would recover.

This all came back to me yesterday with the news report out of Baghdad that U.S. military forces would be authorized to shoot looters on sight.
UPDATE: Apparently, the Bush administration has backed off this policy, but at least one looter has been shot. Story here.

Dealing A Stacked Deck  

This is the kind of stuff that gets me totally steamed: I picked this up at

How about no tax cut?

If you think any tax cut now is a dangerous idea, you can't participate. You can't vote. They're all atrocious choices. What does freedom of dissent, freedom of speech matter if you're entirely disenfranchised?

This is not a survey of opinion. This is an intellectual lockout.

A while ago, cnn ran a similarly rigged poll about the death penalty. The question was:

Should the death penalty be limited to only the most extreme cases?


As a staunch opponent of the death penalty under all circumstances, I clearly cannot vote yes. And if I vote no, the strong implication is that I support a very broad application of capital punishment. My voice, and that of many others, is excluded.

Look, everyone knows these polls are bogus and prove nothing. Nevertheless, they add texture to the overall political environment as displayed in the media.

How much does one biased online poll matter? Not much. It's just indicative of how little attention is paid these days to providing even the semblance of a level playing field in the media: Every part of the game, from the width of the goal posts to the way the game is scored has been set up without even a pretense of fairness. Or balance.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Jessica Lynch's Rescue  

None of it was real. The guns fired blanks. I'm amazed anyone was taken in. But a lot of people were.

Fortunately, in one sense, Lynch can't remember a thing. It's sad she was hurt. Sadder still that the whole big rescue story was foisted on the US public. Here's the way it really went down:
The doctors in Nassiriya say they provided the best treatment they could for Lynch in the midst of war. She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital, and one of only two nurses on the floor. "I was like a mother to her and she was like a daughter,"says Khalida Shinah.

"We gave her three bottles of blood, two of them from the medical staff because there was no blood at this time,"said Dr Harith al-Houssona, who looked after her throughout her ordeal. "I examined her, I saw she had a broken arm, a broken thigh and a dislocated ankle. Then I did another examination. There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only RTA, road traffic accident," he recalled. "They want to distort the picture. I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."

The doctors told us that the day before the special forces swooped on the hospital the Iraqi military had fled. Hassam Hamoud, a waiter at a local restaurant, said he saw the American advance party land in the town. He said the team's Arabic interpreter asked him where the hospital was. "He asked: 'Are there any Fedayeen over there?' and I said, 'No'." All the same, the next day "America's finest warriors" descended on the building.

"We heard the noise of helicopters," says Dr Anmar Uday. He says that they must have known there would be no resistance. "We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital.

"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." All the time with the camera rolling. The Americans took no chances, restraining doctors and a patient who was handcuffed to a bed frame.

There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Al-Houssona had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance. "I told her I will try and help you escape to the American Army but I will do this very secretly because I could lose my life." He put her in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to the American checkpoint. When he was approaching it, the Americans opened fire. They fled just in time back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.

Jackassery And Morality  

A few tidbits from some idle surfing.

Michael J. Totten in Front Page, January 8, 2003
If you don?t join us now, when Saddam?s regime falls and Iraqis cheer the US Marines, you are really going to feel like a jackass. And your jackassery will be exposed beneath klieg lights for all to see.
I really don't feel like a jackass. I just feel sad. And worried.

Earlier in the article, he writes,"This is an intellectual's war." I gather Michael considers Kenneth Pollack an intellectual. Was he on the battlefield? I gather Michael considers Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and William Kristol intellectuals. Were they commanding tanks? Is it unfair to ask, perchance, if he went over there himself and, oh I dunno, helped occupy Mosul or something?

This wasn't an intellectual's war. This was Hell's war. Like all wars. And like nearly all wars, it was completely unnecessary.

And y'know, to call this an intellectual's war...and then put all those high school graduates in harm's way, while all those "intellectuals" who dreamed it up are safe in their cozy gated communities re-reading The Republic...jeez.

I suppose this makes me a "Hate America" liberal in Michael's eyes. No, I love America. That's why I hate the fact that we are being ruled by idiots: the country embarasses itself in the eyes of everyone except those right wing zealots behind their gates and their totally duped supporters. I suppose he thinks I hate Bush. Maybe, I don't know: But I do know I'm furious at what he is doing. And I certainly hate that he is in power. But Bush does not equal America. Thank God.

Here' a cute, sweet tossaway line from The New Yorker: This stuff is the political air we breathe. We are so overwhelmed by these weasel-worded swipes at us that we think we ignore them, unless we stop and ponder why so many of us are not overly concerned about terrorism but have a shared sense of dread:
The more dire predictions of its opponents did not, thankfully, prove correct, and the relatively quick fall of Saddam Hussein seemed to mean, both logically and morally, the defeat of the antiwar movement.
You're kidding, right?

First, we won't know if the war's over for at least 3 years, which was about how long it took for bin Laden -or was it Saddam?- to perpetrate WTC 1 after Gulf War 1.

Second, what on earth was illogical to oppose a stupid, unnecessary war by a country that never attacked the US and had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11?

Third, this war was immoral. Saddam's gone. Fine, good riddance to the bastard. Now what? Bush has now told every lunatic in the world that the best way to keep yourself safe is stock up on nukes. You have a country that clearly has made its wishes known. It wants some kind of Islamic rule and they really don't seem terribly happy to be thought of as "a real live political experiment" (can you believe a New York Times columnist wrote that? Yup, you were right. That's Tom.) And the expense: nobody figured the expense. The US either stays, and it's a quagmire, or they leave and their's chaos.

But whomever wrote this got this next point quite correct:
The peace marchers are quiet for now, in London and Berlin as well as in New York and Washington, but they’re still there.
Indeed we are still here. And we are furious, furious that our future and the future of our children has been made far more perilous by Bush's narcissistic "call from God" which was nothing more than the rattling of his brain in his thick skull.

UPDATE: Edited after posting for clarity and to correct some grammatical infelicities.

Sale And Possession of Firearms Banned. The NRA Says Nothing.  

I guess in Iraq guns are rather dangerous. But they're totally harmless here. From The New York Times.
General McKiernan said today that his forces would start arresting anyone owning or selling firearms in Iraq, an effort meant to corral what military officials said were tens of thousands of pistols, rifles and machine guns that the Iraqi government handed out to the regime's supporters before the war.

One More Terrific Kiesling Text  

A letter from Brady Kiesling in the New York Times.
To the Editor:

President Bush should not refer to "American justice" when promising retribution against the Riyadh bombers (front page, May 14).

The world endorses relentless investigations, aggressive prosecution and tough punishment for terrorist murderers. "American justice," however, implies that we don't seek justice, but something else.

Many foreigners have concluded from the president's domestic rhetoric that he endorses lynch law. This misrepresentation, allowed to stand, raises the price that we and our allies pay for the impressive counterterrorism cooperation in place since Sept. 11.

Perhaps the president wants the terrorists to be tried in United States courts, difficult since primary jurisdiction lies with the Saudis.

Rather than fight over beheading versus lethal injection, we should engage in the diplomacy required to assure an effective joint United States-Saudi investigation of terror networks.
Athens, May 14, 2003
He's absolutely right. What Kiesling skirts up to but doesn't quite say is that "American Justice" is a code phrase. Bush supporters know what it means. Vengeance. No quarter given. No questions asked.

Brady Kiesling's experience in foreign service, his writing skill and his integrity are exactly what this country needs. It is a national disgrace that he was driven to resign. Rumor has it that he is one of many, that lifetime members of the foreign service are horrified at both the caliber of their bosses (not Powell, but those above him) and torn between their desire to serve their country and the enormous pressure the Bush administration is putting on them to ruin international relations. I gather that morale is low, but most are staying on out of a sense of patriotism, knowing that the country really can't afford to have inexperienced far right ideologues (or even experienced far right ideologues) on the front lines of international diplomacy.

Who's Gonna Pay The Bills For World Conquest?  

The NY Times makes a very sobering point or two about our little Afghan adventure.
Two big mistakes proved costly. The Bush administration did not adequately concern itself with issues of internal security. And it seriously underestimated the amount of aid it would take to pay for both relief and reconstruction needs. The combined effect of these errors has seriously weakened the power of President Hamid Karzai and slowed Afghanistan's economic regeneration.
Notice something interesting. Change Hamid Karzai to your current favorite Iraqi and swap Afghanistan for Iraq. Those are exactly the mistakes Bush is making now.

Of course, there is one spectacular mistake that is not mentioned. Bush should never have gone in in the first place. The US public thinks Afghanistan and Iraq were victories. The jury is out for the next three years.

"Real men want to go to Tehran" some cretinous Perle thug said after the collapse of Iraq. And now, after the Saudi bombings, bin Laden's thugs are in some West Pakistani hideout mumbling, "Real men want to go to America."

Learn Your Place, Toni Morrison  

CalPundit linked to an article about a very subtle but interesting grammar error in the PSAT. The example sentence described novelist Toni Morrison as a "genius." Some real genius at the Weekly Standard decided this was a perfect time to review Toni Morrison's oeuvre. The article has to be read in its entirety to be believed.

Why would he write such garbage?

Remember: Toni Morrison famously said that Bill Clinton was the first black president. This did not go down well with conservatives who were doing everything they could to destroy him.

I strongly suspect that that is what all this is about. It's a subtle way of telling her to watch her mouth.

Is Toni Morrison a genius?

To bring up a question like that in this context is outrageous and should not be dignified with a debate.

I would say the same if the PSAT had used Larry McMurtry, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Ursula K. LeGuin, and so on.

The real issue has nothing whatsoever to do with Toni Morrison or a very interesting, but obscure, grammatical rule:

Why are these awful tests administered and the results taken seriously, despite the fact that they have zero scientific validity and are so obviously biased?

Attack of the Killer D's  

Josh Marshall has a nice round up of articles on the Texas Democrats. It's a lot worse than one might realize. If the links are bloggered, scroll down to Postcards from the edge ...

UPDATE: Josh Marshall makes the point, worth echoing everywhere, that the real significance of this story. He writes, "...the underlying issue: upending at least half a century of established tradition in which redistricting takes place just once a cycle -- absent voting rights lawsuits. This is part of a much bigger story of which the redistricting power grab is only a part."

From what I can tell, but the whole pathetic story is out of Kafka, frankly, using Homeland Security forces to locate political opponents is one helluva big story too.

We Must, Simply Must Prevail in '04  

This is true. We all know it.
If Republicans sweep in 2004, Bush will follow Roosevelt and use his second term to transform the Supreme Court with judicial partisans of the newly ascendant orthodoxy. In the 2000 campaign, Al Gore failed to convince the American people that there were large differences between him and George Bush. But nobody should doubt that the next campaign will be among the most fateful in American history.

Weep, All Ye Crocodiles, For Fox News' Cavuto: Krugman Hurt His Feelings.  

Haha. I think Paul Krugman is beginning to wear on the right wing's nerves: In his latest column, he wrote:
Meanwhile, both the formal rules and the codes of ethics that formerly prevented blatant partisanship are gone or ignored. Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told "those who opposed the liberation of Iraq" — a large minority — that "you were sickening then; you are sickening now." Fair and balanced.
A bit of a swipe at the pretenses of Fox. Their motto is a joke and everyone knows it. But apparently, that mean Pauly Waughly hurt little Neil's feelings and he started to cry. Here's what he wrote, with fisking. sharing my opinions is a bad thing, but you spouting off yours is not?
Did Krugman say that? Must have skipped it.
Exactly who's the hypocrite, Mr. Krugman? Me, for expressing my views in a designated segment at the end of the show? Or you, for not so cleverly masking your own biases against the war in a cheaply written column?
Did Krugman accuse Neil of hypocrisy? He accused the network of hypocrisy. But Neil, the accusation is true. And Neil, my dear boy, he's a columnist, he's s'posed to express his opinion. That's why it's called the Op/Ed pages, as in Opinion/Editorial? But I'm absolutely sure you got one thing right and I want to acknowledge it. Compared to what you make on Fox, Krugman gets paid peanuts. I think he writes brilliantly, all the more astounding he has really no financial incentive, like you do.
You're as phony as you are unprofessional.
If I were Krugman, I'd be cawling for my Mommy.
And you have the nerve to criticize me, or Fox News, and by extension, News Corporation?
Neil, Neil. Krugman wasn't criticizing, for heaven's sake. He was just telling the truth. You know that.
And by the way, you sanctimonious twit...
Geez, now Neil is so angry he's confused him with William J. Bennett. Here's how you tell them part: Paul's the guy with the beard. Bill's the guy pulling on a slot machine in the corner.
no one -- no one -- tells me what to say. I say it. And I write it.
Did I miss something? Did Krugman say he didn't? Why Neil would want to take credit for mistaking Krugman for Bennett is beyond me. But whatever floats you, I guess.
And no one lectures me on it. Save you, you pretentious charlatan.
That's a flat out lie, Cavuto and I can prove it's a lie. I, Tristero, say "You, Neil Cavuto, are a coward for saying what you said about decent, loyal Americans who were not present to answer you back. They deserved that chance." Ok, Neil, you can count. That makes two of us who lecture you on what you say. Now, retract your lie that only person does.
Let me see if I have this right, Mr. Krugman. Journalists who opposed this war are OK. Those who support it are not. Says who? You?
Did Krugman say that? Has Krugman ever said that?
Nowhere does it ever occur to you, one can legitimately not agree with you.
I project a big future for any journalist, oh excuuuuuuuuuuuse me, I meant commentator, that uses projective identification so effectively.
Now may I suggest you take your column and shove it?
Paul, I know he's talking to you but let me answer him: Thanks for asking. No, Neil you may not.

Best Way To Get Liars To Stop: Expose Them To The Public  

Bush officials were caught again spreading lies.That's not news. And sometimes it seems it would be news if they were ever caught telling the truth.But I suppose that Bushites caught in a systematic campaign to smear an entire country is kind of a big deal. And also the height of petty stupidity:
The French government believes it is the victim of an "organized campaign of disinformation" from within the Bush administration, designed to discredit it with allegations of complicity with the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein...

The unprecedented letter, signed by French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, is an indication of the depth and bitterness of the breach between the two historic allies and NATO partners over the issue of Iraq. Although French officials maintain they have tried to overcome the differences and renew the partnership, they say the administration has expressed little interest in rapprochement.
And why would they? Rapprochement, after all, is what mature adults do. Besides, it's a French word the last time I checked.

So the French deny, heatedly deny a two page list of stories that rely on unnamed sources in the Bush administration about French complicity with Iraq during Mad March (aka Iraq II). Here's the US response to them:
Strong French complaints to the administration brought a May 9 statement by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher saying, "We don't have any information that would indicate the French issued passports or visas to Iraqi officials. . . .We don't have anything that would substantiate the premise."

But the next day, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was again asked about the report, he replied: "France has historically had a very close relationship with Iraq. My understanding is that it continued right up until the outbreak of the war. What took place thereafter, we'll find out."
Which side do you believe, gentle reader?

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Homeland Security Agency Used To Hunt Down Democrats  

Don't panic until they start shooting Democrats. Nevertheless, I never expected the Homeland Security Agency to be used against politicians. Who knew so many Democrats were a terrorist threat?
Wives have been watched. A former House speaker's plane was tracked. Federal officials have been asked to intervene. Even the El Paso Police Department has gotten involved.

The hunt for Democrats on the lam from the Texas Legislature has involved virtually every level of government, ranging from a house call by local cops to monitoring conducted -- apparently unwittingly -- by a California-based agency that normally is involved in the fight against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

By Tuesday night, only one House member, Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, had been apprehended.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said he believes that the dragnet went overboard when a Texas Ranger tried to find him Monday night at the neonatal unit of the Galveston hospital where his newborn twins are recovering -- in intensive care. Eiland said he called the agent on his cellphone and told him that DPS agents had already found him in Ardmore, Okla. -- where he and most of his fellow boycotters are in self-imposed exile...

At the Capitol in Washington, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said that the speaker of the Texas House in Austin, Tom Craddick, R-Midland, had asked for the FBI or U.S. marshals to intervene...

One federal agency that became involved early on was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. -- which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.

The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.

The location of Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore.

Trick Question: Which Party Produced The Military That Was So Efficient In Invading Iraq?  

It was a military force funded and overseen by a Democrat
...the fact of the matter is that most of the credit for the successful military operation should go to the Clinton administration.

As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted, the battle plan that led to the American success was that of General Tommy Franks, an Army officer appointed to head the Central Command by the Clinton administration. More important, the military forces that executed that plan so boldly and bravely were for the most part recruited, trained, and equipped by the Clinton administration.

The first Bush defense budget went into effect on Oct. 1, 2002, and none of the funds in that budget have yet had an impact on the quality of the men and women in the armed services, their readiness for combat, or the weapons they used to obliterate the Iraqi forces.

Given the way that Bush and his surrogates disparaged Clinton's approach to the military in his 2000 campaign, this is ironic.

* * *

Throughout the summer and fall of 2000, Vice President Dick Cheney summed up the Bush team's sentiment toward what Clinton had done to the military: He went around the country telling the military and the nation that help and additional support were on the way for our troops.

Anyone examining the facts would know that these claims were bogus. The Clinton administration actually spent more money on defense than had the outgoing administration of the first President Bush. The smaller outlays during the first Bush administration were developed and approved by Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who were then serving as secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff respectively.
And who wrote this blatant piece of liberal propaganda?
Lawrence J. Korb, director of national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.
Thanks to The Horse.

UPDATE: Headline rewritten for clarity after the original post.

Daily Kos On al Qaeda  

And right on target.
In the same year that the US devoted its entire military and intelligence apparatus to finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which has now boiled down to a mobile brewery and some scrapings from a tank, Al Qaeda is not only not destroyed, but nearly as strong as it was on September 10, 2001.

Stories of the return of the Taliban ran in the papers during the Iraq war and were ignored by most people. The pronoucements from Osama have been treated like a trick from the last couple of episodes of 24 and not a real and ongoing threat to national security...
Read the whole thing, especially how the situation in Iraq is, to be kind, deteriorating rapidly.

al Qaeda and Bush  

Liberal Oasis has an excellent post about responses to al Qaeda from both Clinton and the Bush administration. It's all worth reading.

Meanwhile, it looks like, once again, Maureen Dowd is focusing on the substantial, as she publicly promised to do after 9/11. She is brilliant in her focus on the difference between the bluster the Bushites spout and their ineffectiveness:
Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."
Members of the U.S. intelligence community bragged to reporters that the terrorist band was crippled, noting that it hadn't attacked during the assault on Iraq.
"This was the big game for them — you put up or shut up, and they have failed," Cofer Black, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office, told The Washington Post last week.
Of course, the other way of looking at it is that Al Qaeda works at its own pace and knows how to conduct operations on the run.

* * *

Vice President Dick Cheney was as implacable as ever. "The only way to deal with this threat ultimately is to destroy it," he said.

So destroy it.
Yes, indeed, Mr. Cheney, put up or shut up.

It should be clear that MoDo is calling Cheney's bluff and pointing out how vapid his speech is. She knows perfectly well that destroying al Qaeda is a lot more complicated than just saying so. Cheney doesn't.

(btw: I called it. As soon as the Bushies claimed al Qaeda was "crippled," I knew we were in serious trouble again.)

Terrible Famine In Africa  

Via Eric Alterman and Nicholas Kristof: incipient famine in the Horn of Africa has been drastically worsening just in the last few weeks. It has garnered almost no attention in the West, partly because it's not generally realized that people are already dying here in significant numbers. But they are. And unless the West mobilizes further assistance immediately to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the toll could be catastrophic.

* * *

"We are appalled by the lack of full rations to food aid beneficiaries in Ethiopia, which amounts to slow starvation for those without other sources of food," an alliance of aid groups warned recently, adding: "For the international community to allow this to happen in the 21st century is unforgivable."   

* * *

You can donate here (link at top of page).

Now, This Really Isn't Funny  

Who could laugh at something like this?
A quiet corner of rural England was recovering yesterday after a bruising encounter with Boris the badger.

Five people were put in hospital and two police officers were sent scurrying for cover after the bad-tempered creature went on a 48-hour rampage through Evesham in Worcestershire...

Michael Fitzgerald, 67, a retired BBC producer from the Greenhill area of the town, was attacked when he heard noises coming from his garage and went to investigate.

After tentatively raising the door he spotted Boris and beat a hasty retreat. But the badger headed him off and attacked, sinking its fangs into his arms and legs before scuttling off into the night...

“It was like something out of a horror movie, he was bleeding so badly,” [his wife] said...

Boris, 2?ft long and weighing in at 15kg, had earlier bitten two teenagers and a man and a woman who were walking their dogs...

[A badger ranger said,] “I have never heard of anything like this in 24 years of work with badgers throughout the UK.”

Put The Most Important News First  

Somewhere along the line, I picked up the notion that, when reporting the news, you put the most important news first, with rare exceptions. So, this headline brought me up short:
Bush Condemns Saudi Blasts; 7 Americans Are Dead
That's like a famous fake headline from the 80's which read:
Nuclear War! Michael Jackson, 20 Million More, Dead
Interestingly, the lead of the article (the real one) does have its priorities straight:
At least 20 people, including seven Americans, were killed in the synchronized truck bomb attacks here on Monday night, Saudi officials said today, and President Bush vowed to hunt down and punish those responsible.
If you think it is going overboard to read evil intent into a headline, you should read what the right wingers say in similar circs. Right now, there's a movement afoot, finally, to hold the media's feet to the fire in an effort to get them to report the news straight. I hope to goodness it succeeds. But we are up against a conservative media bias so pervasive that it's not even noticed anymore. As in deciding what news gets priority in a headline in the paper of record.

The Real Dr. Strangelove  

Meet Keith Payne:
He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called " Victory Is Possible ." Among its pronouncements: "an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery." (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove , put it, "I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.")

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

I Really Don't Think They're Bluffing.  

I really don't think so at all. From an email from the new al Qaeda spokesman, before the Saudi attacks yesterday:
"The world will see how we make America pay the price for invading Iraq."

Bush the Younger Is Son of Enron  

Did I read that right?
This is not to say that the liberation of Iraq from Hussein's Stalinoidal tyranny isn't a blessing for the Iraqi people. But that was never a sufficient reason for the United States to go to war, as Bush and his aides clearly understood. Even under the theory of preemption as they propounded it, the preemptee can't simply be a totalitarian thug; he has to pose a threat to us as well.
I did. Harold Meyerson called Bush a totalitarian thug. In the Washington Post. And they printed it. And their newsroom hasn't been nuked yet.

Don't worry, the Bushies will make sure that never happens againl.

Washington Post: Bush "Flexible" With Truth  

Well, at least it's a start.
It's a documentable fact that Bill Clinton lied about his affair. It's now also documentable that President Bush and his lieutenants have a rather flexible definition of what it means to level with the American people.

Sorry For So Few Posts Today  

A very tasty one is in the oven right now. Hopefully, up tomorrow.

What's the Big Deal? They're Just Arresting Democrats, Not Shooting Them.  

That's right: In Texas, Republicans have ordered the arrest of Democrat lawmakers
Outnumbered by House Republicans determined to pass a congressional redistricting bill, all but a few Democrats went into hiding today to keep the House from meeting. The House's GOP leader responded by ordering state troopers to find and arrest the missing lawmakers.
Now let's not get alarmist about this and read more into it than it deserves. A proper, reasoned , thoughtful response is called for, something along the lines of, "Holy shit! What's happening in our country?!??!?"

UPDATE: Molly Ivins has some nice, trenchant comments.

Monday, May 12, 2003

The Blumenthal Wars  

Joe Conason takes former NY Times editor Joseph Lelyveld to task for an incredibly sloppy review of The Clinton Wars:
Lelyveld: "Blumenthal doesn't make explicit that the President's acknowledgment on television that he had 'misled people' was the only apology Blumenthal would ever get. So much for the inside view."
"The Clinton Wars" (describing the day the House voted impeachment), on Page 552: "Clinton grabbed my arm and asked me to come into the Oval Office ... He was sorry about what everybody had been through because of the scandal. He was apologetic that he had given ammunition to our enemies. He was sorry about Lewinsky and the whole thing, but no apologies would be enough."

Lelyveld: "[Blumenthal] also doesn't find room to mention that Morris took a poll that told Clinton he might not survive early disclosure [of his dalliance with Lewinsky]."
"The Clinton Wars," Page 343: "Much, much later, after the release of the Starr Report, I learned almost everything [Clinton] had told me was true. Almost. He had spoken with Morris, who had run a poll. (When I saw the poll reproduced in the Starr Report it struck me as mostly worthless as a political document, because all the key questions had the word 'crimes' attached to them, ensuring negative responses. The statistics indicating the public's inclinations to forgive incidents that were just sex, Morris misinterpreted.)"

Lelyveld: "[Blumenthal] remembers that Joe Lieberman was 'the son of a New Haven liquor store owner' but somehow neglects to mention his Senate speech denouncing Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky matter as 'disgraceful' and 'immoral.'"
"The Clinton Wars," Page 478: "Senator Joseph Lieberman had given a speech denouncing Clinton's behavior as 'immoral' and went up to the edge of calling for him to quit."

Lelyveld could easily have consulted the book's index to check those damning assertions before committing them to print. His casual attitude about significant facts -- and his unshakable certainty about his own false assumptions -- both suggest why the nation's most important newspaper so credulously promoted pseudo-scandals during the Clinton years.

"If it makes no difference whether the government lied, why is Friedman a journalist?"  

Molly Ivins get's angry, and she's right.
Funny how media attention slips just at the diciest moments. I doubt that the United States was in this much danger at any point during the actual war.

Whether this endeavor in Iraq will turn out to be worth the doing is now at a critical point, and the media have decided that it's no longer a story. Boy, are we not being served well by American journalism.

* * *

if there are no WMDs in Iraq, it means either our government lied us to us in order to get us into an unnecessary war or the government itself was disastrously misinformed by an incompetent intelligence apparatus. In either case, it's a terribly serious situation.

What I cannot believe is that respected journalists -- most notably Tom Friedman, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner -- would simply dismiss the nonexistent WMDs as though it made no difference. Of course it matters if our government lies to us.

Right Wing Postmodernism: Part One  

As many of us have learned from bitter experience, it is an exercise in futility to argue most right wing positions on their merit. There usually is no there there. Case in point: Intelligent Design (ID), which is just creationism in drag. Evolution is a really fascinating subject, with many exciting controversies, but the “theories” of the IDiots aren’t part of it. So how on earth have these awful ideas muscled themselves not only into receiving a place at the table, but have come to control social discourse in the US in so many areas, from religion to politics to science?

Rhetoric, the way language persuades, is one major reason. In the past 20 years especially, the right wing has been extraordinarily prolific in inventing new rhetorical strategies or in devising variations for old ones. But their most spectacular rhetorical innovation must be the right’s thorough integration of postmodernist techniques into their arsenal of rhetorical tricks. While their use of it is extremely clever, once it’s recognized and “out-ed”, it can readily be debunked.

Postmodernism in Three Easy Steps

Roughly, “postmodernism”is characterized by:

1. “Playing with nonsense.” Postmodernists revel in “fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence.”

2. Criticism of “grand narratives.” Examples of grand narratives include liberalism or “secular humanism.”

3. An emphasis on who decides what is important knowledge.

(The above definition is heavily based upon an excellent, brief introduction to postmodernism by Dr. Mary Klage. Where it is accurate, credit to Dr. Klage is due. Where it is less so, blame me.)

The right’s use of postmodernist tactics is breathtakingly cynical, dependent upon widespread misunderstanding of what postmodernism is. Its effectiveness counts upon a fundamental misapprehension about why many right wingers engage in debate.

To get a handle on this, let’s briefly characterize the right wing mindset.

The Core Right Wing Mindset

Most right wingers take it for granted that true knowledge, of all sorts, is absolute. Even something as seemingly elusive as moral knowledge is absolute. But they go further than simply asserting that absolutes exist. They claim that they, and no one else, know exactly what those absolutes are. Need examples?

For right wingers predisposed towards philosophy,Ayn Rand is a great hero; absolutes, in the sense right wingers mean, are her fundamental premise from which she derives her ideas. For those with a jones for telling others how to behave, William J. Bennett was, until his recent troubles, the best known avatar of the morally absolute. And in the realm of the spiritual, who better than Pat Robertson, the uber-”christian”, to tell us that the Bible is literally, absolutely true?

But right wingers go even further. Because they really, really know what the absolutes are, they have an obligation to act. Thus, Franklin Graham must organize missions to Iraq, to convert the heathen. Thus, George Bush is called to the presidency. Thus, the Perle Gang will not stop until the Middle East is conquered, a mere colony of the US and/or Israel.

So,in summary, secular or otherwise, the right winger sez,

1. Absolute knowledge is knowable.
2. I know what absolute knowledge is.
3. I am obligated to act on that knowledge.

If ever a mindset would seem less conducive to postmodernism - and I think Dr. Klage would agree - it would be this one. When I think of the face of postmodernism I see Umberto Eco, convulsed with laughter at the delightfully infinite variations of interplay between texts. When I think of the right, it is the scowling, bloated visage of Billy “The Better” Bennett who comes to mind, or Phyllis Schafly, a woman so tightly wrapped, strung, and sealed off she resembles a bathysphere. How could the right possibly embrace postmodernism?

To answer that, it is important to discuss the missing piece of the right wing mindset, the much revered Leo Strauss.

Leo Strauss: The Mother of Deception

Leo Strauss was, as close I can figger it from secondhand descriptions, a kind of a thinking lad’s Ayn Rand - with some major differences, it is true, but all of them simpatico with rightwingerism. Strauss was a man utterly traumatized by the Holocaust, as were many others. But he believed that the seeds of Nazism were sown in the Weimar Republic specifically. However, in general, he was appalled with the entire Enlightenment project. Enlightenment attitudes, Strauss felt, inevitably substituted individual moralities for spiritual morality, a veritable descent into a maelstrom which leads to liberal democracy, a corrupted form of governance which will slowly turn, step by step, into Nazism and anarchy. Since it is so vital that order be preserved, a country’s leaders - who should be beings of superior morality compared to the average citizen - must use all means, including lies and deception, in their fight against anarchy. These superior beings are beyond conventional norms; much of standard morality is irrelevant to their all important mission. Insight into the qualities and obligations of these leaders can be gleaned by close reading of ancient texts, notably the early Grecian philosophers, as our own morally superior leader might put it. When one truly understands Plato and Socrates, a secret, esoteric meaning is revealed which will help illuminate the role these great leaders play in keeping the world safe.

Now, many of you might tut tut that this is seriously wack. You would be right. Some of you might object that I’m seriously wacked in my understanding of Leo Strauss and have created merely a monstrous flaxen and sentient male primate. Apparently not. (Also, see here.) This seems to be what he believed, or at the very least this is what the neocons , for whom Strauss is the intellectual spirit, think he believed, and what they believe themselves. Our “war on terror” is therefore a Straussian jihad. Iraq is merely the first battle, which is precisely how the administration describes the Iraq war.

So let’s add to our little summary of the right wing mindset above:

1. Absolute knowledge is knowable.
2. I know what absolute knowledge is.
3. I am called upon to act upon that knowledge.
4. In the battle for absolute truth, you have an obligation to deceive.

Postmodernism is the deceptive strategy employed by the right time and time again in intellectual debate with those who are not true believers. Postmodernism’s wordplay, its usefulness in exposing “grand narratives,” its concern with defining who the arbiters of knowledge are, is tailored made to deceive and confuse opponents in the hands of users who do not feel bound to argue truth with unbelievers, but rather intend to deceive them.

To be continued, with examples.

To Clean Up Some Odds And Ends

To clarify where I stand. I love postmodernism. When I first encountered the concepts formally, I realized that I thought that way as a matter of course, especially about art. I love the reversals of affect and meaning postmodernism thrives on. I find it stimulating and liberating. At its best, as with Susan McClary, pomo assertions are both hilariously funny and oddly profound. Sometimes, as with Barthes’ “Fragments of a Lover’s Discourse,” pomo criticism becomes identical to great literature (I think of Lover’s Discourse as a novel). The puncturing of intellectual pretense, by applying intellectual Big Iron to the navel of Christina Aguiliera and finding deep meaning therein while at the same time sending up the very notion of finding deep meaning in any “signifier” is a very useful lesson for those who often misread fiction and allegory as fact. Indeed, it is a seriously important lesson.

But, but like all good critical approaches, it’s not the whole story. Ultimately, art - and reality too! - will wriggle out of any Procrustean Bed, even a pomo one. In approaching art and reality, pomo is an important part of the intellectual toolkit, but there are other tools that are equally or much more important: the facts of science, universal human traits and instincts, the reality of affect, the sharing of mercy and compassion, even love, as Barthes himself acknoweldges. To some extent, pomo, at least what I’ve read and what I’ve put into practice, doesn’t address these terribly well. But I could be wrong and besides, I see no reason to be beholden to one critical theory.

Historically, postmodernism has also been far more conducive to right wing exploitation than is often acknowledged. It is, in many ways, a technology, politically very neutral. The story of the odious Paul Le Man, a Nazi collaborator who later became an intellectual hero at Yale as a deconstructionist, is but one example. What the right is doing today, in the US, is another.

UPDATE: Minor touch up of tropes, spelling errors, nothing impt on 5.13.03

US WMD Search Is Over. Nothing Found. No Joke.  

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.
"a major declared objective of the war." Worng!!!! Worng!!!! It was THE major objective of the war. Huge, megabig, doubleplus-megabig stockpiles of WMD's was the only legal justification for the war.

Where's Winston Smith and the Ministry of Truth when you really need them to paper over inconvenient facts like this?

Sunday, May 11, 2003

And While No One Was Looking:  

The Iraqi Body Count, which keeps track of confirmed civilian deaths, jumped from about 2600 to over 4700.

We have now killed more Iraqi civilians than Al Qaeda killed on September 11. Oh by the way, there were no Iraqis involved in the September 11 flights. But now that the score is evened up, can we go home now, please?

Mother's Day  

From a friend. Never saw this before. The original Mother's Day Proclamation as penned by Julia Ward Howe:

Arise then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:

'We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

'Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause.

'Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.

'We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

'From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says "Disarm!  Disarm!"

'The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.

'Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.'

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

For more info, go here.

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