Saturday, October 25, 2003

Torture Newsweek  

Go here and scroll down.

Demonstrations in Washington  

Fun with numbers:
Organizers estimated that 100,000 people turned out for the demonstration, but police at the scene put the number much lower, from 10,000 to 20,000. Police no longer issue official crowd estimates, so the size of the protest could not be verified.
Was anyone there and could they email me a description? Tx!

Alexander Cockburn Finally Tells The Truth About Paul Krugman  

It's not on their website, they're probably embarassed about it, so go out and buy the latest issue of The Nation and read Alexander Cockburn like totally immediately. Cockburn says Krugman is no lefty at all, but in reality nothing less than a, get this, a Clinton-style centrist.

You may react with something like, "WTF??? Cockburn, are you bloody nuts to attack Paul Krugman, of all people? He's the only person at the Times who's been consistently telling the truth for the past two years!"

But I say:

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Cockburn! For the past two years I've been telling everyone who thinks Krugman is a "far left voice of unreason" that he is simply a moderate who is appalled at how extremist and dangerous the Bush administration is. They laughed.

But now... bwhahahaha! I have the last laugh! Now, if some right wing nut doesn't believe me, all I have to do is point to your column and there, in the pages of The Nation, Krugman has been disowned, abandoned like a mutant stem cell in a Crawford, Texas abortion mill. So take that, Mr Smarty Pants Conservative! How far left can Krugman be, really, if The Nation thinks he's no real liberal?

And I say to The Nation:

Give Cockburn a raise! Krugman has been saying all along he was a moderate but everyone thought he was kidding. He wasn't kidding and only Cockburn realized it. Yes, double Cockburn's pittance for exposing The Truth About Krugman At Last.

(Needless to say, I've yet to read a Krugman column that I have any substantial disagreement with. As for Cockburn...well...)

[UPDATE] Here's a video of Krugman talking about his terrific book where he also admits that the people today are so bad, he misses not only Ronald Reagan but Richard Nixon.

Looks Like Another Conservative May Have A Taste For Chicken  

And I don't mean poultry:
Popular radio talk show host Jon Matthews is off the air and we've learned Sugar Land police are investigating him...

The Sugar Land Police Department would not talk about this case on camera, but they do say on the record that they're investigating Matthews after an allegation of indecency with a child. They are, however, reluctant to release any specifics.
According to BuzzFlash this guy's the big conservative radio show host in Delay's district. There should be some very interesting tapes or transcripts lying around somewhere of the two of them yakking about morality.

What is meant by "Another Conservative" in the headline for this post? Well, longtime Tristero readers will recall that right winger Richard Delgaudio, a successful fund raiser for the GOP and friends with lots of interesting folks like Ed Meese, Elliot Abrams, and Cap Weinberger pleaded guilty in a child pornography case earlier this tragic year.

I don't think there's a correlation between being right wing extremism and child sexual abuse. I'm just reporting in a fair and balanced fashion. You decide.

ACLU To Represent Husband of Schiavo  

As mentioned, I have no opinion on what should be done because I haven't examined either Schiavo's condition personally (and am not qualified to) nor have I reviewed the medical records. In any event, Bush and the legislature have no right interfering with the courts. That is doubleplus horrible and that is what the ACLU is contesting.

Rock Against Bush  

This just isn't fair! They want to Rock Against Bush that's fine, but where does that leave me? Bloody jealous is where it leaves me.

That's why I hereby announce the formation of a classical music group to raise funds to institute regime change in the US. It is called Bach Against Bush and I want to hear from any and all musicians who want to participate. And no, you don't have to play only Bach, but you're not discouraged either, naturally. Composers, too, are always welcome to join in the festivities. I'll certainlywrite something for it.

Let's kick Bush where it hurts, right on his G-string.

Beautiful Editorial On Gay Marriage  

Rep. John Lewis (D) Georgia:
It is time to say forthrightly that the government's exclusion of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from civil marriage officially degrades them and their families. It denies them the basic human right to marry the person they love. It denies them numerous legal protections for their families.

This discrimination is wrong. We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I've heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.

Some say let's choose another route and give gay folks some legal rights but call it something other than marriage. We have been down that road before in this country. Separate is not equal. The rights to liberty and happiness belong to each of us and on the same terms, without regard to either skin color or sexual orientation.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as Americans do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being Americans.

Thanks, Atrios, for the link. Eloquence is not dead in American politics despite the GOP's every effort to kill it.

Free Speech Zones  

Dave Neiwert has a great post about the use of free speech zones. Read it and then write the ACLU and urge them to start now to make sure that we can demonstrate our opposition to Bush in an effective manner during the '04 convention. I have.

Jet Blue Redux, or CAPS II And You  

Seraphiel passed on this terrific Cringely column about the ineffectiveness and civil rights dangers of terrorist profiling. His arguments are compelling so read it. Here is the conclusion:
The problem with 9/11 wasn't that terrorists got weapons past security. The problem was they were able to get control of an airplane. The most positive reaction to 9/11 was reinforcing cockpit doors. That single change has made it easily 100 times harder to use airplanes to destroy buildings. No amount of computer technology could do that.

Of course, this only means that the terrorists will choose another method of attack, preying on one of the many other points of vulnerability that we still protect as poorly as we protected aircraft cockpits in 2001. Will CAPPS-II be of any help preventing those other forms of attack? No.

If you knew someone was going to release a biological weapon in a subway, what would you do? You can't stop them. You know it is going to eventually happen. So how do you minimize the damage? Can you quickly evacuate the area? Can you thoroughly ventilate the area? Can you easily wash down and decontaminate the area? Many chemical plants have had these capabilities for 35 years. It is neither complicated nor expensive to anticipate a subway attack and minimize the amount of damage caused. But instead, we spend billions profiling terrorists.

We should spend less time chasing bad ideas based on unrealistic expectations and spend more time making it harder for terrorists to cause any real harm.

And there is even a side benefit to this approach. If we anticipated the possible attack on a water system and installed some smart improvements, we'd never have an e.coli problem again. We'd never have a water purity problem, either. We would be prepared to keep the contamination from leaving the site, no matter what the cause of the contamination.

We look at security as a cost, not an opportunity to improve our infrastructure.

Remember the Taguchi Methods I wrote about a few weeks ago. They produce robust designs that continue to function in the presence of degrading influences. CAPPS-II and its ilk don't do that. CAPPS-II is an electronic Maginot Line that will cost a lot, is vulnerable to abuse, will cause rifts in our own community and with our neighbors, and will ultimately achieve no good at all.

The So-Called Liberal NY Times  

There is even more in the Times today to cause one's head to explode. I'll ignore the outrageous lead story in the Magazine only because I am suffering from outrage overload. That was the result of reading this incredibly unfair, utterly fact-free and thoroughly biased review of Wesley Clark's new book. I don't know what Clark did in the past to deserve this kind of fatuous mouth-frothing but, I assure you that there is not a single fact, not even a single opinion that the reviewer engages with over the course of his critique. He simply indulges in character assasination and snotty put downs. An example? You really want an example? Okay, but only one. The opening of the review:
On the front of his austereblack-and-white book jacket, Gen. Wesley K. Clark is presented as the former supreme allied commander in Europe and the author of what purports to be an expert analysis of the war in Iraq. But on the book's back side, you will find a colorful full-page poster of a handsome civilian with a winning smile and the unmistakable ambition to commit more than military history.

''Winning Modern Wars'' turns out to be aptly wrapped.
In short, you have just learned that the reviewer hates the book's cover. Buried in the middle of the fourth paragraph, the reviewer allows that Clark's analysis of military strategy is "deft" but this is easy to ignore, given the prominent placing of such no-cal nastiness as "...the swift transformation of a once embittered warrior and armchair television analyst into a hard-driving, platitudinous candidate for president."

If ever there was a job for Daily Howler, it is this review.

The So-Called Liberal NY Times  

My Smart Spouse and I have agreed that the best prevention against high blood pressure is to ignore David Brooks' incompetent droolings on the op-ed pages of the NY Times. This turned out to be a lot easier than I thought and for the past few weeks I have attained a Zen-like serenity as I perused the Grey Lady over my coffee and vegie-bacon in the morning.

That was then. This is now.

Oh, yes, I didn't so much as glance at Brooksie today. And it was heartening to read that the Times' editors are utterly appalled at Bush's nomination of Janice Rogers Brown, a judicial candidate who is so totally out there in terms of her politics that she must have come to her opinions while studying on Uranus. And true, Nick Kristof has a marvelous survey of some preliminary studies on the biology of sexual preferences that appear to confirm what I've believed all along: it makes as much sense to discriminate against people because of the way they blink their eyes as it does on the basis of who they love.

But then I read the lead headline which in print reads like this: "Over $13 Billion In Aid Is Pledged To Rebuild Iraq. Sum Exceeds Expectations." My blood pressure started to crawl upwards and my head began to ache. Why? Because yesterday the amount that was said to be required for Iraq was $36 billion and the AP estimated that $19 billion would be raised. The Times is, to be kind, not being honest here. They are dispensing bromides to the majority of Times readers who will merely skim the headline for this article: "Hey, check it out, the world is supporting us by helping out Iraq bigtime!" If the, um, discrepancy between yesterday's expectations and today's doesn't impress you as that big a deal, let's go to the actual text of the article for a moment and find out what really seems to be happening:
Some donors apparently pledged sums that they had already announced and transmitted earlier. Others included import credits, relief assistance — including $500,000 worth of rice from Vietnam — or other items not on the list of reconstruction and security needs for which the Madrid conference was called. Nor is it clear how much money will be available how soon.

Arab nations did not come through with the large number of grants that the administration had sought, in part because of antipathy toward the war in Iraq and, more recently, the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The United Arab Emirates offered $200 million to $250 million. Saudi Arabia offered $1 billion in low-cost loans and an additional $500 million to finance Saudi export credits. Kuwait came up with $500 million.

Most loans come not from countries but from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which will most likely have to negotiate the terms of their aid along with a plan to reschedule and perhaps forgive at least some of Iraq's existing $120 billion in debts, according to World Bank officials...

As delegates left Madrid on Friday evening, many questions remained about the sums pledged. Many development officials cautioned, for example, that the nations pledging them might not live up to their promises. That is what has happened, at least in part, with the $5 billion raised for Afghanistan last year.
Shall we follow this story and find out how much of this $13 billion actually gets delivered by next year? Even odds or better that it's less than half.

(By the way, please check the sentence I italicized against the criticisms I leveled at the predictions Josh Marshall was tricked into believing by an Administration source. I want to make this clear: I'm appalled that I'm right and Wolfowitz/Perle, and Josh Marshall, were wrong because it means everything's upside down.) Another quote from the Times article:
Accompanying the pledges were heated demands and warnings from donor nations and from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions that the United States and Iraq must do a better job in disclosing how money is spent.

"So far there hasn't been a good accounting of how the money was used," said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the United Nations Development Program, referring to the several billion dollars already spent in Iraq from oil revenues and seized Iraqi assets.

American officials bridled at those accusations, saying there had been a full accounting even though it had not yet been made public. L. Paul Bremer III, administrator of the American-led Iraqi occupation, said the accounting would be on a Web site soon.
Uh huh. In the computer industry, this is called vaporware. And the Times conveniently forgets to reference this important charge:
A prominent British aid agency, Christian Aid, has stirred controversy by accusing Iraq's U.S. and British administrators of failing to account for at least $4 billion in oil revenue and other money meant to go towards rebuilding the country.
And then at the end of the Times article, one reads this:
Iran announced that it would subsidize 100,000 tourists and Muslim pilgrims a month in Iraq, generating $500 million a year for Iraq.
Um, this is good news??? Can you say 10,000 Iranian Islamists to support the creation of an Islamist Iraq?

To learn what actually took place, don't bother with the Times. The headline at the Washington Post gets it exactly right:"Nations Pledge Billions For Iraq. Reconstruction Aid Falls Far Short Of Projected Need."

Follow Up To Reply To Melanie On Religion And Liberalism  

After writing this critique of a post at Kos that took non-religious liberals to task for insulting someone's religion, I had some further thoughts.

Tolerance of religious expression is, arguably, the defining virtue of American liberalism. It is what distinguishes the writings of the founding fathers in America from most of their peers. Today, what characterizes this tolerance is a live-and-let-live attitude: everyone has the right to believe what they believe and, within reason, criticism is bad form. Insulting someone's faith, or ridiculing their religious beliefs, is nothing that liberals are known for doing.

Assuming the commenters who have been dissing Melanie are liberals at all -which, as I discuss below should NOT be assumed- that even a few are doing so now is both striking and distressing. The issue for liberals has never been whether or not belief in God is a good or a bad thing. The issue is that people have the right to believe whatever they want, without fear of reprisal, provided they respect others and obey the law.

So the content of one's religious belief is unimportant for liberal political discourse. It is assumed that within the context of a political discussion to be as sensible as any other. What is central to liberal discussion is the right to hold and practice those beliefs provided they do not harm others or impinge on others' beliefs.

Naturally, during a time when religion is being systematically exploited for crass secular reasons by the right wing, one must separate those who are indeed religious from the fakers and/or opportunists. In Melanie's case, it is quite clear that she is sincere and insulting her is, of course, wrong. Worse, it is giving comfort to the enemy.

Which brings up something important. It is a lie, but widely held to be true, that Democrats do not care about religion. There are so many counter-examples that prove this is a lie -Lieberman, Hillary Clinton's White House prayer group, and so on- that there is no point in arguing with anyone over it: They're either liars or ignorant or both.

Politics is a ruthless game that right wing Republicans often characterize as a cultural war, in which anything goes. We know that one of their strategies is to divide liberals and moderates whenever possible and then point to divisions as proof that we "have no consensus on a plan for the country." (This, of course, is another lie which I'll discuss another time.) What better way to divide us than to pose as a liberal or a Democrat and insult someone's religion?

Therefore, unless I know the person beforehand, I will assume that any such "liberal" or "Democrat" who makes disparaging remarks about someone's religion is, in fact, a GOP troll deliberately sowing dissension among those of us who are united in our opposition to Bush and Bushism.

I will treat such trolls with all the respect they richly deserve.

Teenager Punished For Being A Teenager  

CNN has a bizarre article about Rachel Boim, a 14 year old girl living in Atlanta, Georgia whose diary was confiscated in art class. The teacher read it and found a short story in which a student dreams of killing her math teacher. The teacher turned the journal over to school officials who first suspended, then after a hearing, expelled her.

Anyone who has not dreamed of murdering a teacher at some point in their academic career, please raise your hand.

Apparently, someone came to their senses yesterday and rescinded the expulsion so the young girl will go back to school on Monday.

What makes the article so bizarre is that the article mentions that the kid was living in Denver when the Columbine shootings happened. I'se like, "Wha??"

Now this is pure speculation on my part, but my guess is that there were probably a lot of kids living in Denver during Columbine. Since the article makes no mention of what the teenager's presence in Denver during Columbine might possibly mean, I read a follow up interview with the kid and her father conducted by Soledad 0'Brien.

By all means, read it and take notice of the questions Ms. O'Brien asks. They support the position that the school has the right to tell kids what they can and cannot think and write. Not a single inquiry about how the girl felt when she learned her diary was read.

And now for Columbine. Ms. O'Brien asks the kid if being close to Columbine had an effect. The kid says no. She says she finds present-day school violence scary and that's what she was thinking about.

So again, what does the girls proximity to Columbine have to do with this story?

And what is ignored is this. First, a teenager took the time to write a short story for herself. In my day, kids were encouraged to write both in and out of classrooms. It was called "learning to express your thoughts."

Second, a teacher read, presumably without the kid's permission, a private diary. In my day, this was a big, big no-no that would get the teacher into a heap of trouble. It was called "violating a person's right to privacy."

I guess things are rather different now, huh.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Religion and Liberalism: Reply To Melanie at Kos  

[UPDATE:] I had some further thoughts on the issues discussed below which I briefly talk about in this post.

Melanie over at Kos has a very interesting post about liberals and religion, a subject that often gets batted around in Left Blogistan. It's really not fair to pull quotes, because she goes to great lengths to separate herself from fundamentalists and others. Nevertheless, comments like this one got my dander up. Melanie writes:
I'm not trying to convert you.  That's not my job.  What I want you to notice is that the casual putdowns of faith that I see so often in the threads here, and nearly everywhere on the lefty blogs, is like a slap in the face to those of us for whom our faith is one of the things that fuels our progressive politics.  You know, take care of the widows and orphans, give it up for the poor, visit those in prison?   Do you think these are Democratic values or virtues?
So I responded with this comment (slightly edited from the version over at Kos, the most important being the addition of the last sentence):

I think you are mistaken in your criticism of liberals on this issue.

Since the late 1970's, we have been told over and over again that God is a right wing Republican. Only recently, and I mean literally only the last few years, have religious liberals like yourself put together a marginally effective public response to counter those who corrupt their faith simply to gain secular power.

My possible religious beliefs - or possible lack of them - are deeply private affairs; I have discussed them with no one, including those closest to me. But my enormous respect for numerous religious traditions and spirituality is a matter of public record, both in words and deed.

So I see no reason either to mince words or actions in fighting the hijacking of the this country by fanatics, for in a rational discourse there is no other way for such folks as Hill, Rudolph, Scalia, Santorum, Moore, or Bush to be described. They differ in denomination and emphasis, they differ in degree, but they do not differ in their desire to transform this country into a Judeo-Christian theocracy so bleak and oppressive that neither you nor I nor any sensible person would want to live in it. (Boykin is a special case: I think he may be suffering from an acquired mental illness; he is not acting like a spiritual man but like a delusional one).

To the extent they want to leave the rest of us alone, any of these folks, and their enablers/followers, have the right to do as they please. But that is of no interest to them: they want to tell us what to do.

They insist that lies and myths be taught in biology classes. They insist that their particular sexual proclivities are the only acceptable ones for everyone. They evangelize to the detriment of their charity. They even insist -and flirt with heresy when they do - that their skewed, selective interpretation of the Bible is The Truth. And they believe that they and their leaders are in God's grace and have been chosen by God to lead the world. This strikes me as outright blasphemy.

To question the sincerity of their religious committment (and I do) is to be deemed "bigoted against Christians." That would only be the case if Paul Hill was a Christian, or Eric Rudolph or Franklin Graham. But I've known quite a few Christians in my life - nuns, priests, ministers and committed laypeople in numerous denominations - and none of them talk or act like any of these scoundrels.

The Bush's, Scalias, and Rudolphs of the world belong to various factions of a political movement I call "Christianism." They, like Islamists, exploit a great religion in order to achieve political power. Some are more violent than others - Bush is no more an Army of God member than he is a Nazi, but he is nevertheless a Christianist.

I do not believe it is acceptable for Christianists to hide beneath the skirts of their "churches" when they act in the political arena to advance their power. I believe political power in the hands of religious fanatics, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or whatever is exceedingly dangerous. I support any legal means, including the most robust rhetoric possible, to lay waste to their goals.

While a few folks on our side who eschew religion act as badly as the Christianists do, they are really a minor irritant. By directing your disapproval at these powerless folks, you are swatting at insignificant gnats while very powerful snakes surround and constrict our culture, choking it of all life and joy.

Melanie, read Scalia and Santorum, let alone Falwell and Roberston. These are people who condemn the Englightenment, for goodness sakes! They would deny us not only the insights of Darwin, but the beauties of Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, Schumann, and Stravinsky. Scalia has gone so far as to deny that the fine words of the Declaration of Independence actually say what they clearly say.

The Christianists are the problem, Melanie, not a few ignorant people who misunderstand Dennett and Weinberg's atheism. Let all of us who are disgusted with their tactics and their corruption of Christian spiritual values deny them the label "Christian" so that real Christians, like you, won't have to apologize for their follies. Or be confused with them, a mistake that I would not make, but that others clearly have.

The Rushed NIE  

Josh Marshall is very good on why the CIA did such a lousy job in analysing intelligence a year ago:
Why was the NIE so rushed?

An NIE [National Intelligence Estimage] is a systematic evaluation of all the Intelligence Community knows about a given subject. And it’s put together to help the government frame a policy to address a given problem or challenge.

But as the articles in the Washington Post today note (if rather obliquely), that’s not what happened here.

This NIE was done after the White House had already chosen its policy. And it wasn’t even the White House that called for it, but rather Senate Democrats who were miffed that the administration had never requested an NIE.

In fact, the White House specifically resisted requesting an NIE because it didn’t want the findings getting in the way of its policy.

So Roberts' claim that the White House was “ill-served” fails on chronology and simple logic. The NIE could not have failed the White House, because the White House didn’t use it. Simple as that.

(The point of this NIE was not to frame policy but to sway votes in the Senate. And on that count, if one wanted to be cheeky, one would say the administration was served rather well.)

And why was the NIE so rushed? Because it was a double-quick affair rushed into print at the last minute to get Senate Democrats to vote for the Iraq resolution.[Emphasis added.]

Divide and Conquer  

Early in October, my dear friend Tacitus, a conservative blogger, offered his liberal readers an opportunity to gang up and trash Democratic candidates. I refused to play writing on his comments board "... your question, as phrased, is a setup. You are encouraging Democrats, et al, to dump on the minor candidates and there is no good reason for anyone opposed to Bush to lower themselves to your bait. Next, time, esteemed Tacitus, ask a fair question instead of a loaded one.

"Regarding the major candidates, you know and I know that Dean, Clark, Kerry, Edwards, and Gephardt (not necessarily in that order) would create administrations - each one different of course - far superior to the Bush administration.

"Regarding who I -an Independent- would not vote for if my favorite Dem is not chosen, that's easy. I won't vote for Bush. Hell, a coral reef has more collective intelligence than the Bush administration."

It was my suspicion that Tacitus' question was more than just loaded, but deliberately calculated to stir up divisions among Democrats and those who will vote Democratic because they wish to see Bush removed from office.

It turns out Tacitus isn't the only one causing folks to be suspicious. Michael Tomasky writes that the Moon-financed conservative paper The Washington Times deliberately distorted his interview with President Clinton in order to create the appearance of Democratic divisiveness:
... the Times has a vested interest in throwing gasoline on the fire of internal Democratic divisions -- divisions that Clinton, in this interview, sought to quell -- and keeping that story line alive above all else.
Indeed. let's not fall for that one, shall we?

The So-Called Liberal NY Times  

Here's another one and it is this one that should be presented as Exhibit A whenever anyone tells you that the Times is a liberal rag.

Abby Goodnough gives Randall Terry, Jeb Bush and the religous right, who swarmed like vultures on the barely alive body of poor Terri Schiavo, a free pass. Actually, she's given them a lot more -in French, the word I believe is souffler- without so much as an attempt to describe those who believe that the most compassionate thing for Schiavo is to allow her to die.

Here is a typical excerpt of this nearly 1500 word article. You won't find a single word that disputes Terry's brainless, opportunistic propaganda, which Goodnough has quoted generously.
Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, said he and other conservatives intended to use what they consider a stunning victory here to pressure lawmakers elsewhere to chip away at court rulings allowing abortion and banning organized prayer in schools and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, among other issues.

"Finally, a governor and legislature had the courage to stand up to judicial despots because of an overwhelming call by the public," Mr. Terry said.

Mr. Terry, who had largely retreated from public life since the aggressive and sometimes violent abortion protests of the 1980's and early 90's, stood with the parents of Terri Schiavo as they pleaded for her life on television last week and lobbied legislators in Tallahassee before their vote on Tuesday.
Where do I stand on this case? I have no idea and neither, dear reader, do you.

If her husband is telling the truth about Schiavo's remarks and her medical condition, then she should be allowed to die, in accordance with her wishes.

If, on the other hand, she is still sentient as her parents apparently believe, efforts should be made to communicate with her to determine her wishes.

Without a careful examination of all the facts of the case and a professional evaluation of her mental condition, no one can morally say much more. These ethical dilemmas happen every day in hospitals around the country and the "right" thing to do is always a wrenching decision for everyone involved.

Two things are certain, however. Do we really want Randall Terry with the power to say who will live or who will die? Or the Florida legislature?

No. No.

The So-Called Liberal NY Times  

They're doing again what they did pre-war, regurgitating the Bush line with neither shame nor objectivity. The headline this morning read U.S. Is Confident Conference Will Produce Enough Donations to Rebuild Iraq and the lead sentence was
Bush administration officials expressed growing confidence Thursday that they would raise large sums to reconstruct Iraq at a donors conference here.
Reality of course is quite different. I heard on the radio that they hope to raise $36 billion at the conference but that countries are trying to out do each other in pledging as little money as possible.

According to this AP report filed at 10:10 am eastern this morning, the pledges add up to $19 billion, slightly more than half the desired total and at least some of that money has already been spent.

Nevertheless, the original headline made its point: Bush will get his way unless the evil (insert countries/people currently at top of Bush's hitlist) causes trouble.

[UPDATE] Kevin Drum totted up the numbers in several different articles and it is extremely sobering. Check them out!

One More US soldier Killed And Two More Iraqis  

This time in Mosul and Baghdad:
U.S. soldier was killed Friday in northern Iraq, officials said. A roadside bomb also wounded several troops in the western city of Fallujah, witnesses said, in the sixth attack by insurgents there in as many days.

The soldier, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, was killed by small arms fire before dawn Friday in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. Central Command said. No further details were released, and the name was withheld pending notification of kin.

The death brings to 106 the number of American soldiers killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

In Baghdad, at least two Iraqis were killed and seven wounded when rockets fell on the Ad-Doura neighborhood of the capital, residents said. The rockets smashed into several stalls in the Ad-Doura market and caused slight damage to the Ad-Doura power plant about 200 yards away.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Radical Islamists Are Only Part Of The Problem  

This op-ed from Jewish World Review is a defense of General Boykin's deranged remarks. Then the author goes on to say that the US should be even more shrill at condemning radical Islamists:
This notion that religion is not at the heart of the hatred directed at America from outside and now inside the country qualifies as extreme denial. Throughout the Muslim world, America is condemned not mainly because of its ideas but because Islamists believe we are infidels opposed to G-d...

In muzzling Boykin, the Pentagon has not converted those who believe they have a religious mandate to destroy us. It is silencing, instead of sounding, the alarm that this enemy is bigger than any threat America has ever faced.
I disagree. The author excuses religious extremism if it is not his religion or his allies. This is dangerous.

Radical Islamism has hijacked a great religion for political goals. But Islam is not the only religion that has been exploited. Indeed, there is a lemming-like rush around the world to destroy genuine religion observance by forcing it to serve transient political masters and causes.

Christianists, like the sad General Boykin and Judaicists like the equally insane Kach party and other ultra-Orthodox parties are as guilty of betraying their profound religious heritages as al Qaeda. And they have all shown themselves to be just as murderously prepared to hide behind the same preposterous excuses: retaliation for attacks by the infidels, the promises of God, and so on. If Islamists are more "advanced" than other creeds in mainstreaming their ideas into Islamic society, I am confident that the General Boykins of the world are doing their utmost to do the same in Christian societies. That Bush has put his faith front and center like no other president before him is, to say the least, am terrible portent for the future.

In order to achieve peace, the first goal of any sensible person should be to work to disentangle all religions from political causes, especially his/her own, assuming one is observant. It is the height of madness, as America's founders well knew, to combine them and call for a jihad, a holy war, a crusade, or some other obscenity. It is certain - given the present technologies - to escalate into a worldwide catastrophe that is all but unimaginable.

Will condemning the dangerous mix of religion and politics worldwide be sufficient to avert disaster? Of course not. But it is a necessary first step. And it must be an ecumenical, ie, a universal condemnation. Neither Jews nor Christians are any more justified to appeal to God to legitimize their political goals than Muslims or followers of any other creed.

No Terrorism. Really  

I'll believe it when they make the letter public.
U.S. postal workers have found an envelope containing the deadly toxin ricin at a postal facility in South Carolina but officials said on Wednesday there was no sign terrorism was involved.

A U.S. law enforcement official in Washington said the letter, found late last week at the postal facility in Greenville, South Carolina, contained a sealed container which had a small amount of a substance that tested positive for ricin.

``So far there is no discernible public health impact,'' the official said, adding that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were working with the U.S. Postal Service to assess and inspect the entire facility.

Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the letter was not linked to terrorism.

One More Neocon Clown To Watch Out For  

David Wurmser
A neo-conservative strategist who has long called for the United States and Israel to work together to "roll back" the Ba'ath-led government in Syria, has been quietly appointed as a Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

David Wurmser, who had been working for the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, John Bolton, joined Cheney's staff under its powerful national security director, I Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in mid-September, according to Cheney's office.

The move is significant, not only because Cheney is seen increasingly as the dominant foreign policy influence on President George W Bush, but also because it adds to the notion that neo-conservatives remain a formidable force under Bush, despite the sharp plunge in public confidence in Bush's handling of post-war Iraq resulting from the faulty assumptions propagated by the neo-cons before the war.

Given the recent intensification of tensions between Washington and Damascus - touched off by this month's US veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution deploring an Israeli air attack on an alleged Palestinian camp outside Damascus - Wurmser's rise takes on added significance.

The move also follows House of Representatives' approval of a bill that would impose new economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria.

Wurmser's status as a favored protege of arch-hawk and former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) also speaks loudly to Middle East specialists, who note Perle's long-time close association with Cheney, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld's chief deputy Paul Wolfowitz.
And here's Wurmser's cv Wurmser's cv in case you want to learn more about this guy.

A Debunking Of Preemptive Unilateralism (The Bush Doctrine)  

If you're interested in why the Bush Doctrine is wrong, this book should have plenty of reasons. It's called Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order by John Newhouse. Me, I knew the doctrine was crazy from the moment I first heard about it. I think it is not worth the trouble to argue over, like other Really Bad Ideas such as creationism, opposition to gay marriage, and whether there's a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet. But it's good that someone has engaged it directly so if you are drawn into an argument with someone about preemptive unilateralism, the book might have a few reasons that aren't terribly obvious.

Speaking of How Ugly 2004 Will Be  

A dry run in Kentucky this November:
Jefferson County Republicans intend to place Election Day challengers at 59 voting precincts in predominantly black neighborhoods, a move that NAACP leaders yesterday called blatant intimidation.

The GOP election workers, most of whom live outside the targeted precincts in western and central Louisville, Portland and Newburg, will be on hand to challenge voters who they suspect aren't eligible.

Jefferson County GOP Chairman Jack Richardson IV said the precincts were chosen at random or because the Republican Party has had trouble finding registered voters in those areas to serve as election workers. The challengers, who will receive the same training as precinct workers, could fill in if needed.

Richardson said the precincts weren't chosen because of their racial makeup or voting patterns. Using challengers is a "legal, proper and permissible" way to ensure that voters are bona fide, he said.

"It is in the best interest of everybody and the responsibility of both parties to protect the ballot integrity," Richardson said. "That is the bottom line." [Yeah, right.]

Kentucky law allows political parties to each place one challenger at any precinct on Election Day to question the credentials of any voter who they have "a reason to believe" isn't legitimate.

Republicans filed a list of the challengers and precincts with the Jefferson County Board of Elections. Democrats have filed no list and say they have no plans to use challengers....

Raoul Cunningham, former state NAACP voting-empowerment coordinator, and former state Sen. Georgia Powers called the use of GOP challengers "an assault by voter intimidation and an effort to suppress the African-American community..."

DEMOCRATS called the Republican challengers an attempt to intimidate black voters in what is expected to be a close race for governor between Ernie Fletcher, a Republican, and Democrat Ben Chandler.

"(They) have only one purpose: to intimidate and suppress votes in the West End and other minority areas," Tim Longmeyer, chairman of the Jefferson County Democratic Party, said during a news conference yesterday attended by County Attorney Irv Maze; Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney David Stengel; and Louisville Metro Council members Cheri Bryant Hamilton and Mary Woolridge...

Gladys Bailey, who works at King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church in western Louisville and plans to vote Nov. 4, said she wouldn't be intimidated by challengers, although she worries that older residents might be deterred.

"I don't understand why they (challengers) would be there," she said.

MOST OF the 59 precincts where Republicans plan to assign challengers are heavily Democratic in voter registration.

Voters can help avoid challenges by bringing a picture ID with a current address to the precinct.
Emphasis and snide comment added.

Diebold Issues Cease And Desist But...  

Swarthmore students post memos Diebold doesn't want you to see. And they plan on continuing to do so, moving them from machine to machine as Diebold orders cease and desist orders. Go to the link in the first sentence and download your very own copy of the docs (about 11 megs). They make for very interesting reading...

W. Bush Is Not Prescott Bush  

And Dave Neiwert is absolutely right about this. He also links to an excellent piece by Joe Conason which discusses Prescott Bush's business dealings with the Nazis and concludes that ideologically he was no sympathizer (Prescott was W. Bush's grandfather):
There are many unflattering terms that can and should be used to describe George W. Bush. He is, among other things, a truly bad President. But neither his offenses, nor the Republican Party’s politics of personal destruction, can justify using such tactics against him. Imputing Nazi sympathies to the President or his family ought to be beneath his adversaries.
Yes. What Joe is saying, as gently as possible, is that what Bush is doing is so godawful that there is no reason to bring up anyone's sins but Bush's own. I fully agree. By focusing on Bush to the exclusion of anyone else, we run less risk of being sidetracked into pointless arguments that are bound to take attention away from the genuine disaster that is his administration.

Dave, while he goes into detail about the history of Prescott Bush, seems to feel the same way. He believes (and I can only agree), however, that one of the worst things about the current administration is not its spurious Nazi connection but rather its unhealthy propensity for out and out fascistic ideas and behavior. Dave writes:
That propensity has been rising to the surface in increasing numbers with the George W. Bush regime, which deployed thuggish elements in the Florida debacle in 2000 and turned them loose against antiwar protesters in 2002-03. The levels of violence and thuggery have remained subdued so far, but a serious challenge to Bush's power in the 2004 elections may well raise it another notch.
In other words, this is going to be an ugly election year, perhaps even a frightening one.

Planning for 2004: Bush War Goon To Run GOP Convention Press  

Like I said recently, it is not too early to start planning strategy for the 2004 NY Republican Convention which, as everyone knows will be timed to meld seamlessly with 9/11 remembrances. Heaven knows, Bush's henchmen are already planning to bamboozle the press as they did before. And who's in charge? None other than Jim Wilkinson who ran the embeds during the Bush II War.
Both as director of strategic communications for Central Command and as communications director of a Republican convention in a town suffused with Democrats and reporters, Mr. Wilkinson already has taken on a pair of the toughest media tasks in the world.

Plenty of reporters seethed at him during the war, and not covertly. Reporters there barked and protested—many are still brutally angry—at the "No comment" after "No comment" they received in Doha as their embedded colleagues broke news in the field and Mr. Rumsfeld gave press conferences at the Pentagon. Doha was, to them, a kind of biosphere of non-news.

"We were basically a studio audience to make it look like a real press conference," said Kevin Diaz of the Minneapolis Star Tribune . "They were talking—literally—directly over our heads to the television cameras."

On March 27, New York magazine’s Michael Wolff turned himself into a Doha celebrity with a question to the telegenic brigadier general, Vincent Brooks, who did most of the briefing. "Why should we stay?" he asked. "What’s the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center?" He was applauded.

Mr. Wilkinson, Mr. Wolff said, was furious.

"He was very pugnacious about the whole thing: ‘Why don’t you go home? You’re nothing. You’re finished,’" Mr. Wolff recalled being told. "He was a professional little shit." Mr. Wilkinson declined to discuss his time in Doha.
Well, that's not all Wilkinson said. He is almost certainly the person described here in Wolff's infamous article about the phoniness of the war press conferences:
The next person to buttonhole me was the CENTCOM Über -civilian, a thirtyish Republican operative (part of his job seemed to be to seed the press pool with specific questions that CENTCOM wanted asked during the briefings, telling reporters, for instance, that CENTCOM wouldn’t show the video of Private Lynch being rescued, because it would be seen as “the United States spiking the ball in the end zone,” unless reporters asked for proof that the rescue was successful). He was more Full Metal Jacket in his approach (although he was a civilian, he was, inexplicably, in uniform—making him, I suppose, a sort of paramilitary figure): “I have a brother who is in a Hummer at the front, so don’t talk to me about too much fucking air-conditioning.” And: “A lot of people don’t like you.” And then: “Don’t fuck with things you don’t understand.” And, too: “This is fucking war, asshole.” And finally: “No more questions for you.”

I had been warned.
Questions, anyone?

Actually, I have one. Why should the press bother reporting the Republican Convention at all, given that its conclusion is foregone and they will not be permitted to report without censorship?

Cheered Or Jeered?  

From WaPo
"I love free speech," quipped Bush, to cheers from the house, having been warned he could face politicians' protests.
And now, from The NY Times:
``I love free speech,'' Bush said to laughter.

Krugman On Mahatir  

Paul Krugman's superb analysis of a recent speech by Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad of Malaysia has been ignored by a discussion, begun with malicious intent by the right, that Krugman is anti-semitic. There is no reason to dignify that kind of nonsense by responding. Instead, I will recap Krugman's argument:

1. Mahatir's remarks were "inexcusable", but "calculated".

2. While often a human rights abuser, Mahatir is, by the low standards of current Islamic world leaders, fairly effective in some areas. Malaysia's economy and infrastructure have grown during his rule.

3. Mahatir's speech was, primarily, a criticism of modern day Islamism, which discourages modernization.

4. In the past, Mahatir's anti-semitic remarks were red meat thrown to the Malay majority, which lag economically behind the Chinese minority.

5. Based on the rest of the recent speech, Mahatir could have been an important "Bernard Lewis-style" ally in the fight against extreme Islamists. By deliberately playing the anti-Semitic card, he pointed to the current necessity of catering to his "domestic flank" which has grown ever more strident in its anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments.

6. Mahatir's strategy highlights the squandering of the goodwill the US received immediately post 9/11, a squandering whose fault lies with the Bush administration.

Krugman's 100% right.

Generals Boykin's Undeserved Humiliation  

Predictably, right wing religious pundits have pointed to General Boykin's distinguished career as a way of deflecting criticism of his appointment as leader of the search against al Qaeda's leaders and Saddam Hussein. Paradoxically, such an argument makes the case for his removal from command all that more urgent. For General Boykin's exemplary past is indisputable. Everyone knows he has been a brave man, and a credit to his country.

It is General Boykin's present ability to serve that is the issue. Sadly, this military hero seems to have lost his grip on reality. For that reason alone, he has no business commanding anyone anymore, let alone spearheading the search for bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. With an utterly callous disregard for the fragility of his present mental state, the Bush administration deliberately exposed Boykin to national ridicule by placing him in a position where his bizarre ideas would certainly be exposed by the press. This was part and parcel of Bush's cynical efforts to shore up support with the religious right, which has on occasion threatened to bolt in 2004.

General Boykin currently believes that God tampered with the 2000 election and that his God duked it out with a Muslim's God in a personal contest and won. He also asserts, in the face of history and tradition, that this is a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles rather than secular ones.

But that is not all:
Last year, Boykin showed the First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma pictures he had taken in Mogadishu, Somalia during the violence of 1993. The pictures showed a strange mark in the sky over the city. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your enemy ” Boykin said. “It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.”
Clearly, it is not his religious beliefs that are reason for concern but his delusions. Passionate religious belief has driven many a great man or women to extraordinary heights. But General Boykin's words do not reflect a passionate religious commitment at all. They are the ravings of a sadly disordered consciousness.

He is not being spiritual or patriotic when he goes around proclaiming that our enemy is Satan himself. He is exhibiting the classic signs of paranoia and needs to see a psychiatrist, for his own good and for the country's. He should be relieved of his duties immediately and be offered the help he desperately needs.

It is tragic that this administration has so embarrassed General Boykin by placing him in such a position that his serious mental problems would inevitably be made public. The anger directed at those who brought the General's deteriorating state to light is misdirected. Our defense must always be in the hands of cool-headed, down to earth men and women. Many of these people, of course, will have deep religious convictions. Sadly, General Boykin's recent remarks show he can no longer be entrusted with such overwhelming responsibility.

The blame for General Boykin's undeserved humiliation so late in his career lies squarely with the Bush Administration. It was they who placed a very brave man who is now mentally ill in charge of one of the most important tasks the country faces. He should never have been made deuputy undersecretary of defense in the first place and the press was right to inform the country of the danger.

Shorter Tristero  

The Left End of the Dial (links bloggered) gets to the point of one of my longer recent posts
The next time we have a bunch of ideologically-addled goofballs trying to raid the White House, reporters, editors, and congressional leaders had damn well better wake up and do their job to stop it. We may have got lucky this time, in spite of the failure to stop the current White House hardliners.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Three Day Hiatus  

I'll be back on Thursday.

Meanwhile, be sure to read this excellent interview with the finest critic of neo-conservative mentor Leo Strauss, Shadia Drury, which was sent my way by a friend. American political life under Bush will seem a lot clearer to you. Note: she predicted the neo-con con job long before Bush was in the White House.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Stop The Presses: Newt Gingrich Was Wrong!  

Contrary to the opinions (perhaps too fine a word for them) of everyone's favorite amphibian, the State Department knew what it was doing and saying pre-Bush/Iraq:
A yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.

Beginning in April 2002, the State Department project assembled more than 200 Iraqi lawyers, engineers, business people and other experts into 17 working groups to study topics ranging from creating a new justice system to reorganizing the military to revamping the economy.

Their findings included a much more dire assessment of Iraq's dilapidated electrical and water systems than many Pentagon officials assumed. They warned of a society so brutalized by Saddam Hussein's rule that many Iraqis might react coolly to Americans' notion of quickly rebuilding civil society.

Several officials said that many of the findings in the $5 million study were ignored by Pentagon officials until recently, although the Pentagon said they took the findings into account. The work is now being relied on heavily as occupation forces struggle to impose stability in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Two More US Soldiers Killed  

Remember, if a soldier can stay alive 'til March, Bush has ordered the casualties to stop.

The Long And The Short Of Tom Friedman  

Longer Tom:
Just one good model — one good Arab model that works — and you will see more than just municipal elections in Saudi Arabia.

Shorter Tom: If at first you don't succeed, attack Syria.

(revised after original posting.)

Spinning bin Laden Like A Top  

From his secure undisclosed location, Osama bin Laden once again speaks, threatening Americans with suicide attacks. But check out the Bush response:
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN: "It is a reminder the global war on terrorism continues and the enemy has no regard for innocent life."
No, Scott. It's a reminder that bin Laden has not been caught.

Bush's Popularity With Older Voters Is Seen as Slipping  

It hasn't slipped enough:
A poll conducted this month by The New York Times and CBS News showed that Mr. Bush had a 41 percent approval rating among the 65-and-older voters, his lowest among any age group. That was down from 44 percent in July and 63 percent in May.

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