Saturday, November 22, 2003

Kucinich Links To Some Internal Diebold Memos  

Good for him. Diebold, you may recall, is the computer voting company led by a man who says he is "committed" to delivering Ohio to Bush in '04 and whose equipment has, according to experts, major security flaws and opportunities for mischief. Go here, here and here for more info on Diebold.

Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies  

TalkLeft points out that we're going back to the Hoover era. As in J. Edgar. As in surveillance of protestors. Check it out:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum...

F.B.I. officials said in interviews that the intelligence-gathering effort was aimed at identifying anarchists and "extremist elements" plotting violence, not at monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters...

But some civil rights advocates and legal scholars said the monitoring program could signal a return to the abuses of the 1960's and 1970's, when J. Edgar Hoover was the F.B.I. director and agents routinely spied on political protesters like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr...

Civil rights advocates, relying largely on anecdotal evidence, have complained for months that federal officials have surreptitiously sought to suppress the First Amendment rights of antiwar demonstrators...

Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, for instance, have sued the government to learn how their names ended up on a "no fly" list used to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes. Civil rights advocates have accused federal and local authorities in Denver and Fresno, Calif., of spying on antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating planning meetings. And the New York Police Department this year questioned many of those arrested at demonstrations about their political affiliations, before halting the practice and expunging the data in the face of public criticism.

The F.B.I. memorandum, however, appears to offer the first corroboration of a coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence regarding demonstrations.

Good Poll Results From Ruy Teixeira  

But still not good enough:
Start with the classic right direction/wrong track question: the public thinks, by 50 percent to 40 percent, that we’re on the wrong track. Pretty negative in and of itself, but moderates think we’re on the wrong track by double the margin: 55 percent to 36 percent.

Move on to the question of whether Bush “understands the problems of people like you”. The public thinks he doesn’t by 51 percent to 42 percent—bad enough, but moderates are a stinging 58 percent to 34 percent against Bush on the question. Ouch.
And there's more. Lots more.

Seraphiel's Daily Cartoon Roundup  


Al Qaeda: Threat Is Deliberately Misrepresented. Worse, They Believe Their Own Lies.  

Ah, the Mighty Wurlitzer. For those who never heard the term before, the MW is the gigantic media machine played by the GOP to deafen rational thought. One more recent egregious example, this time not about Democratic candidates but something of paramount importance.

The headline reads: "A Weaker Al Qaeda Despite Attacks" promises an article full of contemporary Newspeak. That certainly appears to be the case:
The officials said they regard Al Qaeda as less capable than before of striking at American embassies, military targets and landmarks that were the hallmarks of its campaign before the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the terrorist threat has evolved, they said, into a much broader, more diffuse phenomenon than before, with a new strategy of attacks by loosely affiliated groups against highly vulnerable targets.
Translated: their operational success proves that al Qaeda is losing operational capability.

But also note one of the main points of the entire article. Now al Qaeda has become a decentralised organization in reaction to the success of the "war on terrorism" in capturing leaders and decaptitating the group. That is more than Newspeak.

That is a lie.

Contrary to the image put forth by the Bush administration, al Qaeda never really was much more than a "diffuse phenomenon," at best a collection of "loosely affiliated" groups of limited competence which chose "highly vulnerable targets" utilizing low tech means - box cutters, suicide bombers - to carry out attacks.

Here is the similar language used by the BBC to describe al Qaeda's structure in May, 2003:
Unlike the tightly-knit groups of the past, such as the Red Brigades in Italy or the Abu Nidal group in the Middle East, al-Qaeda is loosely knit. It operates across continents as a chain of interlocking networks.

Individual groups or cells appear to have a high degree of autonomy, raising their own money, often through petty crime, and making contact with other groups only when necessary.

Defining al-Qaeda?

This loose connection between groups has raised a question of definition. When we talk about al-Qaeda do we refer to an actual organisation or are we now talking about something closer to an idea?

Attacks like the recent bombings in Riyadh and the attack on Israeli tourists in Mombasa in 2002 are widely attributed to al-Qaeda. But were these attacks in any way planned or financed or organised by Bin Laden or the organisation he is still believed to lead?

Some analysts have suggested that the word al-Qaeda is now used to refer to a variety of groups connected by little more than shared aims, ideals and method. [underlining added.]
This bbc article implies that at least since May 2003, al Qaeda is a loosely knit organization. However, if one goes back to even earlier descriptions of the group, one invariably finds the same descriptions.

In fact, one of the most authoritative biographies of bin Laden published just prior to the 9/11 attacks, Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, a book endorsed by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and written by the then director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, fails to mention in the index "al Qaeda," "Qaeda," "The Base (English translation of the phrase)," or any other alternate spelling (according to the first paperback edition of 2001). Nor is "al Qaeda" found either in a listing of important groups at the beginning of the book or in the glossary at the end.

While it is possible that Bodansky missed out on the existence of the group, it is unlikely. His book is highly detailed and endorsed by people like Jeane Kirkpatrick. (Incidentally, his book has a very interesting and detailed description of apparent bin Laden/Saddam Hussein contacts post 1998. )

In short, what I am suggesting is this:

Whenever the "war on terrorism" is going badly, the administration attempts to characterize the nature of al Qaeda as having undergone a change to a more diffuse structure, implying that the central leadership has been neutralized and the group is dying. In fact, al Qaeda has always been diffuse, cell-like, with little vertical integration (to use American corporate-speak).

While the much vaunted terrorist camps in Afghanistan certainly imply considerable infrastructure, I suspect that these too were less than meets the eye. Surely, they were important in training terrorists, but they may have been just as important, perhaps more important, from a morale standpoint, to give young jihadists the sense that they were participating in a global struggle. After 9/11, and after the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, such morale boosting and raising of awareness is not so necessasary. From the Times article that began this post:
[I]ntelligence officials said they are troubled by evidence suggesting that more young militant men are becoming terrorists than ever before. The men are joining groups inspired by the occupation of Iraq and the exhortations to fight by Osama bin Laden, who is seen as a hero to many disaffected Muslims.

"These people have found a new motivation with the aggression of the United States against the brethren in an Arab country," one official said.
Just before this quote, incidentally, the same official declares al Qaeda "more or less brain dead" and "trying to survive right now." What he fails to mention is that its brains, as opposed to money for operation, always resided at least as much in its limbs as at the head.

One final point before wrapping with a disclaimer. As mentioned on many occasions, how good is the training and how competent are these terrorists? There is at least some public evidence that Islamist terrorists really are not that capable and never have been. I have these questions: what is the success/failure ratio for these groups? Does 6 months in Camp Jihad qualify one to do much more than run around and play soldier? How much advanced training is there? How capable are even the most advanced members of jihadist cells of understanding the complexities of weapons deployment more sophisticated than a box cutter or a suicide bomb?

And now that disclaimer which I've mentioned earlier. Bin Laden and his followers in Islamist terrorism are exceedingly dangerous. They never should be underestimated (as Bush did prior to 9/11).

But it is equally foolish to miscontrue the threat which, I believe, the Bush administration is doing for many reasons, from mendacity to stupidity. It is one thing to mislead the public about the dangers of al Qaeda. It is quite another to mislead yourself, if you are responsible for preventing the spread of terrorism and horrible attacks on civilians from all nations.

From what I can tell, not only is there a systematic effort to portray al Qaeda to the American people (and the English) as substantially different and more terrifying than they actually are (which is frightening enough), but the impression of al Qaeda the administration holds privately among itself is also a spectacularly inaccurate misrepresentation of the threat and the capabilities of the people making them and carrying them out.

In short, they are lying about al Qaeda when they talk to us. Worse, they actually believe something very close to the lies.

No wonder things are in such a mess.

*I recall from my reading of Bodansky's book post 9/11 one mention of "the base" in passing, but have not been able to locate it.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Making Asses Out Of The Occupation  

Donkey carts. Yep, donkey carts:
The Palestine and Sheraton hotels in central Baghdad were hit by a volley of five rockets fired from donkey carts at about 7:15 this morning. An American civilian in the Palestine Hotel was severely wounded and was being evacuated to a United States military medical center in Frankfurt, Germany.

Just before the attack on the hotels, eight rockets hit the nearby Oil Ministry, setting off a fire in the upper floors that burned furiously for a couple of hours after the attack. There were no reports of casualties in that attack.

Three donkey carts covered in hay, a common sight in Baghdad in the early morning, were found loaded with home-made concrete rocket launchers with steel tubes. They were housing either 107-milimeter Soviet-made Katushya rockets or 122-milimeter Brazilian-made Aspro rockets, powerful weapons that can hit targets at a range of 10 miles.

The donkeys attached to the carts were all tethered to trees and the rockets were set off by a home-made system using timer fuses and car batteries. One was outside the Palestine Hotel and another outside the Oil Ministry.

A third cart, carrying 32 rockets primed to fire, was discovered near the Italian and Turkish embassies in the city's diplomatic area, but did not explode.

In addition, a donkey wired with two propane gas cylinders set to explode was spotted near the College of Law at Baghdad University and the explosives were disarmed.
Thank goodness the US is still focused on the Strategic Defense Initiative. Brialliant pebbles in space will really help defend against rockets on donkey carts.

Dave Newert Claims The Threat Is More From Right-Wing American Terrorists  

And then he proves it.

The New Bush Ad And The Boys In Blue  

Good for the Democrats. Bush releases an ad and the Democrats come out swinging so fast and so hard, the GOP is immediately on the defensive:
Concerned about President Bush's slipping popularity and criticism from rivals who want his job, the GOP is questioning Democrats' commitment to fighting terrorism in its first TV ad of the 2004 race. ..

Party chairman Ed Gillespie said he isn't questioning the Democrats' patriotism.
Like hell he isn't. He's just following the GOP strategy memo he authored wherein, in the words of the Boston Globe, the Republicans "hope to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted -- and perhaps unpatriotic -- to protect US interests..." The strategy is to insinuate the Dems are unpatriotic but to pretend they are not doing so when challenged by avoiding direct words like "unpatriotic" or "un-American", let alone the Coulterian "traitor."

And, just as the memo predicted, Gillespie is trying to push the Democrats to talk not about a totally illegal, irresponsible invasion of a foreign country, the doctrine rightly called Preemptive Unilateralism or PU, but some nonsense called "preemptive self-defense."* Here's Mr. Ed trying to inject it into the mediasphere, all in slavish accordance with his original memo:
They are opposed to a policy of preemptive self defense, and they are attacking the president for pursuing that policy," he said in a telephone interview. "It takes us back to a policy of responding to terrorism in its aftermath, and that's the wrong policy to pursue in the world after Sept. 11."
Note the attempt at a linkage: Invading Iraq equals repsone to Sept. 11. Yeah, right.

But it looks like no one's bothering with what Gillespie says. Democrats are not mentioning "preemptive self-defense" as they did "tax relief" or "partial birth abortion." They're ignoring it altogether, which is exactly right. Here's how the candidates responded:

Gephardt: Bush has chosen to "politicize the war on terror for partisan gain." Excellent.
Lieberman: Bush's ad "cannot paper over almost three years of shortsighted Bush security policies, both at home and abroad." Not bad, even if the metaphor is mixed.
Kerry: "We need to restart the war on terror here at home. We're not going to do that with TV ads." Very good.
Clark, via a spokesperson: "George Bush's political hatchet-wielders are desperate to distract attention from his failed foreign policy." Excellent.
Dean, via a spokesperson: ``No 30-second ad is going to make up for 30 months of failed foreign policy." Excellent.

Now, we're starting to get it.

*Insert boilerplate here that Saddam was a very evil man and I don't need men the caliber of George Bush to tell me so.

Blogging Light  

For about two weeks. I'll try to get some stuff up in the late evening once every day or two days.

Seraphiel's Daily Cartoon Roundup  


Thursday, November 20, 2003

Merrie England  

A sense of the scale of the demonstration.

An effigy of Bush is toppled, deliberately echoing the toppling of Saddam's statue.

Thanks, cousins. We'll return the favor when you need it.

Vietnam, Iraq, And Michael Totten  

In the Washington Monthly, Nick Confessore pulled back the curtain on the Tech Central Station website and exposed it as the cynical product of "the DCI Group, a prominent Washington 'public affairs' firm specializing in P.R., lobbying, and so-called 'Astroturf' organizing, generally on behalf of corporations, GOP politicians, and the occasional Third-World despot."

I had only looked at TCS a few times, so I was curious what it was like. Among all the conservative, neo-conservative, and gung-ho libertarian essays was one by no other than Michael Totten, who has apparently written various articles published by (maybe even at the behest? ) of TCS.

Michael and I had a bit of a run-in a while back, when I wrote that I didn't believe that he was the liberal he claimed he was. In his reply, Michael said I called him a liar.

I never used the word "liar" to refer to Michael. But I am not a member of the Bush administration, whose policies Michael so admires and who argue that they never said Iraq was an "imminent threat. So I can understand that Michael's conclusion was perfectly reasonable given what I wrote. Since I tried to apologize if I had been too personal , I see no reason to discuss this further. Readers can go to Michael's post, and go to my responses here and here and make up their own minds.

Michael's new article for TCS is entitled "Iraq Is Not Vietnam" and to say the least, it is a strange piece. Go read it (here's the link again) and come back.

First, in a spirit of fairness, let's list the indisputables.

Iraq is, at present, not easily divided into a North and a South. At the time of Bush/Iraq, the country was not in a civil war and now, there is at least the appearance that the US-led coalition controls the country. Whether there is more than the illusion of control over the entire country is more than debatable, however. (See George Packer's new article in The New Yorker, for example, which says that even the borders of Iraq are thoroughly porous. Unfortunately it is not online at this writing but is on newsstands.)

Michael writes "Before coalition troops hit the ground in Iraq , it was still a war of choice. A wise choice, in my view, but a choice all the same. It's not anymore. " He is right (except of course about his opinion that the Bush/Iraq War was a wise choice). There's no choice now for the soldiers who are there. They must defend themselves in any way they can. As for staying or withdrawing, that issue cannot be debated until Bush is removed from office - hopefully in November '04- and a sensible person is once again president. For stay or leave, Bush is so incompetent that he and his administration will make a mess of whichever choice they pick.

As Michael says, bin Laden -but not Saddam , who is a completely different person altogether - has made it clear that he truly believes the US is a weak superpower that can easily be defeated. (Nevertheless, bin Laden's opinion has little to do with the situation in Iraq, as despite what he may have said, Saddam learned,after 1991, a rather different lesson about the US and, for many reasons, was never in a position to threaten even his neighbors again, let alone attack the US.)

I also agree with Michael's point, made via a quote he approves of, that both al Qaeda and Saddam are masters of psychological torture and are doing a virtuoso job at influencing American/Western public opinion. We part ways as to who they are influencing. I think they have played Bush and his administration for suckers and theyve been entirely gulled, a point I will elaborate on in a future post.

None of these indisputable points really does much to advance Michael's thesis that Iraq is not comparable to Vietnam. Now, before going to his seemingly more substantive issues, let's quickly dispense with some truly silly ones Michael brings up to fill out his essay.

Michael says most of Iraq is flat and arid, while Vietnam has a lot of canopy jungle. And that the US is using far more advanced technology to wage war now. Yes, Michael, and I also doubt that many Iraqis speak Vietnamese. No one's arguing the situation is identical, just comparable.

Michael undermines his case by wasting time and space on such trivialities. As he does when he proposes the barely defensible notion that Iraq's guerillas are not like "fish among the people," as they were during Vietnam. I have no idea how much support the violent oppostion to the CPA in Iraq has. Neither does Michael who can, like I, only offer anecdotal evidence (in my case, the Packer article offers some clues that it's probably worse than Michael thinks, but not as bad as, say, Saddam hopes it is). But there is no question that the guerillas in Iraq right now are in the cities and hiding out with somebody's help. Despite the offer of considerable rewards, attacks have increased.

Likewise, Michael can't be serious when he writes that Saddam's Baathists were "taken off the board in one of the greatest routs of all time" as proof that Iraq is not Vietnam. It is being argued now, by serious people, that the insurgency was part of Saddam's strategy, literally a classic Trojan Horse strategy. Again, Iraq is like Vietnam. Saddam may have realized- and if he didn't, someone certainly does now - that the only sensible resistance to the overwhelming force of an American (excuse me coalition) invasion was not an open conflict but a guerilla war, just like Vietnam.

Michael is flat-out wrong, a victim of apparent cluelessness about how statistics can mislead, when he asserts, "Iraq is a lot less violent." Let's skip over the frankly dishonest comparison Michael makes between the casualty totals of a war that is just months old with a war that lasted some 13 years. As was shown recently by Reuters, the U.S. war dead in Iraq exceed the early Vietnam years
A Reuters analysis of U.S. Defence Department statistics showed on Thursday that the Vietnam War, which the Army says officially began on December 11, 1961, produced a combined 392 fatal casualties from 1962 through 1964, when American troop levels in Indochina stood at just over 17,000.

By comparison, a roadside bomb attack that killed a soldier in Baghdad on Wednesday brought to 397 the tally of American dead in Iraq, where U.S. forces number about 130,000 troops -- the same number reached in Vietnam by October 1965.

The casualty count for Iraq apparently surpassed the Vietnam figure last Sunday, when a U.S. soldier killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack south of Baghdad became the conflict's 393rd American casualty since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 20.

Larger still is the number of American casualties from the broader U.S. war on terrorism, which has produced 488 military deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Southwest Asia and other locations.
And of course, Michael omits Iraqi casualties here. When he does mention them , he says, "Civilian casualties were as close to zero as possible." In fact, as he well knows, civilan casualties are not publically reported by any US government agency. And the casualty reports that have come out reckon the minimum civilian casualties at closing in on 8000 as of this writing. That may be "as close to zero as possible" to Michael but that is pretty far from zero for a lot of other people (including me). To say the least, Michael is being deliberately misleading in resorting to such a phrase.

Weirdly, Michael writes, "From a strategic perspective, Vietnam during the Cold War was more like World War II Spain than it was like Iraq ." First of all, either out of a desire to obfuscate or out of sheer stupidity (and I don't think he's stupid), Michael has flipped the salient comparison. It is not what Vietnam resembled, but what Iraq resembles that is the issue.

But Michael knows that it is precisely at the strategic level that the Iraq/Vietnam comparison is distressingly close.

From a strategic perspective Vietnam was considered important only (okay, primarily) because of the domino theory (one nation falls to Communism, all in the region will). One of the theories used by the administration to sell Iraq was that it would function like the domino theory in reverse (a point made here and elsewhere. Quotes from the administration that tout the reverse domino notion even if they don't use the term "reverse domino" are easily located by examining Perle and Wolfowitz's speeches, as well as Bush's. Links TK if anyone challenges me on this.)

Michael's ignorance of Vietnam, and therefore his inability to see the parallels, is further illustrated when he writes, "The real enemy in the Vietnam War was the Chinese/Soviet alliance. Unable to confront them directly, we fought their shadow in the jungle. It was a war of choice from beginning to end. "

No, Michael, the real enemy was failed ideologies held by American foreign policy experts. The ideology was McCarthy style anti-communism, the domino theory. China and the Soviets may have helped out in Vietnam, but the debacle for the US in Vietnam goes back to the US's bad assumptions. And I need not remind Michael, I'm sure, that Vietnam, whatever it was, was sold to the American public just like the Bush/Iraq was: to stop the spread of a pernicious force of evil in the world.

But there's another parallel. Back then, what led to disaster was an American government as mistaken in its foreign policies, as ignorant of the country and the country's problems as the current one is of Iraq. Today, as in Vietnam, we don't even have enough translators, one of numerous ways that we are woefully incapable of understanding what is actually happening. Just consider the aftermath planning meticulously prepared by Powell's State department that has been willfully and completely ignored by the Pentagon-led CPA (the New Yorker article by George Packer has the entire, awful story and no, Rice has yet to exert any serious influence towards changing the situation).

Finally, Michael writes
Even if the so-called Iraqi "resistance" hopes to copy the Vietnamese, they can't. There was no successful uprising or "resistance" in South Vietnam . The South wasn't "liberated," it was conquered with tanks. It fell to a mechanized ground invasion from the North.
Michael is so incoherent here it is hard to understand what he is saying. Surely it is not that the US (excuse me, the coalition) military emulated North Vietnamese strategy in conquering Iraq. And whether the violent anti-CPA forces hope to plagiarize the Vietcong strategy is beside the point.

The simple fact is that a guerilla war is being fought in Iraq, that the US was misled via an utterly ridiculous ideology and a lack of hard facts into the conflict; that US ignorance of the situation before, during and after our arrival on the scene was and is boundless; and that the US is bogged down in Iraq for as long as anyone can foresee with a steady number of casualties reminding us everday of the quagmire, the avoidable quagmire, that the US government perpetrated both on Iraq, and on its own people.

Just like Vietnam.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Nightline Also Answers The Krugman Question  

I'm sure you remember The Krugman Question:

"I wonder what they'll use to distract us this time?"

Well, go read Atrios right now and imagine the discussions that went on behind the scenes.

Makes one proud to live in a country with such a free press.

Bernard Goldberg, Meet...The Howler!  

Wherever we anti-Bush folks are going when we leave this world, a special place is being reserved by whichever Proprietor is in charge of our souls for the great Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler who has written some of the most (deservedly) angry screeds against the modern press around. Today he goes after former CBS News biggie Bernard Goldberg and his new book Arrogance, and he catches him in a really ugly example of taking a quote out of context. Somerby first quotes from Goldberg's tome, which trashes among others Howell Raines, the former top editing dog at the New York Times:
GOLDBERG ( page 66 ): A lot of people—and not just conservatives—think [the Times] hit rock bottom in 2001, when Howell Raines took over as executive editor…

Raines was famously quoted as saying that “the Reagan years oppressed me.” He has also declared that Reagan, a man beloved by millions of his countrymen, “couldn’t tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it.” (emphasis Somerby)
Something about this quote sounded a little, um, fishy to Mr. Somerby. So he did some googling and found the quote at a right wing quote site notorious for pulling quotes out of any rational context.

And then, Somerby explains:
We knew the quote came from Raines’ book, Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis . And, since reviews had said that the book dealt in part with the way different presidents fished and tied flies, we couldn’t help wondering if the truncated quote had to do with Reagan’s skill on a stream. We knew, all too well, how the [rightwing quote site] works. We couldn’t help wondering if the truncated quote might concern the way Reagan tied flies!
So, off Somerby goes to Amazon, which allows you to search the entire text of a book (very cool) and he finds the quote. Let's let Bob set the scene:
Haines is out in the boonies with the late Dick Blalock, a legendary Maryland fishing guide. Blalock has Raines on a fast-running stream—and he talks about fisherman presidents:
And then the quote from Raines' book:
RAINES ( pages 83-84 ): Even here in northern Maryland, we were still below the Mason-Dixon line and technically still in the South. More to the point, we were in hillbilly territory. In the nineteenth century, these people tended whiskey stills…Now their descendants still lived back in the hollows of the Catoctins, experienced poachers of deer and turkey and of the fat trout in the fly-fishing-only section of Hunting Creek. In short, Dick Blalock had brought me to one of the northernmost outposts of the Redneck Way.

“See that pool?” said Dick. “That was Jimmy Carter’s favorite pool when he was President. We’re only about a mile from Camp David. The Fish and Wildlife boys kept the stream lousy with big brood fish from the hatcheries when he was up here. I knew a guy who used to slip in and give every big trout in the stream a sore lip whenever he heard Carter was coming. Of course, I liked Carter. Charlie Fox and Ben Schley taught him a lot about fishing, and he ties a good fly. Reagan couldn’t tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it.” [emphasis Somerby's]
Did you catch that? Not only is the quote wildly out of context but Raines never said it! It was Dick Blalock quoted in Raines' book.

Bravo, Bob Somerby.

They Don't Get It  

So in the Times today, we read that the U.S. Military Drops Pair of
2,000-Pound Bombs in Iraq
``We are going to take the fight to the enemy using everything in our arsenal necessary to win this fight,'' Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr. said Tuesday.
Prediction: Attacks may stop for a month or so. Then, whammo.

My God, they really don't understand that killing innocents in a country that you've occupied liberated is not a way to endear yourselves. Indeed, it will just increase the number of folks signing up to go after you.

Seraphiel's Daily Cartoon Roundup  


Great Flash Agitprop  


To Answer Your Question, Mr. Krugman  

Krugman on the mutual fund scandal:
William Galvin, secretary of the commonwealth of Massachusetts — who is investigating Putnam, which is based in Boston — summed it up: "They're not interested in exposing wrongdoing; they're interested in giving comfort to the industry."

I wonder what they'll use to distract us this time?  
Oh, Mr. Krugman, couldn't you guess?

Witness To The Aftermath: Packer In The New Yorker  

George Packer has a long, brilliantly-reported article in this week's New Yorker that describes firsthand the current compexity of the situation in Iraq: the idealism and hardwork of the soldiers, their low morale, the fury and the relief of the Iraqis, the enormity of the problems and the inadequacy of the "solutions," the struggles and manipulations of the various players, foreign and Iraqi, as they angle for power in a country that has been flattened by oppression, war, and moral trauma. A genuine must-read.

Unfortunately, it is not online but a slideshow intelligently narrated by Packer is available here with superb photographs by Gilles Peress.

Then go to the newsstand and get yourself the current New Yorker. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

What Does DEMOCRATS Stand For?  

GOP Has A Great Idea For High School  

Get rid of ideas and play more with blocks:
Colorado lawmakers have asked education officials to study the possibility of eliminating the 12th grade and establishing a year of preschool instead. They said it would better prepare students for college by giving them an early start and possibly save money.

"I'd really like to see if we might change the model," Republican state Sen. Ron Teck said Monday.
Exactly what we need. Less education for teenagers.

A Family Values/Civil Rights Victory  

High Court in Massachusetts Rules Gays Have Right to Marry. Not all the legal hurdles have been passed, though:
The highest court in Massachusetts ruled today that gays have the right to marry under the state constitution, emphatically stating that the Commonwealth had failed to identify any constitutional reasons why same-sex couples could not wed.

But the ruling stopped short of allowing marriage licenses to be issued to the seven gay couples who sued the state Department of Public Health in 2001 after their requests for marriage licenses were denied. The court ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days.

Bush Drops Below 50% Approval  

Still not low enough.

[UPDATE] Scroll down to the CBS poll.

Preview Of Coming Attractions  

The security and reception during the current state visit by Bush to England should help fuel the imagination regarding what Manhattan will look like during the GOP convention next summer.

Britain is so friendly to him that It will take a small army to protect Bush.
One in nine police officers in England and Wales will be protecting George Bush on his state visit to Britain, which begins today.

Ten thousand more police officers have been drafted in amid rising concerns about the threat from terrorists and the scale of anti-war demonstrations. That brings to 16,000 the number of policemen and women who will be deployed during the four-day trip.

The bill will run to at least £7m, and the British taxpayer will pay for it.
And British politicians are fulsome and united in their praise of the US president:
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, launched a stinging attack on President George Bush last night, denouncing him as the "greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen".
And the list of demands the US put on the UK definitely provides food for thought:
Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush's entourage this week. The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit.

These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.

In return, the British authorities agreed numerous concessions, including the creation of a 'sterile zone' around the President with a series of road closures in central London and a security cordon keeping the public away from his cavalcade. ..

Ministers are also believed to have dismissed suggestions that a 'sterile zone' around the President should be policed entirely by American special agents and military.
Demands for the US air force to patrol above London with fighter aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters have also been turned down. The President's protection force will be armed - as Tony Blair's is when he travels abroad - and around 250 secret service agents will fly in with Bush, but operational control will remain with the Metropolitan Police.

The Americans had also wanted to travel with a piece of military hardware called a 'mini-gun', which usually forms part of the mobile armoury in the presidential cavalcade. It is fired from a tank and can kill dozens of people. One manufacturer's description reads: 'Due to the small calibre of the round, the mini-gun can be used practically anywhere. This is especially helpful during peacekeeping deployments.'

Seraphiel's Daily Cartoon Roundup  


Twice A Coward  

Back in March:
The White House asked if President Bush could address the European Parliament, Baroness Williams revealed on BBC One's This Week show on Thursday. But, she said, Euro-MPs were told there was a condition attached to him making the speech: a standing ovation should be guaranteed. The speech has never taken place.
GEORGE Bush was last night branded chicken for scrapping his speech to Parliament because he feared being heckled by anti-war MPs.

The US president planned to give a joint address to the Commons and Lords during his state visit to Britain.

But senior White House adviser Dr Harlan Ullman said: 'They would have loved to do it because it would have been a great photo-opportunity.

'But they were fearful it would to turn into a spectacle with Labour backbenchers walking out.' [...]

The only speech Mr Bush, who will stay with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, is now due to give will be to an 'invited audience' at the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Channeling John Donne  

Very interesting
Here's an imaginative proposal to help beat Bush. Two Swedish students are proposing that every citizen of the European Union contribute one dollar to, the online liberal advocacy group, to ensure that "an American president who believes in human rights and multilateral solutions" is elected in 2004. They are not supporting a particular candidate. "We leave that to the Americans."

Hanna Armelius and Kajsa Klein believe that in this increasingly globalized era, where the choice of the next American President will have a direct impact on the world's security, environmental and economic future, global citizens have the right to provide "democracy aid" to the US...

One dollar from each of the EU's citizens, they point out, "would suffice to raise more money than the entire Bush campaign budget for the 2000 elections." Cheap compared to the cost of having Bush in the White House for another four years. (When asked, should only EU citizens contribute, they replied, "No! We want everyone to join us. Per world citizen it would be less than five cents. However, it doesn't seem right to ask the poorest people on earth for money.")

And as for meddling in another country's politics--well, as they point out, the US government has had some overseas experience of its own--with arms deals and rigged elections--when it comes to attempts at overthrowing foreign regimes. What they're proposing involves peaceful, transparent and legal cross- border contributions.
And why not?

Just as long as Bush doesn't retaliate by asking his buddies the Saudi royalty to help out in return. Heck, they can afford it. I'm guessing 1% of one month's income of the Saudi oil industry would probably easily match anything MoveOn will be able to raise in 10 years.

Two More U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq  

We need a section, as with 9/11, that introduces us in a short paragraph or two, to these lives that were ended.
Two more American soldiers died Monday in separate attacks north of Baghdad, one in an ambush on a patrol, the other by a roadside bomb.

Seraphiel's Daily Cartoon Roundup  


Sunday, November 16, 2003

Moon Unit Zappa Has Them All Beat  

US babies get global brand names
Americans are increasingly turning to the world of popular culture to name their children, a study has found.

Children have been named after big brands as diverse as beauty company L'Oreal, car firm Chevrolet and designer clothes company Armani.

There are even two little boys, one in Michigan and one in Texas, called ESPN after the sports channel.

JESUS {heart} YOU: A Strange, But Not Trivial, Story  

Kevin Drum had a link to a strange story about a group of public high school kids who were denied permission to line up in the front row for their school picture wearing t-shirts that spelled out JESUS {heart} YOU. Their parents are threatening legal action if the picture shoot isn't rescheduled.(See, for example, here and here .) But there appears to be more to this silly little story than meets the eye.

The t-shirt incident was almost certainly not spontaneous. It was not, as their sympathizers put it, simply a bunch of Christ-struck teenagers upset over being "denied" their "right of free religious expression" by their high school. It was deliberately planned, probably with guidance from a national group. It was part of a Christianist strategy to lend credence to the utterly bogus notion that "Christians" are subject to religious persecution in the US.

Here's what a little bit of poking around uncovered:

The high school group that organized the t-shirt incident is called Brothers And Sisters In Christ (BASIC). According to their website, the group began at the high school and has spread to just one other school. The clear implication is that this is a spontaneously-formed grassroots group of pious Christian teenagers.

That is almost certainly not the case. With little trouble, I was able to google up three different colleges who had a "Christian student group" that went by the name BASIC, at The University Of Texas; The Rochester Institute of Technology; and The University of Illinois. All three groups share similar "mission statements" to the high school BASIC group.

What is striking that is that none of these groups link to each other or to a national organization. However, there almost certainly must be some central group because there was a fall conference in Syracuse, NY, touted as "one of the most awesome events of the year " and priced at 60 bucks a soul, which implies a national organization.

What many, if not all of the groups, do link to is a church that is affiliated with the local BASIC chapter. However, in a quick search of the websites for these churches, I could find no national affiliation. That is, the churches were not associated with, say, Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, or Baptist national groups. They appeared to be autonomous institutions, their only common thread being an association with a BASIC chapter. But not one church was linked to another, apparently.

After a little more digging, I did find a loosely-knit group of BASIC chapters New York and Pennsylvania, but again, attempts to determine the denomination of the chapters and their church affiliates turned up nothing.

This is mighty strange. It seems plausible to me that BASIC, and their churches, were trying at the very least to downplay organizational links to each other. And, at the very least, the BASIC group that organized the t-shirt stunt is almost certainly not an isolated group of grassroots level "Christian students" it implies it is. It would not surprise me if ties to many other college BASIC chapters are confirmed, nor would it be surprising to find they used brochures and teaching guides identical with those used by these other groups. I do not have enough information yet to determine where the funds for any of these groups come from.

While there are some who are not, most group members whose photos I found posted on the web were white or Asian. At least two appear to be Korean or Korean-American (go here and click on "Small Groups"). I also found this short biography of a white ex-BASIC member which begins like this:
In 1986 I began attending the State University of NY at Albany to pursue a degree in Communications. In January of 1988, I was challenged to give my life to Christ and was radically changed. This occurred through an outreach of Light of the World to the campus called BASIC College Ministries .
This story, and the language used, is reminiscent of similar stories of recruitment and rapid "conversion" to a extreme religious cult such as the Unification Church, ie, the Moonies. (Typical link here.)

I do not know whether BASIC is associated in any way with the Unification Church at this time. Therefore I can only assume, based on what I currently know, that BASIC members and their organizers are not Moonies or associated with them in any way, shape or form.

However, BASIC's recruitment strategies; BASICS seeming willingness to downplay, if not disguise, their ties both to each other or to a national organization; the further absence of a declared national denomination for any BASIC affiilated churches that I checked into; recruitment practices that sound like they may be cultlike; and the deliberately provocative t-shirt incident gives me reason to believe that there is a lot we don't yet know about this seemingly trivial story.

Anger Is Not Hatred  

Dave Neiwert weighs in on the civility thing:
It is indeed apparent that conservatives are making "Bush hatred" the centerpiece of their 2004 election strategy. But what is especially silly ... is that Republicans are going to attack any Democrat in similar fashion, regardless of who it is. The only productive counterstrategy is not to defuse or muffle the very real anger out there, but to emphasize its rational content -- and thereby help make it spread.

Muffling the anger and playing "nice" is effectively unilateral disarmament in the face of naked aggression. Liberals did not invent or even foment the nastiness of the current political climate -- it has been foisted upon them by a decade's worth of panting, raving, frothing conservatives whose power-mad agenda has become all too clear now that they control literally every component of the federal government. It is not far afield from the advice often given to Jews back in 1932-35 to lay low, play nice, and not upset the applecart in Germany.

I don't often use Holocaust analogies, but given the increasingly violent and hateful nature of the attacks on liberals -- and the increasingly apparent fascistic tendencies of the opposition -- it is becoming all too apt.
I will not follow David along with his Holocaust analogy, but I know exactly where it is coming from.
Even though George Soros, who knows firsthand of what he speaks, also says that some Bush rhetoric "reminds me of the Germans" during the Hungarian occupation. So I will not say he is wrong, either.

What I will say is that a debate over the aptness of comparisons of Bush to the '30's in Germany should never distract us from the issue at hand, which is that what Bush is up to is very troubling indeed.

If Canadians Hate America So Much...  

...they should just leave.
It was because of our deep belief as Canadians in the values of multilateralism and the United Nations that we did not go to war in Iraq.

— Jean Chrétien, to a standing ovation during his farewell speech at the Liberal convention in Toronto.

The Prime Minister can't say it, but more than unilateralism, it was dishonesty that doomed George W. Bush's war on Iraq and soured much of the world on America.

Incompetence — exacerbated by imperial arrogance and cultural ignorance — turned the occupation into a nightmare.

Now, all those traits are in play in the American plan to ostensibly turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.

The decision to hasten self-rule has little to do with installing real democracy. That's the patina the president needs to cover the panic suddenly gripping the White House.

The insurgency in Iraq is growing in intensity and expanding in geography. It will get much worse, according to a bleak assessment just offered by the Central Intelligence Agency.

More than the terrorism of Baathist "remnants" and "bitter-enders," or even "the 200 or so foreign terrorists" that the administration has been harping about dismissively amid its happy talk of progress in Iraq, the CIA says a full-scale insurgency is underway, with a majority of Iraqis opposing the occupation.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward next year's presidential election.

Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, as he has for six months, Bush needs an exit strategy, fast. We are seeing the outlines of one: Cut and run, albeit over an extended period.

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