Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Views Of A Leftneck

Joe Bageant gives us a look into Burt's Tavern.

Those are my people, too.
Nerd Alert

While other people toil away at describing astrosociology, we here at Punch and Jude have decided that today's Nerd Alert should just be about astronomy.

What is this exciting Nerd News? It's good stuff: Big-Ass Black Hole Found.

And I mean big-ass. It's bigger than Rosie O'Donnell's dream buffet table.

Sitting at the heart of a distant galaxy, the black hole appears to be about 12.7 billion years old, which means it formed just one billion years after the universe began and is one of the oldest supermassive black holes ever known.

The black hole, researchers said, is big enough to hold 1,000 of our own Solar Systems and weighs about as much as all the stars in the Milky Way.

"The universe was awfully young at the time this was formed," said astronomer Roger Romani, a Stanford University associate professor whose team found the object. "It's a bit of a challenge to understand how this black hole got enough mass to reach its size."

Romani told that the black hole is unique because it dates back to just after a period researchers call the 'Dark Ages,' a time when the universe cooled down after the initial Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago. That cooling period lasted about one billion years, when the first black holes, stars and galaxies began to appear, he added. The research appeared June 10 on the online version of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Invisible to the naked eye, black holes can only be detected by the radiation they spew and their gravitational influence on their stellar neighbors. Astronomers generally agree that black holes come in at least two types, stellar and supermassive. Stellar black holes form from collapsed, massive stars a few times the mass of the Sun, while their supermassive counterparts can reach billions of solar masses.

A supermassive black hole a few million times the mass of the Sun is thought to sit at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, and some of the largest supermassives seen date have reached up to two billion solar masses, researchers said.

Weighing a black hole heavyweight

Determining a precise mass for the black hole found by Romani's team, dubbed Q0906+6930, is a bit tricky though since it's so far away.

"Very massive black holes like this are so rare, that one should really be a little suspicious at first," Romani said.

The black hole, called a blazar because it spews jets of radiation in roughly the direction of Earth, sits at the center of a galaxy about 12.7 billion light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. One light-year is the distance light travels in one year, is about six trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

Because the blazar is so distant, there are no nearby neighbors to scan for potential gravitational effects, and much of its radiation is absorbed by gas and dust lying between it and the Earth, Romani said.

"It really is too far away to do a direct orbital measurement to help determine its mass," Romani said, adding that he and his colleagues had to estimate the mass based on a quantitative method that includes measuring particle velocity and the Doppler shift of its infrared emission lines. "The best thing to do is study it in a broader region of the spectrum, to get more emission lines."

Do you get the impression that astronomers just make things up? I mean, they could say any damn thing in the world and be secure in the knowledge that well over 99% of the population could never call BS on them.

And couldn't you come up with a better name than "Q0906+6930"? What do these fools name their dogs?
Volokh Takes It On The Chin

Via Atrios, we get this great Jim Henley post about what a tool Eugene Volokh is. Sorry, Jon.

Libertarians haven't ever made much sense to me, anyway. Kind of like objectivists.

There are some other Volokh-trashing posts at Crooked Timber, one by the Medium Lobster, and a surprisingly funny piece by Brad DeLong. Enjoy all of this bloggy goodness.
Poor Crisco Johnny

According to the NY Times, John Ashcroft (R-Choad) has encountered rough seas in his quest to demolish the constitutional safeguards of our liberties.

The article still treats him with kid gloves. But I guess the authors don't really want a trip to Guantanamo.
Nights Without Sleep

Are strange things, indeed.

Sunrises are always gorgeous, provided you can see the sun. Nature does have a truly breathtaking palette, should it decide to make that variety visible.

And the vocal awakening of diurnal birds has always filled me with fascination.

But the diversions that are available to the destitute, small-town insomniac prior to daybreak are lacking.

Low-budget TV preachers, who claim that you will "never find evidence of a human older than 14,000 years old" abound, as do second-rate all-night news broadcasts--24-hour cable is, both mercifully and cruelly, not a part of my life. Sidewalk bullshit sessions with strangers are a new thing to me (the Midwest is a bizarre place compared with other places I've lived).

The consumption of cheap beer at five in the morning seems like a bad idea, but damned if I can think of a better way to pass the time.

Ugh. I hate being unable to sleep.
America's Finest News Source

I love The Onion, but it's not often that I talk up a particular issue. However, this week's issue is particularly wonderful.

To begin with, in the sidebar, they have a joke about Georgia's state flag. It's a gag that's recycled from an edition several years ago, but it's still damn funny.

They give you, the loyal reader, a breakdown of the US government's new Screw You packet, an update on the construction of the Reagan Pyramid, a summary of the Supreme Court's latest decision (stating that Americans are not capable of self-governance), and, finally, a news tidbit from my hometown:

Riverboat Horseracing Fails Utterly
BILOXI, MS—Owners of the nation's first riverboat-horseracing facility announced its closure Tuesday, minutes after the inaugural race. "I guess we planned it pretty poorly," said Ronald Frisch, president and CEO of Gambling Concepts Unlimited. "We figured that once we opened the dining-room doors, the horses would know to race through the grand buffet room to the other side of the boat." Twenty-five people were trampled to death in the chaos that resulted, and eight horses drowned when they fell from the riverboat's lower deck. Gambling Concepts Unlimited officials said they still plan to hold next month's airborne rodeo as scheduled.

Those poor horses.
Big Dick Booed In Bronx

I should admit, to people who don't know, that I'm a Boston Red Sox fan. That's an admission that, since it is tantamount to confessing that one is a masochist, can cost someone a political career, so it's a big deal.

Anyway, as a Red Sox fan, it is my duty/pleasure/curse to keep up with how the BoSox are faring. This week, they are playing the hated New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The night of the 29th, the Yankees shellacqued the Good Guys. It was shameful, really.

However, in the midst of that awful, awful story, was this gem of (admittedly unrelated) hope: The crowd booed Big Dick Cheney. That's right. Big Dick Cheney (R-Potty Mouth) got booed during the seventh inning stretch.

By a crowd in the Bronx.

If you've never been to a game at The House That Ruth Built, you should know that lately, during the seventh inning stretch (itself an unwitting invention of Theodore Roosevelt), the people who run Yankee Stadium have shown famous people who are attending the game on the big screen. Well, Big Dick was there Tuesday night, hanging out with Steinbrenner (ally of Satan), and the stadium managers put his mug on the big screen. And the crowd reacted in such a way as to make you proud to call America your home: they booed and gave the oh-so-appropriate Bronx Cheer.

Cheney, who visited both clubhouses after batting practice, watched part of the game from the box of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and part from a first-row seat next to the Yankees dugout, where he sat between New York Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Cheney was booed when he was shown on the right-field videoboard during the seventh-inning stretch.

I've never said it before (and likely won't again), but God bless you, Yankee fans.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Holy Shit

Detainee Begged for Death.

Three U.S. soldiers will testify that a former CIA contractor beat an Afghan detainee with a heavy flashlight 10 to 30 times and kicked the man so hard he came off the ground and later begged to be shot, a prosecutor said Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Candelmo described the alleged assault in arguing that the contractor, David Passaro, should be detained until his trial. He is the first American to face civilian charges over prisoner abuse in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Defense attorneys asked that Passaro be released into the custody of a neighbor, a Special Operations soldier at Fort Bragg. No ruling was immediately issued.

Passaro, 38, faces four counts of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon — the flashlight — on Abdul Wali, 28, who died three days after the alleged attack last June at a U.S. base in the Afghan town of Asadabad.

If convicted, Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The prosecutor said 82nd Airborne soldiers will testify that during one interrogation session, Passaro left the room and Wali begged one of the paratroopers guarding him "to please shoot me before the defendant returned."

Candelmo argued that Passaro is dangerous and poses a flight risk, with aliases, hidden assets and extensive training in covert military operations.

The former Army special operations soldier was working as a CIA contractor while on leave from a civilian job with the Fort Bragg-headquartered Special Operations Command.

Defense lawyers have cited an Afghan governor's comment that Wali died of a heart attack, but a spokesman for that governor recently said he suspected heart problems only because U.S. officials insisted the man was not mistreated.

U.S. officials say an autopsy was not conducted to find the cause of death.

Separately, the lawyer for a soldier accused in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal said Friday the military might be incapable of handling the case because key players will not step forward for fear of incriminating themselves.

The comments by the lawyer of Spc. Sabrina Harman came a day after her company commander testified that the head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib was present the night a plan was hatched to cover up the death of a detainee, apparently during questioning in November.

Harman, 26, of Lorton, Va., faces possible court-martial for her alleged involvement in abusing Iraqi detainees at the facility outside Baghdad. She appeared Friday for the second day of an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, called to determine whether facts in the case are sufficient to warrant a court-martial or other action.

Harman's attorney, Frank Spinner, told a pool reporter after the hearing that he "has no doubt that Iraqi detainees have been physically abused on a wide scale" that would be "beyond the military's ability ever to prosecute."

"The chain of command — they know it, too — and the problem is that people won't step up and admit it," Spinner said. "To do it now would only subject them to prosecution."

On Thursday, Harman's company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, testified that he was asked to go to a shower room at the prison one night in November and found a group of intelligence personnel standing around the corpse of a bloodied detainee.

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, Abu Ghraib's commander of military intelligence, was among those who were there, discussing what to do with the body, Reese said.

"I'm not going down for this alone," Pappas said, according to Reese. No medics were called.

Reese told the court that an Army colonel named "Jordan" sent a soldier to the mess hall for ice to preserve the body overnight. An autopsy of the detainee the following day determined he died of a blood clot resulting from a blow to the head, Reese said.

The testimony did not further identify the colonel. However, the Taguba report on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib notes that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was the head of the interrogation center at the prison.

Reese said in his testimony that military intelligence clearly controlled the cellblock where Harman's platoon worked the night shift with other members of her platoon.

An Army report obtained by The New Yorker magazine quotes Harman as saying her job was to keep detainees awake.

"My MPs, they were directed by the (military intelligence) people for what they wanted and how they wanted it," he said.

Harman is one of six soldiers still facing charges in the scandal that emerged in April when photographs depicting the abuse appeared on CBS News' 60 Minutes II.

Pappas, Jordan and Reese do not face criminal charges at present. No soldier with a rank above staff sergeant has been charged, although the Denver Post reported this week that two chief warrant officers will soon be charged.

However, all three officers were singled out for criticism in the Taguba report. Taguba recommended each man be reprimanded for offenses like "failing to ensure that Soldiers under his direct command knew and understood the protections afforded to detainees in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War."

Also Friday, the Army replaced Maj. Gen. George Fay with a more senior general as chief investigator of military intelligence practices at the Abu Ghraib prison.

The new lead investigator is Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, deputy commander of the Army Training and Doctrine Command. Army officials said the decision to put Jones in charge was not a reflection on Fay's performance but an effort to resolve a protocol issue in the investigation.

At issue was the need to interview Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez as part of the investigation. Sanchez is the top American commander in Iraq, and the Army wanted a lead investigator who was at least equal in rank to the three-star Sanchez. Fay is a two-star. Jones technically is senior to Sanchez because he has held his three-star rank slightly longer.

All emphasis added.

The joys of privatization keep rolling on.

In a related vein, former Ambassador, Representative, and Vietnam War POW Pete Peterson has this to say concerning the torture and abuse of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

As a former POW in Vietnam, I know what life in a foreign prison is like. To a large degree, I credit the Geneva Conventions for my survival. While the Vietnamese rarely abided by the rules, the international pressure on them to do so forced them to walk a line that ensured they did not perpetrate the sort of shocking abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Life in a Vietnamese prison was hell, but I was never subjected to such degrading sexual humiliation. The human body can withstand enormous physical pain and recover. But the human mind is different: One seldom fully recovers from ruthless psychological or sexual torture. I am certain my treatment would have been worse had the Geneva Conventions not been in place and had the world not insisted that Vietnam abide by them.

Having survived the ordeal of a POW, I never believed I would have to revisit the issue of prisoner treatment. But when I learned that the administration had created a new prisoner status for persons captured in Afghanistan after 9/11, I sensed something was drastically wrong. Labeling prisoners "enemy combatants" instead of POWs was an apparent ploy to circumvent the Geneva Conventions and deny them the right, at the very least, to a review to determine their status.

The Vietnamese called me a "criminal," not a POW. They argued that America was fighting an illegal war in Vietnam - therefore, the Geneva Conventions did not apply. I am appalled to find my own government using that hollow argument 35 years later.


These decisions, which the administration still defends, undeniably set the stage for the horrible and illegal torture at Abu Ghraib. I am disgusted, angry, outraged and at the same time grossly embarrassed by what my government has sought to justify in the name of freedom! This is not the principle of freedom that I nearly gave my life to defend. Americans not only subjected prisoners to pain, suffering, isolation, hunger and degenerate sexual humiliation; some were apparently theatrically killed.

To compound matters, most of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were not military combatants at all, but ordinary civilians picked off the streets during indiscriminate raids. Before the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib emerged, the chain of command ignored or denied reports submitted the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and even military intelligence personnel working at Abu Ghraib (who cannot yet be identified for fear of retribution). Even after they came out, the administration reacted with denial, cover-up, stall and scare tactics, calculated to ensure that only a handful of enlisted men and women are held responsible and to protect senior officers and officials.

But my military experience reminds me that low-ranking personnel do not establish methods of interrogation, treatment or punishment on their own. Military personnel know precisely their authority and responsibilities. The military manual on how to clean a toilet likely requires 100 pages.

Prisoner interrogation and treatment is no less regulated. Top officers and their civilian counterparts must have directly or indirectly signed off on the disgraceful torture at Abu Ghraib. The Bush administration's disdain for our allies, its haste to invade a sovereign nation without honest justification, its abrogation of the Geneva Conventions and international law, and now the revelations of torture, have cost America our moral high ground. To regain it, we must ensure that those officials responsible for damaging America's good name are held accountable. Holding a few enlisted military personnel responsible for their leaders' mistakes would be unconscionable.

If the administration doesn't come clean, no one will suffer more than our proud and courageous military men and women. Americans in uniform know that the Geneva Conventions are not just there to protect the enemy; they are there to protect us.

Sen. Joseph Biden said, "There's a reason why we sign these treaties ... so when Americans are captured they are not tortured!" We must not forget that. Unfortunately, the Bush administration did forget and America is paying a heavy price.

Again, emphasis added.

Really makes you proud to be American, doesn't it?

One day after we here at Punch and Jude mentioned the long-disregarded Pfc. Keith Maupin, listed as captured and then largely ignored since early April, he is in the news again, for the wrong reason.

Those sons of bitches shot him in the back of the head.

Juan Cole has something to say about this.

I really can't manage anything more right now.
Nothing To See Here

Bob Harris, who's minding the store over at This Modern World, has a wonderful post about the transfer of "sovereignty" that happened yesterday.

Do yourself a favor and go check him out.
Sociological Nerd Alert

Today we have a special, topical edition of Nerd Alert to go with the more general one presented earlier.

This Sociological Nerd Alert owes its inspiration to Jeremy, who has been presenting opinions about his own rural roots.

Well, The Center for Rural Strategies tells us that rural Americans will determine the upcoming election. Of course, that's a bit overstated--urban and suburban voters are just as important, and there isn't one national election--there are 51 elections for Electoral College electors, and these undifferentiated, unidentified (by state) "rural voters" are thus a fairly meaningless construct--rural voters in, say Wisconsin will play a role in which way the state leans; however, rural voters in Utah could all stay home, and that state would still be solidly for Bush.

You'd think that we'd all be aware of the strange regionality of our national election by now.

Anyway, topline and crosstab data are also available.

There's lots of nerdy goodness here today!
Nerd Alert

Archaeology is the topic of today's Nerd Alert. How long have the Americas been settled by humans?

We just don't know. In recent years, discoveries have cast doubt on the long-held assumption that the so-called Clovis people were the first settlers south of the ice sheets in the Western Hemisphere. Discoveries in Chile and South Carolina seem to suggest that humans were here before the earliest date ascribed to the Clovis hunters.

Thanks for supporting today's Nerd Alert. We now resume our usually-scheduled snarking.
Around The Horn

It's nearly halfway through the season, and we haven't done much in the way of discussing baseball. Shameful, ain't it?

Well, this headline caught my eye today, because it contained something unusual:

Bell Hits for Cycle in Phillies Rout

Wow. The Phillies routed someone? Oh, yeah, and some shmo named David Bell hit for the cycle. For those of you who don't know about baseball, and other such communists, here's a definition of hitting for the cycle, and a list of those who have accomplished this feat.

But the Phillies routed someone? Did they have to pull Lenny Dykstra out of retirement? Okay, so it was the Expos.

I haven't done a good job of keeping up with the game this season for a variety of reasons--no cable, no one I know here cares much for baseball, and Other Things keep coming up. So imagine my surprise when I checked the standings today and found the Phillies sitting atop the NL East. In other surprising and not-so-surprising news, the Braves are below .500 (yay!), the Red Sox are, of course, in second in the AL East, the Cards are on top in the NL Central (I'm sure you're happy, Nabil), and the Texas Rangers, having gotten rid of 250 million dollars worth of dead weight, are actually winning games. Who knew?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Get Your War On!

"Sovereignty" Edition!

"Nothing says 'Good luck' like handing off sovereignty and then running straight to the airport. Do we always treat sovereignty like it's a goddamn grenade ?"
A Wise Man

A wise man, and good friend of mine, once said that Donald Rumsfeld was the result of someone taking half of Henry Kissinger's brain--just the evil half--and shoving it in a malformed skull.

It seems as if some of the dipshit part of McNamara's brain found its way into Shrub's head, too.

"Iraqis know what we know, that the best way to defend yourself is to go on the offensive," [Bush] said, speaking at a news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain.

I didn't know that there was an even more inarticulate way to say "The best defense is a good offense," but there's the proof.

Oh, and by the way: the phrase "stand-up guy" is now, by fiat of His Majesty, Imperator George II, Pontifex Maximus, ruler of Mesopotamia and Tejas, of Texan origin.
Rock-Ribbed, Rock-Hard Conservatives

Again, thanks to the guys at Pandagon for this.

The 2004 GOP convention in NYC is turning into hooker central.

Call girls in New York expect to see a boost in business during the Republican convention, according to the New York Daily News. "Agencies are flying in extra call girls from around the globe to meet the expected demand during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 gathering at Madison Square Garden."

Says one Madam: "We have girls from London, Seattle, California, all coming in for that week. It's the week everyone wants to work."

Gotta love those family-values-oriented, law-and-order-loving Republicans.

Is Bill Bennett gonna be there?

Does Bishop Don "Magic" Juan wear a green hat?
That Wacky Liberal Media!

This is the headline on Yahoo News about the Supreme Court's decisions earlier today affirming that, no, this isn't totally a dictatorship yet:

Supreme Court Deals Blow To War On Terror.

I shit you not.

The U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) severely limited the Bush administration's war on terrorism on Monday and allowed cases brought by terror suspects challenging their confinement to proceed in the American legal system.


In one ruling the court said the hundreds of foreign terror suspects at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba could turn to American courts to challenge their confinement. In another ruling it said an American held in his nation is entitled to procedural protections to contest his detention.

"Today's historic rulings are a strong repudiation of the administration's argument that its actions in the war on terrorism are beyond the rule of law and unreviewable by American courts," Steven Shapiro of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) said.

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which brought the Guantanamo case, said, "This is a major victory for the rule of law and affirms the right of every person, citizen or noncitizen, detained by the United States to test the legality of his or her detention in a U.S. court."

By a 6-3 vote, the justices ruled American courts do have jurisdiction to consider the claims of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners who said in their lawsuits they were being held illegally in violation of their rights.

So, let me get this straight. Reaffirming that the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land (see Amendments V, VI, and VIII) is somehow bad for the United States. That makes sense.

Those crazy liberals!
You Have To Have A License To Fish

But any two morons who have the barest understanding of human plumbing can have a kid.

Thanks to the Panda People over at Pandagon, we have today's insanity: a child named ESPN.

That's right.

A child (one of at least three) has been named for the all-sports cable network.

You know, I kind of like quirky names--especially when they belong to pro athletes ("Plaxico" always springs to mind). But "ESPN" isn't a goddamn name--it's an abbreviation. Do these parents realize that they have guaranteed tons of ridicule for their child? Would you want to go through elementary or (even worse) middle school with that name?

As is evidenced in the article, ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle is clearly insane. And this child's mother, I think, is going to end up regretting consenting to that name.

In the comments to that post, one person brings up an important point--twins given names that are way, way too similar.

I've know twins named Gina and Ginger, and those names, I thought at the time, were far too similar for twins.

Then I met LaQuanda and LaWanda.

These two looked nearly identical ("They're identical twins! Of course they looked alike, you freakin' idiot!" you might say. But they were almost indistinguishable--and they often dressed in matching outfits, just to further screw with everyone.), and they got pissed if anyone called them by the wrong name. I wonder if they ever got pissed at their parents.

Well, that's today's random bit of uselessness.
Cowboy Up

So Bush likes to play cowboy, and think of himself as a tough-guy Westerner (though I can't ever imagine a pretzel kicking Yul Brynner's or Steve McQueen's ass). Well, let's think about today's craven slinking out of Baghdad, and see if we can Western it up a bit. I can see some Western movie parallels. The one that seems most appropriate is High Noon.

What's that, you say? High Noon? The 1952 Gary Cooper classic?

Yes. The same.

Doesn't seem to match up with what's going on in Iraq, you say?

Well, no. Not the Earth version of High Noon, anyway.

But, in keeping with this administration's previous actions, it's Bizarro World High Noon.

What would Gary Cooper (played by L. Paul Bremer) do in Bizarro World?

He'd be no tragic hero figure, that's for sure.

He would run Hadleyville like his own kingdom, for starters. He's let old friends come in and run the general store and the livery, and charge exorbitant prices for everything, and then not deliver the goods that customers paid for. He'd also, prior to Frank Miller's arrival, burn down the library and the local newspaper. Then he'd go rob the bank, and force the mayor to sign a document giving over half of the town's revenue to himself and his cronies (including his bosses Back East) in perpetuity. Then he'd beat the shit out of Grace Kelly, just for kicks. Finally, just before Frank Miller got to town, he'd set up some stooge as mayor, get on the train with his bags and bags of money, and leave town, shooting at livestock on the way out.

We at Punch and Jude would appreciate any further Bizarro World Western comparisons you, our dear readers, could offer. Please list them in the comments below.
A Bit More On Today's Supreme Court Decisions

From Michael Froomkin over at The Padilla case is still to be decided--and that's the big one. Keep your fingers crossed.
Supreme Court Opinions

I don't have time to comment on these, but I wanted to alert you, our faithful readers, to the opinions.

Check out CNN for the basics, Volokh for the details, or the USSC site to get it from the horse's mouth.
Setting The Tone

Does Aaron McGruder read Punch and Jude?

Well, that's unlikely, really. But it is a possibility, it would seem.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Failed Conservative Policies

The LA Times opines that perhaps, just perhaps, invading and occupying a country halfway around the world for no good goddamn reason wasn't a good idea. This op-ed almost qualified for another episode of Tales Of The Obvious!, but we at Punch and Jude decided to keep with our "Failed Conservative Policies" meme-planting advocated a few days ago. It's a pretty good article, but you have to ignore their cartoonish characterizations of Panama, Grenada, Vietnam, and Gulf War I.

Also missing is any condemnation of the press' own rah-rah cheerleading in the months prior to Bush's Vanity War. Still, it's better than nothing.

Speaking of failed policies, how about training your enemies? Gosh, I couldn't see this coming. Henceforth, there will be no more comparisons here between the Iraqi army and the ARVN. The ARVN, by and large, just didn't fight at all--they didn't turn on US forces (in a significant way, that is). Of course, the Vietnamese didn't have a millennium of beef with the West--there were no Crusaders in Southeast Asia a thousand years ago (the Vietnamese millennium of beef was with the Chinese). Al-Salibiyyah ("the Crusade") was largely confined to the Middle East back then.

In case you're curious, some Muslims in the Middle East call Western colonialism of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (of which they consider the State of Israel and the US invasion of Iraq to be parts) Al-Salibiyyah. Ponder that one for a minute or two.
Why It Doesn't Work

Thanks to Atrios for this story. Here's why torture doesn't work--which any sane person will tell you--you just don't get good information. So you don't need some squishy moral reason for objecting to torture, or a cynical if-we-do-it-to-them-they'll-do-it-to-us complaint, or even a silly legal "it's against our own goddamn laws" position--from a practical, information-gathering perspective, it just doesn't work.

Any half-assed study of the Inquisition will tell you that. With the application of enough physical pain or mental anguish (not all of the Inquisition's methods were intended to break the body), a person will betray everyone he has ever known, and hundreds of those he never met. Even the bad ass warrior-monks known as the Knights Templar spilled the beans under Inquisition torture following their en masse arrests in the early fourteenth century. For more recent confirmation of the same truth, see a series of articles in Salon by Darius Rejali on torture, among other places, in Iran (under the Shah) and in Algeria (by the French), as well as a more general rundown of the methods used by the CIA and military intel types in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

Anyway, here's the article to which Atrios so graciously has directed us: Newsweek's Iraq And Al-Qaeda.

A captured Qaeda commander who was a principal source for Bush administration claims that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime has changed his story, setting back White House efforts to shore up the credibility of its original case for the invasion of Iraq. The apparent recantation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a onetime member of bin Laden's inner circle, has never been publicly acknowledged. But U.S. intelligence officials tell NEWSWEEK that al-Libi was a crucial source for one of the more dramatic assertions made by President George W. Bush and his top aides: that Iraq had provided training in "poisons and deadly gases" for Al Qaeda. Al-Libi, who once ran one of bin Laden's biggest training camps, was captured in Pakistan in November 2001 and soon began talking to CIA interrogators. Although he never mentioned his name, Secretary of State Colin Powell prominently referred to al-Libi's claims in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations; he recounted how a "senior terrorist operative" said Qaeda leaders were frustrated by their inability to make chemical or biological agents in Afghanistan and turned for help to Iraq. Continuing to rely on al-Libi's version, Powell then told how a bin Laden operative seeking help in acquiring poisons and gases had forged a "successful" relationship with Iraqi officials in the late 1990s and that, as recently as December 2000, Iraq had offered "chemical or biological weapons training for two Al Qaeda associates."

But more recently, sources said, U.S. interrogators went back to al-Libi with new evidence from other detainees that cast doubt on his claims. Al-Libi "subsequently recounted a different story," said one U.S. official. "It's not clear which version is correct. We are still sorting this out." Some officials now suspect that al-Libi, facing aggressive interrogation techniques, had previously said what U.S. officials wanted to hear.

Well no shit. Oh, yeah--emphasis added.
Something We Covered A Long Time Ago That Is Finally Getting Big Press

The Sudan is, for some, an earthly hell. And it's finally made the front pages in the US.

It's interesting the way US reporters are hyper-skeptical of any non-American governmental official. If only they applied the same standard to domestic journalism...
Torture Takes A Holiday

Here's a front-page story from today's Washington Post: CIA Puts Harsh Tactics On Hold. Dana Priest has a blockbuster.

There's something wrong when the goddamned FBI is the voice of reason:

[O]n Nov. 11, 2001, a senior al Qaeda operative who ran the Khaldan paramilitary camp in Afghanistan was captured by Pakistani forces and turned over to U.S. military forces in January 2002. The capture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan, sparked the first real debate over interrogations. The CIA wanted to use a range of methods, including threatening his life and family.

But the FBI had never authorized such methods. The bureau wanted to preserve the purity of interrogations so they could be used as evidence in court cases.

That's right. The same FBI that once spied on the leaders of the Civil Rights movement didn't have the total disregard for humanity evidenced by the CIA (and, apparently, the Pentagon head and the White House). There's something seriously screwed up, folks.

It's kind of hard to claim that you're "fighting the barbarians" when you're doing things like this:

Abu Zubaida was shot in the groin during his apprehension in Pakistan. U.S. national security officials have suggested that painkillers were used selectively in the beginning of his captivity until he agreed to cooperate more fully.

Note that tactics such as these have made you, as an American, much less safe when you go abroad. Period. And god help any US soldiers who are taken prisoner. (For the record, one US Army trooper is listed as captured, and has been since April. He is likely long dead, but, since Pfc Maupin--a 20-year-old kid--was known to have been in enemy custody and alive at one point, his official status remains "captured.")

University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin (Jon, I think we should add this guy to the links) has an excellent post about the Priest article.

UPDATE: Right on schedule, this story came out this afternoon. I'm not sure whether or not the threatened man is actually a US Marine or one of the interpreters that accompany US troops. In either case, his future doesn't look good.

UPDATE, THE SEQUEL: The kidnapped man is, in fact, a US Marine. Lord, I hope they get him back. The group holding him, according to the report cited, has made no threat of execution (unlike the people who kidnapped the Pakistani employee of KBR). But there seems to be a disturbing trend emerging on how to deal with prisoners in Iraq. He may, if he is a Muslim, be accorded some mercy. But I don't really feel that such will be the case. The Qur'an is quite clear that Muslims may not kill fellow Muslims, but that doesn't seem to be a particularly salient passage in Iraq these days, as the rash of bombings and attacks last week bears witness.

UPDATE III: The young Marine, Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, is Muslim. He's a Utah resident who was born in Lebanon. And I hope he gets to see his family again.
Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang ba ba ding a dong ding

King Moon.

(I thought about "Moonie River," or "Moon Over Washington," but neither of them accurately conveyed silliness like the Marcels' cover of Rodgers' & Hart's "Blue Moon.")

"We all think he's losing his mind. He's getting crazier every day," said Steven Hassan, a former official in the American branch of Moon's Unification Church who is now an anti-cult consultant.

Ya think?
Back To School

Here's an eight-week course that should be mandatory at all state and private institutions.

While you're at Tomato Nation, check out drunk bingo. My favorite: "The slinky tattoo-sleeved Pratt Institute refugee with purple half-moons of hair dye under her fingernails who is genuinely too tragic to live, and for that reason had her name legally changed to Emily The Strange last year (also accepted in this category: any bartender with Edward Gorey tattoos)."

Yeah, I've met a few Pratt refugees who fit that bill.

Friday, June 25, 2004

A Few Thoughts

I was reading the letters to the editor regarding the torture memos and thought of a couple of things that I wanted to say.

1. The objective of the memo seems to be to find ways to legally extract information from prisoners. It reportedly contains extensive legal analysis that is attempting to show which rules and regulations apply during interrogations and which do not. The object is not to directly violate the law, but to toe the line and use interrogation techniques that are arguably legal - even if the arguments are thin. Thus it seems to be a mischaracterization to say, as I did in an earlier post, that the executive branch was trying to act above the law.

2. As the author of the third letter asks - why didn't the Bush Administration condemn this memo on moral grounds? My opinion is that the administration requested this memo to see what it could and could not get away with - to push the limits. If Bush was the true champion of the religous right, he would have been appalled by the memo and flatly rejected it. But he didn't.

3. So finally - why does the Religious Right support Bush? Apparently it's gay marriage and abortion, because torturing prisoners (the dark-skinned ones) hasn't dampened their support as far as I can tell.

Sadly, this reminds me of that movie about Medgar Evers (staring a Baldwin and Whoopie). At one point they show an interview with De la Beckwith (played by James Woods) where he mentions God putting the white man on the earth to rule the "dusky races". I feel like that same mentality might be alive and well in a good portion of the religous right, just not on the surface of course.
In Defense Of The Spanish Inquisition

Which, of course, no one expects.

If you didn't get that, don't worry. But you should read this article by former Monty Python troupe member Terry Jones.

It might help you deal with your children--in a caring, understanding, Rumsfeldian sort of way, that is.

And people say you can't joke about certain things. Fools.

Poor Monica. She was destroyed.

Excuse me?

"He says he was proud of the way that he defended the presidency, at my expense," she said.

"In the process he destroyed me, and that was the way he was going to have to do that, to get through impeachment," Lewinsky added. "I was a young girl and to hear him saying some of the things he was saying today -- it's a shame."

Sorry, Monica. I don't buy it. As the article mentions, she's been spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, got royalties from a damn book, and hosted a TV show. She also marketed a line of handbags and has had tons of other opportunities--all because she got "destroyed."

You know, lady, if you'd taken a dress to the cleaners, maybe your destruction wouldn't have been so horrible.

And, just in case you weren't aware, Ms. Lewinsky, the Presidency is far more important than you are. If it comes down to defending the Office of the President or worrying about anybody's reputation, what do you think is going to happen?

Destroyed? Tell it to the judge, lady.
Can't These Morons Get Anything Right? (Continued)

Economic Growth Not What Previously Reported.

It's still growth, so that's good, but why the screwup? Mendacity or incompetence?

You can guess what side I come down on.
Can't These Morons Get Anything Right?

I didn't post anything about it earlier, but there was a big flap over the Terrorist Threat Integration Center's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report released earlier this year. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage went around, loudly proclaiming that the report showed that we were "winning the war" on global terror because, you see, there were fewer terrorist attacks in 2003 than in the previous 20 or so years.

If that sounds odd, that's because it is. It's dead wrong. And the news of this amazing error was well covered by lots of commentators.

Paul Krugman has an article about that flap today. He cites Princeton economist Alan Kreuger and Stanford political scientist David Laitin as debunkers. I have no experience with Kreuger's work, but I've read Laitin, and I wouldn't want to try to pull the wool over that guy's eyes. He's smart. Anyway, like so much else, the Bush people got this wrong. Was it incompetence or mendacity--does it matter? President anti-Midas and his crew have screwed up everything they've touched.

The erroneous good news on terrorism also came at a very convenient moment. The White House was still reeling from the revelations of the former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who finally gave public voice to the view of many intelligence insiders that the Bush administration is doing a terrible job of fighting Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush was on a "Winning the War on Terror" campaign bus tour in the Midwest.

Mr. Krueger, a forgiving soul, believes that the report was botched through simple incompetence. Maybe — though we can be sure that if the statistics had told the administration something it didn't want to hear, they would have been carefully checked. By the way, while the report's tables and charts have been fixed, the revised summary still gives little hint of how bad the data really are.

In any case, the incompetence explanation is hardly comforting. In a press conference announcing the release of the revised report, the counterterrorism coordinator Cofer Black attributed the errors to "inattention, personnel shortages and [a] database that is awkward and antiquated." Remember: we're talking about the government's central clearinghouse for terrorism information, whose creation was touted as part of a "dramatic enhancement" of counterterrorism efforts more than a year before this report was produced. And it still can't input data into its own computers? (It should be no surprise, in this age of Halliburton, that the job of data input was given to — and botched by — private contractors.)

Think of it as just one more indication that Mr. Bush isn't really serious about this terrorism thing. He talks about terror a lot, and invokes it to justify unrelated wars he feels like fighting. But when it comes to devoting resources to the unglamorous work of protecting the nation from attack — well, never mind.

I like that Krugman guy.
More On Medical Costs

As mentioned in an earlier post, don't believe the hype when people tell you about lawsuits driving up the costs of medical care. Bob Herbert has a good piece on the same subject today.

The General Accounting Office "investigated the situations in five states with reported access problems and found mixed evidence. On the one hand, G.A.O. confirmed instances of reduced access to emergency surgery and newborn delivery, albeit `in scattered, often rural, areas where providers identified other long-standing factors that affect the availability of services.' On the other hand, it found that many reported reductions in supply by health care providers could not be substantiated or `did not widely affect access to health care.' "

That hardly sounds like a crisis. Moreover, in several states specifically characterized by the A.M.A. as in "crisis," the evidence is rolling in that malpractice claims and awards are not appreciably increasing, and in some instances are declining.

The A.M.A. has its crisis states marked in red on a map of the U.S. on its Web site. One of the red states is Missouri. But a press release in April from the Missouri Department of Insurance said, "Missouri medical malpractice claims, filed and paid, fell to all-time lows in 2003 while insurers enjoyed a cash-flow windfall."

Another red state on the A.M.A. map is New Jersey. Earlier this month, over the furious objections of physicians' representatives, a judge ordered the release of data showing how much was being paid out to satisfy malpractice claims. The judge's order was in response to a suit by The Bergen Record.

The newspaper reported that an analysis of the data showed that malpractice payments in New Jersey had declined by 21 percent from 2001 to 2003. But malpractice insurance premiums surged over the same period. A.M.A. officials told me yesterday that they thought the New Jersey data was "incomplete," but they did not dispute the 21 percent figure.

Last summer a legislative committee in Florida, another red state, put insurance executives, lawyers and medical lobbyists under oath in an effort to get to the truth about malpractice costs. When questions about frivolous lawsuits arose, Sandra Mortham, the chief executive of the Florida Medical Association, told the panel, "I don't feel that I have the information to say whether or not there are frivolous lawsuits in the state of Florida."

There is no question that malpractice insurance premiums have increased sharply over the past few years. In some instances they have skyrocketed. But, as the Congressional Budget Office has noted, there are a variety of reasons for that, including the cost of malpractice awards, decreases in the investment income of insurance companies and cyclical factors in the insurance market.

"Insurance companies' investment yields have been lower for the past few years," the budget office said in a report in January, "putting pressure on premiums to make up the difference."

(Emphasis added)

Yes. It's not the cost of lawsuits, but the desire of insurance companies to make up their profit margins that's driving up health care costs. Look into "single payer plans" on Google for a pretty good idea on how to fix that forever.

As long as I'm wishing, though, I should ask for a Bentley.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Order in the Court

Well, I've been trying to write this post for a few minutes but I don't even know what to say.

Just read this. Thanks to Kelly for the tip.
The Best Damn Article

Seriously, this article is about the best one I've read in a long, long time.

Failed conservative policies, indeed. That sounds catchy. Is it meme-planting season yet?

With Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952, more than ever, this election is a referendum on not only George W. Bush but on conservative policies. Without any meddling from pesky Democrats, Americans have finally gotten an opportunity to really take conservative policies for a test drive. No sharing of the spotlight, no diffusion of responsibility; at last, conservatives can finally take credit where credit is due.

So how have Americans been faring under conservative policies these last couple of years?

Let's start with the basics. Conservatives turned a $127 billion budget surplus into record-shattering deficits with reckless tax cuts; in 2004 alone, the deficit is expected to reach $500 billion. Poverty is on the rise with more than 34 million Americans living below the poverty line, including 12 million children. As for the first job-loss recovery since the Great Depression, it's an "upside down recovery" according to the Center for American Progress, meaning that corporate profits have risen at the expense of wages and employment. At the same time the costs of housing, gas, and medical care have all surged by double digits, not to mention that 20 million working Americans have no health insurance. Conservatives' answer? Not surprisingly, Washington's one-trick ponies call for more tax cuts for the rich. More of the same failed conservative policies.

The WMD-less war in Iraq has become a seemingly inextricable quagmire with taxpayers spending about three dollars on Iraq to every one dollar spent on our own homeland security. Now over a year out from the start of the war, the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project finds that America's image has plummeted across the world. But the icing on the cake? Former General Anthony Zinni recently said that the war in Iraq has not only undermined the war on terror, it has actually made us "far less safe." Despite these concerns, a White House memo leaked to the Washington Post last month reveals plans for $1 billion in cutbacks to Homeland Security in 2006 -- cuts needed to pay for those tax cuts. Sure enough, more of the same failed conservative policies.

A Pentagon report states that global warming "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern." Salmon is loaded with cancer-causing PCBs and chickens are rife with arsenic, both from feed approved by the FDA. Earlier this year, the EPA warned children and women of child-bearing age to avoid eating tuna because it contains dangerously high levels of mercury from industrial pollution from coal-fired power plants; mercury is known to cause brain damage in infants and children. All the while conservatives are chanting the tired old mantra of "more deregulation," gutting the Clean Air Act, and promoting "voluntary compliance" by industry, not only doing away with regulations but also decreasing the number of public guardians who enforce compliance. Predictably, we see the results of more of the same failed conservative policies.

In 2005, states' deficits are expected to exceed $35 billion, in part the result of two decades of "devolution," forcing almost every state in the nation to make drastic cutbacks. Last January in Alabama, public schools ran out of money for textbooks, state troopers were cut back to a four-day work week, and plans were made to release 5,000 nonviolent felons from prison in the coming year. In Oregon, some schools shut their doors a month early, courthouses went to a four-day week, and thousands lost prescription drug coverage. Conservatives responded with multi-million dollar anti-tax campaigns against commonsense revenue reforms that could have saved these fundamental services. Just more of the same failed conservative policies.

We need to get those memes in the ground, quick! Make sure they get plenty of water, and weed the area regularly. Hopefully, by harvest time, they'll be ready.
David Corn

Layeth the smacketh down.

But if I could tie the president up and force him to read one article—and please, do not alert the Secret Service—I would place in front of him a Washington Post front-page story written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran that chronicles the failures of the Coalition Provisional Authority. To anyone who has paid attention to media coverage of the occupation, there is little in the piece that would come as a surprise. But the gathering of these facts in a single account was eye-popping. Here is a sampling:

*The United States promised to use $18.6 billion in aid to employ at least a quarter of a million Iraqis by now in reconstruction projects. About 15,000 Iraqis have been hired for these projects.

*According to a recent poll conducted by the United States, 85 percent of Iraqis had no confidence in the CPA. Chandrasekaran writes, “The criticism is echoed by some Americans working in the occupation. They fault CPA staffers who were fervent backers of the invasion and of the Bush administration, but who lacked reconstruction skills and Middle East experience. Only a handful spoke Arabic.”

*In an interview, L. Paul Bremer, the CPA chief, said that among his biggest accomplishments in Iraq was lowering tax rates. Critics within the CPA, Chandrasekaran writes, “faulted Bremer for working to advance a conservative economic agenda of tax cuts and free trade instead focusing on the delivery of basic services.” In other words, ideology trumped common sense.

*The Bush administration hired hacks instead of experts for CPA posts. “A few development specialists,” according to the Post, “were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with jobs going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House.” Dick Grasso wasn’t available?

*Occupation officials have isolated themselves from Iraqis. "We don't know the outside," a senior adviser to Bremer told the newspaper. “How many of us have gone out to buy a bottle of milk or a pair of socks?" CPA officials shop in a special bazaar in the Green Zone; they do not visit local markets. Chandrasekaran writes, “Limited contact with Iraqis outside the Green Zone has made CPA officials reliant on the views of those chosen by Bremer to serve on the Governing Council. When [Lakhdar] Brahimi, the UN envoy, asked the CPA for details about several Iraqis he was considering for positions in the interim government, he told associates he was ‘shocked to find how little information they really had,’ according to an official who was present.”

If you know anyone who plans to vote for Bush in November, ask them why, and then fill them in on a few of the facts presented by Chandrasekaran via David Corn.
Mission Accomplished!

It was a bad, bad, bad day in Iraq.

BAQOUBA, Iraq -- Insurgents launched coordinated attacks against police and government buildings across Iraq on Thursday, less than a week before the handover of sovereignty. The strikes killed 69 people, including three American soldiers, and wounded more than 270 people, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

The large number of attacks, mostly directed at Iraqi security services, was a clear sign of just how powerful the insurgency in Iraq remains and could be the start of a new push to torpedo Wednesday's transfer of sovereignty to an interim transitional government.

In Baghdad, the Health Ministry said at least 66 people were killed and 268 injured nationwide. However, those figures did not include U.S. dead and injured.

Some of the heaviest fighting was reported in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where two American soldiers were killed and seven were wounded, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division said. Attackers also targeted police stations in Ramadi, Mahaweel, and the northern city of Mosul, where car bombs rocked the Iraqi Police Academy, two police stations and the al-Jumhuri hospital.


Mosul's governor imposed a 9 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew, and the city television station urged people to stay home for the "general good."

In other attacks, four Iraqi soldiers were killed in an explosion near a checkpoint manned by Iraqi and American soldiers in the southern Baghdad district of Dora. Three U.S. soldiers tended to what appeared to be a wounded American soldier on the road. The soldier's helmet lay nearby. Black smoke and flames shot up from a burning pickup truck.

Also in Baghdad, insurgents attacked four Iraqi police stations using mortars, hand grenades and AK-47s on Wednesday and Thursday. Police fought back and defended the stations with minimal assistance from coalition forces, a U.S. statement said.

A statement quoted Thursday by a Saudi Web site claimed responsibility for the Baqouba attacks in the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who said the insurgents belong to his Tawhid and Jihad movement. He called residents to "comply with the instructions of resistance."

The statement appealed to residents to remain in their homes "because these days are going to witness campaigns and attacks against the occupation troops and those who stand beside them."

U.S. aircraft dropped three 500-pound bombs against an insurgent position near the city soccer stadium in Baqouba, said Maj. Neal E. O'Brien, a U.S. 1st Infantry Division spokesman. Insurgents roamed the city with rocket launchers and automatic weapons and occupied two police stations.

Insurgents destroyed the home of the police chief of the Diyala province where Baqouba is, O'Brien said.


One man in the emergency ward vented his anger, screaming, "May God destroy America and all those who cooperate with it!"

There's a bunch more. But, remember, just like our infallible Republican leaders told us, more attacks are a sign of success, right?

Did these assholes learn anything from Vietnam? Oh, that's right. No. None of them went.

"A statement quoted Thursday by a Saudi Web site claimed responsibility for the Baqouba attacks in the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who said the insurgents belong to his Tawhid and Jihad movement."

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the term "jihad" by now, or at least what the term has come to signify in the last century. Tawhid, though, is probably a little less familiar to most of our four readers. Tawhid is the divine unity (something that I talked about in an earlier post), something that is supposed to be integrated into everyday Muslim life by recognizing Allah's sovereignty over everything--thus, political, social, and personal life should reflect the unity of God. Yet another high ideal corrupted by fanatics, in other words.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Liberal Media Bias

Well Bill O'Reilly is hopping mad. He thinks that there hasn't been enough media coverage of the murdering kidnappers in Iraq. Of course this is because the media is biased and wants to focus on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (notice of course that he doesn't attack liberal claims on the merits - he's only attacking their presence in America's conscience).

I'm afraid that Mr. O'Reilly is missing a big part of the picture. You see, terrorists attack people, kidnap people, and kill them publicly in horrific ways. While it is horrible that innocents have died in this war, it happens in all wars - why would this one be different. We feel and pray for the victims, but that is all we can do.

Governments, however, aren't supposed to kill and torture - especially ours. When the world's moral police start torturing prisoners who are captured and detained without rights - things are a little out of order. When the government's top officials are engaged in dialogue with the Justice Department on how to circumvent international law - things are a little out of order. And when pictures are leaked showing American soldiers standing over a naked, dead Iraqi man, the Secretary of Defense admits hiding prisoners from the Red Cross, and the Attorney general thinks that the president is above the law - things are a little out of order.

Americans and the American media are naturally going to be more interested in a possibly corrupt government and abuse of power by elected and appointed officials than over the horrific public death of an innocent man during a war. We can't bring people back from the dead and we certainly can't condemn "Islamic fascists" anymore than we already have. Yes terrorists are bad and always will be. But Americans can do something about a corrupt government who might be murdering and torturing inncoent people as well - vote 'em out of office.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye

The Center for American Progress has a Declaration calling for the resignation or removal of John Ashcroft (R-Choad). It's patterned on the Declaration of Independence, and it's pretty good:

We cannot defeat fanatics by becoming fanatics ourselves, giving them the victory they seek by remaking our society in their image.

An Attorney General whose character is thus marked by acts which define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the chief law enforcement officer of a free people. We, therefore, as free men and women devoted to the security and well-being of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That Attorney General John Ashcroft should be removed from office and a successor named who will restore the honor, integrity, and good name of the Department of Justice.

I'd prefer to see a warrant for his arrest, but you've gotta start somewhere, I suppose.
Football (soccer)

All those who think Freddy Adu is the best teenage soccer player in the world raise your hand. Okay now put them down.


Does this make anyone else think of Monty Python?

"Officers found 12 to 15 people in medieval costume shouting threats and abuse at each other."

Oh how I would love to stumble upon that.

Thanks to Dave Barry's blog.

Better Late Than Never, I Suppose

Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, put out this column a couple of days ago. Approximately half of all "spoiled" ballots in 2000 belonged to black Americans. Just over half, really. One million ballots cast by eligible, registered African American voters were discounted. Moreover, that incredibly high percentage of disenfranchised African Americans was not limited to the southeast. I don't know about you, but I'm glad the liberal media alerted us all to this massive civil rights violation in November of 2000. Oh, wait.

Consider that the population of the US in the 2000 election was about 281,421,906 (the Census Bureau estimates current US population at 293,562,383), and that the 2000 estimate for total African American population was 35,704,124. That means that 12.69% of the US population in 2000 was identified as solely African American. Yet over fifty percent of spoiled ballots came from less than thirteen percent of the population.

Let's further consider what percentage of black voters was disenfranchised. Of the African American population, 24,430,032 were aged 18 or older. Other census data, from the CPS report on Voting and Registration in November 2000. puts the number of eligible black voters at 23,587,000--so this is the number we'll use for the rest of this consideration (the difference in the two is due to the number of non-citizen black people, who are, of course, ineligible to vote). Of that twenty-three and a half million, 15,156,000, or 64.3%, were registered to vote. Of those registered, 12,749,000, or 84.11% of those registered (54.1% of those eligible) reported voting. Those percentages are consistent with the overall national averages in those categories.

Subtract one million of those 12,749,000 votes. That's 7.8% of all black votes gone. And, given African American voting patterns, that means about another 900,000 votes for Gore simply vanished(granted, all of the other million spoiled ballots could have been intended for Bush, but the chances of that are infinitesimally small). With the votes that were discounted in Florida, he certainly would have won that state--rather handily, in fact.

7.8% might seem like a small chance of getting one's ballot discounted. Well, it's smaller than 15%, or 50%, true. But consider this: for non-black voters, of whose votes 900,000 ballots were considered spoiled, the chance of ballot rejection was 0.92%.

Rush Limbaugh once, in the midst of a rather typical racist tirade, said the following about black voters and their concerns: "They are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?"

Uh, gee, Rush, it looks like you do. And all of your cronies in the GOP do, as well.

Oh, that's a real quote, by the way. Just like the time he told a black caller to "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."

Note: Edited for clarity. Also, the "spoiled" ballots disenfranchised over 95,000 black voters in Florida. That number does not include the over 52,000 voters, almost all African American, illegally removed from Florida's voter rolls by Katherine Harris' premeditated fraud. Please, do read the article that link takes you to.
Do Yourselves A Favor

Jon: Get that mysterious rash checked out by a real doctor. The guy who hangs out in the street and always wears the tutu and construction helmet may be interesting, and may be a scintillating conversationalist, but his medical credentials do leave something to be desired.

Everyone else: Go read Molly Ivins.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Too Little Too Late

At least that's what I think of the Justice Department's decision to "repudiate and replace" the Bybee memo. Sayeth the President:

I accept the legal conclusion of the attorney general and the Department of Justice that I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time.

The rest.
Moore's Film

Takes it on the chin from Slate.

A film that bases itself on a big lie and a big misrepresentation can only sustain itself by a dizzying succession of smaller falsehoods, beefed up by wilder and (if possible) yet more-contradictory claims. President Bush is accused of taking too many lazy vacations. (What is that about, by the way? Isn't he supposed to be an unceasing planner for future aggressive wars?) But the shot of him "relaxing at Camp David" shows him side by side with Tony Blair. I say "shows," even though this photograph is on-screen so briefly that if you sneeze or blink, you won't recognize the other figure. A meeting with the prime minister of the United Kingdom, or at least with this prime minister, is not a goof-off.

Read the rest.
The Amazing Wolfowitz

Sing along with Paul Wolfowitz (R-Prince of Darkness)!

You say "quagmire,"
I say "open ended commitment of troops with no clear exit strategy;"
You say "torture,"
I say "abuse that isn't a big concern for Iraqis."
Quagmire, open ended commitment of troops,
Torture, irrelevant abuse,
Let's call the whole thing off--and please don't send my ass to the Hague."

Thank you, folks. You're a great audience. I'll be here all week! Come back for the eleven o'clock show, and don't forget to tip your servers!

In other Wolfowitz-related news, up is down, 2 + 2 = 5, and ignorance is strength.
Supreme Court To Patients: Screw You!

And come back when you're rich. Well, the assault on everyone who isn't independently wealthy continues. By generously interpreting a pension law for unintended purposes, the SCOTUS has turned the screw on patients once again.

Oh, and anytime someone says that lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, they are either a) bought off, b) lying, c) full of shit, or d) all three.

UPDATE: There's a good post over at the Daily Kos about Bush and this Texas patients' right legislation, which he blatantly lied about in the 2000 campaign (like the rest of his prevarications, it went unchallenged). Compassionate conservatism!
Something I Should Do

I really should get a subscription to the New Yorker. I'm cheap (shut up, Brenda) and often broke, though. Anyway, articles like this one by Seymour Hersh serve to increase my desire for said subscription.

I can't provide any excerpts that do it justice; you really should go read it. You'll thank me later. Well, probably.
Tales Of The Obvious!

However, these tales still deserve telling. Today's Obvious Tale: Halliburton is as crooked as a barrel of snakes. You knew that, I know.

Testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform hearing confirmed today that Bush administration political appointees overruled career contracting officials in the Pentagon by giving Halliburton the oil-related task order months before the invasion of Iraq.

The hearing came two days after Pentagon officials admitted that Pentagon political appointees notified Vice President Cheney's chief of staff of the decision to award Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair Iraq's oil infrastructure.

Contracting experts say it is highly unusual for political appointees to be involved in the contracting process since contracts are normally awarded by career civil servants with expertise in government contracting. Involvement by Cheney's chief of staff in the contracting process contradicts Cheney's assertion that he had no role in awarding contracts to his former company.

At the same time, the committee's failure to call Halliburton whistleblowers to testify underscores Congress' continuing failure to hold the company accountable for contracting abuses and potential fraud.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) refused to allow five former Halliburton employees with additional evidence of waste, fraud and abuse to testify today. The former employees (as well as an employee of a Halliburton subcontractor) have brought serious charges of abuse by Halliburton subsidiary KBR to the attention of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), including billing $45 per six pack of soda, the use of a five-star hotel in Kuwait, a $100 charge per bag of laundry, and the torching of brand new $80,000 trucks.

In case you missed something the first time, let me repeat it:

Bush administration political appointees overruled career contracting officials in the Pentagon by giving Halliburton the oil-related task order months before the invasion of Iraq.

Emphasis obviously added.

Well, what does that tell us? Nothing that we didn't already know--there never was an attempt at a diplomatic solution. That's clear from this statement. We all know there never was, but the Bush people lied their asses off saying that "we're seeking a peaceful solution" for months.

Stay tuned, kids, for more Tales of the Obvious!!!!
Paul Krugman

Krugman has more on why John Ashcroft (R-Choad) is the worse AG in history.

Be prepared to get pissed. And not in the British sense. It's too early for that.

The discovery of the Texas cyanide bomb should have served as a wake-up call: 9/11 has focused our attention on the threat from Islamic radicals, but murderous right-wing fanatics are still out there. The concerns of the Justice Department, however, appear to lie elsewhere. Two weeks ago a representative of the F.B.I. appealed to an industry group for help in combating what, he told the audience, the F.B.I. regards as the country's leading domestic terrorist threat: ecological and animal rights extremists.

Even in the fight against foreign terrorists, Mr. Ashcroft's political leanings have distorted policy. Mr. Ashcroft is very close to the gun lobby — and these ties evidently trump public protection. After 9/11, he ordered that all government lists — including voter registration, immigration and driver's license lists — be checked for links to terrorists. All government lists, that is, except one: he specifically prohibited the F.B.I. from examining background checks on gun purchasers.

Mr. Ashcroft told Congress that the law prohibits the use of those background checks for other purposes — but he didn't tell Congress that his own staff had concluded that no such prohibition exists. Mr. Ashcroft issued a directive, later put into law, requiring that records of background checks on gun buyers be destroyed after only one business day.

And we needn't imagine that Mr. Ashcroft was deeply concerned about protecting the public's privacy. After all, a few months ago he took the unprecedented step of subpoenaing the hospital records of women who have had late-term abortions.

Crisco Johnny needs to go. Remember that in November.
GOP: Guardians Of Morality

Republican Senate candidate Jack Ryan of Illinois is a big ol' pervert. His public sex fetish led, apparently, to his divorce from TV star, known hottie, and nerd obsession Jeri Ryan.

Well, it looks like another one bites the dust.

But he still responds with a "Won't someone think of the children?" defense. How odd.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Credit Where Due

Thanks to Dr. Freese (again, not the villain from Batman), we now feature RSS Feed. Here at Punch and Jude, we're all about pleasing all three of our readers. Enjoy!
Just Gross

Chocolate-covered pork fat. This ain't Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, folks. It doesn't seem like "two great tastes that taste great together."

Lenny, are you going to weigh five hundred pounds when you get back? You haven't indulged, have you?
Man, I'm Glad I Went To A Different School

Mississippi State University, despite some recent attempts at decency, still produced Mike Adams (thanks to the guys at Pandagon for the link). Here's how much of a tool Mike Adams is: He now thinks that MSU is too namby-pamby liberal and multicultural for him. I swear.

For those of you who have no knowledge of this institution, I should say that Mississippi State University is a land grant university (go Morrill Act!) located in the tiny hamlet of Starkville, Mississippi. It's a very conservative institution in a very conservative town in a very conservative state (especially true if you associate conservatism with evangelical Christianity).

If MSU is too liberal, then people in Boston (sorry, Jon) had better get out their brimstone-proof umbrellas.
The Irrationality Of Rational Actions, Part MMDCCXI

Thanks to Brenda, who always sends things that make me scratch my head, today we have a woman jailed over marshmallows. Seriously. Man, I'm glad that no marshmallow-related terrorist attacks will occur anytime soon! The DOJ is all over that one.

On a related note, aren't you all proud of me? I managed an entire post about something DOJ-related without calling John Ashcroft a Choad.

Democracy Takes Root!

According to the LA Times (via Yahoo News):

On the eve of sovereignty, Iraq (news - web sites) is a nation in disarray, riven by bombings, assassinations and sabotage. Yet many people here appear cautiously optimistic that a tough-talking new government run by Iraqis can confront the withering cycle of violence better than their U.S.-led occupiers.

Talk of imposing martial law or restoring the death penalty has been welcomed by many among a war-weary populace.

"We need a tough ruler," said Burwa Tayyeb, who owns a boutique in Baghdad's Mansour district. "I have very high hopes and am looking forward to the 1st of July."


"These are our people. We know how to handle this," explained Hamid Rubai, an advisor to the interim leadership.

"He needs to be strict and firm," Fawzia Abdul-Jabbar, a widowed homemaker, said of Allawi. "This is the only way he could bring security to this country. We are tired of living in fear."


"If he was a Baathist, this means he was familiar with the ins and outs of Iraqi society," said Tayyeb, the boutique owner, who as an Iraqi Kurd is part of an ethnic group that suffered greatly under Hussein. "This is to his credit."

That's right. Benjamin Franklin once famously remarked that "Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." Of course, people weren't setting off buggy bombs in Philadelphia in the mid-eighteenth century. Mr. Franklin might have had a slightly different perspective if that had been the case. The point is, Iraqis now have neither liberty or security. Security means that they can live--liberty, so far as they can tell, would involve only more chaos. Note that the vast majority of countries bordering Iraq are run by authoritarian governments--it seems to be a pattern that, presently, operates with some success in that area of artificial countries (most were carved out of the old Ottoman Empire by the French and British following the Great War).

To outsiders, it may seem counterintuitive — a nation reeling from more than three decades of despotic rule appears to yearn for authority. But the carnage of the last year seems to have drained many Iraqis of their enthusiasm for noble experiments in government and left them craving a peaceful nation in which their lives may proceed without the pervasive fear of random killings.

Not only politically motivated attacks but common crimes — notably kidnappings and slayings — have skyrocketed since the fall of Hussein's regime.

"One thing I wish from Iyad Allawi is that he reinstates capital punishment," said Tariq Sargon, a Christian record shop owner in Baghdad's Harithiya district. "All these crimes are unaccounted for. [Criminals] have to get what they deserve."

Iraqis suffered greatly under Hussein, but the dictator and his pervasive Baath Party apparatus did provide a sense of security that many look back on with nostalgia. Iraqis dreaded Hussein's security men, but car bombs, roadside ambushes and mortar attacks on the streets of the capital were not a daily occurrence.

Wouldn't it have been great if, say, career diplomats and other, similar civil servants had been consulted and heeded? Instead, the Bush Administration listened to the neo-con fantasies of Wolfowitz, Perle, and their ilk. And now we own a giant mess and are responsible for the suffering of millions. Great. Like I said, maybe pissing all over the State Department isn't the smartest thing for a government to do.
It Just Gets More Bizarre

The story about Russia's warning about Iraqi forces attacking the US three years ago keeps getting stranger. The State Department says that they have absolutely no freakin' idea what the hell Putin is talking about.

That's not good. The State Department would seem to be the place where foreign states would ocme with this sort of information. It's really bad when the Department of State is not cut in on diplomatic ventures. I believe "dysfunctional" would be an applicable term.

So I may have to retract my earlier statement about the Russians goading us into invading Iraq. My new question is this: What did Putin get in exchange for riding to Bush's rescue? I think he's a pretty decent guy, so he probably only asked for a puppy.
Chronic 2004

I was hoping to catch the local forecast this morning, so I flipped on the TV. NBC's Today Show was on; there sat Katie Couric, earnestly talking to some woman who claimed to be a diet expert. To bolster her claims, this expert brought along a woman who had apparently followed her advice and benefited. At any rate, they put the seemingly-successful dieter's name on the screen, and, as is common for TV news-ish programs, the show's producers put a title under her name. Her title?

"Chronic Eater."

I swear I am not making this up. Chronic eater? Doesn't that include everyone who wants to, uh, remain alive? Or did she have a brownie problem, one to which NBC could only allude?

Chronic eater. Jeez.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Holy Crap!

The New York Times actually writes a fair article on Michael Moore's new movie! Quick! Go read it before they take it down!

From Frank Rich, on the Reagan schlock-a-thon.

He's not entirely right--a lot of the hagiography was deliberately produced and managed so as to present a glowing picture of Reagan and his presidency. That's partly why any dissenting or realistic assessment of his terms found itself confronted with hostitlity and indignation.

He does get this bit largely right, but it does beg a little commentary:

His average approval rating in office was lower than that of many modern presidents, including each George Bush. His death at 93, after a full life and a long terminal illness, was neither tragic nor shocking. And in 2004, his presidency was far from the center of American consciousness. The cold war that he "won" (with no help from the Poles, the Czechs, Mikhail Gorbachev, the first President Bush or anyone else, mind you) had dropped into the great American memory hole in our age of terrorism, along with his administration's support of incipient bin Laden-style Islamic militants in Afghanistan.

Note especially the second sentence. Compare that statement with the sickening outpouring of manufactured shock we all witnessed. Not all of that was created by the media, OJ-style, to attract viewers. Rich ignores the role of the right-wing media, which did its best to deify Reagan and stamp out any intimation that Reagan was less than perfect. In fact, if Rich had written this very column in the days immediately following Reagan's death, he would have found himself denounced, along with Ted Rall, by the likes of O'Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh, and so on. Peggy Noonan would have called for his head on a plate.

Anyway, Rich also gets a few other things wrong. OJ is not responsible for the reality-show purgatory we now experience. Like so many other annoying entertainment trends (the constantly-moving camera, stupid angles, personalities so vacuous you wonder whether or not they've been lobotomized, etc.), the reality show is the creation of MTV. The Real World, that hive of scum and villainy, premiered fourteen years ago. Yes, fourteen. I was still in high school at the time, and I thought it was awful then. So, while you can blame OJ for cutting two people up (civilly, but not criminally, at any rate), you can't blame him for Big Brother or Who Wants To Marry A Midget or any of that crap.
Ah, Geez

More great news.

This reporter ignores the fact that lots of Iraqis (who aren't former government officials or Sadrite militiamen) are also opposed to the US occupation. They didn't invite us over there, and they resent the heavy-handed occupation, the lack of basic services, and the constant threat of car bombs. Who do they blame? Why, the US, of course. If someone invaded and conquered the US, would you or I feel more bitterness toward the invading army or the resistance? That's an easy answer, isn't it?

Saturday, June 19, 2004

"Outsourcing" Gone Berserk

And they told us white collar jobs were safe. Not a one, my friends, not a one.

Check it.

I have no idea what to say about this.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Sorry, guess I'm all sports tonight

But I needed to say one more thing. People hate Barry Bonds. Supposedly he's cold in interviews, uncooperative with the media, etc. So of course everyone will make a big deal about this.

But the sad part is he's right and no one will know because no one (except Jude) knows anything about history. The truth is Boston is and has been a very racist city - especially with its baseball. The Red Sox were one of the last teams to hire a black player, and after it did it still had a horribly racist reputation. In fact, Boston couldn't (wouldn't or didn't) sign a black free agent for about the first twenty years of free agency. That means the '90s people. And outside of the baseball world, Boston remains a very segregated city. But a second generation guy like Bonds is much more likely to know the history of Boston's racial climate than the average Barry-hater. So screw 'em Barry - stay where you are.


Phil Jackson quit, Kobe opted-out, and Shaq and T-Mac want to be traded. I tell you what, the East wins one damn championship and the shit hits the fan. One thing's for sure, next year we'll see different faces in different places.