Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Man, he's on a roll. Consider today's piece, The Rambo Coalition:

Almost a year ago, on the second anniversary of 9/11, I predicted "an ugly, bitter campaign - probably the nastiest of modern American history." The reasons I gave then still apply. President Bush has no positive achievements to run on. Yet his inner circle cannot afford to see him lose: if he does, the shroud of secrecy will be lifted, and the public will learn the truth about cooked intelligence, profiteering, politicization of homeland security and more.

But recent attacks on John Kerry have surpassed even my expectations. There's no mystery why. Mr. Kerry isn't just a Democrat who might win: his life story challenges Mr. Bush's attempts to confuse tough-guy poses with heroism, and bombast with patriotism.

One of the wonders of recent American politics has been the ability of Mr. Bush and his supporters to wrap their partisanship in the flag. Through innuendo and direct attacks by surrogates, men who assiduously avoided service in Vietnam, like Dick Cheney (five deferments), John Ashcroft (seven deferments) and George Bush (a comfy spot in the National Guard, and a mysterious gap in his records), have questioned the patriotism of men who risked their lives and suffered for their country: John McCain, Max Cleland and now John Kerry.

How have they been able to get away with it? The answer is that we have been living in what Roger Ebert calls "an age of Rambo patriotism." As the carnage and moral ambiguities of Vietnam faded from memory, many started to believe in the comforting clichés of action movies, in which the tough-talking hero is always virtuous and the hand-wringing types who see complexities and urge the hero to think before acting are always wrong, if not villains.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush had a choice: he could deal with real threats, or he could play Rambo. He chose Rambo. Not for him the difficult, frustrating task of tracking down elusive terrorists, or the unglamorous work of protecting ports and chemical plants from possible attack: he wanted a dramatic shootout with the bad guy. And if you asked why we were going after this particular bad guy, who hadn't attacked America and wasn't building nuclear weapons - or if you warned that real wars involve costs you never see in the movies - you were being unpatriotic.

As a domestic political strategy, Mr. Bush's posturing worked brilliantly. As a strategy against terrorism, it has played right into Al Qaeda's hands. Thirty years after Vietnam, American soldiers are again dying in a war that was sold on false pretenses and creates more enemies than it kills.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Mr. Bush - who must defend the indefensible - has turned to those who still refuse to face the truth about Vietnam.

All the credible evidence, from military records to the testimony of those who served with Mr. Kerry, confirms his wartime heroism. Why, then, are some veterans willing to join the smear campaign? Because they are angry about his later statements against the war. Yet making those statements was itself a heroic act - and what he said then rings truer than ever.

The young John Kerry spoke of leaders who sent others to their deaths because they wanted to seem tough, then "left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude." Fifteen months after George Bush strutted around in his flight suit, more and more Americans are echoing Gen. Anthony Zinni, who received a standing ovation from an audience of Marine and Navy officers when he talked about the debacle in Iraq and said of those who served in Vietnam: "We heard the garbage and the lies, and we saw the sacrifice. I ask you, is it happening again?"

Mr. Kerry also spoke of the moral cost of an ill-conceived war - of the atrocities soldiers find themselves committing when they can't tell friend from foe. Two words: Abu Ghraib.

Let's hope that this latest campaign of garbage and lies - initially financed by a Texas Republican close to Karl Rove, and running an ad featuring an "independent" veteran who turns out to have served on a Bush campaign committee - leads to a backlash against Mr. Bush. If it doesn't, here's the message we'll be sending to Americans who serve their country: If you tell the truth, your courage and sacrifice count for nothing.
I still can't understand how Kerry's service in Vietnam is an issue. He went. Bush didn't. Cheney didn't. Ashcroft didn't. Rice didn't. Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith--none of those guys went.

Yet Kerry's volunteer service is questionable?

Bob Dole recently appeared on TV reprising his old role as hatchetman, claiming that Kerry's wounds weren't serious, and that Kerry "never bled that [Dole] knew of."

WTF? Was Dole a corpsman in 'Nam? How the hell would he know, anyway?

Well, okay, Bob. You want to slam Kerry. But, don't forget, before you were wounded terribly at Anzio, you got a purple heart for getting superficially wounded by one of your own grenades.

Today Bob Dole suggested that one or more of John Kerry's Purple Hearts may have been fraudulent in some way because they were for "superficial wounds."

Dole knows better.

In a 1988 campaign-trail autobiography, here's how Dole described the incident that earned him his first Purple Heart: "As we approached the enemy, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. I took a grenade in hand, pulled the pin, and tossed it in the direction of the farmhouse. It wasn't a very good pitch (remember, I was used to catching passes, not throwing them). In the darkness, the grenade must have struck a tree and bounced off. It exploded nearby, sending a sliver of metal into my leg--the sort of injury the Army patched up with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart."

Shame on you, Bob.

A "superficial" wound from a grenade is a lucky break. A sliver that goes into a leg or an arm could easily go into a heart or (via an eye) a brain. An environment that is alive with shrapnel is an extremely hazardous place. There's no shame in a million-dollar wound at all. As to the self-inflicted nature, a battlefield wound is a battlefield wound. It is an axiom of military life that "there is no such thing as 'friendly' fire." Another maxim, also applicable in this situation, is "after the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is no longer your friend."

The criteria for the Purple Heart are not ambiguous, either, and include the following paragraph:

b) Individuals wounded or killed as a result of "friendly fire" in the "heat of battle" will be awarded the Purple Heart as long as the "friendly" projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment.

There you go. Black and white.

Now can we shut up about this and talk about something substantive and policy-related? Please?

Labels: , , , ,


Monday, August 23, 2004

Blessed Are the Allergenic

First of all, I really wish that was true because pet dander sure does a number on me. I'll never own a cat.

Secondly, my thoughts.

The Catholic Church has a good bit to say about who's in Heaven and Hell according to history. By that I mean Jesus, Mary, and lots of Saints are in Heaven. And the proverbial "Rich Man" is in Hell. But She (the Church) doesn't really like to say "People who do this or don't do that are going to Hell" which was part of why I was drawn to the religion.

My girlfriend once said that an Evangelical Protestant was trying to "save" her once while she was doing her laundry. He told her that he knew he was going to heaven and asked if she was sure about her eternal destiny. She told him that he sounded a little presumptuous.

So I don't think that doctrinally she is damned to Hell, but there might be a little loophole in there somewhere that I don't know about. But I don't think the Church would say that she has committed a sin at all since she is not at fault. Nor is acceptance of the sacrament required for salvation

Also I read an article (AP I believe) that said the Church would offer the wine (which is always consecrated along with the bread, but not always offered in every Mass) for the girl. And I do know that the Church does not place an official preference for solid or liquid Eucharist and one doesn't recieve more or less Jesus by taking one or both.

One more thing, I have actually heard of a parish making such an accomodation in the past so I was actually surprised by this story. But this was secondhand information and probably not the exact same situation or allergy.

All that said, I think the Church did a good thing by refusing to validate the communion (and believe me I'm not the type to refrain from crticizing the Church). I'll elaborate later.

Guess Who's Back

That's right suckas, after days of languishing in the wretched heat of Mississippi (ok it wasn't that bad) and being cut off from the world (I know Jude represents with the 56k - but I can't do it) Jonny's bringing it to ya from Boston.

Since I've been out of touch most of you have probably already seen this but I had to put it up anyway. Pat Swilling was a Beacon of Light in the dark, dark years of Saints football (as was the eldest Manning). Therefore he's always been a fav. Bobby Hebert too.

Tomasky Lays It Out

Thanks to Atrios, we have a wonderful piece by The American Prospect's Michael Tomasky, entitled "Cowards All Around: The media should take a step back and remind us what Bush and Cheney were up to in 1969."

It's absolutely marvelous.

At first blush, the treatment given to Michael Dobbs' page-one swift-boat article in Sunday's Washington Post seems at least vaguely reassuring. There's the neutral headline "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete," but below that, a deck-headline informing readers that "Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry's Version of Vietnam War Episode." The banner treatment, running across three-fourths of the front page above the fold, places the onus of proof where it belongs -- on the accusers, not on Kerry, a point that Bob Novak and others have chosen to ignore, obscure, or even refute; and in announcing that the proof isn't there, it seems to be a plus for Kerry.

So what's wrong with this picture? This: The Washington Post should not even be running such a story -- a takeout of something in the neighborhood of 2,700 words, I'm guessing, delving into the remotest arcana about what really happened on the Bay Hap River on March 13, 1969 -- in the first place. Len Downie and the paper's other editors would undoubtedly argue that the story represents the Post's tenacity for getting to the truth, without fear or favor. But what the story actually proves is that a bunch of liars who have in the past contradicted their own current statements can, if their lies are outrageous enough and if they have enough money, control the media agenda and get even the most respected media outlets in the country to focus on picayune "truths" while missing the larger story.

And the larger story here is clear: John Kerry volunteered for the Navy, volunteered to go to Vietnam, and then, when he was sitting around Cam Ranh Bay bored with nothing to do, requested the most dangerous duty a Naval officer could be given. He saved a man's life. He risked his own every time he went up into the Mekong Delta. He did more than his country asked. In fact he didn't even wait for his country to ask.

George W. Bush spent those same years in a state of dissolution at Yale, and would go on, as we know, to plot how to get out of going to Southeast Asia. On that subject, here's a choice quote. "I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment," Bush told the Dallas Morning News in 1990. "Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes."

Let's parse that quotation phrase for phrase. We do not, of course, know the full context of the conversation he was having with the reporter, and we don't know exactly what question Bush was asked. But his words begin from the presumption that actually going to Vietnam was absolutely not an option. The quote is entirely about how to avoid going. He wasn't prepared to damage his hearing intentionally for the sake of securing a deferment (he probably meant a 4-F classification and confused the two). And he wasn't willing to go to Canada. So he took the third option, the Air National Guard. And note how the choice was about bettering himself, not about thinking of a way to best render service that this child of privilege might -- had he been possessed of the moral fiber and sense of duty of, say, John Kerry -- have considered his obligation, especially considering that, on paper at least, he supported the war.

Dick Cheney is another who, on paper at least, supported the war. But we know Cheney's story: A series of deferments going back to 1963, when he was a student at Casper College in Wyoming. As Tim Noah reported in Slate, Cheney went on to marry -- as fate would have it, right after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when it was clear that young single men would be called up in larger numbers than before. And then he went on to have a child, Elizabeth, born precisely nine months and two days after the Selective Service ended the proscription on the drafting of married but childless men. What a happily timed burst of passion he and Lynn were consumed by! So, while Kerry was plying the Mekong Delta, Cheney was safe and dry stateside, dropping out of Yale because his grades weren't sufficient to maintain the scholarship the school had offered him.

Everyone knows Cheney's quote, delivered to the Senate committee that was vetting him for service as George H.W. Bush's Defense Secretary, that he "had other priorities" than going to fight for his country. But he made another comment at that hearing that's less known and more damning: He said he "would have obviously been happy to serve had I been called." That, as John Nichols notes in his recent book Dick, is not just an obfuscation or a tap dance; it's a lie. He was called, and he ducked.

So now we're having a debate about whether the man who did the honorable thing may have embellished his record a little (although nothing in the documentary record suggests he did this), while we have two cowards who did everything they could to stay miles away from the place Kerry demanded he be sent. This is the fundamental truth. And while yes, Kerry has made his war service a centerpiece in a way that Bush and Cheney for obvious reasons did not, is it really Kerry who deserves scrutiny for how he behaved in 1968 and 1969? Why shouldn't the major media be doing comparisons of how Kerry, Bush, and Cheney passed those years? Why shouldn't The Washington Post be devoting 2,700 words to a comprehensive look at Cheney's deferments? Nichols identifies three young men from Casper who did die in Vietnam: Robert Cardenas, Walter Elmer Handy, and Douglas Tyrone Patrick. Did one of them die because Cheney had "other priorities"?

But The Washington Post won't do that, because there exists no Vietnam Veterans for the Truth About Deferments, financed by wealthy Democratic donors and out peddling its wares. Which is the moral of the story. Our media can sort through the facts in front of their nose and determine, at least some of the time, who's lying and who's not. But they are completely incapable of taking a step back and describing the larger reality. Doing that would require making judgments that are supposedly subjective rather than objective; but the larger reality here is clearer than clear. Just imagine if the situation were reversed: The same people now questioning Kerry's "character" would have worked to establish Bush as a war hero long ago. They would have labeled Kerry a coward. If by chance a liberal-backed group came forward to question Bush's wartime actions, they would have been called traitors and worse. And the mainstream media would be following the agenda they set every step of the way.

You'd think a press corps that has now officially acknowledged that it was had by this administration on the pre-Iraq war propaganda would think twice before letting itself get used one more time. You'd think, for example, that if the editors of the Washington Post were planning 2,700-word takeouts, they might have given priority to an investigation into ties between the White House and the Swift Boat group. If the conventions of mainstream journalism prevent our media from letting readers, viewers, and listeners examine the full truth in its broadest context, then it's time to reexamine those conventions. Until that happens, people who are willing to say anything, and who have the money to back them up, will be setting the agenda, and the media -- once upon a time, a guardian of our democratic traditions -- will be following them.


You gonna pick that up, Washington Post? You gonna pick up that punk card Tomasky just dropped in front of you? Huh?

Labels: , ,

Academic Freedom

Via Juan Cole, we have for you an excellent essay on academic freedom. Since it's a valuable and valued freedom, naturally enough, right-wing extremists hate it. And why not? Academic freedom is the reason why we are beset by evils like evolutionary theory and research on, say, child abuse.

Yes, we can all get behind the destruction of academic freedom, can't we?

I hope that David Horowitz's epitaph reads as follows: David Horowitz: The American Lysenko.

I think that would be appropriate.

The essay is rather important; I wish you would go and read it.

Labels: , ,

By Any Means Necessary

Bob Herbert follows up on the Florida voter intimidation business.

he state police investigation into get-out-the-vote activities by blacks in Orlando, Fla., fits perfectly with the political aims of Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican Party.

The Republicans were stung in the 2000 presidential election when Al Gore became the first Democrat since 1948 to carry Orange County, of which Orlando is the hub. He could not have carried the county without the strong support of black voters, many of whom cast absentee ballots.

The G.O.P. was stung again in 2003 when Buddy Dyer, a Democrat, was elected mayor of Orlando. He won a special election to succeed Glenda Hood, a three-term Republican who was appointed Florida secretary of state by Governor Bush. Mr. Dyer was re-elected last March. As with Mr. Gore, the black vote was an important factor.

These two election reverses have upset Republicans in Orange County and statewide. Moreover, the anxiety over Democratic gains in Orange County is entwined with the very real fear among party stalwarts that Florida might go for John Kerry in this year's presidential election.

It is in this context that two of the ugliest developments of the current campaign season should be viewed.

"A Democrat can't win a statewide election in Florida without a high voter turnout - both at the polls and with absentee ballots - of African-Americans," said a man who is close to the Republican establishment in Florida but asked not to be identified. "It's no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible. Black votes are Democratic votes, and there are a lot of them in Florida."

The two ugly developments - both focused on race - were the heavy-handed investigation by Florida state troopers of black get-out-the-vote efforts in Orlando, and the state's blatant attempt to purge blacks from voter rolls through the use of a flawed list of supposed felons that contained the names of thousands of African-Americans and, conveniently, very few Hispanics.

Florida is one of only a handful of states that bar convicted felons from voting, unless they successfully petition to have their voting rights restored. The state's "felon purge" list had to be abandoned by Glenda Hood, the secretary of state (and, yes, former mayor of Orlando), after it became known that the flawed list would target blacks but not Hispanics, who are more likely in Florida to vote Republican. The list also contained the names of thousands of people, most of them black, who should not have been on the list at all.

Ms. Hood, handpicked by Governor Bush to succeed the notorious Katherine Harris as secretary of state, was forced to admit that the felons list was a mess. She said the problems were unintentional. What clearly was intentional was the desire of Ms. Hood and Governor Bush to keep the list secret. It was disclosed only as a result of lawsuits filed under Florida's admirable sunshine law.

Meanwhile, the sending of state troopers into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando was said by officials to be a response to allegations of voter fraud in last March's mayoral election. But the investigation went forward despite findings in the spring that appeared to show that the allegations were unfounded.

Why go forward anyway? Well, consider that the prolonged investigation dovetails exquisitely with that crucial but unspoken mission of the G.O.P. in Florida: to keep black voter turnout as low as possible. The interrogation of elderly black men and women in their homes has already frightened many voters and intimidated elderly get-out-the-vote volunteers.

The use of state troopers to zero in on voter turnout efforts is highly unusual, if not unprecedented, in Florida. But the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Guy Tunnell, who was also handpicked by Governor Bush, has been unfazed by the mounting criticism of this use of the state police. His spokesmen have said a "person of interest" in the investigation is Ezzie Thomas, a 73-year-old black man who just happens to have done very well in turning out the African-American vote.

From the G.O.P. perspective, it doesn't really matter whether anyone is arrested in the Orlando investigation, or even if a crime was committed. The idea, in Orange County and elsewhere, is to send a chill through the democratic process, suppressing opposing votes by whatever means are available.

This is just sickening. Personally, I find it bizarre that so much of what happens in Washington depends on what goes on in Florida and Texas.


Labels: , , ,


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Bullshit For Sale!

But most people aren't buying anymore. In my previous post, I noted Matt Taibbi's optimistic claim that no educated person bought Bush's bullshit prior to the Iraq war. However, the war, once it began, received widespread support. That trend has since reversed itself. Over half of the public now thinks that invading Iraq was a colossal mistake (I considered filing this under "N").

Salon (subscription necessary--or just click through the ads to get the day pass) has this article, hot off the wires:

U.S. public now evenly split on Iraq war

Nine months of chaos and casualties in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's capture have taken a heavy toll on American opinion of President Bush's decision to go to war. Last December, when Saddam was caught, public support for Bush was 2-to-1 in favor. Now the public is evenly divided on whether the war was the right thing to do or whether it was a mistake.

Older people, minorities, people with lower incomes, residents of the Northeast and Catholics are among those increasingly skeptical of the war effort, according to Associated Press polling.

These shifts in public sentiment reflect the difficulties in Iraq -- including a death toll nearing 1,000 U.S. soldiers, the violent insurgency against the new Iraqi government and U.S. forces and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, which was among the central justifications for Bush's decision to go to war.


For Jim Adams, a 42-year-old Republican from Plymouth, N.H., the decision to use force in Iraq was right, but the follow-through was lacking.

"I don't think it was a mistake to go there," Adams said. "But we've gone down a slippery slope.

"We had good reason to go based on the evidence at the time, but we've gone in a direction we never intended to go," he said. "We've alienated the population. We wanted the population to embrace our values, and we've done exactly the opposite."

What the hell? "We wanted the population to embrace our values, and we've done exactly the opposite"? What the hell does he mean?

Does he think that "the population" over there just didn't have any values, so they'd be happy to adopt "our values" (whatever the hell those are)? Or did Mr. Adams simply assume that everyone in Iraq was out value-shopping?

"Oh, look, Umar--we can get Chinese values for half off!"

"I'll pass. I'm holding out for those top-notch American values! I hope someone brings them here, so I can pick them up for a song!"

But back to the article:

In the August poll, those most likely to say the Iraq war was the right thing to do were Republicans, Southerners, those who earn more than $50,000 a year and young adults.

"Iraq was getting out of hand," said Kim Rivers, a 35-year-old Republican who works as a teacher's aide in Champlain, N.Y. "It should have been done a long time ago."

Yet among many different groups of Americans, a majority of people now say the war was a mistake. Those groups include minorities (65 percent), Northeasterners (60 percent), Democrats (80 percent), people who make less than $25,000 a year (57 percent) and Catholics (51 percent).

Ahh, Southerners. Thanks again for living down to my expectations.

And don't get me started on Ms. Rivers, who needs to strap on some Kevlar and pick up a rifle or shut the hell up.

Labels: , , , , ,

Matt Taibbi Bodyslams Howard Kurtz

Thanks to Atrios, we are directed to this Taibbi article in the New York Press.

With all due respect to the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, who was polite to me when we spoke on the phone earlier this year, I had to laugh at his 3000-word "We Fucked Up on Iraq" piece that came out last week.

Kurtz's Aug. 12 piece, entitled "The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story; Prewar Articles Questioning Threat Often Didn't Make Front Page," was the latest in what is likely to be a long series of tepid media mea culpas about pre-war Iraq reporting. The piece comes on the heels of the New York Times' infamous "The Bitch Set Us Up" piece from this past May, in which that paper implicitly blamed hyperambitious hormone-case Judith Miller for its hilarious prewar failures.


When the Post wasn't reassuring readers of its competence, it was offering excuses—lots of them. The list is really an extraordinary one. According to Kurtz's interview subjects, the Post was slow on Iraq because: a) Walter Pincus is a "cryptic" writer who isn't "storifyable"; b) there is limited space on the front page, and executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. likes to have health and education and Orioles coverage and other stuff there; c) the paper got a lot of depressing hate mail questioning its patriotism whenever it questioned the Bush administration; d) their intelligence sources wouldn't go on the record, while Bush and Powell were up there openly saying all this stuff; e) the paper had to rely on the administration because Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus had no "alternative sources of information," and particularly couldn't go to Iraq "without getting killed"; f) the paper, including Woodward, was duped by highly seductive intelligence-community "groupthink"; g) too many of the dissenting sources were retired from government or, even worse, not in government at all; h) stories on intelligence are "difficult to edit"; g) there was "a lot of information to digest"; h) the paper is "inevitably a mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power"; i) a flood of copy about the impending invasion kept skeptical coverage out [Note: This is my favorite. We're already covering the war, so it's too late to explain why we shouldn't go to war.]; and finally, j) none of it matters, because even if the Post had done a more thorough job, there would have been a war anyway.

Here's how Downie put that last excuse:

People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage…have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war.

Nothing like an editor with a firm grasp of metaphysics. "It doesn't matter what we write, the universe is still going to keep expanding…"

The problem with these newsprint confessions is not that they are craven, insufficient and self-serving, which of course they are. The problem is that, on the whole, they do not correct the pre-war mistakes, but actually further them. The Post would have you believe that its "failure" before the war was its inability/reluctance to punch holes in Bush's WMD claims.

Right. I marched in Washington against the war in February 2003 with about 400,000 people, and I can pretty much guarantee that not more than a handful of those people gave a shit about whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That's because we knew what the Post and all of these other papers still refuse to admit—this whole thing was never about weapons of mass destruction. Even a five- year-old, much less the literate executive editor of the Washington Post, could have seen, from watching Bush and his cronies make his war case, that they were going in anyway.

For God's sake, Bush was up there in the fall of 2002, warning us that unmanned Iraqi drones were going to spray poison gas on the continental United States. The whole thing—the "threat" of Iraqi attack, the link to terrorism, the dire warnings about Saddam's intentions—it was all bullshit on its face, as stupid, irrelevant and transparent as a cheating husband's excuse. And I don't know a single educated person who didn't think so at the time.

The story shouldn't have been, "Are there WMDs?" The story should have been, "Why are they pulling this stunt? And why now?" That was the real mystery. It still is.

We didn't need a named source in the Pentagon to tell us that. And neither did the Washington Post.

Emphasis added.

Sorry, Matt, but I do know some educated people who bought the bullshit. And it was depressing to watch.

Overall, though, it's a great, great piece--one that shouldn't appear only in the alternative press. The US press failed miserably before the Iraq war. They simply acted as unpaid PR people for the White House and the Pentagon. If any of you were lucky enough to see Jon Stewart skewering Wolf Blitzer on the Daily Show, you may have wondered why it takes a comedian (a good comedian, who has an excellent grasp of current events, mind you, but still a comedian) to point out that the media fell on its collective ass and didn't do its job for, oh, about three-and-a-half years.

Of course, they don't pay the cost for their laziness and/or incompetence. These people do.

Labels: , , , ,

Holy Jesus

The world has officially gone insane.

Thanks to Jesus' General, we learn that the Catholic Church has declared a little girl's first communion invalid because she can't digest wheat.

Holy hell. Talk about the irrationality of rational actions.

Didn't Jesus himself get involved with a movement to ease the uncompromising strictness of the Saducees?

It's good to know that the representatives of his vicar on Earth haven't been drawn into that same legalistic trap.

Jon, do you have any thoughts on this?

And, if I remember Church doctrine correctly, if this poor girl's first communion has been invalidated, and she can't digest a Trenton Diocese-approved wheat wafer, doesn't that mean that she is guaranteed a trip to Hell?

If she doesn't complete that Sacrament, her soul is in serious danger (according to the Church teachings I remember).

Well, I guess Jesus never said anything about "Blessed are the allergenic," now did he?

Labels: ,

This Is The Story Of The Hurricane

No, not the unjustly-imprisoned boxer Rubin Carter--rather, we are talking about the ravages of Hurricane Charley, which recently came ashore in West Florida.

I don't know about the Punch part of this web log, but the Jude half has lived through a few hurricanes--Frederic in 1979, Elena in 1985, and others in other parts of the country (thanks, Hugo).

Hurricanes suck.

They also tend to make landfall around my birthday (Happy Birthday, Jude! Cheers, God!), which has made for a few really festive celebrations (I'm glad you're picking up on the sarcasm here--I'm not being shy with its application).

At any rate, in keeping with the aftermath of most hurricanes, some people in Florida have decided to become total assholes and start looting.

I've always been puzzled by this response to storms. I've seen looting after every hurricane I've witnessed. And not from Wal-Mart or Sears--these looters hit up individual homes. It's not that I'm morally opposed to stealing--I just don't want to steal from individual people. If a bunch of looters wanted to raid department stores, I'd be cool with that. But stealing from other people--people who have just endured one of nature's most horrendous maelstroms? That doesn't make sense to me.

Perhaps some of our loyal readers could comment and enlighten me on this issue.

Labels: ,

Hack Speaks

You should listen (Sorry, Max).

Retired Colonel David H. Hackworth, who we've talked about before on this page, has what should be the definitive word about John Kerry's service in Vietnam (which is damn near unimpeachable, but that never stopped the Bush people or the rabid RNC types before--just ask John McCain and Max Cleland).
[S]ure, Kerry’s campaign push on how he Ramboed his way through the war – for four months – rubs a lot of vets the wrong way. And it does take its toll on those of us who prefer our heroes to be modest, unassuming types like Alvin York – who stayed the course until it was “Over, over there.”

But politics and style aside, Kerry did serve with distinction in Vietnam when he easily could have avoided that killing field. His service to his country shouldn’t be diminished by the same despicable, politically motivated tactics visited upon Sens. John McCain in South Carolina and Max Cleland in Georgia, also Viet vets. This kind of gutter-bashing doesn’t belong in American politics, and vets shouldn’t allow themselves to be used as ammo for cheap shots at one of their own.

The stalwart Brown Water Navy warriors who fought at Kerry’s side say he was A-OK, which is good enough for me. The muckrakers such as John O’Neill and his Swiftboat snipers – who didn’t sail on his boat but served anywhere from 100 meters to 300 miles away – are now coming off like eyewitnesses when in fact not one of their testimonies would hold up in a court of law. A judge would call these men liars and disallow their biased statements.

I’ve been in a fair number of battles in my lifetime, first fighting for my country in several hot wars, then covering a dozen conflicts as a correspondent. And I’ve learned that if you can’t see the fight right up close, smell it, hear it and touch it, you can’t possibly bear witness.

This isn’t the first time Kerry’s been sniped at. Joe Klein wrote in The New Yorker that Nixon aide Charles Colson formed the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace in 1971 solely to attack John Kerry.

Colson told Klein that Kerry “was a thorn in our flesh. He was very articulate, a credible leader of the opposition. He forced us to create a counterfoil. We found a vet named John O’Neill and formed a group called Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. We had O’Neill meet the president, and we did everything we could do to boost his group.”

O’Neill and his chorus of haters are still in their get-Kerry mode. I suspect the decades-long fury is still fueled by Kerry’s high-profile anti-war stance when he returned home. That was a position that was taken by hundreds of thousands of other Viet vets, including myself in 1971 – which, according to Joe Califono's recent book, Inside: A Public Life, almost cost me my life.

McCain has already asked President Bush to distance himself from this “dishonest and dishonorable” attack. Advice that Bush should take one step further by ordering Vietnam draft-dodger Karl Rove and the rest of the character-assassination squad who zapped McCain and Cleland to back off. And then publicly stand tall and say that this type of behavior insults every vet who’s served America in peace and war.

As our commander in chief, Bush also needs to bear in mind that the U.S. Navy and its high standards for handling awards are now on trial as well. Hopefully, the president’s righteous actions will expedite that institution’s exoneration along with Lt. John Kerry’s heroism.

Hopefully, too, these angry, troubled vets still haunted by the Vietnam War will eventually find closure. But one thing I know for sure – it won’t come from fratricide.


Damn, that's good stuff. I have disagreed with Hackworth many times in the past, but that guy loves soldiers and veterans (which, I suppose, means that he loves me). As such, he does not stand for any attack on an honorable soldier's/sailor's/Marine's record.

Hackworth has a lot of influence with the guys who wear the blue and the green suits--and he has a nose for bullshit. In this election cycle, those attributes will help Kerry--a lot.

I'm a "Veteran for Kerry," for what that's worth. I'm not officially affiliated with that group, but I am a veteran of the US Navy, and I am for Kerry, so I guess that's enough.

All I know is that if I ever went AWOL, I would have gotten a trip to Kansas, not a trip to Washington.

But that's just me.

Labels: , ,


No, not the 1964 film starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker.

I started thinking about the Zulus while I was thinking about Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Zulu is the only all-African-American Krewe involved in New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations.

Of course, the Krewe has nothing at all to do with actual Zulus in southern Africa.

But that line of thought did make me consider the Zulu people, and, perhaps naturally enough, my mind drifted to the musical stylings of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

If you're not familiar with the group's work, then by all means you should learn about them. They backed up many of the songs on Paul Simon's Graceland album. They are an absolutely marvelous vocal group.

Well, that's enough shameless plugging for one night. But do give them a listen. You'll be glad you did.

Labels: , ,

The Wild Tchoupitoulas Gonna Stomp Some Rump

Since I mentioned the Tchoupitoulas in a previous post, I figured I should let people who aren't from an area that embraces Mardi Gras know exactly what that is all about.

The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a musical group from New Orleans, is one of the groups of Mardi Gras Indians that get involved with the Carnival celebrations prior to Lent. The Mardi Gras Indians were groups of African-Americans from New Orleans who knew that they'd never be invited to the hoity-toity Mardi Gras balls that the white folks in town threw.

So they organized their own parades, directed by the Big Chief of each tribe. "Organized" may be the wrong word to use, since these events weren't organized like the rest of the festivities. The parade time, participants, and route weren't decided until the last minute, and all of those decisions were at the whim of each tribe's Big Chief.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that Mardi Gras wasn't always the tourist-friendly activity that it is today.

Anyway, the story of the Mardi Gras Indians is fascinating, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas are the funkiest of the bunch.

If you don't believe me, check out "Meet de Boys on de Battlefront."

That'll make you a believer.

Labels: , , ,


Not to be confused with the Tchoupitoulas, the Chachapoyas, unbeknownst to many in the US, lived in the Andes prior to the much better known Inca civilization (conquered by world-class turd and illiterate SOB Francisco Pizarro). At any rate, an American/Peruvian team has just found another Chachapoyan city deep in the Amazonian jungles of Peru.

U.S. and Peruvian explorers uncovered the city, which may have been home to up to 10,000 people, after a month trekking in Peru's northern rain forest and following up on years of investigation about a possible lost metropolis in the region.

The stone city, made up of five citadels at 9,186 feet above sea level, stretches over around 39 square miles and contains walls covered in carvings and figure paintings, exploration leader Sean Savoy told Reuters.

"It is a tremendous city ... containing areas with stone etchings and 10-meter (33-foot) high walls," said Savoy, who had to hack through trees and thick foliage to finally reach the site on Aug. 15.

Covered in matted tree branches and interspersed with lakes and waterfalls, the settlement sites also contain well-preserved graveyards with mummies with teeth "in almost perfect condition," Savoy said.

Replete with stone agricultural terraces and water canals, the city complex is thought to have been home to the little-known Chachapoyas culture.

According to early accounts by Spanish conquistadors who arrived in Peru in the early 1500s, the Chachapoyas were a fair-skinned warrior tribe famous for their tall stature. Today they are known for the giant burial coffins sculpted into human figures found in the northern jungle region.

I find this sort of thing incredibly cool. However, I'm a nerd. I suppose, then, that this item could have qualified for a late edition of "Nerd Alert," but that feature didn't seem to catch on. So screw you guys for not feeling the Nerd Alerts.

Speaking of nerdish items, why haven't we heard more from the Cassini-Huygens mission? Shouldn't there be some absolutely fantastic images coming back from the ringed planet? I mean, the probe did just discover a couple of new moons. Where's the press?

For those of you who are old enough to remember the Pioneer and Voyager missions, the images and data from those endeavors made the evening news. Well, the Jupiter and Saturn parts, anyway. The Voyager 2 visits to Uranus and Neptune were far less hyped.

Still, where's all of that nerdy goodness? Huh? NASA? Why are you letting us down, punks?

Oh, yeah--the neatest thing about Saturn, I think, isn't the rings, isn't the gaggle of moons, isn't the beautiful butterscotch color--it's the fact that the planet has a density less than that of water. That is, if you could find an ocean big enough, you could float the entire freakin' planet. Ain't that some interesting shit?

Damn, this is a nerdy-ass post.

Labels: , , ,


Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Has another great opinion piece today.

How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida - where recent polls give John Kerry the lead - once again swings the election to George Bush.

Much of Florida's vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines' programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida's votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith.

Yet the behavior of Gov. Jeb Bush's officials with regard to other election-related matters offers no justification for such faith. First there was the affair of the felon list. Florida law denies the vote to convicted felons. But in 2000 many innocent people, a great number of them black, couldn't vote because they were erroneously put on a list of felons; these wrongful exclusions may have put Governor Bush's brother in the White House.

This year, Florida again drew up a felon list, and tried to keep it secret. When a judge forced the list's release, it turned out that it once again wrongly disenfranchised many people - again, largely African-American - while including almost no Hispanics.

Yesterday, my colleague Bob Herbert reported on another highly suspicious Florida initiative: state police officers have gone into the homes of elderly African-American voters - including participants in get-out-the-vote operations - and interrogated them as part of what the state says is a fraud investigation. But the state has provided little information about the investigation, and, as Mr. Herbert says, this looks remarkably like an attempt to intimidate voters.

Given this pattern, there will be skepticism if Florida's paperless voting machines give President Bush an upset, uncheckable victory.

Congress should have acted long ago to place the coming election above suspicion by requiring a paper trail for votes. But legislation was bottled up in committee, and it may be too late to change the hardware. Yet it is crucial that this election be credible. What can be done?

There is still time for officials to provide enhanced security, assuring the public that nobody can tamper with voting machines before or during the election; to hire independent security consultants to perform random tests before and during Election Day; and to provide paper ballots to every voter who requests one.

Voters, too, can do their bit. Recently the Florida Republican Party sent out a brochure urging supporters to use absentee ballots to make sure their votes are counted. The party claims that was a mistake - but it was, in fact, good advice. Voters should use paper ballots where they are available, and if this means voting absentee, so be it. (Election officials will be furious about the increased workload, but they have brought this on themselves.)

Finally, some voting activists have urged a last-minute push for independent exit polling, parallel to but independent of polling by media groups (whose combined operation suffered a meltdown during the upset Republican electoral triumph in 2002). This sounds like a very good idea.

Intensive exit polling would do triple duty. It would serve as a deterrent to anyone contemplating election fraud. If all went well, it would help validate the results and silence skeptics. And it would give an early warning if there was election tampering - perhaps early enough to seek redress.

It's horrifying to think that the credibility of our democracy - a democracy bought through the courage and sacrifice of many brave men and women - is now in danger. It's so horrifying that many prefer not to think about it. But closing our eyes won't make the threat go away. On the contrary, denial will only increase the chances of a disastrously suspect election.

I do so like Krugman's pieces.

Labels: , , , ,

Venezuela And Other Musings

I haven't said much about it, but the press reports from Venezuela have been just atrocious. Our news has been full of stories about Chavez "surviving" a recall (he won in a walk), and almost nothing about which Venezuelans are mad at him and why (is land redistribution a taboo in the US press?). There's also nothing in our press about how the Bush people aren't fond of Chavez--or that egalitarian social and political movements in Central and South America have never been well received in Washington (you could ask Aristide about that--remember him?). Don't believe me? Just look into the history of liberation theology (more on this in a bit).

Greg Palast has about the best write-up I've seen on the situation there, and why Chavez (though he's far from perfect) doesn't deserve the thrashing he regularly gets in the American news.

There's so much BS and baloney thrown around about Venezuela that I may be violating some rule of US journalism by providing some facts. Let's begin with this: 77% of Venezuela's farmland is owned by 3% of the population, the 'hacendados.'

I met one of these farmlords in Caracas at an anti-Chavez protest march. Oddest demonstration I've ever seen: frosted blondes in high heels clutching designer bags, screeching, "Chavez -- dic-ta-dor!" The plantation owner griped about the "socialismo" of Chavez, then jumped into his Jaguar convertible.

That week, Chavez himself handed me a copy of the "socialist" manifesto that so rattled the man in the Jag. It was a new law passed by Venezuela's Congress giving land to the landless. The Chavez law transferred only fields from the giant haciendas which had been left unused and abandoned.

This land reform, by the way, was promoted to Venezuela in the 1960s by that Lefty radical, John F. Kennedy. Venezuela's dictator of the time agreed to hand out land, but forgot to give peasants title to their property.

But Chavez won't forget, because the mirror reminds him. What the affable president sees in his reflection, beyond the ribbons of office, is a "negro e indio" -- a "Black and Indian" man, dark as a cola nut, same as the landless and, until now, the hopeless. For the first time in Venezuela's history, the 80% Black-Indian population elected a man with skin darker than the man in the Jaguar.

So why, with a huge majority of the electorate behind him, twice in elections and today in a referendum, is Hugo Chavez in hot water with our democracy-promoting White House?

Why indeed? Read the rest of the article; Palast suggests some answers.

But back to liberation theology. Check out this site for some more information (I find the picture of the crucifix at the top of the page particularly striking, but that's just an aesthetic aside). It's also fascinating to me that theologians in the United States haven't come to similar conclusions about the large disparities in wealth and income here in America. I mean,is "the awareness that it is blasphemous to care for people's souls while ignoring their needs for food, shelter and human dignity" absent from US Christianity? Granted, the gap between rich and poor is not as dramatic in the US as it is in, say, Nicaragua, but that disparity is the largest among all industrialized countries. Doesn't that bear pulpit-based commentary?

Ernest Partridge of The Crisis Papers has an article that approaches that question, and it's worth your time. In addition, Thomas Frank's newest book, What's the Matter with Kansas? addresses the same subject.

It's all food for thought.

Labels: , , , ,


Monday, August 16, 2004


Not the CIA kind, either.

Matthew Yglesias has an excellent piece in the American Prospect on George W. Bush and intelligence. He takes Bush to task for, basically, not being bright enough to be president. This issue surfaced in 2000 (as Yglesias notes), but, through some clever campaigning and media indifference, the consensus view became "intelligence doesn't matter."

Well, it does.

Go read Yglesias' article here.

I'll excerpt just a little bit:

Intelligence matters. The job of the president of the United States is not to love his wife; it’s to manage a wide range of complicated issues. That requires character, yes, but not the kind of character measured by private virtues like fidelity to spouse and frequency of quotations from Scripture. Yet it also requires intelligence. It requires intellectual curiosity, an ability to familiarize oneself with a broad range of views, the capacity -- yes -- to grasp nuances, to foresee the potential ramifications of one’s decisions, and, simply, to think things through. Four years ago, these were not considered necessary pieces of presidential equipment. Today, they have to be.

Hooah. But, hey--would you rather have a dim bulb, or some smart guy who looks French?

You might not go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator, but the country sure will.

Labels: ,

Page 2

In case you weren't watching, the Puerto Rican ballers handed the Americans their collective ass in roundball the other day. It was one of the most awful games I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of basketball games--this game was even worse than any of the matches I played in--and I'm a terrible, terrible player.

The US "Dream Team" shot a mere 35% from the floor, missed eleven free throws, and went a piss-poor 3-for-25 from three-point range (and, in international play, the 3-point line is closer to the basket than it is in the NBA).

In their defense, the US "team" isn't a team at all--they have almost no experience playing together or under international B-ball rules. And they're a pretty young bunch of guys, too.

But still.

For a really great prediction of what's going to happen to the US men's basketball team in the rest of their games at the Olympics, look no further than ESPN's Page 2.

Here's a small sample:

August 17: U.S. vs. Greece
After the dismal performance against Puerto Rico, the U.S. scouts and coaches spend hours breaking down film for their next game against host-country Greece. Only at game time does Brown realize that the film they were watching was actually "Grease," staring John Travolta and Oliva Newton-John.

The game plan of double-teaming Kenickie and denying Danny Zuko the post is quickly abandoned. Bizarrely, Brown still tells the team to watch out for Rizzo on the perimeter.

The U.S. loses to Greece 93-58 while shooting 31 percent from the floor. Afterwards, Stephon Marbury, who was just 1 for 10, tells the press, "You know, the fact is I'm just not as good as everyone believes. Think about it: the Timberwolves finally win a playoff series -- after I'm gone. The Nets make it to two straight NBA Finals -- after I leave. Expect the Suns to be much improved this season. As for the Knicks, well, let's just say Spike Lee better not be expecting us to knock off the Pistons."

It's a good read. Check it out.

Labels: , ,

Quacks Like a Duck

Vernon Robinson, Republican congressional candidate from NC, recently began airing a commerical calling Kamran Akhtar (arrested for filming buildings in Charlotte) a terrorist who came here to kill. The ad focuses on the fact that Akhtar supposedly came to the US over the Mexican border, a border that Robinson says he will "shut down."

Of course I haven't seen the ad - this is all info from an AP article picked up by the Clarion Ledger. But here's the best part: Robinson thinks this is perfectly appropriate and won't apologize for jumping to conclusions. "If it quacks like a duck and we're in war time, I think its a fair assesment."

I didn't realize that we were at war with Pakistan, did you? I wonder if Robinson would be calling this guy a terrorist if he was from Meixco or Cuba? Oh boy, nothing like starting the day with some good ol' racial profiling.

The Corporate Model Blows Hunks

I'm so goddamn tired of hearing people extol the virtues of business or the "corporate model." The oft-repeated myth that business is more efficient than government is just that--a myth. The pursuit of sales and profit above all is a self-defeating, soulless enterprise. "Business without morality" was one of the evils against which Gandhi warned.

Given all of that, check out this Rolling Stone article (via Buzzflash) about the evil behemoth that is Clear Channel Communications. And be afraid.

Something important is missing in the linked-to article, however: Clear Channel organized many pro-war rallies around the country during the months before the invasion of Iraq. Another Texas company (like Halliburton or Enron) in bed with the Bush administration, pushing for war. Why the hell would a company that owns radio stations be so gung-ho about war? That's something we need to know.

Of course, that pro-war rah-rah rallying is in the past now. But we have to live with the consequences.

Don't you just hate stories like this? Don't they just piss you off something awful?

Labels: , ,

Once Is Never Enough

Well, not for voter fraud in Florida, anyway.

Bob Herbert has a couple of things to say about recent attempts to intimidate elderly African-American get-out-the-vote volunteers. In Florida. Again.

he big story out of Florida over the weekend was the tragic devastation caused by Hurricane Charley. But there's another story from Florida that deserves our attention.

State police officers have gone into the homes of elderly black voters in Orlando and interrogated them as part of an odd "investigation" that has frightened many voters, intimidated elderly volunteers and thrown a chill over efforts to get out the black vote in November.

The officers, from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which reports to Gov. Jeb Bush, say they are investigating allegations of voter fraud that came up during the Orlando mayoral election in March.

Officials refused to discuss details of the investigation, other than to say that absentee ballots are involved. They said they had no idea when the investigation might end, and acknowledged that it may continue right through the presidential election.

"We did a preliminary inquiry into those allegations and then we concluded that there was enough evidence to follow through with a full criminal investigation," said Geo Morales, a spokesman for the Department of Law Enforcement.

The state police officers, armed and in plain clothes, have questioned dozens of voters in their homes. Some of those questioned have been volunteers in get-out-the-vote campaigns.

I asked Mr. Morales in a telephone conversation to tell me what criminal activity had taken place.

"I can't talk about that," he said.

I asked if all the people interrogated were black.

"Well, mainly it was a black neighborhood we were looking at - yes,'' he said.

He also said, "Most of them were elderly."

When I asked why, he said, "That's just the people we selected out of a random sample to interview."

Back in the bad old days, some decades ago, when Southern whites used every imaginable form of chicanery to prevent blacks from voting, blacks often fought back by creating voters leagues, which were organizations that helped to register, educate and encourage black voters. It became a tradition that continues in many places, including Florida, today.

Not surprisingly, many of the elderly black voters who found themselves face to face with state police officers in Orlando are members of the Orlando League of Voters, which has been very successful in mobilizing the city's black vote.

The president of the Orlando League of Voters is Ezzie Thomas, who is 73 years old. With his demonstrated ability to deliver the black vote in Orlando, Mr. Thomas is a tempting target for supporters of George W. Bush in a state in which the black vote may well spell the difference between victory and defeat.

The vile smell of voter suppression is all over this so-called investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Joseph Egan, an Orlando lawyer who represents Mr. Thomas, said: "The Voters League has workers who go into the community to do voter registration, drive people to the polls and help with absentee ballots. They are elderly women mostly. They get paid like $100 for four or five months' work, just to offset things like the cost of their gas. They see this political activity as an important contribution to their community. Some of the people in the community had never cast a ballot until the league came to their door and encouraged them to vote."

Now, said Mr. Egan, the fear generated by state police officers going into people's homes as part of an ongoing criminal investigation related to voting is threatening to undo much of the good work of the league. He said, "One woman asked me, 'Am I going to go to jail now because I voted by absentee ballot?' "

According to Mr. Egan, "People who have voted by absentee ballot for years are refusing to allow campaign workers to come to their homes. And volunteers who have participated for years in assisting people, particularly the elderly or handicapped, are scared and don't want to risk a criminal investigation."

Florida is a state that's very much in play in the presidential election, with some polls showing John Kerry in the lead. A heavy-handed state police investigation that throws a blanket of fear over thousands of black voters can only help President Bush.

The long and ugly tradition of suppressing the black vote is alive and thriving in the Sunshine State.
Why do Florida Republicans hate black people so much? Oh, right. They vote for the other people. I like that cheeky bit about how they randomly selected only black people. Perhaps Florida concepts of randomization differ from mine. Possibly.

And Geo Morales can't talk about what possible criminal charges were being investigated? Smells like bullshit to me.

Oh, and in case you missed Herbert's last column, you should read it before it goes to the archives (which aren't free).

He rips on insane John Ashcroft (R-Choad)--it's really good.

Labels: , , ,

More On The Gigantic Craphole That Is Iraq

First of all, 31 US soldiers have died this month. Mission Accomplished!

Second, the unfathomable assault on Najaf continues. If the Americans and their Iraqi puppets wanted a way to lose and lose quick, this seems like the best strategy to that end. Why don't they just dig up Ali ibn Abi Talib's bones, piss on them, and then use them to make skewers for pork kebabs?

It seems like my idea would involve fewer soldiers and civilians dying.

In addition, Juan Cole talks about the terrible reporting coming from Iraq concerning the recent showpiece of a "national congress." He does, however, give props to John Burns of the New York Times for his coverage of the event.

Burns's says that the convention was a mess, disrupted by repeated mortar fire and by angry delegates who stormed the stage to denounce the Allawi government and demand it cease military operations in Najaf. One senses that Burns himself, who does not suffer fools gladly, may have almost gotten caught by the incoming mortars and perhaps was not in a good mood as a result. His angle on the story is that the disruptions faced by the convention mirror the other failures of the US in Iraq, including the failure, despite repeated attempts, to root out the Sadr movement.

Candrasekaran presents an almost panglossian story of the triumph of democracy-- noisy, disruptive, but still triumphant. He reports that the delegates said they had secured from Allawi a promise to suspend military action until further negotiations could take place, and he seems even to believe that Allawi gave such an undertaking and would abide by it! He also reports that the almost 1200 delegates will select 81 representatives, and that 19 seats had been awarded to the Interim Governing Council members originally appointed by Paul Bremer.

He does not note that originally, 20 seats were to be appointive. I take it that Ahmad Chalabi's has fallen vacant because he is under a legal cloud. Why don't we deserve to be told this? And, doesn't anyone but me object to 19 seats being set aside for American appointees who were never elected by anyone?

Al-Jazeerah says that 100 Shiites out of the 1200 angrily resigned because of the US miltiary operations in Najaf. Neither of the American reports mention any resignations. Al-Hayat clears up the mystery, reporting that about 100 delegates walked out of the first session in protest, but came back to attend the second session.

I think Burns's story more accurately reflects the Iraqi reality. I don't think the conference is any significant check on the executive, as Candrasekaran argues it is. Allawi will do as he pleases and ignore this weak Duma. The conference had to be held almost furtively for fear it would be blown up, and it almost was anyway. Many of Iraq's major cities are being bombed semi-regularly by the US Air Force-- Fallujah, Samarra, Kut, Najaf, etc.

The reports on CNN suggest that Allawi is on the verge of sending Iraqi troops into the Shrine of Ali in Najaf, despite any pledges he gave the delegates.

Note, too, that CNN's headline news reported repeatedly on Sunday afternoon and evening that the Mahdi Army fighters holed up in the shrine of Ali were "foreign fighters." This allegation is Allawi's propaganda, and simply untrue. The Mahdi Army are Iraqi Shiite ghetto youth. They are not foreigners. There may be a sprinkling of Iranian volunteers among them, but the number is tiny.

Likewise, CNN appears to have been the victim of a second-hand psy-ops campaign, insofar as it is referring to the guerrillas as "anti-Iraqi forces." The idea of characterizing them not as anti-American or anti-regime but "anti-Iraq" was, according to journalist Nir Rosen, come up with by a PR company contracting in Iraq. Nir says that they were told that no Iraqis would fall for it. So apparently it has now been retailed to major American news programs, on the theory that the American public is congenitally stupid.

The American public has no idea how bad it is in Iraq because it gets lots of contradictory reports and has no way of wading through or evaluating them. On the evidence of Sunday, I'd advise them to keep their eyes on what John Burns says. He is a veteran war correspondent with his eyes open. If he thinks things in Iraq are bad, they likely are.

Meanwhile, on Monday morning US warplanes and tanks attacked targets in Najaf again, and warplanes bombed Fallujah, causing several deaths. The Allawi government forced all independent journalists to leave Najaf on Sunday, so that the only reporting we will have on operations there will come from journalists embedded with the US forces.

Emphasis added.

Yes, we're gonna get even better info now! Those embedded journalists wouldn't give us a distorted view of anything, would they?

I'm also glad to note that, though billions of dollars have been sunk into Iraq, and despite the fact that American forces haven't been able to deliver security, electricity, or even clean water to most of Iraq, the place is safe for a fucking PR firm. It's good to know that the proper priorities are in place.

Labels: , ,


Sunday, August 15, 2004

He Fights For Freedom Wherever There's Trouble

Or so you thought. It turns out that several people say that, in fact, GI Joe was not there:

Aug. 14, 2004 | WASHINGTON -- As G.I. Joe, the leader of America's daring, highly trained special missions force, celebrates his 40th anniversary this summer, a group of veterans has aired television advertisements attacking his military record. The ads, purchased by G.I. Joe Veterans for Truth, accuse Joe of lying about his war record and letting villains escape throughout the 1985-86 war against Cobra, Destro and the forces of evil.

In one 60-second ad, veterans of the two-year-long, completely televised war -- in which every weekday afternoon American troops fought Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world -- speak out about G.I. Joe. "I served with G.I. Joe," says one veteran, Thomas Ross. "G.I. Joe is no real American hero."

In interviews yesterday arranged by G.I. Joe Veterans for Truth, a nonprofit arm of a little-known think tank called Serpentine Enterprises, the veterans -- low-level G.I. Joe foot soldiers, all code-named "grunts" -- were unanimous in describing Joe as an incompetent leader unfit for command and not worthy of honor. Rogers, a blue laser gunner 1st class, described the ordeal he was put through during the celebrated incident in which the entire male leadership of the Joe team was hypnotized by the Baroness and her Conch of the Sirens.

"Our entire platoon was ordered to attack Cobra base just to free all these addlepated G.I. Joes," Robertson said. "We risked our lives to save the Joes -- not the other way around." During the pitched battle, Robertson disarmed and captured three Cobra soldiers by shooting a nearby tree with his blue laser gun, causing the tree to fall on the enemy, trapping them. "I was dodging red lasers left and right," Robertson added. "G.I. Joe said he'll fight for freedom wherever there's trouble. That was a lie."

Another veteran, G.I. Joe Air Combat pilot Matthew Albers, noted that his squad was called in as air support when G.I. Joe allowed Cobra to take over Fort Knox. "This Zartan fellow disguised himself as the general in charge of the fort," Albers said, "and G.I. Joe was completely fooled. We had to scramble a dozen planes to attack a United States Army base, just because Joe couldn't see through a dime-store mask."

Albers' F-14 was shot down by a Cobra red laser cannon; the pilot and co-pilot had only seconds to eject and parachute to safety before the plane exploded. "Luckily," said Albers, "we escaped with only minor injuries."

His eyes misted up as he recalled the carnage that terrible day. "Eleven American soldiers suffered minor injuries at Fort Knox," he said. "Was it worth it?"

After G.I. Joe retook Fort Knox, Albers added, every major Cobra officer escaped, including Zartan, Buzzer, Maj. Bludd, and Cobra Commander. "Didn't catch a one. We heard them cursing Joe's name, but they drove away in a Hiss tank. Is that never giving up or staying till the fight's won?" he asked. "No, it isn't."

In a press conference today, the public faces of G.I. Joe -- Hawk, Lady Jaye, Flint and Sgt. Slaughter -- assembled outside G.I. Joe headquarters. They were flanked by much of the Joe team, including the mysterious ninja Storm Shadow, silent and brooding, and the Native American tracker Spirit, feeding mice to his eagle Freedom in a dignified manner. (Joe himself resides in seclusion; the few glimpses the public has been offered suggest he is a giant of a man, up to four times as tall as the rest of his soldiers.)

"None of the grunts were present for G.I. Joe organizational meetings," Flint said. "We're grateful to them for all they've done for our country, but they simply don't understand the tough choices G.I. Joe has had to make to keep America safe over the past 40 years. He kept Cobra Commander from carving his face on the moon with a giant laser. He shut down Destro's Texas dude ranch. He stopped the Crimson Guard from replacing all the world's money with Cobra currency. G.I. Joe was there."

Asked about the number of times G.I. Joe let major international terrorists escape, Flint scoffed. "Let them escape? No way. These guys have escape plans, jet packs, submarines constantly at the ready. We're just trying to foil their plans while keeping all our men safe. That's why the 1985-86 Cobra war was the only war ever fought by U.S. troops in which no American or enemy soldiers died."

Flint stepped back as Sgt. Slaughter took the microphone, shouting that two of the veterans in the TV ad bought by G.I. Joe Veterans for Truth were obviously Crimson Commander twins Tomax and Xamot in disguise. Lady Jaye came to the microphone and gently dismissed Slaughter's accusation. "We are, however, worried that the ads might be secretly funded by Cobra," Jaye added. "You reporters should remember that politically motivated advertisements aren't always what they seem. Often, back in the shadows, the people pulling the strings might not be interested in telling the truth."

The reporters at the press conference, surprised, smiled and clapped each other on the back. "Now we know," said Rick Atkinson, a correspondent for the Washington Post.

"And knowing," said Lady Jaye, "is half the battle."

This little piece amuses me more than it probably should. Everyone should check out Salon--it's worth the price of a paid subscription. Or at least the minor annoyance of clicking through ads to get the day pass.

Because knowing really is half the battle. Yo Joe!

Labels: ,

Jodi Wilgoren Sucks

Yes, it's been a while since I talked about her. But she's got another god-awful article in today's New York Times. God forbid a speaker tailor his or her speech to a local audience, despite what they tell you in speech classes.

Wilgoren wonders, it seems, "How dare John Kerry attempt to connect with an audience?" Then she mocks him for occasionally flubbing a line on tour. Is there any right answer for this woman?

And isn't she supposed to be a goddamn reporter? I don't care if she's tired of Kerry's jokes. The story is that they're playing well to his audience (when delivered correctly). Kerry is out on the stump, working really hard, doing the politician thing. And he's doing a lot better than anyone in the press expected (remember all of that bullshit about Kerry being "patrician" and "wooden" and so forth?). Apparently, the people at Kerry's campaign stops enjoy the jokes--that's what we should be reading about. Who gives a fuck about Jodi Wilgoren's reaction? Who died and made her ass god?

No doubt Bob Somerby will be on this tomorrow, doing a much better job of tearing Wilgoren a new one than I ever could.

My point (well, one of them, anyway) is that what Wilgoren is doing isn't reporting--not in the usual American understanding of what that entails. She's editorializing. She's clearly displaying to the reader that she's bored, and that she looks down on the rubes at these events:

At a sweltering rally here Thursday evening in the Southwest corner of the state, Mr. Kerry observed that many in the crowd of some 10,000 people were wearing "shades" and exclaimed, "You look like a band of beavers," Oregon's state animal. Then the Democratic presidential nominee showed off his savvy on the small-town sports rivalry between nearby North Medford and South Medford high schools.

"I'm going to take a lot of tough positions here today," he promised, "but I am not going to choose between the Black Tornados and the Panthers." In case anyone was not yet convinced that Mr. Kerry was paying attention to where he was, he held aloft a locally grown pear and exulted, "I am smart enough to leave with some of these!"

It's hard to keep from gagging when I read that second paragraph. Isn't there an editor at the Times who's supposed to read her copy and tell her that this drivel doesn't even deserve to be printed in the Weekly World News?

Well, we can dream, can't we?

Labels: , ,


Tom Harkin is pissed off (via Atrios):

DES MOINES -- Sen. Tom Harkin called Vice President Dick Cheney a "coward" for avoiding service in Vietnam and called on President Bush to end the "backdoor draft."

The Iowa Democrat was responding Friday to the call-up of a Des Moines police officer who has already completed his eight-year military commitment.

Harkin echoed comments earlier this week by Des Moines Police Chief William McCarthy, who said the military's treatment of Des Moines Police Officer Rodell Nydam was "evil."

Nydam, 26, is being called back to Iraq despite finishing his National Guard commitment in April. He's being called up under the military's "stop loss" exemption, which can extend duty in wartime.

Harkin, who served as a jet pilot in the Navy, said the exemption wasn't intended for situations like the war in Iraq. He said first responders like Nydam are needed to protect the community.

"The part of the U.S. code that provides for this anticipates major wars, major national emergencies," Harkin said. "That is not what we're confronting right now. You think about using this law only in (extreme cases), only when we're really in dire, dire need."

Harkin also shot back at Cheney, who said in a visit to Iowa on Tuesday that presidential candidate John Kerry lacks a basic understanding of the war on terrorism and cannot make America safer.

He noted that Cheney had several student deferments that allowed him to skip serving in Vietnam.

"When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," Harkin said. "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids. But not when it was his turn to go."

His gloves are off.

Cheney, for the record, got a whopping FIVE student deferments during Vietnam. He's pretty much the king chickenhawk.

Labels: , , ,

It's Curtains For You, Rocky

Curtains, see?

While poking around on this marvelous electronic bitchfest that is the Internet, I found the following site: M. Kane Jeeves.

He's pretty good at turning a phrase. In particular, in this post, while discussing a recently-viewed campaign stump speech, he compared George Bush to a hybrid of Elmer Gantry and Edward G. Robinson:

“We’ll continue rallying the armies of compassion all across the country. See, I understand government can hand out money, but it cannot put hope in a person’s heart or sense of purpose in a person’s life. That’s done when people have heard a call and are willing to put an arm around somebody who is lonely or hurts or is addicted and says, I love you, brother or sister; what can I do to help you?…America will change one soul at a time.”

Note the nuances, there, bouncing between the word “soul” and the use of the word “see” to show that he knows stuff. Sort of a combination of Elmer Gantry and Edward G. Robinson as “Little Caesar.” (“See, you mugs, I know about hope. Nyeah, nyeah, nyeah.”)

That's just too damn funny.

Labels: , ,

The Epidemic Continues

My friend Picasso (a football player, not the long-dead Spanish artist) once told me that the greatest problem the country faced was an epidemic of player-hating.

And, as the title of this post notes, the plague continues unabated. Consider this news item, sent by Errol:

Snoop Dogg served lawsuit onstage

14/08/2004 - 16:27:44

Hip-hop star Snoop Dogg was slapped with a seven-year-old lawsuit on Wednesday - as he performed onstage in front of fans.

Music promoter Patricia Ann Richardson filed a $1m (€808,180) lawsuit against the Beautiful rapper almost seven years ago, claiming he tricked her into picking up three packages filled with marijuana at a motel.

But her attorney Joseph Kaestner was unable to deliver the papers to the star, because he appears infrequently in Virginia.

The attorney arranged for a major in the Virginia Beach Sheriff's Department to serve the lawsuit on Snoop, real name Calvin Broadus, when he appeared for a concert in the city on Wednesday.

The rapper has 20 days to file a formal response to the allegations.

Richardson was not arrested, but claims she was searched, handcuffed and questioned at a Petersburg police station, according to the suit.

Damn, that's hateful.

What the hell? Why would you wanna hate on Snoop?

For some unexpected Snoop Dogg-related fun, check out Tha Shizzolator. A good time is guaranteed.

Labels: ,


Saturday, August 14, 2004

Bush Finds New Troops

Where the old troops were. In what must be a desperate attempt to avoid discussion of a military draft, Bush administration sources told reporters that the US will shuffle 70,000 troops from overseas and "return them to the United States."

I must have missed something. When did Iraq become an official state?

Also, you'd think that, by now, people in high positions in and around the military would understand that this calculus doesn't make sense:

"This will take years to complete," said one Pentagon official, who refused to discuss the number of troops involved. "It will not, it will not, result in any reduced commitment to our friends and allies. Wherever people go down, weapons and technology will more than make up the difference."

A senior administration official traveling with Bush in Portland, Oregon, said the president "will be discussing next week how the United States will structure its military capabilities to meet the threats of the 21st century with new technologies and new capabilities."

Ooooh, our shiny new whizz-bangs will eliminate the need for soldiers!

Ask the NVA if that's true.

Also, note this:

The proposed global realignment includes plans to use bases in Eastern European countries of the former Soviet bloc as transit points to quickly send forces from the United States to trouble spots such as the Middle East and northern Africa.

In other words, our new stooge friends in Eastern Europe who aren't economically independent and, so as not to bring the gravy train to a halt, won't object to our bombing the piss out of even poorer countries, will now play host to US forces--and likely at much reduced lease rates for land for bases.

Finally, check this out:

The U.S. Air Force, for example, is currently discussing plans to station heavy bombers and new F/A-22 jets on the U.S. island of Guam in the mid-Pacific to address any future threat from North Korea (news - web sites) and China.

F/A-22 fighter/strike aircraft need a couple of in-flight refuelings to make it from Guam to North Korea and back (Read about that expensive piece of hardware here).

Haven't these people heard of aircraft carriers? The US Navy maintains nine Nimitz-class carriers, the venerable USS Enterprise, and two non-nuclear-powered carriers. There are no North Korean Navy units capable of challenging the US Navy on the high seas, and the strike aircraft carried on board a CVN can more than fulfill the missions of any F/A-22 sent from Guam.

Basically, that line of argument about aircraft from Guam making up for soldiers in Korea is crap. If the maintenance of air superiority over Korea is the goal, the US Navy could handle that with ease.

Labels: , , , ,


Friday, August 13, 2004

Vaya con Dios, Sra. Child

Julia Child, de-mystifier of haute cuisine, bonne vivante, and America's premier chef, has died.

Adieu, Julia.

You can read about Julia Child here, and find some of her recipes here.

American cuisine is poorer for having lost her.

Labels: ,


Rats on drugs, that is.

This appears to be science gone berserk.

Rats can become drug addicts. That's important to know, scientists say, and has taken a long time to prove. Now two studies by French and British researchers show the animals exhibit the same compulsive drive for cocaine as people do once they're truly hooked.

Only through experiments with addicted animals can scientists eventually learn what makes some people particularly vulnerable to addiction while others can quit at will, addiction specialists say.

Addicted rats also could help uncover new anti-drug therapies.

Until now, scientists have been able to prove that rats will take drugs, even eagerly, but not that they're actually addicted. The new research was published Thursday in the journal Science.

"What confers susceptibility to experimenting and trying drugs may be quite different than what changes your brain and leads to addiction," explained Terry E. Robinson, a University of Michigan neuroscientist. "These articles provide us the approaches and the techniques to ask the latter."

"There's some fundamental shift" between casual drug use and addiction, added David Shurtleff, chief of basic neurological research at the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Your brain has changed and that's manifest as a change in behavior. ... That's something new that's never really been nailed down in an animal model."

Among the ways to know when a rat's hooked: It keeps trying to get cocaine even when each hit comes with an electric shock.

In the French study, rats poked their pointy noses through holes in their cages to trigger injections of cocaine. They were allowed access to the cocaine for three months, much longer than the 10- to 30-day drug-use studies normally done with animals.

Compulsive drug-seeking even in the face of bad consequences is a measure of human addiction. So the researchers devised ways to measure that in animals: routinely cutting off the drug supply and measuring the rats' persistence at poking the supply trigger anyway, seeing how hard they worked to get the drug and noting whether they gave up when their feet were shocked.

Intriguingly, 17 percent of the rats met all three measures and thus were considered addicted — while roughly 15 percent of human cocaine users become addicts, reported lead researcher Pier Vincenzo Piazza of INSERM, France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research.

The British study focused just on the bad-consequences scenario. Rats who used cocaine for longer periods continued to do so even when their feet were shocked, reported Louk J.M.J. Vanderschuren, who led the study at the University of Cambridge. But rats who had used cocaine for a short period quit once they knew the punishment.

Both studies concluded that extended exposure to cocaine is a key to addiction, but Piazza says that must be combined with some underlying genetic vulnerability — to explain why all the rats didn't succumb.

"The huge question for the future, then, is what confers the susceptibility," says Michigan's Robinson.

Drug addicted rats. I'm glad we're getting at the mysteries of the universe here.

Labels: , ,

From The Department of "Duuuuh"

Headline in Yahoo News today (really): Bush Tax Cuts Heavily Favor Rich, CBO Says.

Ya think?
President Bush (news - web sites)'s tax cuts have transferred the federal tax burden from the richest Americans to middle-class families, with one-third of them benefiting people with the top 1 percent of income, according to a government report cited in newspapers on Friday.

The Congressional Budget Office (news - web sites) report, to be released Friday, is likely to fuel the debate over the cuts between Bush and his Democratic challenger in November, John Kerry (news - web sites).

The report said the top 1 percent, with incomes averaging $1.2 million per year, will receive an average $78,460 tax cut this year, and have seen their share of the total tax burden fall roughly 2 percentage points to 20.1 percent, according to The New York Times.

In contrast, households in the middle 20 percent, with incomes averaging $57,000 per year, will receive an average cut of only $1,090, the newspaper said, citing the CBO report.

Taxpayers whose incomes range from $51,500 to around $75,600, saw their share of federal tax payments increase, according to CBO figures cited by The Washington Post.

The calculations, requested by congressional Democrats, confirm the long-held view by independent tax analysts that the tax cuts, enacted in 2001 and 2003, have heavily favored the wealthiest taxpayers, the Times said.

Bush has said the cuts provided crucial support to the U.S. economy after the Sept. 11 attacks and the three-year decline in U.S. stocks.

But Kerry, who wants to roll back the cuts for households whose incomes top $200,000 per year, has said the cuts did little for the economy, and helped cause the federal budget to swing from a more than $100 billion surplus in 2001 to a projected deficit exceeding $400 billion this year.

The newspapers, citing the CBO report, said about two-thirds of the benefits from the cuts went to households in the top 20 percent, with an average income of $203,740.

People in the lowest 20 percent of earnings, which averaged $16,620, saw their effective tax rate fall to 5.2 percent from 6.7 percent, though their average tax cut was only $250.

Wow. That's news.

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, August 12, 2004

Great News From Iraq

Well, not great. In fact, bloody awful news.

First, fighting continues in Najaf, which strategy seems guaranteed to piss off all of the Shi'a Muslims in the world, and doesn't sit very well with most Sunnis, either. The linked article also notes that heavy fighting has occurred in several other cities in southern Iraq.

Second, and relatedly, according to the Information Clearing House, the Iraqi south has threatened secession.

Finally, as always, Juan Cole gives us an update on the entire FUBAR situation.

Labels: ,

Quinnipiac Sez

Florida for Kerry.

Democrat John Kerry (news - web sites) leads President Bush (news - web sites) 47 percent to 41 percent among registered voters in Florida, according to a poll released on Thursday that showed independent Ralph Nader (news - web sites) with 4 percent.

In a two-way race, Kerry leads Bush 49 percent to 42 percent, according to the poll of 1,092 registered Florida voters conducted last week by the Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. The poll's error margin was three percentage points.

Among independent voters in the key battleground state, 51 percent supported Kerry while 34 percent said they would vote for Bush and 12 percent were undecided.

A similar poll taken in late June before the Democratic convention showed Bush and Kerry tied at 43 percent among registered voters, with Kerry then holding a 12-point lead over Bush among independent voters.

The poll showed most Florida voters have already made up their minds, with only 12 percent saying they might change their choice in the weeks ahead.

In 2000, Bush defeated Democratic challenger Al Gore (news - web sites) by 537 votes in Florida after a lengthy court fight in which Democrats said the votes of many of their supporters were not counted.

Only 47 percent of respondents in the recent poll said they were very satisfied that their vote would be counted correctly this time, and only one in five said they were very confident the new touch-screen technology would alleviate Florida's election woes.
Could it be? Could it really be?

Let's hope so.

While we're doing electoral math, check out electoral-vote.com for all your graphic needs. They also have data in convenient table form.

It's a good day to be thinking about November.

Labels: , ,