Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bush-Kerry debate blogging: it’s hard work, but I’ll try not to send mexed missages

Kerry: “I’ve never wilted in my life.” I think I’ll leave the response to that line to Wonkette.

Kerry says the biggest danger in the world is nuclear proliferation, and although he makes a good case for it and I don’t disagree, we all know he just wanted to force Bush to try to pronounce the phrase. We know his problems with nukyular, and proliferation is at least two syllables beyond Shrub’s comfort zone (he did try “vociferously” at one point, but he didn’t use it correctly)(to be fair, Kerry early on warned about “radical Islamic Muslims”).

Notably, Bush tried to reshape that issue, as if nuclear proliferation only mattered in terms of terrorists getting their hands on nukes.

The guys controlling the cameras (Fox, actually) did occasionally show reaction shots in violation of the agreement between the campaigns. But not enough. Kerry started one response, “the president just said something extraordinarily revealing.” I’d have loved to see the look on GeeDubya’s face, since saying something revealing was the last thing he wanted to do. The revealing thing was “the enemy attacked us” as an excuse for invading Iraq; Kerry was going after Bush for conflating Al Qaida and Iraq, or, as Kerry phrased it, copying Bush’s annoying tendency to personalize foreign policy, Osama and Saddam. Bush’s response: “Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us.” Well, I’m reassured.

Bush came to the 90-minute debate with enough prepared material for 30 minutes. He wasn’t just on message, he was on repeat. No doubt someone is doing a word count, but he kept saying “it’s hard work” about various things [Update: 11 times], presumably to indicate that he doesn’t spend all his time clearing brush in Crawford and leaving the work to other people. It just occurred to me that other people were barely mentioned. Powell was, but shouldn’t Kerry have been pounding on Rumsfeld, Cheney, etc?

Another phrase Bush used over and over and over was “mixed messages” (or mexed missages, in one case). Evidently you can’t lead if you give mixed messages. For someone who speaks as if he has no first language, he places a great deal of faith in the power of words. The suggestion seems to be that other countries, and American troops, are so unsophisticated that any deviation from the script will demoralize. “Not in front of the children” is the message.

Joe Lockhart is spinning that Shrub had an “annoyed smirk,” whatever that might be.

Rich cultural heritages

It was only a matter of time:

The trial on sex charges of the majority of adult males on Pitcairn Island, a place so far from anything that no plane can reach it, has begun, and I’m disappointed. I’d always heard that the descendants of the Bounty mutineers spoke with 18th-century accents, but hadn’t heard any actually speak until the BBC news yesterday. The women interviewed had only a mild accent, vaguely Australiany, not at all how I imagined Pitt the Younger and Daniel Defoe speaking. Pitcairn, which already has too few people to be really viable as an economy (or, indeed, a gene-pool, if you catch my drift), will become a ghost island if the men are convicted. They insist that having sex with 11-year old girls is part of their rich cultural heritage.

While the Italian government has been issuing non-denials about paying ransom for 2 women hostages in Iraq. The ransom was reputed to be one million American dollars, so the US has had some cultural influence on Iraq after all. Italian politicians, newspapers and polls have all said, So what? You’d think a country with a rich cultural heritage of kidnappings would know so what.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Uplifting accounts with good news messages

There are times when I despair of this country. The R’s try to sneak a provision into the omnibus intelligence restructuring bill to allow any non-citizen, without trial or hearing, to be turned over to countries that are likely to (or asked to) torture them. And in the House Judiciary Committee, the vote was along party lines. A vote in favor of torture, in favor of violating international laws and American due process, and the vote is determined by no higher principle than partisan freaking politics. And in the new favorite tactic of the right, American courts would be deprived of the ability to overturn the rules governing “rendition.” And just to ensure there isn’t a constitutional protection unviolated, it will apply retroactively. And people could be sent to any country we feel like sending them to, whether they were born there or had ever set foot there in their lives.

WaPo headline
: “U.S. Effort Aims to Improve Opinions About Iraq Conflict.” By, among other things, censoring reports about the increasing violence. Congress won’t even get them anymore. I assume the headline is sarcastic, or something. The Pentagon will also pay for Iraqi-Americans and the CPA officials who did such a wonderful job getting Iraq back on its feet, to deliver “uplifting accounts with good news messages” at military bases--here in the US, not in Iraq, they’re not complete idiots--where soldiers will be encouraged to attend “voluntarily” and to refrain from asking, “So if Iraq is so great now, when are you moving back?”

Chain of Command

One of the rules in the 32 pages of rules for tomorrow’s debate is that when one candidate is speaking, the camera will not show the other candidate--looking at his watch like Bush the Elder, sighing like Al Gore, sweating like Nixon. Of course there is no reason for the networks to abide by this agreement between the two candidates.

Seymour Hersh will be on the Daily Show tonight. I finished his book Chain of Command a couple of days ago, but have held off writing about it, because while it is a pretty good if uneven book, it didn’t add that much to what I already knew. Of course I’m a blogger and by definition know everything, and had already read the New Yorker articles that form the basis of much of the book, and that might be the same for many of my readers as well. I also wasn’t thrilled with all the good quotes being anonymous.

Hersh doesn’t go into much detail about the actual torture of prisoners. In fact, given the importance of the pictures in giving this story the traction it has had, it’s interesting that the book has no pictures. Hersh’s main purpose is to demonstrate the culpability of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc in the torture of prisoners from Guantanamo through Abu Ghraib. If you’re not convinced, definitely read the book. He also throws in material, some of it a little cursory, on many of the failures of intelligence and wrong-headed foreign policy of the Bush admin, adding up to a thesis that they tend to see what they want to see. In his last sentences, Hersh wonders whether Bush is actually a big ol’ liar:
“But lying would indicate an understanding of what is desired, what is possible, and how best to get there. A more plausible explanation is that words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real. It is a terrifying possibility.”
It was funny to read that, since I’ve been speculating recently myself (in the lead paragraphs of this and this post)
about Bush’s relationship to the words he uses, if any.

Bush’s relationship to logic and evidence is another matter. During the 2000 campaign, those of us who had contempt for the man’s intellectual capacities assumed that he understood how ignorant and incompetent he was. It was really the only reassuring assumption to make, since it meant he would leave the decisions to smarter people. As Colin Powell has found out, this has not been the case, because Bush--this is what we failed to understand--thinks of himself as wise. Facts are secondary to him.

I didn’t really understand this until early in 2002. A month or so after the State of the Union address in which he referred to the “axis of evil,” he was in South Korea. I saw him on television talking about something he’d just heard, which was that in North Korea there was a peace museum in which was displayed an ax with which a NK soldier had killed two American soldiers. In a peace museum, was Bush’s point. “No wonder I think they’re evil,” he said. That sentence involved a reversal of deductive reasoning: he was pleased to be able to show evidence in support of what he already believed. In normal logic, the evidence comes first. But for Bush, facts are, as Ronald Reagan once said, stupid things. A real man derives his understanding of people and events from his “character” rather than his intellect. Bush can, he believes, look into Putin’s eyes and understand his soul.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

If you wanted perfection

Missed one: Identical to wrong for Catholics, which is identical to wrong for Mormons.

See if this sounds familiar: Secretary of War Donald “What, me worry?” Rumsfeldis quoted in a WaPo article on Star Wars, explaining why the US will deploy a system that won’t work: “Did we have perfection with our first airplane, our first rifle, our first ship? I mean, they’d still be testing at Kitty Hawk, for God’s sake, if you wanted perfection.’” Yes, that’s just what he said about Iraqi elections. The article mentions that he used to be a pharmaceuticals exec: be afraid.

Followup on handshakes: the Guardian, in an article on the subject, says that Prince Charles refused to shake Idi Amin’s hand in 1978, that Helmut Kohl refused to shake PW Botha’s in 1984, and Fidel Castro believed that the CIA intended to poison him through a handshake, which isn’t sillier than anything else they tried, and so kept a cigar in his hand as an excuse.

Bumper sticker: Osama still has his job. Do you still have yours?

Russia is dealing with the danger of Beslan-type incidents in schools: all schoolchildren will now wear dog tags, “designed to withstand a fire or bomb blast.” I suppose it’s still better than “duck and cover.”

No American pressure behind the handshake

I have a theory. Colin Powell said Sunday about the Iraqi insurgency: “Yes, it’s getting worse, and the reason it’s getting worse is that they’re determined to disrupt the election.” My theory: what if the reason the Bushies are insisting on a totally unrealistic deadline for sham elections is to provide just this excuse for their failure to get the insurgency under control?

Allawi is now under pressure to apologize for shaking the Israeli foreign minister’s hand. “Allawi said there was no American pressure behind the handshake.” Sounds like my mother reminding me to write thank-you notes. Yesterday I commented about political handshakes. I think that in the secret religion shared by all politicians, a handshake can steal your soul, like cameras for some Native American tribes.

Google has set up a in Chinese, but searches won’t display the sites the Chinese government doesn’t like. Google says it’s just efficient not to show a lot of links that will just be blocked to Chinese internet users anyway.

No concern for the Iraqi people

The Department of Homeland Security is buying a town, Playas, New Mexico, a former mining town with only 50 residents remaining, from its owner, Phelps Dodge, to use for practicing responses to suicide bombings, anthrax attacks, poisonings of water supplies, etc. Try not to think of this as a metaphor.

Life should be interesting for the 50 residents.

When the US government, after first trying to pretend that Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam was some sort of terrorist-symp, changed excuses to claim that the problem was a misspelling, I was going to make a joke about the government not being able to handle C-A-T, but decided it was too obvious. But there’s a real issue here.

It was the Yusuf bit they had problems with, of course. Three years after 9/11, when several men who weren’t supposed to have been allowed into the country got onto planes they also shouldn’t have been allowed on because the gov didn’t have a standard for transliterating from Arabic, they still haven’t fixed the problem. Now we hear that there’s a huge and growing backlog of tapes not being translated from what the NYT calls “languages commonly associated with terrorism” by the FBI (motto: Terrorist Not Spoken Here). The reason they don’t learn from their hideous mistakes is that there are no consequences for their major intelligence failures (other than 2,900 dead on 9/11/01, I mean). Also: stop recording every conversation spoken in Arabic anywhere in the world. They’re not all terrorists. Really.

Colin Powell says the “major thrust” of US military efforts in Iraq in the near future (i.e., after the US election) will be to go into “no go” areas. You know who might have an opinion on this? A guy whose entire mission in another war was to take a boat up a river for no other reason than to show that there were no areas the US military couldn’t go?

Uh, Kerry. We were all clear on that, right?

The LA Times article that provided the Powell quote contains several instances of US military assholery related to aerial bombardment of Sadr City. The US talks about a “precision strike”...that lasted for hours. Army spokesmodel Lt. Col. Jim Hutton blamed casualties on insurgent mortars, saying “The enemy shows no concern for the Iraqi people.” Did I mention we just bombed a crowded suburb of Baghdad for several hours? Another spokesmodel called reports of civilians killed by bombing in Fallujah “propaganda,” and “suggested that local hospitals had been infiltrated by insurgent forces.” Please, just fucking spare me.

Monday, September 27, 2004

But is he good for the Zoroastrians?

The Indian Statistical Institute in New Delhi, which is a serious center of learning in economics & stats, really, suspended classes because students were complaining about a ghost.

Yesterday I posted a link to Guess what I found today: They’re word-for-word identical because, Mormons, Catholics, pretty much the same thing, right? Those are evidently the only religions Kerry’s bad for, because there’s no, or, or Yet. Consider that a hint to anyone with the inclination to write a parody.

From the Daily Telegraph: “Poland’s state railway is claiming £320 compensation from a man who delayed services by being run over by a train. But the company said yesterday it may relent after learning that his house had burned down. ‘We are acting in accordance with article 415,’ said a spokesman. Pawel Banaszek, 19, who was paralysed in the incident, said he was beaten by a gang and left on the track. He would pay the compensation from disability allowance.”

The British foreign minister accidentally shook the hand of Zimbabwean dictator at a reception in NY last week, to his embarrassment (there’s a long description in Clinton’s memoirs of the lengths he went to to avoid being filmed shaking Arafat’s hand)(and the rules for the Bush-Kerry debates make a handshake mandatory). Still, let’s not bring race into it (Indy headline: “Straw Shook Mugabe’s Hand ‘Because It Was Dark’”). Oh, wait, they meant the room was dark.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Free at last, free at last, to practice naked yoga in public

San Francisco prosecutors have dropped public nuisance charges against “Naked Yoga Guy,” having decided that naked yoga is not illegal in the city. Plan your vacations accordingly.

Time magazine claims that the Bushies dropped a plan for the CIA to “aid candidates favored by Washington” in the Iraqi elections, after getting negative reactions from several congresscritters (the article condescendingly refers to Nancy Pelosi, who come to think of it is Naked Yoga Guy’s representative, as coming “unglued” over it). I know I’m reassured.

I’m also reassured by the US ambassador to Afghanistan’s denial that he pressured rival candidates to Karzai to quit the race.

In the Iraq story, Time says the Bushies considered that intervention in the elections was justified as a counter-balance to Iranian resources. Because an election that was unfair when one foreign nation is trying to influence it becomes completely fair when two foreign nations are doing so. And by the way, the reason I put “aid candidates favored by Washington” in quotes is that Iraqis will be voting for parties, not for candidates. The Time piece shows a total ignorance of the electoral system the US foisted on Iraq.
(Update: Juan Cole has made all those points about the Time story at greater length and with greater expertise, although a day later.)

Everybody reports on Turkey’s revision of its criminal justice code, which were largely in a liberal direction in the hopes of getting EU membership. Since that isn’t gonna happen, I worry about what will happen when the day finally comes that Turkey realizes it isn’t gonna happen. Will they re-criminalize adultery? Reinstitute lesser penalties for rape if the man marries his victim and greater ones for rape of a virgin? Probably not, but it would have better had they come to this on their own. Only the Daily Telegraph, that I can find, mentions, in rather vague terms, something about restricting discussion of issues such as the 1915 Armenian genocide.

Mickey Mouse President

Wrong for Catholics

Take a quick look at this website:
Did you notice who paid for it? It’s at the very bottom of the page.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

I am nothing to you

In Britain, much of whatever support remaining for the Iraq war dissipated this week because of the videotape from hostage Ken Bigley (pictured), a civil engineer, pleading with Tony Blair for his life. Bigley is the man threatened with execution (the two Americans captured with him have been killed) unless the two women prisoners are released.
I am Ken Bigley from Liverpool in the Walton district. I am here in Iraq and I think this is possibly my last chance to speak to someone who will listen from Europe. ... Mr Blair, I am nothing to you, it’s just one person in the whole of the United Kingdom that’s all. With a family like you’ve got a family, with children, like your children, your boys, your wife. Please you can help, I know you can. These people are not asking for the world, they’re asking for their wives and the mothers of their children.
Full transcript.
He also has an 86-year old mother who collapsed a few days ago.

Blair finally responded publicly, with his own plea to the British public (he evidently had nothing to say to the kidnappers), against compassion (Bigley’s family must have known they were fucked when Blair praised their stoicism): “What these terrorists understand is that they can use and manipulate the modern media to gain enormous publicity for themselves and put democratic politics and politicians in a very difficult position.” Poor baby. Really, modern media and technology have made it so difficult to ignore suffering. So unfair.

Except that the mirror image (if I may mention older representational technology) of that is that, as Mary Riddell writes in the Observer, “When history is a string of macabre Kodak moments, those slaughtered off-camera evaporate as if they had never lived. ... On the day Ken Bigley’s video played in millions of British living rooms, 22 people were murdered in Baghdad.”

Similarly, on the day in April when those 4 mercenaries were killed in Fallujah, and their bodies burned and hung from a bridge, with pictures, several US soldiers were also killed, with little fuss. But the crispy critters pictures caused the US to mount another invasion attempt, evidently against the advice of the Marine general in charge of the area. And Rumsfeld ignored the torture at Abu Ghraib, explaining that he didn’t consider it important enough to inform Bush because “The problem at that point was one-dimensional. It wasn’t three-dimensional. It wasn’t photographs and video.” The “problem,” of course, was very much three-dimensional to the people involved.

Back in May I wrote about the Bushite obsession with images, “like the flight deck landing, the statue toppling and all the other carefully stage-managed moments, as if they’re constantly auditioning for a postage stamp. ... Bush, who is less fixated on words, for obvious reasons, thinks that once he has the right visual, he’s fixed in place the meaning of an event. Ironically, it was the two words Mission Accomplished that really turned Flight Suit Boy’s million-dollar photo op into a sick joke, and it was the photos of the prisoners that made torture into a live issue.”


In the last couple of days, Bush has several times referred to both Tony Blair and Wowie Allawi as “strong” prime ministers. What does that actually mean? In terms of ability to control events, both are Bush’s sock pockets, so that’s not it. They have strong handshakes? Strong convictions, I suppose is what he intends, although it could just be another of those phrases with no particular meaning he uses because he thinks it sounds good. The verbal equivalent of a Rorschach test.

Maureen Dowd on the Bill Maher show: “Kerry gives nuance a bad name.”

3 years ago, the Italian supreme court, a collection of elderly men which exists, as far as this blog is concerned (see here, here, here, here, here and here) to issue stupid rulings about sex, issued one which said that patting a woman’s bottom did not constitute sexual harassment.
It has now reversed this in the case of a magistrate who patted the butts of three...supreme court employees.

In the few days since Putin announced his plan to appoint all 89 governors himself, at least 10 have joined his “United Party.” Can you say one-party state?

Speaking of democracy at work, the elders of an Afghan Pashtun tribe, the Terezays, rule that if anyone votes for someone other than Karzai, their houses will be burned down. This ruling was broadcast on radio.

After stone-walling for several days, the Republican Party fesses up to mailing out those leaflets in Arkansas & W. Virginia saying that the D’s would ban the Bible and promote gay marriage. Next question: how many were sent out?

Friday, September 24, 2004

In which my presidential ambitions are quashed

Bush complains that Kerry “chose to criticize the Prime Minister of Iraq. ... You can’t lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility.” I didn’t realize that America’s choice of its own president was subject to veto by the guy Bush picked to pretend to run Iraq (oops, I just questioned Comical Allawi’s credibility, I guess that means I can’t be president now either).

Matthew Yglesias of American Prospect suggests that Bush’s postponing of the military push in Iraq we all know is coming until after the US and before the Iraqi elections will make that campaign all the bloodier. “The Marines and soldiers serving in Iraq volunteered for the military, but they’ve been conscripted into the Bush campaign. Decisions, as Lieutenant General James Conway recently stated, are being made on the basis of narrow political considerations rather than military ones. It’s appropriate for generals to be subordinate to civilian politicians, but not to civilian campaign strategists.”

I may have been unduly alarmist about the security legislation before the Duma. Yesterday it rejected a bill banning reporting on hostage-taking incidents until they are over. We’ll see.


There are 2 initiatives on the Cal. ballot relating to casinos. California being California, the commercials against one of them attack it for threatening to make our morals worse. Did I say morals? I meant traffic.

Turkmenistan’s president-for-life-or-until-the-men-with-the-butterfly-nets-catch-up-to-him-whichever-comes-first Saparmurat Niyazov preempted programming on all tv channels so that he could read his poetry to the nation for an hour and a half. When was the last time Bush did that?

The Russian foreign minister reassured the UN yesterday: “President Vladimir Putin has stated unambiguously that Russia will remain a democratic state.” See, and you were worried about Russia not being democratic, but Putin has decreed that it is and Putin’s word is law in Russia, to be followed absolutely. Aren’t you reassured? If not, Putin will crush you like an ant.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Nothing’s perfect in life

The first episode of the new radio series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is available now on the BBC website. NOTE: that episode will disappear from the site a week from today, replaced by episode 2, and so on, so don’t procrastinate.

Rummy on the possibility of holding Iraqi elections in only part of the country: “Well, so be it. Nothing’s perfect in life, so you have an election that’s not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet.” National elections that cover only part of the, you know, nation aren’t “not quite perfect”--they’re not real elections. And, as I said a day or two ago, the electoral system we’ve imposed on Iraq means there won’t even be vacant seats under those circumstances, but seats will be distributed just as if the election were truly national.

Yesterday Bush asked the UN to set up a fund to foster democracy--however and by whoever that might be defined. Today, in a sort of mirror-image of that, Russia proposed the creation of a UN list of terrorism suspects--however and by whoever that might be defined--who every nation would be required to extradite. I thought it was incredible that no one noticed the revolutionary nature of the UN vote last year to demote Iraq from the status of a sovereign nation and hand control of it over to the US, a power to judge the legitimacy of its member states that I really don’t think the UN has. Now it’s supposed to decide which of its members are legitimate democracies under Bush’s plan, and eliminate political asylum under Putin’s, deferring to the labeling by member states of its internal opponents as terrorists. New world order, indeed.

We’re not going to allow the suiciders to drive us out of Iraq

I read the transcript of Bush’s press conference with “Comical Allawi”, so you don’t have to.

Addressing Zowie Allawi: “Mr. Prime Minister, America will stand with you until freedom and justice have prevailed.” Man, are his legs gonna be tired. “the vast majority of Iraqis remain committed to democracy.” Of course since there is no democracy in Iraq, it’s just guesswork what “the vast majority of Iraqis” are committed to.

Asked “Why haven’t U.S. forces been able to capture or kill al Zarqawi, who’s blamed for much of the violence?”, Bush responded: “We’re looking for him. He hides.” That explains that.

“Anybody who says that we are safer with Saddam Hussein in power is wrong.” I quote that because it bugs me that the man has less grasp of verb tenses than the average 5 year old (but then, whoever did the transcript for the White House doesn’t quite get the it’s/its distinction).

GeeDubya, naturally, flounders badly in response to several of the questions, including my second favorite question: “If General Abizaid says he needs more troops and the Prime Minister says he does not want more troops, who wins?” Bush: “Obviously, we can work this out. It’s in the -- if our commanders on the ground feels it’s in the interest of the Iraq citizens to provide more troops, we’ll talk about it. That’s -- that’s why -- they’re friends; that’s what we do about friends.”

He takes back the comment of a few days ago that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq produced in July by the CGA (Central Guessing Agency) was just a “guess.” “I should have used ‘estimate.’” Yeah, it’s a three-syllable word, we all understand that’s beyond your comfort level. “But what’s important for the American people to hear is reality. And the reality is right here in the form of the Prime Minister.” Later, he added, “One reason I’m optimistic about our ability to get the job done is because I talk to the Iraqi Prime Minister.” Reminds me of his comment a while back that he never reads newspapers because he gets the real facts from Condi and Andy Card.

A reporter asked Bush about his comment that there was only a “handful” of people trying to disrupt the Iraqi elections. He said, “Well, it’s a handful if you happen to have several thousand fingers.” OK, he didn’t say that.

Somebody asked a really good, important question, which I’ll paraphrase: When you talk about mixed messages being bad, do you mean if Kerry is elected, or do you mean right now. Bush filibustered for a really long time and didn’t come within a mile of answering.

And there’s the quote the blogosphere likes so much: “we’re not going to allow the suiciders to drive us out of Iraq.” Yeah, you definitely don’t want suiciders driving. Remember that scene in Annie Hall with Christopher Walken driving Woody Allen?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Attack of the terrorist cats

The Moscow police have arrested more than 10,000 of the usual suspects in response to Beslan, according to the Link, but I think it'll expire tomorrow.) The “Great Terror” of 2004 begins. Proposals include: Soviet-type resident registration (which was supposedly abolished by Yeltsin, but local governments just ignored it), restrictions on media coverage of terrorist actions, restrictions on cars, the ability of the Kremlin to declare a state of war in event of a terrorist attack, thereby suspending civil rights, etc. The Duma rejected proposals to discuss the government’s Chechen policy and to ask Putin and the security chiefs to explain their actions.

In other words, just like the US, where the Republicans are planning to tighten up on identification cards, border controls, etc. Next step, no doubt: internal passports.

The Iraqi terrorist-types are just making up demands at random now. When they demanded the release of all women prisoners, did they even know there were just two? What I enjoyed, especially after the story in today’s WaPo asserting with a straight face that the Iraqis were in charge of pretty much everything now, was watching them prepare the way to meet the demands, claiming, also with a straight face, that by an amazing coincidence the two were just about to be released anyway, and then to have the Americans put their foot down.

The Telegraph’s News in Brief section today contains the following stories: “Woman Crushed by 6ft Crucifix” (in Italy); “Man Mistook Wife for a Monkey” (and shot her to death; Malaysia); “Wife Asks for Weekly Beating” (in an Iranian court; as opposed to daily: “‘I don’t want a divorce. My husband is violent. It is in his nature. I just want him to promise to beat me only once a week,’ she told the judge, who burst out laughing.”

From the Press Association, a wonderfully silly headline for an unwonderfully silly action by the FBI: “Cat Refused Entry for Hamas Support.”

Terrorist cats. Don’t tell the Duma.

The right to enrichment

President Khatami defends Iran’s uranium enrichment program: “We clearly demand that our right to enrichment be recognized by the international community”. Who says Iran’s government doesn’t believe in rights?

Kerry didn’t like Bush’s scolding speech to the UN yesterday: “The President of the United States stood before the stony-faced body and barely talked about the realities at all of Iraq.” Kerry, whose own face is less expressive than those on Mt Rushmore, then went on to accuse Al Gore of being boring, and Dukakis of being a crappy campaigner. Stony-faced, indeed.

Responding to Kerry’s comments, Scotty McClellan today, and Bush yesterday, referred to him as “continuing his pattern of twisting in the wind”--are we supposed not to notice when Bush and his henchmen use identical phrasing? Also, not to get all William Safire on y’all, but they’re not even using that expression correctly.

Details matter

We talk of “democracy” and “elections” as if there was one model, as if the terms were unproblematic, but the details matter.

Charles de Gaulle knew this. When he graciously accepted the offer to become dictator of France in 1958 to save it from a military coup (Pakistan’s Musharraf cited de Gaulle this week as his role model), one of his conditions was that the electoral law be rewritten. Rather than proportional representation in which parties were given seats in accordance with their share of the votes, there would be a run-off system, favoring the right, which could sink its differences in the second round. Result at the next election: the Gaullists, with 18% of the vote, got 40% of the seats, and the Communists, with 19% of the vote, got 2% of the seats. Both the pre- and post-1958 systems were forms of representative democracy, but geared towards generating different results.

The elections in Iraq will be based on a form of proportional representation based on party lists. Something like Putin wants in Russia, actually. PR is good for the representation of minorities, which is good for countries like the Netherlands where politics are based on ideas and ideology, but in a country like Iraq, divided by ethnicity and religion, it is good in that it ensures some representation of, for example, the Kurds, but bad in that it encourages politics to remain divided on the basis of ethnicity and religion. The real point of this form of election is that voters do not select individual candidates (which should cut down on the number of assassinations), and MPs will not represent geographic constituencies. There will be no representative of, say, Fallujah; votes will be counted on a national basis. So if participation is uneven across the country, if no one at all votes in Fallujah, if--oh fuck it--WHEN the election is a failure in real-world democratic terms, this electoral system will gloss that over. There won’t be any vacant seats; rather, the system will just give more political weight to areas not in rebellion, or where more fraudulent votes are created.

It also won’t effect the system if candidates do get assassinated. Unlike Afghanistan, where if any of the presidential candidates get offed, the election would be postponed 3 months. The candidates, you’ll be surprised to hear, aren’t doing a lot of whistle-stop tours.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Made up to be seen from 30 feet away

Raymond Chandler described one of his characters this way: “From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.” George Bush’s pronouncements are increasingly just a collection of words he likes, formed into things that look like sentences from 30 feet away, but which dissolve into nonsense if you look even a little more closely at them: “Iraqi citizens are seeing a determined effort by responsible citizens to lead to a more hopeful tomorrow, and I am optimistic we’ll succeed.”

Kerry’s new position on Iraq (yeah, I know, I sound like Bush when I say that, but it really is a new position) is that if Bush hadn’t cut off the UN inspections process prematurely, it would have shown that Iraq had no WMDs, and that fact being made public, by itself, would somehow have caused Saddam Hussein to fall, because his regime was based on his having WMDs. Oh, I don’t think so.

Renaissance Man

So whatever happened to those French hostages, now that the ban on headscarves has gone into effect?

And whatever happened to Saddam’s doubles?

Musharraf says that he’ll renege on his promise to step down as army chief because that would end the national “renaissance” in Pakistan. ‘Cuz you know how the quality of Florence’s paintings and sculpture declined after Cesare Borgia stopped wearing camouflage uniforms.

The US will sell Israel 500 missiles which could be used to attack Iranian nuclear facilities (the story has mysteriously vanished from the Ha’aretz website).

Beware the ides of the march of democracy

A must-read in the Guardian suggests that the NATO war on Yugoslavia was in large part about opening the country to takeover by multinational corporations, states that the bombing campaign targeted state-owned industries while leaving privately owned ones alone, and that the UN administration in Kosovo is now selling off the provinces state-owned enterprises, which are surely not the UN’s to sell.

Bush keeps talking about the “march” of democracy. The evidence is against him:
  • The leading opposition candidate for president in Ukraine’s elections next month is now in the hospital with a mysterious case of poisoning.
  • In Kazakhstan’s elections, the dictator Nazarbayev’s party comes in first, and the not-exactly-opposition party led by his daughter comes in second.
  • Indonesia’s presidential elections are won by (retired) general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (remember when Indonesian rulers only had one name? and not silly ones like Bambang), just 6 years after the end of more than 30 years of military rule.
Of course Bush, in his response to Kerry’s speech, seemed to define Iraq as a democracy, so his standards aren’t terribly high.

Monday, September 20, 2004


Why don’t you all read the transcript of Kerry’s speech, so I don’t have to?

Oh, all right. Some of it, quoted below, constitutes the best rhetoric I’ve heard yet from Kerry (actually, I’ve only read it so far, I’m sure it won’t sound nearly as good when I hear it in Kerry’s own irritating voice).

On the one hand, it’s a strong indictment of Bush’s failures and misjudgements, but on the other hand he says that he’ll fight the same crusade, but do it better. “The terrorists are beyond reason. We must destroy them. As president, I will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat our enemies.” You’ll note he never defines “the terrorists,” so it’s a little hard to tell who all these people are he plans to “destroy.”

“To win, America must be strong.” Check. “And America must be smart.” Uh oh.

“His two main rationales – weapons of mass destruction and the Al Qaeda/September 11 connection – have been proved false… Only Vice President Cheney still insists that the earth is flat.”

“The President now admits to ‘miscalculations’ in Iraq. That is one of the greatest understatements in recent American history. His were not the equivalent of accounting errors. They were colossal failures of judgment – and judgment is what we look for in a president.” This line is almost too clever, or needed a bridging sentence; it took me a second to realize that the bit about “accounting errors” was a criticism of Bush’s use of the word “miscalculations” to minimize his own incompetence.

He quotes the Republicans (McCain, Lugar, Hagel) now criticizing Bush’s Iraq policy in order to deflect the charge that his own criticisms are partisan, without adding that McCain (not sure about the other 2) wants a massive attack on Fallujah.

And Kerry’s own ideas for Iraq are anemic: get other countries to give aid, bribe them with shares in Iraq’s oil industry in exchange for sending troops. Turn the page. A fresh start. A lot about dealing with Europeans, not a lot about how to deal with the Iraqis, except training a lot more of them to be soldiers.


I read transcripts of Secretary of War “Rummy” Rumsfeld’s “media availabilities,” so you don’t have to.

Rumsfeld: “At some point the Iraqis will get tired of getting killed.” Didn’t we say that about the Vietnamese?

Rummy also threatens to take back the cities and regions that have become “sanctuaries” for “people who are determined to overthrow the Iraqi government, the legitimate Iraqi government.” Someone needs to get that man a dictionary, if he thinks that places which are bombed every single day are sanctuaries, and that there is a “legitimate” government in Iraq.

Rummy is asked about Seymour Hersh’s book on Abu Ghrab (which I’m now reading). Given that he never bothered reading the Taguba report, it won’t come as a surprise that he hasn’t read Hersh’s book (the DOD transcript misspell’s Hersh’s name), but shits on it anyway.

He also praises the voter registration drive in Afghanistan for registering more people than are eligible to vote, which you’d think would be embarrassing, but Rummy does not know the meaning of the word embarrassing (or sanctuary, or legitimate, etc etc), and that 41% of them are women (or one guy in a burqa who registered 4.2 million times).

More weight, more weight

Tony Blair declares war, again. “Whatever the disagreements about the first conflict in Iraq to remove Saddam, in this conflict now taking place in Iraq, this is the crucible in which the future of this global terrorism will be decided. Either it will succeed and this terrorism will grow, or we will succeed, the Iraqi people will succeed and this global terrorism will be delivered a huge defeat.” So if you didn’t like the “first conflict,” we’ll just keep rebranding it until we find one you’ll like. New Coke anyone?

German voters in the East (Saxony & Brandenburg) vote in large numbers for neo-Nazis to punish the hapless Social Democratic government’s scaling back of social programs. In Saxony, the National Democratic Party, which hadn’t had any legislative presence since 1968, almost matches the vote of the SPD. German governments of both major parties have really badly served the East Germans, so their limited commitment, 15 years after unification, to a political system that largely ignores them is understandable, but still creepy.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


How often have we heard from American officials that increasing Resistance activity in Iraq is a sign of their desperation? Now Puppet PM “Comical” Allawi has made the same argument--“getting more desperate...last stand...we are winning...Iraq is fighting this war on behalf of the civilized nations...yadda yadda yadda.” This is an astonishingly stale piece of rhetoric, unchanged by as much as a syllable in over a year. In fact, Bush gave the same speech over a year ago; on 8/27/03 I called it a “massively silly argument”: “Yeah, it’s a sign of desperation if they attack us, a sign of boldness and resolve if we attack them, yeah yeah yeah. ... It’s the last gasp of a dying regime, it’s an all-out war for the security of the US and what Bush calls ‘civilization.’ It’s a floor wax, it’s a dessert topping.” It may or may not be the last gasp, but it’s an incredibly long one. You have to be impressed by their breath control.

Fontgate followup: An WaPo article on how CBS got the Killian memos wrong says they failed to test their authenticity adequately because the White House wasn’t challenging their authenticity. This lends credence to the “conspiracy theory” that the Mayberry Machiavellis created this trap for CBS to walk into. Yeah, it was criminally careless, but you can see why they wouldn’t spend a lot of effort checking out a piece of evidence no one was disputing.

Here in California, Gubna Ahnuuld, who must be one of the top 10 richest people in the state, has vetoed an increase in the minimum wage, because if $6.75 an hour is good enough for the guy whose job it is to lick Arnie’s Hummer clean every day...

If every day could be Tet

There is worry in Iraq of coordinated attacks breaching the Green Zone; the talk is of something like the Tet Offensive. And in Afghanistan too, the American ambassador has been warning of a possible, guess what, Tet Offensive in the cities in the period leading up to the Afghan presidential elections next month. It’s like having Christmas every day, only with Tet. Which is the day when an American soldier sticks his head out of his armored personnel carrier, and if he shoots at his own shadow, there’ll be another year of guerilla warfare and military quagmire. If his shadow shoots back, two years.

Older Viet Cong are complaining that Tet used to be about peace and love and smashing imperialism, but now it’s being commercialized by the greeting card industry.

The Afghan Tet fears are reported in the Indy which says that Karzai “is widely expected to be re-elected.” Of course, Karzai was never actually elected, at least not by the Afghan people. Still, this is a phrase I expect to hear and read often.

Speaking about the Baghdad branch of Tet Offensive, Inc., Under-Secretary of State Richard “The Giraffe” Armitage: “We never thought it would be easy; we do expect an increase in violence as we approach the January elections.” Never thought it would be easy. Never FUCKING thought it would be fucking easy. Sure you didn’t.

When they established a hard, inflexible deadline for the fake “hand-over of power” in Iraq in June, the Bushies left many hostages to fate. And then they repeated the mistake with inflexible timing of elections in January 2005, no matter how unprepared and chaotic the country is. So vast resources are now being diverted to those farcical elections. With daily kidnappings and car bombs, soldiers and police will now have to protect election offices and workers--“I’m gonna try and register that guy--cover me!” And new offences are being planned for Fallujah and elsewhere so that not too many areas will have to be excluded from the voting, to give a tiny amount of legitimacy to elections held during a civil war and under foreign occupation. 3 point something billion dollars was just diverted to security from projects to restore sewerage and electricity, and now security personnel are being diverted from real security to this piece of play-acting.

The NYT has a story on this, which seems to be drawn from a single anonymous source, so you know it must be true. The source, an American commander, is confident that the upcoming siege of Fallujah will go so much better than the last 3, because “this time...unlike in April, there was a sovereign Iraqi government, and one that seemed willing to absorb the political storm that such an assault was likely to set off.” A government willing to support an attack on its country’s population is a GOOD thing?

White House spokesmodel Scott McClellan implied this week that Kamp Kerry is behind the Killian documents: “It’s our position that there are orchestrated attacks going on by the Democrats and Kerry campaign to tear down the President because they are falling behind in the polls.” Speaking of orchestrated attacks: McClellan’s salary is still being paid by the American taxpayers, of all political parties, and not by the Republican Party, right?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

At the whim of a tin-foil hat

The Florida Supreme Court puts Ralph Nader back on the ballot. Says a Nader spokesman, “The Democrats should stop trying to win this election in court and start competing for votes on the issues.” Yeah, at least in courts stacked with Republicans.

If there’s a phrase that right-wingers use that effectively puts their opponents instantly on the defensive, it’s “conspiracy theory.” Team Chimpy deployed this weapon Friday against Kerry’s assertion that Bush has a “secret plan” to call up more reservists and national guards after the election is safely over, and send them to Iraq. The Pentagon gave a better answer: of course we’re planning to screw those guys, it’s not a secret. Which is true, except that it is a secret which guys are going to be screwed, which makes it hard for people to plan their lives (or deaths, as the case may be).

So the “conspiracy theory” charge hangs like a Damocles sword over the heads of journalists and bloggers who write about the doings of the Mayberry Machiavellis, like the right-wing blogger named... Buckhead (yeah we’re all thinking the same thing, but we have too much class to say it) who was able to damage the credibility of the CBS documents within a suspiciously short period of time (i.e., within the same news cycle), and who turned out to be a lawyer who works for right-wing groups. Of course we don’t know for sure if this was a scheme concocted in the feverish brain of Karl Rove, but if we ask “cui bono,” we see that the issue of Bush’s draft-dodging has been effectively defused, or obscured, just as it was becoming a real threat.

Incidentally, it was becoming a threat not because we now know all that much more than we knew years ago (for example, my 1st reference to it in my proto-blog--archived on this site--was way back on 7/8/99; I reported on 9/9/99 that it was the speaker of the Texas Lege who got him into the Guard, on 6/17/00 that he missed his medical on the first year it included a drug test, etc), but because of a slight semantic shift in the way it was being presented: not just as a spoiled rich kid goofing of, but of that rich kid refusing direct orders. And what gave that semantic framing of the Guard issue its salience in 2004, as opposed to in 1999-2000, is precisely the fact that Shrub pushed us into the longest combat situation since Vietnam with an inadequate military, which he’s desperately shoring up with stop-loss orders, national guard units (fun fact: more members of the national guards have already died in Iraq than did in Vietnam).

The problem with Kerry making the “secret plan” accusations is that his plans for Iraq are equally secret, and, since he plans to continue to occupy Iraq until at least 2009 and doesn’t plan on a draft, he will also be using reservists and national guards. Secret plan, unless you possess the powers of logic and common sense.

Friday, September 17, 2004

On the march

The supposed mastermind of the Beslan hostage-taking has been heard from. One thing is explained: the hostages were to have gotten food and water by stages, as the demands for Russian withdrawal from Chechnya were met.

Bush says that “Freedom is on the march in Iraq.” There may be marching, but it ain’t freedom. Patrick Cockburn has a bleaker assessment in this Indy article detailing the many forms of violence.

Cockburn also has an op-ed piece, behind a pay barrier, which notes that the pattern of violence has changed: it’s no longer in a few geographic areas, but all over Iraq. Also, “August was the first month in which more US soldiers were killed and wounded by Shia fighters than by Sunni guerrillas.” And the US is losing even the Green Zone: “This week, the US army was reduced to using rocket firing helicopters for crowd control in Haifa Street a few hundred yards from the Green Zone, the American and Iraqi government headquarters.” Crowd...control.

At the whim of a hat

GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE.... Bushism: “Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.”

Depends on the hat, I suppose.

The French never have this problem.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

In uniform

Pakistan’s self-chosen president, the coup-leader Musharaf, insists that his decision to break his promise to give up being army chief and prez simultaneously, says it’s because most Pakistanis “want me in uniform.” So it’s all about the fetish.

The woman sterilized by the wannabe senator for Okl., Tom Coburn, comes forward to say that she did not want him to sterilize her. The question not being asked is: by what right has Dr. Coburn been revealing private details of her medical history to the press?

Sri Lanka’s national handball team vanishes in Germany after playing really badly in several tournament games, and before anyone realized that Sri Lanka doesn’t actually have a national handball team. The 23 members of the “team” are believed to have come to Europe to find work and not for the love of the game of handball.

And Wolfowitz can come back from Canada. Wait, on second thoughts...

John Edwards promises “There will be no draft when John Kerry is president.” So Bush can stop calling up Texas politicians to get him into the national guard, Cheney can stop trying to get Lynne pregnant, and Rumsfeld...well, let’s just say that if you thought Klinger looked bad in a dress...!

You would be surprised at how far a can of orange soda would go

American journalists have been given a tour of the new and improved Abu Ghraib. So improved, according to its new dungeon-keeper and grand inquisitor, Maj.-Gen. Geoffrey Miller, that the reforms are “restoring the honor of America.” So what changes have completely wiped out the stain of prisoners beaten to death, sexual humiliation, make-the-prisoners-pee contests and naked human pyramids? Actually, nothing much that I can see from the NYT article. I’d be curious to see what the other reporters have written. There is this quote:
“You would be surprised at how far a can of orange soda would go,” said Lt. Col. Mark Costello, who oversees interrogations at Abu Ghraib.
How far a can of orange soda can go... where? No, no, Col. Costello, that is the OLD Abu Ghraib. Please stop inserting soda cans into prisoners’ rectums.

If foxes could vote

The Hungarian prime-minister-presumptive Ferenc Gyurcsany says that the Socialist Party was right to replace his predecessor with a younger man (he is 43), just as “anyone whose wife is getting old deserves a younger one.” He is on his third wife and, yeah, about ten years younger.

Coincidentally, the American model of democracy was rejected twice yesterday. Responding to criticism of Putin’s plans, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, “it is strange that, while talking about certain ‘pulling back’ on some of the democratic reforms in the Russian federation, [Powell] tried to assert yet one more time the thought that democracy can only be copied from someone else’s model.” And Chinese President Hu Jintao told a meeting of Communist Party leaders that Western-style democracy was a “dead end” (or “blind alley” depending on the translation).

A letter to the London Times says “Sir, If foxes could vote they would campaign to keep hunting”.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

God Save the Hunting

James Wolcott comments that the cable news channels have been attacking every detail of Kitty Kelley’s book when interviewing her, showing a sudden concern with, ya know, journalism, previously lacking. “For years they’ve been hyping and peddling every variety of fishy speculation and brazen assertion about the Clintons, Vince Foster, Monica, Gary Condit-Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, this rape case, that abduction case; they’ve rolled out the ratty carpet for every Swift Boat slob; and now, now, they decide to get loftily anal.”

I just wanted to repeat the phrase “loftily anal.”

Bush finally responds to Putin’s plan to make himself tsar by saying it “could undermine democracy.” Ya think? He added, “As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy.” In what sense are the Chechen rebels “enemies of democracy”? They couldn’t care less about how Russia is ruled, they just want to stop being a colony of Russia.

One thing that bothers me about Putin’s tsarization plan is that he can achieve it by a simple vote of the Duma.

North Ossetia’s leader, who fired his ministers after the Beslan siege, has appointed a new one, promoting to Minister for Culture and Mass Communications the press secretary who lied about the number of hostages there were.

Pakistan’s Pervaiz Musharraf goes back on his promise to stop being army chief at the same time as president.

Another security breach in Britain, as 5 supporters of fox-murder invade the House of Commons while it is debating banning fox-murder (which it does). A subtle hint as to how this happened is to be found in the Guardian: “In the Commons, the man in charge of security is the Serjeant at Arms, Sir Michael Cummins, who wears breeches, stockings, and a tunic, carries a sword, and sits in a special box in the chamber.” Sadly, Sir Michael did not use his sword on the toffs, who were wearing t-shirts depicting Tony Blair in horns, and the words “FCUK your ban. I’ll keep hunting” on the front, and Cherie Blair as the queen with “God Save The Hunting” on the back. (Pictures here.) Outside, protestors fought the police, some of whom were on horseback, but I think such irony is lost on the hunt protesters, who regard the fox-hunting issue with the same fanaticism as anti-abortion activists in the US.

Last week the House passed a provision preventing state, federal or local authorities requiring hospitals or doctors to provide abortions, even for rape or medical emergencies, or to give referrals to someone who will.

Kofi Annan says the Iraq war was illegal under the UN Charter, and not sanctioned by the Security Council. Might have been nice if he’d said something before.

Ariel Sharon, who again issued a veiled threat to assassinate Arafat yesterday, today said he plans to tear up the US “road map” and keep troops in military occupation of Palestine.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Stockpiles, stockpiles, stockpiles. Isn’t that a funny-sounding word? Stockpiles.

Last week, Dick “Mr. Sensitive” Cheney said that if Kerry is elected, the terrorists will strike America again. Yesterday he threatened the entire world with the consequences of not lining up behind Flight Suit Boy, using Beslan as a cautionary tale. He told a “town hall meeting” in Ottumwa, Iowa, Radar’s home town:
“I think a lot of our European friends have been somewhat ambivalent about this whole proposition with respect to how we deal with these terrorist attacks. I think some have hoped that if they kept their heads down and stayed out of the line of fire, they wouldn’t get hit. I think what happened in Russia now demonstrates pretty conclusively that everybody is a target, that Russia, of course, did not support us in Iraq. They did not get involved in sending troops there. They’ve gotten hit anyway. And I think people are back sort of reassessing now, in terms of what the motives may be of the people who are launching these attacks or using these kinds of tactics against our people.”
“Batman,” the guy who scaled Buckingham Palace to protest his inadequate access to his first 2 children, has been released on bail, only to find out that his current girlfriend is leaving him (and selling her story to the tabloids) because he spends all his time on fathers’ rights campaigns and not much with his 7-month-old daughter. Asked to comment, Bats refused on the grounds that it was a private matter, which is an odd comment from the man who dressed up as a rodent to show what an excellent father he is...well, maybe not that odd after all.

Japan has 23,000 centenarians, 18 per 100,000, compared to 10 in the US.

We all know that one of the weapons the Bushies use in their War on Truth is repetition. (Previous post. Other previous post. I can use repetition too.) But Colin Powell put repetition to innovative use today, in testimony before the Senate Government Affairs Committee, hoping that if he said the word “stockpiles” over and over, it would eventually become meaningless. Usually they avoid congressional oversight by distracting committee members with bright shiny objects, but I’m sure this works just as well:
“There was every reason to believe there were stockpiles. There was a question about the size of stockpiles, but we all believed there were stockpiles.”

However, Powell said in response to questions from Sen. Susan Collins R-Maine, “it turned out that we have not found any stockpiles.”

Moreover, Powell said, “I think it is unlikely that we will find any stockpiles.”
Headline of the day (AP): “Trial Begins for Farmer in Manure Deaths.”

The Telegraph misses the real news: “Energy-efficient pedestrian crossing lights that Los Angeles bought for £6 million will have to be replaced because the symbols are too dim to read.” The real news: pedestrians? in LA?

Woke up this morning, got yourself a WMD

Kitty Kelley tells Salon that “You start out looking at the Bush family like it’s ‘The Donna Reed Show’ and then you see it’s ‘The Sopranos.’”

OK, Barbara Bush is Livia, Poppy is Uncle Junior, Shrub is A.J. (or Christopher, but I really have to go with A.J.), Condoleezza is Dr. Melfi, Rummy is Silvio, Ashcroft is Paulie Walnuts, and for those playing along at home, I’m taking nominations for Big Pussie. (I am immune on this to the criticism that I have too much time on my hands: I’ve just seen a website with the Internationale translated into Klingon.)
Update: Colin Powell is Artie Bucco, Dick Cheney is...I dunno, Janice? Ralphie?

Mama always said you’d be
The Chosen One:
Salon: “In one of the creepier passages of the book, a family gathering from hell at Kennebunkport, Maine, Barbara is shown mercilessly baiting her dry-drunk son, then governor of Texas, as a teetotaling ‘Chosen One’”.

Monday, September 13, 2004


A word about the latest US bombing of Fallujah: you don’t get to call it “precision bombing” unless you’re admitting that you intended to blow up that ambulance.

David Corn describes Colin Powell as “a boxer who has taken one too many dives.”

The World's Shortest Blog, which uses the same template I do, which is slightly disconcerting to me, offers a bounty to whoever publicly asks Chimpy how many times he’s been arrested.

I knew if I procrastinated long enough about doing the research to write again about Tom Coburn, R candidate for Senate in Oklahoma and loon, someone would do it for me. In addition to the homophobia (Bush appointed him to the AIDS commission), Schindler’s List, death penalty for abortion doctors and whatnot, Salon has discovered that he once sterilized a young woman without her consent, and illegally charged Medicare for the procedure.

Putin looks at Chechen insurrection and decides that the appropriate response is to destroy what little regional autonomy and democracy remains, and take more power into his own ice-cold hands. The 89 regional governors, currently elected, would be appointed, by him. And Duma elections would be entirely by proportional representation (currently it’s chosen half by PR, half by first-past-the-post), but with the same 7% threshold for a party to enter the Duma, making it in practice less democratic, and of course more pliable. Under Putin’s plan, voters would choose from among parties, not individual candidates, a system in place only in Israel and I think Japan (and remember that many Russian mafia types have bought their way onto party lists in order to get parliamentary immunity from prosecution). Putin is playing on a mythical conspiracy to break up Russia, the answer to which is “unity,” by which he means dictatorship. Or the terrorists win.

And he wants “a single organisation capable of not only dealing with terror attacks but also working to avert them, destroy criminals in their hideouts, and if necessary, abroad.” The Guardian suggests that this is a version of the American Department of Homeland Security; I’d suggest a comparison closer to home, f’r instance the KGB or the Okhranka.

I'm Batman

In Britain, an organization of divorced fathers who claim they have inadequate access to their children has pulled off a series of stunts. Today, a man in a Batman costume climbed over the fence at Buckingham Palace, and stood on the ledge next to the balcony the queen (who can in no way be mistaken for Catwoman) usually uses to wave at the peasants. What I liked in the BBC report was the changing of the guards going on below just as normal.

This is to show you how decent I am

The North Koreans say they weren’t testing a nuke, just blowing up a mountain. I’m not reassured (reassurance is a motif in this post, by the way), although the argument that they wouldn’t conduct a nuclear test that near to the Chinese border carries a bit more weight, although most of NK is near China. I’ve already dismissed the US gov’s denials of a nuke test because it’s just not a subject I trust this admin to tell the truth about. What’s really worrisome is that I don’t know who I would trust to tell the truth about this. So on to the next scary would-be nuclear power....

...NYT headline: “Iran Says It Will Reject Limits On Its Mastery of Atomic Science.” That’s very tv-movie, very after-school-special: plucky little Iran’s can-do spirit inspires it to surmount all obstacles and limitations in a heart-warming story...

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, pointing out that the Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa banning nukes. Only Iran would think that any statement containing the word “fatwa” would be reassuring.

Comical Allawi, interviewed by the London Times, says that it was his decision to dissolve the Fallujah Brigades. He also told them an anecdote to show his soft, cuddly side:

Speaking in near-fluent English after years in exile, Dr Allawi displayed an ability to laugh at himself, rueing a moment of temper at an aide which left him with a broken bone in his wrist from slamming his fist down on a table.

He turned the injury to PR advantage, laughing: “This is to show you how decent I am. He (the aide) told me afterwards ‘You should have hit me’ and I said ‘No, we don’t do this’.”

Only an Iraqi would think that this story would reassure anyone.

From the Sunday Times of London: “Bidders on the eBay internet auction site have offered $10 for bits of wind from Hurricane Frances, which devastated parts of Florida last weekend. Photographs on the site show collectors scooping up the wind in four Tupperware containers.”

I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed

In one of many instances today of US forces in Iraq killing civilians, after a Bradley Fighting Vehicle was destroyed (and well after its soldiers had been evacuated), a US helicopter gunship fired in pique on a crowd celebrating around the burning vehicle, kills 13 and managing to shoot an Al-Arabiya reporter--as he was broadcasting. He shouted, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” and then he did.

The US has used 2 different excuses for the incident, I’m not sure in what order: 1) shots were fired at the helicopter, so it was self-defense. This is disputed by witnesses, and anyway I’m pretty sure a helicopter could, you know, fly away, without having to fire into a crowd that included children. 2) To stop the Bradley being looted. Again, you don’t fire on a crowd for that; even without the fire damage, a Bradley isn’t worth 13 dead Iraqis, unless of course you place a really, really low valuation on Iraqi lives.

Juan Cole is particularly good today on the violence in Iraq, and don’t miss the letter to him from Erik Gustafson about the US’s under-counting of American casualties.

Seymour Hersh’s book, out tomorrow, says that in February 2002 Bush signed a secret order that “I determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world.”

Using bizarre logic, a WaPo editorial says that the fact that the Guantanamo review tribunals have ruled 1 detainee not to be an “enemy combatant” proves that they aren’t a mere rubber stamp. That’s 1 out of 30. Oh yes, the system works.

There hasn’t been much examination of the failed Fallujah Brigade experiment (which I discussed 2 days ago). However, Marine Corps Gen. James Conway is publicly distancing himself from the strategy pursued in Fallujah when he was in charge of the region, blaming his superiors for the failure to pacify the city. “When we were told to attack Fallujah, I think we certainly increased the level of animosity that existed.” Ya think? He claims the Marines had a more subtle plan, but were overruled after those mercenaries were burned; like the helicopter today, the desire for revenge overcame common sense and humanity.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Season of hope

9/11 nostalgia has spread to the Democratic Party: A WaPo headline and sub-head: “Edwards Recalls Unity After Sept. 11 Attacks” “‘We Want That One America, Senator Tells Black Caucus.” And inside that story, Edwards is quoted as saying, “This season of hope should not and does not have to end tomorrow. We do not have to wait for yet another anniversary to come and go.” It’s supposed to be Christmas that you want every day to be like, doofus, not September 11! Season of hope, he called it!!! Like, we hope we’re not in a plane that’s hijacked and flown into a building, and we hope we’re not in the building, is that what you mean? Cuz it sounds like you just said you wouldn’t mind another terrorist attack, just for the feel-good factor.

If it’s the unity that comes from being scared shitless that you want so badly, North Korea successfully testing a nuclear bomb should do the trick.

Speaking of the feel-good factor, Tom DeLay dismisses the about-to-expire ban on assault weapons as “a feel-good piece of legislation.” Yeah, cause it feels so good when ten bullets from an automatic rifle don’t rip into your body.

Back to North Korea: while not unexpected, this is something the Bushies seem to have done nothing to prevent. It’s another Bush-sees-a-report-titled-“Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside United States”-and-goes-on-a-month’s-vacation-anyway moment. Not to be crude, but this incredible threat to the world’s safety should be a perfect stick for Kerry to beat Flight Suit Boy with. But he won’t.

(Later): the US is claiming the 2-mile wide mushroom cloud was probably from a forest fire, and certainly not from a nuke. Because NK would celebrate its national founding day by setting a forest fire, not by testing a nuclear weapon.

Speaking of dangerous clouds, the one from the Twin Towers on 9/11 was spectacularly toxic, it was breathed in by hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and its effects were not studied by the Bush admin, and/or were actively covered up. The death toll from those effects may ultimately match those on 9/11.

Everyone I shot deserved it

The BBC’s James Naughtie has a book out this week which will claim that Colin Powell called the neo-cons “fucking crazies” while speaking to the British foreign minister.

An Observer article on American snipers in Iraq. Key quote: “Everyone I shot deserved it.”

British vocabulary word of the day: “dogging” = having sex in public with strangers, in view of others. Evidently it’s all the rage in English parks, which are named in the article. Plan your vacations accordingly.

Flip flop in Fallujah

California bans necrophilia. Plan your vacations accordingly.

The attempt at the Vietnamization of Fallujah is declared a failure, and the “Fallujah Brigade” dissolved. This was the body created to provide the thinnest of cover for the US’s failure to subdue the city. The US gave a motley group of insurgents, members of Saddam Hussein’s military weapons and vehicles, which they funnily enough don’t seem to be giving back now that they’ve been fired, and put them under the command of a whole series of former generals. It was always unlikely that such a body would serve the interests of the US rather than those of the Resistance, and they haven’t. If they had, the residents of Fallujah would have torn them to pieces. Since Western reporters haven’t been able to get near Fallujah, little has been written about this experiment.

I’ve lost track of the generals appointed to lead the brigade; the LA Times refers to a General Wael as “the brigade’s latest leader,” without mentioning his predecessors, the first of whom was evidently appointed without anyone looking at his file and who then showed up in a Republican Guard uniform and was quickly fired, to be replaced by another of Saddam’s 11,000 generals, who they thought had been an exile, but really wasn’t... for all I know, since then they’ve been replaced once a week, like No. 2’s on “The Prisoner.”

The LAT says the decision to dissolve the brigade was “agreed to by the interim Iraqi government and the Marines,” which makes the decision sound immaculately conceived. Basically, the US just repeated the error it made in dissolving the Iraqi army, only this time the weapons the cashiered troops are bringing with them into the resistance were provided by the American taxpayers. The US has returned to the time-honored method of winning the hearts and minds of Fallujans, bombing the shit out of them.

Does it rank up there with chopping someone’s head off on television?

It sounded too bad-spy-novel to be true, but reporters (2 of them)[the WaPo editorial I hadn’t yet read when I wrote that doesn’t know of the second one] headed towards Beslan to cover the hostage-taking were really and truly slipped tranquilizers.

AP: “Rumsfeld, responding to allegations that he fostered a climate that led to the prisoner-abuse scandal, said yesterday that the military’s mistreatment of detainees was not as bad as what terrorists have done. ‘Does it rank up there with chopping someone’s head off on television?’ he asked. ‘It doesn’t.’”

Are those really the only choices on offer? Naked human pyramids or decapitation? That’s almost as bad a choice as Bush or Kerry.
[Update: Slate’s Today’s Papers terms this “the lowest common abomination.”]

Friday, September 10, 2004

The proof is complete, If only I’ve stated it thrice

It’s that time again, another September 11, and doesn’t it seem that the events of 9/11/01 have been transmuted into Republican Party property, so that it becomes increasingly hard for the rest of us to commemorate the loss of life without being in some way on the defensive? (Kerry, with his unerring populism, will be honoring the dead at the... Boston Opera House). Robert Fisk notes that the oddness of the path by which the US is commemorating by bombing Fallujah, a place very few of us had heard of 3 years ago, in what seems to have become the “war on terror,” which used to be the “war on terrorism,” but in a twist Orwell did not predict, we are gradually dropping from political discourse every word, like terrorism, that George Bush cannot pronounce. In a second Bush term (heaven forfend), people who pronounce the word nuclear correctly will be flogged in the town square.

What Fisk ignores is the indubitable fact that Dick Cheney has said that Iraq was a sanctuary for Al Qaida. It is indubitable because Dick Cheney keeps repeating it, which is all the proof needed by the Bushies:
“Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.”
(WaPo: “Five times in his speech in West Virginia, Bush spoke of making the country and the world ‘safer.’”)

The unicorn is a mythical beast

The Sudanese are responding that there is no genocide--just like there were no WMDs in Iraq, their foreign minister says. Or alligators in the sewers. Or unicorns in the garden. (I guess the Thurber “fable for our time” isn’t directly relevant, but I like it).

Actually, while Powell acknowledged the existence of genocide, he said that “No new action is dictated by this determination.” Genocide is still, like, bad, isn’t it?

Possibly, but our politicians’ focus is elsewhere. Imagine if the energy and political firepower currently being focused on the height of podiums and the temperature of the room in the presidential debates (the NYT reports that the negotiating teams put forth by the Kerry and Bush camps include 3 governors--current governors, mind you--and a former secretary of state. Just show up and debate the issues, how bloody hard could that be?) were focused on the Sudan. Or, with the assault-rifle ban due to expire Monday, there was Sen. Larry Craig on McNeil-Lehrer, explaining how the Senate was too busy to debate loser bills and had more important things to do. Like voting on a flag-burning amendment to the constitution, gay marriage, etc etc. The awesome disproportion in attention and resources--the Bush & Kerry campaign budgets must be larger than the budgets of some African countries--and the laser-like focus on the utterly trivial does not speak especially well for the democratic representative system.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Not just random violence

A New Statesman editorial (link goes to this story for the next week only) on the fact that the Beslan hostage-takers, like the Abu Ghraib guards, took pictures of their victims:

Once, the instincts of people who did terrible things were to destroy the evidence; even the Nazis tried to cover up the Holocaust. Now, depravity shows its face proudly to the world, partly as a kind of existential statement, partly as another branch of the public relations industry. My grievance must be greater than yours, people seem to say, because I will go to greater lengths in pursuit of it. Just as other sections of the media industry resort to ever greater sensation to command attention - bigger newspaper headlines, more violent films, more pornographic advertisements, more intimate reality TV - so now do terrorists.
Colin Powell declares Darfur to be genocide. This might be a good time to point out, as I like to do every so often, that in 1969 Powell did the first “investigation” of My Lai, and declared that no massacre had taken place, and that the relations between US troops and local Vietnamese were excellent. Just sayin’. This time, though, he actually investigated before issuing his findings.

Sudan is not happy, and says foreigners should not “put oil on the fire.” Oil, you say... Now you’re speaking the Bush administration’s language.

Powell says, “This was a coordinated effort, not just random violence.” Just? JUST?!?

Treasury Secretary John Snow was in Florida today, talking about all the sanctions we’ve got on Cuba, and the new ones they’re adding. I’m pretty sure they’re more rigorous than the sanctions Powell is talking about putting on Sudan for, you know, genocide.

Naomi Klein writes that after 9/11, Bush looked for a political philosophy (stick with me, it gets more plausible), and found it in Sharon’s Likud party:
In the three years since, the Bush White House has applied this logic with chilling consistency to its global war on terror - complete with the pathologising of the “Muslim mind”. It was the guiding philosophy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may well extend to Iran and Syria. It’s not simply that Bush sees America’s role as protecting Israel from a hostile Arab world. It’s that he has cast the US in the same role in which Israel casts itself, facing the same threat. In this narrative, the US is fighting a never-ending battle for its survival against irrational forces that seek its total extermination.
And now, she adds, Russia is also adopting the “Likudization narrative.”

Now go away before I taunt you a second time

Tom Ridge will today declare September National Preparedness Month. Today. The ninth. Preparedness. Can’t make this shit up.

A gazillion dollars in military spending every year, and this is what it comes down to: “The loudspeakers atop the Humvee crackled to life: ‘The Taliban are women! They're bitches! If they were real men, they'd stop hiding under their burkas and they'd come out and fight! I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.’” OK, I may have tampered with the quote slightly.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


Kerry says that Bush made “catastrophic choices” in Iraq, where Bush says there was a “catastrophic success.” Who could have guessed that the common ground between those two would be a four-syllable word?

Salon has an exhaustive piece about Chimpy’s National Guard service, or lack thereof. If you’ve gotten tired of the story, like I had, this will revitalize your interest. This is not just about the distant past: the lies are ongoing. As new information comes out, the Bushies have had to revise their story again and again. Also, the idea that GeeDubya just wandered off one day and never bothered coming back to base--lazy and irresponsible Bush--is untenable. He actively disregarded orders, falsified paperwork, and got powerful friends to pressure his superiors.

Serbian schools drop the teaching of evolution.

Washington, Adams, Jefferson .... Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. Maybe the Serbs have a point there.

Otherwise occupied

Russia says it is prepared to take preemptive military action against “terrorist bases” anywhere in the world, and will do so with the same level of competence shown in the Beslan crisis. OK, they didn’t say the last part, but they did reassure us that these military strikes would not involve nuclear weapons, something we weren’t even worried about right up until the second they said that.

The GAO says that Thomas Scully should repay all the salary he received as head of Medicare after he illegally ordered that actuary not to report the true cost of Bush’s drug proposals to Congress. That’s actually in the law governing the civil service. The Bush admin is refusing, citing its “executive privilege” to lie to Congress. I’m simplifying their language, but not exaggerating. If only Congress defended congressional oversight with half the energy presidents use in asserting executive privilege, an exceedingly vague and expansive term which is not in the constitution. The DHS investigation of this incident insisted in July that Scully had “the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress.”


Bush Campaign More Thought Out Than Iraq War

WASHINGTON, DC—Military and political strategists agreed Monday that President Bush's re-election campaign has been executed with greater precision than the war in Iraq. "Judging from the initial misrepresentation of intelligence data and the ongoing crisis in Najaf, I assumed the president didn't know his ass from his elbow," said Col. Dale Henderson, a military advisor during the Reagan Administration. "But on the campaign trail, he's proven himself a master of long-term planning and unflinching determination. How else can you explain his strength in the polls given this economy?" Henderson said he regrets having characterized Bush's handling of the war as "incompetent," now that he knows the president's mind was simply otherwise occupied.

We’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating

Dick “Mr. Sensitive” Cheney said today [yesterday, actually; posting to Blogspot was down for half a day; did you miss me?] that if Kerry is elected, “then the danger is that we’ll get hit again [by terrorists] and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating.” So instead we should elect the man who claimed to be president the last time there was a devastating terrorist attack? Anyway, this is so far beyond the pale of civilized political discourse that I expect a national uproar to force Cheney to resign from office and leave political life by the end of the week, starting any... minute... now....

Seriously, this is not acceptable, it’s shameful, and it occurs to me that there’s no one with the independence and stature to say that without being dismissed as partisan, at least not with the Daily Show in reruns this week (McCain doesn’t count: he only complained about the Swift Boat stuff because of his own Vietnam War background, and he made it clear that Bush’s despicable refusal to denounce the ads would not affect McCain’s support for him one iota).

1,000 dead, and the Bushies are busy claiming that since Iraq is just a part of the great big never-ending war on terror, we actually reached 1,000 some time ago. Evidently that’s supposed to make us feel better about it. Or feel nothing about it, like they seem to. So I’m sure they can tell us who #1,000 was, and how they marked his death.

Bush supporters and Bush-supporting states have substantially higher fertility rates than (in Bush states in 2000, the rate is 2.11 children/woman, Gore states 1.89), according to a WaPo story I missed last week, giving what the article calls an “evolutionary advantage” to those who don’t believe in evolution.

Rumsfeld says that the thousands of Iraqis killed by “Iraqi forces and the coalition forces” (translation: Americans) isn’t “a lot out of 25 million people in a country.” How many dead people do you suppose he considers to be “a lot”? He also puts American deaths in perspective: sure, there 2 or 3 US soldiers are killed every day, but “if you think about the fact that we have thousands of patrols every day...and look at the number of incidents, they’re relatively small.” So that’s all right then.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

All 9/11, All the Time

The Bush admin calls for a political settlement over Chechnya or, in other words, a more sensitive war on terrorism.

In a NYT story on how Congressional R’s plan to force a lot of votes on defense issues, Bill Frist’s spokesmodel says “It will be all 9/11, all the time.” A new slogan: “Vote Republican: All 9/11, All the Time.”

The front-page picture that got the Izvestia editor fired.

What's the Russian for tit for tat?

During the Beslan crisis, the LA Times reports, Russian troops took their own hostages, 40 or so relations--including children--of Chechen rebel leaders. The Russians claim that it was protective custody, because those leaders planned to kill their relatives and blame it on Russian security forces. It all makes sense now.

Let’s not feel too superior: the US has done exactly the same thing in Iraq (not sure about Afghanistan), including the wife of the Saddam Hussein aide who was just reported as captured, and then not captured. His wife was seized in December, and the stories I saw that mentioned that fact didn’t say if she was ever released. Does anyone know?

From the Ironic Times: “CORRECTION: Last week, due to a production error, we quoted President Bush describing his Iraq policy as a “successful catastrophe.” In fact, he described it as a “catastrophic success.” We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.”

Monday, September 06, 2004

Ugly processes which have their own logic

Press Association headline: “Bitterness Mounts in Russia.” This is news?

Putin, the Bitter-Guy-in-Chief, berates Western countries for calling Chechen rebels “rebels” rather than “terrorists.” Of course, when Russia was downplaying the Chechen uprising, it liked to call them “bandits.” He denied that there is any relationship between Russian policies in Chechnya and the Beslan incident. Well, except that the latter justifies the former: “Just imagine that people who shoot children in the back came to power anywhere on our planet. Just ask yourself that, and you will have no more questions about our policy in Chechnya.” So genocide doesn’t justify terrorism, but terrorism justifies genocide, is that right?

Asked about human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya, he said that the lower-level people responsible for them are always punished, but “Compare the torture of Iraqi prisoners. This hasn’t happened on the direction of the top US leaders, but because of how individual people behaved in these circumstances. Those who are to blame must be punished.” “In war there are ugly processes which have their own logic.”

The Russian media has begun to do
its job, criticizing the government’s actions and analyzing its lies, and some, including the editor of Izvestia, have been fired for it. They’re asking where some of the dead bodies have disappeared to, saying that the rebels/terrorists/bandits/actress/models were in fact willing to negotiate, that no foreigners were present, and that the bloodbath was not caused by explosives going off but by locals with guns trying to prevent the school being stormed.

Putin refuses to hold a public inquiry.

Kerry says Iraq is “the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and he plans to pull out within four years of taking office. Five, tops. Six, at the outside....

A month after being charged with murder, Salem Chalabi has been removed as head of the Saddam Hussein tribunal.