Monday, October 31, 2005

Scalito II (updated)

(Update: Everything I wrote after the quote seems to have disappeared on the way to posting. It is now restored.)

Here’s Scalito’s reasoning in Casey:
The Supreme Court has held that a man has a fundamental interest in preserving his ability to father a child. The Court’s opinions also seem to establish that a husband who is willing to participate in raising a child has a fundamental interest in the child’s welfare. It follows that a husband has a “legitimate” interest in the welfare of a fetus he has conceived with his wife. ... This interest may be legitimately furthered by state legislation.
So what does he mean by “interest”? One definition given by my computer dictionary is “the state of wanting to know about something or someone,” but I don’t think that’s what he meant, but something more like “a share, right, or stake in property or a financial undertaking.” And you have to ask how the man’s property rights in a fetus may be “furthered” by notification.

(Update: Billmon notes that Alito, to give him his proper name for once (I’m taking bets, though, on who the first senator or tv anchor will be to accidentally call him Scalito, assuming it hasn’t already happened), condescendingly compared the burdens Pennsylvania’s legislation put on adult women to those the Supreme Court was willing to place on minor children. The line I quoted in my last post positing that wives may just need their pretty little heads straightened out about “perceived problems” like economics – the little lady just can’t balance a check book – is also not a little bit condescending.)


Bush says that Sam Alito “understands that judges are to interpret the laws, not to impose their preferences or priorities on the people.” No, evidently that the job of legislatures: in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito supported mandatory notification of husbands (with a one-year prison term if the wife falsely certified having done so) before an abortion because “The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands’ knowledge because of perceived problems--such as economic constraints, future plans, or the husbands’ previously expressed opposition--that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion.” The US Supreme Court, by the way, only struck that provision down by 5-4.

More to come, but his willingness to trample a woman’s right to privacy in that way tells me as much as I need to know.

You do this to your children?

Hugo Chavez denounces Halloween as an American import, a “game of terror.” “Families disguise their children as witches. That is contrary to our ways.” Also, he couldn’t find anyone to fill his order for one million Patrick Fitzgerald masks. Speaking of great moments in cultural exchange, Al Kamen tells how the Iranian “students” who took over the American embassy in 1979 had to have the Halloween decorations explained to them. One of them then asked, “You do this to your children?”

I’ve seen several variants on the idea that, while John Roberts was able to insist that judicial nominees don’t have to talk about their opinions on pretty much anything, the right’s treatment of Harriet Miers has created a new situation, and D’s will now be able to ask such questions of the next nominee. Isn’t that adorable? They actually think that intellectual inconsistency matters. The it’s-ok-to-ask-about-ideology thing is just soooo last week. Unless it isn’t. Remember, the rules are whatever Tom DeLay, Karl Rove and Fox say they are at any particular moment. If a Democrat commits perjury and tries to pass it off as a harmless technicality and the criminalization of politics, it’ll be like Scooter Libby never happened.

Humorous death of the week:
Waco, Texas: The Rev Kyle Lake, 33, was electrocuted while performing a baptism. He grabbed a microphone while standing up to his shoulders in water in a baptismal at University Baptist Church. Doctors in the congregation tried unsuccessfully to revive him. (AP)
(Update: additional from the BBC, which quotes the pastor: “At first, there was definitely confusion just because everyone was trying to figure out what was going on. Everyone just immediately started praying.”) (Update update: I’m told his church’s website has this message: “We are confident that Kyle is in Heaven today because of his trust in Jesus Christ as his savior.” Um, that can be taken two ways.)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Scooter has fallen on his sword

The new intelligence strategy statement has given American intelligence agencies the task, among other things, of “bolster[ing] the growth of democracy”. Because nothing says bolstering democracy like covert action.

The US will allow UN investigators to visit Guantanamo
(it’s even named which ones it wants) and look into torture allegations. The Pentagon says this will show “we have nothing to hide.” Of course, they won’t be allowed to speak with any of the prisoners. They should refuse to go under those circumstances, but I don’t suppose they will.

Odd-sounding quote of the day, from Christie Todd Whitman: “Scooter has fallen on his sword”. Just like an ancient Roman, though not a lot of ancient Romans named Scooter: Peel me another grape, Scooter told his slave; Cicero and Scooter met at the vomitorium to conspire against Valerius Plamius, etc.

Also, Scooter did no such thing. Had he really been such a loyalist, he would have stood up, possibly in the vomitorium (I do know that vomitorium doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means, but I really like saying vomitorium), and taken one for the team two years ago, after it turned out that this particular piece of character-assassinating assholery, among all the instances of Bush-administration character-assassinating assholery, would be the one people gave a shit about.

A paragraph from the AP, verbatim:
Violence during the last week has killed 23 people, including 14 suspected insurgents and two worshipers who were dragged from a mosque and shot. The incident underlined the challenges of bringing stability and strengthening Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy.

23 dead people do not just constitute an “underline,” but also bold-face type, an exclamation point, capital letters and a fucking emoticon.

Underlined the challenges, indeed. Sheesh.

A little detail missing from previous stories of Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s speech in which he called for Israel to be wiped off the map. It was at a conference on “the world without Zionism” held in Teheran, so why is this sign in English?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The other other other George Bush

Apropos of nothing, let me tell you the story (from memory, but I’m pretty sure I have the facts correct) of a time the White House leaked the name of a CIA employee. It was 1988, and the (former) employee was named George Bush. A researcher, a historian I think, looking into the Kennedy assassination, ran across a document which mentioned that someone at the Agency named George Bush had spoken with Cuban emigres right after the assassination. Was it the George Bush whose hitherto first known association with the CIA was when he was appointed to head it in the 1970s, then running for president? Well, in 1963 he was in the oil business, including in the Caribbean, and from a Republican family, so it was certainly plausible that he’d been asked to develop a few contacts, but the document was unclear, and seemed to be referring to someone more officially employed by the CIA. After this story was published in the Nation, the White House put out a statement that it was indeed a different George Bush, someone who’d left the CIA a couple of years later and they didn’t know what had happened to him. But they named him as a former CIA employee anyway. Not undercover, but still. The Nation tracked that George Bush down, which wasn’t especially difficult because he was listed in the phone book and was living at the same address as in 1963 (he’d left the CIA for another civil service job, in Social Security). He denied being the George Bush mentioned in the document; in 1963 he’d been something like 25 and too low-level to have been liaising with anti-Castro Cubans. So it remains a mystery to this day, but the relevant point for us now is that, just 6 years after the Philip Agee Act, the White House outed a former CIA employee, without even warning him first.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Ha’aretz illustrates a story about Israeli police using stun-grenades to keep West Bank Palestinians entering Israel with this AP picture, unhelpfully captioned “Palestinian women waiting to be checked by Border Police officers in Abu Dis while making their to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Friday.”


The big news of the day is of course that Sulu is gay.

Some things of note in Bush’s statement on Scooter Libby’s indictment: He called him by the nickname Scooter. While he said that the Scootster is presumed innocent, he added “we’re all saddened by today’s news,” which would not be an appropriate response if the Scootmeister is in fact guilty of what Bush said two years ago was a serious crime. Speaking of serious crimes, Bush then went on to say “I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House. We got a job to protect the American people”. Well, it’s a serious crime against grammar, anyway.

I appreciate the jointness that we’re working on

Bush’s latest speech on The War Against Terror (TWAT) began with his usual appreciation-fest: “I appreciate the foreign officers here. I appreciate you being here. I appreciate the jointness that we’re working on, and the transformation they’re working on together to make sure that we’re able to keep the peace.” And I appreciate the accurate transcriptions. This one even included the heckler:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. President, war is terror.

That’s a three-O boo. I believe if it had been just a two-O boo, that would have meant ghosts.

He’s still quoting the discredited Zinoviev Zawahiri-Zarqawi letter.

He tells this story: “An 85-year-old Iraqi woman cast a ballot in favor of the constitution after her son carried her to the polls on his back....” We’ve heard this exact story before, haven’t we, except it was about the January election or the Afghan election. I’m right, aren’t I?

“Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources?” So if the American occupation were ended, bin Laden would become president, is that what you’re so saying? How about the Ghost of Hitler, would he be minister of the interior?

90% of the speech is literally word for word stuff he’s said before, most of it duplicating that televised National Endowment for Democracy speech, so there’s no need to re-mock it here. So thank you and may God continue to bless... oh wait, what the hell am I saying, now he’s got me doing it.

It shows how much some of these places need to reform themselves

Israel is seriously trying to get the UN to expel Iran because of its president’s little cartographical comment. Ariel Sharon, he of the “never-ending offensive,” is shocked, shocked, that a Middle Eastern politician would engage in hyperbolic language. The Israeli ambassador, according to Ha’aretz, “said no country that calls for violence and destruction should be allowed membership in the UN.” So the only thing left for the United Nations to do is decide whether to conduct its future proceedings in Swedish, Norwegian or Danish. Tony Blair chimed in, without a hint of condescension, “I feel a real sense of revulsion. It shows how much some of these places need to reform themselves. How can we build a more secure world with that type of attitude? It is a disgrace.” He then sent Iran to its room to think about what it had done. Various Western leaders have been saying that this just shows that Iran cannot be trusted with white-out or other Weapons of Map Destruction, lest they try to literally wipe Israel off the map.

An LAT editorial refers to Harriet Miers as an “aborted nomination.” Uh, yeah.

AP headline for a story that’s nowhere near as titillating as it sounds: “New Charges in Fatal Strip Accident.” A guy crashed a stolen car into some people at a bus stop on the Las Vegas strip or something, dunno, I lost interest when it wasn’t about strippers.

Don’t think I’ve mentioned that FEMA is refusing to help New Orleans get absentee ballots to its diasporic citizens, and R’s are writing a provision into the relief bill refusing to fund non-profits trying to house Katrina victims if they also try to register them to vote.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Candid council -- is that what they’re calling it these days?

Harriet Miers has sacrificed herself to preserve the separation of powers, sez Bush. “It is clear that Senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House - disclosures that would undermine a President’s ability to receive candid counsel.” There won’t be more than six people in America who’ll buy that one.

Harry Reid assigns responsibility for the failed nomination to radical right-wing Republicans, adding “I mean, it must be them, because we just stood around with our thumbs up our ass. Again.”

But I wonder who George Bush really blames for this fiasco? Not himself, of course, and probably not Miers. Reid may now think that the Dems’ quiet about Miers was a brilliant strategy, but who will Bush feel a need to appease with his next nominee? Or will he go the other way, in a snit, and petulantly refuse to appease a faction that failed to give him the loyalty he feels is his birthright?

From the Guardian:
A hospital has removed a staff unicycle from its children’s ward after a mother complained that her six-month-old baby had to wait for treatment while his doctor learned to ride it up and down corridors. ...

The South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust said: “On a children’s ward, we strive to combine professionalism with an air of informality and fun aimed at putting children at ease. On this occasion we did not succeed in achieving this compromise.”
The BBC is closing down its broadcasts in Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian and other Eastern European languages in order to pay for a new Arabic tv service in the Middle East. Could anything say more clearly that the BBC functions as the propaganda arm of British foreign policy?

Michael Brown is not only still on FEMA’s payroll as a “consultant,” a gig just extended for another month, but he’s getting the same salary as when he (supposedly) ran the agency.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Last resort

The Organization of the Islamic Conference opposes the idea of UN sanctions on Syria, because “The Muslim World has always been against imposing sanctions and collective punishments on a nation as they primarily cause unjust sufferings to the people, unless they’re Israelis, in which case fuck ‘em.” I may have tacked a few words onto that.

Meanwhile, Bush said that military action against Syria would be the “last resort,” which should be ever so reassuring, since that’s exactly what he used to say invading Iraq would be. He doesn’t want to fight, but by jingo if he do.

While web-surfing, listening to a BBC radio program (because I’m nothing of not versatile) (or easily bored) which included an interview with the authors of “Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopedia of Modern Life.” Looked it up on (it’s not available here in the non-civilized world), which lead to some other good book titles: “A Shite History of Nearly Everything,” “Great Lies to Tell Small Kids” (“Strictly speaking, the tomato is not a vegetable. It’s really a kind of dolphin”).

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Speken of Shaft bene I

Update: that Afghan editor sentenced to 2 years for “blasphemy,” well, the prosecutor wanted the death penalty.

As various Republican Senators come out to demand access to the White House papers Harriet Miers worked on, a fun way to pass the time is to try to figure out which ones are actually attempting to perform their advise and consent function and which ones have been tasked by the White House to do so in order to give Bush a face-saving way of withdrawing the nomination. I thought this idea was just an amusing theory when I first heard it, but I’ve become convinced, not least by the ham-handed intercession by Bush yesterday, when in response to a question nobody had asked, he insisted that acceding to such demands “would make it impossible for me and other presidents to be able to make sound decisions.” He did not give any examples of sound decisions he has made. Unless he meant which songs to put on his iPod (sound decisions, geddit?)

The Bush quiz.

The NYT, perhaps being sarcastic, noted that Turkmenistan’s “usually compliant Parliament” refused one of President Niyazov’s requests. He wanted them to set elections for 2009, but they said, unanimously, no, we made you president-for-life, and that’s it.

Anbar province (the Fallujah region) voted 96.9% against the Iraqi constitution, while 12 Shiite and/or Kurdish provinces voted over 90% in favor, up to 99.36%. You can’t build a successful national polity on that basis, you just can’t.

Wha be tha blake prevy lawe
That bene wantoun too alle tha feres?
Ya damne righte! ...

Alle clepe tha carl ane badde mooder-
Speken of Shaft bene I.

Those are the lyrics to “Shaft” translated into Chaucerian English. Can ye dig it?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Blood and irony

In an article on the new far-right, homophobic (Doug Ireland has several posts about this) and generally obnoxious president-elect of Poland, the Indy notes, “Germany has been concerned about the nationalist tone of his rhetoric.” And Germany should know. Would be funny, but I’m on Germany’s side on this one.

Nepal bans news from the radio.

8 year old girl goes hunting, kills a bear. Isn’t that cute?

No, it fucking isn’t.

Caption contest:

Market forces

Patrick Cockburn, in a story in the Indy on Sunday behind a pay barrier, writes about the weakness of the Iraqi government:
Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister, recently wanted to visit President Jalal Talabani, whose house is five minutes drive from the Green Zone. Mr al-Jaafari was told by his Western security men that he must delay the visit for a day because it would take 24 hours to arrange for him to travel safely even half a mile from the Green Zone.
He also notes that because Iraqi army commanders were given cash to pay their men, the army in reality is half the size of the army on paper, maybe 40,000. Also, of the 115 battalions, only 1 is not segregated along ethnic/sectarian lines.

Given Bill “Kitty Killer” Frist’s profiting, despite a supposed blind trust, by selling HCA stock at its height, just before the bottom fell out, the New Yorker reports on a study by a group of researchers at Georgia State into investments by senators, and guess what, they’re very very good market analysts, beating the market by an average of 12% per year (in 6,000 stock transactions 1993-8). Funny, that.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Born to rule

Barrington Moore has died, at 92. If you’re like me, and I suppose it’s vaguely possible you aren’t, you were assigned his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy in pretty much every single college course you took.

Brazil, the country with the highest rate of gun deaths in the world (39,000 per year, compared to 30,000 in the US), has voted in a referendum not to ban gun sales. The BBC implies that the American NRA had a direct involvement in the No campaign. Has anyone seen something more substantial about this? The AP merely says that the No campaign translated a lot of NRA material, so that some Brazilians now think they have a Second Amendment which gives them a right to keep and bear arms. Which they don’t. Under statute law, though, anyone over the age, interestingly, of 25 can buy a gun.

The editor of the Afghan magazine Women’s Rights has been sentenced to 2 years for blasphemy for various articles, including ones which argued against lashing adulterers 100 times, and stoning to death Muslims who convert to other religions. Since the Afghan government survives only due to the American military presence, this sentence is our responsibility. Will we see Marines doing crowd control when a convert is stoned to death or an adulteress is lashed? Will they be assigned to throw the stones? The standards of criminal justice were exacting: the judge in the case said, “The Ulama Council sent us a letter saying that he should be punished so I sentenced him to two years’ jail.” So let me repeat: the US invaded Afghanistan in order to put the Ulama Council in charge of its legal system.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the last legitimately elected president of Burma, has been under house arrest for ten years.

In the battle to lead the British Tory party, one of David Davis’s lieutenants has accused David Cameron, who went to Eton, of thinking he was “born to rule.” Imagine that! a Tory who thinks he’s born to rule. Indeed, a Britisher who thinks he’s born to rule. Astonishing. Liam Fox, out of the race after the last round of voting, has accused Davis of spreading rumors that Fox has a secret homosexual past. Honey, your name is “Liam Fox”: we all assumed you were gay.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

It’s something that our U.S. government has said a number of times in the past

When Bush announced his nomination of Harriet Miers, he said he’d consulted with many members of the Senate. Are we to believe that there was a single senator who suggested Miers? (“Proportional representation requirement of the Equal Protection clause,” indeed).

Don’t know how I missed this story: a Georgia state senator, David Graves (R), claimed parliamentary immunity from a drunk driving charge (his second in a year) because he was driving home from a (boozy) dinner meeting with other legislators. Hey, it’s right there in the state constitution. He was embarrassed into withdrawing the defense, for which he blamed his lawyer, one William “Bubba” Head. Graves will also resign from a committee that oversees the regulation of the liquor industry, and promises, “You can rest assured that I will not make the same poor choices again.” I look forward to his new poor choices.

I had thought I wasn’t going to pile on to Karen Hughes for her claim that Saddam Hussein “murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas.” After all, everyone can misspeak; for example the WaPo itself, reporting this, says, “at least 300,000 Iraqis are reported to have died during Hussein’s 24 years in office” when it meant that that many were killed by the government. But Hughes (in Indonesia) continued to demonstrate the depth of her understanding when asked how she came up with the number: “It’s something that our U.S. government has said a number of times in the past. ... That’s something I said every day in the course of the campaign. That’s information that we talked about a great deal in America.” And “I think it was almost 300,000. It’s my recollection,” adding helpfully, “They were put in mass graves.”

Really, I think Miers, Rice and Hughes show how much progress this country has made. It used to be that for a woman to succeed in “a man’s world,” she had to be twice as good and work twice as hard. But these women, while only half as good... wait, that doesn’t work, cuz they’re still smarter than Bush.

Caption contest: Karen Hughes in Indonesia.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Standard of care

The Guantanamo Bay chief prison doctor denies that forcible feeding is used as a form of punishment and says that the treatment of hunger striking prisoners “equals or exceeds the standard of care available at accredited hospitals in the United States.” With this slight difference: accredited hospitals in the US do not forcibly feed sane patients against their will.

Reflecting American values

David Cameron, running to be the man who leads the British Tory party to defeat in the next election, has said that he hasn’t used any hard drugs... since 2001. That should settle that question....

The head of MI5, the British rough equivalent of the FBI, says that torture does in fact produce very useful intel (“detainee reporting”). Oh, not that they’d do it themselves, but if that intel happened to come from foreign security agencies they wouldn’t ask any awkward questions. The statement was made in a legal case; some people Britain is trying to deport on the basis of “evidence” resulting from torture are appealing.

US embassies around the world have been told to explain that the burning of the bodies of dead Taliban fighters by American troops in Afghanistan does not reflect American values. Loudly taunting the locals as they did it, though, pretty much does.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

There’s some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining

Lady boys?

Bush met the Palestinian president today and told him, “The way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine. And those armed gangs must confront the threat that armed gangs pose to lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Uh, right, sure, whatever.

Asked about the distractions of Plamegate, the failed Miers nomination & the scandals of Republican congressional leaders, he said, “there’s some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining.” Someone stop him before he says “opining” again. Also, considering how bad Jon Stewart’s Bush imitation is, why is it impossible to read that sentence without hearing it in that voice?

Shrub said that trust was real important-like in the Middle East, saying
The Gaza withdrawal is a magnificent opportunity to help develop trust. It’s an opportunity to develop trust between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And after all, the world watched strong cooperation between two willing governments to help good disengagement of Gaza, which is a -- right now, I guess, we take it all for granted.
“Good disengagement”? “Two willing governments”? Actually, someone stop him before he says anything at all again; it’s just too painful. “I think prior to the disengagement, there was a lot of consternation, a lot of concern. I suspect some of you might have even reported that, you know, better watch out”.

And on the failed Miers nomination, “I picked Harriet for a lot of reasons. One reason was because she had never been a judge. ... Secondly, the questionnaire that she filled out is an important questionnaire, and obviously they will address the questions that the senators have in the questionnaire -- or as a result of the answers to the questions in the questionnaire.” No one made it out of that sentence alive.

But, after reading a transcript brimming even more than usual with Bushy imbecility, I have made it out with life and limb, if not sanity, intact, and that is a very good disengagement indeed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Pro-life, with three exceptions

Scottie McClellan, asked today if Bush shared Harriet Miers’ 1989 unwillingness to countenance abortion even for victims of rape, said, “The President is pro-life, with three exceptions, and that’s been his position all along.”

Mostly, Little Scottie stone-walled questions (I was going to say dodged, but that implies a nimbleness that Scottie, to put it mildly, lacks) about the NY Daily News article you’ve all read by now. I’m sure it’s true that Bush did indeed know two years ago that Rove had done what Rove does, but the article as stands is based entirely on anonymous sources, which means it rests entirely on the credibility of... the New York Daily News.

That makes not one but two man-bites-dog stories about Bush: usually, Bush really doesn’t know about things that he claims to know about, but in these cases he actually did know about things (Miers’s position about abortion, who leaked Valerie Plame’s name) he had claimed not to know anything about.

Speaking of wilful ignorance, an AP story entitled “Guantanamo Hunger Strikers Shirk Tubes,” which informs us a) that AP doesn’t know what the word “shirk” means, b) that Gitmo prisoners allege that forcible feeding has been used as a punishment and that, ew gross, the NG tubes are not cleaned between prisoners, quotes the Pentagon spokesmodel for Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, calling those charges “wholly inaccurate and blatantly misrepresent the excellent work being done here by honorable military and civilian professionals,” BUT adds that Martin “did not know the specific procedures for handling the feeding tubes.” So a pretty categorical statement issued from a position of complete admitted ignorance. And if the Guantanamo spokesman doesn’t know about this, what does he know about?

Saddam’s trial began today, and it was, as predicted, showy. In Iraq, it was televised but on a delay, in case of a wardrobe malfunction. The trial, which may be the only one of Saddam because of the requirement that if convicted he be executed within 30 days, is about the many deadly punishments Saddam inflicted on the Shiite town Dujail after an assassination attempt on him occurred there in 1982. An odd choice, at least to those of us who remember the phrase “He’s the guy who tried to kill my dad.”

The trial was immediately adjourned, not because Saddam’s lawyer asked for it, which he did, but because, according to the lead judge, none of the witnesses showed up because they were all scared. Which may be true, but the fact that the judge said it doesn’t speak well for his impartiality. Of the 5 judges, we only know the name of one, who is a Kurd, which I’m sure will go over real well among the Sunnis. The cameras stayed off the anonymous four, two or more of whom have no more judicial experience than Harriet Miers, which is especially important because the standard of proof that the Americans designated for this tribunal is that the judges must only be “satisfied” by the evidence, as opposed to, say, convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. By the way, the prosecutor is accusing Saddam of having used improper procedures (“nominal and only on paper”) in the conviction of people in Dujail.

Condi Rice told the Senate foreign relations committee that American policy in Iraq is “clear, hold and build,” which sounds like the sort of management jargon the pointy-haired boss in Dilbert would recite. Biden, evidently asking for the very most he thought he could ask, which is why he is such a waste of space, asked her “at what point, assuming the strategy works, do you think we’ll be able to see some sign of bringing some American forces home?” She forthrightly responded, “I don’t want to hazard what I think would be a guess, even if it were an assessment, of when that might be possible.” And thus was Congressional oversight accomplished in our fair republic.

It ain’t over ‘til the whiny lady sings

I watched tonight’s Frontline on Abu Ghraib, which didn’t quite succeed in making torture boring, but had little new (there were some “home movies” I hadn’t seen before that are worth seeing; they are at about 73 minutes in), and could have used some editing. I’d be interested in other people’s opinions, in comments.

After the revelations, didn’t we promise to turn Abu Ghraib over to the Iraqis? What ever happened with that? A bunch of prisoners were released just before the referendum, suggesting either that the US suddenly received information clearing several hundred prisoners all at the same time, or... no, that’s what it must have been. But while prisoners are kept waiting in their dungeons for months while any allegations against them are investigated ever... so... slowly, there are evidently plenty of resources available for the show trial of Saddam Hussein. I still want to know if the Americans would let him go if he were acquitted.

From the NYT arts section:
Anyone searching for an opera built on violent conflict more recent than the Trojan Wars need look no farther than Tufts University, where plans are in progress for a spring production of “Nancy and Tonya: The Opera,” based on the rivalry between the ice skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding that led to an attack on Ms. Kerrigan before the 1994 Winter Olympics. reported that the opera, with a libretto by the novelist Elizabeth Searle and music by Abigail Al-Doory, a Tufts graduate student, features an aria based on Ms. Kerrigan’s lament: “Why? Why? Why?”
The WaPo has a scoop: “Class, Color May Drive New Orleans’s Future.” D’ya think?

According to the WaPo, Secretary of War Rumsfeld “began his first official visit to China on Wednesday by urging an audience of rising Communist Party leaders to play a greater role in global affairs” etc. Yeah, he really, really wants the Chinese to play a greater role in global affairs.

Caption contest:

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I’m guessing minus

About that poll showing Bush’s favorable rating among blacks was 2%: its margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

BBC headline: “French Crack Baby-Smuggling Ring.” Who would want to smuggle French crack babies?

Monday, October 17, 2005

George Bush wishes everyone a merry Ramadan

Smoking will be banned in pubs, restaurants and other workplaces in Northern Ireland. Just what we need, more cranky people in Northern Ireland. People in prisons and mental asylums will still be allowed to smoke.

Update: the Supreme Court tells Missouri not to block the abortion of that prisoner. She will get her abortion this week, more than 8 weeks after she first asked for it.

At an Iftaar dinner at the White House (!), Bush announces that the White House library now has a Koran, right next to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and says “I believe the time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to denounce an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles your noble faith.” He doesn’t explain why it is the particular responsibility of Muslim leaders (but note his use of the word “Islamic”) to denounce every single “bad” Muslim of the billion plus Muslims in the world, or indeed why it is any business of a Christian American to point out their supposed duty to them. Maybe he wants them to set up a Muslim Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis Sanctum Officium too.

Oh, what the White House website doesn’t tell you: there was a segregated Iftaar dinner for women, hosted by Laura Bush.

The last Australian World War I veteran (at least the last one posted to a war zone) has died, age 106.

I was going to write something about Saddam Hussein’s impending trial, then decided against. But here are the pictures that would have accompanied it:

The idea of deciding to go into a ballot box is a positive development

Bush today repeated one of the silliest talking points about the Iraqi referendum: “an increase in turnout was an indication that the Iraqi people are strongly in favor of settling disputes in a peaceful way”. How is it an either/or situation? Was there fine print that no one read, like the license agreement for a piece of software which says that using the software means you’ve given up all your legal rights? Or is it more that it would be kinda hypocritical? I mean they might be willing to blow themselves up outside the post office, but surely they wouldn’t do it after having voted, that would just be so tacky.

And yet I suspect there will be many purple fingers on triggers. I’m sorry, but most people don’t look at casting a ballot as a grand statement of principles, like John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence, but view it a tad more instrumentally. If anyone knows that, it should be Republicans, since no Republican has ever run for any office ever without promising to cut taxes.

Bush went on, “I was pleased to see that the Sunnis participated in the process. The idea of deciding to go into a ballot box is a positive development.” I know we’ve blown up a lot of their houses, but isn’t a ballot box just a little cramped? He added, “It’s an exciting day for a country that only a few short years ago was ruled by a brutal tyrant.” Somehow I don’t think they’ve feel like short years to the Iraqis.

George Packer in the New Yorker describes Bush’s philosophy as “more Harding than Reagan; not anti-government, just anti-good-government”.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hate, fear, dominatrixes and cocaine

Two adjacent headlines in the London Times:
Hate and Fear Drive Sunnis to the Polling Stations

Iraq Referendum Gives Hope to Those Seeking New Democracy
Schizophrenic much?

But when support for the constitution is 95% in Karbala province and 3 to 5% in Fallujah and Samarra, it’s by definition unworkable, whether it meets the technical grounds for ratification or not.

Speaking of hate and fear, the British Tory party has been trying to pick a new leader, and of course it all comes down to... whether front-runner David Cameron took drugs at college. He won’t say, and his opponents are deploying that air of superiority which makes the Conservatives what they are. Another contender, David Davis, has opined that anyone who has used drugs shouldn’t lead the Tory party, although last go-around he refused to the answer the question himself. In an interview, Jonathan Dimbleby asked Davis if it wasn’t true that he was “skilful at dripping poison into the campaign” and then “pretending to pour balm on the wound.” And we only get Tim Russert and Judith Miller. You have to love a campaign that gives you headlines like “Dominatrix Leaves No Mark in Tory Dirty Tricks Dispute” (The Times). The dominatrix in question appears in a 12-year old photo with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne (who was 22) and a suspicious line of white powder. Osborne’s office says that he never took cocaine... with her. And so it goes.

After all, the purpose of a democracy is to make sure everybody is -- participates in the process

At the Million Man March reunion, there were signs reading “Bush Lied, People Died.” You know, that doesn’t really narrow it down that much, does it?

The Bushies are claiming that even Sunnis who turned out for the sole purpose of voting against the constitution have now accepted the political process, and are welcoming them back like the formerly lost lambs they are. Condi on Mess the Preet today said she was “confident that Sunnis participated in large numbers, which means that the base of politics has expanded in Iraq.” For example, in Samarra, 95% voted No; somehow it’s hard for me to see that as expanding the base of politics. Along the same lines, Shrub says, “After all, the purpose of a democracy is to make sure everybody is -- participates in the process.” Now you know what the purpose of a democracy is, in case you were wondering. The Chimpster adds, “The vote today in Iraq stands in stark contrast to the attitudes and philosophy and strategy of al Qaeda and its terrorist friends and killers.”

On that Meet the Pross, Tim Russert asked Condi “do you have any information that Osama bin Laden may have been killed or injured” in the earthquake in Pakistan.

She doesn’t.

Russert asked her about Bush’s low approval rating among blacks (2%). She just doesn’t understand it, she said more in sorrow than in anger; after all,
I represent the fact that the United States of America is a multicultural and multiethnic society in which we are finally coming to terms with a history in which not all Americans were always represented. And so, I think, as an African-American secretary of state, that’s special.
Yes Condi, it’s all about you, you, you. And you are special, yes you are, yes you are.

Forced pregnancy, a Missouri value

A federal district court judge told the Missouri prison system to stop blocking a prisoner from exercising her right to abortion; they had been refusing to transport her to a clinic, under a policy adopted in July. The state, with the governor noising off about “an outrageous order from an activist federal judge that offends Missouri values,” then went to the Supreme Court and got Clarence Thomas to block the order, at least temporarily. The woman has been fighting the prison authorities on this for several weeks, and is now 16 or 17 weeks pregnant. I guess they wanted to delay until she was showing. Geddit, the “show me” state, geddit?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

3½ inches

In his weekly radio address, Shrub is still touting the Zawahiri letter, which he says “explain[s] why Iraq is the central front in their war on civilization,” though it is now universally understood to be not only a fake, but as badly executed a fake as the Nigerien yellowcake forgeries. I actually expected, silly me, that Chimpy would drop this latest scam once it was exposed. Forgot for a moment who I was dealing with.

An Iranian woman has been convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. Iranian officials, though, insist that Iran is a civilized country that no longer stones people to death; she’ll probably be hanged instead, they say. Hey, she might just be lashed. (Update: the Reuters story has a little detail the Observer left out: she was also convicted of helping her lover kill her husband. For that, she received a separate sentence of 15 years. Note that adultery got a stronger sentence than murder.)

The Observer’s Jason Burke notes that, once again, when a natural disaster hit a Muslim nation, the government fell down badly (Musharraf was early on excusing the slow response to the earthquake by comparing it with Bush’s response to Katrina) while Muslim charities, many connected to extremists (but many not), not bogged down by incompetence and corruption, did excellent work, undermining the credibility of yet another secular government.

The Guinness Book of World Records has recognized this man, Mehmet Ozyurek of Turkey, as having the largest nose in the world, 3½ inches. Congratulations, Mr. Ozyurek.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Was that a fairly typical way that he gets information about what’s happening in Iraq?

From today’s Gaggle:
Q Scott, just to follow on the event yesterday the President had with the troops. Was that a fairly typical way that he gets information about what’s happening in Iraq?


Q When the President meets with his commanders, is there a more vigorous give-and-take, or what we saw yesterday --

MR. McCLELLAN: Of course there is. I don’t even know why you’re making such a suggestion.

Q Just asking.

So I’ve pre-ordered Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilization, which will be out next month. I’ll review it here, but it’s 1,136 pages long – evidently it’s a war of attrition – so you probably don’t want to hold your breath waiting.

A while back I thought that Rick Santorum’s It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good might be good blog fodder, but my local public library hasn’t purchased it, and I didn’t want to spend money on it. I thought about asking you, my readers, to buy it for me, then I would read it and quote all the (unintentionally) funny bits and mock them for you, only I really didn’t want anyone spending money on this book, so I thought about asking you, my readers, to shoplift a copy for me, preferably from a Wal-Mart, but ultimately thought better of it.

Russia has crushed the Chechens who invaded Nalchik, killing many of them and many civilians, we’ll never know how many. I don’t really have anything to say about that.

The Justice Dept is in court defending the refusal to let the lawyers and families of hunger-striking detainees in Guantanamo speak with them. “There are all kinds of security issues there,” said the government lawyer. He claimed that there were 24 hunger-strikers, of whom 7 were being forcibly fed, but we know the Pentagon’s figures are no more worthy of trust than the official Nalchik death count will be. There is an article in the current British Medical Journal (not free to the general public), by a doctor who works in a British prison, which notes that the American justification for force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners, that authorities have a right to prevent “suicide,” and that hunger striking constitutes a suicide attempt, “has been almost universally rejected. The aim of suicide is death. Hunger strikers do not want to die; they want to live. They want to live with a better quality of life”. If the prisoner is sane, he or she has the same right to refuse medical treatment as anyone else. The British Medical Journal has come a long way since 1909, when it was very much in favor of the forcible feeding of suffragette prisoners, but even then (editorials Oct. 9, 1909, Dec. 18, 1909; sorry, no links!) it was contemptuous of politicians who hid behind the doctors and disclaimed any responsibility, as the Pentagon does today.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Interfacing with Iraqi civilians

Follow-up on Bush’s heavily staged video-conference blogged in my last post (Scotty McClellan, by the way, claims that the obvious scripting and admitted prepping of the soldiers, which was overheard by CNN, was necessitated by the technological problems of the event with the satellites and all that). But as scripted as it was, the exchange could still be revealing, as when Bush asked one captain, “As you move around, I presume you have a chance to interface [!] with the civilians there in that part of the world. And a lot of Americans are wondering whether or not people appreciate your presence or whether or not the people are anxious to be part of the democratic process.” The captain responded, “Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city Tikrit last week, and he was going around, talking to the locals. And from what he told me that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum.” So the only interfacing he’s doing is with someone in the Iraqi military, who told him exactly what he wanted to hear (and who in turn was informed by locals who told him what he wanted to hear).

Growing confusion and some misunderstanding

From the Schwarzenegger Prop 75 campaign, a cartoon every bit as subtle as the Governator himself.

Speaking of subtle, at MacDill Air Force Base, Secretary of War Rumsfeld suggested that troops should set their fellow citizens straight and dispel the “growing confusion and some misunderstanding” about The War Against Terror (TWAT). Evidently, “the public impression is so different from the reality.” Why does “the public” hate America? Rummy wants the troops to send out lots of emails to present the public with “a balance of what’s happening, as opposed to an imbalance that they’re receiving through normal channels.” If you have not yet been the lucky recipient of one of these Rumm-e-mails, here is some of the suggested content: “Well, you can tell those who ask such questions that you and your friends across the world are standing on the front lines to protect them and to safeguard their freedoms, as well as your own.” That should certainly take care of that growing confusion and some misunderstanding.

Speaking of growing confusion and some misunderstanding, George Bush says he wants Syria to be a “good neighbor to Iraq.” Oh, and it should also not “agitate killers in the Palestinian territory.” Really, agitating killers is probably not a good idea anywhere.

Bush also video-conferenced today with some American soldiers in Tikrit. He told them that “the American people are standing strong with you.” Well, not actually with them, that would be kinda dangerous; he was actually watching them on a large tv from several thousand miles away, so it was more sort of a metaphorical standing with them than an actual standing with them although, to be fair, he really was standing.

He added, “Thank you for all your work. When you [get] back to the United States, if I’m hanging around, come by and say hello.” The soldiers, who were not pre-screened or carefully prepped in any way, were able to answer Chimpy’s probing questions:
“Do the Iraqis want to fight, and are they capable of fighting?” he asked. He was told they were. [AP]
And Bush informed them that in Iraq they were facing “an enemy that actually has a philosophy.” Oh, the horror.

The NYT’s Joel Brinkley, following Condi Rice in her travels, has been doing some nice work in sneaking irony past his editors. Tuesday:
Rice, beginning a trip to Central Asia, urged the region’s leaders on Monday to hold “elections that are free and fair,” even though in one state she plans to visit nearly all the likely opposition candidates have been jailed and in another laws have been passed that stack the odds in favor of the present rulers.
And today:
“Afghanistan is inspiring the world with its march toward democracy,” she said here, just hours after insurgents fired three rockets into downtown, wounding two Afghans.
The latter story also highlighted the introduction of suicide bombing into Afghanistan, which you’d think would have gotten a little more notice than it has.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Iraq’s parliament has indeed approved the changes to the draft constitution, 3 days before the referendum, which I suppose is better than 3 days after the referendum. The draft now begins, “This constitution is a guarantee for the unity of Iraq.” Always start off with a joke.

A Chinese gentleman who sold bile extracted from the gall bladders of living bears was attacked and eaten by six living bears. Chinese think bear bile has medicinal effects; I don’t know about that, but reading this story did me no end of good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The Air Force’s recruitment website’s slogan is “We’ve been waiting for you.” Should the military really be taking its slogans from the theme songs of ‘70s sitcoms? And does anyone have suggestions for recruiting slogans taken from theme songs of other ‘70s sitcoms?

John Bolton prevented the Security Council from hearing the report of a UN envoy about atrocities in Darfur, for reasons that are obscure to me. His explanation was that the Council should act and not talk. What’s really going on?

I guess it doesn’t matter that so many Iraqis haven’t been given a chance to see the draft constitution they’re supposed to be voting on, since the thing was rewritten yet again today, 4 days before the referendum, by people who had no right or authority to do so, and with the active participation of the American ambassador . One change: instead of the document being unamendable for 8 years if it passed, the next parliament would start rewriting it in December.
(Update: you wouldn’t know from the WaPo story about this just how negligible and unrepresentative were the only Sunnis willing to participate in this farce).

Out of this rubble is going to come some good

Politics at its most elemental: in the Liberian presidential elections, this slogan:
Did he kill your ma? No!
Did he kill your pa? No!
Vote for George Weah!
Bush was asked by a reporter today about Karl Rove & the Plame case. He responded, “I’m not going to talk about the case. It’s under review. Thank you for asking.” The latter was of course sarcastic. His top aide is being investigated for a felony and he thinks he has the right to be snippy when he’s asked about it.

Bush went to Louisiana again, because “Out of this rubble is going to come some good,” by which he meant a photo op. He went to a Habitat for Humanity site, where they gave him, dear God, a hammer. There were no survivors.

Yes George, you’re holding up that wall all by yourself. Just stand like that and you won’t get into any trouble.

Spoke too soon. Looks like he hit himself in what Dick Cheney likes to call “an undisclosed location.”

Aw, the LauraBot’s helping out too. Note that the LauraBot doesn’t need a helmet, as her positronic net is protected by a skull made of durable titanium.

This man is hoping, in vain, that the Secret Service will stop George before he hammers in another nail.

Monday, October 10, 2005

That means when crisis hits an ally, another ally steps forward

Tony Blair is asking Parliament to ban 15 Islamicist groups, i.e., make membership in them or raising funds for them a crime. The groups all seem to have national goals, that is they want to turn Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, Libya, Bangladesh, Morocco into radical Islamic states. Because it makes life easier if you can convict people based on guilt by association rather than prove they did something themselves. MPs will also be relieved of the burden of having to figure out for themselves whether each of the 15 organizations is as bad as the government says they are, because they will not be allowed to vote on the 15 individually, just on the whole list.

How is it I’ve never heard of the sport of chessboxing, in which rounds of 4 minutes of chess alternate with rounds of 2 minutes of boxing?

The London Times notes that while the US is giving Pakistan $50m for earthquake relief, it is careful to point out that it is also a present for what the American ambassador called Pakistan’s “long-term strategic relationship” with the US, i.e., its alleged help in The War Against Terror (TWAT), adding, in case they don’t get it, “that means when crisis hits an ally, another ally steps forward.” Also, of course, Bush told Musharaf that the US will be offering an urgent shipment of prayers “for the Almighty God’s blessings on the people of Pakistan.” The Pentagon will assist in search and rescue operations, which they must be highly experienced at by now, seeing as they’ve been searching for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar in that region for four years.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Stamp out meaningless phrases

Not feeling inspired by the news, except, you know, with horror, so here are some highlights from the New York Magazine competition for 9/13/93, which asked for slogans for any movement du jour:
Save the dead white males.

It’s the stupidity, economist.

Let’s give it up for the King’s English

Bring back long division.

Give denial a chance.

Send a gay to camp.

Is a barrel of monkeys your idea of fun?

Carnivores are people too.

Godfather knows best.

Get involved. Make love and war.

[NOTE: More New York Magazine competitions here.]

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Some people are sycophants, some are Dinks

Maureen Dowd: “W. is so loath to leave his little bubble - where caretakers tell him how brilliant and bold he is - that he keeps selecting the people in charge of the selection committees. It’s just so much easier to choose a sycophant who’s already in the room than to create one from scratch.”

An editor in Turkey who rejoices in the name Hrant Dink has been convicted of “insulting Turkishness,” although his prison sentence was suspended. Actually, his article called on Armenians to reject the poisoning effect of their anger against Turks for the, you know, genocide and whatnot. The prosecutors, who are not good readers, claimed he was saying that Turkish blood was poison.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A fantastic woman

One of the WaPo op-ed writers, I forget who, nailed the problem with Harriet Miers: no other president would have nominated her. Without her personal connection to Bush, her nomination is inconceivable, she wouldn’t have been on a list of the top 100 candidates, and no one can argue otherwise. What I’m enjoying is that with all the right-wing opposition, the Bushies may not be able to get away with refusing to release her papers. So that could be fun. The wingers (Bork of all people attacked her today) are in fact taking the line that I did with John Roberts, that the default position with a candidate you don’t know enough about should be rejection. Bush says “when she’s on the bench, people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge.”

Maureen Dowd and others keep talking about how much Bush likes to surround himself with strong women, but then how do you explain Jenna and Not-Jenna?

Still, for corrupt cronyism you can’t beat Silvio Berlusconi. While he has often sponsored measures that weakened the Italian judicial system to save his own ass, and decriminalized bribery and corruption, now he is pushing a new law through intended to save his own personal lawyer from going to jail for bribing judges to ensure the success of one of Berlusconi’s personal business deals, but which will have the little side effect of striking down half the cases before the highest court, setting free murderers, embezzlers, etc etc.

During his visit to Nicaragua, Zoelick didn’t just threaten to cut off aid if political events there did not go as he liked, but went so far as to warn businesses that if they supported the Sandinistas they would be banned from doing business with the US.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Holy towering inferno, Batman!

Stately Wayne Manor (or the building that stood in for it in the tv series) has burnt down. It was in Pasadena. (Update: another story says that the mansion used in “Being There” has burned down; evidently it is the same place. I may never be able to watch that movie again.)
[Correction: Holy mistaken identity, Batman! The mansion was not in fact Stately Wayne Manor, although I think it was the one used for Being There and other movies. Same street, though.]

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain must allow prisoners to vote, although Britain seems to be planning to implement the ruling only partially, excluding those convicted of murder and rape.

The Israeli Supreme Court has banned the military’s use of human shields.

Of course, there’s been an injunction against that practice (which the IDF calls the “neighbor procedure”) since 2002 and it hasn’t stopped them. The decision rested on the question of whether consent could freely be given; the IDF claimed it always asked people nicely if they’d like to be human shields. The court said, “In light of the inequality which exists between the apprehending force and the local resident, the civilian cannot be expected to resist the request to pass on an alert.” D’ya think? Naturally, there are various members of the Knesset ready to defend the practice, just as there are 9 US Senators ready to support torture.

One of the winners of the IgNobel Prizes, Dr. Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow, author of “Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh: Calculations on Avian Defecation,” was denied a visa to enter the US to collect his prize.

Other winners included two U of Minnesota professors, who conducted a study to answer the age-old questions: can humans swim faster in a pool filled with water, or a pool filled with syrup (guar gum powder). About the same, as it happens; the increased power of their strokes made up for the increased drag. See, you learn something new every day. And not just that people get really bored in Minnesota, which you already knew. Gauri Nanda of MIT won an award for inventing an alarm clock that hides from you.

No act of ours invited the rage of the killers

This morning Bush gave what was billed as a major speech on The War Against Terror (TWAT), which turned out to be yet another attempt to redefine the enemy, to make terrorism more scary than if it were simply, well, terrorism, and to declare a counter-jihad. Shortly after 9/11 he got into trouble for using the word crusade. Now he’s trying to declare a crusade by the back door: it is a crusade, but they started it, he’s saying. He even used the obnoxious term Islamofascism, I think for the first time.

The speech attempted to construct an image of terrorists and terrorist acts as rational, part of a long-term strategy, “evil, but not insane.” “All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random and isolated acts of madness,” but they are not random he says, they are an attempt, using tactics “consistent for a quarter-century,” to create a “totalitarian empire” from Spain (Spain? are the Moors coming back?) to Indonesia, sort of like the Ottoman Empire (which he’s probably never heard of). Bush’s military have never been happy about fighting an enemy without a geographic basis, haven’t known how to do it, which is why the immediate response to 9/11 was to go after a nation, Afghanistan, whose government, while nasty, had only a peripheral relationship to it, and why Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction was to start planning to invade Iraq, which had no relationship to it. So now Bush is creating a fictional geographically based enemy. “They” want to force the US out of the broader Middle East, then “use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country,” you know, any old country, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, Venezuela, Liechtenstein, whatever, and spread outwards like, I don’t know, dominos, to create this, oh call it the Bin Laden Empire since he seems to be speaking the Dread One’s name again, for some reason no longer embarrassed by the failure to capture him. The name Bush can’t mention any more is Saddam Hussein’s, since he can’t acknowledge that the most dangerous, terrorist-friendly vacuum is the one caused by Hussein’s removal from power and the introduction of an American presence.

Bush rhetorically positions the terrorists as non-human, engaged in a “war against humanity.”

Just as during the Cold War the belief in a monolithic enemy enabled Americans to ignore local conditions and history and to paint Khrushchev, Mao, the Viet Minh, the Parti communiste français, etc etc as identical, Bush justifies, even demands, a similar ignorance today. “The radicals exploit local conflicts to build a culture of victimization, in which someone else is always to blame and violence is always the solution.” Since local and national grievances are only excuses used by people who are really advancing the cause of the Neo-Ottoman Empire, we can dismiss those grievances from our thoughts. Indeed, we can dismiss them with all the contempt inherent in those phrases “culture of victimization” and “someone else is always to blame,” phrases which demonstrate once again the inability of the rich and powerful to empathize with those who are neither. Thus, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the American military presence in Saudi Arabia, etc, are merely a “litany of excuses for violence,” not real grievances. “No act of ours invited the rage of the killers,” he says, and if that isn’t the culture of victimization in which someone else is always to blame, I don’t know what is.

Deploying even greater irony and lack of self-awareness, Bush goes on to disparage bin Laden as a rich kid “who grew up in wealth and privilege” [Kennebunkport], who now tells poor Muslims what is good for them [“[our] beliefs... are right and true in every land, and in every culture.”], “though he never offers to go along for the ride.” [Texas Air National Guard]. “[T]hey wish to make everyone powerless except themselves.” Pot, kettle, black.

Indeed, while he insisted that despite its petty disagreements Iraq is a perfectly healthy democracy because “that’s the essence of democracy: making your case, debating with those who you disagree, who disagree, building consensus by persuasion,” this is the man who ran scared from Cindy Sheehan.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Crisp decision-making

A Guantanamo prisoner transferred to Spain is sentenced to 6 years for belonging to Al Qaeda. To add insult, well, injury really, to injury, the two years he spent in Guantanamo won’t count towards that 6 years.

Asked yesterday whether he would release any of the papers Harriet Miers worked on in the White House, Bush replied, “I just can’t tell you how important it is for us to guard executive privilege in order for there to be crisp decision-making in the White House.” He did not give any examples of this alleged crisp decision-making.

Creeping coups and other alliterative bogeymen

The Karzai government has arrested the editor of the magazine “Women’s Rights” for advocating women’s rights, such as not to be whipped 100 times for adultery. We don’t really hear so much about how America liberated Afghan women these days, do we?

The Iraqi legislature has voted for applying the death penalty to “those who provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit” terrorist acts or gives shelter to a terrorist. The terms “provoke” and “enable” are awfully vague, vague enough to be used against any political opponent, and so is the law’s definition of terrorism as any act which “aims to hurt security, stability and national unity and introduce terror, fear or horror among the people and cause chaos.”

In Nicaragua, another country where the US claims the right to call the shots, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has been visiting in order to show support for President Bolaños against the majority of the legislature, which has been trying to strip him of much of his power. Zoellick may even be right to call this move a “creeping coup,” I haven’t been following Nicaragua all that closely the last few years, but maybe the country that backed the Contras’ terror campaign (and Zoellick was in the State Dept for some of that period) should just shut up. Zoellick hasn’t been shy about calling the anti-Bolaños alliance of the conservatives and the Sandinistas “corrupt,” even though he’s there to use American aid as a stick, threatening to withhold the $175 million if the legislature doesn’t toe the line.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A steller record

Doug Ireland argues that Miers’ positions when she ran for Dallas city council in 1989, including opposing legalizing sodomy and abortion, are reason enough no Democrat should vote for her. I agree. Ah, you might say, that was 16 years ago, and people’s views change over the course of time. Not according to Shrub, who said that her views 20 years from now will be exactly the same as they are now because “she doesn’t change over the course of time” (remember, in Bush’s view, stubbornness and lack of adaptation are virtues). So her views 20 years ago are fair game. Molly Ivins adds that Miers also supported discrimination against homosexuals in hiring, such as that then practiced by the Dallas police dept (Ivins also writes about Miers’ religious beliefs).

I watched the press conference, for my sins, but Bush said so little and at such length and spoke so slowly that it was like a torture specifically designed for bloggers. The things I endure for you people. The reporters, who haven’t had an opportunity like this for months, turned out to have no questions. I knew I was in for a long ride when the first one was “Mr. President, of all the people in the United States you had to choose from, is Harriet Miers the most qualified to serve on the Supreme Court?” If you’re wondering, yes, yes she is. “I picked the best person I could find.” By which he means the best person he could find without doing more than shouting out the Oval Office door, “Hey, is anyone here a lawyer?”

I could have occupied myself with minor amusements like counting the number of times Bush said “In other words...”, or counting the spelling errors in the CNN scroll (Bush said Miers has a “steller record”); mostly I just contemplated switching back to the Kolchak marathon on the Sci Fi Channel.

A reporter gave Bush yet another chance to admit that he personally had made a mistake re Katrina. He declined once again to do so. He was asked if he’d ever discussed abortion with Miers and responded by saying – four times, yet – that he has no litmus test. The reporter tried again, pointing out that he had known Miers for a decade. No, Bush said, I didn’t ask her about abortion during the interview, ignoring all but one hour of that decade (well, 5 minutes, knowing Bush). Asked yet again,
Q In your friendship with her, you’ve never discussed abortion?

THE PRESIDENT: Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her -- what I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be.
So they never talked about abortion while in a seated position...

Monday, October 03, 2005

The sounds of peace

A NYT story about Operation Iron Fist – a name that could only be surpassed for aggressive manliness by grunts or growls: Operation Grrrr – buries the money quote in the very last paragraph. Marine Col. Stephen Davis told the residents of one town, who had been subjected to the usual forms of occupation-type harassments, “Some of you are concerned about the attack helicopters and mortar fire from the base. I will tell you this: those are the sounds of peace.” He probably also thinks that napalm in the morning smells like victory. Could be a brain tumor; he should have it checked out.

The London Times, by contrast to its young New York cousin, buries nothing, indeed headlines one of its stories, “Bombers’ Severed Heads Are Key to Bali Terror Trail.”

Must-read article about a Gaza Palestinian family forced to co-exist in its home with the Israeli army for five years.

WaPo on Harriet Miers: “As Bush’s staff secretary, she was known to correct spelling, grammar and even punctuation errors in memos to the president.” Yes, because Bush would really have noticed spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.

Harriet Miers: cannon-fodder in size-six shoes

I’m not surprised by Harriet Miers’s gender – he wasn’t going to appoint another white male – but I was surprised by her age.

The choice of Miers shows how nonsensical was the idea of some Dems that they could leverage their votes for John Roberts into a demand for “another” John Roberts, thus warding off the possibility of another Scalia or Thomas or Bork. But the strategy of giving Bush what he wants in hopes of a payoff has about the same chance of working as, well, buying a ticket in the Texas lottery. Bush believes in the leadership principle (führerprinzip in the original German); he does not believe in the concept of collegiality, and the whole idea of nine equals coming to a collective decision simply does not compute for the boy prince. He views Roberts as the leader of the Court, and there can be only one Roberts, one leader. Miers was chosen for the virtue of loyalty; she is expected to be a follower, cannon-fodder if you will. Roberts will write the reactionary decisions, and Miers will dutifully nod her head.

California proposition recommendations

Update: there is another Mencken saying: democracy is the theory that the people know what they want, and deserve to get it -- good and hard. But not this time. Every proposition was voted down.

The overall theme of this election is a variation on H.L. Mencken’s dictum that “there is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.” Several of these are plausible, on the surface, but wrong, although they tend to be hilariously over-complicated rather than neat.

Prop. 73. Parental notification and a waiting period for abortion for minors. I’d be against this anyway: parents should no more be able to force their daughters to carry a pregnancy to term than to force them to abort against their will. But this version also has problems with the way the judicial-bypass alternative is set up: it can take so long that parental notification might become, well, redundant; and if there is any sort of abuse, including “emotional abuse,” the court must inform Protective Services, a provision which seems less about protecting abused pregnant minors than it is a “nuclear option” designed to raise the stakes for girls opting for abortion. The prop’s agenda of punishing the little trollops is made even clearer in the ballot argument: “When parents are involved and minors cannot anticipate secret access to free abortions they more often avoid the reckless behavior which leads to pregnancies.” Also, the prop. requires doctors to report abortions performed on minors to the state, which is creepy and worrisome. No.

Prop. 74. Tenure for public school teachers only after 5 years, and makes it easier to fire teachers after that. Under the current system, teachers can be fired for any or no reason during their first two years, and after that you need dynamite to get them out. I guess that’s what passed as a compromise: one manifestly unfair system that after 2 years turns into an equal but opposite manifestly unfair system. 74 is a solution, but a stupid one, for this problem. 74 is Schwarzenegger’s attempt to blame teachers for the failures of the educational system and to propose a “solution” that doesn’t involve spending actual money, especially on those teachers. 74 would increase the incentive for school districts to replace fairly experienced teachers with younger cheaper ones. And it would shift power from teachers (and their unions) to administrators. Job security is one of the reasons we get away with paying teachers so little; removing it is a wage reduction just as surely as eliminating their health insurance would be. Give me half an hour and I could come up with a better system than Prop. 74 (or the existing one) on the back of a napkin, perhaps involving rolling tenure, in which the level of job protection increased in stages, but should this even be decided at the state level as a one-size-fits-all scheme rather than by the school districts? This proposition is a bad solution to a phony crisis – there are indeed bad teachers, but it’s not the tenure system that creates them, and 74 does nothing about training or hiring or rewarding better teachers. Oh, and if you’re wondering whether crappy job performance can be detected in two years: look at the governor’s current poll numbers; he took office in November 2003. No.

Prop. 75. Requires written consent, every single year, possibly signed in blood in Swahili, from government employees before their unions can use their dues for political purposes. In theory, someone should not be forced to fund candidates they do not like, and in fact union members now have the right to opt out of political spending (or indeed not to join the union in the first place), despite Arnold’s claim that “that is not a contribution, that is a tax.” So, again, an attempt by Schwarzenegger to hobble his political opponents by creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Furthermore, it’s clearly partisan, intending to hobble public-sector unions without offering similar assurances that holders of stock in a corporation can veto its political contributions. But here’s the principled reason to vote no: this is an internal union matter, for the union members to decide, not the rest of us; interference by the state in the affairs of voluntary associations is a threat to liberty. Don’t make me quote Tocqueville. No.

Prop. 76. Does complicated – too complicated for the voters to have to decide on – things to the budgetary process. It’s impossible to predict how this monstrosity would operate in the real world or who would wind up making budgetary decisions in any given year. Parts, like the provision that if the state budget is late – and when isn’t it? – the previous year’s budget continues, violate the principle of no taxation without representation, which by itself is enough for me to vote against it. 76 would loosen the formula previously imposed by the equally undemocratic Prop 98, which dedicated a proportion of the budget to education, while adding a new formula restricting annual budget growth. As Katrina has shown, budgetary requirements are not so predictable. 76 would give enormous powers to the governor to seize funds appropriated for education and screw with the over-all budget unilaterally. Of all the initiatives on the ballot, this power-grab is the most dangerous, and the most likely to poison Sacramento politics permanently. No.

Prop. 77. Reapportionment. Again. Sigh. This is another bad solution to a real problem. And the insistence on rushing this onto the ballot in a special election, and implementing it immediately instead of following the next census, demonstrates 77 is not, as advertised, an attempt to remove redistricting from the political arena, but is in fact another effort, like that of Tom DeLay in Texas, to shift the balance of power in Congress towards the Republicans. Redistricting would be done by three retired judges, ‘cuz you really want old guys in robes making these decisions in between naps. Also, the judges could be federal judges: federal judges have no business participating in state matters. The judges would be nominated in the first place by party leaders, which brings party (well, the two largest parties, no Greens or Libertarians need apply) (also, it should be pointed out that 18% of Calif. registered voters state no party preference; only 78% are registered as either R or D) right into the heart of redistricting where they absolutely do not belong. Ah, but the party leaders (2 D’s, 2 R’s) have to nominate judges only from a party other than their own! Which means the judges have to be known partisans, even though the whole point of bringing in judges in the first place was their supposed independence and disinterestedness. Then everybody gets to veto one, then they draw names out of a hat (really). It’s like one of those board games where by the time you’ve read all the rules, no one wants to play it anymore (and I’ve actually simplified it). And then, dear god, submitted to a referendum, with all the dishonest campaign ads, special-interest money and suchlike that that would entail, and the referendum would come only after the districts had already been used in one election. The ballot argument in favor of this says “The time for accountability is now”; no, pardon me, it says “THE TIME FOR ACCOUNTABILITY IS NOW!” Does this Rube Goldberg contraption sound like accountability to you? Me neither. No.

Props. 78 & 79. Oh goody, competing props, my favorite kind. In this case, 78 is the evil twin, and pretty obviously so. Both offer discounts on drugs to the poor and others, but 79 covers more people and is not completely voluntary for the drug companies. 78 is literally designed to fail: if the drug companies sponsoring 78 refuse to participate in the program, the program simply terminates. 79 is a little bit patchy and it’s impossible to tell how many drugs will actually be discounted, and by how much, under it, but it’s still better than what we have now. No on 78, yes on 79. Do not vote for both: 78 has a provision that would invalidate 79 if 79 passes but 78 gets more votes.

Prop. 80. Something or other about energy regulation, like 76 just way too complicated for the likes of us poor mortals. Whenever something like this appears on the ballot, state legislators are asking us to do the job they’re supposed to be doing and should have their salaries docked by $10,000. I think 80 would be an improvement, and the ballot pamphlet argument against it is pretty underwhelming, so I’m provisionally recommending a yes vote.

Comments are welcome. Don’t forget to include the prop. number.

(Update: both the LA Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian agree with me on every proposition. The governor disagrees with me on every proposition.)