Saturday, December 31, 2005

Competition in frightfulness

Harper’s has a good review of the year. And so, hurrah, does Dave Barry, just when I thought he was skipping this year.

The end of the year is also the time when the British release archival materials. This year, there’s some good, oddly relevant World War II stuff. We find that Churchill wanted to execute Hitler and other Nazi leaders without trial – he mused about getting an electric chair from the Americans on Lend-Lease. He figured war crimes trials would be a farce and planned to use a Bill of Attainder – one of those things mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence as a sign of British oppression. The Brits were annoyed with the American troops stationed on their soil for eating like pigs while the natives were rationed, and that they agreed to allow the American military to enforce its racial segregation rules, but not in British pubs, cinemas, dance halls, etc. When the Germans put British POWs in chains, the British retaliated; Churchill: “We’ve each tied up 1,500. Germans threaten to go up to 5,000.” When the Germans destroyed a whole village (Lidice) in Czechoslovakia, Churchill considered wiping out German villages through bombing on a 3 to 1 ratio, but was talked out of it; said future prime minister Clement Attlee, “I doubt if it is useful to enter into competition in frightfulness with the Germans.”

And there are Guantanamo echoes: Gandhi began a Quit India campaign during the war, was promptly locked up without trial (in a palace rather than a prison), and began a hunger strike. British cabinet members were scared of the repercussions his death in custody would bring, and tried to work out how to release him without losing face. Churchill (who’d had to deal with hunger-striking suffragettes when he was home secretary 30 years before) was of the let-him-die school, but said that if they insisted on letting him out, they should pretend it was not because of the hunger strike, not “an act of submission to G’ will,” but portray it “as act of grace because det(ained) 6 (months) and we’ve beaten him.” There’s actually a similarity in Churchill’s approaches to Gandhi and Hitler: a wish to maintain control of the spin and give no legitimacy or voice whatsoever to them. His idea of, specifically, electrocuting Hitler was to use a form of capital punishment that would label him a “gangster” rather than a führer.

2005 in Pictures

Donald Rumsfeld and John Snow wait patiently to receive their kisses.

Bush trying to peer once again into the soul of Vladimir Putin. Then they fucked.

Strong progress

The Czech Republic is still illegally sterilizing Romany women.

It’s an odd day over at the Washington Post, which fills the void of the slow news week with an in-depth, take-no-prisoners exposé of Bush’s brush-clearing activities, alongside an actual important, why-the-hell-did-they-run-it-on-a-Saturday-and-the-last-day-of-the-year, piece on Tom DeLay’s dubious relationship to the “U.S. Family Network,” Jack Abramoff, and Russian and corporate money. If you are the last person in America who thinks that DeLay is not corrupt, this won’t change your mind because you are simply too medicated.

Speaking of medicated, George Bush ends the year with a radio address that suggests that he remembers 2005, which isn’t even over yet, with the sort of idealized, soft-focus memory usually reserved for 80-year olds remembering that one glorious summer when they were 5 and the world was fresh and new: “2005 has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more peaceful world and a more prosperous America.” Of course it has. Still, the claim that made even my jaded jaw drop open (can a jaw be jaded? wouldn’t that make it hard to chew?) was this: “Last February, I submitted to Congress the most disciplined budget proposal since Ronald Reagan was President.” Yes, Ronald Reagan, master of fiscal discipline.

Speaking of fiscal discipline, Achmad Chalabi has been made acting oil minister. Even as we speak, he is swimming in a vat of crude oil (Chalabi is the only person who can emerge from a vat of crude oil less oily than when he went in), shouting, “Mine, all mine!” Chalabi proves, like former Attorney General John “Lost to a Dead Guy” Ashcroft and indeed George W. Bush himself, that... oh, write your own clever segue, I just wanted another crack at Ashcroft.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Safe, humane care

Yesterday I had not read the Pentagon press release authored by Col. Martin (pdf) announcing that there are 46 new hunger-strikers at Gulag Guantanamo. A little deconstruction is in order. The document uses the words fast or voluntary fast five times, compared to just two for hunger strike and its cognates (forcible feeding is referred to as “enteral feeding”). It attempts to de-individuate the hunger strikers, who are always referred to in plural forms (detainees, enemy combatants, fasters) and avoids giving us information that would allow us to imagine the experiences of individual hunger strikers. For example, we are told that there are now 84 hunger strikes and that “The number of detainees engaged in the current fast, which began on August 8, 2005, routinely fluctuates”, but not how long individuals have hunger struck for (if we came away with the impression that they hand it off in relays every five days, that would be just fine with the Pentagon), nor how long individuals have been forcibly fed.

It is a common technique of governments faced with hunger strikers to suggest that they are the weak-minded puppets of unscrupulous leaders. In 1981 Thatcher insisted that hunger-striking IRA prisoners “are of more use to [IRA leaders] dead than alive” and had therefore been “persuaded, coerced or ordered to starve themselves to death”. Similar claims were made about Irish hunger strikers in the 1920s. In 1914 the British home secretary claimed that hunger-striking suffragettes were paid by rich suffragettes to go to prison, hunger strike and be forcibly fed. So we are now told that “This technique (hunger striking) is consistent with al-Qaida training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention and bring pressure on the United States Government to release them.” The phrase “consistent with” implies a causal relationship, suggesting that the prisoners are Al Qaeda members, that they have received some sort of training in not eating, and that they are under orders, without actually having to prove any of that.

We are told that the number of hunger strikers increases whenever lawyers are coming to Gitmo, and on September 11 (that the recent increase came on Christmas is not mentioned), suggesting that the hunger strike is a response to outside factors and clever PR strategies, not to anything that might be happening to them in Guantanamo. Indeed, any actual demands made by the hunger strikers are never mentioned, suppressed along with their individual voices and indeed their names.

But lest you think that all seems a little “consistent with” Kafka, Solzhenitsyn, whatever, we are informed that Gitmo, in accordance with its “mission of providing safe, humane care, ensuring the custody of all detainees, and intelligence gathering in support of the global war on terror,” affords the hunger strikers “enemy combatants on voluntary fasts” with monitoring by medical professionals (professionals means that they’re paid, but these medical professionals are paid by the US military, so I don’t know how reassuring that is), receiving “the appropriate amount of daily nutrition and hydration,” and, of course, counseling about the health risks of hunger-striking. Sounds very humane, almost touchy-feely, you’d never know tubes are being shoved down people’s noses several times a day.

I thought about writing to Col. Martin ( and asking him to clarify some of his statement (what does it mean to be “consistent with Al Qaeda training, what is the longest someone has been fasting, what is the longest someone has been forcibly fed, what demands have they issued, etc), but I didn’t think there was much likelihood of a response to an anonymous blogger, except perhaps an invitation for an extended tour of the facilities...

Because our policy is to preserve life

A WaPo article on covert action since 9/11 notes that assassinations of “terrorists” have been redefined: no longer are they considered to be assassinations (which would be illegal and shit) but acts of self-defense. It was necessary to destroy the English language in order to save it. Also, you know how we learned that decisions on whose communications get surveilled were made by “shift supervisors”? Well, the decisions on “who was going to get it,” as one anonymous source so elegantly put it, were devolved from George Bush to the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet when this all began, who delegated them to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where doubtless shift supervisors left it up to the Magic Eight Ball of Doom.

By the way, the WaPo refers to this program as GST, but its crack reporters failed to crack the riddle of just what that might stand for. Suggestions, serious or not so much, in comments, please.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine show any sign of budging in the showdown over natural gas prices, with the Russian deadline 24 hours away (although I think Ukraine’s been stockpiling). Notice how Hugo Chavez’s efforts to win friends and influence people through cheap oil exports are portrayed in the American press as some sort of fiendish plot – or possibly a dastardly plot.... actually which is worse, fiendish or dastardly? – but Russian threats to freeze the populations of countries that displease it (because, of course, this is not primarily a fight over what the fair and proper price of natural gas should be) hasn’t even generated a single tut-tutting editorial (that I’ve seen, anyway)?

The hunger strike in Guantanamo has more than doubled, according to the Pentagon’s highly untrustworthy reporting, to 84, of whom 32 are being forcibly fed. The Pentagon put out the usual claim that hunger striking is “consistent with al Qaeda training and reflects detainee attempts to elicit media attention”. Which must be why they did it on Christmas, and why we didn’t find out for 4 days. Asked why the hunger strikers were being force fed, Col. Jeremy Martin said, “Because our policy is to preserve life.” I’m not sure who has less media savvy, those attention-craving hunger strikers, or Col. Martin.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches

Trent Duffy, a b-list White House spokesmodel subbing for the lovely and talented Scottie McClellan, says that the “limited program” of warrantless surveillance was “designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches.” He knows that’s who they are because they use MCI’s Very Bad People and Family program.

Arlen Specter has gone to Iraq to tell the judges in Saddam Hussein’s trial that they are being too lenient on him. For example, the chief judge says “if the deposed president is sentenced to death in the Dujail case and is executed, all other cases against him would be dropped.”

Israel “pulled out” of Gaza, and now declares that everyone must pull out of a stretch of it. Some rockets (which is a glorified name for the Qassams, which practically have to fly down your throat to do any damage) have been fired into Israel, harmlessly, so Israel declared a free-fire zone inside Gaza, dropped leaflets with the charming message, “Know that the terrorists have made you hostages and human shields and safeguard your interests.”

Augusto Pinochet was booked today, fingerprinted and photographed, and there are no pictures of it happening, goddammit! And where are the mug shots? If we’re denied a perp walk, I wanna see the mug shots.

The UN commissioner for elections in Iraq, Craig Jenness, proclaims, “You cannot but conclude that these were transparent, credible and good elections.” Only 1,500 complaints alleging irregularities were filed, which Jenness considers a low number. One of the reasons for that – and I wish I’d noted down the source when I read this a couple of days ago but I sorta expected someone to follow it up, which hasn’t happened – was that the Iraqi election monitors included many partisans, who failed to pass on complaints.

Bush quietly over the holiday weekend (which should send off warning signals) changed the “doomsday” line of succession in the Pentagon, bumping the secretaries of the army, air force and navy further down, after political appointees such as the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Since this relates to what happens in the event of a major terrorist/nuclear decapitation of American leadership, it would be nice if someone looked into this a little. #3 is Stephen Cambone, who has held the newly created post of undersecretary of defense for intelligence since spring 2003. If you know the Bush modus operandi, you know that this means that Cambone’s involvement with intelligence goes back to spring 2003 (but I’m sure he’s doing a heckuva job). He is a Rummy loyalist, pushing for Star Wars and the weaponization of space, and was last seen in public during the Abu Ghraib hearings (he’s the one behind sending the commandant of Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to ramp up the process of intelligence-extraction).

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Pity the poor blogger during a slow news week. I should be enjoying the respite from speeches by Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld on how splendidly the war in Iraq is going, but I find myself desperately looking for blog fodder in stories such as the theft of a cinnamon bun that looks like Mother Teresa

and contemplating the decline of upper-class education in Britain. A Greek magazine, reporting on claims by several Pakistanis to have been violently interrogated by MI6 in Greece after the July 7 London bombings, named MI6’s head of station in Greece. The Blair government ordered the British press not to report his name (he was hastily ordered home), despite the fact that anyone who reads Greek can, presumably, get if off the web. Someone once said that in order to be an English gentleman it was not necessary to know Greek (ok, it might have been Latin), but it was necessary to have forgotten it. I guess the days have passed when it was necessary to know Latin and Greek to administer the Raj.

Nicholas Langman.)

Russia and Ukraine seem to be on the brink of war over Russian attempts to raise the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas. Ukraine says if it does, they’ll increase the fees they charge Russia for use of the warm-water port of Sebastopol, and Russia responding that if that happens, it will no longer recognize the existing border. So that’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? Sigh. Let’s see that bun again.

He genuinely cares about these boys and so does Mrs. Bush

Russian investigators say that in fact absolutely no mistakes were committed in the Beslan school siege, in which well over 331 people (the official, non-credible count) died. So that’s all right then.

Meet Travis Greene, former Twin Falls, Idaho track star, corporal in the Marine Corps. Then:


They turned down Travis’s pain meds as he recovers between his numerous surgeries, so that George Bush (this picture was supplied to the media by the White House) could shake his hand, one of the few appendages left to him. Travis’s father says, “He genuinely cares about these boys and so does Mrs. Bush. ... They’re just genuine people.”

(via Holden)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Xmas in Fallujah

I was already pissed off at Rumsfeld for taking a victory lap around Fallujah, the town he had reduced to rubble and ruin, and that was before I read the transcript of his little “town hall meeting” performance there:
The Fallujah of not that long ago was a symbol of rejection of the new democratic Iraq. Difficult days lie ahead to be sure, but the Fallujah today has some of the highest voter registration and turnout rates in the country, has increasingly capable and competent Iraq security forces in the streets helping to maintain order and hunting down terrorists. Fallujah is a place where the old adage about the U.S. Marines certainly fits -- no better friend, no worse enemy.
Wow! Security forces in the streets hunting down terrorists, it sounds like very heaven!

Mostly, though, he seemed to forget where he was, occupying a bubble in the rubble, as it were (sounds like the Bush administration as described by Dr. Suess). He talked about how the US military is helping out in the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake, where there were houses with roofs blown off and many homeless – hello! that's just what the US military did in Fallujah!

And in a city that has a curfew, entry controls with biometric identity cards, constant searches and raids, and I think the locals still aren’t allowed to drive cars, not to mention white phosphorus, he talked about the American/COW military keeping its “footprint” “not... so large and so intrusive as to antagonize a proud and patriotic people”. Talk to Fallujans about the size of the footprint on their necks.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


The US military will no longer turn Iraqi prisoners over to Iraqi jailers, who must be no end of confused: we thought (they must be saying) that as Iraqi torturers stand up, American torturers would stand down, and come home to the honor and the secret shame and the less secret drinking they have earned. The US will not resume turning prisoners (and detention facilities) over until the Iraqis meet American “standards.” For example, said Maj. Gen John D. Gardner, they don’t wipe the electrodes off when transferring them from the genitals of one prisoner to those of another, and that’s just kinda gross. And for the naked human pyramids, you put the bigger prisoners at the bottom, for stability; it’s just common sense, said Gen. Gardner.

Speaking of setting the bar remarkably low, the Democrats, in their response to Bush’s radio weekly radio address, said that Americans deserve better than George Bush.

There is no god but god, and Oppenheimer is his prophet

The FBI has been sneaking onto the property of mosques and the homes of Muslims to check for radiation because, as we all know, Muslims worship chunks of plutonium and pray five times a day in the direction of Hiroshima.

See? it’s got a halo.

Friday, December 23, 2005

How could we build an Iraq with a fraudulent process?

The head of one of the Iraqi parties rejecting the election results asks, “How could we build an Iraq with a fraudulent process?” That’s probably a rhetorical question. Notable among those claiming fraud are the two men whose careers were pushed most strenuously by the Americans, and with so little result, Achmad Chalabi and Iyad “Comical” Allawi. Which leaves the question, were the Americans spectacularly, monumentally wrong about the level of support these two clowns could muster, or was it American backing that reduced their support to the zero figures?

These two stories feature, consecutively, on the Pentagon website: “U.S. Forces to Take on Different Role in Iraq,” “NORAD Marks 50 Years of Tracking Santa.”

Chad says a state of war exists between it and Sudan. I’m sure the American papers will be all over this.

Media Matters has a lengthy, linky rebuttal of the myths and falsehoods surrounding the Bush spying scandal, NSA-gate or whatever we wind up calling it.

Sadly, I found as I looked for the link, the NYT online has changed the title of this obit to something boring from the print version’s “Charles F. Cummings Dies at 68; Knew Everything About Newark.”

Today Secretary of War Rumsfeld went to Fallujah, the scene of his greatest massacre atrocity war crime victory. Didn’t meet any natives, of course, but did eat with some American soldiers, who were allowed, as is now the custom, only plastic sporks. Rummy also protected himself with a condiment barrier.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I’m going to go to every one of your states, and I’m going to tell them what you’ve done

WaPo: “Senate Approves Cuts, but Not Drilling.” How about rips, are rips ok?

I like the vote because Ted Stevens is so cute when he’s seething with impotent rage: “I’m going to go to every one of your states, and I’m going to tell them what you’ve done.”

Sounds like the budget deal has all sorts of mean-spirited provisions that snuck under the radar: blocking foster-care assistance for grandparents taking in family members, cutting enforcement of child support, increasing the cost of student loans, all sorts of Medicare and Medicaid cuts, shielding doctors and hospitals from lawsuits from Medicaid patients turned away by emergency rooms.

I’ll bet every other lefty blog will quote this by morning, but here goes anyway:
Sources knowledgeable about the program said there is no way to secure a FISA warrant when the goal is to listen in on a vast array of communications in the hopes of finding something that sounds suspicious. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the White House had tried but failed to find a way.

One government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the administration complained bitterly that the FISA process demanded too much: to name a target and give a reason to spy on it.

“For FISA, they had to put down a written justification for the wiretap,” said the official. “They couldn’t dream one up.”
I love the writing in that second paragraph. Elsewhere in the WaPo, Bush’s story about how the Washington Times alerted bin Laden to the fact that his satellite phone was being monitored in 1998 is comprehensively dismissed as an “urban myth.” I hadn’t realized that the article appeared the day after the US fired missiles in an attempt to kill bin Laden, which, it is suggested, might have been the more proximate cause for his decision to stop using a phone he must have figured had been used to locate him. The Moonie Times story, and others that profiled bin Laden, including one two years before, mentioned that he liked his sat phone, not that the US was listening in.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

You cannot tackle terrorism with the lawbook in your hand

Silvio Berlusconi, defending a football player who gave his fans a fascist salute: “Fascism in Italy was never a criminal doctrine. There were the racial [i.e., anti-Jewish] laws, horrible, but because one wanted to win the war [along side of] Hitler.” So that’s all right then. In the very same event (a dinner with foreign correspondents), he used the very same logic to defend Italy’s complicit role in America’s extraordinary renditions: “When hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, countries have to use the secret methods... You cannot tackle terrorism with the lawbook in your hand. If they fight with a sword, you have to defend yourself with a sword.”

Israel will stop the January Palestinian elections being held in East Jerusalem, and not for the usual God-gave-Jerusalem-to-the-Jews reason (they didn’t stop voting the last time around), but explicitly because they don’t like the probable results of those elections, a sweeping Hamas victory. So the Palestinian government will probably cancel them.

The Russian Duma gives the government the absolute right to close down any NGO, giving no reason and with no appeal (the provisions applying to foreign NGOs like Human Rights Watch were watered down, but only slightly; they won’t be banned immediately, but the government can shut them down on vague grounds).

Scott McClellan accused Democrats filibustering the renewal (and making permanent) of the “Patriot Act” of “playing to certain special interests within their party that want to see authorities within this legislation killed,” without saying who those special interests might be. Could it be.... Satan?

We hardly knew ye, algae miracle worker

California has settled a suit, promising to stop segregating prisoners by race. They will now interview new inmates to determine their compatibility with members of another race, AP says.

Contest: suggest, in comments, sample questions (I may regret this).

The Canadian Supreme Court rules that group sex in clubs (in private rooms) is legal. Plan your vacations accordingly.

Funniest sounding obit headline of the day: “W. J. Oswald, 86, Algae Miracle Worker, Dies.” His big breakthrough came when he poured water on the algae while tracing the word for water on it...

Rumsfeld, looking for Hot Lips

I believe in a strong, robust executive authority. And the fascism fairy.

American ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzhad says that 2006 will be the “Year of the Police.” In Iraq, that is. He meant it to be reassuring.

Speaking of the Year of the Police, outgoing (thank God) Iraqi interior minister Bayan Jabr says the death squads in police uniform aren’t actually policemen: “Anyone can go to the store and buy a police uniform.”

The UK has been experiencing its own spying crisis, one with more wide-ranging implications than our own. 20 years ago, the security services began blackmailing a top Sinn Fein official, Denis Donaldson, into cooperating with them in ways that haven’t been fully revealed yet, but seem to include the fabrication of a scandal 3 years ago in which Sinn Fein was supposed to have been spying on other parties in Northern Ireland’s self-rule Stormont government, which was promptly abolished and direct rule from London restored. Still a lot of unanswered questions, but this is as good a primer as any other.

Opening sentence to a WaPo story: “Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) could barely conceal his anger.” Not exactly man-bites-dog, is it?

Frist is barely concealing his anger about the filibuster of renewal of the “Patriot Act.” At the risk of spoiling the surprise, let me tell you now that the Patriot Act will not expire, that there will instead be a deal for a 3-month extension, that Bush won’t carry out his threat to veto it, and that everyone in the Senate knows it.

On Monday, Condi Rice reacted to the election of Morales in Bolivia, saying “We have good relations with people across the political spectrum in Latin America,” which would be news to Chavez and Castro. But of course the state of relations will be “a matter of behavior.” Theirs, not ours, of course, we’re always perfectly behaved little angels. Also, “The issue for us is will the new Bolivian government govern democratically”. Faithful readers will remember that this is the new standard whereby the US deems democratically elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, to be undemocratic, based on subjective criteria determined not by the people of the country in question, but by the Bush administration.

Many have quoted Cheney saying yesterday, “I believe in a strong, robust executive authority, and I think that the world we live in demands it,” “Either we’re serious about fighting the war on terror or we’re not,” and that the period after Watergate and Vietnam marked “the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy,” but he also cited actual examples of what he considers illegitimate limitations on a robust (dictionary definition: “uncompromising and forceful; not subtle; strong and rich in flavor or smell”) executive authority: the War Powers Act, natch, the limitation on the president’s ability to impound funds authorized by Congress, and Iran-Contra – he thinks Reagan had the authority to do all that Iran-Contra stuff. Other examples of the legitimate authority of the presidency: his own secret energy policy task force, and NSA warrantless surveillance. After all, “It’s not an accident that we haven’t been hit in four years.”

Rumsfeld goes to Afghanistan in a surprise photo op (he met with American troops, but, running behind schedule, decided to skip the actual work portion of the trip, a meeting of the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan staff) (Xinhuanet calls it a “surprised visit to Afghanistan”). Says the US plans to reduce troop levels from 19,000 to 16,000 doesn’t mean fewer troops, because we’re sending in NATO troops. Notice there’s no talk of Afghans taking responsibility for their own security, standing up so that Americans may stand down etc. Says the reduction won’t affect the hunt for bin Laden, which will continue with just as much success. Asked whether the US runs secret prisons in Afghanistan, as has been reported this week, Rummy gave this reassuring response: “Not to my knowledge.”

Where can I get me one of those hats?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not accepting a relationship of submission

State Dept spokesmodel Sean McCormack said of the election of Evo Morales as president-elect of Bolivia, “We’ll see what policies that person pursues. And based on that, we’ll make an evaluation of what kind of relationship we’re going to have with that state.” I’m guessing a frosty one, when one partner in the “relationship” can’t bring himself to utter the name of the other. “That person” is also thinking about what kind of relationship we’re going to have: the WaPo says
On Sunday, [Morales] repeated some of his more provocative assertions, saying he would never accept a relationship of “submission” with Washington.
Provocative! Hell, that’s downright uppity. How dare he provoke us like that!

I’ve looked it up now, and provocative means “deliberately arousing sexual desire or interest.” Well, if Morales wants to maintain Washington’s sexual desire or interest, he’d better put those shackles and the hood and the assless leather pants back on and resume that relationship of submission at once. At once I say!

OK, that was just disturbing.

The WaPo neatly explains why democracy in the under-developed world is a sham:
The question, say both Bolivian and U.S. observers, is whether the socialist candidate will use that mandate to follow through on pledges for radical economic and political change -- pledges that won him support among indigenous and poor voters -- or whether he can demonstrate enough pragmatism to reassure foreign governments and investors, whose support he needs for economic development.
The WaPo quotes the egregious Bernard Aronson (who was Bush the Elder’s Assistant Secretary of State for Fucking up Latin America, the direct successor to Elliot Abrams in that post) who says that the “old threat in Latin America was that of military coups,” (which he used to support; in 1990 he said about the Salvadoran army, “I don’t think it indicts the armed forces if a unit commits an atrocity.”), but “The new threat is that of authoritarian democracies -- leaders who get elected and then use the state to repress opponents, push through social change and stay in power.” Yes, authoritarian democracies, right, whatever. Aronson is afraid that Morales will follow the path of Hugo Chavez, who has dared to stay in power (Aronson is now a partner in ACON Investments LLC, which manages investments in Venezuela).

Britain registered its first civil partnerships today, in hippy-dippy, uh, Belfast. There were protesters. And there were counter-protesters, like this one.

OK, that was just disturbing.

So the FISA court can issue warrants 72 hours after the actual bugging has begun. Obvious question, but I haven’t seen an answer to it: what happens if the court turns down the request for a warrant (not that that court ever does)?

Back in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home town of Graz, Austria, there is a move afoot to remove his name from the local stadium in reaction to the execution of Tookie. So Arnold sent a petulant letter demanding that they remove his name from the stadium, and by the end of the year, or else. Or they could hold public executions in the stadium, that would be “fantastic” too. Also, “in the future, the use of my name to advertise or promote the city of Graz in any way is no longer allowed.” Also, he sent back a “ring of honor” the town had awarded him, saying he didn’t want it anymore, and it didn’t fit his cock anyway (steroid shrinkage).

OK, that was just disturbing.

The wacky new president of Iran bans Western music. Which gives me an excuse to quote a Daily Telegraph article from May 7, 1996:
THE appearance of smuggled Barbie dolls in shops in Iran has prompted Islamic hardliners to dub them “satanic” in an attempt to dissuade people from buying them.

Hardliners say that the “unwholesome flexibility of these dolls, their destructive beauty and their semi-nudity have an effect on the minds and morality of young children”.
OK, that was just disturbing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bush press conference: There’s a lot of work to get rid of the past

Jeez, Bush gives a press conference. Isn’t there some brush that needs clearing? The only thing more annoying than Bush not doing his job is Bush doing his job.

On NSA surveillance: “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” Also says they’re not listening to domestic calls under the secret NSA program, the FISA courts are evidently sufficiently speedy to deal with those calls, but not foreign ones. And if that weren’t murky enough, he want on to draw a distinction between “detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring,” a distinction he didn’t actually explain. (Click here for the very plausible theory that Bush avoided the FISA courts because the calls he was intercepting were those of journalists).

Says democracy in Iraq is developing really fast, though “I know with all the TV stations and stuff in America, two-and-a-half years seems like an eternity.” And of course it’s so much faster than in our crappy old country, where “our road to our Constitution... was pretty bumpy.” Yeah, there was all that violence between the Sunnis of Massachusetts and the Shiites of New Hampshire.
And what you’re seeing now is an historic moment, because I believe democracies will spread. I believe when people get the taste for freedom or see a neighbor with a taste for freedom, they will demand the same thing because I believe in the universality of freedom.
Bush went on, “It’s pretty much like the way I saw Rummy with his new Xbox 360 and I asked Laura over and over if I could have one too...”
And it’s not going to be easy. It’s still going to be hard, because we’re getting rid of decades of bitterness. If you’re a -- you know, you find these secret prisons where people have been tortured, that’s unacceptable. And, yet, there are some who still want to have retribution against people who harmed them.
Unacceptable, huh? Makes it sound like putting your elbows on the table. And you’ll notice he’s talking about Saddam’s secret prisons where people were tortured, not the American secret prisons where people were tortured, or the Interior Ministry secret prisons where people are tortured.
My only point to you is there’s a lot of work to get rid of the past, yet we’re headed in the right direction. And it’s an exciting moment in history.
History which he’s planning to abolish.

Asked a rather good question by the WaPo’s Peter Baker about whether he sees any limits to the powers of the president in time of a war which may go on for decades, Bush rejected the term “unchecked power,” citing, among other things, the fact that people in the executive took an oath to uphold the law (here he mimed taking an oath),

and added that there is oversight, because they briefed a few members of Congress. Secretly. About powers they have claimed Congress has no right to modify because they are part of the president’s “inherent authority.” So Congress can’t talk about it, and they can’t stop it. Some oversight.

Slow learners

Guardian headline: “Warlords and Women Take Seats in Afghan Parliament.” So the seating is like, boy girl boy girl?

Alberto Gonzales, the man at the pinnacle of the American legal profession: “Our position is that the authorization to use military force which was passed by the Congress shortly after Sept. 11 constitutes that authority [to conduct warrantless surveillance].” Interesting definition of military force. Since this was an interview by Katie Couric, there was no follow-up question as to whether he’s claiming that even a single member of Congress believed that they were granting such a power to the president.

Returning to last night’s fireside chat (because Americans are burning their furniture, unable to afford any other form of home heating) and Bush’s reference to critics as defeatists. Or, actually, as Defeatists. The initial cap makes clearer the tactic of Stalinist-type categorization of the enemy, as in his denominating the insurgency in Iraq as Rejectionists.

Dick Cheney went to Afghanistan to condescend to the troops: “It’s good to be back at Bagram Air Field... I’m only sorry I didn’t come earlier this month. Somebody told me I missed a chance to meet Vince McMahon, Big Show, and Triple H.” And to condescend to the “Taliban die-hards who apparently are slow learners. (Laughter.)” They’re still operating four years after their country was invaded and occupied by the most powerful army in the history of the world, and they’re slow learners?
I also want you to know, ladies and gentlemen, that I was in Iraq yesterday... Your comrades are doing fantastic work over there. On occasion they receive mixed signals from politicians about whether America has what it takes to stay in the fight.
On the other hand, you guys, here in Afghanistan, most Americans have completely forgotten you’re even here.

Where can I get me one of those hats?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

There are only two options before our country — victory or defeat

Yet another Bush speech about Iraq. I can’t have been the only one mesmerized by Bush’s hands, which were constantly in motion, to no particular effect, in part because they were positioned awkwardly on the desk in front of him because his chair was too low.

The speech struck me as more defensive than he’s been, the message being essentially that it’s not as bad as you think it is. “For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope.” Is that the standard? that the number of “scenes” (it’s all just pictures on the tv to him) of bombs blowing up are outnumbered by other scenes in which people are rebuilding after the last time bombs blew up.

The people of Iraq and Afghanistan must be wondering why Bush keeps calling them allies of the US in the war on terror. Hey, we already did our little bit, they must be saying, we gave at the office. I’m pretty sure no candidates in either countries’ elections ran on a platform of being allies of the United States in The War Against Terror (TWAT).

He admits that “This work has been especially difficult in Iraq — more difficult than we expected.” No fucking kidding. That’s what will be praised by the right-wing pundits as welcome honesty.

“Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant — only now without a throne.” Raging tyrant? Didn’t Robert DeNiro gain a lot of weight for that one?

“We invite terrorism by ignoring them.” They just don’t take the hint, do they? We’ve all got relatives like that.

He’s perfectly willing to listen to “honest criticism” but not to “defeatists.” So if you oppose the war or think it is going badly, he doesn’t have to listen to you because you are dishonest (and a partisan, he says in the next sentence, and “giving in to despair,” he says later, as if his view of the war is rational and fact-based while differing views arise entirely from emotion).

Now, he says, “there are only two options before our country — victory or defeat.” The more he paints withdrawing troops from Iraq as a defeat, the more he makes it impossible ever to say that it’s time to do so, given the unlikelihood of the country calming down to the point where even he can credibly declare victory. So there is in fact a third option: permanent military occupation and never-ending warfare.

Then he finished with what he called a Christmas carol (and misquoted), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells,” which was about how God would defeat those fucking Confederates.

Cheney of Arabia

Dick Cheney told American troops, during his 10-hour trip to Iraq, “We’re in this fight to win. These colors don’t run.” And they didn’t frag him on the spot. You have to admire the discipline. He also visited some Iraqi troops, who couldn’t frag him:
U.S. forces guarded Cheney with weapons at the ready while Iraqi soldiers, who had no weapons, held their arms out as if they were carrying imaginary guns. (AP)
I so want a picture of that. Anyone seen one?

Fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory

A London Sunday Times reporter visits Fallujah and reports that it’s still a depressing concentration camp with rubble and raw sewage and really pissed off residents. She is the first independent reporter (i.e., not escorted and watched over by American soldiers) in Fallujah in over a year; she had to sneak in.

Bill Frist has an AIDS charity, World of Hope Inc. It raises money from corporations with legislative agendas, and spends large amounts of money on “consultant” fees to Frist’s cronies, as a way of keeping them on the payroll during non-election years. (World of Hope doesn’t seem to exist on the web, which doesn’t really suggest “legitimate charity” to me. It’s not these people, or these.)

The House of Reps has voted 279-109 for a resolution claiming that “setting an artificial timetable” for leaving Iraq would be “fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) asked, “What is victory? Nobody has defined what victory is.” Silly Jim, defining victory is fundamentally inconsistent with achieving victory.

Speaking of achieving victory, Dick Cheney made his first trip to Iraq since 1991, and would no doubt have been greeted as a liberator by the Iraqi people, had he met any below the rank of prime minister, with whom he shared a jolly, but evil, laugh.

They gave him his very own fake-military jacket, but would only let him eat with a plastic spork.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

There’s an enemy that lurks

Yesterday, in a News Hour interview I’ve just caught up with, Bush refused to confirm the existence of illegal surveillance, “and the reason why is that there’s an enemy that lurks, that would like to know exactly what we’re trying to do to stop them.”. And this made all sorts of sense, because clearly the Enemy That Lurks wouldn’t cease discussing their nefarious plans and dastardly lurkery on the telephone just because they read on the front page of the New York Times that such conversations were being intercepted; no, they’d wait until the president of the United States confirmed the story. Terrorists don’t believe what they read in the newspapers, but they do take the word of George W. Bush as gospel.

So imagine my surprise today when Bush used his weekly address
on the talking-type wireless to take responsibility for having ordered just such a program of interception. Doesn’t he remember that there’s an enemy that lurks? He didn’t make his grand confession without taking a few swipes at those who “improperly provided” the story to the media, and the media who reported on it, eventually. “As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.” Tut tut tut. “Revealing classified information is illegal. It alerts our enemies.” By which I assume he means the New York Times.

He assured us that the only people whose rights were violated had “known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” and that there were reviews every 45 days or so by our nation’s top legal officials, including the Attorney General and the Counsel to the President.” Alberto and Harriet, those crack legal eagles. Swell.

He demonstrated the necessity of such surveillance by citing how the 9/11 hijackers had communicated with each other and with others outside the country. Yeah, but they also took over planes with pen-knives, but no one would expect to get away with that after 9/11 either. Bush said he plans to continue authorizing the program as long as there was a single bad person anywhere in the world.

Back to the McNeil-Lehrer interview. He seems to say that he never got an estimate for casualties, either American (excuse me, “coalition”) or Iraqi, before making the decision to invade. “I knew there would be casualties. I never tried to guess.” Nevertheless, “I’ll never forget making the decision in the Situation Room [or possibly making the situation in the Decision Room], and it affected me. I mean, it was -- I got up out of the chair and walked around the South Lawn there”. Whooa, dude, enough with the girly-girly emotions! This ain’t Oprah!
We run a danger of trying to say the casualties are less than other wars or more than expected. It’s just everybody matters, every person matters, and what really matters is having the strategy and the will to make sure any death is not -- is honored by achieving an objective.
Sure, one dead, 2,100 dead, 30,000 dead, 100,000 dead, same dif.
Nor do I think you don’t sit around in a planning session and say, gosh, I wonder how many-- how many people are going to die because of suicide bombers or because of politics or-- I know this, that when we went in we had a plan to target the guilty and spare the innocent and with our precision weaponry and a military that is a humane group of people that we did a good job of that.
Target the guilty. Bush not only thinks he has the power to see into people’s souls, he thinks his rockets can too.

Says that when he said on Fox about Tom DeLay,
HUME: Do you just — do you believe he’s innocent?

BUSH: Do I? Yes, I do.
what he was conveying “is that people are innocent till proven otherwise.” Quite right, in this country we determine guilt or innocence through precision weapons, as set down in the Constitution.

I want my security first. I’ll deal with all the details after that.

Trent Lott, supporting illegal surveillance of Americans: “I don’t agree with the libertarians. I want my security first. I’ll deal with all the details after that.” As Benjamin Franklin said in his blog in 1759: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The House voted to condition future aid to Palestine on Hamas being banned from parliamentary elections. So I suppose we won’t be hearing any more about spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. Oops, my bad, of course we will: Tom Lantos, one of the sponsors, says that Hamas “has nothing but contempt for democracy, though it is more than happy to exploit democracy for its own nefarious ends”. And Rep. Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House International Relations subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, accuses Hamas of trying to “hijack” the elections by, you know, being more popular than other parties and winning more votes.

On a very special episode of The O’Reilly Factor, Bill O’Reilly interviews Secretary of War Rumsfeld, and tv’s all across America blow themselves up in suicidal despair. I missed seeing it myself, as I was talking my tv off a ledge at the time, but it reads like the Wimbledon of Stupid; when they get a volley of asininity going, it is a thing to behold, if you have the stomach for it.
O’REILLY: Is [Iraq] the best battlefield?

RUMSFELD: It is central front of the global war on terror.

O’REILLY: Even more than Iran?

RUMSFELD: Iran is not a battleground today. Iran is very busy financing Hezbollah and Hamas and the various terrorist groups that they fund with Syria to go in and try to — you heard what the new president...

O’REILLY: He’s a nut. All right. But I don’t know. You could make a case in Iran.

RUMSFELD: They said Hitler was a nut.

O’REILLY: I would have. And they should have stopped him in the Rhine.
Rummy on American Iranian influence in Iraq: “And what we’ve got to count on is that the Iraqi people are, even the Shia, are more Iraqi than they are Shia and that they’re not going to want Iran influencing their elections.” Rummy on the torture bill: “from the Defense Department’s standpoint, the arrangement that’s been made does not have implications, because we have had requirements for humane treatment from the beginning.” And that’s worked out just swell.

And here’s a photo from the Iraqi elections I haven’t been able to think of an excuse for using:

Friday, December 16, 2005

Inherent authority

The Bushies are using the same smokescreen on domestic eavesdropping that they used for torture: saying they didn’t break the law, in an area where they also say (but not at the same time, so no one notices, they hope) that the law simply doesn’t apply. In today’s Gaggle, Scottie McClellan repeatedly insisted that they are abiding by the law while repeatedly refusing to answer if it is legal to spy on Americans. The Bushies believe (or claim to believe) 1) that the 2001 Congressional resolution on the “war against terrorism” gives them authorization to do literally anything, 2) that “the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance... of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority” (according to a brief they filed in a 2002 case). “Inherent authority” = above the law.

Making it clear to the world that this government does not torture

Dumbest quotes of 2005.

An amusing Clive James memoir of his youthful “literary education in sludge fiction” in the Times Literary Supplement.
“Bulldog Drummond arrived in my life like a descending testicle”.

Speaking of descending testicles, George Bush has come out in favor of the legal ban on torture he fought (and threatened to veto) for so long, after he realized that even Dick Cheney couldn’t stop it (at the White House ceremony yesterday in which Bush symbolically surrendered his cattle prod to John McCain, Cheney was conspicuous by his absence).

By next week, he’ll be saying it was all his idea. This week, it’s still only half his idea: he’s willing to give McCain half-credit for “work[ing] very closely” with him on their “common objective” “to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture”. Note that he’s more concerned with the appearance of not-torturing than with actually not torturing. His previous (and let’s face it, current and future) policy has been to achieve the same objective, convincing the world that the US doesn’t torture, by torturing but lying about it. McCain is too much of a partisan at heart to be trusted with ownership of this issue, but he did mischievously push some boundaries, strategically rephrasing what Bush had said: “now we can move forward and make sure that the whole world knows that, as the President has stated many times, that we do not practice cruel, inhuman treatment or torture.” Of course, Bush has said no such thing, confining himself to denouncing torture, as defined into non-existence by Alberto Gonzales.

So now that we have a law against torture, that should settle it huh? Moving on: the other big civil liberties story was of course Bush’s authorizing the NSA in 2002 to break the law by spying on Americans’ phone calls and electronic communications. The WaPo, which may not have recognized the implications of its own story, says “A senior official reached by telephone said the issue was too sensitive to talk about. None of several press officers responded to telephone or e-mail messages.” Ix-nay on the elephone-tay.

On the torture bill, there were some little loopholes written in: if torture somehow accidentally happened, the “evidence” arising from that torture could be used by military panels to decide whether to hold people forever in Guantanamo. Oh, and people held not on US soil couldn’t actually enforce the ban on torturing them in US courts. Little stuff like that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Little ink-stained fingers

Bush met with some overseas Iraqi voters, “And you might notice, they’ve got their -- got the little ink-stained fingers there.” Yes Bush was just fascinated by the little ink-stained fingers.

Maybe a little too fascinated.

Now wait, wait, did I vote too?

83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry

The White House says Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s description of the Holocaust as a “myth” shows why Iran shouldn’t be allowed to have nukes. Not sure I’m following the logic. I should have said in my last post that in the interview with Fox, Bush revived the phrase “Axis of Evil” when discussing Iran, which he called (speaking of myths) a “theocracy that has little transparency.”

And someone from the Israeli foreign ministry who really must not be paying a lot of attention said, “The combination of extremist ideology, a warped understanding of reality and nuclear weapons is a combination that no one in the international community can accept.”

Enigmatic no longer: emotion recognition software says that the Mona Lisa is 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful and 2% angry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The chimp and the fox

Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in: with the last of the 4 Iraq speeches, I’d hoped I was done with Dumbya until after Christthelordandyoubetternotforgetitmas. Then he went and got interviewed by Brit Hume on Fox.

Says Rumsfeld is doing “heck of a job.” Twice. Says Cheney is good because he’s secretive: “when he discusses a topic with me and he gives me his advice, I never read about it in the newspaper the next day. And that’s why our relationship is so close and his advice is so valued.” Also means no one else can correct any mistakes, give him a differing perspective; just the way Bubble Boy likes it.

Says Abramoff was “an equal money dispenser” to people in both parties. So it cancels out, I guess.

Says DeLay is innocent.

Says the number he gave, 30,000 dead Iraqis, was “speculative,” just “a number that was in the press.”
What’s important for the American people to know is that our mission in Iraq is to target the guilty and protect the innocent. That’s what you go over with precision weapons and good intelligence. The terrorists’ mission in Iraq is to target the innocent.
What is he, 6? Also, is that “good intelligence” like the intel you just cited, a speculative number that was in the press?

Denies believing that God picked him to be president.

Says “I hope to be remembered, from a personal perspective, as a fellow who had lived life to the fullest and gave it his all.” Jeez, that was your all?


Another day, another Bush speech on Iraq. Convinced yet? He says that democracy in Iraq will inspire a freedom caliphate “from Damascus to Tehran.” OK, he didn’t use the word caliphate.

What’s remarkable about his justifications for the invasion of Iraq is how little it’s changed in 3 years. Various elements drop out – no smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud – but the rest remains unchanged. He still says “The United States did not choose war -- the choice was Saddam Hussein’s,” who refused to “disclose and disarm,” even though there was nothing to disarm. Bush admits now that much of the intelligence was wrong, but Saddam was still “a threat,” and still at fault, presumably for failing to acquire some arms in order to disclose and disarm them, or something.

I’ve been asking what Bush means by “marginalizing” the “rejectionists.” Evidently it will happen when Sunnis vote, because that will mean the system will be all inclusive and shit. Oh, c’mon, I vote in every election and I’m pretty marginalized, and the Sunnis of Anbar province voted 97% against this constitution. Bush still thinks it’s impossible for an Iraqi to both vote and fight, in the same way that he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. By the way, in Monday’s speech and today, he called it a “bold constitution.” As opposed to a shy constitution, I suppose.

As in every one of these speeches, he quotes the forged Zawahiri-Zarqawi letter, without being challenged by anyone for lying about intel yet again. Zawahiri is supposed to have decided that Americans are weak because of the way they left Vietnam. Maybe George Bush isn’t the person to be talking about that.

He speaks up again for the right to debate the war, unless you say something he considers “irresponsible” or “pure politics,” such as “that we act because of oil, that we act in Iraq because of Israel, or because we misled the American people.” Yeah, irresponsible, pure politics, whatever, I’ve done four of these godawful speeches and I just don’t care anymore, my brain has been marginalized.

I understand political expediency

As the Canadian election process gets underway, the American ambassador, David Wilkins, issued this little threat warning fatwa bit of helpful advice, directed especially at Prime Minister Paul Martin: “It may be smart election politics to thump your chest and constantly criticize your friend and your Number One trading partner. But it’s a slippery slope and all of us should hope it doesn’t have a long-term impact on our relationship.” “I understand political expediency,” Wilkins, the former speaker of the South Carolina House of Reps added. Diplomacy, however, he’s a little fuzzier about. Canada is so pleased to be treated to the same ham-handed electoral intervention as Nicaragua or Venezuela receive. The Toronto Star compares Wilkins to Archie Bunker telling Edith to stifle. Before he was named ambassador earlier this year, Wilkins had only been to Canada once, decades ago.

Speaking of get-out-the-vote campaigns, the decision on whether to grant the UN’s request for the United States to contribute 10 helicopters to assist in the Haitian elections will be made by... Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary of defense gets to decide the value to the US of elections in Haiti.

Condi Rice, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, said “When America leads with principle in the world, freedom’s cause grows stronger. We saw this when Ronald Reagan spurned friendly dictators and supported freedom’s cause in Latin America.” Spurned... friendly dictators... head... hurt. She also accused unnamed countries of “boycotting” the trial of Saddam Hussein, saying participation (whatever that means) is a special obligation for those who support human rights. Asked to clarify her remarks, a State Dept official “pointed out that many nations had opposed the fact that Hussein, if found guilty, faced the death penalty”. Oh, those human rights.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tookie taken

California has indeed executed Tookie Williams, despite his years of good work on death row educating people to the fact that Tookie was his middle name rather than a nickname. Governor Terminator’s statement about his decision suggests that he denied clemency less because of the 4 killings than for his failure to apologize for them. Very Emily Post of the governor; I’m too lazy to look up his non-apology apologies to all the women he sexually harassed or assaulted, but you get the idea. He also said that Williams’s anti-gang work, often cited as a reason he should be granted clemency, had failed to end any and all gang violence, so that was another reason to execute him. The next scheduled execution in California is of a 75-year old blind guy, recovering from a heart attack, in a wheelchair. Is the death chamber wheelchair-accessible? His last meal will also be his birthday dinner; what gifts do you get for a guy who’s going to die at 12:01 that day? And doesn’t that sound like the worst birthday party in the history of the world?

Speaking of crappy gifts, in Iraq the Victorious Army Group has extended its deadline for a website design contest to Jan. 15. The winner will receive God’s blessings and the opportunity to fire 3 long-range rockets at an American military base. Enter early and often.

Monday, December 12, 2005

But it was not a peaceful welcome

WaPo headline: “FEMA Ordered to Extend Hotel Stays.” Yeah, because telling the clerk, “By the hour? We only need it for 15 minutes” is just so tacky.

When Bush in today’s speech said that this time, unlike in the January 2005 elections, seats in the Iraqi parliament would be allocated according to population, I was wondering when a census was last carried out and if there’d been something like, say, an invasion and war that might have altered the population distribution since then. Turns out, seats will actually be allocated not on the basis of total numbers, but registration for the January elections... which the Sunnis boycotted. Also, 1/6 of the seats are based on a single-national-constituency such as that used in January.

In an interview with Bush today, NBC’s Brian Williams asked about the Newsweek story that Bush lives in a bubble – big scoop for Newsweek, that one. Bush responded: “Well, I’m talking to you. You’re a person.” He went on, “I feel very comfortable that I’m very aware of what’s going on.” And added that he never reads the news magazines – a big scoop for Brian Williams, that one. Later, after Bush expresses admiration for Abraham Lincoln, Williams noted that Lincoln could meet members of the general public right in the White House. Bush says, yeah, but he’s got Air Force One, so he can meet lots of families of dead soldiers: “I’m sure Abraham Lincoln was able to do that, but I don’t think he was able to do it in cities all around the United States which I have been able to do.” “And I try to be patient and absorb the anguish of a family that’s just mourning.” Tries to be patient. The man’s a saint, I tells ya.

Says he likes Teddy Roosevelt because “He used American influence to shape history and to lay what I call the foundations for peace.” Well, unless you count the world war that started five years after he left office.

Asked why American troops were not welcomed in Iraq as liberators: “I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome.”

Wrestling with the profound consequences

Governor Arnold has denied clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams after “wrestling with the profound consequences.” This particular wrestling match, like so many others, was fixed. OK, I don’t really know to what extent political considerations entered into the decision, although pundits have been opining that Schwarzenegger needed to feed some raw meat, such as a dead black man, to his base after the betrayal of hiring a Democrat as his new chief of staff last week. I do know the decision he made was the path of least political resistance. I do know he waited until the last minute to make his announcement, which is pretty cruel itself. I do know that the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I mean Arnold Freaking Schwarzenegger!! having the power of life and death over another human being is the height of absurdity. But then, the very belief of death-penalty supporters that they possess wisdom enough to decide whether a fellow person should live or die is evidence enough, if evidence were needed, that they don’t.

As if it meant something

Various governments continue to treat Israel as some sort of model when it comes to riot-control, a paragon to be emulated. The latest worshippers at the feet of the masters: France, which, having dealt with many days of rioting recently with a deplorably low amount of bloodshed, will be visited by the Israeli public security minister and police commissioner, who will advise them on how to do better next time.

Though Bush’s speech on Iraq today was supposed to be the 3rd in a series of 4, it contained little if any new material. Speaking in Philadelphia, he quoted someone who said in 1776, when the Liberty Bell was sounded after the Declaration of Independence was signed, “It rang as if it meant something.” Like every other Bush speech on Iraq, his words were designed to sound as if they meant something, but they didn’t. He’s still, for example, talking about “marginalizing” the “rejectionists,” and I still don’t know what, if anything, that would entail. So nothing new in the prepared speech, but this time he took questions. In response to one, he gave an estimate of 30,000 Iraqi dead. I really thought he was going to dodge the question, and I salute his bravery in actually answering. OK, with an imaginary number, but still.

Challenged directly to justify the links he insists on drawing between Al Qaeda and Iraq, he did dodge. He went on at some length about how Saddam Hussein was a threat – evidently admitting that the intel about WMDs was all wrong makes no difference to how big a threat he was. And there was this weird passage in the speech: “In a 1998 fatwa, Osama bin Laden argued that the suffering of the Iraqi people was justification for his declaration of war on America. Now bin Laden and al-Qaeda are the direct cause of the Iraqi people’s suffering.” Fuck if I know what this means.

He took another swipe at Al-Jazeera:
Look, I recognize we got an image issue, particularly when you’ve got Arabic television stations -- that are constantly just pounding America, saying ‘America is fighting Islam,’ ‘Americans can’t stand Muslims,’ ‘This is a war against a religion.’
Notice how he denies – three times – that this is a religious crusade, without addressing charges of going to war for oil, or imperialism (by the by, at one point he casually suggested that several more governments were going to have to fall in the Middle East). On the religion thing, he went on, “ours is not a nation that rejects religion. Ours is a nation that accepts people of all faiths”. Unless they don’t say “Merry Christmas” on cue, of course, in which case we will annihilate them.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Telling the US side of the story to approved targeted audiences

What the fuck sort of day is this? Today’s NYT obits page reported the death of not one but two people who wrote (very different sorts of) books I own, Roger Shattuck and Robert Sheckley, then during the day Eugene McCarthy and Richard Pryor die. How did I not know Pryor was one of the writers of Blazing Saddles?

Boy I hope no one is reading any of that for the first time here.

The Sunday Times says that the only pictures ever published in Russia of Putin’s daughters are over a decade old.

“The enemy in Anbar province is different from that in other areas of Iraq,” a Pentagon release begins intriguingly, only to crash and burn in the next sentence, when it turns out that they are all “rejectionists,” a term that made its debut in Bush’s November 30th speech, and which is remarkable for the amount of information it completely fails to convey. Is this the grand sum of 3 years of accumulated knowledge about the enemy? The Pentagon people peddling this piffle prefer to remain “on background,” as well they might; you do have to wonder about a Pentagon release in which Pentagon officials aren’t willing to be named. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of a Rejectionist Party, and I would even suggest a motto: “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” Has a ring to it, doesn’t it? But as an intellectual category, it tells you nothing about the aspirations and ideas of the people to whom you apply the category (it’s not like any Iraqis actually consider themselves to be “rejectionists”). Indeed, it denies they have any aspirations or ideas we need to pay any attention to; it’s the same dismissive taunt, “They have no ideas, they just trash ours,” the Republicans like to use about the Democrats. To call your opponents rejectionist is to stigmatize, even criminalize disagreement.

The NYT has a good long story about American semi-secret propaganda efforts in Iraq and, in the last part, Afghanistan. Says a psyops colonel, “We tell the U.S. side of the story to approved targeted audiences.” In Afghanistan, the Pentagon gives money to 30 radio stations, including one named... wait for it... Peace, and a newspaper of the same name. Without disclosing the relationship, of course. Says AID’s rep in Afghanistan, whose name is evidently also a secret, “We want to maintain the perception (if not the reality) that these radio stations are in fact fully independent.” That’s called lying. AID also funds something called Voice For Humanity, which hands out iPod-like devices (pink for women, silver for men!) in both countries with get-out-the-vote messages, which can’t be used for anything else, just like those North Korean radios that can only receive state radio.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Unless, of course, they meant stoning infidel voters

Inappropriate headline of the week, from the WaPo: “Iraq’s Mosques Rock the Vote as Election Nears.”

It’s official: according to the Patent and Trademark Office, the word “dyke” is no longer offensive. Accordingly, it has reversed an earlier decision to deny a trademark for the name “Dykes on Bikes.”

There’s some sort of lesson in this story about people with one of the most boring hobbies ever, planespotting, helped expose the secret CIA torture flights. One planespotter in Spain, who posted a picture of one plane on the web, started getting calls from reporters and... others: “One man wanted to buy up all the photos. He eventually sent me a form in which he asked for everything, including my home address. I didn’t give it to him and I never heard from him again.” Your tax dollars at work.

Simon Carr of the Indy (sub., so no link) says that David Cameron, though the 5th Tory party leader since Thatcher, still has to figure out how to “integrate Mrs Thatcher back into the Conservative story as a necessary but demented character, a creature of her time, like Joan of Arc.”

I love it when Bush scandals intersect: the key pre-war “evidence” that Iraq was training Al Qaeda members in the use of explosives and chemical weapons was provided by a single prisoner, rendered to Egypt, who lied to make the torture stop.