Tuesday, August 31, 2004

May never sit down at a peace table

Bush changes his mind, now does plan to “win” the war on terror after all. But he adds, “in this different kind of war, we may never sit down at a peace table.” Well I’m sure you can find something to fit your needs.

There’s a famous British newspaper headline from I believe the 1950s, which is always quoted to demonstrate British insularity and their sense that they are the center of the universe, something like “Fog over the Channel, Continent Cut Off.” Compare and contrast with this WaPo headline: “Zell Miller: A Democrat Who Insists His Party Left Him.”

Don’t be economic girlie-men: the Republican convention on steroids

Day 2 of the Republican convention was brown people, black people, immigrants, and the most downtrodden of all, stem cells. I believe the R platform proposes giving the vote to stem cells.

That would be more of a joke if the platform didn’t actually say that the 14th Amendment applies to the unborn.

Missed Liddy Dole’s speech, but she praised Bush for restoring “honor and dignity” to the White House. Elizabeth Dole, whose husband did Viagra ads. Also, not the best line for anyone to use the day the prime speaker is the Gropenführer. Liddy also said that marriage, by which she meant heterosexual marriage, is important, “not because it is a convenient invention or the latest reality show. Marriage is important because it is the cornerstone of civilization, and the foundation of the family.” Once again, she ignored her husband, who once told his first partner in the institution which is the cornerstone of civilization, “I want out.”

Ed. Sec Rod Paige accused Kerry & Edwards of wanting to “water down” No Child Left Behind. By which he means altering the rigid testing requirements, and by which he did not mean failing to provide adequate funding, a form of watering down he and his boss support.

Jenna mentioned her grandmother and sex in the same sentence, and by the time I came out of the fetal position, it was an hour later.

But before that was the main broken-English speaker of the convention, my governor, representing the immigrants who come to this country “full of dreams, full of determination, full of desire,” full of steroids, and end up fucking a bony Kennedy. He told a story about how he arrived in 1968, heard Hubert Humphrey speaking, heard Nixon speaking, and decided he was a Republican. He told this story when he was running for governor, when he claimed he was watching the famous Nixon-Humphrey debates, so it’s nice to see he didn’t feel obligated to drop his made-up story just because its central factual component never actually happened (like his reference to seeing Soviet tanks in Austria). There were a bunch of movie references, of course; an “economic girlie men” line; he explained how voting for the Republicans despite disagreeing with them was what was great about this country; then something about America standing with political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, which means whoever vetted his speech forgot that Dick Cheney once voted against a resolution that Mandela should be freed; and there was a line that “leadership isn’t about polls,” about which I’m still undecided whether to make a pun about Austrians and Poles. Then he pinched Laura Bush’s butt and left the stage.

There was something demeaning about George Bush the Elder having been given an Arnold! sign to wave.

The big “surprise” was a video appearance by Shrub, speaking for no particular reason in front of a softball game. Which meant he was interrupted by applause when someone got a hit.
Update: it's been suggested that the game was staged.

Declaring victory over a figure of speech, and going home

Bush said that Kerry will nationalize health care. Which is the sort of lie you can tell when your lies never seem to have consequences.

Of course when he does tell the truth... Today Bush said that the war on terrorism can’t be won in the conventional sense. This is of course true, since “war” was always an inappropriate metaphor. I think Bush has finally realized that all the “war on terrorism” talk does not leave him with an exit strategy from that war. This is a follow-up to that weird comment no one understood early this month: “We actually misnamed the war on terror, it ought to be the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.” John Edwards went on the attack, saying that of course he and Kerry believe that the war on terrorism is winnable, and it’s defeatism to say otherwise. I can’t wait to see what he says when someone asks how you know when the war is over.

And yes, I did just say that Bush was right and his opponents wrong. Even a stopped clock is right once every 58 years.

The Secret Service has issued subpoenas trying to find the person who posted on the internet the names, addresses, phone numbers & NY hotels of R convention delegates (you’ll remember that Florida decided that the names of its delegates to this largely-taxpayer-funded convention was a trade secret). The feds are pretending this amounts to voter intimidation.

The R platform, on which those I’d-tell-you-my-name-but-then-I’d-have-to-kill-you delegates voted, included a provision to withdraw the jurisdiction of federal courts over the Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress can do under the stupidest, but little-used, provision of the Constitution (Article III, section 2, clause 2).

A Sadr spokesman on why the Mahdi army won’t give up its weapons: “Don’t most families in America keep a weapon?”

Monday, August 30, 2004

Convention report, or it would be if I could stand to listen to those people

At the R. convention, a woman in a headscarf from the American Islamic Congress just began by saying she would greet the convention with the traditional Islamic greeting. Sadly, it was "alaikum salaam." I had thought she was going to do one of those ululations Arab women do. Would have been fun to watch 10,000 people dive to the floor at one time.

Followed by George & Laura Bush talking about how they liberated the women of Afghanistan. By the way, the Times of London ran a story on Saturday, "Wife-Burning Survives Taleban Terror."

McCain could not get off that stage fast enough, could he?

Anti-gay-marriage Rep. Ed Schrock (R-VA) decides not to run for re-election after being outed. His call to a gay dating line ("I just like to get together a guy from time to time, just to, just to play. I'd like him to be in very good shape, flat stomach, good chest, good arms, well hung, cut, uh, just get naked, play, and see what happens...") may be found online.

Giuliani is just going on and on. I couldn’t listen to a word, he’s just too irritating.

Evolutionary rather than revolutionary

McCain says that ads attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record are dishonest and dishonorable, but it is ok to talk about his anti-war activities when he got home. I think Skull and Bones has the same rules. Also Fight Club (The first rule of Fight Club is - you do not talk about Fight Club).

Speaking of don’t ask, don’t tell, the Log Cabin Republicans... you know, I’m not going to pretend I really want to say anything about those idiots beyond repeating Tom Carson’s old line that their symbol should be a pink Bermuda triangle.

An RNC official says that Shrub’s acceptance speech will be “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.” Of course, the oddly chimplike GeeDubya doesn’t actually believe in evolution....

And the naked human pyramids? “Members of [Lynndie] England’s unit testified about critical supply shortages that forced them to keep prisoners naked for long stretches and to give male detainees female underwear.” (Catch by Under the Same Sun .

Wherein John McCain is compared, unfavorably, to a 60-year old Thai hooker with leprosy

The hunger strike by Palestinian political/security prisoners may end today, after a bit over two weeks. I was never clear on whether this supposed to be a fast to the death (if the strikers ever issued a formal statement, I didn’t see it), but the Israelis certainly attempted to speed along the process of physical deterioration, denying them milk, juice and salt, which they were willing to take.

My off-the-top-of-my-head, middle-of-the-night theory that Larry Franklin was passing operational intel to the Israelis is supported by no one else. Fine. If it was about influencing policy towards Iran, as seems to be the case, and influencing it in the direction of war, maybe the opposition party, if the US had one, or the press, if it weren’t so tame, could use this to lever the Pentagon the hell out of the business of formulating foreign policy.

This incident will also serve to make a war against Iran harder to undertake in a 2nd Bush term, by making it appear to the Muslim world like--well, more like--the product of a US-Israeli cabal.

The US was given advance notice of the coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, and chose to do nothing, according to the Sunday Times (London), for the usual reason: oil. The government of EG is a rather nasty one, and the US was afraid it would have to impose sanctions, depriving itself of EG’s precious, precious oil.

I don’t know how much of the R convention I’ll be able to stand to watch, especially since they failed to invite the entertaining lunatic right-wingers to speak. Instead, while the RNC disinvited Britney Spears because she’s too big of a whore, McCain and other R moderates-on-some-issues will be peddling their asses onstage for smaller change than that charged by a 60-year old Thai hooker with leprosy. This convention is Shrub’s version of “kinder and gentler,” the phrase his father used to distance himself from Reagan, which as often as not became “kindler” and gentler. Actually, the 2000 convention did the same thing, with Newt Gingrich, as I wrote at the time, “locked in the basement until it’s over.”

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Expressing themselves through violence and violent behaviour

NY protest sign: "What if Barbara or Jenna were impregnated by Willie Horton?”

I dislike seeing terms which should only be used to describe genuine elections being used for blatant shams, such as that in Chechnya today. General Alu Alkhanov was not “elected.” He did not “win” an election--the election was fixed, not won.

Then there’s Iraq’s Comical Allawi, quoted in the
WaPo directing more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tut-tutting towards the insurgents. “They are not knowing how to express themselves but through violence and through violent behavior,” says the man who was installed by the US military’s violence and violent behaviour. Allawi also likes to talk about the law and bringing people to justice, but the only law written in Iraq in decades was written by Saddam Hussein or Paul Bremer.

Come for the free dental care, stay for the naked human pyramids

The Pentagon is following James Schlesinger in fashioning its propaganda about the torture of prisoners. It’s ignoring everything we know about torture during interrogation (as I noted before, Rumsfeld even flatly denied the existence of that type of torture). What this strategy amounts to is focusing on the torture we’ve seen pictures of, and trying to explain away those pictures as the result of the famous “few bad apples,” the night shift, just doing it for fun. At a background Pentagon briefing Wednesday, an unnamed “senior army official” insisted that the prisoner in the famous picture, standing on a box with a hood over his head, wasn’t even interrogated.

And there’s a lot of talk about the “chilling effect” on current interrogations of insisting on rules against abuse. The same official claims that because prisoners know these limits, they no longer fear imprisonment by the Americans (in other words, they won’t fall for the if-you-fall-off-the-box-you’ll-be-electrocuted ploy): “They know that if the United States captures them, they will get a medical exam. They’ll get their teeth fixed. They will get essentially a free physical and they will be released if they don’t talk after a certain amount of time.” The WaPo says that the CIA has even stopped refusing pain medication to and “feign[ing] suffocation” of prisoners.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

You kidnapped me and are threatening to kill me over WHAT??

A group called the Islamic Army in Iraq has kidnapped 2 French journalists, demanding the end of the headscarf ban in French public schools. Normally I’d say it’s bad policy to give in to kidnappers, but really, how’d you like to have to explain to someone’s family why they had to die to protect a ban on headscarves?

Incidentally, I don’t know how this fits in with Muslim theology, but if Muslim girls/women really want to protest the ban and really don’t want to show their hair in public...they should shave their heads.

British Tory party leader Michael Howard has been banned from the White House, for criticizing Tony Blair over the Iraq war.

One of the Chechen women suspected to have perpetrated one of the Russian plane bombings this week was the sister of a man seized by Russian forces several years ago, and never seen again. You don’t have to approve of blowing up planes to understand why she was pissed off.

The Bush admin response to data showing that charter schools are not the miracle cure they were supposed to be, and indeed under-perform regular public schools: stop collecting the data.

Although Sistani’s deal over Najaf involved the American troops leaving the city, they aren’t going to do it. "Owie" Allawi has given them permission to stay until it’s safe enough for Iraqi police to handle. Allawi is obviously trying to restore his authority, but doing so through treachery may not go over too well. Or who knows, maybe Iraqis like treachery. Meanwhile, US tanks will stay, parked among the ruins they created.

Abuses at interrogations

Nice to see that the NYT changed the headline of this article from “Rumsfeld Denies Details of Abuses at Interrogations” in my print copy to the more accurate “Rumsfeld Denies Abuses Occurred at Interrogations” online. Actually it’s worse: he falsely claimed in an interview that the Schlesinger report said that the torture was unrelated to interrogations (i.e., was just for fun, not part of a policy). The report says exactly the opposite in its first paragraph, so 2 days after it was made public, he hadn’t gotten that far. Chimpy’s reading habits are rubbing off on his subordinates. Or his lying habits.

Of course, Rummy was on his vacation. 60 dead US soldiers this month, Rummy doesn’t get to HAVE a vacation.

Speaking of abuses that occurred at interrogations, Bush only allowed the NYT to interview him if he was surrounded by staff, ready to jump in, as McClellan did when Bush refused to believe in the existence of a government report accepting the reality of global warming. Still, what stands out is that Bush was evasive in responding to questions, even for Bush. 3½ years in, the number of questions he simply can’t answer has increased exponentially, especially if he’s unwilling to admit any mistakes. Some of those evasions:
Asked whether the 2 torture reports have changed his opinion that it was the work of a few individuals, he said (twice), “I think we ought to look at all their recommendations seriously.”

Asked how he might have fought the war differently: “David, what I am now doing is leading us forward.”

Asked what he means when he says he won’t “tolerate” a nuclear Iran or North Korea: “It means we’ll try diplomacy as a first resort.”

Why the Pentagon spy for Israel needs to be hung up by his balls

A spy for Israel in the Pentagon. Here we go again. Israel has been bitching about Jonathan Pollard for nearly 20 years. The significant fact in that case is that while Israel has loudly and repeatedly and arrogantly demanded their mole be pardoned, they have not been willing to return the files he copied or tell the US which files they were.

When I first heard about this spy my reaction was to laugh, because what intel could he possibly give them that the US didn’t already provide Israel? Thinking about it some more, there is an answer to that question and it’s not funny: operational intelligence, the sort that would allow Israel to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.

Friday, August 27, 2004

On the couch

The federal government is taking over the task of screening passengers from the airlines. Ted Kennedy may never fly again.

Would have been nice if the NYT had printed the transcript of its interview with Bush. Evidently the “miscalculation” about Iraq wasn’t so much about the unwillingness of Iraqis to be occupied. Rather, the difficulties in Iraq have all been the result of the initial “swift victory.” His real miscalculation was in overestimating how wonderfully successful he’d be, which is odd, because a swift victory was what all his idiot advisers were predicting at the time on every news program, so how could they not have been prepared for one?

But my favorite quote has to be Shrub’s dismissal of the whole concept of even thinking about what went wrong by saying he wouldn’t go “on the couch.” For him, learning from the past is something only people with psychological disorders do, or need to do, or want to do.

Bags of candy distributed to small markets in the US included cheap little toys, like whistles and...little depictions of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. The toys were imported from China. Not many were distributed before the candy company discovered them, but I’m sure they’ll be worth a fortune on Ebay; I know I want one.

White House transcripts show that in 1976 Henry Kissinger gave the Argentinian junta permission to launch the “dirty war” against the opposition, and wanted it done while the US Congress was in recess: “the quicker you succeed the better.” He told the Argentine foreign secretary, “We are aware you are in a difficult period... when political, criminal, and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation. We understand you must establish authority.” In other words, it’s ok if you kill opposition politicians and pretend they’re terrorists.

In Mostar (Bosnia--remember?), Roma thieves steal a bridge and sell it to a scrap yard.

Karma Nabulsi makes the connection between the infliction of psychological torture on Palestinian hunger strikers by baking bread and barbequing meat outside their cells and the expansion of the settlements, “areas green from expropriated water, while Arab crops die of thirst,” in sight of refugee camps.

Several hundred of the hunger strikers have resumed eating, at least pending new negotiations Monday. They seem to have already won some of the concessions to human dignity they were demanding.

In Florida, Bush accuses Kerry of not wanting democracy in Cuba and attacking Cuban dissidents. The Post quotes Karl Rove saying “the wind is at our back” in Florida, where such meteorological conditions are usually followed by your trailer park being unexpectedly and violently relocated to another part of the state.

Misc. stuff you’ve probably already seen: Dole agreeing that Bush should be ashamed for his treatment of McCain in 2000. A Florida judge overrules election officials, says there must be a paper trail in order to allow for the manual recounts required by law. Deaths of US soldiers in Iraq in 2004 surpass those of 2003.

Making things that appear strange appear not so strange

Gay Arabic-language students come back, all is forgiven! The hearing in Guantanamo about bin Laden’s alleged driver/bodyguard is hampered by incompetent translators. Read the Reuters story: this is a farce. This was the US’s chance to demonstrate some sort of commitment to fairness and the rule of law, and it can’t demonstrate even basic competence. The Yemeni POW wanted to defend himself, or at least have a Yemeni lawyer, but was told he needed an American with legal experience, unlike the tribunal hearing the case, which has only one member with any legal experience, and that member could use an English-English translator, at one point asking Bahlul, "Is your understanding of our culture sufficient to make things that appear strange appear not so strange?" Is anyone’s?

Australian PM John Howard, major shit, spammed voters. Illegally. If anyone has a copy, could they forward it to me?

Misunderestimations were made

Bush admits to having made “a miscalculation of what the conditions would be” in occupied Iraq. That wasn’t so hard, was it, George? One mistake admitted, 3,869,172 to go.

I keep reading that Sadr’s men are turning in their weapons. To whom?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The primrose path to the dogs

Kerry will stop running the ads about Bush’s vicious attacks on McCain in 2000, because McCain asked him to. I don’t see how McCain’s opinion bears on the matter, or his fear of having his hypocrisy (or flip-floppery) in supporting Bush exposed. McCain said he doesn’t want 2000 brought up because America doesn’t like a sore loser, but what does it think about a loser who toadies to the winner?

And while McCain previously asked Bush to condemn the SUBVERT ads, he now says Bush doesn’t have to after all, the weasely statements about all 527 ads are good enough for him. So Kerry has given Bush another gift, gratis, as demonstrated by this oh-so-balanced AP headline: "Bush, Kerry Bow to McCain’s Wishes on Ads."

I have to hand it to the Iraqi security forces. When it was said that they’d take the lead in Najaf, I laughed, but today they did indeed take the lead in slaughtering dozens of unarmed peaceful marchers who had responded to Sistani’s call to go to Najaf (and this should be a warning to NY convention protestors, since I believe the Iraqi police said they were just protecting the grass). The moral authority of Comical Allawi, the potemkin strongman, hasn’t exactly risen here. Nor has that of the Americans, who as part of the deal decreed by Sistani, will have to get the hell out of Najaf, making it (and Kufa as well, I think) another no-go zone like Fallujah.

So now, whether the country holds together depends on Ayatollah Sistani, an elderly man with a heart condition who does not listen to his doctors.

12 British MPs are planning to impeach Tony Blair, a procedure that hasn’t been used in 156 years, didn’t work then and won’t work now, but should be fun to watch. The law firm drawing up the document is the one where Blair’s wife Cherie Booth works.

There’s a nicely written Polly Toynbee column in the Guardian, responding to a harrumphing speech by Tory party leader Michael Howard decrying "political correctness" gone mad, mad I tell you. I might have linked to it for its writing alone, but it has relevance for Americans who will be exposed next week to similar speeches by R’s. "It was tribal, straight from a Tory heart to the heartlands of conservatism, touching every raw nerve, poking every prejudice and agitating every dearly held anxiety. How well he rattled the deep blue fear of the way we live now in a world forever plunging downward on the primrose path to the dogs."

One of Howard’s complaints is the state intervening to stop parents "disciplining" their children. Coincidentally, another Guardian column, about Mark Thatcher, is entitled "I Blame the Parents." The South Africans evidently arrested Thatcher in the nick of time. He denies that he was planning to flee the country, although he did sell his 4 cars, put his house on the market and buy the plane tickets. The coup plot against Equatorial Guinea was what the London Times calls a time-share coup. Millionaires literally invested in this coup, like it was any other business deal. From the Times: "Some of those who claim that they were approached by the coup organisers have described to investigators in South Africa how at lavish drinks parties they were promised that the select group who agreed to write a cheque for about £100,000 each would share a £15 million payout within weeks."

Panama pardons 4 Cuban exiles convicted of plotting the assassination of Fidel Castro, as well as other terrorist actions (hotel and plane bombings, kidnapping, etc). And 3 of them are moving to Miami. As I said 2 days ago, the US is a haven for all sorts of terrorists and war criminals. Thatcher’s tickets, by the way, were for Texas.

The cha-cha of plausible deniability

Hungary chooses as its next prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, the richest man in the country, because that turned out so well in Italy. He made his fortune buying up privatized state assets cheap. And most recently he was minister of sport, which qualifies him to run the whole country because... because... well, maybe the minister of paprika was busy.
Update: I've been informed by DoDo of Manic Net Preacher that Gyurcsany is nowhere near the richest man in Hungary, which is propaganda put out by his opponents, who are themselves supported by even richer people. Sounds familiar, somehow.

Geov Parrish asks, Are You Qualified to be President?

Dahlia Lithwick has a good column on the torture reports, good because it agrees with what I’ve said on the subject, which is the definition of good. She also makes an interesting comparison between the insistence on putting the blame on those at the low end of the torture totem pole rather than their superiors, and the overhyping of those Al Qaida foot soldiers we’ve been able to catch, while talking as little as possible about Rumsfeld & bin Laden respectively. I hadn’t noticed that parallel, although I’m not sure what it means. She argues, as I did here and here, that looking for a smoking gun linking Rummy to Lynndie England "ignores the realities of the chain of command, and the cha-cha of plausible deniability."

The US plans to hand over to the tender mercies of the Afghan legal system, whenever the Afghans get around to having one, the hundreds of Afghans it has been holding, some for close to 3 years. Yes I’m sure that’s a legal system we want to be an integral part of.

The State Dept has decided not to allow Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan to come to this country to teach a course at Notre Dame. Ramadan, who lives in Switzerland, has written about how Muslims can accommodate themselves to secular societies. I guess he’s received a lesson in the subject himself, when Jewish groups (I’ve forgotten which ones since I first heard about this, and the NYT is too dainty to say) lobbied the State Dept not to let him teach at a Catholic university. You could look it up, how many Tariq Ramadans could there be?

The Victorian Sex Cry Generator.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

John McCain speaks out for amnesia

James Schlesinger says Rumsfeld shouldn’t resign because that "would be a boon for all of America’s enemies." Possibly that was a misspelling and he meant to call Rummy a boob. That quote could, in theory, be read in either of two ways, and I’d like to point out that in practice we have all discarded one of those meanings out of hand (including the press, which didn’t ask Schlesinger to clarify). The discarded possible meaning: Rumsfeld is so wonderfully competent that he is indispensable and the republic would collapse without him. The real meaning: the US would lose face if it admitted to any mistake or misdeed by holding someone accountable for that mistake or misdeed. This is an argument based solely on PR, on appearances rather than realities. A man who could even make that argument, in public, is a man who set out to write a cover-up.

Another example, from the report: Gen. Myers is criticized for not having "appreciated" the "impact of the photos." Not the reality of what was depicted in them, but the impact of the photos themselves on public relations. His failure was not that he allowed the torture to occur, but that he failed to effectively manage the perception of that torture, the spin. Rumsfeld, likewise, was more annoyed that there was documentation of torture than he was about the torture itself, saying in May that he’d never told Bush about it before the pictures came out because "The problem at that point was one-dimensional. It wasn’t three-dimensional. It wasn’t photographs and video." Click here for my post on that from the time, it’s a good post.

Forgot to say: Mark Thatcher’s "alleged coup in Equatorial Guinea" (as he called it), was all about oil.

India had its first execution in 15 years earlier this month. One result: in 3 separate incidents, children playing at executions have accidentally hanged themselves.

The Najaf police chief once again had all foreign journalists rounded up at gunpoint and brought to his office so he could harangue them.

And Israel deports a British journalist after a court decides that her "naivety and convictions" left her open to, well, believing what Palestinians might tell her.

John McCain says he is "sick and tired" of the wounds of Vietnam being reopened. "It’s time to move on," he said. In fact, he doesn’t like the Kerry campaign using his own words from 2000 in an ad. "What happened to me in the year 2000 is over. I have put it behind me." He really is the perfect person to speak for Bush at the R convention, where he can make the case for forgetting everything that’s happened in the last 4 years. Because if we remember the last 4 years, except for you-know-what, the terrorists win.

Fear and smear

John Kerry has accused Team Chimpy and SUBVERT of using “fear and smear” tactics, which I believe is also a service provided by Thai hookers for $75, so not only does the charge rhyme, but I’m pretty sure he just called Shrub a Thai hooker. If he didn’t, he should have. And the rhyming thing will even catch GeeDubya’s attention, because he’ll think it’s Dr. Seuss: I did not fear him on a train, I did not smear him on a plane...

Speaking of idiot children of former leaders, Sir Mark Thatcher, the unsavory son of Maggie Thatcher, has been arrested in South Africa for involvement in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. I find the last time I wrote about him was in 1998, when he was loan sharking.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Freedom means freedom for everyone, unless they're queer or something

Bob Dole returns to the question of Kerry and Vietnam, saying Kerry’s "grandstanding" just didn’t "smell right". Rather than grandstanding, said Dole, Kerry should have let his rage and resentment fester inside himself for decades, growing increasingly bitter, corroding his very soul, until... and then Dole snapped out of it and abruptly ended the interview, going out to look for a puppy to kick.

Schlesinger complains that all the publicity about torture in Abu Ghraib has had "a chilling effect on interrogation operations." I think that means they are now using ice rather than electrodes on prisoners’ genitals.

Dick Cheney mentions his gay daughter while setting out his position on gay marriage, a position which is evidently being taken as more liberal than Bush’s because he advocates banning gay marriage on the state rather than the federal level. He said "freedom means freedom for everyone" and "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to." Someone should ask him if that means he opposes laws against sodomy. But he makes a distinction which some of the press fails to catch, saying that the question is "what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government?" No it isn’t. It’s about legal recognition, which is not the same as approval. The state gets to register the personal, private decisions of its citizens, it doesn’t get to approve or disapprove. That’s what freedom for everyone means.

Animal House

The program director for the R convention says, "We tried to look at what TV shows do to keep an audience. We’re taking lessons from TV shows." I hope they’re not getting a twin pregnant just to boost ratings. That would be wrong.

Once the convention starts, or perhaps before, I encourage those of you who can stand to watch to submit your choice for the convention’s jump-the-shark moment to jumptheshark.com.
But in which category? "Special Guest Star"--Schwarzenegger? "They did it"--Bush & McCain?

In Guantanamo, the first military tribunal in 60 years, the names of whose members we are not allowed to know, has formally charged Osama bin Laden’s driver, possibly for failing to signal a turn, as part of George W. Bush’s bold plan to inconvenience bin Laden by making him have to walk, or possibly take a bus. Correction: the panel’s names were already known, but the media are now being asked not to print their names anyway. Only one member has any legal training.

In May I joked about Fox turning Abu Ghraib into a reality show, suggesting that Corp. Graner had provided the perfect title, "I Love to Make a Grown Man Piss Himself." It turns out that the guards already did just that, using their dogs in a competition to get under-aged prisoners to piss themselves. The Post does not say what the prize was.

I’m not sure why the Schlesinger report into the prison abuses is being portrayed as blaming Rumsfeld, when it seems to have gone rather far out of its way to avoid doing so. The "Animal House" line seems to follow the "boys will be vicious, sadistic, evil boys" position the Pentagon has been pushing from the start. In fact, the report is just blaming the prison night shift. We are supposed to believe that the day shift was torturing prisoners as part of an interrogation strategy (we know this, we have the memos), then the night shift came in and did the exact same things, but for fun, because they were bored.

As Argentina was to fleeing Nazis, so is the US today a haven for war criminals and other shits from all over the world, with very little comment or discussion. For example, Haitian death squad leaders live in Florida with impunity. And the guy on the left in this picture moved to Virginia, where he owned a pizza parlor and died in 1998 of natural causes.

So it's interesting that the trial of Alvaro Rafael Saviria, one of the masterminds behind the assassination of archbishop Romero in El Salvador in 1980, is getting so little attention. The trial, which is a civil trial, is going ahead although the guy has disappeared, fearing prosecution. Not for the assassination, but for rolling back odometers and selling lemons--he was a used car dealer in Modesto, CA.

The Palestinian hunger strikers will, obviously, overstrain normal prison medical facilities. But the Israeli health minister has said that "these murderers" will not be allowed into regular hospitals.

What, you again?

With so few states in play in the presidential election, some small towns in battleground states are being bankrupted by the security costs of the constant visits by Bush and Kerry. Some of them have taken to sending bills to the campaigns, which are never paid.

In Najaf, says the NYT, "Sadr’s loyalists appeared to be on the verge of collapse... American commanders said on Tuesday morning that they had been surprised by the lack of resistance to the attack and that they believed that Mr. Sadr’s forces were becoming discouraged." Maybe, but wasn’t that what we heard when Baghdad "fell"? Sadr’s followers were mostly not Najafians (Najafinos?), so leaving the town could be just a shift in strategy, a refusal to fight the type of war the Americans want.

The American problem is that the US military cannot remain in occupation of Najaf for very long, and I don’t imagine they can go knocking down doors in search of militia members and weapons, the way they did in Fallujah with such spectacularly bad results. Soon they will leave, and then what?

I’m still suspicious about how closely the timing of the Najaf campaign is being coordinated with the R convention. If Sadr is captured--or revealed to have already been captured sometime in the last week, when, like the integrity of Bob Dole and John McCain, he has seemingly vanished from the face of the earth--I won’t be especially surprised.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Moral gymnasium

When Dole deployed his more-wounded-than-thou act against Kerry yesterday, he didn’t even bother getting his facts straight first, falsely claiming that 2 of Kerry’s wounds occurred on the same day. And here’s the astounding part, to me: he actually used no-smoke-without-fire as if it were a legitimate debating point: "not every one of these people can be Republican liars. There’s got to be some truth to the charges." What a high standard of proof he holds himself to.

Kerry called Dole today to express his disappointment. Dole told him, "John, I didn’t mean to offend you." Or to quote Michael Corleone, "It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business." (Although Dole is really more like Fredo, but with Sonny’s temperament.)

Reporters did get to the Boy in the Bubble today, but once again he would only condemn the ad in the context of all the ads, which means he is effectively putting these scurrilous lies in the same category as all other 527 ads, honest or dishonest. He won’t give up using this form of ad unless Kerry does too, which means that he is declaring the use of libelous ads legitimate; he won’t unilaterally say that this sort of ad is beneath him. McClellan said today, "Sen. Kerry wants to have it both ways. He should call for a stop to all of these ads." Scotty is trying to establish a moral equivalence where there is none (indeed, CNN had a spectacularly stupid but not inaccurate headline, "Bush Urges Kerry to Condemn Attack Ads.") The American Prospect’s weblog today is a good one-stop shopping place for articles on 527s. And it has McClellan repeatedly dodging efforts to get him to answer whether Bush condemns the content of the ads.

It is fascinating to see how little historical content there is in what is that rarest of all things in American politics, a debate about history. I mean, with all this talk about what Kerry did or did not do in Vietnam, there is no discussion of the war itself, its legitimacy, the role of the US in the world, when and how the US should have withdrawn, etc etc. You’d never know the Vietnamese War had actual Vietnamese people in it, a bunch of them shot dead by Kerry himself, which I guess is somehow less significant, less revealing of his character, than the one American guy he pulled out of the water. In Kerry’s portrayal, it’s all about his relation to other Americans in Vietnam, the "band of brothers," as if, to quote Bernard Shaw, "the world [was] a moral gymnasium built expressly to strengthen your character in".

It’s not like the consequences of that war don’t continue. One of them is the tens of thousands of Hmong who made the mistake of fighting for the US, still sitting in refugee camps in Thailand. The US has finally agreed to take them, but only if they give up polygamy (and presumably leave the extraneous wives behind, although that’s not clear from this article).

An op-ed piece in the Indy asks what’s so "radical" about "radical cleric" Sadr, who wants the occupation to end, and even then didn’t turn away from non-violence until a year into the occupation.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It would be lovely

An interesting counterpoint to the military service or lack of it of those children of privilege, Bush and Kerry, is Prince William, who is talking about joining the military, but the Ministry of Defence doesn’t necessarily want the aggravation of trying to keep him from being killed while pretending they’re not coddling him. William, however, has said, "A career in the armed services would be the best thing at the moment because it would be lovely to recognise all the hard work that the armed forces are doing." I don’t need to point out the not-especially-martial word in that sentence.

"More than 40% of British adults have admitted comfort eating to mask feelings of sadness, tension or anger," according to the Guardian. I’ve eaten in Britain: comfort is not the word that comes to mind. In fact, the #1 cause in Britain of feelings of sadness, tension or anger is British cuisine.

Don’t know how I missed this story: "Unfortunately, my fellow Klansmen judged me solely on the colour of my robe. But I can’t help what colour my robe is, can I? It’s what’s inside that counts."

The hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners is in its second week, the number of strikers is over 3,000, the lack of interest by the rest of the world is almost total. I don’t even have enough information to tell you if I consider their demands legitimate, and I don’t know if they’re planning to carry the strike through to death. If so, a massive strike is precisely the wrong way to do it, because only a minority of people, however dedicated, are prepared to see their body consume itself. The high participation rate in the hunger strike, which is at least 3/4, and may be nearly all of the security prisoners, suggests that some prisoners were coerced or morally pressured into joining, which would be spectacularly immoral. The hunger strike is a tricky form of protest, ethically speaking, with rules that must be followed. In Gandhi’s words, "Fasting is a fiery weapon. It has its own science."

A WaPo editorial notes that the investigation of Gen. Boykin was designed to focus on petty technicalities without forcing Bush and Rumsfeld to denounce his blatant Islamophobia. One misstep in the article: "Such beliefs are the general's right, but when a senior defense official utters them in public, they undermine just about every value the administration is trying to project in this war." Not trying to project, pretending to project. Big difference.

More about John Kerry's thigh than I needed to know

The Swift boat thing has dominated the media for days, to the exclusion of all else, which was the point of the exercise. It’s been a pretty content-free campaign on both sides, so “to the exclusion of all else” may not be a great loss. Those people, especially liberal bloggers, who have focused on the details of the financing of SUBVERT and the accuracy of the charges, are missing the point. Even discredited, the campaign worked, because some mud always sticks, especially for people not paying a lot of attention, which is most of the electorate. Bush the Elder’s Willie Horton campaign, which was just as dishonest and significantly slimier, although less of a personal attack, worked for just that reason. Most people will not be reading the fine print on the award commendations of Kerry’s accusers, but will vaguely note that there is some controversy, figure there is no smoke without fire, and move on with their lives with their image of Kerry slightly tarnished. Mission--as Flight Suit Boy would say--accomplished. And Kerry, who actually interacts with the press and the occasional unscreened member of the public, had no choice but to waste time on it, while no one has gotten close enough to the Boy in the Bubble to ask that he forthrightly demand the SUBVERTers stop.

Shrub seems never to have to answer questions. 5 years ago tomorrow I asked, “Anyone want to start a pool on when Bush has to answer the question on cocaine?” I wouldn’t have bet on never. I don’t, of course, know whether Bush abused other substances than the one he’ll admit to, although his non-denial denials weren’t exactly confidence-inspiring. I’m just sayin’.

Bob Dole intervened on the issue today, saying Kerry should apologize to veterans, making the quite valid point that he can’t accuse US soldiers in Vietnam of war crimes and then run on that record, and belittling Kerry’s war wounds. Not the best performance from a man who once suggested to Bush the Elder “stop lying about my record.”

Best response, from John Podesta: “Senator Kerry carries shrapnel in his thigh as distinct from President Bush who carries two fillings in his teeth from his service in the Alabama National Guard, which seems to be his only time that he showed up.”

There have been other black propaganda (that’s the CIA term for lies) attempts to plant smears. Sometimes a story quietly planted somewhere on the periphery in the hopes that it will spread (this is also a common CIA technique: insert a news story in a pliable/gullible media outlet, often the Daily Telegraph in Britain, where it will be picked up by Fox News, Drudge, etc) dies on the vine owing to the vagaries of pack journalism. There was an attempt in March to blame 9/11 on Kerry personally, because someone had written him that security at Logan Airport wasn’t very good, which didn’t go anywhere. (My original link in March is dead, but check this out.)

And I know there have been other flash-in-the-pan attempts at scandal-mongering, but I can’t bring them to mind. It’s a Darwinian thing. Some stories have bright petals which attract the eyes of journalists, who spread the seed, while others don’t. Or to use another metaphor, a lot of mud is thrown at the wall, some of it sticks, some doesn’t, and I’ll stop with the metaphors now.

There’s a sort of anti-smear smear too. Kerry just took out an ad noting that in the 2000 primaries, "Bush smeared John McCain," which has the effect of using that smear to discredit McCain’s speech at the convention a couple of weeks from now.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Let us know what it is that they are doing

The US position of opposition to growth in Israeli settlements, according to the NYT has been covertly downgraded to merely asking that they "let us know what it is that they are doing." (quote from Condi Rice). Evil, Condi, they’re doing evil. And Ha’aretz reports that Sharon’s office will say only that "The issue is under discussion between us and the Americans." The new American position is not only a violation of the "road map," but all this "letting us know" and "under discussion" is between Americans and Israelis, and I seem to recall that there were other people involved, the Palestoovians...the Palestiners...wait, don’t tell me... The premise of the change in policy is also wrong: the premise is that as long as new units are built within existing stolen land, it won’t be making matters worse. But it will. Resources will be diverted from Palestoovians to settlers, most importantly water, which is already badly misappropriated in the Occupied Territories.

In response to the Supreme Court decision that Guantanamo detainees must have a hearing on their "enemy combatant" designation, the military set up laughably one-sided military panels and guess what, so far they’ve decided for the government in 14 of the 14 cases they’ve heard. The prisoners who refused to go before the panels made the right decision.

Those bloodstains were there when we moved in

The turning over of the keys is turning into a farce. Ayatollah Sistani, conveniently out of the country, won’t accept the keys until the shrine is vacated. But Sadr’s people won’t turn over the keys until someone from Sistani’s office inspects the place and confirms none of the treasures have been taken; Sistani’s people are rightly worried about being shot by someone if they come near the place. One minute it’s a civil and international war, the next minute a fight over the cleaning deposit.

What I’d like to hear is the Allawi clique’s explanation for why it claimed to have taken charge of the mosque yesterday. Update: the Observer likens this claim to the utterances of "Comical Ali."

Atrios has the transcript of the Senate testimony of John Kerry. Too bad that guy isn’t running for president, instead of the John Kerry we’re stuck with, who almost seems to romanticize the war.

Matthew Parris, a British, gay, Tory former MP and former parliamentary sketchwriter for The Times (for a hilarious description of a House of Lords debate on "buggery," click here) has written a good serious article on the "primitivisation" of the law, the "disturbing urge to elbow the formal structures of the rule of law impatiently aside in pursuit of those we hate". Most Times stories aren’t available on the Web outside Britain, but this one seems to be, here. Or if that doesn’t work, here’s the cached version.

Another London Times story begins "Ten-year-old Abbas is saving up his pocket money for a hand grenade. He wants an American one to throw at the huge US tanks that sit on every key crossroads of Sadr City. He doesn't want an Iraqi one although, at €3, it is half the price." And reports this graffito in Baghdad: "Country for sale: contact Iyad Allawi." A truncated version (reg. required).

Friday, August 20, 2004

Taking advantage of the olive branch

Possibly, watching the news from Iraq today, we all had this question: major Shiite shrines have keys?

Guardian: "At the moment, the Americans are doing all the fighting. The Iraqi police play merely a cameo role: a massive convoy rode towards the shrine yesterday, sirens blazing, celebrating a victory that never happened. Two minutes later it turned back."

Quisling-in-chief Allawi: "We have extended the olive branch and Mr Sadr can take advantage of the olive branch." He makes it sound so dirty.

Saw a bit of White House spokesmodel McClellan’s press gaggle on McNeil-Lehrer today and had to look it up. Much of it was on the Not Too Swift Veterans (or SUBVERT). Once again McClellan condemned the existence of the ads without getting at their content. Granted, he’s a member of the Bush "re"-election campaign, which isn’t known for its ability to distinguish between form and content. Oh, you say, but Scott McClellan isn’t a member of the Bush campaign, he works for the executive branch and is paid by the American taxpayers? Has someone told him that? Quote, "we weren’t involved in any way in these ads." He says it 3 times, using the first person plural each time. And he accused the Kerry campaign (3 times) of "fueling" attacks by "shadowy groups." Given the long, explicit NYT story about the funding of the Swifties (or NAMBLA) , he needs to be a lot more specific than "fueling" if he’s going to accuse them of something.

He also, as Mark Shields pointed out, accused Kerry of "losing his cool" (4 times) about being called a traitor. Once again, an opponent of Bush is being accused of being a hothead, like McCain in 2000 (and Dean of course, but Bush wasn’t in that fight). Don’t know how the D’s keep finding these emotional hot-blooded types, first Gore, then Kerry, like they’re recruiting candidates straight off a Mexican soap opera. Whereas GeeDubya is so calm and collected that he could hear about the most devastating attack on American civilians in his lifetime and for seven minutes....
(Later: wow, it
seems the Kerry campaign also made the last joke. And the RNC chair told CNN, Kerry "looks to me to be wild-eyed.")

Ending what seems like months of speculation, it was confirmed today that Silvio Berlusconi indeed has gotten hair transplants.

Zanzibar bans gay sex. Play your vacations accordingly. The penalty is 25 years for gay men, 7 for lesbians.

Ironic censorship

So in a court case about secrecy and the Patriot Act, Ashcroft’s Justice Dept, in what may be the first use of irony in an act of censorship, tried to censor the ACLU’s brief’s quotation from Justice Powell in a 1972 Supreme Court decision requiring warrants for wiretaps: "The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect ‘domestic security.’ Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent." Doesn’t it just? Justice is also using secret evidence the ACLU is not allowed to see.

The Sri Lankan legislature was stymied by its supreme court for passing a law against coerced or bribed religious conversions. There is evidently concern that poor Buddhists are being offered money by Christian evangelical groups funded by Americans. Which is really all I know about that.

While rich candidates for Congress are not allowed to use unlimited amounts of their own money in their campaigns, the FEC just quietly ruled that they can do so for "get out the vote" drives.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Boykin gets off. The long national nightmare is over

The Iraqi admin raised the bar yet again, issuing still more demands for Sadr to comply with or else. He is to agree to their terms in writing, and go on tv & tell his militia to disband. While dressed in a tutu.

And the Pentagon has lowered the bar yet again. General William "My God Is Bigger Than Your God" Boykin has been made the subject of a jolly strong secret report, which says he broke a few piddling rules. Boykin was never a big story over here (by which I mean this country, not this blog), but for a while I had a news.google alert on Boykin, and when a general in the army that’s killing so many Muslims makes bigoted, idiotic comments about Islam, the press in Muslim countries do tend to bring it up over and over and over.

Dahlia Lithwick in Thursday’s NYT says that making of Shrub by portraying him as an infant (like here) makes liberals look like snotty know-it-alls and is a bad way to win over the people who voted for Bush in 2000, who will feel insulted. As for the second part, nonsense: a few years after Watergate, a poll showed that most Americans claimed to have voted for McGovern in 1972. People will remember what they want to remember.

A Russian human rights group has been invaded by the police--and oddly enough, by the public transportation police, the guys on the Moscow Metro.

AP headline: "Official on Leave Over Ten Commandments." What, all of them?

A must-read, on Arauca, Colombia, an oil-producing region, where a unit of the Colombian military, financed by Occidental Petroleum and the United States, is systematically murdering trade unionists. Also, some of those "friendly militias" so beloved by Paul Wolfowitz.

Suddenly, Caltrans doesn’t look so bad: due to mudslides, China has had a 10-day, 60-mile long traffic jam.

And another one for the Guinness World Book of Records: 31 cows were killed by a single lightning strike in Denmark.

He wants them to do his dirty work

Has anyone noticed that the acronym for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is pronounced Subvert? Kerry has (finally) accused Bush of hiding behind the Subversives: "He wants them to do his dirty work." Gee, Bush staying safe at home while sending others to do his dirty work...say, you don’t think Kerry is making a subtle allusion to Bush’s military record do you?

I wouldn’t ordinarily make a big deal over what Olympics competitors have to say about politics or anything else, but the decision of Team Chimpy to run an ad citing the presence of Iraqis at the Olympics as another "Mission Accomplished" moment without first finding out what the response of those Iraqis might be is a repetition in miniature of the assumption that American troops would be greeted with flowers, dancing in the streets and free blow-jobs.

Fafblog suggests that Bush isn’t living far enough in the future.

Not afraid to talk about problems

The Israelis have indeed been training American forces in counter-insurgency techniques, according to the London Times and Jerusalem Post. According to a professor of advanced evil and intermediate scumbaggery at the Israeli military staff college, Americans are especially interested in learning about assassination by helicopter, urban warfare, and conducting large military operations in heavily populated areas. I remember that before the war started, the military was using the Massacre of Jenin as a model.

Kazakhstan has elections next month, and it’s very exciting. Which party will win, Nursultan Nazarbayev’s or his daughter Dariga’s. So far it’s neck and neck. She supports daddy but denies that her party isn’t a real alternative, saying it "is not afraid to talk about problems. We're not afraid to criticise officials for working badly or disobeying the President." And it’s still more democratic than the process we just saw in Baghdad. Note to London Times: does every story about Kazakhstan have to mention that they play a form of polo with the headless carcass of a goat?

Free from its imprisonment and its vile occupation

The FBI’s justifications for its questioning of people planning to protest the R convention suggest that the Fibbies are thinking of themselves less as a law-enforcement agency than a secret police. The assistant director Cassandra (!!) Chandler said that of course they wouldn’t bother innocent people, but those about whom they had received "intelligence" that they were planning violent criminal activity or knew of such plans. Law-enforcement agencies don’t receive "intelligence"--and you know she gets off on calling it "intel" when she’s not talking to the press--they receive information; spy agencies receive intelligence. The arguments for these harassing activities are pre-emptive; you’re not enforcing the law when the law hasn’t been broken yet. This is the Bush Doctrine gone domestic: we don’t want the smoking gun to be a rotten egg thrown at Mayor Bloomberg, to paraphrase Condi Rice.

Speaking of preemption, Iran is talking about launching pre-emptive strikes against Israel and the US (they seem to mean the American troops in Iraq, who the Iranian defense minister described as "hostages") to prevent them launching preemptive strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. They want to get their preemption in first.

The Iraqi national conference is now history, I believe. We never knew who they were. We never even knew how many of them there were--the tame media said 1,300, but 100 or 200 never showed up, and there were supposed to be 1,000 originally, but the first choices looked too unrepresentative, so more were conjured up somehow. And then they rendered what was already a sham even shammier by rubber-stamping a slate of candidates (that is, a list was chosen as a whole, rather than individuals being voted on) for the 81 seats out of 100 they were allowed to choose (it was meant to be 80, but Chalabi has been kicked out, although how and by whom we do not know). There wasn’t even a vote, the list was just declared to have been adopted. It’s like they think they’re in New Jersey or something.

Sadr, without ever meeting with the delegation, said he accepted their offer for him to give up the insurgency. Only... the US military would have to stop shooting up the place. So the Allayi clique upped the ante. Using the sort of playground-bully language so popular in Iraq lately, the defense minister threatened to "teach them a lesson they will never forget," and "set this compound free from its imprisonment and its vile occupation." And where previously the Mahdi Army was supposed to just drop its weapons and leave Najaf, now he’s telling them they have to turn in their weapons and themselves. Almost like he doesn’t want a peaceful solution. He added that only Iraqi troops would enter the shrine, American forces would just bomb it (sorry, I mean provide air support), and that Iraqi commanders would be in charge of the operation and why is everyone laughing at that? Guardian. Al Jazeera.

Ha’aretz says that Shin Bet is still torturing Palestinians. They got hold of a document. And continuing the foreign vocabulary lessons, here’s a Hebrew term for a torture technique: "hatayat gav" (forcing someone to maintain a position in which the back is bent backwards).

And as long as we’re doing Ha’aretz, there’s an article about a memorial plaque to the victims of a terror attack on a bus last year. All the Jewish victims are called "sainted" on the plaque, but a Filipina woman is just called "Mrs." because she’s not as, you know, good, as the Orthodox Jews.

No comment: "Mass. Judge Denies Relief to Gay Couples" (AP headline).

I also liked a headline about Greek sprinters walking out of the Olympics (as opposed to sprinting out, geddit?). I believe these are the two who missed their drug test because they "got the munchies and just spaced it." By the way, here’s what I wrote about drugs and the Olympics 4 years ago.

The Kerry response to Bush’s line about opponents of Star Wars living in the past is, for once, an effective response, noting that Bush’s pre-9/11 position was that the greatest threat to the US wasn’t, oh, say, terrorism but missile attacks, which are like, so 20th century. And Sam Rosenfeld at the American Prospect’s blog points out that most Americans when polled don’t understand why missile defense won’t work, and think we already have it (when the Russians launched the first Sputnik, many Americans wanted it shot down, not understanding that if the US knew how to shoot a satellite down, it would have been able to launch one of its own).

Funny, I thought we were supposed to have handed Abu Ghraib back to the Iraqis (and wasn’t it supposed to be torn down, too?). So why was it American forces who fired on prisoners today, killing 2 and wounding 5?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Of course the baby had to sign a loyalty oath before they let him near Dubya.

A hell of a lot more determined

Sadr refused to meet the delegation from the national conference. At first I thought this was a PR mistake. But the delegation (which was flown out by the US military) was not going to Najaf to negotiate, whatever some news sources have said, but to issue an ultimatum for him to leave the Imam Ali shrine so he could be arrested and/or assassinated without pissing off a lot of Shiites and Sunnis. And the American forces didn’t take a break from bombarding the city, almost as if they didn’t want the mission to succeed or something.

Those forces are Marines, who replaced the Army this month and, as in Fallujah, decided they needed to mark their territory, a decision the NYT claims they made all on their own. Here’s my favorite bit: "The ferocity of the rebel resistance surprised the marines, who had seen Saddam Hussein's army disintegrate last year as they marched north to Baghdad. ‘The ones we fought the other day are a hell of a lot more determined,’ Lt. Scott Cuomo said." And you’ve been, what, napping in a dark cave in the year and half since then? Hadn’t heard they shoot back now? Slow learners, very slow learners.

The Village Voice’s very gay gossip columnist Michael Musto is amusing about McGreevey & Cipel.

Voter registration in Afghanistan is now up to 9 million. of the 9.8m. eligible. It won’t be really impressive until it hits 10 or 12 or 15 million. A story in today’s London Times describes a team of registrars entering a village with their bodyguard of American soldiers. Maybe it’s me, but when the Motor-Voter drive involves armored personnel carriers and begins with a fire-fight, I begin to wonder if the Afghans are being protected while they eagerly register, or are registering at the point of a gun held by a foreign national. Addendum: the Toronto Star says voter reg is actually over 10m. It also points out that women in burqas are best able to get extra voting cards, which puts the boast that 43% of registered voters are women in a new perspective.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Kak, can you spare a dime?

The US gov evidently still sucks at Arabic. A key piece of evidence in the prosecution of an imam in Albany, Yassin Muhiddin Aref, is that he was mentioned in a notebook found in a "terrorist camp" (like regular camp, but with fewer marshmallows) in Iraq as a "commander." Only it turns out the word used actually means "brother." The WaPo has this wrong, so I’ve removed the link to them as punishment: CNN & the NYT make it clear that the word was actually in Kurdish but written in the Arabic alphabet; the US was off by an entire language. The word is "kak," which doesn’t sound like a word that should be an honorific, but there you are. The document was not shown to the defense lawyers or the judge, who denied bail on the basis of it.

Bush is pushing Star Wars again, saying that Kerry, who would cut back on the program but not god forbid scrap it, is "living in the past." Bush, whose 20s and 30s are lost in an alcoholic haze, cannot be accused of that.

Onion headline: "Homosexual Tearfully Admits To Being Governor Of New Jersey."

1000 > 0

The State Dept says that claims of fraud in the Venezuelan referendum should be "fully investigated." As opposed to claims of fraud in collecting signatures for the holding of this referendum, which the US didn’t want investigated (and fewer people actually voted for recall than were claimed to have signed the petitions).

The US is "studying" whether Ariel Sharon’s approval of 1,000 new housing units in the settlements amounts to a violation of his promise that there would be no new housing units. Forget studying, State Department: just this once, I’ll let you cheat off my paper: 1,000 > 0.

A pro-democracy candidate for the Hong Kong (land of cricket fights) legislative council (elections in September), Alex Ho Wai-to (Alex?)(Ho?) says that while on a business trip in the mainland, "he was asleep in his hotel when police burst in. While they beat him up in the bathroom they produced a prostitute, took photographs and video film and put condoms and women's underwear on the bed." The police imprisoned him (without trial; they can do that) for 6 months of "re-education." Link.

The International Herald Tribune story adds that relatives on the mainland of HK citizens have been ordered to ask them to vote for pro-Beijing candidates and to prove it, taking cellphone-camera pictures of their ballots.

Foreign language lesson of the day: Stehpinkeln, Sitzpinkler.

YOU SAY TOMATO: John Kerry’s campaign website mentioned, until Friday, his time as vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, because even his staff can’t remember the difference between John Kerry and Bob Kerrey.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The designated driver

Quote of the day, a US army major frustrated by the limitations on the use of heavy weaponry in Najaf: "It’s frustrating, like being the designated driver."

Hurricane Charley is a test of the idea of the Dept of Homeland Security, into which FEMA was merged. Priorities at FEMA are therefore now set by the terrorist-fighters (according to a story in the Wall Street Journal). This isn’t the first time FEMA’s priorities have been distorted: the Reagan admin redirected it to the task of preparing for a winnable nuclear war, leaving it totally unable to deal with hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.

Of course, according to Jeb Bush, it’s not like we need any preparedness, weather satellites, etc, because "God doesn't follow the linear projections of computer models." "This is God's way of telling us that he's almighty and we're mortal." And what were you telling us when you signed all those execution orders?

The NYT has two thematically linked stories today. One is that the FBI is questioning activists about possible protests at the R convention, the other (Bob Herbert’s column) that Florida state police have been questioning elderly black voters and get-out-the-vote volunteers. The theme these stories share, of course, is intimidation. The Justice Dept’s Office of Legal Policy, most recently heard or for arguing that torturing terrorism suspects was ok, has issued a ruling that the chilling effect on 1st Amendment activities is outweighed by law & order concerns. Florida claims to be investigating something to do with absentee ballots, they won’t say what. Remember, this is the state where the Republican party is telling R’s to vote absentee to ensure their votes are counted.

CNN & other media have started using the phrase "anti-Iraqi forces" for the very-much-Iraqi resistance, Juan Cole points out. He cites journalist Nir Rosen reports that the phrase was developed by a PR company, but "they were told that no Iraqis would fall for it. So apparently it has now been retailed to major American news programs, on the theory that the American public is congenitally stupid." Cole has no link to the Rosen piece, and I can’t find it. Has anyone seen it? Anyway, a News.Google search for the phrase scores 712 hits.
Update: Tex of the UnFairWitness blog has suggested to me that Rosen communicated this information to Cole privately rather than in a published article, which seems to me on re-reading to be a fair reading of Cole & Angry Arab. It would be nice to have more than anecdotal evidence, given the phrase's pervasiveness (now, 8/17/04, 5:30pm, 717 news.google, 4,240 Google hits).

1,600 Palestinian "security prisoners" in Israeli prisons have gone on hunger strike for better conditions. Prison guards have been barbequing meat and baking bread within smelling distance of the prisoners. It would be nice to know what percentage of them are being held without charge or trial. I don’t think they’re planning to fast to death, although they have been threatened with forcible feeding, something which the British prison system, to name one, stopped doing to sane hunger striking prisoners in 1974. The US has done it in Guantanamo, but generally won’t in mainland prisons.

Najaf police, no longer pretending to have ordered journalists out of the city for their own safety, have said they will shoot any reporters who leave their hotel.

Unimaginable under Baath Party rule

Shiites at the Iraqi national conference loudly protested the forthcoming Battle of Najaf. The WaPo, oddly, calls it a “scene of political activism that would have been unimaginable under Baath Party rule.” Really? I think Saddam would have allowed protests against an American invasion of Najaf.

The attempt to overthrow Hugo Chavez by referendum has failed, and I am of two or more minds. I don’t especially like Chavez, but he pisses off some of the people I like to see pissed off, is what it amounts to. The US and the National Endowment for Democracy has been going after him using all the techniques familiar from their campaign against Allende in Chile in the early ‘70s, white-skinned Venezuelan capitalists are horrified at having a government that doesn’t reflect their interests. But the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

Maybe the best approach is regional rather than national: what’s best for South America as a whole? The transition over the last 20 years from military dictatorships to something resembling representative democracies has been impressive, but the veneer of democratic sensibility may not be very deep. From the perspective of democracy, events in Venezuela are close to a wash. Before winning office, Chavez headed a failed military coup; he should never have been allowed to run, but that was 6 years ago and he’s won several elections since then. His instincts are authoritarian and his followers use intimidatory violence, but he hasn’t moved against the newspapers, radio and tv stations which are almost uniformly hostile to him. He has trashed the institutions of government, courts and so on, but they were controlled by the country-club elite, but Chavez’s so-called populism is not embodied in any institutions--with any leader, you can gauge their relationship to real democracy by asking what would happen if they died suddenly in a plane crash, and Chavez (like Putin, say) does not score well there.

As for the referendum, well, Chavez allowed it to occur, but only after many delays, but I don’t believe that the opposition actually collected the required number of signatures (the US told the election commission it should ignore such “technicalities”). The opposition won’t accept the results, and Chavez probably wouldn’t have if it had gone the other way (assuming that the counting was reasonably fair, of course). Neither side is committed to democracy, both sides have shown a willingness to resort to coups and see the electoral process only as one weapon in their arsenal. Whatever works. Whether the electorate viewed the process so cynically and instrumentally, I’m less sure.

At any rate, the referendum in Venezuela would probably also have been unimaginable under Baath Party rule.

Some people with blogs are never going to get famous

"The Washingtonienne," the blogger who got fired from Sen. Mike DeWine’s office for writing about her complicated sex life, is quoted by the WaPo: "I was only blogging for, what, less than two weeks? Some people with blogs are never going to get famous, and they’ve been doing it for, like, over a year. I feel bad for them." Um, thanks, Jessica, ‘preciate it.

And in Monday’s WaPo, the results of
Al Kamen’s In the Loop Carpetbagger Deflector contest for a sound bite for Alan Keyes to explain away charges of carpetbaggery after he denounced Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate run as "destructive of federalism." My favorite of the winners: "Did I say federalism? I meant FedEx -- when you absolutely, positively have to get a black Republican overnight."

Sunday, August 15, 2004

If you do not leave by the deadline we will shoot you

The Indy & Daily Telegraph explain how the order for foreign journalists to leave Najaf was made: they were invited to the police chief’s office on false pretenses, told that while they couldn’t be arrested, their drivers and translators would be (and that the order came from the interior ministry). When they failed to comply, armed police were sent to tell them to leave or be shot. The excuse offered for the order was that a car full of dynamite had been found outside the hotel; even the usually gullible Telegraph doesn’t buy that one. And it was the police who made their point by firing shots at their hotel.

Secretary of War Rumsfeld announces a plan to make the deployment of troops more flexible. It will take several years to implement. All the flexibility of Rummy doing the limbo. I tried to look up his speech at the DOD website, www.defenselink.mil, but it’s stuck at August 3, more of that famous Pentagon flexibility.

An Iraqi solution--shudder

I’m a little unclear about the whole Najaf thing at this point, and I’m not getting a lot of help. The WaPo was told that decisions about timing of military operations were made not by the US but by Allawi, in a blatant bit of playacting--oo, he’s so powerful he can tell the Marines to stop and they will--AND THEY FELL FOR IT! The LA Times quotes a US major, "Allawi has decided there has to be an Iraqi solution to the problem." Ah, Vietnamization. Negotiations failed; the Allawi clique (dammit I can’t call it a government, it’s not one, and I feel silly using the word puppet over and over) is blaming Sadr for refusing their demands that his forces give up their weapons and leave Najaf (it was never clear to me what the Allawiistas were offering in exchange for this complete surrender), and for Sadr failing to meet with them personally, which they were curiously insistent on, if you get my drift.

And Najaf’s police chief has ordered all foreign media to leave the city immediately. Maybe he’s just planning a surprise party and doesn’t want it ruined.

Meanwhile, the "National Conference," yet another group of Iraqi "leaders" who were actually appointed by the Americans, will meet in Baghdad today after several postponements. The 1,300 conferees will choose a 100-member national assembly, whose first task, if I understand traditional Iraqi practices, will be to bury the bodies of the other 1,200. Oh stop it, like you weren’t thinking the same thing. Shiite groups including Sadr’s are not participating, and it's not that clear who is. Al Jazeera, exaggerating only slightly, says "The names of the ‘representatives’ have not been made available, nor is it known who they represent or who has chosen them." (Correction: actually they're choosing only 80 members, the other 20 will be from the American-appointed governing council.)

McGreevey had polls done on the "I am a gay American" line. Now why would a guy resigning his office and presumably leaving political life need to do that? And I wonder what other slogans they tested. Still, it would say something about the progress of tolerance in America if he could make this about his gayness rather than corruption, if Golan Cipel could be the distraction that a black and white cocker spaniel was for Richard Nixon, and let’s not make a big deal about the "cocker spaniel" thing, sometimes a breed of dog is just a breed of dog.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Not very sensitive

John Kerry is such a limp noodle when it comes to responding to attacks. This is his answer to Dick "Mr. Sensitive" Cheney: "I don't think it's very sensitive to have a vice president who has secret meetings with the polluters who write the laws. And I don't think it's very sensitive to expect the wealthy to shift the tax burden to the average American." And Edwards’s response was that Cheney was "talking about a man who is carrying shrapnel in his body today. His is talking about a man who spilled his blood for the United States of America." What’s that, the you-can’t-hit-me-I’m-wearing-glasses defense? Honestly, wouldn’t "shove it" have been so much more effective?

The R’s in Joisey are quite correct that McGreevey is timing the date his resignation goes into effect in order to game the election laws to avoid a special election, much as Rep. Rodney Alexander timed his conversion to make sure the D’s didn’t have time before the filing deadline to replace him. And in general, I’m in favor of elected leaders actually being, ya know, elected, but the special election would have been between candidates chosen in smoke-filled rooms (which in NJ probably are actually, by-God smoke-filled) rather than by a primary process.

Both the NYT & WaPo have good, long articles on the Bush admin’s undermining of regulations on health & safety, the environment, etc etc. There isn’t much overlap between the articles (the Post’s is the 1st of a series), because there are so many examples to choose from. Compare and contrast how the powers of regulators at OSHA, the EPA, Labor, etc etc (one might add the reduction of audits of the rich at the IRS) have been reduced to nothing, while those of cops, the FBI, CIA, military interrogators and border patrol agents, who this week were given incredible autonomy to deport illegal aliens without any hearing at all, have been greatly augmented. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, if the detention and torture don’t get you, the monoxide will.

Imperialism and imperial hubris

Giving a press conference on Al Jazeera, Muqtada al-Sadr says, "Najaf has triumphed over imperialism and imperial hubris." That would be a set-back for George Bush, whose slogan is "4 More Years of Imperialism and Imperial Hubris." I wonder how much of the timing of the start & stop siege of Najaf is related to the Republican convention. That may also be behind the ban on Al Jazeera: preventing a split-screen presentation of pictures of the convention and of the bombing of whatever Iraqi city we’ll be bombing that week, like the 1968 D convention and the protestors. The whole world isn’t watching, if our tame censors can do anything about it.

Speaking of imperialism and imperial hubris, Colin Powell, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly, says, "The United States believes it has worldwide obligations. Our European friends have never felt that that was their destiny or their obligation." How ignorant of history do you have to be to make a statement like that. Wait, it gets better: "The average European citizen, looking around, sees some of these out-of-the-way places like Afghanistan and the Balkans and Iraq." Who do you think used to go to war with each other on a regular basis to take those areas as colonies?

Speaking of hubris, Niyazov, the dictator of Turkmenistan who has exceeded even my taste for wacky news stories, has ordered a palace entirely constructed of ice to be built in his hot central Asian country. The Indy calls him neo-Stalinist, although neo-Dr. Evil seems more like it. It quotes one of his poems: "I am the Turkmen spirit reborn to bring you a golden age. I am your saviour ... My sight is sharp - I see everything. If you are honest in your deeds, I see this; if you commit wrongdoing; I see that too." So maybe it’s neo-Santa Clausism, which would explain the ice palace.