Monday, January 31, 2005

Western-style budgeting

Comical Allawi says he will “begin a national dialogue to guarantee that the voices of all Iraqis are present in the coming government.” Funny, I thought that’s what the fake-election was for.

If, according to the Bushies, the ideals of freedom and liberty are universal, those of accounting are evidently not. Paul Bremer responds to a report that his Proconsulship failed to keep track of $8.8 billion in Iraqi money: “Western-style budgeting and accounting procedures could [not] be immediately and fully implemented in the midst of a war.” Knowing how you actually spend money is “Western-style budgeting”?

With “only” 50 or so Iraqis killed yesterday, many Americans, such as Gen. Carter Ham, whose name really could not be more Caucasian, say that they expected many more dead. So how many dead Iraqi civilians was considered an acceptable price for the Iraqis to pay for this little exercise?

And how many dead Iraqi civilians were there, anyway? An alert reader emails to point out that we’ve seen no figure, but they claim to know what the election turnout was. Must be some more of that non-Western counting.

Bush today congratulated the Iraqi people for “supporting those who have helped make this world a more peaceful and free place.” Oh, did I say Iraqi people, I meant the Detroit Pistons.

More details on the Israeli plan to steal land from Palestinians on the wrong side of the Wall: the decision was made secretly last July, and implemented secretly, which is quite a trick. Palestinians who lived on one side of the wall and owned olive groves and whatnot on the other side were simply refused transit permits, not told until recently that Israel considered their land no longer theirs. The seizure is under a 1950 law meant to apply to lands abandoned by Palestinians who fled Israel in the war of independence, not people who can literally see their property from their houses.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

What we’re seeing here is the voice of freedom

Condi Rice, who evidently processes auditory sensations through her eyeballs--which would explain a lot--says, “What we’re seeing here is the voice of freedom.”

Enough about the plucky Iraqis already. My polling station is usually in the local Methodist church, so each election I run the risk of bursting into flame and you don’t hear any CNN anchors singing my praises.

Less brave were the candidates whose names were not made public before the election. Perhaps the details of the constitution will be worked out entirely by people wearing ski masks. And how is it so many Iraqis seem to own ski masks, anyway? Does Iraq possess many ski slopes? Is Halliburton importing them?

How lazy and uninformed and easily bamboozled were the journalists who quoted turnout figures based on the number of registered, rather than eligible, voters? And which even then turned out to have been made-up.

Stick it

Bush hails the “courage” of the Iraqis who came out to vote (“They have demonstrated the kind of courage that is always the foundation of self-government”), ignoring the fact that it was his failure to create the conditions of security which some would consider the prerequisite of a free vote that made voting an act of courage in the first place.

Wednesday I predicted there wouldn’t be much violence today. Yesterday I guessed (not here in the blog, which I thought would be ghoulish) 15-20 dead. It was higher than that, but as far as we know mostly confined to Baghdad. Elsewhere, weeks of threats did their job. With the travel ban, and journalists in fear for their lives, 1) we won’t hear of some of the violence outside the Green Zone, 2) turnout figures will be inflated with little fear of discovery.

Juan Cole gives a nice summary of how these elections were forced on the Bushies against their will by Sistani and his followers, and why the cheerleading press should refrain from making this another “Mission Accomplished” moment (I think of it more as another Bush-and-the-plastic-turkey moment).

Just tuned in to Fox News, because it is both fair and balanced. It could have settled for just being fair or just being balanced, but no, nothing less than fair and balanced would do. Evidently, the Iraqi people told the insurgents to “stick it.”

To prevent fraud, voters dipped their fingers into the blood of infidels.

Bullets and ballots, like belt and suspenders.

Maybe it’s me, but this polling station in Mosul doesn’t really inspire much confidence.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Their future in the making

Iyad “Comical” Allawi: “They should take part because this is their future in the making and people have to take their fate in their own hands.” Their own hands? Interesting words, coming from a man put in office by an army of occupation.

After reading Michael Ignatieff in the NYT Magazine (the same piece appears in the Observer), I have to respond to his assertion that “antiwar ideologues can’t support the Iraqis because that would require admitting that positive outcomes can result from bad policies and worse intentions.” He suggests that those of us who denigrate tomorrow’s elections are ivory-tower purists--note the use of the word “ideologues”--to which I answer: damned straight. Even if I personally accepted on pragmatic grounds that these elections were good enough, I would not be able to tell an Iraqi who took the position that elections held under occupation were unfree that she should settle for less-than-free. If the election workers putting up banners at your polling station looked like this

and were dressed in the uniform of a foreign power, would you feel the elections were legitimate? Would you vote in them, and if you did choose to vote rather than lose your say in your country’s future, would you feel at least a little ashamed?

One thing the Americans “forgot” to enact was a McCain-Feingold campaign finance provision, and money became rather important with 111 parties, many with similar names (think People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front on a larger scale) trying to distinguish themselves, and the only people able to practice retail politics being the snipers. Lots of printed matter, lots of tv commercials, lots of money paying for those things coming from the US government, from exiles, various Arab states and Iran and who knows where else.

The Sunday Times of London has an amusing parody of English history, amusing, at any rate, for the minority of you who can follow a joke in which William the Conqueror’s “battle plan hit a snag when his troops became ensnared in an enormous tapestry being woven by the embedded war reporters.” Also describes Henry VIII as the perfect Jerry Springer guest.

Since prostitution is now legal in Germany (plan your vacations accordingly), brothel-owners can advertise in their local (government-run) job centers. And under the new reforms in welfare laws, unemployed people can be sent into the sex industry, on penalty of losing their benefits. A liberalizing policy cross-fertilizes with a conservative policy to create a stupid result; there’s a lesson in that somewhere.

Speaking of stupid results in Germany, the latest reality tv program in that country: Sperm Race. The winner gets a Porsche. A red one.

The best way to ensure the success of democracy is through the advance of democracy

Appointed Iraqi President Yawer says that while the vast majority of Iraqis won’t vote, it will not be because they are boycotting the poll, but because they are afraid for their lives. So that’s alright, then.

Bush’s radio address today: “The terrorists and those who benefited from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein know that free elections will expose the emptiness of their vision for Iraq.” Funny, if anyone would know how elections reward empty visions, you’d think it would be Shrub. “The best way to ensure the success of democracy is through the advance of democracy.” Must be a Zen thing. “One Iraqi, speaking about the upcoming vote, said, ‘Now, most people feel they are living in darkness. It is time for us to come into the light.’” You sure he/she was talking about elections and not your failure to restore electricity?

Governor Terminator wants teachers in low-income neighborhoods to get “combat pay,” which he means literally, saying that they are “threatened always with their lives and their cars are stolen.”

His Muscleness is also moving ahead with a plan he claims is opposed by both major parties, to redistrict California in 2006. This is not good.

Plus ça change: Ronald Reagan, 1987: “I think it’s far better if the Iranians go to bed every night wondering what we might do”.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I know this is shocking to you

Bush, interviewed by the NYT, says little of interest, but in a follow-up to the Wednesday press conference, where he said he’d never read a 2000 article by Condoleezza Rice setting out foreign policy, he had this to add:
“I don’t know what you think the world is like, but a lot of people don’t just sit around reading Foreign Affairs,” he said, chuckling. “I know this is shocking to you.”
No I’m not shocked, Chimpy, but you’re not “a lot of people” but the leader of the most powerful country in the world, and yet you find so incongruous, so beyond your ken as to be a source of amusement, the thought that anyone would think that a president would actually read a journal about foreign policy, or indeed read the opinions of an applicant to head the NSC before hiring her, or indeed read, period.

The Foreign Affairs website, by the way, has a link at the top to the article in question.

In case you were wondering what happened to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, deposed as Haitian president by thugs and the US last year, he has been hired by the University of South Africa, Pretoria.

This Labour Party poster is being attacked as anti-Semitic (the Tory party leader and shadow chancellor pictured here are both Jewish).

The London Times’s “The Week on the Web” has directed me to the PostSecret site, which began at the Washington DC arts festival, where people were given postcards to write secrets which are posted anonymously. A mixed bag, as you’d expect: downloading porn, sex with strangers, not washing hands after going to the bathroom. Some of my favorites, for different reasons: I liked myself better as a boy; I love one of my children; I talked someone into suicide; I archive my farts in carefully labeled mason jars; I used to pee into snowballs before throwing them at friends; I’m secretly fed up with irony.

The Times also mentions this site, which mail-orders toast at ridiculous prices. It may be a joke.

Vulgar names

The LA Times’s editorial page has joined that of the Washington Post in its crusade against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. I wouldn’t mind--they’re entitled to their opinions and I’m not a big fan of Chavez or some of his policies either--but both papers’ editorials (I analyzed the Post’s two weeks ago and in November) are egregiously biased and drip with such contempt for Chavez that they sound like me talking about Bush. If they want to take over this blog and give me control of their editorial pages I’d be happy to oblige, but in the meantime they’re supposed to be better behaved than a mere blogger. The LAT accuses the “demagogic” (fair enough) Mr. Chavez of “picking a fight” with George Bush, neglecting to mention US involvement in a coup attempt against him. The paper applauds Colombia’s use of bounty hunters to kidnap a FARC leader, neglecting to mention that the bounty hunters were actually bribed members of the Venezuelan police, and describes Chavez’s reaction to this incident as throwing a fit. And he called Bush “vulgar names.” Oh deary dear, let’s not give the LA Times the vapors by using vulgarity; after all, they’re used to the high-minded sophistication of Governor Schwarzenegger, who always gives the State of the State Address before the House of Girlie-Men in iambic pentameter.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

If he votes, we leave

GOTV under occupation:
Soldiers then surrounded a two-story house. The battalion had received reports that it was being used as a meeting place for insurgents.

A paunchy, middle-aged man invited the soldiers to search the house. As they did, the 1st Platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Jason Shick of Grand Rapids, Mich., questioned the man on the second floor.

“Ask him does he know any anti-American forces or anti-coalition forces at all in this area,” Shick told the interpreter. ...

“We don’t have anything to tell you,” the man’s wife said plaintively, in halting English.

The man shook his head no.

Shick checked the man’s name against a list of suspects. Satisfied he was not a terrorist, Shick then tried to lock up his vote.

“Is he going to vote in the upcoming elections?” he asked the interpreter.

“Yes, they are going to go vote,” the interpreter said after consulting with the couple.

“Good. Tell him thank you very much,” said Shick, heading back down the stairs. “And make sure he votes. If he votes, we leave. Americans go home.”
You’ll notice he didn’t ask the wife if she was going to vote, focusing exclusively on the man even after the interpreter said that both would be voting. But what I adore about this little vignette is the utter lack of self-awareness that allows the soldiers to first terrorize and then canvass this couple.

Hi mum, having a wonderful time, wish you were here

The Times answers something I’d been wondering about, how candidates and election workers can’t appear in public in Iraq, but all those posters get put up (and torn down): street urchins. How sweet.

The British soldier who took those photos of prisoner abuse, testifies at the court-martial of other soldiers that he took them to show his mum. How sweet.

“Comical” Allawi’s election slogan: “Strong leadership, safe country.”

I may be reading too much into this, but what’s a blog for if not to read too much into things? Bush has said, roughly 12,073 times and most recently in his press conference, that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. Presumably he means without Saddam Hussein in power, but that’s not what he says. I think Bush’s grasp of reality is so attenuated that he believes that when he dismisses someone from his mind, that person is no longer present in the world in any meaningful way. Begone Saddam, begone Osama, I banish you from reality!

The fact that they’re voting, in itself, is successful

OK, one final stab at Bush’s press conference:
Can I ask a follow-up, sir? What would be a credible turnout number?

THE PRESIDENT: The fact that they’re voting, in itself, is successful.
So... one?

Really, if there are more parties on the ballot than there are electors, something has gone a little bit awry.

There is a nice piece in the Indy, behind the usual obnoxious pay barrier, by British comedian Mark Steel on the Iraqi elections, which he thinks are a bit of a farce since real power will continue to lie with the occupiers.
They won’t have any say on who runs the country, owns the country, or arms the country. So it won’t be a governing body, it will have the powers of a parish council, making pronouncements such as, “With regard to the incessant artillery fire behind the Burger King, we can’t alter the military situation. But we can come up with suggestions for how to deal with the congestion this is causing at the traffic lights on Rumsfeld Street. Now, Mrs Aziz has proposed a special lane for suicide bombers, with hefty fines for anyone blocking their way, and I for one think that’s jolly clever. But most importantly, it’s that time of year where we invite all those who wish to have stalls for the Baghdad Village Fayre. And I can tell you that Mr Mohammed has very kindly offered once again to take responsibility for the guess the weight of the hostage’ competition.”

The over-riding issues in Iraq are the occupation and the mass privatisation, which the new body will be unable to have any say in. Half of Britain goes berserk if the European Union interferes with British law by recategorising whelks or insisting we can’t set fire to asylum-seekers. So imagine what the Tories and the Daily Mail would say if we were told that, in line with EU regulations, our parliament no longer had the right to oppose the French riding tanks through our cities or the Italians swiping all our oil.

The elections only make sense in the context of the whole war, having been set up by the Americans as part of their process of controlling the region. It’s as if a pack of burglars came into your house, robbed you, then set up an election so you could vote for which member of the family filled out the form for the insurance.

So on the night of the elections in Iraq, there ought to be the shortest Election Special programme ever. Peter Snow will yell, “On the board behind me is a huge map of the country. There are hundreds of candidates, so let’s see what happens if this one over here gets 86 per cent, or if he gets absolutely none at all. All this region, from right up here to way down there, will still be run by the Americans. So there’s the result - goodnight.”

Any time we lose life it is a sad moment

In the opening remarks of his press conference (there’s a link to the transcript in my earlier post on it), Bush failed to mention the transport helicopter that had crashed, leaving it up to one of the reporters to bring up the topic. Similarly, a White House that is pathological about controlling spin, as we have seen in their insistence that the media stop using the term privatization, failed to announce that the search for Iraqi WMDs had been abandoned, leaving the timing and manner of the inevitable leak up to fate (and it was in December, a perfect time to bury a story). I’d also like to include this week’s revelation that 23 Guantanamo prisoners made a mass attempt at suicide, but since that occurred in 2003, perhaps they were right in thinking they could cover up that particular tidbit.

What I’ve concluded is that Bush especially, but also his merry minions, cannot deliver bad news; they don’t know how. Maybe it’s a psychological thing. We know that they lie, of course, deny that bad things have happened, that bad things are bad (increased violence in Iraq spun as a sign that the baddies are becoming “desperate,” etc), but when it’s undeniable and unspinnable, like a helicopter crash, and there isn’t a culprit to hunt down, they haven’t a clue how to talk about it. When he was asked about that crash, here’s what he said: “And, obviously, any time we lose life it is a sad moment.” And later he added that the American people “value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life,” a line delivered in a very once-more-without-feeling style (three seconds later he was joking with a reporter).

I’m not looking for Clintonesque mawkishness, but he is not just any other life-valuing American experiencing a sad moment, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces, at the top of the chain of command that included those 31 dead troops. Some acknowledgment of that would be appropriate.

A Bush line I somehow missed earlier: “I will remind [Putin] that if he intends to continue to look West, we in the West believe in Western values.”

Douglas Feith announced his resignation today. The WaPo describes him as “a principal architect of the Defense Department’s postwar strategy in Iraq” who “devis[ed] the Pentagon’s overall counterterrorism strategy, including that used in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and quotes him:
“I don’t have any definite plans,” he said of his post-Pentagon life. “I just have some notions.”
Wasn’t that always the problem?

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. What’s that you say, Mr. Feith? The door would never hit you in the ass, but will greet you as a liberator? Whatever you say, Mr. Feith.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Getting out the fanatic vote

Four days before Iraqi elections, and the locations of polling stations still haven’t been released, but we now know that there will also be fake polling stations, to lure suicide bombers. Good, because it wasn’t going to be confusing and chaotic enough.

Personally, I doubt there will be all that much violence on election day, but you’d be a fool to count on it, so the threats have done one thing: skewed the participating electorate heavily towards the fanatics. Some of them will be the brave pro-democracy fanatics Bush keeps invoking, some will be other varieties of fanatics; Iraq has rich and diverse assortment of fanatical fauna. But in much of the country, the lack of security has already determined that the electorate will consist of an unrepresentative minority: those willing to risk their lives for their beliefs. Left out will be the “afraid of all the violence” majority.

I passed on a suggestion months ago, I think from a letter to the New York Times, that adding on a referendum on whether the US occupation should end would increase turnout dramatically. Since that didn’t make it onto the ballot, if we are to understand Sunday’s results we need to ask how the voters who are most concerned with that are going to vote. I’m unclear on this. Will they vote for anti-American parties, or will they vote for Allawi and other American puppets on the theory that if the US gets the result it wants it will leave the country alone, much the same way that the Sandinistas were voted out in Nicaragua by a country weary of years of American attacks and economic pressure.

The 4 Brits who were held in Guantanamo for 3 years have been released by the British police, and are now looking forward to selling their stories of American torture (one was told that his wife was being tortured in the next room) to the tabloids. And in response the Pentagon rolled out a spokesmodel new to me, because I think I would have remember the name: Lieutenant Commander Flex Plexico. That’s better than my previous faves, Carter Ham and Michael Formica.

Ah, I’ve just googled him. Flex is a nickname, though not so identified in the news stories. Real name: Alvin Plexico.

The Blair government, responding to a Law Lords decision that its detention of foreigners without trial was illegal because it was discriminatory, will change the law (and opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights) to expand it to include British citizens (which means they can also go after animal rights activists, who are regularly demonized by right-wing newspapers), and allow the government to order house arrest, monitoring bracelets, etc. And there’s surprisingly little outrage evident.

“I firmly planted the flag of liberty”: I blog Bush’s press conference so you don’t have to

our own freedom is enhanced by the expansion of freedom in other nations
You make it sound like a condiment.
We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote. Clearly there are some who are intimidated. ... I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists.
I assume he’ll be setting an example by going to Fallujah and walking people to the polls. He is so brave when others’ lives are at stake. Bring it on!
I appreciate the hard work of the United Nations, which is providing a good leadership in the ground.
Freudian slip, transcription error?
And I anticipate a grand moment in Iraqi history. If we’d been having this discussion a couple of years ago and I had stood up in front of you and said the Iraqi people would be voting, you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression.
That’s a mirror, George.
And it’s exciting times for the Iraqi people.
Terrifying, George, the word is terrifying.

Iraqi insurgents lack the “vision thing”:
These terrorists do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future.
That’s also a mirror, George.

Asked what a credible turnout would be, he astonishingly fails to answer, except with the standard Special Olympics line:
The fact that they’re voting in itself is successful. Again, this is a long process. ... It’s a -- it is a grand moment for those who believe in freedom.
in the long term, our children and grandchildren will benefit from a free Iraq.
How long, George, got a time frame?

In his inaugural speech, he said something about America standing with victims of oppression, “Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there” sort of thing. So today a reporter asked about a Jordanian arrested for an anti-American speech.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I am unaware of the case. You’ve asked me to comment on something that I didn’t know took place.
If reporters only ask about stuff Shrub knows took place, press conferences would be very short affairs indeed.

Describes the Social Security crisis as “dictated by just math,” “the math shows that we have an issue,” and then tries to figure out how old a reporter’s son (who he refers to as “she” even after being corrected) will be when the system goes broke. To give him credit, he almost got his sums right. Further on Social Security:
we have a duty to act on behalf of their children and grandchildren.
We’re already giving them the benefit of a free Iraq, what more do they want?

About his mission to spread freedom everywhere:
There won’t be instant democracy.
Isn’t that we were promised in Iraq? Just add saturation bombing and stir?
And I remind people that our own country is a work in progress.
Explains all the scaffolding and visible butt cracks.
You know, we -- we -- we declared all people equal, and yet all people weren’t treated equally for a century. We said, you know, everybody counts; but everybody didn’t count.
Very zen.

He undeftly evades a question about Gonzales’s confirmation hearing remarks “that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of some prisoners is not specifically forbidden so long as it’s conducted by the CIA and conducted overseas. Is that a loophole that you approve?”
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, Al Gonzales reflects our policy, and that is we don’t sanction torture. He will be a great Attorney General, and I call upon the Senate to confirm him.
On how wonderful his second inaugural speech was:
I firmly planted the flag of liberty
Enough with the phallic imagery already.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Peaceful nations cannot close their eyes or sit idly by in the face of genocide

I’ve been meaning for some time to swipe this quote from the website of a Grinnell College professor whose personal page links to this blog: “I wept because I had no answers, until I met a man who had no questions.”

Four British citizens are released from Guantanamo, flown back to the UK at British expense, and were then arrested. They are expected to be released in a day or two (they did confess during their 3-year sojourn at Gitmo, but that evidence can’t be used in a British court), but the UK gave some sort of promise to the US that they would be prevented from posing a threat again, one of the conditions of their release. How the UK is supposed to do that with citizens unconvicted of any crime is not clear. Yet again, the US has demanded that other countries act with as little regard for the law as we do.

Several bloggers have asked just how Iraqi voters are supposed to know where their polling stations will be. I’m rather curious about this myself. Follow the sound of gunfire? The trail of blood?

Australians are losing their accents.

You may remember stories about the last two Jews in Kabul, who were engaged in a decades-long feud. Last week one of them died.

Margaret Spellings started as secretary of education yesterday; it took her one whole day before she decided to gay-bash a PBS children’s program which will show cartoon Vermont lesbians, and demand that PBS return the federal money used in producing the program. I’m a little unclear on how PBS distribution works, but evidently PBS plans to pull the episode, but WGBH will distribute it. Unbanned in Boston. Pretty good for WGBH, which used to censor the episodes of Upstairs Downstairs that might offend the delicate ears of Boston bluebloods.

R’s have been attacking Barbara Boxer for mentioning her questioning of Condi Rice in a fundraising letter. A spokesmodel for Rice, who last week didn’t think it was legitimate for her integrity to be impugned, said the letter “puts to rest any doubts some may have had that this is all about politics.”

The last Italian veteran of World War I dies, at 110.

Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech trying to yoke the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps to Bush foreign policy objectives, says that “peaceful nations cannot close their eyes or sit idly by in the face of genocide,” but allows as how people might want to close their eyes during the comb-licking scene in “Fahrenheit 911.”

Have you accepted oppression of the crusader harlots and the rejectionist pigs?

The Justice Dept gives Arizona permission to implement the parts of an anti-immigrant initiative passed in November that require voters to present proof of citizenship and other i.d. DOJ permission is required under the Voting Rights Act because of the Arizona Republican Party’s historical practice of using “literacy challenges” to intimidate and harass black and Hispanic voters, a practice William Rehnquist was involved in back in the day. But I’m sure they’d never do anything like that with these provisions now....

Speaking of voter suppression, the tape issued by Zarqawi (supposedly) asks Iraqis the question, “Have you accepted oppression of the crusader harlots and the rejectionist pigs?”

Well, have you?

Really, though, it’s nice to see Iraqis practicing coalition politics, with the crusader harlots reaching out to the rejectionist pigs in a spirit of bipartisanship. Rainbow politics, Iraqi style.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Maybe Saddam’s plumber still has some of those gold bidets in stock

While doing my evening trawl through the British press tonight, I’ve seen articles about scared Iraqi election workers who hide their identities, scared Iraqi security men (“even in the hospital ward they refused to remove their black ski masks as they were treated by doctors”), and scared Iraqi candidates (“They are being told how to campaign for the election without getting killed. The instructions are simple - avoid public places and do not reveal your identity, the cleric advised. Most candidates should stay at home as much as possible, he added.”) The entire country is in witness protection.

The Indy points out the problem with banning all cars before and during the elections: insurgents know that any moving car is likely to contain people connected with the election. There really is a very fine line in Iraq between elections and free-fire zones, isn’t there?

Shrub used to like to say that Saddam Hussein built palaces instead of schools and hospitals. Today, the US announced plans for a new $1.5 billion embassy.

Back in the continent no one’s paying attention to right now, the former head of the US Army’s Southern Command accused Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez of funding Bolivian opposition parties and providing a haven for (Colombian) FARC training camps, while Chávez accuses the US of being behind Colombia’s kidnapping of a FARC leader from Caracas. This reminds me so much of the mid-1980s, when it was the US, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

I was going to write something asking why Yushchenko should be “wooing” Putin, when Putin should be apologizing for interfering in Ukrainian elections (see if you think this counts: “we did only that which was asked of us by the Ukrainian Government”). But then Pock-Faced Mr. Y appointed as his prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, the “Gas Princess,” who is actually wanted in Russia on charges of having bribed officials, and has talked about exporting the Orange Revolution to Russia. Interestingly, though, her first language is Russian rather than Ukrainian.

Not bending any statutes

DOD spokesmodel Lawrence DiRita, whose special way with a weasely “rebuttal” of reports of Pentagon malfeasance has won him a special place in all our hearts, responds to reports that Rumsfeld set up a clandestine spy unit thusly: “There is no unit that is directly reportable to the secretary of defense for clandestine operations”. You’ll have spotted the key word. He also says the Pentagon isn’t “bending” any statutes. For once, I agree with him.

Speaking of plausible deniability, Richard Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, seen here attempting to demonstrate how one could accidentally delete 18½ minutes of secret tapes with one
’s foot while answering the phone, has died.

Speaking of uncomfortable positions, this is from the Sunday Times:
An eight-month pregnant Russian woman wanted to give her baby the thrill of its life before it was even born by going parachute jumping near Moscow. But she got more of a rush than she bargained for when she went into labour before reaching the ground. “I was already in the air when I felt a massive pain,” Marija Usova said. “I cried out, ‘Oh, God, help me’ and kept my legs tightly together, but beyond that there wasn’t much I could do.” She said she was close to passing out but managed to control her descent. The baby girl was born minutes after she landed.
Her name is Larisa, which means seagull.

Speaking of keeping your legs tightly together, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family sells packages of materials to help deal with the after-effects of abortion, because they are such loving Christians. Here, for example, is the Post-Abortion Grandparents’ Kit, because “Your heart still aches for the grandchild you’ll only hold in heaven.”

The Cardinal of Madrid says that in that city there is “sinning on a massive scale.” Plan your vacations accordingly.

At least American civil and military officials have stopped claiming that the Iraqi voters will be safe. Proconsul John Negroponte does say that “I believe in a preponderance of the country it will be safe for people to go and vote.” He doesn’t specify in which areas it is not safe. US officials keep citing polls which say Iraqis want to vote, as if supporters of a boycott would nonetheless choose to participate in Western polls.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Exterminate! Exterminate!! Exterminate!!!

The Pentagon is planning on deploying killer robots in Iraq. This puppy, named Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems or SWORDS by the folks at the Pentagon’s Department of Mindbogglingly Bad AcronymS (Dumbass), comes with cameras, machineguns, and absolutely no desire to rise up and destroy humanity.

Fortunately, like doesn’t look like it can deal with stairs. So I’d get started building some stairs, if I were you. Just in case.

(Update: evidently the military’s little toy can’t go faster than 4 mph, which makes its range especially limited given its short battery life (or fuel or whatever runs it). No word on the price tag.)

Unless someone wants to make a major strategic blunder

My head would have melted if I’d had to compile this: “The Beast 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2004.” I agree with much of the list. Best line, re Rumsfeld (who is number 2, in more ways than one): “Carries himself in press conferences like a cranky grandfather who is sick of hearing his daughters whine about how he molested them every now and then.”

The real problem with Rumsfeld is that people overestimate his intelligence. For example, today a spokesmodel for the Iranian foreign ministry dismissed American talk of invading Iran as merely psychological warfare: “We think the chance is very low unless someone wants to make a major strategic blunder.” What he neglects to take into consideration is that Rummy, Cheney, etc live to make major strategic blunders. It’s their thing.

The Bush Doctrine of...wait for it...Liberty

The “Bush doctrine of liberty.” It is just too early on a Sunday morning to raise the amount of outrage that phrase requires.

An LA Times story, “Torture Becomes a Matter of Definition,” features the execrable John Yoo and others saying that the US shouldn’t publicly rule out specific torture methods because that would allow future torturees to better resist interrogation. Besides administration officials, you know who else knows what techniques are used: the people they’re used on. The corollary of Yoo’s argument, therefore, is that people who have been subjected to interrogation must never be released or allowed to speak to someone like a lawyer who might tell the world. The Bush doctrine of liberty.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Seeds of liberty

The military operation to “secure” Iraq so that elections can be held has the vaguely condescending name “Operation Seeds of Liberty.” Here, Charles Graner shows off his green thumb.

The announced security measures, UnFairWitness notes, seem to involve a ban on both driving and walking near polling places, necessitating the use of “pogo sticks of liberty” by would-be voters.

An Austrian Green Party official wants Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Austrian citizenship revoked for signing the death warrant in the execution that took place this week, on the grounds that he brought Austria into disrepute. I don’t suppose we can revoke his American citizenship on the same grounds.

The Sunday Times of London has details, leaked by South African intelligence, of the plans the British investors including Mark Thatcher (currently awaiting news on whether his American visa will be re-issued) had for Equatorial Guinea if their “time-share coup” had succeeded. The plan was to create a company on the model of the East India Company to run the country (and its oil). They planned to put an exiled opposition leader in nominal charge while keeping him in virtual house arrest; their greatest worry was that he actually become popular and hence less controllable.

I support breast equality

When Arafat was alive, the State Department (and Thomas Friedman, who just thinks he’s the State Department) frequently issued fiats demanding that he say this or that... in Arabic. The charge being that he said one thing to the West in English and another to his own people. So what the WaPo story headlined “Arabs Say U.S. Rhetoric Rings Hollow” is really asking is, will the US say the same thing in Arabic that it says in English. Another article, “Bush Speech Not a Sign of Policy Shift, Officials Say,” answers that question with a resounding “No.”

In fact, Dan Bartlett insists, “it is not to say we’re not doing this already. It is important to crystallize the debate to say this is what it is all about, to say what are our ideals, what are the values we cherish.” In other words, it’s all about--and only about--re-branding. Which we all knew, but I didn’t expect to hear a Bushie admit it just a day later.

By the way, all those commentators who are so impressed with Shrub’s “bold,” “sweeping” proclamation of a crusade to end tyranny everywhere, his shift from opposing “nation-building” to advocating Utopia-building, should note that this is actually a narrowing of focus. After 9/11, Bush said he would “rid the world of evil” (like Kane in “Kung Fu,” I said at the time). So just restricting that to tyranny is really a step down.

Speaking of ending tyranny, the LA Times has an article about a public defender fighting for the right of women to go topless in California’s beaches and parks, where now only man-boobs are allowed free rein. Her slogan: “I support breast equality.” Women convicted of indecent exposure have to register as sex offenders.

Friday, January 21, 2005

How to speak to baboons

Emily Latella Memorial Editorial: I agree with Bill Thomas that Bush’s Social Security privatization plan is a dead whore.

Speaking of the elderly, the power of the people, or at least the power of pissed-off old people, turns out not to be completely dead in Russia. Huge protests have made Putin back off the elimination of various benefits for pensioners and veterans. Instead, to reduce the cost of those programs he’ll have to go back to the policy of the last few years: steadily reducing Russia’s life expectancy.

Oh give me a fucking break [Indy link no longer working]:
International aid agencies in India have been horrified to find, even amid the suffering caused by the tsunami, some survivors being refused access to basic relief because they are considered “Untouchables”.

Accounts have emerged of members of the former Untouchable castes not being allowed to drink clean water from a tank provided by Unicef because other castes believed it would pollute the water in the tank. Dalits, as the former Untouchables are known today, have been thrown out of government relief camps by the other survivors staying there ....
Zoo keepers in Kent, England, are having to learn French in order to communicate with their baboons.


I probably spent too much time yesterday analyzing Bush’s speech, considering that his only contribution was to read it out loud, but one last observation, or a question really, about the use of metaphor: he referred to the “untamed fire of freedom,” and called 9/11 the “day of fire.” Is this just sloppy writing, or does it mean something?

Classic good news/bad news: the FBI has shelved its Carnivore program for surveilling the entire internet... because over-the-counter commercial software does the job just as well.

If we can avoid it

Consecutive stories listed on the Nation & Politics page of the WaPo: 1) “An Ambitious President Advances His Idealism,” 2) “Cheney Warns of Iran As a Nuclear Threat.”

Cheney says, “We don’t want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it.”
We don’t want to fight
but by jingo if we do...
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men,
and got the money too!
Avoid. Like “war in the Middle East” is a runaway truck. Of course you can “avoid” war, it’s easy: don’t invade, don’t bomb, no war.

As Viktor Yushchenko clears the last legal challenge and is sworn in as Ukraine’s president, Vladimir Putin finally admits defeat and sends a telegram looking forward to “good-neighborly and equal relations,” adding “or we will crush you.”

Speaking of good-neighborly and equal relations, Bush in his speech said, “We have known divisions.... and I will strive in good faith to heal them,” adding, “Or we will crush you.” “Yet those divisions do not define America. We felt the unity and fellowship of our nation when freedom came under attack”. What’s he saying, that in order to heal divisions, he’ll engineer another terrorist attack?

Independent editorial title: “Let Us Hope That Mr Bush’s More Nuanced Words Could Be Heard above the Gunfire in Iraq.” (No link, as the article is behind a pay barrier, but other than the title it’s nothing special).

Another Indy op-ed piece, by Johann Hari, says, “George Bush presented America as the armed wing of Amnesty International.” Also pay or Lexis-Nexis only.

Speaking of spreading freedom, the WaPo says that the prison camps maintained by the US in Iraq are almost full, with about 9,000 prisoners, and more every day. If Venezuela, say, arrested thousands of opponents in advance of an election, what would the US say about that?

The Colombian “bounty hunters” who kidnapped a FARC rebel in Venezuela, turn out to be members of Venezuela’s security forces, who will be charged with treason. I was right that there was no extradition request; but also, Interpol had rejected Colombia’s request to put the man on its wanted list because they saw the charges against him as political.

Israeli troops in Gaza shoot dead a Palestinian boy playing with a toy gun he’d been given for Eid, presumably by people who didn’t like him much. You have to ask why toy guns are even on sale there.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Freedom blah blah liberty blah blah freedom again blah blah...

One of my favorite Daily Show segments is when they have children read transcripts of tele-pundits tele-punditting at each other. Bush’s second inaugural speech reminds me of that, in that none of it was in his own voice. Phrases like “multiply in destructive power,” “pretensions of tyrants,” etc do not roll trippingly off his tongue.

(Who are the idiots yelling “four more years”?)

Before I forget, I want to call attention to the coded anti-abortion language: “Even the unwanted have worth.”

He used the word “freedom” 893 times in 20 minutes, and “liberty” 562 times. These are essentially negative words, at least the way Bush used them, in contradistinction to tyranny and oppression. It’s hard to say what the features are of a place with freedom and liberty, except that they lack the secret police, punishment of dissidents etc of tyrannies. Even Norman Rockwell had a more sophisticated vision of freedom:

Did Bush use the word “democracy” even once? By his choice of words--and wouldn’t you like to see him forced to define them?--he set the bar pretty low; hell, he thinks Iraq and Afghanistan have freedom now.

I was definitely right in my last post about his use of “freedom” as a threat, a dagger aimed at the heart of any regime he doesn’t like, members of the “axis of evil” or the “outposts of oppression.” I mean, really: “one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.” It’s a top-down view of freedom, something that applies to nations or regions and only as an afterthought to individuals.

Other words that stand out, although less obviously, are words like “permanent,” “eternal” and “always,” applied to the values of America, which evidently have something to do with liberty and freedom. OK, it doesn’t sound sinister when I write it like that, but there’s something rigid and unexamined in his invocation of the permanence of his alleged values. Coming out of his mouth, the notions of freedom and liberty take on his own personal characteristics: stubbornness, lack of reflection. Read the speech, if you have the stomach for it, and see if you don’t see what I mean.

All that remains is to observe that Chimpy’s tie was ugly, and that there was a wide variety of amusing hats on view. Rehnquist’s little beret, or whatever that was, went so well with the Gilbert and Sullivan robes, and Rummy’s consiglieri hat.

After interpreting omens

Inauguration, from the Latin inauguratus, meaning “consecrated after interpreting omens.” And, indeed, His Fraudulency said yesterday that “We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom”. You know, George, I hear a tin-foil hat will block the flying-saucer messages. He also called for “the expansion of freedom in all the world.” Only Shrub could make “freedom” sound so much like a threat.

I may just spend the day hiding under the bed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The dangly bits

Condi is voted out of committee 16-2.

Sharon’s government secretly decided 6 months ago to seize the East Jerusalem property of Palestinians who live in the West Bank, without compensation. This has been applied to Palestinians who own agricultural property on what is now the wrong side of the Wall. So the Wall has turned out to be a land grab after all, who’d have guessed?

As you may remember, police in Inglewood, CA. were filmed in July 2002 beating a black 16-year old in what it was feared would be another Rodney King incident.

The white officer who did most of the beating was fired, but two hung juries failed to convict him. Another white officer on the scene was suspended for 10 days for failing to report the incident and then lying about it, while a black cop received only 4 days’ suspension for beating the kid with a flashlight. So the 2 white cops sued for...wait for it... discrimination, and were awarded $1.6 million and $810,000 respectively.

New Zealand has put out a series of stamps in recognition of New Zealand’s unique cultural contrib... well, all right, sheep. But one stamp featuring a male merino sheep has been denounced as an insult to rural NZ because it doesn’t show “the dangly bits.”


I guess someone thought twice about the name “America Rocks the Future: A Call to Service,” and changed it to “America’s Future Rocks.” And nothing says rock & roll like George & Laura in their most rockin’ party togs.

With a forklift

2 posts ago I said I didn’t know what this was about.

Well, according to the lawyer of the soldier responsible for it, he was simply moving the prisoner out of the sun. With a forklift. So it was an act of kindness. With a forklift.

His understanding

Alberto Gonzales has answered more questions in writing, no more satisfactorily than he did in Senate testimony. Torture bad, still won’t define it, does say that techniques which would violate the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment if they were used in the US might be ok if we used them abroad, not that we’d ever do that, unless we did, and the CIA can do whatever it wants. And this, on rendition, with the weasel phrases highlighted: “It is my understanding that the United States does not render individuals to countries where we believe it is more likely than not they will be tortured.”

Though several Bushies have been asked about waterboarding, none will say a word against it.

To return yet again to Bush’s “accountability moment” line: I’ve said before that Bush’s life is marked by periodic declarations of clean-slate moments, when everything is supposed to have changed, and everything he did before is supposed not to matter: going teetotal and Jesusy at age 40, 9/11, etc. The accountability moment is another one of these.

Condi says the solution to North Korea’s nuclear problem is 6-party talks which will tell NK, “If you intend to a be part of the international system, you have got to give up your nuclear weapons programs.” When has North Korean ever shown an interest in being part of the international system, whatever that might be?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Condi: “I have to say that I have never, ever, lost respect for the truth in the service of anything.” Can’t lose what you don’t have.

Condi is the “intellectual” of the Bush administration, which means she tries to phrase things intellectually: “Our role is directly proportional, I think, to how capable the Iraqis are.” She of course meant to say inversely proportional. Nice try.

Yet more pictures of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, this time, phew, not by us, but by the Brits. The London Times attempts to explain this one: “Lance Corporal Darren Larkin appears to be pretending to surf on his victim, seemingly unaware that he is in a country where even the slightest contact with the soles of the feet is regarded as a grave insult.”

What this one is all about, who knows.

There are also the usual simulated sex acts, but it’s mild by Abu Ghraib standards, abuse rather than torture, unless there’s something in the Geneva Conventions about simulated surfing. The pics were discovered because a fusilier used a commercial film developer.

Latest thing British people will bet on: the next James Bond. Clive Owen is currently at 4:1.

Tonight will see the first execution of the Schwarzenegger administration, of a man with brain damage, which the jury never heard about.

One of the “youth events” associated with the inauguration, hosted by Jenna and Not-Jenna, will have the beyond-parody name “America Rocks the Future: A Call to Service.” Room service, possibly.

The time for diplomacy is, wait, it’s... now, no no no, ok NOW is the time for diplomacy

Called on to reassess the 1989 events at Tiananmen Square following the death of Zhao Ziyang, Chinese foreign minister spokesmodel Kong Quan (!) says that the economic growth since proves that the massacre was “correct.”

I’ve only watched a little of Condi Rice’s confirmation hearings (still dragging on uninformatively as I write) but this just has to be the biggest lie she told: “I look forward to personally working with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and bringing American diplomacy to bear on this difficult but crucial issue”. In the history of the world, no one has ever looked forward to working with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

Condi: “The tsunami was a wonderful opportunity for us.” Oy.

Condi: “The time for diplomacy is now.”

“Our interaction with the rest of the world must be a conversation, not a monologue.” Of course the rest of the world’s role in that conversation will be confined to “Sir, yes sir!”

She’s the last Bushie still to claim that the US had to invade Iraq over WMDs, which she somehow combines with admitting that there were none. I don’t understand how she does that either. “Now, there were lots of data points about his weapons-of-mass- destruction programs. Some were right and some were not.” I don’t know what a data point is when it’s at home, but I’m pretty sure a data point that is wrong is not a data point. “But what was right was that there was an unbreakable link between Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.” That sentence has less meaning each time I read it.

It wasn’t just WMDs. Here’s another discredited oldie but goodie: “And I know that there was no single thing that might have prevented [9/11].”

Secretary of State nominee Rice.

Here comes the post-accountable president

We’re fast approaching the exquisite awfulness of the anti-accountability moment, the Bush inauguration. Other blogs--I apologize to them for forgetting which--have noted that Laura Bush’s defense of the lavish, partying-on-the-Titanic celebrations in a time of war and tsunami tsuris (I still think the crime against common decency was in continuing to fund-raise for this thing after the tsunami hit), her assertion that the inauguration is never cancelled, mistook the parties afterward, which are often muted, for the inauguration itself. One is the civic ritual, which celebrates democracy and the presidency itself, the peaceful handover of power from President Gore to President-Elect Bush; the other is a celebration of the president, the mere man. Increasingly, Bush and his henchmen do not know the difference, and they were always inclined sharply to the imperial view of the presidency.

This blog has spoken frequently about the poverty of Bush’s understanding of democracy in the context of Afghan and Iraqi elections, but I’d like to return to his much-quoted comment in the WaPo interview that “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.” Here’s how my computer dictionary defines “moment”: “1 a brief period of time. 2 an exact point in time.” In Bush’s vision, democratic accountability is an exact point in time, Election Day, one day out of 1,461, and the very last accountability moment of his political career is now behind him. What does that make him, class? That’s right: unaccountable. So abandon your protests, your speeches and diatribes, your letters to the editor or the White House, your petitions and remonstrances, because the moment in which even Bush considered himself accountable to the American people has come... and it has gone.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I have a nightmare

Finally, late in the day, something on the White House website vaguely relating to M.L. King, or at least an event where Bush mentioned King, actually an event to honor Colin Powell (and his wife). His references to King are as anodyne as it is possible to be, and it is impossible to detect any influence the civil rights movement or Dr. King had on Bush himself. He did live through those years, after all. Bush said that he was honoring a man who has “upheld the highest ideal of American citizenship.” He doesn’t mean King, civil rights leader and anti-war activist, but rather Colin Powell, the former general and the man who helped cover up My Lai. “In their [Colin and Alma Powell] love of country, and their heart for service, they show the same character found in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Martin Luther King, not looking pleased.

Shrub, looking too pleased.

Riddle me this

While I was waiting for a fuller text of Pentagon spokesmodel Lawrence DiRita’s “rebuttal” of Sy Hersh’s article to show up somewhere on the web (I still haven’t found it), Eli at LeftI has written exactly what I planned to write, which is that DiRita’s talk about rumor, innuendo, statements never made, etc. failed to deny a single specific in the Hersh piece or name a single one of the alleged factual errors. You can’t accuse DiRita of making factual errors, because his non-denial denial was completely fact-free. But this isn’t about facts, per se. DiRita says that these unspecified errors with which the article is “riddled” (riddled is the key word in denigration this week; Dan Bartlett used it yesterday) mean that “the credibility of his entire piece is destroyed.” It’s not really about facts, it’s about the media’s, at least the non-compliant media like Hersh’s, credibility.

The annoying thing is that I have much the same problem with the Hersh article: he didn’t provide enough backing evidence for me to judge the accuracy of his charges, so I’m left relying on his credibility, although that credibility is quite high with me, given his track record.

As a long-time observer of CIA dirty tricks, Hersh is especially worried that the shift of covert operations to the Pentagon will remove what little Congressional oversight was set up in the 1970s. The incursions into Iran are being defined not as intelligence ops but as “preparing the battlefield,” and as such immune from scrutiny.

Also, and I can’t believe even the Bushies are being this stupid again, they evidently believe that a successful operation against an Iranian nuclear facility would bring about an uprising against the government because it would destroy the mullahs’ “aura of invincibility.” Which come to think of it is roughly what the right is trying to do with the media: first make a surgical strike on Dan Rather, then Rather-bate other journalists, so you can dismiss Seymour Hersh’s “credibility” without having to address his accusations.

(Update: here’s the DiRita “rebuttal,” which is actually snider than I’d imagined. My favorite phrase is the dismissal of agreements between Douglas Feith and Israel as “the soft bigotry of some conspiracy theorists.”)

Not getting through

Just a few days ago Bush said of his 11% black vote in the 2004 election, “as to why that message hasn’t made it through, I don’t know, I’m not a pundit.” I just went to the White House website looking for Martin Luther King Day material to make fun of--it’s what I do--and there’s NOTHING there.

Just totally perplexed by the black people.

Still, it could be worse.


If Iraq’s election monitors will be in Jordan, Western journalists still have to cover the country from in their countries, practicing “hotel journalism.” Robert Fisk reports that NBC journos not only don’t leave their hotel, but their security advisers have told them not to visit the hotel’s pool or restaurant. He notes that during the invasion, reports from embedded reporters were prefaced with warnings that they were produced under military restrictions, but now, when their only “reporting” consists of reaching out from under their bed to grab the latest press release issued by the US military or the puppet government, themselves isolated in the Green Zone from the real situation in Iraq, no such warnings are given.

With British elections coming up sometime in spring, the talk is of a further Tory party meltdown. Still, none of the parties are going in to the election with the leader they want. The Conservatives have discarded three party leaders since the last time they were in office, and Michael Howard is doing no better with the public. The Liberal Democrats are led by a man with a disconcerting resemblance to Conan O’Brien, enough said there. Labour would do better with anybody but Bush’s poodle, and there are fierce battles, all leaked to the press, being waged over when to replace him with Gordon Brown, the current chancellor, so they’re not looking too great either. Labour are currently thrilled that they were able to arrange for a Tory MP and former minister for higher education, Robert Jackson, to defect to Labour, although 1) he’s not planning to run again anyway, 2) all the issues on which he disagrees with the Tories are ones on which Labour is further to the right (charging tuition for universities, Iraq, etc).

Bill “Here Kitty Kitty Kitty” Frist says that Americans might have to “take some medicine” in the form of lower Social Security benefits. You know, as awful as Frist is as a senator, if poverty is his idea of medicine it’s probably just as well he gave up the doctoring gig.

Speaking of evil ex-doctors, the New Yorker just posted not only the Sy Hersh story about secret incursions into Iran, but also an interesting profile of Iyad “Comical” Allawi, another detailed biography which still doesn’t answer my question whether the guy ever practiced medicine.

In, pathetically, the boldest Democratic move yet on Alberto Gonzales, Ted Kennedy says he is “leaning against” voting to confirm him. But if you consider support for torture to be an absolute disqualification for the job of attorney general, and funnily enough I do, you don’t “lean” because there is nothing left to consider. You do not “lean” on issues of principle.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Not a pundit

Emperor Chimpy, in full-on smug mode: “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections. The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me.” Of all the assessments of the election results, I’m not sure anyone has said before that the electorate thought Bush was doing a really good job in Iraq.

And this bit, I just have to quote from the Post verbatim:
As for perhaps the most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, the administration has so far been unsuccessful in its attempt to locate the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Asked why, Bush said, “Because he’s hiding.”
He admits that Muslims hate us, but is sure they’ll come around, he says: “There’s no question we’ve got to continue to do a better job of explaining what America is all about.” Yeah, because it’s the explanations that have been at fault, not anything you’ve actually done.

He also admits that black people didn’t vote for him, and is equally baffled by that, and equally convinced that he’s just being misunderstood: “the policies that we have put forth in this administration are, I think, beneficial to all. And as to why that message hasn’t made it through, I don’t know, I’m not a pundit.” Or a rocket scientist. Interview excerpts.

Perplexed by the black people.

In my on-going efforts to improve your vocabulary, here is a story from the London Times:
Constantin Putica, whose surname means “small penis” in Romanian, has given up trying to change it because he’s fed up with the red tape involved, reports the Ananova news agency. “I have got used to people laughing when they hear my name,” says the 45-year-old.

“I can live with it.” According to a local newspaper there are not only 243 Puticas in Romania but also 233 people called Muia, which means “oral sex”.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Our apologies for not mentioning the names of all the candidates

Charles Graner: “I can see, to a layperson, a lot of things happen in prison that may look wrong.” D’ya think?

Freedom, ain’t it grand:
The predicament for candidates was spelled out on a flier passed around town by the United Iraqi Alliance. The flier listed the names of 37 candidates for the national assembly. The 188 others, the flier said, could not be published.

“Our apologies for not mentioning the names of all the candidates,” the flier said. “But the security situation is bad, and we have to keep them alive.”
An election with no candidates, sounds like heaven after months of Bush & Kerry, doesn’t it? Oh sure, it’s a mockery of the political process, and it’s an insult to compare this with real democracy, but still... an election with no candidates.

Friday, January 14, 2005

That’s assuming that terrorists would just be sitting around and doing nothing

A piece of junk mail just arrived from the local cable company says on the envelope, “Comcast is bringing you powerful new ways to watch television.” Honestly, “powerful” and “watching television” just do not belong in the same sentence. Unless the remote comes with a button that makes actors’ heads blow up when they displease you, of course.

In response to Prince Harry’s insensitivity, his father is reportedly sending him to Auschwitz. And you thought your parents were harsh. Also, he has to apologize to the Chief Rabbi (slightly unsettling London Times headline: “Day of Atonement for Prince Harry.”)

It’s almost like a parody of Middle East politics: before Mahmoud Abbas is even sworn in, Sharon has already broken off relations with him “until he makes a real effort to stop the terror.”

Asked about a CIA report which says that Iraq is now a breeding ground for terrorists (Next up on the Discovery Channel: “The life cycle of terrorists: from breeding ground to suicide bombing”), Scott McClellan says, “That’s assuming that terrorists would just be sitting around and doing nothing if we weren’t staying on the offensive.” In other words, in the nature/nurture debate, Scottie comes down on the side of the former, arguing terrorists are not products of external events, like foreign occupation, but are just born that way.

Rwanda plans to try 1,000,000 people for genocide in village courts.

As I said two posts ago, the WaPo this morning complained about Venezuela giving “sanctuary” to a Colombian guerilla leader (Colombian warlord Uribe said today that the use of bounty hunters in another country and the bribing of Venezuelan officials is legitimate in fighting terrorism). Well, speaking of sanctuary for terrorists, today Haitian death squad leader Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was served with papers in New York, where he lives. He is being sued by 3 of the women his paramilitaries gang-raped. Also, Mark Thatcher, who was just convicted for taking part in an attempt to overthrow the government of a whole country, is moving to Dallas, the site of some of his former felonious glories.

A high school student suspended from high school in Missouri for wearing an “I’m gay and I’m proud” t-shirt has withdrawn his lawsuit, which is moot because he had to drop out after missing so many classes. That’ll show him for being gay and for being proud.

The Daily Telegraph reveals that in 1994
The Pentagon examined the possibility of developing an aphrodisiac bomb that would cause enemy troops to find one another sexually irresistible...

It also considered development of a "Who? Me?" bomb that would produce odours that suggested that other soldiers were passing wind or had serious halitosis to disrupt enemy morale. [And make it possible to identify guerillas not in uniform, the Times adds]...

It is not known if, or when, the programme was abandoned.

The Pentagon also considered chemicals that would make the enemy troops sexually attractive to "annoying or injurious animals" such as stinging and biting bugs or rodents.
While fun, it should be noted that these were just proposals from an Air Force Lab, for developing “harassing, annoying and ‘bad guy’-identifying chemicals”. What, like beer?

Obviously a student of history

Bush in USA Today interview: “Most people in Iraq do want to vote. Most people are interested in exercising their free will.” Very metaphysical, I’m sure.

The ass-kissing USAT interviewer prefaced a question with this implausible remark: “Q: You’re obviously a student of history.” The question was, “Do you now stop and think about the history that you’re making by doing this?”

Not to be outdone in the shite-talking department, the D- student of history responded, “I think we’re sowing the seeds for peace for a long time to come.”

As Reagan said, facts are stupid things

Charles “I love to make a grown man piss himself” Graner’s defense rested without Graner testifying in his own defense. For a blogger, that’s like the circus being cancelled.

Did the Bushies really think that not announcing they’d stopped looking for Iraqi WMDs would stop the news from getting out, albeit several weeks late? Normally you’d expect them to try to spin the news themselves, but I guess there was no way of doing so. Powell was on McNeil-Lehrer today, saying over and over that what he said two years ago was the best “facts” and “intelligence” available at the time. Given that none of it was true, you can’t really use the word “facts,” now can you? Rumor, innuendo, Chalabi fabrications, but not “facts.”

LA Times story: “Guantanamo Gets Greener With Wind Power Project.”
Four new windmill towers and turbines rising from the crown of John Paul Jones Hill will begin powering the U.S. Navy base here next month, saving $1.5 million in annual oil imports, reducing pollution and showing energy-starved communist neighbors what they are missing.
What they’re missing? Windmill-powered genital shocking?

The WaPo has another heavily slanted anti-Venezuela editorial, complete with sarcastic quote marks: “Venezuela’s ‘Revolution.’” As I said the last time the Post urged the US government to act against Venezuela, the US lost its moral standing to say anything about Venezuela when it supported a coup attempt there. The Post says Chavez is reorienting his “foreign policy away from the United States and other democracies.” The US’s domestic democracy is irrelevant to its foreign policy in Latin America. The impetus for the latest attack on Chavez (who I’m no fan of either) is his attempt at land reform. I don’t know the details of Chavez’s plans in this area, but I don’t see land reform as “undermining the foundations of democracy and free enterprise,” as the Post puts it. And if they’re so concerned about land seizures, they might ask how so much of Venezuelan property is in the form of huge haciendas held by an oligarchy of light-skinned folks. Finally, they accuse Christopher Dodd of caring more about oil than Venezuelan democracy (he expressed this contempt for Venezuelan democracy by saying that land confiscation is an internal matter), when their own opening paragraph inserted the seemingly irrelevant fact of V. being an “oil-producing country” into its diatribe against the “assault on private property.”The casually arrogant sense of American superiority is as strong in the “liberal” Washington Post as in the Bush cabinet.

The piece also mentions Venezuela’s current dispute with Colombia, “which recently arrested a senior leader of the FARC movement -- designated a terrorist organization by the United States -- who had been given sanctuary in Venezuela.” Actually, after first lying about it, Colombia has had to admit that its agents/bounty hunters kidnapped Rodrigo Granda and spirited him over the border. Colombia never asked that he be extradited, so “sanctuary” doesn’t enter into it.

Speaking of fomenting coups, Mark Thatcher’s admission of involvement in the coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea continues to garner one-millionth of the ink in the British press as Prince Harry’s little... what’s the German for faux pas? The Indy says the royal family had hoped joining the military would straighten the boorish Harry out. Obviously they needed to be more specific about which military.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers

Looking for a Rumsfeld quote I’d heard on tv, I read the transcript of his joint press conference with the Russian defense minister. After Rumsfeld talked about how some released Guantanamo detainees have gone back to fighting, Ivanov chimed in about how they’d had the very same problem back when they were trying to subjugate Afghanistan. And no one present seemed to think there was anything odd about this exchange, just two imperialists chatting about their troubles with those devious natives.

Anyway, the quote was about the Iraqi elections, which are now being treated as the Special Olympics of elections. Rummy: “First, just having elections in Iraq is an enormous success and a victory.” And the electoral lists are diverse, so any government will be “broadly representative,” by which he means there will be tokens, not that it will be representative in the sense of reflecting votes. The Bushies are in the process of defining democracy downwards, as a WaPo article details, quoting a “senior administration official” as saying “I would ... really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don’t have any meaning”. Silly me, I thought elections were about counting votes. Well, in fact no, since the Bushies are talking increasingly about cobbling together some sort of arrangement to give the Sunni delegates roles irrespective of the election results. It’s unclear why any Iraqis should bother running the risk of being killed for the sake of election results which “in themselves don’t have any meaning”. And Rumsfeld refers to worries about the security of the elections as “hyperventilation,” ignoring the many election workers already murdered.

Oh, and about that Newsweek article about Pentagon discussions about running death squads, “this so-called Salvatore -- Salvador option, I think it’s called.” Well, Rummy says he looked through Newsweek, couldn’t find the article, but it’s nonsense anyway. Honestly, read the transcript, couldn’t make this shit up, wouldn’t want to.

A good piece by Seumas Milne on Iraqi elections in the Guardian points out that while most Iraqis want the occupation ended, no one with a chance of being elected supports that because the occupation is all that keeps them a) in power, b) breathing.

From the AP: “Colombia has invited bounty hunters from around the world to search jungles and cities for Marxist rebel commanders and bring them back in exchange for large cash rewards.” No, nothing could go wrong there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Customary policy of deference to the president

Good news on the Supreme Court striking down mandatory sentencing guidelines. Now we can go back to Southern states sentencing litter-bugs and sodomites to life in the stocks, and San Francisco sentencing mass murderers to aromatherapy and past-life regression.

What, you can’t figure out my position on mandatory sentencing based on that joke? Well, I don’t trust the federal government to set sentences irrespective of the details of individual cases, I don’t like gross regional disparities in sentencing, I don’t trust juries, I don’t trust judges with lifetime tenure, hell, I don’t trust the court stenographers, so I’m a little hard put to come to an opinion on how sentences should be arrived at.

The Supreme Court’s been all over the lot this week. They ruled that people can be convicted for conspiring to commit a crime without even starting to put the conspiracy into practice. This seems to me to be thought crime. The NYT forgot to include what the vote was.

And the Supes ruled that Cuban criminals can’t be held forever after serving their sentences, because Cuba won’t take them back, but it ruled that Somalis can be deported because of the Court’s “customary policy of deference to the president,” even though Somalia has no actual government, so we’d be literally just dumping people--convicted criminals, yet--in another country.

You don’t have a relationship, George, you are a stalker

Headline of the day, “I’m Sorry for Wearing Nazi Swastika, Says Prince Harry.” He was attending a “colonial and native”-themed party. Prince William went as a lion, which I assume is his idea of a native.

A London Times article on the Iraqi police:
Most policemen conceal the nature of their work even from their neighbours. They hide their faces behind ski masks or head scarves, and when they carry Kalashnikovs and man roadblocks it is difficult to tell them from guerrillas.

Sometimes the guerrillas are in uniform and the police in civvies: you only know which is which when they wave you through without kidnapping you. Last week a Times translator was stopped and searched at a guerrilla checkpoint only 100 yards from the main police headquarters in Baghdad.
Whoops, an even better headline, from the Daily Telegraph: “Thatcher Escapes Jail.” Sadly, it’s not about Margaret Thatcher going over the wall (oh man, I’m gonna have the Great Escape theme in my head the rest of the day now), but her idiot son Mark taking a plea bargain in South Africa for his role in financing the “time-share” coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. He’s getting away with a fine.

Oh, wait, it’s just gonna be one of those days. Also from the Telegraph: “Village Celebrates its Past with £10,000 Statue of Dinosaur Droppings.”

The Russian Duma is working on a law to deny visas to people showing “disrespect” for Russia or harming its values, whatever those might be.

Bush, in an interview with the Moonie Washington Times, says, “I don’t see... how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Doing “what we see fit to maintain security”

The US military has shot more Iraqi children, fatally in the case of a 13-year old girl, and, as with those other “possibly innocent lives” three days ago, immediately started casting aspersions on the victims: spokesmodel Major Neal O’Brien said, “This is an absolute tragedy. We do not know at this time what the children were doing in the area.” They live there, you moron, what were the American soldiers doing in the area? Oh yeah, shooting at anything that moved.

Posters issued in Anbar province of Iraq, by the Secret Republican Army, which CBS describes as “previously unknown”--oh, they’re good--say that voters in Wasit--which is next to Whatchamacallit--will be shot by 32 snipers. The governor of the province, who I assume plans to vote absentee, says, “We do not care about such statements” and that the government will do “what we see fit to maintain security.” Very reassuring.

Speaking of lame elections, Britain is gearing up for its next one, with these posters, masterpieces of the propagandistic arts:

I assume I’m right

Bush has named Michael Chertoff to head Heimat Security. He says that after 9/11, “He understood immediately that the strategy in the war on terror is to prevent attacks before they occur.” Because preventing attacks after they occur is, you know, hard work. rub the bald guy’s head.

Bush gave an interview to the Wall St Journal, flanked by “senior aides,” because god knows he can’t be trusted on his own. He said, “I understand there are many who say, ‘Bush is wrong.’ I assume I’m right.” And you know what they say about people who assume...

Wherein I coin the phrase “one-sodomy rule”

A WaPo editorial notes that the Team Chimpy is planning to stick DC with the huge costs of security for the inaugural, a break with previous practice. DC will be allowed to use homeland security funds for this instead of for, say, homeland security, as clear an admission as you’d like that homeland security funding (I just used the phrase homeland security three times in a row without gagging, a sure sign of desensitization--what will we be accepting as normal in 2009?) is nothing but pork.

Speaking of abnormal, I just went to the supermarket, and why are all the oranges bigger than the grapefruit? When did that happen? I’m pretty sure this is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Speaking of...well no, I won’t go there.... The Supreme Court refused today to hear challenges to Florida’s ban on gay adoption (which only Florida has, by the way). The 1977 law says: “No person eligible to adopt under this statute may adopt if that person is a homosexual.” This raises questions similar to those I asked about Muslims last month, when a poll showed 27% of Americans thought they should be required to register, namely, who gets to define “homosexual.” This is a law--Stat. § 63.042(3)--so you’d think it would include a legal definition of “a homosexual,” but it doesn’t. Indeed, the Christian evangelical types like Anita Bryant who got this law passed are the ones who insist that homosexuality is a “lifestyle” rather than an innate sexual identity (I’ve seen a similar argument from the other end, so to speak, of the spectrum, by Gore Vidal, who insists that there are no homosexuals, just homosexual acts). If a would-be adoptive parent denies being homosexual, how do the state and courts determine otherwise, by what standard? Measure blood flow to their genitals when they’re exposed to pictures of Brad Pitt? Do they have to fuck someone of the opposite sex in open court--and none of that fancy sex like we hear they have up north either. What about “ex-gays”? What about bisexuals? Is it ok if you just experimented in college--Lesbians until Graduation (LUGs) they called it at my college--or got really drunk this one time (at least that’s what you tell everyone), or is there a one-sodomy rule?

This is what happens when the state intrudes into people’s personal lives.