Wednesday, June 29, 2005

We want scarier troops

The occupation is the problem, not the solution.” Yup.

Neither is it the solution in Haiti, where Kofi Annan wants American troops added to the UN operation already in that country protecting its thuggish coup regime. Annan evidently told Condi Rice that Haitians respect the US military, having had so many opportunities during their history to observe the Marines up close and personal. Says one UN official, anonymously, in a quote that simply cannot be improved upon, “We want scarier troops.”

Sharon is beginning to talk about the Gaza settlers the same way he talks about Palestinians. He says, for example, that “under no circumstances can we allow a lawless gang to try to take control of life in Israel.” Well, irony and self-knowledge were never Shamir’s strong suits. “We cannot let a small group of lawbreakers impose a reign of terror.” Yes, just imagine what a reign of terror in Gaza would be like... oh, wait...

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo, in trouble because of corruption scandals and having told the head of the election commission just before the 2004 elections that she wanted to win by a margin of one million votes, a conversation followed shortly by her winning re-election by a margin of one million votes, has sent her husband into exile (and away from arrest in case she gets impeached and can no longer protect him).

In his dissent in the Ten Commandments case he was on the losing side of, Scalia wrote that “nothing stands behind the court’s assertion that governmental affirmation of the society’s belief in God is unconstitutional except the court’s own say-so”. How does an abstract collective entity, society, have a “belief in God”? Such anthropomorphization is simplistic and intellectually lazy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

“Is the sacrifice worth it?” I watch Bush’s speech so you don’t have to

Bush needed to make a persuasive speech tonight, that is a speech calculated to win back the waverers, but he did not, offering rhetoric rather than argumentation. He simply does not know how to persuade. He needed to show some sign that he realized things were not going according to plan and that his policy would shift to take into account those realities, but he did not, suggesting instead that victory was inevitable. He didn’t define victory, because on the day when he finally does declare victory, Iraq will look much worse than it does today, but he suggested that as long as the US was determined to win, it would do so. He didn’t acknowledge the possibility that the US could remain determined to win but still lose through miscalculation, poor strategy, or because the task is simply too hard. Indeed, it’s hard to know if Bush privately understands that things are not going well or if he believes the things he says.

He quoted Osama bin Laden, saying that he had the same view of the situation in Iraq as Bush does. Hey, weren’t you going to catch that guy? Wasn’t he the one who could run but couldn’t hide? I’m just asking because it seems the height of chutzpah to link Iraq and 9/11 over and over, and then blandly quote the guy whose continued freedom is a sign of his failure to complete job #1 before moving on to Iraq.

He said several times that we need to stay in Iraq to “send a message.” If you want to send a message, use Western Union. When political leaders start thinking of military actions as ways to maintain national prestige, look strong, send a message, etc, rather than as a pragmatic business with defined objectives, you know you’re in trouble. Think LBJ. This is why he offered no plan and why, indeed, he has none. He doesn’t think it’s necessary.

It’s all abstract to him anyway. “Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed.” “They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras.”

I liked the suggestion that we are in Iraq to prevent it becoming what Afghanistan was, a haven for terrorists. Well, whose fault is that? Iraq wasn’t the destination for every jihadist in the Muslim world three years ago, now was it? So now the justification for the war in Iraq is to deal with conditions created by the war in Iraq.

At least there were no hoo-ah’s, which would really have made me vomit.

Is it reigning yet?

As GeeDubya will remind us in 5 hours, today marks one year since he wrote (or possibly traced, I’m still not convinced he can read and write) “let freedom reign!” on a piece of paper, which he then put under his pillow, in the hopes that the Freedom Fairy, the little-known cousin of the Tooth Fairy, would take away the smoldering wreckage of Iraq and replace it with a Ruritarian utopia.

In the real-world Iraq, the oldest member (87) of the Iraqi parliament died today, and it was not peacefully in his bed. There were miscellaneous suicide bombings today; one American soldier died but the chief of traffic police in Kirkuk escaped (you have to wonder about their strategic planning). Today some unemployed Iraqis who had survived the often lethal process of standing in line to apply to join the police in Samawa held a demonstration because they were not then hired, and were fired on by those who had been hired. Reuters reports: “Foreign troops, apparently from British or Australian units which operate in the area of southern Iraq, observed the violence from the roof of a local authority building.”

Media Matters notes that Fox News’s website (falsely) portrayed yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions thus: “Court Rules Against Ten Commandments.” Dude, I know a loophole when I see it, and I am totally gonna go and worship a graven image.

Monday, June 27, 2005

A critical moment in a time of testing

The Supreme Court issues two contradictory rulings on the display of the Ten Commandments in (or around) public buildings. So maybe just Five Commandments then. Maybe we could vote on which ones we like best. Actually, I’d be kind of interested in seeing the results of that vote.

Tomorrow Shrub will address the nation on the subject of Iraq. Scotty McClellan says, “he will make the point that this is a critical moment in a time of testing.” Didn’t Bush always pay someone to take his tests for him?

Helen Thomas writes, “As soon as the devastating abuse of the prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib came to light, Bush should have ordered a ban on torture in all prisons under U.S. military control.” It hadn’t occurred to me before, but I think every time Bush has condemned abuse of prisoners, it’s always been past acts of abuse and torture. Forget an official ban, he hasn’t ever made a public statement telling soldiers and guards that he expects them to refrain from such acts in the future, on pain of severe punishment.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Meetings go on frequently with people

Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Saying Stupid Things about Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, Etc., whom I last mentioned earlier this month when he blamed Chavez for the uprising in Bolivia, offering no proof at all, has accused Jean-Bertrand Aristide, deposed president of Haiti, of orchestrating violence there, offering his usual standard of iron-clad evidence: “As a longtime observer of Haiti and a longtime consumer of information about Haiti, it is abundantly clear to me . . . that Aristide and his camp are singularly responsible for most of the violence and for the concerted nature of the violence.”

(No one picked up the Miami Herald story. Hat tip to You Will Anyway.)

The LA Times reports that rather than demolishing Abu Ghraib, which Bush once said would be “a fitting symbol of Iraq’s new beginning,” we are now doing the opposite: expanding it, and building a new prison. It remains a fitting symbol, but of complete failure.

As is Rumsfeld’s admission on Fox and Meet the Press that the US has been negotiating with Sunni insurgents, although not, he says, with “the people that are out chopping people’s heads off.” Well sure, ‘cause they’re out. Maybe when they get back. Rummy added, “I would not make a big deal out of it. Meetings go on frequently with people.” No kidding.

Rummy said the war might take 12 years to win. 12 years from when? Just so I can mark it on my calendar.

But he also says the insurgents “don’t have any vision” — Rumsfeld criticizing someone for lacking vision is like Rumsfeld criticizing someone for being squat and squinty — “There’s no Ho Chi Minh, there’s no Mao, there’s no nationalistic -- this is led by Zarqawi. He’s a Jordanian and he’s doing it not against a dictatorial government, he’s doing it against an elected Iraqi government.” Funny, I thought he was “doing it” against an American occupation.

Indeed, Rumsfeld sounds at several points like the Americans are mere spectators to events in Iraq now, only mildly interested because we bet only a couple of bucks. Those contacts, which were reported as being between American officials and Sunnis, he portrayed as contacts between Sunnis and the Iraqi regime, which can do what it wants because it’s all sovereign and everything; we were only “facilitating.” And we’re not even going to defeat the insurgents: “We’re going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency.” Whatever the fuck that means.

Elsewhere in the interview, Rumsfeld referred to “Michael Moore, or whatever his name is”.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

We did not make a revolution to have a democracy

Has anybody been having trouble posting comments, or is it just me?

“The Gitmo Cookbook.” Sigh. It’s being put out by conservatives to prove how coddled the detainees are. Sigh.

Speaking of haute cuisine, a Japanese fast food chain is now offering whale burgers. See, while the Japanese always claim that eating whale meat is traditional, they actually have to work pretty hard to find takers for the relatively small amount they take in their “scientific” culls, which they’re about to double (the scientific study these culls are always part of, by the way, is meant to prove that whales are not in fact endangered). So, with all the talk about anti-whaling activists being cultural imperialists, the Lucky Pierrot chain will be serving whale meat in the traditional Japanese manner: on a bun with lettuce and mayo.

The real victims in Guantanamo are of course the guards. According to an article on the Pentagon website, “servicemembers serving here say they feel the important contribution they’re making to the [war on terror] sometimes gets overlooked.” Poor babies; I mean, they’re living in the tropics, they’re well fed, what more could they want? See if you can spot the irony in this paragraph:
“We’re providing information that’s keeping Americans safe, and that's why I’m here,” said an interrogator at the facility, who asked not to have her name revealed for security reasons.
Baghdad Airport has closed, because the Iraqi government failed to pay the British firm providing security. The BBC notes “the Iraqi transport ministry is frequently accused of corruption.”

Something I’d missed: when Condi Rice was in Saudi Arabia, she was asked to condemn the ban on women driving and refused. It’s “just a line I’ve not wanted to cross,” she said. “places are not going to look like the United States in terms of social mores... I think it is important for us to recognize some boundaries.” (Oddly enough, these remarks are missing from the State Dept web site.)

No such boundaries are recognized for criticism of Iran, of course, although the elections that the US is so roundly condemning are no less democratic than those planned for Egypt. State says Iran is “out of step... with the currents of freedom and liberty that have been so apparent in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon”. Moving beyond the mixed metaphor, you have to wonder about this continued use of geographic peer-pressure, as if the best argument for freedom and liberty is “all your friends are doing it.” Iran is evidently Winona Ryder, and Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon are the Heathers. Not, of course, that the victory of know-nothing Teheran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (slogan: “We did not make a revolution to have a democracy”), in an election in which Rafsanjani was the liberal, is the most positive sign in the world.

Exercising new freedoms

Bush’s radio address today repeated the line I quoted in my last post about who the enemy are in Iraq. It’s hard to know how much is just speechifyin’ and how much is complete lack of interest in how other people view the world, but how can he fight an enemy he doesn’t comprehend? In Vietnam, the Americans were confident they were winning because they didn’t understand how the guerillas saw that conflict. Bush says, “The terrorists know that Iraq is a central front in the war on terror, because they know that a stable and democratic Iraq will deal a severe blow to their ideology of oppression and fear.” Does he think the insurgents view it as a “war on terror” or think in terms of “central fronts” in such a war? that they sit around a table like Bond villains, cackling maniacally and talking about how to spread their “ideology of oppression and fear”? Does he understand, in fact, that the enemy don’t consider themselves to be stock villains in his little morality play?

Bush: “Last year, they tried to delay the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq -- and failed.” Really, they tried to delay a content-free photo op?

Bush: “the free world will continue to stand behind the Iraqi people.” Now, using them as human shields just isn’t very nice, George.

“Each day, Iraqis are exercising new freedoms that they were denied for decades. Schools, hospitals, roads, and post offices are being built to serve the needs of all Iraqis.” Standing on line at the post office is exercising new freedom?

(Update: Ooo, maybe they have a choice between the thin Elvis stamp and the fat Elvis stamp.)

A beacon of freedom

The more revelations spill out about torture in Guantanamo (including the participation of military doctors and psychologists in interrogations), the more vehemently positive of the Bushies’ portrayals of conditions there. Last week, they were talking up the cuisine there. This week, it’s Club Med, Gitmo. Dick Cheney says, “They’re living in the tropics... They’re well fed. They’ve got everything they could possibly want,” adding that they are terrorists and bomb-makers who would “go back to trying to kill Americans”. So they don’t have everything they could want, now do they?

So while Robert Mugabe loses his last remaining marble and bulldozes the houses of 1½ million Zimbabweans in the sensitively named “Operation Drive Out Rubbish,” designed to force his perceived enemies out of the cities into the countryside, where they are less of a threat, the British government has been trying to expel Zim dissidents back home.

Today, Bush met Sorta Prime Minister Jaafari. Here’s an interesting sentence: “The enemy includes former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the enemy includes criminal elements, and the enemy includes foreign terrorists.” It’s interesting because it fails to acknowledge that the invasion and occupation of Iraq might itself have generated any sort of Iraqi resistance. The criminals and foreign terrorists are, he implies, people who were already criminals and terrorists, who simply reacted opportunistically to exploit the chaotic situation in Iraq, while the Baathists can be depicted as the stubborn forces of a discredited past. You’d think no new enemies were being created every single day in response to American actions, that the forces of Islamism and nationalism hadn’t been unleashed. Bush:
Prime Minister Jaafari is a bold man. I’ve enjoyed my discussions with the Prime Minister. He is a frank, open fellow who is willing to tell me what’s on his mind. And what is on his mind is peace and security for the people of Iraq, and what is on his mind is a democratic future that is hopeful.
Wow, that is bold. You mean he went right up to Bush and expressed a desire for peace and security and a hopeful democratic future, just like that, to his face? Man, he’s just fearless. Bush:
I want to thank you for helping Iraq become a beacon of freedom.
Don’t know about the freedom part, but...
beacon n 1: a fire (usually on a hill or tower) that can be seen from a distance [WordNet 2.0]

Friday, June 24, 2005

Putting our troops in greater danger

Wonkette makes the point that while Rove said Durbin’s dastardly expressions of outrage about Gitmo torture were “putting our troops in greater danger” because they were broadcast on Al Jazeera, the RNC has released an ad (text and ad here) on the internet featuring those very words. And a clip from Jon Stewart. Is it copyright infringement or did Comedy Central allow its use by the Repugs? Someone should make a phone call, check that out (hint hint).

The idea that what's happening over there is a quagmire is so fundamentally inconsistent with the facts

The Republican National Committee is inviting e-signatures to a birthday card for George Bush. You can even add your own special message.

And this week’s award for crappiest attempt to find a silver lining goes to the Independent for this headline: “Jerusalem Gay Pride March Banned as Religions Show Rare Unity.”

Following today’s Supreme Court ruling that local governments can seize property for the purposes of economic development and purely private profit, I’m sure we will see many Wal-Marts condemned and the land turned over to mom & pop stores.

Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that Iraq was not, in fact, a quagmire. Secretly he breathed a sigh of relief that no one had asked if it was quicksand.

Rummy added, “Those who say we are losing this war are wrong. We are not.” Well sure, didn’t they declare “mission accomplished” more than two years ago and that “major hostilities” were over? So there’s patently no war for us to be losing.

Actually, the part of those hearings that should have gotten the headlines, but didn’t, is Gen. Abizaid’s admission that the insurgency is no weaker than it was six months ago.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Not using food as a diplomatic weapon

The US will deliver food aid to North Korea, denying vehemently that they would ever use such aid to pressure NK into rejoining talks on its nuclear program. Scotty McClellan says Bush doesn’t “believe food should be used as a diplomatic weapon.” Isn’t that big of him? Our planes will therefore commence dropping 50-ton blocks of Rice Krispy treats on Pyongyang.

The problem with the carrot & stick approach to starving North Korea is that while they appreciate a good carrot as much as the next guy, they’re pretty happy to eat the stick too.

“FOOD — but not as a diplomatic weapon — FIGHT!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The C student goes on a field trip

Entertainment is again to be found in the London Review of Books personals section:
Nihilist seeks nothing.

I’ll see you at the LRB singles night. I’ll be the one breathing heavily and stroking my thighs by the ‘art’ books. Asthmatic, varicosed F (93) seeks M to 30 with enough puff in him to push me uphill to the post-office. This is not a euphemism. Box no. 12/08

F 36, would like to meet LRB-reading M to 40 who plays darts professionally. Box no. 12/10

Male LRB readers. Drawing little faces on your thumbs, getting them to order meals, then shouting at them for not being able to pay is no way to win a woman. You know who you are. Men to 40 with working credit cards, reply to once bitten, twice bitten, three strikes and you’re all out F, 35. Box no. 12/12

The only item you’ll find in my fridge is soup. Forty litres of the stuff. Beat that. M. 46. Box no. 12/13

M, 34, would like to meet F to 30 able to scientifically prove the validity of the ten-second rule concerning dropped food. Box no. 12/14
[More of my LRB favorites here.]

Bush visited a nuclear nukyula power plant today, pushing for more nuke plans to be built. He dragged along his secretary of energy, Samuel Bodman, and made fun of the fact that Bodman has a doctorate but works for a C student. Then he said that “advances in sciences and engineering and plant design” — he didn’t say if those advances were made by PhD’s or C students — have made nuclear plants far safer” than in the 1970s, utilizing, as they do, nerf plutonium, so there was nothing to fear (although he did still wear a helmet to protect himself from any falling atoms).

They told me to keep my hands in my pockets when I’m in the control room, but I don’t gotta, I’m the preznit, see?

Fine words in support of science and technology, but when the Secret Service agent’s walky-talky went off, Bush thought it was the voice of God speaking to him. This happens at least twice a day.

Where are the girls?

Bill Frist gives a speech about AIDS. He’s against it. “Without a doubt, AIDS is the greatest moral, social and humanitarian challenge we face.” Hey Bill, does HIV spread through crocodile tears?

WaPo headline: “Mideast Summit Ends in Acrimony.” Well color me shocked. It gets even more amazing: “Israeli officials said Sharon spoke angrily at times during the talks.” And he’s usually so easy-going, placid, one might even say devil-may-care. “Just minutes before the meeting, the Israeli air force fired a missile into the northern Gaza Strip”. Sort of like that song: If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake and fired a missile into the northern Gaza Strip.

Alberto Gonzales wants new minimum sentencing requirements, in which judges retained discretion — but only to increase sentences. He said, “We risk a return to the pre-guidelines era, when defendants were encouraged to play the odds in our criminal justice system, betting that the luck of the draw . . . might result in a lighter sentence.” So the purpose of sentencing guidelines is to intimidate people into guilty pleas?

WaPo sub-headline: “U.S. Forces Surprised By Taliban’s Resilience In Remote Afghanistan.” Yes, Americans, in every freaking war, are always surprised when the other side actually fight back. The article is about an infantry battalion arriving in a small remote Afghan town, making nice with the natives, or rather ordering the natives to line up while the Americans gave a little performance of niceness for their edification. That battalion doctor handed out painkillers, the commander gave stuffed animals and pencils to the children
“Where are the girls?” Stammer asked, as a throng of little boys pressed around him. “I want to make sure the girls get these, too.”
Yeah, a well-armed American comes to a village and wants to know where the girls are; I’m sure that went over real well. An elder told them, “You guys are very nice. But you only come around once in a while. The Taliban will come here as soon as you are gone.” As Daniel Ellsberg says, it’s not Vietnam: it’s a dry heat.

Dick Durbin abjectly apologizes for being outraged about the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, or something. “More than most people, a senator lives by his words,” he said; then he ate his, and opened wide to show that they were all gone. Let the healing begin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Special good news edition: forces of evil defeated by cultural imperialists, ketchup and a few lions

The cultural imperialists defeat Japanese attempts to get the International Whaling Commission to reverse the ban on commercial whaling.

The class wars continue in England, and the working class takes a scalp. The British newspapers have been fascinated for days by a story about a lawyer who tried to get a secretary who had spilled ketchup on him to pay for his dry-cleaning. His email and her reply, “I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother’s sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues that your £4. ...” have been making the email rounds. Today the lawyer resigned.

In Ethiopia three lions, going all Nicholas Kristof, drive off the kidnappers of a 12-year old girl who had been beating her in an attempt to coerce her into marriage. The lions stood guard until the police arrived. I’ve read several versions of this story, and none give the sex of the lions. They do say that 70% or more of Ethiopian marriages begin with an abduction.

The fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty

5 American soldiers who until recently guarded Saddam Hussein have given an interview with GQ (which is pretty funny considering what Saddam was wearing the last time we saw his picture). Saddam evidently thinks Reagan was a good president. Why does he hate America? Also, he can eat a family-sized bag of Doritos in a Clintonesque ten minutes.

Condi Rice tells the Egyptian government, “the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty.” So when exactly did the fear of free choices justify the denial of liberty?

(Update: and Billmon finds this in the Wall St Journal: “Rice, in Egypt, said that the U.S. is no longer willing to tolerate repressive regimes to bolster regional stability. She flew next to Saudi Arabia.”)

BUT IS IT ART?: a bar of soap, supposedly manufactured from fat liposuctioned from Silvio Berlusconi, has been sold to an art collector for $18,000.

In the run-up to the G8 summit, George Monbiot takes on Bono and Geldof.
Take their response to the debt-relief package for the world’s poorest countries that the G7 finance ministers announced 10 days ago. Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers’ statement could see that the conditions it contains - enforced liberalisation and privatisation - are as onerous as the debts it relieves. But Bob Geldof praised it as "a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns around the world" ... The problem is that in doing so they turn the political campaign developed by the global justice movement into a philanthropic one. They urge the G8 leaders to do more to help the poor. But they say nothing about ceasing to do harm. ... Listen to these men - Bush, Blair and their two bards - and you could forget that the rich nations had played any role in Africa’s accumulation of debt, or accumulation of weapons, or loss of resources, or collapse in public services, or concentration of wealth and power by unaccountable leaders. Listen to them and you would imagine that the G8 was conceived as a project to help the world’s poor.

Monday, June 20, 2005

And I obviously, any time there’s a death, I grieve

With the polls showing a marked decline in American support for the war in Iraq, the Bushies fanned out to the talk shows to utter complete and utter gibberish. Here’s Condi Rice on Fox: “it is a generational commitment to Iraq. But it is not a generational commitment in military terms; it is a commitment of our support to them, our political support and an understanding that democracy takes time.” As Tim Dunlop points out, “This is typical of the could-mean-anything drivel that is characteristic of modern politics”; it’s not clear what “it” refers to, or even whether generational means “lasting one generation” or “lasting across the generations.” Tim wonders how many military bases this commitment would require; I’d ask what is meant by “political support.” The bit about understanding that democracy takes time is all too clear.

Bush, avoiding answering a reporter who asked whether he agreed with Cheney that the Iraqi resistance is in its last throes, said today about the American soldiers there, “and I obviously, any time there’s a death, I grieve.” So that’s what, one thousand, seven hundred and twenty-three times he’s grieved? Does he go through all five stages of grieving each time? Really, it can’t be that long a period of mourning, probably about the same length of time as a fart.

Speaking of mournful farts, Newt Gingrich, who once appointed a House historian who supported equal time for the views of Nazis in educational programs about the Holocaust, has written a letter to members of the Senate calling Dick Durbin “despicable” and calling for a vote of censure “on record,” by the same Senate that failed to have a voice vote on the apology for lynching last week, against Durbin for daring to mention Guantanamo in the same breath as gulags and concentration camps. Gingrich falsely claims that he “equates the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo with the millions of innocent men, women, and children exterminated by the order of evil dictators.” Gingrich — Newton Leroy Gingrich, mind you — says that Durbin impairs the dignity of the Senate — the Senate, mind you.

Former Speaker Gingrich

If it were true, Porter Goss would be the only member of the Bush administration with an “excellent idea”

Joseph Biden will run for president, provided he thinks he has “a clear shot at winning the nomination by this November or December,” if it’s “a real possibility.” I feel so inspired by that rousing clarion cry, don’t you?

CIA head Porter Goss says the failure to capture Osama bin Laden is from “our sense of international obligation, fair play,” and certainly not from massive incompetence. Goss told Time he has an “excellent idea” where bin Laden is, but can’t just walk up to him on the street, because they haven’t been formally introduced.

So after decades of Israel destroying economic infrastructure in Gaza, seizing land and water, imposing curfews and travel bans that kept Gazans from their jobs, and just generally keeping them impoverished and miserable, the houses in the Jewish settlements will be destroyed because they’re too up-scale for Gazan Palestinians, who’d really be happier living in a nice shanty town, much better use of the space really. Given that Gaza has just about the highest population density in the world, there may be some validity to that logic, but what an insulting logic it is. And if that weren’t insulting enough, the Israelis, not wanting to hang around and get shot at while all the rubble is being cleared, will leave that work for the Palestinians who won’t be able to live in the nice homes. (Eli at Left I, whose post I hadn’t seen — speed it up, Bloglines! — makes these points and more)

Condi Rice, who had some hand in brokering this arrangement, did not visit Gaza before going on to Egypt, where she tried to part the Red Sea.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Alert to potatoes

Japan claims that attempts to ban whaling are “cultural imperialism.” You know, I can live with that.

Japan has been bribing poor nations, some of them actually land-locked, to join the International Whaling Commission and vote with them, so they may well win this year’s vote.

The British Potato Council objects to the term “couch potato.” It is planning demonstrations outside the Oxford University Press in an attempt to remove the term from the OED and replace it with “couch slouch.” Sadly, I could find no mention of this on the council’s website, which features a constantly changing picture of the many uses to which one put a potato, not even on its press releases page, which chronicled its releases to a breathless world of such news as “Schools Celebrate Bumper New Potato Crop” and “National Chip Week kept consumers alert to potatoes.”

(Update: the Virtual Stoa has a picture of the protest)

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Favorite NYT correction, from Saturday’s paper:
Because of a telephone transmission error, a front-page article yesterday about Walt Disney’s plans to serve shark’s fin soup at its theme park in Hong Kong misstated the species of another Asian culinary delicacy, which had been seized by the authorities. It was pangolins, a type of anteater, not penguins.
Favorite headline, from the Sindy: “US Preacher Suspended Over Lesbian Wedding.” Probably by wires, like Mary Martin in Peter Pan, swooping back and forth.

Defensive democracy

In Spain, conservatives, Catholics, and conservative Catholics have all taken to the streets to protest the impending legalization of gay marriage, chanting, “What do we expect? The Spanish Inquisition! When do we expect it? Now!”

Just this past week, Condi Rice and other Bushies were criticizing the Iranian electoral process because so many candidates were not allowed to run. Now Rice is in Israel, talking with Israeli officials about demanding that Hamas candidates not be allowed to stand for election to the Palestinian Legislative Council. The Israeli justice minister says such a ban would be “defensive democracy.”

These articles were listed consecutively in the Sunday Times (London)’s world news page:
Bush Wounded by Anger over War

DiCaprio Wounded in Bottle Attack at Party
Lot of wounding going on. Who do you feel less sorry for?

At a DOD briefing Thursday (Left I points out), Gen. James Conway, asked what the measure of success is in Iraq and when American troops can get the hell out, said, “You know, the actual mission, I suppose, is classified, but I can paraphrase it to say that a safe and secure Iraq that we are able to turn back over to the Iraqis.” Classified? Classified?!?! Asked how many attacks a day would the present number have to be reduced to in order for Iraq to be accounted “safe and secure,” Conway said, “I think we’ll know it when we see it.” That’s what Potter Stewart said about pornography.

All innocent human life is precious

The Taliban have captured the district chief and district police chief for Miana Shien, as well as other officials. Fortunately, the Taliban promise a fair trial. “If they are found guilty they’ll be executed. If not they will be released.” So that should turn out ok then. Maybe they could get Michael Jackson’s lawyer.

The Pentagon reports that in its latest offensive in Iraq, Operation Spear, in which, it turns out, no actual spears were used, “Some 50 rebels have been killed and another 100 captured.” Now, Left I may be sceptical, but I salute the military for its commitment to round numbers in an otherwise messy, confusing war. Three ten cheers for them!

Jeb Bush, who just ordered an investigation, 15 years late, of whether Terri Schiavo’s husband called 911 a few minutes late, got out his crayons and wrote a letter to the NYT in which he used the word “life” as many times as he could, including in this sentence: “All innocent human life is precious, and government has a duty to protect the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable.” But enough about your relatives, Jeb. For someone who starts off accusing the Times of “grotesque and chilling disrespect for the sanctity of life” (there’s that word again), you’ll notice the qualifier: “innocent” human life is precious, the rest we put in the electric chair. The Miami Herald (registration/BugMeNot) has this cringe-inducing headline: “We’d Do it All Again, Republicans Say.” Scotty McClellan says that Shrub would have played his part exactly the same way: “Our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and friends. The president was deeply saddened by this case.” Aw, he made his sad-monkey face?

Public relations is the most important thing in the world

In act that defines the term “adding insult to injury,” Halliburton is given a $30m contract to build a permanent prison at Guantanamo Bay. (Update: the LA Times calls it an “improved prison.” I doubt the detainees will see a prison intended to hold them permanently as an improvement.) It may just be an elaborate scheme to see how many elements of scandal you can add together, Lincoln-log style (Gulags of our time + Tea Pot Dome + ...), without attracting significant media attention because it lacks a missing white woman.

To celebrate the belated addition of comments to this blog, I invite you to post mottoes for Haliburton to use in promoting this fine venture. For example, “Building the Gulags of Tomorrow... Today!”

Krugman’s column on Star-Wars-Action-Figure-Gate Coingate contains a detail that jumped out, because it shows how thoroughly the system can be gamed if you drop enough coin (sorry) in the right slots: “[Tom] Noe’s contributions ranged so widely that five of the state’s seven Supreme Court justices had to recuse themselves from cases associated with the scandal.”

Pakistan’s Gen. Musharaf admits, hell, practically brags, that it was he who imposed the travel ban on Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was ordered by a village council to be raped because of something her brother did. Musharaf said she was going to “bad-mouth Pakistan” in the US. He did not of course attribute agency to Mai, but blamed Western NGOs, which he said are “as bad as the Islamic extremists.” “Public relations is the most important thing in the world,” he added.

And accessorizing. That’s pretty important too.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A single-day event

Condi Rice, on Egyptian elections, June 2005: “Democracy isn’t a single-day event.”

George Bush, on American elections, January 2005: “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.”

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The basic requirements of democracy

The Bushies have been dissing the Iranian electoral process, which Condi calls “illegitimate” and Shrub says “ignores the basic requirements of democracy.” That’s right: George Bush expressed concern for the basic requirements of democracy. With a straight (but chimp-like) face. I assume he means Fox News and the Swift Boat Veterans.

Which is not to say that there isn’t cause for grave concerns, just that those concerns would be better expressed by someone else, indeed by anyone else. Still, if they’re going to intervene ham-handedly in another country’s elections the day before they take place, they should at least make suggestions for the appropriate response, and they don’t. Should Iranians boycott the process or, as they told Afghans and Iraqis to do in elections that were no less flawed, should they show the strength of the universal desire for freedom and blah blah blah by standing in line to vote (segregated by gender, of course), and hoping for the best?

(Update: Elizabeth “No, that’s his other daughter” Cheney, the “democracy tsar shah” tells VOA’s Persian tv service that the US “believes in supporting the bravery of the people of Iran.” Again, how are the Iranian people supposed to take that?)

The US used napalm in Iraq. This isn’t really news. Two years ago, for example, I linked to this story, which said the same thing. But no one ever follows up, and they won’t this time either.

The AP reports that two college students from California were arrested in Paris, posing nude for pictures near the Arc de Triomphe. The sentence I like: “A bet was said to have been involved.”

Los valores de fe y familia

Today Bush attended the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast (whether it’s the Hispanics, the prayer or the breakfast that is “national” is unclear). He informed them “America is founded on los valores de fe y familia.” If I remember my high school Spanish and those Ricardo Montalban commercials correctly, valores is a car with rich Corinthian leather, familia probably means family, and fe means feh. He thanked the Congresscritters in attendance, including Nancy Pelosi, for “setting aside politics to come and honor the Almighty through prayer.” ‘Cuz Bush is all about separating politics from religion. He talked about the “universal call” to love your neighbor, and how “we see the love of neighbor in tens of thousands of Hispanics who serve America and the cause of freedom.” Yes, because the motto of the Marines is “We’re looking for a few good neighbors to love like we’d like to be loved ourselves.”

Oh yeah, every minute you’re in the fucking White House.

Stay away from the beans, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The condemned ate a hearty breakfast, and he didn’t say thank you either

Todd the Human Cannonball, was fired sacked by the British traveling circus he performed in because his employers wanted to send him to Brazil for safety training — and he’s afraid to fly.

Lately the defenders of Guantanamo, whose names will someday be remembered with the distaste now felt for the senators who filibustered federal anti-lynching legislation (which you’ll notice is always called that rather than “federal lynching legislation” to avoid people thinking that what was proposed was to legalize lynching, or perhaps to make it mandatory), have been taking a gastronomic turn, lauding the menu at the gulag of our times as proof of American munificence. Lemon fish, they say. With two types of vegetables, they say. Chicken three times a week, they say. Really, what more could these people want, for the rest of their lives? We give and we give and we give and we give, and it’s just never enough for them. I mean two fucking types of vegetable. And do they thank us for it? Not a bit of it. The ingratitude.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A lot of the bad things that could have happened have not happened

Trust George Bush to meet a defector from a dictatorship, which is normally the sort of behaviour I encourage in a president, and turn it into something ignoble and childish: “If Kim Jong Il knew I met you,” he asked Kang Chol Hwan, “don’t you think he’d hate this?”

Secretary of War Rumsfeld admits that Iraq is “statistically” no safer now than two years ago. Which is odd because the Pentagon always claims not to have those statistics.

However, he avers, “A lot of the bad things that could have happened have not happened.” Like what? Well, plague of locusts, slaying of the first-born, Martian invasion, rain of lightning bolts from an angry Thor, Iraqis throwing flowers at the American soldiers - but they’re actually triffids, a macarena revival, Godzilla stomping Fallujah flat — well, ok, that would have had about the same results.

And then there’s this variant on a favorite old Rummyism:
There are things we know we know, and that’s helpful to know you know something. There are things we know we don't know. And that's really important to know, and not think you know them, when you don’t. But the tricky ones are the ones - the unknown unknowns - the things we don’t know we don’t know. They’re the ones that can get you in a bucket of trouble.
I love how the BBC headlines that quote “Philosophy.”

Bionic Octopus has an excellent analysis of Nicholas Kristof, that explains in exquisite detail what is deeply wrong with his pith-helmeted forays into Third World dens of iniquity. Some people date the start of modern journalism to the attempt by British journo W. T. Stead in 1885 to prove that in London one could buy a virgin for £5. More recently, NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof traveled to Cambodia and bought some girls out of sexual slavery (it’s unclear whether he put them on expenses or wrote them off his taxes, but one suspects the paperwork involved was more interesting than his actual columns), and then, as BionOc puts it, “dumping her right back in the exact conditions that sent her to the brothel in the first place,” and then blaming her for moral inadequacies, for being afraid of freedom, if things don’t work out. This not only “works to obscure the real root causes and material conditions that engender prostitution” (BionOc’s words), but also, I would add, creates the illusion that complex social problems can be solved in a single moment of time, rather than by sustained attention and effort over an extended period of time. That may be just about the attention span of Westerners for Third World social problems, but it won’t accomplish much on the ground. Kristof’s assumption that he can turn these girls’ lives around by a single intervention is very much of a piece with the Bushies’ assumption that Iraq would, once that statue was torn down, be instantaneously transformed into a peaceful, harmonious, democratic, America-loving nation.

Some of you will be wondering: yes you could buy a 13-year old virginal girl (Stead had her checked out) for £5.

Democracy, freedom, demonstration, human rights, Taiwan independence....

Dick Cheney: “My own personal view of it is that those who are most urgently advocating that we shut down Guantanamo probably don’t agree with our policies anyway.” Oh, he so totally has my number.

So let me make sure I understand this: the only opinions that matter come from people who agree with you. Anyone else’s views may simply be dismissed. Dialogue and discussion are for wimps.

I know the Bushies think that way, but are they supposed to say it out loud like that?

Taking that logic one step further, Microsoft, which is “just following local laws,” is censoring blogs in China that use words like democracy, freedom, demonstration, human rights, Taiwan independence, and Netscape. Microsoft says it “is a multi-national business and as such needs to manage the reality of operating in countries around the world.” Amoral capitalist logic at its finest.

Sicilian authorities suspended a man’s driver’s license when they found out he was gay. So if you’ve ever been in Italy and wondered if they have any standards at all for driver’s licenses, now you know.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Nambia Pambia

The Senate is about to apologize for its predecessors having failed to make lynching a federal crime. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say this today, but somewhere between lynching black men for looking the wrong way at white women, and Michael Jackson being acquitted, there must be a happy medium.

The Senate vote not be a roll call vote, because 12 senators still consider lynching too controversial, or possibly they support the practice of lynching, we’ll never know.

Today Iraq’s Special Tribunal released the first new footage of Saddam Hussein in over a year. It won’t say when it was taken, the audio was blocked (and not a single media outlet seems to have thought to find an Arabic-speaking lip-reader), and while he seemed to be calmly responding to questions, the tribunal also had control over editing. This is not the sort of thing an unbiased court does, and the court is itself being pressured to get the show trial on the road by an Iraqi regime anxious for seedy speedy justice.

The Italian referendum on in-vitro fertilization, stem-cell research and other such issues is a clear demonstration of why setting a quorum of voters (half of eligible voters had to cast ballots for the results to be valid) is a bad idea. Citizens shouldn’t have to check opinion polls to guess whether voting no or abstaining from voting is the best tactic. Indeed, ideally, voting is never tactical. When the Catholic Church ordered the faithful not to vote in this referendum, saying “Life Cannot Be Put to a Vote - Don’t Vote,” it effectively eliminated the secret ballot, allowing reprisals against anyone seen entering a polling station.

Bush met today with the presidents of 5 African countries he can’t locate on a map, including one country he called “Nambia,” which can’t be located on any map.

Bush could swear that the president of Niger was whispering “yellow cake” over and over.

Ungrateful and grumpy

I’ve now read Time magazine’s extracts from the interrogation log. Some of it’s intriguing and unexplained: “SGT A runs ‘love of brothers in Cuba’ approach.” But mostly it’s just creepy.

0320: The detainee refused to answer whether he wanted water. SGT R explained with emphasis that not answering disrespects SGT A and embarrasses him.
With emphasis? And what’s with the passive-aggressive crap? He’s brought in with a hood over his head, bolted to the floor, and told that he’s embarrassing them? It gets stupider:
13 December 2002
1115: Interrogators began telling detainee how ungrateful and grumpy he was. In order to escalate the detainee’s emotions, a mask was made from an MRE box with a smily face on it and placed on the detainee’s head for a few moments. A latex glove was inflated and labeled the "sissy slap" glove. The glove was touched to the detainee’s face periodically after explaining the terminology to him. The mask was placed back on the detainee’s head. While wearing the mask, the team began dance instruction with the detainee. The detainee became agitated and began shouting.
It’s like being interrogated by evil 6-year olds.

Let me quote the Pentagon rejoinder again: “Kahtani’s interrogation during this period was guided by a very detailed plan and conducted by trained professionals”. Somewhere there’s a military manual which takes seven pages describing how to make a smiley-face mask out of an MRE box.

And did Halliburton provide this contraption?

Sunday, June 12, 2005


The Palestinian government revives, and implements, the death penalty. Terrific.

In the last Iranian elections, the young (and the voting age in Iran is 15) turned out to vote for change, and didn’t get it. So this time candidates need to offer them something else:
Rafsanjani has reinvented himself, attracting the high-society set of north Tehran with beautiful girls on rollerblades handing out posters wearing short tight Islamic gear
The Times failed to include a picture, but here’s one from AFP:

Cheney says that Guantanamo won’t be closed: “The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people.” And that’s just the guards (rimshot). More Gitmo leaks today, in Time magazine (link, but only for subscribers, so go here instead). Mohammed al-Qahtani, a suspected Al Qaida guy, one of the many people tied for 20th hijacker, was tortured with Christina Aguilera music, “sissy slaps,” and being ordered to “bark to elevate his social status up to that of a dog.” So it’s not the gulag of our times, it’s the dog obedience school of our times. But as Cheney said, the people that are at Guantanamo have been very bad! Bad! Bad boy!

The Pentagon has issued a response to the Time article, which you should read. It says basically: 1) yeah, we tortured him, but it worked, 2) hey, remember how afraid you were back then, remember anthrax and the shoe bomber, huh, huh? 3) This was all done according to a detailed interrogation plan. I’m unsure in what way that is supposed to be reassuring. It adds, “The Department of Defense remains committed to the unequivocal standard of humane treatment for all detainees.” Of course by humane, what it’s referring to is the Humane Society.

When I’m ready: more on the language of reproductive rights

On the heels of George Lakoff’s wrong-headed article on the language of abortion rights, which I discussed here nine days ago, has come a similar piece by William Saletan in Slate, advocating the linkage of reproductive rights to something he vaguely refers to as “responsibility.” I’ve been corresponding with Bionic Octopus (who was good enough to praise my previous post in her blog) about Saletan’s article, and she has now posted an excellent dissection of it, including excerpts from my side of our correspondence (i.e., material I haven’t posted here). Read it now, then hit the back key for some final stray thoughts from me.

Hello again. Good, isn’t she? BionOc quotes an earlier Saletan article which recommended that the message should be that “The abortion is not the end of the story. Kids and family are the story, ‘when I’m ready.’” She responds: “If the supposed left has ever produced a more crystalline formulation of the idea that a woman's body is ultimately, teleologically a reproductive vessel, I have yet to see it.” Right: Saletan does not consider a rejection of the (perceived) duty to reproduce an acceptable option. The “when I’m ready” approach infantilizes women, by suggesting not that they’re mature enough to be trusted with the choice of abortion, but that they’re too immature to be trusted with a child. He empowers women by disempowering them (and probably expects to be thanked for it). And it relegates abortion to a stage of life women are expected to grow out of. However it is society which has, hopefully, grown out of its paternalistic phase, and people like Mr. Saletan must outgrow their desire to circumscribe the rights of others.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

US military plans are virtually silent on this point

Another Downing Street memo surfaces. Transcript of the document. Favorite sentence: “US views of international law vary from that of the UK and the international community.” No kidding. Also: “A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise. As already made clear, the US military plans are virtually silent on this point.” No fucking kidding.

The British government has decided that the best way to reduce crime is to target “potential criminals” early, like when they’re... three. “Tearaway toddlers,” they’re called by the Nursery Nazis.

Speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Dick Cheney said that the war on terror “will be with us for a good many years to come.” He told the assembled military types, “You do a great job, and our kids and grandkids ... will be a lot safer with the challenges and the difficult duties that you’ve all accepted.” He then added, “Well maybe not your kids, they’ll be fighting in Syria and Iran, and maybe not your grandkids, cause they’ll be fighting in North Korea, but your great-grandkids, they’ll be sittin’ pretty.”

There’s a show on the Discovery Channel in which Americans decide who is/was the greatest American ever. The producers are just afraid it will vote for Oprah, who’s evidently in the top 25. Because Americans have so little sense of history, many of the top 100 nominees are people who are now living, including Barbara Bush and Laura Bush (what, not Jenna?). Compare this to the Czech republic, where a similar show on Czech tv just revealed that the greatest Czech was Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1316-1378).

Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni (pictured below) has been released after being held hostage for nearly 4 weeks. Is anyone keeping track of how many hostages there are in Afghanistan and Iraq? Western hostages I mean, obviously the locals don’t count. The Afghan government earlier told the Italian embassy to butt out (a large bribe was almost certainly paid); the Afghan way seems to have been to take its own hostages, including the kidnapper’s mother.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Wherein is revealed what C.I.A. stands for (shhh, it’s a secret)

Yesterday I glossed over Bush’s speech on the Patriot Act a little too quickly. The ACLU response points out that while Bush claimed there have been no abuses under the Patriot Act, he still hasn’t bothered to appoint or fund the Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was supposed to keep track of those very abuses. And of course any subpoena, search, etc under the Act is accompanied by a gag order. Also, and I did notice this but forgot to blog it, Bush assured us that “The judicial branch has a strong oversight role”, without mentioning his plans to eliminate that oversight and let the FBI write its own subpoenas.

Today Bush visited the National Counterterrorism Center, whose acronym is NCTC despite the fact that its name treats counterterrorism as one word, so it should really be NCC: just one way in which the NCTC is keeping terrorists off balance. You’ll be happy to know that George Bush is not thrown off balance by acronyms; he said, “I went out to the CIA the other day and I reminded the good folks who work there that CIA stands for Central Intelligence Agency.” He talked about the importance of “men and women from different agencies, of different backgrounds, work side-by-side to share information” (such as what “CIA” stands for), “to analyze information, to integrate information”. Sounds like hippy affirmative action to me. Does Clarence Thomas know about this? “I appreciate the fact that here you pool your expertise and your computer systems”. Sounds like rank hippy communism to me. Does Milton Friedman know about this? He explains, “See, the strategy is we’ll defeat them before they attack us”. Yes, it’s the National Counterterrorism Center, they’ve probably heard tell of that strategy.

Half of the National Counterterrorism Center’s budget is spent on really big tv’s

As secret weapons go, sheep urine is not the most impressive I’ve heard of

The Guardian: “A British bus company is testing a new secret weapon that it hopes will help forward its push to cut its polluting emissions - sheep urine.”

The British ambassador to the US is Sir David Manning, who had been Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser. In turn Bush, to show the regard in which he holds the “special relationship,” has named a high-ranking professional diplomat a car dealer (and, you’ll be surprised to hear, a major fundraiser) to be next ambassador to Britain. His name is Robert Tuttle. Or possibly Buttle.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

You know firsthand the nature of the enemy

Bush made a speech about the Patriot Act today. He told the audience,
As sworn officers of the law, you’re devoted to defending your fellow citizens. Your vigilance is keeping our communities safe, and you’re serving on the front lines of the war on terror. It’s a different kind of war than a war our nation was used to. You know firsthand the nature of the enemy. We face brutal men who celebrate murder, who incite suicide, and who would stop at nothing to destroy the liberties we cherish.
He was speaking at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy.

The Daily Show last night (and by the way, I’m also disappointed by Jon Stewart’s obsequiousness when face-to-face with the powerful, or in this case Colin Powell, but jeez, lighten up everybody and let’s not depend too much on comedians to conduct the tough interviews) showed competing clips, Bush in 2000 saying we needed to know more before doing anything about global warming, and Bush this week saying we needed to know more before doing anything about global warming. Bush said, “It’s easier to solve a problem when you know a lot about it.” Now how would he know what it’s like to know a lot about a problem? Or indeed what it’s like to solve a problem.

What Haiti needs

WaPo story whose headline suggested a much more interesting story: “Texas Sophomore Hooker Off to Strong Start.”

The US knows exactly what Haiti needs: more guns.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Continuing strain

My favorite bit of bureaucrateze today, in the NYT story about Philip Cooney, the non-scientist former lobbyist for the oil industry now rewriting all the Bush administration reports on global warming, comes from a White House spokesmodel: “We don’t put Phil Cooney on the record. He’s not a cleared spokesman.”

Bionic Octopus wonders what Israel would have to do to be considered in violation of the ceasefire. After she posted, the Indy opined that the ceasefire “was under continuing strain after Israel launched a missile at Hamas militants in response to a Gaza rocket attack which killed three people on Tuesday”. “Continuing strain” is British understatement for “fucked up the ass.” That sentence also contains the media’s standard characterization of Israeli violence as always being in response to Palestinian violence.

After the so-called Afghan National Army finally deployed a unit outside of Kabul, half the soldiers deserted.

Bush, interviewed on Fox: “You know, I’ve always tried to lower expectations, and I feel like if people say, well, you know, maybe, you know, I don’t think you handle the tough job, and when you do, it impresses people even more.” Are we impressed yet? Actually, only on Fox could Bush come off as less of a doofus than the interviewer, Neil Cavuto, who kept trying to get Bush to say that the Michael Jackson trial is getting too much coverage, and actually asked him whether Laura would run for president.

Um, no she isn’t.

An email from the British Tory party contained this image, carefully chosen to appeal to yoofs.

Thrilled to be able to work with you to be able to spread freedom and peace over the next years

Photo-essay on the Museum of Rubble that is Fallujah.

Monday I mentioned that the Australian government had turned down a Chinese diplomat’s plea for asylum. You can read more about that on Road to Surfdom, who has many links. In one of them, we learn that Australia determined that Chen Yonglin would not face persecution if forced to return to China. How did they determine that? They asked the Chinese ambassador.

Apostate Windbag has a nice post on events in Bolivia. Also, of course, Narco News.

Yesterday Senator Jeff Sessions took Chuck Schumer to task for asking if Janice Rogers Brown, who puts her own personal views above the law, wanted to be nominated as “dictator or grand exalted ruler”. Sessions decided this was “some reference to the Ku Klux Klan” and he was shocked and appalled. In fact, the Klan’s leader is called a Grand Wizard; it’s evidently the Elks who have a “grand exalted ruler.” What makes all of this worth pointing out is that Sessions himself was rejected by the Senate in 1986 for a circuit court judgeship in large part because he had said that he used to think the Kluxers were okay, until he found out they smoked marijuana.

Although I linked to the Sunday Times story on the Downing Street Memo mere minutes after it was posted to the web, I didn’t consider the information that Bush lied us into war with Iraq to be breaking news. I knew it, you knew it, everyone who today has the faintest idea what “Downing Street Memo” refers to knew it. Still, if it will keep the story alive, I’m all for it, and will even impute importance to the Downing Street Memo by referring to it repeatedly with initial caps.

I rather enjoyed the moment in the Bush-Blair press conference yesterday when a reporter asked about the, ahem, Downing Street Memo, and Blair leaped, almost literally, in front of Bush to take the bullet, to answer the question before George could open his mouth and screw it up. Of course Chimp Boy couldn’t help himself, and followed Blair with his own incoherent denial, including an attack on the motives of the leaker and the Sunday Times. “They dropped it out in the middle of his race,” Bush said, as if we hadn’t just had a week of debate over whether Deep Throat’s motives were good and pure, a debate leading to the conclusion: who cares what his motives were as long as he was speaking the truth. Both Bush and Blair said that the DSM was written before they went to the UN to ask for a war resolution. I’m still not sure what that’s supposed to prove.

Blair’s punishment for Poodleness in the First Degree is to be stuck standing next to Bush at these events over and over, trying not to look appalled at the words coming out of Bush’s mouth. I didn’t see the expression on Blair’s face when Bush congratulated him on his election victory and said, “I’m really thrilled to be able to work with you to be able to spread freedom and peace over the next years,” but I don’t imagine he greatly resembled a child receiving a puppy for Christmas. To paraphrase Sartre, hell is other world leaders.


Kenya’s tourism minister told a travel agents’ conference that Mt. Kilimanjaro was “among the top tourist attractions in Kenya”. Except it’s in Tanzania, which is not amused.

Many fine news organizations have brought us the story of a plane stowaway’s body parts raining from the sky, but New York Newsday reports the vital news that the sound made by the leg was a “thunk.”

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

His record is apparent and speaks for itself

Bolivia is in the middle of a major crisis, as you will no doubt know from the paragraph about it on the bottom of page A27 of whatever newspaper you read. There have been demonstrations for weeks, with roadblocks keeping La Paz in an economic stranglehold. President Carlos Mesa has again offered to resign (the last president was forced out by protests 19 months ago). Protesters want nationalization of the natural gas industry and more rights for indigenous peoples (that’s one of their leaders in the hat).

American Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega hints in his usual subtle way that all of Bolivia’s problems are caused by Hugo Chavez: “Chávez’ profile in Bolivia has been very apparent from the beginning. His record is apparent and speaks for itself.” In other words, Noriega has absolutely no proof of anything.

The Miami Herald is the only paper that has that, by the way. On its website, I also discovered that Katherine Harris, “who had flirted with the idea of running for Senate in 2004, said Tuesday that after ‘months of encouragement’ from supporters, she had decided to risk her congressional seat and run against [Senator Bill] Nelson.” For the sake of humanity, Miami Herald, I implore you never to use the name Katherine Harris and the word flirted in the same sentence, ever again. Harris says, “one of the greatest honors in life is having a chance to make a difference in the lives of others.” Gee thanks, but you’ve done enough already.

Rep. Harris

Let history record you had me jumping in my seat

On the White House website: “President Celebrates Black Music Month at the White House.” Sure he does. “Let history record you had me jumping in my seat,” George said.

Bush also got to practice his Spanish today, whi the OAS (quoting Jose Marti, with whom Bush has soooo much in common) that “La libertad no es negociable.” And freedom is evidently a tide, which one day will reach Cuba. And then, presumably, go away again, as tides do. He said that democracy must deliver results: “They need to see that in a democratic society, people can walk in the streets in safety, corruption is punished, and all citizens are equal before the law.” He was in Florida at the time. Then he told the assembled delegates of 34 nations, “Let history record you had me jumping in my seat.”

Tuesday marks the same length of time elapsed since 9/11, 1365 days, as between Pearl Harbor and the surrender of Japan.

Whatever else you can say about the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that the feds can enforce federal laws even when they are stupid and conflict with state laws, in this case state laws legalizing marijuana for medical use, it did produce some uncharacteristic responses. The LA Times reports: “Marijuana Patients Remain Defiant.” Dude, there is no such thing as a “defiant” pothead. Mellow, that’s the word you’re looking for. And the head of the DEA says, “We don’t target sick and dying people.” Isn’t that nice to know? Can we have it in writing? Of course if enforcement of federal policies were effective, the sick would get sicker and the dying dyinger.

I’m of two minds about the legal basis of the case. I have a fairly expansive idea of the legitimate powers of the federal government, which I consider derive not just from the commerce clause but are inherent in its nature, its federal governmentness if you will. But the majority on the Court found that the power to ban non-economic distribution of marijuana (or indeed just possession, since you could be arrested for growing the stuff for your own use, pot that not only didn’t cross state borders but never even left your house) derived from Congress’s right under the commerce clause to ban economic sales of illegal drugs, and that’s a logic I don’t accept, a slippery-slope logic that allows for unlimited government intervention into citizens’ lives, if that intervention had some tenuous, seven-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon connection to illegal activity. (Update: oh dear lord, that’s the same argument Clarence Thomas made. I have agreed with Clarence Thomas. Unclean, so unclean....) (And O’Connor, who writes that this broad interpretation “threatens to sweep all of productive human activity into federal regulatory reach.” Which may be the first time toking up has been called productive human activity.)

The biggest asshole in all this: John Walter, the Drug Tsar, who responded to the ruling thus: “We have a responsibility as a civilized society to ensure that the medicine Americans receive from their doctors is effective, safe and free from the pro-drug politics that are being promoted in America under the guise of medicine.” So support for medical marijuana, such as the support expressed by 56% of Californian voters in 1996 (including me), is insincere, compassion for cancer and AIDS and MS and glaucoma patients merely a guise, a ruse, a cunning deception to cover our fiendish pro-drug politics.

Walter also said, “Our national medical system relies on proven scientific research, not popular opinion.” Unless it involves stem cells, condoms, persistent vegetative states....

Monday, June 06, 2005

What to do with the Bastille of our times

When Laura Bush visited a school in Egypt, all the teachers and all the students were replaced by others who didn’t look so... poor.

The Chinese consul for political affairs in Australia tried to defect, offering to tell all about Chinese spies operating in Oz, but was turned down. I don’t know if anything’s behind this other than the Aussie government being scared of China, but there might be an interesting story here.

Eric Umansky
argues that closing Guantanamo might make the US even less transparent and accountable, while failing to actually reduce the amount of torture or the number of secretly held prisoners, and increasing the resort to “rendition.” What he’s really worried about though, and rightly, is that without the symbol, the world (and especially Americans) will lose all interest in the treatment of prisoners (Umansky says shutting down Gitmo would be only a symbolic victory, but he values it precisely for its symbolic value). Guantanamo is the brand name for torture news; a generic won’t capture the same share of America’s attention span (nearly a year and a half after the Abu Ghraib revelations, when we were told Abu Ghraib would be handed over to the Iraqis or possibly razed, neither has happened and no one pays much attention to what happens inside its walls anymore). Guantanamo does have propaganda value, but sometimes you just have to storm the Bastille because it’s the right thing to do. Rumsfeld, Gonzales and the other supporters of “stress positions” and detention without trial claim to be pragmatists; those of us on the other side must be idealistic and absolutist in our rejection of torture.

One positive about Guantanamo having become another of those place names that stands in for historical events, like Vietnam, Hiroshima, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania, is that it becomes less usable for other purposes. In the early 1990s, Bush the Elder held Haitian refugees intercepted at sea there; like his son, he refused Amnesty International requests to interview the prisoners and claimed that American political asylum laws didn’t apply there. It will be a long time before Gitmo can be put to such a use again.

Condi divides the Americas

Condi Rice spoke to the general assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) and once again made democracy sound like a threat.

“The divide in the Americas today is not between governments from the Left or from the Right. It is between those governments that are elected and govern democratically -- and those that do not.” Condi does not agree to disagree; she does not have to debate or discuss with governments that have different ideologies and polices from her own, because she can dismiss those governments as illegitimate, even if they happened to win an election. “Together, we must insist that leaders who are elected democratically have a responsibility to govern democratically. And ... governments that fail to meet this crucial standard must be accountable to the OAS.” Governing democratically is a good thing. I’m in favor of leaders who are elected democratically governing democratically. But that’s a pretty subjective standard, and I don’t see that the OAS has the standing, the moral authority or the freedom from United States dominance to apply it.

She mentioned plans to build an “International Law Enforcement Academy” to train Latin American police. Sounds like the School of the Americas, only hidden away in El Salvador so it can operate below the radar.

Obey me! OBEY ME!!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Can’t... resist... really... obvious... joke....

Joe Biden criticizes Howard Dean for saying that many Republicans have never earned an honest living. Guess that means that when you run for president in ‘08 you’ll be plagiarizing someone else’s speeches, huh Joe?

What kind of asshole is John Bolton?

After the tsunami: forced or coerced marriages of under-aged girls in India.

Under the Same Sun has a 2002 George Monbiot column from the Guardian about the United States’s successful effort, led by John Bolton, to fire and trash the reputation of Jose Bustani, the director-general of the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Bustani’s efforts to get his inspectors – who unlike UNSCOM’s inspectors did not also work covertly for the US government – into Iraq, threatened to undercut Bush’s rationale for going to war. I’m not sure this makes Bolton less qualified to be ambassador to the UN than he was before: where some of the earlier stories suggested he was an out-of-control asshole, chasing women down hotel corridors and yelling at them, this one suggests that he was an asshole-for-hire, doing exactly the hatchet job he was supposed to do. Not that he can’t be more than one type of asshole. I think it’s called multi-tasking.

RSS feeds

A nice mention of this blog in the Google discussion group Informed Dissent today said that I don’t have an RSS feed. I do. Two in fact. I created a Feedburner feed last week in a failed (?) attempt to eliminate the problem where Bloglines doesn’t always display my photos. The addresses of those feeds are now in the right-hand column, below the archives.

If there’s anything else I can do to make this site more easily accessible, short of telephoning you all individually to read you my latest post, or if you have any other suggestions, short of fucking myself or stop hurting America by criticizing the president, drop me an email.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

In this post is revealed, at long last, what is wrong with the world

Not being British, I often only hear about BBC radio shows when there’s only an episode or two left in their current run. Anyway, I just listened, online, to “I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue,” a comedy in quiz show format sort of thing. For example, 2 panelists have to invent a letter from Sir Walter Raleigh to Queen Elizabeth I, speaking alternate words. Sing the lyrics from “You’ve lost that loving feeling” to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; do the same for “Who let the dogs out” to the Toreador Song from Carmen. I think that episode will be replaced online by the next episode sometime Monday.

The judge who will try Saddam Hussein says that Saddam’s morale has collapsed because “He understands the extent of the charges against him and that he will stand trial before an impartial court.” An impartial judge wouldn’t be making statements like that to the press. The Observer adds that it isn’t clear if Saddam knows about the pictures of himself in his droopy underpants appearing all over the world, including this very website.

Bush’s rejection of the US doing anything to support Tony Blair’s plan to increase to aid to Africa, “It doesn’t fit our budgetary process,” seems especially blithe and dismissive not just towards Africa, which we know he doesn’t care about, but towards Tony Blair, his most reliable ally in the world. Didn’t throw him even a bone, just a bland and not very meaningful phrase (budgetary process?) such as you might use before hanging up on a telemarketer or walking past a pan-handler. Bush’s preferred alternative is forgiving African debt, and then reducing future money to the continent by the exact amount of the forgiven debt.

Condi Rice, in an interview with the Miami Herald which the paper points out more than once is an exclusive, pushes the idea of the OAS stepping up its intervention in the politics of its member states. Well, she calls it being proactive in supporting democracy, but the only two countries she brings up are Haiti and Venezuela, in both of which the Bush admin has supported coups against democratically elected leaders. Speaking about the UN force occupying Haiti, she says, “We’re going to need to look hard at whether not the force posture there is adequate as we get to the run-up in elections”. Because nothing says free and fair elections like a really strong “force posture.”

I mentioned Rumsfeld’s latest attack on Al-Jazeera in my last post, but now I’ve seen more of it, and it’s not pleasant. “Quite honestly, I do not get up in the morning and think that America is what’s wrong with the world. The people that are going on television, chopping off people’s heads is what’s wrong with the world.” In case you were wondering exactly what’s wrong the world, now you know. “And television networks that carry it and promote it and are Johnny-on-the-spot every time there’s a terrorist act are promoting it.” The Johnny-on-the-spot thing is of course a not terribly veiled accusation that Al-Jazeera is in cahoots with terrorists and knows about terrorist acts before they occur.

Does my use of the word cahoots in the previous sentence indicate that when I read Rummy’s words I begin to talk like him? Why goodness gracious no.