Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The brink

Good Slate article on how Bush made a deal over nuclear plants with India which he has no right to make.

I suggested, in a discussion in the comments section on a previous post, that all those Bushies saying there was no civil war in Iraq should be made to give a working definition of the term. Fat chance, of course. This weeks’s spin was set out by Ambassador Khalilzad, who says that Iraq “came to the brink of civil war,” but the “crisis is over” and “the Iraqis decided to come together”. And over the weekend National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said something to the effect that the Iraqis had looked into the abyss and decided they didn’t want one, thanks anyway, really we were just window shopping, but in the end decided that civil war doesn’t really go with our carpets.

I think the U.S. is better prepared than woefully unprepared

In an ABC interview, Bush, asked about Congress’s report that the US is “woefully unprepared” for another Katrina or a terrorist attack, says, “I think the U.S. is better prepared than woefully unprepared.” That’s our George, always sees the woe as half full.

And this would be, simultaneously, 1) funny if it weren’t so sad, 2) sad if it weren’t so funny:
VARGAS: When you look back on those days immediately following when Katrina struck, what moment do you think was the moment that you realized that the government was failing, especially the people of New Orleans?

BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people who were screaming for help.
Yesterday, Stephen Colbert answered Fox’s question about whether civil war in Iraq would be a Good Thing: “If Iraq has a real civil war, then the U.S. can’t be involved. It’s called an ‘Exit Strategy’, folks.” Today, Bush kinda said the same thing to ABC:
VARGAS: But what is the plan if the sectarian violence continues? I mean, do the U.S. troops take a larger role? Do they step in more actively to stop the violence?

BUSH: No. The troops are chasing down terrorists.
Well, the same thing except for the exiting part:
VARGAS: So let me make sure I understand you. No matter what happens with the level of sectarian violence, the U.S. troops will stay there?

BUSH: The U.S. troops will stay there so long as -- until the Iraqis can defend themselves. I mean, my policy has not changed.
Heaven forfend.

The leaders of Iraq rejected this notion that a suicider and a thug and a terrorist can create civil war

The latest rumor in Britain’s Muslim community is of a woman who kicked a Koran and was turned into a mermaid. It’s all over the message boards of the Islamic Broadcasting Network, so it must be true.

Bush met with Republican governors yesterday, and wasted their time with a very stale stump speech. And while I haven’t seen video, but I’m guessing they were as obsequious as every other audience they allow him to go before (a proposed address to the Indian parliament was cancelled for just this reason), judging by this: “Thanks for the warm welcome. Be seated -- unless you don’t have a seat. (Laughter.)” Hilarious! And the governor of Georgia received the highest of honors, a brand-new nickname: “I want to thank Sonny. I call him ‘Big Buddy Perdue.’ (Laughter.) He is a big buddy.”

He insists that civil war is quite out of the question in Iraq: “The leaders of Iraq rejected this notion that a suicider and a thug and a terrorist can create civil war.” I can’t tell if those are three different people, or one guy with three jobs. These leaders, whoever they might be, are “interested in a unified government that will allow the people to express their will, a unified government that will give young mothers and fathers the hope that their children can grow up in a peaceful society.” A bitter, desperate, forlorn hope, indeed one might say a hopeless hope, to be sure...

Lately, whenever he talks about education, he talks as if math and science were the only “real” subjects, like so: “when we ground our students in the skills necessary to be good engineers and good physicists and good chemists and good scientists, the United States of America will continue to be the preeminent economy in the world in the 21st century.”

And today, he met with Silvio Berlusconi, who is oily, smarmy, corrupt, arrogant and megalomaniacal. Bush called him optimistic, a strong leader, a man of his word, and a man who “has brought stability to the Italian government. Obviously, it’s important for an American President to be able to work with somebody in a consistent manner”. In other words, George really hates it when he has to memorize new names. (Oh, Christ on a stick: I wrote that before getting to the end of the transcript, where Shrub actually says: “Because if a government is changing every year, it requires a person in my position to constantly have to reacquaint yourself.”)

Asked about the Dubai Ports, Bath & Beyond deal, well, last week it was “This deal wouldn’t go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America.” Today: “If there was any doubt in my mind, or people in my administration’s mind that our ports would be less secure and the American people endangered, this deal wouldn’t go forward.” Then he accused everyone who opposes the deal of getting the basic facts wrong: “And I can understand people’s consternation because the first thing they heard was that a foreign company would be in charge of our port security, when, in fact, the Coast Guard and Customs are in charge of our port security.” Anyone else feel that we’ve just been horribly insulted by George Bush suggesting we’re all just as ignorant as, well, George Bush?

Monday, February 27, 2006

A moving/falling object

The front page of the Ha’aretz website Saturday provides a perhaps unfortunate summary of an article: “Hamas PM nominee to Washington Post: We don’t want Jews thrown in sea, deal would be in stages.” First, up to their knees...

George W. Bush: a moving/falling object.

Somehow, “object” gives him too much credit.

Shrub’s praise last week for General Masharaf – “I believe he’s committed to free and open elections.” – reminded me of his father’s 1981 toast to Ferdinand Marcos, “We love you, sir, we love your adherence to democratic principles.” When Marcos was ousted 20 years ago, I made my first and last call to a talk radio program to remind the listeners of that quote. After an hour on hold, I was put on the air for 10 seconds before they broke for news.

Saddam Hussein has called off his alleged hunger strike for “health reasons.” Evidently no one told him that not eating was unhealthy.

Robert Fisk quotes Condi Rice denouncing Iran because its policies “contradict the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United States”. Why how dare they!

Fisk also quotes Churchill, writing to Lloyd George in 1922 about dealing with Iraqi insurgency: “At present we are paying eight millions a year for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having.”

Antonin Scalia is nostalgic for the days he used to carry ride the subway in New York carrying a rifle.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A terrible kind of war

The irony is not just that the United States is trying so hard to crush a democratically elected Hamas government, it’s that Condi went this week to an emirate, a monarchy, and whatever you want to call Egypt, to enlist their aid in that grand enterprise. (Update: the WaPo has an interesting article on this very subject).

The Bushies, behind a thick film of flop sweat, are responding to the Samarra de-dome-ification with forced cheerfulness. Says Bush, “I’m optimistic,” citing those stupid purple fingers again. And Condi claims to think that the violence in Iraq is just a bump in the road: “This makes it harder today and perhaps tomorrow, but I am confident the Iraqis are committed to, dedicated to the formation of a national unity government.” And she blamed “sectarian tensions” on “outsiders.” In fact, she’s attributing the mosque bombing to Al Qaeda, for which there is, as far I know, no actual evidence. Ambassador Khalilzad is peddling a variant of the familiar “the attacks show how desperate the insurgents are” spin, saying that the Samarra bombing could bring Iraqis together, “given that the Iraqi leaders know and appreciate that civil war is a terrible kind of war.” As opposed to the fun-for-the-whole-family, fluffy bunny kind of war. So the closer they get to civil war the better, or something.

On your marks

Vice President Dick Cheney presents the Distinguished Service Cross to Lieutenant Bernard W. Bail and... OH MY GOD! That’s not a Distinguished Service Cross! It’s a bull’s-eye! A BULL’S-EYE!! Run, Lt. Bail, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!!

Friday, February 24, 2006

I understand the war on terror is universal

You know, that “confident, capable Iraqi government” Gen. Lynch spoke of yesterday? Isn’t it supposed to be gone by now? Weren’t there, like, elections a few months ago that were supposed to replace those people? Does anyone now believe that there will be negotiations leading to a government that can win the support of 2/3 of the national assembly?

I assume it’s a mistake, but the White House website lists Bush’s interview with Indian state tv as taking place from 11:18 to 11:28 this morning, and an interview with Pakistani tv from 11:20 to 11:37, both in the Map Room, like one of those sitcoms where the guy makes dates with two different women for the same time, and hilarity ensues. With India, he continues to play Professor Harold Hill: “And the more nuclear power used by great emerging democracies and economies like India, the better off we’ll all be.” An Indian reporter tries to link the presence in Pakistan of both Al Qaeda and training camps for “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.” Bush replies, “I understand the war on terror is universal,” but says Musharaf, just like India and the US, “cares deeply about innocent life.” So that’s ok then.

The Pakistani interviewer also asked about Kashmir, and what the US can do to help. Bush: “Well, I started to play a role in my speech, and I spoke out on the issue and encouraged the President and the Prime Minister of India to continue down the road of solving the issue with a solution that’s acceptable to all sides.” Now why didn’t anyone think of that before? And on Al Qaeda, he opines, “Nobody should want foreign fighters in their soil wreaking havoc.”

American Moron, indeed.

Caption contest:

Nobody expects...

The Voice of America is given a tour of interrogation rooms in Guantanamo, designed to indicate that the voice of America’s indefinite detainees is not a shriek of pain. Oh sure, prisoners were beaten up, mistakes were made, but, the VOA says several times, that’s all in the past now.

Among our weapons... the Comfy Chair. No, not this one.

This one:

And it’s a recliner. A Lazy-Unlawful-Combatant-Boy. Note the thing on the floor for the shackles.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Go massive

Rumsfeld, 9/11/01, according to declassified notes taken by a staffer: “judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time - not only UBL [Usama Bin Laden]” and “Go massive... Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” Rummy was looking for a quick, violent response, so I assume this wasn’t (yet) about invading and occupying Iraq but about bombing it, a lot.

Simon Tisdall in the Guardian comments that there is less American talk about “victory” in Iraq these days. Yes, but it’s not just because we’re, you know, losing. Look at the events since the Samarra dome bombing: we’re irrelevant. Whether there will or won’t be a civil war is no longer up to us. “Victory” would imply that we’re a major player there and, somehow, we no longer are.

We’re allies and we coordinate: Bush talks to Indian and Pakistani reporters

In advance of his trip to India and Pakistan, Bush said Wednesday that he wants a solution to the Kashmir situation “acceptable to both sides.” Later he had to pretend that he meant to say “all sides,” including the, you know, actual Kashmiris. He did this in separate interviews (naturally) with Indian and Pakistani journalists; only the former is on the White House website for some reason. The transcript of the latter is here.

With the Pakistanis, he addressed the Cartoon Wars: “nor do I appreciate the fact that some are... cynically manipulating the anger that some have felt over these cartoons.” I know, cynically manipulating anger, just imagine. Oh, and also: “The nation needs to be closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons.” (George H.W. Bush, 1/27/92)

Finally, someone asked him about Damadola, giving him the opportunity to refuse to say whether he’d ordered a bombing raid inside Pakistan or not, but that if he had....: “We coordinate. We’re allies and we coordinate. Nor do we talk about sensitive anti-terror operations. Of course the United States mourns the loss of innocent life.” There’s no “of course” about it. And what exactly is “sensitive” about it? He’s trying to sound as if he’s protecting legitimate security secrets, but I’m pretty sure the people of Damadola know they’ve been bombed.

Bush has been talking about helping India develop nuclear power plants. The Pakistanis wanted to know why he wasn’t doing the same for them. He said, well maybe later. He did not say, because for 20 years you’ve been selling nuclear technology to everyone and his uncle. An Indian reporter had asked about A.Q. Khan in their interview with Bush, and Bush referred to that “conspiracy,” suddenly realized that he was using a word that implicated his good buddy Musharaf, and altered it to “activities.”

An Indian asked whether he was more comfortable dealing with dictators and monarchs. He pretending they were talking about Queen Elizabeth.

And he was asked (I guess this is the Indian equivalent of boxers or briefs) which he’d rather watch, a cricket match or a Bollywood movie.


This deal wouldn’t go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America

George Bush is going to India and Pakistan. He will be pretending that the latter is a democracy, not run by the military at all.
Pakistan has a lively and generally free press. I’m confident I will hear from them on my trip to Pakistan. (Laughter.) Occasionally, there’s interference by security forces, but it’s a strong press.
He will of course be milking American assistance after the Pakistani earthquake for all it’s worth.
The terrorists have said that America is the Great Satan. Today, in the mountains of Pakistan, they call our Chinook helicopters “angels of mercy.”
And today, he imparted the wisdom that “The destruction of a holy site is a political act intending to create strife.” And we know how much he hates politics. He reiterated American “commitment in helping to rebuild that holy site.” Like the Shiites actually want his infidel fingerprints on their golden dome.

Yes, I’m aware that sounded kinda dirty.

Asked about Dubai Ports ‘N Stuff, Bush explained the intricacy of the economics of the situation: “The management of some ports, which, heretofore, has been managed by a foreign company will be managed by another company from a foreign land. And so people don’t need to worry about security. This deal wouldn’t go forward if we were concerned about the security for the United States of America.” By this time, you will already have seen that last sentence 10 or more times. Now you’ve seen it again. It’s almost zen-like, isn’t it, I mean if the Buddha were a complete moron. But it’s the previous sentence that really sums up his message: people shouldn’t worry about it. He also said that people should be “comforted” that our ports will be secure, and that Bushies were “bringing a sense of calm to this issue”. It’s like the period a few weeks after 9/11 when they kept talking about making people “feel secure” flying again, rather than talking about making them actually secure.

Condi Rice has been touring the Middle East this week, possibly trying to find a country to run all those nuclear plants Bush wants to build. But she also tried with no success to convince Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc not to fund the Palestinian government. The Saudi foreign minister gave the perfect response, even if he probably doesn’t mean a word of it: “We do not want to link international aid to the Palestinian people with considerations other than their terrible humanitarian needs.”

In the headlines, “shrine fury” replaces last week’s “cartoon fury.”

Fortunately, General Rick Lynch reassures us that the shrine fury does not rise to the level of a civil war, because only 7 Sunni mosques have been destroyed by those “inflammated” by the Samarra bombing: “So we are not seeing civil war igniting in Iraq. We are not seeing 77, 80, 100 mosques damaged in Iraq. We are not seeing death on the streets.” Possibly the 130 killed (so far) were on sidewalks. (Update: AP headline: “47 Bodies Found in Ditch North of Baghdad.” See, we’re only seeing death in the ditches.) And OK, it’s only been a day since the bombing, but I’m sure it’ll blow over quickly, just like that cartoon thing. (Another update: some reports now have dozens of Sunni mosques being attacked. Lynch may be a little sorry that he actually defined what would constitute a civil war.)

Brokeback mountain, in Lego.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

They like the yellow

Follow-up: Gen. Bantz Craddock touted the incredible pampering of hunger-striking prisoners in Guatanamo, who are allowed to choose the color of the feeding tube shoved into their noses. I can now reveal that those tubes come in yellow, beige and clear. “They like the yellow,” sez Craddock. I’m thinking like may be too strong a word.

Oh, my goodness, there’s violence today; isn’t that different

I meant to say in the last post that I don’t consider it a huge security risk that an Emirati multinational corporation rather than a British or an American one will be hiring the illegal immigrants who work in our ports.

General Bantz Craddock, head of US Southern Command, which includes Guantanamo, admits the use of restraint chairs on hunger-strikers, and, more or less, to using brutality to try to break the hunger strike. “Pretty soon it wasn’t convenient, and they decided it wasn’t worth it. A lot of the detainees said: ‘I don’t want to put up with this. This is too much of a hassle.’” Imagine what sort of a “hassle” it takes to dissuade people already committed to starving themselves to death. One form of hassle revealed by the NYT: not leaving the NG tube in in between feedings, but removing and re-inserting it each time. That’s where the argument that this is being done on medical grounds falls away, and it becomes torture, pure and simple. Craddock, however, portrays the hunger-strikers as pampered children, “indulged,” the says (I’d have liked the actual quotation), “to the point that they had been allowed to choose the color of their feeding tubes.”

The US is still paying Iraqi newspapers to print puff pieces, despite Rumsfeld’s denials last week. Or perhaps not. Rummy said Tuesday that “It was put under review, and I don’t have knowledge as to whether or not it’s been stopped.”

Rummy on Iraq: “There has been sectarian violence in that part of the world for decades. ... And so it’s -- to isolate out violence today and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, there’s violence today; isn’t that different’... would be out of context, because in fact there’s been incredible violence in that country for year after year after year.” After year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I say veto, by the way, quite frequently in messages to Congress

There was a Linda Tripp legal defense fund, so I suppose it was inevitable that there be one for Scooter Libby, “one of the unsung heroes in fighting the war on terror.” Unsung? Why, that’s just so unfair. I would suggest a contest to come up with a Song for Scooter, but I’m afraid you people would actually write one.

The ability of the Cartoon Wars to generate entertaining headlines continues unabated. From The Times: “More Killed by Cartoon Mobs.” In Nigeria. Actually it’s no longer about the cartoons, but about a Christian teacher who took a Koran away from a student, then came the inevitable rumors about desecration, then the machetes came out. Honestly, I’d rather picture cartoon mobs, if you don’t mind.

Another good headline: “Psychics Help Hunt for Prize Dog.” The psychics have informed the owners that the dog, which escaped Kennedy Airport, is in a building.

Fun fact to learn and forget: the people of the United Arab Emirates are called Emirati.

And of course Bush is planning to turn over management of six American ports to an Emirati firm, Dubai Ports ‘R Us, bringing extra scrutiny to his complete failure to secure American ports against terrorists. Says Bush, “I really don’t understand why it’s okay for a British company to operate our ports, but not a company from the Middle East... And I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British [sic] company.” Of course he’s been talking all week about ways to reduce our addiction to oil from the Middle East, not British oil from the North Sea.

On Congressional threats to legislate against this move:
Q Why is it so important to you, sir, that you take on this issue as a political fight? Clearly, there’s bipartisan --

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t view it as a political fight. So do you want to start your question over? I view it as a good policy. [snip...]

THE PRESIDENT: It’s not a political issue.

Q But there clearly are members of your own party who will go to the mat against you on this.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s not a political issue.

Q Why are you -- to make this, to have this fight?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t view it as a fight. I view it as me saying to people what I think is right, the right policy. [snip...]

THE PRESIDENT: That’s one of the tools the President has to indicate to the legislative branch his intentions. A veto doesn’t mean fight, or politics, it’s just one of the tools I’ve got. I say veto, by the way, quite frequently in messages to Congress.
I was going to try to figure out how he defines the terms political and politics – what does he mean by saying that a veto doesn’t mean politics and by the twice-iterated “It’s not a political issue”? I thought it might illuminate his growing contempt for any element of government not meeting behind closed doors in the White House. Then I remembered that this is Bush we’re talking about, the man who describes everything as “interesting” and has little more sense of the meaning of words he puts into sentences than my cat does when she walks across my keyboard, and not much more desire to communicate in any meaningful way. After all, what is the value of a medium for the communication of ideas to a man who has no ideas. Politics means something bad, or people bitching about the good things he does, certainly it’s not something he ever does, he just gets on with the business of governing. Or something.

We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian -- except maybe Pat Robertson

The quote of the day is from American Ambassador/Viceroy to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, giving Iraqi politicians a jolly good public scolding: “We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian.” Sounds like he’s getting ready to write off Iraq on his taxes. “Invest,” indeed. Arguably, though, sectarian forces are the only American success story, investment-wise. Not a lot to show for the money poured into electricity generation, or oil production, but we’ve sure managed to turn small armed gangs into entire police forces, army units, and Interior Ministry death squads, with franchises popping up everywhere like fucking Starbucks.

In that press conference (by the way, has anyone seen a transcript?), he also told Iran to fuck off (“none of their business”), in response to its demand that the British withdraw troops from Basra (20 miles from the Iranian border), where those videos of British troops beating Iraqi youths and laughing about it were recorded. British defense minister John Reid echoed Rumsfeld’s response to Abu Ghraib by attacking those who failed to empathize with the troops and even dare to suggest that the enforcement of human rights laws, which he calls a “convenient banner under which some who are fundamentally opposed to our armed forces, or the government of the day, or to a particular military conflict, have chosen to march.” He asks people to be “slower to condemn.” OK. 5.. 4.. 3.. 2.. 1..

Follow-up: speaking of condemning, that execution in California is now on hold because the two anesthesiologists pulled out. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that one of the pieces of evidence against him came from a jailhouse informer who said that Morales confessed to him in fluent Spanish, which Morales does not speak. Morales is definitely guilty, really really guilty, but this evidence may have helped get him the death sentence. But the appeals courts aren’t interested.

Speaking of occupied countries, the UN seems finally to be moving towards independence for Kosovo, and Serbs are not happy, no sirree. They keep threatening to start referring to Kosovo as “occupied territory,” as if that was supposed to scare somebody. I’m not sure why it would, nor who they think Kosovo is occupied by, except, you know, Kosovars. Possibly by occupied they mean the opposite of ethnically cleansed.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The future is bright

My mistake, the BBC is keeping a tally of Cartoon War deaths. 44 at least so far. In Pakistan, a Christian church was burned down after yet another Hey-didja-hear-some-guy-burned-the-Koran rumor, and the military has been deployed to protect American fast-food restaurants, which is not a phrase you get to use every day.

Today Bush went to a company called Johnson Controls, Inc., after being assured that they would not try to control his johnson. I’m not proud of that joke, but it had to be said. Actually, he went to look at lithium-ion batteries being developed for hybrid cars. He hoped to buy one for the LauraBot 3000.

He began his speech: “Thanks for letting me come by to say ‘hello.’ (Laughter.)” Now, is that derisive laughter or what? He said it was
really neat to see the engineers and the scientists and the Ph.D.s all working hard to apply their God-given talents to help this country remain on the leading edge of technology.
Just had to slip God in there, didn’t you?

As is usual in these things, he brought some congresscritters, Gwen Moore, Mark Green & Paul Ryan, and thanked them for coming, adding, “We have eaten a lot of custard in the past. (Laughter.) I’m still recovering, I want you to know. (Laughter.)” That crowd will just laugh at anything, won’t they? Maybe it’s just the way he tells it. Custard. Whatever.

Later he goes on about ethanol and switch grass again. He explains the science behind this: “we’re coming up with a way to make something out of nothing.” It’s all just magic beans to him.

Or possibly magic radioactive beans, since he also advocates building lots of nuclear power plants. Hey, France is doing it! And China’s doing it! So it must be good! Says they’re completely safe, but to create an incentive to build them, the federal government will provide risk insurance for the next six. But if they’re completely safe, shouldn’t insurance cost, like, nothing? Says nuke plants are “part of our way to make sure that the future is bright”. No laughter this time. Custard, funny, glow-in-the-dark grandkids, not so much, evidently. Must be that comical k sound.

The future is so bright, the scientists told him with suppressed giggles, you’ll need to buy these special glasses. Only $500, Mr. President.

And we’re “going to work with other nations to help them build nuclear power industries,” like a nuclear Johnny Appleseed. “We want people growing in the world.”

He’s also downright visionary about other far-out technologies: “For example, roof makers will one day be able to create a solar roof that protects you from the elements and, at the same time, powers your house.” Wow, we could even call it solar... energy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

If he does perform, nobody will remember it

Up until today, all of the dead in the Cartoon Wars were protestors, usually killed by private or state security forces, including the 10 in Libya yesterday. So the score was Allah 0, Thor 25 or 30 (why is no one keeping a running tally?). Saturday’s deaths in Nigeria, however, 16 plus, were mostly Christians killed by Muslims, and the arson targets were not Scandinavian embassies or KFCs (which I understand can burn for over 10 years) but Christian churches and Christian-owned shops.

And the bounty on the head of the Danish cartoonist is now over $10m. The latest top-up comes from an official of the state government of Uttar Pradesh, India, the... wait for it... minister of minority welfare, a man who rejoices in the name Mohamed Yaqoob Qureshi. In fact, he shares that last name with the Pakistani cleric who announced the $1-million-and-a-car reward Friday. Hmm.

René Préval has negotiated with the Haitian electoral commission to avoid a run-off by ignoring the (suspiciously numerous) blank ballots, pushing him over the 50% threshold. The American ambassador says that it only matters that the election laws were flouted if Préval does a bad job in office. “If he does perform, nobody will remember it.” This is a man who works for George W. Bush. Ambassador Carney, pushing for the continued exile of Aristide, says that the elections “confirmed that Aristide is a man of the past, unlikely to have any role in Haiti’s future.” Not quite sure how he comes to that particular conclusion. Was there also a ballot measure, Is Jean-Bertrand Aristide a man of the past, yes or no, that I haven’t heard about?

Harry Hutton on who’s worse, Tony Blair or Hitler (I won’t spoil it for you by revealing the answer).

The LAT on regulations quietly, some would say stealthily, issued by the Bushies that eliminate consumers’ rights to sue over dangerous products. The article also discusses Bushie efforts to overturn state regulations on such things as emissions standards, privacy, or credit card disclosure. Not only a must-read, but a why-the-hell-haven’t-we-read-this-before?

And welcome to the Monkeysphere, or possibly spherical monkeys.

Friday, February 17, 2006

And we tell the truth

Secretary of War Rumsfeld says that the US is less competent in “manipulating opinion elites” than are the terrorists.
A few years ago in Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, an Iraqi could have his tongue cut out if he was found in possession of a satellite dish or used the Internet without government approval. Today, satellite dishes are ubiquitous in that country as well. Regrettably, many of the news channels being watched through these dishes are extremely hostile to the West.
So Rummy is advocating going back to the tongue-cutting-out-thing, I take it.

(Also, I don’t know of anyone having their tongue cut out for using the Internet in Iraq, and I don’t think Iraq banned satellite dishes; that’s Iran you’re thinking of. But other than that...)

Rummy laughs at the thought of people’s tongues being cut out

He says the US is slower to respond because “unlike our enemies, which propagate lies with impunity -- with no penalty whatsoever... Our government has to be the source. And we tell the truth.”

Rummy laughs at the thought of telling the truth

He complains that “allegations of ‘buying news’ in Iraq... leads to a ‘chilling effect’ for those who are asked to serve in the military public affairs field. The conclusion is drawn that there is no tolerance for innovation”. Hate to tell ya, but bribery isn’t an innovation, it’s actually a pretty old concept.

He cites as an example of improving practice the deployment of a military communications team after the Pakistan earthquake, “to help focus the attention of the media on the U.S. government’s truly extraordinary commitment to help the Pakistani people.” Well, its truly extraordinary commitment to be filmed helping the Pakistani people. He says this “changed dramatically” the attitudes towards the US in Pakistan. Evidently his speech was written before the riots this week in which a KFC and other symbols of America were burned. “Indeed, it was not long before the new favorite toy in Pakistan was a small replica of a Chinook helicopter, because of the many lives our helicopters saved, and the mountains of relief supplies they delivered.” Are you suspecting what I’m suspecting, that the mountains of
relief supplies included small replicas of Chinook helicopters?

Rumsfeld pretends to be a bird (or possibly a Chinook helicopter)...

But quickly realizes his mistake when he sees Dick Cheney with a rifle.

How do you keep it together?

Condi Rice, who has just requested Congress fund dissidents in Iran and Syria (click here for the application form for the latter), suggests those countries “think twice” before funding the Palestinian government. The US has even asked for $50m in aid to be returned, and Chairman Abbas, in the full-on quisling mode that seems to be his response to the Hamas election victory, has agreed to do so.

Sometimes when I read a Bush speech, there’s some piece of idiocy that seems to have come from the Chimp himself, winging it. And then in the next speech, you see it again. And in the next speech. This, for example, is something he clearly thinks is clever, because it’s about the fifth time I’ve seen it:
My buddies in Texas, when they show up to Washington, after they get over the initial surprise that I’m still there -- (laughter) -- or got there in the first place -- (laughter) -- say, like, what’s it like, you know? What is the job description? What’s it like to be President? And the best way to answer it is, I make a lot of decisions.

The Italian Supreme Court, long a source of asinine and/or sexist decisions (past examples here and here) rules that a man who raped a 14-year old may have his sentence reduced because she was not a virgin.

Follow-up: Schwarzenegger denied clemency to the rapist-murderer who won that case on death-penalty drugs and who was represented by Kenneth Starr. No word on whether the question of virginity entered into the gropinator’s decision. He did say that Morales failed to use the word murder in his clemency request, or acknowledge the rape, so he had insufficiently accepted responsibility. How’s that inquiry into the allegations of sexual abuse by you going, governor?

Speaking of taking responsibility, Bush spreads his even further: “I thought there would be weapons of mass destruction -- and so did everybody else in the world”. “This man [Saddam Hussein] was harboring terrorists. He was on a state sponsor of terrorists list. I didn’t put him on there, he was put on there by previous Presidents.”

Speaking of taking responsibility, Media Matters points out a reluctance in the media to use the word “shot” in relation to what Cheney did to Whittington. Lots of passive voice, lots of “peppered,” lots of “was sprayed with birdshot” (makes it sound like Cheney was marking his territory, which, in a way...)

And back to the Bush speech again: “And we started off initially [In Iraq] with kind of these grand projects. We got the Congress to appropriate money, and we tried to build some great electricity-type renovations, and the enemy kept blowing them up. ... And so now we’ve got much smaller-scale projects that are yielding instant results for the people on the ground, so people say, wait a minute, this democracy deal is a pretty good thing, you know.” He doesn’t say what these instant results are, but I hope the Iraqis can see them in the dark. Electricity-type renovations?

He also hasn’t retired a phrase that’s always creeped me out due to its dehumanization of the enemy. “So on the security side, we’re on the hunt.” Dude, maybe you don’t use that phrase the week your veep shot a guy in the face.

The Q&A was, as ever at these events, staggering in its intensity:
Q Mr. President, I just wanted to take an opportunity to tell you I think our country is blessed to have you as our President.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)

Q Thank you for being our President. We are all way better off and very safe --

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks. My high honor, by the way. (Applause.)

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m glad I did it.

Q We appreciate it. How do you -- earlier you shared with us some intimacy about how you make decisions, and I felt that was heartfelt. How do you keep it together? What do you really think about when the biggest story this week was Dick Cheney’s hunting trip, and not Al Gore blasting our troops and being treasonous in his regard to this war on terror in the Middle East? (Applause.) How do you keep it together?

THE PRESIDENT: Booze and hookers.
I may have made up the last part.

Accidents do and will happen

I hate the State Department’s crappy website. I’ve been getting Condi’s budget committee testimony in dribs and drabs (by the way, do you know what a drab is? It’s a drib). Here’s another drib: she accused Hugo Chavez of practicing a “Latin brand of populism that has taken countries down the drain.” I’m kind of enjoying thinking about a brand of populism conducted entirely in Latin (“Vox populi, vox Dei,” I always say). Or, if you wanted to be even more populist, Pig Latin. Or did Condi mean something else, with salsa music and the tango and the hot Latin blood and suchlike? Populism is one of the Bushies’ swear words, although it really hasn’t caught on. You were supposed to gasp when she said it: “Populism, oh my word! heavenly mercies! oh the horror!” As I commented in October, “The Bushies don’t seem to be defining what this populism thing they’re castigating actually is, but the label is meant to somehow delegitimize leaders they dislike who nonetheless have the effrontery to win elections.”

Another drib, or possibly a drab, about building the Iraqi military and police: “To be fair, we made a mistake earlier. We relied on number rather than on quality.” I dunno, the death squads operating within the Interior Ministry seem fairly efficient.

The chief Internet guy in the Chinese government, Liu Zhengrong may or may not be horrified by the thought of populism, with or without salsa, but is afeared of “harmful information.” However, he says that Chinese censorship practices are based on those in the West, just like the Washington Post turning off comments. Oh, and the Patriot Act, it’s just like that. “We have noted that the US is doing a good job on this front.” And a Google VP told a House subcommittee, that Google’s censoring of the internet in China
was not something we did enthusiastically, or not something that we’re proud of at all.” So that’s ok, then.

There’s another reward for the death of the Danish cartoonist, this time from a cleric in Pakistan: $1 million (why must they use American currency? why not the Danish herring, or whatever they use over there?) and a car. Doesn’t say what type of car.

Harry Whittington is leaving the hospital. He says he is “deeply sorry” for the trouble he caused Dick Cheney by getting shot by him, adding, “Accidents do and will happen, and that’s what happened last Friday.” The Associated Press put a period after the word happened, covering up the worrying detail that Whittington doesn’t know what day he got shot.

The sidekicks of evil

Israel will in future allow Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel only at one of 11 separate-but-equal checkpoints; the others are reserved for “Israelis,” which includes tourists and... and some would suggest this is the giveaway... anyone entitled to emigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. Oh, and a creeping-annexation alert: 8 of the 11 are not on the actual border, but somewhere inside the West Bank.

In Beijing, a restaurant that serves only penises. And an hour later you want to eat a penis again. The Telegraph penis restaurant reviewer sampled the cuisine, but doesn’t say if yak penis tastes like chicken penis.

I don’t know if this is better or worse than being an axis of evil, but Condi referred yesterday to “Iran’s sidekicks Syria, Venezuela ... and Cuba”. Sidekicks? Sidekicks? What does that even mean? She is also talking about an “inoculation” strategy against Venezuela, which is evidently less a country than a disease now.

If it weren’t for a certain shooting incident, we’d all be having more fun this week with Kenneth Starr’s involvement in fraudulent affidavits submitted as part of a clemency appeal in a death penalty case purportedly from jurors who’d changed their minds (although, sadly, there is no evidence Starr was aware of the fraud)
(none of this , curiously, is even mentioned in the LAT story that link goes to). Starr became convinced that execution would be unjust because the man, who raped, strangled and stabbed a 17-year old girl – oh, and hit her with a hammer – has since become a “deeply sorrowful Christian,” in Starr’s words. Makes you wonder how history would have been different if Clinton had played the Jesus card.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Trained in trying to disseminate false allegations

The US has rejected a UN report calling for the closure of Stalag Guantanamo or at the very least for the torture and forcible feeding to stop, have real legal proceedings, and blah blah blah. Why, the US says in badly feigned righteous indignation, we can tell the report is biased because the investigators never even visited Gitmo, having refused our generous offer to come and not be allowed to speak with any of the prisoners (lack of transparency works twice: first you keep everyone in the dark, then you accuse them of ignorance like it’s their fault. Alberto Gonzales did this last week re NSA eavesdropping). “We know that al-Qaeda terrorists are trained in trying to disseminate false allegations,” says Scott McClellan, who, can you believe it, never had a lesson. The US response to the report (pages 53-4 of the pdf linked above) finds its condemnation of the force feeding of hunger-striking prisoners “bewildering.”

Speaking of unethical medical practices, the state of California will respond to a federal judge’s ruling that its particular cocktail of drugs used in executions may inflict pain on prisoners, won’t change the drugs but will provide an anaesthesiologist to ensure that the prisoner in the case, due to be executed next week, will be unconscious before the drugs are administered. The California Medical Association says participation by a doctor in an execution is unethical because “Capital punishment is not a medical task,” but it won’t actually do anything about it.

Condi Rice is asking Congress for tens of millions to “support the aspirations of the Iranian people” (Condi does not say how she determined what those aspirations are; possibly she went door to door with a clipboard). She accuses the Iranian government of “toxic statements and confrontational behavior,” which is funny because she just talked about trying to overthrow that government, which is usually considered at least a wee bit confrontational. Some of this money will be distributed secretly to certain Iranians, ensuring that all reformers can be denounced as American puppets. Condi says that she’s “read that” Beethoven and Mozart cannot be played in Teheran. Well, if she’s “read” it, it must be true.

One of the worst days of my life

Damn, I’m stale today. On Fox Cheney said “was one of the worst days of my life,” and while I immediately wondered what the other ones were, all I could think of were 1) the day he found out that to continue to stay out of Vietnam he would have to (shudder) fuck Lynne and get her pregnant [it’s funny because it’s true], and 2) the day he found out that Mary was a lesbian [it’s unfunny because it’s true]. See what I mean? Stale. So it’s contest time: what are some of the other worst days in the Dickster’s life?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There’s no value that can be added

My, that was the epitome of soft-ball interviews, wasn’t it? Or non-interview, really, since Hume didn’t ask a single question that Cheney didn’t want asked. One thing: I didn’t put any particular credence in the rumors that Pamela Willeford, the ambassador to Switzerland who was also on the hunt, was Cheney’s mistress until he referred to her only as “the other hunter.” As for “taking responsibility,” Media Matters points out that for several days, Cheney’s office referred all questions to Katharine Armstrong, who blamed Whittington for being shot. Still, he talked about shooting an old man in the face without actually bursting into giggles or maniacal laughter, and that’s the important thing.

That interview, remixed as a gay porn script by someone with too much time, and god knows what else, on their hands.

State Dept lawyer John Bellinger, speaking about the new (to us) Abu Ghraib photos, takes exactly the same disingenuous line that so many media outlets in the US and elsewhere have taken towards the Danish cartoons: “It’s unfortunate, though, that the photographs are continuing to come out because I think it simply fans the flames at a time that sentiments on these issues are raw around the world. People know, the world knows, that this behavior went on. It was described. It’s been prosecuted. There’s no value that can be added.” And Pentagon spokesmodel Bryan Whitman added (but without adding any value) that release of the pictures “could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world and... would endanger our military men and women”. You know the word I really like in that sentence? Unnecessary. And are you sure you didn’t mean that the photos would inflame our military men and women and endanger our unnecessary violence? Anyway, the link for those unnecessary-violence-inciting photos once again is here.

Tony Blair forces Parliament to override a House of Lords vote and ban “glorification” of terrorism, to wit,
Statements that are likely to be understood as indirectly encouraging acts of terrorism [because it] glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) or such acts or offences; and is a statement from which those members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated by them in existing circumstances.
Blair intends to use this power to ban whole organizations, and to deport foreign imams. Blair said, “We have free speech in this country, but you cannot abuse it.” I wouldn’t have thought that free speech is that difficult a concept to grasp – what part of “free” is so hard to understand?

I’m the guy who pulled the trigger

Another cartoon contest, in Israel, calling for the best anti-Semitic cartoons, with only Jews allowed to enter because they will not be under-sold.

Dick Cheney forthrightly says that he and not Harry Whittington is responsible for his having shot Whittington in the face – after waiting four days to see how well having his surrogates say the reverse was playing out, maybe have a few focus groups...

By the way, the line I’d like to see engraved on Cheney’s head-stone: “I’m the guy who pulled the trigger.”

The interview will be on Fox at 3 pm PT. I... may... have more to say afterwards.

Bush gives a speech on “health savings accounts. I call them HSAs. When you hear me say HSA, that’s kind of government-speak for health savings account.” He gave the speech at the hq of Wendy’s, a fast-food chain. Not being fully conversant with the concept of insurance, he finds it “interesting” that people with insurance pay only part of their own health care costs.
It means most Americans have no idea what their actual cost of treatment is. You show up, you got a traditional plan, you got your down payment, you pay a little co-pay, but you have no idea what the cost is. Somebody else pays it for you. And so there’s no reason at all to kind of worry about price.
And that’s a bad thing, that sick people don’t have to kind of worry about medical bills. He keeps talking about people making their health care decisions themselves, but of course what he’s advocating is having them make their health care decisions on financial rather than medical grounds. Now when people make their dietary decisions on those grounds... I did mention that he was speaking at the headquarters of Wendy’s, didn’t I?

It is what it is

Peppergate has traction and resonance because it looks, sounds, feels and especially smells like a metaphor for so many policies and attitudes of the Cheney-Bush administration that we can’t pick just one. This little incident fits a certain genre, for which Echidne of the Snakes provides the Cliff’s Notes:
Picking targets that they think are easy (tame birds in this case), then finding out that the whole thing turned into a disaster (shooting yourself or someone on your side), then exhibiting a certain callousness about the whole thing (going to have the meal as planned) and then trying to keep everything a secret.
The variants are endless: blaming the victims of Katrina; the US taking aim at a guy on crutches, experiencing “target fixation,” wheeling around and shooting peppering Afghanistan/Iraq; Valerie Plame, etc etc and etc.

Or Damadola, that town in Pakistan where the US bombed peppered a house more than a month ago to kill an Al Qaeda guy who wasn’t there, killed 18 people including children, but still hasn’t admitted it. There may be consequences for Harry Whittington, but never for Damadola, such are our priorities.

(Update: the 10 ways Iraq is like Harry Whittington.)

I watched Tuesday morning’s Gaggle for a while, but Little Scottie was simply refusing to answer any questions – “It is what it is” – and it got a little tedious. Now it turns out that he knew about the heart attack before he entered the room, and failed to say anything. Good luck with the White House press corps in the future, Little Scottie.

And good luck Iran, because Dick Cheney may have to endure the next three years without going hunting again, and he needs to burn off that cold furious rage somehow.

Elsewhere in the world, the Cartoon Wars resulted in fatalities in a new country today, Pakistan. I’ve lost track of the number of deaths. 20? A Taliban commander put a price on the heads of the cartoonists.

We finally found WMDs: the Nazis released malarial mosquitos in Italy in 1943, intending to infect invading Allied soldiers (who were taking their quinine and were unaffected, not so the civilians who lived in the area).

Some more Abu Ghraib pictures have come out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Getting personal

For Vday, a selection of personals from the London Review of Books. For all my favorite LRB personals, click here.
Librarian-looking punk, 34, seeks punkette-looking librarian.

Every year, without fail, the LRB produces the biggest turkey. This year it’s me – monocled, plaid-festooned gadabout, out of place in any relationship, or century, that fails to recognise the comfort of a secure knickerbocker. Please help me. Man, possibly your embarrassing uncle, 51. Box no. 24/10

It takes me just seven minutes and thirty-one seconds to dress for dinner. Woman, 34. Don’t even pretend not to be impressed. Box no. 01/04

Technically, by writing this ad, I’m breaking the terms of my probation. Technically, though, I’m not really a woman either. Two wrongs always make a right in the mixed-up, muddled-up, security-tagged and banned from most Croydon shopping centres world of box no. 01/09.

I once came within an ace of making my own toothpaste. M, 36, seeks woman with knowledge of fluoride compounds/tantric love-making. Box no. 02/18

I ate a pencil and three Post-Its whilst writing this ad. Oh, and drank a bottle of correcting fluid. Whhheeeeeeee!!! Man, 33-and-a-quarter. Box no. 03/06

The only thing that makes me happy is weeping in front of the television whilst wearing mother’s clothes. That, and jazzercise. M, 42. There’s always time for guilt, Newsnight, and a good abs workout in the tortured juvenile psyche of box no. 03/07

I have the largest collection of bus tickets in Sunderland. Beat that. Man, 41. Box no. 03/11

Monday, February 13, 2006

Human beings are not normally this inefficient

Today’s Gaggle is especially amusing and worth reading/viewing. One reporter used the line I used as this post’s title. You almost feel sorry for Little Scottie. Okay, you don’t. Looks like the press corps has finally found an issue they’re not willing to be lied to about.

Scottie may not be able to answer basic questions about The Incident, but he does have an answer for the Cartoon Wars: “And I think we ought to look at all the goodwill that’s being shown at the Olympics as an example of the kind of understanding that we would like to see moving forward.”

And evidently God has his own response to the cartoons: a calf born in Egypt whose skin folds form the words (presumably in Arabic but possibly in Moo-Cow) “There is no God but Allah.” I was unable to find a picture.

The lame-duck Palestinian parliament, in its last session, voted to greatly expand the powers of Mahmoud Abbas at the expense of the incoming Hamas-led parliament, including the right to appoint judges to the highest court without parliamentary confirmation. The packed court will then overturn legislation passed by Hamas.

It looks very much like the elections in Haiti are being stolen, or at least forced into a second round (after the first one was postponed 4 or 5 times). Lenin’s Tomb has details, but there’s one Lennie missed: the 50% Preval has to get to prevent that run-off includes 50% of all those ballots which are rejected as “faulty” or (allegedly) blank (14% in some areas). In the election-theft biz, that’s known as having your hanging chad and eating it too.

He will take whatever steps are needed to comply with applicable rules

Oh dear holy fuck, it just gets better. This is the statement, evidently the ONLY statement, issued by the office of the vice president:
It has been brought to the Vice President’s attention by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department this afternoon that, although he had acquired a 125 dollar Texas non-resident season hunting license, he lacked a 7 dollar stamp for hunting upland game birds. To address any questions about the licensing:

-- A member of the Vice President’s staff wrote a check for 140 dollars understanding that this would purchase a Texas non-resident season hunting license that would permit the Vice President to hunt quail in Texas. It appears now that the license itself cost 125 dollars, and an extra 15 dollars covered the cost of a Federal migratory bird stamp. The Vice President did not need the Federal stamp, as he already possessed one.

-- The staff asked for all permits needed, but was not informed of the 7 dollar upland game bird stamp requirement.

-- Because the requirement is new, the Department has informed us that it is issuing warnings, and the Vice President expects to receive one. He will take whatever steps are needed to comply with applicable rules.

-- In the meantime, the Vice President has sent a 7 dollar check to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which is the cost of an upland game bird stamp.
I know I’m satisfied.

Actually, I’m no longer convinced that the wall of secrecy was just to get them past the Sunday talk shows. Not telling Bush for 12 hours, and telling the White House that there had been a shooting but not who the shooter was, smells of “plausible deniability.” I think they were planning a cover-up that didn’t work, probably getting Whittington to say that he’d accidentally shot himself.

Wait a minute, why is a member of Cheney’s staff, paid for by taxpayer dollars, running personal, blood-sport-related errands for him?

All of you are going to be seeking that information

I was going to ask if Cheney spoke to the local cops before fleeing the scene back to Washington, but silly me: in Texas when someone gets shot while hunting there’s no requirement even to inform the authorities unless they actually die.

Still less is there a legal requirement to inform the press. White House press corps to McClellan: “Why didn’t you tell us Cheney shot a guy?” McClellan: “You didn’t ask.” (I wrote that before seeing his actual words: “Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it’s going to be news, and all of you are going to be seeking that information.”) Ten bucks to the first reporter who asks just how many other people Cheney has shot over the years that they failed to tell us about. Remember all that construction work a couple of years ago at Blair House (the Veep residence)? Installing giant freezers to store all the bodies.

Rumsfeld has been visiting North Africa, citing Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as positive examples for dealing with “the problem of extremism.” Here’s how he describes his conversation with Algerian President Bouteflika:
He described it from the inside, as to what took place and how they fought off the terrorism problem and the problem of extremism, and the numbers of people who were killed or beheaded, and the task of persuading the Algerian people that their future was in a forward-looking, economically prosperous, democratic system, as opposed to violence and extremism.
Or to put it another way, how the Algerian government refused to implement the results of elections won by Islamists, banned their parties, then massacred many thousands of people and threw tens of thousands into prison.
And I was musing as he talked about the fact that so many people looking at it from the outside had so many ideas and critiques, and opined on this and opined on that, and it was very different from where he was.
Different still from a dungeon or a mass grave.


Mary Matalin says Cheney “was not careless or incautious or violate any of the [rules]. He didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do.” Now they’re just cut-and-pasting, using the same assertions to defend torture, holding people without trial, wiretapping, shootin’ a guy, whatever. In comments on my last post, Neil Shakespeare suggests the delay in getting Whittington to the hospital was in case someone checked Cheney’s blood-alcohol level, which seems plausible.

Also – obvious, but I didn’t think of it earlier – he waited until after the Sunday-morning shows were safely past.

Also, at some point he has to make a public statement, in which he will have to attempt to express contriteness and sympathy for the fellow human being he shot, so he’s gotta be practicing that, like Dick Gregory once said Lyndon Johnson didn’t talk about race for a while after he became president because his aides were trying to teach him how to say negro. “Niggra-o.” “Not quite, Mr. President, try again.”

Starting with the woman who owns the ranch where Cheney stalked and gunned down his prey, we have and will be hearing a lot of people talking about how it’s no big deal to be shot (or “peppered,” as they like to call it), why heck being shot by one of your buddies while huntin’ and drinkin’ is the Texas equivalent of a bar mitzvah.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

You just stand there looking cute, And when something moves, you shoot

Lech Walesa suggests to Cuban exiles in Florida that they should prepare for what happens after Castro dies. Yeah, they should really do that instead of whatever it is they’ve been doing for the last 50 years.

Cheney exercised one of the little-known “inherent rights of the vice presidency,” and shot a 78-year old man.

Harry Whittington, who has just found his way into history trivia quizzes for decades to come, may have been a Republican, a lawyer and a hunter, but he also campaigned for better treatment of retarded prisoners, including not, you know, executing them.

They didn’t make an announcement until the local press got hold of the story over a day later. Say, do you think they reported the shooting to the police? Oh, and despite the fact that Cheney has his own personal ambulance, which did take Whittington to the hospital (insert your own ambulance-chaser joke here), it didn’t do so until nearly 3 hours after he was shot. What’s that about?

I’m gonna have that Tom Lehrer song – you know the one I mean – going through my head the rest of the day.

The United Arab Emirates sentences 26 men who attended a gay wedding (!) to 5 years each for being gay.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Norman Solomon makes the point that we’re being too sanguine if we think Bush can’t use an over-stretched US military against Iran: “But what’s on the horizon is not an invasion -- it’s a major air assault”.

Riverbend raided.

Salman Rushdie, in an op-ed piece in favor of free speech (who’da thunk it?), quotes a t-shirt: “Blasphemy is a victimless crime.”

A letter to the London Times: “I have just purchased a bread and butter pudding from the Finest range of a leading supermarket chain. A heart-emblazoned sticker proclaims: ‘Perfect for Valentine’s Day’. Lower down, an information box states: ‘Serves 3’.” David Lilley, Leicestershire

And the Olympics Fever computer virus infects the LauraBot 3000. Or do any of you have a better caption you’d like to share with the class?

Friday, February 10, 2006

But I sure as H.E. double hockey sticks believe in something for victims of rape

The NYT runs the story of the alleged Al Qaeda shoe-bomb plot against LA on page A20, the WaPo on A4. Get the feeling they don’t really believe it either?

But it doesn’t matter. Democrats probably also have their doubts, but they’re afraid of saying so, in case they turn out to be wrong and look foolish. This is how Bush can lie, can be known to have a long record of lying, and not be slapped down for it.

Condi Rice congratulates the Haitian people on voting, just as if the US hadn’t forced the last elected president to resign before they would save his fucking life from thugs supported and funded by the US (my recap here). So anyway, pretending all that never happened, she tells the Haitian people to “respect the final results” (!) and says the Bush admin will “support the people of Haiti as they progress toward a transparent and stable democracy”.

However, nothing says transparent democracy like an open-mike incident.

The lower house of the South Dakota legislature votes 47-22 to ban pretty much all abortions, turning back moves to make exemptions in cases of rape, incest or the woman’s health. The pro-choice side was careful to follow Saletan’s advice and proclaim their abhorrence for abortion itself, one legislator saying, “I don’t believe in abortion by choice... But I sure as H.E. double hockey sticks believe in something for victims of rape.” AP says that Rep. Keri Weems, who made the usual don’t-punish-the-fetus-just-because-its-father-raped-its-mother argument, “describes herself as a stay-at-home mother,” which is funny because I thought that “Rep.” stood for Representative, which isn’t really a stay-at-home job, but perhaps in South Dakota Rep. is a special title they give to mothers, standing for Reproducer. Actually, she so describes herself on her website, where we find that she also wants to make distribution of condoms in schools punishable by one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, and to exempt cattle and swine semen from sales tax. Sort of a mixed message, really. A Democrat noted that this vote would be used “in campaign fodder,” impelling one of the Righteous, Republican party leader Rep. Larry Rhoden, to say, “I’m offended that anybody on this floor would accuse us of being political on this issue. We’re debating this based on our own personal beliefs.” Yes, precisely: you’re trying to impose your own personal beliefs on everyone else.

Via SF Chronic columnist Jon Carroll, this 4½-minute video of a guy juggling (the one at the right labeled “big finale”). Take my word for it, go watch.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

That’s what friends do -- they share information and share strategic thoughts

Bush met today with right-wing Polish President Kaczynski. “I asked the President his advice on Ukraine. That’s what friends do -- they share information and share strategic thoughts.” Oh, and help each other move.

Some people think the sudden eruption of the Cartoon Wars four months after the cartoons’ original publication indicates some sort of organization or conspiracy. If so, the four-month delay is the tell-tale signature of that most dastardly group (you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?), FEMA.

The part of the story about the supposed plot to shoe-bomb hijack a plane into downtown LA that is least credible is that the alleged hijackers went to meet Osama and get his blessing a month after 9/11, which would have been a ridiculous breach of security. At today’s Gaggle, Little Scottie was stumped by a question about how you hijack a plane with a weapon more suited to blowing up a plane. The administration answer is that they would use the shoe-bombs to blow up the cockpit door so that they could gain access and... what? hijack the plane with no other weapons, and not even a door to stop the passengers tearing them apart?

By the way, Bush accidentally referred to the Library Tower as the Liberty Tower, verbally replacing one thing with which he is completely unfamiliar with another thing with which he is completely unfamiliar.

It’s like a padded cell – on wheels!

Man, remember when the phrase “cartoon protests” applied only to any event Al Sharpton showed up at?

When Democrats in the House International Relations Committee submitted resolutions asking for information about torture policy and extraordinary rendition, Henry Hyde suggested that they should “at least silently confess to themselves that their actions pose real dangers to our country.” The resolutions were of course voted down by the R’s.

An AP story yesterday passed on the Pentagon’s claim that there were only four detainees still hunger striking in Guantanamo. Spokesscum Col. Jeremy Martin, who we’ve seen before defending the torture of forcible feeding and describing hunger striking as an Al Qaeda tactic, claims to have no idea why the drop in numbers – Martin never seems to know what prisoners are thinking, saying or demanding, because that would humanize them – saying, “We haven’t changed anything. Our processes and procedures are the same.” In fact, they are not, as is proven in an actual by god piece of investigative journalism, only 4 years late, in today’s NYT. I won’t quote at length because you need to go read it now. Take your time, I’ll be waiting in the next paragraph.

They have clearly stepped up the level of violence used against hunger-striking prisoners, and deliberately increased the pain involved in forcible feeding, removing throat lozenges, over-feeding to cause diarrhea, and introducing... the Emergency Restraint Chair.

They’ve bought 25 of these puppies, and are clearly using them as punishment, strapping prisoners into them for hours at a time, which goes against the manufacturers’ instructions that “Detainees should not be left in the Emergency Restraint Chair for more than two hours. The Emergency Restraint Chair should never be used as a means of punishment.” The company told the NYT that the Pentagon never asked for instructions in the chairs’ use.

My googling also turned up this site, which has many prisoner-restraint products for sale, and is quite scary.

(Update: Sigh, Slate’s Today’s Papers did the same Google search I did and has a link to the restraint chair company too. I thought I’d be the only blog with a picture of the chair. Actually, the print NYT, which arrived after I wrote the above, has the first picture, although the Times website does not.)

As long as I’m being unoriginal, I’ll hat-tip A Tiny Revolution’s catch on this wonderfully telling sentence from the London Times: “Iran has threatened to defend itself if attacked.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If we didn’t build on former cemeteries, we would never build

Condi Rice failed to respond when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a fellow member of the my-parents-were-drunk-when-they-picked-my-name club (or, in Livni’s case, not so much drunk as tzipsy), said that a Palestinian state run by Hamas would by definition be a “terrorist entity.”

Israel is building a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. On the site of an ancient Indian Muslim cemetery, used for more than 1,000 years. Says the srael Antiquities Authority, “If we didn’t build on former cemeteries, we would never build.”

Picture from the Pentagon website, where it has the caption, “U.S. Marines perform log drills, which are exercises conducted using logs”.

And the world ought to call them on it

Bush met with Jordan’s King Abdullah, his Oilaholics Anonymous sponsor, today. “We had a little time by ourselves to talk strategically about the world and our deep desire for this world to be peaceful.” One of the things they talked strategically about was... those damn cartoons. Evidently “we believe in a free press. We also recognize that with freedom comes responsibilities. With freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others.” Bush is always willing to stand up for rights, as long as they’re not exercised. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to suppress free speech: “we reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press.” Jordan, for example, simply arrested two editors. Think George asked Kingy about them? He went on to call on all governments to stop the violence (the largest number of deaths, 12 so far, has been in US-occupied Afghanistan), “to be respectful” (!), and to protect the lives of “innocent diplomats” (is there such a creature as an innocent diplomat?).

Condi Rice has found the real culprit in the Cartoon Wars: Iran and Syria, who have “gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.” Yeah, I’d hate for the smoking cartoon gun to come in the form of a cartoon mushroom cloud.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Give the customers what they want

Favorite White House website article title of the week: “President Honors Dance Theatre of Harlem at the White House.”

Also honored by the president today, Coretta Scott King. Less honored was the woman at the far right of this picture, who goes unidentified in the caption on the White House website. Hillary Clinton, of course, and they were so anxious not to have her fully in frame that they cropped the picture in a way which also left out George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. And, er, how disrespectful would it be to have a caption contest here, about just what Shrub is thinking at this moment?

A week ago I asked how the cartoon protesters got those Danish flags they were burning in Gaza. Capitalism, baby, capitalism.
When entrepreneur Ahmed Abu Dayya first heard that Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed were being reprinted across Europe, he knew exactly what his customers in Gaza would want: flags to burn.
$11 each.
Abu Dayya sources some of his flags from suppliers in Taiwan, but he buys Israeli flags from a merchant in Israel, even though he sells them to be burned at anti-Israeli rallies.
And the Danish flag was also burnt today by Members of the state parliament of the Kano province of Nigeria, the closest thing Nigeria has to Taleban-era Afghanistan, where they resisted polio vaccinations as a diabolical Western plot. No word on where they acquired the flag. The flag was also burnt in the Philippines today.

Actually, “bling handler” sounds kind of dirty

Something seems a bit suspicious about the fact that in the Cartoon Wars, 5 Afghans were killed by Afghan police trying to storm Bagram Air Base. Since when does the American military entrust its security to Afghans?

Job title of the day: “bling handler” for a rapper. And that guy just got killed, so the job is available.

The deputy editor of the Taizhou Evening News dies following a police beating.

Gonzales said that the only reason they’re not wiretapping calls both ends of which are in the US is that public reaction might be negative. In other words, they probably think it’s one more thing they have the “inherent authority” to do (the list grows with each episode of “24”: every time Jack Bauer threatens to gouge someone’s eye out or whatever, Gonzales “discovers” something else they have the inherent authority to do), but it’s politically expedient not to, at least for the present.

Reminds me: I would have quoted Russ Feingold yesterday, but I thought everyone else would, and they haven’t. In response to that nonsense about D’s having a “pre-9/11 mindset,” he said that Bush is demonstrating a pre-1776 mindset.

Poland is down to fewer than 200 legal abortions a year, and often it’s the doctors themselves doing the refusing. A woman who was told by 3 eye doctors that a pregnancy could result in blindness was refused an abortion by all 3 of those doctors and a gynecologist; she gave birth, is now close to blind, and is taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The language about Iran has been quietly ramping up, not perhaps helped by the announcement by Iran’s largest newspaper that it will run cartoons making fun of the Holocaust. In fact, it will have a contest to find the best one. What would an appropriate prize be for that? In addition to the Security Council referral over its nuclear program, I’ve heard government statements in the last week claiming Iran is the biggest state sponsor of terrorism and that the increasing sophistication of IED’s in Iraq is down to Iranian assistance.

Which reminds me that I’ve been meaning to do a brief book report slash recommendation of a book I finished last week, Norman Solomon’s War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. The book’s an essay about the myths, lies, memes used to sell America’s wars, using the wars of the last 40 years to illuminate the current Iraq war. It’s very much a journalist’s book, relying mostly on old newspaper and magazine articles rather than archives and memoirs. This means he doesn’t really delve into whether Lyndon Johnson, Reagan, Rumsfeld, Bush etc actually believe what they’re saying, but that would be a different book. This book is divided into 17 chapters, each of which focuses on one of these myths, such as: This Guy is a Modern-Day Hitler, They Are the Aggressors, Not Us, The Pentagon Fights Wars as Humanely as Possible, Withdrawal Would Cripple U.S. Credibility, What the US Government Needs Most is Better PR, etc (the table of contents is on the Amazon site). He demonstrates that the same themes are recycled over and over; this book is intended to be the antidote to the American amnesia that allows successive administrations to get away with that. The structure of the book really works: I knew most of this stuff, but the thematic chapters arrange the information in a way that is genuinely enlightening. Since his concerns overlap so well with my own, I would venture that anyone who likes my blog would like this book. And if you use the link at the top of this paragraph, Amazon will kick back 89¢ to me (or check your public library, like I did). Solomon’s previous book, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You, is available as a free download on his website. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Oh, and no small thing: the man can write.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The short answer is, we didn’t think we needed to

The BBC said it, I didn’t: “Muslim Cartoon Fury Claims Lives.”

Alberto Gonzales, testifying about domestic surveillance, gave an answer that it took me a second to realize was inadvertently revealing: asked why the admin hadn’t consulted Congress, he replied, “The short answer is, we didn’t think we needed to.” Going into the store this morning, I didn’t need to hold the door for the person behind me, it wasn’t a legal requirement, but I did it anyway. Asked where in the Constitution it says that the prez can wiretap American citizens without a warrant, he admitted “nowhere specifically.” So if they don’t wanna do something, they don’t gotta unless it says so in exactly as many words in the Constitution, but if they wanna do something, they’ll interpret the shit out of that parchment. (Update: Leahy made exactly that point: “I’m getting the impression this administration picks and chooses what it’s subject to.”) So there was a lot of talk about the inherent powers of this incoherent president; “inherent powers” are the Holy Ghost of this administration’s constitutional theology. Biden asked what damage could really have been caused by the leak of the existence of this program, didn’t terrorists already figure that they were being listened to; Gonzales replied that “if they’re not reminded about it all the time in the newspapers and in stories, they sometimes forget.” And for sweeps, a little stunt casting: the R’s brought the sister of one of the 9/11 pilots to the hearings.