Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sort of a weird duck

Message to McNeil-Lehrer reporters, and all reporters, really: stop calling it the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

Larry King interviewed Richard Beelzebub Cheney today. Asked him, “do you ever, as an intelligent person, look in the mirror and say, maybe I’m wrong?” That is a silly question. Everyone knows Cheney casts no reflection.

Cheney admitted that the “last throes” line was wrong.

But of course they’re in the last throes now. To prove it, he quotes the O’Hanlon & Pollack op-ed piece from yesterday’s NYT, “not exactly a friendly publication”.

He would not admit to being either in the executive or the legislative branch: “the Vice President is sort of a weird duck”. Duck. With a “d.”

He claims not to remember if he sent Gonzo & Card to harass Ashcroft in the hospital. “I don’t recall that I gave instructions to that effect.” Really, he ordered so many officials to bother so many post-op patients – it’s sort of a hobby of his – that it’s hard to keep track.

He says the letter that Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent to Hillary castigating her for asking for the details of plans for withdrawal of troops from Iraq was “a good letter.” He says it’s “an important principle” not to tell Congress anything about military operations.

However, he denies Walter Mondale’s charge that he has a “near total aversion to the notion of accountability.” “Fact is, my job has been to serve the President. ... In terms of accountability, I’m accountable to him.” And you can’t get much more accountable than that.

He says the Scooter Libby commutation was “a good outcome.” Because Larry King failed to ask the question, he doesn’t repeat what he told CBS a couple of days ago, that he thinks the jury was wrong to convict.

He says we have to keep Guantanamo open because of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: “We need to hold him someplace. He’s held at Guantanamo.” Because we really don’t have any, what do you call them, prisons, here on the mainland. Nope, total dearth of rooms with bars in the United States.

Meditations on technology

FBI and IRS agents searched the home of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-No!) yesterday. Wouldn’t it be funny if they found that the internet really did come into his house through a series of tubes?

In Bush’s radio address Saturday, he called for new wiretapping powers. Terrorists now use disposable cellphones, he said, so obviously we need a disposable Bill of Rights.

The Iraqi Parliament began its summer vacation yesterday. Er, vacation from what?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Does he understand it’s an ideological struggle? And he does. (updated)(the post, not the ideological struggle)

Bush finally met with Gordon Brown, possibly the only person in the world who wants Bush to give him a nickname, because even Gordon Brown finds Gordon Brown incredibly boring. Sadly, in their press conference today, there was no sign of a nickname.

What there was a sign of, is that Bush looked into StinkyBrown’s eyes and saw someone who “understood” everything Bush believes:
[W]e have an obligation, it seems to me, to work for freedom and justice around the world. And I found a person who shares that vision and who understands the call.

He also understands what I know, that if we’re really interested in eradicating poverty, it’s important for us to be successful in the Doha round.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Gordon Brown understands that failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the security of our own countries

And what’s interesting about this struggle -- and this is what I was paying very careful attention to when Gordon was speaking -- is, does he understand it’s an ideological struggle? And he does.

There’s a lot of cynics saying, how dare they; how dare they impose U.S. or Great British values. And what I found was a man who understands that these aren’t Great British and U.S. values, these are universal values.
Indeed, he likes the Great British people precisely because he thinks there’s no such thing as “Great British values”: “But it’s an important relationship primarily because we think the same.”

Of course Brown isn’t just a Great Britisher, he’s a Scotsman, although, according to Bush, “he’s not the dour Scotsman that you described him, or the awkward Scotsman; he’s actually the humorous Scotsman”. Brown recounts that Bush told him of having visited Scotland “at the age of 14, and had to sit through very long Presbyterian Church services in which you didn’t understand a word of what the minister was actually saying. So I think you came to a better understanding of the Scottish contribution to the United Kingdom from that”. Long and incomprehensible. Also: deep-fried Mars bars.

I presume Brown meant Bush couldn’t understand because of the accent, not because he’s stupid. 25 or so years ago, the movie Gregory’s Girl had to be dubbed when it played in America.

IN OTHER WORDS: “I would describe Gordon Brown as a principled man who really wants to get something done. In other words, in my discussions with him last night we spent about two hours over dinner, just alone.”

IN OTHER WORDS: “And so I made the decision to send more troops in, understanding the consequences of failure if we did not do so. In other words, I said I think if we don’t send troops, it’s more likely we’ll fail”.

Brown said, “Terrorism is not a cause, it is a crime, and it is a crime against humanity.” No one ever said terrorism is a cause, it is a method. John Le Carré said, I believe in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, that politicians in the West like to compare our ideals with the Communist Bloc’s methods, although the two side’s professed ideals were both high-minded and utopian while their methods were both ruthless and nasty.

Brown was very careful not to differ from Bush on the tiniest detail. At one point he accidentally said that “Afghanistan is the front line against terrorism,” reflecting a certain belief in the Labour Party that Britain should drop Iraq and concentrate on the one possibly winnable war. When a reporter brought it up, he denied having said that, claiming, “I think I described Afghanistan as the first line in the battle against the Taliban.” As opposed to Belgium?

(Update: just caught excerpts on the BBC of what it called, with a particularly English – pardon me, Great British – horticultural aptness, the Brown-Bush summit. Brown did not look happy to be there, and did not look like he was trying, like Blair always tried, to be friends with the crazy moron. The BBC noted that none of Bush’s lavish praise of Brown – assuming that saying he understands the world the same way Bush does amounts to praise in the eyes of anyone except Bush – was reciprocated.)

We must reflect on our shortcomings

I can’t believe there isn’t a “Compassionate Misanthropes for Hillary” website yet. Someone get on that.

Another must-read: the LAT on the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announces that he won’t be stepping down just because his party was rather badly defeated in the upper house elections. As it happens, all those people who voted for other parties didn’t really want those other parties to take power. Rather, “Voters said we must reflect on our shortcomings and refresh the line-up.” He figures a reshuffle should do it. One is reminded of the lessons Bush drew from the 2006 elections, that the voters wanted him to implement the exact same policies, but better. (Update: register their displeasure with the lack of progress, was what he said the voters had done.)

A true compassionate misanthrope, Ingmar Bergman, has died. 89 miserable years. I blame him for Woody Allen not being funny anymore.

What do you mean, “Yahtzee”?

The magic number

Today’s must-read: Mark Benjamin at Salon on the “collateral damage estimate” prepared before air strikes, and why the magic number is 30. Rather too far down in this longish article is that they rarely do the assessments they are supposed to do afterwards to see if they actually killed the number of civilians they had decided in advance was acceptable, a fact which tells you everything you need to know about the Pentagon’s commitment to not killing civilians.

Walter Pincus notes in the WaPo that while Congress just voted again against creating permanent military bases in Iraq, the US military is spending billions of dollars in construction each year without specifying where any of it is going. I’m guessing an 18-million-hole golf course.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Not acceptable in Islam and Afghan culture

Even Republicans know they’d look ridiculous talking about winning the Iraq war. Today McCain said, “We will not allow the United States of America to lose this war.” Like it just can’t happen without his permission.

Speaking of not allowing things, my quote of the day is from Afghan legislator (provincial, I think) Habib Rahman: “When the elders and clerics go to talk with the Taliban, they will explain once again that taking hostages is not acceptable in Islam and Afghan culture.”

Saturday, July 28, 2007

You can’t just shoot anybody

Latest revelation from the court-martial of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III for the murder of Awad the Lame: it was inspired by a 1999 Willem Dafoe movie I’ve never heard of, “The Boondock Saints,” about some guys in da neighborhood who decide to do the vigilante thing and kill members of the Russian mob. The Onion’s A.V. Club describes it as “Less a proper action-thriller than a series of gratuitously violent setpieces strung together with only the sketchiest semblance of a plot... clearly designed to appeal to heartless armchair sadists.” Much like, well, you know.

The witness who gave us this tidbit, Lt. Nathan Phan, admits that he really did once order Hutchins to choke a prisoner unconscious. Phan, who is testifying in exchange for not being charged with beating up prisoners, agreed that maybe that order contributed to the lawless environment that led to the murder of Awad the Lame.

The Pentagon has been talking a lot about “bottom-up” reconciliation in Iraq. Evidently, while parliament and the Maliki regime may be failing to achieve anything, there’s just boatloads of bottom-up reconciliation, which is conveniently immeasurable – unbenchmarkable if you will – but which they’ll be happy to tell you a few anecdotes about. And Sunni militias, which the US is arming, they count too, because sectarian militias have always been such a force for reconciliation. Says Gen. Petraeus of what either he or the WaPo call these “grass-roots forces,” “This is a very, very important component of reconciliation because it’s happening from the bottom up”. Must be a definition of reconciliation with which I was not familiar.

The Post also checked in with Col. Ricky Gibbs, who is helping Sunnis form militias in Baghdad itself. He was telling some Sunni leaders (however that is defined – the article doesn’t say), “You have the green light. But they have to follow the rules. You can’t just shoot anybody. No vengeance . . . But the bad guys -- I don’t care. Go get them.” See, now they know they can only shoot “bad guys.” I don’t see what could possibly go wrong with that.

I’m not really sure whether the American military types are really so stupid as to believe this is an effective military measure and that these militias in Anbar and now Baghdad will focus their lethal attentions exclusively on “Al Qaida in Iraq,” or if this is a “divide et impera” tactic to put pressure on Maliki and the Shiites – the longer you take passing an oil law, the more guns we’ll give to your enemies.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sporty exchanges

At the UN, the Palestinian delegation is obstructing a Security Council expression of concern about conditions in Palestine.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza part of Palestine, that is.

The Daily Telegraph, which if you kind of squint at it looks a little like a real newspaper, reports, citing aides to both men, that Maliki has frequent shouting matches with David Petraeus and has demanded of Bush that Petraeus be recalled. AP doesn’t confirm that part, but does report that there have been what Ambassador Ryan Crocker calls “sporty exchanges” (he does not say what sport) (Crocker seems to have invented this phrase).

And Maliki’s spokesmodel responded with great tact to the demands of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni party threatening to pull out of the cabinet, accusing them of “threatening, pressuring and blackmail” in an attempt to “bring Iraq back to the time of dictatorship and slavery.”

Maliki especially dislikes Petraeus’s new policy of arming Sunni militias, and the Iraqi Accordance Front especially dislikes the presence of Shiite militiamen in the Iraqi military.

I’m going to play like I understand what all that means

Because the Dalai Lama has pronounced against the wearing of fur, the Chinese government has ordered that anyone attending a horse-racing festival in Tibet is required to wear fur.

Today Bush presented National Medal of Science and Technology awards, in the greatest collection of geeks and nerds in the White House since Jimmy Carter dined alone. They all had to bow their heads before their Chimpish Overlord.

Said Bush, “In a single room, we have thinkers who helped formulate and refine the Big Bang theory of the universe, the bootstrap re-sampling technique of statistics, the algebraic K-theory of mathematics. I’m going to play like I understand what all that means.” Dude, that’s taken as read for every single sentence you say, including “Mommy, I went poop now” this morning.

He called for “creat[ing] an ‘adjunct teachers corps’ of math and science professionals all aiming to bring their expertise into American classrooms. It’s not really what the aim is -- the aim is to make it clear to young Americans that being in science and engineering is okay; it’s cool; it’s a smart thing to do.” Why, someday you might get to stand next to a president of the United States with an IQ more than 100 points lower than yours. Isn’t that cool?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Staying strong when it comes to liberty as a transformative agent to bring the peace we want

Bush gave a speech today at something called the American Legislative Exchange Council (evidently a group of right-wing state legislators).

He told them, “I believe in that old Texas adage, if you don’t stand for something, you don’t believe in anything.” Or possibly vice versa. I’m pretty sure that’s not an old adage from Texas or anywhere else.

He says that a $2,200 tax break means a lot to the farmer “out there who’s worried about making crop”. Well, if he’s making crop rather than growing crops, that could be the problem right there.

IN OTHER WORDS: “Since August of 2003, when these tax cuts took full effect, we’ve increased new jobs by 8.2 million. In other words, people are working.”

IN OTHER WORDS: On Democrats in Congress: “In other words, they’re now in charge; it’s important that they exercise their responsibility.”

IN OTHER WORDS: “In other words, Tommy, we’ll be driving pickup trucks that may not be running on gasoline.”

IN OTHER WORDS: “We were attacked by a group of ruthless killers who have an ideology. In other words, they believe something.”

THE EVER-POPULAR, DEATH-DEFYING DOUBLE IN OTHER WORDS: “In other words, there wasn’t enough security at the time -- in other words, enough confidence in the security at the time amongst the Iraqi people to be able to stop people from fighting each other.”

He wants the Pentagon budget passed before any of the other appropriations bill, and before the August recess. “We got troops in harm’s way.”

He wants to do something about earmarks, which these time he didn’t call entitlements, because – and see if you can read this without laughing – “I believe in accountability when it comes to spending your money. We want there to be transparency.”

He reiterated his belief that “some unbelievable technologies,” “optimistic things that are coming” will take care of all our energy and environmental problems without anybody having to change their lifestyle or – heaven forfend – drive a vehicle that looks like a golf cart. “I mean, we’ve got a comprehensive plan that says, technology and free enterprise can help us achieve energy independence. That’s what we want.”

“You know, one of the real problems we have in America is an achievement gap. I guess that’s a fancy word for saying that generally Anglo kids are doing better in the basics than African American or Latino kids.” He thinks “achievement gap” is one word. Excuse me, achievementgap. Say, that is a fancy word.

The achievementgap is a problem because “The economy is going to demand brain power as we head into the 21st century”. Sure, because we’ll be fueling those vehicles that don’t look like golf carts...with brains. “It’s people! Chevron Green is made out of people!!”

I’ve been cutting down on the number of Bush grammatical mistakes I point out in each of these Bush-speech posts, because it just gets long and tedious, with all the subject/verb agreement issues and the dropped articles, but who can resist when the subject is education: “When you find an inner-city kid that may not have the right curriculum to get he or she up to the grade level at the 4th grade, let’s solve it now”.

And, of course, he spoke about The War Against Terror (TWAT). “When I talk about a caliphate that stretches from Spain to Indonesia, that means that they want to impose their ideology on people.”

And what would such a caliphate be like? “Well, I just want you to remember -- think what it would be like to be a young girl growing up in Afghanistan, when they were able to find their safe haven and impose their vision across that country.” Note that he thinks Afghanistan was ruled by Al Qaida.

“These people, they’re smart, they’re tough, and we need to be tougher every single day.” Evidently we don’t also need to be smarter than them. Hate for George to strain something.

“See, they understand when they fill our TV screens with death and misery it causes a compassionate people to recoil.” Also, any stories about Lindsay Lohan. “They know that we value human life, and therefore, when they take human life it affects how the American people feel.”

He carefully analyzes these wannabe tv producers: “And then this enemy -- and the enemy, by the way, is comprised of people who wish they were still in power, disgruntled militia that are trying to make -- see if they can’t take advantage of some chaos. But the enemy that is causing the biggest spectaculars is al Qaeda.”

He says there is a debate in Washington, “well, is the al Qaeda in Iraq have anything to do with the al Qaeda that’s hiding out somewhere in the regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan? There’s some actually who say, well, they’re different”. George, of course, thinks differently: “And they have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and they agree that Iraq is the central part of this war on terror, with Osama bin Laden. And they agree with his ambition to drive us out so they could have a safe haven from which to plot further attacks. Yes, al Qaeda in Iraq is dangerous to the United States of America. They blew up the holy shrine. They saw the progress being made; they can’t stand the thought of a free society that will thwart their ambitions, and they blew up the shrine.” I’ve been trying to decide whether to call this strategy of obfuscatory revisionism 1) rebunking or 2) embunkening. What do you think?

“It’s really interesting to watch this counterinsurgency strategy work. I mean, when people on the ground begin to have confidence, they, all of a sudden, start making good decisions for a state that will represent their interests.”

There were a couple of other “All of a sudden”s. That’s one of his phrases that you don’t hear for a while, then he can’t shut it off. “Then all of a sudden, you begin to get a sense of our strategy on how to handle the deficit...” “And all of a sudden, we put more Marines in, the people saw things change on the ground...”

George has a curious faith in the power of motherhood, considering the hell-beast who spawned him: “See, I believe most Muslim mothers, for example, want their child to grow up in peace. I believe there’s something universal about motherhood. I don’t think mothers in America think necessarily different from mothers in Iraq. I think the mother in Iraq says, gosh, I hope for the day when my child can go outside and play and not fear violence”. What’s the Arabic for gosh?

BEGIN THE BEGUINE: “And when people begin to see that these thugs that have a dark vision begin to get defeated, people begin to change attitudes.”

WHO IS MORE CONFUSED IN THIS SENTENCE, BUSH, AL QAIDA IN IRAQ, OR MANY EXPERTS? YOU BE THE JUDGE: “Last November, many experts said that Anbar province, which al Qaeda in Iraq has stated as their -- that they wanted as a safe haven -- this was going to be where they were going to launch their caliphate from -- they said, we can’t win there.”

“Now, I know that the car bombs that take place tend to cloud people’s vision.” Is that how The Shadow did it? I always wondered.

If you’re counting the pop cultural references in this post, that’s Soylent Green, Lindsay Lohan, Cole Porter, and The Shadow. I’m nothing if not versatile.

“See, unlike some wars, this enemy wouldn’t be content to stay in Iraq.” Well, sure, have you seen Iraq lately? “They would follow us here.... They’re dangerous in Iraq, and they’ll be dangerous here.”

And he concluded: “But I would remind you, in the long run, the best way for your children and grandchildren to be able to say that when given a tough task, this generation didn’t flinch, and had certain faith -- had faith in certain values -- is that we stay strong when it comes to liberty as a transformative agent to bring the peace we want.”

And then he went home for the Special Olympics Global Law Enforcement Torch Run Ceremony. No idea what that is. I’m thinking Don Knotts in the Andy Griffith Show and Murray the Cop in The Odd Couple. Caption contest:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A proud moment for George W. Bush

Tony Blair says there is a “sense of possibility at the moment” in the Middle East. He does not say if there is a possibility of sense.

Lance Cpl Stephen Tatum said (not under oath) at his hearing that during the Haditha Massacre, he killed civilians in their home because he didn’t know that there were civilians in civilian homes: “I didn’t know there was women and children in that house until later.” In fact, he had another word for them: “I really couldn’t make out more than targets.” He said that if he had known, “I would have physically stopped everybody in that room from shooting.” However, witnesses have testified that he was told, gave an order to kill them, then went back and did it himself. Also, last year he told investigators, “targets women and kids can hurt you, too.”

And in the court-martial of Sgt. Lawrence Hutchins III, the mastermind behind the abduction and murder of Awad the Lame, we are told that he hatched the plan after hearing that another squad had kidnapped and murdered a suspected insurgent and got away with it. Hutchins’s lawyer says that at the time he was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and poor leadership. For example, he was once ordered to choke a prisoner into unconsciousness.

According to the NYT, every week or two Bush calls up Maliki and they have a drunken discussion about God, or something.

Bush held a little photo op as he received the report from Donna Shalala and Elizabeth Dole on the medical treatment of wounded soldiers. “And so they took a very interesting approach. They took the perspective from the patient”. Also present, Bob Woodruff of ABC, who was injured in Iraq. Bush told him, “Congratulations on the will to recover.”

Bush’s handlers decided that he should celebrate that report and demonstrate his commitment to the wounded by going jogging with two of them.

Afterwards, he said, “Running with these two men is incredibly inspirational for me.” So it was all worth while.

“And it should be inspirational to anybody who has been dealt a tough hand.” No, no, George, it’s their legs that are made of metal, their legs.

He added, “It’s a proud moment for me, a proud moment.” It was unclear what he felt he had to be proud of.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

There’s a good reason they are called Al Qaida in Iraq

This morning, Bush was thrilled – maybe a little too thrilled – to be going on a little field trip.

In the company of a wax replica of Lindsey Graham, Bush visited Charleston Air Force Base and toured the cargo loading operations or, as he put it, “Nice big airplanes carrying a lot of cargo.”

He gave a speech devoted to playing up the role of Al Qaida in Iraq and to denying “that the organization called al Qaeda in Iraq is an Iraqi phenomenon, that it’s independent of Osama bin Laden and that it’s not interested in attacking America.” “That would be news to Osama bin Laden,” he said. So that’s one guy totally out of touch with reality defending his delusions by quoting another guy totally out of touch with reality.

And, of course, there’s the Oath. “It’s hard to argue that al Qaida in Iraq is separate from bin Laden’s al Qaida, when the leader of al Qaida in Iraq [Zarqawi] took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.” And you took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States, but that didn’t turn out to mean very much, now did it?

Last week, the Pentagon was claiming that the Iraqi head of AQI, Umar al Baghdadi, never existed. Today, Bush said Baghdadi is “only an actor.” Possibly Fred Thompson.

Bush’s logic is impeccable: “They know they’re al Qaida. The Iraqi people know they are al Qaida. People across the Muslim world know they are al Qaida. And there’s a good reason they are called al Qaida in Iraq: They are al Qaida ... in ... Iraq.” Also, there’s a good reason it’s called Alice in Wonderland. Just saying.

More of his diamond-cutter logic: “Yet despite all the evidence, some will tell you that al Qaida in Iraq is not really al Qaida -- and not really a threat to America. Well, that’s like watching a man walk into a bank with a mask and a gun, and saying he’s probably just there to cash a check.” Er, how is it like that?

So to summarize, the war in Iraq is not a distraction from the fight against terrorism: “We are fighting bin Laden’s al Qaida in Iraq.”

As Bush is now portraying the war, Iraq itself is more or less irrelevant to the war taking place in it, as are the Iraqi people, so it doesn’t matter if they never get their shit together, achieve a single benchmark, or if the Iraqi parliament ever comes back from its August recess.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Democratic debate: You can now, John, go to Hanoi and get a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone


Personally, I think if they were going to have a YouTube debate, the candidates should have had to respond to whatever the top 10 YouTube videos were today. We need to know what Kucinich thinks of the cat who plays the piano, what Christopher Dodd thinks of the trailer for the Simpsons movie, and everybody’s opinion of Jessica Biel’s butt.

Hillary is asked if she’s a liberal. She prefers the word progressive, which has “a real American meaning,” or did right up until the moment when she appropriated it and emptied it of any meaning.

Asked to demonstrate their bi-partisanship by naming a Republican they could choose as their running mate, if they were running for president in a wacky sitcom shown only on YouTube, Biden says Chuck Hagel. Sadly, no one else is asked. At the risk of sounding like those knuckleheads at unity08.com, where I’ve seen people seriously propose that Obama and McCain run together, what Republican would be a good – and by good of course I mean amusing – veep for Hillary, Edwards, or whomever? Include an explanation if necessary. And no fair everybody suggesting David Vitter for Hillary.

Reparations for black people (actually, “is African-Americans ever going to get reparations for slavery?” I guess no one posted a video on the subject using grammatical English, huh CNN?): Barack does not take the opportunity to mention that he probably wouldn’t qualify because his ancestors weren’t slaves. Kucinich is the only candidate who supports them (though he doesn’t say how much), making him the instant frontrunner among former slaves, assuming he wasn’t already.

Obama, in a haircut that makes his ears look huuuuuge from certain angles, says he is authentically black because he can’t get a cab in Manhattan.

Hillary says she is authentically female. We’ll take her word for it.

Edwards says he is authentically pretty.

Two underlit lesbians ask if the candidates would let them marry... each other. Kucinich says yes, making him the instant frontrunner among underlit lesbians, assuming he wasn’t already. Dodd says civil unions yes, marriage no. Ditto Richardson, with full marriage rights. Edwards says it is a very difficult issue for him. Poor baby.

Asked about Darfur, Biden said, “Those kids will be dead by the time the diplomacy [Richardson talked about diplomacy] is over. I’m not joking.” Thank you for clearing that up.

Gravel says the Vietnam War was in vain because you can buy a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone in Hanoi. Ho Ho Ho Chi mint. Let’s see, 55,000 American lives divided by 31 flavors...

Wait, doesn’t that mean we won? Otherwise, Baskin-Robbins here would have only one flavor, rice.

Obama says that troops never die in vain.

Everyone says women should register for the draft. Asks Gravel, who you’d really think would have found out at his age, “What’s the difference?”

Hillary is asked if Arab leaders would take her, a woman, seriously. Yes, she says, pretty much everyone finds me scary.

The candidates are asked if they sent their children to public or private schools, and whether they told their children about sex with medically-correct and age-appropriate terms. Hillary said she just handed Chelsea a copy of the Starr Report.

A video from someone in their bathroom in wacky Berkeley (which CNN spells Berkely) asked something about compact flourescent bulbs. Edwards said their harsh light takes away from his prettiness. Yes, I’m totally making up the answers now. I lost interest about the time they were asked who their favorite teachers were.

I couldn’t quite see, but it looked like they all raised their hands when asked if they flew to the debate on a private jet, except Gravel, who took the train. Obama says he would have taken a cab from Manhattan, but, well, you know.

Asked about health care, Edwards talked about his three-day Poverty Tour (evidently you can see all of it in three days, if you’re using a private jet), in which he met a guy who couldn’t talk until he got his cleft palate repaired when he was 50. Everyone looked at Biden and sighed, for some reason.

A scary man asked if they would take away his semi-automatic (which he called his baby). Biden said yes. He will be missed.

I set the recorder for 5 minutes overtime but they went longer still. Just as it cut out, Edwards was criticizing Hillary’s coat. He will be missed.

A question of national dignity

Hugo Chavez asks, “How long are we going to allow a person -- from any country in the world -- to come to our own house to say there’s a dictatorship here, that the president is a tyrant, and nobody does anything about it? ... It cannot be allowed - it is a question of national dignity.” So he promises to expel any foreign national who criticizes him. That’ll show ‘em he’s not a tyrant.

Also, he said that his proposal to abolish term limits applies only to his office, because he is involved in “national integration,” and not to mayors, governors, etc, because what they do is partisan politics.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Weird-ass headline of the day

Bush Reclaims Powers After Colonoscopy.”

We will help you

Thank god, the long national nightmare of the Cheney presidency is over.

Corp. Trent Thomas says that it was God’s will that he not go to jail for killing Awad the Lame: “God’s willing for me to get out.” Also, that kidnapping and murdering a civilian was entirely justified: “I believe we did what we needed to do save Marines’ lives. I think anybody who understands what war is or what combat is understands.” The LAT analyzes why Thomas is a free man, and is the first newspaper to mention his race.

The RAND Corporation produced a report (pdf) for the Pentagon, Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation. They must know something about marketing the unmarketable: they got the Pentagon to spend $400,000 on this study. Which is about the need to change the “branding” of the Iraq and Afghan wars, because if there’s been anything missing in these wars, it’s “the application of select, proven commercial marketing techniques.” Which the authors like to call “shaping,” as in, “To ensure victory, U.S. forces must effectively shape the indigenous population.”

“It is exceedingly difficult to identify target audiences in complex and dangerous operating environments, and there is often a lack of access to segments of a population critical to conducting message pretesting.” Yes, it’s hard to run a focus group in a war zone. (When I wrote that, I was mocking. But on page 46 they do actually call for focus groups, quoting someone complaining that “products” intended for use on the Taliban were being “pretested” on civilians rather than on Taliban prisoners.) (And on pages 63-4, it discusses the difficulties in doing surveys before the actual invasion, suggesting “virtual focus groups with members of the population via Internet chat rooms.”)

A failure to synchronize messages is called “information fratricide.”

“First, the U.S. military should adopt the business strategy of segmentation and targeting whereby it would partition the indigenous population into selected groups based on their
level of anticipated support for coalition presence and objectives. Positioning is another marketing tool of potential value, one used to create an intended identity for each product that is meaningful, salient, and motivating to the consumer marketplace.”

“Customer satisfaction refers to the level of contentment consumers experience after using a product or service. Popular satisfaction with U.S. force presence can similarly determine allegiances.”

Soldiers should be issued “smart cards containing shaping themes.”

It suggests “harness[ing] the influencing power of indigenous government employees and security forces by having them keep blogs about their experiences with coalition forces and the indigenous government.”

It notes that the enemy too engages in “shaping” activities: intimidating journalists, filming their operations, providing basic services, that sort of thing. Also, culturally specific things like issuing fatwas. “These are particularly challenging to U.S. shaping efforts, as there is little opportunity to reply in kind.”

It documents several inadvertent affronts to Muslim sensibilities: “As coalition helicopters fly over urban areas, the gunners, whose feet hang from the aircraft, have inadvertently offended thousands of Iraqis who gaze above. Similarly, the use of dogs in house-to-house searches and the wearing of dark sunglasses have also angered some in the Iraqi population.”

“Interactions between U.S. service personnel and civilians drive popular perceptions of the U.S. force. Business practices that help align customer service representative actions with the intended brand identity can benefit the U.S. military.”

“Brands such as Starbucks and Apple have captured the hearts and minds of consumers and have reaped financial windfalls in return.” Hey, Trent Thomas is available for one of those “I’m a Mac”/“I’m a PC” commercials.

The keys to branding: “Know your target audience through segmentation and targeting.” I think the Iraqis have really had quite enough of segmentation and targeting. “Strategically synchronize the U.S. military brand.”

“These perceptions will constitute the U.S. military brand identity and will heavily influence how the population aligns its support. A force that is perceived as helpful and serving the best interests of the population will be far better accepted than a force perceived as hostile, insensitive, and rude.” Did I mention the Pentagon paid $400,000?

“Like commercial firms that must update unattractive brand identities, so too should the United States consider updating its military’s brand identity to suit current and future operational environments.” See, the problem is that “Since before World War II, the U.S. military has developed a brand identity based on a force of might.” And this brand identity is out of date for counter-insurgency wars.

They suggest the brand identity “We will help you.”

The main difficulty establishing that brand identity is when the US military goes out and kills people: “Virtually any kinetic operation has the potential to alienate civilians.”

If you kick down doors, they suggest, have someone there to fix the doors. If you accidentally kill someone and give out one of those $2,500 condolence payments, “determine whether the indigenous population and the afflicted families accept the prescribed payment as fair and reasonable.”

Try to achieve “customer satisfaction.”

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Marine Corps, it’s me

An email from the McCain campaign presents yet more fun facts about John McCain: John McCain’s favorite movies include “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Some Like it Hot.” His favorite actors include Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe.

Bush, today: “Failure in Iraq would send an unmistakable signal to America’s enemies that our country can be bullied into retreat.” Bullied. Bullied!

Interesting factoid, in a BBC article about the Uganda government’s plan to introduce compulsory military training: there’s only one African country with a military draft, Eritrea.

Yesterday in the hearing for Lance Cpl. Stephen Tatum re the Haditha Massacre, there was a debate over what the evidence showed about the death of a 4-year old boy. The investigator believes someone stood over him and deliberately executed him. Tatum’s lawyer proposed that “it was much more likely that the boy had been huddled at a woman’s bosom when the Marines burst into the room and sprayed it with gunfire after first tossing in a grenade.” So that’s okay, then.

“Insultingly light sentence,” I predicted. Corp. Trent Thomas was sentenced to zero jail time for the killing of Awad the Lame. He has been reduced to a private and been given a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps. Thomas had begged to be allowed to stay in the Marines: “I’ve never been good at anything until I came to the Marine Corps. It’s pretty obvious Michael Jordan was meant to play basketball. Tiger Woods was meant to play golf. The Marine Corps, it’s me.”

Bush and Sugar Ray Leonard. You know, I’m not ordinarily a big fan of the pugilistic arts, but...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

And they are an enemy and they’re real and they’re active

From the Pentagon’s website we learn today that 1) reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are often exaggerated, according to Gen. Dan McNeill, 2) they claim to have captured the highest-ranking Iraqi in Al Qaida in Iraq, one Khalid Abdul Fatah Daud Mahmud al-Mashadani, gotten a complete statement out of him in under two weeks using only kindness and Hostess Twinkies, in which he confessed that AQI is a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham, a mere shell behind which lurk foreign puppet-masters. Why, they even invented a wholly fictitious Iraqi head of AQI, Umar al Baghdadi, to fool Iraqis and members of the Democratic Party into believing that AQI is a nationalist organization rather than being precisely the same people who attacked the United States on September 11th. Well, this should be a, how do we put it, moment of clarity.

Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri vetoed a bill which would have required insurance policies to cover infertility treatment for unmarried people. “As a matter of public policy, the state should be encouraging the birth of children to two-parent families, not the reverse,” he said in his veto message. Wouldn’t the reverse be children giving birth to two-parent families? Lesbians and other unmarried infertile people will still presumably pay the same amount as others for policies that cover less. Health insurance is supposed to be about health, not “morality.”

Bush gave a speech at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. He was met at the airport by Joe Downs, who had his legs blown off by an IED in Iraq.

Said Bush, “We’re going to get him some new legs, and if he hurries up, he can outrun me on the South Lawn of the White House.”

Life is very simple for George, because every single problem has the same solution: “We were confronted -- this administration has confronted some difficult economic times, particularly earlier in this administration. There was a recession. There were the terrorist attacks that affected the economy in a very direct way. There were corporate scandals which created some thousand -- uncertainty about our system that needed to be corrected. And we responded to those problems by cutting taxes.”

WAIT, I’M PRETTY SURE IT STARTS WITH AN E. ELEPHANT? ESOPHAGUS? “They ought not to be trying to slip special spending measures in there without full transparency and full debate -- those are called entitlements.”

He explained the “interesting relationship between the President and the Congress.” Not surprisingly, he got it wrong: “The President [sic] has got the right to initiate spending bills -- and they do; they’ve got the right to decide how much money is spent. And I’ve got the right to accept whether or not the amount of money they spend is the right amount. [CONDESCENSION ALERT! CONDESCENSION ALERT!] That’s what’s called the veto.”

Over the course of the meeting, Bush found many, many things “interesting,” among them: the “interesting problem” of immigration, his friendship with Koizumi, this “interesting time” at the beginning of the “long ideological struggle,” the “interesting management challenges” in the Department of Homeland Security. Also: “What’s interesting about the world in which we live, there’s no question there’s the electronic media that people watch, but there’s also the blogosphere”. “The interesting thing about this fight in Iraq is that the families and the troops have got a really different view, in many ways, than a lot of other folks do”. “I’ll tell you something interesting in meeting with the families of the fallen. I get all kinds of opinions, of course. But one of the most universal opinions I get is one, I’m proud of my son; two, he was a volunteer; and three, do not let his life be in vain, Mr. President, you complete the mission.” “See, one of the interesting things about this war I forgot to tell you is, unlike, say, the Vietnam War, that if we fail in Iraq, the enemy won’t be content to stay there.” And finally, this very Q&A session was an “interesting exchange.”

Answering a question on immigration (the only half-way critical questions were on that issue), he said, “Some say, well, force Americans to do the jobs they’re unwilling to do.” Okay, who are the people who want to repeal the 13th Amendment? I want names.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: “We have been a fabulous country when it comes to assimilating people. ... So the question people say is, well, certain people can’t assimilate. ... We must never lose faith in our capacity for people to assimilate.”

A WHOLE LOT OF SWEARING: “people ask me, are these really al Qaeda? Well, they have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden; what else are they?” “But I want to remind our fellow citizens that much of the violence they’re seeing on their TV screens in Iraq is perpetuated by the very same people that came and killed 3,000 of our citizens. People sworn [CONDESCENSION ALERT! CONDESCENSION ALERT!] – not the exact same person; those are dead who got on the airplanes – but they have sworn allegiance to Osama, just like the killers in Iraq have sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden.”

“The enemy, by the way, defines success as, can they pull off a car bombing. If we ever allow ourselves to get in a position where it’s ‘no car bombings, therefore we’re successful,’ we’ve just handed these killers a great victory.”

“So there’s a province called Anbar province... where al Qaeda had declared its intention to really drive us out and establish a safe haven, with the declared intention of spreading -- using it as a base to spread their ideology throughout the Middle East, as well as a safe haven from which to make sure that they inflict enough pain on us that we actually help them by leaving. I know this is farfetched for some Americans to think that people think this way; this is the nature of the enemy. And they are an enemy and they’re real and they’re active.” What do you mean, farfetched for Americans that people think this way? Occupying a geographic region, spreading an ideology throughout the Middle East, inflicting pain on the enemy, isn’t that your plan? Anyway, he says that “it turns out that many people in Anbar hate violence.” Who knew? But “they may distrust their central government because it’s new.” Yeah, that’s why they distrust the Maliki regime, it’s newness. (In the referendum, by the way, Anbar voted against the constitution 96.9%.)

He said he decided “it just wasn’t the right decision” to send troops into Darfur unilaterally (he gave no reason why it wasn’t the right decision – actually, has he ever?), and so it requires international collaboration, but only the US has called what’s going on there genocide. But it’s not like we’ve done nothing: “we have put serious economic sanctions on three individuals” and “sanctioned” some companies. “In other words, we’re trying to be consequential. We’re trying to say that, you know, change, or there’s consequences.” If someone’s keeping a list of words Bush doesn’t know the meaning of, add “consequential.”

And sharp-eyed readers will have noted an “In Other Words.” There were 10 in this meeting, including this one: “But it also means that the English muffin manufacturing company -- English muffin machine manufacturing company is more likely to have work. In other words, there’s an effect, the tax code can affect commerce.”

And then he went home. Say, George, how did it go?

Finally, George Bush helps out the troops

AP headline: “Army Program Teaches Troops to Recognize Brain Injury.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Corp. Trent Thomas has been convicted of kidnapping and conspiring to murder Awad the Lame, but not for premeditated murder, making a false official statement, housebreaking or larceny. Now, if he was guilty of the things he was convicted of, then he was guilty of all the other charges, which were elements of the same crime. So what the jury did was to “compromise” with the facts in order to avoid the mandatory life sentence attached to the premeditated murder charge and allow themselves to give Thomas what I predict will be an insultingly light sentence.

Fun fact about courts martial: the jurors vote by secret ballot.

Two more courts martial in this case will begin later this month.


News Story That Makes Us Feel All Conflicted of The Day: “A new prosthesis under development will give servicemember amputees more flexibility and...” wait for it... “help them better perform their military jobs if they choose to stay on active duty.”

Usually when I think about commenting on a David Brooks column, I take a deep breath and decide that life is too short. Tuesday, however, he wrote about that Bush meeting with right-wing journalists. Brooks quotes Bush as saying that his belief in the inevitable progress of freedom and democracy is a “theological perspective.” You know, gift from the Almighty, that kind of thing. The rest of the column is about how Bush believes in leaders. “When Bush is asked about military strategy, he talks about the leadership qualities of his top generals. ... When Bush talks about world affairs more generally, he talks about national leaders.” Brooks, being a nitwit, doesn’t perceive any contradiction between Bush’s talk about democracy and his upholding of the führerprinzip.

The most interesting sentence in the column is “Bush said he will get General Petraeus’s views unfiltered by the Pentagon establishment.” He probably used that word too, since during the meeting he also talked about promoting the good news about Iraq, “tangible evidence that even the filter can’t filter out”. He still hasn’t learned a thing about the need to get multiple points of view, and still automatically discards any analysis that comes from an institution rather than an individual.

Today, Bush visited a company that makes underwater computer keyboards.

And just as this fabulous product gives people the choice of surfing the internet beneath the sea, Bush talked about giving people more choice in health insurance. He’s against it. Well, he’s against it if one of the choices is provided by the government. He opposes the proposed expansion of the S-CHIP program because it “would cause people to drop their private insurance in order to be involved with a government insurance plan.” Is it me, or is he saying that the possibility that people might prefer it is a reason it’s a bad idea? Also, “I believe government cannot provide affordable health care.” Which would astonish the citizens of every other advanced industrial country in the world, but again, it’s a voluntary program; if it’s not affordable, people won’t sign up for it. “I believe it would cause -- it would cause the quality of care to diminish. I believe there would be lines and rationing over time.”

A Bush line I didn’t catch in yesterday’s session with Ban-Ki-Moon until I heard it on the BBC: Al Qaida is weaker now than in 2001 “because we’ve been working with the world to keep the pressure on”. Evidently he doesn’t realize that the United States is, actually, part of the world. Which would explain a lot.