Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Friday, April 30, 2004

"matthews hit on the head with his own hardball"

Via skippy, we learn of this great video clip of Bill Maher on Hardball. Sample:

The true axis of evil in America is the brilliance of our marketing combined with the stupidity of our people.

George Bush has $180 million to spend. With that kind of money he could convince americans to drink paint... and he probably will. In fact, I believe that’s our environmental policy....

It never stops.

Here's George Bush, this afternoon:

A year ago, I did give the speech from the carrier, saying that we had achieved an important objective, that we'd accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. And as a result, there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq.

Quite a little statement there. First, a bit of revisionist history: the "mission" that was "accomplished" was merely the "removal of Saddam Hussein." Then the whopper: on the same day that it's become very clear that U.S. soldiers & contractors have stepped in to fill the rape & torture void left by the old regime, Bush is blithely claiming that there are "no longer torture chambers or rape rooms."

Sheesh. Not even the rooms are gone: this stuff has been happening in Saddam Hussein's old Abu Ghraib prison. Is it possible, you might think, that Bush just hadn't heard the news? Not a chance. Moments later, during the same "press availability:"

Q What is your reaction to photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners? How are you going to win their hearts and minds with these sort of tactics?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated. Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. And so I - - I didn't like it one bit.

Again, the effortless sidestepping of the flat-out lie. That may not be "the way we do things in America." The problem is what we're doing in Iraq.

That's all, folks. Pay no attention to the contradictions. "We're making progress, you bet."


Why Debunking is Not Enough

It’s become a staple of the left – from the busy bees at the Center for American Progress, to the “D-Bunker” on John Kerry’s site, to watchdog sites like Factcheck.org, to answer Bush claims with some sort of fast-response “Claim v. Fact.” While this is without question a welcome development, it is not nearly enough. There are more tools in the arsenal of persuasion than fact and argument, and we would do well to attend to them and use them as effectively as the Bush team does.

Luke Francl got me going yesterday with this post on the latest Bush ad – which provides a fine illustration of how the Bush team operates – and how ineffective mere debunking is. First, here’s Luke:

FactCheck's exasperation gets to the heart of my frustration with these "spin-busting" services. To a fault, they assume that getting the "facts" out there will coerce the politicians to change their ways. In the case of the Bush administration, this is clearly futile. The Bush administration's selective use of "facts" has practically turned truth into a Democratic monopoly.

There are, of course, plenty of reasons why the Administration continues to lie – but that is, to some degree beside the point. As Sidney Blumenthal notes, it has a serious stake in maintaining the lie – precisely because beliefs that are demonstrably wrong (such as the belief that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11) are reliably correlated with a tendency to vote for the Bushies.

The problem with the fact check folks, and debunking in general, is that what they do is far too limited. It is generally a mistake to respond to a Bush “message” as if it were merely an argument. There is too much going on, in too many dimensions, to leave much chance that a literal response -- confined to the narrow planes of fact & logic -- will either be sufficient or very effective.

The great Bush media skill is in managing “impressions” – which may or may not be explicitly stated, which may or may not have any logical underpinnings, and which may or may not have any evidence to support them. The idea, very simply, is that you walk away with pretty much the same message – regardless of the level of attention you pay to it. It is for this reason, for example, that the Bush team conceived of the very clever stratagem of using those “keyword” backdrops: the effect is to make it virtually impossible to photograph Bush without creating, in the process, and image that advances his message. This is also why they continue with oblique references to WMD, why they repeat certain well-tested catch phrases, and why – for much of his intended audience – it may not matter that they often do so incoherently.

An ad like Bush’s most recent one, “Weapons,” therefore, needs to be approached on several levels. Don’t just look at what it says, in other words – look at what it implies, and look at how it reinforces those implications with images and music.

Removed of it’s context, this is the “explicit” text of the ad:

As our troops defend America in the War on Terror, they must have what it takes to win.

Yet, John Kerry has repeatedly opposed weapons vital to winning the War on Terror: Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Patriot Missiles, B-2 Stealth Bombers, F-18 Fighter Jets and more.

Predictably, the ad is chock full of distortions, as factheck.org quite capably points out. But there’s more.

First, notice the “must have” formation. While you could read this as merely a statement of principle – and an inarguable one at that – you could also read this as an acknowledgement of the fact that our troops, currently, do not have “what it takes” to win. This, of course, is borne out by the context and timing of the ad – since news reports, such as this one in Newsweek, are doing a fine job of documenting just how under-prepared our troops are, and just how deadly the consequences have been.

The impression that the ad wants to leave, without ever explicitly stating it, is that John Kerry vote’s – rather than Bush team’s haste, arrogance and poor planning –have led us to this sad state of affairs.

Clearly the Bush campaign wants us to believe that “no” votes against large appropriations bills, even “no” votes against appropriations that passed anyway, somehow caused these weapons to magically disappear. Lest there be any doubt that this is precisely the impression they want us to have, helpful computer graphics actually do make the weapons magically disappear – as we zoom in, over ominous chimes, on a worried soldier out on the battlefield.

Overall, it’s a piece of masterful misdirection. That soldier probably wouldn’t have been there in the first place had Bush not been so eager to put him there – and it is the Bush team’s reluctance to send adequate numbers of troops, and their wholly unrealistic expectations about the duration and complexity of the war, that have led to this point. And the fact remains that, even having won all of the appropriations he has asked for thus far, our soldiers still lack adequate body armor, and those armored vehicles are in too many cases still sitting back home, or not even manufactured yet. Never mind the fact that this is Bush’s war. Let’s dump the danger on Kerry.

The one really truthful element in the entire piece is that “implied” message – underscored with sound & image – that our troops are indeed under-equipped and vulnerable. They are. But this is truth used in the only way that the Bush team knows how – in service of a Big Lie. This result is powerful, and insidiously effective, advertising that – to borrow a phrase from Mark Crispin Miller – “we misunderestimate at our peril.”

We are wrong if we assume that – by “disproving” some core claim in the Bush ads, the whole message will tumble down, like a house of cards. In this brave new world of message management, the rules of logic don’t really apply. You can refute – indeed, demolish – a whole serious of foundation premises, and the structure of distortion built upon them will all too often still stand.

Fact checking this stuff is a good start, but we’ll have to do much, much more.

[Note: this entry cross-posted at MyDD, here and dKos, here]

UPDATE: Luke Francl responds here

Torquemada, Inc.

If you missed the torture scandal, see the Guardian, and Billmon’s excellent post, here.

It’s ugly, and it gets uglier the more that you look. In what is becoming a rather consistent pattern, beneath the first layer of outrage, there is even more. Not only are “we” abusing our prisoners in Iraq – those shadowy “private contractors” are tangled up in the very middle of it, and getting off scott-free (bold added):

The US army confirmed that the general in charge of Abu Ghraib jail is facing disciplinary measures and that six low-ranking soldiers have been charged with abusing and sexually humiliating detainees.

Lawyers for the soldiers argue they are being made scapegoats for a rogue military prison system in which mercenaries give orders without legal accountability.

A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein.

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.

And this is just what we know about....

UPDATE: Great minds think alike. See this Kos post, which -- according to the time stamps -- went up four minutes after this one.


Thursday, April 29, 2004


Via this diary over at Kos, we learn of this charming development last week in Virginia:

Anti-gay measure is alone in the nation in stripping contract rights for gay Virginians

In an outrageous and short-sighted defeat for fairness and common-sense, the General Assembly today ratified the so-called "Marriage Affirmation Act," one of the most discriminatory pieces of legislation to be considered by the General Assembly in decades.

By a vote of 69-30 in the House and 27-12 in the Senate, the General Assembly narrowly missed garnering a 1/3 vote in each house that would have killed the bill outright. Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Manassas), patron of the bill, led the charge with a barrage of anti-gay rhetoric during the floor debate.

This short post at overlawyered will take you to plenty more on this.

Sidney Blumenthal gets it right:

Perhaps the most important divide in the presidential campaign is between fact and fiction.

My longer post got lost in its own tangles somewhere today -- so enjoy "Fervent Falsehoods" instead (subscription, or a free trial, may be required).


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Food Trivia

From the entry on Bacon, in Alan Davidson's wonderful Oxford Companion to Food:

Cobbett, in Cottage Economy (1823), considered the possession of a couple of flitches of bacon did more for domestic harmony than 'fifty thousand Methodist sermons and religious tracts.'

This Cobbett fellow was clearly a wise man.
Sign at Whole Foods

At the branch up the street from me in NYC, at 24th & 7th:

White Asparagus
California Grown

On a label, wrapped around the white asparagus, just below the sign:
Produce of Peru

(in case you missed the earlier post on Peru & asparagus, it's here)

Better Jobs -- and the Shrinking Middle Class

I suspect this piece will only raise a few issues that I'll come back and visit from time to time -- but let me at least lay down some of the background, and a few useful links.

A piece I’ve quoted a lot, in various places, over the last few months is Michael Lind’s article in January’s Atlantic Monthly, “Are We Still a Middle-Class Nation?” If you missed it back then, by all means go read it, when you have the time.

To answer his title question, however -- we are by all appearances distinctly less so that at any point in our past – at least partly because we seem to have forgotten just what , as a nation, we did in the past to make the middle class thrive. It wasn't a happy accident, and it most assuredly wasn't something that was purely left to the marketplace:

To most of us, the transition from farmer to industrial worker to service worker—sometimes within three generations of one family—appears in retrospect to have been inevitable, like some geological process. Indeed, many conservatives and libertarians seem to believe that a mass middle class is an inevitable by-product of capitalism. The truth is that each of America's successive middle classes has been artificially created by government-sponsored social engineering—a fact that is profoundly important for us to admit as we think about the future of middle-class America.

Consider the first American middle class, composed of yeoman farmers. There could never have been a mass agricultural middle class in the United States without vast quantities of cheap farmland, divided up into small farms.

From 1800 to 1848 the U.S. government acquired more than two million square miles of territory, much of it arable, by purchase or negotiation (the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803; Florida from Spain in 1819; Oregon from Britain in 1846), by annexation (Texas, 1845), or by conquest (the Mexican Cession in 1848). Populists sought to ensure that this land went to small farmers rather than large landowners or speculators. The danger of European-style feudalism in the United States was neutralized by the land ordinance of 1785, which guaranteed that the federal domain would be broken up into "fee simple" properties, with no complex web of multiple ownership. And the Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres of free public land to settlers who would live on it and improve it for at least five years. Meanwhile, the federal government subsidized continent-crossing railroads, and the Army Corps of Engineers built much of the country's rural infrastructure. This was social engineering on a colossal scale.

The Homestead Act, in fact, is one of the prouder accomplishments of the nineteenth-century Republican Party – and an excellent reminder of just how far from its roots, and any sense of the common weal, that the modern GOP has become. What is sad here, really, is that there doesn’t seem to be any serious discussion, on either side of the political divide, of anything of remotely comparable grandeur or vision. There isn't, at least not yet, a New New Deal. It is almost as we have forgotten, as a nation, how to be truly bold.
In the absence of some system of private or public redistribution, then, there is no guarantee that rising national productivity will spontaneously and inevitably produce rising incomes and wealth for most Americans, rather than just windfalls for the fortunate few.

Since the 1970s inequality of both income and wealth in the United States has increased dramatically. As Paul Krugman has observed in The New York Times, a Congressional Budget Office report shows that from 1979 to 1997 the after-tax income of the top one percent of families climbed 157 percent, while middle-income Americans gained only 10 percent, and many of the poor actually lost ground. The share of after-tax income that goes to the top one percent of Americans has doubled in the past three decades; at 14 percent, it roughly equals the share of after-tax income that goes to the bottom 40 percent. The concentration of wealth at the upper levels of the population has been even more extreme.

It is worth noting, of course, that this growing income inequity is also the result of "social engineering on a colossal scale" -- it just happens that in this case the consequences have been colossally wrong.

Three new pieces, from the last few days, underscore just how extreme the inequities are. Nathan Newman tackles the Wal-Mart problem, and the global race-to-the-bottom in wages; Claudia O’Keefe takes a look at “Brave New Jobs” in the service sector; and Robert Kuttner sums it up, in a fine argument not just for jobs, but good jobs:

One approach to creating good jobs, however, is a proven failure: George Bush's strategy of cutting taxes, gutting regulation, and trusting private industry to do the rest. This path has led to a few astronomically compensated executive jobs, a bonanza for a few fortunate investors, and a slow slide for the working middle class. Ultimately, many roads are available in the new economy. How to reconcile globalism with good American jobs remains a political choice.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Bush Environmental Record

Via the Hamster, we learn of Environment 2004's new report on the Bush Environmental record, aptly titled "Putting Polluters First,"

From the executive summary:

The pattern revealed by laying out the facts demonstrates that the president and his allies are radically committed to sacrificing the public interest in order to promote narrow private interests. It reveals their rejection of facts and science as a basis for public policy. And it reveals the unprecedented degree to which they are willing to intentionally mislead the American people.

Just one example of the literal crap foisted upon the public:
Factory farms. Of all the challenges to clean water, one of the greatest that our nation faces is from so-called “non-point source pollution”— polluted runoff from everything from farms to city streets. Of this challenge, the greatest single component is polluted run-off from the agricultural industry. The Bush administration issued new rules to shield factory farms— giant livestock farms that can house millions of animals— from responsibility for polluting our waters, allowing them to write their own pollution control plans that are withheld not only from the public but also from the states and even from the EPA itself. Keeping the public even more in the dark, the Bush administration failed to require that factory farms monitor groundwater for potential contamination by animal waste. Factory farms generate about 500 million pounds of waste each year. The disposal practice of over-applying manure on land creates contaminated run-off that poses a threat to waterways and drinking water sources. Major livestock producing states generally experience 20 to 30 serious water pollution problems per year involving spills from waste storage lagoons or contaminated runoff.

Operators of giant hog farms are no doubt grateful -- though anyone who lives downstream (or downwind) of one may be decidely less so.

Under the circumstances, I'm not surprised to hear this news: bottled water is now "the second-biggest segment of the beverage industry in the United States, with $8.3 billion in sales in 2003, behind only wine and spirits and beating out beer and coffee."

Bush Ad v. Reality

Bush ad claim, attacking John Kerry:

As our troops defend America in the War on Terror, they must have what it takes to win.

Reality, reported by Newsweek:
But as Iraq's liberation has turned into a daily grind of low-intensity combat—and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld grudgingly raises troop levels—many soldiers who are there say the Pentagon is failing to protect them with the best technology America has to offer. Especially tanks, Bradleys and other heavy vehicles, even in some cases body armor.

A breakdown of the casualty figures suggests that many U.S. deaths and wounds in Iraq simply did not need to occur. According to an unofficial study by a defense consultant that is now circulating through the Army, of a total of 789 Coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. Almost all those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means that perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Cocaine & Asparagus.

No, this is not a recipe post.

And I’ll understand perfectly if it had not occurred to you that the two might, in some perverse way, be related. But leave it to our government to find a link, all in the name of the War on Drugs.

Apparently, according to this piece in the New York Times, the U.S. has been subsidizing asparagus production in Peru since the early nineties, spending about $60 million a year in an effort to lure coca producers into growing a more socially acceptable product. The only problem, of course, is that there is no evidence that this strategy has ever worked. Even our own auditors, at the U.S. Foreign Agricultural service, “do not believe that Peruvian asparagus production provides an alternative economic opportunity for coca producers and workers.”

Coca, for one thing, is grown in the highlands, while asparagus is cultivated near sea level. You’d think that someone, somewhere along the way, might have pointed this out. Well, it’s too late now: as one former asparagus farmer notes, “It seems like we still got plenty of cocaine coming into this country, but now we got cheap asparagus as well.” Peachy.

What the program has done, quite successfully, is wreak havoc on the lives of our own asparagus farmers & packers. In Washington state alone, the acreage devoted the stuff has declined 55% -- while Del Monte has closed a plant (moving it to Peru), costing 365 jobs. Michigan’s asparagus industry has fallen in value by 35%. Meanwhile, the program has been a boon to Peru – whose annual asparagus exports have increased more than twenty-seven fold since the subsidies began.

It’s breathtaking, really, to witness the miracle of Your Tax Dollars at Work.

I’m just waiting for the moment when the circle of life finally completes itself, and those former Del Monte workers in Washington State start peddling cocaine to pay the bills.

(and thanks to JJ, at Cookies in Heaven, for the tip that led to this post)


Saturday, April 24, 2004

More Oysters

Tomorrow's Times Magazine features Allison Vines's sensational recipe for "Oysters Rockefeller Deconstructed." I'll update with a link as soon as the Times puts it up on line, but here's the rundown: spinach jazzed up with a bit of watercress, wilted in garlic butter, topped by oysters just barely poached in a lemon-butter sauce, drizzled with a bit of that same sauce, and topped with a crispy bacon chip. The final touch, instead of the traditional Herbsaint or Pernod: a dusting of finely-grated licorice root. Brilliant.

California on the Verge of Booting Diebold

From the Times editorial page this morning:

California's secretary of state, Kevin Shelley, is expected to decide in the next week whether the state's electronic voting machines can be used in November. His office has just issued two disturbing studies — one on machine malfunctions in last month's primary, another on misconduct by one of the nation's leading voting machine manufacturers — that make a strong case against the current system. Refusing to certify the state's electronic voting machines at this late date is a serious step, but there are compelling reasons for Mr. Shelly to decertify some, and perhaps all, of them.

The “leading voting machine manufacturer,” of course, is Diebold. The California Secretary of State’s report on the March primary, here, provides some disturbing details. During that primary, the report notes, a critical piece of Diebold equipment called the “Precinct Control Module (PCM)” – which issues voter cards – failed:

As a result, over half of San Diego’s polling places could not open on time as a result of the PCM failure and the failure to provide back-up paper ballots. Voters were turned away or sent to other polling places to vote provisionally. Presumably, some of these voters cast their ballots later in the day. There is no way to estimate the number of voters who failed to return to the polls after being turned away. (emphasis original)

A separate investigation by the same office concludes:
In sum, Diebold:
  1. marketed and sold the TSx system before it was fully functional, and before it was federally qualified;

  2. misrepresented the status of the TSx system in federal testing in order to obtain state certification;

  3. failed to obtain federal qualification of the TSx system despite assurances that it would;

  4. failed even to pursue testing of the firmware installed on its TSx machines in California until only weeks before the election, choosing instead to pursue testing of newer firmware that was even further behind in the ITA testing process and that, in some cases, required the use of other software that also was not approved in California;

  5. installed uncertified software on election machines in 17 counties;

  6. sought last-minute certification of allegedly essential hardware, software and firmware that had not completed federal testing;and

  7. in doing so, jeopardized the conduct of the March Primary.

Stayed tuned, folks. Common sense, and verifiable voting, may yet prevail. |

Friday, April 23, 2004

Yet another appropriate occasion for the use of expletives

JJ of Cookies in Heaven sends us this news, that some 20% of the $22 billion dollar Iraq reconstruction costs is going to support corruption. Quel surprise.
Steak & Sushi

Steve Gilliard caught my attention recently with two food-related posts. The first was this rant, departing from a news clip about some schmo who buys his family takeout from the Outback Steakhouse once a week. I agree with Steve that you can do much better on your own grill – or even in a sauté pan, without a great deal of fuss. But I also understand the recurring reality of the overworked: I’m hungry, I’m tired, I haven’t even shopped for dinner yet, and the place is right on the way….

Temptation happens. The real shame, of course, is that the guy is going back to the same, crappy place every week. Which kind of defines the term “rut,” doesn’t it? Somehow, I don’t even want to know what this guy’s family eats the rest of the week.

Steve’s other post came just a couple of days ago, a paean to sushi, inspired by a New York Times piece the same day. Here, he finds a great argument for leaving certain foods to the experts, and I agree. Even the best chefs can’t be expert at everything – and sushi, good sushi, is a rarefied specialty.

Just how rarefied becomes clear in this piece, from New York Magazine – where Adam Platt (whose job I want) details the wonders of Masa, the new 26-seat temple of sushi that charges $300/person for dinner (less wine, taxes, and tip). It must be nice to get paid to go there.

My favorite bit in Platt’s review, though, was a brief quote from Masa Takayama himself, when asked which restaurants he had enjoyed since arriving in New York. Masa’s answer: “Peetah Lugah Steakhouse.” Figures.

(Peter Luger)

Get some f***ing perspective, please...

Doonesbury's BD, upon discovering that he's lost a leg, yells "son of a bitch!" -- arguably a rather mild outburst under the circumstances -- and yet some newspapers feel they have to pull the strip, to protect their readers from "inappropriate language." Somehow, I'm having trouble imaging a more appropriate time to use such language. I think I've said worse things after stubbing my toe, and I'm polite.

Kudos to the Atlanta Journal, however, which at least wasn't too coy to spell out for it's readers just what the flap was about.

Are we really a Democracy?

In the May issue of Harper’s, Richard Rosenfeld argues the case for abolishing the Senate in the essay “What Democracy?” While even Rosenfeld thinks this is unlikely (and probably unwise as well, if it were to happen before correcting the equally un-democratic gerrymandering that affects House representation), it is nevertheless useful to consider just how un-democratic our so-called democratic institutions really are.

Sorry, the content is not available on line, so you’ll have to get a copy if you want the whole essay – but I’ll clip a few paragraphs containing some essential facts:

Senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation’s population, hold a majority in the United States Senate, and, therefore, regardless of what the President, the House of Representatives, or even the overwhelming majority of the American people wants, nothing becomes law if those senators object.


The “small and unequal” representation of the U.S. Senate infects the judicial and executive branches as well as the legislative branch….for example, the Senate confirmed [Clarence] Thomas’s appointment (by a margin of four votes, 52-48), despite the fact that the senators who voted against him represented 7 million more people than the senators who voted for him….

Because the number of each state’s presidential electors is the sum of its two U.S. Senators plus the number of its representatives in the House, the unfairness of an equal number of Senators also corrupts the entire presidential election process, which in the election year award 271 electors to George W. Bush and only 266 to Al Gore, despite the fact that Gore was the popular favorite by a margin of more than 500,000 votes. Had the number of each state’s electoral votes simply been the number of its representatives in the House (and therefore, been proportioned to the size of its population), Gore would have enjoyed an electoral vote victory of 225 to 211, consistent with the preference of the American people. In 2000, the smallest states constituting a majority in the Senate cast their electoral votes two-to-one for Bush, while the largest states boasting a majority of the people cast their votes two-to-one for Gore.

The corruption of our political process does not stop with the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government in their normal functioning, however; it undermines the “sovereignty of the people” as well. Although “we, the people of the United States” have retained the right to amend the Constitution with a two-thirds vote of the Congress and a three-quarters vote of the states, today this means that small-state senators representing only 8 percent of the people or the thirteen smallest states representing only 5 percent of the people can scuttle any amendment. Conversely (and perversely), if today’s thirty-eight smallest states –with 40 percent of the people—want to change the Constitution (say, to prohibit gay marriage), they have the required three-quarters to amend, regardless of what a democratic majority of the people might prefer.

Something to bear in mind, at least, the next time you hear the word “mandate.”


Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Iraq Generation?

Last week, I quoted this line, from the Presidential Press Conference:

"This is the war that other presidents will be facing as we head into the 21st century."

My question at the time was this: is Bush finally admitting that the Iraq war will outlast not only his own presidency, but that of more than one of his successors?

Well, we may never know what Bush was actually thinking* when he made that remark, but apparently there is now "widespread agreement" that we're going to be there for a while. Via Matt Stoller, I ran across this today, from Juan Cole, in regard to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings:

One aspect of the bad news at this and another hearing was covered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (i.e. it is on the ball)-- which is the wide agreement that the US is stuck in Iraq militarily for at least 5 years, and can't expect really substantial help from allies. I personally thing it is even worse than that. I have said I think this generation of young Americans will be the Iraq generation.

Cole's testimony is a must-read. A quick sample, from the "What Needs to be Done" section:

The US will simply have to accept that there are political forces on the ground in Iraq that it views as undesirable. It cannot dictate Iraqi politics to Iraqis without becoming a frankly colonial power. If it does become a mere colonist in Iraq, it will be mired in the country for decades and be forced to spend hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of servicemen’s lives on the endeavor.

Sadly, I'm not betting that anyone in the Bush White House is really listening to this stuff.

*The term "thinking," of course, is used loosely here.


...is George Bush trying to sell himself as an environmentalist.

Not one to miss a photo op, however, GW was up in Maine today touting a new "wetlands program". Happily, environmentalists and church groups are also out there giving Bush & his record a well-earned basting.

Now let's see which version of the story makes it onto the evening news....


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Treasury Letter Outrage

There has been a big flap over the fact that language lifted verbatim from the RNC has appeared on a press release from the treasury department:

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's polices are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.(details)

Sadly, most of the coverage focuses simply on the fact that blatantly political propaganda was appearing on a taxpayer-funded document -- when, in reality, that is merely the beginning of the outrage. Oddly, none of the articles I have read so far bothered to mention that the claim itself was a compound deception, misleading – in typical Republican form -- in multiple ways:

As a rule of thumb, any time you hear a Republican mention a choice -- hang on tight to your wallet, and take a good hard look at the claim. Any suggestion that policies might involve real, tough choices is reliably and assiduously avoided. If the choice sounds easy, and obvious -- the odds are good that you are just being offered two different flavors of horse manure.

How Dennis Kucinich Can Become a Hero

Thomas Schaller explains:

He can hold a press conference, announce his support for Sen. John Kerry as every other departing candidate else has, but then add this:

"Though all of us have our differences about the direction and future of this party, I am a Democrat who wants to do everything in my power to defeat George Bush. That said, and with all due respect for my friend Ralph Nader, I ask that Nader drop out of the campaign. And if he does not, for the remainder of the campaign I will shadow Ralph wherever he goes to remind those thinking about voting for him why they shouldn't."

Instant iconic moment.

Instant national impact.

Instant Democratic hero.

Americans for Sanity

Billmon, in a post that may actually merit the term “important,” debriefs us here, on a conference co-sponsored by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Unsurprisingly, “solutions [for Iraq & the Middle East] -- strategic as well as political -- were as scarce at the conference as problems were abundant.”

It is useful, however, to re-visit the thinking that led us to this point:

The three key elements of the original neocon strategy, [the University of Chicaog’s John] Mearsheimer argued, were:
  • Unilateral action, which would allow the United States to avoid the inevitably restrictions of a UN or even NATO-sanctioned operation

  • Creating a "bandwagon effect," in which uncommitted players (either inside and outside of Iraq) would jump to follow an America that acted decisively.

  • A strategic and political transformation of the Middle East, one that would sweep away anti-American and anti-Israeli regimes and lay the groundwork for "democracy" -- or at least, for an unbroken network of pliable pro-American goverments.

As described by Mearsheimer, these three elements were all intended to be sequential and self-supporting. By moving unilaterally, the neocons hoped to gain a free hand to remake Iraq as they saw fit -- in defiance of international opinion and even international law. This display of U.S. resolve would create the desired bandwagon effect, which in turn would promote regional transformation.


It's easy -- and Mearsheimer wasn't the only conference speaker to find it so -- to poke huge holes in this "strategery," which really does sound like something Shrub and a bunch of his old frat brothers might have dreamed up in a lost weekend at Camp David. I guess you could write this off as another example of perfect hindsight, if not for the fact that so many of these flaws were pointed out before, during and immediately after the invasion -- by Mearsheimer and others, including Whiskey Bar's humble proprietor. .

Recounting the political, physical, and all-too undeniable military reasons for the failure, Billmon concludes:
In other words, the neocons may have screwed the pooch (to borrow a bit of pilot slang from Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff) so ferociously the poor beast can't be patched back up again. Instead of World War IV, America may find it's been dragged into a Middle Eastern version of the Thirty Years War, if not the Hundred Years War.


We seem to have reached the point where a half-baked strategy for endless war in the Middle East is actually easier to sell politically than a sensible energy policy, an end to America's fawning subservience to worst instincts of the Israeli national security state, and a focused, relentless campaign to destroy Al Qaeda while drying up the pools of hatred in which jihad festers and grows.

Clausewitz, that ultimate realist, once said that "he who neglects the possible in quest of the impossible is a fool." And that just might end up being the epitaph for America's insane imperial adventure in the Middle East. .



Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Turn off your television week starts tomorrow, April 21

What, you were expecting Wolf Blitzer to tell you about this?


Joe Conason, on "Bush's Worst Week"

Another reason why the paid subscription to Salon.com is worth it. My favorite bits:

As a nonpartisan campaign finance expert told the Los Angeles Times, the Bush-Cheney media expenditures to date equal what previous presidential candidates laid out for an entire campaign cycle. And yet the effort to "define" Kerry hasn't improved Bush's image. Although the Republican treasury is far from exhausted, money alone will not undo the damage inflicted by the administration's lethal incompetence.


But the worst problem for Bush remains the inarguable proof, reiterated in the media every day, that his logistical, military and diplomatic preparations for war were inadequate or nonexistent -- and that as a consequence, young Americans are losing their lives and limbs without prospect of victory.



Monday, April 19, 2004

More Pictures

Unforgettable & powerful stuff, from Bushflash.

The picture Bush doesn't want you to see

Kos has it here. |
Another Reason to Love the British Press

Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) brings us the lowdown on something we've always rather suspected:

Everyone agrees that President George Bush's lobotomy has been a tremendous success.

Dick Cheney, the vice-president, declared that he was fully satisfied with it from his point of view.

"Without the lobotomy," Mr Cheney told the American Academy of Neurology, "it might have proved difficult to persuade the president to start wars all around the world without any good pretext. But the removal of those parts of the brain associated with understanding the outcome of one's actions has enabled the president to function fully and without hesitation. Even when it is clear that disaster is around the corner, as it is currently in Iraq, the chief executive is able to go on TV and announce that everything is on course and that he has no intention of changing tactics that have already proved disastrous.

"I would like to commend the surgeons, nurses and all involved with the operation," said Mr Cheney.

This looks promising...

...or at least more promising than televised, interrupt-your-opponent-and-talk-louder, forms of debate: Opinion Duel, a new joint venture of the New Republic and the National Review.
Your's Truly in the New York Times

Okay, it's just a letter to the editor, but I'll take it. Here it is, from yesterday's magazine section:

Not the Marrying Kind

Cora Daniels's Lives column (April 4) made a powerful argument for the institution of marriage and, in the process, illustrates just why marriage is so important for same-sex couples. The fate of her widowed mother, ignored by the law after 30 years of living together but not being married, says everything.

Sadly, it is precisely at those moments that few of us like to think about, and that fewer plan for sufficiently, that the value of civil marriage becomes most clear. If a legal spouse becomes seriously ill or dies, the surviving partner can fall back on a host of ready-made legal protections. Same-sex couples are not so fortunate; and unlike Cora's mother, they don't yet have the option to marry, even if they so choose.

If there's a better argument for broader marriage rights, frankly, it eludes me.
Ned Hudson
New York


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Talking Heads to 9/11 Commissioners: Don’t be Talking Heads

I had earlier taken note of General Wayne Downing (here and here), the first of several successors to Richard Clarke’s role as the Bush Administration’s chief counter-terrorism expert. Friday, he made another appearance, this time on the op-ed page of the New York Times, in a piece co-authored with Juliette Kayyem, where he argues that the 9/11 commission should impose “a voluntary gag order on itself.”

I respectfully disagree.

First, his prime complaint – that commission members undermine their credibility by commenting on news shows– fails to consider what would most likely occur if the commissioners did not do so: mainly, that the news media would simply fill the void in their story-slots with other, less directly informed, talking heads. To argue that this would help matters is at best doubtful. That the authors – both themselves NBC commentators – might stand to gain further employment by stepping into that very void also does nothing to bolster their claim.

Second, to argue the merits of a gag order, they posit an analogy between the commissioners’ role, and that of a jury. This is also questionable. To accept this analogy, you would somehow have to imagine jurors who directly question witnesses, keep extensive notes, and deliver detailed written analyses of their findings, which may well turn out to be nuanced and somewhat ambiguous – though exactly how they are supposed to get through the questioning part without first opening their mouths is still not clear to me.

Third, the entire courtroom analogy is weak. There are no specific charges, no clear defendant, and no formal sanctioning power. Apart from certain similarities of setting, and the fact that there are witnesses who (with a notable pair of exceptions) give sworn testimony, the hearings, at least from this non-lawyer’s perspective, bear little resemblance to a courtroom proceeding (though it would have been a welcome development had the commissioners issued more judge-like admonishments to “answer the question”).

The commission is an investigative body, acting on behalf of the public. Their role, in simple terms, is not to prosecute the thief after your house has been robbed, but rather to answer the questions that you might pose to your most trusted advisors in the aftermath: is there something we overlooked, that might have prevented this; and what can we do now, that might stop this from happening again?

Fourth, it is difficult to imagine that any eventual finding would be more credible by concealing from the public the vigorous debate that went into it. I, for one, am less likely to suspect a whitewash after hearing from the likes of Bob Kerry and Richard Ben-Veniste; the public comments of Jim Thompson and others may help assure my more rightward-leaning brethren that the commission is not a "partisan attack" on the White House.

Finally, it is worth noting that the very visibility of the proceedings has produced some results that, more than likely, will materially improve the credibility of the outcome. Comment and public controversy over Condoleezza Rice’s refusal to testify, and subsequently over the White House stonewalling over the August 11 PDB, just to name two, has made a valuable difference in the evidence available to the commission and to the public. I doubt that we would have made much progress on either point had the commissioners been more guarded in their comments.

So, in other words, sorry General, I don't buy your logic, or your conclusions. But I tell you what: before we spend too much time arguing whether the commission's conclusions are credible, why don't we wait and find out what they are?


Saturday, April 17, 2004

Jim Mullen, on Howard Stern

From the current (4/23) Entertainment Weekly:

The FCC shocked the jock by fining his bosses $495,000 for his dirty mouth. The good news is that if you only spew hate and lies they won't touch you.
Weekend Food Section: the Oyster Special

In just over three weeks, Digestible News has clambered over five of the bottom-most rungs of the TTL Ecosystem to reach the still-insignificant rank of slimy mollusk (granted, this is not the most common of mollusk behaviors) – though, naturally, I’d prefer to think of myself as a delectable oyster. Or perhaps a juicy scallop, or the more journalistically promising inky squid (yes, my friends, squid are mollusks).

For this remarkably minor achievement, I offer my heartfelt thanks for the early support & frequent plugs from Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, the regular tips and comments from JJ of Cookies in Heaven, and the entire handful of other sites (you know who you are) who have actually put up permanent links back to yours truly.

To commemorate this occasion, then – I present for your enjoyment, through the miracle of hyperlinks, the world’s shortest oyster recipe:
  1. Shuck ‘em

  2. Fry ‘em

  3. Eat em



Friday, April 16, 2004

Oh, I love the British tabloids...

Via Kevin Drum

This is almost cheating....

...but it's too, too good to miss. Via Atrios, great moments in freeway blogging.

Stay the course!

Ben Sargent

Outsourcing the War

The second half of Peter Warren Singer's long Salon piece is, if anything, even more powerful than the first. By all means read through it -- even if you have to come back later to do so. For shorter attention spans, here's the money quote (from the top of the last page):

In a recent campaign speech, President Bush proclaimed that "America must never outsource America's national security." Once again, the gap between rhetoric and reality is yawning.

While Bush was trying to make a point about U.S. relations with the international community, the fact is that the United States has indeed outsourced major portions of its effort in the war in Iraq. More important, it has done so in an ad hoc manner, without public awareness or discussion.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Is the White House Issuing Press Releases for Children?

Please don’t ask how it occurred to me to check this particular news source – but somehow I couldn’t help wondering how, or even if, some of the week’s more challenging news stories have fared in the ever-scintillating pages of My Weekly Reader.

Suffice it to say that it was an instructional exercise. For those who, like myself, found it difficult to channel their impressions of Tuesday night’s press conference into a form more literate than, say, smashing the television set – My Weekly Reader’s tidy recitation of assertions, neatly expunged of context, ambiguity, or question, is singularly impressive.

Here, in its entirety, is their report:

April 15, 2004
Bush: Work in Iraq Not Over

President George W. Bush vowed to "finish the work" in Iraq on Tuesday night, saying "we must not waver" despite recent weeks of increased bloodshed there. Bush addressed the nation in a televised speech. He said that a free Iraq is essential to winning the broader war on terrorism.

Bush talked about ongoing uprisings in Iraq. He said that the majority of Iraqis are happy that U.S. troops are stationed there to protect them. He said leftover members of Saddam Hussein's regime, terrorist groups, and radical religious leaders are behind the recent violence.

The president said the U.S.-led coalition will hand over rule to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, despite the uprisings. After the handover, U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq "to protect [the interim] government from external aggression and internal subversion," Bush said.

There are currently 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Bush said that he will send more soldiers and more equipment if commanding Gen. John Abizaid asks for them.

One wonders what sort of classroom exercises this stuff will inspire. Class, did any of you actually hear what the President said on Tuesday? Do you think that the author of this article did? Is the author indicating, by placing the term “finish the work” in quotes, that the President was speaking ironically? Does anyone find it odd that the article omits any mention of the fact that the President “spoke” at a press conference? Or do you suppose it was just easier to ignore the fact that there were questions, than to report the fact that none of them were actually answered? Can you explain to me, class, the difference between an assertion and a fact? Which term best describes the statements attributed to the President?

There's a really important quiz coming up in November, kids, and you may need to help some of your parents study a bit more....

[this item cross-posted at DailyKos]

Cultural Indices

Coming soon, to the Golden Arches near you: Wi-Fi access & Sony downloads with your bunless, non-supersized burger, as part of a "balanced lifestyles platform"-- all of which you can order with a McCappuccino, and pay for with a credit card.


P.W. Singer's look at the growing role of Private Military Firms in Iraq is a must-read.

The size and scope of the private military contingent in Iraq also cut to the heart of the most troubling questions about the Bush administration's handling of the war. They point up the administration's inadequate planning and preparation, its lack of transparency about the war's financial and human cost, and its sense of denial about whether it put enough American troops on the ground to accomplish the task handed to them. The hiring of such a large private force and the ensuing casualties that it has taken outside of public awareness and discussion have served as a novel means for displacing some of the political costs of the war. Even more troubling, the growth of such an ad hoc market arrangement, lying outside the chain of command, makes an already tough mission even more difficult, and risks lives on both the troop and contractor side.(italics added)


The Iraq War is where the history books will note that the industry took full flight. Iraq is not just the biggest U.S. military commitment in a generation but also the biggest marketplace in the short history of the privatized military industry.

So who do you suppose is the biggest client in this burgeoning new marketplace? Why, the U.S. taxpayer, of course.

And where do the profits go? Well, to no one's surprise, Singer also notes that "In 2001, 10 leading private military firms spent more than $32 million on lobbying, while they invested more than $12 million in political campaign donations."

Ain't war grand?


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Fixing Iraq

Steve Gilliard has it right:

The cold hard fact is that if we have to wait for John Kerry to be elected, there won't be an Iraq to make policy for. No one, not pundits, not policy makers, realize[s] that events are moving rapidly against us in Iraq. There are no secular politicians to make a deal with and the longer we remain, the worse the war gets.

First, the CPA needs to begin direct negotiations with Shia and Sunni clerics and the Kurdish parties on a handover of power. Let us admit who runs the country and lets cut a deal with them. We need to work out some kind of legitimate transfer of power under UN mandate.

Read the whole thing, here.

Jane Brody

Among the people I would probably not choose as a dinner companion would be the New York Times’ Jane Brody.

Occasionally, however, she does come up with some good advice. A case in point would be this piece on food safety, which contains useful tips for avoiding “cross-contamination” – which commonly occurs when cooks fail to wash hands, knives, and cutting boards adequately between preparing raw meats and cutting up raw vegetables. I’m certified in food safety, so I tend to agree: after cutting up a chicken, I wash & sanitize everything in sight before moving on to the next step. Call me neurotic, but somehow the idea of salmonella in my salad just doesn’t appeal to me.

She’s also right about defrosting, right about storing and chilling, and right when she advises washing melons before cutting them. I would not, however, take her advice on cooking temperatures too seriously, unless you never again want to mop up a nice runny egg yolk, or dig into a warm slab of rare roast beef (never mind the béarnaise sauce). One would hope, at least, that if you handle your food carefully -- you won't have to ruin it to make it safe to eat.

And what does this tell us?

President Bush, last night: "This is the war that other presidents will be facing as we head into the 21st century."

Is he finally admitting here that the Iraq war will outlast not only his own presidency -- which he clearly believes will last two terms -- but that of more than one of his successors?

On "Staying the Course"

Commenting on Jay Rosen's fascinating pair of before-and-after takes on last night's press conference, a reader offers this:

The captain of the Titanic not only "stayed the course", he didn't even slow down after being told there were icebergs around the ship.

The Fool Tarot card shows a rich man with his doggie stepping forwards bravely and strongly...off a cliff.

Bush in the Headlights

This signature line, from commentor Trix over at Kos, sums up my initial reaction pretty well: "If you're not completely appalled, then you haven't been paying attention." For anyone who may have missed last night's question-and-avoiding-the-answer spectacle, this condensed version, via Billmon, may help. Wonkette boils it down even further:

Short Bush News Conference: If my answers cannot distract you from the miserable failure that is the Bush foreign policy, perhaps my tie will.

Let's look a few numbers first:

Ezra Klein, at Pandagon, makes a valiant effort to sum it all up:

He said nice words we like to hear. He put on a determined face that we like to see. And he said that everything was under control, go back to your lives. He dodged questions and ignored reality. He was asked to explain his actions but he instead explained his feelings. He pretended to talk about America and instead spoke about himself. His rhetoric was lofty, his convictions on display, but tonight he was no President.

Bush was obviously flummoxed -- stumbling and meandering, while seeming to hammer away almost angrily at his square-peg convictions, as if it were the height of impertinence to question him at all. "Round hole? Well let me step back and review my thinking...."


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

McDonald's Newest Spokesmodel

Newly-crowned Miss USA Shandi Finnessey said "her favorite food is a supersized extra-value meal from McDonald's." (CNN)


Monday, April 12, 2004

This is an interesting development...

This exchange with Senator Joe Biden, from yesterday's Face the Nation, deserves wider notice (emphasis added):

SCHIEFFER: Well, the--turning it over to NATO--and--and many people have said that--but, Senator Biden, let me ask you this question: Do you think that NATO forces will be willing to come into Iraq? Have you talked to any foreign leaders, for example, who are members of NATO, who said, `If you'll give us a chance, we'll send some troops in there'?

Sen. BIDEN: Absolutely I have. I've spoke tone the president of France. I'm spoken to the permanent representatives in Brussels. I've spoken to the secretaries of defense in Great Britain. I've spoken to a number of European leaders. Now what's happening though is the
window's closing very rapidly. It's like that old bad joke I've told you before, Bob, about the center fielder who makes four errors in the first inning. The coach calls him out, puts in Pat. Pat's first play makes an error. He comes out, calls timeout and says `Pat, what's the matter with you?' And he says, `George has screwed up center field so bad no one can play it.' They're beginning to think we're screwing up center field so bad no one can play it. So that's why the president...

Sen. ROBERTS: You could have used a different name.

Sen. BIDEN: Well, no, but I think it's appropriate. I really do. Look, I promise you, the meetings I've had with these heads of states and the leaders of these European countries are saying we are willing to come in. Now let me make it clear. They're only willing to come in if they have genuine political input in what Iraq is going to look like, not--not under some super embassy ambassador or under Mr. Bremer. They have an equal input in what the country's going to look like.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let--let me just ask you, because I'm intrigued by you said you talked to the president of--of France. The president of France told you he would be able to send troops? He wanted to sent troops? How many troops did he want to send...

Sen. BIDEN: He--he--he--he--he...

SCHIEFFER: ...and under what circumstances?

Sen. BIDEN: He said two things. One, if there is a--a reso--he--he said it didn't even have to be the Security Council. He said it could be the permanent five members of the United Nations, if they had a say in the political outcome and a representative on the ground taking the place of Bremer on Ju--on July 1, he would vote for NATO being able to come in. And then if that occurred, he would gradually induce--in--in--put in French forces. There is no question there's only going to be able to be somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 NATO forces at the front end of this operation. But when I spoke to General Jones, our supreme allied commander, that amount of force would allow NATO to take over the responsibility of guarding the borders, NATO take over the north, and/or take over the Polish division in the south, freeing up roughly 20,000 American forces in there. But the most important part of this, Bob, is once the American people know we're not alone, once NATO says they're in the deal even if it's with 2,000 troops, it means every major power in Europe has a stake in the outcome. Right now the American people know there's only one nation that has a stake in the outcome, and that's the United States.

"Bush opened his mouth Sunday..."

Kos and David Sirota track the lies.

"Local Officers Join Search for Illegal Immigrants"

New York Times:

Over the past six months, Trooper Birmingham and 20 others on the state force have arrested 106 illegal immigrants, including a Mexican man driving 90 miles per hour and a Mexican mother of two who presented invalid documents while applying for a driver's license. In the past, such immigrants were often given traffic tickets or warnings and sent on their way. These days, they might be arrested by the state police — even if they have not broken a state law — and handed over to federal authorities for deportation.

"Before, the only thing we could do was issue a traffic citation and let them go," Trooper Birmingham said as he cruised along State Road 9. "It's different now."

Alabama is the epicenter of a widening effort by the Department of Homeland Security to encourage states and localities to help enforce immigration laws in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

So, in the name of Homeland security, we need to arrest a Mexican mother of two? This is truly sad.

Yes, it's perfectly likely that there are a fair number of bad guys roaming around illegally country. But it strikes me that this is not the way to go about fixing that problem. We have an estimated 8-12 million illegal immigrants in this country, the vast majority of whom are honest & hardworking, often in spite of being shamelessly exploited. All these arrests will do is force people further into the shadows -- and magnify the potential for exploitation. If we really want to flush out the bad guys, let's offer an attractive path to normalcy for the millions of honest immigrants -- and then see who doesn't take it.

Go ahead, Democrats: propose a solution real here. I'd even then throw in a kicker: dare any opponents of the plan (winger anti-immigration types like Colorado's Tom Tancredo come to mind) to live for a month while eating only foods that verifiably were not:

...illegal immigrants. They would, of course, starve.

Oh yeah....the Food Section

I didn’t quite get around to writing a food section over the weekend, so instead I’ll put in a quick plug for a cookbook that I happen to like a great deal: Staff Meals from Chanterelle, by David Waltuck and Melicia Phillips.

It’s a fine example of that most rare & welcome of anomalies, a cookbook by a great chef that – instead of showcasing elaborate restaurant preparations – focuses on real food. The recipes are simple crowd-pleasers -- what the authors call “four-star family fare” -- put together with the kind of eye for detail that turns everyday meals into extraordinary events. A few examples: beef short ribs braised in beer; oven-roasted barbecued ribs; chicken with forty cloves of garlic; smothered pork chops; deviled crab cakes; Chinese meatballs (with ginger, asian seasonings, and bok choy); Pad Thai; Vidalia onion fritters; Manhattan Buffalo Wings; Half-inch high buttermilk pancakes. In short, it’s simply loaded with stuff you’ll want to cook.

The book is not new (it's been out since 2000), so get a copy now, before this gem disappears from the shelves.


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Rent-a-SEAL Watch

Skippy explores the tax benefits of being a "civilian contractor," with this great catch from the AP:

The U.S. occupation is "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to make big bucks," said Daniel Biran, a former Israeli special forces soldier who is associate managing director for security practice at Boston's Citigate Global Intelligence.

The pay for private workers in dangerous places like Iraq is generous. Experienced people can make $1,000 a day, according to Singer. The first $120,000 earned by Americans working in Iraq is tax-free, Murray said.

And if things get too hairy, private workers - unlike soldiers - can quit.

In comparison, a Green Beret master sergeant with 20 years of service and getting various allowances may earn $67,000 annually....

A charming arrangement, really, when you consider what your tax dollars are doing for them. (a) Most of these guys are ex-military, which means they have VA benefits and often military retirement benefits as well; and (b) your tax dollars are, indirectly, paying those high salaries -- whether it's one step removed (Pentagon hires Private Military Firm who hires that ex-green beret), or more (U.S. Government hires Halliburton who hires the Private Military firm who hires that ex-green beret).

Memo to George Bush

I read the other day that you had spent 233 days -- or more than 40% of your presidency -- on vacation. Now, since your own policies -- especially in Iraq -- are rapidly unravelling, and with tragic effects, your dogged commitment to vacationing is troubling enough in itself. But I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't be more worried about how you spend the other 60% of your time. Mose Allison said it better than I could:

You're quoting figures, you're dropping names
You're telling stories, you're playing games
You always laugh when things ain't funny
You try to sound like you don't need money
If talk was criminal, you'd lead a life of crime
Cause your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime

Though, come to think of it, this actually may explain why, to paraphrase Mark Crispin Miller, "your words seem to originate from somewhere other than your mind." Why is that, I wonder? Are you really as out of touch as you appear? But, who knows... maybe I'm just asking the wrong guy. Since you're sitting right there with him, Mr. Cheney, perhaps you could help us out here....

Games Bushies Play

Earlier this week, Josh Marshall referred to “logic puzzles,” here:

All we seem to be hearing are hollow assertions of a vacant will.

From the White House's advocates we hear logic puzzles about appeasement in which the fall-out from the president's screw ups become the prime argument for continuing to support them

This turn of phrase again came to mind, when I ran across this description, in Worse than Watergate, of what John Dean calls an “absurd game.” Follow along with me, and you'll see why:

When it came to the war against Iraq, Congress was deceived, just as the American people were, only what happened with Congress deserves a very close look because it reveals that Congress did not give the administration a blank check authorization. In fact, Bush deliberately violated the very authorization that he sought from Congress, which was not merely a serious breach of faith with a trusting Congress but a statutory and constitutional crime.

As Dean notes:

On October 10, Congress overwhelmingly approved a resolution authorizing a war with Iraq. But there was a kicker in the authorization: Congress conditioned its grant of authority on a formal determination by the president that there continued to be a threat that could not be dealt with through diplomacy and that his actions were consistent with the war against those involved in 9/11 – a detail unreported in the news media.

In short, Congress insisted that there be evidence of the two points that were the centerpiece of Bush’s argument for war.

To elucidate precisely how the game was played, Dean notes that the joint resolution contained some twenty-three “Whereas” clauses, and then carefully explains what these clauses are – and aren’t:

…these seemingly declaratory statements have no real meaning, so they are not debated – and are seldom discussed – by Congress. They are part of the joint resolution, which when approved by both the House and Senate and signed by the president, becomes law. But that does not make the whereas clauses either fact or findings of fact by Congress. Legal scholars call these clauses “precatory” – words of entreaty, desire, wish – and here, hope, with no other meaning. Understanding the nature of these clauses is necessary to appreciate the absurd game Bush played with Congress.

So what do you think happened?

You guessed it:

On March 18, 2003, Bush sent his formal “determination” to Congress….His letter merely tracked the exact language of the statute, making that language his determination. Accompanying this letter was the “Report in Connection with Presidential Determination under Public Law 107-243.” It is an extraordinary document. It’s content can be accurately analogized to male bovine droppings; H.L. Mencken might have described it (to paraphrase him) as “the topmost pinnacle of slosh,
for it is rumble and bumble, it is flap and doodle, it is balder and dash.” For certain, it is not material befitting a “determination” by the commander in chief to undertake the grave responsibility of expending the nation’s blood and treasure in an act of war. It is closer to blatant fraud than to a fulfillment of the president’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the law.

This might be funny if the consequences weren't so deadly. At this point, however, I have only one request: after 630+ soldiers killed, after 18,000+ "medical evacuees," after $160 Billion dollars spent on this misadventure, can we please, please, stop referring to the authorization as a "blank check." It wasn't. It was, and remains, a brazen and lethal fraud.

(this entry cross-posted to my Diary at Daily Kos) |
Oh, this is reassuring...

From Juan Cole, this morning:

AP report that the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) issued a demand early on Saturday that the US cease its military action against Fallujah and stop employing "collective punishment."

Not only has what many Iraqis call "the puppet council" taken a stand against Bush administration tactics in Iraq, but individual members are peeling off. Shiite Marsh Arab leader Abdul Karim al-Muhammadawi suspended his membership in the council on Friday. A Sunni member, Ghazi al-Yawir, has threatened to resign if a negotiated settlement of the Fallujah conflict cannot be found. Old-time Sunni nationalist leader Adnan Pachachi thundered on al-Arabiya televsion, "It was not right to punish all the people of Fallujah, and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal." For him to go on an Arab satellite station much hated by Donald Rumsfeld and denounce the very people who appointed him to the IGC is a clear act of defiance. There are rumors that many of the 25 Governing Council members have fled abroad, fearful of assassination because of their association with the Americans. The ones who are left appear on the verge of resigning.


Friday, April 09, 2004

Check out...

...the latest installment of TBogg’s recurring Friday feature, America's Worst Mother™, with Meghan and her "insular brood" with ever-changing names. This week's: Eulalie, Diva Marie, Priapus, and Blister. (And stick around for other delicious snark. My favorite headline: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re deluded…until you actually post something.”)

Skinning the Balloon

The claim that Bush was “tired of swatting flies” was forever emptied of usefulness yesterday when Bob Kerry asked Condi Rice a simple question: “What fly had he swatted?”

If you wish to study a granfalloon....

Telling Details

Bob Herbert shows his unerring eye, with this catch, from this morning's Times (italics original to the print edition):

Condi Rice was in Washington trying to pass her oral exam before the 9/11 commission yesterday, and the president was on vacation in Texas. As usual, they were in close agreement, this time on the fact that neither they nor anyone else in this remarkably aloof and arrogant administration is responsible for the tragic mess unfolding in Iraq, and its implications for the worldwide war on terror.

The president called Ms. Rice from his pickup truck on the ranch to tell her she had done a great job before the panel.

It doesn't get more surreal than that.

Mr. President, there's a war on. You might consider hopping a plane to Washington.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Rent-a-SEAL Terminology Watch

We can now add to my earlier list of possible formulations for those mysterious "Civilian Contractors." The Washington post strikes a nice balance, with private commandos.

Of course, we may soon need another term: it seems that the Private Military Firms that employ these guys are now banding together to form "the largest private army in the world." Cheery thought, isn't it? The Post's Dana Priest and Mary Pat Flaherty have the details.

My question is this: what do we call this new Alliance of the Shadowy? Rambo-rama? Commandos-R-Us? Strike Force Deniability?

Again, I'd love to hear your suggestions.

The Post-Intelligencer Gets it Right

After Rice testimony, questions remain


WASHINGTON -- The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice's testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did and should have done before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. (link)

...and what a blizzard it was. I watched the whole spectacle, but that simple lead captures all you really need to know.


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Marshmallow-related Program Activities

Just in time for Easter, Jillian brings together the definitive research.

Annotating Karen

Apparently, Karen Hughes is already bored with the “working mom” shtick – though she is at least a cheerful zealot. From Last night’s interview with Larry King (transcript):

KING: Do you ever give a thought that Iraq may be a mistake?

HUGHES: No, Larry, I don't think so.

How silly, Larry. Of course not. None of these people ever consider, even for a moment, that they could ever, ever, be wrong. Not that that could remotely, possibly, be a problem….

HUGHES: Now, there clearly today there's a reminder that there are some forces in Iraq, some people, forces of terror and chaos and thugs, like this militant cleric, who apparently has put together an illegal militia and is really trying to undermine not only what America is trying to do, but what the Iraqi people are trying to do…

And I think what you have is a small percentage of people -- I saw Paul Bremer today saying perhaps 10 percent -- who want to undermine the cause of democracy and freedom there. But the vast majority of people I think understand the stakes and want a free and democratic Iraq.

A small percentage? 10 percent? Iraq, according to my terrorist manual almanac, has a population of about 25 million – so “10 percent” would be about 2.5 million. Just to put this in perspective, imagine what New York City -- with a metro area population of about 22 million -- would be like if some 2 Million of its people were actively supporting an armed overthrow of the government. I don’t think I’d be terribly reassured by the statement that you “think” that a “vast majority” want a “free and democratic” place. (Never mind the fact that one can only guess why, or on the basis of what evidence, you might “think” that at all.)

KING: But there were no weapons of mass destruction. When combat ended, the president announced the end of major combat; 480 troops have died since that announcement.

HUGHES: Well, Larry, let's go back and talk about the weapons. First of all, David Kay, the chief weapons inspector, came back and reached two very important conclusion. And I'm worried the American people only heard one of them. He said we were wrong about the weapons. And you'll still find disagreement in Washington. Some in Washington still believe we will find weapons. After all, he used them in the past. We know he had them. He at one point -- he used them against his own people.

But just as important, I would argue, David Kay concluded that we were absolutely right about the war, because he said the situation in Iraq was even more unstable, more dangerous, more likely that terrorists might have gained the means or the knowledge or some materials to have been able to develop weapons of mass destruction. And Larry, that's the nightmare scenario. And that's why, when you hear the administration talk that everything is different in the aftermath of September 11, you know, it's interesting, right now, we're listening to a commission that's questioning should we have done more to preempt September 11 before it happened.

Well, what the president is trying to do is preempt the possibility of a nuclear September 11, with the nightmare scenario that terrorists will be able to access weapons of mass destruction.

Can you believe she’s out there flacking this crap?

“Some in Washington still believe we will find weapons?” Come now, Karen.

“David Kay concluded that we were absolutely right about the war?” I dunno, folks, but “absolutely” anything sounds a lot more like Karen Hughes than David Kay.

There’s plenty more to criticize about that passage, but then there’s this. Note the artful tense change (italics added):

HUGHES: Well, again, al Qaeda, there are forces -- there are terror forces in Iraq. There was information, materials, plans, program activities to develop weapons of mass destruction, and a brutal dictator who also hated America and who we thought would stop at nothing in order to help America's enemies.

Sheesh. So let me get this straight. Because the terrorists who weren’t there before are there now, it was right all along to invade, on the basis of “program activities?”

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I’m just not sure what makes me sicker: listening to Karen peddle this crap, or watching Larry King sit idly by, letting it all pass virtually unchallenged.

Has Attacking Iraq Made Us Less Safe?

Jessica Stern, of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, argues that Richard Clarke was right -- and that "by attacking Iraq without sufficient preparations for creating a functioning state, we have created precisely what the Bush administration had identified as a major threat to world security: a weak state unable to police its borders or to maintain a monopoly on violence."

Her opinion piece, which appears today on Salon.com, deserves a full read. She capably dismantles the principal arguments for the war, and notably moves beyond criticism to offer serious alternatives:

If attacking Iraq made things worse, what would it take to prosecute a war on terrorism successfully? A better strategy might employ the following elements: First, where they exist, we need to destroy terrorist headquarters and, when necessary, kill the killers. This strategy must be employed carefully, however: Wherever possible, we should avoid creating martyrs or enhancing our enemies' mobilization strategies. In many cases, it is likely to be more useful to persuade terrorists to talk to us than to kill them; and, second, when we select military targets, it is probably better to focus on operatives rather than inspirational leaders such as bin Laden or Sheik Yassin. While the world is definitely better off without such evil men, their deaths could inspire their followers to kill many more innocent people.

Third, penetrating the various groups that are fighting us and turning them against one another is a critically important goal. The terrorists, Mao tells us, aim to create spiritual unity between the officers and their men and between themselves and the people. They also aim to destroy our alliances. Our goal must be the reverse: to create tensions between the leaders and their followers and among the various groups that compete for attention and funding. We also need to strengthen our alliances and make them robust enough to withstand the terrorists' attempts to split us from our allies. The al-Qaida movement has been cleverly exploiting tensions over the Iraq war to split us from our allies.

Related to this, fourth, we need to strengthen intelligence and law enforcement networks both within and among governments. This requires maintaining existing alliances and creating new ones -- sometimes with states that don't always live up to our expectations in all matters. Once we understand that terrorism is the most significant threat we face today, it becomes easier to order our preferences and demands.

Fifth, we need to strengthen weak states, which are, as the Bush administration itself pointed out in its national security strategy, terrorist breeding grounds. Sixth, we must avoid feeding into the distressingly widespread perception that the United States is out to humiliate the Islamic world. We need always to be mindful of Mao's explanation that terrorists are fish swimming in a sea of ordinary people, whose occasional support the terrorists' may require. We are competing with the terrorists for the hearts and minds of the ordinary people who make up that sea. Finally, we need to minimize the risk that terrorists or their sponsors will acquire powerful weapons, especially weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, our present strategy "has split the allies, not the terrorists:"

It has turned Iraq into a Mecca for international terrorists, and mobilized local Shiite and Salafi jihadist groups that had previously posed a minimal threat. It has facilitated connections between terrorists and those with formal military experience in Saddam's army, the lethal nightmare that the invasion was supposed to have thwarted.

Concluding, she notes that "The war in Iraq has not only been a distraction from the war on terrorism; it has strengthened our enemies in ways that continue to surprise and horrify us."

Indeed. Someone, at least, has been watching the news.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Did I say, "It keeps getting worse?"

Apparently so:

U.S Troops in Pitched Battles in Iraq. (Washington Post)

What I can't figure out is how Wolf Blitzer could headline the horror in Ramadi as a "Surprise Attack," as he did on CNN tonight, just after five. Bloody? Yes. Tragic? Undeniably. But a surprise? How exactly, Wolf, after the events last week, do you find any of this surprising? Forgive me for the impertinence, but, um, how shall I say this... haven't you been watching the news?


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