Sunday, February 29, 2004

Old Testament Jesus

I haven't seen the picture. In fact, I'm a little annoyed that I feel compelled to see it after Mel Gibson's tortured -- and brilliant -- marketing campaign in the months (felt like years) leading up to the opening of "The Passion of The Christ" on Ash Wednesday. The whole thing may have been sincere. I won't doubt his obviously intense faith. After all, he's more Catholic than the Pope from what I can tell. But the whole thing felt contrived, cynical. Mel Gibson being victimized by liberals and Jews.

Just like the Jesus portrayed in his film. At least according to everything I've read about the movie, pro and con.

Anyway, until I've seen it I'll delay judgment on whether or not it's the equivalent of a religious snuff film -- "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre," as one reviewer described it -- or a transcendent experience.

But one thing is sure. The descriptions of the Jesus portrayed in the film are a whole lot different from what I grew up learning in Catholic school.

Stephen Prothero writes in today's New York Times Magazine that views of Christ morph from era to era.

"Since the evangelical century of the 1800's, America's Protestant majority has gravitated toward a Mister Rogers Jesus, a neighborly fellow they could know and love and imitate. The country's megachurches got that way in part because they stopped preaching fire and brimstone and the blood of the Lamb. Their parishioners are sinners in the hands of an amiable God. Their Jesus is a loving friend."

But now they are embracing a "Catholic Jesus," according to Prothero.

"If the mind is the seat of Jefferson's Jesus and the heart the seat of the evangelical Friend, Gibson's Christ is in his body. He came here neither to deliver moral maxims nor to exude empathy, but to spew blood. This is not a therapeutic, 'I'm O.K., you're O.K.' Christianity. In fact, 'The Passion of the Christ' seems hell-bent on crashing head-on into a parking lot full of American Protestant assumptions. Its leading man is the Christ of devotional Catholics who for centuries have approached their redeemer bodily, through the Eucharist, gratefully imbibing his battered body. And in scene after gory scene, Gibson is thrusting that Christ in our faces, shoving the 'Man of Sorrows' of medieval passion plays into the national conversation about Jesus (and in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic no less)."

Now, I am no theologian, and my Catholicism has long been dropped off at the Dry Cleaners of History, but I think Prothero ignores the fact that Easter Sunday is the most important day in the Catholic calendar, not Good Friday.

Yes, the Stations of the Cross are present in every Catholic church, and consuming "the flesh of Christ" is one of the most important rites. But it is the redemption of Christ and humanity through his resurrection that underscores the sacred. At least that's what I remember from Sister Helen Angela (actually what I remember most about Sister Helen Angela was that she spoke frequently with angels).

No, Gibson's Christ is a very personal one. One strangely reminiscent of the many Gibson film characters -- fiercely individualistic tough guys who usually end up getting the tar viciously beaten out of them. But who then exact their revenge, with equal viciousness.

It's Christ as victim. Christ as fixed-jaw avenger. A Christ more redolent of the Old Testament than the New.

And that I think is why evangelical protestants have embraced this vision so fervidly in these strange times.

"One puzzle of the reception of the film thus far is why born-again Christians have given such a big thumbs up to what is so unapologetically a Catholic movie. Why are they putting their grass-roots organizations at the beck and call of the producer formerly known as Mad Max, buying tickets by the thousands for an R-rated film? Why are they lauding an image of Jesus that owes as much to medieval passion plays and Hollywood action movies as it does to the Gospels, that runs so hard against the Protestant grain?

"The culture wars no doubt have something to do with the evangelicals' decision to close ranks with Gibson, who must be commended for so adroitly spinning the debate over his depiction of Jews into a battle between secular humanists and true believers. The evangelicals' 'amen' to the movie may demonstrate that conservative Protestants have bought more into Hollywood's culture of violence than they would like to admit. Or that, while anti-Semitism is still alive in the United States, anti-Catholicism is finished.

"When it comes to the back story of the American Jesus, however, the decision by conservative Protestants to break bread with Gibson may be telling us that the friendly Jesus is on the way out. Calling on the authority of the Apostle Paul, who once boasted that he gloried only in the cross, a group known as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has taken American Protestants (evangelicals included) to the woodshed for preaching a 'self-esteem gospel' rather than the tough truths of the creeds. And Gerald McDermott, a professor of religion at Roanoke College, complains that American Protestants are reducing Jesus 'to no more than the Dalai Lama without the aura, an admirable sort of guy.'''

I think it's more than that. Since September 11, 2001, and for the first time since the War of 1812 perhaps, or at least Pearl Harbor, many Americans now see themselves as victims. Our President warns darkly about "the evil ones" and our being in a time of war, a war that can never be won because there will always be terrorists, hence increasing their sense of victimization and crushing need for revenge. Many Americans see themselves as vulnerable and willing to part with many of their rights in the hopes of protecting themselves against "evil doers."

And what with the ongoing assault on their values by gay marriage, abortion rights, and Janet Jackson, their sense of victimization is complete

They want to see a Christ turned into hamburger meat. It only increases their own sense of victimhood, not just as Americans, but also as people for whom "Christ is their personal savior."

Because they know that this Christ -- as envisioned by Gibson -- when He rises after three days, looks angry, not redeemed or redeeming, is one pissed, very pissed Dude. And as these readers of the "Left Behind" books know, payback is a bitch and revenge is sweet.

Blindsiding Science

Fridays seem to be busy days around the White House press offices and the worker bees can expect to work late. That's because the administration tends to release information -- like the preznit's National Guard records -- that they don't want dominating the news cycles on days when people are paying attention to the news. Firday Night Massacre, if you will.

Back in the day, when Bush still felt motivated to act out the "compassionate" part of his "compassionate conservative," America was given the great Kabuki performance of the preznit studying and anguishing over federal funding for stem cell research. His decision, a study in political calculation was designed to feint left (allowing research on "existing" lines) while going hard to his right (knowing just how limited those "existing" lines were), thereby knocking scientists and people like, say, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's sufferers off their feet while pleasing his religious base, especially Catholics.

Well, his Solomonic fraud is now exposed. On Friday night, under cover of media darkness, "Bush dismissed two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics -- a scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells."

Although Bush had already stacked the panel, any dissent from the party line was not to be tolerated.

In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."

The Bush administration continues to champion science.

Just as they continue to gag their own advisors on the subject of global warming -- which even the Pentagon considers a serious national security threat -- the Bushies will never let a little scientific reality get in the way of their political realities.

Fortunately harvard is stepping into the breach.

Aristide Steps Down. Who Will Step Up?

Aristide has been coaxed to South Africa, it would seem. Colin Powell will no doubt get a scrap from the White House table as a reward.

But I have my doubts that the "rebel leaders," as leaders of the disbanded, corrupt, and brutal Haitian military are now being called by the international press, will simply lay down their arms without speedy intervention.

[Update: Looks like that may be happening].

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Operation October Surprise

More than two years after the Taliban's collapse. One has to ask, what's taken so long to escalate our approach?

"Under the new plan, officials say, the 11,000 American forces in Afghanistan are changing their tactics. Rather than carrying out raids and returning to their bases, small groups will now remain in Afghan villages for days at a time, handing out various forms of aid and conducting patrols. By becoming a more permanent, familiar presence, American officials say, they hope to be able to receive and act on intelligence within hours. Such a technique helped them to capture Mr. Hussein."

Given that Task Force 121 has now left Iraq for Afghanistan, one wonders just how much Iraq has hamstrung the military. I was under the impression, after the Taliban had fallen, that our troops would be making themselves a familiar presence and helping to rebuild the country. But with 10 times that many in Iraq (apparently not enough, either), tough to blanket the country with loving kindness.

That's also why calls to send US troops to Haiti to quell what may soon turn into a humanitarian disaster are not going to get anywhere. As Phil Carter writes, "one has to wonder just what is on the table in the way of U.S. contingency plans for Iraq. This is not 1994 -- we can't load the XVIII Airborne Corps onto planes to back up any sort of diplomatic initiative in Haiti. At most, we could probably muster a MEU to send to Haiti on short notice, or perhaps a piece of a unit that's already redeployed from Iraq. But doing so would have tremendously difficult secondary and tertiary consequences for America's military that's already stretched to hits braking point."

The administration seems to think that if the can convince Aristide to simply step down, there will somehow be an orderly transition to the Port-au-Prince business and professional class that has led the opposition. But it looks a little too late for that, with thugs at the gates of the city and in control of the rest of the country. Former members of the military leadership that Aristide disbanded, these guys aren't simply going to hand over the reins to civilians.

And it says a great deal about the Bush administration's foreign policy when they give the impression that they wouldn't be heartbroken if armed putschists toppled a democratically elected president. Regardless of how unreliable he is, that would be a darkly cynical thing to be seen as encouraging -- as was the case in Venezualia -- in our own hemisphere.

Friday, February 27, 2004

"I did not have sex with"

Guns figure prominently in the news today. Once again, Scalia is in trouble for killing virtually flightless birds, this time -- yet another coincidence -- with someone intimately involved with a pending case. But, gosh, everybody's doing it.

And in more gun news, turns out the chairman of Smith & Wesson has intimate knowledge of his company's product.

"The chairman of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., the nation's second-largest gun manufacturer, resigned after it was disclosed that he spent time in prison in the 1950s and '60s for an armed-robbery spree and an attempted prison escape.

"James J. Minder, a 74-year-old management consultant and Smith & Wesson board member who became chairman in January, has had a clean criminal record since his 1969 release from prison. But the disclosure comes at an awkward time for the gun maker. It has had several tough years, including a public-relations debacle four years ago that hurt sales and a still-pending investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into its earnings restatements.

"Several Smith & Wesson directors initially backed Mr. Minder before he resigned, though people familiar with the matter say he still remains on the board. That could put the company, an icon of the gun world, in an awkward situation, because convicted felons aren't by law allowed to own or possess firearms."

I don't make this stuff up.

Speaking of making this stuff up, did these guys watch the same debate?

It was the first full debate I'd seen, and I was generally jazzed up by it -- how weird is that? I thought Kerry was good, certainly better than his advance reviews. Edwards looked like he'd been up all night cramming for the bar exam. But all this talk -- particularly Mickey Maus' perception that Kerry's body language indicated his loathing for the junior Senator -- I just didn't see it. Kerry seemed confident and both of them seemed to go out of their way to avoid dissing one another...or Sharpton and Kucinich for that matter (who appeared to be joined at the hip). All I kept thinking of was Ed Gillespie [to be described, on your own website, as "the president's political pit bull"...what is wrong with these people?] watching at home, ripping the flesh off his chunky cheeks, screaming, "Attack each other, for godsake. You're supposed to hate each other! And do our jobs." Just wasn't happening.

Kerry and Edwards are restoring some pride to the downtrodden dems with their performances in this primary. What a marked contrast to the Bush machine's shameless treatment of John McCain four years ago.

Poor Denny Hastert. Doing all the heavy lifting for Bush/Cheney/Rice. How long is the loveable lug gonna play the moustache twirling villain, ignoring the pleas of the widows of Sept. 11, 2001.

I guess not very long. The charade may be over.

Finally, the blogosphere, obsessed as it is with...well, beside itself...national affairs...hasn't focused on Haiti at all. That's unfortunate and I'm trying to educate myself on what's going on there and hope to share what I learn soon.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


"'We are now approaching a long presidential election campaign, in the course of which issues on which I have strong views will be widely discussed and debated,' Perle wrote. 'I would not wish those views to be attributed to you or the President at any time, and especially not during a presidential campaign.'"

After this administration initiated the most unilateralist foreign policy in the last 100 years of U.S. history, belittled NATO, undermined the UN, played peek-a-boo with Kim Jong Il, and got stuck in the long, hard slog, after three years of living a neocon's wet dream that's now turned into a screaming nightmare, doesn't he think it's a little late for that?

And note to Bush and Rove: Hell hath no fury like a triple amputee scorned.

"With Republicans, including Mr. Chambliss, calling Mr. Kerry soft on defense -- the same accusation they used to defeat Mr. Cleland -- the presidential race is increasingly turning into a reprise of the 2002 Georgia campaign.

"On Wednesday, Mr. Cleland began appearing in television advertisements for Mr. Kerry in his native Georgia. He also held a conference call to criticize Ed Gillespie, the Republican National Committee chairman, saying that for Mr. Gillespie, who did not serve in the military, to criticize Mr. Kerry, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, 'is like a mackerel in the moonlight -- it both shines and stinks at the same time.' Earlier, he used the same line against Senator Chambliss."

Vietnam Vets are now calling the Kerry campaign the parade they never got. And it's reverberating strongly with Gulf War vets and it will surely be a strong pull for soldiers returning to Iraq, sent into a war by two guys who never served (and are cynical about it), hung out to dry by them in a conflict this administration doesn't understand how to fight, and now faced with physical and emotional wounds at the same time this administration is doing all they can to cut Veterans' benefits.

And scenes like this are going to be difficult to counter, flight suit or not:

"It is grueling work. If the campaign schedules a 6 a.m. television appearance, Mr. Cleland must wake up at 4; it takes him an hour and a half just to get dressed. Sometimes, campaign workers give him a hand-held microphone, forgetting he has only one hand. Sometimes, the stage has no ramp; in Iowa, when Mr. Kerry wanted Mr. Cleland by his side, a group of firefighters hoisted him onto the platform in his chair."

Did I mention that the Firefighters union endorsed Kerry long ago. Veterans and firefighters know a little about security, homeland or otherwise.


Center for American Progress on yesterday's remarkable performance by Ayn

GREENSPAN FLASHBACK – WE NEED TAX CUTS TO REDUCE REVENUE: Yesterday, Greenspan argued that the tax cuts should be extended because allowing them to rise to their previous levels would "pose significant risks to...the revenue base." But when he argued in favor of Bush's first tax cut in January 2001, he made the opposite argument – that lowering tax rates was necessary to reduce revenue. Greenspan was worried that the government would quickly pay off the entire deficit and be awash in so much money it wouldn't have anywhere productive to spend it. The WP reported on 1/27/01 that Greenspan "justified his support of tax cuts by focusing on a problem that may not even emerge until the end of a possible second Bush term – the government being forced to buy private assets because it had paid off all the national debt and still had buckets of cash left over." Given the dramatic turnaround in the nation's fiscal health – a $9.3 trillion turnaround in just three years – Greenspan's prediction was horribly wrong.

GREENSPAN FLASHBACK – WE CAN AFFORD TAX CUTS AND SOCIAL SECURITY: When he was aggressively pushing the President's massive tax cut in 2001, Greenspan was directly questioned about its effect on Social Security. On 03/02/01, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) asked Greenspan, "Do I want tax cuts?...this is my problem: there's such a considerable measure of uncertainty in the projections over the course of the baby boomers' retirement that how are we going to prepare for this?" Greenspan responded that there was no reason for concern because "despite the fact that there is a very dramatic rise" in the retiring population from the Baby Boom, "the effect of [the] acceleration in productivity" will mean that revenues will be "more than adequate to meet that big surge through a goodly part of the decade subsequent to 2010."

GREENSPAN FLASHBACK – NOT EVERYONE WAS FOOLED: While Greenspan claims that his recommendations are in response to recent budget deficits, cutting Social Security was on his agenda long before deficits emerged. The WSJ has complied a litany of such comments dating back to November 1997. In 2001, when Greenspan became a champion of the President's tax cuts for the wealthy, Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-CA) predicted Greenspan's desired outcome. On 1/27/01, Matsui told the WP: "What [Greenspan's] done is created a situation where we'll have benefit cuts in Social Security. That's inevitable if you have a $2 trillion tax cut. And maybe that was his ultimate goal."

And I can't resist. When asked if God helped "write the script" for "The Passion of The Christ," "The Mel" replied, "God ordains everything. God made my bed."

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

It always worries me when these hoodlums get religion.

I was reminded of that line of dialogue, spoken by Humphrey Bogart playing DA Martin Ferguson in Raoul Walsh's "The Enforcer," when I heard "The Hammer" say this in response to Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:

"This is so important we're not going to take a knee-jerk reaction to this," Delay said. "We are going to look at our options and we are going to be deliberative about what solutions we may suggest."

Of knees and jerks. The blogosphere is alive with the sound of snickering. And questions. I think Atrios, Josh Marshall and lots of others have it right. There's panic in the WH and the Boy Genius is grasping at anything within reach, the rest of the GOP be damned.

But this should backfire on Bush as well. My guess is that most voters are closer to Kerry's position than that "Uniter Not a Divider" guy. That is, most are a bit uneasy with the idea of gay marriage -- not withstanding all the nice pictures of brides in white coming out of 'frisco -- but are okay with civil unions. The amendment being proposed -- even though the media is too busy to actually read it -- pretty clearly bans such unions.

Via Tapped, Publius goes further. It reminds him of the reaction of Northern Whigs to the Fugitive Slave Act. Northerners may have found slavery distasteful, but that happened in places like Alabama. But when they were forced to become tacitly implicit in slavery, when a slave was grabbed in Boston and a mob intervened to save him, it took a military deployment to beat back the mob and send the slave south. This enraged otherwise indifferent Northerners and turned them into rabid abolitionists.

An imperfect analogy, but an interesting one.

Karl Rove has lost his touch. Or bet his reputation on the wrong horse.

Along those same lines, it appears that there's fear in the WH that the sudden quiet on the AWOL front means only one thing -- there's even more devastating attacks to come. This time on Cheney, for whom Vietnam "wasn't in his plans," or something like that.

Also on Brad DeLong's site: Republican corruption is now a matter of public policy.


Bronx Banter has been running a series of really informative Yankee previews this week. Today provides a great comparison of Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and makes a case for the latter deserving to enter the pantheon.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

On being and nothingness

"'[W]hat could the press look into?' Harwood asked. 'There's nothing -- nothing to look into. Nobody has alleged anything.'

"With the National Guard matter, Smith chimed in, there were people to interview, witnesses to track down, documents to dig up, an official policy to scrutinize. With the Kerry rumor, not only were there no witnesses, no accomplice and no documents, there wasn't even an aggrieved accusor. There was just -- Drudge."

Campaign Desk tips the hat to the mainstream press who handled Kerry's non-existent affair differently than Bush's non-existent service record.

Oh, but I forgot. George enlisted for dangerous duty in Vietnam, didn't he?

And he doesn't even drive

Yes, Nader is a self-absorbed nut. As Jon Stewart said last night of Ralph's claims that he'll attract more conservatives angry at Bush than he will liberals: "Conservatives for Nader? Well, not a large number. About the same ratio as Retarded Texans on Death Row for Bush."

And, yes, even Greenies from Seattle are furious with him.

But let's remember that even worse than entering the race this year -- when his argument that there's no difference between Dems and Reps is so patently false; even worse than four years ago, when his public wanking did to Gore what Ross Perot did to Bush the First. No, his worst crime was making one of the niftiest American cars of the 1960s synonymous with dangerous crap coming out of Detroit.

Inspired by the Porsche and Beetle, with an air-cooled engine in the rear, it had an independent suspension, low center of gravity, and -- in the Monza Spyder -- the first (optional) turbocharged production car. The car was a beauty to drive for enthusiasts and extremely cool European styling. But the very thing that turned them on -- it's ability to do a controlled fish tail on tight corners, was what attracted an ambitious Washington lawyer to launch a career.

The car was unfairly maligned as "Unsafe at Any Speed," as being more likely to roll than other cars, which wasn't true. And that the engine in the back made it inherently unsafe -- tell that to Porsche drivers on the Autobahn.

Curiously, though, Nader is credited with doing in the Corvair. Truth is, the car was too far ahead of its time for GM, too small in size, and with an appeal that just wasn't large enough for the kind of production numbers GM looks for.

But Nader helped to turn the car into a punchline. And for that there is no forgiveness.

But there may be an antidote to Ralph. Judge Moore. Go Judge, go.

Warren Commission II

Now, I believe the Warren Commission got it right. But the secrecy of the proceedings and the refusal to open evidence to the public led to an entire industry of conspiracy theorists that continues unabated to this day.

But while I don't buy the conspiracy theorists when it comes to the Kennedy assassination, I'm not so sure that there isn't a conspiracy going on when it comes to the so-called 9/11 panel. That is, a desire by the Bush administration to so defang the commission and to so limit their access so as to create just the conditions that are certain to lead to wild conspiracy theories as a result. Why? The wilder the theory, the more obfuscation surrounding the administration's culpability.

How else to interpret the administration's foot dragging, feints, and determination to keep Bush and Cheney from testifying. As Bush said on "Meet the Press" about appearing before the commission investigating intelligence failures in Iraq, he'll "visit with" them, but he won't "testify."

That's their approach to the 9/11 panel, according to Scot Paltrow writing in the WSJ.

The White House hasn't yet delivered on significant concessions it announced in recent weeks to help the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, raising the hackles of some commissioners and relatives of victims.

After some wrangling, the Bush administration said this month that the president would appear before the panel privately and answer questions. A commission spokesman said a written invitation to the president asked that he appear before the full commission.

Since then, however, the White House has indicated that the president would agree to meet privately only with a select group of commissioners, rather than the full 10-member panel, commissioners said. Vice President Dick Cheney, also invited to meet with the commission, so far has taken the same position, said a commission spokesman.

In this case, Kean says he won't accept that, but we'll see. In the meantime, Congress still hasn't agreed to extending the deadline for the commission's report, because that politically independent bulldog, Dennis Hastert, is defying the President's wishes to give them more time. Sure.

Similarly, the White House this month yielded to commission pleas for more time to finish its inquiry, saying it would back a two-month extension to July 26. But that extension has been hung up waiting for congressional action.

A significant roadblock has been House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who remains firmly opposed to an extension. The White House has only in the past few days contacted Mr. Hastert's staff to discuss whether he might drop his opposition, Republican congressional aides said, and only after victims' relatives and commissioners expressed unhappiness. Some commissioners and family members complain that the White House hasn't pushed Mr. Hastert hard enough.

And between the commission's reluctance to ruffle adminstration feathers and the very design of the commission, it certainly seems deliberately set to infuse the report with every wacky conspiracy possible.

Some family members and other critics have argued that the delays and lack of full access are largely due to compromises commissioners made previously. Early on, for example, the panel agreed to a White House demand that federal-agency officials be present when investigators interviewed agency employees. And although Congress gave the panel subpoena power, it has wielded it only three times.

More recently, the commission dropped threats to subpoena the daily intelligence briefings received by the president in the months before Sept. 11. Instead, it agreed to an arrangement in which one commissioner and the commission's executive director were allowed to see but not copy the briefings.

Beverly Eckert, whose husband died at the World Trade Center, is among those who have pressed the commission to take a harder line. "It's just been kid gloves all the way," she said. "I think looking back we're all going to regret -- family members, the public, even the commissioners themselves -- that they were not more assertive."

Down the road, the commission faces a struggle in releasing its findings. Much of the information to which it has been given access is classified. That means the White House and Central Intelligence Agency will review its report to determine which parts can't be made public.

Instead of facts, all we'll hear is nonsense:

The W.H. blacked out references to the Saudis, so the royal family must be involved; no Jews reported to work that day; Bush was warned; I got it -- it was the Queen and Henry Kissinger.

Any criticism of the Bush admin's actions -- or, rather, inactions -- in the months leading up to Sept. 11 2001 will be placed in the same bucket as Lyndon Larouche's presidential platform.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Ahnold Defends Marriage, Gropes Aide

The L.A. Times reports, without a hint of irony:

"SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed the state attorney general Friday to take immediate action to stop San Francisco's parade of same-sex marriages, hours after a second San Francisco Superior Court judge refused to order a halt to the unions."

The sanctity of marriage and the rule of law, two values for which the guvernator has the utmost respect.

The LAT also has the touching and inspirational story of one father's commitment to his daughter's ambition to be all that she can be.

WASHINGTON — Karen Weldon, an inexperienced 29-year-old lobbyist from suburban Philadelphia, seemed an unlikely choice for clients seeking global public relations services.

Yet her tiny firm was selected last year for a plum $240,000 contract to promote the good works of a wealthy Serbian family that had been linked to accused war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.

Despite a lack of professional credentials, she had one notable asset — her father, U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who is a leading voice in Washington on former Eastern Bloc affairs.

She got the contract after he championed the efforts of two family members, Dragomir and Bogoljub Karic, to win U.S. visas from the State Department, which so far has refused them entry.

Intelligence officials warned Weldon that the brothers were too close to Milosevic, who is accused of leading the "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslav federation.

But the congressman has praised the Karics, who own a vast empire of banking, telecommunication and other firms, as model business leaders and humanitarians. He has portrayed them as victims of faulty intelligence reports and, last month, asked the CIA to sit down with them and sort things out. He has repeatedly pressed the State Department to give them visas.

Karen Weldon said her father "developed a rapport" with the Karics and introduced her to them. But her firm, Solutions North America Inc., won the consulting contract on its merits, she said. Her father declined to answer questions for this article.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The guys with the ear buds cast their vote

Early exit polls of the quiet men in dark glasses are clear.

I wonder what his SS name is.

Josh Marshall does Bush's math homework for him again. Pitiful.

"The president is pleased that on his watch the economy can't even produce enough jobs to keep up with a growing population? Can't he set his sights a bit higher?"

TPM also has some thoughts on what Dahlia Lithwick, in a typically clear analysis of the relative points of law, calls "Memogate."

"So say a referral is made to the Justice Department. If that happens, how can they not appoint a special counsel? Not only is the issue at hand inherently political, but the political appointees at the DOJ work with the White House Counsel's office and the Judiciary Committee Republicans to plan and coordinate strategy for judicial nominations. The whole issue here is whether their colleagues on the Senate staff side were purloining Democratic staff memos to aid that planning. It seems like a classic case where the folks at Justice would need to recuse themselves.

"Now we come to the White House Counsel's office. Remember, what we're talking about here is planning and strategizing on how to get judicial appointments through the Senate confirmation process. On the Republican side that involves Senate staffers, people at Justice, and the White House Counsel's office. Indeed, the whole process is quarterbacked out of the Counsel's office.

"We already know that at least two Senate staffers accessed and archived the Democratic staff memos for more than a year. We know that thousands of documents were involved. And we know that the contents of at least some of those memos were leaked to conservative journalists. Those memos provided invaluable assistance in planning strategy on the Republican side.

"How likely is it the existence and/or contents of those memos were discussed in the regular meetings Senate staffers held with members of the White House Counsel's office to plot strategy for getting through their judicial nominees?

"And if a special counsel is appointed ... well, you see where this is going."

This could get intriguing. It will be interesting if this rises to the level of the mainstream media, so generally content to simply report whatever the White House press releases tell them. And if it, like the Plame conspiracy does come to a head, what will Rove do to ensure that they don't see the light of day until, say December?

But when even Orin Hatch is shocked by the his fellow party members' behavior (and who is in turn, roundly attacked by rabid conservatives for his seeming weakness and for putting Senate rules and the law ahead of his own party's ambition), then this points to something so base, so power-crazed and ideological, that we really are seeing a nadir in GOP political conduct. Fortunately, many of Bush's recess judicial appointments have expiration dates.

Speaking of the Krazy Klown Posse that is the Bush administration, this from the Journal's "Washington Wire" today:

Chief White House economist Gregory Mankiw, lambasted both for hailing the economic benefits of outsourcing jobs and for high job-creation estimates, is "not really" in trouble, says a senior White House official who expects Mankiw to be on the job six months from now.

And this, from the same column:

"The Daily Show" executive producer Ben Karlin is shocked to learn that Halliburton advertises on the Comedy Central program in Washington D.C., even though the satiric show regularly skewers Cheney's old firm. "What are they doing advertising on Comedy Central? Can't they just buy Comedy Central?" he asks. A Halliburton spokeswoman says, "We are cleaning up the record" through such TV ads.

Wouldn't you just love to attend one of Halliburton's PR planning sessions?

This is just beautiful. Drudge and Rush are outraged that big media didn't run with the story that was...not...true.

Oh, man. I'm getting dizzy.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Oh, what fun we'll have

If this is a portent of what we look forward to when the party of God comes to New York this summer, then it should be interesting

It appears that Bremer is committed to power transfer in Iraq by June, so that there won't be a power transfer in the U.S. come November.

Ah, that Paul Bremer. He's been winging it from day one, with predictable results.

I had heard about the high rates of suicide among the troops in Iraq, but it may be worse than was previously thought, according to a report from the Washington Post.

"According to William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, who discussed the suicides in a briefing last month, that represents a rate of more than 13.5 per 100,000 troops, about 20 percent higher than the recent Army average of 10.5 to 11. The Pentagon plans to release the findings of a team sent to Iraq last fall to investigate the mental health of the troops, including suicides.

"The number Winkenwerder cited does not include cases under investigation, so the actual number may be higher. It also excludes the suicides by soldiers who have returned to the United States. For instance, two soldiers undergoing mental health treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington reportedly committed suicide there, in July 2003 and last month. In its weekly report on the treatment of returning battlefield soldiers, the hospital never mentioned the deaths. An official at Walter Reed said the deaths are 'suspected' suicides and are being investigated by the Army's criminal division.

"Stephen L. Robinson, who visits the hospital regularly and is executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a nonprofit advocacy group for veterans and soldiers, said there was no public record of the deaths. 'They just covered it up,' he said."

Campaign Desk takes the blogosphere to task for deciding that they'd rather have Edwards in their club than Kerry.

"No doubt spurred on by commentary posted on Slate and The New Republic, the blogosphere today is in a tizzy over who's more electable: Kerry or Edwards?

"John Kerry didn't exactly go down on one knee in Wisconsin, but he did wince a little. And in the wonderful world of instant experts inside and outside the blogosphere in their bathrobes pounding feverishly away at the keyboard as dawn breaks, that's more than enough to start the pile-on."

The prevailing conventional wisdom of Slate's useful idiots and the bloggers in their bathrobes, furiously typing their posts as the rosy fingers of dawn appear on the horizon, is that Edwards' appeal to Republicans and Independents in Wisconsin "proves" that Edwards is more "electable" than Kerry.


Wisconsin was an open primary, meaning that registered Republicans and Independents could vote in the Dem's primary. Kaus and Salaten are somehow certain that they will also vote for him in November. Trouble is, they won't. They'll vote for Bush, as John Harwood and Jacob M. Schlesinger point out in today's Journal.

"Exit polls from Wisconsin, meanwhile, showed a sharp disconnect between Mr. Edwards's populist message and the voters who responded to it. Benefiting from intensive personal campaigning and the endorsement of the state's largest newspaper, he dominated among voters who settled on their choice late.

"Yet that support came disproportionately from well-educated, affluent suburbanites whose sentiments are out of step with those of the 2004 Democratic mainstream. He did best among voters who said they were conservative, supported the Iraq war, are satisfied with Mr. Bush and want his tax cuts left in place. Mr. Kerry's six-percentage-point victory margin would have been larger if not for Mr. Edwards's 2-to-1 edge among self-described Republicans, who made up 9% of the Wisconsin electorate."

And let's keep our eyes on the prize, guys. Atrios notes that if Clinton had done this, there'd be calls for impeachment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Competing bids? We don't need no stinkin' "competing bids."

Sam Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel who has taught at the National War College, told me that so many of the contracts in Iraq are going to companies with personal connections with the Bush Administration that the procurement process has essentially become a “patronage system.” Major Joseph Yoswa, a Department of Defense spokesman, denied this. He told me that multiple safeguards exist to insure that the department’s procurement process for Iraq contracts is free of favoritism. Most important, he said, career civil servants, not political appointees, make final decisions on contracts.

Gardiner remains unconvinced. “The system is sick,” he told me. [Vice-president, Dick] Cheney, he added, can’t see the problem. “He doesn’t see the difference between public and private interest,” he said.

That's just one of the many gems found in Jane Mayer's remarkably thorough piece, "Contract Sport," in this week's New Yorker.

She lays bare the details of just how linked Halliburton is to Cheney -- and to the United States of America. The company has essentially become our "shadow military." It also illustrates just how creepy, Machiavellian, partisan, and just plain nasty, Dick Cheney really is. And, by implication, just how powerful.

Around this time, in 1968, Dick Cheney arrived in Washington. He was a political-science graduate student who had won a congressional fellowship with Bill Steiger, a Republican from his home state of Wyoming. One of Cheney’s first assignments was to visit college campuses where antiwar protests were disrupting classes, and quietly assess the scene. Steiger was part of a group of congressmen who were considering ways to cut off federal funding to campuses where violent protests had broken out. It was an early lesson in the strategic use of government cutbacks.

My hero.

As Defense Secretary, Cheney developed a contempt for Congress, which, a friend said, he came to regard as “a bunch of annoying gnats.” Meanwhile, his affinity for business deepened. “The meetings with businessmen were the ones that really got him pumped,” a former aide said. One company that did exceedingly well was Halliburton. Toward the end of Cheney’s tenure, the Pentagon decided to turn over to a single company the bulk of the business of planning and providing support for military operations abroad—tasks such as preparing food, doing the laundry, and cleaning the latrines. As Singer writes in “Corporate Warriors,” the Pentagon commissioned Halliburton to do a classified study of how this might work. In effect, the company was being asked to create its own market.

The strong, silent type.

Halliburton’s efforts in the field were considered highly effective. Yet Sam Gardiner, the retired Air Force colonel, told me that the success of private contractors in the battlefield has had an unforeseen consequence at the Pentagon. “It makes it too easy to go to war,” he said. “When you can hire people to go to war, there’s none of the grumbling and the political friction.” He noted that much of the scut work now being contracted out to firms like Halliburton was traditionally performed by reserve soldiers, who often complain the loudest.

There are some hundred and thirty-five thousand American troops in Iraq, but Gardiner estimated that there would be as many as three hundred thousand if not for private contractors. He said, “Think how much harder it would have been to get Congress, or the American public, to support those numbers.”

Outsourcing can be highly effective. And fun too.

A source who worked at the N.S.C. at the time doubted that there were links between Cheney’s Energy Task Force and the overthrow of Saddam. But Mark Medish, who served as senior director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs at the N.S.C. during the Clinton Administration, told me that he regards the document as potentially “huge.” He said, “People think Cheney’s Energy Task Force has been secretive about domestic issues,” referring to the fact that the Vice-President has been unwilling to reveal information about private task-force meetings that took place in 2001, when information was being gathered to help develop President Bush’s energy policy. “But if this little group was discussing geostrategic plans for oil, it puts the issue of war in the context of the captains of the oil industry sitting down with Cheney and laying grand, global plans.”

So that's what they talked about.

The most recent budget request provided by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq mentions the building of a new oil refinery and the drilling of new wells. “They said originally they were just going to bring it up to prewar levels. Now they’re getting money to dramatically improve it,” [Dem. congressman] Waxman complained. Who is going to own these upgrades, after the United States government has finished paying Halliburton to build them? “Who knows?” Waxman said. “Nobody is saying.”

C'mon, it's about democracy and the War on Terror. Not oil, you cynical bastard!

It's Dick Cheney's world. We're just living it.

Colin Powell Changes His Mind

I am angry that so many of the sons of the powerful and well-placed and so many professional athletes (who were probably healthier than any of us) managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units. Of the many tragedies of Vietnam, this raw class discrimination strikes me as the most damaging to the ideal that all Americans are created equal and owe equal allegiance to our country.

-- Colin Powell, My American Journey

Thanks to Campaign Desk.

And Media Whores Online has this delightful exchange:

In an exchange between Colin Powell and Rep. Sherrod Brown during an appearance before the House International Relations Committee, Powell expresses phony outrage over the notion of a "political fight" - all in the context of being asked why he changed his position 180 degrees in 24 hours after making a politically disastrous statement:

BROWN: You are one of the very few people in this administration that understands war. We have a president who may have been AWOL from duty.

POWELL:  First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you are talking about

BROWN:  I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Secretary

POWELL:  You made reference to the president

BROWN:  I say he may have been AWOL

POWELL:  Mr. Brown, let's not go there.  Let's not go there in this hearing. If you want to have a political fight on this matter, that is very controversial, and I think is being dealt with by the White House, fine. But let's not go there.

Just three years ago Powell's reaction might have been regarded as highly embarrassing for Brown, since Powell was widely respected at that point in history.

Today, the reaction of most observers to Powell's sad attempt to scold Brown in defense of his disgraced boss is to simply shake their heads and wistfully observe, "Poor Colin. Such a shame what they've done to him.

I came across Uggabugga because of the announcement of the Kerouac awards (I wasn't even nominated by the academy, but congratulations to those who were and especially those who won). The award is named after the greatest left-handed picture in the history of the game, so it's appropriate for the best lefty blogs. Anyway, Uggabugga has done the fuzzy math.

John Snow now says, "Nevermind." Brad Delong asks, "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps and Why Oh Why Are Ruled by These Idiots?" combining two of his favorite rants.

Billmon expands on the theme.

With friends like these, who needs lefty blogs? I came across one of the more novel excuses for Bush's National Guard "service:"

An excellent point on GWB's National Guard service, and his past in general, was made by Mark Steyn in last Sunday's Daily Telegraph : "[W]hatever Bush did or didn't do back in those days is consistent with who he is. As horrified European commentators are fond of pointing out, Mr Bush is a 'born-again' Christian. We don't need to see grainy home movies of a soused goofball in a Mexican bar face down in the beer nuts to know more or less the kind of guy he was 30 years ago. But he changed; he was born again. If you found some video of Bush rat-arsed (as the British say) in 1974, how relevant is that to the abstemious tucked-in-by-nine family man of 2004? In that sense, even if everything the accusers said was true -- that he was an absentee Guardsman -- it's not inconsistent with the official Bush narrative."

That little gem was found on National Review Online's The Corner

"Rat-arsed." How presidential?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

"Gentlemanly Minimum"

Phil Carter's take on the flyboy's stint in the guard, and why it matters.

I'm not sure I agree with Phil completely. It was a different time, a different war. The reason it matters so much more now than it did in the 2000 election cycle is because Bush's credibility or lack thereof, has been exposed completely. He and his aides lied about the effect the tax cuts would have on the deficit, on who will pay for any "fixes" to Social Security, and, oh yeah, on the reason for going to war with Iraq, to name just a few. If Bush had simply said, "Look, I've admitted that I wasn't the most upstanding guy when I was a young man. I saw a chance to learn to fly and to do it close to home. And to avoid dying in Vietnam. So I took it. I'm not proud of that now. I have nothing but respect for the men who fought in Vietnam and for the men and women in our military and national guard today. Judge me on who I am today, not on my 'youthful indiscretions,'" then I don't think this would be an issue. But he didn't. He stonewalled on this and continues to do so. And while playing rope-a-dope on this issue, he calls himself a "War President," says he supported "my government" on Vietnam, and attacks Kerry for daring to compare his guard "service" to draft dodgers.

"Gentlemanly Minimum" my ass. How long will Clinton be out of office before Hitchens stops raising his awful specter on every conceivable piece of Bush misbehavior?

CBS can't win for losing these days, but I applaud their decision to pull the Bush campaign... er... the ad for the new Medicare prescription drug law.

Billmon has an interesting take on why Bush hasn't fired Tenet and why, if the intelligence was so faulty (as opposed to misuse and exaggeration by the administration) no one in the CIA has been brought to heel.

"'Six in ten who think the U.S. intelligence agencies did an excellent or good job assessing the weapons situation also believe the Administration accurately interpreted the information it received, but seven in ten Americans who think the intelligence agencies performed badly say the Administration exaggerated what it knew.'

"In other words, in terms of public opinion, Bush and the CIA appear to be joined together at the hip on this issue. Most of those who support the administration don't want to admit the CIA screwed up; those who oppose Bush aren't inclined to cut the CIA any slack for the way the White House abused the intelligence process."

And I finally had a chance to read Michael Massing's important essay in The New York Review of Books, "Now They Tell Us." It's an examination of how news organizations failed to question the paper thin intelligence on WMD during the run up to war. You can read it here.

I won't try to summarize Massing's findings, Jack Shafer does a great job of that on Slate, especially on the horrendous reporting of Judy Miller of The Times. But Massing's thesis is clear: Reporters covering the Bush administration rely too heavily on senior officials -- the "white collar guys" -- who are politically appointed and fall in lock-step and on-message, rather than the worker bees -- the "blue collars" -- actually producing and analyzing the intelligence. If more reporters had talked to them, then the administration's "the smoking gun may well be a mushroom could" argument would have been more skeptically received.

In the period before the war, US journalists were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration. Those with dissenting views?and there were more than a few?were shut out. Reflecting this, the coverage was highly deferential to the White House. This was especially apparent on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? the heart of the President's case for war. Despite abundant evidence of the administration's brazen misuse of intelligence in this matter, the press repeatedly let officials get away with it. As journalists rush to chronicle the administration's failings on Iraq, they should pay some attention to their own.

While The Times and The Post were swallowing whole the administration's every claim about Iraq's nuclear capabilities and ties to al Qaeda, some reporters were, well, actually investigating.

Meanwhile, the tubes were drawing the notice of Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, which serves Knight Ridder's thirty-one newspapers in the US, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, and The Detroit Free Press. Almost alone among national news organizations, Knight Ridder had decided to take a hard look at the administration's justifications for war. As Washington bureau chief John Walcott recalled, in the late summer of 2002 "we began hearing from sources in the military, the intelligence community, and the foreign service of doubts about the arguments the administration was making." Much of the dissent came from career officers disturbed over the allegations being made by political appointees. "These people," he said, "were better informed about the details of the intelligence than the people higher up in the food chain, and they were deeply troubled by what they regarded as the administration's deliberate misrepresentation of intelligence, ranging from overstating the case to outright fabrication.

But Knight Ridder doesn't have a paper in New York or Washington to this reporting was invisible to the punditocracy. Meanwhile, the Post was running stuff so poorly reported that their own ombudsman took it to task.

On December 12, for example, The Washington Post ran a front-page story by Barton Gellman contending that al-Qaeda had obtained a nerve agent from Iraq. Most of the evidence came from administration officials, and it was so shaky as to draw the attention of Michael Getler, the paper's ombudsman. In his weekly column, Getler wrote that the article had so many qualifiers and caveats that

"the effect on the complaining readers, and on me, is to ask what, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?"

And why, he might have added, didn't the Post and other papers devote more time to pursuing the claims about the administration's manipulation of intelligence? Part of the explanation, no doubt, rests with the Bush administration's skill at controlling the flow of news. "Their management of information is far greater than that of any administration I've seen," Knight Ridder's John Walcott observed. "They've made it extremely difficult to do this kind of [investigative] work." That management could take both positive forms?rewarding sympathetic reporters with leaks, background interviews, and seats on official flights?and negative ones? freezing out reporters who didn't play along. In a city where access is all, few wanted to risk losing it.

And the so-called liberal media was ready to pounce should any journalist fall out of line.

Such sanctions were reinforced by the national political climate. With a popular president promoting war, Democrats in Congress were reluctant to criticize him. This deprived reporters of opposition voices to quote, and of hearings to cover. Many readers, meanwhile, were intolerant of articles critical of the President. Whenever The Washington Post ran such pieces, reporter Dana Priest recalls, "We got tons of hate mail and threats, calling our patriotism into question." Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and The Weekly Standard, among others, all stood ready to pounce on journalists who strayed, branding them liberals or traitors?labels that could permanently damage a career. Gradually, journalists began to muzzle themselves.

David Albright experienced this firsthand when, during the fall, he often appeared as a commentator on TV. "I felt a lot of pressure" from journalists "to stick to the subject, which was Iraq's bad behavior," Albright says. And that, in turn, reflected pressure from the administration: "I always felt the administration was setting the agenda for what stories should be covered, and the news media bought into that, rather than take a critical look at the administration's underlying reasons for war." Once, on a cable news show, Albright said that he felt the inspections should continue, that the impasse over Iraq was not simply France's fault; during the break, he recalls, the host "got really mad and chastised me."

Meanwhile, The Times' stenographer, Judy Miller, gives a seminar on investigative journalism technique.

Yet there were many people challenging the administration's assertions. It's revealing that Gordon encountered so few of them. On the aluminum tubes, David Albright, as noted above, made a special effort to alert Judith Miller to the dissent surrounding them, to no avail.

Asked about this, Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, "my job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal." Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.


Interesting. Barry Bonds has been on the Atkins diet I guess.

And Alan Barra takes the sensible view on why A-Rod going to the Yankees, while not so good for the Red Sox, is good for A-Rod, is good for the Yanks, is good for the Rangers, and, in fact, is good for baseball [sorry subscription required].

Monday, February 16, 2004

Politics of Poverty

The Decembrist has a very thoughtful post on the differences between the Shrum-inspired populism of Kerry and Gore versus that of John Edwards. Arguing that Edwards has had a far greater impact on the Democratic party than has Dean, Mark Schmidt notes that while it's not surprising that Republicans don't talk about what we should be doing for the poor in this country, well, neither do most Dems either. Most candidates, Kerry included, like to talk about the "people vs. the powerful," but they're talking about the elites vs. the middle class and the latter hasn't done too badly in recent years. They talk about prescription drugs and child tax cuts; in other words, what they can do for people with a mortgage and a Volvo. Heaven forbid they should talk about food stamps or the huge population of the underclass that persists in this country. Edwards has a different take. He's talking about a moral duty that we have to help.

"Edwards is the first politician who, when he talks to a room full of middle-class people, doesn't necessarily seem to be promising something to them. Sure, he's a little vague about just where the line is between the 'Two Americas' -- it's 'the rich and powerful' and 'everyone else.' But when he gets specific, when he starts talking about the ten-year-old girl who goes to sleep hoping that it isn't as cold tomorrow as today because she doesn't have warm enough clothes -- it's got to be apparent to any audience that he's not talking about what he's going to do for them. He's making a moral claim about what our country owes to those who have the least, not promising something to everyone who 'works hard and plays by the rules.' And, shocking as it is, that's a big deal. And it matters that it comes from a candidate who is generally perceived as a moderate -- if only because he's a southerner -- rather than the leftmost candidate in the race. Although I think that's a very subtle distinction, and I agree with every word of Joel Rogers' argument in The Nation, 'Progressives Should Vote For Edwards'.

"It also, surprisingly, permits a kind of optimism. The Shrum populism is just a complaint, it doesn't lead to a structural revamping of the economy that would really change the circumstances that the rich and powerful are rich and powerful. Edwards' vision, on the other hand, suggests something that it is within our power to change. We can do something for that ten-year-old girl, we can generate what the folks at the Economic Policy Instittute call 'broadly shared prosperity.'"

The fact that most polls in the primary states indicate that Edwards' optimistic call to our better nature, vague as it is to me, is being received enthusiastically may mean that the Democratic party is once again finding its voice and its way.

And warm clothes isn't really too big a problem in this country, thanks to Walmart and third world sweat shops, but never mind.

I'm still leaning towards Kerry, he's the strongest candidate and has a grasp of the complex dangers we face I think Edwards lacks (see point about warm clothes in preceding paragraph). But I hope Kerry's listening to the competition.

Meanwhile Orcinus reminds us that terrorism begins at home.

The document dump the White House pulled the night before a three-day weekend shouldn't end this story, but Billmon fears the first hints of media exhaustion are setting in. It shouldn't.

"Now I suppose it's possible such behavior did not constitute being AWOL, since it appears that in the Texas Air National Guard in the year 1972, the definition of the term was purely metaphysical -- at least as far as Bush family members were concerned. The condition may have existed, but only in the realm of abstract thought.

"Still, it's clear why the Bushies have tried so hard for so long to keep these details out of the public eye. The degree of favoritism and cronyism that made Lt. Shrub's military 'career' possible appears to have far exceeded even the generous standards of the time for the sons of the wealthy and powerful. Like John Fogarty said, 'some folks are born made to wave the flag.'"

Which raises another question. After having spent a fortune training Lt. Bush to fly a fighter jet, he just happens to miss a physical and loses flight status. Why is there no reprimand of any kind in the released documents? They just don't waste money like that and then let it go -- to Harvard or anywhere else. But he's a Bush and Texas is a cozy place for kids like him.

And who pays for this crap?

How conservatives see the world.

Apropos of nothing, but an ad* found recently on the Vega Cura's blogspot page:

Show support for President Bush. W 2004 Shirts, Merchandise & more


Maybe now Brian Cashman will get the respect he deserves. Now how long will it take the Yankees to convince Jeter to move to second and be part of the best double play team in the game?

And Sox fans, stop whining. You got Schilling.

Still it's sweet to watch Red Sox Nation writhe in self-righteous fury.

Sad day for cycling. Marco made the Tour more fun to watch as Armstrong methodically crushed the competition.

* In the original posting, two ads were mentioned, but the link for one of them is now broken.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Too Outrageous for Fox News?

"EDITOR'S NOTE: After publishing the Progress Report this morning, Fox News called to protest our description of Ann Coulter as a 'Fox News contributor.' Fox News said Ann Coulter 'is not a contributor to this network' and 'has not been a contributor the last couple of years.' Though Fox News' Sean Hannity described Ms. Coulter in December of 2002 as 'a Fox News contributor,' and despite Coulter appearing 50 times on Fox News since 2002, we regret any confusion this may have caused."

Why the quick denial of association by Fox? Perhaps because Ann Coulter -- who once mused that she regretted that Timothy McVeigh hadn't blown up The New York Times -- has finally written something that shames even the Right.

The Center for American Progress' "Progress Report" posts the following gems this morning:

SAYING AN AMPUTEE VET 'DIDN'T GIVE LIMBS FOR HIS COUNTRY': Coulter wrote, "Cleland didn't give his limbs for his country or leave them on the battlefield" because she says he lost his limbs in a "routine, noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with his friends." But as the 8/1/99 Esquire Magazine notes, Cleland lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam when a grenade accidentally detonated after he and another soldier jumped off a helicopter in a combat zone.

SAYING A SILVER STAR WINNER IS NOT A "WAR HERO": Coulter said people "should stop allowing [Cleland to be] portrayed as a war hero" despite the fact that, in a separate incident four days before he lost three limbs, Cleland won a Silver Star - one of the highest honors for combat courage the U.S. military gives out. The congressional citation which came with the medal specifically said that during a "heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack Captain Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions." The citation concluded, "Cleland's gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army."

SAYING CLELAND WAS "LUCKY" TO HAVE LIMBS BLOWN OFF: Coulter said, "Luckily for Cleland he happened to [lose his limbs] while in Vietnam" and said that had he been injured "at Fort Dix rather than in Vietnam, he would never have been a U.S. Senator." Of course, Cleland probably would not have been dealing with live grenades and enemy fire in the save [sic] haven of Ft. Dix. But, then, many top conservatives might not know this because they do not have firsthand knowledge of a combat zone. President Bush did not go to Vietnam because he was in the Texas National Guard. Vice President Dick Cheney did not serve in the military, saying, "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." According to the Houston Press in 1999, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) "tried to blame minorities for his lack of military experience" saying, "so many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks" like him. And Rush Limbaugh avoided service by apparently claiming his "anal cysts" prevented him from defending the nation. See more conservatives who attack veterans while avoiding military service themselves.
[All emphasis and links courtesy of The Progress Report.]

Is FoxNews really ashamed of the obnoxious notions of the "Belle of New Canaan?" Probably not -- more likely a contract issue. But if this is the kind of raw sewage that's going to be used to defend the brave service of George W. Bush...well...bring it on, punks.

And if you want to get a sense of what Max Cleland went through while recovering from the loss of those three limbs (and no doubt significant related wounds), then read tomorrow's New York Times Magazine story, "The Permanent Scars of Iraq." This emotionally wrenching story, which just made me even more angry about having initially supported Bush's war, illustrates the enormous effects the huge number of amputees and post-traumatic syndrom sufferers are going to have on many communities around the country. And, to Coulter's inane point that somehow the wounds are less meaningful if they don't happen "in combat," one can only respond that in places like Vietnam -- and Iraq -- soldiers are constantly "in combat." Besides, the wounds are equally cataclysmic, whether they come with a Purple Heart or not.

And I don't think the funny papers count.

Meanwhile, we've outsourced the War on Drugs.


It's good to keep in mind that these things aren't real until the ink on the signatures is dry, but this would be what they mean when they use the phrase "Monster Trade."

Friday, February 13, 2004

Long, Hard Slog

It doesn't take a pundit to recognize that the presidential campaign is shaping up to be one of the nastier ones in recent history. Bush and the GOP are feeling cornered and, being the feral humans that they are, are slashing back with tooth and claw.

And the Dems haven't even picked a nominee.

Take for example, the front page of the Newsmax web site this afternoon:

Dems' 'Dirtiest Campaign in Modern Politics'
GOP chairman Ed Gillespie says Democrats "don't want a debate on the issues, and they don't want to run on Senator Kerry's record. I guess I can't blame them." He warns that Kerry's campaign will falsely accuse President Bush of paying for an ex-girlfriend's abortion.
* Sorry, Dems: Officer Saw 'Very Dedicated' Bush 'Each Drill Period'
* Veteran Exposes Democrats' Phony Smear Campaign
* 'Hanoi' Jane Fonda Rides to Kerry's Rescue
* NewsMax's Fonda-Kerry Photo Angers Veterans
* Matthews: Kerry Has 'Hanoi Jane' Problem
* Kerry Had Phony 'Veterans' Commit Perjury Against U.S.
* Photo: The Kerry-Fonda Connection
* Photo: Kerry Arrested After Protest
* Alert the Media: Bush Had Speeding Tickets and Fender Benders

Oy. But thanks, Newsmax, for alerting us to the abortion thing.

The trouble for Ed Gillespie, Karl Rove, and the Miserable Failure is that it won't be Kerry's record that will be the central focus of the campaign. It will be Ol' Five-to-Four's.

And guys, yes there's a wacky subset who still hate Hanoi Jane, but most of the rest of the world have moved on.

But don't let me stop you.

Because one of the more curious aspects of the primary season thus far has been the fact that the two leaders, Kerry and Edwards, have pointedly refrained from going negative. Even in Kerry's darkest days in December, you just did not hear him attack Dean even as Dean was attacking him. Instead, he and Edwards sat back and let Dean, Gephardt, and Lieberman tear each other apart. And lose. The realist in me tells me that that's just Iowa, and negative campaigns never fail, but one can hope that focusing on policy and philosophy will trump personal attacks.

Yeah, right. What was that about dropping the waitress off at the Houston abortion clinic?

Speaking of Newsmax, it's troubled me for some time. Why do they constantly advertise their "Action Figure Bush", "Action Figure Coulter", and now, just in time for Valentine's Day, "Talking Action Figure Rumsfeld," on such relatively left leaning sites as Slate. Same for the "Conservative Book Club." Are their pockets deep enough that they can appear on any site that is politically-focused?

Or is it the right's payback to Slate for letting Mickey Kaus blather on with irrelevancies?

Or is it counter-intuitive ad placement? As childish as Republicans appear to be these days, you can only sell so many talking Rummys to them, so they have cynically ventured out to sell them to irony-obsessed liberals.

But as much as I am an irony-obsessed liberal, and desperately would love that talking Rummy engaging in all kinds of lurid acts with a supine, talking Ann, I just won't give them my money.

Here's a great timeline of the relevant dates pertaining to Bush's National Guard duties. Here's my favorite entry:

December 1972

Christmas 1972
While visiting his parents in Washington, D.C., Bush goes out drinking with his 15-year-old brother Marvin. On the way home, George W. hits a garbage can with the car. George W. confronts an angry George H.W. by saying: "I hear you're looking for me. You wanna go mano a mano right here?"
U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 1, 1999

Dec. 18-30: "Christmas bombing" of North Vietnam


The great thing about what Kevin Drum calls the "Drip, Drip, Drip" of the White House's handling of the AWOL story, is that we continue to learn new things about the guard, military retirement records, and the state of Alabama.

For instance there's this in the Times:

"MONTGOMERY, Ala., Feb. 12 ? Inside the Alabama Air National Guard an informal search is on for someone, anyone, who recalls encountering First Lt. George W. Bush in 1972.

"At Fort George C. Wallace, the Montgomery headquarters of the Alabama National Guard, officials have responded to growing scrutiny of President Bush's military record by searching through records for proof of his service in the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group. Former comrades from the 187th have been calling and e-mailing one another, always with the same basic question: Did you see him?

"So far, it appears that their efforts have come to naught. Indeed, in interviews this week with The New York Times, 16 retired officers, pilots and senior enlisted men who served among hundreds with the 187th in 1972 all said that they simply could not recall seeing Mr. Bush at Dannelly Air Base, the sprawling compound adjacent to Montgomery's airport that is home to the 187th."

Let me get this straight..."Fort George C. Wallace?" The same Wallace, who led Kennedy to federalize the Alabama national guard in order to force the governor to stand aside and let blacks enter the U. of Alabama?

Did I mention that I'm irony-obsessed?

And here I thought Jimmy Breslin was retired. Ouch.


I don't quite know what to say about the steroid story, and I do agree with Will Carroll here, but it does feel like it's going to shadow the upcoming baseball season like a huge asterisk.

Bonds and, yes, the Yanks' own Giambino are innocent until proven guilty. But Bonds in particular has a legacy (and a record) to protect. Should he come clean and, assuming he's been using something not quite legit -- and I now do assume that -- throw himself on the mercy of the baseball gods and fans? Or just continue stonewalling all the way to Cooperstown?

Still, it's good to remember that Major League baseball has never been quite the upstanding field of dreams that some purists pretend it to be. Rembember the Pittsburgh Pirates cocaine trials?

Similar appearances occurred in the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, when Dave Parker, Dale Berra, Keith Hernandez, John Milner, Lonnie Smith and Enos Cabell were among those who were summoned to testify.

Berra and Parker testified that they secured amphetamines from Willie Stargell; Parker said he also got them from Bill Madlock. Milner identified Willie Mays as a source of liquid amphetamines when they played for the Mets.

Those were not proud moments for baseball. Bonds on the witness stand testifying about steroids and his personal trainer would not be a glamorous moment, either. But such moments might be dwarfed by a collapse of the drug-testing agreement in future years if the grand jury gets those test results.

Baseball is a brutal sport for the simple reason that no other professional sport has a 162-game schedule. They play virtually every day for more than six months. The temptation to use something that will help you get out of your hotel bed every morning, or to rub something on that will translate to more strength in the dog days of August is often just too tough to resist.

Or, in Bonds case, help give you the strength and incentive to actually improve your abilities at a point in life when they are supposed to be rapidly declining.

That's not to vindicate these guys, just being real.

Our thoughts go out to Alex Belth and Emily this weekend.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Comment This!

Starting to actually look through all the tools available on blogger, so we'll be making a few changes in the next few days, weeks.

The first change is already in place -- the Vega is ready for passengers. I've added a link to comments after each post, so I'm hoping, dear readers, that you'll find something in here that is so remarkably stupid, uninformed, or just plain inane that it will compel you to post a comment.

And a new feature -- links should now open to a new window, so there is no escape.

On to today's "news."

Kevin Drum continues to be the source for all things regarding the scandal that the administration just can't get ahead of. Today he links to an interview with a guy who was actually stationed in Alabama at the time Bush was supposed to be there. Dental records or not, nobody remembers seeing his pearly whites on the base.

Was it Clark? Chris Lehane? What would be the point of that. When it looks like a Rove, walks like a Rove, and honks like a Rove, well you get my point.

Speaking of Clark. A saddened, but resolute Amy Sullivan on why Clark never got his footing.

And, interns aside, Kerry is looking very strong despite the ongoing idiocy of many of Slate's columnists.

Alan Greenspan just sinks lower and lower.

And in this time of Orange Alerts, it's reassuring to know that our police forces are focusing on the true threat to our democracy -- non-violent protesters.

Where is the outrage? Where is Mickey Mouse, Sully, and the other Times error police when you need them. Yet another international "color" piece where the reporter clearly either wasn't there or was hallucinating.

"Like Cuba or Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria is condemned to love the cars of its enemy. And Syria's fate Â? a happy one, mostly, to hear it from owners and the people who keep them rumbling along Â? is to see perfectly running vintage American cars everywhere, transported metal and memory of a more carefree superpower: big DeSotos like Art Deco locomotives; a two-toned Chevy Bel Air, its eagle hood ornament sleekly guarding a carpet shop; the Dodge Dart, a car that did not seem like much at the time, but which manages better than its boxier brothers through the narrow streets of the Old City in Damascus, the epicenter of an older, now-vanished empire."

Trouble is, the Bel Air, as everyone who ever lusted after one knows, did not have an eagle hood ornament sleekly guarding anything. Even "the French know that."

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


"We, as a nation, must be able to look upon the remains. We must be able to face the parents, children and spouses and justify our decision. If we cannot - if our decision was made in haste, or ill considered, or dishonest - what then? For those who opposed the war, we have to offer more than sympathy and self righteous impotence. For those who supported the war, they must offer more than jingoistic platitudes and disingenuous excuses."

Read a letter to George Bush -- who has been AWOL when it comes to paying respect to the dead -- from Richard Dvorin, whose son Lt. Seth Dvorin of the 10th Mountain Division died in Iraq last week.

I meant to link to this last night, but blogspot seemed to be experiencing difficulties. But this truly is outrageous.

Actually, you should just leave this post and just spend a couple of hours with Atrios Eschaton. He's been on a roll lately.

F'rinstance...I really wanted to stay out of the whole gay marriage amendment fray. Nevermind the fact that it would be extraordinary if the Constitution -- which in addition to setting the rules on how the nation will be governed, sets forth the rights citizens have -- was amended to eliminate rights from a discrete group of citizens. But really. The press isn't even reading the damned thing, and accepting at face value conservatives' claims that it's a compromise:

"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

At the last minute they'll no doubt slip in "and for the sole purpose of procreation" to that first sentence.

Anyway Atrios (him again!) and the indispensible Campaign Desk have more.

Of course, that would be the definition of a Republican "compromise:" "Well, we screwed you, didn't we? What more do you want?"

Josh Marshall asks what lever does he pull next?

More on the "distraction."

Ashcroft gets creepier with every passing day, don't you think? Here's a follow-up.

Oh, and next time Kaus or Tapper claim that Kerry is beholden to campaign contributors, click here, and be reminded that if Bush wins a second term, only oil companies and Wall Street investment firms will benefit...big time.

"No doubt about it, President George W. Bush has won the hearts and minds of Wall Street, which, Investment Dealers' Digest reports, more than any other industry in America, is funding his second-term aspirations. All told, the financial industry has raised nearly $10 million for Bush. And why not? After all, Bush pushed for the abolition of the double taxation on dividends (long a pet cause on the Street) and for tax cuts that benefited the wealthiest Americans, who either work on the Street or are its clients."

Oh, and did I mention natural gas companies. Well, even some of what should be Bush's traditional base -- hunters and ranchers -- have had enough. Has Karl Rove lost his touch? His mind?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Overreach. The DoJ may be hesitating in directing the US District Attorney for southern Iowa in going after the Catholic Peace Ministry in Des Mointes.

Sorry guys, I don't think this is going away that easily.

"But Mr. McClellan was peppered with questions about things that the records did not show. He was asked, for instance, why the White House had not brought forth 'comrades in arms' of Mr. Bush to offer reminiscences of their service together in the Air National Guard.

"Mr. McClellan said, as he did repeatedly, that the documents speak for themselves and prove that Mr. Bush fulfilled his duties.

"'I wasn't talking about documents,' a questioner said. 'I was talking about people.'"

It goes beyond that, though, as Richard Cohen illustrates in describing his own service in the guard in the closing days of Vietnam. First Cohen notes that it's pretty easy to get paid for days guardsmen simply didn't show up. But Cohen's larger point is that it was disingenuous of Bush to compare his guard duty in the 70s with the men and women in the national guard who are risking their lives in Iraq today. The guard then was a ticket out of harmsway; there's simply no comparison with the guard today. And for Bush to imply differently is either willful ignorance or a shameful deceit that does disservice to the modern day National Guard.

More reviews on Sunday's weird performance. This time on Bush's revisiting of the old canard that Vietnam was a failure because it was fought by politicians, here and here.

Oh, and what was George doing all those weeks in Alabama? Kevin Drum points us to an anecdote. Pretty. Sounds familiar.

And oh those presidential commissions. This one is doomed to failure. With the choice of "Judge" Silberman, the fix is in.

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