Thursday, September 30, 2004


Bernie Williams hits a walk-off hr and the Yankees clinch the division. George Bush should not be in charge of a gas pump.

Debate #1

I generally avoid real-time posts, but we are watching a presidential meltdown. GWB is worse than I could have hoped (or feared).

The David Brooks of the sports page

The truly incomperable Selena Roberts wins that award. It was bad enough when she was mixing metaphors covering the Knicks, but now that they've made her a columnist her approach to facts is that of someone picking up a dead rat, and her editors seem to still be traumatized by the ghost of Howell Raines in their apparent fear of touching her prose.

She's been, in the words of Steve Goldman, "Hacktastic" all year (scroll down), but today's column was a real beaut.

Before reading the scribe's fevered words, check out the picture of Rodriguez and Jeter that accompanies the article. Sure look tense, don't they? But, no, writes Roberts, "They don't seek the lightness of being."

Like Brooks, for whom crossing the border from Virginia to Maryland means leaving a place where everyone knows everyone, goes to church, is faithful to his wife and votes his conscience by voting Republican, and entering a place of deep depravity, where you don't want to know your neighbor, and there's a Starbucks on every corner, Roberts looks at the state of the Yankees and sees nothing but gnawing anxiety compared to their fun-lovin', sandlot scrappy opponents.

For Roberts, the Yankees are no fun and have none. They are polished. They are professional. They are, in short, expensive losers. And because the Red Sox seem to have an annual competition in which they strive to outdo each other in creating the ugliest hair on the team, the Sox are having much more fun than the Yankees. And are therefore going to win. Just like last year, I guess.

This ever-increasing burden of being a Yankee - heightened by payroll pressure, ratcheted up by an unforgiving Boss - has become the team's underlying weakness.

Selena, looking for and finding an angle. A column's gotta have an angle.

Unfortunately, the team's underlying weakness isn't George Steinbrenner (would that it were). He is not hovering over the team. The team's weakness is whether they have a fourth -- and even third -- starter for the playoffs.

For Ms. Roberts, though, the Yankees are just a bunch of superstars who don't like to play with one another, unlike that striving nobody, the Twins' Shannon Stewart.

But back to the Selena's typing.

True to their serious side, the Yankees did not indulge in the kind of carefree attitude the Twins could afford on the field, methodically winning the doubleheader to push Boston back at a very safe distance.

A true team (there's no "i" in team, you know), would have shown some good-natured levity by losing one of the games at least, instead of methodically winning both games, including a tense first game that featured an incredible comeback by the Yanks (their 66th comeback, or something like that). That would have been hilarious and shown what good sports they are, so confident in themselves that they can lose.

The Twins have a sense of security bred from camaraderie, from players who know one another, believe in one another and ride one another.

Um, no, Selena, the Twins have a sense of security because they clinched their mediocre division about, oh, two months ago and have control over their pitching rotation going into the post-season.

The Yankees used to play like that in the days of Paul O'Neill. They used to know one another, play for one another and celebrate with one another. Now they're a collection of individual talent burdened by their Yankeeness, evoking a perverted version of an old phrase, "He's not heavy; he's my Yankee."

Yes, I remember those lighthearted days of Paul O'Neill. Nothing builds comraderie like watching your aging right fielder using his bat to destroy the clubhouse water cooler after striking out.

Can they lighten up in time? Only if joy is on the payroll.

Right, since Joy is a switch hitter with a .972 OPS.

Since Selena apparently studies logic from David Brooks, lets study hers: The Yankees have too big a payroll. That's not fair. Their too-big payroll means they have a roster of great players. And the Yankees have this really boring tradition of methodically winning. Which means they are too serious to play a game. Which means they'll lose to the clownshow up in Boston (everyone loves a clown, right?). And George Steinbrenner makes them tense. Because their pitching stinks. Even though they just won their 99th game. Methodically. Because Boston is having so much fun. Which means, what?

The Yank's magic number is finally down to 1. It has been one of the wildest years the Yankees have had since I've been a fan (ten years now -- they've made it to the post season in all ten of them). I believe, Ms. Roberts's tortured logic aside, that there will be celebration in the Bronx (or Toronto if it doesn't happen tonight) when they do clinch. And to think, they did it all without Nelson.

Unfortunately, civic duty (and the blog, I guess) requires me to watch that event in Florida tonight (after four hurricanes, haven't Floridians had enough wind this year?). Or I could skip it, and just read the AP's coverage of it in the morning. Or this afternoon, even.

"Violence getting worse"


Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a radio interview today that the violence in Iraq was "getting worse" and would probably continue until the Iraqi elections scheduled for January.

"We do expect that the incidents of violence in both Afghanistan and Iraq between now and the elections will very likely increase and that these dead-enders will try to see if they can prevent it from happening," he said in the interview, according to a transcript released by his office.

Insisting on calling these people "dead enders" makes clear that Rumsfeld has no idea who we're fighting and how to battle against them. Nevertheless, at least he is showing a modicum more honesty than his boss.

Republicans -- outsourcing American values

The new "911" bill pushed in the House by Hastert is getting some well deserved scrutiny. Especially juicy provisions like this:

Under the Hastert bill, U.S. authorities could send an immigrant to any country, regardless of the likelihood of torture or abuse. The measure would shift to the deportee the burden of proving "by clear and convincing evidence that he or she would be tortured" -- a burden that human rights activists say is impossible to satisfy. It would bar a U.S. court from reviewing the regulations, which would fall under the secretary of homeland security.

The provision would apply retroactively, to people now in detention and those who may have already been secretly deported under classified procedures to countries with well-documented histories of torture and human rights violations.

Giblets is appropriately outraged.

Giblets knows that there are some out there who will say, "Oh, but countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria can do torture cheaper and better than we can, why should we try to compete?" Well, Giblets is holding a little something in the thumbscrews of his heart called patriotism, and Giblets thinks American workers can compete with anyone else in the world! Sure, these other countries have been at it longer than we have, but with gumption and stick-to-it-iveness Americans can rise to the top of anything!

Torture is as American as baseball, apple pie, preventive war, the equating of dissent with treason, and the principle of a commander-in-chief who stands above the law. So stand proud, Americans, and write your congressmen to tell them you don't want your country outsourcing torture.

"Thumbscrews of his heart." Heh heh.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Who's doing Kerry's oppo-research, for chrissakes?

Via CJR's Campaign Desk, the Seattle PI has a story focusing on a long-forgotten speach by Dick Cheney in 1991 that is eerily prescient in describing conditions in today's Iraq.

"I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today, we'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home," Cheney said, 18 months after the [Gulf] war ended.

Campaign Desk asks the obvious question, why hasn't the Kerry campaign unearthed this (after all, it was no secret that Cheney aggressively defended the Bush I decision not to go to Baghdad during the Gulf War), and used this remarkable flip-flop against Bucheney?

One germane question neither Pope nor Connelly addresses: Why didn't the Kerry campaign sniff out the speech on its own sometime over the past nine months? And -- even more relevant -- why did we have to wait until September 29 for a reporter with a few minutes of down time to search "Cheney AND Iraq AND [your city here]."

Who knows what might pop up?

With just over a month to go, can the Kerry organization get their game together? I mean, the GOP's oppo-research (benefitting, of course, from a long Kerry career in the Senate and a long list of Yankee defamers to call upon for material) and rapid-response teams have been relentless, brutal, and effective. Kerry's not so.

An example. Listening to AirAmerica radio this afternoon, moments after Franken was talking about Bush's claim yesterday, that the "Taliban were no longer in existence." A Bush supporter was on the phone within minutes, arguing that Franken took the quote out of context, that Bush meant the Taliban were no longer "operationally in existence." A strange claim in itself, but it does what the GOP has been doing so well, muddying the waters.

Do you think Kerry supporters are calling (literally) Rush on his bullshit? I doubt it (yes, yes, I know, Rush would be far less courteous to a liberal caller).

It will be interesting to watch the post-debate, and who fields the loudest spinners.

Debate debate

The Washington Post poses some excellent questions for Thursday's foreign policy debate.

The necessary prelude to that practical focus, it seems to us, is a large and unresolved question of principle: What is the war on terrorism? Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, there appeared to be a consensus that this country faced a long and complex struggle against extremists who had chosen to attack the United States, as well as against states that supported them and might supply them with weapons of mass destruction. Three years later it's not so clear. Mr. Bush still describes that kind of broad war and places Iraq at the center of it; Mr. Kerry says Iraq was a diversion from the "real enemy," al Qaeda.

The crucial question here is not whether there were links between Iraq and al Qaeda, but whether the war should be understood as extending beyond that terrorist group and others associated with it. Does it include confronting states that sponsor Islamic terrorism, such as Iran and Syria? Does victory require a political transformation of the Middle East, or a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, or more intensive nation-building in failed states? Mr. Kerry's recent speeches suggest a narrower focus; is it right that more concentration on al Qaeda and Afghanistan would make the United States safer than a concurrent campaign against Iranian-sponsored terrorism or for free elections in Egypt? If Osama bin Laden were captured and al Qaeda were destroyed, would the war be over?

The dilemna for Kerry is, yes, these are the kinds of questions that should be asked in this debate. But if Kerry tries to give a real answer, it will necessarily require the dreaded "N" word, "nuance." We know how Bush will answer, with more blather about how the "war on terror" is going swimmingly, we're keeping the evil doers from our shores, peace and prosperity requires his grand vision of democracy throughout the middle east (not quite as important for our "allies," but never mind), and that Iran and Syria are "worrisome," but with our success in Iraq, they'll fall in line just as he claims Libya has.

If that happens, Kerry will have won on substance. Maybe even that night's polls will show that the American people generally agree he won on substance. But we know that the spin cycle will begin on TV that night (recommendation: watch the debate on C-Span and avoid the spin), and in the newspapers in the days to follow. Much will be made of the fact that you couldn't put Kerry's answsers on a bumper sticker, while Bush put forward a reassuring face to the American public. Fact-checking? That will be on page 18, below the fold.

The Post editorial board may want an honest, intellectual debate, but they will be first in the hand wringing line the next morning if Kerry provides an honest, intellectual answer.

And if four years ago were any indication, the American public will be spun. Al Gore understand that and has some advice for JFK.

The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

For shame

There are some Chris Hitchens columns that leave me howlin' at the moon, feeling its power despite the clouds and the howling wind and rain outside.

What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? Americans are patrolling a front line in Afghanistan, where it would be impossible with 10 times the troop strength to protect all potential voters on Oct. 9 from Taliban/al-Qaida murder and sabotage. We are invited to believe that these hard-pressed soldiers of ours take time off to keep Osama Bin Laden in a secret cave, ready to uncork him when they get a call from Karl Rove? For shame.

While I'm a-howlin', inspired by crazy Hitch's unmatched capability for transference and intellectual dishonesty, go read Kevin Drums shrill reaction to Hitch's lunacy here and here.

Why I hate Derek Jeter

Actually, I don't. Like all Yankee fans, I worship the guy as a god. Sort of. But I know that if I wasn't a Yankee fan, I'd sure hate him. There's the strut and smirk. There's the sense that he's having far too much fun out there in situations where other guys look like they have to go to the bathroom. And, yes, there's the fact that he plays in New York, and therefore gets all that extra media attention (and since he actually talks to "knights of the keyboard" courteously and answers their questions, he has an elevated status among the press).

Bruce Markusen, in his Cooperstown Confidential this week, looks closely into the phenomenon of why baseball statheads, in particular, despise New York's #2.

He concludes,

Now some degree of dislike toward Jeter is certainly understandable. He has a streak of arrogance, has become bulletproof through an overprotective New York media, and perhaps most importantly, he plays for the hated Yankees. Yet, his positive attributes far outweigh the criticisms, which makes the extreme dislike for him so irrational. He’s a talented player who responds well to pressure, plays the game hard and plays it smartly, treats the media with respect, and takes time to talk to fans during games. In many ways, he’s a role model for the way that a star athlete should behave, especially at the ballpark. And that, I believe, means a lot more than the periodic failure to reach a ground ball up the middle.

It's a great piece. Markusen looks at the criticism and determines what's fair (not great range) and what's not (he's a phony "team leader"). It's honest and for a sabermetrician, he doesn't try to deny the fact that, indeed, there are characteristics that aren't captured in the box score. They aren't "intangibles," as Joe Morgan would put it. They're real. For Yankee fans, he's one of the main reasons the ride's been so fun these past 10 years. In a game last week, while in the On Deck circle, he asked a youngster in the front row what he should do, sac bunt or hit; the kid (no "Moneyball" reader, I guess)said bunt. Jeter lined out. Walking back to the dugout, you could see him say, "Should have bunted."

This past year has been no exception. In April and May, and on into June, Jeter was hitting something like .185 and looked awful. Talk radio was hysterical with explanations, the most common (and most ridiculous), was that having a brighter star, A-Rod, on the team had him in a funk at the plate. Throughout the slump -- the worst of his career -- Jeter never made excuses. He didn't throw things after striking out. He didn't hide from the press after the games. He continued to behave like, yes, a team leader and played his best defense in several years (his range has definitely improved with the addition of Rodriguez at third). And since breaking out of the mysterious slump? He's raised his average to where no one thought it would go this year. Through 150 games, he's batting .289, with 181 hits, 107 runs scored, 41 doubles, and 23 jimmy jacks. His OBP is .350, with a .467 Slugging average (higher than his career average), and his OPS is at .817. Fantastic numbers for a year that started out looking like a lost one.

Gary Sheffield is our MVP this year, but Jeter's been an inspiration on the field.

Extreme makeover

Yes, "John (whoever that is)" didn't like the way that the Vega looked, particularly since the Google Blogger bar up top was obscuring the name of the site.

As soon as I work out some more of the bugs -- like how to get the comments back up and running -- I'll be looking for reader reaction.

Italian relief workers freed in Iraq

Finally, some good news for a change.

Brooks takes down another strawman

The power and majesty of David Brooks's logic fells all strawmen who dare come before it.

I mention this case study [El Salvador] because we are approaching election day in Afghanistan on Oct. 9. Six days later, voter registration begins in Iraq. Conditions in both places will be tense and chaotic. And in Washington, a mood of bogus tough-mindedness has swept the political class. As William Raspberry wrote yesterday in The Washington Post, "the new consensus seems to be that bringing American-style democracy to Iraq is no longer an achievable goal." We should just settle for what John Kerry calls "stability." We should be satisfied if some strongman comes in who can restore order.

The people who make this argument pat themselves on the back for being hard-headed, but the fact is they are naïve. They've got things exactly backward. The reason we should work for full democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not just because it's noble, but because it's practical. It is easier to defeat an insurgency and restore order with elections than without.

I don't recall John Kerry saying we should "settle" for "stability." I know of no one who seriously wants to give up and stick another dictator on the throne in Iraq, with the possible exception of Bush, Cheney, and Bremer who appointed a thug with CIA ties as the "strongman" in the run-up to elections. And it was Bremer, after all, who decided that, appearances be damned, he would run the CPA from Hussein's palace; in effect, sitting on the throne there.

And, tellingly, Brooks names no names in decrying the foes of an election in Afghanistan.

What Brooks fails to do, with his morally superior tone and his panglossian world view, is to note that it is not democracy that we question, it is how to achieve it.

In Afghanistan, security outside of Kabul is tenuous at best, and the Taliban are resurgent. There are not nearly enough election monitors, and it is feared that the elections will be rigged by tribal chiefs and that women will be excluded.

In Iraq, Rumsfeld has already ceded several Sunni areas, in effect accepting that the election will be a vehicle for Shiite dominance. Those wanting to vote will be dodging, not "sniper fire," but suicide bombings.

Regarding El Salvador, I think his history is a little, shall we say, compressed, but I'm no expert on the politics of South America in the 1980s. But I will say that El Salvador lacked a few things that Iraq can boast of: 1.) A despised occupying force; 2.) three distinct ethnic groups vying for power, with one, the Sunnis, losing their long hold on power; and 3.) rising religious fundamentalism with all its inherent horrors.

No, it's not elections we fear in Iraq, it's failed elections we fear in Iraq.

And to think that all the chaos and terror swirling around Iraq right now was predicted.

The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.

One of the reports also warned of a possible insurgency against the new Iraqi government or American-led forces, saying that rogue elements from Saddam Hussein's government could work with existing terrorist groups or act independently to wage guerrilla warfare, the officials said. The assessments also said a war would increase sympathy across the Islamic world for some terrorist objectives, at least in the short run, the officials said.

That's the kind of hard-headed realism that Brooks now calls "naive."

Monday, September 27, 2004

Star-gazing instead of naval-gazing

No, I won't. I simply won't comment on what has to be the dumbest cover story for the New York Times in, oh, I don't know, a couple of weeks, anyway, except to say that it was pure bait and switch. I know, I know, I'd rather see Ana Marie Cox, than Jesse and Ezra on the cover any day. But I waited in vain for some pithy or wry comment from either RW Apple or Jack Germond. I mean, what the hell were they doing on the cover other than trying to look down Cox's shirt-thing?

If you surf around the Vega's favorite sites, you're sure to find plenty of self-absorbed comments on "what it all means" and the like, particularly in light of the take-down from recently-exiled Billmon in the LATimes.

But the blog you really need to read about the whole phenomenon is by that fellow with the accent graves* in his name, Michael Bérubé.

Indeed, the search for a “Last Universal Common Ancestor,” or LUCA, may not only answer the question of how blogs first arose from inorganic media; it may also help to explain the process of evolution itself – or, as one researcher puts it, “the question of how the primitive, early Kaus became the highly intelligent Kos we know today.”

The jargon of blog-biology is daunting, with its talk of “archaea” such as “extremoblogs” and “acidoblogs” ("blogs that have been found to thrive on the gas given off by raw ‘drudge’ and that both excrete and multiply in concentrations of acid strong enough to dissolve metal and destroy entire city sewer systems"). And some of the science sounds more like the stuff of science fiction, like the distant-future NASA mission to Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons) in which unmanned spacecraft will drill into the moon’s miles-thick ice crust in order to search for the building blocks of blogs beneath. “We’d have a picture of what blogs may have been like on earth before they evolved into the modern Pharyngula of today,” says Jeffrey Bada of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Of course, it’s hard to imagine the kind of environment that’s on Europa producing blogs that look anything like the blogs we have here, either Kaus or Kos-like organisms. And that’s what I find fascinating.”

Finally (yes, I said I wasn't going to write about this) it was pretty obvious from the Times' piece that the writer was living in so-yesterday's world. Why? Because not one mention was made -- not one hat tip was given -- to the Medium Lobster, Fafnir, or even Giblets -- the only opinion leaders in the blogospher worth considering.

*UPDATE: Madame Cura -- a croissant-eating surrender monkey perhaps -- tells me those aren't accents grave, but rather accents aigu. Here at the Vega, we always try to do right by our "old Europe" allies and their strange languages.

Iraq = Lebanon + daily beheadings

Laura Rozen quotes the Spectator's Richard Beeston extensively. Reporting from Baghdad, Beeston describes nothing short of hell.

This is almost unspeakably grim. Bush has turned Iraq into Lebanon, and he's running his election on this masking-taped Potemkin village of a liberated Iraq heading joyfully for elections that's all coming apart at the edges. Even if he manages to win reelection, I think any second administration would be set to soon collapse under the weight of the lies once people do wake up and realize what a disaster we have on our hands. You should hear the total condemnation of Bush's national security team I am hearing from Republican foreign policy hands I am interviewing for a forthcoming piece.

I wish we could count on Republicans to police this administration, but other than a handful of "mavericks," like Hagel, Luger, and McCain -- all of whom are in the Senate, mind you -- I'm not expecting anything of the sort, even after the election. In all likelihood, the House will still be under the control of DeLay and Hastert, and their only goal is retaining power. Going after a Republican president won't aid them in that effort. The House Republicans have erased from their lexicon such words as "Constitution," "checks & balances," "governing," "civil rights," "responsibility." Need convincing of that?

In fact, there was talk in the Capitol that it might be just fine with the Republicans if they can't reach agreement with the Senate on a final bill before the election, after forcing House Democrats to vote on their bill. That way they could try to argue in the campaign that Democratic obstructionism stalled the popular Sept. 11 commission's ideas and make an issue of possible Democratic votes against the new law enforcement powers.

But before they can get that far, they and other backers of the commission's ideas will have to surmount opposition from the Pentagon and many in the foreign policy and national security establishment.

"Racing to implement reforms on an election timetable is precisely the wrong thing to do. Intelligence reform is too complex and too important to undertake at a campaign's breakneck speed," said a statement issued this week by a group that included Shultz and Kissinger as well as former Democratic Sens. Gary Hart and Bill Bradley.

Yep, House Republicans who play politics with the 911 Commission report seem an unlikely bunch to investigate the crimes and misdemeanors of the current president.

Mission still accomplished, I guess

The Miserable Failure, Sunday, on FOXNews:

When asked by Fox News if he still would have put on a flight suit to declare major combat operations in Iraq over, Bush replied, "Absolutely."

When Bush gave his May 1 speech fewer than 150 Americans had died in the war. Since then more than 900 have died.

The nearly 1,000 who've died since then did so during minor combat operations, of course.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Um, will the Yankees' fourth starter please stand up

He didn't last night.

He didn't this afternoon.

Will he stand up before the fourth game of the AL Division series rolls around?

Today's evidence of Democratic progress in Iraq

This is an important visit because the Prime Minister will be able to explain clearly to the American people that not only is progress being made, that we will succeed. The American people have seen horrible scenes on our TV screens. And the Prime Minister will be able to say to them that in spite of the sacrifices being made, in spite of the fact that Iraqis are dying and U.S. troops are dying, as well, that there is a will amongst the Iraqi people to succeed. And we stand with them. It's also an important visit for me to say to the people of Iraq that America has given its word to help, and we'll keep our word.

Yep, just like Preznit says. In fact, today we arrested the senior commander of the Iraqi National Guard.

The military did not give further details on Mr. Lahibi's ties to the insurgency, and senior military commanders in Baghdad declined to provide more information at a news conference in the late afternoon. "I don't have any specifics on why he was picked up," one commander said.

The arrest is the most significant known one of an Iraqi commander who was supposed to help the American military fill the gaping security vacuum left by the ousting of Mr. Hussein and the dismantling of the Iraqi army. It raises questions about whether, in the haste to stand up a legitimate Iraqi force by recruiting former senior Baath Party officials, the Americans have signed on officials with questionable loyalties and abilities, and whether the military will have to conduct a more thorough review of such people as American soldiers gird themselves to try to retake such insurgent-controlled cities such as Falluja, Samarra and Baquba, the capital of Diyala province.

American military commanders have said in recent weeks that they intend to wage a campaign later this fall to seize control of the hot spots, but that Iraqi security forces loyal to the Americans and the interim government must join in the fight and take responsibility for controlling the areas afterward.

Who are we kidding? Kids -- U.S. and Iraqi -- are dying everyday for what looks more and more like a shadow play for the "pleasure of the president."

The debate is growing louder. It's getting louder, because folks close to the administration are beginning the trial balloons floating and, so far none of the balloons are getting shot down.

EVEN by its own disturbing standards, this was a hallucinatory week in Iraq. Beheadings, kidnappings, bombings, outbreaks of deadly disease and everyday mayhem were accompanied by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's upbeat statement to Congress: "We are succeeding in Iraq."

Are we? The discordant images and messages captured a central difficulty of defining an Iraq policy. In the absence of any semblance of agreement on what the situation is, or even who is behind the insurgency, setting a course is problematic. But with more than 1,000 Americans already dead, and more dying each week, one question has begun to be posed with growing insistence: Should American forces leave?

Over at WaPo, via Kos, Michael Hirsh asks, "How will we know when we can leave?

For Hirsh, Paul Bremer's plan to create Germanification in Iraq was a pipe dream that has rapidly morphed into new plans for Iraq -- Vietnamization. Hastily set up a legitimate government and get the troops out.

Americans must begin to penetrate that silence by reckoning with some grim realities about the Iraqi endgame. The first is that there is no prospect of "winning" in Iraq, at least none that even remotely resembles the administration's rhetoric. The German model has become part of what Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican critic of the war, has called the "grand illusion" of Iraqi progress. Indeed, far from following the path of America's postwar triumph in Germany, the administration's approach on the ground is closely tracking one of America's greatest foreign policy follies: Vietnamization. That was the name for President Richard Nixon's disastrous policy of handing off the war to the ill-prepared South Vietnamese army and a thinly legitimate government in Saigon, so that U.S. troops could come home. Now the Bush administration is hanging its hopes on Iraqification, the propping up of equally unprepared Iraqi forces in hopes that we can ready them in time to forestall defeat long enough to withdraw.

Like Vietnam, the pull-out will be a disaster for the people of Iraq. A civil war, sparked by tribal warlords vying for power (perhaps the correct name for U.S. plans in Iraq is Afghanistanization). Unlike Vietnam, it would also represent a disaster for U.S. interests that will make Vietnam look like a great victory. The country we'd be leaving behind would bn oil-soaked failed state in the middle of the Middle East, and a new base for al Qaeda with better infrastructure and closer to the main action. And instead of removing troops from the land of Mecca, we'd have to reinforce those troops just to keep the Saudis propped up.

Feel safer?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Working the refs

Score another one for the Right.

CBS News said yesterday that it had postponed a "60 Minutes" segment that questioned Bush administration rationales for going to war in Iraq.

The announcement, in a statement by a spokeswoman, was issued four days after the network acknowledged that it could not prove the authenticity of documents it used to raise new questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era military service.

The Iraq segment had been ready for broadcast on Sept. 8, CBS said, but was bumped at the last minute for the segment on Mr. Bush's National Guard service. The Guard segment was considered a highly competitive report, one that other journalists were pursuing.

CBS said last night that the report on the war would not run before Nov. 2.

"We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election," the spokeswoman, Kelli Edwards, said in a statement.

I just stand back and am awestruck.

They'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good

Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good,
They'll stone ya just a-like they said they would.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home.
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Boston manager Francoma gets stoned in the eighth.

The frustrated legions among the 35,022 at Fenway Park turned their anger on Francona. They booed him on his march from the dugout to replace Martinez with Alan Embree. They booed him on the way back, and they booed him after he protested a close play at third later in the inning and replaced Embree with Mike Timlin. They booed Francona louder than he has been booed in 153 games since he succeeded Little.

And, um, I don't think Pedro wants to pitch to the Yankees anymore.

"I wanted to bury myself on that mound," he said. "What can I say? I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy."

Martinez once was so defiant in the face of Yankee adversity that he called for summoning the ghost of Babe Ruth so he could drill the Bambino in the butt. But the latest loss seemed to humble him. He dropped to 10-11 with a 3.24 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

"I wish they would disappear and never come back," he said. "I'd like to face any other team right now."

Yep, sounds like that rubber room is being made up.

No relief

Funniest line from the YES broadcast of last night's (once again) amazing game in Boston came from Jim Kaat: "Somewhere in North Carolina, a fella by the name of Grady Little just asked, 'Why'd they leave him in?'"

Friday, September 24, 2004

Kerry campaign "on the right track"

The Kerry campaign has already produced an ad in response to Bush's incoherent Rose Garden press conference. As Kos writes, "Hit Bush hard and fast. He's giving us all the material we need."

Tina Brown's got our number

The blogosphere -- well Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum, anyway -- is abuzz with Tina Brown's accurate and perceptive take on the CBS imbroglio, and about the role of bloggers in it.

Fear of missing the bandwagon is behind all the hype about the brilliance of bloggers who blew the whistle. You'd think "Buckhead," who first spotted the flaws in the documents, is the cyberworld's Woodward and Bernstein. Now the conventional wisdom is that the media will be kept honest and decent by an army of incorruptible amateur gumshoes. In fact, cyberspace is populated by a coalition of political obsessives and pundits on speed who get it wrong as much as they get it right. It's just that they type so much they are bound to nail a story from time to time.

The rapturing about the bloggers is the journalistic equivalent of the stock market's Internet bubble. You can see the news chiefs feeling as spooked as the old-style CEOs in the '90s who had built their companies over 20 years and then saw kids in backward baseball caps on the cover of Fortune. It finally drove them nuts. It was why we saw Time Warner's buttoned-down corporate dealmaker Gerald Levin tearing off his tie and swooning into the embrace of AOL's Steve Case.

And, as Ezra points out, "Buckhead" isn't even a blogger; he's a GOP operative who uses the format to propagandize (and wouldn't it be interesting if some enterprising journalist -- the real kind -- would look into his role in how the documents got on TV in the first place and how "Buckhead" became a typography expert with such amazing speed. But I digress).

Writes the talented Mr. Klein,

Nice to know we're read, but sad to know that this triumphant moment didn't even come from one of our number. We didn't -- couldn't -- break Abu Ghraib. We are not the wellspring of new media nor the providers of an alternative voice. We don't bring you interviews that bare the souls of their subjects and the only news we break is what you can logically deduce from public documents.

At our best, we have an informed opinion or entertaining take on world events. We have vibrant boards of interested activists that provide a public space for political speech and, sometimes, involvement. We have people like Josh Marshall and Juan Cole who decide to use this format to peddle their expertise, but could really choose -- and excel -- in any medium. We're smart guys at the bar and we hopefully, hopefully, make the political sphere slightly better for our involvement. Anything you hear beyond that is simply masturbation -- it feels good and means nothing.

Damn you, man! I thought I was makin' a difference. I'm so disillusioned.

What I most appreciated about Brown's column, she never once used the word pajamas.

Oh, and closing a loop here: The Editors' world has really been rocked by this.

John Edwards unleashed

Recently, a fried of mine and I -- like a lot of Kerry supporters -- wondered just what in hell the K campaign has done with John Edwards.

Well, it seems reports of his demise are premature.

According to Jeff Dubner, he's an under the radar phenomenon, giving it to Cheney but good in small towns throughout the swing states.

Dubner links to this story by Craig Crawford of the Congressional Quarterly, who seems to actually be covering Edwards's campaign stops.

Of course, it is tough to find Edwards unless you are willing to stay in something other than a top-tier hotel. Even the biggest chains feature only their knock-off brands in the towns where he goes. Sometimes you have to settle for a Motel 6. But Edwards is going after the swing voters where they live. His recent Pennsylvania stops covered a suburban swath where nearly 20 percent of the state’s likely voters reside.

Earlier in September, I caught up with Edwards in Chillicothe, Ohio. About an hour’s drive south of Columbus, this town of 20,000 residents produced nearly 5,000 for an Edwards rally. TV news crews from all around central and southern Ohio covered it; people were passing out in the crush of humanity and heat. And, for those Democrats who think Edwards is too passive, he dished out loads of red meat, hurling barb after barb at his vice presidential opponent.

“Edwards Slams Cheney in Chillicothe Stop,” The Columbus Dispatch headlined the next day.


The big chance that Edwards has to show his new fiery style will come at this year’s one vice presidential debate, Oct. 5 in Cleveland. He could benefit from the current media myth that he is all vanilla on the stump. Pundits and reporters are likely to be surprised by how tough he is on Cheney.

You get the feeling that Edwards really despises the incumbent vice president . It does not seem like an act. If opinion polls showing Cheney’s high unfavorability ratings are accurate, many Americans agree with Edwards. He is doing his best to leverage the vice president’s unpopularity against the GOP ticket.

I'm feeling all tingly. One-quarter of the town comes out for a VP campaign rally. Cool.

"Have you no decency, sir?"

This James Woolcott can really blog:

They have no decency. Not a sliver, not a shred. Look at how Max Cleland has been treated, look at how George Soros has been smeared as some sort of Jewish intriguer who oozed his way out of Nazi Germany by Tony Blankley* and a drug kingpin by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, look at--oh, we know what the examples are.

Ben Ferguson can snicker that if John Kerry had incurred real injuries he'd be in a nice wheelchair today and the middleaged white fools sitting in the bookstore don't even raise a peep, which makes you wonder if ten years from now it'll be open season on any American vet from the Iraq campaign who's missing limbs or carrying shrapnel and gets out of political line. There is a myth that the Left spat on returning Vietnam vets in the Seventies. Well, the Right spits on Vietnam vets every day with impunity, and will spit on future vets. Conservatives support the military only in the vague abstract; beneath their patriotic bluster and sentimentality, they basically think soldiers are chumps, risking their lives when they could be staying home, making money, and carving out a neat career, as Ben has done.

Do you really think that Rush and Newt and Dick Cheney and the rest of them regret that they didn't serve in Vietnam, that they didn't do their part for a war they supported and whose cause they still think was just? Do you really think Ben Ferguson wishes he was in uniform fighting for democracy in Iraq instead of plastering his Lumpy Rutherford face on TV?


For the young collegians in the audience

The Poor Man has some advice for younger readers:

5. Everything they've told you about life after college is a lie. Life after college is an absolute horror show, a nightmare from which you cannot awake. If you think roommates are bad, just wait until you have to deal with co-workers. Absolute nightmare, 24/7, at least until you retire. I'm still hopeful about that.


Who's obsessed with who?

This weekend is about New York's obsession with all things Pedro. It is about comparing Martinez and Schilling's starts, and starting to decide which is the right man to go in Game One. Newsday columnist Joe Gergen says today that "the psychological value of dominating the other team this late in the season is incalculable." I suppose then that this weekend is about the Red Sox avoiding Keith Foulke and Byung Hyun Kim, who have recently resembled John Wasdin, and Byung Hyun Kim. Don't be surprised to see some birds flying around the park this weekend, and we don't mean in the sky.

Huh? Here's the only mention of L'il Petey in the story Erik Wilbur linked to above:

More likely this will be more feeling out; yet another appetizer before the main course. This will be the Yanks seeing if they can solve Pedro Martinez again, and Schilling, as well. Can Jason Giambi hit Boston pitching and Javier Vazquez retire Red Sox hitters? It will be three more games that carry all the meaning in the world. Until three weeks from now, when we get baseball Wimbledon.

Boston is obsessed with Pedro. The Yanks just find a way to beat him.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: During the broadcast Friday night, I learned that the headline on the backpage of the Post was "Pedro the Pushover". I believe Wilbur was referring to that.

Another victory in the war on terror


Dahlia Lithwick goes a lot further. Not only was Hamdi's three year detention without access to counsel or the courts despicable, Ashcroft is now deporting a U.S. citizen and denying him the right to travel and he still hasn't had any kind of a hearing.

At least we caught Cat Stevens before he could kill more (if only they could also do something about Seals and Croft). For the record, I don't have any sympathy for Yusef Islam, though I do think it was a screw-up that bureaucrats now can't admit to.


Screw the election. Bush should be fucking impeached.

Sorry. Had to get that out.

But I can't believe that over one thousand U.S. soldiers -- and one hundred times that many Iraqis -- have died for Bush's 2004 election campaign.

Kevin Drum has the timeline.

History will be kinder to LBJ than to Bush and his team of political hacks. Hopefully the future won't be too unkind to us.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Killing her son, then her rights

The Secret Service is harassing Sue Niederer, the woman who disrupted the Laura Bush rally in New Jersey last week. Seems the poor woman may some intemperate remarks online.

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who was arrested last week for interrupting a speech by Laura Bush is being investigated by the Secret Service for threatening remarks she made about President Bush, a Secret Service official confirmed yesterday.

The woman, Sue Niederer, 55, who lives in Hopewell, N.J., made the comments on a Web site, according to the Secret Service official, who was reached by telephone in Washington. He referred further questions to Special Agent Tony Colgary in the Trenton office of the Secret Service, who did not respond to messages.

Mrs. Niederer, reached by phone, said: "I don't want to talk about it. Leave it alone."

The federal officials are apparently investigating comments made by Mrs. Niederer in May on the Web site, a political newsletter. In the Web postings, she is quoted as saying she "wanted to rip the president's head off" and "shoot him in the groined area."

It is a federal crime to threaten the president, though civil liberties groups are expected to argue the case on free speech grounds.

Mrs. Niederer told The Trenton Times she was upset about her son's death at the time. When asked if she wanted to threaten the president, she answered, "Absolutely not."

Mrs. Niederer is being assisted by a volunteer lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the civil liberties group's New Jersey chapter. Ms. Jacobs, who did not return a voice mail message left at her office late yesterday, told The Associated Press that Mrs. Niederer's comments on the Web site were protected by court precedent from a 1969 case. In Watts v. United States, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a man who three years earlier had claimed at a public gathering that he would "set his sights" on President Lyndon Johnson if he was drafted.

The court ruled that while the nation had an interest in protecting the president, the 1917 statute on which the case was based "must be interpreted with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind."

Mrs. Niederer's son, Second Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, was killed in February while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in Iraq. Mrs. Niederer charges that her son was untrained for bomb disposal work and lacked proper equipment. Army officials reached at Fort Drum, N.Y., dispute the allegations, insisting he was trained.

Our Secret Service, defending the Preznit from grieving mothers, defending the flag against the liberal media, defending RNC delegates from publicity, and defending America from protesters

Is there a trend here?

What's new at Barnes & Noble?

Interesting trip to 5th Ave. mid-town B&N to pick up John Judis's "The Folly of Empire" (more later).

At the information desk, the person in front of me asked, "When does 'The O'Reilly Factor for Kids' come out?" She was told next Tuesday. "'The O'Reilly Factor for Kids?'" I asked, incredulously. The information guy just rolled his eyes (and readers who bought the book, also bought books for Ann Coulter and Dan Brown).

Head still spinning from that one, I nearly knocked over the entire table of "Red Sox vs. Yankees Chess" sets. I think I spotted a version with Mets uniforms, too, but I don't know who their opponents would be. Perhaps the Expos. I almost bought a set just to learn who the Queen is for each team, and if that would give us any interesting sociological information.

Finally, after purchasing the book I headed out to 48th St., where the line was forming to get Bill Buckley's autograph on his new "Literary Autobiography", entitled, "Nearer to God than You," or something like that. I'd say there was a throng of about six adoring fans in the queue. Not exactly Clintonesque, which I'm sure would please Bill B.

Under whelmed

Today in the Congress of Wingnuts:

The bill, which was passed 247-173, would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court, from hearing cases involving the pledge and its recitation and would prevent federal courts from striking the words "under God" from the pledge.

The legislation has little chance of advancing in the Senate this year, but it laid down another marker for politicians seeking to differentiate themselves from their election opponents on the volatile social issues of the day. Other "wedge" issues that have or could come up before the election include gay marriage and flag-burning.

The Supreme Court in June dismissed, on a technicality, a 2002 federal court decision that the religious reference made the pledge unconstitutional.

Rep. Todd Akin...R-Mo., the author of the amendment on legislation before the House Thursday, said the high court is likely to rule differently if it considers the substance of the case and "if we allow activist judges to start creating law and say that it is wrong to somehow allow schoolchildren to say 'under God' in the pledge."

In such a scenario, Akin said, Congress will have "emasculated the very heart of what America has always been about."

Shouldn't it be required that members of Congress be required to pass a test on basic Civics and U.S. History? Rep. Akin (to an ass) seems to not understand that the "heart of what America has always been about" has been the separation of powers and the establishment clause. This bill violates both. Moreover, "under God" was added to the pledge during the Eisenhower administration to more clearly differentiate ourselves from those godless Commies. It's is hardly what our "founders" would have wanted.

Ah, I love the smell of stupidity and fear-mongering in an election season.

Abu Ghraib: The Hidden Story

Just a few bad apples.

Some with very familiar names.

Lindh's interrogators stripped the young American, who had been shot in the foot, taped him to a stretcher, propped it up against a shipping container in the cold open air of Afghanistan, and proceeded to interrogate him in marathon sessions that went on for days. According to documents that were leaked to a Los Angeles Times reporter, Lindh's responses during these interrogation sessions were cabled back to the Defense Department as often as every hour. During the coming months and years, as the United States gradually built a network of secret and semisecret prisons in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan; Guantánamo, Cuba; Qatar and Diego Garcia, as well as Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper, Iraq, this direct attention from senior officials in Washington has remained constant. As Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the head of the Joint Intelligence and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, told General Taguba in December 2003, "Sir, I was told a couple times...that some of the reporting was getting read by Rumsfeld, folks out of Langley [CIA headquarters], some very senior folks." For Jordan, that meant a lot of pressure to produce. It also meant that what went on at Abu Ghraib and other interrogation centers was very much the focus of the most senior officials in Washington.

In this week's New York Review of Books, Mark Danner details our government's extensive -- and mostly secret -- network of prisons and the kinds of interrogation tactics being used in them. Harrowing stuff. And it details the elaborate "Kabuki dance" investigators went through to avoid blaming Military Intelligence for prisoner abuse. In some cases, the reports on the abuse at Abu Ghraib (and there are now, I think, 12 investigations already conducted, being conducted now, or planned) have an absurdity about them that would be unintentionally hilarious if what they're describing not so enraging. Like this passage from General Fay's report:

Sleep adjustment was brought with 519 [Military Intelligence Battalion] from Afghanistan. It is also a method used at GTMO [Guantánamo].... At Abu Ghraib, however, the MPs were not trained, nor informed as to how they actually should do the sleep adjustment. The MPs were just told to keep a detainee awake for a time specified by the interrogator. The MPs used their own judgment as to how to keep them awake. Those techniques included taking the detainees out of their cells, stripping them and giving them cold showers. CPT Wood stated she did not know this was going on and thought the detainees were being kept awake by the MPs banging on the cell doors, yelling, and playing loud music.

"I see nussing!" The purpose of all of these reports about detainee abuse, the 12 or so mentioned above, have had the curious purpose (and effect) of keeping the full horrors of our interrogation system trickling out, lessening the public reaction, and making sure that no one very high up the food chain in the Pentagon or White House is indicted. Take this opening passage from the Schlessinger report:

The events of October through December 2003 on the night shift of Tier 1 at Abu Ghraib prison were acts of brutality and purposeless sadism. We now know these abuses occurred at the hands of both military police and military intelligence personnel. The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets. They represent deviant behavior and a failure of military leadership and discipline. However, we do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.

As Danner points out, the paragraph is an amazing tangle of self-contradiction. The first sentence points to events "on the night shift" that were "purposeless sadism." But the second sentence implies perhaps not so purposeless, after all, since they "occurred at the hands of both MPs and MI personnel. But the third sentence says, despite that, they were not authorized and represent deviant behavior. But, we know that a lot of really bad stuff that wasn't photographed occurred at Abu Ghraib and "during interrogation sessions...elsewhere."

Got it? It was a few bad, sadistic apples, some from the MP and others from MI, who were acting deviantly during interrogation sessions happening all over the place.

Glad we cleared that up.

The White House, Pentagon, and Republican-controled Senate have done a remarkable job of keeping the U.S. public's eyes on the photographs from Abu Ghraib, not the policy that led to the "softening up" of "high value detainees," not the White House's decision to withold Geneva Conventions from "terrorists" and "enemy combatants" of their choosing.

Meanwhile, Military Intellligence and the CIA are continuing to win friends and influence enemies throughout the Islamic world.

The story CBS should have run

Incredible irony.

Sept. 22 - In its rush to air its now discredited story about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service, CBS bumped another sensitive piece slated for the same “60 Minutes” broadcast: a half-hour segment about how the U.S. government was snookered by forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium from Niger.


A team of “60 Minutes” correspondents and consulting reporters spent more than six months investigating the Niger uranium documents fraud, CBS sources tell NEWSWEEK. The group landed the first ever on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who first obtained the phony documents, as well as her elusive source, Rocco Martino, a mysterious Roman businessman with longstanding ties to European intelligence agencies.

CBS's priorities: go with a rehash a 30-year old story that everyone already knows about and use documents of which they didn't know the provenance, instead of a story based on six months of investigation that centers on an issue relevant to today. Hmmm. As Yglesias says, "stupid CBS."

Meanwhile, CBS was able to track down Rocco Martino. The FBI? Not so lucky.

Bush hopes U.S. voters are dumber than a bag of cement mix

This headline pretty much captures Bush's strategy -- for the election, Iraq, the economy, you name it.

If Bush is counting on Allawi to "reassure" us, than he is more desperate than the "dead enders" who seem to be growing in strength every day in Iraq.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Representational democracy marches on

At home.

The expansion of suffrage to all sectors of the population is one of the United States’ most important political triumphs. Once the privilege of wealthy white men, the vote is now a basic right held as well by the poor and working classes, racial minorities, women and young adults. Today, all mentally competent adults have the right to vote with only one exception: convicted criminal offenders. In forty-six states and the District of Columbia, criminal disenfranchisement laws deny the vote to all convicted adults in prison. Thirty-two states also disenfranchise felons on parole; twenty-nine disenfranchise those on probation. And, due to laws that may be unique in the world, in fourteen states even ex-offenders who have fully served their sentences remain barred for life from voting.

While felony disenfranchisement laws should be of concern in any democracy, the scale of their impact in the United States is unparalleled: an estimated 3.9 million U.S. citizens are disenfranchised, including over one million who have fully completed their sentences. That so many people are disenfranchised is an unintended consequence of harsh criminal justice policies that have increased the number of people sent to prison and the length of their sentences, despite a falling crime rate.

The racial impact of disenfranchisement laws is particularly egregious. Thirteen percent of African American men—1.4 million—are disenfranchised, representing just over one-third (36 percent) of the total disenfranchised population. In two states, our data show that almost one in three black men is disenfranchised. In eight states, one in four black men is disenfranchised. If current trends continue, the rate of disenfranchisement for black men could reach 40 percent in the states that disenfranchise ex-offenders.

And abroad.

On Monday, the International Herald Tribune reported that the Pentagon is restricting international access to the Web site for the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the official government agency that helps Americans living abroad register to vote in the November election. According to the IHT, Americans who connect to the Internet using one of several foreign Internet service providers have reported difficulty logging in to the voting-assistance site. The Pentagon confirmed that it is blocking traffic from these ISPs -- which provide Internet service in 25 countries -- but it declined to say why.

"This is a completely partisan thing," one Defense Department voting official stationed in Europe told Salon. The official, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being fired from her position, is one of the many people in the department assigned to help both uniformed military personnel as well as American civilians register to vote. She described the Pentagon as extremely diligent in its efforts to register soldiers stationed overseas -- for instance, this official had been told by the department to personally meet with all of the soldiers in her unit in order to help them register. But the department has ignored its mandate to help overseas civilians who want to vote, the official said.

Not since the election of Andrew Jackson have so few wanted to disenfranchise so many.

Proxy air force

From Haaretz:

Among the bombs the air force will get are 500 one-ton bunker busters that can penetrate two-meter-thick cement walls; 2,500 regular one-ton bombs; 1,000 half-ton bombs; and 500 quarter-ton bombs.

Iran's nuclear capabilities development may soon be hitting a bump in the road.

Unfortunately, Iran, for all the bloviating on the left and right about what they're doing and what Bush is doing about it, is not going to hit us with a nuclear bomb. And they're not going to hit Israel either. If they did, there would be a massive counter attack and not one minaret would be left standing.

The fundamentalists in Iran are demented, but they're not insane.

Iran wants the bomb -- the entire Arab world wants the bomb -- because Israel has the bomb.

But an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel -- using U.S. weapons -- will further underscore the Arab world's perception that we are on a crusade to keep them subservient and impovrished. And it will likely lead Iran to find other -- less formal, shall we say -- ways to further an entirely new and different nuclear ambition. Can you say "Dirty bomb?"

David Brooks also eats cereal

Lucky Charmers versus Cheeriorians. Brilliant.

I have been critical of President Bush, not because I have actual convictions, but because I have a pathological need to seem reasonable. But I have looked into President Bush's pantry, and I see a man who would go on the offense against Count Chocula, the Boo Berry ghost, or the Cookie Crisp wizard.

My hunch is that John Kerry eats pastry.

Finally, all of us need to keep an eye on that Trix rabbit, a known election tamperer. Trix may be for kids, but voting is for grownups who agree with me.

Damn you, Pandagon, for leading me to this infernal satire!

A simple question. A horrible answer.

Obsidian Wings asks,

I still, against reason it seems at time, hope a stable democracy will arise out of the ashes of chaos in Iraq, but even that is looking more and more like wishful thinking, so that unanswered question haunts me: what did those 1,000 troops die for?

Brad deLong tries to answer,

This question has a straightforward answer. The first 100 died (and the first 500 were maimed) to liberate Iraq from a dreadful tyrant who had no operational ties with Al Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, posed no threat to the U.S., and posed little threat to his neighbors.

The next 900 died (and the next 4500 were maimed) because:

1. Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted to show that we could conquer, occupy, and control Iraq with a small force all by ourselves so that the Syrians and the Iranians would be scared of what we could do with the rest of our army.

2. Nobody in the White House dared propose any change in policy when it became clear to everybody that Cheney and Rumsfeld were wrong.

Further conclusions to draw from this straightforward answer are left as an exercise for the reader.

I am uncomfortable with DeLong's glibness, but he is essentially correct.

It is amazing, the twisted (and I mean that in the both senses of the word --confused and evil) logic that underscored the Designated Idiot's column yesterday (and led to Obsidian Wing's question). It will also likely underscore Bush's performance in the upcoming foreign policy debate. The "logic" goes something like this: "If you don't agree with the way the Preznit is conducting the war, than you are implying that the troops have died for nothing."

Truth is, the men and women who've died or been maimed did so defending their mates, but beyond that, I can't answer the question, just as Laura Bush can't answer Sue Niederer, the woman who confronted FLOTUS last week in New Jersey.

"I asked him if he wanted to go back," she said. "Seth said no. He told me we were losing the war. He told me we could not win a war when we did not know who our enemies were. He told me it was a waste, but he also told me he had to return to get the 18 men in his platoon home safely."

SOON after he died, Mrs. Niederer said, she and her son's widow ran into a wall of military bureaucracy. As an observant Jew, Mrs. Niederer asked that her son not be embalmed or undergo an autopsy, requests that she said were ignored. She asked to go to Dover Air Force Base to meet her son's coffin, but says she was told that was against the rules. And she says she has tried reaching members of her son's platoon to learn the circumstances of his death, especially after the Army told her he had been killed trying to defuse a bomb.

"He had no training in bomb detection or in defusing bombs," she said. "He did not have proper equipment. When I complained in public about the inadequate training and lack of equipment, the Army changed the story. They told me he was not trying to defuse a bomb. I still don't know how he died. They won't let me speak to or contact members of his platoon."

It must be comforting for those widows and mothers who've lost their sons who, unlike Ms. Niederer, believe Bush's lies and platitudes.

A fallen culture

Somberby puts "th-gate" into proper perspective.

He also gets to the bottom -- and that is the proper word -- of the false quote of Kerry's regarding NASCAR that is flogged by the Times about every three weeks. Writes the incomperable Somerby:

WHO AMONG US DOESN’T LOVE FUNNY COMMENTS: Of course, we all know what a big dumb-ass John Kerry is! We know because Frank Rich told us in his September 5 column:

RICH (9/5/04): Mr. Kerry, having joined the macho game with Mr. Bush on the president's own cheesy terms, is hardly innocent in his own diminishment. From the get-go he’s tried to match his opponent in stupid male tricks. If Mr. Bush clears brush in Crawford, then Mr. Kerry rides a Harley-Davidson onto Jay Leno’s set. When the Democrat asks “Who among us does not love Nascar?”...he is asking to be ridiculed as an ''International Man of Mystery.”

Kerry was “asking to be ridiculed,” Rich said, and the mighty Times has been there to oblige him. “Who among us doesn’t love NASCAR!” A Times reporter, Timothy Egan, also mocked Kerry’s comical line on August 22. Indeed, the plummy line was such vintage Kerry that Sheryl Gay Stolberg couldn’t forget it. She couldn’t get the line out of her head. She said so on July 30:

STOLBERG (7/30/04): To anyone who has listened to Mr. Kerry extemporize at length—who among us can forget his “Who among us doesn’t like Nascar?” remark?—the thought of the Brahmin from Boston disdaining speechwriters and trying humor seemed odd, shall we say, for the most important address of his career.

It was simply delish to see the scribe wittily playing on Kerry’s remark! Five days earlier, John Tierney had cited the Kerry quote too, as part of a comical quiz on the solon. And of course, no one tweaks the high-and-plummy quite the way Maureen Dowd does. At the Times, she was first to mock Kerry’s silly locution, noting it in her March 18 column. Dowd, of course, is a brilliant scholar. For her, the solon’s comical quote quickly brought Austen to mind:

DOWD (3/18/04): Mr. Kerry is Pride...
Even when he puts on that barn jacket over his expensive suit to look less lockjaw—and says things like, “Who among us doesn't like Nascar?”—he can come across like Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennet’s pretentious cousin in “Pride and Prejudice.”

Dowd clued us to Kerry’s “smugness” and “stupidity” this day. She was the first to savage his statement—the stupid statement that, alas, John Kerry may not have made.

Yes, according to the Nexis archive, this statement seems to start with Dowd. There is no prior record of Kerry saying “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR” or “Who among us doesn’t love NASCAR,” the variants which have floated around among the Times’ witty scriveners. If Kerry actually made this statement, no one ever told them at Nexis. But my dear Mr. Bennet! A month before Dowd’s column appeared, Kerry did make a NASCAR remark. On February 15, Bush had traveled to Daytona, where he pretended to enjoy the big race. The next day, Kerry sagely rebutted. Tape of Kerry’s statement was played on that day’s Inside Politics:

KERRY (2/16/04): George Bush went down to Daytona yesterday to do a photo opportunity at NASCAR. Now, I happen to like NASCAR, and I'm particularly pleased that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race, for a lot of reasons that many of you who follow it will understand.

Let me tell you something, we don't need a president who just says, “Gentlemen start your engines.” We need a president who says “America, let's start our economy and put people back to work.”

“I happen to like NASCAR.” According to the Nexis record, that’s the closest Kerry has come to the comic locution they’ve flogged at the Times. Who knows? Maybe Dowd, Stolberg, Tierney, Egan and Rich have some other moment in mind. (For a partial Times explanation, keep reading.) But given this mangy gang’s track record, we find ourselves driven to doubt.

After all, Dowd and Rich are the fallen creatures who invented the Love Story lunacy—the stupid, bogus tale about Gore that helped decide Campaign 2000. We’ve discussed the role the twin terrors played in the invention of this plupotent myth. And we’ve discussed what Time’s Karen Tumulty said about such dumb-ass colleagues:

TUMULTY (9/5/00): I am the reporter to whom Al Gore claimed that Love Story was based on him and Tipper...I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media.

Tumulty knew what Gore had said. And she said she was “sort of appalled” at the way fallen colleagues like Dowd and Rich spun it. “I thought [it] was very unfair,” she said. For a fuller record of Tumulty’s statement, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/04.

No, this NASCAR moment hasn’t changed the outcome of the current race. But did Kerry really voice the pleasing statement the Times keeps quoting and re-quoting? The Times has run the quote five times; each time, a clever scribe has put the wood to the silly solon for his utterly comical comment. But did Kerry actually utter this statement? Or have Times quote-improvers been up to old tricks, again showing their dread liberal bias?

WHY WE ASK: We raise this topic because Atrios mentioned it yesterday, linking to a site which once asked us about it. (We had never pursued the topic ourselves.) In a follow-up post, Atrios notes that Arthur Bovino (Times public editor’s office) has explained the origin of the troubling quotation. According to Bovino, “Dowd got the quote from someone who had been at a Kerry rally and confirmed it with a reporter who had been there. The quote later appeared in The Times in a political points column. The reporter was not quoting Ms. Dowd but working from her own notes.”

Obviously, that reporter is Stolberg. (We quote her “political points” piece above.) And guess what? Stolberg was traveling with Kerry on February 16, the day he made his NASCAR remark! She didn’t mention the remark in her next-day story. But other scribes did quote the un-funny comment, the one which was played on Inside Politics.

No, none of this makes a bit of difference, except as a portrait of high press corps culture. But on what day did Lockjaw Kerry make the comment that called out for ridicule? As Atrios notes, isn’t it strange that no one else ever mentioned the silly remark—that there is no record of the comment, except the record the Times has established? Given the way Kerry’s persona has been spun, wouldn’t a pleasing remark like this have received a wider airing?

So when did Kerry make this remark? When, aside from February 16, did Kerry ever comment on NASCAR? Cough it up, Bovino! Lay out the facts! Remember what we’re telling Dan Rather—the cover-up is always worse than the crime! Just as a point of curiosity, the Times does need to lay out the facts about this repeated story.

It is all so wearisome.

"YES Network wants me to die"

Well, I had heard rumors, but now it seems, in the words of Dick Cheney, "pretty well confirmed": Petey Martinez has lost his mind. At least that's the conclusion you come to when you see, via the Utility Infielder, this story.

NEW YORK -- Pedro Martinez already had a complex about people thinking he is the most hated man in New York.

Now, after hearing that commentators on the Yankees' YES Network reported that an ailing back may have contributed to yesterday's awful performance, he seems to have developed a complex about them, too.

"YES Network wants me to die," he said.


Oh, and the YES announcers who surmised back trouble? Martinez seemed surprised about it, but he never denied he was hurting. He simply told reporters, "Go ask them."

If the Yankees hurt him again on Friday night, there may be a rubber room in his future.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Winning the hearts and minds through even more "security"

So, now the White House plan is to divert $3.5 billion that had been earmarked for power stations, waste management and other infrastructure repair, and instead direct it to the (lack of) security situation.

Kill them as they wade through raw sewage in the darkened streets, evading kidnappers. Good plan.

"Nobody believes this will benefit Iraq," said Kamil N. Chadirji, deputy minister for administration and financial affairs in the Iraqi Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, which has responsibility for water and sewage projects outside Baghdad.

"For a year we have been talking, with beautiful PowerPoint documents, but without a drop of water," Mr. Chadirji said, waving a colorful printout that he received from American officials.

This, of course, leads one to wonder, if we budgeted $18 billion for reconstruction, but spent only $1 billion thus far, why, oh why, is this even necessary?

An interview with God and Satan

The intrepid Fafnir interviews our Lord and the Evil One. It is instructive.

SATAN: BLAAAAAAAARRRGH! Yes, by Beelzebub's blistered backside! The Democratic Party has been my greatest tool in the corruption and destruction of Man since the days of FDR, but now it stands ready to realize my darkest dreams! First will come gay marriage, then the banning of the Bible, then the scorching of the earth before the Beast of the Bottomless Pit, and then - THEN - UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE FOR ALL! MWA-HAHAHAHA!
FB: Oh no! Not health care!
GOD: The fallen one speaks in blasphemies! For he knows it is written in the Commandments, "Thou shalt not socialize medicine, for Thy God is the friend of rugged bootstrappers and insurance companies, and the enemy of government handouts."

It's kinda like those NPR love fests with Brooks and Dionne.

They have a plan for Iraq after all

So who really wants to get out of Iraq while the Inauguration balloons are still afloat? According to Robert Novak, (winner of the Daily Show's "Douchebag of Liberty" award), it's one George W. Bush.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out. [my emphasis]

And George Bush is that kind of resolute president. He says so all the time.

I keep coming back to it: Is Bush an Iranian agent?

Bush and Brooks -- in denial

I really can't add anything to Josh Marshall's take down of David Brooks ridiculous column in today's Times, in which the idiot argues that now we know that Kerry's wants to retreat from Iraq. Kerry said no such thing in his speech at NYU yesterday. Not even remotely.

It's weird, though. On the one hand you have George Bush responding to the speech that, "Heck, he's saying we should do what we're already doing; ain't I goin' to the UN this week?" On the other, you have conservative commentators like the Times' designated fool who are saying that if Kerry's elected, we'll be out of Iraq faster than you can say "Mogadishu."

But back to Marshall:

The Brooks line, which is the Bush line, is that "the U.S. should stay as long as it takes to rebuild Iraq." But this platitude is simply a way of ducking discussion about whether the president's policies are working and whether things are getting better or worse.

Brooks, like Bush, is like a man in the sea, a fifty pound lead weight chained to his feet, slowly sinking into the waves. It's a tough road, he says as the water laps around his neck, but I'm going to keep at it as long as it takes until I start floating up instead of sinking down.

As long as it takes.

I'm staying the course.

Bubble, gurgle, bubble ...

Denial ... and did I mention the weight is chained to your feet too?

Yeah, and it sure is getting wet in here.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Ashcroft's thugs

When Blogger eats a post (twice today), it's difficult to recreate. You lose the emotion that drove the initial impulse to post, and of course, there's a million other things to generate one's range in the meantime. But here goes...

Digby is nervous, and I think he may have good cause to be so:

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias in New Mexico launched a statewide criminal task force to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the upcoming presidential election. The probe came after a sheriff who co-chairs President Bush's campaign in the state's largest county complained about thousands of questionable registrations turned in by Democratic-leaning groups [Digby's and my emphasis added].

"It appears that mischief is afoot and questions are lurking in the shadows," Iglesias told local reporters.

I think Mr Iglesias has been reading too many romance novels.

But my God, is Digby saying that Ashcroft has turned the DoJ into an arm of the Busheney election committee? Wherever would he get that idea?

The White House is so concerned about voter registration fraud in Clark County [Nevada] that officials could send in federal investigators to look at the issue, Secretary of State Dean Heller said this morning.

President Bush mentioned the subject on his visit to Las Vegas Tuesday, when he rode to the Las Vegas Convention Center with Heller, Attorney General Brian Sandoval and Gov. Kenny Guinn.

"He brought it up and he was concerned," Heller said.

Ashcroft has turned the department into the most politically motivate Justice Department since Edwin Meese was in charge. He's turned the DoJ into a repository for political hacks and Bush political muscle. Which is why I don't think this is going to get too far.

Cheeseballs in bed?

World O' Crap reviews Dr. Laura's new book -- a must read, says WorldNetDaily.

The book does seem to be a powerful expose on the state of marriage and the failure of women to submit to 10 minutes of sex each week. And the book is apparently having an effect on women from around the world, like this reader:

“I’m leaving for the rest of the day, to buy something sheer and frilly. When he comes home, I’ll be on the bed, wearing not much, holding grapes and a cheese ball. I’ll keep the remaining details to myself."

Please do.

The greatest Red Sox fan ever!

Mike and the Mad Dog are skewering him this afternoon. John Kerry must stop talkin' sports at once. Going into Wisconsin and calling the Green Bay stadium "Lambert Field" was bad. But when asked who his favorite all-time Red Sox player is and saying "Eddie Yost," and replying "Manny Ortez" when asked who's his favorite current Sock...well, that's unacceptable. If he keeps declaring his undying love for all things Red Soxian he may just lose Massachusetts.

Yanks' lousy pitching versus Sox's stellar defense

That's what McCarver said before Saturday's blow-out in the Bronx. And Sunday was even better as the Yanks clobbered L'il Petey, who gave up 5 in the 6th.

All year long we've heard how bad the Yankees are, and yet...and yet... they've won 94 games and now lead the American League East by 4-1/2. I'm by no means making my plans to take the day off in expectation of the parade, but the boys sure looked good over the weekend. Even Friday night's disappointment can now be seen as pretty positive, given how well Sturtz and Gordon pitched in relief of a once-again sharp El Duque.

The best part of it is, there is nothing quite so elequent as Boston fans in pain.

I don't expect so much fun next week in Fenway. The Sox are better in their friendly confines and the Yankees will be seeing the reclusive Curt Schilling and the dreaded knuckler, Tim Wakefield.

Getting to the bottom of the wrong stories

Slate's Jack Shafer has a Plame update. He notes that if Nixon had had as hard-nosed a justice department investigator as the Plame inquiry's Fitzgerald, than we'd probably never have heard of Woodward and Bernstein.

The Plame case and the Watergate scandal aren't directly analogous, of course, but imagine how efficiently Richard Nixon could have ended the investigation by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein into the break-in and cover-up had his Justice Department had such a legal tool in its black bag. He could have shut down Woodward and Bernstein's investigation by using some allied criminal case as a pretext for subpoenaing them to name their anonymous sources. Neither reporter would have talked, but neither reporter would have been able to do much work from a jail cell. Just hinting that the government was thinking of subpoenaing the two reporters would have dried up their anonymous sources—and their potential anonymous sources.

All of this makes us wonder what would happen if the press put the same type of focus into who was the source of the Niger yellow cake documents -- you know, the ones Bush used to validate his rush to war -- as they do into who provided CBS with allegedly forged documents that merely confirm what we already know about Bush's National Guard (lack of) service?

Advance warning

Now it seems that Tony Blair's government anticipated the quagmire they and we were about to enter into.

Sir David Manning, Mr Blair's foreign policy adviser, returned from talks in Washington in mid-March 2002 warning that Mr Bush "still has to find answers to the big questions", which included "what happens on the morning after?".

In a letter to the Prime Minister marked "Secret - strictly personal", he said: "I think there is a real risk that the administration underestimates the difficulties.

"They may agree that failure isn't an option, but this does not mean they will necessarily avoid it."

The Cabinet Office said that the US believed that the legal basis for war already existed and had lost patience with the policy of containment.

It did not see the war on terrorism as being a major element in American decision-making.

"The swift success of the war in Afghanistan, distrust of UN sanctions and inspections regimes and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors," it added. That view appeared to be shared by Peter Ricketts, the Foreign Office policy director.

There were "real problems" over the alleged threat and what the US was looking to achieve by toppling Saddam, he said. Nothing had changed to make Iraqi WMD more of a threat.

"Even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years. Military operations need clear and compelling military objectives. For Iraq, 'regime change' does not stack up. It sounds like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam."

Tony Blair was the most effective defender of and cheerleader for the war. If this is true, than his credibility, like Powell's, has now been completely trashed.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Jenna and not-Jenna -- symbols of normalcy in these difficult times

The General lauds J&B's courageous leadership in partying for the homefront, and commends NJ state assemblyman Bill Baroni for putting that shrill Gold Star Mother in her insignificant place.

Eminent domain

I don't often find myself agreeing with George Will -- whether it comes to politics or baseball -- but he's got this one right.

If the court refuses to review the Connecticut ruling, its silence will effectively ratify state-level judicial vandalism that is draining the phrase "public use" of its power to perform the framers' clearly intended function. That function is to prevent untrammeled government power -- in a word, despotism.

A middle class neighborhood is condemned because the city of New London made promises to a big pharma company and wants to build luxury condos and increase the property tax base. It could happen to you.
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