Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush: "Absurd."

Anyone who alleges mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo is, clearly, an America-hater.

Asked about the recent Amnesty International report that censured the U.S. human rights record in detaining suspected terrorists, Bush reacted sharply, commenting on the criticism personally for the first time.

"I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation," Bush said. He said the United States "is a country that promotes freedom around the world" and fully investigates accusations of mistreatment "in a transparent way."

Bush said that "we've had thousands of people detained" and "we've investigated every single complaint against the detainees."

He added, "It seemed like to me they [Amnesty International] based some of their decisions on the word of and the allegations by people that were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained in some instances to disassemble, that means not tell the truth."

In a speech accompanying the release of Amnesty International's 2005 human rights report last week, Irene Khan, the group's secretary general, said, "Guantanamo has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law." She called on the United States to close the detention facility at its Cuban base and either release or charge its prisoners.

That's odd, as the Rude Pundit so discretely explains, Bush's White House didn't find Amnesty International's work so "absurd" when the organization was highlighting Saddam Hussein's record of torture. And, subsequently, being retroactively used to justify a war.

A final blow to the insurgency

Jesus' General has a brilliant idea for finally putting an end to the pesky insurgency in Iraq -- put Saddam to work now!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

The past is fast becoming the past.

The median age of all veterans is 57, with most who were in World War II past their mid-70's. (Nearly half of the World War II veterans describe themselves as disabled in some way.) The median age of Korean War veterans is 70; for Vietnam-era veterans it is 53.

Among veterans of World War II - the second-largest combat-era group, after Vietnam veterans - an average of 1,200 die each day.

"With the passing of every veteran," said Andrew Carroll, whose latest anthology of soldiers' letters is titled "Behind the Lines," "we lose one more voice to remind us of the harsh realities of warfare and the sacrifices demanded of those who serve, as well as of their loved ones on the home front."

"Many expressed to me a fear that war - and not any specific conflict, but warfare itself - was increasingly being romanticized in the popular culture, particularly with video games, movies, television shows and fashion (dog tags, camouflage gear, etc., are still all the rage)," Mr. Carroll said in an e-mail message.

How to succeed in this administration, without really trying

Josh Marshall has two tales of how the Pentagon rewards candor and honest intelligence these days. I'll give you a hint: the reality-based community is not fairing well.

Danika Patrick's big fat Indy 500

I have to say, I haven't bothered to watch the last 20 laps of the Indy 500 in quite a while. Danica Patrick is sure the phenom, despite a fourth place finish (which was hard to tell listening to the broadcast.

But of course, the familiar whining from the troglodytes is not unexpected.

Friday, May 27, 2005

20 years

I wasn't aware of this story until today's verdict.

It's seems unusual that an Australian going on a vacation in Bali would bring in 4+ kilos of marijuana in her (unlocked) boogie board bag.

A travesty and a tragedy.

20 years. Compared with 18 months for conspiring to kill nearly 90 people.

Bali won't be on my vacation plans. Between the bombings and the plantings, not so tourist-friendly.

Assault and battery

E.J. Dionne gets it exactly right.

But this particular anti-press campaign is not about Journalism 101. It is about Power 101. It is a sophisticated effort to demolish the idea of a press independent of political parties by way of discouraging scrutiny of conservative politicians in power. By using bad documents, Dan Rather helped Bush, not John Kerry, because Rather gave Bush's skilled lieutenants the chance to use the CBS mistake to close off an entire line of inquiry about the president. In the case of Guantanamo, the administration, for a while, cast its actions as less important than Newsweek's.

Meanwhile, Don Juan Williams does a fawning "casual" interview with Dr. Secretary Mistress Rice this morning, in which he asks what the administration is doing to deal with Muslims who feel the U.S. is "hostile" to them and their countries. Rice credits 60 years of Realpolitik and not encouraging democracy. Bafflingly, Williams fails to follow-up with the obvious: "But Ms. Sect'y, we're not talking about past hostility, we're talking about right now hostility. Do you think that maybe democracy at the point of a gun may have some unfortunate, unintended consequences?" But he does not do that. Instead he talks about the Stamford football team.

This administration and the press: Use those you can; flog those you can't.

Rubin to Dems: Don't get snookered on Social Security

Former Treasury Sect'y Bob Rubin went to Capitol Hill to buck up his fellow Democrats. Specifically, he told them to not fall into the trap of offering a plan of their own on Social Security until preznit and the Republican Congress offer one of their own. He also pointed out that compromise on Social Security is all but impossible unless Democrats are willing to sacrifice their own principles.

Rubin, who has gained huge stature in the party for presiding over the national finances during the Clinton boom years, counseled congressional Democrats against engaging Republicans on specifics. He urged them instead to cast the debate in terms of principles, with opposition to deficit spending as their guiding conviction.

“Putting out a Democrat plan on Social Security would be a horrible mistake because right now it’s the president’s principles against our principles,” Rubin said, according to a Democratic leadership aide. The aide added that Rubin told his party colleagues that it would be hard to win a battle of specifics.

In a sweeping review of the fiscal health of the country, the strength of the dollar and international trade, Rubin said that Social Security ranks third behind deficit reduction and Medicare reform as the most important economic policy issue facing the country. He also warned his fellow Democrats that they would need to work in a bipartisan manner with Republicans to address Medicare’s deep problems.

Another leadership aide said, “From a political standpoint, he said, hold firm because you have a difference in principles; their principle is a privatization plan, ours is not to add to the deficit, and there’s not a whole lot of room for compromise.

“They control the playing field. We can’t get into this debate without compromising our principles.”


Democratic lawmakers said that the encouragement from a Clinton administration figure would steel the caucus in its resolve to defeat the president’s Social Security plan. “Here’s a guy who was in a position of authority when we experienced this incredible amount of economic growth,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.). “It’s important that we hear from them from time to time. His whole take was no more deficit spending and no to the president’s Social Security plan.”

Josh Marshall agrees.

Geez, remember when we had a Treasury Secretary with stature? I know, it's hard to believe.

Whither Barack?

David Sirota wonders where Barack Obama has gone.

I share Sirota's frustration when looking at some of the votes Obama has cast, most glaringly on Democratic amendments to the bankruptcy bill. But I think Sirota's forgetting what Obama ran on, which was to be a centrist who would appeal to all of his Illinois constituents; it would be a mistake for Obama to be seen as voting in an exclusively partisan way. Nevertheless, it would be a shame if this great flame of progressiveness was a mirage.

House Majority Whipped

Now it can be told. Tom DeLay is a wuuuuuuusssssss.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representative Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused NBC on Thursday of slurring his name by including an unflattering reference to him on the NBC police drama "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

DeLay's name surfaced on Wednesday night on the show's season finale, which centered on the fictional slayings of two judges by suspected right-wing extremists.

In the episode, police are frustrated by a lack of clues, leading one officer to quip, "Maybe we should put out an APB (all-points-bulletin) for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

In a letter to NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, DeLay wrote: "This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse."

Um, and if anyone can be accused of "a reckless disregard for the suffering 'initiated' (huh?) by recent tragedies," well, that would be Bug Boy.

Is this victimization thing working for DeLay? Do his remaining supporters appreciate his endless public blubbering?

Meanwhile, the drumbeats down in Texas appear to be getting closer.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

"Juke Joint in the Sky"

Chrysler building
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
The Chrysler Building -- the most amazing structure in the most amazing skyline in the world -- turns 75 tomorrow.

In the annals of New York real estate, the height race of 1929 has never been surpassed in intensity and human drama. Two skyscrapers vied to be the world's tallest: the Chrysler Building, at 405 Lexington Avenue, and the Bank of the Manhattan Company Building, at 40 Wall Street.

Adding to the sense of showdown, the respective architects, William Van Alen and H. Craig Severance, were former associates who had parted acrimoniously a few years before. It was Van Alen who "finished" first, with newspaper accounts reporting that he would complete his nickel-chromium cupola 925 feet above street level. Severance promptly seized his chance. He ratcheted his tower slightly higher so that it could peer down on the Chrysler Building, haughty and smug, from a perch exactly two feet higher.

Every New Yorker knows the end of the story: inside the Chrysler dome, in immense secrecy, a massive metal spire was being constructed. As soon as Severance's building was near completion, the Chrysler majestically deployed its spire, releasing it like the stinger of a colossal wasp. The building's tip rose and rose, finally topping out at 1,046 feet, making the Chrysler the tallest building in the world and - even after the Empire State Building surpassed it less than a year later - the apotheosis of modern American striving.

The New York Times devotes its entire "House & Home" section to this marvel of kitchy but cool architecture, with reports on the former glory of the restaurant that used to be near the top of the building, and some of the lucky tenants perched within its spire.

Filibuster this!

But, but, I thought...

The back-and-forth came as Mr. Specter and other supporters of embryonic stem cell research made a push for the Senate to take up the legislation. The majority leader, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, has not said whether or when he will do so.

And at least one opponent of the measure, Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, has indicated that if Dr. Frist puts the bill on the agenda, he may try to block it by filibuster.

"I have conveyed to Senate leadership that we must do everything we can procedurally to stop unethical embryonic stem cell research in the Senate, and I will work to do just that," Mr. Brownback said in a statement released Tuesday night. "We simply should not go down the road of using taxpayer dollars to kill young humans."

Though, to be fair, I too am opposed to "unethical embryonic stem cell research in the Senate." I've seen Bill Frist in action.

They're coming

Jeter grows extra appendages
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
The Yankees (and the Blue Jays) now trail the Red Sox by a half game, with Boston coming to town this weekend.

In the Detroit seventh, with two runners on, one run in, one out and the Tigers threatening to rally for more, Jeter chased a pop fly off the bat of Marcus Thames that had drifted in the wind to short center field. Also in pursuit were Robinson Cano, the rookie second baseman, and Bernie Williams, charging in from center field.

Jeter caught up to Cano and the ball at about the same time, running over Cano while making the catch with his back to the infield, both players losing their caps as they tumbled to the ground, but Jeter holding onto the ball and keeping the two runners where they were.

A few weeks ago, with the Yankees' luck being what it was, Jeter would have dropped the ball and both players would have had to be helped off thefield. Luck's a funny thing in a long baseball season.

They're still four and a half games behind the Orioles, but it was expected it would take until the end of June for them to gain this much ground on the AL East leaders. And, as evidenced by Jeter's play, they're not taking anything for granted this year.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Waivering chairs

As Steve Goldman notes, with all the injuries Ken Griffey Jr. has suffered since joining the Reds, you'd think they'd hire him a clubhouse acupunturist.

The Reds are a bad baseball club. One of the worst in the major leagues. This story provides a little indication as to why they hold that dubious distinction.

On Tuesday, it wasn't a matter of "who," but "what," as manager Dave Miley had the two Sharper Image massage chairs owned by outfielders Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. removed from the clubhouse.

And with the clubhouse still reeling over the loss of popular closer Danny Graves, who was designated for assignment a day earlier, some players saw this move as somewhat comical.

Dunn had grown quite attached to his chair, which he bought last season. It was a popular tool several players used before pregame stretching.

"I don't know where they're hiding it," Dunn said of his chair. "I need it, though. My back hurts. It's therapeutic. That's what they're there for."

What followed for Dunn was an equally therapeutic lament over the loss of his beloved chair. The big left fielder looked as though he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"Poor little guy," he said, looking at the spot where the chair once sat. "He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't complain. He just came to play every day."

Griffey Jr., who bought his chair just a few days ago, had no comment. He'll probably make a statement by getting injured and missing the rest of the season...again.

The Purple Dinosaur of Abu Ghraib

Warning: Insane conspiracy-mongering ahead!

With Lynndie England about to go back on trial, the reports about the abuse of prisoners at Bagram air base, and the Newsweek imbroglio, these passages have been haunting me.

In May 2003, a little piece of the First Earth Battalion philosophy was put into practice, by PsyOps, behind a disused railway station in the tiny Iraqi town of al-Qa'im, on the Syrian border, shortly after President Bush had announced "the end of major hostilities."

The story begins with a meeting between two Americans -- a Newsweek journalist named Adam Piore and a PsyOps sergeant named Mark Hadsell.


One night, Adam was hanging out in the squadron command center when Sergeant Hadsell wandered over to him. Hadsell winked conspiratorially and said, "Go look out where the prisoners are."

Adam knew that the prisoners were housed in a yard behind the train station. The army had parked a convoy of shipping containers back there, and as Adam wandered toward he could see a bright flashing light. He could hear music too. It was Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

From a distance it looked as though some weird and slightly sinister disco was taking place amid the shipping containers. The music sounded especially tinny , and the light was being joylessly flashed on and off, on and off.

Adam walked toward the light. It was really bright. It was being held by a young American soldier, and he was just flashing it on and off, on and off, in the shipping container. "Enter Sandman" was reverberating inside the container, echoing violently around the steel walls. Adam stood there for a moment and watched.

The song ended and then, immediately, it began again.

The young soldier holding the light glanced over at Adam. He continued flashing it and said, "You need to go away now."

"Ha! " said Adam to me, back in the Newsweek offices. "That's the term he used. 'You need to go away.'"

"Did you look inside the container?" I asked him.

"No," said Adam. "When the guy told me that I had to go away, I went away." He paused. "But was kind of obvious what was going on in there."

Adam called Newsweek from his cell phone and pitched them a number of stories. Their favorite was the Metallica one.

"I was told to write it as a humorous thing," said Adam. "They wanted a complete playlist."

So Adam asked around. It turned out that the songs being blasted at prisoners inside the shipping container included Metallica's "Enter Sandman"; the soundtrack to the movie XXX; a song that went "Burn Motherfucker, Burn"; and, rather more surprisingly, the "I Love You" song from Barney & Friends...

Adam e-mailed the article to New York, where a Newsweek editor phoned the Barney people for a comment. He was put on hold. The on-hold music was the Barney "I Love You" song.

The last line of the article, written by the Newsweek editors, was: "It broke us too!"

--Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, "The Purple Dinosaur"

Adam Piore himself had told me that he was finding the impact of his Barney story quite baffling.

It has had a tremendous amount of attention," he said. "When I was in Iraq my girlfriend called to tell me she'd seen it scroll across the CNN ticker. I didn't believe her. I thought there must be some mistake. But then Fox News wanted to interview me. Then I heard it was on the Today show. Then I saw it in Stars & Stripes."

"How did they report it?" I asked him.

"As humorous," said Adam. "Always as humorous."


Kenneth Roth, of Human Rights Watch, could read the mood. He realized that if his responses to the journalists were overly austere, it would seem that he wasn't getting it. He would sound like a sourpuss.

So he said to journalists, myself included, "I have small kids. I can understand being driven crazy by the Barney theme song! If I had to have 'I Love You, You Love Me' played at high decibel over and over for hours, I might be willing to confess to anything as well!"

And the journalists laughed, but he would quickly add, "And I wonder what else is going on in those shipping containers while the music is being played! Perhaps the prisoners are being kicked around. Perhaps they're naked with a bag on their head. Perhaps they're chained and hanging upside down...[sic]"

But the journalists rarely, if ever, included those possibilities in their stories.

By the time I met Kenneth Roth he was clearly sick of talking about Barney.

"They have," said Kenneth, "been very savvy in that respect."

"Savvy?" I said.

He seemed to be implying that the Barney story had been deliberately disseminated just so all the human-rights violations being committed in postwar Iraq could be reduced to this one joke.

I put this to him and he shrugged his. He didn't know what was going on. That, he said, was the problem.

--Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats, "The Predator"

One of the things that has always struck me about the Abu Ghraib...for lack of a better word...scandal is that while it is true that the release of the photos made the prison a household name and provoked more widespread disgust among Americans than would the clinical descriptions of what went on, the photos also seemed to be a means to hide the larger story. What's going on outside of the picture's frame? Why does England look so desultory as she holds the leash? Why, after all, would they take the photos to begin with? Would they have done so if they thought they were doing anything wrong? That seems unlikely to me, and I don't mean just "morally wrong," but rather wrong in terms of violating military rules. Perhaps they misunderstood their orders, but it has always seemed to me that they were acting on some kind of orders.

Charges against England were abruptly dismissed Wednesday after a judge at Fort Hood, Tex., determined that England's guilty pleas were inappropriate. Testimony from Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr. -- formerly England's lover and a higher-ranking Army soldier -- indicated that England was following orders and would not have known that her actions were wrong. Graner is serving a 10-year sentence for the abuse and is appealing his guilty verdict.

Graner's testimony indicated that England had not conspired with him to humiliate and abuse detainees, and a judge ruled that England could not then plead guilty to the charge. A few days earlier, England had agreed to accept responsibility for her actions in exchange for a lighter sentence than the 16 1/2 years in prison that she faced.

England appeared in some of the most iconic photographs of the Abu Ghraib abuse, the most notorious of which showed her posing with a naked detainee who was tethered to a leash. Graner said the tactic is standard in corrections to control unruly prisoners and that England posed thinking it was appropriate.

If the photos had a purpose beyond a few sadistic freaks wanting to share their illicit and illegal hobby with the folks back home, which, again, I think is surely the case, what was the purpose or purposes?

Were they going to be used by interrogators within Abu Ghraib to scare the shit out of other prisoners? Plausible. "Talk, or we'll put you on an unclean dog's leash and have our women drag you around naked." "Confess, or you'll be posing naked in a pyramid with the other Iraqi scum."

Or were they intended as a form of blackmail? If I'm not mistaken, the only soldiers who have been tried for the abuses at the prison have been those featured in the photos. Were they incriminated so that, should the abuses come out, they would be forced to take a plea deal in exchange for not naming other names? Perhaps less plausible, but not impossible.

Or was it something else that led those photos to be taken, and later, to be released to a horrified world?

Legal Fiction has been thinking along very different, but in some ways parallel lines, noting the consistent themes of some of the recent public outrage over press reports.

The point is that even if the Newsweek reporter was sloppy, the larger critique is true -- and everyone knows it. We torture people and tailor our torture to offend their specific religious and cultural beliefs. And this understandably bothers Bush supporters who like to preach about their morality and the moral superiority of our foreign policy. So they ignore it. But the dissonance doesn't go away. And thus when Isikoff comes along with sloppy fact-checking, the Hyena Chorus pounces and their shrieking strikes a chord precisely because it eases cognitive dissonance and distracts Bush supporters form the fact that they are ignoring a policy that will go down with Tuskegee and Japanese internment as one of the great moral stains of American history. This is also why the White House was so eager to jump on it. I suspect that even they have some sleepless nights when they reflect on what they have done, and how a tribunal at the Hague may view it years down the road when the full story is known.

Publius's point is that the sloppiness of the Rather memo screw up and Mike Isikoff's less than robust sourcing permitted stories that were basically true to be blown off the public consciousness. In both cases the sloppiness afforded an opening to the ever-present charge of "media bias" -- against Bush and against the military -- permitting supporters of Bush and the war to maintain their unsullied consciences by giving them an alternative narrative to focus on.

In some ways the Abu Ghraib photos had a similar effect. Yes, they were horrifying, disgusting, an insult to the honor of our fighting men and women. "But, but," we heard after the initial shock had begun to wane, "well, at least we're not killing anyone in Abu Ghraib. We shut down the 'rape rooms, didn't we?"

And the spin machine was set in motion.

Rush Limbaugh reliably rushed in to easily fill the gaping void that left those who unquestionably "Support the Troops!" not sure what to make of it.

Rumsfeld could express his disgust, and apologize (to whom and for what...not sure) before Congress, but without being required to take any responsibility.

And Bush could express his disgust, and apologize (to whom and for what...not sure), but insist that interrogators in Iraq followed the law, without stating whether he believes torture is legal or not.

And the rest of us could go on in the knowledge that we, as a nation don't condone such behavior; that what happened at Abu Ghraib was an isolated instance by a few "hillbillies"; that, really, what's the big deal?; that we really don't want to know why the detainee in the photo looks so terrified at merely being dragged on a leash, so let's just focus on the leash...and Lynndie England; that we hear there's more pictures that are even more horrific, but please god, I've seen enough; etc. And put another yellow magnetic ribbon on the back of the SUV.

Were the photos taken in an elaborate plot to lay the blame on a few individuals and mask the far harsher interrogation methods being used at the prison?

Seems crazy, right?

To paraphrase what Kenneth Roth Human Rights Watch said of the hilarious Barney theme story, I wonder what else is going on while those photos are being taken.

Maybe it does seems pretty unlikely that the photos were taken to turn this story into an "I Love You" Barney joke -- I tend to go with the PsyOps using them to break other prisoners theory -- but the photos did have the perhaps unintended consequence of diverting attention from the real story of how torture is being used in the so-called War on Terror.

Doing a Google search to see if there has been any official "response" to Ronson's entertaining, disturbing, whacked out book (none that I can find), I did find that Ronson comes to similar conclusions.

ID: Gaps in fossil record or a gap between the ears

Richard Dawkins finds that there's a lot the matter with Kansas and seems, er, fed up.

The creationists’ fondness for “gaps” in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God’s gift to Kansas.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

14 U.S. soldiers dead in three days

It's all Newsweek's fault.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomb exploded next to a U.S. Army convoy in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing three soldiers, while another American died in a drive-by shooting a half-hour later. Their deaths pushed the number of U.S. troops killed in three days to 14, part of a surge in attacks that have also killed about 60 Iraqis.

In the northern city of Tal Afar, there were reports that militants were in control and that Shiites and Sunnis were fighting in the streets, a day after two car bombs killed at least 20 people. Police Capt. Ahmed Hashem Taki said Tal Afar was experiencing "civil war." Journalists were blocked from entering the city of 200,000.

The AP story also contained this curious paragraph:

The deaths come as American troops are trying to pave the way for a graceful exit from Iraq by giving more responsibility to the country's security forces. But with the Iraqis still relatively weak, U.S. troops remain in the firing line, targeted by insurgents that have shown increasing abilities to attack when and where they please.

Yes, American troops desperately want Iraqi security forces to take the battle against the insurgents (or "terrorists" or whatever you feel is morally least ambiguous) off their hands. But, to-date, neither Bush nor Rumsfeld has answered the question -- and Congress has yet to demand they do: Do they intend to establish permanent military bases or outposts in Iraq?

Early on, it was thought that one of the "lucky coincidences" of a successful invasion of Iraq (and, really, is there any other kind?), would give the U.S. the opportunity to establish bases in Iraq to replace those in Saudi Arabia, where U.S. bases' proximity to Mecca and Medina are such a source of Islamist rage (not that we ever admit that U.S. actions are the cause of anything). Just because the neocons are silent on that now doesn't mean it's not still the plan. And that means leaving many thousands of U.S. troops not "exiting gracefully" anytime soon. And that means continuing to leave many thousands of U.S. troops easy targets during the ensuing civil war.

Must be a lotta prefrontal damage going on

Researchers in Israel may have determined why Irony is dead to a little more than half the U.S. electorate.

No, it's true -- many of you don't go a day without dishing out several doses of sarcasm. But some brain-damaged people can't comprehend sarcasm, and Israeli researchers think it's because a specific brain region has gone dark.

The region, according to the researchers, handles the task of detecting hidden meaning, a crucial component of sarcasm. If that part of the brain is out of commission, the irony doesn't come through, the scientists report in the May issue of Neuropsychology.

"People with prefrontal brain damage suffer from difficulties in understanding other people's mental states, and they lack empathy," said study co-author Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a researcher at the University of Haifa. "Therefore, they can't understand what the speaker really is talking about, and get only the literal meaning."

This explains so much.

Piazza strikes out

Mike Piazza, catcher for the Metropolitans, was once one of the greats (at least offensively) at the position. No longer. He can no longer hit consistently and he's certainly never been able to field his position or call a game, and this year, he get's more days off then Jon Stewart.

Oh. And he's an idiot.


Mike Piazza, who was not in the starting lineup, spent his free time getting a baseball autographed by the radio commentator Rush Limbaugh. "It was like meeting George Washington," Piazza said.

If, you know, George Washington were a cowardly, bloated, oxy-contin addict.

Tom Friedman's head is flat, or, magniloquence inspiring eloquence

Tom Friedman's flat, dull prose, his self-reverance, and his recitations of the banal posing as astonished revelation combine to inspire much better and more knowledgable writers to great heights in poetry and prose.

UPDATED to fix the stupid typo in the headline.

WA GOP: looking for a few activist judges

George Howland gives us the run-down on the Washington governor's race imbroglio and what it could mean for statehouse elections, nation-wide.

Even if Gregoire rebounds in terms of public opinion, the impact of the GOP’s killer combo of a crack p.r. campaign and an enduring legal challenge is not lost on political professionals around the country. Strategic Vision’s CEO David Johnson, a national Republican political consultant in Atlanta, says, “The political class, consultants -- everybody is taking a look at it.” Mark Mellman, a national Democratic consultant from Washington, DC, who worked for Gregoire in 2004, agrees: “There’s no question that not only the consultants but also the parties are looking at this case. It could well encourage many future challenges in many future close elections.”

The system of election administration in our country has a margin of error. Political professionals know this and are already using it to calculate whether an election is beyond “the margin of litigation,” as conservative writer John Fund has put it. Professor Rick Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola University Law School, notes that the number of election challenges has already climbed in the wake of Bush v. Gore, from 62 cases in 1998 to 250 cases in 2002. He says the lesson that political professionals have learned is that it is OK to challenge close elections. “There is much less concern about damage to the democratic process and more concern about who won.”

A Rossi court victory could open the floodgates to election challenges around the country. An increase in challenges would make the peaceful transition between office holders more contentious and difficult and would fuel the bitterness of both the grassroots and the elected officials. That bitterness, in turn, would feed into the governing process, making elected officials of both parties less likely to cooperate across party lines to pursue sensible legislation that represents the public interest.

Amazing how quickly Republicans turn to the courts when they're on the losing side of elections. But you knew that.

One thing that hasn't come up with this, though, that I'd be interested in hearing more about. The GOP is basing their case on statistical analysis of voting patterns. Doesn't this sound suspiciously like the statistical analysis Republicans opposed prior to the 2000 U.S. census? Like most things, this is way out of the "sweet spot" of any expertise I may have, but I sure would like to understand that aspect of this a whole lot better.

"Extraordinary circumstances"

Not sure what this means.

Fourteen Republican and Democratic senators broke with their party leaders last night to avert a showdown vote over judicial nominees, agreeing to votes on some of President Bush's nominees while preserving the right to filibuster others in "extraordinary circumstances."

Obviously, no circumstances are extraordinary enough for the majority party to accept a filibuster, so this issue isn't going away.

The big victors here are the corporate interests who didn't want their sweetheart pro-business legislation getting held up by a Senate at war with itself, even if it meant foregoing a couple of pro-business judges. Now, they get their judges and their legislation too. Congrats to them.

It seems to me the Dems cut a fairly raw deal for themselves on this one; it's going to be awfully hard to watch Brown and Owens get confirmed. Perhaps, as Josh Marshall writes, it was the best they could do to stop, even for a moment or an inch, the absolutists on the other side of the aisle and in the White House. They wanted it all, and they're not going to get it all, at least today.

But the Kabuki theater is something to behold. 14 Senators patting themselves on the back as the sage elders of the institution; Democrats declaring victory; the radical clerics condemning the compromise; Senators on both sides pretending that they'll now be considered a branch of government equal to the executive.

"We're going to start talking about who would be a good judge and who wouldn't," said negotiator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). "And the White House is going to get more involved and they are going to listen to us more."

I'll bet Dick Cheney spit out his cornflakes in a great guffaw when he read that one this morning.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Oh no, we've lost another one.

I began my activist career championing the 1968 presidential candidacies of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, because both promised to end America's misadventure in Vietnam. I marched for peace and farm worker justice, lobbied for women's right to choose and environmental protections, signed up with George McGovern in 1972 and got elected as the youngest delegate ever to a Democratic convention.

Eventually I joined the staff of U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio. In short, I became a card-carrying liberal, although I never actually got a card. (Bookkeeping has never been the left's strong suit.) All my commitments centered on belief in equal opportunity, due process, respect for the dignity of the individual and solidarity with people in trouble. To my mind, Americans who had joined the resistance to Franco's fascist dystopia captured the progressive spirit at its finest.

T-bogg notes that this has all of the ingredients of the right wing conversion, the youthful idealism, the marching, the card-carrying.

But, of course, 9-11 and the America-hating of our leading Democrats, Susan Sontag, Chomsky, Vidal, Mailer, etc., just ruined the whole progressive thing for him.

Perhaps I'm worrying for no reason, but I am beginning to think we're losing liberals faster than Dayton is losing drivers.

"Why oh why..." Geez, the Associate Press is a disgrace

Via Jesse Taylor at Pandagon (and what is with their site's logo?), comes this gem from an AP report on a gathering of so-called atheists in San Fran.

Just how tolerant of Christianity and other religions are the atheists?

“We don’t hate Christians,” said David Fitzgerald, 40, an insurance broker and member of San Francisco Atheists. “People in this country are free to believe in whatever they want.”

Nonetheless, during the Saturday night movie, the crowd booed and hissed when a photo of Pat Robertson was displayed on the screen.

Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network and a former U.S. presidential candidate, is a leader in the efforts by some religious groups to return America and its government to Christian values.[emphasis...well, duh]

Whaaaa? "Return" our government to its Christian values? Can't return to a place you've never been. If we had a press corps that gave a damn, we'd be fighting to return our government to its enlightenment values. You know, science, reason. That stuff. Instead we have a fight to ensure that movie promotional devices are given a place of honor in our courthouses.

And as an aside, booing Pat Robertson, that false prophet of profits does not equal being intolerant of Christians. Just assholes.

Terrible twos

The Vega despises self-reverential bloggers (especially ones that refer to themselves in the third-person, but that's a story for another day). But, I would like to thank all the readers and encouragement over the past two years.

To think that it all started with the resignation of Ari Fleischer and a Yankees/Red Sox series.

Hey, tax reform doesn't come cheap.

The burgeoning maelstrom of l'affaire Abramoff keeps picking up more and more flotsam.
One was a $750-an-hour lobbyist, the other an antitax activist, and they helped drive the Republican takeover of the capital and cement the party's power. Both had a close ally in the House majority leader, Tom DeLay. And they shared a conservative ideology and a friendship going back to their days in college.

Now, with widening Congressional and criminal inquiries in the capital into Mr. Abramoff's dealings, they are sharing trouble, too.

While Mr. Abramoff has been under scrutiny for more than a year, Mr. Norquist has attracted unwelcome attention in recent weeks. A Congressional committee investigating whether Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes has subpoenaed records from Mr. Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform, after he refused for six months to turn them over voluntarily.

The Justice Department is reviewing records of an advocacy group Mr. Norquist started with Gale A. Norton, now secretary of the interior, after reports that Mr. Abramoff instructed Indian tribes to give it $250,000. And Mr. Norquist's name appears over and over in newly disclosed documents outlining Mr. Abramoff's work in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American protectorate in the Pacific, which Democrats are agitating to investigate.

In interviews, Mr. Norquist dismissed any suggestion of wrongdoing on his part and said that the only reason he is "getting dragged into this" is because Senator John McCain, the head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is investigating Mr. Abramoff, holds a grudge against Mr. Norquist for campaigning for President Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries.

"McCain hates me," he said.

And rightly so, given Norquist's never ending jihad against any Republican that doesn't line up faithfully behind Grover's pet causes.

The Indian Casinos scandal is, truly, the gift that keeps on giving.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Okrent names names

The Times first public editor sings his dying swan song.

2. Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

Isn't it curious that in citing these three columnists, Okrent provides specific instances of Dowd's and Safire's crimes against humanity, but can only serve up a generalized mention of Krugman's "habit?" Krugman gets this charge all of the time. Krugman is an economist. I am not, but it seems to me that economists take the available data and use it to build a narrative that supports a hypothesis. If he is wong, if he applies poor or poorly used data, then he should be criticized. If not, I don't see where this "substantive assaults" are coming from. "Assaults," yes, "substantive," no.
Any way, Okrent's real crime was inventing Rotisserie Baseball.

UPDATE: I see Jesse takes issue with all unlucky 13.

Sanctus Santorum

Via Atrios, Will Bunch annotates, if you will, the love note the New York Times Magazine sent to L'il Ricky this weekend.

And his critique doesn't even mention this time-worn paragraph that seems to turn up in every New York Times story about Pennsylvania politics.

Even his Democratic challenger signifies Santorum's influence. The national party and Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania have chosen Robert Casey Jr., an abortion opponent, a Catholic and the son of the late Gov. Robert Casey Sr., who was barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his antiabortion views. (Casey Sr. was the defendant in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the landmark case in which the Supreme Court upheld the right to abortion it initially found in Roe v. Wade.) Santorum trails Casey in early polls, but in one sense he has already won: no matter who wins the election, his position on abortion, Santorum's central issue, will be represented in Washington.

Bull. Casey's "views" were never the issue. Now, it's been debated since that convention whether Casey was barred because of his refusal to endorse the Clinton/Gore ticket or Casey's avowal to give a pro-life speech at the convention. Either way, we're not talking "views." Why would the Clinton/Gore team give a speaking role to someone critical of Clinton/Gore, or to someone about to criticize the party's platform? Would Bush Bush/Quayle have done that?

The melody changes, but the words never change.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Tell me again...we're winning, right?

Terry McDermitt, a reporter for the LA Times, has just published "Perfect Soldiers," a detailed study into many of the Sept. 11 2001 hijackers. It reinforces something I've been thinking for three years. The fundamentalists who pose the greatest danger to Westerners in their home countries are not the ones Bush said to "Bring em on" in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Such glimpses of the hijackers' pre-9/11 lives not only underscore just how ordinary many of these men were, but also suggest, as Mr. McDermott writes, that it is "likely there are a great many more men just like them" out there in the world. It ominously suggests how widely the idea of jihad has taken hold among middle class citizens in the Middle East, and it suggests that Al Qaeda has found willing recruits among Muslims who came from "apolitical and unexceptional backgrounds."

Indeed, "Perfect Soldiers" replaces the caricatures of outsize "evil geniuses" and "wild-eyed fanatics" with portraits of the 9/11 plotters as surpassingly mundane people, people who might easily be our neighbors or airplane seatmates. It gives us pictures of Jarrah signing his notes to Ms. Sengün "with a long drawn-out goodbyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, followed by multiple exclamation points," of Mohamed el-Amir (a k a Mohamed Atta) as a slight young man padding about his student apartment in blue flip-flops, of Ramzi bin al-Shibh going on dates with a modern-dance student and subsisting on frozen pizzas with tuna.

There's not much new in the book, at least if you've paid attention. But it is a reminder that the poor illiterate goatherds swept up in the quick war in Afghanistan or the suicidal murderers pouring over the border into Iraq are not the ones who will devise simple, yet devastating ways to inflict damage on innocents in Western cities.

No, they're students, teachers, young entrepreneurs also residing in Western cities seething with rage and impotence as they watch the news from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

This is not to say we should be rounding up students, teachers, and young entrepreneurs, nor is it to say that it was U.S. actions that directly resulted in the destruction of the World Trade Towers. It is to say, though, that bin Laden's effort to engage and enrage the larger Islamic world may be coming to pass, fertilized by the mindless way in which Bush and the neocons have chosen to address the threat of Islamict terrorism.

Revenge of the Geekth

Roy Odrosa observes what happens when the nerds at The Corner find everything they ever believed and held dear has been snatched away from their fingertips (despite the stickiness).

It's not pretty.

Springs onto the stage NRO Corner initiate John Podhoretz to pre-empt the fondness of his fellow fantasy worshippers. "Unbelievably bad," he sayeth, "I'm telling you this because movie critics won't," the Commie bastards! Following up he adds: "Evidently 25 years into the Star Wars empire, George Lucas decided he just doesn't like war... Inadvertently, both Lucas and the Wachowski brothers (who wrote and directed the Matrix movies) reveal with their brainless anti-Bushism the essential cowardly vapidity of pacifism." When challenged chapter-and-verse by Star Wars obsessives from the outlands, Podhoretz shrugs and, in the time honored Jonah Goldberg "anyway it's late and I haved to walk the dog" manner, says, "It's almost impossible to wade through all the nonsense on the Web to get to the bottom of this, and to be perfectly honest, I have no interest in doing so."

As someone named Anakin, or something, says, or something: "You're either with me or against me."

What will all these dorks do with all the Star Wars action figures cluttering their bedrooms as they whine, "Luke, Hans, Leia, you wouldn't abandon us, would you?"

Friday dog blogging

A dog dreams
Originally uploaded by vegacura.
Dreams you'll never see

What the "S" in "Santorum" stands for

"Stupid," apparently.


Remember, it's not the abuse that "tarnishes" our image in the Middle East and Central Asia, its the reporting of it.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.

In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.

In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

The Times obtained a copy of the file from a person involved in the investigation who was critical of the methods used at Bagram and the military's response to the deaths.

The military maintains that the "techniques" used in Bagram are generally accepted interrogation techniques. If true, then sickening.

And, at the same time, the Muslim world goes into collective rage at the thought of the pages of a fucking book being flushed down a toilet, but shrug their shoulders at reports of abuse of their countrymen.

The only positive to come out of this report is that there are still some soldiers with a sense of decency.

In late August of last year, shortly before the Army completed its inquiry into the deaths, Sergeant Yonushonis, who was stationed in Germany, went at his own initiative to see an agent of the Criminal Investigation Command. Until then, he had never been interviewed.

"I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case," he said. "I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive."

Sergeant Yonushonis described what he had witnessed of the detainee's last interrogation. "I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking," he said.

He also added a detail that had been overlooked in the investigative file. By the time Mr. Dilawar was taken into his final interrogations, he said, "most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent."

But all too often, the so-called War on Terror is unleashing the worst of our country's nature.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

When moderates attack

Whaaa? Seems the moderates in the House GOP aren't following Tom DeLay's script.

The issue prompted intense debate Wednesday within the Republican caucus, which met behind closed doors in late afternoon to discuss it. Some Republicans were seething over a poll conducted by the Winston Group and partly financed by the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of moderates. Mr. Castle is the partnership's president.

The survey questioned voters in 13 Republican districts and found that 66 percent supported embryonic stem cell research, while 27 percent were opposed. But lawmakers in those districts, including Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the third-ranking Republican in the House, were not told about the poll and were caught off guard by it.

Mr. Blunt emerged tight-lipped from Wednesday's meeting, brushing aside questions from supporters, except to say that he did not support Mr. Castle's bill.

Read on. The American Catholic Church sounds more like a PAC -- or a K Street lobbyist -- every day.

The Vega scouting report

I hope the Yankees are gonna keep an eye on this young right hander.

"She's very bashful, but very talented," said Jeff Sage, a Rochester firefighter and the manager of Katie's team, the Dodgers. Her pitching on Saturday mowed down the opposing Yankees in an 11-0 shutout before a stunned crowd of about 100 parents and friends in the bleachers of the Oakfield Town Park.

"I can't imagine being a boy that has to face her at the plate," said Eric Klotzbach, an engineer and the president of Katie's seven-team league in Genesee County. "It has got be a shot to the ego."

11-year old Katie Brownell faced 18 batters in the regulation six-inning Little League game. She struck out 18. She didn't go to a ball three count on any of 'em.

Oh, and she's batting .714.

"Double secret probation"

Daniel Gross seems strangely unimpressed by Treasury Secty Snow's stern admonition to the Chinese to stop being labelled "currency manipulators." Or something.

Dean Wormer, indeed.

It's the damned liburol media's fault

Why do they hate Amerika so, printing obvious lies from the mouths...of U.S. commanders?

General Abizaid, whose Central Command headquarters exercises oversight of the war, said the Iraqi police - accounting for 65,000 of the 160,000 Iraqis now trained and equipped in the $5.7 billion American effort to build up security forces - are "behind" in their ability to shoulder a major part of the war effort. He blamed a tendency among Iraqi police to operate as individuals rather than in cohesive units, and said this made them more vulnerable to insurgents' intimidation.

Another American officer, in an e-mail message from Baghdad, suggested a wider problem in preparing Iraqi forces capable of taking over much of the fighting, which was the Pentagon's goal when it ordered a top-to-bottom shakeout last year in the retraining effort. He said the numbers of Iraqi troops and police officers graduating from training were only one measure of success.

"Everyone looks at the number of Iraqi forces and scratches their heads, but it is more complex than that," he said. "We certainly don't want to put forces into the fight before they can stand up, as in Falluja," the battle last November that gave American commanders their first experience of Iraqi units, mostly highly trained special forces' units, that could contribute significantly to an American offensive.

One of starkest revelations by the commanders involved the surge in car bombings, the principal insurgent weapon in attacks over the past three weeks that have killed nearly 500 people across central and northern Iraq, about half of them Iraqi soldiers, police officers and recruits.

Last week, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American trainer in Iraq, defended the Iraqi security forces, saying in an e-mail message, "They are operating effectively with coalition forces - and, in some cases, are operating independently - in the effort to find the locations at which vehicles are rigged with explosives."

The senior officer who met with reporters in Baghdad said there had been 21 car bombings in the capital in May, and 126 in the past 80 days. All last year, he said, there were only about 25 car bombings in Baghdad.

We continue to await the ole perfesser's sputtering indignation with these traitors.

Still waiting.

Or maybe any day now we'll hear a tirade from Scottie McClellan over the Washington Time's role in the Pakistan riots.

Still waiting.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Bernabe!, pt. 2

Those dearest of Dear Readers, who regularly read this creeping blogavillea, wading patiently through posts that alternate between spitting denunciations of God's Own Party and rhapsodies (or hand wringing) on the Yankees, know that one of my favorite Yankees of the current (perhaps waning) dynasty is their former (definitely and sadly waning) everyday center fielder, Bernie Williams.

Why, you ask? Sure, he's got good numbers, fourth on the all-time Yankee grand slam list behind such nobodies as Lou Gherig, Joe DiMaggio, and one Babe Ruth (he just surpassed a previous switch hitter on the list, Mickey Mantle). The best player patrolling the vast wasteland of Yankee Stadium's center field since the aforementioned Mantle, and a sure bet for the Hall of Fame until age hit him early in the form of excruciating pain in both shoulders, derailing his quietly brilliant career. But, when you got a team with players like Jeter, Rodriguez, Martinez, Posada (the best Yankee catcher since Munson, maybe better), Rivera, etc., why revere him above all others?

Well, besides the fact that I think he's still gonna do the job should the Yankees make it through The Summer of Excitement™ and into October, he says and does things like this.

That's what happened last night. Although Joe Torre said after Williams' dramatic homer Monday night that he would consider changing his plan and play the switch-hitter, he ultimately opted to sit Williams and tab him for today's lineup as originally scheduled.

Williams, however, is not upset about his place in Yankeeland. He is realistic, refusing to admit that his ego has suffered a blow.

"At this point in my career, who cares what I do?" he said. "All we care about is winning games and getting to the postseason."

And he means it.

How many players at his level are that humble, team focused, and, strangest of all, able to have that kind of perspective on the end of a career?

Oh, and as for Torre's decision? Giambi had his first good night since the 7th game of the 2003 ALCS, and the Yankees won their tenth straight, the first time they've gone ten in a row since 1998, which was a pretty decent year for the bombers.

Scatological eschatology

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned while attending a liberal arts college lo those many years ago, was the crucial importance of differentiating between the words "scatology" and "eschatology."

Which is why it is so strange that in an era where eschatology feels more and more useful to study, the role of scatology seems to be playing a bigger and bigger part in the "end times" we are contemplating.

This week it's the story of the Qu'ran in the toilet that has ruined our otherwise stellar reputation in the Arab world. Before that it was stories of baseball players in bathroom stalls poking each other in the butts with needles full of steroids that posed the greatest threat to our nation. Not strictly fecal in nature, I know, but close enough to make me wonder what the hell's going on here.

Maybe it's this: when the going gets tough, the tough retreat to the bathroom with something amusing to read.

Our nation's press: rolled again

At the risk of being repetetive, when will the major news outlets get wise to this?

Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

"In the course of any administration," he continued, "you have three or four opportunities, at most, with a high-profile press mistake. And if you're going to make a point - and no White House is ever going to love the way it's covered - you have to highlight those places where there is a screw-up."

Some news media commentators said that the White House was blaming the press for problems of its own making.

"This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic," said Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war."

But damn, they're good. Listening to sports talk radio yesterday afternoon (I was stuck on the Whitestone Bridge, on my way to "Asian Night" at Shea Stadium), one of the bloviators interrupted his list of what's wrong with the Yankees, to screech that "No patriotic American should ever buy Newsweek again!" Must have said it eight times in ten minutes. The kool-aid on this one has been particularly powerful out there on the airwaves.

Newsweek's editor's rolled onto their backs and exposed their bellies to little Scottie McClellan's vague menacing. They have only themselves to blame for this (although Spikey's role in all of this has sure been underexposed...via Atrios). And another channel for Americans to get real news of what our gov'mint is doing is now closed off, at least for the time being.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


The distinguished Senator whom Attaturk fondly refers to as "Asshat," gets his...er...hat handed to him.

In a defiant performance on Capitol Hill, the new MP for Bethnal Green and Bow accused the committee of traducing his own reputation and mounting "the mother of all smokescreens" to hide the real scandal - that Americans had plundered billions of dollars of Iraqi wealth.

The subcommittee, chaired by Norm Coleman, the Minnesota Republican, had alleged that Mr Galloway used a charity he established in 1998 to channel funds from allocations of 20 million barrels from 2000 to 2003.

"I am not now nor have I ever been an oil trader and neither has anyone on my behalf," Mr Galloway said.

"I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas."

Mr Galloway, who appeared in front of the committee voluntarily and testified under oath, used his opening statement to attack the allegations made against him in a dossier that he said was full of errors.

"On the very first page of your document about me, you assert that I have had many meetings with Saddam Hussein. This is false," Mr Galloway said.

"I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as many meetings. In fact I've met him exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns."

He selected Mr Coleman as the focus of his wrath, adding: "You have nothing on me, Senator, except my name on lists of names from Iraq, many of which have been drawn up after the installation of your puppet government in Iraq.

"Now I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer, you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice."


The US turned a blind eye to the former Iraq regime's $8bn trade in smuggled oil, a new US Senate report says.

The report says the US was well aware of both the smuggling and the kickbacks Iraq solicited from players in the UN's oil-for-food programme.

Wait. There's more.

Yesterday's report contains documents that bolster previous allegations that the State Department and the U.S.-led naval force may have assisted efforts by a key ally, Jordan, to smuggle $53 million worth of oil from Iraq in seven supertankers in the weeks before the invasion of Iraq.

"The United States not only failed to exert an effort to stop the oil tanker shipments, it appears to have facilitated them, despite widespread recognition that the shipments were a blatant violation of U.N. sanctions," the report states.

Levin said the State Department and the Pentagon "have denied" the committee's requests for information and failed to "provide answers to our questions." Levin and Coleman, meanwhile, are considering issuing a subpoena to compel testimony by a senior U.S. naval officer who was responsible for interdicting oil smugglers in the Persian Gulf. They are also pressing the State Department to allow a U.S. diplomat who allegedly approved one of the oil shipments to testify.

Norman! Your mother's calling you.

Manufacturing outrage

Digby notes that the outrage over the Koran in the Loo was a manufactured event for both the Islamists and our Gitmo-apologists on the Right.

This little item in Newsweak is a pretext for action against interrogation techniques that are already well known. Which is why the quasi retraction over the week-end is such a chickenshit display of cowardice on the part of Newsweak. This is old news to anybody who's been paying attention. The jihadists know it, those of us following the story know it and the government certainly knows it. The riots last week in Afghanistan and now around the world are orchestrated to gin up support and their followers are already pissed off enough about this stuff to get with the program quite easily.

Of course, as Silber says, this is probably going to end up being just another scalping party. And until the mainstream media cares about being played and used, the shrill shrieking harpies of the right wing noise machine will continue to treat them like the lackeys they are ... and make examples of some of them every once in a while to keep everybody in line.

And August J. Pollak wonders how the hypocrites and mouth-breathers who are now gleefully chanting, "Newsweek lied, People died." can sleep at night.

Get it? It's funny, because it's making fun of what all the anti-war people said when 1,700 Americans were killed based on lies they were warned about but didn't listen to. What, don't you have a fucking sense of humor?

This isn't even not caring. It's beyond not caring. It's taking pride in not caring.

And finding scapegoats at every turn.


Bernie Williams gets his first chance to play in nearly a week and hits a grand slam. The Yanks have won nine in a row, their longest winning streak since 2001, they're over .500, and The Summer of Excitement™ may be beginning to take shape.

Wang quickly shut down that enthusiasm, however, inducing an assortment of ground balls and holding the Mariners scoreless until allowing a third run in his final frame. He retired 17 in a row from the third out of the first inning to the first out in the seventh, and kept the Yankees in the game despite some cool Bomber bats.

"He was great after the first inning," Torre said. "He just went after people."

But Williams' blast overshadowed the pitcher. His 11 grand slams rank him fourth on the Yankees all-time list, behind only Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth. "It doesn't mean anything if you don't win the game," Williams said. "I think that's my biggest joy. That we won the game and I was able to help."

I believe the old man will help the Yanks win a few more games before he is consigned to only playing on "Old Timers' Day."

"Spikey" gets spiked

Scott McClellan says Newsweek's retraction "is a good first step." Um, what more is Newsweek supposed to do, agree to only run stories praising the administration's handling of the war? Don't answer that. Of course, that's what McClellan is demanding.

Personally, I think it's kind of amusing to watch Lucianna Goldberg's favorite reporter get screwed by his own anonymous White House source, but, like me, Keith Olberman (via Atrios) smells something noxious about this whole thing.

One of the most under-publicized analyses of 9/11 concludes that Osama Bin Laden assumed that the attacks on the U.S. would galvanize Islamic anger towards this country, and they'd overthrow their secular governments and woo-hoo we've got an international religious war. Obviously it didn't happen. It didn't even happen when the West went into Iraq. But if stuff like the Newsweek version of a now two-year old tale about toilets and Qu’rans is enough to set off rioting in the streets of countries whose nationals were not even the supposed recipients of the ‘abuse’, then weren’t those members of the military or the government with whom Newsweek vetted the plausibility of its item, honor-bound to say “you can’t print this”?

Or would somebody rather play politics with this? The way Craig Crawford reconstructed it, this one went similarly to the way the Killian Memos story evolved at the White House. The news organization turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet - or has its proxies do it for them.

That’s beyond shameful. It’s treasonous.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Bush's cigarette holder

Brad DeLong opens his statement to the Democratic Policy Committee thusly:

Any discussion of Social Security reform needs to begin with one too-rarely-asked question: Why is the American political system focusing its attention on Social Security? Is this really the aspect of American fiscal policy that should be absorbing our attention right now?

The answer is that we shouldn't. We shouldn't be focusing on Social Security right now. America has three problems with the fiscal policy pursued by the Bush administration:

* The current 5% of GDP on-budget deficit, the likelihood of major legislative changes (like extensions of expiring tax cuts) that will blow further holes in the budget, and the risks of economic crisis and recession and slowed long-run growth created by this Bush-league fiscal policy.

* The generational explosion of federal health-care costs we expect to see. From one perspective, this is not so much a problem but an opportunity: we expect our doctors, nurses, and druggists to do even more wonderful things for us in a generation. We would like for all Americans--not just those with thick wallets--to benefit from the advances in health care that we confidently anticipate. But this will be expensive: we need to figure out how much publicly-funded health care for the poor, the disabled, and the old we as a society wish to buy, and what taxes are going to fund these public health-care programs.

* The likelihood--not the certainty--that the Social Security system as currently structured will be in deficit by mid-century.

The first of these--the current Bush deficits--is the most urgent. The second of these--the health care funding "opportunity"--is the largest. The third of these--Social Security--is both the least urgent and the smallest. So why are we spending our time on it? There's no good reason. As Berkshire-Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett, no bleeding-heart liberal he, said last week:

...a [Social Security] deficit of $100 billion a year, something, 20 years out, seems to terrify the administration. But the $400 plus billion dollars deficit currently does nothing but draw yawns....

DeLong wonders why Bush & Co. would be obsessed -- and obsession really is the only word to describe Bush's every waking moment on the Neverending Bamboozlepalooza tour that's been on the road since the State of the Union -- with a problem that, at its worst, will be a less than .5% of GDP "crisis" 20 years from now. He suggests its in part the "broken jelly jar on the kitchen floor" logic. "What broken jelly jar?" asks the preznit, when asked about the $600 trillion budget hole he and his GOP cronies have blown, or the looming healthcare crisis that we face in less than a decade. In other words, Bush/Rove don't want to draw attention to the budget deficit because they created it, and they don't want to deal with healthcare because the answers to that are a.) it's too hard to tackle and makes George's brain hurt, and b.) any sensible solution starts to look a lot like "Hillarycare™".

No doubt, and you should read the whole dang thing. But I think there's more to it than that. Although the Vega itself has suggested a Machiavellian motive to Dear Leader's S.S. "reform" -- turning it into an anti-poverty program that will quickly lose favor with middle class taxpayers/voters -- I don't think that's G.W. Bush's motive (though I do think it is the motive of people like Grover Norquist and Karl Rove).

No, [and you should now read this with a Viennese accent, ok] I think Social Security represents two sides of GW Bush that have emerged: His need to outdo his father -- dare I say, kill him -- and his sense of the messianic.

Just as I believe Bush imagines that he will be spending his post-presidency riding up and down "Freedom St." and "G.W. Bush Ave." in downtown Baghdad, passing statues of himself where Saddam once stood, Bush sees overhauling Social Security as his chance to create a legacy for himself on the domestic front, something that building a budget deficit where a surplus once proudly stood doesn't really do, and something signing a federal no-gay-marriage act falls a bit short of.

Bush says he doesn't care what history will say of him, 'cause "we'll be dead," but no president since Reagan has been more focused on his own self-image. From the quasi-military uniforms to the careful positioning of the podium so that his head appears in the papers the next day as yet another figure on Mt. Rushmore, Bush is very much focused on how he is perceived now and in the future.

So just as Bush has gone out of his way to take on Poppie mano a mano every chance he gets, there is really only one American president who towers over the modern history of America like a political father figure: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt's two greatest accomplishments were leading America in defeating the Axis (the real "Axis of Evil" kids) Powers and putting an end to the grinding poverty that so many Americans could expect when they were too old to work.

Bush has certainly not been shy in undermining FDR's role in the former. Sure, Bush orates, he helped make sure there was plenty o' freedom in Europe by stompin' Hitler, but the ol' geezer then gave the farm away to the Russians at Yalta.

And then there's Social Security. Killing it pretty much ends the last New Deal program and consigns FDR to the history books.

Or maybe, sometimes, a cigarette holder is just a cigarette holder.

God's Armed Forces

Henry at Crooked Timber finds an unsettling connection between the apologized-for-but-not-retracted Newsweek story and the stories coming out of the Air Force Academy that indicate it's becoming the next evangelical war college.

Our armed forces are the visible arms of our nation's growing empire. The fact that those forces may be growing more Christian fundamentalist and less tolerant of non-Christian faiths while our empire expands further and further into non-Christian nations is a dangerous mix.

Related note: In the Townhall link above, the appropriately named Tony Blankley spews out a doozy of an opening sentence:

The latest proposed victim in our struggle against terrorism is Army Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin, recently named Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. [emphasis, you know]

Such is the state of Christian victimhood these days -- victimized, yet promoted.

Attack of the anonymous sources

It is curious that it took a week -- and massive demonstrations -- for the Pentagon to work itself up so.

The information at issue is a sentence in a short "Periscope" item on May 9 about a planned United States Southern Command investigation into the abuse of prisoners at the detention facility in Guantánamo. It said that American military investigators had found evidence in an internal report that during the interrogation of detainees, American guards had flushed a Koran down a toilet as a way of trying to provoke the detainees into talking.

Pentagon officials said that no such information was included in the internal report and responded to Newsweek's apology with unusual anger.

In a statement, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations."


First of all, for a White House that routinely hides behind anonymous sources, this is pretty cheeky.

But the reason it took a week for the Pentagon to express its outrage is because the Koran in the toilet story, when first alleged, didn't seem so outrageous to either the Pentagon or the U.S. public given all the other outrageous things we know to have been done in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan in our names.

Feel that? That's the scar tissue building around our nation's soul.

Nostalgia for baseball's "golden age"

Before the season started, I don't think I envisioned a time when the Yankees making it to .500 in May would be cause for celebration.

Speaking of baseball, King Kaufman discusses "The Juice" with the book's author, Will Carroll, and what effect -- if any -- such things as steroids have on baseball players. One of the more curious aspects of the public "outrage" over steroid use, is the almost complete lack of scrutiny amphetamine use in baseball has had. In a 162-game season of day games after night games, cross-continent travel, and Gary Sheffield line drives, amphetamines are performance enhancing drugs which, unlike steroids, have an observable positive effect on performance. Yet they are rarely mentioned when Jim Bunning wants to burn a few modern day baseball witches.

Could it be that amphetimines have been such a big part of the game for so long that to shine a spotlight on their use would darken the rosy glow of baseball's golden age in the 1950s and early 1960s? After all, it's fine to demand that Barry Bonds's records be expunged, but what of his godfather's?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Nowherely mobile

Kevin Drum reads David Brooks's latest homage to the Republican poor of the Red States, then reads the latest statistics on income distribution and the end to the postwar class mobility of the second half of the twentieth century, and he sighs.

In the face of this, Brooksian paeans to the hardworking Republican poor are little less than appalling. Clap your hands and you can be rich!

What this faux optimism masks is the astonshing real-life pessimism of modern conservatism. Among advanced economies, the United States is by far the richest, youngest, and fastest growing country in the world. By far. And yet, we're supposed to believe that an increase in Social Security costs from 4% of GDP to 6% over the next 50 years is cause for panic. We're supposed to believe national healthcare would bankrupt us — never mind that our current dysfunctional system is the most expensive and most unfair on the planet. We're supposed to believe that broader unionization would ruin American industry, home of the highest profits and most highly paid executives in the world. We're supposed to believe that the nation's millionaires, having already had their tax rates slashed by a third over the past two decades, are still being bled to the bone by federal taxes.

It's a grim view. But then, modern conservatives are grim people, with little hope that things can ever be made better than they are today. I guess that's why I'm a liberal.

Counting insurgencies

The Post and The Times both look at the ongoing -- in fact, intensifying -- insurgency in Iraq.

The Post looks at the proliferation of extremist Islamist sites tallying "martyrs" in Iraq and finds that a large and growing percentage are coming from Saudi Arabia.

"Ah," you say, "Dear Leader's dare to 'bring em on'," using Iraq as "flypaper" is working. Terrorists that could be attacking us, on our own soil, are blowing themselves up in Baghdad. Victory in the Global War on Terror (GWOT)." Um...well... if by "us" you mean Crown Prince Abdullah, and "our own soil" you mean the Saudi peninsula, then I guess you are right.

Many of the suicide bombers appear to have been novices in warfare, attracted by the relative ease of access to Iraq and the lure of quick martyrdom. "This is not al Qaeda's first team," said Hammes of the National Defense University. "These are the scrubs who could never get us in the States."

The Times, meanwhile, looks at the insurgency and finds far less certainty than the Post's story would imply, and far less intelligence as to who -- and why -- the insurgents are.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government. Bombings have escalated in the last two weeks, and on Thursday a bomb went off in heavy traffic in Baghdad, killing 21 people.

This surge in the killing of civilians reflects how mysterious the long-term strategy remains - and how the rebels' seeming indifference to the past patterns of insurgency is not necessarily good news for anyone.

It is not surprising that reporters, and evidently American intelligence agents, have had great difficulty penetrating this insurgency. What is surprising is that the fighters have made so little effort to advertise unified goals.

Counter-insurgency experts are baffled, wondering if the world is seeing the birth of a new kind of insurgency; if, as in China in the 1930's or Vietnam in the 1940's, it is taking insurgents a few years to organize themselves; or if, as some suspect, there is a simpler explanation.

"Instead of saying, 'What's the logic here, we don't see it,' you could speculate, there is no logic here," said Anthony James Joes, a professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and the author of several books on the history of guerrilla warfare. The attacks now look like "wanton violence," he continued. "And there's a name for these guys: Losers."

"The insurgents are doing everything wrong now," he said. "Or, anyway, I don't understand why they're doing what they're doing."

Friday, May 13, 2005

Blissfully unaware

Just a lump in the bed, after all.

WASHINGTON - The White House on Thursday defended the decision to not interrupt President Bush during a bike ride to inform him of a suspected threat that led to the evacuation of thousands — including his wife — from government buildings.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said a review was under way on how the situation was handled, but he said Bush was not upset that he was not filled in.

Another "The Pet Goat" moment in presidential history.

Republicans finally get their own sexual revolution

The Vega had considered rising from his Olympian throne and descending the long spiral staircase from the fresh air of moral purity and reasoned liberal discourse down to the foetid air inside the dank cellar where more and more conservatives seem to be hiding their basest proclivities, even as they rage and rail against the possibility of, horror, same sex unions. Such unions might, ya know, endanger the sanctity of marriage, even as these selfsame paragons of moral uprightedness bugger their narcoleptic wives, engage in various cross-species transgressions, enjoy the comraderie and sport of group coital togetherness, and prowl the internets in the hunt for just-come-of-age diversion.

But the Vega is too high-minded for that. This proud blog will not be soiled with a "roundup," shall we say, of all of the weird tales of conservative ickiness that only a Cox could love.

Instead, we'll let the Rude Pundit do the heavy lifting.

"Ghandi and his rabble"

I avoid Powerline like the plague that it most definitely is, but I must join the thousands of much better bloggity types looking on in a mixture of horror and amusement as Hinderlicker writes,

It's great to see someone standing up for colonialism, especially British colonialism. I agree wholeheartedly with this observation, for example:

Had Britain had the courage to face down Gandhi and his rabble a few years longer, the tragedy that was the partititon of India might have been avoided.

I do have one word of advice for Roger: Stay off the college lecture circuit. I don't think they're ready for this much diversity!

Indeed. If only those sensitive British had shown more, shall we say, stiff-spinedness in standing up to the wogs.

On 13 April 1919, General Reginald Dyer dismissed his middle ranking officers and took personal charge of a body of men. He chose from the troops at his disposal those he thought would harbour the least compunctions in shooting unarmed Punjabi civilians: the Nepalese Gurkhas and the Baluch from the fringes of far-off Sind. Before leading them into the city of Amritsar, he remarked to his Brigade Major: "I shall be cashiered for this probably, but I've got to do it." His "horrible, bloody duty", as he called it, consisted of ordering his soldiers to open fire without warning on a peaceful crowd in an enclosed public square. The General directed proceedings from the front, pointing out targets his troops had missed, and they kept shooting until they had only enough ammunition left to defend themselves on their way back to base. While Dyer made his escape, a curfew ensured that the wounded were left to linger until the following morning without treatment. In an act of what the appalled Winston Churchill termed "frightfulness" and what today would be called state terrorism, nearly 400 had been killed, including 41 children and a six-week-old baby, and around 1,000 injured.


Presaging today's commentators on the right, who call the torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo no more than "the pranks of frat boys," Dyer was lionized by the folks back home.

In praise of an empire from which our colonial forebears fought a hard, bloody war to unshackle themselves. Why do these buggers hate America so?
Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com Site Meter