Wednesday, January 31, 2007
He's so articulate!
Mr. Biden is equally skeptical—albeit in a slightly more backhanded way—about Mr. Obama. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Biden's candidacy: DOA.
Obviously, we know what he's trying to say: that Obama's a great public speaker, that he doesn't have a record for shenanigans (despite the real estate kerfuffle the Chicago press tried to whip up late last year, which really never got any traction outside of that city)...I'm not quite clear what Biden meant by "mainstream;" I guess, that Obama isn't Jesse Jackson. But the senator from CapitalOne just came off sounding like my father who, though he'd deny a racist bone exists in his body, has an annoying tendency to refer to attractive black women as "handsome" and any black whom he can actually understand, usually in a post-game interview, as "surprisingly articulate."
That's part of what makes Obama's candidacy so tricky for his opponents. Obviously, they would prefer not to talk about his days as a community organizer or his early and ongoing opposition to the war in Iraq, so they'd prefer to talk about what a tough candidate he is because of his physical and oratorical gifts. That dismisses his qualifications and considerable achievements while at the same time makes him seem like little more than a baby-faced, "articulate" Ken doll. But in doing so they run the risk of gaffes like Biden's, falling into the trap of reverse-stereotypes that people have gotten pretty good at recognizing.
Biden and Clinton certainly don't want to talk about this, the No More Friedmans Act of 2007.
HH: You’re an Irish Catholic kid from Syracuse, from St. Anne’s school, right?
HH: Now did you do eight years or twelve years of Catholic education?
TM: I did eight years at St. Anne’s grammar school, I did four years of Bishop Ludden High School, I did four years at the Catholic University of America, and three years at Georgetown University Law Center.
HH: Can you name your K-8 teachers?
HH: Give them to me.
TM: Sister Agnes Teresa, Sister Mary Helen, Sister Thomas, Miss Boway, Mrs. Anderson, Sister Esther Thomas, and Sister Margaret Madden…how many is that?
HH: That’s pretty close. So they were lousy teachers?
TM: No, they were great teachers. I was the one that was causing all the trouble, Hugh.
HH: But I mean, you often cite Catholic doctrine in this book, and yet you support late term abortions, and judges who impose them on people. How…did you miss those classes?
I was unaware that judges were imposing late term abortions on "people." I wonder in what state that's being offered as a sentencing guideline. But, of course, Hugh "Danger Man" Hewitt, who doesn't challenge McAuliffe's assertion later in the interview that he's a "rightwing whacko," thinks he lives in Nazi Germany, so I guess it's understandable that he'd have that misperception.
Further, I attended twelve long years of Catholic school and I don't remember a single course on "late term abortion and the Trinity." Probably lousy teachers.
She uttered the most irritating and disingenuous nine words in politics: “If we had known then what we know now. ...”
Jim Webb knew. Barack Obama knew. Even I knew, for Pete’s sake. The administration’s trickery was clear in real time.
Return to sender
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
A co-equal branch of government, then and now
"The Constitution makes Congress a coequal branch of government. It's time we start acting like it," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who presided over a hearing Tuesday on Congress' war powers. He also is pushing legislation to end the war by eventually prohibiting funding for the deployment of troops to Iraq.
Sen. Feingold in October of 1993, demanding a pullout from Somalia:
In February, I declined to cosponsor the Senate resolution which was introduced and passed in 1 day because I thought the resolution was too vague in terms of the United States mission and duration of our commitment in Somalia. It was also because of the War Powers Act, because of a lack of congressional approval for this specific mission, that I, with six of my colleagues, voted against that resolution in the DOD bill. It turns out, I believe, that the original resolution, which mandated a withdrawal of U.S. troops within 30 days unless continuation was authorized by a specific act of Congress, was probably the correct position.
I join several of my colleagues who have spoken today to say that we should leave Somalia now: we should not increase the American troop level or increase our involvement. Our continued presence risks not only more American lives but also the possibility that the worldwide broadcasting of the mistreatment of U.S. prisoners will so inflame our national pride that it will be increasingly difficult to leave.
Alas, unlike John McCain, Feingold has been consistent in his views of Congress' war powers.
I listened carefully to the President's remarks at a news conference that he held earlier today. I heard nothing in his discussion of the issue that would persuade me that further U.S. military involvement in the area is necessary. In fact, his remarks have persuaded me more profoundly that we should leave and leave soon.
Dates certain, Mr. President, are not the criteria here. What is the criteria and what should be the criteria is our immediate, orderly withdrawal from Somalia. And if we do not do that and other Americans die, other Americans are wounded, other Americans are captured because we stay too long--longer than necessary--then I would say that the responsibilities for that lie with the Congress of the United States who did not exercise their authority under the Constitution of the United States and mandate that they be brought home quickly and safely as possible. . . .
I know that this debate is going to go on this afternoon and I have a lot more to say, but the argument that somehow the United States would suffer a loss to our prestige and our viability, as far as the No. 1 superpower in the world, I think is baloney. The fact is, we won the cold war. The fact is, we won the Persian Gulf conflict. And the fact is that the United States is still the only major world superpower.
I can tell you what will erode our prestige. I can tell you what will hurt our viability as the world's superpower, and that is if we enmesh ourselves in a drawn-out situation which entails the loss of American lives, more debacles like the one we saw with the failed mission to capture Aideed's lieutenants, using American forces, and that then will be what hurts our prestige.
That was McCain in October 1993 as well. Greenwald has more on the changing views of some Republicans.
The war within the civil war in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Jan. 29 —Iraqi forces were surprised and nearly overwhelmed by the ferocity of an obscure renegade militia in a weekend battle near the holy city of Najaf and needed far more help from American forces than previously disclosed, American and Iraqi officials said Monday.
They said American ground troops — and not just air support as reported Sunday — were mobilized to help the Iraqi soldiers, who appeared to have dangerously underestimated the strength of the militia, which calls itself the Soldiers of Heaven and had amassed hundreds of heavily armed fighters.
Iraqi government officials said the group apparently was preparing to storm Najaf, a holy city dear to Shiite Islam, occupy the sacred Imam Ali mosque and assassinate the religious hierarchy there, including the revered leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, during a Shiite holiday when many pilgrims visit.
“This group had more capabilities than the government,” said Abdul Hussein Abtan, the deputy governor of Najaf Province, at a news conference.
The battle also brought into focus the reality that some of the power struggles in Iraq are among Shiites, not just between Shiites and Sunnis. The Soldiers of Heaven is considered to be at least partly or wholly run by Shiites.
Among the troubling questions raised is how hundreds of armed men were able to set up such an elaborate encampment, which Iraqi officials said included tunnels, trenches and a series of blockades, only 10 miles northeast of Najaf. After the fight was over, Iraqi officials said they discovered at least two antiaircraft weapons as well as 40 heavy machine guns.
The Iraqis initially sent a battalion from their Eighth Army Division, along with police forces, but they were quickly overwhelmed, according to an Iraqi commander at the scene. The battalion began to retreat but was soon surrounded and pinned down, and had to call in American air support to keep the enemy from overrunning its position.
American Apache attack helicopters and F-16s, as well as British fighter jets, flew low over the farms where the enemy had set up its encampments and attacked, dropping 500-pound bombs on the encampments. The Iraqi forces were still unable to advance, and they called in support from both an elite Iraqi unit known as the Scorpion Brigade, which is based to the north in Hilla, and from American ground troops.
Around noon, elements of the American Fourth Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division were dispatched from near Baghdad.
After an American helicopter was shot down at 1:30 p.m., some of those soldiers helped secure the crash site and recover the bodies of the two American soldiers killed in the crash, according to a statement by the American military. Others joined in the effort to combat the renegade militia, the statement said.
A commander in the Scorpion Brigade said the combined American and Iraqi forces killed 470 people. He also said some of the dead Soldiers of Heaven fighters were found bound together at the ankles and suggested that the chains had probably been used to keep people from fleeing and to keep them moving as one unified group.
However, a Shiite cleric who has had contact with the group said the real leader was Ahmad bin al-Hassan al-Basri. The cleric said he believed that Mr. Basri was alive and probably hiding near Karbala.
Mr. Basri, while unknown to the average Iraqi, is relatively well known among the clerical hierarchy in Najaf, according to several clerics interviewed for this article.
The clerics who were interviewed said that Mr. Basri was a student of Moktada al-Sadr’s father, a revered cleric, and that Mr. Basri and the senior Mr. Sadr had a split in the early 1990s.
The governor of Najaf, Asad Abu Ghalal, in an interview on national television, said government intelligence officials told him that the Soldiers of Heaven have had ties with the government of Saddam Hussein as far back as 1993. He also said that the farmland where the militia had set up camp had been bought by a former Hussein loyalist, although he said that did not initially raise concerns about the group’s intentions.
Government officials were quick to point the finger at Al Qaeda, alleging that it provided financing for the group. But numerous Shiite clerics, seeking anonymity for fear of contradicting the government, said it was highly unlikely that Al Qaeda, a Sunni group, would link up with a Shiite messianic group.
Officials in the Shiite-dominated government are loath to detail internal rivalries in their community, but in the past three years there have been several clashes between rival factions, and the deaths of two senior Shiite ayatollahs have been linked to internal struggles for dominance.
The often bloody internal rivalries have been overshadowed by the more overt Sunni-Shiite war being fought daily in Baghdad and in other mixed cities.
But it would be, you know, a disaster if we pulled our troops out of this, just as the Iraqis are "taking the lead."
Mr. Bush also said he sees evidence of progress in Iraq and against terrorism, but warned that "presidents and Congresses will be dealing with this ideological struggle for quite a while." He responded to a question about the highly confident picture of Iraq painted by Vice President Dick Cheney by saying Cheney had "a glass half-full mentality."
He was careful about responding to reports of a battle against a shadowy insurgent group over the weekend, one in which Iraqis appeared to have taken the lead and experienced some success.
"The Iraqis are beginning to take the lead," he said. "One of the things that I expect to see is the Iraqis take the lead, and show the American people they're willing to do the hard work necessary to secure their democracy. Our job is to help them." He added: "The Iraqis are beginning to show me something."
Regarding a looming Senate vote on a nonbinding resolution resisting his plans to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, the president said:
"The legislators will do what they feel like they've got to do. We want to work with them as best we can, to make it clear what the stakes of failure will be, and also make it clear to them that I think they have a responsibility to make sure our troops have what they need to do the missions."
I have a simple question for President Bush and Vice-President Cheney: whose side are we on? Do they even know?
And whose side is Iran on? Just as it's unlikely that al Qaeda would support a Shiite messianic group, it seems just as unlikely that Iran would provide support to a group that has ties with Saddam Hussein's government going back to 1993.
The perpetual motion machine
Brave, brave Barbaro
But this is nuts (Time$elect, I'm afraid):
"Barbaro’s Desperate Fight for Life Gripped a Nation in Anguish"
Are we as a nation so desperate for heroes, for drama, and for emotional connections that we're "anguished" when a race horse breaks its leg? Or is the media simply the desperate ones here?
And the commentary on NPR this morning, way over the top. I know she's a children's book writer, but is that any excuse to be spoken to as a child while stuck in traffic on the way to work. (And, by the way, pets don't look you in the eye and tell you "it's time to let me go," as Mickle claims. If only they would. The owner and the vet have to make that painful decision without the help of the animal, no matter how anthropomorphized he may be. This I know.)
If anything, the media response to Barbaro's death underscores Stalin's famous claim, that "One death is a tragedy, a million a statistic."
UPDATED to make the opening paragraph read like it wasn't written by a seventh grader.
Two sets of books
Or post-traumatic stress disorder.
For the last few months, anyone who consulted the Veterans Affairs Department’s Web site to learn how many American troops had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan would have found this number: 50,508.
But on Jan. 10, without explanation, the figure plummeted to 21,649.
Which number is correct? The answer depends on a larger question, the definition of wounded. If the term includes combat or “hostile” injuries inflicted by the enemy, the definition the Pentagon uses, the smaller number would be right.
But if it also applies to injuries from accidents like vehicle crashes and to mental and physical illnesses that developed in the war zone, the meaning that veterans’ groups favor, 50,508 would be accurate.
A spokesman for the veterans’ department, Matt Burns, said the change in the count was made simply to correct an error. Mr. Burns said the department posted the higher figure by mistake in November, when an employee who was updating the site inadvertently added noncombat injuries listed by the Defense Department. The Pentagon Web site had the correct total all along.
The previous total on the Web site was 18,586, strictly for combat injuries. Apparently, no one noticed the sudden leap.
The 50,508 figure caught the attention of the Pentagon when Prof. Linda Bilmes of Harvard mentioned it in an opinion article on Jan. 5 in The Los Angeles Times. A few days later, said Professor Bilmes, who teaches public finance, she had a call from Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, challenging the number.
Professor Bilmes explained that she had used the government tally, the one on the “America’s Wars” page of the veterans’ department Web site. She faxed him a copy.
A few days later, the number on the Web site was changed.
A spokeswoman for Dr. Winkenwerder confirmed that he had called the veterans’ department to have the figure corrected and that the worker had misunderstood the Defense Department figures.
For her purposes, Professor Bilmes said, the higher figure was the relevant one because she was writing about the future demands that wounded veterans would place on the veterans’ health care system. Many of the veterans would be treated in the system regardless of whether they had been injured in combat or in vehicle crashes.
About 1.4 million troops have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and more than 205,000 have sought care from the veterans’ agency, according to the government. Of those, more than 73,000 sought treatment for mental problems like post-traumatic stress disorder.
The soldiers, their families, and taxpayers are going to be paying the price of these wars for a long time to come.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Bad is bad in that it sure ain't good
In Memory of the Allman Brothers Band
The greatest, supposedly from a 1970 Fillmore East gig so the song must have been brand new at the time, six months or so before the legendary performances at the Fillmore.
Come on, what's more important: preserving the profit margins of companies whose products produce emissions that cause global warming, or a little sunlight? The question answers itself. If you want more sunlight, get yourself a oil burning lamp.
The Guardian suggests that U.S. proposal is yet another example of the Bush Administration's fondness for smoke and mirrors, while others might insist that the proposal stems from the Administration's general preference for keeping people in the dark as much as possible.
I happen to think, more charitably, that it flows from the Bush Administration's penchant for biblically friendly science.
There's plenty of biblical precedent for the U.S.'s idea: In fact, it's God approved. God blotted out the sun as one of the ten plagues against the Egyptians (Exodus 10:21-23). There was darkness at noon at Jesus's Crucifixion (Matthew 27:45; riffing off of Joel 2:10). In fact, darkening the sun is a frequently mentioned Divine strategy, just see Amos 8:9, Joel 3:15 and Micah 3:6.
Of course, there is a potential downside with the Administration's plan. Blotting out the sun may bring on Judgment Day, as Acts 2:2 reminds us:The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come
Or, as Mr. Siegel might say,
i shot the morning in the back, with my red wings on, i told
the sun he'd better go back down
Don't bring em home! They asked for it.
Anyway, let's critique the "Bring them home" chant. It's a chant that made sense for Vietnam, a war for which men were drafted. I very much understand the resistance and shock and desperation that was felt for the young men who were forced to go to Vietnam, feelings that would make many people say, quite simply, "Bring them home." But for Iraq, everyone has volunteered. Everyone who's there made a profound decision to do something. The chant "Bring them home," in that context, seems to be shouting disrespectfully in their face that they made a blunder. There are people who chose to do something and are working very hard to accomplish it. While it is true that our leaders owe them the right decisions about how to win the war, the individuals who volunteered deserve respect for the choices that they made. The chant omits the honoring of that choice.
Everyone volunteered for soon to be four years of hell in Iraq? Hmmm. That doesn't sound quite right.
WASHINGTON — Confronted with the increasing demands of the Iraq war, the Pentagon announced plans Thursday to recall Army National Guard units that have already fought in Iraq to serve second tours, reversing a long-standing policy that allowed Guard members to return home for five years before being redeployed.
No new Guard units have been included in the first wave of forces going to Iraq as part of President Bush's 21,500-troop increase announced Wednesday night, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the change in policy was made independently of the Iraq buildup.
Other Pentagon officials have acknowledged that additional Guard and Army Reserve units are essential to sustaining Bush's increase in combat forces in Iraq over the course of the year. The military will probably need to tap previously deployed Guard units this fall to keep 20 combat brigades in Iraq, the level of the buildup.
Army Reserve units also are affected by the policy change.
In fact, for many, "volunteering" is a term that they long ago stopped using.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Marine Corps said Tuesday it has been authorized to recall thousands of Marines to active duty, primarily because of a shortage of volunteers for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Up to 2,500 Marines will be brought back at any one time, but there is no cap on the total number of Marines who may be forced back into service in the coming years as the military battles the war on terror. The call-ups will begin in the next several months.
This is the first time the Marines have had to use the involuntary recall since the early days of the Iraq combat. The Army has ordered back about 14,000 soldiers since the start of the war.
In fact, I think there's another term for what many of our soldiers are experiencing.
Like many Army officers, Mary signed up for eight years -- four years active duty, and four years in the Ready Reserves. She received her discharge certificate in 1998, but she was called up this past June to serve as a transportation officer.
"I called the Delay and Exemption Board. And the young lady that I talked to said that date [on my contract] meant nothing. That my new date is 2018," says Mary.
"I was in shock. I was like, 'What do you mean? I have a piece of paper that tells me that that's my obligation.' And for them to just send me orders and disrupt my life and pull me back, it's disheartening and I feel betrayed, I guess you could say. … [sic] The military is betraying me, because I served my time."
What Mary didn’t realize is that, as an officer, she remained in the Ready Reserve -- even after her eight years were through -- because she hadn’t resigned her commission as an officer.
But she’s not alone. Many officers say they were never made aware of that -- that no mention is made of it in the enlistment agreements they signed. The Army, which declined a request by 60 Minutes for an interview, counters that the requirement is referred to in the agreements – if ever so obliquely.
"It's a six-digit reference to an Army regulation, that that's put in a remark section in these agreements," says Mark Waple, a lawyer who specializes in defending soldiers. "It borders on being a deceptive recruiting practice. I’m not suggesting it was intended that way."
Waple is a graduate of West Point and was once a judge advocate general in the military himself.
Nevertheless, he calls what the Army’s doing now "a backdoor draft." And since June, he’s been getting dozens of calls from officers around the country who are convinced the Army has no right to call them up.
I guess she should have thought of all this nine years ago. Our all-volunteer army, eh?
Still miserable, still a failure
It has been a bad month for anti-Bush snarkiness.
First, the anodyne impressionist Rich Little was selected to address the White House correspondents’ dinner as a follow-up to the scathing routine last year by Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. Now a favored online tactic to mock the president — altering the Google search engine so the words “miserable failure” lead to President Bush’s home page at the White House — has been neutralized.
Google announced on Thursday on its official blog that “by improving our analysis of the link structure of the Web” such mischief would instead “typically return commentary, discussions, and articles” about the tactic itself.
Indeed, a search on Saturday of “miserable failure” on Google leads to a now-outdated BBC News article from 2003 about the “miserable failure” search, rather than the previous first result, President Bush’s portal at whitehouse.gov/president.
Such gamesmanship has been termed “Google bombing,” and is not unique to President Bush, or even politics. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, was linked to the search “waffles,” while other Google bombs have been elaborate jokes or personal vendettas.
Writing on the Google blog, Matt Cutts, the head of the Google’s Webspam team, said that Google bombs had not “been a very high priority for us.” But he added: “Over time, we’ve seen more people assume that they are Google’s opinion, or that Google has hand-coded the results for these Google-bombed queries. That’s not true, and it seemed like it was worth trying to correct that misperception.”
No more auto-snark, at least in this instance. It remains to be seen if this was a hand-selected bomb defusing or not.
Matt Drudge's high ethical standards
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 — Jeffrey T. Kuhner, whose Web site published the first anonymous smear of the 2008 presidential race, is hardly the only editor who will not reveal his reporters’ sources. What sets him apart is that he will not even disclose the names of his reporters.
But their anonymity has not stopped them from making an impact. In the last two weeks, Mr. Kuhner’s Web site, Insight, the last remnant of a defunct conservative print magazine owned by the Unification Church led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was able to set off a wave of television commentary, talk-radio chatter, official denials, investigations by journalists around the globe and news media self-analysis that has lasted 11 days and counting.
The controversy started with a quickly discredited Jan. 17 article on the Insight Web site asserting that the presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing an accusation that her rival, Senator Barack Obama, had covered up a brief period he had spent in an Islamic religious school in Indonesia when he was 6.
(Other news organizations have confirmed Mr. Obama’s descriptions of the school as a secular public school. Both senators have denounced the report, and there is no evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign planned to spread those accusations.)
In an interview Sunday, Mr. Kuhner, 37, said he still considered the article, which he said was meant to focus on the thinking of the Clinton campaign, to be “solid as solid can be.” But he declined to say whether he had learned the identity of his reporter’s sources, and so perhaps only that reporter knows the origin of the article’s anonymous quotes and assertions. Its assertions about Mr. Obama resemble rumors passed on without evidence in e-mail messages that have been widely circulated over the last several weeks.
David Kirkpatrick's story does illuminate one important piece of information -- that this smear was intended to undermine the Clinton campaign more than the Obama run. And despite Obama's and Clinton's fast response to get out in front of this latest attack (I won't call it "swiftboating," since with those guys, at least they weren't anonymous), I think over time these stories about "the thinking of the Clinton campaign" will have it's effect. After all, it's fairly easy for Obama to prove the fact that he wasn't Osama bin Laden's star pupil, but it will be much harder for the Clinton campaign to disprove a suspicion that she plays dirty. Already, the mainstream press doesn't shy away from calling her ruthless, ambitious (as if there are any politicians anywhere in the world who aren't by definition, "ambitious"), and, of course, knife-wielding. It won't take all that much for stories like these to register in the voters' minds that Clinton regularly engages in dirty tricks against her opponents.
The other place, I think, where Kirkpatrick decides not to tread is just what this indicates:
To most journalists, the notion of anonymous reporters relying on anonymous sources is a red flag. “If you want to talk about a business model that is designed to manufacture mischief in large volume, that would be it,” said Ralph Whitehead Jr., a professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts.
With so much anonymity, “How do we know that Insight magazine actually exists?” Professor Whitehead added. “It could be performance art.”
But hosts of morning television programs and an evening commentator on the Fox News Network nevertheless devoted extensive discussion to Insight’s Clinton-Obama article, as did Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio hosts.
MSNBC, too, has been known to pick up Insight's "reporting" of stories that made the Bush administration look bad, but clearly, there is an informal operation going on here: Insight to Fox to Limbaugh to the rest of the talk radio bloviators. Kudos to Drudge for not assuming his usual role; maybe someone on his staff was sick.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
At the moment of granting the assignment, His Majesty [Hailie Selassi] saw before him the bowed head of the one he was calling to an exalted position. But even the far-reaching gaze of His Most Unrivaled Majesty could not foresee what would happen afterward to that head… Yes sir, the power of the Emperor’s assignment was amazing. An ordinary head, which had moved in a nimble and unrestrained way, ready to turn, bow, and twist, became strangely limited as soon as it was anointed with the assignment. Now it could move in only two directions: down to the ground, in the presence of His Highness, and upward, in the presence of everyone else. Set on that vertical track, the head could no longer move freely. If you approached from the back and suddenly called, “Hey sir,” he wouldn’t be able to turn his head in your direction, but instead would have to make a dignified stop and turn his whole body to face your voice.
Working as a protocol officer in the Hall of Audiences, I noticed that, in general, assign-ment caused very basic physical changes in a man… First, the whole figure of a man changes, what had been slender and trim-waisted now starts to become a square silhouette. It is a massive and solid square: a symbol of the solemnity and weight of power. We can already see that this is not just anybody’s silhouette, but that of visible dignity and respon-sibility. A slowing down of movements accompanies this change in the figure.
– The Emperor, Downfall of an Autocrat, trans. by William R. Brand & Katarzyna Mroczhowski-Brand, 1978
In the tropics, drinking is obligatory. In Europe, the first thing two people say to each other is ‘Hello. What’s new?’ When people greet each other in the tropics, they say ‘What would you like to drink?’ They frequently drink during the daytime, but in the evening the drinking is mandatory; the drinking is premeditated. After all, it is the evening that shades into night, and it is the night that lies in wait for anyone reckless enough to have spurned alcohol.
The tropical night is a hardened ally of all the world’s makers of whiskey, cognac, liqueurs, schnapps and beers, and the person who denies them their sales is assailed by the night’s ultimate weapon: sleeplessness. Insomnia is always wearing, but in the tropics it is killing. A person punished all day by the sun, by a thirst that can’t be satisfied, maltreated and weakened, has to sleep.
He has to. And then he cannot!
It is too stuffy. Damp, sticky air fills the room. But then, it’s not air. It’s wet cotton. Inhale, and it’s like swallowing a ball of cotton dipped in warm water. It’s unbearable. It nauseates, it prostrates, it unhinges. The mosquitoes sting, the monkeys scream. Your body is sticky with sweat, repulsive to touch. Time stands still. Sleep will not come. At six in the morning, the same invariable six in the morning all year round, the sun rises. Its rays in-crease the dead steam-bath closeness. You should get up. But you don’t have the strength. You don’t tie your shoes because the effort of bending over is too much. You feel worn out like an old pair of slippers. You feel used up, toothless, baggy. You are tormented by unde-fined longings, nostalgias, dusky pessimisms. You wait for the day to pass, for the night to pass, for all of it, damn it to hell, finally to pass.
So you drink. Against the night, against the depression, against the foulness floating in the bucket of your fate. That’s the only struggle you’re capable of.
– The Soccer War, trans. b;y William Brand, 1986.
More tribute here.
UPDATED to fix the link.
Friday, January 26, 2007
"Being drawn into the real battle of Baghdad"
Watching the video, I find I can't condemn the Americans for not trying to stop the Iraqi military for going "old school" on their prisoners. The American troops have been drawn into a brutal, bloody fight that must surely brutalize themselves and leave them with a dehumanized view of Iraqis. It's only going to get worse.
And if you haven't seen it, be sure to watch Laura Logan's report on The Battle of Haifa Street.
"They told us they would bring democracy...but they've brought nothing but destruction and death."
Pushing Iran's buttons
In Iraq, U.S. troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. Though U.S. forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority.
The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department who said that they worry it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war.
Senior administration officials said the policy is based on the theory that Tehran will back down from its nuclear ambitions if the United States hits it hard in Iraq and elsewhere, creating a sense of vulnerability among Iranian leaders. But if Iran responds with escalation, it has the means to put U.S. citizens and national interests at greater risk in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Officials said Hayden counseled the president and his advisers to consider a list of potential consequences, including the possibility that the Iranians might seek to retaliate by kidnapping or killing U.S. personnel in Iraq.
Two officials said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though a supporter of the strategy, is concerned about the potential for errors, as well as the ramifications of a military confrontation between U.S. and Iranian troops on the Iraqi battlefield.
Rice is a supporter, yet concerned about the potential for errors? One thing we've learned in Iraq, if it can go wrong it most certainly will.
Among those involved in the discussions, beginning in August, were deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, NSC counterterrorism adviser Juan Zarate, the head of the CIA's counterterrorism center, representatives from the Pentagon and the vice president's office, and outgoing State Department counterterrorism chief Henry A. Crumpton.
At the time, Bush publicly emphasized diplomacy as his preferred path for dealing with Iran. Standing before the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19, Bush spoke directly to the Iranian people: "We look to the day when you can live in freedom, and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."
Two weeks later, Crumpton flew from Washington to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa for a meeting with Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East. A principal reason for the visit, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the discussion, was to press Abizaid to prepare for an aggressive campaign against Iranian intelligence and military operatives inside Iraq.
Information gleaned through the "catch and release" policy expanded what was once a limited intelligence community database on Iranians in Iraq. It also helped to avert a crisis between the United States and the Iraqi government over whether U.S. troops should be holding Iranians, several officials said, and dampened the possibility of Iranians directly targeting U.S. personnel in retaliation.
But senior officials saw it as too timid.
"We were making no traction" with "catch and release," a senior counterterrorism official said in a recent interview, explaining that it had failed to halt Iranian activities in Iraq or worry the Tehran leadership. "Our goal is to change the dynamic with the Iranians, to change the way the Iranians perceive us and perceive themselves. They need to understand that they cannot be a party to endangering U.S. soldiers' lives and American interests, as they have before. That is going to end."
A senior intelligence officer was more wary of the ambitions of the strategy.
"This has little to do with Iraq. It's all about pushing Iran's buttons. It is purely political," the official said. The official expressed similar views about other new efforts aimed at Iran, suggesting that the United States is escalating toward an unnecessary conflict to shift attention away from Iraq and to blame Iran for the United States' increasing inability to stanch the violence there.
But some officials within the Bush administration say that targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, and specifically a Guard unit known as the Quds Force, should be as much a priority as fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Quds Force is considered by Western intelligence to be directed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to support Iraqi militias, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Of course, Elliot Abrams is closely involved.
We are ruled by the insane and by testosterone-fueled chickenhawks. Once again we have a situation where military leaders are urging caution, but the White House is demanding they "execute the strategy," in this case, to kill Iranians (who may very well be "guests" of Maliki or his supporters).
Does anybody else have the same sense of tragic unease we felt in the early months of 2003?
Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.
This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."
"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."
It is unclear whether the first week of the trial will help or hurt Libby or the administration. But the trial has already pulled back the curtain on the White House's PR techniques and confirmed some of the darkest suspicions of the reporters upon whom they are used. Relatively junior White House aides run roughshod over members of the president's Cabinet. Bush aides charged with speaking to the public and the media are kept out of the loop on some of the most important issues. And bad news is dumped before the weekend for the sole purpose of burying it.
With a candor that is frowned upon at the White House, Martin explained the use of late-Friday statements. "Fewer people pay attention to it late on Friday," she said. "Fewer people pay attention when it's reported on Saturday."
Scrub their memories
On partisanship, or, embrace the hatred
American politics is ugly these days, and many people wish things were different. For example, Barack Obama recently lamented the fact that “politics has become so bitter and partisan” — which it certainly has.
But he then went on to say that partisanship is why “we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions. And that’s what we have to change first.” Um, no. If history is any guide, what we need are political leaders willing to tackle the big problems despite bitter partisan opposition. If all goes well, we’ll eventually have a new era of bipartisanship — but that will be the end of the story, not the beginning.
Or to put it another way: what we need now is another F.D.R., not another Dwight Eisenhower.
You see, the nastiness of modern American politics isn’t the result of a random outbreak of bad manners. It’s a symptom of deeper factors — mainly the growing polarization of our economy. And history says that we’ll see a return to bipartisanship only if and when that economic polarization is reversed.
After all, American politics has been nasty in the past. Before the New Deal, America was a nation with a vast gap between the rich and everyone else, and this gap was reflected in a sharp political divide. The Republican Party, in effect, represented the interests of the economic elite, and the Democratic Party, in an often confused way, represented the populist alternative.
In that divided political system, the Democrats probably came much closer to representing the interests of the typical American. But the G.O.P.’s advantage in money, and the superior organization that money bought, usually allowed it to dominate national politics. “I am not a member of any organized party,” Will Rogers said. “I am a Democrat.”
Then came the New Deal. I urge Mr. Obama — and everyone else who thinks that good will alone is enough to change the tone of our politics — to read the speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the quintessential example of a president who tackled big problems that demanded solutions.
For the fact is that F.D.R. faced fierce opposition as he created the institutions — Social Security, unemployment insurance, more progressive taxation and beyond — that helped alleviate inequality. And he didn’t shy away from confrontation.
“We had to struggle,” he declared in 1936, “with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. ... Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”
It was only after F.D.R. had created a more equal society, and the old class warriors of the G.O.P. were replaced by “modern Republicans” who accepted the New Deal, that bipartisanship began to prevail.
The history of the last few decades has basically been the story of the New Deal in reverse. Income inequality has returned to levels not seen since the pre-New Deal era, and so have political divisions in Congress as the Republicans have moved right, once again becoming the party of the economic elite. The signature domestic policy initiatives of the Bush administration have been attempts to undo F.D.R.’s legacy, from slashing taxes on the rich to privatizing Social Security. And a bitter partisan gap has opened up between the G.O.P. and Democrats, who have tried to defend that legacy.
What about the smear campaigns, like Karl Rove’s 2005 declaration that after 9/11 liberals wanted to “offer therapy and understanding for our attackers”? Well, they’re reminiscent of the vicious anti-Catholic propaganda used to defeat Al Smith in 1928: smear tactics are what a well-organized, well-financed party with a fundamentally unpopular domestic agenda uses to change the subject.
So am I calling for partisanship for its own sake? Certainly not. By all means pass legislation, if you can, with plenty of votes from the other party: the Social Security Act of 1935 received 77 Republican votes in the House, about the same as the number of Republicans who recently voted for a minimum wage increase.
But politicians who try to push forward the elements of a new New Deal, especially universal health care, are sure to face the hatred of a large bloc on the right — and they should welcome that hatred, not fear it.
© 2007 New York Times Company
And remember, the other side has by no means declared a unilateral ceasefire.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The stabbed in the back myth
The public memory of congressional votes on Vietnam from 1970 through 1975 is almost hallucinogenically jumbled. Republican propagandists rely on the confusion. This slender reed of a myth--that congressional liberals are responsible for the fall of South Vietnam--conflates the failed 1970-1971 votes to end the war in South Vietnam, and the overwhelmingly popular (and, on Nixon and Kissinger's terms, strategically irrelevant) vote to limit military aid to South Vietnam. It is but a short leap for a public less informed than Laird to reach the Rambo conclusion: that this was just the last in a comprehensive train of abuses--exclusively Democratic and liberal--that kept us from "winning" in Vietnam. And that, adding in the mythology about prisoners of war in Vietnam, American troops were, roughly speaking, "abandoned" there."
I could quote extensively from the piece which helps to remove the fog from that hazy, chaotic era.
Democrats should follow Chuck Hegel's lead and stop their defensiveness when talking about Iraq.
"A ping pong game with American lives"
It's well past time that our political leaders stop fearing for their political future or -- in Bush's case, his delusional belief in his "legacy (yes, that is all he cares about, despite his denials) -- and pointed out that we are talking about lives, American and Iraqi. Lives being lost because of political calculations that with a few more troop and a few more months the civil war will somehow evaporate, insurgents will mysteriously lay down their arms. A few more troops and tough talk with Iran will embolden Iraqi troops and somehow make IEDs suddenly disappear. It's insane. Meanwhile, Case says troops will be home for the July 4th b-b-q, Petraeus says we're in it for the long haul. Do they even talk to each other?
With all due respect to Petraeus -- and I do respect him -- he's giving aid and comfort to a "strategy" that even his handbook for dealing with insurgencies would say is too little and far too late.
It’s time to demand a plan – one for ending this horrible debacle.
Another Democratic senator running for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, said: “My initial reaction to Senator Kerry’s decision is one of extreme sadness. John Kerry is a major voice in American politics, and the country would be much better off today if he were president.”
And why isn't this getting more attention?
Two election workers were convicted of rigging a recount of the 2004 presidential election to avoid a more thorough review. The workers — Jacqueline Maiden, elections coordinator of the Cuyahoga County Elections Board, and Kathleen Dreamer, a ballot manager — were each convicted of a felony count of negligent misconduct of an elections employee. They were also convicted of one misdemeanor count each of failure of elections employees to perform their duty. Prosecutors accused Ms. Maiden and Ms. Dreamer of secretly reviewing selected ballots before a public recount on Dec. 16.
But nevermind all that. Ray guns!
It's all good
Cheney said the administration would disregard the nonbinding resolution opposing the troop increase and suggested it undermines soldiers in a war zone. "It won't stop us," he said. "And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops."
Cheney has been criticized in the past for presenting what some called an overly rosy view of the situation in Iraq, most notably in 2005 when he said the insurgency was in its "last throes." The view he expressed yesterday seemed no less positive, and he sparred repeatedly with "Situation Room" host Wolf Blitzer, telling him "you're wrong" and suggesting he was embracing defeat.
When Blitzer asked whether the administration's credibility had been hurt by "the blunders and the failures" in Iraq, Cheney interjected: "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash."
In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. "What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone."
"If he were still there today," Cheney added, "we'd have a terrible situation."
"But there is," Blitzer said.
"No, there is not," Cheney retorted. "There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off." He added: "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes."
Cheney said Blitzer was advocating retreat. "What you're recommending, or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out," the vice president said.
"I'm just asking," Blitzer objected.
"No, you're not asking."
Dick makes Liz look like a defeatist.
No, not "a terrible situation" at all.
No, not at all.
Capt. Brian S. Freeman, a former member of the Army World Class Athlete Program who competed in bobsled and skeleton with the United States national team, was killed last week in Iraq, officials said. Freeman, 31, was among five Americans killed Saturday after an ambush by gunmen dressed as United States troops near Karbala, defense officials said.
Freeman was 16th in the 2003 national skeleton championships. He won a bronze medal as a four-man sled brakeman at a 2002 America’s Cup race, teaming with the two-time Olympian Mike Kohn. Members of the United States Bobsled and Skeleton teams learned of Freeman’s death this week while preparing for the world championships, which begin today in St. Moritz, Switzerland. “He was one of the greatest men I have ever known,” said Steven Holcomb, the World Cup overall bobsled leader and a 2006 Olympian. Holcomb was in the world class program with Freeman.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
"Gracefully exceed expectations"
On foreign policy, the president combined subtle analysis with a blunt appeal for patience. His historical comparison of the successes of the war on terror in 2005 with the challenges of 2006, when the terrorists and dictators "struck back," and his explanation of Sunni and Shia radicalism, exceeded the usual level of State of the Union sophistication. The quietness of the chamber during this sober section was clearly attentive, not dismissive. Then he used the undeniable logic of this threat to argue for the importance of success in Iraq, concluding with a direct request for the Congress to support the military in their new strategy. Democrats did what they had to do: they applauded.
Wow. Subtle analysis, indeed.
What is most head-shaking of all is that, after four years of this war, the president once more fell short of making its case. As in the past, he said that it's very important—"a decisive ideological struggle," he called it, adding, "nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed." And yet he also said that America's commitment to the war is "not open-ended." How can both claims be true? If nothing is more important, it must be open-ended. If it's not open-ended, it can't be all that important.
One reason he can't argue for it is that it's not clear he understands it. "The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat," he said. "Whatever slogans they chant ... they have the same wicked purpose. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East." He still seems to view the ever-mounting violence as reflecting a struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. He fails to grasp the sectarian nature of the fight. (Does he really believe that the Shiites and Sunnis are the same—or that, besides the small minority of al-Qaida, they're "totalitarian" in nature?)
If this is the ideological struggle of our time, what ideology are we fighting for in a Shiite/Sunni civil war? Bush didn't answer that last night.
And Gerson has the balls -- and by "balls" I mean lack of intellectual honesty -- to criticize Webb's response for employing "a mixed metaphor that crosses two clichés."
Gerson's just another "dead-ender" we'll have to deal with for the next two years even as Bush's support in his own party dwindles.
Well, he'll always have "pop up Joe."
Webb of truth
Stabbing her in the back
This morning on NPR, Dana Milbank of the Post's "Washington Sketches" sketched a typical casual aside in giving his review of last night's speech based, I guess, on his having watched it on TV:
In fact, Hillary Clinton was situated immediately behind Barak Obama making it easier for her to stick the knife directly into his back if that's what she was trying to do.
"If that's what she was trying to do?" What does that mean?
If Dana Milbank knows of some aspect of Senator Clinton's behavior that has been anything but cordial to her fellow senator, than he should report. If not, then he should shut the fuck up.
Profiles in courage
First lesson: Forthright questioning of a mistaken war by prominent legislators can utterly transform the public debate, pushing it in directions no one thought it was prepared to go.
Second lesson: Congress horning in on war powers scares the bejesus out of presidents.
Another lesson: Presidents, arrogant men, lie. And yet the media, loath to undermine the authority of the commander in chief, trusts them. Today's congressional war critics have to be ready for that. They have to do what Congress immediately did next, in 1970: It grasped the nettle, at the president's moment of maximum vulnerability, and turned public opinion radically against the war, and threw the president far, far back on his heels.
Perlstein, who is fast becoming on of our most important chroniclers of a fateful era in American politics, also points out something that is important for the anti-dirty fucking hippie crowd to remember: yes, McGovern lost in 1972 (in large part because of the dirty tricks that were at the heart of Watergate and his refusal to hit back), but "McGovernism" won.
It sounds crazy to say it, because anyone who knows anything knows that the 1972 election was a world-historic failure for the Democrats because McGovern lost 49 states. Put aside, for now, the story of that crushing defeat. (It is a story of the most tragically inappropriate presidential nominee in history, and the unprecedentedly dirty campaign against him -- the substance of Watergate.) What that colossal distraction distracts us from is that congressional doves, and Congressional Democrats, performed outstandingly in that election. Democrats gained a seat in the Senate, the McGovern coattails proving an irrelevancy. America simultaneously rejected George McGovern and voted for McGovernism: Democrats who voted twice for his amendment to demand a date certain to end the Vietnam War did extremely well. Nixon knew his fantasy of expanding the air war unto victory was over. In fact, those who saw him the morning after the election said they'd never seen him so depressed. Why? "We lost in the Senate," he told one mournfully. He lost his mandate to make war as he wished.
We can likewise expect a similarly nasty presidential campaign against whomever the Democrats nominate in 2008. But we can also assume that he or she won't be as naive and unqualified to win as McGovern; one hopes the days in which liberals fantasized that the electorate would react to the meanness of Republicans by reflexively embracing the nicest Democrat are well and truly past. What we also should anticipate, as well, is the possibility that the Republicans will run as Nixon did in 1968 and 1972: as the more trustworthy guarantor of peace. Ten days before the 1972 election, Henry Kissinger went on TV to announce, "It is obvious that a war that has been raging for 10 years is drawing to a conclusion ... We believe peace is at hand." McGovern-Hatfield having ultimately failed twice, its supporters were never able to claim credit for ending the war. That ceded the ground to Nixon, who was able to claim the credit for himself instead. He never would have been able to do that if he had been forced to veto legislation to end the war.
[The] McGovern-Hatfield [amendment requiring the president to either go to Congress for a declaration of war or end the war, by Dec. 31, 1970] failed because of presidential intimidation, in the face of overwhelming public support. Nixon and Nixon surrogates pinioned legislators inclined to vote for it with the same old threats. A surviving document recording the talking points had them say they would be giving "aid and comfort" to an enemy seeking to "kill more Americans," and, yes, "stab our men in the back," and "must assume responsibility" for all subsequent deaths" if they succeeded in "tying the president's hands through a Congressional Appropriations route."
But isn't that interesting: There wouldn't have been subsequent deaths if they had had the fortitude to stand up to the threats.
Every time congressional war critics made Congress the bulwark of opposition to a war-mongering president, they galvanized public opinion against the war. The same thing seems to be happening now. Already, the guardians of respectable opinion are sneering less; there are simply too many anti-surge bills on the table for that. The shame would be if today's only credible antiwar party, the Democrats, squander that opportunity by failing to harness their majority, not merely for a strong showing against escalation but in favor of a position to credibly end the war.
You know that whatever the facts, the right will blame "liberals" and "Democrats" for losing Iraq; that's as inevitable as the fact that we've already lost Iraq -- and as inevitable as an arrogant president playing into Democratic hands by expanding the engagement (he already is). What would be inexcusable is if wobbly Democrats managed to maneuver themselves timidly into a corner that made them only the right-wing's scapegoats -- and not the champions that truly made their stand to end the war.
It's instructive to read the whole thing. Hopefully, Senators Clinton, Obama, et. al. will too.
UPDATE: Speaking of the campaign of dirty tricks in 1972, E. Howard Hunt has died.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Next stop is Iran
What's that spell?
When the leak investigation was launched, White House officials cleared Rove of wrongdoing but stopped short of doing so for Libby. Libby, who had been asked to counter Wilson's criticisms, felt betrayed and sought out the vice president, Wells said.
Cheney's notes from that meeting underscore Libby's concern, Wells said.
"Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder," the note said, according to Wells.
The description of the White House infighting was a rare glimpse into the secretive workings of Bush's inner circle. It also underscores how hectic and stressful the White House had become when the probe was launched.
By pointing the finger at Rove, whom he referred to as "the lifeblood of the Republican party," Wells sought to cast Libby as a scapegoat.
Public service announcement
On that alternative to Fox network: "Veronica Mars" -- a missing monkey (and you thought the major networks were the only places to see a chimp tonight).
HBO: "The Sopranos"
AMC: "Dances with Wolves (in progress)" Well, maybe not.
BBCA: "The Avengers" The original, though I have to say, critical response or not, that Uma looked yummy in the remake.
Bravo: "The real housewives of Orange County"
CNN: Larry King. Um, maybe not.
FMC: "The Verdict (in progress)"
Fuse: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" The original!
FX: "The Stepford Wives" Not the original. What were they thinking?
History: "The Siege of Troy"
IFC: "The Barbarian Invasion"
Lifetime: "Devil's Pond"
TLC: "American Chopper"
TCM: "Danger Lights (in progress)"
WE: "Circle of Friends"
YES: The final innings of New York at Boston, 05/24/06
We gotta win. We just gotta.
It is telling that the former principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, otherwise known as Dick's and
UPDATE: St. John blames the Iraq debacle on...Liz's dad.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Rule o' law? I got your rule 'o law right here.
I thought for a moment he was calling for Bush's impeachment since preznit has himself been quite forthright in defending things like secret wiretapping of American citizens. Some would call that violating the rule of law for the sake of (supposed) expediency.
Britain Is a Lost Democracy [Iain Murray]
It appears that the Rule of Law is a thing of the past in the UK:In the distant past, I worked way down the chain for Sir Edward. He is upright, clever and discreet, as a Senior Civil Servant in the UK should be. Let us just say that Sir Edward’s assessment is British understatement at its best. I think the American equivalent would be, “impeachable.”
In what the committee's top adviser, Sir Edward Osmotherly, described as a "surprisingly frank" letter, Mr Hoon revealed that the Government did not let doubts about a legal basis stand in the way of a proposal if it was expedient on other grounds to back the measure.
But for a kornerite to say that would be unthinkable.
Smearing Obama and Clinton: the Mighty Wurlitzer
Insight, a magazine owned by the Washington Times, cited unnamed sources in saying that young Barack attended a madrassah, or Muslim religious school, in Indonesia. In his 1995 autobiography, Obama said his Indonesian stepfather had sent him to a "predominantly Muslim school" in Jakarta, after two years in a Catholic school -- but Insight goes further in saying it was a madrassah and that Obama was raised as a Muslim.
Fox News picked up the Insight charge on two of its programs, playing up an angle involving Hillary Clinton. The magazine, citing only unnamed sources, said that researchers "connected" to the New York senator were allegedly spreading the information about her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The New York Post, which, like Fox, is owned by Rupert Murdoch, also picked up the article, with the headline: " 'OSAMA' MUD FLIES AT OBAMA."
Thus, in the first media controversy of the 2008 campaign, two of the leading candidates find themselves forced to respond to allegations lacking a single named source.
"The allegations are completely false," says Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. "To publish this sort of trash without any documentation is surprising, but for Fox to repeat something so false, not once, but many times is appallingly irresponsible. This is exactly the type of slash-and-burn politics the American people are sick and tired of." Obama, aides note, is a Christian and belongs to a Chicago church.
Clinton campaign officials were relieved that what they regard as an absurd allegation was not picked up more widely. "It's an obvious right-wing hit job by a Moonie publication that was designed to attack Senator Clinton and Senator Obama at the same time," says Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson. Insight, like the Washington Times, is owned by a company controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. No one answered the phone at Insight's office yesterday and its editor did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
On the morning show "Fox & Friends" on Friday, co-host Steve Doocy said that madrassahs are financed by Saudis and teach a radical version of Islam known as Wahhabism, though he said there was a question whether that was the curriculum in the late 1960s, when Obama attended the school. Another co-host, Gretchen Carlson, said that those on the show weren't referring to all Muslims, only "the kind that want to blow us up."
After the show, Obama aides complained to Fox about what the campaign deemed inflammatory language.
Bill Shine, Fox News's senior vice president for programming, says the "Fox & Friends" hosts "did say repeatedly, over and over, that they were getting this from Insight magazine." He says the show will provide a "clarification" today by including the comments of Obama campaign spokesmen. He says the morning program is "an irreverent show" on which the hosts sometimes express their opinions.
On Friday afternoon, John Gibson, host of Fox's "The Big Story," began a segment this way: "Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassah past. That's right, the Clinton team reported to have pulled out all the stops to reveal something Obama would rather you didn't know -- that he was educated in a Muslim madrassah."
Gibson's guest, Republican strategist Terry Holt, a former Bush campaign spokesman, said that the effort could be "a despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine. We know that they are capable of doing this." But if the information wasn't linked to Clinton, Holt said, she should "disavow" it. There was no Democratic strategist on the segment, but Gibson did read an Obama campaign statement dismissing the article as false.
Gibson portrayed the controversy as an example of hardball politics: "Picture the commercial, 'Hi, I'm Barack Obama. Funny thing happened to me on my way to the White House, somebody discovered I didn't go to a kindergarten, I went to a madrassah.' This is how the big kids play politics."
Asked if Fox News was promoting unproven rumors about Obama and Clinton, as some liberal blogs have charged, Shine says: "Some on the left might think that. I don't think anybody should read anything into that."
That's an interesting non-denial denial.
The Moonie Times, the Drudge Report, some asshole on Fox News (or these days, CNN) throws an unsubstantiated allegation or rumor out there, and the right wing noise machine takes it from there, with each outlet adding some new talking point, forcing a Democratic candidate to respond to bullshit. The bullogs do their part like good Germans to spread the day's communication point.
In fact, what normally happens is that after the allegation has made the rounds on Fox News then and the candidate has been forced to deny it, the story is then considered legitimate news and one of the "reliable" news outlets picks it up ("presidential candidate Barack Obama denied today having used kittens to feed his pet alligator") .
It's going to be a long, long two years. Because unfortunately we don't have anything to counter this form of machine politics except the truth, and we know just how far that gets us.
So much for my football predictions
"I said a little prayer on that last drive," Manning said. "I don't know if you're supposed to pray for stuff like that, but I said a little prayer."
How low can he go?
President Bush’s Saturday radio address was devoted to health care, and officials have put out the word that the subject will be a major theme in tomorrow’s State of the Union address. Mr. Bush’s proposal won’t go anywhere. But it’s still worth looking at his remarks, because of what they say about him and his advisers.
On the radio, Mr. Bush suggested that we should “treat health insurance more like home ownership.” He went on to say that “the current tax code encourages home ownership by allowing you to deduct the interest on your mortgage from your taxes. We can reform the tax code, so that it provides a similar incentive for you to buy health insurance.”
Wow. Those are the words of someone with no sense of what it’s like to be uninsured.
Going without health insurance isn’t like deciding to rent an apartment instead of buying a house. It’s a terrifying experience, which most people endure only if they have no alternative. The uninsured don’t need an “incentive” to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible.
Most people without health insurance have low incomes, and just can’t afford the premiums. And making premiums tax-deductible is almost worthless to workers whose income puts them in a low tax bracket.
Of those uninsured who aren’t low-income, many can’t get coverage because of pre-existing conditions — everything from diabetes to a long-ago case of jock itch. Again, tax deductions won’t solve their problem.
The only people the Bush plan might move out of the ranks of the uninsured are the people we’re least concerned about — affluent, healthy Americans who choose voluntarily not to be insured. At most, the Bush plan might induce some of those people to buy insurance, while in the process — whaddya know — giving many other high-income individuals yet another tax break.
While proposing this high-end tax break, Mr. Bush is also proposing a tax increase — not on the wealthy, but on workers who, he thinks, have too much health insurance. The tax code, he said, “unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise, and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need.”
Again, wow. No economic analysis I’m aware of says that when Peter chooses a good health plan, he raises Paul’s premiums. And look at the condescension. Will all those who think they have “gold plated” health coverage please raise their hands?
According to press reports, the actual plan is to penalize workers with relatively generous insurance coverage. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the wealthy; we’re talking about ordinary workers who have managed to negotiate better-than-average health plans.
What’s driving all this is the theory, popular in conservative circles but utterly at odds with the evidence, that the big problem with U.S. health care is that people have too much insurance — that there would be large cost savings if people were forced to pay more of their medical expenses out of pocket.
The administration also believes, for some reason, that people should be pushed out of employment-based health insurance — admittedly a deeply flawed system — into the individual insurance market, which is a disaster on all fronts. Insurance companies try to avoid selling policies to people who are likely to use them, so a large fraction of premiums in the individual market goes not to paying medical bills but to bureaucracies dedicated to weeding out “high risk” applicants — and keeping them uninsured.
I’m somewhat skeptical about health care plans, like that proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that propose covering gaps in the health insurance market with a series of patches, such as requiring that insurers offer policies to everyone at the same rate. But at least the authors of these plans are trying to help those most in need, and recognize that the market needs fixing.
Mr. Bush, on the other hand, is still peddling the fantasy that the free market, with a little help from tax cuts, solves all problems.
What’s really striking about Mr. Bush’s remarks, however, is the tone. The stuff about providing “incentives” to buy insurance, the sneering description of good coverage as “gold plated,” is right-wing think-tank jargon. In the past Mr. Bush’s speechwriters might have found less offensive language; now, they’re not even trying to hide his fundamental indifference to the plight of less-fortunate Americans.
© 2007 New York Times Company
You know, I'm pretty much inured to the weird things that George W. Bush and his speechwriters have to say, but when I read that he said that the tax code “unwisely encourages workers to choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans. The result is that insurance premiums rise, and many Americans cannot afford the coverage they need," my dropping jaw broke my cereal bowl.
With insights like that, it's really no wonder that Bush's approval rating continues to soar.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
My kind of town. Chicago is...
If Payton Manning starts showing flop sweat at home tonight and loses another to Brady and Bellichick, sheesh what a juice-less Superbowl we'll be treated to.
Gotta give Grossman credit, though. He played well when he had to.
Sticking it to people who work for a living
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 — President Bush intends to use his State of the Union address Tuesday to tackle the rising cost of health care with a one-two punch: tax breaks to help low-income people buy health insurance and tax increases for some workers whose health plans cost significantly more than the national average.
White House officials say Mr. Bush has decided to forgo the traditional formula for the State of the Union — a laundry list of ideas, many of them dead on arrival — in favor of a more thematic speech that will concentrate on a few issues, like health care, immigration and energy, on which he hopes to make gains with the new Democrat-controlled Congress.
The basic concept is that employer-provided health insurance, now treated as a fringe benefit exempt from taxation, would no longer be entirely tax-free. Workers could be taxed if their coverage exceeded limits set by the government. But the government would also offer a new tax deduction for people buying health insurance on their own.
It's amazing how an administration so hostile to taxing the richest investors in the country is so quick to tax those who, you know, work for a living. And in this age of HMOs, taxing people for having to deal with them should go over well with the voters.
“It’s a bad policy,” Representative Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House committee that writes tax legislation, said in an interview Friday night. “We are trying to bring tax relief to the middle class. The president is trying to increase their tax liability. This proposal is inconsistent with what the majority is seeking in the House and the Senate.”
It's especially galling in light of this.
Mr. Rangel said he had also been talking about the possibility of action on Social Security with the ranking Republican on his committee, Representative Jim McCrery of Louisiana. And in the Senate, Mr. Gregg and Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the chairman of the Budget Committee, have proposed a bipartisan working group to explore broad entitlement and fiscal issues.
But the old fault lines have quickly re-emerged. Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview with Fox News last week, said Mr. Paulson’s openness to all ideas did not indicate that the administration was open to any increase in the payroll tax that supports Social Security. Raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes — now at $97,500 — is one of the most commonly cited ways to shore up Social Security. “I think this president has been very, very clear on his position on taxes, and nothing’s changed,” Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Conrad said that after those comments, his effort to move forward with his working group “is on life support.” He added, “People have interpreted that to mean that the administration is not willing to alter their position one iota, and it’s their way or the highway. Well, that’s not going to work.”
Democrats already mistrustful of negotiating with the administration were buttressed in their views, Mr. Conrad added. “They say, look, they’re playing us for suckers.”
Yes, they are.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
So, let's invade Iran
QUETTA, Pakistan — The most explosive question about the Taliban resurgence here along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is this: Have Pakistani intelligence agencies been promoting the Islamic insurgency?
The government of Pakistan vehemently rejects the allegation and insists that it is fully committed to help American and NATO forces prevail against the Taliban militants who were driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001.
Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures say that Pakistani intelligence agencies — in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence — have been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervor but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allows them to assert greater influence on Pakistan’s vulnerable western flank.
More than two weeks of reporting along this frontier, including dozens of interviews with residents on each side of the porous border, leaves little doubt that Quetta is an important base for the Taliban, and found many signs that Pakistani authorities are encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them.
The evidence is provided in fearful whispers, and it is anecdotal.
At Jamiya Islamiya, a religious school here in Quetta, Taliban sympathies are on flagrant display, and residents say students have gone with their teachers’ blessings to die in suicide bombings in Afghanistan.
Three families whose sons had died as suicide bombers in Afghanistan said they were afraid to talk about the deaths because of pressure from Pakistani intelligence agents. Local people say dozens of families have lost sons in Afghanistan as suicide bombers and fighters.
One former Taliban commander said in an interview that he had been jailed by Pakistani intelligence officials because he would not go to Afghanistan to fight. He said that, for Western and local consumption, his arrest had been billed as part of Pakistan’s crackdown on the Taliban in Pakistan. Former Taliban members who have refused to fight in Afghanistan have been arrested — or even mysteriously killed — after resisting pressure to re-enlist in the Taliban, Pakistani and Afghan tribal elders said.
“The Pakistanis are actively supporting the Taliban,” declared a Western diplomat in an interview in Kabul. He said he had seen an intelligence report of a recent meeting on the Afghan border between a senior Taliban commander and a retired colonel of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence.
Pakistanis and Afghans interviewed on the frontier, frightened by the long reach of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, spoke only with assurances that they would not be named. Even then, they spoke cautiously.
Read on. It's a web of mutual dependency and the Afghani people are its victims.