October 29, 2003

Winning Badly in Iraq?

Josh Micah Marshall reports an interesting phenomenon: Hobnobbing with foreign-policy-astute folks at the American Progress conference yesterday, he was struck by the similarity in the fears being voiced by Democrats and neocons alike: that the Bush administration, in a bid to protect itself politically from the failure of its policies, might leave Iraq prematurely, leaving a worse situation behind (in terms of US interests) than what originally existed there.

In the previous item at Talking Points Memo, Marshall had linked to the following opinion piece from Monday's Washington Post: Winning Badly. In it, columnist Richard Hart Sinnreich talks about the idea that in war, winning badly can be even worse than losing. Sinnreich speculates that by taking Iraqi submission for granted and pursuing a plan aimed at minimizing pain on both sides, the US may actually have gotten itself into "badly won" territory, in which the enemy remains unconvinced of his own defeat and as a result the war drags on and on.

I'll grant that it's not a foregone conclusion that Bush will be driven from office over his actions in Iraq. But despite betting lines that still show him a favorite for (re-)election, I think he's going nowhere but down over the next year. The country will, in effect, have a referendum on the war, and the decision of the people will be that it was a mistake.

But President Dean will still have to deal with the mess. And it won't be pretty.

Posted by jbc at 08:49 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bush on the Mission Accomplished Banner

Adam at Words Mean Things weighs in on Bush's it-would-be-funny-if-it-weren't-sad claim that he had nothing to do with the "Mission Accomplished" banner that the sailors on the Abraham Lincoln chose to run over the president's head, positioned just so to fill the frame along with the sober presidential brow and the determined presidential jaw and the twinkly yet steely presidential eyes: Press conference update.

Also via Adam, some additional links on the subject: From Joe Conason, The entitled and the enlisted (one-day pass required). And from Buzzflash reader Rosamond: Mission accomplished: The Lie.

Posted by jbc at 07:21 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

Smith: The Revision Thing

Check out this great, if troubling, piece from Harper's magazine: Sam Smith's The revision thing. It's a history of the Iraq war told entirely through reassembled Bush administration lies.

Posted by jbc at 06:58 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 28, 2003

Russell Baker Reviews Paul Krugman

The New York Review of Books features a great review by Russell Baker of Paul Krugman's The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century: The Awful Truth. It's nicely uplifting, on some level, that people like Baker and Krugman are out there, speaking the truth as they see it about what's happened in this country over the last few years. Yes, there are still grown-ups out there. They just happen not to be running things at the moment.

Posted by jbc at 08:51 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 27, 2003

Kevin Drum: If This Is Progress, I'd Hate to See What Failure Looks Like

Kevin Drum at CalPundit makes an apt observation about the latest spin from Bush (in which he said that events in Iraq over the last few days were a sign of "progress," because the sharp uptick in violence showed that the bad guys are getting desparate): Progress? Drum points out that it wasn't so much the bad economy that did in Bush's dad's presidency, but rather it was the public perception that the president was so out of touch that he didn't realize, or at least wouldn't acknowledge, that there was even a problem that needed fixing.

Like father, like son.

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George W. Bush: The Top Ten Lies

In response to his publisher's marketing folks telling him to do so, David Corn has put up a fun page that summarizes Bush's top 10 lies. As Corn explains, he chose the examples to represent the full breadth of Bush lying covered in his book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, but if he had been choosing lies based on their seriousness, he might well have restricted himself to those relating to making the case for war in Iraq.

Anyway, you should definitely check out the full list, which offers more detail for each item, at the link above. Or just get the book, which by all accounts is excellent (though I haven't read it yet myself). But in the meantime, here's a condensed version of the list as currently given on Corn's page:

10. "I have been very candid about my past."

9. "I'm a uniter not a divider."

8. "My plan unlocks the door to the middle class of millions of hard-working Americans."

7. "This allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research."

6. "We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th."

5. "[We are] taking every possible step to protect our country from danger."

4. "I first got to know Ken [Lay in 1994]."

3. "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." And, "[Saddam Hussein is] a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda."

2. "We found the weapons of mass destruction."

1. "It's time to restore honor and dignity to the White House."

Posted by jbc at 08:21 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (1)

October 26, 2003

George Bush: The National Security Record

Back in March Bush held a press conference (remember those?) at which he repeatedly emphasized that for him, protecting the American people was Job #1. Now, I previously pointed out how such an attitude is actually problematic, in that a president's sworn duty is to preserve and defend the Constitution. That means a president must sometimes weigh the protection of individual liberties and the democratic system of government against the need for enhanced security. Otherwise, the logical thing for Bush to do would just be to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law, thereby dramatically improving the efficiency with which he can defend the people against physical threats.

Bush would be scary enough if that were the only danger he represented. But of course, it's worse than that. It's not just that he's willing to jeopardize our democracy in order to defend national security. It's that he's willing to jeopardize our democracy, and our national security, merely to avoid acknowledging his mistakes.

Those rooting for a Bush (re-)election in 2004 like to say that "Republicans have more credibility on the issue of national security than Democrats do." Maybe that's true of Republicans generally, but among the sane, I think Bush's reputation for being able to defend our national security is rapidly -- and justifiably -- eroding.

Consider the evidence: Violence in Iraq is increasing, rather than decreasing. Despite the administration storyline that things are going just great over there, with progress as far as the eye can see and the "dead enders" disorganized and on the run, actual events indicate otherwise. Apparently our enemies in Iraq are getting more organized, more dangerous; now they appear to have the ability to mount multiple, coordinated attacks aimed at killing visiting administration officials. True, those attacks failed in this case, at least in terms of killing Wolfowitz, but as our own experience shows, trying to take out specific enemy leaders is a difficult task. The fact that Iraqi insurgents even have the ability to mount an operation like this raises grave questions about what's really going on over there, and where it is leading.

Or look at this story, from today's Washington Post: Search in Iraq fails to find nuclear threat. It makes it increasingly clear that the administration is just spinning when it tries to claim anything other than a horrible failure, or outright deception, on the question of the pre-war claims about the Iraqi nuclear program. The Bush people can try to pin the failure on the CIA, but besides being contradicted by lots of other evidence, that kind of whining and finger-pointing really doesn't make much of a case for administration competence on national security.

Or look at this story from today's New York Times: 9/11 commission could subpoena Oval Office files. It's one thing for the Democrats on the 9/11 commission to charge that the White House is impeding the investigation. It's something very different for the chairman, the Republican ex-governor of New Jersey, to make those charges. What is the White House hiding? Their foot-dragging looks bad enough; whatever it is they are trying to conceal must make them look absolutely horrible. (Presumably, Bush received one or more specific briefings about al Qaeda flying airliners into buildings in the weeks before 9/11, and didn't do anything about it.)

Or look at the continuing investigation into the Plame outing. Let's all say this together one more time, shall we? The White House political operation was willing to compromise an undercover CIA agent working on WMD proliferation merely to undercut the credibility of an administration critic (a critic whose charges, let us remember, have been thoroughly vindicated).

Personally, I think Bush has revealed himself to be the worst president of my lifetime (a lifetime that includes people like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon). But that doesn't matter; I was never going to vote for him anyway. And there are those on the right who still love him, and will vote for him regardless. Which, again, doesn't matter.

What matters is what swing voters think.

All politicians lie, and cheat, and steal. Both major parties (and all the minor ones, too, probably) are corrupt. Any politician with enough power to mount a credible bid for the presidency, and enough ego to actually want the job, is almost certainly going to be, on some level, an amoral scumbag you wouldn't trust to hold a box of Girl Scout cookies for you.

With that said, though, there still are degrees of badness among them. And I think that from the hypothetical swing voter's perspective, someone like Howard Dean is starting to look like a much better risk than Bush, even on national security issues.

Posted by jbc at 08:52 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (1)

October 25, 2003

Mobile Dog Messaging

Apparently bark translation is the next big thing in Japan. The next logical evolution of this technology is text messaging from your pooch. How exciting, as you sit in you cube and recieve "I have to pee." messages from man's best friend.

Posted by at 07:59 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ann Coulter vs. Al Franken

Bryan Keefer at Spinsanity has an excellent write-up of a recent column in which nutjob Ann Coulter attempted to deflect some of Al Franken's recent charges against her: Coulter's questionable corrections. Keefer points out how, in defending herself against charges that she employed shoddy research, mischaracterized things, and misled people, Coulter employed shoddy research, mischaracterized things, and misled people.

Hey, at least she's consistent.

Keefer's conclusion: "The trivial number of corrections to Slander, as well as Coulter's refusal to engage her critics on most of the substantive issues they have raised, suggest that she's more interested in advancing her political agenda than factual accuracy." Really? You think?

Update: In an unrelated piece of Coulter-bashing, I noticed the following on Steve Gilliard's permalink challenged weblog, under the heading "Pet Peeve" (in which he was going off pretty entertainingly on Bill O'Reilly):

Hell, even Ann Coulter attacks people who can attack back. Sure, she can call Molly Ivins a traitor and Evan Thomas, the son of Norman Thomas, even though his name is Evan Thomas, Jr. But they can respond in kind and ask about her adams apple and the fact that there was no child named Ann Coulter born in Connecticut in 1962-63.

Am I interpreting this correctly? Is there an Ann-Coulter-was-born-a-man meme that I've somehow missed? Because that would be thoroughly hilarious if it turned out to be true. Can you imagine what it would do to the minds of the social conservatives? Bill Bennett: compulsive gambler. Rush Limbaugh: drug addict. Ann Coulter: transsexual. Wow.

Another update: Oh, yeah. Where have I been? A couple from Boondocks lately: here and here. And you can just do a Google search on "Ann Coulter adam's apple" and knock yourself out. My favorite result is this one.

Posted by jbc at 07:10 AM | view/comment (10) | TrackBack (0)

Public Defender Dude's Current Trial

I really like Public Defender Dude's weblog. He provides a window into a secret world. And lately that world got a lot more interesting:

I wrote earlier about the murder client I represent where DNA evidence that could exonerate him sits untested by the prosecution (they will not attempt to get a sample of a 3rd party who was identified as the shooter by one witness but against whom they chose not to pursue charges, since any evidence gathered against him would only harm the case against my client). Well, believe it or not, despite the fact that my client is very likely not the person who did this shooting (I am convinced, for the first time in any murder case I've ever had, that my client is innocent), the case is now in trial.

People have asked me in the past "how do you sleep representing a guilty person?" My easy answer is "a lot better than I have this last week."

Stay tuned.

Posted by jbc at 06:44 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

C-130 Gunship Video

Continuing the theme of downloadable video that provokes widely varying reactions, you might want to check out some of the war videos from NaTa2.info. In particular, this footage from a C-130 gunship killing a bunch of people in Afghanistan. (Note: The server seems to be confused about what type of file it is; I had to tell my browser to "Download link target," then load the file from within Windows Media Player.)

It makes for fascinating, if chilling, viewing. How you interpret it will probably depend on what sort of context you assume for it. Were the people (now ex-people) represented by those video-game images terrorists bent on killing innocent Americans? Or were they themselves the innocent victims? The video really doesn't say.

But however we interpret it, I think we have an obligation to be honest about what it shows. Take those images and multiply them a thousand-fold. That's the reality of what we're exporting to the middle east these days.

Posted by jbc at 06:27 AM | view/comment (82) | TrackBack (0)

Eric Fensler's GI Joe Public Service Announcements

Apparently these have been floating around for a while: Fensler Films' GI Joe shorts. They're a bunch of short animated clips that originally ran as some kind of public service announcement after GI Joe cartoons on TV; Eric Fensler has "remixed" them, mostly by dubbing in new dialog.

Your mileage may well vary with these. When I first saw them, I thought, "Huh; weird." As I watched more of them (eight are available on the linked-to page, and you can find more on the net if you poke around a bit; supposedly he did 25 in all), I started giggling, then flat-out laughing. Shortly thereafter, while walking somewhere with my long-suffering wife, I started chuckling in thinking about the "skier" one, and found myself trying to explain to her what was funny about it. I failed, dismally, but not before I'd ended up laughing hysterically and having to wipe away tears. Between that experience and my recent waterworks at Madame Butterfly, I'm beginning to think there may be something seriously wrong with me.

But go view the videos, and judge for yourself. "Body massage." Heh.

Posted by jbc at 06:01 AM | view/comment (8) | TrackBack (0)

John Dean Reviews Corn's 'The Lies of George W. Bush'

John Dean kind of gives me the creeps. I think it's the photograph they run on his page over at FindLaw. I can't really explain it, but something about the earnest, lofty-toned way he writes on these things, without acknowledging the seamier side of his own history of involvement in presidential politics, when combined with that photograph, just makes me go "eesh".

Anyway, with that caveat, I actually really like his latest piece, in which he reviews David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception: Has George W. Bush met his own Ken Starr?

Besides effusively praising Corn's book, Dean goes into a long discussion of Bush's lies, evaluating them based on the criteria laid out by political scientist James Pfiffner in an essay titled "Presidential Lies" that appeared in the December, 1999 issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly. From Dean's conclusion:

...applying Pfiffner's hierarchy of Presidential lies to the collection of falsehoods Corn chronicles in his narrative is alarming indeed. It shows that Bush's lies are almost never justifiable. And it also shows that they are typically of the most serious kind -- lies that misinform the public in such a way as to disrupt the proper functioning of the democratic process.
Posted by jbc at 05:40 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (1)

October 24, 2003

Time to quit?

The actor playing Christ in Mel Gibson's upcoming "The Passion of Christ" has been hit by lightning the second time on the set. So is God testing him or does He realize that no one wants to see this damn thing anyway?

(Update by jbc: Actually, it appears it was the film's assistant director who got zapped for the second time. So far the actor playing Jesus has only been hit once.)

Posted by at 09:46 AM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

Oh Britney!

Wow, we'll sue over anything, won't we?

Posted by at 09:42 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Schools Sell Curriculum to MPAA

Courtesy of Bravo - this yahoo story seems to me a convergence of several kinds of stupidity into one big scary story. Underfunded schools are apparently accepting "sponsorships" from the MPAA to allow them to stick guys in suits in classrooms to lie to kids about the evils of filesharing. Even aside from the one-sided indoctrination that the EFF is complaining about, when the hell did we decide it was a good idea to let corporations inject their messages into lesson plans? Today's nutrition lesson is brought to you by McDonalds!

Posted by ymatt at 07:19 AM | view/comment (8) | TrackBack (0)

October 23, 2003

Bill O'Reilly Lies

I love that scene in Sense and Sensibility (yeah, besides being a girly-man who loves opera, I can't get enough of Jane Austen adaptations) when Alan Rickman's Colonel Brandon is finally divulging his history, and he tells Emma Thompson's Elinor Dashwood, "No doubt -- no doubt -- you have already been told..." The emphasis on the second "no doubt," and the knowing look he gives Elinor, are great.

Anyway, no doubt you have already heard about the ongoing feud between Bill O'Reilly and Al Franken (among others) over O'Reilly's habit of lying and bullying, and then lying and bullying some more in an effort to silence those who are pointing out his lying and bullying.

Another in the seemingly endless series of examples of that was provided a few days ago, in a column O'Reilly wrote for the New York Daily News: I'm feeling the sting of media's lefty bias. It's a long rant about Franken (well, he doesn't mention Franken by name, but that's who he's talking about) and all the sympathetic coverage Franken's been getting from those left-wing media outlets. In his typical way, O'Reilly works himself up to a righteous fit by the end of the piece, which concludes thusly:

So, they're counterattacking. My name is no longer Bill O'Reilly. It's "gasbag," "bully," "liar" and "blowhard." Those descriptions are not confined to opinion pieces but are used in hard news stories as well. There's good news, though. Never again will some news organizations be able to claim fairness or nonpartisanship. They've been exposed for all to see. Excuse me for a moment - something just went whizzing by my head.

Hard news stories referred to him as a "gasbag"? Wow. Except that, of course, it isn't true. See the following debunking from Spinsanity's Brenden Nyhan: O'Reilly continues dissembling. Those terms were used in opinion pieces, or, in the case of straight news stories, were directly attributed to people like Franken.

(Update: Alerted by commenter John Q., I actually followed up on that "gasbag" reference in Newsweek, and it's true: the magazine did refer to him as such in introducing an interview with rapper Ludacris in a feature for the "Newsmakers" section -- Newsweek's equivalent of People magazine, sort of. Still not a hard news story, as O'Reilly claimed, but not an opinion piece, either. The Spinsanity piece makes this clear; I didn't. Oops.)

So I go back and look at what O'Reilly wrote in his piece, and glory be, he didn't really lie, at least if you're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and employ the kind of hypertechnically strict linguistic parsing that seems to be as necessary a tool for modern life as, say, lungs. What he said was that those descriptions were "used" in hard news stories. Well, saying, "Al Franken repeatedly characterized O'Reilly as a 'lying gasbag bullly' in his remarks" would be "using" those terms, wouldn't it?

Yes. No. Maybe.

Whatever. It doesn't matter. When someone says something that is hypertechnically true, from a certain point of view, but does so in a way that meets the reasonable-person standard for having been intentionally crafted to create a false impression, that's a lie. It just is.

Yeah, I know O'Reilly got beaten up by his dad as a kid, and had his big defining moment in life at 17, when he realized that he was now bigger and stronger than his dad, and didn't need to be physically afraid of him anymore. And yeah, I realize that the psychological damage from such a childhood could well contribute to someone's becoming a bully who sincerely believes, on some level, that he is being righteous and just in lashing out at critics and telling them to "shut up. Shut up. Shut up. Just shut up."

It's possible to feel sorry for Bill O'Reilly. It's even possible to believe that in the heat of the moment, when he's worked himself up to it, he really believes the stuff he says that isn't quite true, such that one could charitably describe him as merely being very, very confused, at least at those moments, rather than wilfully dishonest.

It's possible to describe him that way. But I'm not going to. I've got better things to do with my time. So I'm just going to use the simpler approach, and call him a liar. Because he is, you know. He really is.

Posted by jbc at 08:02 AM | view/comment (19) | TrackBack (0)

October 22, 2003

The Swing State Project

Some guy with the cryptic name of DavidNYC has a new weblog called Swing State Project, in which he indulges his politics addiction by talking about states that went Democrat or Republican by 6 points or less in the 2000 presidential election. Even if you don't share his addiction, it's worth checking out his swing state map:

As much as I like to hassle my non-voting friends to get their collective asses in gear and participate at the polls, I'm aware that in the practical matter of removing Bush from office next year, my vote (or lack thereof) will have no effect on the outcome. Us blue-staters, along with red-staters like ymatt, already know where our electoral college votes are going next year. In a certain sense we're slaves, in thrall to one or the other of the two street gangs that rule US politics.

But you green and yellow people are another story. You're free to elect anyone you want. What will you do with that freedom? As someone who will be living with your decision, I confess to being really curious what you're thinking these days.

Posted by jbc at 09:02 AM | view/comment (14) | TrackBack (2)

Falling in Love

My wife waited until we had been married for 19 years before taking me to the opera. She was worried I wouldn't like it, she said. Which was probably smart. I'm the kind of bastard who will sit with folded arms stoicly enduring the joke I wasn't interested in hearing just then, or the read-aloud article that interrupted the article I was reading at the time, then give a curt nod and go back to my original activity with no response whatsoever, practically screaming my indifference.

Anyway, she apparently knew what she was doing, for which I'm grateful, because I was ready, and otherwise I might have missed the chance to see, or at least to appreciate, Shu-Ying Li as Madame Butterfly at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara last week.

The part that shocked me the most, I think, is that live opera (good live opera, anyway), while looking and sounding more or less exactly like what I'd always seen on television, turns out to be completely different in person.

It was bigger than I expected, closer, more human, more real. I've been to some really amazing concerts in my life, but this was different. I wasn't sitting in an audience, watching a performer on a stage. I was right there, inside the skin of this poor woman, experiencing her joy, her betrayal, her madness. It was beautiful, and terrifying. I was streaming tears through much of it, and in the final moments I just lost it, my features working uncontrollably as waves of emotion washed over me.

So anyway, I'm an opera lover now. Who would have thought?

Posted by jbc at 01:45 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

October 21, 2003

Doolittle on the WaPo on Bush on the Malaysian Prime Minister on God

Here's an interesting comment by Jerome Doolittle, who points to a Washington Post editorial that points out the double standard inherent in Bush sharply criticizing the religious bigotry of Malayasian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, while letting pass without comment the religious bigotry of General Jerry Boykin: God works in really, really mysterious ways.

As an aside, I can't write anything about the Malaysian prime minister without having that brainwashing sequence from Zoolander flash through my head, with Will Ferrell repeatedly exhorting me to "kill the Malaysian prime minister! Kill the Malaysian prime minister!" Thank you, Ben Stiller.

Posted by jbc at 08:24 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Hersch on the WMD Intelligence Failure

Seymour Hersch's new article in the New Yorker provides a detailed version of the events surrounding Bush administration claims of Iraqi WMD in the run-up to the war: The stovepipe. There are some significant new details, and lots of tying together of disparate pieces that have been floating around for the last year or so.

Is all of it true? I don't know. I'd guess that there are some areas where Hersch's information is fuzzier than he's letting on. But most of it sounds pretty compelling. I certainly don't see any way to salvage Dick Cheney, at least, from the charge of wilfully lying his ass off.

Anyway, it's a long piece, but well worth the effort.

Posted by jbc at 12:59 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 20, 2003

US Deaths in Vietnam and Iraq by Month

(Note: For more on these numbers, see my later end-of-the-month posts for October, November, December, January, February, March, and April. All the postings share the same graphs, which I update in place when new numbers come out each month; only the accompanying commentary is different.)

I was watching John McCain and Bob Graham yacking at each other on Meet the Press yesterday, and good lord, this is sounding more like Vietnam all the time. It won't be long before we'll have politicians talking about "peace with honor" and secret plans to end the war.

And that reminded me of something I'd been meaning to do for a while. Whenever I bring up a Vietnam/Iraq comparison, fans of the current war point out that casualty rates in Vietnam were way beyond anything we've seen so far in Iraq. Which is true, if you're talking about the Vietnam war at its peak. But there was a long run-up during which Vietnam simmered along at much lower casualty rates. I keep meaning to put together some charts to compare the two wars in terms of the US death toll, and now I've done that.

For my Vietnam statistics I used the excellent Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, where there is an advanced search tool that lets you query the database of war dead by month. For the Iraq statistics I used Lunaville's page on Iraq coalition casualties.

In each case, I counted all US deaths in the war zone, rather than only counting combat fatalities. In the case of the current month (October 2003), I took the fairly morbid step of estimating that the current monthly total of 24 deaths would rise to 32 deaths over the next 10 days. (Here's hoping that estimate turns out to be high. I'll revise the charts at the end of the month to reflect the true total.) (Update: Sadly, I was low. The actual number of US deaths in October was 42. I've updated the charts accordingly, and have posted some new observations in this item: Iraq war deaths.)

For the first chart, I plotted deaths for the first 12 months of the Vietnam war, and the 8 months to-date of the Iraq war. I picked December of 1961 as the "starting point" for the Vietnam war mainly because that was the month in which SP4 James Davis of Livingston, Tennessee, was killed by the Viet Cong, with Lyndon Johnson later referring to him as "the first American to fall in defense of our freedom in Vietnam." (See this interesting timeline of the Vietnam war.) Note, though, that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial currently lists Capt. Harry Griffith Cramer, who died in October of 1957, as the earliest Vietnam war death.

Since my main interest in putting this graph together was to think about (and stimulate thinking about) politicians' and citizens' perceptions of war-related death tolls, I figured that Johnson's willingness to identify a particular death as the "first of the war" was as good a starting point as any.

Anyway, here's the graph (note that you can click on any of these images for a larger version):

It's interesting to me how the Iraq war, so far at least, shows dramatically more US deaths per month than the Vietnam war did at a comparable point in its political lifetime. Yes, I realize that there were far fewer troops in Vietnam at this stage of the war than we currently have in Iraq. I grant that the two wars have followed very differerent scenarios so far. What I'm really interested in here is the domestic political picture, and its relationship to the ongoing death toll.

Let's get a little more perspective. Here's the same chart, but with the numbers for Vietnam extended out to December of 1965, by which time, armed with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (passed in August, 1964), Johnson had dramatically increased the number of US troops on the ground:

Finally, here's a version of the chart that shows the entire extent of the Vietnam war, ending with the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of the US Embassy in April of 1975:

You can spin the data depicted in these charts however you like. For myself, I view them with concern. When politicians are allowed to launch wars for ill-defined reasons, with vague exit strategies and ever-shifting criteria for success, you have a formula for tragedy. That's what happened back in the 1960s, and I can't see any reason to believe it isn't happening again today.

Posted by jbc at 02:54 PM | view/comment (67) | TrackBack (0)

October 19, 2003

Drum: How Are We Doing in Iraq?

Kevin Drum of Calpundit takes a look at the current Iraq situation, trying to divine the truth from the various competing storylines: How are we doing in Iraq? His conclusion? Things aren't going very well. Hard to dispute his logic.

Posted by jbc at 06:20 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kinsley on Bush's News Filtering

Michael Kinsley has a piece in Slate that makes some pointed observations on George Bush's approach to the news: Filter tips.

Posted by jbc at 08:37 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Byrd: The Emperor Has No Clothes

Robert Byrd gave yet another awesome speech to the Senate on Friday: The emperor has no clothes. It's simple, powerful stuff. No wonder Bush's defenders are reduced to attacking the messenger over his association with the Klan during his first Congressional campaign in the 1940s. They have no response to the substance of his argument.

Posted by jbc at 08:31 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

October 18, 2003

Us Versus Them

You're having a conversation with someone, or reading something someone's written, or watching someone on TV, and you're thinking, "This person is pretty sharp/has interesting ideas/knows what he or she is talking about." And then the person strays into expressing an opinion about something that he or she knows very little about, but that you happen to be (at least relatively) expert in, and they say something that is just totally, ridiculously, naive.

Maybe you call them on it. Maybe you don't. It might not be worth it. Maybe the naive thing they said wasn't just some random opinion, but something that has a lot of emotional resonance with them, for whatever reason. And since they lack the firsthand experience that would allow them to recognize how ridiculous their assertion is, you're basically counting on an appeal to your authority, or your ability to craft a logical-sounding argument and their willingness to listen to it, if you want to change their mind.

I feel this way when the militarily-astute types I've been paying attention to lately start talking about how our current Iraq endeavor is an appropriate step in a grand scheme to "drain the swamp" of Arab terrorism. When you draw them out, their argument basically comes down to a belief that the blunt application of military force will allow us to "win" a cultural/religious war with the whole of the Arab world, or the whole of Islam (they tend not to distinguish between the two), making "them" over to be very much more like "us," at which point the problem will be solved.

It's a naive fantasy.

Similarly, when the Prime Minister of Malaysia addresses the opening session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and basically describes a global conspiracy whereby a small group of Jews is pulling the levers of power to keep Muslims down, it comes off as ludicrous. At least, that's the way Daniel Drezner portrays it here: The state of Islam -- 2003. And he has a point. From an outside perspective, those parts of the speech were clearly naive and racist.

Other parts were pretty insightful. The Muslim leaders at the conference ate it up, giving the speech extended ovations.

The cycle continues. I didn't point to it back in July when it appeared, but I'm reminded of that recent study into the physiological basis of conflict escalation. See this write-up, for example: Too much force may be with you.

Someone pushes us. We push back -- harder. At each stage the injuries worsen, the perceived gulf between us and them widens. We care less about those on the other side, are more willing to inflict pain in retaliation.

My son went to a really wonderful preschool. When something like this happened on the playground, this is what the very wise director of that school would do. First, of course, she would intervene to stop the violence. But having used whatever minimum amount of force was needed to achieve that, she wouldn't follow up with some kind of stern lecture or punishment. Instead, she'd get down on the combatants' level, and ask one of them (typically, the one who had been responsible for the latest round of escalation) to look at the other one. "Look at his face. What do you think he's feeling right now?"

We are all connected. There is no them. There's only us. We will march down this road of escalating violence exactly as long as it takes us to figure that out. Maybe we'll figure it out today. Maybe we'll figure it out after some angry preschooler nukes Mecca.

I vote for today.

Posted by jbc at 07:13 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

October 16, 2003

Kynn on Holding (Certain) Media to a Higher Standard

Here's a fun little analysis from Kynn of Shock & Awe: "I demand photographic evidence!" It goes into how a particular critic of his employed very different standards for evaluating news stories based on whether those stories agreed or disagreed with his own preconceptions.

Which isn't an earth-shaking revelation, I realize. But this is still a nice example of it. As a bonus, Kynn's analysis features a debunking of that "$60 million worth of Iraqi WMD were intercepted while being smuggled into Kuwait!" story you may have heared about a while back.

Posted by jbc at 05:34 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bush: The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!

From Glen and Pilar, my hands-down favorite link suggesters of all time: Bush orders officials to stop leaks. The money quote:

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories"
quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if
he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official
who asked that his name not be used.

The Onionization of reality is complete.

Aside from the obvious comic value, the article is actually pretty interesting. It sounds like Bush is really starting to come unhinged. Which is either very good or very scary news, depending on how you view it.

Posted by jbc at 11:10 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (1)

Bush's Hear No Evil, See No Evil Presidency

Here are three stories that do a good job of highlighting the core failing of the Bush presidency: the way it is all about politics, style, and ideological filtering of reality, with everything else (like sound government policy, free speech, and even national security) subordinated to that end.

First up, from Helen Thomas: No wonder Bush doesn't connect with the rest of the country. It's about the disturbing fact (not joke, but fact) that Bush doesn't read the newspapers, but instead just relies on his advisors to summarize for him whatever it is they think he needs to know. Because, you see, Bush thinks the information he gets that way is more objective.

Next, from Salon (requires viewing the commercial to get the free one-day pass, but it's worth it): Keeping dissent invisible. This one's about how the Secret Service works with local police to systematically remove protesters from the site of presidential and vice-presidential appearances, caging them up in out-of-camera-range "free speech zones," and arresting those who refuse. As one arrestee so-aptly put it, "Isn't the whole country supposed to be a free speech zone?"

Finally, from Wired: Spies attack White House secrecy. It's about how the Bush administration's over-the-top enthusiasm for classifying information is actually making us less, rather than more, secure.

In one way or another, all these stories are about the same thing. The Bush presidency rests upon a single extremely childish, but extremely dangerous, idea: that if we all squeeze our eyes tightly shut and wish very, very hard, we can make our problems go away.

Didn't work when you were five. Isn't going to work today. It's time to let grownups run things for a change.

Thanks to Hiro, by the way, for links two and three.

Posted by jbc at 10:28 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

With God on Our Side

Interesting story from the LA Times about Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence: General casts war in religious terms. It seems the 13-year Delta Force veteran is an evangelical Christian prone to public remarks that feed into Islamic fears that the US is waging a War on Evil in which Muslims are the bad guys by virtue of their non-Judeo-Christian faith. The article is the straight-news version of an opinion piece by military affairs analyst William Arkin that is also running in today's LA Times: The Pentagon unleashes a holy warrior.

Posted by jbc at 06:36 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Drezner Referees the Great "Imminent Threat" Debate

I have a deep and abiding fascination with the proposition that two arguments can be both compelling and mutually exclusive. A really nice example of that is the following sequence of posts, currently running on Daniel Drezner's weblog: The post-war debate about the pre-war rhetoric: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The posts in question have actually been authored by two frequent commentators on Kevin Drum's CalPundit site, one of whom generally supports Bush's Iraq policies, the other of whom generally opposes them. Each is arguing for or against the following assertion: "It is a complete fabrication that the Bush administration argued in the runup to the war that there was an imminent threat from Iraq."

Drezner's role in all this is that of a referee, chosen because both sides, apparently, acknowledge his essential intelligence and fairness (well, at least until he renders judgement, at which point one or the other of them will probably decide that they were mistaken in that regard).

It's all pretty darn interesting. I confess to being really curious what the final judgement is going to be.

Posted by jbc at 05:41 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 14, 2003

Bill Maher on Rush Limbaugh

Bill Maher rules. In particular, in his latest weblog entry: Rush Limbaugh. Makes a nice counterpoint to the David Frum blather I was mocking earlier.

Posted by jbc at 04:10 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

True Confessions

If you haven't seen it already, you might be interested in the anonymous confession site grouphug.us. Janus seems to believe my interest in it is based on a desire for an "other-people-are-pathetic ego boost," which may be true, but if so, I can't tell from my end.

Posted by jbc at 02:52 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Defending Rush Limbaugh

Proving once again the benefits of carefully crafting headlines to maximize one's Googlerank, my previous entry, Rush Limbaugh: Addict is currently #1 on a search for that phrase, and the profusion of comments on the page is the result.

Most of the comments are predictable serves-him-right snark. But looking afield for other comments, I noticed the following from David Frum: Rush and Us, II (you have to scroll down a bit past the actually somewhat apt commentary on liberal hypocrisy during Monicagate). Here's an excerpt:

To these gloatings, there are two things that should immediately be said.

First, if the only people allowed to argue in favor of moral standards are people without moral imperfections, then there will be nobody to do the job at all. Every one of us on the conservative side of the great moral and cultural divisions of the day is riddled with faults, flaws, and failings.

Second, on the drug issue in particular – who knows better than the drug addict how seductive and deadly drugs can be? In light of Rush’s own dependency, his attacks on drug use and drug legalization resound more powerfully than ever. This is not hypocrisy: It is conviction grounded in painfully acquired personal experience.

I can appreciate, on a certain level, the artistry that goes into crafting an up-is-down assertion that does a good job at maintaining internal self-consistency. And given the overwhelming power of human belief, there doubtless are fans of Frum's who read that passage (in its original home, at the National Review Online, at least, if not here) nodding their heads in sober agreement.


Rush got caught in flagrant hypocrisy. You either recognize that, or you're deluding yourself. I'd wager pretty much any amount that Frum falls into the former category, rather than the latter, so I lump him in with the rest of those willing to knowingly deceive others in pursuit of their larger aims.

Posted by jbc at 11:51 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bill O'Reilly Beats Up on Terry Gross

Thanks to Yian for tipping me off to the really hilarious Fresh Air interview with Bill O'Reilly. If you like Bill O'Reilly, you'll really enjoy this interview. If you loathe Bill O'Reilly, you'll also really enjoy this interview, though in a completely different way. Go thou and listen likewise!

Posted by jbc at 11:16 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

October 12, 2003

Smoke Free Movies

SmokeFreeMovies recently came to my attention when my girlfriend told me about a lecture (PPT) she'd just attended by Stan Glantz. Dr. Glantz is somewhat of an eccentric in the Public Health community and started the project on a lark, knowing that Big Tobaco has a history of working with major movie studios -- but then he discovered that smoking in movies does significantly stimulate smoking in kids.

Personally, I thought the idea was a little goofy, but he presents some pretty interesting statistics (like: characters in movies smoke 300 times as much as people in real life) and their goals are very modest, and seem completely reasonable to me. In particular, they'd like to see smoking given the same consideration as profanity and alcohol in determining if a movie should get an R Rating.

If nothing else, it's interesting to see some of the Ads the organization has run in industry publications to promote their cause within the Hollywood system. (They are listed in reverse chronological order, so I suggested starting at the bottom and reading up). Of particular interest to me was the Ad they made after finding out about the letter writting campaign of a group of High School kids in New York who wrote 202,000 letters to various Hollywood big shots and got only two replies: one refusing delivery, and one from Julia Roberts's people threatening legal action if they sent any more letters.

Posted by hossman at 12:27 PM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

October 11, 2003

Josh Marshall on McClellan's Plame Game

Apparently the link I'd been using for Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Point Memo site was semi-broken, in that I was linking to www.talkingpointsmemo.com, which wasn't updating with new material, rather than to plain old talkingpointsmemo.com, which was. Oops. (Update: Problem solved. The site changed IP addresses recently, and I had an old lookup cached in my browser for the 'www' version of the hostname. I restarted, and everything is great now. Funny: I never had that problem before I switched to OS X. Under Windows it was rare to go a day without crashing, or at least needing to restart my browser. But I'd been running the same instance of Camino for a week or so. Heh.)

The silver lining to this cloud is that last night I found a big batch of Marshall's commentary that I'd previously missed, including lots on the outing of formerly covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

One particularly interesting aspect of Marshall's commentary is the interpretation he's offered of presidential spokesperson Scott McClellan's statements on the matter at the twice-daily White House press briefings. See Marshall's comments here, here, and here.

Marshall notices that McClellan's "denials" of involvement by key White House players are being delivered as if by parrot: the individuals in question (Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Elliot Abrams) were not involved in "leaking classified information." The action is always referred to in that precise way; regardless of how the question is framed. The reporters keep asking for something clearer, and McClellan keeps answering-while-not-quite-answering, issuing the same "non-denial denial." Lately it's been getting pretty funny:

QUESTION: Scott, earlier this week you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wondered if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MCCLELLAN: Those individuals -- I talked -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that's where it stands.

QUESTION: So none of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?

MCCLELLAN: They assured me that they were not involved in this.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: They were not involved in what?

MCCLELLAN: The leaking of classified information.

Marshall speculates that this may mean that the White House has carved out what they think is a legally defensible position that the leaking of Plame's name might not have constituted a leaking of "classified information." By couching the denials in this precise way, they thereby preserve a legal refuge if/when it can be demonstrated that one or more of the Rove/Libby/Abrams trio actually did leak Plame's name.

It seems to me that a less-sinister (or at least, a differently sinister) explanation would be that this is part of the White House's ongoing effort to portray this as no big deal. Everyone in Washington leaks classified information from time to time. To the extent this act can be cast in those general terms, it helps make this into the non-story that Bush & Co. would obviously much prefer it to be. Donald Sensing does his part to push the administration line on this in response to a comment of mine on his weblog, where he describes this whole affair as quite typical.

But it's not. It's a big deal. It's a big deal because it appears very likely that there was a coordinated effort on the part of the White House political operation to punish a whistle-blower by going after his wife, in the process significantly compromising CIA efforts to fight the proliferation of WMD. And what that reveals about the quality of the decision-making in this White House, about their sense of proportion, is really, really disturbing.

It adds one more item, and a big one, to the growing pile of evidence that the Bush administration is out of control. It's the Mayberry Machiavellis, the kids on Big Wheels, running roughshod over anyone who gets in their way. It's not about governing. It's not about solving problems, fixing the economy, or protecting the American people from terrorism. It's not about leading the world's sole superpower in a responsible manner.

It's only about one thing: getting your guy elected. And when you pursue that goal to the exclusion of everything else, you're prone to disasterous screwups like this one. And guess what? The fact that they're spinning as hard as they can to pretend it didn't happen means nothing is going to change.

Posted by jbc at 09:49 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Soldier's Names Used in Astroturf Campaign

Apparently the US military is taking this "Army of One" idea to new levels. As mentioned at MetaFilter in the item Not very clever, are they?, the same lengthy, text-identical letter is appearing in small-town newspapers all over the country, touting the success of the Iraq operation. An excerpt:

The fruits of all our soldiers' efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. This is all evidence that the work we are doing as a battalion and as American soldiers is bettering the lives of Kirkuk's citizens. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.

That heartfelt missive from Pfc. David Deaconson appeared in his hometown newspaper, the Beckley (WV) Register-Herald, on September 21. Signed by Spc. Nathan Whitelatch, it appeared in the Connellsville (PA) Daily Courier on September 11. Signed by Sgt. Shawn M. Grueser, it appeared in the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail on September 10.

The Olympian (of Olympia, WA) was especially blessed; it received two copies of the letter, from different soldiers. They didn't run them in their letters to the editor section, but they did contact a half-dozen soldiers whose names had appeared below the letter in various papers, confirming that the soldiers had not actually written them: Many soldiers, same letter.

Witih Google, these things are pretty easy to sniff out. You notice a suspiciously erudite letter to the editor in the local paper, plug the phrase into Google, and bam: instant debunking. Kind of makes you wonder how many of these passed unnoticed back in the day.

Thanks to Adam at Words Mean Things for the pointer.

Posted by jbc at 08:07 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (1)

October 10, 2003

Silly/Interesting Dialect Variations

From Bravo comes a link to this nifty image that was reposted as The Cellar's Image of the Day: Word usage maps. There's a link to the original source in the comments, with that original source being a Harvard site: Dialect survey results. (Quick digression, apropos the headmaster at my daughter's school's habit of telling everyone he meets about his time at a certain Ivy League location: Q: How can you tell when someone's been to Harvard? A: They tell you.)

Anyway, it's very much worth some poking around. If you do so, you'll learn many fascinating facts about your fellow Americans. For example, there's a cluster of people in and around Rhode Island who call a drink made with milk and ice cream a "cabinet". And nearly 11% of survey respondents call the gooey stuff that collects in the corners of your eyes an eye booger. Who knew?

Posted by jbc at 11:04 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Bush on Manhunts: Osama, Saddam, and the Plame Leaker

My sister-in-law Mary forwarded me a fun item from Buzzflash's David Sirota: Bush swears he'll hunt down Osama and Saddam, but says he can't find a treasonous betrayer in his own administration because it's too big. Cartoonist Jack Ohman of the Oregonian, as pointed to by CalPundit's Kevin Drum, makes more or less the same observation in graphic form.

Do I feel a 30-second TV spot for next year's Democratic challenger coming on? Yeah, I think I do. Sweet.

Posted by jbc at 09:47 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 09, 2003

Kling on Krugman

Arnold Kling takes Paul Krugman to task in this piece at Tech Central Station: An open letter to Paul Krugman. Kling distinguishes between two types of arguments: "Type C" arguments, which are about the consequences of a proposed policy, and "Type M" arguments, which are about the inferred motivations of the people advocating that policy. Kling makes the eminently reasonable point that Type C arguments are inherently preferable to Type M arguments. He even makes his case in the form of a Type C argument. Good job.

If there were a way to restrict both sides in the public debate in this country to using only Type C arguments, well, we'd have a much higher quality of debate. Unfortunately, there isn't, and we don't. And what Paul Krugman's willingness to engage in Type M amounts to is an acknowledgement that restricting yourself to Type C when the other side is relentlessly hammering away at you with Type M is a good way to lose an argument.

This is exactly what happened in this country over the last 30 years. (See? I'm talking about consequences. It's a Type C argument. Woo!) Right-wing politicians and media figures launched an all-out assault on liberal policies and those who advocated them, using Type M arguments as their weapon of choice. The response from the liberals consisted mainly of high-minded Type C stuff.

Well, guess what? We liberals lost the debate, and the current Bush presidency is one of the more horrifying results. So we're done with the self-imposed limitations. We'll go back to the Type-C-only arguments when the other side demonstates a willingness to do the same. Until then, forget it. It's a sucker's game.

Posted by jbc at 09:15 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Peters: Media Are Actors, Not Just Observers

Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post, says the media are a key player, perhaps the key player, in determining the success or failure of the US effort to rebuild Iraq: Not so innocent. Peters has a good point: terrorism would lose its effectiveness if there were no media to report on it. It's pretty much the same case Michael Moore makes in Bowling for Columbine (though I doubt Peters would appreciate the comparison): that the media's interest in tapping into fear as a way to gather more eyeballs to sell to advertisers outweighs whatever higher purpose they might otherwise serve, making a lie out of their claims to being objective eyes and ears laboring on behalf of the pubic good.

I'll grant Peters that the media has a vested interest in portraying the dramatic failure of the US effort in Iraq. But that's the same media dynamic that Bush and his people were only too willing to exploit in hyping the largely baseless charges of Hussein's imminent WMD threat during the run up to war. The media is what it is. (Are what they are?) It has an institutional bias to report the new, the dramatic, the frightening, while downplaying the old, the commonplace, the mundane. Sometimes it helps the side Peters is on; sometimes it hurts it. Deal with it.

The Bush people are apparently focusing on this as the next Big Message to hammer home: things are going great in Iraq, but the media just aren't telling you about it. Well, maybe. But I remain suspicious. Just as I'm suspicious when an HMO, confronted by market research that shows people view it as relentlessly profit-oriented and uncaring, chooses to mount an advertising campaign in which a white-coated actor who oozes bedside manner smiles down at a young patient, handing her a teddy bear while her grateful parents look on. As opposed to, you know, actually addressing the real problems in their patient care that led to the negative public perception in the first place.

Successfully spinning the media into portraying a failure as a success might well help Bush hold onto political power. But it won't actually help with any of the real issues we're facing. Wouldn't it be great to have a president who cared a little more (like, at all) about actually solving our problems, and a little less about manipulating the media in order to fool us into thinking he already had?

Posted by jbc at 09:00 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

How Much Is $87 Billion, Anyway?

Here's a nice retread of an old idea: depicting large numbers in a way that lets people actually grasp their significance. In this case, the $87 billion that Bush wants to fund Iraq reconstruction for the next year: $87,000,000,000.00.

Posted by jbc at 06:55 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

The New Yorker on Golden Gate Suicides

By Tad Friend, here's a really good article from The New Yorker on people who commit suicide by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge: Jumpers.

Posted by jbc at 06:51 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Well-Done CNN Parody Fools Idiot

I was six graphs deep in this before I realized I'd been had: Study: Fellatio may significantly decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. The tip-off? Quoting someone named "Dr. Inserta Shafteer". Moral: Always check the URL. Design elements do not a CNN web page make.

Posted by jbc at 06:46 AM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

October 08, 2003

Valerie Plame Profiled

Here's a profile of a great American from the Washington Post: The spy next door.

The latest spin from the White House on Plame's outing seems to be that the initial leak to Novak was the work of some obscure flunky they'll never be able to find. But the phonecalls by two top administration officials to at least six different journalists mentioned by the Washington Post was perfectly legal, since at that point her cover had already been compromised by the leak to Novak, even though the Post says those calls were made before Novak's column was published.

To me, this is far worse than the legalistic parsing that gave us Clinton arguing, "I can receive a blow job without my 'touching' the person giving it to me." In this case, we've got the assertion that once someone has committed the felonious, and arguably treasonous, act of compromising the cover of a CIA operative working on WMD proliferation, there's nothing wrong with the White House phoning up reporters in an effort to get the story wider play. Under the provisions of the statute, only the initial revelation is a crime. Trying to push the story after that is perfectly legal.

Maybe it is. But it still sucks. And the people who did it should be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of Washington on a rail. There was a time in this country's history when anyone who fancied himself a patriot would have happily volunteered to do just that.

Posted by jbc at 05:32 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Eric Boehlert on Bush's Poll Numbers

Here's a really interesting piece that discusses the fact that Bush's poll numbers, far from being bolstered by his taking time out to push the "things are going great in Iraq" story with a live presidential address last month, actually accelerated their dive for the basement: Bush's sinking feeling (reading the full version requires getting the free one-day Salon registration, but I think this one's worth it).

An excerpt:

What's so unusual about the impact the speech has had is that neither Democrats nor the press jumped on Bush immediately following the address. In real time, on the night of Sept. 7, TV pundits generally gave a wobbly thumbs-up -- nothing unusually harsh -- while assembled politicians gave their predictable, partisan assessments. (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told CNN, "it was a terrific speech.")

Instead, over the next few days there seemed to be a collective "holy shit" moment for an awful lot of Americans contemplating the cost of the war and the occupation's duration. From Erie, Pa., to Berkeley County, W. Va., and other key swing voting districts, the reviews were in, and Bush got panned.

"It was the moment when White House spin collided with the public's appreciation [of] reality," says Joseph Cirincione, author or "Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction." "It tipped the scale and made people realize we were in Iraq too deep. Nothing the president said gave public hope we'd soon get out of this."

I don't think there's any way out of this for Bush. He's run up against that old "can't fool all of the people all of the time" thing. The middle has figured out what he's up to, and they're just not buying anymore.

Posted by jbc at 05:09 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 07, 2003

What If You Made A Point, And Nobody Cared?

If the United Nations is often viewed as misguided and irrelevant in world politics, then Liberal-minded bloggers and media members may be their equivalent! Why? Because their stubborn, obsessive pursuit of ghosts and moot arguments when it comes to the Bush Administration has long since registered a collective shrug from the arena of public opinion, and they are too blinded by their hatred of "Dubya" to see it!

From the "Bush lied about Saddam" camp, to the lost souls still barking about how Bush's presidency is illegitimate, these electronic town criers continue to push "revelations" that carry no more weight with the general public than your local street corner prophet. But what really is the goal of those making these accusations? Is it simply to seek acknowledgement from those of the opposing ideology that there is truth to their arguments, or do they wish to build momentum toward an uneasiness with, and distrust of, Bush by the voting public so that sweeping changes can occur next fall, with the ushering in of a Democratic presidency?

I'll go out on a short limb here and assume it is the latter choice.

If so, then why don't those in the Liberal blogosphere focus on matters that actually resonate with those whom they wish to influence? After months of daily hashing and rehashing of statements, quotes, reports, allegations, and investigations from political figures and organizations, what do we really know about how the ramp up to war came to pass? Despite what the most impassioned anti-Bush bloggers want to push as "facts", the worst that can definitely be pinned on him is that his Administration took a collective assessment of intelligence information that would, at best, indicate a plausible likelihood that Iraq still had some active weapons programs and/or unaccounted-for WMD, and then stated this "likelihood" as a certainty to the rest of the world, to bolster the "WMD broker/user" rationale for quicker action in removing Saddam from power.

The problem is, that regardless of whether some people want to argue that this was an outright lie, an immoral distortion, a calculated assumption based upon inconclusive data, or an overstatement of the facts, this issue isn't, and hasn't been, of any real importance with the general US public for some time now! Even I thought that if Bush can't prove at least a dormant network of weapon development existed, that he would feel the wrath of public anger. But now I know he won't (at least, for that reason).

Most polls still have shown a fairly consistent majority (around 60%) of the public typically feels that the war itself was justified, if simply to remove Saddam's regime from power. Where the Bush Administration is actually getting eroding support is on the question of how much continued military and monetary commitment the US should make in Iraq. The more Bush's opponents chase the "pre-war justification" ghosts endlessly, the more they help Bush deflect attention from the post-war challenges with which he is struggling. And, although it’s a less sexy topic, the current jobless recovery that is happening under Bush's watch is a key negative influencer on the voting public that the anti-Bush crowd seems uninterested in emphasizing. Nothing gets feet moving into voting booths faster than issues of the wallet. Bush will be at his most vulnerable if the public blames him for the money drain going outside the Country and for the economic lethargy within it.

But the light in the tunnel for Bush and the Republican Party is that public opinion is still not being effectively galvanized to those weaknesses, either by Liberal opinion-makers or by any truly viable, dynamic, consensus-building Democratic candidate. So, go ahead Bush haters. Keep chasing the fruitless “Bush lied” stories. The only thing that will topple him is the political Perfect Storm next summer of a lack of significant progress in Iraq, a stalled economic recovery, and the emergence of a Democratic candidate who isn’t too scary for the moderate swing voters to embrace.

Posted by Craig at 08:41 PM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

The Great American Dream

I just read this interesting article over at Buzzflash about the soon to be completed recall election in California, as well as Orrin Hatch trying to push for a constitutional ammendment to enable Arnold to someday run for President.

Who would the VP be then, Sylvester Stallone?

Posted by jaybird at 04:09 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Plame-Outing Investigation Gets Serious. Or Not.

So, the intelligent talk on the Plame-outing scandal continues to outstrip the blather. From Kevin Drum at CalPundit: Bush gets serious. But of course Bush isn't really serious. Or rather, he's serious, but not about defending the nation from the risks of an out-of-control political operation that would jeopardize national security just to win some votes. No, he's serious about minimizing the political damage of someone on his staff having committed a crime. In other words, Bush's reaction is symptomatic of a larger problem, which is that his White House is willing to risk national security for such self-serving ends, and the reaction to the Plame scandal is making that more clear with each passing day.

More good commentary, as linked to by Drum: From Mark A. R. Kleinman: Betrayed, and, shortly thereafter: Game over: Bush admits Plame revelation was a crime. Bush admitting it's a crime is a big deal, I suppose, in that it takes the wind out of the sails of those who have been trying to assert that there was nothing other than "politics" going on here. But as Kleinman speculates, the president's admission has a sinister side. It could be (almost certainly is, to my way of thinking) a clever ploy to dominate the news cycle with an admission of something that everyone (well, everyone who's being honest about the evidence) already knew. Meanwhile, the more sinister story is pushed off the TV news and into the back pages of the newspapers: that the president's lawyer is going to sift through the statements of the White House staff for two weeks before handing them over to the Justice Department. All in the name of national security, of course.

Continuing to follow the trail of weblog bread crumbs, Kleinman links to Digby of Hullabaloo, who has a nifty theory about who the Deep Throat is who gave the all-important interview to the Washington Post: Who's the good guy? The question he's looking at is, who was the unidentified source for this article, which said that "two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." That confirmation was really important, because it helped give the story more horsepower in the early going, when people like Bob Novak were busy spinning their wheels in reverse, trying to make it go away.

So who is this Deep Throat? You can bet Bush wants to know. When you hear those clench-jawed comments from the White House about tracking down "leaks," you have to know that this is the guy they want to nail. Digby's theory is that it could be Andrew Card. Which would be wild, but would also make a certain amount of sense. Digby links to an excellent profile of Karl Rove, which I hadn't seen before, by Mark Suskind: Why are these men laughing?:

...last spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes's resignation: "I'll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won't be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary."

One senior White House official told me that he'd be summarily fired if it were known we were talking. "But many of us feel it's our duty -- our obligation as Americans -- to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It's just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It's depressing. Domestic Policy Council meetings are a farce. This leaves shoot-from-the-hip political calculations -- mostly from Karl’s shop -- to triumph by default. No one balances Karl. Forget it. That was Andy's cry for help."

I know I tend to paint with a broad brush when I criticize Bush and the people around him. But the fact is, there are lots of grown-up Republicans in this country, people who disagree with me on most of the lefty causes I rant about, but who nevertheless are appalled at what Bush is doing. Some of those people are inside the White House.

Posted by jbc at 12:35 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 05, 2003

Kevin Drum Counterspins for Wilson

Kevin Drum of Calpundit has a great piece on the current effort by Bush's supporters to hijack the public discussion about the outing of Joseph Wilson's wife: The real scandal.

I caught Wilson's appearance on Meet the Press today, along with Bob Novak's (yay for having Tivo again!), and boy, if that wasn't ever a contrast. Wilson came off as sharp, principled, and deadly serious about this stuff. Novak, on the other hand, came off as a total sleaze. He reminded me, more than anything else, of Max Mercy, the sportwriter character Robert Duvall plays in The Natural.

Posted by jbc at 09:10 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

This Headline Is a Lie

Among other fun verbal paradoxes Devo delivered over the years, the song "Enough Said" from New Traditionalists contained this gem: "The next thing I say to you will be true / The last thing I said was false." That song popped into my head when I wrote the headline for this item, although in thinking about it, I don't think it actually has much to do with what I'm about to say.

No, what I really wanted to mention was David Kay's preliminary report to Congress, and the way his remarks are being spun this way and that, and the way an abbreviated version of some piece of information (a headline, say), represents a golden opportunity to misrepresent that something.

Hm. Let me give a more concrete example of what I mean. Back in April, as our boys were swooping down on previously inaccessible document troves in Baghdad, the good little minions at the Daily Telegraph ran the following story: Bush always suspected Saddam was behind 9/11. Which would have been quite a story, don't you think? Except that wasn't really what the article was about. No, it was about a bunch of documentation allegedly showing high-level cooperation between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda, with said documentation having been allegedly discovered by Telegraph reporters rummaging through the wreckage of the Iraqi intelligence service's headquarters. That, too, would have been pretty newsworthy if it had held up to scrutiny, but apparently it didn't. At least, it seems to have subsequently disappeared from public discussion.

But back to the headline. At one point, the piece made the following, unsourced assertion:

In the days immediately following the attacks, President George W Bush confided to colleagues that he believed that Saddam was directly involved in the attacks. "He probably was behind this in the end," he said.

The article pretty much says nothing else about that. But that's the part they chose to put in the headline. Cool, huh?

Fast-forward to the recent delivery of US weapons inspector David Kay's preliminary report to Congress. You can read the whole thing, thanks to the helpful webmasters at the CIA, who have run the transcript of Kay's statement under what I assume was its original title: STATEMENT BY DAVID KAY ON THE INTERIM PROGRESS REPORT ON THE ACTIVITIES OF THE IRAQ SURVEY GROUP (ISG) BEFORE THE HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEFENSE, AND THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE.

Heh. In order to be effective at drawing in readers, a headline probably should distill things down a bit more than that. Unless your aim is to discourage people from reading your statement, since the statement itself consists of a rambling, hyper-detailed account that seeks to obscure, rather than highlight, its central point. I think maybe David Kay has been visiting Kuro5hin, where the following piece is currently prominent: HOWTO: write bad documentation that looks good.

But even thus obscured, David Kay's statement still reveals that actually, he hasn't found any of those WMD that Hussein was supposed to possess at the time of the invasion. For those who don't want to read the whole thing, Beltway Bandit offers a nice summary that ties in the report's key passages with pre-invasion statements by the administration: Comparing Bush regime rhetoric on Iraq to reality.

Nonetheless, righties are spinning as hard as they can to avoid answering the question of whether the Bush people were criminally dishonest (because they sold the public on a pre-emptive war using intentionally doctored WMD evidence) or criminally inept (because their own ideological reality filters caused them to misinterpret that evidence). Like Andrew Sullivan, who writes (in Read the report):

The administration claimed that Saddam had used WMDs in the past, had hidden materials from the United Nations, was hiding a continued program for weapons of mass destruction, and that we should act before the threat was imminent. The argument was that it was impossible to restrain Saddam Hussein unless he were removed from power and disarmed. The war was legally based on the premise that Saddam had clearly violated U.N. resolutions, was in open breach of such resolutions and was continuing to conceal his programs with the intent of restarting them in earnest once sanctions were lifted.

Oh, that's what the president was saying a year ago at this time. Silly me. I must not have been paying attention. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Mr. Sullivan.

Rev. Donald Sensing comments on the Sullivan story, helpfully putting the gist of the argument in his headline: Kay report upholds administration position. Hmm. I suppose that would depend on what your definitions of "upholds," "administration," and "position" are. See also Sensing's subsequent entry, in which he outlines his theory that it was all the CIA's fault: The administration, Iraqi WMDS, and the cause of war.

Posted by jbc at 08:59 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 03, 2003

Krugman on the Plame Outing

Paul Krugman, as usual, gets right to the heart of the issue. Don't expect to find any of Bush's defenders actually addressing the argument he makes in his latest column, because they can't. Instead, they'll pass lies about his character and say his words should simply be ignored by anyone sensible.

Don't believe them. Read the column: Slime and defend.

Posted by jbc at 02:15 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Geroge Paine on Kay's WMD Report

So, here we are, three months later, and the fearsome David Kay report, the definitive report on Iraqi WMD that was going to force all us peaceniks to eat crow, the one with all the "surprises" Kay was hinting about back in the day, has been delivered to congress. And... he's got bupkis. Which may well be surprising for those who believed Bush's case for war, but isn't much of a shock for those of us who realized early on that it was basically horseshit.

Anyway, George Paine of Warblogging sums things up nicely: 1,200 inspectors; 90 days; $300MM: no WMD

Posted by jbc at 01:50 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Rush Limbaugh: Addict

While I detest the role he has played in undercutting open, honest debate in this country, I still feel sorry for Rush Limbaugh, given the private hell he's apparently been living with for some time, and the sudden transformation of it into a very public hell. But anyway, this timeline from Kynn at Shock & Awe makes fascinating reading: Rush Limbaugh hearing loss timeline.

Posted by jbc at 02:14 AM | view/comment (56) | TrackBack (0)

Scott Forbes' Essay on Bush, Saddam, and 9/11

I was working on an entry of my own for Donald Sensing's contest to present a case demonstrating that Bush intentionally misled people into linking Saddam Hussein with 9/11, but I ran out of time. But that turns out to be no big deal, since I would have lost anyway, to the really excellent winning entry from expat-American-in-Oz Scott Forbes: The Contest.

Posted by jbc at 02:00 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

(Naughty Word) Internet Explorer Merchandise Available

Inspired by the ease of setting up Cafe Press storefronts, and by my favorite piece of virtual clothing in the Ishar mud, I proudly (well, sorta) bring you the *Fuck* Internet Explorer Store. Shop early, shop often.

Posted by jbc at 01:29 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 02, 2003

Lies.com Swag Now Available

Thanks to the graphics skillz and generous nature of ymatt, along with those schemers after global domination at Cafe Press, you can now plunk down some plastic and buy your own little piece of Lies.com at the Lies.com online store. Buy a Rumsfeld coffee mug today!

In related housekeeping news, I did a little tidying up in the blogroll. Some sites I've been visiting were added, while some others I'd mostly stopped visiting were removed. Woo! Exciting, eh?

Posted by jbc at 12:08 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

October 01, 2003

Suicide as Entertainment

The rock band Hell of Earth is planning to allow an onstage suicide "live" at their next show in St. Petersburg, Florida. As you would expect, this has caused quite a bit of controversy, but my favorite part of the whole thing, is that the city council needed to pass a special law, making it illegal to: "conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, and to host, promote and sell tickets for such an event." Apparently, they had to pass the special law, becuase otherwise they had no legal grounds to try and stop the show -- no one in the band is planning to "assist" this anonymous individual, they're just going to let him come on stage and do his thing.

The show must go on however, the lead singer promises that the show will happen at an undisclosed location within city limits, in front of a select few die-hard fans (pun intended) and it will be broadcast live on their website.

Posted by hossman at 03:53 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Righteous Righties Wrestle with Plame Investigation Implications

The whole Plame-outing story continues to generate vast quantities of weblogging, with lots of good coverage from CalPundit and Talking Points Memo, among others.

Even more interesting to me, though, is the meta-issue of how right-leaning webloggers are dealing with the story. For us Angry Lefties the story isn't earth-shaking; we're happy to see some of the Bush spin coming unspun, but our worldview hasn't been turned upside down or anything. But for those who admire Bush & Co. as patriots, and who accept the word of right-wing journalists like Robert Novak as gospel, this whole thing is really problematic.

Some, predictably, are bending over backwards to come up with innocent explanations for their guys, while finding ways to argue that a) it isn't a big deal, anyway, and b) if it is, it will turn out to be Clinton's fault. Others, though, are betraying a heart-tugging degree of intellectual honesty as they struggle to make sense of the discordant data.

Like poli sci professor Daniel W. Drezner, who came out strong a few days ago: What could cause me to switch parties, and has since backtracked a little, but is still sounding very unsatisfied with any of the curves he's been able to draw to fit the known facts. Similarly, I was impressed by the way Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping commented early on, though in his case the reality-distortion field seems to have re-established itself pretty firmly, at least for now.

Posted by jbc at 11:17 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Tale of Two Graphs

Check out these two nifty graphs showing the same data (more or less) in two completely different ways, in order to make two diametrically opposed arguments. First, from Samizdata: We are winning, in which US and British fatalities in Iraq are plotted over time, with a breakdown into combat and non-combat deaths. Then, after you've chewed on that for a while, check out this chart from Professor Ed Stephan at Western Washington University: US fatalities in the conquest of Iraq (thanks to Warblogging for the link).

Cool, huh?

Posted by jbc at 10:27 AM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)