May 23, 2004

Good Afternoon Graduates...Bush Sucks...Have A Nice Life

I just knew one of these stories would pop up again this year. Another self-important speaker decides to treat a commencement address like a lecture series and spews a strictly partisan and divisive political rant to satify their own personal agenda . These students have just graduated from four(ish) years of studies which included world events, have attended classes discussing the pro and con of issues such as the current Iraq situation, and have encountered guest speakers who have been invited to specifically address issues of the day, such as the war. In other words, they already have, and will continue to be, engaged in meaningful dialogue about important issues affecting their lives. Commencement speeches are either boring, entertaining, or occasionally, enlightening, but are meant to focus on the actual event, by congratulating the graduates and giving some form of wisdom or advise to carry with them for the future. And as much as it is a day to symbolize the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the graduates, it is also a day for the families of those graduates who often made sacrifices in their own lives to allow their children to obtain this accomplishment. They too should be able to bask in the reflected glow of their family members' achievement.

Then along come the Chris Hedges's of the world, who feel it is beneath them to give a speech that is fitting to the occasion and, instead, decide that a political lecture is in order, and effectively ignore their audience and the purpose of the day.

Some may say that they are fine with the message, and are, convieniently, in agreement with what was said. I frankly wouldn't care if a speaker for such an event gave a strictly political speech supporting either the right-wing view or the left. Both would be insensitive and inappropriate for the occasion.

Posted by Craig at 08:50 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy

I always hate posting links from other "meta-news blogs" -- but FCC regulations is a topic that tends to irk me, so this seems like just the kind of thing to share with the world: Cartoon Guide to Federal Spectrum Policy
Chocked full of simple, easy to follow explainations of how radio frequencies are regulated, and why it may not be the best way to do things. This was prepared by the "New America Foundation", an organization I'm not familiar with, but they seem to have quite a collection of articles under their belt, that I'm going to try and remember to check out later.

Posted by hossman at 02:20 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 20, 2004

Plain Talking on the Iraq Upfuckery

Just one more war item before I head off for some peace (!) and quiet at anchor off a desert island for a few days. Check out Senator Earnest Hollings: Bush's failed Mideast policy is creating more terrorism. Yeah, what he said.

Also, even Wolfowitz seems to be unable to avoid acknowledging that up is up and down is down, at least in some cases: US faces growing fears of failure.

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

Marshall on the Iraq Blame Game

Excellent commentary today from Joshua Micah Marshall, as he dissects the blame that some (former) Iraq-war supporters are aiming at war opponents these days: It's an obvious question, really.

Posted by jbc at 01:56 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Public Defender Dude on the Sivits Trial

Always nice to have an expert's opinion on things, even when his expertise is somewhat peripheral to the matter at hand. Because, you know, even a little bit expert is way more expert than not expert at all.

Anyway, I was interested in Public Defender Dude's comments on what he perceives to be going on in the Sivits court martial (the first court martial to come out of the Abu Ghraib scandal): Court Martial Conspiracy Take II.

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May 19, 2004

Neiwart: Let Lolita Go

David Neiwart of Orcinus has a lengthy but very interesting-to-me discussion about the orca Tokitae (or Lolita, if you prefer her stage name): Freeing Lolita.

Posted by jbc at 03:26 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Marshall on Bush, Kerry, Polls

Joshua Micah Marshall has a long, but interesting, piece on the latest poll numbers, and what they signify, and whether Kerry is doing the right thing by hanging back for now, rather than going after Bush more aggressively: The one point of solace Republicans find today....

Posted by jbc at 11:27 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 18, 2004

Provance: Definitely a Cover-Up

From ABC News, via Hiro, comes this interesting item: Definitely a cover-up.

May 18, 2004 -- Dozens of soldiers -- other than the seven military police reservists who have been charged -- were involved in the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, and there is an effort under way in the Army to hide it, a key witness in the investigation told ABCNEWS.

"There's definitely a cover-up," the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. "People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet."

Provance, 30, was part of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at Abu Ghraib last September. He spoke to ABCNEWS despite orders from his commanders not to.

"What I was surprised at was the silence," said Provance. "The collective silence by so many people that had to be involved, that had to have seen something or heard something."

Provance, now stationed in Germany, ran the top secret computer network used by military intelligence at the prison.

He said that while he did not see the actual abuse take place, the interrogators with whom he worked freely admitted they directed the MPs' rough treatment of prisoners.

So, I can see two ways to explain this: Either Provance is a publicity hound who's willing to put himself in a world of hurt by lying to get his face on camera. Or he's telling the truth, and there is in fact a concerted effort under way to limit the damage of the Abu Ghraib scandal by covering up the extent to which Military Intelligence folks were involved.

On the face of it, I'd say the latter explanation is more likely.

Posted by jbc at 08:46 PM | view/comment (3) | TrackBack (0)

Lisl Auman: Murderer?

I just read the article about the Lisl Auman case in Vanity Fair (which, as an aside, is perhaps the most web-challenged magazine in America). Auman is a young woman currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for a murder that was committed while she was in police custody.

For more detail, see the not-quite-as-challenged (though guys, ease up on the animated GIFs) site for her legal appeal ( or this Denver Post article by Ed Quillen: Lessons from Auman case.

For me, this story ends up being about slippery slopes, and the importance of having people running the system who are willing to draw the line somewhere short of perversions of justice like this. It's somewhat like the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal: We start off with Bush declaring that prisoners captured in Afghanistan are "enemy combatants" without protection under the Geneva Conventions. Then, gradually, the desire to apply the same no-holds-barred approach spreads to the interrogation of Iraqis who clearly are covered by the Conventions.

So with Lisl Auman. Some bright politician decides that he can look tougher-on-crime-than-thou by pushing for a law that says if you are commiting felony burglary, and an accomplice kills someone in the course of that burglary, you can be charged with murder. And there's a certain logic to that, but then we start tobogganing down the slippery slope, and end up sending a woman away for life for a crime she quite clearly didn't commit.

I mean, where does it stop? Just because the authorities really, really want to punish someone, and the actual guilty party is already dead, doesn't mean they get to grab whomever happens to be standing around and charge them instead.

The Auman case is currently before the Colorado State Supreme Court. Here's hoping they fix this.

Posted by jbc at 07:55 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

May 17, 2004

John Brady Kiesling: Victory Through Defeat

I get a fair number of reader submissions, most of which I choose not to run. That's not meant as a knock on the submitters; their submissions are often interesting and noteworthy, but they just fail to get me inspired enough to go through the effort of posting them.

This one came in this morning from reader Alex, and I just now got around to checking out the links he sent. And was promptly blown away.

Hi, thanks for an excellent site!

Did you read an article by John Brady Kiesling in May 9th Washington Post (Outlook section)? I loved it, it has dozens of very insightful observations, and most importantly, it presents the only more or less realistic plan of ending this war with minimal damage. Here's the URL:

And here's online discussion with the author:


Kiesling's voice of reason is a reminder that there are actual grownups, people of intelligence and experience and integrity, in this country. Just not so much in the ranks of our current political leadership. But they do exist, and there's hope in that.

Posted by jbc at 09:51 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 16, 2004

The Strange Case of... Strangelets

I hadn't heard anything about strangelets (tiny, superdense, hypothetical objects) before, but according to this two-year-old article, Earth may occasionally be getting pummeled by them: Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missiles.

I like stories like this because they remind me how weird and unexpected reality frequently turns out to be. I mean, if I read this story on April 1, I'd be pretty sure it was a hoax. But it appears to be legit.

Thanks to Bravo for the link.

Posted by jbc at 05:05 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

Hersch on Cambone and the Black-Ops SAP

Seymour Hersh continues his series of New Yorker articles on the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal with The gray zone. It describes how Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone led the process of applying outside-the-rulebooks interrogation techniques to get intelligence on the Iraq insurgency. The operation was conducted under the authority of a "special-access program", or SAP, a super-secret Defense Department program for situations deemed too sensitive to handled by the normal classifed-secrets procedures.

Hersh bases his story on the accounts told to him by several former intelligence officials and by a former Pentagon consultant "with close ties to many conservatives." None of the sources are identified by name.

It's a compelling story that Hersh tells. Is it true? I dunno. But it certainly explains recent events much more elegantly than the nonsensical fairy tale that Cambone and Rumsfeld have been telling about a few misguided MPs going off the reservation within an otherwise-professional and well-led operation.

Posted by jbc at 04:46 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Shenk on the Importance of Storytelling in Politics

Here's a really insightful article by Joshua Wolf Shenk into a crucial difference between Republicans and Democrats (at least lately): Republicans know how to tell a good story, while all Democrats can do is kvetch. Anyway: Get me rewrite!

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May 13, 2004

Digby on Bush on Cambone

The thing I love about weblogs is the way I get to share my obsession on (whatever) with the community of similar obsessives the world over. And within the community of people obsessing over the discrepencies between the Taguba and Cambone testimony at the Abu Ghraib Senate hearing this week, the following quirky little item is really kind of funny/interesting. From Digby's Hullabaloo weblog: Where are they, damn it!

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Strange Bedfellows II: Buchanan on the End of the Neocon Era

Having blown my mind by linking twice unto George Will, I'm going to go all the way to Crazyville and link to Patrick Buchanan. Now, knowing Buchanan's history of isolationism and the dim view he takes of US support for Israel, I really shouldn't be too surprised to see him saying what he says here; I'm pretty sure that if he weren't exercising vast amounts of restraint in order to limit his argument to precisely these points on which I basically agree with him, I'd be recoiling in horror. But as it stands, I basically do agree with everything he says here: A time for truth.

As when Buchanan made his statements during the Florida recount battle about how ludicrous it was that he'd polled well in heavily Jewish districts, I have to give the guy credit for a high degree of personal honesty. And these days, that's worth noting.

Posted by jbc at 10:16 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Strange Bedfellows I: Will on Why No, Really, Rumsfeld Needs to Go

This is the second time in a week that I've felt compelled to link to George Will. I'm not sure if he occupies the same position in your world-view as he does in mine, but let me just say that for me, linking to George Will even once is a fairly shocking experience. These days, the field of high-profile conservative pundits (of at least the self-styled variety) is pretty thick, but back in the day when I formed a lot of my opinions about politics, Will was in some ways the voice of erudite conservatism.

Anyway, with the profusion of excellent online dictionaries there's no excuse not to read George Will's latest: Not flinching from the facts.

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Meyerson on the Price of Empire

Harold Meyerson makes some really good observations in this Washington Post op-ed piece: Fantastical Occupation.

...military occupations offer the worst possible terrain on which to fight the battle of ideas. From the French in Indochina and Algeria to the British in South Asia and the United States in Central America and Vietnam, occupations are where liberal democracies go to betray their ideals -- if not as a matter of intent then, inevitably, as a matter of execution. One way or another, it becomes necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.

But if one thing is clear beyond dispute in the muddle of post-Saddam Iraq, it is that the Bush administration gave no thought whatever to the problems inherent in occupation. No one thought to protect Iraq's cultural treasures. No one thought to secure the nation's power grid. No one thought to enlarge our own armed forces, so that we weren't sending civilian National Guard troops and private contractors to do a soldier's job, with a clear chain of command in place.

And clearly, no one sought to train those Guardsmen assigned to duty at Abu Ghraib prison in the rudiments of the Geneva Conventions and our Army's regulations on the treatment of prisoners. Instead, they were thrown into a system that was being redesigned to "Gitmo-ize" the treatment of detainees there -- that is, to deal with prisoners the same way we treat the al Qaeda prisoners and others at our Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, free from prying eyes and the codes of either civilian or military law. And Gitmo-ize the prisoners is just what some of our guards at Abu Ghraib did. Some prisoners, apparently, were Gitmo-ized to death.

It defies all belief that the young women and men of an Army Reserve unit from West Virginia were some kind of sadistic cult just waiting to be called away from their civilian lives to torture prisoners in Iraq. I doubt they brought the hoods, the dogs, the nightsticks with them. They were doing the very dirty work of an occupation that, as it's developed, could hardly be more counterproductive to our ultimate goal -- the liberalization of the Islamic world -- if we'd planned it that way.

Posted by jbc at 09:51 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bush Poll Numbers: Yup, Still Dropping

Professor Pollkatz still hasn't updated his very interesting Bush approval ratings graph, so I've updated my own version based the latest numbers from's Bush job ratings page (click on the graph for a larger version):

The pattern I've discussed several times previously (see The silk-purse president, Bush descending, and Bush's poll problem) continues. Except for those upticks corresponding to 9/11, the "Mission Accomplished" photo op, and the capture of Saddam, Bush's support has always eroded. Which makes sense, given that his actual job performance by every objective measure has been abysmal.

Anyway, we're now getting down in the range where his election in November becomes increasingly doubtful. If Rove & Co. didn't already have some sort of October surprise in the works to try to fluff him up just in time to squeak into a second term, they're certainly working on one now. What will it be?

The obvious choice would be the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. Or if that doesn't pan out, I guess they might try an attack on Syria.

It's like being a kid again. What will Daddy give us for Christmas? Will it be a bicycle? Or a BB gun?

Posted by jbc at 06:41 AM | view/comment (10) | TrackBack (0)

May 12, 2004

Politicians vs. Generals

I like to watch birds. Lately I've been working on getting better at difficult identifications. Empidonax flycatchers, immature gulls; that sort of thing.

One thing that really helps in learning to make fine-grained distinctions is having the chance to make a side-by-side comparison. If you're just looking at a woodpecker, it can be hard to tell if it's a Hairy or a Downy. But put the two side-by-side and it's much easier to notice the differences.

So with truth-tellers versus liars. A good liar can fool you, but put him next to an honest man and question them both about the subject at hand, and it gets much easier to tell which is which.

An excellent object-lesson in that came the other day, when Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba testified alongside Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. From the New York Times: Rumsfeld aide and a general clash on abuse.

WASHINGTON, May 11 -- The Army general who first investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib prison stood by his inquiry's finding that military police officers should not have been involved in conditioning Iraqi detainees for interrogation, even as a senior Pentagon civilian sitting next to him at a Senate hearing on Tuesday disputed that conclusion.

The officer, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that it had been against the Army's doctrine for another Army general to recommend last summer that military guards "set the conditions" to help Army intelligence officers extract information from prisoners. He also said an order last November from the top American officer in Iraq effectively put the prison guards under the command of the intelligence unit there.

But the civilian official, Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, contradicted the general. He said that the military police and the military intelligence unit at the prison needed to work closely to gain as much intelligence as possible from Iraqi prisoners to prevent attacks against American soldiers. Mr. Cambone also said that General Taguba misinterpreted the November order, which he said only put the intelligence unit in charge of the prison facility, not of the military police guards.

While General Taguba depicted the abuses at the prison as the acts of a few soldiers under a fragmented and inept command, he also said that "they were probably influenced by others, if not necessarily directed specifically by others." His report called for an inquiry into the culpability of intelligence officers, which is still under way.

Those of you who are repeating the Bush team's talking points on this need to sit down and think for a minute. The broad outlines of the situation are pretty clear. The people claiming that this was an isolated incident, and that the civilian leadership in the Defense Department and the White House bear no responsibility for the unfolding debacle, are the same people who told you that Saddam Hussein had huge stockpiles of WMD, an active nuclear weapons program, and close ties with al Qaeda. They were lying then, and they're lying now.

If you aren't convinced of that, I encourage you to read some of the following. These are the best things I've come across in the past few days on the Abu Ghraib cover-up:

George Paine of England: I was just following orders.

Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo: Okay, I think the wheels are now officially off this car.

The Washington Post's editorial writers: Protecting the system.

And since I overlooked mentioning them when they first came out, I should mention the two pieces Seymour Hersch did for the New Yorker: Torture at Abu Ghraib and Chain of command.

On the larger picture of how Bush's incompetence and mismanagement led to this mess, here are a few other good pieces I read today:

Moe Blues at Bad Attitudes: Lost: Two countries.

Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post columnist: War management follows the wrong corporate model.

Posted by jbc at 07:03 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 11, 2004

Bush vs. King Canute

Here's an interesting item from someone named Scott Christianson, who has a brand-new weblog named Pin-hole Camera: Turning points. It compares Bush with King Canute the Great. Bush does not come off too favorably in the comparison.

Posted by jbc at 02:24 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

Marshall on the Red Cross Report

At one point I considered just running the image of the Iraqi prisoner cowering before the dogs (from the latest Seymour Hersch New Yorker article), under a headline consisting of Bush's over-the-top praise for Rumsfeld. ("You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.") I didn't, because I didn't want to increase the chances of needing to have another conversation like the one I had when my 6-year-old son appeared unannounced behind me while I was reading the paper at breakfast the other day.

(If you really want to see that quotation juxtaposed with that particular picture, you can do so courtesy of Lambert at Corrente: "superb job". Great minds, and all that.)

What I will do here is encourage you to read Joshua Micah Marshall's analysis of the newly released Red Cross report on Abu Ghraib: I took some time this evening...

Marshall's main reaction? Well, the report could have been worse; it doesn't sound as if every American in the system was engaged in organized abuse of all the prisoners. But what it does describe blows a huge hole in the "handful of bad apples" theory.

According to the report, all Iraqi prisoners were at high risk of abusive treatment during their initial arrest and processing. Which is disturbing enough, given that 70% or more of them were apparently innocents swept up by mistake. And with no means for family members to get information about them, these innocents simply ended up being "disappeared" for weeks or months. But for those deemed to be "high value" detainees (i.e., those suspected of actually knowing something useful), abuse continued even after the transfer to the detention facility, with the military intelligence folks overseeing a process of "softening up" prisoners using the methods all of us (including impressionable 6-year-olds) are becoming all too familiar with lately.

This is the same sort of stuff that has been happening in our name at the extra-legal Gitmo detention center. It's not an aberration. It's policy. And the policy flows from the top.

Lambert from the aforementioned Corrente flirts with Godwin's Law by pointing out the chilling similarities between the current situation and the Third Reich, in which it wasn't necessary for Hitler to specifically order things like the gassing of Jews. He merely had to create the conditions in which underlings knew that actions like that 1) would produce the kind of results der fuhrer liked, and 2) would get the blind-eye treatment from superiors. After that, human nature took over. Anyway, see: Abu Ghraib torture: Hersch drops the other shoe.

No, the US is not the same as Nazi Germany, any more than the Iraq war is identical to Vietnam. We are still many steps short of that degree of evil. But that's where this path leads.

Those of you who still support Bush, who are still inclined to vote for him in November, please think about this. How far down that path are you willing to travel? How many of our nation's fundamental moral values are you willing to sacrifice in the name of partisanship? Because that is absolutely where we are headed. And the people running things willl not turn aside on their own. They think they're doing a superb job, and that we owe them a debt of gratitude.

We owe them something. But it isn't gratitude. Help deliver it at the polls in November.

Posted by jbc at 07:08 AM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

May 09, 2004

Senior Military Officials: We Are Losing the War in Iraq

I just read an extraordinary article. It quotes numerous sources who charge that the Bush team is blowing it bigtime in Iraq, failing to adapt its strategy to realities on the ground, heading straight for a Vietnam-style quagmire that will mean years of steady carnage and ultimate failure. Which isn't exactly news; plenty of us have been saying that for a while now. What is extraordinary is who's saying it: senior US military officials.

From the Washington Post: Dissension grows in senior ranks on war strategy.

Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."

Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.

There's lots more, and it's all really interesting, if depressing. Like this part:

Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. "We'll be taking casualties," he warned, during that entire time.

A long-term problem for any administration is that it may be difficult for the American public to tell whether the United States is winning or losing, and the prospect of continued casualties may prompt some to ask of how long the public will tolerate the fighting.

"Iraq might have been worth doing at some price," Vickers said. "But it isn't worth doing at any price. And the price has gone very high."

The other key factor in the war is Iraqi public opinion. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Iraqis want the United States to leave immediately. "In Iraq, we are rapidly losing the support of the middle, which will enable the insurgency to persist practically indefinitely until our national resolve is worn down," the senior U.S. military intelligence officer said.

Many of those interviewed point to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld as the targets of their anger. Now, I know that Rumsfeld has stepped on a lot of toes in his time as Secretary of Defense, and that some of this is probably just normal bureaucratic in-fighting, with people going for the jugular now that Rumsfeld looks weak because of the Abu Ghraib scandal. But this goes deeper than that.

When our country experienced the particular constellation of bad judgement, hubris, and venality that resulted in the Vietnam war, it took more than a decade for us to come to enough of a national consensus to change course. But like an organism that has built up antibodies as a result of exposure to a particular pathogen, I don't think it will take us as long this time to successfully identify and fight off the disease. At least I hope it doesn't. And if I'm right about that, then the willingness of senior military leaders to speak up about the mistakes they see being made will be an important part of that process.

Posted by jbc at 04:34 PM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (2)

Zakaria: Responsible for What, Exactly?

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria has a great piece on Rumsfeld, Bush, and the taking of responsibility: The price of arrogance.

Those of you who persist in what Janeane Garofalo describes as the "character flaw" of supporting Bush really have a lot to answer for, and Zakaria's opinion piece summarizes an important part of it. What are you people thinking? You do recognize that things are thoroughly fucked up, right? And that your guy's awful decision-making is at the heart of much of the upfuckery? At what point are you willing to recognize that your ideological predisposition is driving you to support someone who really doesn't deserve that support?

Posted by jbc at 09:22 AM | view/comment (5) | TrackBack (0)

What James Yee Was Really Up To

Scott Forbes follows up on a suggestion from a commenter at Billmon's Whiskey Bar weblog: Connecting the dots. It concerns James Yee, the US Army chaplain who was arrested with certain mysterious documents after returning from Guantanamo, paraded through the media for a few days with lurid charges that suggested he was some kind of al Qaeda mole, and then had the charges against him suddenly dropped for "national security" reasons.

The conspiracy theory offered by the Whiskey Bar commentator is that Yee might have been carrying documentation of prisoner abuse at Gitmo. The whipsawing he received, followed by the abrupt dropping of charges (and the accompanying gag order against him), which seemed so weird at the time, and begged so strongly for some other shoe to drop, would then make perfect sense as a heavy-handed bit of intimidation intended to keep his story under wraps.

I know the universe isn't obligated to twist itself into knots just to make my paranoid fantasies of a global conspiracy of right-wing evil-doers come true. But this particular fantasy does a really good job of explaining a lot of otherwise-discordant facts. And it's consistent with other truths that have emerged since then. Taken together, all this has the needle on my "hidden truth" detector twitching.

Maybe one day we'll know. For now, though, I guess it's just really, really suggestive.

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

Weisberg on Bush's Non-Native Stupidity

I neglected to link to this last week when it came out, but it's very much up my alley, so here you go: from Jacob Weisberg: The misunderestimated man.

Posted by jbc at 08:25 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 08, 2004

Oprah, Stern, Kimmel, and the FCC

Aparently, I forgot to post a story back in March about the Oprah episode discussing a lot of explicit sexual acts that aired as a re-run on March 18th of this year; and that March 18th happened to be the same day that the FCC fined Howard Stern for a 2001 show discussing a lot of explicit sex acts; or that Jimmy Kimmel stired things up by pointing out the double standard; or that Stern's network censored him and bleeped the 'indecient' portions of the Oprah clip when he tried to play it on his show.

(See what happens when you don't post things when they're current -- you have to re-cap later.)

Anyway, I mention all of that, so that I can mention this: Apparently Kimmel and Stern got through to some people. The FCC has been flooded with emails complaining about Oprah, which are now available for public consumption thanks to the FOIA. Some of these letters seem a little over the top, but it certainly seems to be raising awareness about the hypocrisy of the FCC's rule(ing)s.

Posted by hossman at 11:29 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Not Growing Up

I've mentioned how I end up going to pretty much every little-kid movie that comes out. It's an easy way to give the Mrs. a break from tending the herd, and while some of the movies might leave something to be desired as grown-up entertainment, you get the occasional surprise.

Like last year's Peter Pan. I ended up seeing that one with my 6-year-old son, my 12-year-old daughter, and (inadvertantly) a group of thoroughly obsessed barely-teenaged girls who sat in the row in front of us and squealed uncontrollably whenever Jeremy Sumpter (the boy who plays Peter Pan) was looking especially cute. Which was a lot. By the end of the film my daughter was disgusted with them, but I thought they added to the ambience.

Now that the movie's out on DVD I was curious to see if I'd like it as much without the hormonally-crazed accompaniment. And it turns out that I do. This movie is amazing. It's beautiful. And yes, it made me cry.

As with other films I've felt compelled to gush about here, I love it in large part because director P. J. Hogan, along with his cast and crew, was willing to risk a complete commitment to the story's emotional potential. The downside to that is that it makes the movie easy to criticize, if that's what you want to do. For an example, see this review from Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun: A sexualized Peter Pan. Or, for someone whose panning is a good deal less repressed and more fun, see Mr. Cranky.

Mr. Cranky is funny but wrong, while Kirkland is just wrong. For some reviews that put things in proper perspective, see Roger Ebert, Michael Atkinson, and Harry Knowles.

Yes, the movie is occasionally dark, and doesn't skirt the issue of its characters' emerging sexuality. Attention prudish doofuses: That's what the story of Peter Pan is about, the sanitized Disney version notwithstanding. Deal.

My son is a pretty sensitive kid, even by 6-year-old standards. I just this moment asked him if he liked the movie.


The scary parts, the serious parts, didn't bother you?

"No. They were good."

You sure?

(Hint of annoyance.) "They were good."


He's right. This whole movie is good. It's magically, heart-achingly good. I feel really sorry for those of you who don't have a kid or two of your own to entertain, since you might very well end up missing it. Take my advice: Go find some kid-encumbered friend or relative, and offer to babysit. Then settle in with some microwave popcorn and this movie. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I sure was.

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

May 07, 2004

Private Lynch, Meet Private England

In one of those weird correspondences that my brain insists on trying to twist into something meaningful, Pfc. Lynndie England, the soldier with the Dorothy Hamill hair (am I dating myself with that reference?) in the Abu Ghraib photos, turns out to have joined up to earn money for college to escape the limited prospects of her small hometown in the West Virginia coal country. Just like Pfc. Jessica Lynch. From the NYT: From a picture of pride to a symbol of abuse in Iraq.

So now another town has had the media descend upon it, anxious for any scrap of information on the newly famous local girl. How odd, that our national experience of the Iraq war would end up being bracketed by images of these two young women, their experiences at once so similar and so different. Lynch on the stretcher during her rescue ("rescue"?), smiling bravely for the camera; England also smiling (smirking?), pointing at a naked prisoner's Johnson. Lynch's body broken, perhaps permanently damaged, as a result of an accident over which she had no control, elevated to a hero's status despite not having done much of anything beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And England, physically whole (pregnant, actually, according to the article, with the out-of-wedlock child of another soldier being investigated for prisoner abuse), her newfound fame at least somewhat more the result of actions she took consciously.

One a "hero", the other a "villain", but both caught up in a whirlwind they never expected, elevated to symbols, their private lives disappearing behind the very public myths of what they represent.

Like I said, weird.

Posted by jbc at 01:55 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

Cole on Accountability

Juan Cole has written a great post that gets to the heart of what bothers me about the Bush administration: the profoundly anti-democratic, anti-American values it displays, in deed if not in word. Anyway: The mideastization of the US, or: Rumsfeld must resign.

Posted by jbc at 08:44 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Riverbend: Just Go

If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost the war.
-- Lyndon Johnson

One of the thing that has always made Riverbend's Baghdad Burning weblog so interesting to me is that she represents, in many respects, the target audience for the US message in Iraq. She's young, educated, professional, has attended school in the West and speaks excellent English; in short, she's exactly the sort of thoughtful, cosmopolitan Iraqi who we'd hope would be willing to give our message of liberation and democracy a fair hearing. If Iraq is ever to emerge from the US occupation while avoiding the twin pitfalls of repressive authoritarianism and theocratic dogmatism, it is Iraqis like Riverbend who will make it happen.

In her previous post, she spoke of the revulsion that she and other Iraqis felt at the revelation of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses: Those pictures.... As she's thought about it more, and as she's watched the reactions of various players to the events, her views have hardened. Now, in a heartbreaking post that rings with the moral authority of our own Declaration of Independence, she speaks on behalf of all Iraqis to the country that has done her such wrong: Just go...

I sometimes get emails asking me to propose solutions or make suggestions. Fine. Today's lesson: don't rape, don't torture, don't kill and get out while you can- while it still looks like you have a choice... Chaos? Civil war? Bloodshed? We’ll take our chances- just take your Puppets, your tanks, your smart weapons, your dumb politicians, your lies, your empty promises, your rapists, your sadistic torturers and go.

If we've lost Riverbend, we've lost the war.

Posted by jbc at 06:52 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

May 06, 2004

Torture, Abuse ... Abuse, Torture

I just saw a clip of this on the Daily Show: At a recent daily breifing of the DoD, Rumsfeld fielded the following question...

Q: Mr. Secretary, a number of times from the podium you've said U.S. troops do not torture individuals. There was a joking colloquy one time here about the iron maiden, remarks -- I mean, does this report undercut your notion that the U.S. doesn't torture, this is -- is this one of those rare exceptions here that torture took place?

RUMSFELD: I think that -- I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture.

So, I'm not a lawyer either, but it got me wondering ... what the fuck difference does it make? Some are calling this "torture" others prefer calling this "abuse" -- am I really out on a limb here thinking that both words seem to apply?

  • Torture: an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person ... for a purpose such as obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation or coercion (UN Convention against Torture)
  • Abuse: When another person does something on purpose that causes you mental or physical harm or pain (Medicare Glossary)
Posted by hossman at 11:39 PM | view/comment (4) | TrackBack (0)

Draft Registration Form

Reader John writes: Thought you might get a kick out of this...

In this, as in so many other things, he was right.

Posted by jbc at 08:40 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (1)

Losing Hearts and Minds Over the Abu Ghraib Abuses

So, the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal continues to widen (and to draw much-needed attention to the profoundly un-American obscenity that is the Guantanamo Bay detention center). Of particular note to me are the growing number of people who find themselves struggling to reconcile their views about the rightness of the war with the obvious wrongness of how it is being carried out. People like Thomas Friedman: Restoring our honor. And Christopher Hitchens: Prison mutiny.

I have to give them credit for being willing to face up honestly to the latest news. Still, there are plenty of other people who aren't burdened by the need to explain how they could have been so wrong in the first place, and so are able to follow the trail of implications even further. People like Sidney Blumenthal: This is the new gulag. And Juan Cole's wife Shahin: America in the balance: Sex, lies and prison abuse.

Posted by jbc at 05:58 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Blogroll Updates

I've added a new entry to the "blog" portion of the site's blogroll. It's a brand-spanking new weblog from a really funny scarysmart polyglot guy I know in real life, and it's called Patrons of the Absurd.

Also, I've restored to the blogroll the link to Adam's awesome words mean things. It is so cool to have that back again.

Posted by jbc at 08:14 AM | view/comment (2) | TrackBack (0)

May 05, 2004

Disney Forbidding Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush

I saw this little ditty in IMDB's Movie News, I'll lay off the personal commentary, and just link to Mike's Message and cite a few passages from the NY Times Article...

... Disney executives indicated that they would not budge from their position forbidding Miramax to be the distributor of the film in North America. ...
Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.
A senior Disney executive elaborated that the company had the right to quash Miramax's distribution of films if it deemed their distribution to be against the interests of the company. The executive said Mr. Moore's film is deemed to be against Disney's interests not because of the company's business dealings with the government but because Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film, which does not have a release date, could alienate many.
Miramax is free to seek another distributor in North America, but such a deal would force it to share profits and be a blow to Harvey Weinstein, a big donor to Democrats.
Posted by hossman at 10:56 PM | view/comment (6) | TrackBack (0)

May 04, 2004

Abusing Middle Eastern Men Here at Home

From reader Richard comes word of yet another abused-prisoner outrage: 2 men charge abuse in arrest after 9/11 terror attack.

Posted by jbc at 07:48 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Canadian's Perspective on US Actions

A longtime link-suggester, who turns out to be Canadian, engaged me in the following interesting email exchange this morning. With his permission, I'm running it here with his identifying information removed.

From: [email deleted]
Subject: A Note From Abroad

Dear jbc:

Just wanted to give you a take on the "word on street" from abroad -- in this case, Canada.

The general sense here is that the US has completely lost it. Not just in regards to Iraq, but across the board. This torture scandal has pretty much tied it.

Particularly telling is that even the rightmost-leaning of my friends, who previously (grudgingly) supported the US invasion of Iraq, have abandoned their positions. (And for the record, there weren't very many of those people in the first place up here.)

And for the vast majority of "people on the street" in Canada, it looks for all the world like you guys have simply gone insane. No media outlets in Canada ever pushed a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, which means that the whole supposed war rationale was a transparent sham from day one. (And we were already scratching our heads over the theft of the federal election!)

So here's what we see: a rogue superpower, doing whatever it wants, answerable to no one (foreign or domestic), throwing dissenters at home and abroad in jail forever, flouting international law and its own laws on any whim, starting wars for fun and profit, alienating the world and even its closest allies, run by (at best) a mediocre intellect with a criminal background who blatantly stole the "election". The populace of this rogue state is too cowed and terrified of being labelled as "unpatriotic" or singled out for punishment to speak up for their basic rights, more of which disappear -- perhaps forever -- every day.

There's a word for this, and it's not democracy. It's despotism.

When the US is on its game, it is a shining example to the world. But when it slides down into despotism, it's the scariest thing in the world.

And believe me, we are shared shitless of you guys.

Jesus, guys -- if the US can slide into despotism, who the hell can't?

(As always, please don't publish my full name -- I, too am scared of retribution.)

From: John Callender
To: [name and email deleted]
Subject: Re: A Note From Abroad

Could I run your letter as an item on the site, assuming I remove all identifying information from it?

From: [email deleted]
Subject: Re: A Note From Abroad

Of course, provided you agree to fix my typo of "supporters" to "supported" in the third para. (And any other typos you see.)


Listen, I've re-read a couple of my letters to you recently, and they were pretty condescending and holier-than-thou. In retrospect, I really regret this.

You have to understand that many in Canada look to the US as a big brother -- which is not so inaccurate. We do have the same parents -- but where you guys are the rebels that stole the family Thunderbird and peeled off in a cloud of burned rubber, we are the quiet nerds that lived in the basement of the family home until we were 35.

This means that we have a unique perspective. When you exceed us -- as you often do -- we love you for it, since you're family, and we're rooting for you. Plus, like all little brothers, we secretly envy you.

And yet, when you go astray, we strangely feel guilty (guilt, by the way, is the Great Canadian Emotion(tm)), because we feel we should have been able to help you somehow. Plus we feel sad, since you are family, and we love you. And lastly, like all little brothers, we are worried about you.

But right now, it's like we've just learned our big brother has ditched all his friends and gone on a crime spree, robbing banks and blowing people away. We love you, but we're scared you'll show up on our doorstep some night, drunk, with a gun on the seat of the old, idling Thunderbird, and demand that we join you.

I guess I'm saying we know we're not superior to you. Quite the reverse -- we will likely always play second fiddle to our big brother. But this raises the critical point I mentioned before -- if our big brother can go bad, can't we?

(Maybe you can wrap these two letters together somehow.)

Posted by jbc at 12:12 PM | view/comment (10) | TrackBack (1)

Marshall, Will on Incurious George

And the fun continues, with more from Joshua Micah Marshall on Bush's apparent ignorance of a key report on the Abu Ghraib prison abuses: Shaken, but apparently not stirred. Definitely worth reading the whole thing. Marhsall's analysis is dead on. This is the rotten heart of the Bush presidency. From Marshall's conclusion:

There's an echo here of his [Bush's] response to the pre-9/11 warnings streaming up through the government bureaucracy. It hasn't landed on his desk yet, with an action plan, so what is he supposed to do? He talked to Rumsfeld who says he's on top of it. So what more can be done?

This isn't a matter of the aesthetics of leadership. It is another example of how this president is a passive commander-in-chief, how he demands no accountability and, because of that, allows problems to fester and grow. Though this may not be a direct example of it, he also creates a climate tolerant of rule-breaking that seeps down into the ranks of his subordinates, mixing with and reinforcing those other shortcomings.

The disasters now facing the country in Iraq -- some in slow motion, others by quick violence -- aren't just happening on the president's watch. They are happening in a real sense, really in the deepest sense, because of him -- because of his attention to the simulacra of leadership rather than the real thing, which is more difficult and demanding, both personally and morally.

What's that, you say? This is just typical election-year partisanship from the Bush haters of the far left? Um, no, not really. For proof of that, I give you none other than George F. Will, in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday, Time for Bush to see the realities of Iraq.

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how "all people yearn to live in freedom" (McClellan). And about how it is "cultural condescension" to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a "myth" that "our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture" because "ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit" (Tony Blair).

[Several paragraphs of erudite Will-isms snipped.]

Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.

When pundits from both ends of the political spectrum are saying essentially the same thing about your guy, it's hard to argue away their criticisms as being the result of an anti-your-guy bias. No, at this point I think it would be simpler for Bush supporters to just admit the obvious: the man has no business being president.

Posted by jbc at 10:43 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Marshall: The Absurdity of Bush's "Stay the Course" Strategy for Iraq

Lots of interesting stuff lately about Iraq, mistreatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, and doubts about the wisdom of turning over the pacification of Fallujah to Fallujans. But the usual suspects (see the blogroll for starting points) have all that well-covered.

In the meantime, I was struck by this piece from Joshua Micah Marshall: One of the things I've found difficult...

Posted by jbc at 09:06 AM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

May 03, 2004

Absurdity in Political Satire Falling Further Behind Actual Government

The most recent headline that looks as if it crawled off theonion onto a "real" news site: Patriot Act Suppresses News Of Challenge to Patriot Act.

Posted by onan at 11:44 PM | view/comment (0) | TrackBack (0)

Yeah, About That Token Concession We Gave You...

So somehow Bush and Cheney suckered the 9/11 investigation panel into allowing them to testify simultaneously, behind closed doors, under no oath, without a transcript. They were generous enough to allow the panel to take handwritten notes.

Which they then confiscated.

Posted by onan at 11:37 PM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)

May 01, 2004

Record US Deaths in April

Remember back on April 15, when Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers said the growing Iraqi insurgency was a sign of our "success"? Well, I've updated my Iraq-Vietnam comparison graphs with the numbers of US dead for April, so you can now get a graphical representation of that success.

Again, I'm getting these figures from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville's page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first fourteen months of each war. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the same chart, with the Vietnam numbers extended out to cover the first four years of the war:

Finally, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Obligatory disclaimer: As large numbers of people have previously pointed out, we have more troops in-theater in Iraq than we had during the corresponding parts of the Vietnam War graph. Vietnam didn't get numbers of US troops comparable to the number currently in Iraq until shortly after Johnson won the 1964 election, some three-and-a-half years after the starting point of the Vietnam graphs above.

I'm not claiming that these graphs prove that the Iraq war is somehow equivalent to, or worse than, the Vietnam war. I was just curious how the "death profile" of the two wars compared, and these graphs let me see that. Those of you who like to defend the Iraq war by pointing out that many more US troops died each month at the peak of the Vietnam war than are currently dying in Iraq are welcome to make that case using the data shown above. Those of you who want to explain why I'm an idiot for suggesting a comparison between the two sets of data are likewise welcome to contribute via the comments.

Posted by jbc at 12:41 PM | view/comment (6) | TrackBack (4)

Good News, Bad News from Fallujah

I try to notice when I'm wrong. Like everyone, I fail in that endeavor most of the time, but I still make a point of trying. Failed predictions are important. They're trying to teach me something.

So with this latest news from Fallujah, that US forces are turning over control of the city to a newly constituted Iraqi force under the leadership of one of Saddam's former generals. From the LA Times, Iraqi general enters Fallouja as security transition advances:

FALLOUJA, Iraq -- Iraqi troops led by one of Saddam Hussein's former generals began replacing Marines here Friday as a plan to end a near-monthlong siege of this battle-torn city gained momentum.

Former Iraqi Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, dressed in the uniform of Hussein's Republican Guard, entered Fallouja to cheering crowds, triggering a debate on whether securing the defiant city with an Iraqi force was a masterstroke or a concession that could undermine U.S. control of the country.

So, I was wrong, or at least it looks for now as if I was wrong, when I predicted that Bush would have the Marines push on in and do the overwhelming-force thing in Fallujah. Apparently his sense of political self-preservation, given time to operate, can overrule his gut, at least in certain circumstances (say, when his gut's choice has already been tried, and more or less conclusively shown to be disastrous). So, lesson learned, both by me and, one would hope, by Bush.

Which leaves me in a bit of a dilemma of my own, though. How do I feel about this? Well, I'm a little bummed by the fact that I was wrong. But that reaction is countered by a sense of relief that the innocents of Fallujah will not have to pay with more of their blood for my president's bad judgement.

The part of me that generally prefers to be right, though, strikes back by pointing out that if Bush strings together enough good decisions like this in Iraq, he could conceivably pick up enough support from jittery-about-the-war swing voters to help him win the upcoming election. Perhaps I should want things to go badly in Iraq, in order to help bring about the much-to-be-desired regime change here in the US. Perhaps it would be better for Bush to screw up a certain amount now, to avert the possibility of his screwing up much more spectacularly in the course of a second term.

But that argument gives me the creeps. Accepting the death of innocents in the pursuit of some hypothetical greater good isn't the kind of thing I want to get involved with. I'll leave that to people like Osama bin Laden and George Bush.

But when I update my US-troop-deaths graph in a few minutes with April's record body count, what will I be feeling? Sorrow and remorse over the carnage that those statistics represent? Or grim satisfaction at the way the statistics bear out my concerns about Bush's policies? And if it's the latter, what does that say about the kind of person I am?

Posted by jbc at 11:54 AM | view/comment (1) | TrackBack (0)