Archive for March, 2003

Fisk on the Abu Taleb Explosions

Thursday, March 27th, 2003

Here’s Robert Fisk’s on-the-scene report of the explosions that killed at least 15 civilians in a northern Baghdad market yesterday: It was an outrage, an obscenity. The Pentagon briefers made it clear yesterday that if the blasts were the result of US bombs or missiles, they were off-target. I think I buy that, as far as it goes. We’ve obviously been trying to avoid events like this (well, at least within the context of having launched an invasion that requires events like this). Other comments I’ve seen have focused on the possibility that the explosions were caused by Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles. But whatever.

CNN carefully edited the Iraqi TV footage to omit the most gruesome parts, while the rest of the world saw it in all its pulpy, bloody glory. And of course, it’s not hard to draw a connection between the sanitized images the US public sees, and that public’s willingness to go along with the lame justifications for the war, while the rest of the world was saying, hey, wait a minute. Do you understand what you’re unleashing here?

Our much-praised free market compels our media outlets to refrain from upsetting us too much. Parents like me would be outraged if our 5-year-olds, whom we persist in leaving unmonitored in front of the TV, were seeing that footage in its original form, and we’d let CNN (and if need be, their sponsors) know in no uncertain terms that we wanted that shit off the air, pronto. And CNN would do it, or their viewers would quickly migrate to another channel that would.

I guess we’d be okay with this stuff being broadcast on some pay channel, like HBO, after 10:00 p.m., when our children are safe in their beds. Too bad those three kids who were burned alive in their overturned car yesterday didn’t enjoy the same sort of protection from this war’s effects.

Arab News on Humanitarian Aid Distribution in the South

Thursday, March 27th, 2003

Here’s an Arab News account of the initial distribution of humanitarian aid in southern Iraq yesterday: Resentment, relief, and resistance. Definitely paints a different picture than the one I got through the narrow-focus lens of CNN’s video clip.

Arab News: War Stays the Same

Thursday, March 27th, 2003

Arab News is running this fairly depressing, if apt, editorial: Realities of war. “The reality of war is always death and destruction. It always spews out dead bodies – torn, twisted and charred bodies – and legions of injured and maimed.” The piece goes on to point out that the US seriously misjudged in thinking that Iraqis would not defend themselves: “For all that the Iraqis fear and hate the regime under which they suffer, they are patriots – and patriots are always at their toughest when defending their homeland.”

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Texas Sodomy Law

Thursday, March 27th, 2003

Interesting arguments at the US Supreme Court yesterday, concerning whether or not the Texas sodomy law, which criminalizes various acts, but only when the participants are both of the same sex, should be struck down as unconstitutional. Based on the questions they put to the two sides, the court is “deeply divided,” with folks like Rehnquist and Scalia probing for ways to justify what is clearly, at least to my way of thinking, a bogus law, and folks like Breyer and Souter apparently taking the other side. But we’ll have to wait until late June or so to hear what the decision is.

In the meantime, in the interest of recognizing high-profile falsehood, I feel compelled to point out the op-ed piece Norah Vincent has running in today’s Los Angeles Times: ‘Rights Just for Us’: The Gay Left’s Self-Serving Agenda (stupid free login required; cypherpunk98/cypherpunk works). I get the feeling Vincent would like to chime in on the side of those who portray the current court challenge as somehow being about getting “special rights” for gays. Which it isn’t, of course; the law in question functions as exactly the opposite: a codification of special rights for heterosexuals. That is, after all, one of the two bases on which the law is being challenged.

But Vincent finds another way to make the same case: She points to the actions of groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which have been active in using boycotts and negative publicity to target sponsors of anti-gay talk show hosts like “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger and Michael Savage, and claims this constitutes a curtailment of free-speech rights.

Which is completely ludicrous. The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. Nobody’s passing laws to muzzle homophobic speech here. Schlessinger and Savage are free to spout off whatever bigotry they like. And people who disagree with their views are similarly free to speak out against it, including banding together to pressure advertisers not to support them.

Update: I confess to not having a clue who Norah Vincent was when I wrote the above. I vaguely remembered seeing her byline on previous LA Times op-ed pieces, but had just dismissed her as another right-wing anti-gay crusader. That point of view fueled my pissy rant, above.

Well, duh. Norah Vincent, upon further investigation (thanks, Janus), turns out to be, among other things, gay. She’s written extensively on the intersection of gender and politics, and seems pretty likely not to have been trying to make the particular coded-language appeal to the “gays want special rights” position I accused her of.

I still think she’s wrong to protray the attempted boycotting of companies that sponsor anti-gay talk show hosts as a violation of First Amendment rights. But given that she’s a lesbian who’s 1) out, 2) outspoken, and 3) positioned somewhere significantly off the main left/right axis that defines most politically active types in this country, I’m going to have to plead guilty to my own brand of bigotry in how I interpreted her column, above.

I confess I felt an inclination to just edit my comments, Dave Winer-like, to erase the evidence of my lame-osity. But I won’t. I’d rather leave it as a reminder to myself of my own fallibility (which I will predictably ignore next time an opportunity to do so comes up). Oh well.

The Battle for US Public Opinion

Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, here’s a nice overview of the issues surrounding public support for the war in the US: Favorable opinion on the home front crucial during war.

The big unknown for me is this: granted, the public that was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on his lame mishmash of reasons for going to war may well take a more skeptical look if and when thousands of bodybags start coming home. But will they have the same skepticism in the face of Iraqi civilian casualties? So far, images on Iraqi TV and al Jazeera notwithstanding, these seem to have been extraordinarly light. As Robert Fisk said, the US has mostly been blowing up empty buildings in Baghdad. But assuming the militarily-smart-sounding guys I’ve been reading on the Web know what they’re talking about, we’ll soon reach a stalemate, in which our forces have reached the outskirts of Baghdad, but can’t go in without generating all those full bodybags. So what will we do then?

I’m thnking we’ll do whatever promises to deliver the city with the fewest US casualties. That is, we’ll take out Baghdad’s power and water systems, then sit back and wait. Shortly thereafter, 5 million innocent Iraqis will start dying.

Bush will claim this is Saddam Hussein’s fault, rather than his own. Will the American people buy that?

Ritter: US Will Lose Iraq War

Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

Here’s a position you don’t see every day: Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector and long-time Bush gadfly, is saying that the US defeat in Iraq is inevitable. Make of it what you will. Thanks to Janus for the link.

Fisk on the Propaganda War

Wednesday, March 26th, 2003

From the New Zealand Herald comes this interesting piece by Robert Fisk: Allies not telling truth – things are going wrong. I’m not sure if that’s Fisk’s headline or the Herald’s; the story is a little less breathless than the headline makes it sound. It’s basically a rant on the way many who are covering the war are not being as critical as they could about the information they’re being fed and the language they’re using in their dispatches.

Peters: War Is Going Great

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

Here’s the gung-ho, upbeat version of what’s happening in Iraq, from retired military man and right-wing columnist Ralph Peters, writing in yesterday’s New York Post: Winning big. Basically, he asserts that everything is going fine. Sure, some people on our side are dying; that’s war. Overall, he thinks the strategy is sound. Worst-case scenario, he says, is that we have to lay siege to Baghdad for a few weeks while we think up some innovative ways to end their resistance. Um, what innovative ways would those be? And do they involve a few hundred thousand Iraqi civilians dying? Something tells me that might cut severely into the profits of Halliburton’s FTD division, which I understand has been awarded the contract to supply the flowers that grateful Iraqis are going to be showering on their liberators.


Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

From the good people at Defective Yeti, via Janus, comes this droll screenshot of the CNN web site. Heh. Really.

War Links: Fisk, Higgs, Walkom

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

Here are three putting-things-in-context pieces I just read. First, from, a great interview with Robert Fisk, the writer for The Independent who’s been posting stories from Baghdad: Live From Iraq, an Un-Embedded Journalist. Next, from a different Independent (, Robert Higgs’ commentary, Military Precision versus Moral Precision. Finally, from the Toronto Star’s Thomas Walkom, Is Saddam winning political war? The first and the last stories, especially, make some interesting points about where this war is headed, in terms of the larger political picture. And it’s not pretty.

Hardy: The Truth about Bowling for Columbine

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

I seem unable to stop posting links about Michael Moore and Bowling for Columbine. Maybe I should actually see the movie. Anyway, here’s the latest: from David T. Harvey, Bowling for Columbine: Documentary or Fiction? According to Harvey, Columbine cannot be considered a documentary, because in making it Moore consistently lied about his subject matter.

Wright’s Resignation Letter

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

I wasn’t paying attention to this when it happened, but here’s another career diplomat who has resigned her position in the State Department to protest Bush’s foreign policy. Mary A. Wright’s letter of resignation was sent to Colin Powell on March 19.

The idealist in me decided a long time ago that I would never vote for a Republican. But I confess that the realist in me, looking around at the political landscape and wondering where, oh where, are we going to find someone capable of steering us out of the current catastrophe, keeps coming back to one name: Colin Powell. Yes, I know he’s tainted by association with a lot of things that left-leaning folks in general and me in particular have a really hard time with: his military service in Vietnam, his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the first Gulf War, his flirtation with the Republican presidential candidacy, and, especially, his willingness to fall into line with the chickenhawks in the current administration after the so-called “diplomatic effort” failed.

But I continue to have this weirdly favorable attitude toward him. It dates to that “first we’re going to cut it off, then we’re going to kill it” briefing he gave during Gulf War I. My God, I thought at the time, here’s someone who is actually willing to tell the truth about what’s going to happen.

At first, my liking him was probably mostly a case of my projecting noble impulses and values onto the largely blank image he’d been careful to craft around his public self. But as time has passed, and I’ve made a point of trying to piece together more of what’s going on there, I’ve found my favorable opinion surviving largely intact. I don’t know why, but I’ve been willing to cut him a lot of slack, to interpret his participation in the Bush presidency as the waging of a long, drawn-out campaign for a more-sensible foreign policy than the one Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz have been pushing. He thinks like a soldier, whose duty is to follow the orders of his commanding officer, even while he’s doing his best to give that commanding officer the information and advice he needs to make good decisions.

But there comes a time when a person of principle has to stop following bad orders, and live up to a higher duty. I think that’s what the recent resignations coming out of the State Department have been saying.

I think Colin Powell should follow their lead. He should resign as Secretary of State, and run for president as an independent in 2004. If he did, I might very well confound my own ultra-liberal leanings and vote for him. I can’t justify it intellectually, really, but I continue to trust him.

Anyway, whether or not I would vote for him is beside the point. The point is this: If he followed this scenario and ran for president, I think he would actually win.

Bill Schneider on Likely US Casualties

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

I caught a brief piece on CNN yesterday that struck me as fairly insightful (!), and have now found the transcript for it at In it, analyst Bill Schneider points out how the US public seems to be “fighting the last war,” in the sense that they are expecting US casualties from the current Iraq invasion to be of the same order as those of Gulf War I (when about 1 in 1,500 US military folks were killed or wounded). But it seems much more likely, says Schneider, that this war will result in something closer to what we experienced in World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam, when the casualty rate was more like 1 in 15. As a result, we’d end up not with the 760 or so casualties we saw in Gulf War I, but something closer to 17,000. And in his (Schneider’s) view, the US public isn’t at all prepared for that.

You can browse CNN’s transcript for the piece (look a little more than halfway down the page), or you can just follow the link below (or scroll down) to see my stolen copy of the relevant portion.

More Detail on US Violations of the Geneva Convention

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

Here’s a nice article from The Guardian that provides more specifics on how the US has been violating the Geneva Convention with respect to prisoners from Afghanistan, making it kind of silly for Rumsfeld to issue stern pronouncements about how he expects the Iraqis to toe the line in their handling of US prisoners: One rule for them. Thanks to reader michael for the link.

Parade Float of the Week

Monday, March 24th, 2003

In some ways the folks in Europe are just so far advanced compared with us colonials that it’s not even funny. Except when it actually is pretty funny. Thanks to Hiro for the link.

Poniewozik on Moore’s Oscar Rant

Monday, March 24th, 2003

Just to beat a dead horse a little more, here’s Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik with a fairly apt critique of Michael Moore’s anti-Bush, anti-war acceptance speech at the Oscars last night: Shame on You, Mr. Moore! Shame on You!

Dave Barry on Writing Oscar Jokes with Steve

Monday, March 24th, 2003

Dave Barry reveals the process behind the creation of Steve Martin’s Oscar jokes. Dave Barry is extremely cool.

Kos on Quagmire and Propaganda

Monday, March 24th, 2003

Some good commentary from Daily Kos today: Not a quagmire. Yet. He also talks about the ongoing propaganda effort from the U.S. military, and their squandering of credibility through lots of statements that have required subsequent retraction:

  • Saddam is dead! Ok, no he’s not.

  • Iraq fired a Scud at Kuwait! Ok, no it wasn’t.

  • Umm Qasr is taken! Ok, no it’s not.
  • The Iraqi 51st Division surrendered en masse! Ok, no it hasn’t.
  • Republican Guard commanders will surrender! Ok, no they won’t.
  • Basra is taken! Ok, no it’s not.
  • We found a chemical weapons factory! Ok, maybe it isn’t.

Anyway, see the article for the rest of his take on it.

Weiner on Effective Antiwar Protest Strategy

Monday, March 24th, 2003

Bernard Weiner has a really fabulous piece running at A Vietnam-era Dad Talks to His Protesting Son. We need more voices with this level of wisdom guiding the antiwar movement.

Birthday in Baghdad

Monday, March 24th, 2003

From comes this relatively upbeat story to counter some of the stuff we’ve been seeing lately: Amal Shamuri’s thirteenth birthday party. “When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Amal – whose name means ‘hope’ in Arabic – smiled and simply replied, ‘All I want is peace.'” Happy birthday, Amal. May you get your wish.