Archive for April, 2003
I’ve been catching some criticism in the comments lately, which is nothing new, but these criticisms have been different, in that they’ve actually hit home. Specifically, people have been complaining about the one-sided nature of the stuff I’ve been posting, criticizing my far-left, anti-war, anti-Bush slant, and doing so in fairly thoughtful terms, not just repeating things from a right-wing talk show.
While I don’t plan to abandon my views just because some people disagree with them, I do think it would be interesting to have more points of view represented here. In pursuit of that, I’ve emailed invitations to a few of the people who’ve been offering up criticism in the comments, as well as to The Web Walker, who had a history of contributing his own decidedly not-mine views back in the site’s early days.
So we’ll see what comes of that. In the meantime, if you disagree with some or all of the views I express here, and you think you could offer an additional perspective that would help the site do a better job of being whatever it is that it seems to be becoming, let me know, and I’ll think about adding you to the list of people who can post stories on the site. Thanks.
Oh, and I’m also going to try to cut down on the extensive blockquoting within the items I post. If I’m posting it, it’s because I think the whole thing is worth reading. If I feel like commenting on specific aspects of it, I’ll just comment on them, without necessarily duplicating the material inline. I think that works better from a reader’s point of view, even if it does mean some references are going to get pretty obscure as the linked-to items fall prey to link rot.
From Australian newspaper The Age comes this piece by Chris Goddard: Look into the eyes of Ali Ismail Abbas: what do you see? Ali, you’ll recall, is the symbolic representative of the war-ravaged children of Iraq that even the US media was willing, however briefly, to put on TV. Goddard has some interesting things to say about what it is that he actually symbolizes.
The Washington Post has an article today that puts an interesting twist on things: Putin opposes US, Britain on lifting Iraqi sanctions. It seems the Russian president is taking the position that UN sanctions on Iraq can be lifted only when the country no longer has weapons of mass destruction. Which actually sounds somewhat reasonable, since it was the possession of those WMDs that the original sanctions were based on. So now Bush and Blair are in something of a Catch-22: They want the sanctions lifted, so they can begin exporting more Iraqi oil than is allowed under the oil-for-food program. But they can’t produce Iraqi WMDs and destroy them, since they haven’t been able to find any. So the only way to get the sanctions lifted would be to argue that the WMDs weren’t actually there in the first place. But that, of course, would constitute an admission that the justification for the invasion, as presented to the UN, was itself a lie.
Here’s a nice opinion piece from CommonDreams.org focusing on the whole Dixie Chicks thing. By Joy-Ann Lomena Reid: Whistling Dixie. She has a lot of good things to say about the importance of allowing criticism of the president during wartime, including this quotation from Teddy Roosevelt:
The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.
There’s also this passage, where Reid hits the nail on the head, at least as far as I’m concerned:
And then there was the hour-long, televised rebuke of the women Thursday night, in which ABC News correspondent Diane Sawyer repeatedly pressed, in tisking, school-marm fashion, for just one more apology to Bush. Maines heroically resisted the attempts to reduce her to a wicked child, who surely must realize that it isn’t nice to criticize her betters, but the interview ought to go down in history with the House Committee on Un-American Affairs hearings for its daring presumption of guilt. What many of the rest of us still don’t get, is just what Maines is guilty of: Feeling ashamed? Being from Texas? Or speaking her mind?
Really. What exactly is Natalie Maines guilty of? Because whatever it is, there’s a whole bunch of us who are just as guilty.
From AlterNet comes this interesting account by Jason Halperin of being in the wrong place at the wrong time: Patriot raid. Halperin was sitting with a friend in an Indian restaurant in New York City, eating dinner.
All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.
“Go to the back, go to the back of the restaurant,” they yelled.
I hesitated, lost in my own panic.
“Did you not hear me, go to the back and sit down,” they demanded.
I complied and looked around at the other patrons. There were eight men including the waiter, all of South Asian descent and ranging in age from late-teens to senior citizen. One of the policemen pointed his gun point-blank in the face of the waiter and shouted: “Is there anyone else in the restaurant?” The waiter, terrified, gestured to the kitchen.
It goes on from there. Over 90 minutes, Halperin and the other patrons and workers in the restaurant were threatened and intiimidated by federal and local agents, acting, they were told, under the authority of the US Patriot Act.
When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official informed me that I do have the right to a lawyer but I would have to be brought down to the station and await security clearance before being granted one. When I asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy smile: “Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month.”
I know the 9/11 attacks were freaky, and constituted a rude awakening not only for ordinary citizens like you and me, but also for law enforcement types, all the way up to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who, prior to 9/11, was explicitly not interested in the warnings coming from the previous administration about this al Qaeda thing, having his hands much too full pursuing important goals like cracking down on Interent smut. In that context, I can see how it was politically expedient to railroad through some dramatic expansions in police powers.
But now is not then. With the passage of time, we have a much clearer picture of the threats we face, not only from terrorists, but also from people willing to trade away our freedoms in pursuit of security. It’s time to take a serious look at what we’re giving up in our efforts to stay safe, and this experience of Halperin’s provides a nice illustration of that.
Something I missed when it first appeared is a really fabulous interview with Roger Ebert over at AlterNet. He talks about Michael Moore’s Academy Awards speech, actors and musicians who criticize the war, and whether movies can make us better people. An excerpt:
Q: What do you make of the criticism of Hollywood celebrities for speaking out against the war – the Sean Penns, the Susan Sarandons?
Ebert: It’s just ignorant; it’s just ignorant.
Q: Why do you say that?
Ebert: I begin to feel like I was in the last generation of Americans who took a civics class. I begin to feel like most Americans don’t understand the First Amendment, don’t understand the idea of freedom of speech, and don’t understand that it’s the responsibility of the citizen to speak out. If Hollywood stars speak out, so do all sorts of other people. Now Hollywood stars can get a better hearing. Oddly enough, the people who mostly seem to hear them are the right wing, so that Fox News can put on its ticker tape in Times Square a vile attack on Michael Moore, and Susan Sarandon is a punchline. These are people who are responsible and are saying what they believe. And there are people on the other side who also speak out, and it’s the way our country works.
There’s lots more good stuff there. Definitely worth checking out, if you haven’t seen it already.
Ho, hum. Another day, another round of criticism of Bush’s willingness to justify the Iraq invasion with lies. First, from the normally-quite-staid LA Times editorial writers: Tell the truth on weapons (login required, cypherpunk98/cypherpunk works).
“We were not lying,” one administration official told ABC News on Friday. “But it was just a matter of emphasis.” No, it wasn’t. Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction is central to the legitimacy of the war.
If it turns out that the administration did mislead the world, the only way to mitigate long-term damage to U.S. credibility is to come clean. Fast.
Next up, Robert Scheer’s latest column: Are we numb or dumb?
It is expected that despots can force the blind allegiance of their people to falsehoods. But it is frightening in the extreme when lying matters not at all to a free people. The only plausible explanation is that the tragedy of Sept. 11 so traumatized us that we are no longer capable of the outrage expected of a patently deceived citizenry. The case for connecting Saddam Hussein with that tragedy is increasingly revealed as false, but it seems to matter not to a populace numbed by incessant government propaganda.
Finally, let’s give the floor to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, writing in his latest piece, Matters of emphasis:
One wonders whether most of the public will ever learn that the original case for war has turned out to be false. In fact, my guess is that most Americans believe that we have found W.M.D.’s. Each potential find gets blaring coverage on TV; how many people catch the later announcement — if it is ever announced — that it was a false alarm? It’s a pattern of misinformation that recapitulates the way the war was sold in the first place. Each administration charge against Iraq received prominent coverage; the subsequent debunking did not.
Did the news media feel that it was unpatriotic to question the administration’s credibility? Some strange things certainly happened. For example, in September Mr. Bush cited an International Atomic Energy Agency report that he said showed that Saddam was only months from having nuclear weapons. “I don’t know what more evidence we need,” he said. In fact, the report said no such thing — and for a few hours the lead story on MSNBC’s Web site bore the headline “White House: Bush Misstated Report on Iraq.” Then the story vanished — not just from the top of the page, but from the site.
Thanks to this pattern of loud assertions and muted or suppressed retractions, the American public probably believes that we went to war to avert an immediate threat — just as it believes that Saddam had something to do with Sept. 11.
Now it’s true that the war removed an evil tyrant. But a democracy’s decisions, right or wrong, are supposed to take place with the informed consent of its citizens. That didn’t happen this time. And we are a democracy — aren’t we?
I guess that has become an empirical question. If we are a democracy, a healthy one, with the kind of well-developed immune system that can successfully fight off an infection by anti-democratic forces, then events between now and November of next year will demonstrate that.
Sometimes, no matter what you do (or don’t do) you have one of *those* days. I’ve recently discovered that on days like that, playing dress up with naughty cartoon catholic school girls is oddly soothing. There is an alternative version for people who use different web browsers then I.
(Your mileage may vary on the whole “soothing” thing.)
ymatt pointed me to this story, about how Bruce Springsteen is standing up for the Dixie Chicks: Springsteen backs under-fire Dixies. Even better, the story included a small screenshot of the nude-Dixie-Chicks cover of Entertainment Weekly, which reminded me that I’d wanted to see that (for journalistic reasons only, you understand), which led me to track down a bigger version of it here.
Cheesecake factor aside, it’s a pretty cool image. I give Natalie Maines credit for standing up, Bush-like, to her detractors, rather than running off and hiding. Must be a Texas thing. And mad props to Martie Maguire and Emily Robison for standing by Maines, too.
From The Smirking Chimp comes word of this opinion piece by Don Campbell: Pause the postwar glee to ask: Were supporters misled? It’s yet another example of the “Hey, did Bush lie to us about Iraqi WMDs to justify the war?” talk going around, and I find it especially significant because Campbell describes himself as previously having supported the war based mainly on the WMD assertions. This is your prototypical swing voter talking here, from the pages of the can’t-get-more-mainstream USA Today:
If the weapons are found and their authenticity confirmed, Bush will have the I-told-you-so moment of his presidency. He’ll deserve to be rewarded politically for staring down the Nervous Nellies and defending the nation against weapons controlled by a mad man.
If the weapons are not found, the most charitable explanation is that they were moved out of Iraq while we were bombing our way to Baghdad — or that we had rotten intelligence to begin with. Either illustrates incompetence.
The more ominous conclusion is that Bush deliberately misled Americans to gather support for the Iraqi invasion — or unwittingly was misled himself by gung-ho advisers, none of whom wear uniforms. I don’t know which of the two is worse, but either should carry a heavy political price.
Here are a pair of fun images that have come my way today. First, from Immy2G via email, with the subject line, “Proof that Iraq has biological weapons”:
And from ymatt, by request, a juxtaposition of Bush the cut-up with Bush the sober statesman, from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. My hope here was for something akin to that comedy/tragedy symbol, with the masks. (What do they call that thing, anyway? It must have a name.) Anyway:
Obviously, I’m not much of a fan of George W. Bush. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s all bad. After catching some flak in the comments for having portrayed him as stupid, I feel that I should go on record with some of my thoughts on dubya, minus the sarcasm.
The man has focus, and determination. See this interesting article from the Washginton Post’s On Politics, for example: Close look at a focused president. Bush goes his own way, even in the face of criticism. Setting aside for the moment the question of whether that way is a way I think the country should be headed, you have to give the guy credit for sticking to his guns.
Also, I give Bush high marks for personal honesty. I know that sounds crazy, given that I also think he has led a sustained effort to lie to the world and to the American people about his justification for going to war with Iraq. In terms of the severity of its consequences, that’s a pretty serious lie. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s much worse in that sense than the lies Clinton told about Lewinsky.
But in a way, what Bush is doing with this Iraq war justification isn’t really lying. Clinton’s Monica lies were just outright whoppers, pure and simple. With Bush, the lies are fuzzier. They’re down there in the clutter of details that he simply doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to. Clinton, I’m sure, had no illusions about whether he was lying or not when he waggled his finger at the camera and asserted that he’d never had sexual relations with “that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Bush, though, with his west-Texas anti-intellectualism, views “facts” with suspicion. Facts are things that propeller-headed Poindexters worry about. A real man like him pays more attention to his gut. His gut told him that Saddam was a bad man, and that “taking him out” was an appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks. Once he’d arrived at that decision, the hooey he fed the public was a secondary issue. He was acting on the basis of Truth with a big “T”, and he wasn’t going to let truth with a little “t” get in his way.
Bush really is like those country fans singing along with Darryl Worley and Toby Keith. He just doesn’t discriminate that finely. From his perspective, the differences between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are much less important than the things they have in common. They both come from a part of the world he’d never paid much attention to before being not-quite-elected president. They both speak Arabic, are at least nominally Islamic, and don’t like the United States. And that’s good enough for him.
It’s not that he’s stupid, as much as ignorant, and (especially) possessed of bad judgement in his refusal to look carefully at the consequences he’s committing us all to before deciding to follow his gut. Here’s how I put it in responding to a user’s comment on the Dare to be (not) stupid piece the other day:
I don’t think George Bush is all that stupid. I don’t think he’s all that smart, either, but I don’t think that disqualifies him for the presidency. What I think disqualifies him for the presidency is his poor judgement.
A stupid person could be a decent president, I think, as long as he was aware of his limitations, had a solid emotional foundation, and used good judgement in evaluating the advice he received from those around him. He’d have to be able to make his decisions based on the right reasons, rather than letting his emotions and the darker side of his personality push him to do stupid things that “felt” right at the time, but really weren’t.
That’s what I think Bush is doing, in particular with his reaction to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. I don’t blame him for being out of his depth; I think any president, no matter how intelligent, would have been out of his depth faced with the events of 9/11. I blame him for picking the wrong people to listen to in deciding what to do about it, for letting himself be manipulated, and for letting his emotions lead him into taking the country down a path that will only make the problem worse in the long run.
If someone injures you, but doesn’t stick around to let you hit back at them, you’re going to feel a lot of bottled up aggression. You’re going to want to use that aggression on somebody. Whether or not you indulge that desire by beating up on a bunch of people who have no connection with the person who initially injured you has more to do with personality and judgement, I think, than raw intelligence.
There’s a level on which George Bush is more honest, more trustworthy, than someone like Clinton. Clinton would tell you black was white, and be completely convincing about it, if he thought it would help him politically. With Bush, what you see is what you get. As frightening as he is to me, as bad a president as I think he is, I have to give him credit for that.
As commented upon interestingly by Sungo at Sungo’s Journal, check out the story of Antron Singleton, rap artist, aspirer after fame, and cannibal.
From the NYT comes this piece on how the Bush administration is doubling the number of people it has searching for WMDs in Iraq: US plans to add to teams to hunt for Iraqi weapons. An excerpt:
One official, discussing the American plans, said that despite some polls indicating that Americans do not care very much whether the weapons are found, White House officials are pressing the United States Central Command to step up the search for them because of worldwide skepticism that the main American rationale for the war was not proving to be true. “There’s just a lot of pressure coming from the White House on this,” an administration official said. “But Centcom is pushing back because they have other things to do — like securing the country and guarding its antiquities.”
Meanwhile, here’s a piece from The Independent that gives a nice summary of that “worldwide skepticism”: Revealed: How the road to war was paved with lies.
I remember the first time I read a real diary on the Web. It was Bryon Sutherland’s The Semi-Existence of Bryon, and it must have been in 1995 or so. Wow, I thought. The Web is even cooler than I thought.
I was reminded of that this morning when I followed a link from Adam’s Words Mean Things to Bobby Burgess’s a gray box with words inside, where you can read Burgess’s thoughts about his girlfriend, Michelle.
From the good people at Foreign Policy in Focus comes this cute item in their weekly newsletter:
Why don’t you simply acknowledge that you are a communist/socialist organization? From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs, right? You may think that you are clever in disguising your objectives with elaborate oratory, but rest assured, knowledgeable Americans can see through your veil of “progressive activism”. Of course, we’re not your core constituency, are we? You prey on the ill-informed and weak, like a pack of hyenas. You will fail, as your comrades have in the past.
Too many millions have suffered and died at the hands of the likes of you to allow socialism to re-emerge as a valid socio-political alternative.
We are watching you. As for your question, “May we publicize your comments?” I dare you.
– Charles Taylor <email@example.com>
Well, he sure told them, didn’t he?
As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I love conspiracy theories. I give this one only a 10% – 20% chance of actually being true, but it still makes for an interesting thought experiment.
As described in an opinion piece by the Detroit Times’ Jack Lessenberry, the idea is this: that the US might have secretly entered into a deal with Saddam to let him take the money and run, setting himself up in some out-of-the-way place in return for a promise from us not to look for him too hard.
The reason I don’t think it’s especially likely to be true is that it doesn’t fit with the image of Bush as having a personal vendetta against Saddam, being annoyed about that whole “he tried to kill my daddy” thing, wanting to “fuck” him by “taking him out,” and so on.
But, as Lessenberry points out, there are aspects of the theory that fit the known facts pretty well, especially the sudden disinterest on the part of the powers that be in Saddam’s location after the (staged?) decapitation strike on the restaurant. And it would make all kinds of sense in terms of the overall war plan, what with its emphasis on toppling the regime with a minimum of bloody Baghdad street fighting.
Anyway, make of it what you will.
General Myers, true to has word, looked into the reports of all those Iraqi civilians being killed by US cluster munitions, and got back to the press yesterday with the results: Head of Joint Chiefs defends use of cluster bombs in Iraq. Only 26 of the 1,500 or so cluster bombs we dropped in Iraq were dropped on civilian areas, according to Myers, and that was Saddam’s fault anyway, for locating military targets in civilian areas. According to Myers, there was only one (1) case of death or injury to a noncombatant due to a US cluster bomb.
Thankfully, LA Times reporter Greg Miller provides some context for readers who bother to read the whole article:
Myers’ assertions were challenged by human rights organizations, which said they had learned Friday of new injuries to civilians in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
Weapons experts also said Myers’ remarks are somewhat misleading because his account of the U.S. military’s use of cluster bombs does not cover similar weapons dispersed by rockets and ground artillery.
Because they are not dropped from airplanes, those weapons are not considered “cluster bombs” in Pentagon parlance, the experts said. Even so, they added, the weapons have a similar effect and, in many cases, higher “dud rates.”
“I’m hearing about a lot of surface-delivered cluster munitions in the suburbs,” said Mark Hiznay, senior researcher in the arms division of Human Rights Watch in Washington. “They’re hanging in the trees. They’re sitting on the ground.”
Human Rights Watch and other organizations, as well as doctors in Baghdad, have reported hundreds of casualties from cluster bombs or similar devices.