Archive for April, 2003

Kuttner: Will the Right Sink GOP’s Election Hopes?

Friday, April 25th, 2003

Columnist Robert Kuttner writes in the Boston Globe on the various ways in which the far right may be letting the victory in Iraq go to its head: Far right greases skids for GOP fall. Personally, I think it’s kind of early to start celebrating, but it’s a nice thought. Kuttner talks about Newt’s attack on Colin Powell, invokes the shade of Jim Jeffords in discussing the pressure the administration is putting on moderate Republicans over the tax cut, and then mentions Santorum’s anti-gay crusade. He concludes:

To win elections, you need swing voters. The hard-core, partisan Republican vote is around 40 percent of the electorate; and the government-bashing, Bible-thumping, nuke-’em far-right electorate is substantially less than that.

In the past, moderate Republicans saved this radical administration from itself – on tax and budget issues, on military adventures, and on tolerance issues. Now, the radicals want nothing less than total victory. They are inviting electoral defeat.

Kos on Bush’s Iraq Lies

Friday, April 25th, 2003

So, the time has come to rewrite the why-we-needed-to-invade-Iraq storyline once again. With Bush having all but admitted yesterday that the WMDs were a smokescreen, Administration officials are busy pencilling in a new, ex post facto justification: We wanted to make an object lesson of Iraq, because we believed it would serve to magically ward off future 9/11 attacks.

Conveniently, I don’t have to rant about this, because Kos has already done so: Liars.

Dare To Be (Not) Stupid

Thursday, April 24th, 2003

Some interesing stories drifting past my tiny little mind today, many of them having to do with intelligence and our national news and entertainment media.

First, from today’s craptastic-user-login-required LA Times Business section comes this story: Those flag-waving hits fly with DreamWorks (you can login with cypherpunk98/cypherpunk, at least at the moment). It seems that good liberals Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen have no problem celebrating the major green they’re pulling in from chart-topping patriotic country songs like Darryl Worley’s Have you forgotten? and Toby Keith’s Angry American, both of which are functioning as unifying anthems for the crowd that believes our invasion of Iraq was a logical, appropriate response to the 9/11 attacks.

I’m not saying those songs shouldn’t be recorded, or that people who tend not to think too deeply about international events shouldn’t be free to hoist a few Budweisers and feel a surge of patriotic pride while singing along. The freedom to be stupid is, after all, one of the freedoms we hold dear in this country.

But in order for our country to function properly, there need to be some not-stupids participating in the national debate, too. People who realize that this invasion of Iraq was a huge gift to Osama bin Laden, since it a) distracted the US from pursuing him, b) toppled a secular, Socialist Arab dictator who was a hated, entrenched rival, c) paved the way for the rise of a fundamentalist state in Iraq that will be more sympathetic to him and more hostile to the US, d) united the Arab world in opposition to US imperialism, e) indoctrinated a whole new generation of young Arabs in the glory of martyrdom in opposition to the Great Satan, and f) weakened and isolated the US with virtually all its global allies in terms of pursuing the international law-enforcement effort that is the biggest threat to al Qaeda.

On some level what the folks at Dreamworks are doing is just good business, I know, but on another level they’re helping to dilute the national IQ when they push music like this. I see it having an impact on the debate at every level, and that concerns me.

Another angle on this is the speech that NPR host Bob Edwards gave at the University of Kentucky recently: The press and freedom: some disturbing trends. Among lots of really great comments about the intelligence (or lack thereof) in the messages being delivered by our news media, he had this interesting observation about the flap surrounding Natalie Maines’ remark about being embarrassed Bush was from Texas:

The backlash against the Chicks for making that remark is fine if it comes from ex-fans who say they won’t buy any more records by the Dixie Chicks. The marketplace is a respectable forum for freedom of expression. The Chicks have a right to their opinions. Music fans have a right to tell the chicks to go to hell and to boycott their concerts and refuse to buy their records. Free speech is never really free — it always costs something. But here’s what’s wrong with this picture. The backlash against the Chicks is spearheaded not by fans, but by Clear Channel Radio, owner of 1,250 radio stations. Clear Channel is based in Texas. Clear Channel loves George W. Bush. Clear Channel would like the administration of George W. Bush to remove all remaining restrictions on the ownership of media properties. That is exactly what the Bush administration is considering. The Federal Communications Commission, chaired by Mike Powell, the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is reviewing the last remaining rules restricting media ownership. Before he became FCC chairman, Mike Powell was a communications lawyer, making fabulous sums of money lobbying on behalf of the broadcast industry — the industry he’s now supposed to be regulating. When he is finished regulating the broadcasting industry, Mike Powell will return to — the broadcasting industry. Now how tenacious is Mike Powell going to be in regulating the broadcasting industry while he is on this temporary hiatus from the broadcasting industry?

But back to Clear Channel, which daily tells Bush and Powell that it loves them. Is Clear Channel’s move on those Dixie Chicks an expression of patriotism or a business decision? Should Clear Channel have the right to ban the Chicks from its 1,250 stations? I think what individuals do is fine — burn the CDs if you want. What industry does is another matter. Clear Channel can say the Dixie Chicks are tools of Saddam if it wants to, but it should not be allowed to kill the livelihood of any recording artist based on politics.

Oh. Side issue: As previously mentioned, I submitted a letter to the editor of the local weekly paper, griping about people lying in support of the war. They published my letter today. Woo! (It’s about halfway down, under the Coastal View-supplied headline, “Show me the evidence,” which isn’t the emphasis I would have chosen to put on it, but at least they didn’t introduce any spelling errors or anything.) So, my own tiny contribution to the local debate is on the record now; I’ll let you know if anyone mentions it to me when I’m at Vons or picking my kid up at preschool or whatever.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from a nice column by Charley Reese: Poor Sean Hannity.

There is a definitely a whiff of anti-intellectualism — so characteristic of fascist states — in the air. Beware of bully boys who worship the military and scoff at museums and libraries. Beware of people whose limited brains see everyone as either an ally or an enemy. Beware of people who can’t tell the difference between patriotism and military conquest. Beware of people so stupid and ignorant that they accept anything and everything the political and the media demagogues tell them.

Thomas Jefferson, who would have been outraged by the loss of the museum and the library, said, “Those who expect to be ignorant and free expect what never was and never will be.” Amen cubed.

I’m no longer concerned about liberals or conservatives, leftists or rightists. I just pray to God for a non-ideologue with a three-digit IQ. If we don’t elevate the level of intelligence and integrity of our government, we are going to end up floating on the cesspool of history.

Piling on Newt

Thursday, April 24th, 2003

From The Smirking Chimp come links to a couple of derisive followups on the Newt Gingrich story. First, from the LA Weekly’s Harold Meyerson: Neocons run amok! And from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jay Bookman: Loose cannon Gingrich finds a new target.

Nothin’ like a little “Man on Dog” action

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2003

If you haven’t heard about Sen. Rick Santorum’s AP Interview from earlier this month, you should really check out the transcript. The overall feel of the interview can best be summarized by a comment the interviewer made in the middle: “I didn’t think I was going to talk about “man on dog” with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.

And just for the record, I love news.google.com so much, I want to marry it and have it’s babies — I was searching to see if I could find any longer transcripts of the interview, and I found several superb opinions on the whole incident (from various sides of the US Political Machine).

Kristol, Gingrich: It’s All Colin Powell’s Fault

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2003

Here’s a story that was starting to make me angry, until I just collapsed in giggles. I know; I need to take these guys seriously; they currently control the white house, and have a pretty good headlock on the legislative and judicial branches, too, but still, it’s awfully funny.

For the full humor value, go thou and link unto Fox News: Gingrich slams Powell for failed diplomacy. Among the things I find funny here:

  • Newt’s back! Yay!

  • Consider the irony: According to Gingrich, the war happened because of Colin Powell’s “failed diplomacy.” What sort of diplomacy does Newt think would have succeeded? Given that Bush was already sold on the chickenhawk plan of going to war as early as March of 2002, when he made the “Fuck Saddam. We’re taking him out” pronouncement.
  • I love the idea of bringing in reigning ideological champion William Kristol at the end of the piece to tell us what to think. Gee, thanks, Fox News! I was getting so confused there, what with those bad people disagreeing with the smart neocons.
  • How scary is it when the voice of reason is represented by Ari Fleischer?
  • Finally, it’s quite the incestuous little club they’ve got going there, isn’t it? Everyone they quote (except for Ari and that Very Bad Man at the State Department) is a paid commentator for… Fox News! How convenient to have all the smart people working for the same organization.

Anyway, not to get lost in the absurdity of the messenger, the message itself is still pretty interesting. It’s a perfect Catch-22 they’ve got Powell in. See, we opposed you every step of the way, forced you to knuckle under and play a weak diplomatic hand in support of the pre-ordained war decision, and now, when the aftermath of the war is turning into the clusterfuck you predicted from the beginning, we’re going to turn around and blame you for it.

Truly, these people have no shame. And no honor. Colin, wake up and smell the coffee.

Sattar’s Story

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

Kathy Kelly has a really interesting entry in the Iraq Diaries project at Electronic Iraq: This is your country now. It tells the story of Sattar, a Baghdad resident, providing what feels to me like a more authentic look at the perceptions and mindset of the typical Iraqi-in-the-street than we’ve been getting lately from the mainstream media.

Carroll Thinks Deeply About the War

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

Here’s an opinion piece from James Carroll, as published in the Boston Globe: A nation lost. There’s some really good, deep thinking here about what’s going on with our country these days. His conclusion:

Photographic celebrations of our young warriors, glorifications of released American prisoners, heroic rituals of the war dead all take on the character of crass exploitation of the men and women in uniform. First they were forced into a dubious circumstance, and now they are themselves being mythologized as its main post-facto justification — as if the United States went to Iraq not to seize Saddam (disappeared), or to dispose of weapons of mass destruction (missing), or to save the Iraqi people (chaos), but ”to support the troops.” War thus becomes its own justification. Such confusion on this grave point, as on the others, signifies a nation lost.

Scheer: Did Bush Lie to Us On Purpose?

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

Robert Scheer’s latest column isn’t the best work I’ve ever read from him, but it seemed like the kind of thing people would keep suggesting to me if I didn’t post it, so here you go: Did Bush deceive us in his rush to war? Nothing really new here, but a decent summing up. Here’s the money quote from the end of the piece:

Did our president knowingly deceive us in his rush to war?

If he did, and we are truly concerned about our own democracy, we would have to acknowledge that such an egregious abuse of power rises to the status of an impeachable offense.

I think impeachment talk is a distraction at this point. Yeah, on some level I’d agree that launching a war under false pretenses really ought to be considered a vastly more serious offense than, say, lying under oath about whether you got a blowjob from an intern in the Oval Office.

But precisely because it’s so much more serious an offense, I think we need to stay focused in terms of our response. We shouldn’t waste our time, energy, and credibility pushing for an impeachment that, realistically, is never going to happen. Instead, we need to be talking about how we’re going to defeat Bush in the 2004 election.

Estabrook: Call It What It Is

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

Carl Estabrook has a powerful, if disturbing, piece currently running at CounterPunch: Support our euphemism. An excerpt:

The “pro-troops” line echoes what is perhaps the most successful rhetorical strategy in modern politics, “pro-choice.” In each case attention is shifted away from a questionable action toward the actor, for whom sympathy is solicited. But everyone knows that “pro-troops” is an assertion of the legitimacy of the war, just as “pro-choice” is a contention that abortion is ethical. In neither case does the argument have to be made explicit. Both involve ending human life (obvious in the case of war, but rejected as a description of abortion by some of its defenders; others however admit that abortion ends human life but is nevertheless justified, and their position is closer to the “pro-troops” position).

There’s another similarity. Noting that many of the invading US troops cannot legally buy an alcoholic drink in the US, one commentator has spoken of Bush administration plans’ being carried out by “brutalized 19-year-olds.” (It’s true that the American sniper quoted last week as saying he killed a female civilian because “…the chick was in the way,” was a 28-year old Marine sergeant.) The presumed beneficiaries of pro-choice policies could also often be described that way. Most people considering abortion feel that they have little “choice” — the decision seems necessary in a society that doesn’t provide medical care, education, housing or income. In the same way “our troops” are often constrained by economic necessity. Nineteen-year-old Pfc. Jessica Lynch from West Virginia was celebrated throughout the media after her rescue; her father was quoted as saying, when he first heard that she had been captured, that she had enlisted only because there were no jobs for 19-year-olds, even at McDonald’s…

It’s a vicious society that offers abortion and enlistment as palliatives for poverty. To force people young and old into situations in which they have no choice but to stain their consciences with the deaths of others is a great crime, one that can’t be covered with euphemisms. The beginning of wisdom is often to call things by their right name.

Sugar-Coated Cluster Bombs

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2003

Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers sounded particularly lame during yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, as he tried to deflect criticism about the thousands of unexploded cluster bomblets we’ve recently distributed throughout Iraq. From a State Department transcript of the briefing:

Q: Mr. Secretary, prior to the conflict, human rights groups complained about the use of cluster bombs by the United States. Now that the major combat phase is over, we’re seeing the evidence that this, in fact, is a weapon that can continue to kill after the hostilities are over. There’ve been a small but significant number of people maimed or killed, including some children and some American forces as well. Would you consider limiting the use of cluster bombs in the future, or perhaps even eliminating them from the U.S. arsenal in response to this kind of — type of criticism?

Myers: I think it gets back to — well, first of all, cluster bombs are not like mines, completely different subject. Cluster bombs are set to go off when they strike their target or whatever they do, so they’re not like a mine that lies there until it’s activated.

I have not heard of injuries due to cluster bombs, but we’ll look into it. It’s possible, of course, but we’ll have to look into it.

You do that, General Myers. See what you can turn up. Here are some links to get you started. From Newsday: Clusters of death: Bomblets wreak havoc long after their initial deployment. Or from the Dallas Morning News (as reprinted in the Billings Gazette): Toy-like bombs dropped by U.S. kill, maim kids. Or maybe Myers is a Beatles fan? McCartney wants cluster bomb ban.

Children Taken from Couple Over Breast-Feeding Photo

Monday, April 21st, 2003

Hiro brought this one to my attention. A couple living in a Dallas suburb have had their children taken away from them because they took a snapshot of one of the children breastfeeding with the mother. It really boggles the mind: 1-hour arrest.

My Coastal View Letter

Monday, April 21st, 2003

Here’s the letter I’m planning to drop off at my local weekly paper, The Coastal View, tomorrow (actually, today, now):

Two recent letters in the Coastal View bothered me. One said that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The other said our troops have found evidence that proves Iraq has been developing weapons of mass destruction. These statements bother me because as far as I can tell, neither of them is true.

We owe the troops more than yellow ribbons. We owe them the careful, thoughtful performance of our duties as voters. That’s the only way to make sure we elect leaders who won’t go to war for the wrong reasons.

While this war debate has sometimes been unpleasant, we need to have it, and we need to base the discussion on facts, not propaganda. We owe it to the troops.

Media Coverage and the War at Home

Saturday, April 19th, 2003

I’m thinking this morning about the way the war is being portrayed, and the way people’s perceptions are shaped by their biases, and what this all means in terms of the next presidential election, which I’m more or less convinced is going to end up being a referendum on the war.

It’s a concern. I believe that a majority of voters in this country, if they have access to a reasonably full, balanced account of what’s been happening, will choose to take a step back from the cliff Bush is doggedly determined to march us over. But the chance of their getting that sort of account seems to be diminishing.

A nice article on this, published in American Reporter and pointed to by The Smirking Chimp, is Randolph T. Holhut’s The war I saw.

According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 70 percent of people the paper polled said they got most of their information from the all-news cable channels such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC. But the coverage these people got sounded suspiciously like NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, where the United States is the only country that gets covered and the other nations are bit players in a red, white and blue melodrama.

The New York Times is already talking about a “Fox Effect” on television news – what reporter Jim Rutenberg called “a new sort of tv journalism that casts aside traditional notions of objectivity, holds contempt for dissent and eschews the skepticism of government at mainstream journalism’s core.”

Holhut himself listened to the BBC World Service via public radio. Another good alternative would be the sampling of an array of non-US news sources via the Internet, which is the approach that I, and probably most of you, used to keep informed about all this.

But what about that nearly 70% of US citizens that are getting their news from the cable news channels? It gets worse with the hard-core fans of right-wing talk radio; these people get a non-stop stream of fantasy entertainment, and a lot of them actually believe it, with scary consequences.

Like the consequences seen by John Fleming, as recounted by the Denver Post’s Reggie Rivers (again, via The Smirking Chimp): Protests are fine; just not here. Fleming hung an upside-down US flag in his store’s front window as a protest against the war; shortly thereafter he received a visit from the local chief of police, along with two other armed officers, who told him the display was illegal, and that he’d have to take it down. Which was, of course, thoroughly untrue, but the police chief still asserted it, and the display still came down.

Multiply that by many thousand times, and you get a picture of what’s going on all across the country. Bringing it home, again, to the smallish farming-cum-surfing community I live in, I already mentioned the flap that resulted when the wife of a local right-wing gadfly went around tying yellow plastic ribbons on every tree and lamppost, and a young woman of a different persuasion followed behind on her rollerblades, cutting them all down. The larger context is that going back a number of months, a group of local activists have been gathering for an orderly peace vigil on a downtown corner every Friday evening; since the outset of war they’ve been opposed by an increasingly large, noisy, and occasionally violent group of pro-war counter-protesters who gather on the opposite corner.

A dialog about the conflict is taking place in the letters to the editor of the local weekly paper. Last week’s paper carried a letter from one of the regular counter-protesters that asserted the following:

Anybody who keeps saying that we have no reason for fighting in Iraq keeps refusing to see the facts. It has been stated time and time again Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11, supporting terrorist groups and supplying them. They came and attacked us, killed our men, women and children in an act of war. There is and can never be a reason for doing such a cowardly and terrible act of murder.

Yes, Saddam has brought this war on himself. Thank God we have a president right now who saw what needed to be done and being a leader did the right thing.

I was momentarily outraged at the linking of Saddam with 9/11, and was close to sending in a reply, but I didn’t. I figured that such an obvious lie would doubtless draw many such responses.

Well, it didn’t. Or if it did, the paper chose not to publish them. Instead, this week’s paper contains a new letter, from a different local right-winger, with a new lie:

Sadly, the true agenda of the “anti war” crowd is anti-Bush. Even with the phenomenal success of our military, they refer to our government officials in ways that I will not even dignify by quoting. Even as we find the “smoking guns” that prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction, they refuse to acknowledge the legitimate actions of our president.

Sigh. For our system of democracy to actually work the way it’s supposed to, the people casting their ballots need a clear understanding of what’s going on. I should have written a letter pointing out the lie in the first letter, and I should write one now pointing out the lie in this one. Not out of any delusion that I’ll actually influence either of these letter-writers to question their sources of “information,” but because left uncorrected, those lies are like a cancer that will spread through the minds of more open-minded people.

Those of us with access to better sources of information have an obligation to share that information. And not just with the other well-informed folk we interact with online, but with people in our own geographic community who don’t have access to those sources.

Whew. That was a rant and a half, eh?

Ex-Spies Predict Planting of WMD ‘Evidence’

Saturday, April 19th, 2003

Here’s an interesting article, courtesy of the Smirking Chimp, and India’s Sify News, and France’s AFP: Ex-spies slam US over failure to find WMDs. It’s based on a statement by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), apparently formed by former spies who object to the politicization of their profession at the hands of the Bush team. An excerpt:

Retired CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern told AFP: “Some of my colleagues are virtually certain that there will be some weapons of mass destruction found, even though they might have to be planted.

“I’m just as sure that some few will be found, but not in an amount that by any stretch would justify the charge of a threat against the US or anyone else.”

He added: “Even if the planting was discovered by and by, they’ll say, ‘ok, the weapons were planted – fine.’”

Dean, Krugman on Bush’s Isolationism

Friday, April 18th, 2003

Here are a pair of pieces looking at the fences our uniter-not-a-divider president is building between the US and the rest of the world. From the New York Times’ Paul Krugman: Rejecting the world. And from Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean: Bush: It’s not just his doctrine that’s wrong.

Steele on the Ongoing Carnage

Friday, April 18th, 2003

From the Guardian’s Jonathan Steele comes this updated front-line report from the hospitals of Baghdad: Bombs silent, but the children still suffer.

At least six children were wounded by cluster bombs this week and taken to the Kadhimiya hospital because it is nearest to where they live. Clutching his mother’s hand as he lay on a mattress, Ali Mustafa’s head is half hidden by a bandage. He is a “post-war” victim. The five-year-old was playing with his brother and two friends earlier this week when he picked up an odd round object. It was an unexploded cluster bomb, one of thousands that lie around Baghdad. It exploded in his hands, blinding him. His legs, scarred with shrapnel, will heal but Ali Mustafa’s sight will never return.

So, the horrible human cost of the war continues to mount. And why, again, was it that 5-year-old Ali had to pay this cost? To take away Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction? To punish him for his involvement in 9/11?

Oh, wait. I remember. It was for freedom. Hear that, Ali? I know you’re not having a good time at the moment, but guess what? You’re free!

Gah. I can’t joke about this. It’s not funny.

I’m sorry, Ali.

Morford: Hail the Great Victory

Friday, April 18th, 2003

From SFGate columnist Mark Morford comes this amusing piece of sarcasm: The warmongers were right!

Hail the great victor BushCo! Ha! The U.S. kicked ass! Who’s your daddy, beeyatch? Thump thump thump on the manly chest of great liberator America! Liberals suck! Go, war! It’s Miller Time.

I think I mostly like the fact that a major newspaper is running a column using the word “beeyatch.” Heh.

Voices in the Wilderness Barred from Palestine Hotel

Friday, April 18th, 2003

Here’s a nice back-atcha from the enlightened military leadership currently charged with fixing the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Iraq: the folks in the Iraq Peace Team apparently are now barred from the Palestine Hotel, the location from which both the U.S. Civil Military Operations Center and the bulk of international journalists in Baghdad are currently working. Seems the powers that be didn’t like the press release the peaceniks put out yesterday, in which they exposed the more or less total lack of clue on the part of the CMOC.

The respose is certainly consistent with the style of the commander in chief: Don’t like the criticism you’re hearing? Muzzle and/or ignore it, and keep right on doing whatever it was you were doing. Problem solved!

Cheney, Reagan Still Not Dead

Friday, April 18th, 2003

You’ve doubtless heard of this already, but if not, it’s worth a quick glance. CNN apparently turned off the password protection on some mocked-up obituary pages for various still-living notables; someone found them and told the folks at fark.com, and hilarity ensued for about 40 minutes. Some of them are archived at The Smoking Gun, so go knock yourself out.