Archive for October, 2003

Winning Badly in Iraq?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2003

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

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

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

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

Bush on the Mission Accomplished Banner

Wednesday, October 29th, 2003

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

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

Smith: The Revision Thing

Wednesday, October 29th, 2003

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

Russell Baker Reviews Paul Krugman

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

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

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

Monday, October 27th, 2003

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

Like father, like son.

George W. Bush: The Top Ten Lies

Monday, October 27th, 2003

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

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

10. “I have been very candid about my past.”

9. “I’m a uniter not a divider.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. “We found the weapons of mass destruction.”

1. “It’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House.”

George Bush: The National Security Record

Sunday, October 26th, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What matters is what swing voters think.

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

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

Mobile Dog Messaging

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

Ann Coulter vs. Al Franken

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

Hey, at least she’s consistent.

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

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

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

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

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

Public Defender Dude’s Current Trial

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

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

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

Stay tuned.

C-130 Gunship Video

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

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

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

Eric Fensler’s GI Joe Public Service Announcements

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25th, 2003

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

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

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

…applying Pfiffner’s hierarchy of Presidential lies to the collection of falsehoods Corn chronicles in his narrative is alarming indeed. It shows that Bush’s lies are almost never justifiable. And it also shows that they are typically of the most serious kind — lies that misinform the public in such a way as to disrupt the proper functioning of the democratic process.

Time to quit?

Friday, October 24th, 2003

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

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

Oh Britney!

Friday, October 24th, 2003

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

Schools Sell Curriculum to MPAA

Friday, October 24th, 2003

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

Bill O’Reilly Lies

Thursday, October 23rd, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. No. Maybe.

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

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

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

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

The Swing State Project

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2003

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

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

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

Falling in Love

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003

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

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