Archive for June, 2004

Fuse This

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Not really magic, but Janus likes to think of it that way, which is good enough for my topic-selection purposes. Anyway, if you like those stereo-isogram thingies where you fuse the two images to make a three-dimensional picture pop off the page, here’s one rendered entirely in ASCII: stereo.txt. Complete with an uplifting message crafted just for obsessives who spend time weblogging when they should be doing something more productive.

Josh Hammond on Why Bush Will Win

Friday, June 25th, 2004

The latest in an ongoing series of insightful analyses into the election-year zeitgeist: Why Bush wins. Interesting.

Scott Douglas on Library Patrons’ Internet Use

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Found on McSweeney’s: Dispatches from a public librarian.

Electoral Vote Predictor

Friday, June 25th, 2004

From John Fontana of Stonegauge comes word of this nifty site: Current Electoral Vote Predictor 2004. Their evident anti-Bush leanings lessen my faith in their scientific objectivity, but here’s hoping they’re correct in their current predictions nevertheless.

Gore at Georgetown and My Dream About Bush

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Al Gore gave a speech today at the Georgetown University Law School. An excerpt:

They have such an overwhelming political interest in sustaining the belief in the minds of the American people that Hussein was in partnership with bin Laden that they dare not admit the truth lest they look like complete fools for launching our country into a reckless, discretionary war against a nation that posed no immediate threat to us whatsoever. But the damage they have done to our country is not limited to misallocation of military economic political resources. Whenever a chief executive spends prodigious amounts of energy convincing people of lies, he damages the fabric of democracy, and the belief in the fundamental integrity of our self-government.

It’s a powerful argument, one that cuts through the Bush administration’s tapdancing of the last few weeks like, um, something that cuts through something else really powerfully. So go read it, okay?

Sigh. Can you tell I’m tired of all this? And depressed? I was up late last night, obsessing, and slept poorly. When my son woke me up (he’s the designated early riser of the house these days, which is my own fault for making daybreak the only time of day I’ll acquiesce in his insatiable desire to play video games), I was in the middle of a dream, and it has stayed with me all day.

In the dream I was Colin Powell. I was walking up a hillside in the company of George Bush and many of his closest advisors; I was just behind Bush. We were traversing smooth stones covered with a sprinkling of sand, and our dress shoes were threatening to slip on the steep surface.

“Be careful, Mr. President,” I said. “It would be easy to lose your footing here.”

We continued climbing the hillside. And then, for some reason, the subject of the torture memos came up. In the dream there had been even worse revelations, a smoking gun of presidential involvement in authorizing and condoning torture, and we were actually coming from a meeting of some sort where the subject had been discussed. So I suddenly felt compelled to ask the president about it.

“Sir,” I said. “Do you believe you’ve done anything wrong in all this?”

Bush paused, looked back down at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess. Maybe. Whatever.”

I looked back, stunned. And then, unable to contain myself, I blurted out, “You’re an asshole. You’re a fucking asshole.”

There was a moment’s shocked silence, the other aides looking at me aghast, and then, without warning, Bush kicked me in the face. And that’s when my son woke me up.

I’m not blaming Bush for my dream. It’s about me, and my need for some perspective. I need to lighten up.

Where’s George?

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

I previously linked to Joshua Micah Marshall’s observations about the weird way that the official Bush (re-)election site likes to run photos of Kerry, and Reagan, and pretty much anyone but George W. Bush (Running away from Bush). Well, I was curious what was up over at that official Bush site, so I checked it out this morning, and guess what? They’ve found a new way not to display Bush’s image on their top-level page. They do it by showing pictures of Laura.

Now, as with Bush’s inability to pronounce the name of the prison at the heart of the ongoing scandal threatenting to undo his presidency, I feel kind of weird even paying attention to this. I mean, it’s trivial, I realize.

But there it is. I don’t think it’s possible to construe this as an accident at this point. The Bush campaign, seriously, deliberately, repeatedly, is choosing not to put their candidate’s face on the home page of their official campaign site.

What does that say? I don’t mean that in a snarky, ‘what a miserable failure is Bush’ way. I mean it seriously. I want to know. What does that say? Why is that happening? What is the logic behind it? I mean, it has to be on purpose, right?

If large swaths of the net take notice and talk about it, will it change? They must be aware that it’s being talked about already, and it’s only a matter of time before the print media calls attention to it. What if they start getting questions about it in televised press briefings? Will they stop doing it at that point? Or will they just pretend the question is beneath their notice, and continue?

It’s a loose tooth, and I can’t stop poking at it. It’s weird. And I like weird.

Bush’s Abu Ghraib Speech Impediment, Part 2

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

I wrote previously about the really odd way Bush mispronounced (repeatedly, and differently each time) the name of the Abu Ghraib prison during his big Iraq speech in May (Bush’s Abu Ghraib speech impediment). Now he’s done it again. In remarks to reporters the other day, Bush said, “the prime minister brought up the Abu Garef… [long, embarrassing pause] situation.” Jon Stewart’s coverage of this on The Daily Show was one of the funniest things I’ve seen him do in a long time; check it out on the Comedy Central web site (LBJ never referred to the “Tit Offensive”, requires RealPlayer).

Like Stewart says in his commentary, it’s not really fair to just run it, but seriously, what’s going on here? Craig? You’re good at providing rational-sounding explanations for this sort of wackiness; what’s your take?

Neiwert and Stoller on Dick Morris and the Attack on Democratic Legitimacy

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

Interesting meta-discussion going on regarding the different rules of engagement that the right and the left are using in political debate these days. I think it’s best summed up by this piece from Dave Neiwart of Orcinus: A little bit about blogging. He links to a more-extensive item from Matt Stoller (Partisanship versus partisansheep), which in turn is a commentary upon this actually fairly vile New York Post opinion piece from Dick Morris: Terrorists for Kerry.

Neiwart and Stoller’s argument is that the left is taking the high road, arguing issues and assuming that the other side has a legitimate place at the bargaining table. The right is taking the low road, doing whatever it can to de-legitimize the other side — and, more significantly, undercutting the very essence of democratic government in the process.

Now, I’m on the left, and the fact that I find this argument compelling can be explained in two ways: Either the perception is true, and I’m being rational. Or the perception is merely the product of a partisan’s one-sided view of reality, and I’m actually being irrational.

But the fact that I’m even considering the second explanation could be taken as confirmation of the argument: Righties aren’t paralyzed by such doubts. I’m suddenly reminded of that Doonesberry cartoon I linked to a while back, so here, let me link to it again: What liberal media?

On balance, I think there really is something here, and it’s pretty scary. For me, it emerges from contemplating the events of the current Bush administration, and comparing them to the events of the Clinton administration. If those on the right who railed against Clinton as an impeachable traitor had been faced with his doing any of the dozens of especially bad things Bush has done, I honestly think their heads would have exploded from the resulting outrage.

They are already working on undercutting the authority and legitimacy of the as-yet-hypothetical Kerry presidency. Stoller and Neiwart are right: This fight is going to be much bigger than just winning the election in November. It’s going to be long, and difficult, and vitally important to the country’s future.

WaPo Editorial Writers, Robert Mailer Anderson Continue to be Uppity on Torture

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Just in case you thought my obsession with Michael Moore had completely supplanted the one with the Bush administration’s sordid relationship with torture, here are a pair of stories to restore your faith in my ability to stay focused.

First, from the editorial writers of the Washington Post, an in-your-face comeback to the criticism their earlier editorial had elicited from Donald Rumsfeld: Torture Policy (cont’d).

Since Mr. Rumsfeld referred directly to The Post, we believe we owe him a response. We agree that the country is at war and that we all must weigh our words accordingly. We also agree that the consequences of the revelations of prisoner abuse are grave. As supporters of the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have been particularly concerned about the ways that the scandal — and the administration’s continuing failure to come to terms with it — could undermine the chances for success. We also have warned about the uses that might be made of it by captors of Americans. What strikes us as extraordinary is that Mr. Rumsfeld would suggest that this damage would be caused by newspaper editorials rather than by his own actions and decisions and those of other senior administration officials.

What might lead us to describe Mr. Rumsfeld or some other “senior civilian or military official” as “ordering or authorizing or permitting” torture or violation of international treaties and U.S. law? We could start with Mr. Rumsfeld’s own admission during the same news conference that he had personally approved the detention of several prisoners in Iraq without registering them with the International Committee of the Red Cross. This creation of “ghost prisoners” was described by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, as “deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine and in violation of international law.” Failure to promptly register detainees with the Red Cross is an unambiguous breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention; Mr. Rumsfeld said that he approved such action on several occasions, at the request of another senior official, CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Heh. Point WaPo.

Also, those of us who don’t live in the City by the Bay can only enjoy these posters from afar. But thanks to Robert Mailer Anderson, SF residents get them up close and personal:

got democracy? poster

Krugman on Ashcroft on Krar

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Paul Krugman has a really interesting column on Attorney General John Ashcroft’s low-profile response to the arrest last year of William Krar, who gives every indication of being a real-live WMD-wielding terrorist. Why would the AG downplay such a thing, when he’s clearly willing to call a press conference at the drop of hat to announce non-developments in any number of other cases? Well, maybe it’s because Krar isn’t a muslim, but is instead a white supremicist from Texas, and highlighting homegrown terrorism doesn’t advance his boss’s political agenda in the appropriate way.

I don’t know; maybe I’m just paranoid. Anyway, here’s Krugman: Noonday in the Shade

Chris Parry on Hitchens on Fahrenheit 9/11

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

As you probably noticed, I couldn’t summon the energy required to refute Christopher Hitchens’ anti-Michael Moore screed point by point. And guess what? I didn’t have to, because now Hollywood Bitchslap’s Chris Parry has done just that: Slate’s Chris Hitchens does a hatchet job on Michael Moore.

Turan on Fahrenheit 9/11

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

The LA Times’ Kenneth Turan is normally a pretty tough reviewer. He occasionally gets a bee in his bonnet and trashes something I actually think is pretty good, but I’m not sure I can remember a single time when he liked a film that I ended up thinking wasn’t worth my time. So the crass Bush-hater in me is happy to see that Turan is impressed with Michael Moore’s latest: Fahrenheit 9/11. An excerpt:

What Moore has constructed in “Fahrenheit” is more ambitious and more complex than anyone had reason to expect.

This film isn’t about the Bush family relationship to Saudi Arabia, the excesses of the Patriot Act or the pitfalls of the invasion of Iraq, though it touches on those topics. Instead we get a full-blown alternate history of the last three-plus years. Moore makes a persuasive and unrelenting case that there is another way to look at things beyond the version we’ve been given.

What anger Moore has left over after savaging the administration is directed at the mainstream media for being too in thrall with the official line (“Navy SEALs rock!” exults “Today’s” Katie Couric in one clip.)

The core of “Fahrenheit’s” appeal comes in Moore’s alternating familiar images with footage many Americans may not have seen. The resulting mosaic, the cumulative effect of experiencing everything together in one place, is easily the most powerful piece of work of Moore’s career. Though it’s more likely to energize a liberal base than cause massive switching of parties, anyone who is the least bit open to Moore’s thesis will come away impressed.

Bush supporters: you have a problem.

White House Releases, Disavows (Some) Torture Documents

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Are we tired of the subject of torture yet? Just imagine how someone standing hooded in a stress position for this long would feel.

The latest White House move in the ongoing cat-and-mouse game with world opinion, as covered by the Washington Post: Memo on interrogation tactics is disavowed.

President Bush’s aides yesterday disavowed an internal Justice Department opinion that torturing terrorism suspects might be legally defensible, saying it had created the false impression that the government was claiming authority to use interrogation techniques barred by international law.

Responding to pressure from Congress and outrage around the world, officials at the White House and the Justice Department derided the August 2002 legal memo on aggressive interrogation tactics, calling parts of it overbroad and irrelevant and saying it would be rewritten.

In a highly unusual repudiation of its department’s own work, a senior Justice official and two other high-ranking lawyers said that all legal advice rendered by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the subject of interrogations will be reviewed.

As part of a public relations offensive, the administration also declassified and released hundreds of pages of internal documents that it said demonstrated that Bush had never authorized torture against detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In doing so, the administration revealed details of the interrogation tactics being used on prisoners, an extraordinary disclosure for an administration that has argued that the release of such information would help the enemy.

The piece also includes a link to the full text of the released documents.

I think I may be getting close to my own saturation point on the whole torture-authorization story. There’s no real question any more (in my mind, at least) that the people at the top thought torture would be a good way to get more information out of detainees, and set out to create the conditions in which it would happen. I’m willing to accept that Bush himself, even if held naked in front of a barking, unmuzzled dog, might stick with the story that no, really, he personally didn’t think he was doing anything illegal or morally wrong. But you know what? I’m getting really tired of having my nation’s strategic judgement and moral stature reduced to a size that can fit between Bush’s ears. The “Hey, I’m stupid. Don’t hold me accountable” defense is getting old.

Someone should tell Rich Lowry, who wrote the following on the National Review Online yesterday, in reference to this poll showing Bush in a dead heat with Kerry on dealing with terrorism:

This Washington Post poll is disturbing today. A year or so ago, Bush critics set out to undermine Bush’s credibilty and to undermine his standing on the war on terror. With help from events outside anyone’s control–especially no WMDs in Iraq–they have now made major progress on both fronts.

What a tool. It would be funny, if it weren’t so pathetic. Actually, it still is pretty funny.

Yes, thank you, Mr. President. I think we all understand the situation now. It wasn’t your fault; you really were doing the very best you could. It’s just that your very best sucks.

The Incredible Shrinking Recovery

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Check out this nifty chart, and accompanying discussion, from the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute: When do workers get their share? It seems that the current much-ballyhooed “economic recovery” is off the charts in terms of conferring its benefits on corporate shareholders, rather than actual workers, when compared with other recent economic recoveries. All the benefits are coming in the form of corporate profits. Hardly any are coming in terms of labor compensation. And when you factor out the portion of the increases in labor compensation that are going to things like more-expensive healthcare benefits and pension payouts, workers are actually losing ground. Yikes. Guess what happens when the “recovery” finishes, and we get another economic contraction?

I realize the conventional wisdom is that the economy won’t be a factor in the upcoming election; people are more concerned about security and terrorism and suchlike. But when the Bush team tells you about the fabulous job they’ve done in ushering in the current recovery, remember the chart.

Hitchens Is Losing It

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004

Christopher Hitchens, who broke with fellow liberals in order to support the war in Iraq and has been having a very public near-nervous breakdown trying to justify that position ever since, ratchets up his rhetoric another notch in order to take on Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11: Unfairenheit 9/11 – The lies of Michael Moore.

Not having seen the movie, I’m not in a very good position to criticize Hitchens’ criticism. But what I can say is this: Hitchens is seriously losing it.

Hitchens compares Moore to Rush Limbaugh, which I suppose is fair on some level. Both men are partisans with a gift for weaving a certain kind of spell, one that combines a little information with a lot of entertainment in a way that helps true believers chuckle while their pre-existing views are reinforced.

Which wouldn’t be bad in and of itself. But along with the information comes a certain amount of disinformation. In Limbaugh’s case, I’d say that amount goes well beyond what an honest person, partisan or not, would include. In other words, I think Rush Limbaugh is completely aware that he’s misleading people, and does so intentionally and aggressively.

In Michael Moore’s case, though, I think the stray embellishments and misdirections are more innocent. Not because I happen to agree with Moore’s positions, or not only because of that, but because I think Mooore himself is more or less sincere in the conclusions he presents.

I’ve looked carefully at the arguments Moore’s critics have previously offered of Bowling for Columbine, and comparing those criticisms to the actual movie, I think the critics are making a mountain out of a molehill. I’m fairly confident that I’ll end up thinking the same thing about Hitchens’ criticisms of the latest movie, once I’ve had a chance to see it.

In the meantime, if you feel strongly one way or another about Michael Moore, you should read Hitchens’ piece and see what you think. Hitchens tries to weave a spell of his own with a combination of information, exaggeration, and embellishment, but it doesn’t have the power of the stuff Limbaugh and Moore do. There’s an air of desperation in Hitchens’ arguments, a sense that what we have here is a guy who’s hanging on by a very thin thread. While there’s a certain entertainment value in that, it’s a different kind of entertainment from what you get in a Michael Moore movie.

I’m not sure I can point to any particular point in Hitchens’ screed where he reveals his own fundamental insecurity. It’s more a sense that emerges from the piece as a whole, from the extended run-on assertions, the racing from one half-formed thought to the next, the hypercharged emotion.

Moore, Hitchens charges again and again, is not “serious”. (The word, or a variation of it, appears six times in the review.) But it is Hitchens who comes off as unhinged, incoherent, unserious. Or maybe it’s that he’s too serious, too caught up in defending his own increasingly untenable intellectual position on the war.

Cheney Lies About His Past Statements on the Atta Prague Meeting

Monday, June 21st, 2004

I think it says something about how low my opinion of Dick Cheney has become that I barely even consider an item like this post-worthy. But anyway: Vice President Dick Cheney…

So, Cheney lies with a straight face on national TV. And the interviewer just gives him a polite “OK” and moves on.

Damn that liberal media, anyway.

Hiring Practices

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

Daniel Drezner links to a couple of newspaper articles detailing the failings of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq: Ugly CPA autopsies. (See also Drezner’s earlier piece: More on CPA recruitment.) In particular, Drezner talks about the hiring practices of the people who staffed the CPA, and who seem to have very much valued Republican ideological purity and personal loyalty to Bush over actual expertise. The result? A bumbling operation staffed by fresh-faced 20-somethings being paid back for work they did in the 2000 Bush campaign. Notably absent: people who spoke Arabic, had worked in the region before, had demonstrated organizational or administrative skills, or knew anything at all about the difficult work of nation building.

This highlights something I’ve noticed before: the way the Bush administration’s focus on rewarding loyalty over competence has affected everything the administration has (and hasn’t) been able to accomplish.

I’ve seen this myself in the workplace: Managers who reward loyalty over performance, building organizations that look capable enough from the outside, but which are curiously paralyzed in the face of real-world challenges.

It’s not just that the wrong sorts of people get hired. It’s that those people are retained even in the face of demonstrated incompetence. Worse, the right sorts of people get systematically driven out. People with actual expertise have an annoying habit of disagreeing with the poor decisions of the loyalty-valuing but competence-challenged person atop the hierarchy. But that sort of emotionally insecure leader isn’t looking for underlings who will challenge him with their own unique perspectives. He’s only looking for yes-men (and -women) to help him stave off those who would expose his failings.

That’s the Bush administration all over. In Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke talks about the revolving door atop Bush’s counter-terrorism operation, where person after person with demonstrated ability has been driven out by a culture that punishes those willing to identify and fix problems, rather than competing to see who can praise the leader’s infallibility the loudest.

Key positions in the Bush administration are staffed by people who have failed again and again, yet who retain the president’s support for a single reason: they remain loyal to Bush. Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft: All of have made horrific mistakes while working for Bush, and have done so repeatedly. But they’ve also done the one thing that keeps them in their positions of awesome responsibility: remained loyal to Bush, focusing 100% of their effort and attention on the key task of shoring up his reputation in the face of a hostile universe bent on exposing his incompetence.

The problem with this, of course, is that our government faces much more important challenges than the preservation and embellishment of the fiction that Bush deserves to be president. But as long as key positions are staffed by people focused 100% on that particular Sisyphean task, those challenges will continue to go unmet.

Schneier on Chalabi and the Iranian Codes

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Security expert Bruce Schneier has some really interesting analysis of the story about how our boy Ahmed Chalabi was caught telling the Iranians we had broken their intelligence code–because the Iranians used the compromised code to communicate the fact that he’d done so: Breaking Iranian codes.

There’s a giddy Pynchon-esque recursiveness to the story, and to the whole notion of compromising the other side’s secrets, but then pretending that you haven’t in order to keep the other side from knowing that you’ve done so. An excerpt:

If the Iranians knew that the U.S. knew, why didn’t they pretend not to know and feed the U.S. false information? Or maybe they’ve been doing that for years, and the U.S. finally figured out that the Iranians knew. Maybe the U.S. knew that the Iranians knew, and are using the fact to discredit Chalabi.

The really weird twist to this story is that the U.S. has already been accused of doing that to Iran. In 1992, Iran arrested Hans Buehler, a Crypto AG employee, on suspicion that Crypto AG had installed back doors in the encryption machines it sold to Iran — at the request of the NSA. He proclaimed his innocence through repeated interrogations, and was finally released nine months later in 1993 when Crypto AG paid a million dollars for his freedom — then promptly fired him and billed him for the release money. At this point Buehler started asking inconvenient questions about the relationship between Crypto AG and the NSA.

So maybe Chalabi’s information is from 1992, and the Iranians changed their encryption machines a decade ago.

Or maybe the NSA never broke the Iranian intelligence code, and this is all one huge bluff.

In this shadowy world of cat-and-mouse, it’s hard to be sure of anything.

Corn on Bush on Zarqawi

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Daviid Corn does a good job on the way Bush has reacted to the 9/11 commission’s conclusions on the (non-)link between Hussein and al Qaeda: Bush sticks to misrepresentations on the al Qaeda link. From Corn’s conclusion:

At this point, if Bush–who keeps mischaracterizing the Zarqawi connection–wants anyone to believe him rather than the 9/11 commission, he better present hard and clear evidence. All that he offers is assertions and misrepresentations. No wonder he initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission. It can be awfully irritating to be confronted with a factual record and reasonable analysis.

The WaPo on Bush’s Seven Minutes

Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Washington Post staff writer Joel Achenbach puts about the best spin possible on Bush’s deer-in-the-headlights performance at the elementary school that morning: On 9/11, a telling seven-minute silence. Lefty bloggers are grumbling about the piece’s description of Bush as the nation’s “spiritual leader,” and the way it talks about him “courageously” throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game shortly after the attacks. (Some of the better grumbling can be read in this piece by Xan at Corrente: Hollowed be thy name.) And I have to admit, Achenbach’s story does have an odd tone for a straight news piece. But I’m basically okay with it.

Sure, put the event in the best light you can. Let the Bush people talk about how he was thinking of the kids, wanting to project “calm” and “strength.” Millions of people are still going to be sitting there in darkened theaters over the next few months, watching the uninterrupted footage during Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. And I don’t care how much pro-Bush spin you apply before and after, I’m confident that a solid majority of those watching that footage are going to come away from the scene with just one thought in their heads: That man had no fucking clue whatsoever.

Now, you Bush supporters can make all the excuses you want. We were all shocked and befuddled on that awful day; I know I was. But that footage is going to resonate, and in the privacy of the voting booth it’s going to bubble up again. As it should.