Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Friday, February 28, 2003  

About me

Why Emma
Beginning in about 2000, I began a pre-blog existence as Emma Goldman. I was frequenting the Atlantic Monthly's message boards, which was at the time infested with reactionary conservatives (I don't know if it still is). Tired of people looking at my name and jumping to a number of conclusions about who I was, I decided to use an obvious pseudonym. Randomly, I chose Emma Goldman--I might have chosen Che Guevara or Noam Chomsky. To my great surprise, people still made assumptions about me--in this case assuming I was female and Jewish.

When I started blogging in January of 2003, I carried the name over for the same reason, hoping to lure some of the Atlantic folks over. I've always felt that pseudonyms are good for the blogosphere--they encourage you to read what's written, not speculate about why they've been written. For everyone with a psued, I say bravo. As we approach the '04 elections and I become more directly involved in politics, this doesn't seem wholly kosher, though. So let me introduce myself:

Jeff Alworth
The short bio I had posted for a nearly a year was wholly accurate: I was born in 1968, the year the U.S. elected Richard Nixon. The span of my life has coincided with a new age of conservatism: each year since 1968, the country has shifted a little further right. I live in Portland, Oregon, known to Republican administrations as "Little Beirut." With my little community of liberal idealists and periodic pints of very good beer, I have so far managed to stay off Prozac.

I'm currently working as a researcher for the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University. I'm also a freelance writer (who spends way too much time blogging, when I should be pitching paying stories) and sometime filmmaker. I also host the Oregon Blog and write for Open Source Politics.

Notes on the Atrocities
Long before I knew what blogs were, I kept a Microsoft Word document that I called "Notes on the Atrocities." It was, literally, a notebook of atrocities I was watching George Bush commit. ("Misdeeds" would have avoided unnecessary hyperbole, but I tend to pursue, rather than avoid, unnecessary hyperbole). So, when I learned about blogs, and then later learned they were free, I just started keeping the notebook online.

posted by Jeff | 6:31 PM |

Preacher George and the Modern Theocracy

You’ll recall the emergence of Preacher George, that Christian Warrior cum Free World Leader, who first made his appearance during the January State of the Union Address. I called it a personal transformation that we were privileged to be able to watch on the world stage. Although further incarnations are possible (he’s only got 9 years of political experience under his belt), this surely was a late development, a near-completion.

There was some dissent. In comments and emails, some folks felt Preacher George was still General George—with a hearty dose of religious rhetoric. It was the same deity-invocation politicians have engaged in for generations.

Well, it looks like we were all wrong.

In an absolutely amazing article in Harper’s Magazine, writer Jeffrey Sharlet details a secret society of Christian politicians called “the Family.” According to Sharlet, the Family has for decades been a highly organized “invisible” organisation whose members have tried to convert or recruit world leaders for a “covenant of Christ.”

“In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. In 1978, it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a world-wide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides’ eventual peace accord last July. Such benign acts appear to be the exception to the rule. During the 1960s, the Family forged relationships between the US government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa’s postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century’s most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the US government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustao Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. ‘We work with power where we can,’ the Family’s leader, Doug Coe, says, ‘build new power where we can’t.’”

Those directly linked to the Family include senators Nickles, Grassley, Domenici, Ensign, Inhofe, Nelson, and Burns, and representatives DeMint, Wolf, Pitts, Wamp, and Stupak. And George W? Sharlet doesn’t identify him directly, but he gets pretty close:

”At the 1990 National Prayer Breakfast [a Family-sponsored event in Washington] George H. W. Bush praised Doug Coe for what he described as ‘quiet diplomacy, I wouldn’t say secret diplomacy,’ as an ‘ambassador of faith.’”

So I think Preacher George has a little backing here. What’s really alarming isn’t just that this is a secret society, nor that it pushes fundamentalist Christian views. What bothers me is that fundamentalism of any stripe does not consider itself beholden to any authority on earth.

Sharlet describes a scene at the Family’s residential house in Virginia (where he was, for a time, a resident) in which Ed Meese, conservative Christian businessmen, and politicians were meeting with ambassadors from Rwanda and Benin. A former senator told the Rwandan that participants in the Rwanda-Congo war should “stop worrying about who will get diamonds and oil and focus on who will get Jesus.” When the Rwandan responded with incredulity, the Family smiled, rubbed their bibles and murmured “Thank you, Jesus.” They weren’t worried about the war in Africa—it was a terestrial concern. They pitied the poor Rwandan who had not the faith in something larger than the small little events on planet Earth. And so they gave thanks to Christ for their own certainty that things like wars were insignificant. That kind of belief may be a wonderful thing in some contexts—but it’s patently anti-democratic, and to tell the truth, gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The whole article is a must-read, but you’ll have to go to a newsstand, because it’s not online. The best six bucks you’ll spend. (Oh, and there’s an argument about why the war is futile, as an added bonus.)

posted by Jeff | 1:23 PM |

On that note, a Notes on the Atrocities recommendation for Harper’s. It’s both an old-school mag—literate and literary, a print refresher course on the liberal arts, but not online—and new: it could be called the ur-blog, culling from a fantastically diverse pool of sources for its monthly “Readings.” It’s the best magazine in the post-9/11 world.

(You can go online to subscribe.)

posted by Jeff | 1:21 PM |

Sunday, February 23, 2003  

Not that you'll terribly miss my thoughts, but I'll be out of town until next weekend.

posted by Jeff | 6:53 PM |

Friday, February 21, 2003  

Rating the Democratic Candidates

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor

Plus: The former Vermont governor reminds voters of the West Wing’s Martin Sheen.
Minus: Not Martin Sheen.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards

Plus: Youthful, good-looking southern politician with great hair.
Minus: Still waiting for nameplate at Senate office.

Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt

Plus: Old-guard leader of the Democrats; former minority leader.
Minus: Voters hate old-guard Democrats.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry

Plus: Echoes of John F. Kennedy.
Minus: Echoes of Michael Dukakis.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman

Plus: Is able to laugh at Democrats’ foibles.
Minus: Is actually a Republican.

The Rev. Al Sharpton

Plus: Not a Washington insider.
Minus: Is Al Sharpton.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Plus: No negative image in voters’ minds.
Minus: No image at all in voters’ minds.

Carol Moseley-Braun, former U.S. senator from Illinois

Plus: Reprise of the feel-good candidate of 1992.
Minus: Controversial financial decisions led to feel-bad single term.

posted by Jeff | 9:01 AM |

Thursday, February 20, 2003  

Read this and tell me if it lacks a certain something:

QUESTION: Second question. You have admitted that Saddam may attack our invading troops with chemical and biological weapons. On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported that many military leaders believe that our troops have neither the proper equipment, nor the proper training to survive a chemical and biological attack. The report quoted an Army audit that found that 62 percent of the gas masks examined "had critical defects that could cause leakage." Now, since 100,000 U.S. veterans in the Gulf War may still be suffering from Gulf War Syndrome -- many of them believe that this is from inhaling toxic fumes. Tens of thousands of them were exposed to sarin gas when we bombed a Iraqi munitions dump -- how can the President send troops into harm's way knowing that they are not adequately protected from a chemical and biological attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has full faith and confidence in the Department of Defense and in their planning for the worst. And I think premised in your question is the fact that perhaps you now are coming around to the realization that Iraq does indeed have weapons of mass destruction and a willingness to use them. It's not anybody in the United States government who has admitted -- in your word -- that Iraq might use these weapons; it's that Iraq has such weapons, they've used them in the past. And hence the danger not only to the troops who are in the region, but to people abroad, people in the United States, and friends and allies and civilians in the region who remain vulnerable to Saddam using such weapons on innocents.

I can't put my finger on it. Wait, is it.... Oh right, coherence.

The Iraqis have WMD and a willingness to use them, we have defective equipment, and there are five million civilians in Baghdad. And so the answer is to invade Iraq. Is there any question in which Ari will not find a justification for invading Iraq?

posted by Jeff | 4:24 PM |

Boycott Regal Cinemas!

Or sue 'em, like a good American. Thanks to Genfoods for the hot tip one movie fan who's had enough:


(We're doomed to loud SUV ads, but this is cool.)

posted by Jeff | 3:25 PM |

Wednesday, February 19, 2003  

A Nation's Reputation

Whatever ambivalence that remained about the President’s proposed Iraq invasion vanished completely over the weekend: the world does not want to go to war. The leaders of most of the world’s nations are expressing their displeasure at the UN as I write this, and within those countries where there is state support, the population is clearly against it (as measured by bodies and in polls).

The US seems genuinely baffled by the opposition. To the Bush administration, there’s nothing fuzzy about this math: dangerous and evil Saddam plus powerful and good America equals forced regime change. It’s something akin to cutting out a malignant tumor, in the White House’s view. How could such a thing be controversial?

But the issue at hand is not about Saddam—on that issue the world seems in agreement. Yes, he is indeed a Very Bad Man. Instead, the dispute is about the calculation that the US is good—something as inconceivable to Americans as it is obvious to the rest of the world.

The US has created for itself an identity built on hagiography (which every country does). That view was exposed in the famous “old Europe” quote by Donald Rumsfeld. The old Europe is the pre-WWII Europe; the confused Europe who tried to negotiate herself out of a Nazi nightmare. The old Europe is the Europe the United States has fixed in its mind: a place mired in indecision until it was necessary to call on the clear-eyed heroes who would stand against evil.

Rumsfeld didn’t expose Europe so much as he exposed that the administration sees itself as Normandy Beach America. It is a mythology that has become identity, permeating not only the White House (where the boss styles himself a nouveau Churchill) but the consciousness of a nation swayed by the argument that wherever there is injustice the US has an interest.

But whereas self-identity becomes rigid over time, national reputations are as fleeting as the destruction of a wall. To the rest of the world, the history of the US may be admirable, but it’s not proof of virtuous intent. The nations of the world are aware that the change in presidents can signal wholesale change in policies, priorities, and even alliances. They regard the war on Iraq not as an inevitable triumph of good over evil, but the result of the wishes of a single man. And, because they were not weaned on the hagiography of Normandy Beach America (some even emphasize My Lai America, or Iran-Contra America), citizens and leaders of other nations have no particular belief in the inherent goodness of the United States. It is just another extremely powerful country flexing its muscles.

It looks like the Bush administration will get its war. If their calculations are correct, they may even get a solid victory. But there’s a serious trade-off for this short-term gain. If the US fails to heed the concerns of the rest of the citizens of the globe, it will lose (at least during the Bush years, but likely forever) its credibility as a country willing to work democratically with its fellow nations. President Bush loves to play the game of power politics, pushing his capital to the limit. But this is not a game of administration capital, it’s a game of national credibility. In this respect, the greatest legacy of the Bush administration may well be sadly ironic: the destruction of the very goodwill and trust it established on the beaches of Normandy.

posted by Jeff | 10:29 AM |

Tuesday, February 18, 2003  

Two Quotes on Iraq

Thich Nhat Hanh

"The war will bring destruction not only to the people of Iraq but also to the U.S.A. and to people all over the world. Please look into your own past experience with war to recognize the vast devastation that war creates for all warring parties, in terms of loss of precious human lives, destruction of the natural environment, and destruction of diplomatic relationships and peace between nations in the world. Please use your powers of reflection and understanding of the past and present situations in order to prevent such destruction and devastation to the peoples of the United States and for the protection and safety of people all over the world. Please look deeply into the interconnections between the U.S.A. and all nations in the world to see that war in one place will contribute to war in many places, destruction in one direction will lead to destruction in many directions.

"We ask the U.S.A. to operate in harmony with the community of nations, making use of the collective wisdom and decision making capacities of that community. Please help strengthen the U.N. as an organization for peace-keeping, because that is the hope of the world. Please do not cause damage or destroy the authority and the role of the United Nations, instead support it wholeheartedly by listening to its recommendations. Please see the U.S.A. as an active member of the larger organization of the United Nations and seek to work together as an international community to ensure the safety and well-being for the people of the U.S.A. and for all people
in the world. The United Nations, made up of many nations in the world, has the capacity to provide and support constructive settings to establish dialogue and to offer conditions for maintaining peace and security for all nations in the world. Please reveal the great strength and wisdom of the U.S.A. by showing the world that it is possible to resolve conflict without the long lasting destruction and devastation caused by war. We will all be very grateful."

Vaclav Havel

"I think it's not by chance that the idea of confronting evil may have found more support in those countries that have had a recent experience with totalitarian systems compared with other European countries that haven't had the same sort of recent experience. The Czech experience with Munich, with appeasement, with yielding to evil, with demanding more and more evidence that Hitler was truly evil—that may be one reason that we look at things differently than some others. But that doesn't mean automatically that a green light is to be given to preventive strikes. I always believed that every case has to be judged individually. The Euro-American world cannot simply declare preëmptive war on all the regimes that it doesn't like."

"Civilization has changed. Today, any crazy, practically any crazy person can blow up half of New York. That was hardly possible fifteen or twenty years ago. That's not the only reason. On the whole, the world has changed. There once was a bipolar world, a balance of two great powers, who made agreements on weapons reductions, so that they were capable of destroying the world seven times instead of ten. Now we live in a multi-polar world. . . . Of course, the question is: When is the best time for action? Should it have happened a long time ago? That is a political issue, a diplomatic issue, a sociological issue. But, generally, it's a matter of the functioning of the world's immune system, whether the world can deal with such a case of extreme evil before it is too late."

posted by Jeff | 12:40 PM |

Monday, February 17, 2003  

Gone all this weekend (without access to any news), and expected to return to the usual horrors. But wait, what's this? Millions of citizens are marching for peace? Thronging crowds across the globe out to stand shoulder to shoulder against American unilateralism?

And then there's also news that liberals are planning to start up their own radio station. Am I dreaming all this?

Maybe we're not doomed after all.

Oh wait, we're still going to war after all. Damn Bushies, spoiling the mood.

posted by Jeff | 12:55 PM |

Friday, February 14, 2003  

At least once an election cycle a political party ought to revisit its values, visions, and platform. Over the past week, the Jack Bog’s Blog, The Oregon Blog, and Alas, a Blog, have entered into a kind of impromptu discussion about the values of the Democratic party, and it’s inspired me to set out a vision I’d love to see the Democrats adopt. This is a quick-and-dirty rough outline of the kind of thing I’d like to see.

The Democratic Party is in an unprecedented period of malaise. It’s become a reactive institution, basing its values and policy positions on the initiatives of the Republicans. They are adrift, floating without a vision, their raison d'etre apparently merely existence itself. Before the Democratic Party (or any liberal party) can begin to rebuild, it needs a shining mission statement of value. A good example of such a statement of values is the on the one George McGovern offered in the December 2002 Harper’s Magazine.

“Webster’s dictionary defines [liberalism] as ‘a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties….’ I believe the most practical and hopeful compass by which to guide the American ship of state is the philosophy of liberalism. Virtually every step forward in our history has been a liberal initiative taken over conservative opposition: civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, rural electrification, the establishment of a minimum wage, collective bargaining, the Pure Food and Drug act, and federal aid to education, including the land-grant colleges, just to name a few.”

Based on a mission statement of this sort, the Democratic Party should follow it up with a clear vision based on the values of the mission, policy area by policy area, making the case in each one that the progress of society depends on the belief of the essential goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual. I’d like to expand on these issues to include a broad range of policy areas. By way of example, though, here are two:

Foreign Policy
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has moved from a world of democratic-socialist detente and entered a era of multilateral interdependence. It is a hopeful era in geopolitics, for it offers the possibility of international cooperation based on world good rather than national interest. But it is also a dangerous time, underscored so clearly by the attacks of 9/11. The old system of national might is no longer useful in this chaotic new world. The United States should set the example to the world that democracy is the hope not just of nations, but of the world. It should seek to strengthen international cooperation and dialogue, working through cooperative bodies like NATO and the UN. It can ensure it’s own safety only through the recognition that while any nation is unsafe, all nations are unsafe. This is not an issue of national interest, it is the world’s interest.

To that end, foreign policy should emphasize cooperation. The US should also tailor policy that will encourage stability: recognizing that chaos, poverty, and instability is a breeding ground for violence, it should support efforts to reduce those elements and encourage broader freedoms. The Democratic Party will sponsor initiatives to aid foreign countries by: offering direct aid; offering incentives to encourage partnerships between foreign and domestic corporations; supporting international agreements to aid foreign countries; take the lead in resolving the crisis in Israel; encourage international trade agreements that benefit the economies of foreign countries.

The Environment
It is the right of every American to have clean air and water. Furthermore, it is the duty of this country to protect its natural resources for our immediate benefit and for the benefit of future generations. Ample scientific data exist to inform many environmental policies; the Democratic Party will rely first on these data in determining policy. The Democratic Party will also seek to build bridges between natural partners in land-management issues: environmentalists, ecologists, sportsmen, farmers, and ranchers.

With regard to current environmental issues, the Democratic Party supports: strengthening the regulation and enforcement of the Clean Air and Water Acts; immediate adoption of the Kyoto accords; protection of forest land, including setting aside ancient forests and prohibiting commercial logging on national forest land, but also encouraging the healthy harvest of timber through incentives; continued support of the Endangered Species Act. The Democratic Party opposes drilling in ANWR.

Furthermore, recognizing that sustainability is the only sound course to preserve our natural resources, the Democratic Party will propose legislation to: fund development of alternative-fuel technology; fund further research and development of reusable resources, recycling, and alternative energy. This funding could be creative use of public/private partnerships, which would have the ultimate benefit of creating new technologies and new industries, positioning the United States to take the lead and reap the benefit.

These are just suggestions, of course. They’re off-the-top-of-my head ideas. Certainly there are bigger brains out there who’ve devoted far more thought to this. It’s a dialogue that’s long overdue, and it’s a dialogue that must happen if the Democratic Party is ever to regain relevance in national policymaking.

posted by Jeff | 11:03 AM |

Thursday, February 13, 2003  

Hey, has anyone noticed that the Dow's in freefall?

posted by Jeff | 12:33 PM |

Wednesday, February 12, 2003  

The President has his smoking gun. Now it begins.

posted by Jeff | 4:17 PM |

I seem to be spamming my own site today, but Ignatius at passed this exchanged along and I can't resist. From a press briefing at the White House.

Q The question is this: President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that during the campaign. Jesus Christ said, turn the other cheek. He said, the meek will inherit the Earth. And he said, do violence to no man. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus Christ's pacifism?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think your choice of words is inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American people from a growing, gathering threat at the hands of Saddam Hussein and the weapons he has collected. And the President approaches this matter per his constitutional duties. His constitutional duties are to be the commander-in-chief who is sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from threats to our lives. And that's the manner in which he approaches it.

He does view this also as a matter of great morality in terms of the serious judgment that any President has to make about risking lives to safe life. And that's the focus that the President brings. [end]

The exchange is located on the transcript of the full briefing here, or for an extra, added bonus, you can visit the "press briefing excerpts" here. The latter one is titled "A Decade of Defiance and Deception."

I kid you not.

posted by Jeff | 3:26 PM |

Oscar Thoughts

Today's NY Times has a big article about the redemption of Harvey Weinstein, bossman of Miramax. His obits were apparently filling the Hollywood rags as recently as three months ago, but now he's got 40 Oscar nominations and is the king of the world. (Bully for him.)

Part of the analysis is that the big studios have given up on the Oscar race to the "independent" and (borrowing the college hoops phrase) "mid-major" studios. Well maybe. I think it's hard at this point to distinguish Miramax from the Hollywood "bigs" (Columbia, Fox, MGM et. al.). "Gangs of New York" may have been the independent vision of one man, but it was a $100 million movie, for cripes sake. "Chicago" had a budget of $40m, and the Hours (co-produced with Paramount)--the most self-consciously "independent" of the Miramax best-picture nominees, had a $25m budget. Let me tell you, 25 mil here and 25 mil there and all of a sudden you're talking about real money.

Other, smaller pictures were made for squat, and they were totally overlooked by the academy. Some movies that got good reviews that were made by seriously independent filmmakers were:

>Monsoon Wedding (a joint production of six companies, released by USA) - budget: $140k (I think--7 million rupees, anyway).

>Fast Runner (nine production companies, released by Lot 47 Films) - budget: $1.25 mil.

>Sunshine State (Sony Pictures Classics) - budget: $5 mil.

>Rodger Dodger (Artisan) - Gross: $1.26 mil (no budget details).

But of course, these got no attention by the awards folks because they didn't have the Miramax war chest to go out and get them. This notion that the indies are killing at the Oscars is nonsense. Hollywood has merely created a tier for Oscar films--they're full budget pictures, but made with more than a three-week hype-and-go in mind. Movies that got a lot of attention but which did not belong to this tier of filmmaking--"Far and Away," "Punch-drunk Love," "Igby Goes Down"--got squat.

This Oscar-tier of movies are solely a Hollywood institution--except for this year's "Lord of the Rings" neither fans nor critics were particularly thrilled. The collective gross of the four non-Rings movies is just $164 million (to date--it will of course go up).

And if we use Metacritic (cool site, incidentally) scores to gauge critics' reactions, most of these were good but not great. (Metacritic creates an aggregate score based on reviews from 30+ news sources.) Their scores, based on a 100-point scale, looked like this--Gangs of New York (72), Chicago (81), The Hours (82), The Pianist (86), and LotR: Two Towers (90). If the critics had selected the nominees, they would have chosen (according to Metacritic): Far From Heaven (88), Talk to Her (89), Fast Runner (96), Spirited Away (98).

On the other hand, the academy should be commended for selecting five solid pictures. After all, last year's winner ("A Beautiful Mind") got a 73 from Metacritic.

posted by Jeff | 3:00 PM |

While we're talkin media, there's a great study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting about the failure of the press to look critically at Colin Powell's claims about Iraq. It begins:

In reporting on Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5 presentation to the United Nations Security Council, many journalists treated allegations made by Powell as though they were facts. Reporters at several major outlets neglected to observe the journalistic rule of prefacing unverified assertions with words like "claimed" or "alleged."

This is of particular concern given that over the last several months, many Bush administration claims about alleged Iraqi weapons facilities have failed to hold up to inspection. In many cases, the failed claims-- like Powell's claims at the U.N.-- have cited U.S. and British intelligence sources and have included satellite photos as evidence.

Catching the administration in a lie has become sort of a parlor game for liberals. So if you missed the report, you can impress your friends with some of the new ones FAIR uncovered. (Go to the article for specifics.)

FAIR has another report that reiterates Colin Powell's somewhat checkered history with the truth. It is noteworthy to mention these facts (which include arms shipments during Iran-Contra, civilian killings in Nicaragua, and the Panama invasion) because the main reason Powell was selected to float the US claims was because of his credibility. The Bush administration felt it needed someone who was pretty much untouchable in the media so that tricky questions about the claims wouldn't be asked. (A fun game is to imagine Rumsfeld behind the mic, presenting the same "evidence." Doesn't seem quite as credible, does it?)

posted by Jeff | 10:34 AM |

More on the Logging Wars

From the LA Times, news that Alaksa senator Ted Stevens wants to slip a timber-industry giveaway into the federal budget. It's particularly slimy because the budget's way overdue, and if it gets through the murkiness of a current debate on farming, it's likely not to be challenged.

Salient elements:

"One measure would create a program to allow the timber industry to harvest prime trees in exchange for their help in managing the forests. Others focus on the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, the largest national forest and the one with the most undeveloped land.

"Both the Tongass and the Chugach National Forest, also in Alaska, would be exempted from a nationwide policy banning road building in undeveloped national forest areas. The Forest Service would have to let the industry cut enough timber sales in the Tongass to satisfy market demand. And the forest management plan would be sheltered from legal challenges.

"Together these efforts are designed to provide a steady supply of old-growth trees from the Tongass without interruptions that have become common as a result of lawsuits filed by environmental groups.

It sounds like horrible public policy--designed to benefit timber industry executives in the short run at the expense of forests and the logging industry. There's nothing in the provision that encourages timber companies to develop sustainable harvest techniques, nor money that could be used to convert mills to harvesting second growth.

It's a slimy enough maneuver that even a group of Republicans said it "would seriously undermine the legislative process to add new provisions behind closed doors and at the very last minute to a must-pass spending bill that is already four months old."

(As an aside, a troubling pattern in journalism is to cite "environmentalists" as a kind of collective, often without attributing a single quote to a particular group. Environmentalists span the range from the pro-violence Earth Liberation Front to Sport-Ute drivin Sierra Clubbers. This article eventually cites two sources, but it's late in the article. As part of their agenda in the language wars, Republicans have successfully demonized the word "environmentalists." Journalists should hold themselves to a higher standard here and not paint all opponents of radical, rape-the-forests legislation with the same brush.)

posted by Jeff | 10:09 AM |

Tuesday, February 11, 2003  

Republican chatter: "Okay, I'll flip a coin. Heads, deficits and we'll claim having deficits are the main reason to curb spending; tails, then it's having no deficits which is the main reason to cut taxes."

Okay, so I made that up. I didn't make up this:

Republicans, 1997: "Jack Kemp worships at the altar of tax cuts. Jack has always said that deficits don't matter. We think that deficits do matter."

Republicans, 2003: "Anything that will help us stop spending money, I'm in favor of.This place is set up to spend money; you know it's just the nature of the beast. And we've tried to say, hey, we don't have to spend so much of it. And if there's a deficit, that may help us."


"I think it's clear now that there's no correlation between the size of the deficit and interest rates. There's a much better case to be made that the deficit will force spending down."

(Respectively, those were The Hammer, Sue Myrick, R-NC, and Patrick Toomey R-Penn.)

It's like the President's trifecta, except it's more of a quinella. Maybe the daily double.

posted by Jeff | 4:29 PM |

Preacher George and the Holy Wars

“This country is blessed with virtually millions of good-hearted volunteers who work daily miracles in the lives of their fellow citizens. And today I ask our religious broadcasters, those who reach into every corner of America, to rally the armies of compassion so that we can change America one heart, one soul at a time.”

That was Preacher George yesterday, mustering the troops. It was a speech the White House innocuously labeled “President Bush Discussess Faith-Based Initiative in Tennessee,” delivered at the ecumenical-sounding National Religious Broadcasters convention. It was neither an innocuous speech nor an ecumnenical group: you had to look no further than the “Advancing Christian Communications” backdrop behind Preacher George to understand the audience.

If the State of the Union address introduced the Preacher to the world, this speech clarified his intention. It was less a political speech than it was an assurance that religion had finally been institutionalized as politics. Think I’m going too far here? Listen:

“The American people have deep and diverse religious beliefs, truly one of the great strengths of our country. And the faith of our citizens is seeing us through some demanding times. We're being challenged. We're meeting those challenges because of our faith.”

The country is able to meet its challenges how? Through its constitutional democracy and laws? No. “We’re meeting those challenges because of our faith.” The President appears to be a deeply religious man, and he does not see a distinction between the goodness of religious belief and the goodness of a strong government. It’s a theme he repeated throughout the speech. More:

“Government, of course, must be involved and will be involved. We just reformed our welfare in America and we've helped a lot of people. Yet, even as we work to improve the welfare laws, we know that welfare policy will not solve the deepest problems of the spirit.”

“I welcome faith. I welcome faith to help solve the nation's deepest problems.”

After the last sentence, Bush paused to tip his hat to the constitution: “I understand there's a -- that government must not and will not endorse a religious creed, or directly fund religious worship. That's obviously not a role of government, and that's not what we're talking about here.”

But he apparently does not understand this, because a few paragraphs later, he said:

“I continue to work with members of Congress of both political parties to enact faith-based legislation to encourage more charitable giving, so we're more likely able to rally the armies of compassion.”

And a little later:

“As well, I am concerned about those who are addicted to drugs, who fight for their very lives and survival against addiction. I believe that we can take a approach that focuses on the addict, give that person a voucher to be redeemed at any program that he or she chooses. Especially those programs that have got the capacity to change heart and, therefore, change habit.”

What he’s saying here is that it’s not really effective for government to meet the needs of citizens. “Compassion” in this case is more than simple material aid: it’s the Christian compassion that can “change heart and, therefore, change habit.” So even while his new budget cuts programs to the poor, he wishes to transfer these to “faith-based” providers. Why? Because the President isn’t paying lip service to his faith: he believes the only way to affect change is through religious ministration.

But that’s not all. Oh my, no. If this speech characterized Preacher George as a compassionate benefactor, it also showed his vengeful side as well.

“As I said in my State of the Union, liberty is not America's gift to the world. Liberty is God's gift to every human being in the world. America has great challenges; challenges at home and challenges abroad. We're called to extend the promise of this country into the lives of every citizen who lives here. We're called to defend our nation and to lead the world to peace, and we will meet both challenges with courage and with confidence.”

George W. Bush, the leader of the US, calls upon himself to defend the nation and lead the world to peace. He does not believe liberty is the US’s gift—it is God’s gift. America is just the enforcer of this truth. For the President, this is the mission statement. Thus, the real reason we have the pre-emption doctrine is revealed:

“If war is forced upon us -- and I say "forced upon us," because use of the military is not my first choice. I hug the mothers and the widows of those who may have lost their life in the name of peace and freedom. I take my responsibilities incredibly seriously about the commitment of troops. . . . We will try in every way we can to spare innocent life. The people of Iraq are not our enemies.”

Onward Christian soldier. Let them know of your compassion. Let them see the bright, violent light of your goodness. Clear away the evil, restore the purity:

“America views the Iraqi people as human beings who have suffered long enough under this tyrant. And the Iraqi people can be certain of this: the United States is committed to helping them build a better future. If conflict occurs, we'll bring Iraq food and medicine and supplies and, most importantly, freedom.”

This was an alarming speech. We’re not going to hear much about it because, for one, most Americans are Christian. Those who aren’t (particularly those in the media) will dismiss it as rhetoric. But it’s far from rhetoric: it’s a worldview that dictates who receives beneficence, and who receives wrath. We’re about to go to war not because war is justified but because the President of the United States regards Saddam Hussein as evil.

posted by Jeff | 12:47 PM |


This goes both ways, of course. The President is making America safe for Christians, and they in turn, are praying for him. My thanks to Page Count for tipping me off on the Presidential Prayer Team.

(Who note: "The current President supports and welcomes our prayer effort, however he did not start it and his specific endorsement or commissioning is not desired due to inherent constitutional issues.")

Check out their website--it's amazing. We’re a country run by and according to the moral law of Christians. This should be a bigger story.

posted by Jeff | 12:45 PM |

Monday, February 10, 2003  

Oscar nominations tomorrow, so a last minute prediction here. We'll see in the morning whether I know my arse from my Scorsese.

Best Picture predictions:
1. Catch Me if You Can
2. LotR: Two Towers
3. Chicago
4. The Hours
5. Road to Perdition

These are a bit cyncial. Chicago was crap, but a decent diversion. Road to Perdition was crap and painful. Catch Me if You Can is a $75m April movie except that it was a December Spielberg, so we're supposed to regard it as High Art. The Hours was self-consciously aming to be High Art but managed middle art with a histrionic flair. (Lord of the Rings was magnifcent.)

If lil ol Emma were the sole voter for Oscar nominations, the list would look like this:

1. Monsoon Wedding
2. 13 Conversations About One Thing
3. LOTR: Two Towers
4. Gangs of New York
5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind -or- Dogtown and Z Boys

And the Oscar would go to....

Gangs of New York

posted by Jeff | 8:54 PM |

I don't have the opportunity to blog today, which is a shame. This Belgian-German-French-Russian bloc stuff is fascinating. As is the administration's puerile reaction. It's not remarkable that NATO's breaking down, it's amazing that the US thinks it can bully the world without NATO breaking down.

(Or maybe not. Last week's New Yorker discusses how many of the recent failures of US intelligence didn't arise from poor information as much as they did from a lack of imagination. On India setting off its nukes--the US didn't anticipate it because that's not what they would have done. If there's a story in all this Iraq "diplomacy," it's that the US is pathologically unable to comprehend that other sovereign nations might not hold the view that they're the US's servile bellhops. Which really is the only thing that could explain the administration's recent bizarre behavior.)

Anyway, as a talking point--what do others think about this? Reduce the likelihood of war? NATO's future? The UN's? Inspections? On what date will Donald Rumsfeld actually explode with fury?

More tomorrow--

posted by Jeff | 12:05 PM |

[Ed. note: Also, this was passed along to me as a posting request—thanks JimmyG! Let me point out now that I do requests. You may have seen it; it’s floating the internet.]

Sung to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it" -

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think someone has dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let's look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It's "pre-emptive non-aggression", bomb Iraq.
Let's prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They've got weapons we can't see,
And that's good enough for me
'Cos it'all the proof I need
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam's gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
(And he tried to kill your dad),
Bomb Iraq.

If your corporate fraud is growin', bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin', bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain't easy,
And your manhood's getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We'll call it treason,
Let's make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

posted by Jeff | 12:05 PM |

Saturday, February 08, 2003  

Other Congressional Legislation on Iraq

After Peter DeFazio's bill (to remove the President's blank check to invade Iraq) made news earlier this week, I decided to dig around and see if anything else was in play. The Senate proposed a similar item: Senate Resolution 28.

Text and Sponsors

A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the United Nations weapons inspectors should be given sufficient time for a thorough assessment of the level of compliance by the Government of Iraq with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 (2002) and that the United States should seek a United Nations Security Council resolution specifically authorizing the use of force before initiating any offensive military operations against Iraq.

Sen. Byrd,
Sen Bingaman, Jeff - 1/29/2003 [NM]
Sen Boxer, Barbara - 1/29/2003 [CA]
Sen Feingold, Russell D. - 2/5/2003 [WI]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne - 1/29/2003 [CA]
Sen Inouye, Daniel K. - 1/29/2003 [HI]
Sen Jeffords, James M. - 2/4/2003 [VT]
Sen Kennedy, Edward M. - 1/29/2003 [MA]
Sen Sarbanes, Paul S. - 1/29/2003 [MD]

Whether this congressional movement will provoke any discussion--or whether there is time to do so--remains to be seen. Still, it's nice to know there's opposition.

posted by Jeff | 11:26 AM |

Friday, February 07, 2003  

Liberal Media

When Colin Powell gave his speech to the UN on Wednesday, he had a number of audiences. He wanted to convince the world, for sure, but this might have been a secondary effort—after all, the President seems at ease with the “coalition of the willing” he’s already got. More worrisome for the administration, I’d wager, is the majority of Americans who thought invasion might be a little hasty. So the Secretary of State wanted to clean up business at home.

One measure of that success was analyzed today by the Brookings Institution: American newspapers. Good news for the President—they were convinced, mostly.

"While all the papers praised Powell's performance, the speech's impact on their editorials was marginal at best. Only the Arizona Republic in Phoenix and the Oregonian in Portland moved significantly in the pro-war direction. The other papers that became somewhat more supportive after Powell spoke were USA Today, Newark Star-Ledger, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Detroit Free Press."

Don’t let that “marginal impact” language fool you: only two of the 25 papers the Institute surveyed were strongly anti-war (the NY Times and the The Register of Orange County). Which means, if you’re keeping track, that papers like Washington Post and Chicago Sun-Times (ain’t that the liberal one?) were pro-war.

Further proof that the liberal media has the nation cowed and whinging from underneath its commie hammerlock.

posted by Jeff | 12:41 PM |

Well, all right this is a wee bit left of center:

“Although financial reporters have started to realize that Mr. Bush is out of control — he has "lost his marbles," says CBS Market Watch — the sheer banana-republic irresponsibility of his plans hasn't been widely appreciated. ”

And thank God it is.

posted by Jeff | 12:38 PM |

Today the skies above the City of Roses are not low and flat and gray but blue and bright. Thus it must be that it is the first week of February, when the skies clear briefly and predictably. Next week and for the next 20-some following, it will be back to the flat and gray and low. But that’s next week. So, like my fellow webfeet, my mood’s artificially high, and I’m not particularly in the mood to document atrocities.

Nevertheless, the blogging must go on.

To wit:

Q. What’s America’s most dangerous weapon? A. Donald Rumsfeld.

Grasping for defeat after Colin Powell’s triumphant victory, you'll recall that Rumsfeld remarked on Wednesday: ”Then, there are three or four countries that have said they won't do anything. I believe Libya, Cuba and Germany are ones that have indicated they won't help in any respect.” A comment destined to inflame, not encourage. And of course, a most successful inflament. Following the comment, Germans were momentarily confused--Germany houses a massive US military force--and then became enraged.

What’s particularly bizarre about the comment is that Rumsfeld’s headed for a conference in Munich. It almost seems like Rumsfeld forgot there were actual Germans in the world. Now that their perplexity has shifted to fury, they're taking to the streets to greet Don as he arrives in Munich. Apparently the State Department doesn't believe it will be a red-carpet affair: it's telling Americans to avoid downtown Munich.

As a result of Rumsfeld's visit, the state interior minister of Bavaria, Günther Beckstein, said he feared that "outbreaks of extreme violence" could occur. To prevent such battles, Munich police have assembled a force of 3,500 officers, including some from other German states. They have also closed off the area around the hotel Bayerischer Hof where the conference is being held.

| link |

Even while Munich boiled, I was reading some nice analysis about the White House’s swagger syndrome in the New Yorker on the bus this morning. It’s a long quote, but makes a nice bookend to the Rumsfeld bumble:

The President's swagger is the sort of thing that Europeans, especially "old" Europeans, have in mind when they grumble that our President is a callow cowboy. But the difficulty goes beyond the personality of George W. Bush. One cannot spend time in any of the other developed democracies without being struck by the damage the Administration's wise-guy unilateralism has done, not only on the issue of Iraq but also on strategically marginal topics like the Kyoto environmental agreement, family planning, and the International Criminal Court. Everyone expected this pattern to change after the attacks of September 11, 2001. It didn't. The opportunity presented by Europe's instinctive solidarity—epitomized by NATO's decision to invoke, for the first time ever, the provision of its charter declaring that an attack against one is an attack against all—has been wasted. It's only natural that Europe, absorbed in creating a continental order based on nonviolent shared sovereignty, and the United States, whose unmatched military power confers unmatched responsibility, should view the world differently. Some degree of American unilateralism is inescapable. But this Administration seldom bothers to observe the minimal decencies.

| link |

posted by Jeff | 10:51 AM |

Thursday, February 06, 2003  

DeFazio and Paul Introduce Legislation to Repeal Bush's Blank Check for War

(All of what follows is from Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio's website.)

The legislation introduced today would repeal Public Law 107-243. The bill text reads in total:

"Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

Section 1. Repeal of Public Law 107-243.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243; 116 Stat. 1498) is hereby repealed."

On the legislation, DeFazio said:

“I heard no new evidence today from Secretary Powell’s address to the United Nations, that would convince me that military action in Iraq is necessary to improve security of Americans.

“Americans want the President to lay a clear case for immediate military action in Iraq, but the Administration’s message keeps changing--six months ago, their case hinged on regime change, three months ago it was Saddam thwarting inspections, three weeks ago it was possible possession of chemical weapons, today its tenuous terrorist links. If the case was clear, it would have been clear from day one.

“Our nation’s immediate threat is still Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda terrorist network. We have full knowledge of North Korea’s equally rapidly developing nuclear weapons program under the control of an equally diabolical leader. There’s well-published accounts of several Mid-east governments aiding and funding known terrorists. Of America’s imminent threats, Saddam Hussein is much lower on the list.

“Saddam Hussein is a brutal untrustworthy tyrant, but he is being contained, and we should allow weapons inspectors to continue their work.

“The President seeks war, this is clear. The Constitution grants the Congress sole authority to declare war, and I believe the President should come before Congress to seek that authority. Our resolution allows him that option.”

| link |

Peter DeFazio is far, far too left for most Americans, but those of us in Oregon who have seen him lead would LOVE to see a candidate like him on the ticket in 2004. This is just more evidence why.

posted by Jeff | 1:33 PM |

Bad Data

Today's LA Times published a poll they conducted on the topic of race and admissions under the headline "Bush's Opposition to Racial Preferences Gets Big Support."

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.

In a nation-wide telephone survey of just under 1400 people, the Times found that 55% disapproved of the University of Michigan admissions policy, compared to 27% who favored it. Or, as the Times wrote: “By a 2 to 1 majority, Americans approve of President Bush's call to strike down a race-based admissions policy at the University of Michigan and say that students should be judged only on their academic records.”

First, let’s take the claim itself. The numbers came from the following question:

“President Bush state publicly that he opposes a program of racial preferences for minority applicants at the University of Michigan. The Bush administration urged the Supreme Court to declare the University of Michigan’s admissions system unconstitutional. Do you approve or disapprove of the Bush administration’s decision to oppose the University of Michigan’s racial preference admissions policy?”

There are a number of problems here. First, the buzz word of “racial preferences.” Who thought this was going to produce unbiased data? The phrase—even for those who don’t recognize it as a Republican buzz word—almost demands an American reject it. We’re not a country of “preference”—we’re a country of merit. Second, the question is as much about whether respondents support the President as it is about race and admissions. And finally, the question is confusing, asking people whether they approved of Bush’s disapproval.

(A better question would have been something along the lines of: “The University of Michigan uses a number of criteria when considering applicants for admission. These include academic performance, athletic and artistic ability, geographic location, and family history with the University. Do you favor using race as one of these factors?)

Now, let’s think about the relevance of a poll like this. If the sample drawn was (as the Times claims) consistent with the population, it means that only 26% of respondents had a college degree. Are people with no experience of college qualified to determine admissions policies? More significantly, the question is a matter of law. Does a poll of random Americans contribute anything to a discussion of the legality of the policy? Obviously it does not.

All it really does is put the heat on the Supreme Court—heat that was turned up once already by the President. As I wrote back on January 15, the politicization of the judiciary doesn’t benefit anyone, and it knocks the whole checks and balances thing out of whack. It’s bad enough this was a bogus survey—it’s worse that it was even done in the first place. Shame on the Times.

posted by Jeff | 11:47 AM |

Wednesday, February 05, 2003  

No soup for you!

"President Bush's budget proposes new eligibility requirements that would make it more difficult for low-income families to obtain a range of government benefits, from tax credits to school lunches."

"About half of the 28 million children in the National School Lunch Program receive free meals because they come from low-income families. But John H. Rice, a spokesman for the federal Food and Nutrition Service, said the government had found that the number of students certified for free meals was about 25 percent higher than the number who appeared to be eligible, according to Census Bureau data."

You're following this aren't you?--to pay for tax cuts to the wealthy, we must crack down on the deadbeat kids trying to eat lunch. Well, try this logic on for size, then:

"The Bush budget would also replace one of the largest federal housing programs with a block grant to states, which could redirect some of the money away from working poor people in cities. Mr. Bush said he wanted to shift money and responsibility for this and other social welfare programs, including Medicaid, to the states."| link |

But wait. The President is himself a deadbeat:

But today, as educators from around the country digested next year's federal education budget, many said it recalled not a new approach, but the familiar practice of an administration pledging more support than it delivers.

Backers of the administration's education law, No Child Left Behind, said that the level of federal spending was far below the amounts the administration agreed to in negotiating the law with Congress and that the shortfalls would undermine the states' ability to deliver on the law's ambitious promise. | link |

Well, nevermind that, the states can handle a little extra burden for the sake of the kiddies, right? Oops:

Estimates of state budget deficits for the current fiscal year have grown by nearly 50 percent in two months, creating the worst fiscal outlook for states since World War II and prompting nearly half of them to consider raising taxes, a new survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows.

| link |

I don't know if the Times was doing a little commentary-by-proximity, but all three of these articles appeared in the same place in today's paper. Hmmm.

posted by Jeff | 4:10 PM |

A new comments interface has been added. That is all.

posted by Jeff | 1:27 PM |

So the Secretary of State made the argument today. How'd he do? Let me guess--those who were in favor of the war were wholly convinced, but those who were skeptical remained skeptical.

But then, as a friend of mine pointed out this morning, whether he's got WMD or not misses the more crucial question: what's the best way to deal with him? The Bush administration has successfully (again) set the terms of the debate: whether he has WMD or not will be the question on which we base our decision to go to war. As my friend said, the White House is asking us what color we want our new car to be, and we haven't even asked the question about whether we need a new car.

Well, do we? I have yet to hear a decent answer to that question. I can still see a number of reasons why it's an enormously unwise course--especially if Iraq has WMD. The colors may be purty, but the war and its aftermath aren't gonna be.

posted by Jeff | 11:39 AM |

Read David Sarasohn
For those of you who don't have the pleasure of living in the City of Roses, here's a columnist you likely haven't read:David Sarasohn. A former Reed history prof, he's one of the best editorial writers in the country. If you haven't read him before, today's a great day to start. Go here.

It begins:

Last week, in the State of the Union, President Bush declared, "We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other presidents and other generations."

This week, the president sent his budget to Congress.

We can hope other generations had a nice weekend.

posted by Jeff | 11:27 AM |

Tuesday, February 04, 2003  

Atrocious? How about the President’s newly-proposed budget. Many of the facts are getting consistent airplay: the $304b deficit (larger even than Pappy’s—Dubya’s always competing!), the increases in spending on the massive war machine to the detriment of other programs, the stalwart support for tax cuts to the rich. Among the several good articles on it are ones from the Post, the New York Times, and the LA Times.

As the White House notes in the document: “One conclusion is inescapable. The federal government must restrain the growth in any spending not directly associated with the physical security of the nation.” A few of the especially fine items:

Private insurance for Medicaid patients; other changes will eliminate coverage for some seniors;

Calls to drill in ANWR

Increases in Homeland Security and Defense and the SEC, decreases for the Department of Labor, CDC, after-school services, vocational training, the Department of Education (45 programs in total), aid for rural development, monies for policing, public housing, and Amtrak;

According to this budget, defense spending will increase only 4% in 2003, but will increase by $20b every year thereafter, rising from $390 to $484b.

And nowhere in the budget is there an allotment for costs associated with an Iraq war (I know, I know, he hasn’t made up his mind).

The document’s over 700 pages long, so safe to say that there are Easter eggs hidden throughout. Some of these are likely to be brutal. For example, a local radio station reported today (in Portland, Oregon) that as part of his “Healthy Forests” initiative, Bush will cut funds that protect salmon habitat (sorry, can’t find a link). No doubt the budget’s riddled with these kinds of cuts.

What’s troubling about Bush’s proposal is that even if the Dems stake out major ground on many items, a lot of the small stuff—stuff that’s misunderstood or not supported by an active lobby—will just get shuffled through. This has been Bush’s (remarkably successful) strategy thus far: fire with both barrels and hope the majority of buckshot finds the mark. If the Dems don’t ship the whole document back as DOA, it’ll probably work again.

posted by Jeff | 3:42 PM |

All right, a comment or two on the gassing of the Kurds issue. In comments below, Tom questioned the Times piece by Pelletiere:

OK, a careful reading of the Pelletiere article in the NYTimes is required. Basically, he says that the question of whether the Kurds were gassed by the Iraqis at Halabja is in dispute. Well, whatever. There were numerous (many? several?) other gassing incidents that do not seem to be in dispute. Thus, Pelletiere is trying to trick his readers into drawing a conclusion he does not himself present, namely "that Saddam didn't gas the Kurds." Very clever, but of course, you see right through it.

In dispute are two gassings. The first happened during the Iran-Iraq war and the second afterward. While Tom’s sources don’t seriously refute the assertion of the first claim—that it may well have been Iran who were doing the gassing, and aiming not at Kurds but Iraqis—they ably do so with the second. Actually, everyone involved cites sources I don’t have access to, but reading through Pelletiere’s arguments and then Edward Mortimer’s rebuttal inclines me to agree with Mortimer. Furthermore, there’s a Human Rights Watch report that agrees with Mortimer. You can read a nice exchange Pelletiere and Mortimer here, and the Human Rights Watch report here.

Of course, Pelletiere’s weak argument doesn’t excuse the President’s lies. Tom, care to rebut those?

posted by Jeff | 11:16 AM |

Monday, February 03, 2003  

So much blogging to do, so little time...

Well, I should be addressing Listening's charges about the gassing of the Kurds (comments below), but.

Instead, my thoughts, like everyone else's in America, are inspired by the Columbia disaster. In particular, I was (and remain) amazed by the media’s response. Of the 19 stories run by NPR this morning, 12 were about the shuttle. In the national section of the New York Times, 23 of 34 stories were about the disaster. The Post was relatively restrained, with just over half its national section articles (12 of 21) about Columbia-related news. And this is on the third day after the tragedy. In fact, since 6 am Saturday (West Coast time), pretty much the only news—and on Saturday, the only programming, was about the accident.

Already there are debates about whether this is 1) overkill, or 2) the proper respect and interest in a major news story. And naturally, I fall on one side of the debate. But leaving aside that debate—because in the end it’s a matter of degree; everyone agrees that it was a tragedy—I’m interested in what it says about the media feedback loop.

When the accident first happened, there was no question but that this story would dominate the news. After some relatively short hours, though, the “news” was already out there. There was so little: “the Columbia has crashed, we don’t know why.” Corollary stories—descriptions about the accident, the few facts that were known about systems problems, and of course, biographies of the astronauts—also filled a 10-minute news spot. Thus it was that no matter what medium you turned to, you got this information, looped, with additional commentary by people more or less distant to the accident.

And yet the media continued to cover the story. Even in the absence of anything to actually report, the only stories available were the same improvisations on these now well-established themes. About midday yesterday, I began to wonder at what point does this kind of moment begin feeding itself. At a certain point, long after the news has been reported but while the story is still being covered, a news agency might wonder about breaking off coverage. Would they dare? Would there be charges of insensitivity?

And, because the force of the story has become so great, at what point does the media begin to create the size of the story by its coverage? There’s a tipping point in every news story—witness the Trent Lott comment—or not. I’d be willing to bet that the number of NASA-related stories in all of 2002 were fewer than those on Saturday. In today’s paper, NASA’s getting huge scrutiny. Legislation will result as a reaction to the news. Not to the disaster—if the media hadn’t covered this story much, NASA wouldn’t have been on a single lawmaker’s docket. On the other side, what major news stories are floating out there on the wrong side of the tipping point? Stories that, if told, might have enormous effect.

In America, we’re very proud of our “independent media.” But after this weekend, you have to wonder what level of independence the media actually exercise.

posted by Jeff | 11:58 AM |

This just in from the Hammer

“Let’s just be clear—we never objected to allowing taxpayers to keep more of their earnings; it was deficit spending that we always opposed. And we will get back to a balanced budget, but ladies and gentlemen, the Soviet Union had a balanced budget.”
--Tom Delay, quoted on NPR (link is an audio file)

posted by Jeff | 10:47 AM |

Saturday, February 01, 2003  


I've now received two emails about a campaign to mail rice to the President. Has anyone been getting these? The two I received were worded differently, and neither one mentions a sponsoring organization (always a dubious start). On the other hand, I'm always ready to pitch in and help. Are these things legitimate? I'll quote one of the emails here. Proceed as you wish--I don't necessarily endorse this. (Oh yeah, and I received a third email that mentioned that this could as easily backfire if everyone clogs up the mail, particularly with poor packaging. I guess the message is that if you're going to do it, make sure the package is up to USPS standards.)

The email:

There is a grassroots campaign underway to protest war in Iraq in a simple, but potentially powerful way.

Place 1/2 cup uncooked rice in a small plastic bag (a snack-size bag or sandwich bag work fine). Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Wrap it in a piece of paper on which you have written, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Romans 12:20. Please send this rice to the people of Iraq; do not attack them."

Place the paper and bag of rice in an envelope (either a letter-sized or padded mailing envelope--both are the same cost to mail) and address them to:

President George Bush White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NWWashington, DC 20500

Attach $1.06 in postage. (Three 37-cent stamps equal $1.11)

Drop ! this in the mail. It is important to act NOW so that President Bush gets the letters ASAP, before the supposed Feb 5 start date.

In order for this protest to be effective, there must be hundreds of thousands of such rice deliveries to the White House. We can do this if you each forward this message to your friends and family.

There is a positive history of this protest!

In the mid 1950's, Communist China was experiencing a dramatic famine. An American peace organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, began a campaign for American aid to China. The Fellowship of Reconciliation asked its members to send little bags of rice to the White House, with a request that President Eisenhower send food to China. But food was never sent. And for decades the Fellowship of Reconciliation considered this campaign a failure.

When Eisenhower's papers were ma! de public in the mid-80's, a different story came to l! ight. During that same period in the 50's, the United States was involved in a war in Korea. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, fearful that China would become involved in the conflict, kept urging Eisenhower to drop a nuclear bomb on China. Each time this idea came up, Eisenhower would excuse himself, walk down to the White House mail room, and ask how many bags of rice had come in that day. Then he would return to the meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and say that if a hundred people on that day were asking him to send rice to the Chinese, the United States could not possibly drop a nuclear bomb on China.

I'll give it a shot. A buck ten? Half a cup of rice?

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |
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