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

Friday, October 31, 2003  

For those of you who have been dying to see the Memo, you need look no further. "Notes on the Atrocities," your Deep Throat to FOX News, brings you a copy of the Memo*.

FOX News
October 30th, 2003

Turns out Clinton was right about something after all: it is the economy, stupid. And today more than ever. Late yesterday evening, we received the Q3 numbers for the quarter: 7.2% growth. Sound high? It is--the strongest growth since 1984, when the Gipper was at the helm. Clearly, a stunning triumph of the President's tax relief measures. You may be feeling overly chipper about this news today--and why not? It's great news, so let the people see how you feel.

The story couldn't be clearer: the Dow's up, house sales up, productivity strong, durable goods, consumer confidence, orders of manufactured goods--all up, up, UP! Still, the story can get bogged down in details. Stories that are bogged down in details aren't peppy--show too many details and people are reaching for the clicker. So in reporting the story, a couple of key points.

One way to help communicate the story is to stick with clear, consistent language. The package of economic stimulus the President proposed included a lot more than tax cuts--so don't fall into the trap of using that phrase. Far better is "tax relief." Officially, the President has been calling his economic plan the "Jobs and Growth Package." We're really talking about growth today, folks, so let's just stick with "tax relief." Sure, it's more accurate to use the President's language, but the word "jobs" introduces a new topic that can only be addressed through details. It's messy and it's misleading and it's unfair to the President.

Another issue best left aside is the deficits. Again, those are unnecessary details. Flip that lens and look at stimulus: with growth like this, it's difficult to say what the deficits--if indeed any remain--might be. Groping in the dark to figure out what the deficits are isn't sound journalism: as with global warming, we just don't know.

Finally, just a thought. When one thinks about all the months of nay-saying we've had to endure about the economy, all the dour Sallies, it makes you want to laugh. It goes to show that the major media has been in major spin mode. Fortunately, we've managed to keep our eyes on the ball, and knew we'd find vindication after all was said and done. As you report some of the other stories of the day--the "Mission Accomplished" flap, the situation in Iraq--remember that. The liberal media will have their say, and they'll be the same dour Sallies they always are. But here at Fox, it's our commitment to Fair and Balanced journalism that keeps us from sliding into that false, negative space. That ugly echo chamber. Just something to think about.

All right folks, let's go show 'em what good journalism really is!

*As context, I'd like you to keep in mind what day it is. You've been warned.

posted by Jeff | 12:20 PM |

Via Lying Media Bastards, the Center for Public Integrity has prepared a report about war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's incredibly rich with information, most of which will align with your intuition. Some of it--especially the particulars--is surprising.

One of the more interesting Iraq contracts the Center uncovered involves a tiny firm called Sullivan Haave Associates. Sullivan Haave is actually a one-man shop run by a government consultant named Terry Sullivan. Sullivan says his firm was hired as a subcontractor by Science Applications International Corp., one of the most successful and best politically connected government contractors doing work in Iraq....

Sullivan has a much more intimate relationship with the Pentagon than his competitors, however. He happens to be married to Carol Haave, who, since November 2001, has been deputy assistant secretary of defense for security and information operations. And yes, Haave is the same person who appears in the name Sullivan Haave Associates.

Haave seemed surprised when contacted by the Center for Public Integrity at her Pentagon office about the contract.

She said she was no longer associated with the company in any way. She then said she had no knowledge of any work the company might be doing in Iraq.

There's more, including a list of contractors by contribution total which you can compare to the list of contractors by total earnings. (Surprisingly, on visual inspection, there appears to be some correlation! But remember, it's not kickback money, it's free speech.) Also, there's a history of how much government has shifted money to the private sector.

Under cost-reimbursement contracts—which one former Washington government lawyer jokingly referred to as "defraud me please" contracts—companies decide how much a service will cost to perform. These contracts are also known as "cost-plus" contracts because the contractor's profit comes from fees paid by the government beyond the cost of the service, which are calculated using one of several fee arrangements. One common arrangement is award fees, in which the contractor receives a base fee plus an additional fee based on performance. The additional fee is often calculated as a percentage—typically less than 10 percent, according to Schooner—of the service's cost. Critics say this structure gives contractors an incentive to bill the government at a premium so that they will make a correspondingly fat fee.

Good, good stuff.

posted by Jeff | 11:02 AM |

With positive economic numbers starting to appear, the Democratic Party finds itself at a crossroads. The 7.2% growth rate will be a number the White House can tout for weeks. Even more important will be the moment the Dow passes 10,000 and the NASDAQ 2,000--psychological mileposts that will signal the reverse of the burst bubble (or at least be hailed that way). Whether the economy is actually stronger or not--and there's a lot of evidence it's not (Krugman, Newman, Sawicky)--these numbers will change the political discourse. It's a very dangerous time, because what the Dems do next will determine their relevance in the coming year and set the stage for whatever come back--or failure to comeback--they'll mount in coming years.

Thanks to the work of Judis and Teixeira, we know that the Democratic base has shifted from the blue collar (particularly rural voters) to educated professionals in "ideopolises"--tech and education centers like Boston, Madison, and San Francisco. Republicans, seizing on this change, have carefully identified Democrats as "elites," pointing to the tattooed, vegan, multicultural, irreligious city dwellers as evidence of a party that doesn't fit with traditional American values. Democrats still do well among unionized urban blue collar workers, but they've failed to flip the rural, religious, and red-meat poor.

Those differences were obscured in the Bush recession. Urban professionals were losing their jobs, just like wage-earners in blue collar jobs. Both were offended by the tax cuts that benefited the only group in America who didn't need the money--corporations and the rich. But if the economic numbers pick up, the Democrats will be confronted with a fracturing constituency.

At least, this is how I read it. The urban professionals--those amenable to the DLC "new Democrat" argument--will be most profoundly affected by the economic change. They'll benefit most from an improved economy. But then there's that 50% of voters who don't vote. A lot of them are the poor and disenfranchised who were for the first time starting to hear politicians speak to their needs. These are the folks in Boise, Idaho and Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Tucson, Arizona who work low-paying jobs (maybe two or three) who are trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. They have no access to the halls of power, no time or money to devote to politics, and essentially no voice in the political process. (Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is a powerful report on this vast group of Americans.)

But they're the hope and future of the Democratic Party.

If this is the moment when Democrats turn away from their populist message, turn away from talking about class, and turn back toward the pro-business, pro-trade platform of the middle 90s, they'll lose every one of those workers. And losing those workers is tantamount to death. In the absence of any message that suggests there might be change for them, they'll slide back into political apathy or worse--they'll be susceptible to the most cynical arguments from Republicans about God, guns, and country.

The Democrats have hard work in front of them. Capturing those voters means going door-to-door to ask for votes. It means listening to needs and crafting solutions that may not appeal to those who control the coffers. It's old-time organization; getting people engaged, registered, and out to vote. So far, the Democrats have done a bang-up job creating those networks and putting people on the streets. The major influence behind that effort has been the flagging economy. But as these positive numbers come out, the Dems need to keep their eye on the ball: for the Wal-Mart worker making $7.75, the Dow's performance means squat. Their economy is going to take a lot more work.

posted by Jeff | 8:55 AM |

Thursday, October 30, 2003  

Didn't take long for the President to credit the positive economic numbers to his tax cut: Tax Relief Helps Economic Growth. Funny, after dodging responsibility for putting up that "Mission Accomplished" banner, he's Johnny on the spot when there's credit to be taken.

posted by Jeff | 4:10 PM |

Another thought on that "Mission Accomplished" business. It's a great example of the tone this President sets with regard to communicating the truth to Americans. Although the mythology of this President is that he's a "plainspoken" man, a no-frills, unadorned truth-teller, nothing could be further from the truth. The administration dwells in a neverland of falsity, and the plainspoken President is a careful component of the message.

Let's take a look at the "Mission Accomplished" episode. On the one hand, there were the words of the President: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." Everything about the affair bespoke victory. Even the webpage has a hagiographic, exaultant feel to it. Go look, and see if you don't agree (there's George, in flyboy fetish wear, there's one of our sleek, lethal jets: ah, the cleanness of victory). Bush continues, in language fit for my Friday Satire piece:

The character of our military through history -- the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies -- is fully present in this generation. When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength and kindness and goodwill. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I'm honored to be your Commander-in-Chief....

Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others. All of you -- all in this generation of our military -- have taken up the highest calling of history. You're defending your country, and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope -- a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' -- and to those in darkness, 'be free.'"

But the prophet Isaiah, nor Normandy nor Iwo Jima, were evoked in the President's press conference on Tuesday. Rather, a disarming joke ("it was attributed some how to some ingenious advance man from my staff -- they weren't that ingenious, by the way"), then a statement that may not have been lie, but neither was it the truth: "But my statement was a clear statement, basically recognizing that this phase of the war for Iraq was over and there was a lot of dangerous work."

Well, no. The speech was basically one of the most overripe displays of vainglory ever uttered by a president. As to recognizing the dangerous work ahead, there was but a single qualifier in the whole thing: "We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous."

This is exactly the pattern of the President's communication strategy since he arrived in Washington. Dwell in the nebulous by giving impressions. Use backdrops with slogans, dress the part, speak in a broken, befuddled (and seemingly authentic) voice, use the language of populism, and always say things in vague, nonspecific terms. If a thing is implied, it can be disavowed. If a message is sent through production values, not declarative sentences, it can be denied. If an impression can be created in the absence of the truth to which you might be accountable, create the impression. After all, as this episode demonstrates, it's easier to deny that apologize.

posted by Jeff | 8:47 AM |

Wednesday, October 29, 2003  

Everyone seems to know, instinctively, that the President has a troubled relationship with the truth. Trouble is, no one has caught him in a lie. Could it be that it will be the little things that undo him? That audible he called yesterday in which he claimed his staff had not put up the "Mission Accomplished" sign might be the first verifiable lie. First, Bush's words:

The "Mission Accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from staff. They weren't that ingenious, by the way.

Already the White House is dissembling:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN that in preparing for the speech, Navy officials on the carrier told Bush aides they wanted a "Mission Accomplished" banner, and the White House agreed to create it.

"We took care of the production of it," McClellan said. "We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up."

Well, maybe. On the other hand, as Jess Berney points out, very little was left up to the Navy. Digging around in the Times archives, he found this:

Media strategists noted afterward that Mr. Sforza and his aides had choreographed every aspect of the event, even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the "Mission Accomplished" banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call "magic hour light," which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush.

I'm not really sure if this should be a big deal--it's a petty lie about the pettiest of Presidential PR promotions. On the other hand, the man lied about the rationale for going to war. That last one isn't likely to be proven (it's probably unprovable), but the "Mission Accomplished" lie is much clearer. I wouldn't be surprised to see evidence in the next couple days that details how the White House planned and paid for the banner. Then we'll see what happens. Maybe it's not the big lies that get you.

posted by Jeff | 11:28 AM |

To visitors from Metafilter, Mark Kleiman, and J. Bradford DeLong, a clarification: the Boykin piece is satire. It's a regular bit of my schtick, so don't take it too seriously. I shudder to think that it might create an international incident. Don't alert Vajpayee.

Looking to kill more time (More Friday Satire)?

posted by Jeff | 8:37 AM |

Huge news for the Dean campaign: Jesse Jackson Jr. announced yesterday he was behind the good doctor. This is huge news because the one rap Dean hasn't been able to shake is that his support is as white as the Vermont snows. It was such a boost that the Reverend responded by calling him a racist. Sharpton has always pinned his hopes on the black vote, and knows this is a critical blow.

I've always been appalled when people played the race card on Dean--infering from his policies, not his words, that he was implicitly racist. Vermont's not a particularly Jewish state, either, but does that make him an anti-semite (don't answer that, Joe)? Here's what Sharpton charged:

"Howard Dean's opposition to affirmative action, his current support for the death penalty and historic support of the NRA's agenda amounts to an anti-black agenda that will not sell in communities of color in this country."

Dean wants to be a national candidate and to rise above the usual game of divisive politics. Sharpton's antics aside, this is a huge step toward that end. If he can build support among black voters, he might even be able to make gains in South Carolina. A second or third place showing after wins in New Hampshire and Iowa would be regarded as a win for Dean. Finishing above candidates who must win South Carolina to gain traction--Joe, Edwards, Clark--would effectively knock them out of the campaign.

(The one danger with this is that other black leaders will join Sharpton and come out against Dean, turning his candidacy into a referendum on race. That would be devastating.)

posted by Jeff | 8:06 AM |

Tuesday, October 28, 2003  

And then there's this:

MAdGE (Mothers Against Genetic Engineering in Food and the Environment) today launched a highly controversial billboard campaign in Auckland and Wellington to provoke public debate about the social and cultural ethics of genetic engineering in New Zealand.

The billboards depict a naked, genetically engineered woman with four breasts being milked by a milking machine, and GE branded on her rump.

No, you won't find the photo on this website--I like to think it's a classy outfit. Not, however, so classy I won't point you here, were you can see it.

posted by Jeff | 5:06 PM |

Blair. You don't hear that name come out of the administration much anymore, do you?

posted by Jeff | 5:01 PM |

As an addendum to my jobs rumination from this morning, I notice a couple other folks have related information. From Max: "The last time income tax revenues were this low was the year before the noted Polish economist Bill Mazeroski beat the Yankees." Add that to Bush's accomplishment of being the first President since Hoover to see a net loss in jobs, and he's got a tidy resume going.

Calpundit also points to a report showing that CEO salary has spiked in comparison to company profits. "Overall, a CEO who generates $10 million in net profits today is paid about 7x what a CEO who generated exactly the same amount was paid in 1980." He adds, wryly: "Now: tell me again why those unionized grocery clerks are just a bunch of greedy bastards for thinking that their pay and benefits ought to rise too? Just curious." I'm curious about that myself...

Economists for Dean also have a slate of indictments on the Prez's policies (and yet Krugman takes all the heat). His policies have worsened the states' financial crises, his policies are dishonest, and his tax cuts really are bad. (All right, you don't have to be an economist for Dean to get that last one.)

posted by Jeff | 4:47 PM |

The Press Conference

And now for the daily bizarro world update. Today, as you all know, the Prez deigned to speak to the rabble in the press. Some foolish souls thought he might address the recent carnage in Iraq. But it was clear from his opening statement that he was sticking to the party line: things are fantastic, thanks for asking.

After decades of oppression and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstruction is difficult, and freedom still has its enemies in both of those countries. These terrorists are targeting the very success and freedom we're providing to the Iraqi people. Their desperate attacks on innocent civilians will not intimidate us, or the brave Iraqis and Afghans who are joining in their own defense and who are moving toward self-government.

Coalition forces aided by Afghan and Iraqi police and military are striking the enemy with force and precision. Our coalition is growing in members and growing in strength. Our purpose is clear and certain: Iraq and Afghanistan will be stable, independent nations and their people will live in freedom.

As to the terror strikes in Iraq, the President had very clear talking points, and he repeated them whenever someone broached the subject. Essentially, he was replaying the "terrorists bad, America good" card, trying to re-assert his pre-war cowboy clarity:

Basically, what they're trying to do is cause people to run. They want to kill and create chaos. That's the nature of a terrorist, that's what terrorists do. They commit suicide acts against innocent people and then expect people to say, well, gosh, we better -- better not try to fight you anymore.

The rabble, however, were a bit testy. Here are a couple of amusing exchanges.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You recently put Condoleezza Rice, your National Security Advisor, in charge of the management of the administration's Iraq policy. What has effectively changed since she's been in charge? And the second question, can you promise a year from now that you will have reduced the number of troops in Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: The second question is a trick question, so I won't answer it.


Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, your policies on the Middle East seem, so far, to have produced pretty meager results as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians --

THE PRESIDENT: Major or meager?

Q Meager.


Q Meager.


Other notes
Jargon introduced: "suiciders" - suicide bombers. "Actionable intelligence" - intelligence gathered in the field upon which the military can immediately act (as opposed to the "darn good" intelligence that wasn't, and got us into this mess in the first place).

Odd repetition: "gathering threat/danger" - he used it three times, apparently unaware of the irony that the gathering threat in Iraq has been caused by his own poor policy, not the dictator he deposed when first uttering that phrase.

Best quote of the night: "Saddam Hussein is a man who hid programs and weapons for years. He's a master at hiding things. And so David Kay will continue his search. But one of the things that he first found was that there is clear violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441. Material breach, they call it in the diplomatic circles. Casus belli, it means a -- that would have been a cause for a war. In other words, he said, it's dangerous.

And we were right to enforce U.N. resolutions, as well. It's important for the U.N. to be a credible organization. You're not credible if you issue resolutions and then nothing happens. Credibility comes when you say something is going to happen and then it does happen. And in order to keep the peace, it's important for there to be credibility in this world, credibility on the side of freedom and hope."

You heard him say it, folks "Credibility comes when you say something is going to happen and then it does happen."

posted by Jeff | 12:16 PM |

Every now and again, a thought is large enough to get caught in the sieve that is my aging brain. Lately that thought has been jobs.

Yesterday the Conference Board released more-favorable-than-expected findings about consumer confidence. Orders for durable goods also improved. The stock market is inching up, and unemployment has stopped spiking. Although I haven't been tracking it as closely as I ought to, it seems that the preponderance of indicators are slightly more positive, and the general media vibe seems to be positive (that the media is business and has a vested interest in the positive vibe makes me wary). Yet in my little slice of the world, remote and unrepresentative as it may be, I sense that these indicators have nothing to do with the reality in the average American's pocketbook.

As I see it, there are three main issues: education, health care, and jobs. The first two are fairly obvious problems. Higher education is in danger of becoming a wealthy-only luxury. Tuition prices soared 14% last year--and this is the norm, not an exception. Health care costs are rising at a similar rate, which puts pressure on businesses and workers. Both of those phenomena are well-discussed and nuanced, but at least in the public press, jobs are discussed in the bluntest terms: do you have one or not?

But in individual lives, one job isn't as good as the next. My situation, by way of example, is fairly tenuous. I work as a researcher at a university, and even in the best of circumstances my employment is guaranteed only for a year. If the funding dries up, it's almost a sure bet I'll be working for less money, probably without benefits, in a less-fulfilling job (before I got hired here, I was driving a cab). You have seen the name "Iggi" appear on the comments of this blog; Iggi's a friend of mine who works as a website designer. He's also pretty much a month-by-month guy. Go check out Rantavation: no posts since the 13th. It's not negligence; Fred's lost his job and is searching for work.

At any given time, people lose their jobs--my anecdotes aren't particularly valuable. Except--and I think this is the prevailing mood across the county--that many of us are in the best jobs we're going to have. From here it's downhill. President Bush talks often about wanting to ensure that if Americans are willing to work, they'll have jobs. But some of us hope for a little more. Scratching by at half our salary, without benefits, without an obvious way to pay for our children's education, without insurance (or with insufficient insurance), in an unfulfilling job--well, this just doesn't fill our hearts with joy. As a measure of economic health from the worker's perspective, the sole measure of unemployment just doesn't seem to cut it.

posted by Jeff | 9:05 AM |

Monday, October 27, 2003  

Although you might notice the green cast to my pallor, this kind of thing makes me believe bloggers are really onto something.

posted by Jeff | 6:09 PM |

Something's rotten on Google, and Jesse Berney has found the source. Yesterday Atrios reported that the White House has rigged the search engines so searchers can no longer track back to the White House webpage if they search for "Iraq." (Not that, you know, anything's gone horribly wrong there.)

First, a bit of technical background. Most major websites include a text file named robots.txt that tells search engines which directories not to include in search results. (Here's an example: the robots.txt file lists folders with content — like images — that search engines can't index.) By adding a directory to robots.txt, you ensure that nothing in that folder will ever show up in a Google search and — more important for this discussion — never be archived by sites like Google.

Sometime between April 2003 and October 2003, someone at the White House added virtually all of the directories with "Iraq" in them to its robots.txt file, meaning that search engines would no longer list those pages in results or archive them.

What's this mean? Mainly that if the White House wants to shift a few facts, it doesn't want people having access to the pre-shifted accurate record. It's scrubbing the record.

It's easy enough to understand the reasoning if you look at past White House actions. Earlier this year, the White House revised pages on its website claiming that "combat" was over in Iraq, changing them to say "major combat."

One of the reasons some alert readers noticed the change — and were able to prove it — was that Google had archived the pages before the change occurred. Now that all of the White House pages about Iraq are no longer archived by Google, such historical revisionism will be harder to catch.

This is probably legal. I'm not sure if the administration is beholden to put anything on the web, nor if it represents a record of events. But even if there is no legal issue, one can reasonably ask the question: if George is so damn proud of his record, why is he selectively changing it and trying to hide the change?

I don't know how often you all read the DNC blog, but it's becoming one I check daily (despite criticism I have of the DNC itself). It is a booster for the Democrats, but no more than many indies; moreover, content like this is indispensable.

posted by Jeff | 1:08 PM |

Second, thoughts on Rumsfeld's analysis.

In essence, the Secretary was sticking to the March version of reality: Saddam is at the center of the war on terror, his regime is enormously dangerous, terror can be defeated through military force, and the US has an international mandate to pre-emptively invade with that military force to disarm Iraq. Further, his version of how things are going on the ground seems to be roughly what we were told to expect--not what's actually happening. Welcome--again--to bizarro world.

It seems clear that all rationales used to justify the war were inaccurate. Whether or not they were mendacious is almost beside the point. We now know that 1) Saddam was on the distant fringe of terror, not its center; 2) Iraq was harmless; 3) terror networks were energized and Iraq has now become the nexus of terrorist activity; and 4) the international community is growing ever more opposed to US bumbling in the region. (On this last point, we might observe that the other country employing the Bush Doctrine--Israel--is having as little success as the US and is as violently opposed by the world.)

As to the reconstruction, Rumsfeld's mystifying blindness is, of course, at the heart of the problem. US arrogance and incompetence are but components in the larger problem: the administration's failure to question its own assumptions or policies. Rather than revise assumptions and change course, this administration would rather try to revise history (even as it plays out). It's no wonder that the rest of the world is incensed by our policies; at what point does the willful act of denying reality incense America?

Rumsfeld's words should be a clarion call that this administration isn't going to change course, isn't going to question it's assumptions, and isn't going to see the situation for what it is. Time to fire up the incense?

posted by Jeff | 9:08 AM |

First, text juxtapositions:

Don Rumsfeld, writing in yesterday's Washington Post:

Terrorists have a sizable advantage. A terrorist can attack at any time, in any place, using virtually any technique. And it is not possible to defend every potential target at all times in every place against every form of attack. That being the case, the way to defeat terrorists is to take the war to them -- to go after them where they live and plan and hide, and to make clear to states that sponsor and harbor them that such actions will have consequences.

News from the front in Iraq:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Suicide bombers struck the Red Cross headquarters and three police stations across Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 35 people and injuring more than 200 in a coordinated terror spree that stunned the Iraqi capital on the first day of the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan.


That is what President Bush is doing in the global war on terrorism. When our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, the president immediately recognized that what had happened was an act of war and must be treated as such; that weakness can invite aggression; and that simply standing in a defensive posture and absorbing blows is not an effective way to counter it.

Iraq, yesterday

It also appeared to be a dramatic escalation in tactics, suggesting a level of organization that U.S. officials had doubted the resistance possessed. In past weeks, bombers have carried out heavy suicide bombings but in single strikes....

Sitting next to civilian U.S. Iraqi administrator L. Paul Bremer in the Oval Office, Bush said he remains "even more determined to work with the Iraqi people'' to restore peace and civility to the wartorn nation.


That is why the president is using all elements of national power: military, financial, diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence and public diplomacy. Because to live as free people in the 21st century, we cannot live behind concrete barriers and wire mesh. We cannot live in fear and remain free people. The task is to stop terrorists before they can terrorize. And even better, we must lean forward and stop them from becoming terrorists in the first place. That is a lesson we learned two decades ago in Beirut.


The bombings came hours after clashes around Baghdad killed three U.S. soldiers overnight, and a day after insurgents hit a hotel full of U.S. occupation officials with a barrage of rockets, killing a U.S. colonel and wounding 18 other people. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel, but was unhurt.

"We feel helpless when see this,'' a distraught Iraqi doctor said at the devastated Red Cross offices. The Red Cross said 12 Iraqis were killed at its office, including two employees.


That is why our country and our 90-nation coalition is at war today. That is why we have forces risking their lives at this moment, fighting terrorist adversaries in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere across the world. It is also why it is critical that our country recognize that the war on terrorism will be long, difficult and dangerous -- and that as we deal with immediate terrorist threats, we also need to find ways to stop the next generation of terrorists from forming. For every terrorist whom coalition forces capture, kill, dissuade or deter, others are being trained. To win the war on terror, we must also win the war of ideas -- the battle for the minds of those who are being recruited by terrorist networks across the globe.


The rocket attack Sunday struck the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where Wolfowitz was staying at the end of a three-day Iraq visit. The deputy defense secretary said afterward that attack "will not deter us from completing our mission'' in Iraq.

But the bold blow at the heart of the U.S. presence here clearly rattled U.S. confidence that it is defeating Iraq's shadowy insurgents.

posted by Jeff | 8:42 AM |

Sunday, October 26, 2003  

Each year, a non-profit group called the Friends of the Library hosts a book sale, the proceeds of which benefit the Multnomah County Libary. I first attended one about 8 years ago (give or take a year), and now consider it one of the most important events on the calendar. They boast that 100,000 books are for sale each year, but bibliophiles know that gross numbers don't mean anything. The question is, are there any good ones, and are they bargains? A huge yes on both counts.

Portland's a reading town. On the morning bus, more than half the riders are likely to have their noses in books--and many of these are good books. Portlanders check out more books from the library per capita than citizens of any other city. And so, the books that get donated to the Friends' sale are a select group.

(There's a point to this post, and I'm getting to it.) The sale, aside from being rockin' cool, is also an interesting window into publishing. In '95 or so, when I went to my first sale, I could easily walk down the table of fiction and select the literary fiction by the design style on the spine: lit fiction had smaller fonts, more elegant typesets, and often had textured backgrounds. Popular fiction had bold, sans-serif types, emphasized authors rather than titles, and had bright backgrounds. No more. Literary fiction styles now tend toward brighter colors and larger type, and popular fiction has ratcheted back the screamer types and colors.

More significant, the types of books being published have changed substantially. The cause, as we'll see, may be the same reason packaging styles have changed. As I picked through the books--more slowly this year, as I found it harder to distinguish the books I'd enjoy--I started seeing a familiar logo: Oprah's Book Club Selection.

As an aspiring novelist (my first novel is moving along, thanks), I have a love/hate relationship with Oprah. I love that she exposed people to literature who would never have read it. I love that she rarely deviated from straight literature into pop fiction. But her influence hasn't all been good. Generally, she wasn't able to convert readers of book club selections into readers of literature. Authors who saw million-printing spikes by Oprah selections were dismayed to see sales on their next book drop back to the old level. Also, Oprah is a human and as all humans, has idiosyncratic tastes. Hers tends toward stories of women rising from humble origins to overcome hardships. This worked very well for her audience, who also found resonance in these stories. Bur for authors who told different kinds of stories, there wasn't much hope of an Oprah choice--something the publishers were well aware of.

As I perused this year's selection of books, I saw what effect this had. Whereas books published in the early and mid-90s were much like books published since the beginning of time--white male-authored, focusing on themes of interest to males--books on the shelves now are potential Oprah selections. The industry has followed Oprah's tastes.

To be clear, I don't blame Oprah. It's the industry that lacks imagination and follows whatever might look like the next big score. It no longer nurtures authors and tries to develop a healthy backlist to keep itself in business--bookselling, now in the hands of movie studios, sees booksales as movie releases. Why screw around with a safe Merchant-Ivory profit when you can have a Jerry Bruckheimer rainmaker? And in another sense, the market is responding to economic forces--most readers are women; male hegemony in publishing defied readers' interests.

But I think an unintended consequence is that publishing, like a crackhead wanting the next score, has tried to manufacture big sales by fudging the genres. Oprah readers read literature because Oprah was guiding them; left alone, they'd rather read something lighter. Based on what I saw at the book sale this weekend, it seems publishers are trying to blur the lines. This is may or may not be a good business move, but as someone interested in the health of literature, further blurring of the lines can only be regarded as bad news. And even if you love the Oprah storyline, it means you sacrifice experimental fiction, complex, challenging fiction, and even just fiction that deviates dramatically from her tastes.

But it's not all bad news for literature. The American publishing industry may stink, but there are magnificent writers beyond our borders. My favorite thing to do is pull out a book I've never heard of and discover a masterpiece. The first time this happened with with the Basque writer Bernardo Axtaga and his delightful Obabakoak. Yesterday I discovered a book called Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic. He's not obscure by any means, but I'm an ignorant American. Perhaps a little less so once I read his first novel. So, whatever the state of American fiction, there are other alternatives.

Hmmm. Lacking any snappy way to conclude this post, I'll just stop.

posted by Jeff | 11:47 AM |

Saturday, October 25, 2003  

How 'bout a nice Bronx cheer for the New York Yankees! They just got shut out by a 23-year old kid in the house that Ruth built. (Yeah, yeah sour grapes from a Red Sox fan, but whatcha gonna do?)

posted by Jeff | 8:48 PM |

Wal-Mart is quickly becoming one of the most abusive companies in America. The latest trouble they've found themselves in by hiring--and apparently taking advantage of--immigrants is just a part of this pattern of abuse.

Mr. Zavala said the contractor that he and Eunice, his wife, worked for paid them $400 a week each for working 56 hours. That would come to $6.25 an hour if time and a half overtime is included for all hours worked in excess of 40.

Abusing its employees is nothing new for Wal-Mart. I don't think many Americans were surprised by these new allegations. But the effect of this worker abuse is particularly obvious now--as supermarkets in California cite Wal-Mart's prices as a main reason they can't "afford" to pay for worker health care.

I tell you what, it's time for consumers--who are themselves workers--to strike back at these companies. Here's my pledge: until Wal-Mart unionizes, I'm not setting foot in the place.

posted by Jeff | 8:22 AM |

Friday, October 24, 2003  

In the battle of the political books, it looks like the liberals are still winning. (That's 8-4 for those of you scoring at home). Maybe I ought to submit a manuscript for Notes on the Atrocities: the Book. Striking while the iron is hot and all that...

1 DUDE, WHERE'S MY COUNTRY? by Michael Moore. (Warner, $24.95.) The author of "Stupid White Men" calls for "regime change" in Washington.

2 WHO'S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU? by Bill O'Reilly. (Broadway, $24.95.) The host of "The O'Reilly Factor" attacks those individuals and institutions that he believes have let down the American people.
3 LIES (AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM), by Al Franken. (Dutton, $24.95.) A satirical critique of the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians.

6 BUSHWHACKED, by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose. (Random House, $24.95.) Two Texas journalists offer up an indictment of the Bush administration.

8 THE GREAT UNRAVELING, by Paul Krugman. (Norton, $25.95.) A volume of essays, most from The New York Times, that are "mainly about economic disappointment, bad leadership and the lies of the powerful."

9 PERSECUTION, by David Limbaugh. (Regnery, $27.95.) The author of "Absolute Power" argues that "liberals are waging war against Christianity." (+)

11 SHUT UP & SING, by Laura Ingraham. (Regnery, $27.95.) The political commentator attacks the "elites" of Hollywood, Washington and New York. (+)

19 STUPID WHITE MEN, by Michael Moore. (ReganBooks/HarperCollins, $24.95.)

20 LIVING HISTORY, by Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Simon & Schuster, $28.)

21 THE REAL AMERICA, by Glenn Beck. (Pocket, $25.)

29 THE LIES OF GEORGE W. BUSH, by David Corn. (Crown, $24.)

35 BIG LIES, by Joe Conason. (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $24.95.)

posted by Jeff | 4:44 PM |

The City of Portland is billing the President for a visit he made in August. Said the mayor's office:

"This will be an ongoing policy in this administration to bill for any kind of overtime costs associated with political fund-raising events that are not open to the general public, that are clearly not part of an official's official duties....

Like most cities across the nation we are facing budget shortfalls that threaten our ability to deliver effective municipal services to the community. In order to minimize cutbacks in essential services, it is incumbent on us to reduce or eliminate some of the largest discretionary demands on our budget."

It isn't the first time the city has billed politicians for fundraising. Last year it billed Republican Senator Gordon Smith when the President came to raise money for his campaign. The city also billed his opponent, Bill Bradbury, when Clinton and Daschle came to fundraise for his campaign (Bradbury paid, Smith did not).

Are other cities doing this, too? Interesting issue.

posted by Jeff | 1:59 PM |

TOLEDO--Lieut. Gen. William Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is in trouble again. A week after allegations that he equated Islam with a Satan who wished "to destroy us as a Christian army," the Toledo Daily Bugle today reported that the general warned a local audience of "the Hindu scourge."

"All their petty gods will be arrayed as if on a battlefield in front of you," Boykin told a group at the Second Pentacostalist Church. "But know that your God is the true God and that these are but mere demonic phantoms. The minions of Satan are many, and they have enthralled the Hindu people."

In Delhi, an outraged Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee commented briefly outside his office. "It is inconceivable that a general in the US military should spout such rubbish. The only minions of Satan are the delusions dancing around the inside of his head. I expect an immediate apology from the President."

Boykin was speaking to a group of young missionaries here in Toledo. The group, mostly 20- and 30-year olds, are preparing for a mission in South Asia, and Boykin was apparently warning them of the everpresent danger of the Dark One. "You are embarking on a spiritual battle no less important than the battle our President has taken to the Muslims in Iraq. You will enter more peacefully, but you must fight with the truth of God's light if you are ever to save the lost souls of our Hindu brothers and sisters."

And in a related story, the Cheyenne Picayune is reporting that the general may also have identified Italians as "Papist stooges" in a speech there two years ago. No more information was available.

posted by Jeff | 11:04 AM |

In the time slot I normally reserve for coffee-drinking, news-perusing, and blogging, today I have a meeting. In the meantime, you might do what I do and go read Krugman. This morning he taunts the President about his bizarro world claims of victory(title: "Too Low a Bar"), hoping to pre-rebut what will surely be claims of success in the war on unemployment. (If PK starts using the phrase "bizarro world," I'll suspect him of cribbing from this blog.)

You could also check out an post I have in Open Source Politics dealing with the Portland (don't call 'em terrorists) Seven case. It's a story the fantabulous Zizka brought to my attention in an email, so you could also see what else he has to say.

I'll be back later this morning with a bit of the old Friday Satire. Ta ta.

posted by Jeff | 7:41 AM |

Thursday, October 23, 2003  

Who will win the election? Depends. George is looking good unless he faces Dean, Clark, or Gephardt. How do I know? Because astronomers say it's so.

We present an algorithm for determining the winners of United States presidential elections, based on the previous experience of the major party candidates for President and Vice President. The algorithm correctly determines the winner of each of the 54 U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 2000. Our algorithm predicts that President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney will win the 2004 election unless:

1) the Democratic nominee for President is Howard B. Dean,

2) the Democratic nominee for President is Wesley K. Clark and the Democratic nominee for Vice President has been Vice President for at least two years, a governor for at least five years, or a U.S. Representative for at least five years,

3) the Democratic nominee for President is Richard A. Gephardt and the Democratic nominee for Vice President is a banker, a college or university chancellor or president, or the child of a U.S. Senator, or

4) the Democratic nominee for Vice President is Albert A. Gore, Jr. or John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the Democratic nominee for President has not been divorced, has not been a special prosecutor, and is a Protestant, Deist, or Catholic.

Although any of the currently declared Democratic candidates for President could, in theory, win in 2004 if they carefully choose their vice presidential candidates, in practice it would be difficult for many of them to find candidates for Vice President with the right combination of governmental and non-governmental experience.

Oh come on, they're probably more reliable than George Will. (Thanks to JGS.)

posted by Jeff | 3:03 PM |

The newest Bush judicial appointee is a real sweetheart:

"[W]here the government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates. The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining and virtue contemptible."

People for the American Way describe her as "right of Scalia and Thomas." All of this has the usual level of shock and awe (for any of us who still have nerves to be shocked), but her nomination is especially timely given the whole Boykin affair: she thinks the Bill of Rights does not apply to the states. Particularly, she thinks First Amendment "establishment clause" ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") doesn't apply, and one of her personal campaigns is to open state houses to Christianity. In 1999, she gave a speech titled "Beyond the Abyss: Restoring Religion on the Public Square." From the LA Times article:

The historical evidence supporting what the Supreme Court did here is pretty sketchy," Brown said in her Pepperdine speech. "The argument on the other side is pretty overwhelming'' that the 14th Amendment failed to apply the Bill of Rights to the states.

Of course, Orrin Hatch immediately started singing that old familiar tune: "There is a real difference between giving speeches and doing what is right on the bench. You have followed the law, and that's the important thing." In other words: please don't judge this political appointment on politics.

But that's exactly what Democrats should start doing. It seems that with each new nominee, Bush becomes more agressive with his pro-Christian agenda. Already the GOP is dominated fundamentalist and conservative Christians who see the First Amendment as an impediment toward establishing their faith as a state religion. The judiciary, as interpreters of the Constitution, stand between them and this goal. The founders saw fit to make process of judicial appointment a political one--and Democrats should no longer be cowed by the full reality of where this political process is leading.

Oh, and by the way, Janice Rogers Brown is black. Because I'm cynical, I expect Republicans to play the race card. Which is, of course, enormously cynical and itself racist (the only reason to oppose a black woman is because she's black). But I'll save that tirade for when the card is actually played.

posted by Jeff | 8:29 AM |

Clark is finally starting to offer some policy positions ... sorta. He came out with an economic plan that included a tepid patchwork of solutions: to repeal the worst of the Bush tax cuts, eliminate some corporate tax loopholes, and that old chestnut popular with all Washington outsiders--to reduce government waste. For a guy who used to teach econ, these seem like pretty marginal positions.

With war profiteering, a massive shift of federal revenues to the wealthy and business, Wall Street corruption, ballooning deficits, and real issues about how taxing and spending should be conducted, you'd hope for something a little better than this. I think what we'll see as time goes on is that Clark will run on the war, and the other candidates will run on the economy. He just had to offer up something.

But based on recent disclosures about Clark's war waffles, he may need an economic plan that's a little stronger than this.

posted by Jeff | 7:20 AM |

Wednesday, October 22, 2003  

Via Atrios, some more on governance and fundamentalist Christianity.

People close to the president say that his conversion to evangelical Methodism, after a life of aimless carousing, markedly informs his policies, both foreign and domestic. In the soon-to-be-published The Faith of George W. Bush (Tarcher/Penguin), a sympathetic account of this religious journey, author Stephen Mansfield writes (in the advance proofs) that in the election year 2000, Bush told Texas preacher James Robison, one of his spiritual mentors: "I feel like God wants me to run for president. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. . . . I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."

Mansfield also reports: "Aides found him face down on the floor in prayer in the Oval Office. It became known that he refused to eat sweets while American troops were in Iraq, a partial fast seldom reported of an American president. And he framed America's challenges in nearly biblical language. Saddam Hussein is an evildoer. He has to go." The author concludes: " . . . the Bush administration does deeply reflect its leader, and this means that policy, even in military matters, will be processed in terms of the personal, in terms of the moral, and in terms of a sense of divine purpose that propels the present to meet the challenges of its time."

| link |

Also, interesting commentary on the author of that forthcoming book in the comments thread.

posted by Jeff | 3:26 PM |

Money breakdowns, third quarter.

George W. Bush
Total: $50 million
Less than $200: 12%
More than $2000: 69%

Howard Dean
Total: $14.8 million
Less than $200: 61%
More than $2000: 6%

John Kerry
Total:$4 million
Less than $200: 19%
More than $2000: 36%

Dick Gephardt
Total: $3.8 million
Less than $200: 15%
More than $2000: 39%

Joe Lieberman
Total $3.6 million
Less than $200: 11%
More than $2000: 36%

Wesley Clark
Total $3.5 million
Less than $200: 38%
More than $2000: 26%

John Edwards
Total $2.1 million
Less than $200: 17%
More than $2000: 38%

Dennis Kucinich
Total $1.7 million
Less than $200: 68%
More than $2000: 5%

Carol Mosely Braun
Total $125,000
Less than $200: 31%
More than $2000: 14%

Al Sharpton
Total $121,000
Less than $200: 7%
More than $2000: 59%

posted by Jeff | 12:06 PM |

Thought I'd let this Boykin business go by? Not likely.

(Boykin, for those who, like me, might have been on self-imposed media-free vacations last week, is Lt. General William Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The LA Times reported last week that he has said many a fervent thing since his promotion. "I knew my God was bigger than [the Muslim warlord's he fought in Somalia]. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Not clear enough? Try this on for size: "We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this." And in another article, he is quoted as having said--in uniform, no less--"I want to impress upon you that the battle that we're in is a spiritual battle. Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army." So that's Boykin.)

He has been pretty much excoriated by everyone except Donald Rumsfeld, who yet waffles. Most have smelled the stink of doom on the situation, and are quickly beating a hasty retreat. It's Trent Lott Revisited, and the rats can feel the ship going down.

Still, in the midst of these kinds of blow-outs (see also Limbaugh, quote about Donovan McNabb), it's not always clear what the crime is. The immediate defense is always to assert the First Amendment. It's the PC cops who are committing the crime. But no one is saying he doesn't have the right to say what he believes.

In fact, although I may be excoriated for this myself, I think he's being attacked exactly for exercising his right to say what he believes. The real crime here is that he told the truth. It's an uncomfortable and strange truth, and the kind of thing fundamentalist Christians try not to mention publicly. But the belief Boykin gave voice to isn't heterodox; it's mainstream (if you can call it that) fundamentalist Christianity.

Fundamentalist Christianity is a system of beliefs. It is based on a narrow reading of the Bible, distilling a "literal" truth from the words (although where contradictions arise--and there are many--Biblical literalists rarely admit interpretation). In that literal truth followers are asked to believe without reservation. Unwavering faith is a central feature of this strain of Christianity, and in Bibles across America, one of the truths congregants are asked to believe is that those who follow other religions are deluded by Satan and doomed to burn in hell. There's no wiggle room here. Muslims--even the good ones--are just biding their time until death delivers them into the hands of the deluder Satan. Thus the language of fundamentalist Christianity is often militaristic--the armies of God--because these Christians believe everything is at stake.

So is it any wonder that the fundamentalist Christians interpret terrorism as Satan wanting "to destroy us as a Christian army?" Boykin's a good soldier, both of Uncle Sam and of God. His main crime here is that he went public with his beliefs. It's both impolite and poor politics, and now he'll have to take one for the cause.

My problem isn't that he has said these things, but that the fundamentalist Christian agenda governs the decisions of those who govern the country. (I've written about the prevalence of fundamentalist Christianity here, here, and here, and there's a wonderful article in Harper's here.) If the very views he expresses show that he's implementing policy based on those radical religious views, then he's unfit to lead.

The nature of belief is that it doesn't admit for the possibility of flexibility--something essential in a democracy. That's what's so creepy about Osama. So it's not that Boykin shouldn't be allowed to say whatever he wishes. The David Koresh's of the world should also be able to proclaim themselves God. But let's be clear: David Koresh's views that he is God would make him unfit to be the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. In politics, beliefs do matter.

Whether Boykin is run out or not, the views he expressed should remain under scrutiny. Remember, they're the same views that our President holds.

posted by Jeff | 8:07 AM |

Tuesday, October 21, 2003  

Kucinich may not win, but tell me this: is there a single liberal out there doesn't secretly think that he totally rocks? Via Jeanne, a picture that should stir a thousand hearts.

Following this thread, John Isbell made the most succinct case for Kucinich I've heard: "In the primaries, vote for your heart. Worry about your head in the general. In the meantime, shape the party."

posted by Jeff | 12:51 PM |

Two more observations on Vermont.

One. Vermont is supposedly the state Howard Dean governed. Maybe they don't know he's running for President. I saw--and though I'm prone to hyperbolic hyperboles, this is an actual count--exactly no bumper stickers or lawn signs for the good doctor. I did see a signed photograph wherein Dean was holding up a T-Shirt for the the Taftsville Country Store (mounted on the wall of the Taftsville Country Store, natch)--but he was the governor then. I mentioned to the woman selling me maple syrup that if he wins, the picture will be a "hell of a thing." She nodded mildly, as if I'd observed that the leaves were pretty. I have no analysis for this strange behavior--I haven't the faintest idea what it means.

Two. Although it didn't occur to me at the time, the New York Corolla we rented wasn't exactly the best car on the lot. It all came together while we were checked into to hotel. The woman at the front desk had one eye on the TV as she signed us in--it was the eighth inning of game six, and the Sox had just gone ahead by two runs. "License plate number?" she asked. Ooops. I quickly scrawled out a "Go Red Sox" sign and mounted it in the back of the car.

In fact, we were Red Sox fans. And believe it or not, for all you Beantowners from across the country, it was a lot better to be in New England after that atrocious game 7. Misery loves company, and it had a lot.

(We flew through Chicago, and they had just lost game 6. The Sun-Times had a front-page photo of the offending fan and a 100-point headline: "Curses!" Ah the misery.)

posted by Jeff | 11:17 AM |

Via a string of links (starting with TBogg, going to Tom Tomorrow, then to Iggi, finally to me), I see that John McArthur decided to throw himself into the alligator pit that is the Sean Hannity show (he was joined by the delightful Ann Coulter). All of it is beyond fascinating, in that bizarro world sense, but I thought I'd pass along this tidbit from Ann "I'm something of an authority on the grounds for impeachment" Coulter:

"[Impeachment's] certainly not for something that is in the president's prerogative, such as waging war, for example."

She is obviously no authority on the Consititution, however.

posted by Jeff | 9:52 AM |

Good news: the 2003 federal deficit was only $374 billion! In bizarro world, Bush administration officials have, of course, promptly declared this a victory. Sure, it may be a record, but it's nearly a hundred billion less than expected!

"Today's budget numbers reinforce the indications we have seen for some months now: that the economy is well on the path to recovery,'' Treasury Secretary John Snow said.

Yes, in bizarro world, you can call catastrophes success. This is, in fact, essentially the MO of the Bush playbook. Recall back when he debated Gore? The only way he could have lost the debate was to openly drool and confuse Texas and Mexico. In the first debate, he declared that the US ought to let the Russians take the lead in Kosovo. Result? Victory.

He took office in the midst of a recession and speedily worsened it. Surpluses became deficits, employment became unemployment, deflation loomed. Result? Victory--imagine how much worse it would have been worse without the tax cuts! New York was bombed, and he went on a personal crusade to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden. After invading Afghanistan, Osama mocked him. Result? Victory--the Taliban is vanquished. Then Iraq, the new big bad on the block. We commit tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of billions of dollars to invade and discover that Iraq's threat was roughly as serious as Nepal's. Result? Victory--the Iraqi people have been liberated from a brutal dictator.

I knew the second I heard the news about the lower-than-expected catastrophic deficits that the Bushies would declare victory. But fortunately, not everyone was taken in this time. Despite the spin, the headlines aren't, as they would have been three years ago, "Economy Rebounding Despite Deficits." Instead, they mostly seem to be of the "Federal Deficit at Record High" variety.

Even more encouraging, the Democrats seem to have found their spine. Kent Conrad of North Dakota noted dryly, "I'm somewhat amused to see them say they thought that was good news." They're even starting to understand how it works in bizarro world: SC Senator Hollings thinks the OMB has been playing with the numbers just so the White House can claim a victory when record deficits arrive. Now they've got their thinking caps on.

Still, I greet this fascinating news with ambivalence. Five days in my no-cynicism zone was mighty refreshing. I wish somehow it wasn't the same old crap--no matter how fascinating--the second I get back. Ah well.

posted by Jeff | 7:18 AM |

At what point does the US criticize Israel? Each week the government bombs Palestinians indiscriminately, killing innocents along with "targets" regarded by the government as dangerous--whether or not they have been tried and convicted of crimes. Yesterday was particularly violent: in five air strikes, Israelis killed 11 and wounded 130. (According to one report, a bomb exploded on a street crowded with school children, wounding four.)

Israel has routinely been given a pass by non-Muslim countries (led, of course, by the patronage of the US) because it is under a constant terrorist attack. Anything can be justified as a response: collateral damage, new settlements, retributive bombings based on scant information. Feeling justified by the terrorist attacks, Israel responds in kind.

I think Americans have resisted looking at the situation there as something akin to Kosovo or Rwanda. Israel is a first world country and a long-time ally. It is the cradle of Christian civilization, and in the battle of the sons of Abraham, American Christians have increasingly sided with Jews. For Israelis to commit such barbarism is unthinkable. Yet not only is it thinkable, but this barbarism appears to be unfolding. It doesn't take a psychic to imagine that this situation--always volatile--may be at the moment of combustion where it is escalating into a full-scale race war.

You don't have to take sides to be horrified by the scene; you don't have to be partisan to demand action. In this battle of unequal powers, Israel, despite the wrongs it believes it has suffered, must take the lead. The situation cannot change if the government continues a war of terrorist extermination--it will only worsen. In the meantime, human rights atrocities become the norm, and any hope of long-term stability are diminished. Israel, for its own sake, needs to be the leader for peace. If it cannot make this difficult choice, the world is going to have to start demanding it. And calling terrorism terrorism--no matter who perpetrates it.

posted by Jeff | 6:49 AM |

Monday, October 20, 2003  

Back from Vermont, and I'm pleased to see that the house had neither been broken into nor burned down. Also, it appears that the government has also weathered the five days I didn't monitor it--no impeachments or lethal duels, it seems. Fancy that.

But let's get right to the important stuff: you're no doubt dying for a report on the foliage. As you may recall, I was dubious about all this foliage business--official reports, breathless news of peak, near-peak, pre-peak, and late peak leaf color, fetishistic fawning (and let us not discuss the noun "peepers"--those who peep at the pre-peak leaf). I mean, a lot of us live in the north; are Vermont's leaves really so hot?

(On the edge of your seat, aren't you?)

I have to punt. We flew into a windstorm buffetting New England last Wednesday, and it shook down most of the leaves. Anyway, that's what locals swore the next day. (The official news was far more positive: "Foresters from Burlington, Middlebury, Rutland, Bennington, Springfield and Brattleboro areas report all low elevations are near or at peak with plenty of locations where the color couldn't possibly be better.") It makes you wonder: Vermont's supposed to have the best leaves and the best maple syrup, and yet it's just a tiny sliver of land surrounded by other states that might make similar claims. Are the leaves in upstate New York inferior? Is New Hampshire maple syrup really less sweet? It led me to conclude, privately (though less so now), that Vermont did indeed excel: at marketing.

But no matter, Vermont does rock, if not for the reasons the tourist board claims. It rocks principally because of its essential nature--and how different that nature is from anything out here in the west.

Age. All right, this is a gimme, right? Of course New England can play the trump card of historical relevance on the west: when Lewis and Clark were huddled out in the rain in Fort Clatsop, most of Vermont's towns had already been inhabited for a half-century or more. But it's not just that the buildings of Vermont are older. They are. In the town I stayed in, most of them dated to between 1810-1850. Rather, it's that all the buildings are old. Drive through a small Oregon town, and there will be a historic downtown with several 100-year-old buildings. This will be surrounded by successive rings of new, trashy construction, which, near the freeway, will become a neon-bright run of fast-food restaurants. Drive south from Burlington along the old highways (100 is a good choice), and you will see nary a fast food restaurant for a hudred miles.

Size. A characteristic all Easterners notice when they arrive in the West (particularly the Intermountain West) is the pioneer spirit. The opposite is true of Vermont. One is immediately aware of being in a small state surrounded by larger, more powerful states. Far from the small towns feeling an inexorable pull toward the cities, Vermont has the feel of cultivated ruralness. Although the mountains are really just hills and the forests have the cultured quality of a Japanese garden, Vermont has encouraged a sense of outdoorsiness. But it's not wild. In Oregon, if you live in Wallowa County in the NE corner of the state, you are three hours from Portland, Boise, and Spokane.

Wealth. Small towns in the West are grindingly poor, or are fake boutique communities surviving on tourism. In neither case do you find residents of wealth or influence. In the west, the only seats of power are cities, and this causes an almost universal imbalance socially and politically. In Vermont you get the sense that's not true. People who earn their fortune in the cities retire to Vermont. Nobody retires in Burns, Oregon. A big part of why there are no McDonald's (I speculate) is that the wealthy who have chosen an 1825 farmhouse next to a dairy farm across the covered bridge from the historic township don't want the gauche yellow of McDonald's destroying their view.

I didn't realize that this kind of America still existed. The foliage was cool, if a bit oversold. The syrup was good, if no better than the Maine syrup favored by my Mainer spouse. But these intact, unsullied small towns, those were something to see.

posted by Jeff | 5:56 PM |

Wednesday, October 15, 2003  

The Last Five Minutes of Bill O'Reilly on "Fresh Air"

Oh, and to keep the fires warm, I'll leave you with this.

I pick up the transcript at about the 35-minute mark; the entire interview ran just over 40 minutes. On his own "Factor" website, O'Reilly quotes from some of the interview but not, as you'll see, verbatim. When the section he quotes picks up, I'll put into bold the excerpts from his page. I cleaned up his version slightly--it wasn't accurate--and the emphasis is all mine. But please, listen to the interview--I think you'll agree the emphasis was there. Have a good week; I'll see you on Tuesday the 21st.


TERRY GROSS: I'd actually like to ask you about something that pertains to something we were talking about earlier—book reviews? You know, we were talking about that Janet Maslin review of the Al Franken book and the things that you said about her? There was a review--I was just reading a review of your new book in People Magazine . Did you see this one?

BILL O'REILLY: I see 'em all.

GROSS: So the reviewer said--let me get this. . . Wouldn't you know it? I'm having trouble finding it now. Basically the reviewer said that after he reviewed your previous book, he tuned into your show and heard you ridiculing him

O'REILLY: Right, because he reviewed me, not the book.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

O'REILLY: This is a very, very, very well-known tactic. If you want to read reviews of my book, go to Publisher's Weekly or people who review the book, not me. See now it's easy for--and I see all the reviews of my book--most of them are good. Publisher's Weekly is a rave, all right? But the guys who are reviewing me--I'm going, "Why are you doing this?" We had one in the Denver Post the other day. Well this guy's reviewing me, not the book. And it's just another example of, "Look, we don't like him." And I understand if you don't like me. That's fine, that's entirely your opinion. But don't take your ire out on my product because you don't like me. I mean this guy makes no pretense that he can't stand me. He didn't in the first, he didn't in this. So what is that? You know, if it were me, I'd recuse myself. If Jesse Jackson writes a book, I'm not going to do a book review on him. I've been very hard on that man. I'm not going to review his book--that's not fair. So if these guys hate me, I'm not going to allow them to read the book. So if you want to know about the book, you can read those reviews, but read Publisher's Weekly--fair and balanced.

GROSS: Do you think that it might have a chilling effect on book reviewers to know that if you give them a bad review, you're going to be mocking them on your show?

O'REILLY: Depends on the review.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

O'REILLY: Depends on the review. If the guy reviews the book, not me, I'm not going to say anything. Because you know--they don't, they criticize my show all the time. And you have a perfect right to do that. You know, go ahead and do it, you know. Fine. I don't get on the show and go, "ohhhh, so and so doesn't like the fact . . . ." You know. You don't like the "Factor," you don't like the "Factor." But once you step out and say, all right, "I don't like him, and I'm gonna hammer whatever he does because I don't like him." That's just dishonest and I'm going to call you on it.

GROSS: I'll read what the People Magazine thing said--


GROSS: --and--

O'REILLY: Why read it? Why read it?

GROSS: Because I want to people to hear it.


GROSS: Because it--


GROSS: --you'll hear when I'm done.


GROSS: (Awkward laugh, inaudible.)

O'REILLY: You know, I'm getting the feeling in this interview, all right, that this is just a hatchet job on me. All right? And I don't like it. Now there's no reason for you to read that People Magazine review. If they want to read it, they can go and read it.

GROSS: No, but this isn't the review of the book--

O'REILLY: Now wait a minute. Hold it, hold it.

GROSS: --it isn't the review, it's how you handled it. And I think it's okay to ask you to be accountable for the things that you said.

O'REILLY: Accountable for what? You know, I came on this show, I came on to this program to talk about Who's Looking Out for You? And what you've done is thrown every kind of defamation you can in my face. All right, did you do this to Al Franken? Did you? Did you challenge him on what he said?

GROSS: We had a different interview.

O'REILLY: Yeah, a different interview. Okay. Fine, "Fresh Air?" Is this what "Fresh Air" is? I'll get a transcript of this interview--you want me--of the Al Franken interview. You want me to do that, and compare the two?

GROSS: You're welcome to.

O'REILLY: And compared it, too?

GROSS: You're welcome to.

O'REILLY: All right, why don't you tell your listeners right now? Were you as tough on Al Franken as you are on me?


O'REILLY: No. You weren't.

GROSS: No, I wasn't.

O'REILLY: Okay. Why!

GROSS: Well, Al Franken had written a book of political satire--

O'REILLY: Oh, he was satire now, was it?

GROSS: --and

O'REILLY: All right, calling people liars and distorting their faces on the book cover. That's satire now, is it? And my book, Who's Looking Out for You? is designed to help people to show them how they have to know how to read people in the society to succeed. Yet you're easy on Franken and you challenge me. This is NPR. Okay? I think we all know what this is. I think we all know where you're going with this.

GROSS: Well--

O'REILLY: Don't we!

GROSS: Well, you could say. . .

O'REILLY: Yes! Don't we?

GROSS: You can think whatever you want to.

O'REILLY: I am! I mean, I'm evaluating this interview very closely.

GROSS: Obviously you are.

O'REILLY: Now we've spent now, all right?

GROSS: Uh-huh.

O'REILLY: 50 minutes of me being -- defending defamation against me in every possible way, while you gave Al Franken a complete pass on his defamatory book. And if you think that's fair, Terry, then you need to get in another business. I'll tell you that right now. And I'll tell your listeners, if you have the courage to put this on the air, this is basically an unfair interview designed to try to trap me into saying something that Harpers can use. And you know it. And you should be ashamed of yourself. And that is the end of this interview.

GROSS: Oh, so you're not even going to give me the chance to ask a follow-up question? You have to make a speech and then have the last word? (Pause.) You're gone? Okay, I guess that's the answer to that question. (Laughing.) He's walked out. Okay, well my guest has been Bill O'Reilly and he does have a new book and that book is called Who's Looking Out for You? And I guess that's it for this interview.


Bonus material: the People Magazine text Bill wouldn't let Terry read:

"After I unfavorably reviewed the FoxNews Channel star's last book, I turned on the TV to find I was O'Reilly's "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." The big guy said on the "O'Reilly Factor:" "Review the book, not me." Then, he called me a pinhead. Consistency isn't his best feature."
(Kyle Smith)

(And incidentally, after Terry's interview, she too made the "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day.")

posted by Jeff | 6:26 AM |

Well, I'm off to Vermont for the week. It's possible I could scare up a computer if I really tried, but I'm not going to--instead I'll be focusing on nothing but the nature of Vermont leaf color and the complexity of the maple syrup. I may not even watch, listen, or read the news. (Yeah, fat chance.)

But I'll leave you with a couple of items. Over on Open Source Politics, I've prepared a quiz for the coming election year, ala Bill Safire. Also, on Friday, I describe why Kill Bill: Vol. 1 qualifies as the world's first example of metafilm.

Watch the fort, will you?

posted by Jeff | 6:20 AM |

Tuesday, October 14, 2003  

The Limbaugh story has unexpectedly gotten a lot of attention today and I idly followed the thread as I ate my yakisoba noodles. Some of it is idly fascinating, if you're looking to kill some time.

The very best thing you'll read on the topic is commentary by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, coming via Calpundit. It's not really satire--it's hypothesis about how Rush might spin the Rush story if it were Clinton who was in hot water. I say it's not satire because it's too accurate. It doesn't indict Rush for his addiction, but how he's made a career out of cruelty and spin. Imagine Rush's voice rolling out of your car radio...

"That's interesting, folks, because if you look at his actual statement - not what the liberal media say he said, but what he really said - you get a different take on it. First, he says he's got back problems. So he's blaming it on that. Then he says he had surgery, but the surgery wasn't successful. So he's blaming it on the doctors. Then he says the pain medication was addictive. So he's blaming it on the pharmaceutical companies. Folks, he blames it on everybody but himself! But as long as he puts in that obligatory line about taking responsibility, that's what the liberal media are going to grab: Clinton takes full responsibility!"

Go read the full article--it's amazing. Then via Atrios, we have quotes from Rush on three occasions when he went after drug users. I'll excerpt from two here:

1. (1993) What he's saying is that if there's a line of cocaine here, I have to make the choice to go down and sniff it. And I don't know how--how to do it, but if I was going to do it, I'd do it. If there were a gun here, it wouldn't fire itself. I've got to reach for it and--and pull the trigger. And his point is that we are rationalizing all this irresponsibility and all the choices people are making and we're blaming not them, but society for it. All these Hollywood celebrities say the reason they're weird and bizarre is because they were abused by their parents. So we're going to pay for that kind of rehab, too, and we shouldn't. It's not our responsibility.

2. (1996) In fact, I'm reminded--I had this story about three weeks ag--maybe it was before Christmas, maybe it was as far back as November--but there were a couple of drug convictions out in--I think it was a Colorado court. And these guys had--had done some really bad stuff, and there were mandated federal sentences for the crimes they had committed. And the judge apologized to the criminals while sentencing them because he thought it was too severe. He apologized and the com--the community was outraged. So we've gone from a judge sentencing a mother who makes her child beg six months in jail, to judges apologizing for getting dope dealers and crack dealers and drug salesmen off the streets with too severe a sentence.

All right, done with the noodles, done with this post.

posted by Jeff | 12:09 PM |

Yesterday I talked a little about labor. My intent was to argue that this was an issue about power and that the worker is increasingly losing power--thanks to diminishing union membership and increasing power of corporations over employees and law. It occurred to me that I hadn't really offered any evidence that it's getting harder for workers to make ends meet, which makes for a pretty poor case indeed. Let me rectify that.

Digging around the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I found a few telling numbers (I can't link directly to the outputs, but they're there). First, looking solely at medium and large employers (not fair to ding the small businesses), I wondered how workers are doing on bennies. Not well.

Incidence of medical care benefits: 1980 - 97%; 1997 - 76%
Incidence of paid vactions: 1979 - 100%; 1997 - 95%
Incidence of paid sick leave: 1980 - 62%; 1997 - 56%
Incidence of defined benefit pension: 1980 - 84%; 1997 - 50%
Average number of paid holidays: 1980 - 10.1%; 1997 - 9.3%
Incidence of paid holidays: 1980 - 99%; 1997 - 89%

All right then, what about wages? The Census Bureau shows that wages have been kept down for lower-income earners relative to middle and upper. I attempted to insert a handy table here, but my brain is too wee for such antics (or at least the technical part of it). So bear with the following stats. Based on wages calculated in 2001 dollars, we can see how much growth each percentile of the income distribution experienced over a 32-year period.

The bottom 20th Percent
(Year, top income in the bracket, percent growth over last interval)
1967 - 13,474
1977 - 14,986, 11%
1987 - 16,094, 7%
1999 - 18,161, 13%
total growth between '67-'99: 35%

Median income (50th percentile)
1967 - 32,081, 9%
1977 - 34,989, 11%
1987 - 38,835, 11%
1999 - 43,107, 34%
total growth between '67-'99: 34%

80th percentile
1967 - 53,181
1977 - 62,130, 17%
1987 - 72,069, 16%
1999 - 83,830, 16%
total growth between '67-'99: 58%

95th percentile
1967 - 85,334
1977 - 100,441, 18%
1987 - 120,597, 20%
1999 - 149,992, 24%
total growth between '67-'99: 76%

I don't have time to look into hours worked, hours worked per household, and household incomes, but I bet we'd find that these indices also show it's harder and harder for families to get by. If anyone else wants to dig around for those data, I'll be happy to add them here.

posted by Jeff | 9:08 AM |

John Ashcroft says he's not going too far--the various provisions of the Patriot Act and his witch hunts on pet crimes are all just good policing. Yeah? Well this is a guy who wanted to throw medical doctors in the pokey for even discussing the benefits of marijuana. Fortunately, the judiciary has a dim memory that this is a democracy and yesterday the Supremes decided not to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that punishing doctors for discussing medicine was lunacy. (All right, "lunacy" is my word.)

The administration, which has taken a hard stand against the state laws, argued that public heath -- not the First Amendment free-speech rights of doctors or patients -- was at stake.

This is scary stuff folks. Everyone in the country should feel a cold shiver after reading this news--irrespective of political stripe.

posted by Jeff | 8:38 AM |

Monday, October 13, 2003  

Some of my best friends are Italian:

"Every aspect of our culture, whether it be art or music, to law and politics, owes something to the influence of Italian Americans. You can take special pride in the deep tradition of service to this country. People of Italian descent oftentimes hear the call to serve something greater than themselves. Twenty-four Italian Americans have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, that's high service to something greater than yourself."

That, of course, is our President, celebrating Columbus. (I don't think there's any truth to that rumor he thought Columbus was English because his first name is "Christopher," either....) The comic relief part of the speech, really--right before he went on a cyncial ode to soldiers to try to aggrandize his own vanity in sacrificing hundreds of American lives and billions of dollars to sack a country no more threatening than Iowa.

Yes, George, you are indeed the equal of FDR!

posted by Jeff | 5:57 PM |
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