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


Friday, April 30, 2004  

Also, the weekly Shameless Agitator award is out. Who? Koppel, natch.

posted by Jeff | 9:42 PM |
 

The Daily Link

This isn't going to be as easy as it seems. In order to find a cool site, you really have to wade through a lot of crap. I just spent the better part of an hour reading deranged rants from the unstable right (giving me new appreciation for O'Reilly's balance). Well, when all else fails, turn back to the Aussies.

Today's link: Whom Gods Destroy.

Active since: January 2002

Tag: None, but there's this quality proviso: "Full access to this blog requires a one-time-only registration as a reader. Once on my 'user list' your access becomes seamless. If you find that inconvenient, unusual or weird, then don't bother, but that's the way it is."

The blogger is a financier who "supports the labor movement in Australia." Proof that we've wandered away from the moral clarity of our own shores, where financiers are Republicans whose support of laborers extends about as far as five bucks an hour. He is also, obviously, idiosyncratic. His prose is both jaunty and dense--you don't know what he's talking about, but it's fun reading, anyway.

Trenchant quote: "Let's start off with the latest from the Intelligence furore and this headline from the ABC - Howard disputes intelligence concerns. Well, bugger me! I'd have thought he'd just roll over. Why not order yet another legal opinion, Johnny? After all, you're still out-numbered by two opinions to one and I'm certain there are political opponents in the legal profession you haven't managed to defame yet."

Enjoy.

posted by Jeff | 8:45 PM |
 

Loyalty Day

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2004, as Loyalty Day. I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance.

Loyalty Day encourages citizens to demonstrate their commitment to our country by supporting our military, serving each other, and teaching our young people about our history and values. Being an American is a privilege, and our patriotism is a living faith in our country's founding ideals and the promise of the American Dream.

Best stay inside tomorrow, you subversives.

posted by Jeff | 4:28 PM |
 

A friend of mine forwarded me a link with the intro, "I assume you've seen this." (I hadn't, incidentally.) He was talking about an article by George Packer in the current Mother Jones called "The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged." I long ago gave up any hope that the mainstream press would start integrating blogging into their journalistic network (spoilsports), but this is uncalled for:

Blog prose is written in headline form to imitate informal speech, with short emphatic sentences and frequent use of boldface and italics. The entries, sometimes updated hourly, are little spasms of assertion, usually too brief for an argument ever to stand a chance of developing layers of meaning or ramifying into qualification and complication. There's a constant sense that someone (almost always the blogger) is winning and someone else is losing. Everything that happens in the blogosphere -- every point, rebuttal, gloat, jeer, or "fisk" (dismemberment of a piece of text with close analytical reading) -- is a knockout punch. A curious thing about this rarefied world is that bloggers are almost unfailingly contemptuous toward everyone except one another. They are also nearly without exception men (this form of combat seems too naked for more than a very few women). I imagine them in neat blue shirts, the glow from the screen reflected in their glasses as they sit up at 3:48 a.m. triumphantly tapping out their third rejoinder to the WaPo's press commentary on Tim Russert's on-air recap of the Wisconsin primary.

Oddly enough, that analysis follows Packer's admission that he hates blogs because they consume so much of his time: "To change metaphors for a moment (and to deepen the shame), I gorge myself on these hundreds of pieces of commentary like so much candy into a bloated -- yet nervous, sugar-jangled -- stupor."

For anyone who's spent much time spanning the blogoglobe, it's hard to reconcile these comments. Don't like the "contemptuous" tone of Blogger X? No problem--there are bloggers Y through infinity to turn to instead. Surely Packer's stumbled across a blogger or two among the hundreds who's long-winded and unprovocative. But more than that, I think his blogosphere fisking misses its real value--as an instantaneous filter for news, half of the reason for tuning in is to winnow down the good bits in a short time. The prose style is in many cases in service of getting you to the primary source quicker. A quick stop at the regulars (which of course differ for each of us) and you have an excellent idea of what's going on. Let's see, Kos will have the election news, Max will give me something interesting about the economy, Atrios will alert me to the Zeitgeist of the moment, Liberal Oasis will--well, you know the routine.

And contempt itself is the hardest thing to reconcile with the blogosphere. (From the Latin, contemnere, to despise, it means "open disrespect for a person.") Here you get real people trying to talk to real people. Bloggers really do care what people think--they certainly don't disrespect them. For contempt, let me direct your attention to a network whose "Fair and Balanced" motto is perhaps the most brazen expression of open disrespect for an audience any medium has ever known.

So I don't know what the hell Packer's talking about. But my "little spasm of assertion" here isn't contempt.

Oh hell, maybe it is.

______________
Other bloggers talking about the article: Dan Drezner, OxBlog, CalPundit Political Animal, Matt Yglesias, Wunderkinder. None of them was sufficiently riled by his article to muster much contempt.

posted by Jeff | 1:42 PM |
 

Today, Josh noted "how the president now routinely accuses critics of his Iraq policy of being racists." (That whole "some don't believe Muslims can govern themselves" cannard I ranted about recently.) He spent the post rebutting it and Bush's motivation. Let's take it a step further:

The war itself was deeply racist.

Saddam was not remotely connected with al Qaida. Saddam was, in fact, despised by fundamentalist Muslims for his secularism. He was not a state sponsor of terrorism (unless you count the bounty for Palestinian suicide bombers) and didn't support terrorist networks. What was he guilty of? Being Arab.

People watched Arabs fly planes into the World Trade Center, and so when Dubya implied Saddam was connected, he was playing on their ignorance and prejudice. But of course, he knew. He knew Iraq had nothing to do with the attacks. Yet in speech after speech, he obscurred the difference between Saddam and Osama. It's as if the British government decided to bomb Italy in response to IRA terror attacks because Italians are white and Catholic.

If anyone's to blame for racism, it's not the fake constituency of people "who don't believe Muslims want to be free," it's the man who used race and religion to justify an invasion.

posted by Jeff | 11:10 AM |
 

Last night's Frontline was about Dubya and his religious beliefs. It's a horse I've flogged often, so I'll spare you extended yammer. The Frontline site, however, has some fascinating resources, should you wish to flog this horse yourself.

The "Jesus Day: Proclamation.
The text of a March 17, 2000 proclamation by then-Governor George W. Bush which declared June 10, 2000 as "Jesus Day" in Texas.

A collection of Bush's public references to religion

Quote
On the day that George W. Bush was sworn into his second term as governor of Texas, friend and adviser Dr. Richard Land recalls Bush making an unexpected pronouncement.

"The day he was inaugurated there were several of us who met with him at the governor's mansion," says Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "And among the things he said to us was, 'I believe that God wants me to be president.'"

Fact
Since Bush signed an executive order allowing federal agencies to distribute money to "faith-based" charities, Frontline estimates $1.1 billion has been given. Every penny has gone to Christian or ecumenical groups. Although they've applied, Jewish and Muslim groups have yet to receive any money.

posted by Jeff | 9:11 AM |
 

In celebration of tomorrow's anniversary of the great "Mission Accomplished" debacle, I'll take Scott McClellan up on his challenge. Yesterday, when he was asked if the President had any regrets about the premature ejaculation of glee (not exactly the reporter's words), Scott bristled and said: "Let's go back and look at his remarks. He also declared that there is more to do, that difficulties remain in Iraq."

Indeed, let's go back and look.

Bush started out modestly--by comparing his victory to WWII. His vision, you see, was infused with the same moral clarity of the champions of 1945.

Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

In the images of celebrating Iraqis, we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.

I fairly hear the angels singing; I see the dappled light upon his shoulders. Fair enough--he was speaking for a nation and for soldiers (though he was the guy who vamped in a flight suit). So let him overstate the accomplishment. But after that came the boasts he may regret. First there was this one:

The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.

Bush then made the mistake of lying, connecting our invasion to the 9/11 attacks--even then a position supported by absolutely no evidence. I'd love to hear a reporter quote these paragraphs and ask Bush to remind us again of the connections he believes he saw between Iraq and al Qaida.

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men -- the shock troops of a hateful ideology -- gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the "beginning of the end of America." By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed...

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.

Finally, the words Scott hopes to hang his hat on--the qualifications. But even this may not be a statement the administration will rush to stand on (itals mine).

The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.

All right, Scott, let's ask again: is there anything the President regrets from this speech?

____________________
The administration's giddy triumphalism lives on digitally. It includes a "Vision for Iraq" ("All the Iraqi people ... should enjoy freedom, prosperity, and equality in a united country." " Iraq must never again be a haven for terrorists of any kind.") There's a photo essay that shares all the subtlety of Soviet Realism. There's further propaganda about the Coalition (representing a high-water mark of support that even then included countries like Slovakia who had not yet been bought off and was never a supporter). And of course, it glowingly highlights all the President's carefully-scripted words.

posted by Jeff | 7:47 AM |


Thursday, April 29, 2004  

The Daily Link

So here it is, day three in my good-citizenship plan--we're goin' for a week! For those of you who haven't been following my blog blow by blow (shame on you), I've been trying to be a better blog citizen and link up a blog heretofore never linked.

Today's link: The Talent Show.

Active since: March 2003

Tag: None, but there's this cool self-portrait.

Greg at the Talent Show writes more than a little like me and writes about stuff I'm interested in. That would be bad if I were a self-loather, but my friends can vouch that my problem's more the opposite. And so naturally I love it! Seriously--good content, interesting research (he quotes a letter from Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt), good politics, good info (see quote below) and variety (he references Dangermouse's Gray Album). What more can you ask?

Trenchant quote: [On Greg's choice for Veep] "If the most important criteria is image, lemme repeat my semi-endorsement of Georgia Rep. John Lewis. Picking him would do a lot to highlight Kerry's activist past. Plus if balancing the ticket is a priority, Lewis does so not only geographically, but also racially, economically, and religiously. The only potential downside is his extreme pacifism."

Enjoy.

posted by Jeff | 6:25 PM |
 

In that press conference, reporters also asked about the "Mission Accomplished" debacle. Saturday will be the one-year anniversary.

Q Scott, we're coming up on the year anniversary of when the President landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that major combat operations were over under the "mission accomplished" banner.... [H]e also declared major combat operations over, and gave the sense that the war was winding down.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go back and look at his remarks. He also declared that there is more to do, that difficulties remain in Iraq.

Indeed, let's go back and look at his remarks.

In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a hundred of years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and deployed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale. In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation.

Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent. (Applause.)

In the images of celebrating Iraqis, we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear.


The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.


The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men -- the shock troops of a hateful ideology -- gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the "beginning of the end of America." By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed.


The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.


The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.

posted by Jeff | 4:12 PM |
 

According to Joseph Wilson (remember him?), the "senior administration officials" who leaked the name of his undercover wife to Robert Novak were two of these three: Rove, Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, or Elliott Abrams.

WASHINGTON - Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been pegged as a possible leaker of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to a syndicated columnist, according to accounts in a book by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame's husband.

In The Politics of Truth, to be published Friday, Wilson says Libby is "quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity," according to The Washington Post, which obtained an early copy.

The vice president's office did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Wilson writes that a "workup" of his background was done by the White House in March 2003, after his public criticism of the administration's Iraq policy.

"The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal," he writes.

Another suspect named in Wilson's book: White House chief political adviser Karl Rove. "The workup on me that turned up the information on Valerie was shared with Karl Rove, who then circulated it in administration and neoconservative circles," Wilson writes.

posted by Jeff | 4:02 PM |
 

Hairshirts, Pictures, Ashcroft

No doubt it was the pressure I was putting on him, but after having three press conferences in the first 26 days of the month, Scott McClellan's now had three in a row. So first, the amusing. A reporter (Helen Thomas?) was questioning McClellan about a poll that showed Iraqis want Americans out.

Q So you know that we're a hair shirt to them.

MR. McCLELLAN: No one -- of course no one wants to be occupied, Helen. We don't want to be occupiers. We liberated the country. And now --

Next, the random:

Q Did the White House take stills?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there were some pictures taken at the beginning.

Q Will you release one for us?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we're going to. This was a private meeting.

This next exchange is really fascinating. Apparently the President isn't too pleased with how Ashcroft has declassified material to get back at Jamie Gorelick.

Q Well, the Justice Department keeps releasing documents. They released another -- they declassified 30 pages yesterday that reinforce the idea that Commissioner Gorelick has more that she could offer to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand that's what the Justice Department did. We were not involved in it. I think the President was disappointed about that.

Q The President was disappointed in the Justice Department releasing those documents?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, putting that -- putting that on their website, yes.

There's a bit more, but I need to dig around before I quote it. Consider yourself fully updated on the McClellan minutiae.

posted by Jeff | 2:35 PM |
 

Referendum on Lies

Has a President ever been elected whom the majority of the public thought lied about protecting them and going to war? If it seems unlikely, this is bad news for the Bush camp:

In his statements about the war in Iraq, do you think George W. Bush is telling the entire truth, is mostly telling the truth but is hiding something, or is mostly lying?

20% - Telling the entire truth
76% - Hiding something or mostly lying

Members of the Bush administration have said that the decision to go to war with Iraq was made in March 2003, just before the war began. Do you think the decision to go to war with Iraq was made in March 2003, or was it made before that?

23% - March 2003
68% - Before that

When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?

24% - Telling the entire truth
72% - Hiding something or mostly lying

Those findings are from a NY Times/CBS Poll (only available on .pdf). Other noteworthy findings:

As a result of the US's military action against Iraq, do you think the threat of terrorism against the United States has increased, decreased, or stayed the same? (Percentages in parentheses are results from last October.)

41% - Increased (26%)
18% - Decreased (21%)
39% - Stayed the same (51%)

Do you think Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
39% - Yes
51% - No
10% - DK

Is your view of [Kerry and Bush] favorable, unfavorable, undecided or haven't you heard enough about [the candidate] to form an opinion?

Kerry (Bush)
27% (38%*) - Favorable
33% (43%) - Unfavorable
26% (18%) - Undecided
14% (1%) - Haven't heard enough
___________________
*lowest since June 2001

The candidates were within the margin of error for people's preferences (46% Kerry, 44% Bush), but 26% said it "was too early to say for sure."

Country headed in the right direction - 36%; wrong direction - 55%.

In fact, almost all the findings show Bush in freefall. He's still above 50% on his handling of terrorism, but he's around 40% or below on Iraq, "foreign policy," and the economy. Finally, perhaps the finding that says the most about this election is this one. When asked to respond to how strongly they favored their candidate, this is what people said:

Bush
55% - Strongly favor
35% - Like with reservations
8% - Dislike others

Kerry
32% - Strongly favor
28% - Like with reservations
38% - Dislike others

People are going to cast their ballots based on the President, not Kerry, so long as Kerry doesn't give them some seriously compelling reason not to vote for him. Which was, I guess, exactly the calculation folks in Iowa made when they gritted their teeth, blew off the favored Dean, and gave Kerry the win.

posted by Jeff | 12:23 PM |
 

Secret Transcripts of the 9/11 Commission

I have located secret transcripts from the 9/11 Commission Hearing this morning. Selections are below.

KERREY: Mr. President, there's some question as to the frequency and quality of contact between yourself and George Tenet in the weeks leading up to 9/11--

COUNSEL GONZALES: What are you asking?

KERREY: I'm asking the President about his recollections from that time.

CHENEY: The President received daily briefings from George Tenet.

KERREY: What about the month vacation you took in August, sir?

[CROSSTALK]

CHENEY: According to our records, we met Tenet twice.

KERREY: You were there in Crawford?

CHENEY: I meant he. He met Tenet.

KERREY: Mr. President, we've heard testimony from Richard Clarke and George Tenet that they were "running around with their hair on fire." All I'm trying to do is understand whether you were similarly alarmed.

[CROSSTALK]

GONZALES: He--

BUSH: No.

KERREY: You were not alarmed.

BUSH: I was tired of swatting flies.

GONZALES: You've heard enough.

CHENEY: Let's move on.

KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste?


Continued at the American Street

posted by Jeff | 7:24 AM |


Wednesday, April 28, 2004  

A little dodgeball by Bush and Scott McClellan today. First, a reporter managed to get in a question to the President about his 9/11 Commission hearing tomorrow. The President was meeting with Swedish PM Goeran Persson.

Q Yes, thank you, Mr. President. What does Vice President Cheney bring to your 9/11 testimony that you couldn't provide alone? And don't you owe history and the 9/11 families a transcript or a recording?

PRESIDENT BUSH: What he's asking about is a meeting I'm going to have tomorrow morning, talking with this 9/11 Commission about -- my attitude and the attitude of the Vice President about our country, our security, what happened on that particular date, what happened leading up to that. And I look forward to the discussion. I look forward to giving the commissioners a chance to question both of us. And it's a -- it will be an ample -- it will be a good opportunity for people to help write a report that hopefully will help future Presidents deal with terrorist threats to the country.

Then it was McClellan's turn:

Q Scott, just on the 9/11 -- I'm trying to -- I'm still trying to understand the argument behind insisting that the Vice President and the President appear together, and why a transcript -- why you all feel a transcript should not be provided. And I guess I just don't understand why the President wouldn't answer that directly, when it was asked of him today. He completely dodged the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is focused on helping the commission complete its important work. That's where the President's focus is. And I think I've been through --

[Some back and forth]

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about a transcript?

Q Well, I'm talking about transcripts and also them appearing together. Is the argument that, look, this is -- we're going to make this an informal meeting and we're going to put them together, you're not going to be able to treat them like witnesses, they're not under oath --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, let's be -- let's be very clear here. This isn't -- this isn't something where it's a game of gotcha. This is very important work that the commission is doing. And the President and the Vice President want to do everything they can to help the commission piece together all the information we've provided them access to. This is -- this is not an adversarial process. We're all working together to learn the lessons of September 11th. I can't reiterate that enough. And that's very important work.

And now, in terms of -- this is a private meeting. This is -- this is not public testimony. The two are sitting down to answer the -- any questions and whatever questions that they may have.

[Later in the press conference.]

Q Yesterday you said the President's Counsel, Al Gonzales, will be present, and you mentioned the possibility of somebody else from the legal office.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q How many people are going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect at least one other additional member of the Counsel's staff to be present. And I'll keep you posted on other people that will be present tomorrow. All those details I think are still being finalized. But Judge Gonzales will be present.

[And much later still.]

Q Is the note-taker for the White House a lawyer in the Counsel's Office? Is that person --

MR. McCLELLAN: It will be a member of the Counsel's Office that is a lawyer.

I'm not sure why I find this so endlessly fascinating. And yet I do.

posted by Jeff | 3:45 PM |
 

Labor Blogging (2)

Note: my crack team of post-posting editors has noted a number of embarrasing inaccuracies in this piece. Corrections follow.

So, we've got subcontracting and Wall Street on the table. And with them, a couple questions--"How do we help people understand the connection between the problems created by subcontracting and ... their lives?" (subcontracting), and "What kinds of creative ideas should we consider?" (Wall Street). What fantastically insightful commentary do I have to add to this?

Well, as is my usual wont, I'm going play the big picture card (when you don't know anything, it's the way to go). There is an inherent problem with labor issues--they're individual. Why should I give a damn about your job? Even where people have the same job, only rarely do they muster the organization to come together and bargain collectively. So when you talk about issues as large and distant as Wall Street and subcontracting, you're talking to seriously glazed eyes.

My input here is that workers--check that, Americans (exceptions noted below)--need to begin to think of their jobs as integrated. Businesspeople do this brilliantly. When Alan Greenspan raises his eyebrow (even if the cause is a housefly), markets rise and fall. When gas prices go up, Wall Street falls. And so on. Business watchers have made an entire voodoo science of predictions based on interconnectivity. Even when they draw the wrong conclusions (see bubble, tech market), it's not for failing to see the interconnectivity of their world.

Workers, on the other hand, tend to see their own labor as unconnected to anything else. But if we're going to talk about the Wal-Martization of the economy, we must understand how one thing affects the next. The LA Times did a series on Wal-Mart that should have won them a Pulitzer. It was magnificent. For everyone interested in SEIU's point, go read it now. Every word. You'll thank me later.

How does Wal-Mart affect your job? Here's how. First, they relentlessly force their vendors to lower prices. When the vendor begins to lose money, they switch vendors.

The fan was made 1,700 miles away in Chicago at Lakewood Engineering & Manufacturing Co. A decade ago, the same fan carried a $20 price tag.

But that wasn't low enough for Wal-Mart. So Lakewood owner Carl Krauss cut costs at every turn. He automated production at the red-brick factory built by his grandfather on the city's West Side. Where it once took 22 people to put together a product, it now takes seven. Krauss also badgered his suppliers to knock down their prices for parts.

In 2000, he took the hardest step of all: He opened a factory in Shenzhen, China, where workers earn 25 cents an hour, compared with $13 in Chicago. About 40% of his products now are made in China, including most heaters and desktop fans. The Miraflors' box fan was assembled in Chicago, but its electronic guts were imported.

Once American vendors can no longer produce the products cheaply enough--even when the parts are manufactured abroad, Wal-Mart move overseas.

The company's size and obsession with shaving costs have made it a global economic force. Its decisions affect wages, working conditions and manufacturing practices ? even the price of a yard of denim ? around the world.

From its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., the company has established a network of 10,000 suppliers and constantly pressures them to lower their prices. At the same time, Wal-Mart buyers continually search the globe for still-cheaper sources of supply. The competition pits vendor against vendor, country against country.

This ensures that Wal-Mart can continue to lower prices. Next, it uses these incredibly low prices to drive out other retailers. They can't compete with Wal-Mart because they don't buy in the same volume and can't shave their prices as low. And finally, they affect market economics not just in America, but globally. The value of human labor to produce these incredibly cheap products goes down everywhere. When that happens there's a ripple effect throughout the economy--just like the ones that ripple through Wall Street--that drives the price of labor lower.

The solution in the big picture sense is for workers to regard their own labor as the engine of profitability--not its barrier. We need to begin to see all jobs as integrated. A couple of weeks ago, we had a liberal vision rountable, and Max Sawicky addressed this topic directly:

My fundamental organizing principle is class.... To me the working class is not a group of people. It's a role. There are those who play productive roles (will play, did play, or would play if not for physical adversities), and those who leach off the rest of us. Society progresses as the productive process expands, coincident with the human development of all. Universal human development is the condition of freedom. All would eventually join the working class, if conditions made alternative roles of moochery and scumbaggery impossible to maintain.

Reagan was sort of right about one thing--a rising tide lifts all boats. He was just looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. The tide that rises isn't the "moochers"--those to whom Bush gave tax cuts--but the workers. We're all little drops in that ocean.

[Corrections. The LA Times apparently did win a Pulitzer for that wonderful Wal-Mart piece. It's also apparently not online. It was not Reagan, speaking cynically, who made the tide-rising quote. It was JFK. (I've spent too much time listening to Bush Doublespeak--now I'm crediting conservatives with liberal quotes.) Boy, do I need an editor!]

posted by Jeff | 12:26 PM |
 

Haloscan is obviously giving me fits today. It's them, not me.

posted by Jeff | 12:12 PM |
 

The Daily Link

So here it is, day two in my good-citizenship plan, and I'm actually linking up another blogger. We can't possibly expect me to show this kind of consistency in the future, but I've got a nice run going here. (I'll probably still call it The Daily Link.)

Today's link: Southerly Buster.

Active since: March 2003

Tag: "An abrupt southerly wind change, often producing strong and squally winds and sometimes accompanied by thunderstorms and a sharp drop in temperature. These strike Sydney mainly during the summer months." Clear?

Well, at least you can tell it's an Aussie blog. We're all susceptible to the echo-chamber effect, and I suppose one antidote is to read what they're writing about us in foreign countries. This is a great place to start. Author Alan covers international issues, which of course include the US. He also discusses issues we hear less about. His prose is wry and sharp. Very good stuff.

Trenchant quote: "In Harry Turtledove's Balance alternate history, the planet gets invaded in 1944 by an alien race with deeply conservative ideas. The alien language has no word for a government independent of their empire so they end up talking about not-empires like the US and Britain....

"The Bush administration is shifting its Iraq policy from fantasy to science fiction. They have invented not-sovereignty. It is laid out in some detail in the transitional adminsitrative diktat."

Enjoy.

posted by Jeff | 10:22 AM |
 

Labor Blogging

The SEI Union is running a series on their blog about combating "Walmartization." Last week they alerted me to this series and asked that I respond on Monday. To which I say: Monday and Wednesday are fairly close days.

This post will be a brief backgrounder to get everyone up to snuff. If you've been following the series, check back later for my observations. The format SEIU has chosen is a good one. They select a topic, write about it, then ask a pointed question or two. On Monday, they mainly talked about what the Wal-Mart effect is, and asked folks to discuss it.

Yesterday they talked subcontracting, describing what it is and how it works. The question of the day was: "But how do we help people understand the connection between the problems created by subcontracting and the things they care about in their lives?" If there can be said to be a difinitive answer, Nathan Newman has provided it.

Today, SEIU's Andy Stern goes after Wall Street. The upshot: Wall Street rewards the Wal-Mart model and is hostile to workers (who after all cost too damn much). Today's question: What kinds of creative ideas should we consider? (Actually, he asks more than one, but that's the most interesting.

SEIU has been hoping to start up a dialogue, so I encourage you to visit the site and add your comments. As with everything, my opinion is that the questions and discussion are more important than the answers.

posted by Jeff | 9:04 AM |
 

Arlen Specter held off Pat Toomey, which says what? That the seat is safe, Republican moderatism isn't yet dead, and Bush's position is strengthened in Pennsylvania? Or that it is dead, but Pennsylvanians just aren't so stupid as to send a senator with Specter's clout home. Or nothing: the razor thin margin could be interpreted in too many ways?

I vote for three. We better get used to horribly vitriolic elections and ultra tight results. It seems that most contested elections feature a hardcore right winger versus a moderate or soft right winger. This year may be the first year we see the tide turn, but I wouldn't conclude that from reading the Pennsylvania tea leaves.

posted by Jeff | 7:48 AM |


Tuesday, April 27, 2004  

Wes Clark on John Kerry's service:

In the heat of a political campaign, attacks come from all directions. That's why John Kerry's military records are so compelling; they measure the man before his critics or his supporters saw him through a political lens. These military records show that John Kerry served his country with valor, and that those who served with him and above him held him in high regard. That's honor enough for any veteran. (NYT)

I haven't asked my dad--a Korean war vet--how he feels about all this, but I doubt he'll side with the drunken frat boy.

posted by Jeff | 9:24 PM |
 

The man is an obvious liar. Can we conclude anything else?

Q Scott, did the White House request there not be any transcribers -- any recording or stenographers in the meeting, in the 9/11 Commission hearing?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that was a request -- I checked on that -- that we discussed with the commission, and they were fine with it.

Q And what is the advantage that you see in that? This is a very historic meeting.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a private meeting, first of all, Elisabeth. And let's keep in mind that it is extraordinary for a sitting President of the United States to sit down with the legislatively created commission. But these are unique circumstances and the President is pleased to do so. The President appreciates the job of the September 11th Commission. We strongly support their work. And we have been pleased to provide the commission unprecedented cooperation and unprecedented access to information, so they can do their work and help us better fight and win the war on terrorism.

Q Right, if I can just follow up. So if this session is an extraordinary event and such an extraordinary meeting, why do you not want an official record of it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, I don't think that this is unusual at all, if you look back at other meetings that have taken place, private meetings with the commission and other members of the administration....

Q But wouldn't there be better detailed records if you had it recorded, if you had a stenographer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, we have provided the commission with volumes of information, and unprecedented access to information. We've provided more than 2 million pages of documents to the commission. We've provided access to hundreds of administration officials for briefings and interviews so that they can discuss this information. We've provided unprecedented access to some of the most highly classified information in this government.

And this meeting is about helping the commission piece together all that information that they have been provided, so that they can provide a complete and comprehensive report to the American people. And that's what this is about, and we are working to help make sure that they have all the information they need to do their job.

And you're talking -- in some circumstances, some of the information I expect that will be discussed -- it depends on the questions that are raised by the commission -- but some of that information will likely be highly classified. So we think that they will have all the information they need to go back and piece all this information together and report back to the American people what lessons we've learned from September 11th and what recommendations they have that might help us, in addition to the steps we've already taken, to win the war on terrorism.

Q One more question. Doesn't this leave you open to charges that -- doesn't this leave -- doesn't this put a cloud, put a sort of little fuzziness over the proceedings where somebody could go back and say, well, this is not what I meant to say, the note-taker was wrong. Doesn't this make it a little less definite for future -- for historians?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't look at it that way at all. I look at it as the President is taking an extraordinary step in sitting down with the commission and answering whatever questions they may have, and providing them with information that can help them piece together all the information that they have been previously provided. That's the way I look at it. And the commission will be able to provide the American people with as complete a picture as possible about the events leading up to September 11th and the threat that was building and emerging for quite some period of time, going back more than a decade....

Q Can you just clarify. You said he was going to be -- the President is always under oath. I mean, he -- as we understand the procedure and the protocol before the 9/11 --

MR. McCLELLAN: When he came into office --

Q That I understand. But in terms of the Q&A session, he will not be under oath.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's what I -- but he will tell it exactly how it happened.

No recording device, no stenographer, no oath. My, isn't that credible.

posted by Jeff | 5:02 PM |
 

Ronald Reagan University, where a C is considered above average and smarty pants postmodernists are nowhere to be seen:

Fans of the 40th president hope to have a Ronald Reagan University in Colorado by the fall of 2006.

Already, organizers have a promise of 200 acres of donated land in Adams County, and designs and fund raising have begun on what could be an $850 million campus, said Terry Walker, the Ronald Reagan University founding president.

It's not friday; this is not satire.

posted by Jeff | 3:30 PM |
 

US News has a cover story that profiles a year in the life of Bush and Kerry--1971.

Kerry:

On April 22, 1971, a tall, handsome young man with shoulder-length hair turned up a bit late at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John Kerry was the panel's featured witness. He wore green military fatigues over a white T-shirt and a handful of combat ribbons. Striding confidently to the front of the room, he shook hands with the committee chairman, J. William Fulbright. Then he delivered what friends and family still call "The Speech," an indictment of the conduct of the war that riled many prowar advocates and rattled the Nixon White House. To the rapt audience, Kerry seemed sober beyond his years, cerebral, with a penchant for methodical analysis and a delivery that commanded attention. About his service in Vietnam, where he spent four months commanding a river-running "swift boat" and time on a frigate, Kerry expressed anger and dismay. The war, he said flatly, was a tragic mistake.

Bush:

Despite the pressure on the younger Bush to live up to the family name, friends knew him as a wisecracking jock who'd rather talk baseball than discuss his "stupid coat-and-tie job." Until the beginning of 1971, Bush had been living at the Chateaux Dijon, a new apartment complex for well-to-do singles in Houston's fashionable West End. "The scene around the pool was awe inspiring," says Jim Bath, a friend who visited Bush there. "Lots and lots of great-looking girls and people barbecuing and drinking beers...."

Even after moving to quieter digs later in 1971, Bush continued to frequent the Houston YMCA's basketball and racquetball courts, hitting the country club circuit for jogs and tennis. A solid but unspectacular athlete, Bush was relentlessly competitive. "The game wasn't over," says Doug Hannah, a friend and tennis partner, "until he was ahead...."

Friends say Bush was not a heavy drinker, but he held his own in a drinking game called Dead Bug. When someone shouted "dead bug!" everyone had to drop to the floor, belly up, twitching their arms and legs. The last man down bought the next round. Recalls Bath: "It alarmed the hell out of visiting officers and their wives."

posted by Jeff | 12:19 PM |
 

I'm going to try to spread the wealth. Bloggers love to see their Technorati/Ecosystem numbers go up, but they feel they just can't get the exposure. (It's a big boat most of us find ourselves in.) To pull my weight, I'm going to start trying to link up a blogger to whom I've never linked before. I'd like to call it a daily plan, but I'm pretty flaky, so you can never be sure.

Today's link: the Moderate Voice.

The host's tag reads thus: "A political independent and moderate's irreverent comments, analysis and links on important stories in the news. Written by veteran journalist - Joe Gandelman - who is now a fulltime ventriloquist." I'd call it an offbeat Atrios. He links stories in the Atrios mode, but most of them are stories you'll have missed (at least I did). What's most interesting is that Joe calls himself a swing voter, which puts him in rare company. You might enjoy seeing how his mind works.

Trenchant observation: "Another problem: bringing up questions about Bush's record to change the subject weakens its use later in the campaign. Now when Kerry raises it some folks will charge (or think) it's just being used so people don't focus on whether he threw his own medals away or not (just think: our elections are decided on such raging issues)."

Enjoy.

posted by Jeff | 10:48 AM |
 

Whose God?

A local controversy has erupted that sheds light on the issue "God" and the US government. Bear with me for a moment while I give some background. In Washington County (Oregon), where Portland's western suburbs are located, the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship arranged a Mayors' Prayer Breakfast for May 5. On a vote of 7-1, organizers decided to revoke an invitation to Shahriar Ahmed, president of the Bilal Mosque Association, to join other clergy in offering a prayer.

Peter Reding, the fellowship's communications director, said Muslims pray to Allah rather than God and contended they are not part of "Judeo-Christian tradition." Both suppositions figured into the steering committee's 7-1 vote to bar Ahmed from praying. The group said he could still attend and sit in the audience. Ahmed has said he will skip the event.

For fifteen years, America has been debating God--where it's appropriate to pray, which groups are allowed to receive federal funds, and what identifying "God" in govermental functions (the Pledge of Allegiance at schools, say) means theologically. Christians have been at the forefront of a movement to loosen the separation of Church and state, arguing that the "establishment" clause of the Constitution doesn't bar commingling. A key component of their argument is this: "God" is generic, not specific, and support of Christianity doesn't mean exclusion of other faiths.

I'm going to go ahead and give the Christian activists credit on this point: I think they sincerely believed these two points, even while they were unable to imagine how non-Christians interpreted the same rulings. It was a failure to see their own assumptions. Perhaps incidents like this will reveal the inherent conflict between religion and government, and the wisdom of the first amendment.

The truth, demonstrated here, is that "God" is not a stand-in for people's own beliefs, a generic signifier of private belief. "God" means a Christian God--not a Jewish God or Allah or Vishnu. Of course it must. Listen to the Fellowship's Vision Statement:

Our vision for the fellowship is based upon a series of prophetic messages given over a period of time and confirmed by a literal vision from God.

In the vision, untold masses of men from every continent and nation, of all races and diverse culture and costume, once spiritually dead, are now alive. Delivered and set free, they are filled with power of God?s Holy Spirit, faces radiant with glory, hands raised and voice lifting their praises to heaven.

We see a vast global movement of laymen being used mightily by God to bring in this last great harvest through the outpouring of God?s Holy Spirit before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The mission is clear: "To reach men in all nations for Jesus Christ."

The concept of the Prayer Breakfast is something that has been going on for decades--Bush has spoken at them. Their function is actually to dissolve the separation between church and state and turn the US into a Christian nation.

The GOAL is to reach every city across the USA with a well planned Prayer Breakfast.

Our PURPOSE is to reach leaders for Jesus Christ.

Our OBJECTIVE is to Pray for all in authority, that we might live Godly lives.

Our STRATEGY is to use Prayer Breakfast events. They have shown to be highly effective at reaching into our community and impact our leaders. They create a desire to become involved and also remind us of our country's heritage.

(Jeffrey Sharlet wrote a wonderful article on this topic for Harper's).

We live in a democracy, so all voices must be heard. If a group wants to turn the US into a theocracy, they're definitely allowed to argue the point. What we need to be wary of is groups whose agendas aren't clear (even to themselves). The Washington County Prayer Breakfast was a great opportunity for us all to step back and have a good look at our assumptions. "God" is specific. If you don't think so, ask Shahriar Ahmed.

[Update: Iggi points us to this Guardian story.]

posted by Jeff | 8:44 AM |
 

Is Josh a Kerry advisor? Two days ago, he advised Kerry:

Take this directly to the president. Tell him to turn over a new leaf in life and stop being a coward. If the president wants to attack or question your war record or what you did after the war, tell him to do it himself. No special deals, no hidden help from family retainers, no hiding behind Karen Hughes. Tell him, for once, to fight his own fights.

Yestderday, Kerry said:

"If George Bush wants to ask me questions about that through his surrogates, he owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it. That's what we ought to have," Kerry told NBC News in an interview. "I'm not going to stand around and let them play games."

Hmmm. Maybe he's just a reader.

posted by Jeff | 7:24 AM |


Monday, April 26, 2004  

Mark Shields hazards a prediction:

Here is the secret decoder ring of 2004 presidential politics. Recall that the 2000 race between Democrat Al Gore and George W. Bush was about as close to a dead-heat finish as possible.

Here are questions you simply ask yourself between now and Election Day: 1) How many people do you know or meet who voted for Al Gore in 2000 and who now say they intend to switch and vote for George W. Bush in 2004, and 2) How many people do you know or meet who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and now intend not to vote for him in 2004?

From my own limited and admittedly unrepresentative samplings, the second group -- with six months still to go in this campaign -- is larger than the first group.

Astute stats studiers will note that this prediction assumes that roughly the same group will vote in 2004. To add another layer, try this: of those who did not vote in 2000 but who feel sufficiently motivated to hoist their keisters off the barcoloungers in 2004, how many will vote for Bush? Surely 99% will be voting because of him, the dullish Kerry seeming unlikely to motive the masses, but will they vote for or against him?

posted by Jeff | 4:35 PM |
 

I guess things don't change in a weekend:

I leave it for Senator Kerry to explain his votes and his statements about the war on terror, or our cause in Iraq, and the needs of the American military. Whatever the explanation, it is not an impressive record for someone who aspires to become Commander-in-Chief in this time of testing for our country.

I left and the White House was trying to cast doubt on Kerry's war cred; I come back and they're still trying. I wonder who's cred we should really doubt here.

(That Cheney, of all people, made this statement is rich in irony.)

[Update: Josh has an interesting proposal:

But here's some free advice for Kerry.

Don't get mixed up on the details. Take this directly to the president. Tell him to turn over a new leaf in life and stop being a coward. If the president wants to attack or question your war record or what you did after the war, tell him to do it himself. No special deals, no hidden help from family retainers, no hiding behind Karen Hughes. Tell him, for once, to fight his own fights.

I've long felt that Kerry should stay away from negativity (let the press and other Dems take up criticism of the Pres while Kerry promotes his own positive agenda). On this case, I'll make an exception. It's a great idea.]

posted by Jeff | 1:09 PM |
 

I've been out of town since Friday afternoon--and blissfully disconnected from any news sources. Anything good happen?

posted by Jeff | 12:56 PM |


Friday, April 23, 2004  

Sharon's going after Arafat. That ought to calm the Palestinians down.

posted by Jeff | 2:44 PM |
 

SOME ELITES SECRETLY BACK BUSH

By HERM TUPPER
Affiliated Press International Writer

BOSTON (API)--Among the tony restaurants and night clubs of America's oldest liberal bastion are a secret group of Bush supporters--elites. The most visible Bush backers wear their jeans pressed and their Tony Lama's shined. They speak with a Texas twang. And most importantly, they eschew the world of education, arts, culture, and couture so long favored by the well-heeled. But here, where elitism never really went out of style, some of the highbrows are are tentatively starting to stand up for their rights. They're rich, they're educated, and they're not liberal.

"The tax cuts have been good--the looser business environment. Yes, the Bush administration has been good to us," said Quentin Throckmorton at a recent restaurant opening. Throckmorton, a former CEO for QualCorp--now in Chapter 11--saw his earnings skyrocket over the past 3 years. "I can't complain," he said, sampling a lobster brioche.

Boston, long known as a haven of elite liberalism, has lately been leaning further right in recent years--at least among the wealthiest citizens. But unlike their southern brethern, these aristocrats are elite and proud of it. "We've taken to calling our little group 'Skull and Herringbones," chimed in a Chanel-clad Alicia Fitzsimmons. "You know, skull in the antiquated sense--'school' or 'group.' You have to be educated to get it, right?" Fitzsimmons, a Wellesley graduate, rolled her eyes. "Conversation is so much more fun with the educated. Those Texas boors talk about three things: football, steak, and money."

"Don't forget God," Throckmorton said.

"Oh good Lord," she groaned, again rolling her eyes.

Privileged Bostonians, it seems, are tired of hiding their sophistication. While the President may hide his own blue blood behind the rhetoric of red meat, that doesn't mean these Bostonians have to. According to some (who politely requested not to be identified), a large advantage of being the ruling class is flaunting it. With both houses of Congress, the Presidency, and the courts, some feel there's really no reason to hide it anymore. "We won. We have it all. Why not live a little?"

But what about Boston's own candidate, John Kerry? Isn't he aristocratic enough?

"Oh come on. John Kerry? Sure, he went to Yale--big whoop." Martin Spangle, who worked on Governor Mitt Romney's election campaign, scoffed at the notion. "Who's his father? Where did he get his money--he married it! John Kerry's a bush league elitist at best (pardon the pun). If you want real prestige, you look to the house of Prescott Bush. John Kerry's grandfather was a Czech peasant and he came through Ellis Island."

The main course had arrived. Spangle held up his wine glass and offered a toast. "To George W. Bush, a true Bonesman--herringbone!"

posted by Jeff | 10:47 AM |
 

Green Economy

A week or so ago, when we had our visioning roundtable, I wrote about a green economy. Because I think it's such a fine idea, I'm reprinting it in honor of Earth Day. Will I keep reprinting it until the idea takes hold? You never know.

What's the biggest issue confronting the US over the coming century? Terrorism, war? No, it's environmental catastrophe. This is partly a national issue (aquifers across the Southwest are being rapidly depleted), and partly an international issue. But we can't envision a world in which radical change won't be necessary to address these needs. The countries that begin changing soonest will reap the benefit as the world shifts off fossil fuels and coal and moves toward alternative, non-polluting energy sources.

The last great economic boom disproportionately benefited the US because the innovations that created it were developed in Silicon Valley. A national investment in green technologies would accomplish a number of objectives: it would position the US in the global economy of the future; it would create jobs; and it would create federal revenues to further strengthen our position in the world.

In 1961 (2?), Kennedy challenged scientists to put a man on the moon in ten years. A liberal vision that challenged America to put an end to petroleum-based engines in ten years would spark a similar technological renaissance. Targeted incentives and tax breaks for companies participating in such a program, combined with the incentive of creating the technologies that will power the 21st Century, would shift the dominance away from the cluster of oil-based technologies. It would also have the very strong fringe benefit of reducing our dependence on Mideast oil (which in turn would force those countries to modernize, and cut off the main source of funds for the repressive oil sheiks who run the countries).

The future is green. It can happen at the moment of environmental crisis, or it can begin now. One of the main reasons the US has failed to address the environment in any serious way is because the prospect is too frightening. But regarding it as an opportunity--and acknowledging it as our inevitable destiny--changes the calculation. Preserving the environment is a perfect metaphor for the liberal mission--and is an ideal vision for the 21st Century.

posted by Jeff | 9:57 AM |
 

Once a week, Andrea at Confessions of a Shameless Agitator doles out a Shameless Agitator Award. This week's award goes Tammy Silco and Russ Kick (of Common Dreams and The Memory Hole, respectively) for showing us images of the coffins from killed American GIs.

Go have a look.

posted by Jeff | 8:41 AM |
 

More on Profiteering

Via Krugman, we are directed to PRI's Marketplace, where they're running a story called "The Spoils of War." The most surprising assertion? The Pentagon has outsourced its oversight function to save dough.

Critics say the Pentagon's contracting problems started when it tried to save money by slashing oversight staff. Over the past decade, the Pentagon pared its audit and oversight personnel by more than fifty percent. Today, the Inspector General of the Coalition Provisional Authority has a total staff of fifty-eight. And that includes administrative personnel. The Defense Department has about a two-dozen auditors. That's a total of about 80 permanent staff assigned to watch over the largest postwar reconstruction effort in history.

But twice that number is needed, according to the Association of Inspectors General, a non-partisan organization of financial fraud analysts.

Last month, the Pentagon rolled out a new strategy to bolster its drained staff: outsourcing. It awarded one hundred and twenty one million dollars to private contractors to oversee other private contractors.

Further, the Pentagon has outsourced the contracts to other defense contractors--so now one company is overseeing the practices of another company as they provide critical reconstruction services paid for with US taxpayer dollars.

Several of these, like the URS Group in San Francisco and Parsons Energy in Washington, also have large construction and logistical support contracts with the Pentagon in Iraq.

And you know what the really scary thing is? Because we've privatized these critical functions, we've removed the institutional means for oversight as well. Private companies aren't subject to review and don't have to reveal their records. They aren't subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And on and on.

Where are the defenders of the American taxpayer when you really need them?

posted by Jeff | 8:12 AM |


Thursday, April 22, 2004  

A random thought. Everyone's been hammering Kerry for his reluctance to release his records, calling him a bonehead for obfuscating. But is he? Let's look at the two scenarios:

1. Bush demands he release his records, which he immediately does, because as we all know, there's nothing to hide. The press takes a gander, yawns, moves on.

2. Bush demands he release his records and he doesn't, causing Bush to howl like a mashed cat that he's obfuscating. After whipping everyone into a frenzy about his "foot-dragging," Kerry finally releases his records and for two news cycles, the press reports that they're pretty much what we expected--Kerry was a seriously decorated bad-ass.

Now who's the bonehead?

posted by Jeff | 4:57 PM |
 

Chutzpah

You gotta see this to believe it.

George W. Bush: Protecting our Nation's Environment

posted by Jeff | 2:14 PM |
 

Further (sad) evidence that the "American dream" has been shelved in favor of oligarchy, (really) old-Europe-style:

At prestigious universities around the country, from flagship state colleges to the Ivy League, more and more students from upper-income families are edging out those from the middle class, according to university data.

Experts say the change in the student population is a result of both steep tuition increases and the phenomenal efforts many wealthy parents put into preparing their children to apply to the best schools.

It makes sense--you shouldn't raise the hopes of the poor by letting them earn college degrees. They'll be far happier working at Wal-Mart if they understand from the outset that there's no alternative.

posted by Jeff | 2:00 PM |
 

The quote in the previous post comes from a Boston Globe article about Kerry's history as a protester (I was reminded of it by the Minute Man). That history has become relevant since John O'Neill has come out of the woodwork to blast Kerry as unpatriotic. ("His allegations that people committed war crimes in that unit, and throughout Vietnam, were lies. He knew they were lies when he said them, and they were very damaging lies.... John Kerry is not a war hero. He couldn't tie the shoes of some of the people in Coastal Division 11.")

Righties have of course seized on this, desperately trying to divert attention from the important stuff--the war in Iraq, their guy's abysmal history, etc. For example, the National Review offers: "So there it is: a regular American -- O'Neill, father of two, likes hiking, playing golf, and taking an active part in his church -- not content anymore to allow Kerry and his kind to keep hijacking the Vietnam War."

Now Kerry's records are available, and apparently, they're pretty impressive. Part of the controversy comes from a former commander who called one of the three purple hearts Kerry received bogus (it was "just a scratch"). Well, here's what the records say happened (from the previous link):

On Feb. 28, 1969, Kerry's craft and two other boats came under heavy fire from the riverbanks. Kerry ordered his units to turn into the ambush and sent men ashore to charge the enemy. According to the records, an enemy soldier holding a loaded rocket launcher sprang up within 10 feet of Kerry's boat and fled. Kerry leapt ashore, ran down the man and killed him.

Kerry and his men chased or killed all the enemy soldiers in the area, captured enemy weapons and then returned to the boat only to come under fire from the opposite bank as they began to pull away.

Kerry again beached his boat and led a party ashore to pursue the enemy, and they successfully silenced the shooting. Later, the boats were again under fire, and Kerry initiated a heavy response that killed 10 Viet Cong and wounded another, with no casualties to his own men.

He won the Silver Star "for gallantry and intrepidity in action" that day. Two weeks later, Kerry was engaged in another firefight that resulted in a Bronze Star for heroic achievement and his third Purple Heart, which would result in his reassignment out of Vietnam.

Kerry was commanding one of five boats on patrol on March 13, 1969, when two mines detonated almost simultaneously, one beneath another boat and one near Kerry's craft. Shrapnel hit Kerry's buttocks, and his right arm was bleeding from contusions, but he rescued a boatmate who had been thrown overboard in the blast and was under sniper fire from both banks.

Again it looks as if the administration has rushed to demand something be declassified before they know what they'll find (remember when Bill Frist challenged Clarke?). Careful, Karl, sometimes you get what you wish for.

(Kerry's records are now posted at his website.)

posted by Jeff | 11:14 AM |
 

"Destroy the young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader."

--Charles Colson, Counsel to Richard M. Nixon, about John Kerry in a recording on April 28, 1971

posted by Jeff | 11:07 AM |
 

I have a post up at American Street that rehashes some of the themes I've been harping on for the past week or so. Should you care to read more of the same.

posted by Jeff | 9:57 AM |
 

Having just this week condemned polling for its uselessness and inaccuracy, I now ... turn to the polls. According to a survey by the AP,

...two-thirds of Americans acknowledge some concern that terrorists may be recruiting faster than the United States can keep up. A third of those polled feel strongly this is the case; another third say they have at least some worries.

Fears about an attack against this country remain high. Two-thirds in the poll said it was likely terrorists would strike before the November elections. And one-third said it was likely there would be an attack at one of the political conventions this summer....

- More than one-third say they have less faith in government's ability to protect them, and an additional one-fourth say there's at least some truth to that idea.

- Nearly half feel strongly they are more pessimistic about the possibility of there ever being peace in the world while an additional one-fourth say there may be some truth to that.

All of this is fairly surprising to me, but what really blows my mind is this final stat the article offers: "As for the election campaign, President Bush has the advantage over Democrat John Kerry on people's trust to do a better job of protecting the country, 53 percent to 37 percent."

Yesterday I argued that Kerry needs to change his argument to go positive. If you ever wanted strong evidence that his current rhetoric ain't workin', could it be any clearer than this?

posted by Jeff | 8:50 AM |


Wednesday, April 21, 2004  

I stand corrected--Scott had a briefing today. Relatively mild stuff, though this might bite the White House:

Q Scott, you've used the word sovereignty a couple of times here today. You said that the situation is moving forward toward the transfer of sovereignty. Is it really going to be sovereignty, though, on June 30th ... under the way that is understood in international law, true sovereignty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. That will be an interim representative government. Obviously, on the security side, we've made it very clear that we are going to continue to help provide for the security and stability of Iraq going forward from that date. We will be there to make sure that there is a free and democratic and peaceful Iraq. That is part of our mission in Iraq. But on June 30th that will be the day to transfer sovereignty to an interim representative body that Mr. Brahimi has been talking about. And he's going to be coming back with some more specifics, as he said, in May on that interim representative body.

Q But the U.S. would still, in effect, be the --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist come that date.

Q But the U.S. will still, in effect, be the police force, the army, and the treasury of Iraq, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I think that you have to look at this as working in partnership with Iraqi people. The Iraqi people want to see sovereignty transferred on June 30th. And that's what we have -- that's what we have committed to do, and that's what we will do because this is about helping the Iraqi people realize a brighter future.

posted by Jeff | 4:46 PM |
 

Bush keeps saying this, and it's starting to irritate me:

Now look, there's a debate, I readily concede -- some people don't believe if you're a Muslim or an Arab you can be free.

Who are these people? Can Bush identify even a single one? At the next press conference, I'd like someone to ask him who they are. Or, if Scott ever has another briefing, maybe a reporter could ask who the hell he's talking about. I have to think that even the slowest-witted of the slow-witted dittoheads isn't falling for this.

posted by Jeff | 4:38 PM |
 

Kerry's Move

What do we know about bad news? Repeat after me: it always benefits the Republicans. It doesn't matter who's at fault, bad news means negativity, and negativity is the right wing's bread and butter. Kerry has forgotten this and fallen into the negativity hole. It's hard to blame him, given the bloody horrors of Iraq and dodgy economy. But as I've been saying for over a year now, negativity is a losing proposition, no matter how alluring the siren call.

The problem is that negativity only motivates bases. To the apolitical, it's a poison that keeps them away from voting booths. This inevitably benefits the minority party, who must burn off enough of the electorate before an election so that they have the majority of what remains. (And yes, if you look at policy positions, Bush is definitely in the minority.) It also plays into the strategic platform of the right because it highlights their message: you should be scared and vote from your basest instincts.

Dems need to energize the electorate. People are inclined to participate when they feel they can make positive change, and this means staying positive. Remove that option and they're back to voting from their fear and loathing.

By way of example, Kerry's finding himself behind the eight ball on Iraq because he's essentially endorsing Bush's view of the situation. Yet if that's true, people are naturally going to gravitate to the Prez, whom they know will lower the iron fist in the face of danger. Kerry is an unknown quantity. Better the devil you know than one who might go French and surrender on you. Instead, Kerry needs to quit highlighting how bad things are going now and focus on his "Strategy for Peace," giving people a vision of hope.

Staying on the negativity means staying on Bush's message. By leading with a different message, a positive one, Kerry defines the terms of the debate. No doubt his handlers are worried about losing all the ammo the Bush failures provide. They needn't be. At this point, Kerry can borrow a page from the Bush playbook and stay totally positive while his supporters (the reawakened press and the MoveOn PACs) continue to hammer away on Bush's mistakes.

It was interesting to watch the primaries; Kerry stood in the middle while Dean motivated the base with anger, and Edwards found a crossover population ready to embrace his positive message. Although Kerry ended up with the nomination, Edwards won the argument about approach. Kerry is now at the moment where he must define himself: Deaniac rage or Ewardsian hope? If the polls show us anything, it's that the rage angle hasn't sparked broad support. His platform has already been retooled to answer Edwards' challenge and is larded with hope, so he needn't make any policy changes. Instead it's a matter of rhetoric.

Time to go positive.

posted by Jeff | 2:00 PM |
 

"My job is like think beyond the immediate."

--George W. Bush, today

posted by Jeff | 12:51 PM |
 

Some Banter

The Pentagon deleted from a public transcript a statement Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made to author Bob Woodward suggesting that the administration gave Saudi Arabia a two-month heads-up that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq.

The transcript, which the Post has put online, is an interesting document. Although the Post is most interested by the Bandar connection, I found this exchange more interesting:

Rumsfeld: Have you met with the Vice President? You're not going to meet with the Vice President are you?

Q: Well I hope so.

Rumsfeld: I doubt it.

Q: You know better than I.

Why is Cheney concerned about Woodward meeting with Cheney? It almost makes it sound as if Rumsfeld's suggesting Cheney has critical data the President lacks. Was Bush out of the loop?

posted by Jeff | 10:51 AM |
 

One of the minor notes sounded by Woodward's indictment of Bush (continuing excerpt series at the Post) was the suggestion that our foreign policy is being guided by religious belief. Woodward quotes Bush saying, "There is a higher father that I appeal to." This isn't going to get a huge amount of play--mainly because most Americans will be relieved to learn that Bush's inspiration was God, not Dick Cheney. (Well, it was both.) But there is a serious policy question here--should the decisions of our leaders be guided by religious conviction?

I discussed this question over a year ago at length (try here, here, and here), so this isn't particularly new information. It has nevertheless roused some concern. Yesterday's Village Voice had an article suggesting a Bush crusade is underway. In Salon, Robert Scheer makes a similar argument (which discerning readers might call over the top). Other articles touched on the point: Newsweek, Berkowitz, The Nation (Corn), the Age.

But it is the Independentthat offers the most interesting news. In an article today, Andrew Buncombe documents the connections between the fundamentalist Christian Patrick Henry College and the GOP.

Students at Patrick Henry are on a mission to change the world: indeed, to lead the world. When, after four years or so of study, they leave their neatly-kept campus with its close-mown lawns, they do so with a drive and commitment to reshape their new environments according to the fundamentalist, right-wing vision of their college.

It is also worth making clear that the staff and students at Patrick Henry College are extraordinarily pleasant. The campus itself lies in the small town of Purcellville, about 90 minutes' drive west of Washington DC, amid rolling hills and anonymous commuter communities. The campus is small - there are currently only 240 students, all of them white - and dominated by one large building that houses the classrooms, library and cafeteria where the students and staff take their meals. On one wall is a copy of a famous painting of the revolutionary war hero after which the college is named, 10 years before he made the "Give me liberty or give me death" speech for which he is best known. Students are required to attend "chapel" every morning.

The college was established in 2000 by Michael Farris, who runs the Home School Legal Defence Association, itself set up in 1983 to promote the values of Christian home-schooling as an alternative to what he and others considered the increasingly secular and irreligious culture taking hold in America's public schools. Farris - a lawyer who, with his wife, home-schooled their 10 children - is a prot?g? of Tim LaHaye, well known in the American Christian community as a veteran conservative evangelical author and preacher.

Farris, who is also the president of Patrick Henry, was unavailable for an interview when we visited his establishment, but he has told The New York Times: "We are not home-schooling our kids just so they can read. The most common thing I hear is parents telling me that they want their kids to be on the Supreme Court. And if we put enough kids in the system, some may get through to the major leagues."

[Note. I would like to emphasize that I'm not anti-Christian. To me, this isn't a sectarian issue--if the President were Buddhist (as I am), and was doing the same thing, I'd be equally critical. The issue isn't a Christian issue, it's an issue of how we wish to be governed.]

posted by Jeff | 8:19 AM |


Tuesday, April 20, 2004  

I keep waiting to see what Scott McClellan will say at the next press briefing, only to find, AGAIN, that there hasn't been a briefing. In fact, it looks to me like the White House is hiding.

Compare:

Number of press briefings by month

December 2003: 12
January 2004: 8
February: 13
March: 11

April 1-20: 2

Scott's gaggle number remains steady, but that's hardly the same thing.

posted by Jeff | 3:56 PM |
 

Anyone who's missed the Washington Monthly article on the housing bubble should go read it. It's the most compelling argument I've read yet about why the economy's doing well--and why it soon won't be.

"There Goes the Neighborhood"
Why home prices are about to plummet--and take the recovery with them.

By Benjamin Wallace-Wells

posted by Jeff | 1:41 PM |
 

Multnomah County Gay Marriage Licences

Banned by judge!

A judge on Tuesday ordered a halt to same-sex marriage in an Oregon county that for weeks has been the only place in the nation where gays can get married.

Judge Frank Bearden said he believes the Oregon constitution would allow either civil unions or gay marriage, but he said a state Supreme Court ruling is needed first. He also said "public debate and legislative action may be required to carry out the court's mandate."

From Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Colin Fogarty:"This is not an easy decision to explain in just a few words; it's fairly nuanced. But essentially, Judge Frank Bearden ordered the county to cease issuing marriages to same-sex couples while the legislature and the court works out the issue.

"He created a timeline of 90 days after the next regular or special legislative session for the legislature to deal with this issue. And after that time, essentially, civil unions would be enacted in Oregon. Because he basically said that the tangible benefits of marriage are being denied to same sex couples.

posted by Jeff | 12:32 PM |
 

The Post has a poll out today, and it's causing some head-scratching. People don't trust that Bush is telling them truth, yet his numbers on dealing with terrorism, the economy are up, his approval's up, and he's polling better against Kerry. All of this despite pretty amazing claims of administration wrongdoing. So what gives?

People have mainly been attacking this from an analysis point of view, offering explanations in interpretation. I think those are part of the picture, but I think there's another factor--polling accuracy. As you all well know, polls have lately been wildly inaccurate. Even when they got the trending right in the past couple elections, the margins were pretty far off (well outside the margin of error). Why?

In research, there are a couple of basic proofs to determine how accurate the findings are: reliability and validity. Reliability describes whether a measurement gives approximately the same result in repeated tests. Validity gauges whether a statistic measures what it is supposed to measure. In polling, we have great reliability--polls consistently measure the same thing. The pollsters will tell you they have great validity, too--the math lines up. But reality sometimes trumps math: polls aren't good predictors anymore. I have a couple theories.

Time
Two months before Iowa, John Kerry was nearly bankrupt and Howard Dean was leading by twenty points (or something) in Iowa polls. But as the election approached, their calculations changed. It's impossible for pollsters to factor in the time, because they can't know what will happen in the next six months. Like weather forecasting, the further out the election is, the less reliable the poll numbers are.

Phones
Polling companies still rely on telephones to gather data. There are two problems here. The first is that they don't call cell phones. That's a major sampling error. Imagine if you were only polling people without computers. The second is a self-selection problem; the people who do answer phones and do participate in a survey self-select: you don't find out what Americans think, you find out what Americans who are willing to take a survey think. As we become ever more resistant to commercialization, we are more resistant to the mechanism of polling. What was reliable in an earlier age isn't anymore.

People
I'll make this point by example: in this WaPo survey, Ralph Nader was polling at 6%. But in 2000, Nader only got 1% of the votes, and he'll surely do worse this year. That shows that something like 90% of the people who said they were Nader supporters weren't telling pollsters what they'll actually do. They were telling thme something else. People, especially this early out, aren't necessarily responding in ways pollsters expect. What do they believe? Who knows?

The most important thing we see from these numbers is the trending. Two trends are worth noting: people don't trust Bush, but their global attitudes toward him have returned to pre-Clarke levels. Both interesting findings. But as to whether it credibly predicts who people will vote for in November, the answer to that is no.

posted by Jeff | 10:36 AM |
 

For some reason, Josh has a different gaggle than is posted on the White House's web site. His is far more interesting. To the question of whether Bush and the Saudis conspired to fix prices for his re-election campaign, McClellan waffled:

QUESTION: Does the White House have any knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions --

QUESTION: Is there a deal?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I wouldn’t speculate one way or the other. You can direct those questions to him, but I’m telling you --

QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speculate either. Do you have knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m telling you what our views are and what we've stated, and I'm telling you what I do know, which is that our position is very clear when it comes to oil prices and what our views are. And Prince Bandar spoke to you all just a few weeks ago out at the stakeout after meeting with some White House officials and expressed --

QUESTION: So you have no knowledge of such a commitment?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and expressed their view. I'm not going to try to speak for Prince Bandar. You can direct those questions to him.

He might as well just have said "yes." Because, when the press asks if you conspire with a foreign country to help fix an election, you damn sure say "no," if you didn't do such a thing.

posted by Jeff | 9:08 AM |
 

Yesterday I wondered how the right was going to deal with Woodward. Having learned that personal attacks aren't always the best call from the Clarke debacle, they've decided on marginalization. Anyway, that's what David Frum does:

This week’s burst of hyper-ventilating was excited by the new Bob Woodward book. From it, we learn – well what exactly? That Colin Powell opposed the Iraq war. Knew that. That Powell engaged in sarcastic and dismissive attacks on those who disagreed with him, up to and including the vice president. Knew that too. That the president ordered planning for Iraq operations before he made the final decision to go to war. Assumed that. And so on.

According to Frum's analysis, Saudi liaison Bandar (a "frequent purveyor of titillating items to selected journalists") must be the source for the Saudi-related information. Thus we can dismiss it. Frum does admit--now hypothetically, given that the accusations are probably not true--that the Saudi material is damaging.

But if it were true, it would suggest several important and disturbing conclusions.

(1) It would rather give the lie to the claim that the Iraq war was masterminded by Israel, wouldn’t it?
(2) It would suggest that by the end of 2002, the president no longer trusted Powell to do the basic work of diplomacy for him.
(3) Again if true, the story would suggest that the breakdown of relations between Powell and the president did severe damage to the national security of the United States – by placing the president in a position where he had to inform doubtfully friendly states of major decisions before he told them to his own secretary of state!

He said it, not me.

posted by Jeff | 8:28 AM |
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