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

Monday, May 31, 2004  

We all knew the Bush/Rove slime machine was going to hit below the belt, and now, according to what I can only imagine is one of the most-linked articles in the blogosphere, it has.

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate....

From the president and Cheney down to media aides stationed in every battleground state and volunteers who dress up like Flipper the flip-flopping dolphin at rallies, the Bush campaign relentlessly portrays Kerry as elitist, untrustworthy, liberal and a flip-flopper on major issues. This campaign is persistent and methodical, and it often revs up on Monday mornings with the strategically timed release of ads or damaging attacks on Kerry, including questioning medical and service records in Vietnam and his involvement in the peace movement afterward. Often, they knock Kerry off message and force him to deflect personal questions.

One of the writers is Dana Millbank, and this article is as reasoned and well-researched as his work on the aluminum rods et. al. before the start of the war (read: the whole thing is worth reading). Obviously it's not helping Bush, but his plan--as always--is to try to make himself appear the lesser of two lessers. He's trying to poison the voting pool against politics altogether, knowing that his twisted base will never forsake him. If he can boil the electorate down far enough, so goes the plan, those in the base will form a majority of whatever's left. It's nasty, but that's the only card he has left to play--fear and loathing.

posted by Jeff | 2:04 PM |

This week, Oregon politics gets bizarre. The House is preparing to meet in a special session--without the Senate. This strange spectacle comes courtesy of the Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis, who is Oregon's version of Tom DeLay. She's every bit as ideological, unethical, autocratic, and now, quixotic, as her national far-right brethren.

A few of the Minnis highlights. Last year, as Oregon grappled with a massive hole in the budget, Minnis guided the legislature to the longest session in history, privately making deals with Democrats and then publicly trashing them. When a deal seemed more and more remote, she tried to form a subcommittee that excluded Democrats. Eventually, when no deal could be reached, a group of moderate Republicans signed off on a very modest revenue hike--which Minnis promptly agreed to help overturn via ballot measure once the gavel ending the session had sounded. (It worked.)

Recognizing the substantial flaws in the Oregon tax code, lawmakers agreed to join together over the winter to put together a few ideas that they could take up in special session this spring. But far from trying to reach agreement on taxation and spending, Minnis led her cohort toward a Colorado-style "bucket plan" that would put Oregon on far more volatile footing (it's straight out of the Grover Norquist playbook). It appeared all efforts to reform the tax structure were dead, and everyone gave up the idea of a special session.

That is, until Multnomah County started issuing gay marriage licences. All of a sudden the ideological Minnis saw the opportunity for a little red-meat grandstanding and started making calls to meet again. Unfortunately for her, the Senate, divided 15-15, refused to participate.

Foresaking even the appearance of good faith, Minnis tried to turn it into political advantage. She led a deeply cynical campaign against the Dems that everyone across the nation will recognize from earlier examples against John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry--characterizing her foes as devils and Republicans as desperate patrons of the civic good lost in a sea of evil bureauracy. First the GOP took out a full-page ad in the Oregonian trying to shame the Senate. Then Minnis made it personal in an Oregonian editorial:

We're unclear just what the Democrats are afraid of. Perhaps they fear that if this plan is successful, their hopes of eventually raising taxes to cover higher state spending will be dashed.

She didn't back down, and tomorrow the House will meet solo. It's an unprecedented move and has no legal standing. Without Senate approval, no legislation can go through. But Minnis isn't afraid to use whatever tiny reserve of goodwill that remains to try to rend the state further apart. We will now watch the GOP spend days or weeks passing phony laws and calling Dems rat bastards--all on the government dime. (Hey, fiscal responsibility is only good when you're cutting programs that benefit Democratic constitutencies.)

Once upon a time, Oregon was a model for cross-aisle partnerships, and in the 1960s and 70s produced a series of landmark laws. What's playing out now is a political stunt by the far-right to try to commandeer the Oregon legislature by staging a publicly-funded campaign for GOP lawmakers in an election year. Thanks to the echo-chamber of Republican politics, Minnis is sure Oregonians will respond by sending the Dems packing in November. She's partly right--it's time for voters to send politicians packing. Let's hope this little stunt confirms for the voters just where the problem really lies.

posted by Jeff | 8:50 AM |

This is predictable and yet, to use the parlance of the day, troubling:

A gun that Saddam Hussein was holding when US forces caught him is now kept by President Bush at the White House....

Mr Bush keeps it in a small study adjoining the Oval Office used for displaying memorabilia, and is said to show it to select visitors. (BBC)

The house of Bush, having avenged itself, now displays trophies.

posted by Jeff | 8:03 AM |

Sunday, May 30, 2004  

The Day After Tomorrow

Through a series of unlikely circumstances, I had the misfortune to find myself in a dark theater last night with Roland Emmerich's profoundly bad The Day After Tomorrow. It is so bad that it goes past being good and back into bad again--everytime you chortle over something wildly inappropriate, something more wildly inappropriate intrudes on your snarky pleasure--wolves, say--forcing a wince of pain. That's a handy trick.

The movie now joins the most rigid of film genres, the disaster flick. Rigid because it's the worst genre, and no one is sufficiently interested to try to subvert it. It's a genre almost beyond cliche because there's nothing but cliche. It goes like this:

A wicked smart scientist, toiling on some obscure subject, discovers catastrophe is about to strike. S/he is an obsessive, but truehearted slave to the truth, creating a rift in the household. S/he has therefore neglected a child/spouse/both and finds his/her personal life in a shambles. Was the damage done to the child/spouse/both worth it? No time to consider--the catastrophe is nigh.

The scientist approaches a government official to alert him (always him) of the danger. But alas, the beaurocrat is evil and stupid, and will not heed the warning of the wise but obscure scientist...until it is too late.

Meanwhile, some "real people" and their plights are introduced. They have some distant connection to the central plot or not, depending on how truly abysmal the script is. One of them has a pet. One of them is old/injured.

The disaster sequence is the point of the whole movie. Depending on how truly abysmal the script is, the plot may or may not guide the special effects. The action shifts between the haggard genius scientist, the "real people" plighting along, and the evil and stupid beaurocrat, on whom the horror of the situation--and his own stupidity--dawns.

Hundreds to millions of faceless strangers die in the course of the disaster, but only one of the "real people" or scientists will succumb--due apparently to the protective bubble of genuis afforded them by proximity to the protagonist. The person who dies does so in a swelling moment of self-sacrifice.

The protagonist, whose life work has just been vindicated, will repudiate the life's work, having learned the true meaning of family.

Following the disaster, everyone is tired but happy: they've survived. There's a comic/sentimental moment involving the pet. The scientist is reunited with his family and two decades of dysfunction are washed away.

Roll credits.

The Day After Tomorrow follows the script exactly, of course. In this case, global warming triggers an instant ice age (don't ask), killing off almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. It's a dramatic change, but not, as you might imagine, dramatic enough to keep the attention of the filmmakers, who lard the film with drama boosters: a child dying of cancer, a girl dying of sepsis, and wild wolves snapping at the heels of Jake Gyllenhaal in a Russian ship (a tanker?) beached in the center of Manhattan.

(I can imagine the writing team: "I don't know, it's sort of draggy here. What should we do to punch it up a bit?" "I don't know--wolf attack, maybe?")

The central plot is so bad and so implausible that even to describe it makes me think I'm hyperbolizing.

The only redeeming quality to the film are the characters of the President and Veep--thinly veiled stand-ins for Bush and Cheney. The veep is the evil beaurocrat and clearly the guy in control of the White House. When the president finally does enter, he blinks with surprise and confusion. He defers to the veep.

I don't think it's hyperbole to say it is sure to be the worst script of the year, and is possibly the worst script of all time. On the other hand, the worst script of all time is something to recommend it--as is the wolves sequence. I predict it will spawn a drinking game wherein every time something absurd happens, you have to have a drink. People will be three sheets to the wind after the first half hour. At which point, perhaps, they'll be ready for the wolves.

posted by Jeff | 10:50 AM |

Saturday, May 29, 2004  

The Pew Research Center has another of their fantastic reports out. It's a survey of American journalists of their views on the media. As with all their reports, it's a treasure trove of info. The findings are far too many to report or summarize (though you could do a lot worse than spending a half hour reading through them).

Pew describes the key findings as those revolving around a cluster of issues related to media consolidation--profits hurt coverage, (41% in 1995, 66% now); a timid press unwilling to criticize power (up 25%); and a press weakened by the 24-hour cycle (up 24%). All of these are striking findings, but, given what has happened since Bush took office (FCC, saber-rattling), not surprising.

What I found even more interesting was the split that has developed between the way the national and local journalists see media. On the question of whether the press was too critical of Bush, 55% of national print and broadcast journalists said they had not been critical enough. Only 28% of local TV reporters did (local print--46%). This kind of finding is echoed (though not so strongly) throughout the report.

On the question of whether the press is liberal or conservative, it seems journalists believe it to be mainly conservative. When asked if any news organizations were "especially liberal" about 40% of jounalists said yes. However, the only organization registering more than 4% on the "liberal" scale was the NY Times, at about 20% (NPR came in a woeful 2%). Contrast that with the three-quarters who called some news organizations "especially conservative." The fair and balanced Fox scored an impressive 69% among national journalists and 42% among locals. The WSJ came in a distant--but significant--second with about 10%.

Finally, the finding that I've already seen quoted by conservatives is that the press is liberal. Actually, what's more accurate is that it's not conservative. Twenty percent of the general public describe themselves as liberal as compared to 23% of local press and 34% of national press. Members of the press are much more likely to describe themselves as "moderate"--54% for national, 61% for local journalists. They just aren't conservative. Where a third of the population describe themselves that way, only 7% of the national press and 12% of the local press do.

Evidence of bias, right? I think not. The press, who are far more educated about public policy and news (it's their business, after all), have come to the middle. We would expect that. But the general population, wallowing in the ignorance of Limbaugh lies and Savage hate, manage to innoculate themselves from actual reality. Thus they stay more conservative. It's like asking the general population whether they think AIDS comes from kissing or not and comparing that to what doctors say. Are doctors just nutty because they're out of step with the population? We know, for instance, that people who only get their news from Fox are way more likely to believe there was a connection between Osama and Saddam. Their ignorance of the facts makes them a poor comparison population.

There's a lot more, and I expect we'll be hearing this report cited in news stories for the next few months. Do yourself a favor and read the report so you know the facts before you hear the spin.

posted by Jeff | 8:55 AM |

Friday, May 28, 2004  


Amalgamated Press International Writer

CARLISLE, PA (API)--In a speech given to the United States Army War College on Monday, President Bush announced plans to build a new "modern, maximum-security prison" in Baghdad. Mr. Bush called the new prison "a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning." Now API has learned that administration officials seek to destroy the old prison because they believe it may be evil.

"Americans just don't do that kind of thing--that sexual business and all that," said a source close to the President. "It's not our way. So if Americans don't do those kinds of things, who did? I'll tell you--that damnable prison."

The prison, it seems, is an evildoer.

What is the nature of the evil? Officials aren't sure. "Haunted is probably a bad word," said Andy Card, the President's chief of staff. "This President doesn't believe in the spirits of the dead, ghosts. That's more a Catholic kind of thing. Not that the Catholics should be scorned for their strange views, though. I don't mean that."

The nature of the evil is something deeper, something that seems to inhabit the building. "It's like a force," another source said. "It can take over the minds of good Americans. Very powerful evil."

"All I know," said President Bush, when asked about the impending demolition, "is that that place has got to go. I said before that we won't tolerate the evildoers. So it's got to go."

When asked whether it may have been the torturers themselves, or their superiors, who might be culpable in the affair, the President flatly shot down the suggestion. "Evildoers. Not Americans. That building is an evildoer. The good people in the American military and the Pentagon, Rumsfeld, they're good-doers. We must root out evil where we find it, and I've found it in that building."

The Abu Ghraib prison declined to comment for this article.

posted by Jeff | 11:03 AM |

A new CBS poll has a Kerry/McCain ticket beating a Bush/Cheney ticket by 14 points--54% to 39%. But Kerry also improves his chances by taking John Edwards, 50%-40%. That's better than Kerry alone versus a Bush/Cheney ticket, where he's beating them 49%-41%. The lesson? As long as Kerry doesn't pull a Quayle, he's only going to get stronger.

Given that, the veep selection should be viewed as a chance not to win the election, but set a course for the party and country. McCain's a decent guy, but aside from his biting rhetoric about Bush's bumbles, what's he got to offer? Edwards, on the other hand, is a signal to those Wal-Mart Republicans that the Dems actually do care about the little guy. The Dems have allowed themselves to be branded "elitist" because they abandoned America's workers. How is McCain going to reverse that? Edwards is a far better choice for the party.

posted by Jeff | 8:50 AM |

Satire on the way. Meantime, Krugman, whose the one guy at the Times who gets to ask this question:

People who get their news by skimming the front page, or by watching TV, must be feeling confused by the sudden change in Mr. Bush's character. For more than two years after 9/11, he was a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness.

But now those people hear about a president who won't tell a straight story about why he took us to war in Iraq or how that war is going, who can't admit to and learn from mistakes, and who won't hold himself or anyone else accountable. What happened?

His answer is hard to dispute.

posted by Jeff | 7:33 AM |

Thursday, May 27, 2004  

Incidentally, for posterity, here's judge Richard Tallman, writing for the majority of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on Johnny Jackboot's bid to overturn Oregon's assisted suicide law.

"The attorney general's unilateral attempt to regulate general medical practices historically entrusted to state lawmakers interferes with the democratic debate about physician-assisted suicide and far exceeds the scope of his authority under federal law."

[The court] added "that the attorney general has no specialized expertise in the field of medicine" and that he "imposes a sweeping and unpersuasive interpretation" of the Controlled Substance Act, which "directly conflicts with that of his predecessor," Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

Makes me feel all warm inside to hear a court vindicate our lil' state's democratic choices.

posted by Jeff | 3:40 PM |

The state of Oregon, through a strange quirk of circumstances, has been ground zero in the battle of civil libertarians against the John Ashcroft DOJ. Yesterday we beat off one incursion--when Pentacostal John tried to shut down our Supreme-Court-approved Death with Dignity act. Pentacostal John is also still wrangling with states--including Oregon--over medical marijuana.

But the biggest battles have been against terrorists. A year after 9/11, Ashcroft announced one of his biggest busts: the so-called Portland Six. Months later, the number climbed to seven, when Jackboot John decided to imprison a US citizen and Intel employee named Maher Hawash. He was placed in solitary confinement and held uncharged under the "material witness" clause. It set off a storm of controversy, confused by the fact that the man charged was a foreign-born Muslim. A local Mike Savage wannabe wrote in the Oregonian that his guilt was clear by virtue of his "Islamic beard."

The Portland Seven were ultimately found guilty--but not of terrorism. All of the accused plead out before the cases went to trial. In order to make their case, the "terrorists" were charged with a civil war-era statute (!) banning "seditious conspiracies." None of the Portland Seven will serve as much time as John Walker Lindh, but never mind--Ashcroft declared it a clear victory in the war on terror. He went further, admitting that none of the cases could have been made without the provisions of the Patriot Act: "The plea agreements in the Portland case would have been more difficult to achieve, were it not for the legal tools provided by the USA Patriot Act."

The bigots declared the case proof that their bigotry wasn't bigotry--just prudent distrust of the "Islamic beards." Everyone forgot that the original questions wasn't whether Maher Hawash and the Portland Seven were guilty--it was whether their rights had been violated in order to make the case.

All of which was academic until Jackboot Johnny turned again to the Patriot Act to target an Oregon Muslim. The difference: this Oregon Muslim was an American-born convert named Brandon Mayfield. His "Islamic Beard" was a whispy chestnut brown. Mayfield was accused of the Madrid bombing when the FBI claimed it found a fingerprint of Mayfield's on the bomb that blew up a rail station there.

Of course, the case was weak, so in a replay of the Hawash case, Mayfield was thrown in prison, uncharged, on the "material witness" charge. While the FBI smeared Mayfield, he was prevented from speaking by a gag order. The court documents were sealed, and the evidence was gathered by searching Mayfield's home on several occasions by dint of "secret search warrants" he only learned about later. (They weren't so secret, though. The incompetent FBI left many signs of their entry, mystifying the Mayfields, who wondered why theives kept breaking into their home without stealing anything.)

The guilt of Mayfield was established illegally, in secret, before he had a chance to even hear the charges against him. The evidence was hidden from him, and he was smeared in public by a government that, despite these shocking advantages, didn't believe it could make its case. (Turns out the FBI had already been told the fingerprint wasn't Mayfield's.) The reason he was even being pursued at all? Because he was Muslim.

Meanwhile, government documents made public on Wednesday said lawyer Brandon Mayfield was held for two weeks under the material witness law because of a fingerprint analysis that later proved faulty and because of his ties as a convert to Oregon's Muslim community, which included advertising in a Muslim yellow pages and attending a mosque under government surveillance.

We have created a system in which the race or religion of a US citizen is itself a evidence of guilt. Thanks to the Patriot Act's many violations of the Constitution, the government can track people secretly, gather evidence secretly, and prosecute people secretly, without ever revealing its evidence or methods. Had the Spanish government not been involved in this case, I have no confidence that Mayfield would be free now.

And guess what? Because Mayfield is a white American, his jailing caused a lot of people to reconsider the Patriot Act. The scales of bigotry now failing to occlude their vision of this fine white boy, they were able to see the rampant violations of his rights. And, because he was not a Jordian-born Muslim, we didn't hear too much of his "Islamic beard." This time around, it didn't seem quite as much a forgone conclusion that he was guilty just by looking at him. Remove the blinding force of racism from a case, and it looks a whole lot different.

Today's post on the American Street

posted by Jeff | 1:27 PM |

Oregon: hotbed of terrorism. What is up with this? First it's the Portland Seven (none of whom were convicted of terrorism, I hasten to point out), then Brandon Mayfield (who was wrongly charged by a wildly incompetent Jackboot Johnny Ashcroft), and now this:

A radical Muslim cleric linked to Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid was arrested Thursday in London and accused in a U.S. indictment of trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, U.S. officials said.

The charges allege that he helped al Qaeda volunteers travel from Britain to Afghanistan, of plotting to establish a "violent jihad training camp" in Oregon and of providing a satellite phone to the leader of a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of four hostages.

This isn't going to look good on the ol' tourism brochure. (And we still have that Tonya Harding and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh thing hanging over our heads.)

posted by Jeff | 8:55 AM |

Karl Rove must be pulling his hair out (metaphorically speaking). Yesterday Ashcroft threatened the US with terror, and it took no more than hours for critics to accuse the White House of a poltical stunt:

But some intelligence officials, terrorism experts - and to some extent even Mr. Ashcroft's own F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III - offered a more tempered assessment, saying, "For the next few weeks we have reason to believe there is a heightened threat to the U.S. interests around the world.'' And some opponents of President Bush, including police and firefighter union leaders aligned with Senator John Kerry, the expected Democratic presidential candidate, said the timing of the announcement appeared intended in part to distract attention from Mr. Bush's sagging poll numbers and problems in Iraq.

Time was, anything Bush said was accepted at face value. Tax cuts for the wealthy in order to benefit the poor? No worries. Invade Iraq to defeat Osama? Makes sense.

But this week, when Bush rolled out the notion that in a month we'd be offering Iraq "full sovereignty" and no one outside the offices of the National Review took it seriously. And now everyone suspects the terror threats are Bush wagging the dog.

I got in a debate in the comments threads over at Jack Bogdanski's site yesterday, wherein he argued that Bush could turn things around with an "October Surprise." It's only May, said he (and others), lots of time for the Bush smear machine to destroy Kerry. The Bushies will certainly try. These are corrupt, dirty people, and they will stop at nothing to keep Bush in power. But that doesn't mean they'll succeed. As long as everyone recognizes that it's just the machinations of corrupt, dirty people--as they apparently now do--Bush's "surprises" aren't going to surprise anyone.

posted by Jeff | 7:20 AM |

Wednesday, May 26, 2004  

Everyone's talking about Gore's speech today. I had intended to listen to a radio feed (thanks for the tip, JM!), but wasn't able to take the time. Instead, you can do what I did and visit the transcript. Pretty fiery stuff.

In December of 2000, even though I strongly disagreed with the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to order a halt to the counting of legally cast ballots, I saw it as my duty to reaffirm my own strong belief that we are a nation of laws and not only accept the decision, but do what I could to prevent efforts to delegitimize George Bush as he took the oath of office as president.

I did not at that moment imagine that Bush would, in the presidency that ensued, demonstrate utter contempt for the rule of law and work at every turn to frustrate accountability...

So today, I want to speak on behalf of those Americans who feel that President Bush has betrayed our nation's trust, those who are horrified at what has been done in our name, and all those who want the rest of the world to know that we Americans see the abuses that occurred in the prisons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and secret locations as yet undisclosed as completely out of keeping with the character and basic nature of the American people and at odds with the principles on which America stands.

posted by Jeff | 3:05 PM |


Today John Ashcroft announced that al Qaida was gunning for the US. Unfortunately, only part of the quote was printed. I happen to have been tipped off about the whole statement, which I quote below. Highlighted text was deleted in earlier versions:

"Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that fighting al-Qaida is George W. Bush's only winning issue. Therefore I am today announcing that al-Qaida plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaida's specific intention to hit the United States hard. You better vote for Bush or dem scary Muslims'll getcha."

posted by Jeff | 1:26 PM |

[Monday's speech and the draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq] betray a willingness to see the world as you would like it to be rather than as it is, and a readiness to hope that the gap goes unnoticed or unexamined. With all respect, sir, that is not leadership. Leaders address inconvenient reality and then seek explicit and reasoned support from the nation for dealing with it.

Your recent vacillation on policies -- unilateralist one day, U.N.-centered the next -- suggests you are letting yourself be pulled in different directions by putative allies and your aides in daily, desperate improvisation. By letting King Abdullah of Jordan and other Sunni leaders poison your view of what Shiite rule in Iraq would mean, you leave the impression that you had not thought through your promise of democracy for Iraq before going to war.

Dionne? Cohen? No, Jim Hoagland, of all people. Which shows just how bad things have gotten for the President. (Thanks to CP who tipped me--I've long since quit bothering to read Hoagland's bizarre rants.)

posted by Jeff | 10:49 AM |

I am now a proud GOP Team Leader. By signing up, I now have a powerful tool to spread the good news of George W. Bush! (Fact: "President Bush's Jobs and Growth tax relief package helped drive the strong improvement in our economy. It raised the level of economic activity and productivity, which will result in higher incomes and living standards for American workers.")

All kidding aside, this is a very sophisticated tool. It's a one-stop self-lobbying site. Because you fill in your location information, it becomes a repository of information about local media, voter connections, local candidates and issues--and you become one of the footsoldiers in George's army. The RNC has figured out how to take volunteer labor and turn it into media lobbying--all on point, but coming from average citizens.

How it works
For example, say you want to send a letter to the editor. You don't even have to think of a topic about which to write, for these are provided for you--this week's topic is Bush's job-making machine; last week's was No Child Left Behind. When you begin the process, you're provided with a little blurb of text, perfect for cutting and pasting, should your own views on the subject not be clearly-formed.

Next, there's a handy link that takes you to a personalized interface. First, there's a drop-down menu of publications. Click on the local fishwrap (in my case The Oregonian, though there are 22 others) and it takes you to a page with a listing of 23 editors and their email addresses--everything from the managing news editor to the arts editor. You select one (don't worry, you can go back and work your way through the list!) and it takes you to an information page containing all that person's contact info (email, address, phone, fax). Click on the email link, and you go to an email interface wherein you can compose your message. If you're astroturfing, no problem--you just paste in your text and hit send.

At the end of the process, you're awarded five GOPoints--start saving now for your Team Leader tote bag!

This is serious stuff. With a list of two dozen local newspapers and a dozen television stations, each team leader becomes a local lobbyist. The interface is so easy that in a half hour you could easily send personal message to scores of journalists. Although they're coming through the RNC machine, they're actually being sent by regular citizens.

You wonder how the GOP takes a pretty small minority of the population and manages to take over the House, Senate, Presidency, judiciary, and statehouses? Organization. And this is a prime example. Dems, you better get on the stick.

posted by Jeff | 8:14 AM |

Tuesday, May 25, 2004  

A few more bad apples:

An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.

The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on "blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia."

NYT, May 26

posted by Jeff | 9:42 PM |

The Daily Link

Today's link: August J. Pollak

Active since: February 2002

Tag: "Comics, cartoons, and/or subversive leftist propaganda."

Pollak has a bio, most of which seems to be factual, though it's a blog, so you never know. It reads in part: "A self-trained cartoonist and illustrator, Pollak graduated from the class of 2003 at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he studied animation for his BFA in Film & Television.... Having turned an intense interest in politics into an actual career, John now works during daylight hours as Legislative Director for New Jersey State Assemblywoman Lorretta Weinberg." Which brings us to his blog--also political and interesting (though he also still does animation, it's the blog in which I'm mainly interested). As a guy on the "inside," his blog features a fair amount of political analysis. Like all of us these days, he's got a lot of material to work with at the federal level--and there's Bush-bashin' aplenty!

Trenchant quote: "Sure to be shouted down as "un-American," I'm still amazed at the unmitigated gall of the people in charge of defending us. Amidst wisdespread incidents of soldiers torturing and murdering prisoners, revelaed and believed by American media sources only after photographic evidence arose, Donald Rumsfeld has taken decisive action on the matter: by banning cameras."


posted by Jeff | 4:07 PM |

The Wall Street Journal posted the results of a fascinating Zogby poll of battleground states today. The upshot? Kerry's looking good. Below are results in the key states:

(2000 Winner) State - leader - Margin

(Bush) Florida - Kerry +1.4%*
(Gore) Iowa - Bush +5.2%
(Bush) Missouri - Kerry +3.3%*
(Bush) Nevada - Kerry +3.8%*
(Bush) New Hampshire - Kerry +9.6%
(Bush) Ohio - Kerry +4.6%
*Within the margin of error

Overall, Kerry is winning in 12 of the 16 states. Moreover, some of those states that Bush hoped to poach are looking pretty woeful right now:

Washington - Kerry +8.1%
Pennsylvania - Kerry +8.2%
Michigan - Kerry +8.3%

Moreover, Bush's margins in the four states in which he's leading is a mere 3.7%; Kerry's average lead in his 12 states is 6.3%. Yeah, I know--there're five months left to the election, snapshot, yadda yadda. Never mind that, Bush is big trouble and everyone knows it.

posted by Jeff | 12:52 PM |

The press's verdict on Bush's speech is mixed--which is actually the best he could have hoped for.

New York Times
It's regrettable that this president is never going to admit any shortcomings, much less failure. That's an aspect of Mr. Bush's character that we have to live with. But we cannot live without a serious plan for doing more than just getting through the June 30 transition and then muddling along until the November elections in the United States. Mr. Bush has yet to come up with a realistic way to internationalize the military operation and to get Iraq's political groups beyond their current game of jockeying for power and into a real process of drafting a workable constitution.

New Republic
Listening to the critical responses to the speech one was struck by their deep, empty pessimism. The president's critics have no counter proposals, no suggestions for improving the situation in Iraq, only hypothetical disaster scenarios and relentless negativity. They seem to delight in subtly (and sometimes not so) mocking the president's idealism, offering instead their own fashionable cynicism, the sophisticated lethargy of those who claim to be the successors to the New Frontier. But one could see from President Bush's spirited delivery that he believes what he says. It may be considered unsophisticated to engage in hopefulness, but it helps us maintain our focus and pursue the strategic objectives of the war. The president's stance is not false optimism or focus-group-produced triangulation delivered with a smirk — it is honest, and those who oppose the president's policies should, if they were up to it, at least give him credit for his beliefs.

Los Angeles Times
Bush said Monday, "We did not seek this war on terror, but this is the world as we find it." Had Chalabi's bogus evidence not been sought quite so hard, had he been taken as found, he might have been seen as the poseur and con artist that he is now accused of being. The war, however, cannot be undone.

Washington Post
Each of those steps is daunting, but another challenge was implicit in the president's appearance last night and in White House plans for a series of such addresses: Mr. Bush must convince an increasingly skeptical American public and Congress that the goals are achievable and the sacrifices worth making. Last night's speech was, at least, a beginning and a commendable show of determination; but it's not clear that the president's rhetoric, or the steps he is planning, are vigorous enough to turn the situation around.

Dallas Morning News
In those senses, President Bush's strategy for pacifying and democratizing Iraq is little different from the one that existed before he addressed the country last night from the U.S. Army War College. Nonetheless, no one can deny that Mr. Bush has a plan, albeit one founded on heavy doses of hope and wishful thinking. Neither can anyone say that he didn't articulate the plan well. It was a forceful, appropriately serious speech, and he provided a clear and detailed outline for what he expects to happen, and when.

Chicago Tribune
Bush's speech no doubt surprised some in a global television audience more accustomed to leaders who grasp for power rather than set schedules for giving it away. His resolve to surrender governance of the country, train its security forces and rebuild its infrastructure should, in time, reduce Iraqi anger and frustration over foreign occupation. The building blocks of progress he outlined--in education, government, commerce and exercise of personal freedom--could, if they flourish, ease the hate-filled toxicity of that often impoverished region. "Beyond the violence," Bush said, acknowledging but not bowing to the obvious, "a civil society is emerging." That's what some in the neighborhood fear.

posted by Jeff | 9:19 AM |

I happened to stumble across this picture last week:

It is connected to a website called GOP Team Leader, to which I attempted (and failed) to subscribe. My plan was to post some of the material on Friday Satire--demonstrating again how very difficult it is to stay in front of the Prez satirically. But alas, they apparently have tighter controls than that--no dice. But that picture--itself satire of the highest order--got me thinking. The face of George Bush has reached that status of shifting icon, something like only Ronald Reagan's has ever done before. While Republicans regarded the Gipper's black pompadour and vacuous eyes as a symbol of virility and clear leadership, Dems thought it perfectly represented his vanity and, well, vacuity. I love this photo, because it simultaneously captures everything those who hate him hate about him--and vice versa.

Not being in a terribly serious mood, I googled a few more. These are less versatile, but capture how different constituencies might see him.

As the military sees him:

As Halliburton sees him:

As Karl Rove wishes no one had seen him:

As Democrats see him:

As he sees himself:

posted by Jeff | 8:36 AM |

Monday, May 24, 2004  

The Bush Army War Speech

I wondered if this might not be a surprising speech. It was. Some of the content was surprising, and some of the context was, too. The surprising content can be summed up in two words (and will be, in story after story, over the next five weeks): full sovereignty.

On June 30, full sovereignty will be transferred to a government of Iraqi citizens.

At that time, the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador Paul Bremer, will cease to exist and will not be replaced.

Iraqis will govern their own affairs.

I suspect we'll be hearing more about what this actually means, but the White House hasn't left itself much room: it's getting the hell out.

The context of the speech was also fascinating (to me, at least). Bush gave a familiar speech, replete with descriptions of a reality to which few others have access (the transcript's not available yet, so I can't quote text). It was his somber mode, punctuated occasionally by his strange blinking, wherein his delivery was that of a daddy trying to explain death to his four-year-old.

But then, with about 20% of the speech left, he switched gears. He shifted to Preacher George, messianic George, absolutely certain of his goodness. It was actually quite moving, in a sort of twisted way. He contrasted the horrors of wahabism fundamentalist Islam (using "Taliban" as shorthand) with the purity of American democracy. Where before the words tangled his tongue with their foreigness, now he seemed to be speaking from the heart. It seemed clear that this is a guy who is, at the end of the day, pleased with how things have gone. There was a bad guy there who oppressed his people; we took him out and offered up our perfected ways like a toe-headed boy offering up a golden ring. All is well. God bless America.

To watch the speech, it was hard not to take away the message that this is pretty much how Bush saw it playing out. There wasn't confusion or lack of planning. This is a guy, remember, who exists only in the black-and-white mode. So Iraq is either a success or a failure. Today Bush declared it a success. If the lesson of Iraq seems more nuanced to the majority of Americans, that's their failure. They elected a guy of moral clarity. Now they see what that means.

[Correction. A commenter noted that the Taliban aren't practitioners of Wahabism. As I'm a little dim on my strains of fundamentalist Islam, I've made the correction.]

[Update: link to the speech is here.]

posted by Jeff | 5:37 PM |

What I'd Do

Which raises the question I've been pondering--what should we do in Iraq? The first thing is to determine what outcome we'd like. This is something the White House neglected--I assume because the forces within it couldn't agree. The public answer has been "a free and democratic Iraq," but transfering sovereignty at this moment is the one way to ensure freedom and democracy are killed quickly and painfully. But is that even the right answer?

To achieve a free and democratic Iraq, several conditions must be met, and these are long projects indeed--if they are to be successful at all. The first step is stability. Next, racial and sectarian hatred must be addressed. I don't know that this is possible, but for the sake of a more interesting post, let's assume it is. Next are all the usual prerequisites--education, a good economy, decent health care. Now, finally, the country may be ready for some democracy. Probably there needs to be an interim government with UN oversight while a true constitution is drafted. And now, 20 years later, Iraq is finally ready to fly on its own.

I think a more natural process of democracy is warranted. Iraq, a strange mixture of Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurdish populations, has never determined its own destiny. The nation became a nation after an occupying force drew a line on a map. Now it stands ready to receive similar treatment from a second occupier (though this time the terrain is political, not geographic). Is forced democracy democracy at all? Do the citizens living in what is now Iraq wish to be abandoned to whatever the Pentagon dreams up tonight?

The Iraq situation is far from unique. Every year, we watch a situation play out in which a country is rent by forces within its own population. As a global community, we haven't explored solutions to the situation beyond brief stopgaps that sew instability into the country's future. What Iraq needs is a global time-out. Call it a ten-year plan wherein a provisional federal government is set up to conduct a series of reforms. These reforms are standardized (sorta like the IMF's, but designed to benefit the country, not bloodsucker first-world nations), so they follow an established course. Along the way, democratic government is slowly introduced, from the local level on up. In the final stage, a constitution is drafted by local leaders and elections are held.

Stability isn't cheap or easy. The notion that we'd storm in, slaughter a few baddies, build some election booths and be on our merry way was patent stupidity. We're fortunate that the Bushies had a free hand to execute their stupidity--nothing could have more clearly proven the point than they have. Now the grown-ups need to put aside the overheated rhetoric of the neocons, roll up their sleeves, and do the hard work.

posted by Jeff | 3:19 PM |

Predictions on the Bush Speech

Number of times Bush will intone the phrase "stay the course": 1.

Number of times Bush will declare some or all of the invasion cum reconstruction a success: 8.

Number of times he will admit any failures: 0.

Number of times he will admit things aren't going spectacularly: 2.

References you can expect on the topic of torture: 0.

Chalabi: 0.

Instead of discussing the actual situation, Bush will talk about the fantasy situation in which everything is lookin' pretty good. Bush will outline the successes to date, aligning them with goals never mentioned before the war. He will talk abut Iraqi democracy in such a way as to imply that it's already begun blossoming. Then he will outline US policy for the next few months.

What will he say there? I'm less confident. He is apparently going to praise the UN and try to foist the debacle off on them--while, of course, ensuring full US autonomy continues. He'll have to try to dance around the notion of "sovereignty," though it's a word the White House has become more comfortable using lately.

While it may be the most important speech of the President's career, he doesn't seem to be taking it that seriously. Earlier today, he took the time to congratulate the Detroit Shock basketball team. On the other hand, given the constraints ideological, psychological, and tactical confronting the President, there seems little he can say, anyway. We're sort of staying the course, which means adjusting plans as things worsen, hoping to deflect some of the worst political damage at home. With five weeks until transfer, there is no plan and no one in the White House capable of crafting one. They'll just drift toward the transfer, a passel of catch phrases in hand, hoping that when it comes, something cool happens.

posted by Jeff | 2:51 PM |

The President is going to roll out a load of crap tonight about his Iraq "plan"--though I have to same I'm interested to see exactly what the nature of the crap will be. This is a rare circumstance--I don't really know what to expect. Imagine this wasn't George W. Bush, but a competent leader. What would you like him to say? Is there any strategy at this point that you can imagine to salvage Iraq?

I'm about to go paint a bedroom now--a real boogery job with a lot of tongue-and-groove fir paneling--which means I'll be offline for awhile. I'm going to ponder this question and see what arises. Perhaps you already have a solution.

posted by Jeff | 9:37 AM |

The poetry of numbers. Take, for instance, 41. A nice number--prime, Tom Seaver's retired jersey number, the year Pearl Harbor was bombed. Also the number of George HW Bush's order in the line of US Presidents. And finally, it's the percent of Americans who approve of George W. Bush (the 43rd).

The last time the percentage that said the country was on the wrong track was as high as it is now was back in November 1994. Then, Republicans swept into control of both houses of Congress for the first time in decades.

What else do you think the number 41 augurs?

posted by Jeff | 9:21 AM |

Frank Rich had a nice piece in the Times yesterday about Farenheit 911. Forget Moore's grandstanding about Disney. (Or not. Personally, I found it pretty amusing. When PT Barnum stands up in a crowded theater and shouts "fire," you better look to see if he's grinning or not before you join the stampede to the door.) Forget even the Palm d'Or (which probably was more than a little payback for Freedom Fries). Rich talks about the movie. For the GOP, that's the real problem.

Of course, Mr. Moore is being selective in what he chooses to include in his movie; he's a polemicist, not a journalist. But he implicitly raises the issue that much of what we've seen elsewhere during this war, often under the label of "news," has been just as subjectively edited. Perhaps the most damning sequence in "Fahrenheit 9/11" is the one showing American troops as they ridicule hooded detainees in a holding pen near Samara, Iraq, in December 2003. A male soldier touches the erection of a prisoner lying on a stretcher underneath a blanket, an intimation of the sexual humiliations that were happening at Abu Ghraib at that same time. Besides adding further corroboration to Seymour Hersh's report that the top command has sanctioned a culture of abuse not confined to a single prison or a single company or seven guards, this video raises another question: why didn't we see any of this on American TV before "60 Minutes II"?

...Mr. Moore says he obtained his video from an independent foreign journalist embedded with the Americans. "We've had this footage in our possession for two months," he says. "I saw it before any of the Abu Ghraib news broke. I think it's pretty embarrassing that a guy like me with a high school education and with no training in journalism can do this. What the hell is going on here? It's pathetic."

This points to what has become the emerging central meme of the Bush failures--incompetence. Last night, that was the charge Anthony Zinni made on 60 Minutes. ("If I were the commander of a military organization that delivered this kind of performance to the president, I certainly would tender my resignation. I certainly would expect to be gone.") As more and more GOP politicians watch the horror unfold, they'll have a choice to make: back the White House and its absurd claims about why Iraq is a mess, or take the best excuse they've got--that the war was conducted by idealogically-driven incompetents. It appears that however well things may go after June 30 (and it's hard to imagine a positive scenario), in theaters, at least, things will still be looking pretty horrific.

posted by Jeff | 7:59 AM |

Saturday, May 22, 2004  

Flouting the Geneva Conventions, then lying about it. Hardly surprising, is it?

In recent public statements, Bush administration officials have said that the Geneva Conventions were "fully applicable" in Iraq. That has put American-run prisons in Iraq in a different category from those in Afghanistan and in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been declared unlawful combatants not eligible for protection. However, [a] Dec. 24 letter appears to undermine administration assertions of the conventions' broad application in Iraq....

The letter, drafted by military lawyers and signed by Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, emphasized the "military necessity" of isolating some inmates at the prison for interrogation because of their "significant intelligence value," and said that prisoners held as security risks could legally be treated differently from prisoners of war or ordinary criminals.

posted by Jeff | 5:08 PM |

I've been waiting about two years to hear someone from the Democratic Party say this.

"The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back.

"The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader. These policies are not working. But speaking specifically to Iraq, we have a situation where -- without adequate evidence -- we put our young people in harm's way.

"I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers.

"His activities, his decisions, the results of his actions are what undermines his leadership, not my statement. My statements are just a statement of fact."

Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, yesterday

posted by Jeff | 10:16 AM |

Friday, May 21, 2004  

The Daily Link

Today's link: Centerfield

Active since: April 2003

Tag: A Weblog of Centrist Voices in American Politics

Centerfield is a blog hosted by the Centrist Coalition, a group of moderates who describe themselves as "to the right on economic and fiscal matters, but to the left on cultural issues such as abortion, gay rights, and church-state separation." If Bill Clinton was a "third way" Democrat, they seem like third-way Republicans, embracing 1960s fiscal policy and Log Cabin social values. Their intent is to avoid partisanism, but the blog tends support moderate GOP positions--but ones that aren't afraid of critiquing the hard right. Still, one feels it's a critique from within the same house. I'm always on the look out for readable conservative blogs, and this is a pretty good one.

Trenchant quote: "I just read [Seymour] Hersh's latest article. There are some grim things there that seem all too likely to be true.

"But another thing that bothers me is that Hersh's making some very serious charges with Drudge's level of credibility. This is a very serious matter, and it's a national tragedy that Hersh - and his editors - felt the need for so much wishful thinking and stretching of his sources. It's ironic that the article appears right below the word 'FACT.'"


posted by Jeff | 3:03 PM |

Shortly after Air America went on the air, there was a well-publicized spat with a Chicago affiliate. Naturally, the righties made much hay about the failure of the fledgling network. They don't seem to be mentioning that AA is now heard on 14 stations nationwide (up from the initial five), with 7 more about to come online.

(I still can't listen to Franken for more than a few minutes...)

posted by Jeff | 12:46 PM |

Bonus quote!

"I'm a sychophant for my country."

Rush Limbaugh, this morning

posted by Jeff | 10:58 AM |

When women lost their shame, it was the first step on an inevitable journey toward moral decay and, eventually, torture.

"Human beings are imperfect, and some are much more imperfect than others. But traditional norms of shame usually serve to keep their excesses within bounds. When these norms collapse, as they have done in our society, abuses like those of Abu Ghraib are among the results. Much has been made of the supposed special shame of Muslim prisoners at being stripped in front of female captors, but what about the vanished shame of American men and women in front of each other?"

NRO, of course.

posted by Jeff | 10:55 AM |

You ever have one of those days when you roll out of bed and the last thing you want to hear about is the state of the world? The new WaPo pics don't help.

posted by Jeff | 8:05 AM |

Thursday, May 20, 2004  

On Chalabi

Let's review for a moment. First the neocons adopt Ahmad Chalabi as their pet Iraq warbuilder--as far back as the early 90s. Bush comes into office, and under the cover of 9/11, the neocons plan for war. Needing a rationale, they turn to Chalabi. He tells the story like they like to hear it--lots of weapons and ties to Osama. Good, time for war. Rummy fires up the Pentagon to start building a war machine, and Chalabi promises to deliver a docile Iraqi population ready for democracy and bearing roses.

Chalabi rides a US Army hummer into Iraq and immediately sets up shop. He joins the Governing Council. Everyone pretends all has gone as planned. Chalabi stays on the US payroll. But then just recently, the Pentagon, rocked by disaster after disaster, cuts Chalabi off. And finally, yesterday someone (the Iraqis? the Pentagon?) raided Chalabi's home.

This leaves the Bushies again in the position of hoping to God one of their pet projects doesn't blow up in their face. Chalabi, according to NPR, is sufficiently angry with the Pentagon that he's strongly considering vying for power once the US hands over the keys to the country (in six weeks!). Can you imagine that? Chalabi, now an adversary of the US, becomes a leader just at the moment we relinquish control.

Of course, it's far more likely that al-Sadr has him whacked, but that's not nearly as poetic and ironic.

posted by Jeff | 3:19 PM |

Today's post from the American Street.

The Veggie Strategy

The several raps against John Kerry all run along these lines: he's boring; his message is tepid; his campaign lacks direction. When I talk to my pinko friends, they blame him for being too moderate. A fake criticism (that is, a smear masquerading as critique) is that he's not religious enough. Wonks point out that that he doesn't have much of a record for 20 years in the Senate.

See the pattern? They're vague criticisms that with Kerry, there's just not enough there there. He's tagged for this, too. Why can't he see that he's just not inspiring? If he's going to win, he needs more ... something.

Here's another possibility--John Kerry knows exactly what he's doing. Case in point: yesterday he met with Ralph Nader, and the Democrats' nemesis left singing his praises.

Mr. Nader, whose campaign most likely cost Mr. Gore victories in two states in 2000 and who many Democrats fear could similarly help sink Mr. Kerry by eroding his support on the left, let Mr. Kerry know in the meeting that he would be attacking President Bush, primarily, rather than trying to hold Mr. Kerry's feet to the fire....

Mr. Nader acknowledged as much afterward. The difference between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gore "is the difference between a spruce tree and petrified wood," Mr. Nader said.

"Gore was petrified wood," he said. "He was stiff as a board, he didn't want to have these kinds of meetings. He didn't want to have meetings like this when he was vice president three years before the election. Kerry is much more open."

Post continues...

posted by Jeff | 10:51 AM |

(c)Overt Propaganda

As you know, the Bush administration is an Orwellian nightmare of abuses and propaganda. Now the GAO agrees (thanks to Ignatius Reilly for the tip):

The General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said on Wednesday that the Bush administration had violated federal law by producing and disseminating television news segments that portray the new Medicare law as a boon to the elderly.

The agency said the videos were a form of "covert propaganda" because the government was not identified as the source of the materials, broadcast by at least 40 television stations in 33 markets. The agency also expressed some concern about the content of the videos, but based its ruling on the lack of disclosure....

Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for "publicity or propaganda purposes" not authorized by Congress. The accounting office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government without identifying the source.

The accounting office said the administration's misuse of federal money "also constitutes a violation of the Antideficiency Act," which prohibits spending in excess of appropriations. Under the law, the secretary of health and human services, Tommy G. Thompson, must report the violation to Congress and the president, with "a statement of actions taken" to prevent a recurrence.

The Antideficiency Act, derived from a law passed in 1870, is one of the major statutes by which Congress exercises its constitutional control of the purse.

The Bush administration--bringing honor, honesty, and transparency back to the White House.

posted by Jeff | 8:43 AM |

War and Peace

In Gaza, Israel is effectively mowing down civilians, an act so egregious even the US failed to shelter the Sharon government from UN condemnation. Sharon and the hardcore right in Israel always justify such atrocities by arguing that the Palestinians started it. You know what? Sharon is still a war criminal, never mind the security difficulties the Palestinians pose. At a certain point, "moral clarity" dictates that the US sees the atrocities for what they are.

A good example of someone willing to abandon the "they started it" approach is new India PM Manmohan Singh, who a day after taking office, vowed peace with Pakistan.

"We must find ways and means to resolve all outstanding problems that have been a source of friction and the unfortunate history of our relations with Pakistan," said Singh, born in what is now Pakistan. "We should look to the future with hope."

posted by Jeff | 7:41 AM |

Wednesday, May 19, 2004  

Andy Kaufman is not Dead

Well, he probably is, but there's at least a little intrigue. First, recall that in 1984, he promised to return from the dead exactly 20 years after his death--last Sunday, if you weren't keeping close track. A nice moment to reminisce about his strange genius, right?

Well, the legend lives, even if Andy doesn't. Via Susan (now featuring comments!) we learn that Andy has a blog. There are even pictures there--of a bloated Tony Clifton. Writes the blogger:

I'm back...

Now for your obvious first question. "How can I know this is the real Andy Kaufman, and not some prankster punk kid?" Well, all I can say is that definitive proof that I am the real Andy Kaufman will be forthcoming. For now, you'll just have to trust me.

A search on the 'net for the DNA proof led me to a promising link at eMediaWire. The lead reads "Andy Kaufman faked his own death 20 years ago and has returned, alive and well. DNA tests prove that this is indeed the real Kaufman and not another hoax." Ah, but wait! The release has been pulled:

"We're sorry. This release has been placed on 'Dispute Hold'."

Well, I'm sure it's a fake, but I'll say this: if Andy Kaufman is alive and this is for real, I'm damn pleased he fired up a blog.

posted by Jeff | 6:02 PM |

The Daily Link

A couple of weeks ago, I started seeing a flood of traffic from a site I'd never heard of. Time to return the favor (with a trickle, at least).

Today's link: Michael Bérubé

Active since: January 2004

Tag: None. But unlike yesterday's link, today's Daily Link is not cryptic.

Michael is an English prof at Penn State, but don't let that dissuade you--his blog isn't an ongoing debate with Terry Eagleton on the arcana of literary theory (thank God). He's a proud member of the (growing) left-wing conspiracy (hard to call us vast yet)--with a twist. As a literary professor, he's attuned to the verbal play of our leaders and subjects it to rigorous analysis. Generally with humor.

And of course he has the obligatory professor/writer photo: a headshot with books in the background. They don't appear to be old Mad magazines.

Trenchant quote: [On a Colin Powell article at MSNBC] "But what's with the diction?

"He said he told the foreign leaders: 'Watch America. Watch how we deal with this. Watch how America will do the right thing.'

"Do you suppose those were his exact words? After all, he is quoting himself. Or is this just what happens to reasonably intelligent people after more than three years of serving a President whose favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar?"


posted by Jeff | 4:07 PM |

Yesterday something remarkable happened in our fair city (that be Portland, Oregon). We held a primary, including a race for mayor. An mayor of three terms and plummeting popularity decided (wisely) not to run again. Strangely, though Portland mayor is one of the most powerful elected offices in the state, a number of high-profile candidates decided not to run.

So, as recently as a month ago, it looked to be a gimme. Sitting Councilman Jim Francesconi, with a $1 million warchest was the front-runner, was way ahead in the polls and endorsements race. From his shining hill, he surveyed a paltry field of 22 and cackled. His stiffest competition was a former chief of police (retired in '93) who wouldn't take donations larger than $25. That candidate, Tom Potter, had managed to raise a piddly $75,000. So you know what happened, right?

42.5% - Tom Potter
34.7% - Jim Francesconi

At various times throughout the night, Potter's total crept up toward 50%--and an outright win. Francesconi hovered at about 40% before dropping off even more toward the end. By morning, Francesconi had barely one vote in three, for which he paid a hefty $22.20 each. Potter, meanwhile, had spent a mere buck thirty six for his, and empowered voters proved that money ain't the thing that wins elections--votes do. The first Bush called us "Little Beirut" because Portlanders were so vivid in their protests of his visits. But that's just if you're an autocrat. If you're a man of the people, Portland looks pretty good.

posted by Jeff | 1:33 PM |

Free Market News

Last night, I tuned into the ten o'clock news to see the election results. That meant the Fox affiliate, because prime time shows were on the other networks (and I lack cable). Fox gets a huge amount of attention on the national scene, but believe it or not, they're worse for local news. Our affiliate should be known as "rape and pillage," because three-quarters of the show is literally devoted to it. Never mind that, with crime as low as it is, they have to run footage from all over the country to pad the horror show.

I knew all of that, and still I tuned in, expecting to get election news. This is, after all, a democracy, and elections are pretty much the be-all and end-all of that process. What we got instead: a 30-second update of three races and then off to rape and pillage for 20 minutes.

It reached an absurd level when they cut away to a crack team of criminals they had assembled to demonstrate just how quickly your SUV might be stripped, should it be happen to be stolen. (Bizarrely, they pointed out that car theft is down 40% since last year. But never mind: BE VERY SCARED.) This is what passes for news in our "democracy." Hypothetical demonstrations of events that are extremely unlikely to happen in lieu of actual news like election results.

If you wished to identify a metaphor for exactly how the free markets (and subsequent media conglomeration--an inevitable result of under-regulated markets) undermine a free democracy, you couldn't do better than this.

posted by Jeff | 10:49 AM |

Sonia out, Manmohan Singh in. Singh is an economist and former professor who was born in what is now Pakistan. A bit more:

For India, his swearing-in will be historic, and not just because of the extraordinary political drama of the last week. A Sikh, Mr. Singh will be India's first non-Hindu prime minister. In a milestone that says much about this vast nation's diversity and capacity for co-existence, Mrs. Gandhi, an Italian-born woman raised a Roman Catholic, is making way for a Sikh prime minister who will be sworn in by a Muslim president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Born in western Punjab in 1932, Mr. Singh was educated at Punjab University, then at Cambridge University. He later earned his doctorate from Oxford University. He has held almost every important political post in the country, from governor of the Reserve Bank of India to economic advisor for prime ministers starting with Indira Gandhi....

[On his 1991 economic reforms] Mr. Singh quickly devalued the rupee, though he did it in two stages to avoid provoking political opposition. He also began dismantling the "license permit raj," the complex, suffocating system of permits and permissions that essentially gave bureaucrats control over business decisions. He lowered taxes and tariffs, initiated deregulation and began opening the economy to foreign investment and competition.

Sonia, for her tireless, behind-the-scenes work for the past decade, in some senses deserved to be rewarded with as PM. But Singh, who has been in politics since 1971, also richly deserves the helm. Personal politics aside, this is probably a far better result for India. Sonia, no matter how capable she may have been, would always have been dogged by the BJP for being Italian. She would have been further hampered by distrust on both the left and right as she tried to forge an effective economic policy.

Singh, on the other hand, comes in with great credibility across the board. In authoring the liberalisation of the 1990s, he pleased free-market types. But he has never been a free-market economist in the GOP mode and has credibility on the left, as well. In terms of foreign policy, having a Sikh in office immediately changes the dynamic of India-Pakistan relations. He is described as a "multilateralist"--meaning he will seek international solutions to global conflict. While this will alienate him from Bush, it will be a welcome move for India. And, as our own DF notes, he's a "towering intellect." All things considered, Singh is a fantastic choice.

posted by Jeff | 7:45 AM |

Election Results

JOhn Kerry breezed to an easy win last night, beating Dennis Kucinich 81% to 17%. Other interesting fact:

Votes cast for Presidential nominee

282,379 - George W. Bush
281,133 - John Kerry

Don't be fooled--Oregon will go Kerry by a mile. Turnout was predicted to be just under 50%, reflecting the deep split between the parties' faithful. The turnout will be larger in November, and the majority will go Kerry. Still, it is just the slightest bit alarming.

posted by Jeff | 7:10 AM |

Tuesday, May 18, 2004  

The Daily Link

As a way of conceding temporary defeat, I went over to eRobin's site to have a look at the old blogroll. And? Nineteen--nine of which were watcher blogs. Free with the eyeballs, it seems, but parsimonious with the links. Well. I go instead to the cryptic.

Today's link: xymphora

Active since: September 2000

Tag: None. Nor does the blogger have a single linked blog, an email address, a bio, or even, for that matter, a column for such things. There's not so much as a pseudonym accompanying the posts. We are left, therefore, with text. And what interesting text it is. Unlike the personality exhibited by most bloggers (we are, of course, mostly verbal exhibitionists), xymphora's prose is spare and clinical. It's also a little eerie--not least because the blogger's been mucking around the Nick Berg beheading quite a bit this week. But beyond that, it's the voice of tired knowledge--something less comfortable than garden-variety cynicism. It's fascinating, sobering reading.

Trenchant quote: "The release of the torture pictures suits the neocons just fine, as it upsets the Arab world while simultaneously covering up the wholesale evil being conducted by the American and Israeli militaries. Seymour Hersh's latest revelations about Rumsfeld and Cambone further drag out the torture story, continuing the smokescreen. Hersh is one of about three real journalists working in the whole United States, so I don't want to say anything bad about him, but the latest anti-Rumsfeld allegations - no doubt true and completely consistent with the Bush Administration's pattern of using 9-11 to as an excuse to abandon any pretence of civilized behavior - have the distinct smell of CIA leaks intended to embarrass Rumsfeld, deflect attention for the torture away from the CIA, and regain for the CIA some of the power it has lost to Rumsfeld's Pentagon. The neocons may have to throw their critics a Cambone bone, but their position has not been weakened, and their main goal of starting WW III in the Middle East continues under cover of the more enticing torture stories."


posted by Jeff | 4:47 PM |

Piling on, ABC News is now reporting that there was a massive cover-up in the Abu Ghraib tortures (no kidding).

"There's definitely a cover-up," the witness, Sgt. Samuel Provance, said. "People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet...."

Top military officials have claimed the abuse seen in the photos at Abu Ghraib was limited to a few MPs, but Provance says the sexual humiliation of prisoners began as a technique ordered by the interrogators from military intelligence.

posted by Jeff | 3:19 PM |

Election Day

Shockingly enough, today is Oregon's primary election. Yes, months after the nominee has been selected by a select member of Iowa and New Hampshire residents, Oregon residents have the opportunity to put their asterisk in the history books--our post-selection selection of the remaining candidates.

Had we been the first state, with our electric blue Democratic politics, the "presumptive" nominee might not be John Kerry. Instead, the Democratic candidate was selected by two states whose populations voted 907,932 to 904,865 for Bush. Or put another way, 1.7% of the votes cast in the 2000 election by moderate-right rural populations decided the nominee for the entire country in 2004. Had California (53% Gore), New York (60% Gore), or Illinois (55%) been one of the first two states, it's quite likely my choices today would be Dean instead of Kerry.

(Kerry's a decent choice. He was my third candidate and I'm pleased to have him as the nominee--I think he's the strongest Democrat in a generation. But that's not the point--it's that in this democracy, I had no say in his selection.)

Nevertheless, I am delighted to be able to cast a ballot for my first choice candidate, which is rare. Kucinich, whom I backed early, to whom I gave my first political contribution, and whom I later abandoned whilst staring down the barrel of losing Dean, is the best candidate. Usually they're not on the ballot by the time Oregon's primary creaks into action. But this morning, I took out my vote-by-mail ballot (which, as always, I will hand deliver, having waited too long to actually mail), ticked off Dennis Kucinich, and felt the warm glow of having participated in the democratic process.

(Now, whether it gets counted properly ...)

posted by Jeff | 9:11 AM |

Sacred and Profane

Then next Gandhi to rule India will not be Sonia. Under pressure from those delightful Hindu Nationalists, who said they would not accept a foreign-born leader, Prime-Minister-apparent Sonia Gandhi decided to step aside.

"The post of prime minister has not been my aim," she told a meeting of Congress members of parliament. "I would follow my inner voice. Today it tells me that I must humbly decline this post."

For those of you not fully steeped in Indian politics and society, let me give you some subtext here. Hindu nationalists, much like fundamentalist Christians, have a sort of messianic view about their role in history. As Brahmanic caretakers to the universe (literally), they must strive against corruption. Corruption, in the old fundamental, Vedic sense, comes from everyone who's not "twice-born"--or from the upper castes. That of course includes Italians.

Their pressure on Sonia is the worst kind of race (karmic?) politics, and Sonia's retreat is a victory for the theocrats. That's the bad news. The good news is that, after a golden period of economic growth that obscurred their true nature, the Hindu nationalists are again reminding the nation why they are so dangerous. By demanding Sonia step aside, they prove their unfitness to rule.

Talk now is that Manmohan Singh, the architect of India's 1991 economic liberalisation is the front runner to take office. Truth is, he may be a better leader than Gandhi. (Though Gandhi's willingness to step aside for the good of the country ironically recommends her to the post.) This is just dirty politics--nothing worse than the far right here who argue that "God hates __________." The democracy is still fine. Still, if anyone needed a reminder of why it's good to see the BJP the hell out of office, this is it.

posted by Jeff | 7:41 AM |

Monday, May 17, 2004  

The Daily Link

Today's link: Approximately Perfect

Active since: November 2003

Tag: "The Calm Before the Storm"

The modestly-named Approximately Perfect is enigmatic. The blogger is Justin, and about him or the blog I can tell you no more. His prose is profane, slangy, outraged, fun. His posts are abundant. I should avoid trying to characterize their general thrust, because the news these days is so extreme, it's hard to find time to entertain your own hobby horses.

Trenchant quote: "Here's a contest, whose sole prize will be the fame of getting your name posted on a blog near the bottom of the echo chamber. Find me a Bible quotation where it says God Hates Fags." (Commentary is accompanied by a photograph of Christian radicals with signs reading "God Hates Fag Enablers"--among others).


[Correction: There are three bloggers. In addition to Justin are Rebecca and Thomas. Sorry for the oversight.]

posted by Jeff | 4:02 PM |

The President, amid accusations that he signed off on secret orders to torture US detainees (why would they need counsel?), has his eye on the really important threats:

The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges. All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate. I called on the Congress to pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today.

And the Veep, in remarks in support of Georgia Congressman Max Burns, made this fairly shocking comment:

"Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness."

Evidence, if you needed it, that the man is dangerously insane.

posted by Jeff | 3:32 PM |

Way too little, way too late.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A small amount of the nerve agent sarin has been found in a shell that exploded in Iraq, the U.S. army says -- the first announcement of the discovery of any of the weapons on which Washington made its case for war.

The questions raised are three:

1.) Will the administration use this to justify the invasion and subsequently revise their stump speeches to include the news as part of the Bush "successes?"

(Answer: yes.)

2.) Will American citizens be convinced?

(Answer: yes--those who didn't care if we found them in the first place, and no--everyone else.)

3.) Will the tiny quantity found provoke conspiracy theorists to assert that the US planted to Sarin?

(Anwswer: yes.)

posted by Jeff | 12:49 PM |

Sitemeter Update

I know none of you give a flying fig, but as the blogger, visitors are pretty much the whole deal. For those of you who aren't bloggers, let me tell you that the whole hits thing is bit like voodoo, anyway. The more often you post, the more visitors you get, because they see the little asterisk next to your name in blogrolls. But beyond that, whom you've recently been linked by, the time of day, the weather--who knows what all affects traffic.

It was particularly odd to see my traffic totally bottom out over the weekend because when I linked Oliver Willis last week, he thank-you linked me back, driving quite a bit of his traffic my way. I was reduced to Homer-like tapping of my screen. Come on, go up.

What with the various conspiracy theories starting to make more and more sense, I wasn't sure. Enough--I will speak no more of this matter.

posted by Jeff | 12:39 PM |

Another good weekend for the Bush administration. On Meet the Press, Powell yesterday said he regretted making his case for war to the UN, even while one of his handlers tried to stop the interview. (The good soldier continues to diss Bush.)

When I made that presentation in February 2003, it was based on the best information that the Central Intelligence Agency made available to me. We studied it carefully; we looked at the sourcing in the case of the mobile trucks and trains. There was multiple sourcing for that. Unfortunately, that multiple sourcing over time has turned out to be not accurate. And so I'm deeply disappointed. But I'm also comfortable that at the time that I made the presentation, it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community. But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.

Meanwhile, Seymour Hersh continues his weekly expose of Pentagon misdeeds in the New Yorker.

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

For those who don't read the New Yorker, much of the same information is available in a new Newsweek article.

But a NEWSWEEK investigation shows that, as a means of pre-empting a repeat of 9/11, Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war....

The Bush administration created a bold legal framework to justify this system of interrogation, according to internal government memos obtained by NEWSWEEK.

Hey, at least no former Bush official was on 60 Minutes to promote a tell-all book about administration incompetence. When reports are coming out that are tantamount to fingering you for war crimes, I guess you take your victories where you can find them.

posted by Jeff | 8:36 AM |

Is something up with Sitemeter? It has me at nine visitors over the past eight hours--a hit total lower than I've recorded for well over a year, and something like 15% of my usual Monday morning total.

(Not that I care about hits, you understand. I'm above all that.)

posted by Jeff | 8:11 AM |

The LA Times on Bush prevarications:

The list goes on. After saying the U.N. would have only a perfunctory role in rebuilding Iraq, Bush went back to the world body seeking aid in September and more recently looked to U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to help form an interim government in Iraq. After announcing he would file an amicus brief opposing affirmative action at the University of Michigan, Bush instructed his solicitor general to file a last-minute brief that essentially punted on the issue....

More recently, the president departed from his program of de-Baathification and allowed former Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh to take command of Iraqi forces in Fallouja in the hope of neutralizing insurgents holed up in the city. When news that Saleh had been a commander in Hussein's Republican Guard leaked out, Saleh was pushed aside, although not out of the new Fallouja Brigade, and replaced by Mohammed Latif, who was merely a military intelligence officer under Hussein.

While there are a number of red-meat issues to which lefties consistently direct their attention, this habit is actually what makes Bush most vulnerable. In the past, he was able to appease disgruntled supporters by arguing political expediency demanded some concessions. But in so many of the cases, the political expediency backfired and the policy decision became a liability. When Bush was king of the world, supporters were willing to overlook Bush flip-flops. They're less willing now. A wise election strategy for targeting moderate Republicans and Independents would exploit Bush's lying and incompetence. It's a way to appeal to the moderates without offering serious policy concessions, and it keeps the focus on Bush's failings.

posted by Jeff | 7:38 AM |

Saturday, May 15, 2004  

What follows is an internal memo from the Pentagon clarifying the guidelines on interrogation.*

Based on recent developments, the Pentagon is now issuing new guidelines on what constitutes acceptable forms of interrogation. Clear distinctions between "torture" and "abuse," always the guiding principle in Pentagon methodologies, are now being scaled back due to a lack of citizen understanding of procedure following incidents by a few bad seeds at the Abu Ghraib detention facility.

Noogies, trash talk, and teasing fall within acceptable levels of coersion. More severe approaches are not acceptable unless the following criteria are met first.

1. No personnel conducting or witnessing the interrogation has a camera, video camera, or audio recording device.

2. The coercive techniques applied are recorded in official records as "verbal interrogation only."

3. Coercive techniques leave no inadvertant markings on subject.

4. If inadvertant marks are left on a subject, that subject will not be released until marks have healed.

5. If inadvertant marks cannot heal (e.g. inadvertant maiming), the subject must be "disappeared."

6. All personnel participating in the interrogation of prisoners must be debriefed before and after interrogations and prepared to clearly explain to media or investigative bodies how said interrogations employed "verbal interrogation only"--particularly because media and investigative bodies are known to misunderstand these things.

Note: in the event that any investigative body or media representative contacts you about prisoner interrogation, remind them that in the US Military, we only employ "verbal interrogation."

This should help clarify your process in the future. Thank you.

*Not really. Imagine it's Friday.

posted by Jeff | 2:47 PM |

Nutty Conspiracy Theory Update

You'll recall a couple days ago I mentioned one of the crazier conspiracy theories I've heard--from a friend. Well, it's looking less crazy by the moment. To recap, his hypothesis about why the guards at Abu Ghraib took photographs of their misdeeds:

They were instructed to take the photos because, knowing that the pictures would eventually get leaked, they'd spark the massive horror we're now seeing. Thus the horror is intentional. The reason for intentional horror is either: 1) to spark a Pearl Harbor-like reaction, riling Americans up to go kick some A, or 2) to spark a Vietnam reaction so we can cut and run without political cost.

I dismissed it as "not particularly convincing." Based on what Colin Powell said yesterday, I'm starting to find it more so:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was joined by the foreign ministers of Britain, Italy and Japan on Friday in declaring that they would honor any request by Iraq's new government to withdraw foreign troops after June 30, when it is to receive limited sovereignty....

"I have no doubt that the interim Iraqi government will welcome the continued presence and operation of coalition military forces," Mr. Powell said, adding that he was "absolutely losing no sleep thinking that they might ask us to leave."

But he said that, in the interest of clearing up any confusion, "were this interim government to say to us, `We really think we can handle this on our own; it would be better if you were to leave,' we would leave."

I'm with Powell--I can't imagine they'd ask us to leave. I mean, this is the same country who welcomed us with flowers as liberators. Why on earth would they want us to leave.

No theory is to weird to be true with this regime (Bush, that is).

posted by Jeff | 11:56 AM |
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