Thursday, June 26, 2003

Expect noise
We can expect the centrifuge spare parts and plans discovered in a Baghdad nuclear weapon scientist’s yard to go through the same sort of mutations as the mysterious trailers.

Remember how the trailers of indeterminate use went from possible mobile biological weapon labs to mobile biological weapon labs to actual biological weapons to proof of a program for making biological weapons to trailers of indeterminate use. The original claim was that Saddam had hundreds of tons of completed biological weapon-grade germs (later changed to tens of thousands of liters, because it sounded bigger and scarier). He had them on hand and was planning either to give them to al Qaida or to spray American ports using balsa radio control planes any day now!!! When this swimming pool of germs didn’t turn up the administration’s story began to evolve. Forgotten were the actual stockpiles of on-hand germs, replaced by the desire to rebuild a program to make some maybe someday later.

This weaseling would be funny, except that it seems to work on the American public. The press uncritically reports every administration claim. By the eve of war half of the public believed the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqi and by the middle of this month nearly that many believed that weapons had already been found. I wonder if it’s all the same people. This can’t all be blamed on the press. A number of factors, including the economy and the sudden awareness of our vulnerability as individuals and as a country, have left us in a sort of collective shock. People yearn for certainty or at least an illusion of certainty. We so want to believe, that we will accept any lie as long as it is told boldly and with confidence.

Combined with the Bush administration’s ham-handed foreign policy, this eager credulousness has created a terrible disconnect between America and the rest of the world. The more worldly world was horrified at 9/11, but not sent into shock. They are still able to look at lies and say, “that’s a lie.” The administration has lied so often and so boldly that they have very little credibility beyond the US borders.

When some trace of a weapon or weapon program turns up in Iraq, Americans accept it as proof that everything Bush said going to war has been proved. Our erstwhile allies accept it as, at best, proof of no more than it is, a trace, and at worst, a clumsy plant.

Ironically, we will find traces of weapons and weapon programs. Saddam had healthy research and development programs in all three ABC areas (atomic, biological, chemical) before 1991, and he had parallel programs to develop or acquire delivery systems. Over the years, the Israelis and we destroyed some and the Iraqis dismantled some. Some just got old and fell apart (explosives, germs, toxins, and radioactive materials all have shelf lives). I still believe Saddam cheated as much as he could between 1991 and at least 1998, maybe later. But he would have been doing so with a constantly decreasing supply of increasingly undependable weapons.

So, now we have some photogenic centrifuge spare parts and plans. The gap between America and its best friends grows wider.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Bush is the Antichrist, part 2
This morning I went to check out some of the statistics on my site. Even though I’m no longer a new blogger according to N.Z. Bear, I still get a kick out of watching the numbers. Most of my new readers are reviewed by the same few sites (who have my deepest gratitude), but occasionally someone finds me by doing a search on something about which I have written. Today I found that someone had stumbled on me using the search terms “Bush” and “Antichrist.” When I backtracked to the original search page, I found out that I was the number-three result. Maybe I’ve found my natural constituency.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Woo-hoo, we’re number nine
The contest is over. I tied for ninth out of a field of 32, which is, as my sweet white-haired Mom would say, better than a kick in the butt with a frozen mukluk. Now that I’m no longer a new blog, I need to act my age and get to work writing penetrating and pithy political commentary to show that I deserve that place. So, Ashcroft is a fink, DeLay is a gunky-head, and the President is—well you know.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Time to vote
After posting my entry for the Truth Laid Bear's New Weblog Showcase, I grabbed a few hours sleep, got up, put down some extra food and water for the cats, hopped in the car with my wife and headed down to Portland where my mother was having a rather unpleasant medical diagnostic procedure. My number-three sister flew down from Alaska and was already at the medical center with Mom. We all went out to Mom’s place and spent two days eating too much, drinking too much, and filling each other in on family gossip. I’m telling you all this by way of explaining why I haven’t written or even looked at the news for two days. My wife got first dibs on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix so I should have plenty of time to write for a day or two. When I get the book, I’m planning to vanish again.

And somehow or another, this brings me to voting. I get to pick three and after pondering it all evening I’ve finally settled on:

An Unsealed Room’s Cherry-Picking on the Golan Heights for giving us “a reminder that Israelis (and Palestinians, too) are not just an ‘issue’ or a ‘cause.’ They are flesh-and-blood men, women and children trying to live their lives like anyone else.”

Across, Beyond, Through’s The Prodigal Father. He describes his blog as “Meanderings through the mind of a thirty-something minister trying to defy categorization.” Some of the categories he’s defying are humane, compassionate, and thoughtful.

Metajournalism’s Prison Privatization mostly because I like their slogan: "Where dissent meets commentary and makes dissentary."

Thanks everybody who voted, or considered voting, for me. I hope you stick around after the contest.

Postscript Mom’s fine and the cats are glad we’re back.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

I have no shame
Sunday will be my three-month anniversary as a blogger. Although I still feel like a novice, this milestone will make me a grizzled veteran in the eyes of N. Z. Bear. Or something like that. Since this is the last week that I’m entitled to enter “Microbes on Parade,” Bear’s new weblog showcase, I decided I should take advantage of this opportunity for free publicity and join the contest. The post below is my entry in the contest. To vote for me, you need to A) have a blog listed on Bear’s Blogosphere Ecosystem and B) link to my post from your blog (the link is When Bear surveys the ecosystem on Sunday evening, each link will count as a vote. You’re entitled to vote for three blogs, so you should go to the contest page and see what new pleasures you can sample. As a yellow-dog Democrat I can't help but love a contest that encourages us to vote early and vote often. I’ll be posting my votes Saturday night.

This is where the lack of shame part comes in. Please vote for me. Please. Please. Please. Please. Thank you.
Why do they support this man?
The current administration calls itself Republican, yet it is betraying most of the traditional Republican constituencies. Everyday, the deficit plunges to new record depths on the watch of the party for whom "balanced budget amendment" was once an article of faith. Everyday, Ashcroft undermines rights and freedoms that the libertarian wing of the party once claimed were sacred. The military supports the party that sends men and women to die in wars that make us less safe while that same party slashes the education budget for their children and the VA benefits for their injuries. What about business? The Republicans have always been the party of business. Bush expects to raise $200 million for the election, most of it from prosperous business people. Surely, the party is good for them.

The party is clearly good for Halliburton and any other resource extraction company with ties to Cheney. And with wars and rumors of wars, it must be good for the fabled military-industrial complex. Right? Not always. Like most modern corporations, the industrial side of the military-industrial complex has become globalized and diversified. There is big money to be made supplying the U.S. armed forces, but that's just part of their bottom line. There is also money to be made selling burgers in Bavaria, autos in Africa, cola in Canada, and airplanes in Asia. Modern corporations need it all. This is where they are screwed.

Even before 9/11 the Bush administration had set out on a foreign policy course that was arrogant, unilateral, and offensive to some of our most important trading partners. Top members of the administration snorted contemptuously at "Old Europe" and threatened economic retaliation toward allies who refused to follow marching orders from the White House. Who needs France, Germany, and Mexico when we have the support of such military and industrial giants as Estonia, Albania, and Eritrea? It makes a good sound bite, and it's fun to thump our chests and shout "we're number one; these colors don't run," but when the pep rally is over we still have to go home and pay our bills.

This brings us to the biennial Paris Air Show, the most important weapons and aviation trade show on the planet. The deals consummated and announced here can total hundreds of billions of dollars. So naturally, the U.S. is cutting back its presence.
Lingering U.S. resentment over France's staunch opposition to the war in Iraq has led the Defense Department to scale back sharply on its participation and, according to Washington insiders, put pressure on U.S. companies not to attend. U.S. exhibitors will total 183, down from 350 at the last Paris show in 2001.

Airbus, who usually runs neck and neck with Boeing for supplying the world's airlines with planes, is outpacing Boeing five to one in orders this year (38 to 197 not counting today's Korea Air order). Each order lost is about a half billion dollars that stays out of the American economy.
U.S. defence contractor Northrop Grumman Corp said the political tension had put its plan to work with German submarine firm Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft AG to make eight submarines for Taiwan on ice. "Our ability to collaborate and cooperate in Europe has been affected by the tense state of relationships that exists," said Philip Dur, head of Northrop Grumman's ship systems unit. .

The traditional targets, Coke and McDonalds, are also hurting.

Of course I'm singing the traditional theme song of the party out of power. It's called "Where's the Outrage (Why Can't They See What These People Are Doing)?" But just because it's the traditional whine, doesn't mean it's not a valid question. Why should business support a candidate who is bad for business? Will they act out of habit and pay to loose customers, or will they consider their best interests and try to stop the decline?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Where’s my matching funds?
In yesterday’s White House press briefing with the inimitable Ari Fleisher we had this exchange:
Q And also in the last, 2000 and coming up, the President will accept federal funds in the general election.


Q Is there any dash of hypocrisy in that he doesn't contribute to that fund when he files his tax returns?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, interestingly, we talked before about taxpayer-financed elections, and while for the congressional races, Senate races and House races, and for overwhelming majority of the funds that go to presidential races is voluntary, there is that check on the tax reforms. And the best I remember this from IRS data is something like only 12 percent, or down to 8 percent of the American people check that box. So I think the President is in pretty good company with a number of American people who do not check that box.

We have to give Ari credit for thinking on his feet, even if what he says is completely silly or an outright lie. Of course, the 88 or 92 percent of the American public that do not give to that fund, also don’t collect from it. This behavior is morally akin to the multimillionaire who never worked a day in his life because he inherited his wealth (thanks Bush’s to “relief” from the “death tax”), turning 65 and demanding, “where’s my social security, dammit?!”

In case you think this is an unfair analogy, let’s listen to Mr. Fleischer a bit further:
Q Why would he take the money, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, he's not taking the money for the primary campaign; he will take it for the general.
Q Does he prefer a privately-financed system altogether?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he signed into law the system that he supports.

In other words he likes the system just as it is: millionaire frat boys get to become president without even spending three lousy dollars of their own money.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Bush is a revisionist historian
By now you’ve all seen this quote.
ELIZABETH, N.J. (Reuters) - President Bush countered those questioning his justification for the invasion of Iraq on Monday, dismissing "revisionist historians" and saying Washington acted to counter a persistent threat.

"Now there are some who would like to rewrite history; revisionist historians is what I like to call them," Bush said in a speech to New Jersey business leaders.

Referring to the ousted Iraqi president, Bush said, "Saddam Hussein as a threat to America and the free world in '91, in '98, in 2003. He continually ignored the demands of the free world, so the United States and friends and allies acted."

I’m interested in those dates he mentions. Let’s see, ’91 was daddy Bush and friends and allies justly acting to stop the Saddamist threat and ’03 was junior Bush and friends and allies justly acting to stop the Saddamist threat. Now what was ’98? That must have been Clinton doing something. He couldn’t have been wagging-the-dog to distract the public from his impeachment woes—only a revisionist cad would suggest such a thing. He must have been justly acting, with friends and allies of course, to stop the Saddamist threat. I never realized that Bush was such an admirer of Clinton’s foreign policy or that he saw himself as carrying on the same policies.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Wild speculation
A couple weeks ago I promised that when I got back to my thoughts on the coming election I would comment on possible divisions among the Republicans. This isn’t that piece, but it does have me thinking in that direction. Last night, Gen. Wesley Clark appeared on Meet the Press and set the whole news junkie world atwitter with his admission that he is considering a run for the White House. While his entry would certainly make the whole campaign more interesting, the detail that really sent my imagination flying was his comment that both parties have expressed an interest in him.
MR. RUSSERT: So if you did run for president, you would run as a Democrat?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I haven’t said that. I haven’t made any official moves. But this is a two-party country. There’s no successful third party bids. And, you know, it’s just—that’s the way it is. And I am concerned about many things in the country, not only foreign policy but domestic as well.
MR. RUSSERT: So you would run as a Democrat?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I haven’t come out and said that point blank. I mean, I think that’s another step that would have to be taken.

MR. RUSSERT: But you wouldn’t challenge George Bush in the Republican primaries?

GEN. CLARK: I haven’t considered that, no.

MR. RUSSERT: So it would be in the Democratic primary?

GEN. CLARK: You’re leading the witness here. I mean, that’s a step that I’ll have to work through along with everything else. You know, I’ve been non-partisan. I’ve got—I’m a centrist on most of these issues, and I’ve got people after me from both sides of the aisle. That are—a lot of Republicans have talked to me and they’ve said, “Look, we’re very concerned about where the country is. We’re moving into—not only have we done a war that’s essentially an elective war that’s put us in trouble afterwards, in an indefinite commitment”—and by the way I don’t hear—they don’t hear the strong voices out there about mission creep and exit strategy that dominated the 1990s dialogue. But a lot of Republicans have come to me and said, you know, “What does this mean?” And they’ve said, “On the other hand, we always believed that we should be the party of fiscal responsibility. And where are we going with the tax cuts? What does this mean for the future of the country?” So I’m getting, you know, interest from both sides, really and just haven’t moved past that.

Let me go on record as saying, I don’t think Clark or anyone else will be making a meaningful challenge to Bush in the Republican primaries. That’s too bad. I think a primary challenge from Clark would be good for the Democrats and good for the country.

Obviously, my main reason for saying I think it would be good for the country is that I think the Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster and anything helps boot them out is a good thing. With that admission out of the way, let me go on to say that I think a serious primary challenge to Bush would improve the tenor of political discourse in this country. Over the last decade a popular perception has emerged that partisan sniping is at intolerable levels and that it is preventing us from properly addressing serious pressing issues. There is a lot of truth in this (though historically speaking, we’ve survived worse). A bad side effect of this belief is that people are inclined to dismiss any criticism from across the aisle as just politics and therefore not sincere.

The Bush administration has many problems that need to be dealt with. Their erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security has degraded the bill of rights. Their faith in endless tax-cuts in place of meaningful economic policies are saddling us with unprecedented deficits. Their preference for telegenic gestures over real work has made the country less secure not more so. All of these actions betray ore constituencies of the Republican Party. Debate spurred by an internal challenge is likely to be more substantive than debate from without. It is also likely to make those who would blindly follow him, as the only Republican game in town, stop and consider whether he really is the best representative of their wishes.

The advantages to the Democrats of a serious primary challenge to Bush are more obvious. It would be good to get Bush to spend some of his astronomical war chest before the general campaign. It would be good to bruise him up a little before the fall. It would be good not to have a fellow Democrat accusing all of the candidates of being weak on defense.

As I said, I don’t think this is at all likely, but it does give a warm feeling to think about it.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Why Archy?
When I was still at the “maybe I should blog” stage, I wondered what I would call my blog if I had one. Looking at the other blogs, I tried out some of the common types of titles. The practical and descriptive: John’s Blog. The cryptic phrase: “…and he slowly sank into the oatmeal, never to heard from again.” Pretending to be edgy by using the word “rant:” Ranting Ranter’s Rants. A pun based on my name: Fresh from the John. None of them really worked. I liked my friend David Niewert’s use of the killer whale as a totem and title for his blog: Orcinus. I have a strong attachment to northern megafauna and thought a polar bear, arctic wolf, or moose would look great on a blog. However looking deep into my soul, I decided my personal totem is more along the lines of ursus theodorus pui, the bear of very little brain. Finally, I decided to call it “archy.”

Archy is not an alter-ego. I don’t claim to be Archy; my own name is there on the upper left of the page. Archy was a correspondent who sent his peculiar views on the state of the world in the teens and twenties of the last century to Don Marquis, the editor at the Evening Sun in New York. Marquis, desperate for material to fill his daily column, the Sun Dial, was glad to print anything Archy left for him. Archy is my patron saint. Or rather, he is my patron cockroach.

Marquis tells how he discovered Archy using his typewriter one morning:
We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys. He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

Archy, we were told was the spirit of a vers libre poet who had passed over into the body of a cockroach. He proclaimed, “expression is the need of my soul.” He had always been a writer and had one been a drinking buddy of old Bill Shakespeare. His politics were progressive and he opposed prohibition (“prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into”). He introduces Marquis’ readers to a whole host of characters they would not have encountered at their job or in their church, including Freddy the Rat, Warty Bliggins, Pete the Parrot, and, most importantly, the free-spirited cat, Mehitabel. Marquis published three collections of the Sun Dial columns by and about Archy. Two more have been published since. The earliest collection, Archy and Mehitabel, has been more or less constantly in print since 1927.

Archy had many fans among the intelligentsia. I’ll let one of them, E. B. White, have the last word.
The details of his creative life make him blood brother to writing men. He cast himself with all I his force upon a key, head downward. So do we all. And when he was through his, labors, he fell to the floor, spent. He was vain (so are we all), hungry, saw things from the under side, and was continually bringing up the matter of whether he should be paid for his work. He was bold, disrespectful, possessed of the revolutionary spirit (he organized the Worms Turnverein), was never subservient to the boss yet always trying to wheedle food out of him, always getting right to the heart of the matter. And he was contemptuous of those persons who were absorbed in the mere technical details of his writing. "The question is whether the stuff is literature or not."

Saturday, June 14, 2003

BTAF’s guide to the apostrophe
For most of the last few years I’ve been a technical writer. I rode the tech boom to stratospheric heights and back down into the ground. Now I’m an independent contractor (read: office temp). While writing documentation for software, I discovered that most computer geeks can’t write their way out of a pay toilet*. Frequently, my job consisted primarily of translating engineer into English. As might be expected, I became the worse sort of grammar snob. I’ve gotten over a lot of that. But I still carry one relic of those days with me. When I was still well paid, I had a cartoon in my cubicle that I often sent to the punctuation impaired. I’m happy to say, the author is in the process of printing up full-color, suitable for framing posters of “Bob’s Quick Guide to the Apostrophe, You Idiots.” Quick, go out in a buying frenzy and buy copies for everyone you know. It may be the greatest public service you perform this year.

* I took this line from Harlan Ellison. Unfortunately, when I moved down to the Northwest I lost most of my Ellison books so I can’t tell you which book it was in. Of course, even if they were all still with me, I would be too lazy to look it up. This way I have a convenient excuse. Funny how life works out.

Is Bush the Beast?
While in the store picking up a large slab of meat to barbeque for dinner, I noticed a new paperback on end-times prophecy and the Iraqi war. Suddenly it occurred to me, what should fundamentalist Protestants make of the fact that the current ruler of Babylon is the President of the United States? France, Russia, China, and Germany all came together in an alliance, unprecedented in the history of the world, to oppose Bush’s war. Isn’t the unification of the world one of the warning signs of the end-times (along with rumors of war, unusual weather, and reality TV)? I think I’m on to something here. Bush is the Antichrist. Quick, someone tell Pat and Jerry!

Friday, June 13, 2003

What he said
The now pictureless Might Reason Man over at Very Very Happy has a post so close to perfect, I simply must quote it in its entirety.
Hillary Clinton Is A Paragon Of Virtue, And A Luscious Babe To Boot

Actually, I don't really care much about her one way or another. But the way I see it, if that sentence can thin out the GOP electorate by causing a few heart attacks and perhaps a cranial implosion or two, it is my Solemn Duty to write it.

I think we need a national movement to fax, email, and phone this to all of our favorite drive-time radio loud-mouths, Fox pudits, and Tom DeLay. Then sit back and enjoy the squishy ka-booms.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Best idea in ages
I’m a little late in reporting on this. My only excuse is that I was struck dumb with admiration and awe at the sheer brilliance of it all. Those fine people over at Daily Kos (which has emerged as one of my favorite blogs) have leveraged their readership into a place at the table of the Democratic Party. In January Kos discussed the problem of so many blogs voicing good ideas, yet lacking the financial firepower to get a hearing by the party leaders, unlike big doners and traditional constituencies. Kos suggested that the small contributions of a few hundred people focused through one blog that represented their views could add up to a hundred thousand dollars or more and get them a hearing by the policy makers and strategists.

The Democratic National Committee listened and created a test program for the idea, ePatriots. At 36 hours into the test (the latest numbers), Kos had raised over 11,000 dollars for the anybody-but-Bush candidacy (in the form of 8K in single donations and 3K in monthly pledges). Even allowing for things to slow down, Kos should hit that 100K mark before the fourth of July.

Now only the most optimistic projections can imagine a program like this balancing the 200 million Bush expects to raise (even as his supporters try to portray their party as underdogs battling the bottomless pockets of Hollywood millionaires). The fact is, the Republican Party is decades ahead of the Democrats in the science of fundraising. The same people who brought the religious right out of their retreat from secular society and made them a force in electoral politics, pioneered direct mail and other mass fun-raising techniques. The Democrats continued to obliviously depend on the same fundraising methods they used to elect FDR.

Kos realized that it is time for genuine grass roots leadership and provided it. Someone at the DNC realized that this was just what they needed and accepted Kos’ outstretched hand. Bless their beady little heart. This is one of the best signs of hope I’ve seen in a long time. Give till it hurts. Vote early and vote often.
Bad numbers for fearless leader
Reuters reports that a new poll has Bush's approval rating back below sixty percent. A Quinnipiac University survey has him falling back to 57 on worries about the economy. This is exactly where he was last February. By the time his war gave him a boost he was headed for 50 and showing no sign of slowing. It will be interesting to see what kind of cheap trick Rove dreams up to boost the leader-of-the-free-world's numbers and give him a chance to look leader-like. Three wars in as many years is probably more than the public would buy (but three wars in four out next summer). No one seems impressed by his "tax relief" except people who were already donating the maximum allowed to his reelection campaign. His sweep through the Middle East doesn't seem to have brought a lasting and equitable peace to Israel/Palestine. What will they do?

UpdateTwo more polls, Zogby and Christian Science Monitor, just came out with the same results. Even though I know there will probably be a couple of cycles of up and down between now and the election, I am enjoying this moment.
And back in Texas
It looks like the Department of Homeland Security was not the naive dupe of those tricky Texans in looking for the Killer D's as we have been led to believe. Josh Marshall has a the latest from the Saturday Washington Post. When Marvin Miller, an airport official in Plainview, Texas, was contacted by DHS, he asked what was up. The unamed DHS official told him it didn't have anything to do with a downed plane or any problem like that. "This is just somebody looking for politicians they can't find." Hmmm.
Surrender Earthlings
As a kid who grew up on a well balanced diet of Saturday morning cartoons and the space race (on a good day, I can still name all seven Mercury astronauts), I find this almost unbearablly cool.
Looney Tunes star on NASA patches
Warner Brothers Consumer Products Press Release

June 3 -- Marvin The Martian and Daffy Duck (as the fearless Duck Dodgers) will be showcased on official 1st Space Launch Squadron patches for two NASA Mars Exploration Rover Missions this summer.

The special patches will act as the defining logo and will be worn by TEAM DELTA crews, comprising members from NASA, the United States Air Force, and Boeing. Additionally, they will be found in the mission control booth and at the Air Force 1SLS launch pad, and will be carried on mission control and launch pad crew suits, jackets, and mugs.

The Delta rockets will send the Mission Exploration Rover (MER) on special research operations to study the Red Planet, which the delightfully droll Marvin calls home.

"Daffy Duck and Marvin The Martian struck us as such a perfect fit, capturing the fun and adventurous spirit of these important explorations, that we were delighted to be able to include them as honorary members of the team," said Captain David Krambeck of TEAM DELTA.


I want one of those coffee mugs.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Impeachable offenses
These are not the words of some fuzzy-headed peacenik (like me); this is John Dean.
President George W. Bush has got a very serious problem. Before asking Congress for a Joint Resolution authorizing the use of American military forces in Iraq, he made a number of unequivocal statements about the reason the United States needed to pursue the most radical actions any nation can undertake - acts of war against another nation.

Now it is clear that many of his statements appear to be false….

Presidential statements, particularly on matters of national security, are held to an expectation of the highest standard of truthfulness. A president cannot stretch, twist or distort facts and get away with it….

I explained to the students [who questioned Bush’s veracity] that the political risk was so great that, to me, it was inconceivable that Bush would make these statements if he didn't have damn solid intelligence to back him up. Presidents do not stick their necks out only to have them chopped off by political opponents on an issue as important as this….

So what are we now to conclude if Bush's statements are found, indeed, to be as grossly inaccurate as they currently appear to have been?


After all, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and given Bush's statements, they should not have been very hard to find - for they existed in large quantities, "thousands of tons" of chemical weapons alone. Moreover, according to the statements, telltale facilities, groups of scientists who could testify, and production equipment also existed.

So where is all that? And how can we reconcile the White House's unequivocal statements with the fact that they may not exist?
[Paul] Krugman is right to suggest a possible comparison to Watergate. In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison. If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed.


To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause….

To readers younger than about forty, unless you were very precocious, John Dean is probably a fairly uninteresting footnote to history. Readers older than about forty-five should be saying, “holy poop!!! If anybody knows an impeachable offense, it’s John Dean!” If anyone could be considered an expert on impeachable offenses, it’s Nixon’s council.
Crazy uncle George
My librarian buddy Alan writes from New York:
John, I'm not sure I buy the Guardian's argument. Those of us who opposed the war are morally compelled to extend the occupation? Suppose your crazy uncle George went hunting, and brought home a live moose. Is the rest of the family required to feed and house the moose?

The article Alan refers to is three weeks old, yet remarkably timely to the current debate. The author, Hugo Young, opposed the war. He points out two reasons for the war: WMDs and regime change. After dismissing WMDs out of hand—a point that the US press has yet to reach—he examines the other rationale. Through most of the article simply says the Pentagon has bit off more than it can chew and must swallow or choke, the key sentence that Alan objects to is this: “Those who once said the US must never go near Iraq should now urge the US to stay there, with every serious commitment it can muster.” And Alan says “why?”

Alan has a point, but so does Hugo Young. Alan’s point is the same one that most of us who opposed the war started our arguments with from day one (which was around Labor Day last year). Conquering Iraq is a big deal. The administration has resisted this idea since an equally early date. Their statements were: cake-walk, happy crowds, flowers on the road, don’t need that many troops, interim government by mid-May. Our approach was to be pessimistic at every step along the way. And we were wrong to underestimate the quality of the American and British armies; they are without peers. However, we were right to be pessimistic about the quality of their political leadership and the ability of that leadership to plan; they are ideologically tunnel-visioned nincompoops.

This brings us to where Hugo Young’s throwaway statement is right. These same nincompoops have committed us to Iraq against our wills. We cannot just let them declare victory in our name and go home like they are attempting to do in Afghanistan. Like it or not, we are committed. The moose is in our fourth floor apartment. We can’t deny that is there. In order to be good neighbors, we must take on the responsibility of keeping the moose happy and quiet.

Meanwhile, there is nothing to stop us from telling the world what an irresponsible idiot uncle George is. And, of course, we will make him pay.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Thinking of walking
I have been thinking of walking for a few days now. Not pondering whether to go for a walk later, but reminiscing fondly about when I walked. Don’t get me wrong, I can still walk and do (often from the computer to the refrigerator and back). I was thinking about the days when I was a pedestrian.

I’ve only been driving for a few years. If you look at my picture and think, “he looks older than that,” you’re right. I was forty-two before I got a car. I picked up a driver’s license at twenty-one and even bought a used car in my mid twenties. But it fell apart in less than six months and I realized it was easier to pay off my student loans without a car hanging around my neck. So I walked and walking became part of my life.

When I still lived in Alaska, this was something of an accomplishment. Anchorage sprawls over a lot of space and has never had a real mass transit system. Carless just isn’t an option in most of the West. After a few years I found I was rapidly approaching the status of a local character. I would meet people who would light up in recognition of my battered hat and overflowing pockets, “oh yeah, I’ve seen you walking.” They had finally met one of the-men-who-walk. This could give them serious story telling cred in their social circle, so they would milk me for information.

“How did you lose your license?” they’d say. I must be a drunk driver. Alaska is full of them. Everyone is related one; this could be our bonding element. “Yes, I know the guy in the hat who walks. He’s a lot like my cousin, Sidney.”

“I didn’t. I still have one. See.” I’d dig around in my pockets till I’d find it. The fact that I also didn’t have a wallet would only add to my image of eccentricity.

“Is this something political—or environmental?” Oh, a tree-hugger. In those days there were only eight liberals in Alaska. A tree-hugger in most social situations was about as welcome a typhoid carrier. I managed most of my social situations so I was among either the apolitical or the marginally progressive. Even so, I managed more than once to find myself facing some red-faced male with his chest puffed out announcing, “Jimmy Carter is the worst president we ever had! Wudda you think of that?” “I think I’ll have another beer,” was the safest answer. Another dangerous situation would end with my new best friend (sloppy drunk) telling me how much he loved me and how he never really had a friend quite like me before.

But, back to the first conversation. “A little;” I’d admit, “but mostly, it’s just what I do.”

Relieved, but still suspicious and now thoroughly baffled by the whole thing, they’d try to figure out the mechanics of it, “so, how do you do that?”

I never quite knew how to deal with that question. I didn’t want to be sarcastic (“put one foot in front of the other; repeat as necessary”) to a new acquaintance, so I’d try to explain the logistics: “plan ahead, bring a coat in case the weather changes, give yourself lots of time, carry a book, never buy more than one bag of groceries at a time.”

Sometimes I miss walking. I miss the time to think, to explore ideas both deep and silly, and to clarify my thoughts. I miss reading on the bus, at the stop, and when arriving early at my appointments. I miss the planned loop of errands through the town, going from home, to here, to there, to another place, and home again across the course of a day (drivers go out and home and out again in sequence, on impulse). Time is different for a driver and for a pedestrian. Pedestrians must learn to accept their lack of control over time; drivers have enough of an illusion of control that they constantly fight for more. My body, of course, misses the exercise; I gained ten pounds when I bought a car.

It’s been hot in the Northwest for a few days now. The garden, the cats, my evil lawn, and I are all wilting. I was standing in the kitchen having a glass of cold water on Thursday when my wife said, “sure is a nice day.” I looked out the window and sighed, “yeah, but I’m glad I’m not walking.”

Thursday, June 05, 2003

This is turning into a ridiculously busy week. It doesn't look like I'll get to do any real blogging till the weekend. So in the meantime, I thought I'd send you over to my friend Jim's comic. I met Jim Massey during my brief adventure in tech start-up land. He started his strip Death Takes a Holiday about the same time as the layoffs began. Before I could ask if there was any significance to the timing, I was gone. Death and start-ups are like that. If you like the strip, go to Next Comics and read them all, then go buy his book when it comes out next fall. If you don't like the strip, go to Next Comics and click through them all while doing a crossword puzzle; we can all use some padding on our pageview numbers.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

How they’ll get away with it
This is sort of the flip side of my last post on WMDs.
"We found the weapons of mass destruction," Bush asserted in the Thursday interview, released Friday. "We found biological laboratories. You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons. They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them."

Though it’s clear to many that the whole WMD causus belli was so much smoke, there is every reason to believe the administration will keep things confused enough that they will get away with it. Here’s why we’re in trouble:

It makes me sound like a liberal elitist intellectual to say that the TV mesmerized public is too easily led astray by lazy journalists, but I am and they are. In the lead up to the war all Fox News and the administration needed to do was juxtapose images of 9/11 and Saddam often enough and people believed Saddam caused 9/11. Now they just need to keep announcing possible discoveries of WMDs louder than they retract them and soon people will believe we have found the smoking gun. On Monday they announce the discovery of a deadly chemical toxin on page one; on Wednesday they follow up on page eighteen by saying it was an empty can of Off!® left by Peter Arnett. Which story does the public remember?

Furthermore, keep in mind that Saddam did have programs for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons going before1991. He kicked and screamed and cheated as much as possible on disarmament all through the nineties. There are bound to be some authentic relics of the old program out there just waiting to be discovered. How well prepared is the average swing voter to discern the difference between a relic of the ten-year old program and evidence of a robust active program last year?

When the administration refused to led UN inspectors back into the country to complete the investigations, they set up a further erosion of the US’s credibility in the world. Opponents of the war and even some supporters will find it easy to be cynical when the administration refuses oversight and finds just what it said it would. It doesn’t matter whether the evidence is real, planted, or misinterpreted, everyone will go on believing the same things they believed before.

The only hope for something resembling the truth to get a proper airing and be believed, is for an independent investigation to be made of the intelligence leading up to the war, the process by which that intelligence was prepared for decision makers and the public, and the post-invasion evidence supporting that intelligence. If the current muttering in the intelligence community leads to a serious review, the final evidence for WMDs needs to be part of that review.
A picture
I just noticed I haven't used my new-found ability to post pictures for a while. Here are the girls and me early one Saturday. They ambushed me before I could make coffee. Fortunately, I was able to reach the newspaper.

Why WMDs matter
We still haven't found the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that our leaders promised us. Now Paul Wolfowitz admits that the WMDs were always just a fig leaf for an already decided on invasion. Most Americans don't care. We got rid of a bad guy, it was easy, and now we get to ignore the economy and shout, "we're number one" for a while. But we should care and here's why.

First, they lied to us. Lying is part of politics. It's naive to expect the whole truth and nothing but the truth at all times. We do, however, assume that lying has its place and that truth telling is required for certain situations. Starting a war and sending Americans to their deaths is one of the mandatory truth telling situations. This is why, after all these years, people are still able to get into a lather over whether Roosevelt did or did not know about the impending Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ironically, the Bush administration didn't even need to lie. Most Democrats, liberals, and European allies agreed that Saddam was a bad man who should go; they simply wanted a proper case to be made through the mechanism of international channels. This was too difficult, so the administration made up fairy tales about mushroom clouds over American cities. Mark Bowden makes this point for The Philadelphia Inquirer:
I can imagine no greater breach of public trust than to mislead a country into war. A strong case might have been made to go after Hussein just because he posed a potential threat to us and the region, because of his support for suicide bombers, and because of his ruthless oppression of his own people. But this is not the case our President chose to make.

The Bush administration treated the American public and international community with contempt and deserves nothing less in return.

Second, they exceeded their mandate. In the weeks before the actual invasion, the administration weaseled around, trying out new reasons for war every few days. Saddam is a bad man. He kills his own people. He supports al Qaida. He threatens his neighbors. He might do something bad to us someday. The Iraqi people are yearning to breathe free. Our credibility demands it. The troops are getting seasick and have to go ashore somewhere. Convincing or not, none of these reasons matter. The legal reason for which the Senate authorized use of force was to enforce UN Resolution 1441, disarming Saddam of his WMDs. If we knew there were no WMDs, then the entire war was illegal. Period.

Third, they failed to tend to more important matters while chasing after this chimera. While we conquered a third rate power, the economy continued to slide, unemployment increased, al Qaida regrouped, Afghanistan continued to slide into chaos, we still haven't patched any of the more egregious holes in our domestic security, the states are going bankrupt, and Fox is going ahead with their evil plans for a 24/7 reality show channel. The war not only distracted us from potential scandals of the administration, it not only prevented the administration from dealing with other problems; it prevented anybody from dealing with those problems. Grandma can spend the principal of her dwindling savings on prescription medication only so long before she’s broke. Cousin Bob can live on unemployment only so long before he gets cut off. The budgets of our fire and police departments will only last so long, and putting in overtime for orange alerts makes them run out sooner. A hundred problems just get worse while our representatives are distracted by a bogus war.

I could go on—they squandered a great amount of international good will, they committed us to an enterprise that will be very expensive in blood and treasure, they had no intelligent follow up plan—it all comes back to this: if the reason for the war was bogus and they knew it, even the most remote side effects are their fault. Think of it as analogous to felony liability; in a mundane crime, any evil results are the fault of the criminal. If the police shoot a bystander, it is the criminal’s fault because the police would not have been shooting if not for the crime. In mundane felony liability we throw the book at the criminals. In political felony liability we should also throw the book at the criminals. The first penalty in that book is getting voted out of office.
Where spin meets logic
Atrios points out this wonderful exchange in a Newsweek interview with former British cabinet member, Robin Cook.
[Newsweek] Isn’t it possible that Saddam Hussein ordered their destruction, as U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has suggested?

[Cook] No. I don’t think it’s even remotely possible. I just cannot follow the Rumsfeld logic; that watching CNN and seeing the American build-up Saddam said to his generals, “It’s obvious that the U.S. is going to invade; we had better destroy our biggest weapons, so that when I am toppled there might be some very difficult questions for Donald Rumsfeld to answer.”

Good people
Anti-government sentiment leads people to say, do, and think some very strange things. How else do you explain the local support for domestic terrorist Eric Robert Rudolph.

Rudolph was finally caught yesterday. In a seven-month period in 1996-97 he set off four bombs in Georgia and Alabama. He killed two people and wounded over 120. While hiding he robbed a friend who took him in. His first bomb was a large satchel bomb set in a crowded public square during the Atlanta Olympics. His second and third bombs were detonated an hour apart at a women’s health clinic. The timing seemed to have been planned to catch the responding fire and police officers. His last bomb was in the doorway of a gay nightclub. Soon after that law enforcement groups identified him and chased him into the wood outside Murphy, NC.

For the six years this monster has been hiding, he has been supported by the inhabitants of this Appalachian county at the western tip of North Carolina. They have given Rudolph food, clothing, camping gear and portrayed him as a folk hero. Cars and trucks in Murphy sported bumper stickers reading, “Run, Eric, Run.” The basis of their support seemed to be that he was a good ol’ boy leading the feds on a wild goose chase. Local people like Crystal Davis could actually say, "Rudolph's a Christian and I'm a Christian and he dedicated his life to fighting abortion. Those are our values. These are our woods. I don't see what he did as a terrorist act."

“Those are our values.” Rudolph killed a cop and a tourist and tore the eye out of a nurse. Many of the people he injured have permanent marks on their bodies and minds. Reconstruction Christians may find it acceptable to kill abortionists and homosexuals, but his third bomb was aimed at firemen and ninety percent of the people he injured committed no greater crime than going to the Olympics. If, instead of blue-jacketed BATF and FBI agents, his pursuers had been the father of the tourist, the husband of the nurse, and the brother officers of the cop, would the good Christian people of Murphy have so cheerfully helped him? Would they have lied to the pained faces of his victims’ friends and loved ones?

The root of common law is that we all give up the right to individual vengeance and vest in the collective entity of our government. In so depersonalizing justice, we break the cycle of ambush and vendetta and assure that the weak have some chance of bringing down the powerful. For all its flaws, the system of common law is usually better than the alternative. But, when it allows people to make a folk hero out of a twisted little psycho like Eric Robert Rudolph, it has failed.