Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Reuters gets cranky
I never thought I would see an opening line like this.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After weeks of blaming others, President Bush for the first time accepted responsibility on Wednesday for making a now-discredited charge that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.

I think the honeymoon might be over.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Fool me twice and I might get mildly annoyed
This is a point I have made before and will make again and again before the election: the Bush administration is not only generally bad for average Americans; it is specifically bad for the constituent groups that supported him in 2000. The latest news story (though not necessarily the latest victims) is from Steven Thomma of Knight Ridder Newspapers and concerns veterans.
President Bush and his Republican Party are facing a political backlash from an unlikely group - retired veterans.

Normally Republican, many retired veterans are mad that Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress are blocking remedies to two problems with health and pension benefits. They say they feel particularly betrayed by Bush, who appealed to them in his 2000 campaign, and who vowed on the eve of his inauguration that "promises made to our veterans will be promises kept."

"He pats us on the back with his speeches and stabs us in the back with his actions," said Charles A. Carter of Shawnee, Okla., a retired Navy senior chief petty officer. "I will vote non-Republican in a heart beat if it continues as is." (My bolding)

This is the problem Democrats face going into the 2004 election season. CPO Carter (Ret.) is willing to ask the Republicans to betray him one more time, rather than come out and say he will vote against them. That is just too far too a step to announce out loud. And this is from a man who is so upset he’s willing to go on the record in the national press with his disillusion.

Twelve years ago the Communist peril faded. For a brief moment we let ourselves believe that the Republicans, deprived of the enemy that held their coalition together, would collapse. We were wrong. For nearly two decades a cohort of superb strategists had been working on domestic social issues. Because some of them had specifically been working to bring separatist Protestant fundamentalists into the political mainstream, it was easy for us to dismiss them as extremist loonies. What we missed was that they had been building a powerful communications machine and spreading a message through mainstream Republican circles that Liberals and Democrats (the terms were and are synonymous in their lexicon) are the enemy of all right thinking Americans.

Common wisdom is that for Democrats to have a chance next year they must appear capable of taking over defense and foreign affairs and managing them as well as the public thinks the Republicans are doing. My advice is that to win they must pry some betrayed constituents away from the Republicans. In defense and foreign affairs, as in any issue, the Democrats need not only to have a message that is as good as the Republicans’; they need to target the constituencies that value those issues and that have been ill served by the Republicans.

In the 1990’s, a number of Democrats began to push a low-self-esteem message of “we’re just as good as the Republicans.” At the time, this message may have had a tactical utility, but it is not the sort of message that can serve as the unifying core of a dynamic and permanent political body. We need assertive positive and negative messages. We are right because we believe and do this, they are wrong because they believe and do that.

We must attack the Republicans. But we must craft our attacks so that they are not mere sermons to the choir. We must portray the Bush administration and all its toadies in the House and Senate as complete and utter failures. Theirs is an administration of cronyism run amuck. Their idea of defense and strength neither makes us more secure nor rewards those who bear the burden of defending us. We have added tens of billions to our deficit in the name of defense while our soldier’s families need food stamps to eat, the death benefit only covers a pauper’s funeral, our veterans lack basic medical care, and the rest of us have traded sacred rights to become more vulnerable than ever.

If they try to pass some last minute unfounded mandates to win over the CPO Carters of the world, we must vigorously point out the insincerity and dishonesty of their words. Basically we do not have the luxury of letting them get away with anything.
Growing up bites
Friday I came home with a mind full of ideas that I wanted to write about that night or over the weekend. Before I could put a syllable down I found an urgent phone message from my mother. I called. She has cancer. I didn’t write anything.

This, of course is one of the things that sucks most about growing up. Loved ones get old and weak and go away. Most of my relatives of the Parent, aunts, and uncles generation are now gone. Because I’m one of the youngest of the next generation, I’ve also started to lose cousins at a regular pace. I hate it. Even if my mother turns out to be fine, I resent this undermining of one of the most important pillars of my existence.

When I decided to blog, I consciously chose not to write an introspective personal journal. Frankly, the internal workings of Johnness are not that interesting. I’m not sure how another life crisis will affect my blogging. I might vanish for days on end when I’m too busy or depressed to write. I might sublimate my frustration and anger by bashing on administration policies (or lack thereof). In other words, nothing will change, I just thought you had a right to know why nothing was changing.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Who used whom?
Joshua Marshall recently reviewed the argument so far about the importance of the neo-conservative strategic worldview in bringing us to Iraq. Along the way he stops to poo-poo simplistic explanations of the real reason for the war:
Now some people on the left are saying, well, the real reason was the possession of Iraqi oil. Or, the real reason was to seal the 2002 election or the 2004 election. Various other real reasons have been and are being proffered. But these are at best secondary or tertiary reasons.

He makes a point that is well worth remembering. In fact I find it so worthwhile that I'm going to put on my pedantic professor's voice and thump on it a little longer.

When I taught history, one of the most important lessons that I tried to get across is that nothing is as simple as it first looks. An administration—this one or any administration—does not act monomaniacally and without interruption towards a single predetermined goal. The administration is made up of hundreds of individuals. They each have their desires and motivations, their personal hang-ups and pet projects. Some are driven by a concrete goal, some by an ideology. Some are careerists who don’t care about the objective or method as long as they can push to front while it happens. The balance within the administration is in constant flux. People leave and people arrive. People gain influence and people lose influence. External events change the very definition of what the issues are. And, of course these same divisions and struggles happen within individual psyches.

Any theory that wants to explain the administration’s goals must take into account the internal dynamics of the administration. Anything else gets a C minus and a recommendation that you consider changing your major to PE.

With Iraq, we know that many within the administration wanted to kick Saddam out of power and take over the country long before 9/11. Why? Wolfowitz might be, as many say, a student of the great neo-con plan to use American force remake the Middle East into a nicer, more democratic place. Cheney might be a cliquish corporate animal who wants to deliver contracts and wealth to his buddies in the construction and resource extraction industries. Bush might be a pathetic Freudian case study who wants to succeed where his daddy failed. Rumsfeld might be a mean SOB who just wants to kick some foreign butt. Who went along just to save or further their job? Who traded their support to advance some other project? The point is it’s not hard to bring all these disparate motives together behind a unilateral US invasion of Iraq.

So, who’s on first? Were the neo-cons using the corporate greed-heads or vice versa? Can we say for sure? Does it matter?
Quick question
Does anyone actually believe the official story that poor, well meaning Bush was a victim of bad intelligence? Since it looks like we will be having hearings of some sort or another, will we allow the administrations allies to define the issue as “intelligence failures?” Will anyone be bold enough to call the issue “intelligence misuse” or will they find some broad formulation for asking the question that doesn’t imply the answer?
They know no shame
Salam Pax wants to know why the administration has delayed showing photos of Saddam's dead sons. The Iraqi people want proof that Uday and Qusay are dead and refuse to dance in the streets for our photographers till they have it. Did anyone doubt that the administration would show the photos in the end? This administration has not been known for its tact or taste or for missing an opportunity for triumphalist gloating. So why go through this little charade of agonizing over the moral implications of showing the photos?

I think it's obvious. Their moral dilemma act allowed them to delay the release till Thursday. On Tuesday and Wednesday they could use the fact of the killings to drive Stephen Hadley's admission that the White House knew the uranium claim in the State of the Union Address was bogus off the front pages. Today, they can use the photos to drive the release of the 9/11 report off the front pages. After all, gory sensationalism trumps everything in allocation of news space.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

But it would be wrong
Assuming, heaven forbid, that any of us were inclined to look for the weakest member of the Bush herd to bring down into a maelstrom of journalistic snapping teeth and slashing claws, who would we go after? We all have favorites that we would like to see chewed up, but who really is the most vulnerable? Gene Lyons might have the answer:
[A]ccording to the White House, ...national security advisor Condoleeza Rice [was too busy to read the entire October National Intelligence Estimate]. She's supposed to be the brains of the operation, Bush's intellectual nanny. The former provost of Stanford University, we're told, skipped the footnotes where the strongest cautions were found. Assuming purely for the sake of argument that we believe this astonishing excuse, exactly what does the woman do all day? Have we reached the point where we expect American men and women to commit their lives and sacred honor on the basis of what Bob Somerby calls "Cliff's Notes" intelligence?

But the reality, of course, is that Rice's story simply cannot be believed. CIA director Tenet had personally warned her chief deputy Stephen Hadley off the African uranium tale on two documented occasions in October 2002. Nor is this the first time Rice has been caught uttering improbable stories in defense of her boss. Seemingly above criticism, it was Rice, Joe Conason points out, who pushed the later repudiated tale that Bush hightailed it to Nebraska on 9/11 because of "intelligence" indicating terrorists had targeted Air Force One.

It was also Rice who insisted that nobody could possibly have imagined a plot so fiendish as to crash jetliners into buildings, although the president had slept aboard a Navy vessel during his visit to Genoa, Italy during the 2001 G-8 summit for precisely that reason. It was Rice who warned that not to attack Iraq would be to risk a "mushroom cloud" over an American city, who pushed the dubious story about Iraq importing aluminum tubes to manufacture nuclear weapons long after experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency had pronounced them technically unsuitable, and who went on "Meet the Press" to deny knowing anything about Ambassador Joseph Wilson's debunking trip to Niger at the CIA's behest weeks after Nicholas Kristof had written about it in the New York Times.

Condoleeza Rice's professional ethics and truthfulness are so questionable and so lax that it would be easy for an aggressive press to pluck her out of the herd and turn her into 120 pounds of well dressed Gainsburger. Of course, that would require a national press that is interested in exposing malfeasance and incompetence in government. That would require a national press that gets a wee bit of bloodlust when the smell of scandal is in the air. That would require a national press that feels it has a duty to keep the public informed about the quality of work performed by our public servants. Sadly, the press seem to find something unseemly in such behavior. Their response to a suggestion that they bring it on, seems follow Nixon, "we could do that, but it would be wrong."

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Two more cards out of the deck
CNN is airing reports from Iraq that the 101st Airborne Division probably killed Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, in a firefight in Mosul. They have bodies this time, as opposed to the last two times we probably killed them, so there should be a comfirmation of some sort soon.

I'm not sorry to see either of these two go. They have plenty of blood on their hands. The television report is saying one of the other bodies recovered from the fight might be a grandson of Saddam's. I know nothing about the grandson, so I don't know whether he has done anything to deserve death aside from staying with his father.

No doubt the administration will hail this as a major victory over global terrorism and try to use it to push their intelligence troubles off the front page for a few news cycles.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Questions for Cheney
According to TomPaine.com, the Democratic members of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations today sent Dick Cheney a letter asking many of the questions about Saddam’s bomb that we’ve all wanted to ask. The letter was addressed to Cheney’s office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. No doubt the good people there forwarded it to his secure undisclosed location so he get right on answering it.

Reps. Kucinich, Maloney and Sanders included plenty of background so the veep would not have any trouble understanding just what they wanted. The questions:
  1. How many visits did you and your chief of staff make to CIA to meet directly with CIA analysts working on Iraq?
  2. What was the purpose of each of these visits?
  3. Did you or a member of your staff at any time direct or encourage CIA analysts to disseminate unreliable intelligence?
  4. Did you or a member of your staff at any time request or demand rewriting of intelligence assessments concerning the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
  5. Who in the office of Vice President was informed of the contents of Ambassador Wilson's report?
  6. What efforts were made by your office to disseminate the findings of Ambassador Wilson's investigation to the President, National Security Adviser, and Secretary of Defense?
  7. Did your office regard Ambassador Wilson's conclusions as accurate or inaccurate?
  8. Since your address to the [103d National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on August 26, 2002] occurred nearly 7 months after Ambassador Wilson reported his findings to the CIA and State Department, what evidence did you have for the assertion that Iraq was continuing "to pursue the nuclear program" and that Saddam had "resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons"?
  9. Since the Secretary of Defense testified to Congress that Iraq was "pursuing nuclear weapons" nearly 8 months after Ambassador Wilson's briefing to CIA and the State Department, what effort did you make to determine what evidence the Secretary of Defense had for his assertion to Congress?
  10. What was the basis for this assertion made by you on national television [IAEA Director General ElBaradei was wrong in finding a revived nuclear weapons program in Iraq unlikely]? We hope you will take the opportunity to answer these questions about your role in the dissemination of false information about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war in Iraq. We look forward to a response.

I hope this letter gets lots of press coverage. Naturally, Cheney will weasel around and variously try to ignore the letter, claim all of the questions have already been answered, cast aspersions on the motives of the questioners, and gruffly insist it’s none of their damn business. Just as naturally, a sizeable chunk of the punditocracy will dismiss the letter as “just political” because Kucinich is a candidate. They do us all a disservice by taking that attitude. These are the sorts of who knew what when questions that need to asked and answered in detail.

Most of the damage that the administration has managed to inflict on America and the world has been accomplished with the passive acquiescence of the press, the Democrats, moderate Republicans, and professionals in government and military service. The truly breathtaking and encouraging thing about the last few weeks is how all of these groups have begun to stand up and say “enough”. I hope we see more letters like this.
File under: Who knew?
In North Carolina a meth lab is a terrorist weapon of mass destruction. At least this is case in Watauga County where district attorney Jerry Wilson has charged 24-year-old Martin Dwayne Miller with two counts of manufacturing a nuclear or chemical weapon. They might be onto something here. Maybe if Wolfowitz or someone at the Department of Defense would just redefine what counts as a WMD, they could discover a dime bag of pot, declare victory in their search, and come home to a cakewalk reelection.

Maybe I shouldn’t suggest that too loudly.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Gloatworthy polling news
A new poll just released by Zogby International has Bush's job performance rating at its lowest since 9/11. Bush is in the negative on all specific issues except the war on terrorism. Significantly, on the “if the election were held today” question Bush is loosing (46 to 47 percent). Finally, opinion of him as a person has reached a post 9/11 low. Pollster John Zogby sees the last number as the most illuminating:
What has been propping up the President in the past few months is his personal favorability rating. To me, what is most ominous is this alone has slipped nine points in the past month. If he cannot count on a large majority of Americans to like him personally, this could spell doom for his re-election hopes because he has little support for his overall performance and how he is rated on the issues.

I think Zogby has half of the formula. Bush’s approval numbers have been propped up by the rally around the flag instinct and by the perception that he is honest and sincere. The bungled peace and the intelligence revelations are undermining both of those perceptions.

Even though most people feel the ouster of Saddam was a good thing and that it retroactively justified the war, they can’t be entirely indifferent to the fact that Bush lied. The more inescapable the fact of his deceptions becomes, the more they will start to draw away from him. As the body bags and angry soldiers come back from Iraq, they will be unable to avoid questioning whether he has made us more secure. People want to rally around a strong leader when they feel vulnerable, but they want that leader to deserve their support. A dishonest and incompetent leader does not deserve support.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Misplaced blame
Late last month the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Bush had told Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas he had gone to war in Iraq on instructions from God. Although the White House denied the report, I think we should look to it for the answer to the true source of responsibility for our emerging quagmire.

If God ordered Bush to get us into this mess, it must be because God hates America. Why does God hate America? Our good friends in the loony fringe of the religious right, Messrs. Falwell and Robertson, explained this almost two years ago. God hates America because of Feminists, the ACLU, and America tolerating gays.

Therefore, the mess in Iraq is obviously the fault of those same Feminists, ACLU, and our darned tolerance. So why is Bush picking on the CIA when he could blame this on us liberals?

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The storm season has begun
I was puzzled last Friday by Tenet’s willingness to fall on his sword and take the blame for Bush’s uranium lie in the state of the union address. It didn’t seem likely to me that he would take one for the team, mostly because he’s not part of the team. My wife suggested that Tenet taking a bullet that so clearly had someone else’s name on it may have been necessary to hold back some of the forces intent on politicizing the intelligence process even further than it has been.

There is clearly more to the relationship between the intelligence community and the administration than meets the eye (or at least the eye without a very high security clearance). The yellowcake uranium is a very tiny part of the whole and I think it will turn out to be fairly insignificant compared to the whole—sort of like that “second-rate burglary” in a Washington hotel in 1972. If the press and the Democrats keep the pressure up, I think we will be in for some very interesting revelations in the coming weeks. I also think Karl Rove will try to stage a major distraction. It should be interesting.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Biology question
Most mornings these days I wake up to the sound of crows quacking. They also make normal crow noises, but for some reason they seem to greet the dawn with quacks. I was pondering this the other day and remembered reading—more than once—that some urban birds imitate the sounds of car alarms. Every time I see this fact, it is presented as an example of evolution at work; look at the amazing adaptability of these birds. I suppose it’s interesting, but why are the birds doing it? Do they really expect Lexus’ and SUVs to answer their mating calls? Would a starling really know what to do with a Miata if one did answer? I think these birds are on the fast track to extinction.
Just shut up, Pat
That Pat Roberson is an annoying, self-righteous hypocrite is not news and the fact that it is not must explain the free ride he usually gets for his outrageous statements and behavior. Most of the time, reporting that he has said something offensive would be a ho-hum affair akin to saying the Israelis and Palestinians can’t agree on the final status of Jerusalem, Seattle will have a wet winter, and the White Socks didn’t make it to the World Series. None of these things happening are news; one of them not happening would be news.

If this sounds like I’m leading up to complimenting Roberson for saying something wise and reasoned, you can stop holding your breath. He hasn’t. In fact, he has reached a new level of vile and self-serving behavior. That’s quite an accomplishment for an Evangelical Protestant who excused China’s policy of forced abortions and a flag waving patriot who blamed 9/11 on the American people for annoying God.

It seems Robertson is outraged by the situation in Liberia and the reaction of our government to it. Most of us are. Liberia is a mess.

Liberia is not just part of the maelstrom of civil wars, failed states, child warriors, and genocide in West Africa; it is the source of much of that chaos. Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the nineteenth century and has always had a special relationship with the United States (for better or worse). In 1989 Charles Taylor raised a banner of rebellion against the brutal junta that had run the country for the previous eight years. Since then, Taylor has raged across Liberia and exported his war to Sierra Leone and Guinea leading to an estimated 200,000 deaths and countless injuries and mutilations. In 1997 he managed to get himself elected president of Liberia.

Human rights groups regularly condemn Taylor as one of the most brutal dictators in Africa. He is only the second sitting president to be indicted by a war crimes tribunal (Slobodan Milosevic was the first).

On Monday, Roberson commented to the estimated one million viewers of his cable TV show The 700 Club, "So we're undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country. And how dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down.' " Charles Taylor doesn’t have many high profile supporters in this country. But then, not many people in this country have invested eight million dollars in a business partnership with Taylor.

Since April 1999, a Robertson-owned company, Freedom Gold Ltd., which lists Robertson as its president and sole director, has held the concession to mine for gold in the Bokon Jideh region of Liberia. Ten percent of the profits of the operation go to the Republic of Liberia, which till now has meant in effect Charles Taylor.

Robertson appears to be alone among Evangelicals in his enthusiasm for Taylor. Some Evangelicals are openly critical of him. Richard Land, public policy head of the Southern Baptist Convention says: "I would say that Pat Robertson is way out on his own, in a leaking life raft, on this one."

Serge Duss, of the Christian relief group World Vision, called Robertson’s portrayal of the Liberian civil war as a fight between Christians and Muslims a gross oversimplification. It’s worse than that. Taylor has been linked to Osama bin Laden. They are both believed to be part of a network that launders conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. In addition, Taylor has been accused of sheltering bin Laden agents in the weeks following 9/11.

Robertson has a history of entering into business deals with tyrants and acting as apologists for them in the US media. In his book The Most Dangerous man in America? Pat Roberson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, Robert Boston documents some of Robertson’s partnerships. When Robertson was in the diamond mining business with Mobutu Sese Seko he lobbied the State Department to lift a travel ban on the Zairian dictator. When he gained a cable concession in China, he suddenly understood their need for a policy of forced abortions, despite his being on record opposing the availability of voluntary abortion anywhere else on the planet.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has kept tabs on Robertson’s business dealings for years (mostly through Boston’s reporting). AU director Barry Lynn gets right to the point: “Robertson would have his viewers believe that his interest in Liberia is purely humanitarian. In fact, he’s become partners with a dictator in the hopes of making money, and now he needs to prop that man up no matter what. Robertson ought to be ashamed of himself.” Sadly, shame seems to an emotion Robertson does not know.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Tenet falls on his sword
This story is evolving almost faster than I can keep track. The latest is that Tenet is volunteering to say it’s all his fault for not pushing loudly enough to keep Bush from using the bovine fertilizer Niger uranium claim in the State of the Union Address. Josh Marshall, who is always ahead of me on these things, asks one of the right questions: if Tenet is to blame for not pushing hard enough, whom was he pushing against? It also presents a pretty ridiculous version of just where the buck stops; it’s actually Willy Wonka’s fault that girl got turned into a blueberry because he didn’t cry “don’t” loud enough. And it completely misses the most important question of all: just what is the proper adjectival form of Niger? It’s not “Nigerian.” Nigeric? Nigeronian? Since the inhabitants are mostly brown Muslims, I'm some must think it's Nigerstani. I'll go with Nigerois.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Backed into a corner
A few links still need to be filled in, but it is becoming clear that Bush lied about the Niger uranium in his State of the Union Address. This is not me, as a liberal Democrat, interpreting things in their worst possible light. This is not a case of the President having exaggerated, or been mistaken, or misled, or out of the loop, or what have you. This is a case of the President knowingly uttering a statement to the American public that he knew at the time to be untrue.

For those of you who arrived late: Around the time of the State of the Union Address, the administration floated a story about Saddam trying to buy yellowcake (uranium ore) from crooked ministers in Niger. The document supporting this claim had been known by intelligence professionals to be a crude forgery for ten months at that point. Within a few days of the State of the Union, most people who closely followed the issue also knew that the President’s claim was nonsense. At the time, things moved too fast for the full import of that falsehood to be publicly explored. But the administration knew they had goofed up. A mere week later, when Powell went before the UN, the African uranium narrative had been dropped from the standard talking points. For months we all knew it was baloney, but the issue had no traction.

What’s new here? In the last few days it has become broadly known that not only was the information bogus, but that the White House knew it was bogus. And in casting about to find ways to avoid admitting that, they have told further verifiable lies. And in a clear sign of panic, their story has changed on an increasingly frequent basis—sometimes less than a day has passed between official versions. In just the last week the following alibis have been tried:
  • It doesn’t matter. Saddam was a bad man and now he’s gone. Woo-hoo, we’re number one!
  • The investigation of the document was done by a low level intelligence operative and never percolated up to the administration (it was done by an ambassador who was under the impression he was working directly for Cheney).
  • The President had other evidence and wasn’t referring to the Niger document (no one has suggested what that evidence might be and this story has been dropped).
  • The State of the Union Address was the work of Bush and a close circle of aids, so those who knew the truth never had an opportunity to correct it (it was finished ten days before being given and widely circulated).
  • The CIA knew it was wrong and let Bush give the speech anyway; it’s all George Tenent’s fault; George, fall on this sword (George doesn’t seem to be going along with this).
  • Although the CIA knew better, the British were fooled and Bush depended on the British for his intelligence, not on his own multi-billion-dollar intelligence agencies. It’s all Tony Blair’s Fault; Tony, fall on this sword (same as above).
  • History will vindicate us (not if I can help it).

Ironically, all of this activity is based on news that is at least three weeks old. As Josh Marshall reports, NPR disclosed that the CIA had explicitly warned Bush not to make the Niger claim in the State of the Union Address, as they could not back it up. The White House simply rephrased the claim to read: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” As long as the British really did say that, Bush could claim to be telling the “truth.” It all depends what your definition of “is” is.

There are still some important questions to be asked and details to be filled in. Who did Ambassador Wilson report to? Where did the report go from there? Who at the White House talked to whom at the CIA? Who all at the White House was in on this discussion and the decision to use the British cop out? Who wrote the final version of that part of the State of the Union Address? When did Powell decide not to use it in his UN speech? Was there any other evidence, as Ari Fleisher claimed?

I’ve been holding back from predicting that this scandal will have legs, but it’s looking better. If it continues to build, we can expect someone to be thrown to the wolves (so far Tenet and Powell have refused to volunteer). All of the old Watergate vocabulary is coming back into play. Cover-up. Stonewalling. Plausible deniability. I do not recall at this point in time, Senator. Ahh, where’s Rosemary Woods when they need her?

Monday, July 07, 2003

The Louis Renault moment
The grown-ups at MSNBC sent out a press release announcing that they are shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that Michael Savage is a gay-baiting, hate-mongering jerk. In this painful moment of disillusionment, I’m sure they can take comfort in knowing the prayers of Left Blogistan are with them as we wish them a swift recovery. Snicker snicker.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Go, buy, read
I spent most of the weekend at Hogwarts. When I got back I was excited to see that my old friend David Neiwert has finally finished rewriting and editing his blog series “Rush, Newspeak and Fascism” into a convenient pamphlet form. He has put a download link at the top of his page and is asking for a five-dollar donation (on the honor system). I just got my copy and have yet to read it, but if it is anywhere near as interesting and thought provoking as the original series, it will be easily worth the price.

I have to admit that I have a special attachment to this piece. I was only vaguely aware of the whole blogosphere phenomenon until David created Orcinus. Because he is an old friend I dutifully went and checked out his site so I could say something nice about. When I got there I read what he had to say. It was excellent, but I expected that. Then I clicked on a few of his links and read what they had to say. Then I clicked on a few of their links… Well, I was hooked. Within days, David started his “Rush, Newspeak and Fascism” series. In a former life, as an academic, I had studied the varieties of fascism. Like many former academics (read: grad school drop out), I sometimes feel like my head is about to explode from all of the unused and unwanted data that I carry around. Suddenly here was an opening to blther on about the thinks I find terribly interesting. And once one fact and/or opinion found the exit sign, thousands of others were lined up waiting for their turn. The only answer, of course, was to get my own blog.

In all real fairness I suppose it wasn’t really David who is responsible for me being here; it’s Rush. If he weren’t such a big, fat idiot none this would have been made necessary. So, let’s hear it for the race-baiting, misogynistic nincompoop. I owe it all to him.

Saturday, July 05, 2003

A plea for sanity
Last night watching the Fourth of July celebrations it occurred to me that we are entering a certain season and that a warning is in order. Think of this as a public service announcement.

In the next few months hundreds of state and county fairs will take place, this will be followed by the football season, and even before the Superbowl, the election season will be in full gear. What do fairs, football, and elections have in common. Helium balloons. Not many people think of gaily-colored helium balloons as a threat, but they are.

Think of how a helium balloon works. The helium gas inside the balloon has a much lower density than the surrounding air down here on the surface of the earth. When you release a balloon, it rises seeking its own pressure level. It continues up through the various thinning layers of the atmosphere till it reaches a level where the pressures inside and outside the balloon (with some adjustments for the weight of the balloon) are in equilibrium. There, the balloon stops rising.

But it’s not alone. At that level—the balloonosphere—it meets up with all the tens of millions of balloons that have made the voyage before it. With each supermarket opening, political convention, and homecoming game the balloonosphere gets thicker. Soon the day will come when enough balloons are collected to create a solid canopy over us all. Then, with the warming rays of the sun cut off, the temperature will plunge. Survivalists with guns and libertarians with silver dollars will run amok in the streets. Government services will be overwhelmed and the government will collapse. Riot will turn to revolution. Neighbor will turn against neighbor. Brother will turn against brother. Civilization itself will collapse. And then in our most vulnerable hour, the penguins will make their move. For the love of God do not buy your child that balloon. Stuff them with cotton candy and take them home. Just say NO to helium balloons. The civilization you save will be your own.

We now return you to your previously scheduled political commentary.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Comic book morality
Joe Conason's Journal is running two great little items. I’ll give you the first one here in its totality and get to the second one later on.
"Bring 'em on"? I'm so glad that President Bush has "restored dignity" to the White House, and I have no doubt the families of servicemen and women in Iraq must feel the same way today.
No wonder some Republicans think Arnold Schwarzenegger should be running the state of California. The real question is why we don't elect an actual cartoon character to office instead of all these cheap imitations. The Hulk's movie may be mediocre, but he obviously possesses the cool temperament, precise diction and witty style of a great commander in chief.

In a roundabout way Conason’s comment explains something that has bothered me about various Bushes named George. I have always hated listening to their voices. They both a tone that is at once whiney and patronizing and makes me want to shove pencils into my ears to make the bad noise stop. When I need to know what they have said, I usually wait till I can read it in print. Reading George the Elder at my leisure had the added entertainment value of playing find-the-verb. Both Georges have a tendency to use baby talk and childish clich├ęs whenever they wander off script. This, obviously, is what George the Younger did on Wednesday.

Little George likes to use phrases that conjure a world of comic book morality. I say this as someone who dearly loves comic books and thinks that, along with jazz, blues, Hollywood, and rock & roll, they are one of the most authentic contributions of America to world art. But I am able to understand that they are not a good grounding for moral behavior in the real world. Real grown-ups don’t reduce complex problems to phases like: “dead or alive,” “evildoers,” or “bring ‘em on.”

He might resort to this sort of vocabulary because comic books are an honest reflection of the level of his moral development. But how does that fit with his pervasive secrecy and duplicity? Comic book heroes are forthright, honest, and open. Comic book heroes do not lie and trick people into wars. Comic book heroes do not pass the buck to previous administrations or imaginary Saddam loyalists. Comic book heroes do not reinvent their past, plunder the common wealth for cronies, or pander to extremists.

George Bush talks comic book morality, but he doesn’t practice comic book morality.

Postscript: Okay, okay, comic book heroes do lie and reinvent their past, but only when it’s necessary to protect their secret identities and loved ones. Only a cad would suggest endangering Ma Kent in the name of philosophical consistency.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

What do you mean "we?"
This is the kind of talk that always turns me into a raving, indignant boor.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Wednesday challenged militants who have been killing and injuring U.S. forces in Iraq, saying "bring them on" because American forces were tough enough to deal with their attacks.

"There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there," Bush told reporters at the White House. "My answer is 'bring them on'. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation."

During the glory days of the British Empire they poked fun at the type of politician and armchair generals who were ready to defend the empire to the last Scotsman. Today we have the good, poll-taking citizens who look at the removal of due process from the rights we can expect and sigh that we must all make sacrifices; in this context "we" means brown people, foreigners, and especially brown foreigners. It always sickens me how ready most people are to volunteer necessary sacrifices for someone else. The leader of the free world is no different. The news story is accompanied by a picture of him displaying his lipless grim determination expression. I suppose if those ungrateful Iraqis continue to pester us for self rule our Mr. Potato Head in chief might even get out his angry eyes.
Onion scoops us all
Once again The Onion has scooped all the competition in the infotainment industry, this time by bringing us the real poop on the convergence between Bush’s reelection and homeland defense strategies.
Bush Asks Congress For $30 Billion To Help Fight War On Criticism
WASHINGTON, DC—Citing the need to safeguard "America's most vital institutions and politicians" against potentially devastating attacks, President Bush asked Congress to sign off Monday on a $30 billion funding package to help fight the ongoing War On Criticism.

"Sadly, the threat of criticism is still with us," Bush told members of Congress during a 2 p.m. televised address. "We thought we had defeated criticism with our successes in Afghanistan and Iraq. We thought we had struck at its very heart with the broad discretionary powers of the USA Patriot Act. And we thought that the ratings victory of Fox News, America's News Channel, might signal the beginning of a lasting peace with the media. Yet, despite all this, criticism abounds."

[…]

Ashcroft said the Justice Department, working closely with the CIA and FBI, has identified more than 300 potential targets, ranging from the Bush Administration's inability to produce the weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war with Iraq to its deficit-ballooning fiscal policies.

[…]

"I doubt I could protect my ongoing Halliburton cronyism from critical strikes with just a few million dollars—especially if it was not accompanied by powerful preemptive legislation," Vice-President Dick Cheney said. "We need to build stronger anti-criticism defense shields in this country. And the time to act is now, before the media say something negative about us."

It is this kind of hard-hitting, unbiased journalism that makes The Onion my choice for important news.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Moore loses again
ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a Ten Commandments monument the size of a washing machine must be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a ruling by a federal judge who said that the 2 1/2-ton granite monument, placed there by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Moore has made his career in recent years on this issue. He first came to national prominence as a darling of the religious right in 2000 when he defied orders to remove a smaller display from his courtroom in Gadsden, Alabama. Later that year he was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on platform of little more than continuing to annoy secularists and break the law he is sworn to uphold by continuing to maintain his display.

But merely displaying them wasn’t enough for Moore. Eight months after taking office Moore had his granite monument placed in the lobby of the State Judicial Building in the debt of night. A number of Alabamans and national organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued. Moore lost, and appealed, and has now lost again.

In its opinion today, the court rejected Moore’s assertion that government acknowledgements of religion have a long history in America. “Chief Justice Moore has pointed to no evidence that the Ten Commandments in any form were publicly displayed in any state or federal courthouse, much less that the practice of displaying them was widespread at the time the Bill of Rights was proposed and adopted,” declared the court.

The court also soundly rejected Moore’s contention that as chief judicial officer of Alabama, he is not bound by federal court rulings, comparing it to “the same position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era.”


No doubt he will defy the order and appeal to the Supremes. It is, after all, probably what he has wanted all along. He’s taking a gamble. Despite encouragement from religious right groups that hope to get a court decision that will roll back a century or so of church-state separation, he faces a few serious hurdles. There is no guarantee that the Supremes will rule in his favor or even agree to hear the case. And there is no guarantee that the people of Alabama will endless bankroll his appeals. Alabama is just as bankrupt as everybody else this year.

I also suspect his act might be getting a little old. He began this silliness when the economy was booming and he was able to parlay this season’s celebrity into a high position. A lot has changed since then. Does he ever spend any time doing his job as a Chief Justice? Do all Chief Justices have the right to bypass the usual committees, planning boards, and permit processes to plop monuments wherever they want and entangle their states in expensive legal suits?

Of course, whether to back down might not be Moore’s decision anymore. Beyond it’s significance as a church-state issue the case has implications for the Senate battle over judicial nominations. Bill Pryor, Bush’s nominee for the 11th Federal Circuit Court, and the current Attorney General of Alabama, has been an enthusiastic champion of Moore’s case. Powerful forces in his party have interests of their own in this case. It will be interesting to see where it all goes next.