Friday, February 27, 2004

Usted, No Es Nada

Laura Carlsen writes in Counterpunch that the rest of the world is growing tired of Bush's swaggering Texas Sheriff act:

In the Americas, Bush policies have lately provoked what must be a record number of diplomatic complaints...

Bush's front man for Latin America and the Caribbean, Roger Noriega , is hardly the diplomat to solve this growing image problem. Noriega, Asst. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has ruffled feathers throughout the region. In Mexico, he accused the country of playing "political games" in its relationship with the U.S., drawing an indignant response from the country's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In Argentina, Noriega publicly criticized the government's domestic policies and advocated that the Kirchner government break ties with Cuba. President Kirchner retorted: "We're through being used as a carpet...nobody can sit us down, and much less challenge us, because we are an independent country with dignity..."

But what may seem sublime to some, appears ridiculous to many abroad, and dangerously so. As a result we are seeing a resurgence of some of the ugliest stereotypes of American bullying and hubris.

Worst of all, characteristics associated with the "war president" are increasingly being applied to common Americans as well. At the soccer match between Mexico and the U.S., the Mexican crowd broke out in chants of "Osama, Osama." Pro-terrorists? No, just anti-what the U.S. has come to represent in the world.
Push Button, Wait Anyway

From The New York Times:

For years, at thousands of New York City intersections, well-worn push buttons have offered harried walkers a rare promise of control over their pedestrian lives. The signs mounted above explained their purpose:

To Cross Street
Push Button
Wait for Walk Signal
Dept. of Transportation

Millions of dutiful city residents and tourists have pushed them over the years, thinking it would help speed them in their journeys. Many trusting souls might have believed they actually worked. Others, more cynical, might have suspected they were broken but pushed anyway, out of habit, or in the off chance they might bring a walk sign more quickly.

As it turns out, the cynics were right.

The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on, according to city Department of Transportation officials. More than 2,500 of the 3,250 walk buttons that still exist function essentially as mechanical placebos, city figures show. Any benefit from them is only imagined.

Why am I picturing a grinning George W. Bush, in New York for the convention come this August/September, blithely pushing away?
Petroleum Broadcasting Service

Frontline ran a broadcast regarding the Iraq war that is worth taking a look at, despite the pro-invasion bias. Of particular interest to me is the justification of civilian casualities--you know, the whole fog-of-war, regretable but inevitable, we make every effort to minimize, blah blah blah. The fact is, however, that any civilian casualties are illegal, whether intentional or not. This means, at the very least, that the families of civilian victims are entitled to compensation. Which is probably why the United States is specifically NOT making ANY effort to count them. Interesting, no? We feign concern for the Iraqi people, telling our citizens (the world is far less gullible as to our intentions) that we wish to "liberate" them from the tyranny of Saddam--but at the same time we give not one shit about blasting Iraqis to smithereens.

Two things from the program last night are fresh in my mind, although, alas, there is no record of these items on the Frontline pages. Additionally, the transcript is at least two weeks from publication. One was the absolutely callous dismissal of civilian casualties by a number of commanders. Sure, in war, people die. However, as noted above, civilian deaths CANNOT be simply dismissed if a country wishes to claim that its in compliance with the various conventions regarding 'civilized' warfare. And, it's extremely stupid: you don't win hearts and minds by pumping bodies full of lead (or Depleted Uranium). People will seek revenge under those circumstances--with tragic consequences for our occupation troops.

The other thing that stuck in my mind also involved civilian casualities: a certain policy wonk said, on camera, that he was watching the live feed in the Pentagon situation room when an American jet attacked what was thought to be "Chemical" Ali's hideout. The video offered such a detailed view that this person claimed he could see the bodies of people (he described them as "rag dolls") being literally blown out of the building--and he noted how everyone cheered--war as sport, I guess.

Except it was no sport, but a tragedy: Ali was NOT in the house--seventeen civilians were. Blown to bits in what can only be described as Pentagon Pornography: a genuine snuff film. Your tax dollars at work.

Makes the whole Superbowl flap seem pretty insignificant...
Blix--"He Bug Me"

This is getting ridiculous: Bloomberg UK reports:

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Hans Blix's conversations were bugged by the U.S. or the U.K. whenever he was in Iraq while working as the chief weapons inspector for the United Nations, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported today, citing Australian officials familiar with their country's intelligence service.

Is there anyone working for the UN that ISN'T being bugged? You know, it's one thing for the idiot John Birchers of the world to cast sinister aspersions over the mission of the United Nations--I've come to expect such foolishness from their shallow minds. Speaking of shallow, I can't even say I'm all that surprised that Bush, President as Moron, would allow this: to quote Chris Floyd, "[Bush has] always shuffled, shifted, skulked and told lies, like some kind of nightmare reanimation of Richard Nixon's corpse. (Indeed, the main wormtongues at Bush's ear--Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld--learned their dark arts in the Nixon White House)."

And, while the paragraph above begins with obviously a rhetorical question, the last line of the Bloomberg article provides an answer: Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali today said he was told he was being bugged while in office by UN members in what was a 'tradition.'

Complete stupidity, if you ask me. Bugs are easy to detect, can often be used against the people who planted the bug, and rarely provide enough intelligence to justify the risk of planting. About the only thing you CAN do is plant one on yourself, then invite the press over to see you 'discover' it, as Karl Rove did about ten years ago when running the gubernatorial campaign of one George W. Bush...

Lies and the Lying Liars, the Sequel

Add Tony Blair to the list. From theHerald Sun of Australia:

LONDON – Rebel former minister Clare Short said yesterday Prime Minister Tony Blair would be a liar if he denied United Nations boss Kofi Annan had been bugged.

Mr Blair has condemned her as deeply irresponsible and accused her of endangering national security, saying he did not have a great deal of respect for her. But he has refused to confirm or deny her allegations on the grounds of national security.

Ms Short, who resigned over the Iraq war proceeding without UN backing, said the British public would be shocked if they knew how long Britain had been spying on Mr Annan.

The fall of Tony Blair has been nothing short of spectacular. From Clinton lite to Bush lite to lights out, Blair is doing his utmost to ensure that history will judge him as an idiot. Which surprises me: I'm not so gullible to think that Prime Minister's Questions is anything but a prime time television show, but I'll give the man credit for learning his lines. Apparently, though, there's nothing by way of brain matter between his ears.

Which means he'd make a great television personality--which is all that politicians are these days anyway: TV actors, and not particularly good ones.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I've Got Reader(s)

A good friend of mine and one of the foremost intellectuals of these times--hence, no chance he'll get tenure--sent me this article while I was busily avoiding responsibility in favor of sinful Mardi Gras-ing. LA Weekly: News: Soldier for the Truth is a Marc Cooper interview with Karen Kwiatkowski, a twenty year veteran of the Air Force and policy analyst for Near Eastern Affairs. Here's the disturbing conclusion of the interview:

You gave your life to the military, you voted Republican for many years, you say you served in the Pentagon right up to the outbreak of war. What does it feel like to be out now, publicly denouncing your old bosses?

Know what it feels like? It feels like duty. That’s what it feels like. I’ve thought about it many times. You know, I spent 20 years working for something that — at least under this administration — turned out to be something I wasn’t working for. I mean, these people have total disrespect for the Constitution. We swear an oath, military officers and NCOs alike swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. These people have no respect for the Constitution. The Congress was misled, it was lied to. At a very minimum that is a subversion of the Constitution. A pre-emptive war based on what we knew was not a pressing need is not what this country stands for.

What I feel now is that I’m not retired. I still have a responsibility to do my part as a citizen to try and correct the problem.

Bad Attitudes also found this interview, and links to further stories of interest.

And you can read more of Kwiatkowski's opinions over the last year and a half over at David Hackworth's site Soldiers for the Truth. She was the anonymous author of Insider Notes from the Pentagon. Here are two archived columns.

Summary: at least some folks close to the center realized what a lie it all was. To wit:

12 December 2002

Whatever it is we are doing… making war on terrorism, seeking dominant control of Mideast and Central Asian oil reserves, or conducting a get-even vendetta against folks like Saddam whom we helped to power only a few decades ago … word is out it’s going to take a long time.

The Vice President is reported to have referred to this adventure in the sand as a Hundred Years’ War. Last June, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon used the phrase; Robert Novak and others mention it, and it seems to have legs in the political arena, especially in “let’s reshape the Middle East in our image” circles.

As a product of the public schools, I don’t know much about history, so I had to study up on the first Hundred Years’ War, running from 1337 to 1453. Well, that’s actually more like 116 years, but if we can’t fudge numbers, we shouldn’t be working at the Pentagon.

I have to say, those smart guys leading us to war picked a good analogy, that’s for sure!

Think about that the next time we're told that "democracy is just around the corner" in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Tabled, For Now

Here are a few things that I probably won't be ranting about over the next few days, and the reasons why:

"Defense" of Marriage: Timshel (here, here, and here, offers an excellent Louisiana perspective on the issue, one that I certainly agree with. Ken likewise seems to be of the reasonable position that, no, gay/lesbian marriage isn't an unobstructed, off-peak, eight-lane superhighway to Gomorrah, no matter what the bible-thumpers say. All the big-league (etc. etc. for the other big-leaguers) and up-and-coming bloggers seem to recognize this as well. My .00002 cents won't add anything to the debate. For the record, I'm in favor of gay marriage, and I think the mayor of San Francisco and the Massachusetts Supreme Court have courageously taken the correct position on this, in spite of the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the grass-eaters--and think the whole debate is nothing more than raw meat for the religious right--something to work them all in a lather so they'll donate money and go vote for the fascist of the month.

Dan Savage, though, has some interesting things to say about the issue.

The Passion: I won't be going for at least a week or so (if at all), at least until the hoopla itself expires. Mel Gibson seems to have lunatic views towards religion, if you ask me.

There are other places to explore the historic elements, many right here on the internet. I'm a little lazy right now, but one place to start is PBS--I think the title of one of the better retrospectives is "From Christ to Christianity," or something like that. On the internet everything from the Bible itself to the Apocrypha, to "Q," etc. etc. can be searched for, and a discussion of religion and/or Christianity (or Islam or Judaism) is always something I'll listen to or talk about--usually with drink in hand--but I think the movie is all hype. IF the hype dies down, I might check the movie out for substance, but seriously doubt Gibson is capable of adding anything other than more realistic effects to the subject. Great: now we can watch the nail get driven RIGHT INTO THE PALM (and then read/hear "serious" scholars discuss whether it was the palm or wrist that the nail was driven into, thereby causing excruciating pain, blah, blah, blah).

It is pretty funny though, that nail pendants are being hawked in an attempt to cash in on all the publicity. To paraphrase Bill Hicks: should Oliver Stone have attempted to hawk rifle pendants when promoting JFK?

I for one wouldn't mind seeing more attention paid to the epistles of Paul, or the Acts of the Apostles, or other early examples of Christian writing. There are items contained in these that might surprise some. As far as the whole blood-and-guts element of the Passion--I don't think there are too many people who HAVEN'T had some exposure to this, so Mel's version is just another rendition. Sure, it's in Aramaic and Latin--but someone should have mentioned to Gibson that ancient Greek was a major language in the region too.

But I've said I DON'T want to get lost in discussions of gay/lesbian marriage and Jesus--even as I wonder if a google search for that will bring up my site...

So--for now, you'll have to get your gay/lesbian marriage and Jesus news elsewhere--not that you'll have any trouble finding anything. Meanwhile, I'll keep doing my best to offend and/or educate on whatever else catches my eye--of late, by the way, a fantastic series about one Wm. Shakespeare that just finished airing on Public Television (last week was the conclusion of another good program about the Medici family), and whatever else I come across.

That Shakespeare dude was one hell of a playwright...

Department of Hubris

Today in Iraq linked to this article in The Olympian.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Patty Murray should apologize for frightening the families of the 81st Armored Brigade when she raised questions about the Defense Department's ability to provide adequate body armor and other essential equipment to the National Guard members on their way to Iraq, her main Republican challenger said Thursday.

In case you--or Nethercutt (R-WA)--can't recall, here's what he had to say last fall regarding the Iraq mission debacle:

"The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. ... It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day."

Nethercutt should be apologizing daily, if not hourly, for a statement like that--which has all the vainglorious stupidity of "bring 'em on."
Manuel--Frist was WEARING an "I'm With Stupid" T-Shirt...

and the arrow was pointing at YOU, dumbass. Naked Furniture spells it out--slowly--for Mr. Miranda, since he apparently doesn't understand.
Costs of War

Regarding my previous post: already I'm reaping a benefit from Riverbend's post and link to The Angry Arab. Not only is today's post both informative and funny, but Khalil linked Tuesday to this poignant article from the Progressive magazine entitled The Ultimate Betrayal, by Howard Zinn.

Zinn sees the big picture: young boys, and today, young boys and young women, are routinely lied to when summoned to war. From the days of the American Revolution, when Washington dined extravagently while the rank and file clothed themselves in rags, to today's stop-loss orders, shortages of kevlar vests--and the continued policy of the Bush Administration to mostly ignore those who've either paid the ultimate or penultimate price for their folly--the rich profit while the poor do all the work:

Excerpt: Those who come back alive, but blind or without arms or legs, find that the Bush Administration is cutting funds for veterans. Bush's State of the Union address, while going through the usual motions of thanking those serving in Iraq, continued his policy of ignoring the fact that thousands have come back wounded, in a war that is becoming increasingly unpopular.

The quick Thanksgiving visit of Bush to Iraq, much ballyhooed in the press, was seen differently by an army nurse in Landstuhl, Germany, where casualties from the war are treated. She sent out an e-mail: "My 'Bush Thanksgiving' was a little different. I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. . . . When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all nineteen on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse. . . . It's too bad Bush didn't add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you'll never read that in the paper."

As for Jeremy Feldbusch, blinded in the war, his hometown of Blairsville, an old coal mining town of 3,600, held a parade for him, and the mayor honored him. I thought of the blinded, armless, legless soldier in Dalton Trumbo's novel Johnny Got His Gun, who, lying on his hospital cot, unable to speak or hear, remembers when his hometown gave him a send-off, with speeches about fighting for liberty and democracy. He finally learns how to communicate, by tapping Morse Code letters with his head, and asks the authorities to take him to schoolrooms everywhere, to show the children what war is like. But they do not respond. "In one terrible moment he saw the whole thing," Trumbo writes. "They wanted only to forget him."

In a sense, the novel was asking, and now the returned veterans are asking, that we don't forget.

Better Than Winning $6 ($2 Net)

I still haven't finished the post on Riverbend's site, but something compelled me to click on a link to The Angry Arab. I immediately recognized his photograph as the person I saw almost a year ago on the most boring hour of television (or so says Alexander Cockburn).

It might be the most boring hour of television, but Asa'ad Abu Khalil made for a most interesting ten minutes, even if he had to share the podium with the bland Ray Suarez and idiotic Danielle Pletka. Now that I'm aware of his blog, it will assume a prominent spot on my roll.

In addition to his thoughtful commentary regarding Middle East issues, Khalil seems also to be interested in Chicken McNuggets (I'll have to find out why), and encourages folks to "make miracles up" to support the campaign to canonize Mother Theresa--he claims his sink was "miraculously unclogged" in October 2003. Who says secular humanists have no sense of humor?

Re: canonization: Will Pope John Paul I eventually become the patron saint of Temps and Limited Term Employees?


Don't quote me, but I think that's the martial art where you use your opponents' strength against them. TalkLeft, via Billmon, found a political version of this on the official Bush website--on principle, I refuse to link to Dubya's site, but you can get there from the TalkLeft link above.

Summary: At the Bush web site, there is a search engine for your local newspapers. Enter your Zip Code, and every paper in the region is displayed. You can check off as many as you wish, then add a subject line and the text of your email.

For the record, The Advocate rarely if ever prints an email on the letters page. But it can't hurt to write them (or you own local paper) anyway. Besides, it means you've forced the Bush website/server to work, if only just a bit, towards their own downfall.

Ain't technology grand?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Mercredi Gras

Back in BR for roughly twenty minutes now...I'll have more to post this evening. Yesterday wasn't a total wash after all in New Orleans--instead of thunderstorms, there was on and off misting rain (until exactly midnight). I caught enough Zulu medallions to ensure a set of beads for everyone I was with, caught a few trinkets at Rex, and even won a whopping $6 (net gain $2) playing slots--hey, the casino was on the way back to the hotel.

Need to catch up on the news and whatnot as well.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Farewell to Flesh, or Goodbye to Meat

Take your pick as the meaning of Carnival, which officially begins for me this evening. Thanks to Mary for her link to National Geographic, which explains some Mardi Gras traditions for y'all. The weather threatens to not cooperate, but why worry about weather at a time like this?

Hope everyone has a good time--I'll be back on Wednesday.
Greider Weighs In

Dean's Rough Ride at the Nation's website, is a good summary of Howard Dean's flame-out. I find the last three paragraphs pretty compelling:

Despite the spectacle of his cratered campaign, Howard Dean did accomplish something real for democracy. First, he confirmed the existence of an energetic, informed dissent within the husk of the Democratic Party. An amorphous force, to be sure, but I do not think it will go away. Don't hold me to the numbers, but one campaign veteran told me 70 percent of the citizens on Dean's much-admired computer list are over 30--a broader base than the stereotype. On the other hand, 25 percent of the money contributed came from people under 30--impressive too. The Dean campaign demonstrated, most dramatically, that people can make their own politics via the Internet and elsewhere by raising lots of money from outsiders, i.e., mere citizens.

This momentous knowledge is liberating--if people figure out how to use it in other places. I can imagine, for instance, insurgent challenges launched by young unknowns against Congressional incumbents, especially in Democratic primaries. Most of these incumbents haven't faced serious opposition in years. At a minimum, it would scare the crap out of them--always healthy for politicians. In my Washington experience, nothing alters voting behavior in Congress like seeing a few of their colleagues taken down by surprise--defeated by an outsider whose ideas they did not take seriously.

What the Dean campaign clearly did not accomplish (in addition to formulating a smart countermedia strategy) was to find ways to develop the flesh-and-blood relationships that can become enduring building blocks in politics--de Tocqueville's "associations" or labor's "collective action." The Meet-Ups are a rough start. is an impressive organizing engine. We may be witnessing the early stages of small-d democratic renewal, in which people impose new technologies and new social realities on tired old institutions. As Howard Dean's rough ride reminds, established power, including the media, will resist change tenaciously. But the doctor may yet be remembered as the herald of something new.

The entire essay is worth reading--I'm not the biggest fan of William Greider, but this article makes a number of good points.
Brought to You by George W. Bush

Funny--it seems as if the right-wing these days is doing as much as they can to hide the disaster that is the Bush policy: hundreds have been killed, thousands have been wounded, Weapons of Mass Destruction were nothing more than a wet dream fantasy of Bush, Ahmad Chalabi, and Judith Miller...while Iraq is about to fall apart. I'm sure most folks already know that Chalabi racked up a nest egg of roughly $400 million dollars in exchange for telling Washington what they wanted to hear. Here's what he's saying now:

Ahmad Chalabi is pretty much admitting that he lied about Iraq's WMD and that Iraqi "defectors" coached by his Iraq National Congress misled intelligence officials. But, he says, "What was said before is not important."

Meanwhile, Jimmy Breslin once again earns his paycheck. Check out his column at Newsday's website. Link courtesy of Today in Iraq--an absolute must read for anyone concerned with what's happening there.


She didn't know his name. It was on a tag someplace and it had already been logged in. They did that the moment they brought the dead soldier off the plane from Iraq and into the morgue at Dover Air Force Base. The body had to pass through a metal detector in case there was some ordnance still there...

The left eye was there, wide open. The startled left eye.

"It was looking out as if to say, 'What happened?'" she was saying yesterday. "I don't think he believed that he was dead."

She stood and stared at that left eye and the left eye stared back at her. It was light-looking. Bluish green. The colors change in death. The amazement in this eye does not.

She began to dream of seeing that face as it was in his young life. A right eye, and a young firm face and cheek matching the left side.

He just started in life, she thought. He didn't even have a chance. Did he have a kid? Maybe he lost the chance to see his kid walk. Or to sit on the beach. Or if he didn't live near an ocean, maybe he could sit with his kid at a picnic. Watch the kid wave and stumble as he started walking on the green summer grass.

Look at him now, she thought. He'll never see that.

All that is left is that one shocked eye...

She looked at a newspaper and saw Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart. How could they dare put something like this in while there are dead soldiers coming in on planes? There were three dead women killed in Iraq and brought through Dover. They went unmentioned. This made her furious. She began to talk to herself. I am a professional. I have worked in disasters. I must stop this.

Then, on this Sunday in February, when she is home only days, she opens a newspaper and goes through it. On Page 18 there is a picture of her soldier.

"Sundered by War" the overline says. His two eyes are gleaming with happiness. There is that young, strong face she had imagined. Good-looking teeth brighten the smile. In the soldier's lap, looking out in wonderment, is his 6-month-old son
Playing the Lottery

Actually, I think my lotto odds would be slightly better, but here's a letter I wrote to the Washington Post in response to this editorial by Joshua Muravchik, who works for the American Enterprise Institute, which Today in Iraq appropriately calls a "stink tank."


Once again, an individual, in this case Joshua Muravchik, apparently is too stupid to verify a statement he attributes to John Kerry:

As leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry accused American soldiers of "war crimes . . . committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

Here is Mr. Kerry's actual quote:

I would like to talk, representing all those veterans, and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command....

A five year old might have some difficulty in understanding the difference between making an accusation and recounting the testimony of others. However, I would like to think that ostensible adults like Mr. Muravchik are capable of grasping this relatively simple distinction. If he is an ignorant man, please do not waste space in your paper with such drivel. If, on the other hand, he is deliberately distorting Mr. Kerry's statement, then he should not only be banned from your paper, but thoroughly condemned.

Political debate is rancorous enough without adding fuel to the fire by misquoting someone. Do your readers a favor and explain this to Mr. Muravchik--and tell him to refrain from such idiocy in the future.


I've noted before that I'm not so much high on John Kerry as I am on beating Bush--but I'm not going to sit and take crap from the likes of Mr. Muravchik--who received a carbon copy...

If by some miracle the letter actually DOES get published--well, maybe I'll go buy a few lotto tickets...