Tuesday, June 10, 2003

There was a good story on NPR's Morning Edition today about new rules being proposed by the Bush administration:

BOB EDWARDS: The Bush administration will allow states to seek exemptions from a policy that blocks road building in a national forest. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Ray says the so-called roadless rule will be amended, and the nation's two largest national forests will be exempted altogether. NPR's Elizabeth Arnold has been following the story. Good morning.

ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Good morning, Bob.

EDWARDS: This roadless rule protects nearly 60 million acres of forest. What will this policy change mean?

ARNOLD: Well, Bob, the Bush administration inherited this rule. They never really liked it, they never defended it in court, and they wanted to get rid of it, but the Clinton administration really bulletproofed it, with unprecedented public comment, they simply made it hard to get around, and this last December the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it, so now the Bush administration is sayong, "OK, fine, we'll live with it, but in some amendments this fall we'll exempt the two largest national forests, both in Alaska, the Tongass and the Chugach, and we'll let the governors get around it, too, under exceptional circumstances, like to reduce the risk of wildfire." So, in short, they're gutting it, without really doing away with it, and what it really means is more access to forest that's been off limits to new roads and logging.

EDWARDS: In Alaska, didn't Ray say that 95% of the forest will still remain roadless there?

ARNOLD: Well, he did, Bob. He was talking about the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. But to put that in context, you need to know that two thirds of the Tongass is actually rock and ice -- it's basically glacier. So, some thirty-plus timber sales that are already in the works there represent a pretty good portion of what's left of that forest....


Arnold went on to explain that the forests in question are far from populated areas, so it's not really necessary to prevent wildfires in them -- fires are appropriate in these forests and are allowed to happen, and as a result the forests aren't overgrown. So this isn't about dangerous wildfires at all.

Arnold also pointed out that Undersecretary Ray is a former timber-industry lobbyist.

It seems obvious what's going on. So how come the New York Times story on this rule change has the utterly misleading headline "Bush to Prohibit Building Roads Inside Forests"?
Tonight on ABC News, Peter Jennings reported on the two Israeli attacks in Gaza. What followed was this exchange with ABC's White House reporter, Terry Moran:

JENNINGS: Terry, the president is the patron of this latest attempt to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Do you think he was somewhat surprised today?

MORAN: Totally surprised, Peter. The White House was really taken aback by these attacks.


Is this possible? Is it really possible that the president of the United States and his advisers are so ill-informed, so unable to comprehend the world around them, that they couldn't imagine that this would happen?

Maybe it's just spin -- but I can't imagine why, if you were the White House, you'd want to feed the press a story that makes you look impossibly naive. So I think Moran is telling the truth -- and I find it rather astonishing.
Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program.

--President Bush at a Monday Cabinet meeting

Watch what he and his underlings say from now on. Watch how often they say Iraq had a weapons program. That fudges the issue: Of course the Iraqis had one when they gassed the Kurds. Did they have a weapons program after that? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they had one in recent years but it wasn't active, and wouldn't have been as long as the sanctions were in place. But if Bush and his subordinates know there was no active program in recent years, and they always say simply that Iraq had a weapons program, they're telling the strict truth but deceiving the public.

It all depends on what the definition of had is.
The Associated Press tries to count civilian deaths in Iraq:

At least 3,240 civilians died across Iraq during a month of war, including 1,896 in Baghdad, according to a five-week Associated Press investigation.

The count is still fragmentary, and the complete toll — if it is ever tallied — is sure to be significantly higher....


Here's the methodology, which explains why the actual toll is almost certainly much higher:

The AP count was based on records from 60 of Iraq's 124 hospitals — including almost all of the large ones — and covers the period between March 20, when the war began, and April 20, when fighting was dying down and coalition forces announced they would soon declare major combat over. AP journalists traveled to all of these hospitals, studying their logs, examining death certificates where available and interviewing officials about what they witnessed.

Many of the other 64 hospitals are in small towns and were not visited because they are in dangerous or inaccessible areas. Some hospitals that were visited had incomplete or war-damaged casualty records.

Even if hospital records were complete, they would not tell the full story. Many of the dead were never taken to hospitals, either buried quickly by their families in accordance with Islamic custom, or lost under rubble.

The AP excluded all counts done by hospitals whose written records did not distinguish between civilian and military dead, which means hundreds, possibly thousands, of victims in Iraq's largest cities and most intense battles aren't reflected in the total....


Comment at the Free Republic thread devoted to the article, from someone who, presumably, was very, very far from the war zone:

Sounds good.

Small price to pay for freedom.

Great job US Military.


Thanks, pal. If a future president ever insists that blowing up your house and killing your whole family is necessary to preserve freedom, it's good to know you've given your OK.

About That Bridge They Are Buying: The media is swallowing the entire Hillary hype oyster in one gulp. Take the "million copy" claim.  There is no way to prove such a number has been published. Take the "lines around the block for the book signing" report. In New York that many nutballs would turn out for Charles Manson....

--Catty comment posted this morning at Lucianne Goldberg's Lucianne.com (translation: "Please, God, pretty please, let Hillary's book be a failure!")

Clinton Book Sets Barnes & Noble Record

WASHINGTON - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoirs set a Barnes & Noble sales record for nonfiction books on its first day on store shelves, the company said Tuesday.

Clinton signed over a thousand copies of the book, "Living History," at a promotional event at a Barnes & Noble store in midtown Manhattan Monday, the first day the book was on sale.

The company said the former first lady's White House memoirs sold more than 40,000 copies in the first 24 hours it was available, instantly making it an in-house best seller.

Nationwide sales figures for other booksellers were not immediately available.

Late Monday, publisher Simon & Schuster, which paid $8 million for the tome, announced it would print an additional 100,000 copies, on top of an extraordinary initial printing of 1 million copies....


--AP story posted at Yahoo News this afternoon

Har-de-har-har.

Barnes & Noble has no motivation to fake sales numbers (nobody in New York media wants to be caught telling stretchers these days) -- if B&N says Hillary broke a record, she broke a record. And S&S has no motivation to reprint the book unless it thinks its warehouses could be out of stock soon. So this baby is really selling. Forty thousand copies at one chain in one day is a nig number in book publishing. (Books that sell 50,000 or 60,000 copies in total routinely make the lower rungs of the New York Times bestseller list.) Like her or not, she did it.
Here's the lead story in this morning's print edition of USA Today:

Guard, Reserve short on recruits

...The nation's largest auxiliary forces — the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve — are beginning to have trouble meeting their recruiting targets.

As of April 30, the Guard was nearly 6,000 recruits short of where it needed to be on that date to meet its Sept. 30 target of enlisting 62,000 soldiers, Pentagon statistics show. If the Guard can't reverse the shortfall, it will mark the first time since 1998 that it has failed to fill its ranks.

The Army Reserve is also lagging behind and was more than 700 soldiers short of where it needed to be in April to meet its Sept. 30 goal of 42,000.

Defense officials and civilian analysts say the numbers demonstrate that the unusually intense use of part-time soldiers over the past year and a half is beginning to seriously affect the Guard and Reserve....

"I think it is reasonable to conclude that people are looking at the last 19 to 20 months of mobilization and they are voting with their feet," says Tom White, a former secretary of the Army. "I think we're seeing the leading edge of a problem."

...The demands on National Guard and Reserve troops, most of whom have full-time civilian jobs, have been unrelenting. Some units, including military police and nation-building soldiers known as civil affairs specialists, have been on active duty almost constantly since the Sept. 11 attacks....


Several thoughts come to mind:

* This is typical of the contemporary management class, isn't it? They hire people at one level, dump the responsibilities of higher-level workers on them without actually promoting them or giving them raises, and assume enough of them will just grumble and take it.

* Bush does this and still maintains the reputation as the commander-in-chief who's loved by his troops, in contrast to his evil peacenik predecessor. Did Clinton shortchange reservists? If he did, he didn't do it in a period of permanent war. And if recruitment of reservists fell short in 1998, remember that that was during a roaring economic boom. (And yet recruitment goals were met in 1999 and 2000, apparently.) Conditions for reservists are now alienating potential recruits despite lousy economic conditions.

* This is really a disgrace. Bush wants massive simultaneous troop deployments in more countries than he himself can find on a map, yet he and Rumsfeld pretend that we can have domino wars (and the subsequent occupations) without the use of big, big numbers of full-time servicemembers. That requires lots of taxpayer money -- and maybe a draft -- but the administration won't say so. (America, of course, doesn't want a draft or higher taxes.)

* The worst enemy of this administration is itself. Democrats are too pitiful to mount effective opposition, and the public is still largely pro-Bush -- but the administration's ability to carry out the neocons' mad imperialist plans is threatened by Bush's utter refusal to grasp the fact that things cost money, and by Rumsfeld's fixation on the idea that the military can do anything it wants with low troop strength.

Sooner or later, this will all come crashing down on their -- and our -- heads.
So maybe the war wasn't about the oil -- at least not in the way you might expect:

Employees of South Oil, Iraq's leading oil producer before the war, are now idle because looting has brought most of the company to a standstill.

"The other day, there was looting and sabotage at the North Rumaila field," Mr. Leaby said. "The day before that, at the Zubayr field. For three months, I've been talking, talking, talking about this, and I'm sick of it."

This is now the state of the Iraqi oil industry, custodian of the world's third largest oil reserves — an estimated 112 billion barrels — and the repository of hope for the United States-led alliance and the Iraqi people themselves. Money from oil, the Bush administration has said repeatedly, will drive Iraq's economic revival, which in turn will foster the country's political stability. Many Iraqis agree.

Yet from the vast Kirkuk oil field in the north to the patchwork of rich southern fields around Basra, Iraq's oil industry, once among the best-run and most smartly equipped in the world, is in tatters.

Looting, sabotage and the continued lack of security at oil facilities are the most recent problems the industry and its American overseers must address in order to get petroleum flowing again, especially for export....


--New York Times

It sure seems as if no one's in a rush to turn this situation around:

Last Tuesday, Halliburton workers at Garmat Ali tested for the first time the new pumps and filters they started to install a week earlier to send water to the refinery to wash the oil.

A half-dozen burly Halliburton workers, some with ponytails and neon-bright bandanas, struggled to secure a large hose to a concrete platform using chains and ropes. Someone turned on the pump, and water gushed out of the open hose. "Now we're talking!" said Roger Davis, the Halliburton safety coordinator at the site.

But the equipment the Americans have brought is only "5 percent of what we had before," said Adnan Hussein, a South Oil engineer who works at Garmat Ali. The other equipment still needed is for injecting water into the Rumaila fields.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not set a date for starting that project....

At South Oil's headquarters, Mr. Leaby questioned how any repairs could hold when security was so threadbare. "Every minute, we have something missing," he said. "Every time we fix something, it gets looted."


Is this yet another result of Donald Rumsfeld's obsession with keeping troop strength low?

And do the high muckamucks at Halliburton not care because the contract to pump the oil is the real asset they wanted? Do they not care how much they pump, or how soon, because this contract is lucrative no matter what?

Yesterday, AARP ran a full-page ad in The New York Times asking Congress and the president to agree on a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare. One line from the ad jumped out at me: "Every effort should be made to reduce gap in coverage."

As Robert Pear's story in yesterday's Times explains, the Republican proposal for prescription drugs "would leave a big gap for some people. Under the Senate bill, for example, Medicare would share drug costs up to $3,450 a year, but would not provide further coverage until a beneficiary's annual drug costs reached about $5,300."

Why does the GOP plan in the Senate do that? I guess I understand the notion of covering both ordinary and extraordinary expenses, but why exclude what's in the middle? What's the logic behind that?

Now, look at the wording of that line from the AARP ad: "Every effort should be made to reduce gap in coverage." It's almost as if the AARP thinks this gap is some sort of natural phenomenon, something like cancer or tornado damage that we simply can't eliminate but should do our best to minimize. It isn't. People made this gap. It doesn't have to exist at all.

Monday, June 09, 2003

More book news from Publishers Lunch:

With all the announcements relating to books for conservatives, it’s worth noting the launch this fall of [Henry] Holt’s American Empire Project, a line of "short, argument-driven" books that will examine "the increasingly imperial cast of America’s government and policies." Developed by editors and historians Tom Engelhardt and Steve Fraser, the line from Metropolitan Books begins with Noam Chomsky’s HEGEMONY AND SURVIVAL, said to be his first "wholly new book in over 10 years."

Henry Holt isn't huge, but it's part of Holtzbrinck, which also owns Farrar, Straus & Giroux and St. Martin's. (In the past, Holt has published, and paid big money to, the likes of Sue Grafton, Thomas Pynchon, and, yes, Al and Tipper Gore.)
You may have read about the Al Franken/Bill O'Reilly dust-up at BookExpo America on Saturday, May 31 (here's Newsday's account; here's some commentary from CalPundit and his readers) -- but Michael Moore was aapparently also quite entertaining the following day. Herean account of Moore's talk from an e-mail sent out June 1 from BEA by the folks at Publishers Lunch:

Fireworks from Saturday’s political lunch still resonated at this morning’s author breakfast, as moderator Walter Isaacson told the audience, "There won’t be quite as much heat as there was at lunch, but hey it’s breakfast." But it did begin with a rousing ovation before anyone even said a word, and clearly much of that enthusiasm was directed towards speaker Michael Moore—as underscored when Madeline Albright took to the podium later and declared, "What a blast to be here with Michael Moore."

More amusing than aggressive, Moore himself began by saying, "Now if you don’t mind I’d like to finish that Oscar speech…" He noted that "success has made me extremely grateful to Mr. Bush for the tax cut" and told the President he’s got a new plan "to spend my entire tax cut to help defeat you next year." (Interested candidates can go to spendmikestaxcut.com.)

Moore’s fall book is tentatively titled, DUDE, WHERE’S MY COUNTRY? (given a chance a vote by applause, the audience favored that title heavily over the alternate, LEAVE NO MILLIONAIRE BEHIND), and includes such helpful chapters as "How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-in-law." Moore’s thesis is that most people in the country aren’t really conservative in all their policies, but that "They just don’t want to give up their tax money." By his reckoning, the key for liberals in prevailing is to "quit trying the moral argument. When you’re a conservative it’s all me, me, me. How does it affect me?" His notion is that humane policies towards issues like health care and day care make for a happier, more prosperous work force, and in turn will help conservatives make more money.

Other popular Moore one-liners included references to "the Fox Nuisance Channel" and a hunch that "Saddam found the same travel agent that Osama did." Later in the morning Moore drew long lines having his picture taken at the Warner booth, where at one point he was observed singing a duet of "O Canada." He quipped, "Just in case I have to move."


And, from the same e-mail, here's an account of Franken/O'Reilly/Ivins:

The MediaTalk lunch on Saturday was full of fireworks. Originally conceived as a "fair and balanced" presentation with two on the left, Molly Ivins and Al Franken, facing off against two on the right, Bill O'Reilly and Tucker Carlson, was thrown off-center by Carlson's absence. Former Democratic Congresswoman and AAP head Patricia Schroeder, who moderated, said, tongue in cheek, that it was perfectly fair and balanced to her.

Ivins, whose "BUSHWHACKED" is coming soon from Random House, kicked off the conversation talking about her new tool to analyze the health of the US economy, the Doug Jones Average (reusing some of her material from the book awards the night before). Doug Jones is the symbol of the "average American." And, no surprise, she found the "Doug Jones Average" falling, citing a host of failures of the Bush government, often in the field of environmental protection, to take the side of the average American against the powerful. She closed with a powerful, and inflammatory, quote from Mussolini defining fascism as "corporatism," when corporations wield government's power. "The bottom line is that old Doug Jones is getting screwed." (Ivins also won over booksellers with a story about Barnes & Noble that had shelved her book SHRUB in the gardening section.)

Bill O'Reilly, the fabulously successful author ("The O'Reilly Factor" and "The No-Spin Zone") and talk-show host whose "Who's Looking Out for You?" is coming soon from Doubleday Broadway, was greeted by smaller but still fervent pockets of applause. He said his book was "a very personal book, not a political book—I don’t really write political books…. It’s a personal book about you."

He immediately claimed separation from Rush Limbaugh by saying "I'm a problem solver." O'Reilly's prescription for a better world is about individual responsibility. He disdains government help as ineffective and counterproductive. Baiting the next speaker a few times, O’Reilly said "We name names—we don’t call names."

Al Franken was the last to speak. His new book, coming from Dutton, is "LIES, and the Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right". Franken started out, deadpan, saying "God asked me to write this book because he was so pissed off at George Bush" for claiming God was on HIS side.

It turned out, though, that Franken had a very pointed agenda, and O'Reilly was the target, which is hinted at by the fact that O'Reilly is the cover image of "LIES..." Franken told a lengthy story, the gist of which was that O'Reilly lied on C-Span about awards his TV work had earned, and persisted in the lies in the face of questioning and evidence.

Of course O'Reilly was operating at two distinct disadvantages. One was that the audience was, judging from the applause and outbursts, largely on the political side of Ivins and Franken.

But, perhaps even more telling was the difference in skills and attitudes of the participants. Franken is a skilled comedian: quick with his wit and sure with his timing. Ivins is a political writer with a caustic and humorous edge. O'Reilly seems to have almost no sense of humor at all, and certainly none when he himself is involved, since that is the subject he seems to take MOST seriously.

From this observer's point of view, that might for a very unfair fight, even before you get to who had the right side on the facts and merits.

Congresswoman Schroeder had her hands full keeping things on a relatively civil plane. The direct attacks by Franken on O'Reilly, and his shrill defense of himself, left Ivins where she almost never would find herself -- the person in "the middle." To a plea from the last questioner from the audience that we find ways to "come together," not much hope came from the platform. Franken said, basically, it is time for liberals to fight back, although he said he considered himself a "nice guy" and wanted to "promote civility." This brought a harumph from O'Reilly and, mostly, cheers from the floor.

Schroeder's closing appeal was that each of the speakers send their books to the others. I have a feeling that Ivins and Franken will enjoy the swap, Ivins will skip O'Reilly's and Franken will mine it for material for his next book.
Remember deficit hawks? Warren Rudman? Ross Perot? Lead or Leave? Whatever happened to those flinty folks, anyway? I've been thinking that they were all forcibly transported to one of Dick Cheney's undisclosed locations, but, lo and behold, one emerged in yesterday's New York Times Magazine -- Pete Peterson, railing against his fellow Republicans:

Coming into power, the Republican leaders faced a choice between tax cuts and providing genuine financing for the future of Social Security. (What a landmark reform this would have been!) They chose tax cuts. After 9/11, they faced a choice between tax cuts and getting serious about the extensive measures needed to protect this nation against further terrorist attacks. They chose tax cuts. After war broke out in the Mideast, they faced a choice between tax cuts and galvanizing the nation behind a policy of future-oriented burden sharing. Again and again, they chose tax cuts.

The recent $10 trillion deficit swing is the largest in American history other than during years of total war....

You might suppose that a reasoned debate over this deficit-happy policy would at least be admissible within the ''discussion tent'' of the Republican Party. Apparently, it is not. I've seen Republicans get blackballed for merely observing that national investment is limited by national savings; that large deficits typically reduce national savings; or that higher deficits eventually trigger higher interest rates. I've seen others get pilloried for picking on the wrong constituency -- for suggesting, say, that a tax loophole for a corporation or wealthy retiree is no better, ethically or economically, than a dubious welfare program.

For some ''supply side'' Republicans, the pursuit of lower taxes has evolved into a religion, indeed a tax-cut theology that simply discards any objective evidence that violates the tenets of the faith.


Peterson, like all deficit hawks, also whacks the Democrats (for "dubious" social programs -- presumably anything introduced or proposed after 1960). Still, his condemnation of GOP orthodoxy is a hell of a lot more full-throated than what most Democrats seem able to muster. (I wonder if Peterson's article helped inspire this John Kerry statement.)

Elsewhere in the Times Magazine, this is not a bad explanation of why Bush tax policy is bad for you -- by all means share it with centrist friends who might not grasp that reduced federal taxes mean reduced federal revenues, which mean reduced money for state and, ultimately, local programs, which is why the local prison is turning away prisoners and the local roads are filled with potholes. What's missing from the article is what's missing from all refutations of right-wing tax orthodoxy: a challenge to the notion, implicit in all right-wing thinking, that we can have all the government services we need and lower taxes because there's just so much government waste. No conservative is ever expected to prove that this is so. Instead, we get dishonest proof-by-anecdote -- in this case, the vile Grover Norquist sneering at tax-sponsored sex-change operations. Look, I've heard of these operations being paid for out of government funds, and you can certainly argue against that, but does Wisconsin, say, fully fund 88 such operations a day, 365 days a year, at $100,000 a pop? Because that's how many sex-change operations would have to be dropped from Wisconsin's budget to close the $3.2 billion budget gap the Times article tells us it has. And I don't know that Wisconsin (ex-governor: Tommy Thompson) has ever funded even one such operation. But nobody ever calls a guy like Norquist on something like this. Nobody ever shoves a budget under his nose and says, "OK, show me all the cuts you'd make to balance this and pay for your wish list of tax cuts." Nobody ever does this to him, and it should be done to him as often as humanly possible.
Real life has intervened. I'm utterly swamped. I'll try to post soon.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

I saw this photo in USA Today while I was on vacation.

I'm so glad the grown-ups are in charge now -- aren't you?
A couple of posts ago I cited this story, in which Judith Miller and William Broad quote skeptics who doubt that the alleged mobile weapons labs in Iraq really were meant to produce WMDs. Now I see that there's this, from The Observer:

Tony Blair faces a fresh crisis over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, as evidence emerges that two vehicles that he has repeatedly claimed to be Iraqi mobile biological warfare production units are nothing of the sort....

The Observer has established that it is increasingly likely that the units were designed to be used for hydrogen production to fill artillery balloons, part of a system originally sold to Saddam by Britain in 1987.


The article lists some reasons for skepticism about the WMD story. You've read some of these before, but not all of them:

* The lack of any trace of pathogens found in the fermentation tanks. According to experts, when weapons inspectors checked tanks in the mid-Nineties that had been scoured to disguise their real use, traces of pathogens were still detectable.

* The use of canvas sides on vehicles where technicians would be working with dangerous germ cultures.

* A shortage of pumps required to create vacuum conditions required for working with germ cultures and other processes usually associated with making biological weapons.

* The lack of an autoclave for steam sterilisation, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

* The lack of any easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank.


Canvas sides? That's the one that strikes me as bizarre. (A British scientist quoted in the article feels the same way.)

One more story of note from Saturday's New York Times -- "As Budgets Shrink, Cities See an Impact on Criminal Justice" by Fox Butterfield:

The Portland police budget has been cut by more than 10 percent in the last three years, and the strain is showing.

Station houses now close at night, and the 960-member force is down 64 officers. With no money for overtime, undercover drug officers sometimes simply stop what they are doing — for instance, tailing suspects or executing search warrants — when their shifts end...

Crime here is rising, and Chief Kroeker says he is not surprised. In the first four months of the year, shoplifting is up 10 percent from the same period in 2002, car break-ins have increased 12 percent, the number of stolen cars has risen 19 percent and home burglaries have jumped 21 percent, police figures show....

The police commissioner in Seattle, R. Gil Kerlikowske, said that because of budget cuts he had reduced his force by 24 officers and 50 civilians this year and put a freeze on the hiring and training of new officers. The city now has about 1,250 officers, a police spokeswoman said. Burglaries, car thefts and shoplifting are up 18 percent this year, Mr. Kerlikowske said, though violent crime has remained steady.

In Minneapolis, Robert K. Olson, the police chief, has cut 118 officers from his 900-member force this year because much of the money for the city's police comes from the state, which is running a budget deficit. Chief Olson said he had lost another 81 police officers because President Bush had essentially eliminated a Clinton administration program that provided money to add 100,000 police around the country....


You know, if we actually had an opposition party in this country, this might become a political issue.
I was stunned when I read in yesterday's New York Times that Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas had given a speech "drafted by the Bush administration and amended in negotiation with Mr. Abbas's aides." Is this really how we expect to win peace in the Middle East -- by insisting that as many Arab and Muslim leaders in the region as possible are visibly lapdogs of the U.S.?
A little more about the L.A. Times story I just posted, about the Iraqi who said that Iraq's WMD program was essentially on hold prior to the war: According to the Times,

The interview with the former senior Iraqi intelligence officer was arranged by a family member of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid, who was married to one of Hussein's daughters and who headed Iraq's secret weapons programs until he defected to Jordan in 1994. He was executed after he returned to Baghdad in 1995 under promises of safety.

Recall what Seymour Hersh said about Hussein Kamel in his watershed New Yorker article "Selective Intelligence":

In August, 1995, General Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of Iraq’s weapons program, defected to Jordan, with his brother, Colonel Saddam Kamel. They brought with them crates of documents containing detailed information about Iraqi efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction—much of which was unknown to the U.N. inspection teams that had been on the job since 1991—and were interviewed at length by the U.N. inspectors. In 1996, Saddam Hussein lured the brothers back with a promise of forgiveness, and then had them killed. The Kamels’ information became a major element in the Bush Administration’s campaign to convince the public of the failure of the U.N. inspections.

Last October, in a speech in Cincinnati, the President cited the Kamel defections as the moment when Saddam’s regime “was forced to admit that it had produced more than thirty thousand liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. . . . This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions.” A couple of weeks earlier, Vice-President Cheney had declared that Hussein Kamel’s story “should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself.”

The full record of Hussein Kamel’s interview with the inspectors reveals, however, that he also said that Iraq’s stockpile of chemical and biological warheads, which were manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, had been destroyed, in many cases in response to ongoing inspections. The interview, on August 22, 1995,was conducted by Rolf Ekeus, then the executive chairman of the U.N. inspection teams, and two of his senior associates—Nikita Smidovich and Maurizio Zifferaro. “You have an important role in Iraq,” Kamel said, according to the record, which was assembled from notes taken by Smidovich. “You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq.” When Smidovich noted that the U.N. teams had not found “any traces of destruction,” Kamel responded, “Yes, it was done before you came in.” He also said that Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of warheads. “We gave instructions not to produce chemical weapons,” Kamel explained later in the debriefing. “I don’t remember resumption of chemical-weapons production before the Gulf War. Maybe it was only minimal production and filling. . . . All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.”


I think Saddam wanted to make these weapons again, but never did so.
Hey, I'm back -- tanned, rested, and still disgruntled. Had a nice time, but I missed this....

Oh, where to start? Maybe the land of Lucianne.

Today one of her "Must Reads of the Day" is "Iraq Had Secret Labs, Officer Says" from the L.A. Times. Here's the part of the story that gets posted at the top of the thread on her site:

BAGHDAD -- Saddam Hussein's intelligence services set up a network of clandestine cells and small laboratories after 1996 with the goal of someday rebuilding illicit chemical and biological weapons, according to a former senior Iraqi intelligence officer. The officer, who held the rank of brigadier general, said each closely guarded weapons team had three or four scientists and other experts who were unknown to U.N. inspectors...

Smoking gun? High fives in Bush country? Humiliation for liberal skeptics? Er, not quite. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the original story that Lucianne.com chose not to excerpt:

The officer, who held the rank of brigadier general, ... insisted they did not produce any illegal arms and that none now exist in Iraq. But he said the teams met regularly and put plans on paper to quickly develop weapons of mass destruction if U.N. sanctions against Iraq were lifted.

"We could start again anytime," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he said he fears for his life. "It's very easy. Especially biological."

"The point was, the Iraqis kept the knowledge," he explained during a lengthy interview Friday in which he offered tantalizing details of secret programs. But U.S. weapons hunters "will never find anything here. Only oil."

...He said that U.N. sanctions and inspections in the 1990s crippled Iraq's ability to build illegal weapons and that Hussein's chemical, biological and nuclear programs were effectively eliminated in the mid-1990s....

The Iraqi intelligence officer said that the secret weapons groups were created in late 1996 and 1997 because the regime's unconventional arms programs had been dismantled or destroyed by then and that U.N. inspectors knew most of those who had worked in them....


Kind of a comedown, no? The right was so ready to wave huge stockpiles of WMDs in our faces, and now they're crowing because one Iraqi says there used to be WMDs in Iraq -- and that the sanctions we said were an effective deterrent actually were an effective deterrent.

(If you can't read the story, use "clipjoint" as both member name and password.)

Oh, and, by the way, this guy might not even be telling the truth:

It's possible that the officer's story contains falsehoods meant to deceive or confuse U.S. investigators. He refused to show the documents he said he had saved or to take a Los Angeles Times reporter to any of the safe houses where he said the weapons teams had operated....

The Iraqi officer agreed to speak to two reporters because he said he wanted them to provide a satellite telephone that would not be tapped by U.S. intelligence so he could call Iraqi spies hiding overseas.

He said he also wanted to see if he could gain access to $600,000 he said is in a Chase Manhattan Bank account. The reporters refused....


A real Boy Scout, this one.

Look, I don't think Saddam was a nice guy. As I said last month, I think it's quite plausible that Saddam had a WMD program and abandoned it in an attempt to get sanctions lifted -- and if that's what was going on, it means the sanctions were a very effective anti-proliferation tool. I think this source is telling a story that's reasonably close to the truth -- even if he's just making stuff up.

************

Meanwhile, Judith Miller took a small taste of crow yesterday, coauthoring this story:

Some Analysts of Iraq Trailers Reject Germ Use

American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

"Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process." ...

The skeptical experts said the mobile plants lacked gear for steam sterilization, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production, peaceful or otherwise. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

Second, if this shortcoming were somehow circumvented, each unit would still produce only a relatively small amount of germ-laden liquid, which would have to undergo further processing at some other factory unit to make it concentrated and prepare it for use as a weapon.

Finally, they said, the trailers have no easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank....


One more story embarrassing to the administration that, alas, conveniently winds up in the Saturday paper....

Friday, May 30, 2003

I'm going to be at a few undisclosed locations over the next week or so, so I won't be posting, but I'll be back around June 8 with lots of fresh vitriol. Thanks to everyone for reading (and linking)....
Next time we need troops for a war in the Gulf, can we please send these people first?

LIKE most of the students at Hummer camp, Maria del Carmen Grimmelmann tends to gush. "It moves me," Mrs. Grimmelmann, 51, said of the supercharged Hummer H2 she and her husband, Frank, bought earlier this year.

"You know when you go shopping and nothing moves you?" she asked. "Then there's the time you see something, and right away know it's perfect. It's like falling in love. When I'm driving it, I feel empowered. It's the car that opens the sea for me. Now I know how Moses felt."...

WEDNESDAY, AFTER LUNCH Mark Mills and David Paschen, a 50-year-old recreational vehicle dealer from Chesterton, Ind., acquaintances for all of one day, are barreling up and down mud hills following a caravan of Hummers. Mr. Paschen is playing befuddled straight man while Mr. Mills doles out zingers.

Why did you buy a Hummer, Dave?

"I turned 50, and I decided if I was ever going to do it, this was the time," Mr. Paschen replied.

Mr. Mills interjects, "His wife said he could."

Mark, why did you buy a Hummer?

Well, he had a BMW sports car and had considered an H1, but there were complications.

"I don't want to say I'm a fat guy," he explains. "But I'm a fat guy. The seats in that H1 aren't very big." Besides, the H1 was twice the H2's price.

"I only have so much money," Mr. Mills said. Kidding!...

Mr. Chance, a man with the erect bearing and basso voice of a somewhat younger Charlton Heston, explained the Hummer appeal over dinner.

"The last G.M. car I liked was a '57 Chevy," he said. "I think it's so important that car designers create passion. Europe does it — BMW, Mercedes, Ferrari. They create passion and make you willing to write a check. There's no logic. If I had sat down and done a cost-benefit analysis, I would have been, `No-o-o.' Of course, I took delivery in California, and gas went to $2.50. So that's a statement of passion or stupidity, I don't know which."...


Yeah, I'm so dang proud to be an American after reading this....
Is there anyone left who still hasn't seen "What a Tangled Web We Weave...," Billmon's compendium of WMD quotes? If you haven't, go to the link immediately.
Watch how fast Paul Bremer changes his story in this interview with Claire Shipman of ABC News:

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: But still, no matter how quickly we won the war, wouldn't it have made sense for example to have an enormous police or military police operation ready to go here, to simply keep order?

PAUL BREMER: Well, the police in a postwar period, the police are called the army. That's what the Army is here for. And we did have a pretty big one. Right? Today we had 54,000 troops here in Baghdad. That's a pretty big police force. We also have got an entire brigade of MPs that have been brought in. We've got a pretty good-sized police force. That's not a problem.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: But they certainly weren't operating the way they might have as soon as the war ended.

PAUL BREMER: Look. Military men are not trained to be policeman. But in an immediate postwar period, that's the role that they have to assume.


Hey, we didn't need cops -- we had soldiers! Lots of soldiers! Er ... but hey, you can't expect soldiers to be cops!

One more deck of non-Pentagon-approved playing cards.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Media conservatives know how to keep the average right-wing Joe angry: When all else fails, just make stuff up. This morning, the first "must read of the day" at Lucianne Goldberg's Web site was a story about an incident on a Qantas flight:

2 flight attendants stabbed on plane

A snarky comment followed on the site:

Wonder where the hijacker could be from?

Here’s some of what was said in the Lucianne.com discussion devoted to this story:

Any bets that his name is Mohammad or Abu?!

I also am expecting that the culprit's name is going to turn out to be something like Mohammed Abdullah, or Mustafa Jihadi, or Ahmed Intifada, or some such.

The Austrailian news agency is reporting the highjacker is an Aussie. However, like Richard Reid, he could very well be an Aussie Mooslim.

This is BOUND to be a Muslim terrorist wanna-be.

If the liberals would unwad their panties and get on board with checking all Mooslim and Arab looking men between 17-50, we'd solve a lot of problems.

While Americans and our allies boldly determine the course of the 21st Century, the Death Cult Horde (presuming this was in fact an Islamist savage) appears to have regressed from the stone age to the stick age.

Yo ,, ye dang Leftist Media and Quantas you can't hide this stuff anymore We The People know Islamic Terrorist Savages are out there !!!

Islamic raghead or Australian raghead, you can bet that he was one.


Er, apparently not. Here’s the Sydney Morning Herald:

Government sources said the assailant called out about "God's will or Armageddon when he was interrogated by federal police after the plane returned to Melbourne. He had been quiet but one source said that, during the attack and after he had been detained, he began talking about "God and the end of the world", saying that "God had spoken to him"….

Witnesses who saw the man after he was arrested, his hands bloodied and in handcuffs, described him as "just a normal looking Australian". It was believed he recently had resigned or been sacked from a job. Federal police said he would be charged under the Federal Aviation Act….

Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon said: "We do not believe at this stage that this is terrorist-related in any way."


If there’s any clarification of this at Lucianne.com, I haven’t seen it.
Someone at Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins Publishers actually got paid cash money to decide that the subtitle of Dick Morris's forthcoming book should not be Duplicity, Destruction, and Deception in American Politics, Media, and Business, but rather Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Life.

Or vice versa.

From the link, I can't be sure.

I guess we'll have to wait until the book comes out next month to find out what the final decision was.

Isn't the suspense just killing you? I know it's killing me.
US troops firing a tank-mounted machine gun have killed two civilians and injured two others in the Iraqi town of Samarra after they tried to drive through a military checkpoint, US Central Command said.

The news came as the US military announced it was investigating another incident in Samarra, about 60kms north of Baghdad, on Monday in which three young men were allegedly shot and killed by US troops....

...Officials at the hospital where the three dead youths were taken said they had been firing in the air to celebrate a wedding, as is the Iraqi custom.


--Herald-Sun (Australia)
There's nothing I can add to what TBOGG says here about privatization.
Bush Signs Tax Cut Bill, Dismissing All Criticism

--headline in today's New York Times

"Dismissing All Criticism" -- is it really necessary to add that? In Bush's case, isn't that a bit like adding "Continuing to Breathe Oxygen"? Has there ever been a millisecond in Bush's presidency when he wasn't "Dismissing All Criticism"?
It looks as if the Bush administration's lying disease, unlike SARS, may be communicable across an ocean...

 A dossier compiled by the government on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was rewritten to make it "sexier", a senior British official has told the BBC....

The intelligence official told the BBC the dossier had been "transformed" a week before it was published on the orders of Downing Street.

He said: "The classic example was the statement that weapons of mass destruction were ready for use within 45 minutes.

"That information was not in the original draft. It was included in the dossier against our wishes because it wasn't reliable.

"Most things in the dossier were double source but that was single source and we believe that the source was wrong." ...


--BBC

RIOTING IN IRAQ

The police station in the tense Iraqi town of Hit smouldered on Thursday, a day after it was set alight in what residents said was a riot over intrusive weapons searches by Iraqi police and US soldiers....

...24-year-old Amer Aziz, who said he represented the young men of Hit, said the trouble began when police and American troops began a house-to-house search for guns on Wednesday morning.

"The Iraqi police were very rough with our women," he said. "They forced their way into houses without knocking, sometimes when women were sleeping. This is a very conservative town."

Uproar ensued in the Sunni Muslim town of 155,000 as angry residents surged into the streets, burning police cars and throwing stones and handmade grenades at the Americans.

Aziz said a parley had taken place in the afternoon, when townsfolk told the Americans to leave or face suicide attacks.

"I convinced the young men to withdraw and then the Americans withdrew," he added.

Another young man, 26-year-old Ahmed al-Mashhadawi, said a hand grenade had been thrown at a US tank as it left town. "We killed one soldier and wounded others," he said.

The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was checking what happened in Hit, but has not confirmed any casualties....


--Reuters, via NZOOM.com (New Zealand)
You probably already know about the report, commissioned and then suppressed by the Bush administration, that (as Reuters says), "measured the present value of the federal deficit at over $44 trillion."

Just in case you're not clear how much money that is, that's $160,000 for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.

(The U.S. population is roughly 275 million.)

And, as Reuters notes,

The study estimated that closing the budget gap would take an immediate and permanent across-the-board tax increase of 66 percent, the paper reported.

Great.
PRIORITIES STRAIGHT

I'm not breaking any news here -- this is a front-page story in both the print and online New York Times -- but this just makes me furious:

A last-minute revision by House and Senate leaders in the tax bill that President Bush signed today will prevent millions of minimum-wage families from receiving the increased child credit that is in the measure, say Congressional officials and outside groups.

... after studying the bill approved on Friday, liberal and child advocacy groups discovered that a different group of families would also not benefit from the $400 increase — families who make just above the minimum wage.

Because of the formula for calculating the credit, most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, says those families include 11.9 million children, or one of every six children under 17.


And in case you're not clear about what's important to our right-wing government, realize this: a provision to give these families the tax break was agreed on, but

an important swing senator, George V. Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said he could not approve any bill that exceeded $350 billion. To satisfy him and the Senate, Ms. Tinsworth [a Ways and Means Committee spokeswoman] said, the child credit provision was dropped, along with other costs.

...A spokeswoman for Mr. Voinovich said the senator would have been happy to extend the child credits, but believed that the entire package should not pass $350 billion. The tax writers were free to reduce the dividend tax cut, noted the spokeswoman, Marcie Ridgway.
(emphasis mine)

Free to reduce it? They were free to eliminate it. Hell, they were free not to do engage at all in another round of tax giveaways to the non-needy. But they know what's important, right?

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The Baghdad bunker which the United States said it bombed on the opening night of the Iraq war in a bid to kill Saddam Hussein never existed, CBS Evening News reported Wednesday.

The network quoted a U.S. Army colonel in charge of inspecting key sites in Baghdad as saying no trace of a bunker or of bodies had been found at the site on the southern outskirts of the Iraqi capital, known as Dora Farms.

"When we came out here, the primary thing they were looking for was an underground facility, or bodies, forensics, and basically, what they saw was giant holes created. No underground facilities, no bodies," Col. Tim Madere said....


--Reuters

So who said there was a bunker there? Ahmed "Tommy Flanagan" Chalabi?
A lot of Iranian citizens want to reach out to the U.S. and the West. As The Guardian points out, no good deed goes unpunished:

The Pentagon's pronouncement that it would seek to "destabilise" Iran's Islamic republic has given the country's clerics ammunition to portray their liberal opponents as traitors. Hardly a day passes without warnings in the official press against reformists accused of sowing divisions.

"America is trying to undermine our national unity by provoking chaos and political differences as well as creating a crisis," said Mohammed Baqer Zolqadr, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

Washington's rhetoric could not have come at a more awkward time for President Mohammed Khatami and his allies in parliament. As the political and constitutional battle between reformists and Islamists comes to a head, the US intervention is a distraction and a pretext for muffling dissent....


Great. And these are people who want to be our friends.
In a little item about Hillary Clinton's forthcoming memoir, Matt Drudge says this:

Clinton raised eyebrows in 1996 when she failed to acknowledge a single person in her bestseller, IT TAKES A VILLAGE.

Here is the complete text of page 319 of It Takes a Village:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It takes a village to bring a book into the world, as anyone who has written one knows. Many people have helped me to complete this one, sometimes without even knowing it. They are so numerous that I will not even attempt to acknowledge them individually, for fear that I might leave someone out. Instead, I would like to thank those who encouraged and advised, read and reacted; those who typed and retyped, edited, copyedited, proofread, designed, set type, and printed; and those who kept the engines of daily life humming the whole time. The opinions expressed in this book are my own, as is the responsibility for any errors it may contain. Yet I am indebted for my ideas -- and for any contribution they make to public and private debates and agendas -- to a long line of family and friends, teachers and classmates, colleagues and mentors; to the many tireless and often unheralded experts whose work I have been privileged to know; and most of all, to the millions of families and children who are building tomorrow’s villages.


No she didn't say, "I worked with a ghostwriter." (Most nonwriters who work with ghostwriters don't.) No, she didn't mention anyone by name. But she did thank people -- lots of people.

The left has its share of wackos, but the right has -- and takes very, very seriously -- people like Robert George, who defends Rick Santorum's recent remarks on sexual matters in this National Review Online piece.

The problem with George isn't that he thinks that a Supreme Court endorsement of an absolute right to privacy would be open the door to legalization of consensual adult incest and other rare but nasty behaviors -- you can find centrists who've argued the same thing. No, the problem with George is that he considers any sexual act apart from intercourse to be "intrinsically non-marital" -- even if it takes place between a husband and wife. To George, the things lawfully wedded spouses do that aren't intercourse are “sexual misconduct,” “illicit sex acts,” and “immoral sex acts.” It's entirely likely that Senator Santorum agrees.

You know, maybe we should spend a little less time wondering about what might happen if there's an expansion of the right to privacy -- and a little more time wondering what the limits on our private behavior would be if people like Robert George and Rick Santorum had their way.
Don't you just love the sheer glee with which this tells you how to get a huge tax deduction on the biggest frigging brontasaurus of an SUV you can possibly buy, including SUVs so fuel-inefficient "they fall outside the scope of the rating system"? Here's a sample passage:

The deduction for SUV purchases was already pretty hefty, but it came in three parts: A $25,000 equipment deduction, plus 30% of the remaining price (courtesy of the 2002 economic stimulus bill), plus the standard five-year depreciation schedule on the remainder. On a $72,000 Range Rover, the deduction came to about $45,000 the first year, for a tax savings of more than $16,000.

It's so much easier -- and cheaper -- to write the whole thing off. Simply multiply the purchase price by your tax rate. The tax savings on that same Range Rover? More than $25,000 in the top brackets. In contrast, those who buy ultra-efficient gas-electric hybrids for personal use get a tax deduction of $2,000, worth at most $700.


What a country! Munch my dust, granola-eaters! The all-GOP federal government rocks!
How big was the tax cut Bush just signed? A hell of a lot bigger than $316 billion or $350 billion. Who says so? Some liberal? No -- Senator Bill Frist. The Daily Howler quotes Tony Snow's interview of Frist on last weekend's Fox News Sunday:

FRIST: I’m very hopeful that they won’t be temporary, that this $350 billion tax plan will, indeed, be made permanent, will grow to what it really is, is an $800 billion tax relief package for the American people.

SNOW: So, in effect, the president got a bigger tax cut than he requested in the first place?

FRIST: He did.


And they're not satisfied. They want even more:

FRIST: Remember, the budget that we passed in the Senate and in the House had, not a $350 billion package, but a $1.2 trillion tax relief package. That is the goal. This is really the first iteration, that first step.

If you're under 45, I think you can just kiss Social Security goodbye.

(Partial transcript of the Fox News interview here.)
Somewhere, in a parallel universe, everything is hunky-dory. How do I know this? I know this because Donald Luskin of National Review Online apparently lives in that parallel universe. Here he is writing about Paul Krugman's forthcoming book:

Think, for a moment, about how good things have been lately, and how hard a catastrophist like Krugman has to work to make them seem bad. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a brilliant victory (Krugman: " ... it did the terrorists a favor ... "). President Bush signs into law today an historic pro-growth tax bill, enacted thanks to the support of cross-over Democrats (Krugman: " ... the administration ... actually wants a fiscal crisis ... "). Even the crisis in corporate malfeasance seems to have been overcome (Krugman: " ... they can get away with even more self-dealing than before ... ").

No recession! No corporate crooks! And everyone in the Middle East loves us! What a cool universe! Wish I lived there....
In Monday's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz reported that an internal New York Times e-mail had revealed the identity of the principal source for reporter Judith Miller's dubious claims of WMD "smoking guns" in Iraq -- Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, bosom friend of the D.C. neocons. ("She ... noted that the Army unit she was traveling with -- Mobile Exploration Team Alpha -- 'is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . .'")

Now we learn from the New York Observer (scroll past the Jayson Blair story) that the Times's Kuwait bureau during Gulf War II employed Ahmed Chalabi's niece:

The New York Times has quietly ended its relationship with Sarah Khalil, who helped set up the paper’s Kuwait bureau for the war—and who is also the niece of Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress....

In an e-mail exchange with Off the Record, chief Washington correspondent Patrick Tyler—currently reporting from Baghdad—explained that he hired Ms. Khalil, a former staffer with the AFP news agency in Cairo, in January, while setting up the Kuwait bureau for the war.

Mr. Tyler said he met Ms. Khalil, the wife of a Kuwaiti-based businessman and the mother of two small children, while working for
The Washington Post in the 1980’s and hired her as an assistant "whose work was confined to Kuwait." This, Mr. Tyler said, included arranging visas for war correspondents and directing supplies into war zones.

"The politics of postwar Iraq were not even on the horizon," Mr. Tyler said. "I certainly didn’t expect to be covering them. Chalabi was not in the news or even in the region. When he came across the horizon after the war, Sarah and I had a discussion about Chalabi’s rising profile and the appearance of conflict."

According to sources at
The Times, editors and senior writers in The Times’ Washington bureau objected to Ms. Khalil’s presence and demanded that Mr. Tyler relieve her of her duties....

Curious.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

When Ann Coulter steps over the line and says something so outrageous that even fellow conservatives can’t defend it, their usual response is to say, well, after all, Coulter is an entertainer -- her stock in trade is comic hyperbole. You’re not supposed to take her seriously, as you would a more sober-sided conservative essayist.

One of those indefensible Coulter remarks came a few days after 9/11. Coulter said of Muslims in her weekly column,

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

An exaggeration, right? Bitter, angry hyperbole, not meant to be taken seriously -- right?

So why was William F. Buckley -- the sort of conservative we’re all supposed to take seriously -- saying nearly the same thing in his National Review Online column today?

Buckley had read a New York Times article about Islam-hating Evangelicals who want to preach Christianity to Muslims. The article makes clear that the goal of these people is conversion:

On a recent Saturday in a church fellowship hall here, evangelical Christians from several states gathered for an all-day seminar on how to woo Muslims away from Islam.

It also makes clear that they don’t have much respect for Islam:

"The Koran's good verses are like the food an assassin adds to poison to disguise a deadly taste," writes Don Richardson, a well-known missionary who worked in Muslim countries, in "Secrets of the Koran" (Regal Books, 2003). "Better to find the same food, sans poison, in the Bible." This month, he is scheduled to speak on Islam at churches in five American cities.

Buckley thinks what they’re doing is terrific:

The program initiated by sundry evangelical Christian ministers to accost Islam by teaching the tenets of the Christian faith to those who seek to bring that faith to Muslims is very good stuff, overdue....

One evangelist, from Beirut, advocates assembling passages from the Koran that establish that Islam is "regressive, fraudulent, and violent," to quote the Times report by Laurie Goodstein. "Here in the Koran it says slay them, slay the infidels. In the Bible there are no words from Jesus saying we should kill innocent people."...

Diplomacy is fine and is necessary but it sometimes demands politically correct professions of equality of faith, at the expense of right reason. Ronald Reagan saw through to this problem when he said that the Soviet Union was an evil empire and that Communism would end up on the ash heap of history. Something like that needs to be said about Muslims, to the extent that they are identifiable as agents of terrorism.


We know William F. Buckley thinks we should invade Muslim countries and kill their leaders -- we’ve just invaded two of these countries and tried our damnedest to kill their leaders, and he was all for it. And now we know he wants the people left alive converted to Christianity -- or, at the very least, told how sick and vile and morally repugnant their religion is, in contrast to the moral glories of Christianity.

So what’s the difference between him and Coulter?
Is there a Gulf War II Syndrome? The U.K.'s Evening Standard seems to think so:

The Government was facing growing criticism over claims that four soldiers who received multiple vaccinations before the Iraq war could be suffering from a potential "Gulf War II Syndrome".

Stephen Cartwright, 24, of Kidderminster, Worcestershire, and Tony Barker, 45, from Leeds, were among the four men threatening to sue the Ministry of Defence after suffering "severe physical and psychological symptoms".

Their solicitor Mark McGhee said all four had received multiple inoculations in one day, contrary to Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon's statement to the Commons earlier this year.

Mr McGhee, of Manchester-based law firm Linder Myers, said: "It is my understanding that specific guidance was given to medical officers that these inoculations were not to be administered on a multiple basis."

Mr Hoon told MPs in January that "a key lesson" learnt from the 1991 Gulf War was the importance of ensuring that troops should not receive a number of different vaccinations in a short timeframe.

Mr McGhee, who has dealt with more than 400 veterans from the first Gulf War, said the symptoms reported by the four soldiers were "identical" to those of so-called Gulf War Syndrome....


It'll be interesting to see whether the pro-war pundits in America who tell us to "support the troops" will change their tune if our soldiers begin to lodge similar complaints.

It occurs to me that the real-life GOP policy that most resembles Orwell's "We are not at war with Eurasia. We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia" isn't the one-war-after-another approach to international relations (addition isn't really the same as substitution), but the policy on budget deficits. USA Today points this out today to traveling salesmen all over America:

The current president's tax cut also would have been impossible if the House Republican majority that arrived in 1995 had passed the first piece of legislation proposed in its ''Contract with America'' campaign document.

Spurred by Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who became speaker of the House for two terms, conservative House Republicans wanted to pass a constitutional amendment requiring that the president propose a balanced federal budget each year and that Congress enforce it.

...''If Newt Gingrich and friends had been successful in implementing their 'Contract with America,' everything they do this year would be illegal,' '' [Stan] Collender [of the Federal Budget Consulting Group] said. ''The president would have to submit a balanced budget. They couldn't increase the debt. That's a real turnabout. It's an abandonment of discipline.''

...Republicans who wrote the tax-cut legislation acknowledged it will require more borrowing. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the borrowing is warranted by the costs of war and terrorism and the struggling economy. He called it ''an investment deficit.''

''You can spend a deficit dollar in peace as an investment in national strength, (to) make sure the economy is strong,'' Thomas said.


Thomas, of course, endorsed the Contract with America, including the "Fiscal Responsibility Act" (which called for "a balanced budget/tax limitation amendment ... to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses"). Can you think of any Repubs from that period who didn't?

(UPDATE: When I first posted this, I omitted the USA Today link. It's there now.)
Don't even bother reading the newspaper over the next few months (or year-plus): Neal Pollack lists every possible future scenario and their likely outcomes (which are all the same). The only cloudy spot on his crystal ball, in my opinion: Wouldn't the U.S. government want the sham Iraq melodrama to last approximately a year and a half, so the 9/11 anniversary bash-cum-2004 Republican convention (and the subsequent campaign) can be conducted in an atmosphere of utter national terror?
A stray thought:

It's obvious now that the Bush administration would like to turn the Iranians into our new Antichrists. Do you think the Bushies will have the gall to exploit the fact that the name of the man who's currently Iran's most powerful mullah, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is awfully similar to that of the now-deceased Ayatollah Khomeini? Will they suggest (without actually saying so) that Khomeini, America's #1 demon a generation ago, is the guy we need to fight?

Oh, and another thing: A year from now, do you think most Americans will think Iran was behind 9/11? Do you think they'll think 9/11 was masterminded by Khomeini, a guy who died in 1989?
Remember this?

In the mid-1980s, ... Congress tightened rules about how much money can be written off on luxury automobiles used for business -- but excluded vehicles with a gross weight of 6,000 pounds or more, partly an attempt to help farmers afford tractors, large trucks and other heavy equipment.

But many SUVs, including the 6,400-pound [Hummer] H2, fall into that heavyweight category, and now a new class of small-business owners and the self-employed, such as construction company executives, doctors, real estate agents and lawyers, is qualifying for [a tax] deduction.


Well, the deduction -- nearly $38,000 for a vehicle that costs $50,000 to $60,000 -- just cleared Congress:

Congress on Friday substantially widened a tax break that has been used by small businesses as an incentive to purchase the largest sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Supporters including President Bush said the business equipment tax break, which was quadrupled to $100,000 in the $350 billion tax cut bill that narrowly cleared Congress, is good for the economy.


It passed on Friday, when it was assumed that you wouldn't be paying attention.

I see The New York Times is reporting today that respect for the military is extremely high right now among young people. I guess that's good, because if we're subsidizing Hummers, kids are going to have a lot of opportunities to see their heroes in action in the foreseeable future.

*******

The article on young people's trust in the military, incidentally, includes yet more evidence of the success of Bush's Great Deception:

In Mr. Sunderdick's class, Vietnam seemed very distant history. Even the teacher was born after Saigon fell. Several students said they thought that the Iraq war was much more like World War II, a war with a clear rationale waged by a country intent on defending itself, reflecting the effectiveness of the Bush administration's case for going to war.

"We actually got attacked," a student, Jessica Cowman, said. "In Vietnam, it wasn't an attack on us. We got hit in World War II, at Pearl Harbor, and we got hit in New York and at the Pentagon. It wasn't like that with Vietnam."

Another student, Stephanie Isberg, said: "People are more personally affected, especially by 9/11. My uncle almost died. So I have a more positive viewpoint about going in and taking out terrorists than I probably would have if nothing had happened."


Saddam = Osama. 2 + 2 = 5.
Here's how a couple of recent mountaineering events were reported on last night's broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:

In another part of the world, it is climbing season on Mount Everest, and records there are falling like never before. Today a Sherpa scaled the mountain in record speed -- ten hours and fifty-six minutes from base camp to peak. The previous record was set just three days ago. And then today another Sherpa reached the top of the mountain -- his thirteenth time there, also a record.

What's wrong with this? Well, Sherpas aren't camping equipment. Sherpas are people. They have names. Reporting this story without giving the Sherpas' names is an insult.

Damn "liberal" media.

(The New York Times reports on these and other Everest events in today's edition and gives the names of the climbers. The speed champ is Lhakpa Gela and the thirteen-time climber has the single name Appa.)

Monday, May 26, 2003

In the middle of an article in yesterday's New York Times, I ran across this statistic:

Medicaid, the nation's largest health insurance program, pays for one-third of all births, covers one-fourth of all children and finances care for two-thirds of nursing home residents.

I knew about the nursing homes -- a lot of senior citizens spend down their assets to qualify for Medicaid. You'd think we'd have better, more direct ways of helping people pay for nursing-home care, but there it is. It's the other statistics that are really appalling, though: One out of every three births in this country is to a mother on Medicaid? One out every four children is on Medicaid? In a country with no nbational health-care system, we have that many young families that can't get coverage any other way? That's a disgrace.
It seems that fashionable Euro-bashing has made it to the arts pages of The New York Times. This is from an article in today's Times about the Eurovision Song Festival:

The Eurovision performers are clad in overly self-conscious leisure wear, and their movements are choreographed with the accuracy of a Bavarian glockenspiel figurine; they smile with such unnatural intensity that they look as if they're on the verge of a manic episode. The singer seemingly becomes one with the song and can't get out. In short, a typical Eurovision broadcast looks like a cross between a chewing-gum commercial and a Leni Riefenstahl film.

Look, I'm an American, and I'm proud of the amazing popular music we made in this country over the last hundred years -- but it sure doesn't look as if we're going to another century like the last one. We used to have a right in this country to sneer at European pop, but not anymore. "Choreographed with the accuracy of a Bavarian glockenspiel figurine"? "A cross between a chewing-gum commercial and a Leni Riefenstahl film"? These phrases could describe any video or live performance by Michael Jackson or any of the dozens of acts influenced by him in the past two decades, from his sister Janet through Britney Spears, Cristina Aguilera, and all the boy bands (and no, that music isn't completely dead -- the first solo album by Justin Timberlake of 'NSync went double platinum within the past year). "They smile with such unnatural intensity that they look as if they're on the verge of a manic episode"? Sounds like a good description of this guy, or any number of other American Idol contestants. And notice who came in third in this year's Eurovision contest -- t.A.T.u., the pop-music world's current champions of ├ępater les bourgeois. Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Madonna, 2 Live Crew, Marilyn Manson -- not only did America make great pop music, but we regularly had pop stars who were the best in the world at shock (with a little competition from Brits like David Bowie). But now the shock crown has passed to two Russians -- they're not even from a country that was in the Coalition of the Willing! -- whose fake sapphic-schoolgirl act has made them superstars worldwide, even in America. So sneer no sneers at the Eurovision Song Festival -- we have Creed and Nickelback.

(UPDATE: Yeah, sorry -- Nickleback is a Canadian band. OK -- Darryl Worley, then.)
"The Republican Party just agrees with the way I feel compared with the Democratic Party, which is right now almost a communist party...."

--Richard Wibalda of Las Vegas, quoted in The New York Times yesterday

I don't want to hear another Republican complaining about people who call Bush or other conservatives "fascists" or "Nazis." You have a problem with that? Well, I have a problem with idiots on your side who think the Democratic Party is "socialist" or, God help us, "communist." You repudiate these people and I'll repudiate the people who say Bush is a Nazi.
As you were reading Adam Clymer’s front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times on the GOP’s push for political dominance, did you get the feeling that Clymer doesn’t quite realize that the GOP already has political dominance in this country, at least on the national level, and has had it for a long time?

Let’s review, class: In all but two of the twenty-two-plus years since Reagan’s inaugural, the GOP has controlled the White House, both houses of Congress, or both. In six of those years it controlled the White House and the Senate. GOP nominees have controlled the Supreme Court without interruption since the early 1970s. The GOP seems kinda dominant to me. But I guess Clymer’s point is that voter identification with the GOP still isn’t truly high and the GOP still doesn’t have big majorities in Congress and state legislatures. Yet at the national level, at least, it’s hard to imagine how much more the GOP could accomplish with a big majority. The complete elimination of taxes? Internment camps for Democrats?

Clymer’s follow-up on the Democrats in today’s Times is dispiriting, but I don’t think he’s too far off the mark. He acknowledges a long period of GOP dominance -- duh -- and runs through the list of Democratic problems many of us complain about: too little money, no structure of think tanks, no coherent foreign-policy message. He does quote one idiot, though, whose message he seems to agree with:

A veteran Democratic consultant looked at the 2004 presidential field and found it symptomatic of a basic party problem: "Sometimes we're so respectful of our diversity that we take completely preposterous people seriously. We always run the risk of the follies of the absurd when people want seriousness."

In particular, he said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois were not real potential nominees but "products of the silly season."


Excuse me -- the presidential campaigns of ideological fringe-dwellers such as Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Alan Keyes don’t seem to have done much harm to the GOP, so why should we accept that these Democrats are hurting their party? Maybe the real problem here isn’t the candidates. Maybe it’s that Democrats like this idiot are so willing to speak ill of fellow Democrats into a reporter’s open mike.

Oh, and Pat Moynihan, the spiritual father of all self-hating Democrats, is quoted here: One month before his death, apparently determined not to let the approach of the grave interrupt his long history of fragging, Moynihan bashed Democratic presidential candidates for agreeing to oppose the partial-birth abortion ban. Now, doesn’t the GOP platform call for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortions, including for victims of rape and incest? Does this ever seem to hurt Republicans? Think that lack of political fallout might be partly attributable to the GOP tradition of not stabbing fellow party members ion the back?

Bob Shrum, the Democratic consultant, gets it right in Clymer’s second article:

"It's probably a weakness that we're not real haters. We don't have a sense that it's a holy crusade. We don't have a sense that it's Armageddon."

Line that up with what Clymer says about the Republicans’ comeback after Watergate:

Mr. Reagan's nomination in 1980 (after his near-miss in 1976) was the biggest step on the road back. His success convinced suspicious conservatives that the political deck was not stacked against them, and they enlisted in the Republican Party and ultimately took it over.

Nancy Sinnott Dwight, a Midwestern moderate who ran the Congressional campaign committee, said, "For us to prevail, the party was going to have to be hospitable to people far to our right."


Democrats appealing to their base: bad. Republicans appealing to their base: a blueprint for dominance. Got it?

**********

The Republican college students on the cover of the magazine in yesterday’s Times dream of GOP dominance, but it’s odd -- they’re not like earlier generations of hectoring young right-wingers. They reject racism. They don’t oppose immigration. They advocate the free-speech rights of Eminem. One young conservative woman rejects marriage and family; one young conservative man advocates gay marriage. Is it me, or are these people liberals?

Ah, but no: They despise taxes, they love guns, and they want a strong and aggressive foreign policy. But didn’t our elected officials in D.C. just lower taxes, reject renewal of the assault weapons ban, and give us two snazzy wars? If these kids loathe liberalism, which they see everywhere around them on campus, why don’t they just get the hell off campus? Why don’t they get jobs and join the rest of us in the real America, where George Bush is considered a war hero and Max Cleland is considered a traitor?

I sometimes wish a few of our better colleges would go solidly right-wing. Then these conservative kids could matriculate where they feel wanted -- and they wouldn’t have to annoy us for the rest of their lives with their permanent sense of grievance at having had to live for four years in the same geographic space with regular performances of The Vagina Monologues.

**********

Six New York City firehouses were closed on Sunday. Remember New York City firefighters? America’s heroes? Remember Bush with a bullhorn telling them, “I can hear you”? Yup, those guys. Six of their firehouses were closed on the orders of Republican mayor Mike Bloomberg, The Republican president’s economy is hurting the city; he and the Republican Congress aren’t offering much serious help to “first responders,” even in New York City, and the Republican governor of New York isn’t much help either. You think maybe Democratic presidential candidates should be talking about this, or even showing up at the firehouses to meet with protesters? This is from a New York Times story:

At Engine Company 212 in Williamsburg, there were about 100 protesters by 8 a.m., chanting in English, Polish and Spanish and setting up sidewalk barbecues to grill hamburgers. Two conga drummers arrived and began beating out rhythms.

Suddenly, Paul Veneski, 38, of Williamsburg, an unemployed truck driver, slipped into the firehouse through an open cellar door and opened the garage's large red door. Other protesters — among them Bronislawa Hupalo, a rail-thin 80-year-old — charged in and struggled to jam it open with discarded lumber. .

Mr. Veneski then chained himself to the fire truck. His 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer, cheered him on. Later in the three-hour standoff, she offered her father hamburgers through a small space in the door.

Apparently, trying to save firehouses runs in the Veneski family. Mr. Veneski's father, Adam Veneski, a local grocer, stormed this very firehouse when it was threatened with closing in 1975, the family said.


These aren't Hollywood liberals. These are ordinary Americans. But not even local boy Al Sharpton showed up, much less Kerry or Kucinich or Dean. Too bad.

Friday, May 23, 2003

I probably won't be posting till Monday night. Enjoy the weekend....
So Texas will soon have, as this Reuters story points out, a new, remarkably restrictive abortion law: it limits the facilities in which some abortions can be performed (already only 6% of Texas counties have abortion facilities), mandates a 24-hour waiting period for all abortions, and requires state-sponsored counseling that, among other things, insists that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer -- even though this myth has been debunked by the National Cancer Institute and other researchers.

Oh, and as an added screw-you to pro-choicers, there's this:

The Texas legislature voted down an amendment that would have exempted women who became pregnant through rape or incest from going through the waiting period.

Why?

During debate in the Texas Senate, Bob Deuell, a Republican from Greenville, said the exemption would "undermine the reflection period," adding that some women who gave birth after being raped or through incest have considered their children a blessing.

(Thanks to Kos for pointing this out.)
You think Bush's tax cut is less than half the size of the one he first proposed, but it's actually bigger than the one he first proposed. David Rosenbaum explains in today's New York Times:

...the $320 billion figure, which is expected to clear the Senate today, is artificial.

No one expects that tax breaks for married couples and a bigger tax credit for children, popular features of the bill, will be allowed to expire after next year. This is what lawmakers call a sunset. It was put into the measure to hold down the 10-year cost.

Nor, barring a political upheaval that puts Democrats in the White House and in control of Congress, is it likely that the lower tax rates on dividends and capital gains will be allowed to expire after 2008, another sunset in the bill.

If these elements of the tax cut are calculated on a 10-year basis, the cost in lost revenue stands to be over $800 billion, more than what the president proposed, according to the first analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priority, a liberal research institute.

More important, the tax reduction this year and next year under the Congressional agreement is significantly larger than what the president originally proposed.

The Congressional tax staff estimated that the agreement would lead to a tax cut of $61 billion in the 2003 fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, and $149 billion in 2004.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the president's plan would have lowered taxes by $35 billion in 2003 and $117 billion in 2004.


I'm grateful to Rosenbaum for pointing that out, I'm grateful to him for making it his lead, I'm glad the Times put that on the front page (above the fold) and Web site title screen (big headline) ... but even in this article we get Bush as Mighty Hero:

But even more, the president succeeded because of a set of tactics that involved remaining flexible in his goals, taking advantage of division among Democrats, campaigning vigorously in the states of crucial senators and knocking the heads of Congressional leaders who often seemed more interested in pride of authorship than in enactment of legislation....

The tax bill, said Senator Robert F. Bennett, Republican of Utah, was the latest example of Mr. Bush's talent as a political strategist. Mr. Bennett, chairman of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, continued:

"The president looks at the economy and looks at the electorate and grasps that the electorate wants to see someone doing something. They don't care about the details. So here is Bush with the political smarts to understand that the best medicine is to be seen as a leader making bold strokes, moving out on an issue where others are temporizing."


Oh, and there's an unrebutted cheap swipe at Bill Clinton:

"By the force of his personality," Mr. Bennett said, "[Bush] stepped into the squabble between the House and the Senate and brought everyone into the room and said, `You're going to get this done before Memorial Day.' Clinton would have stood at a board with a Magic Marker and worked through the details. Bush was more interested in getting a bill than he was in what was in the bill."

Let's see: Clinton presided over a recession-free eight-year presidency. He used the first budget cycle of what looked for a while as if it would be a de facto Gingrich presidency to begin the process of destroying Gingrich's credibility, turning Newt and his mighty Contract with America into national jokes. But he's the bumbler. Meanwhile, Bush is Top Gun: he drives the economy off a cliff, but he does it on time.