Thursday, July 31, 2003

US forces in Iraq have suffered cases of probable suicide, a senior military official said today, amid slumping morale among troops faced with daily and deadly attacks.

The senior officer, who asked not to be named, said that among 53 US military non-combat deaths since May 1, when the war was declared effectively over, were "probable" suicides as well as a large number of road accidents.

He did not say how many soldiers were suspected of committing suicide.

There have been a number of "non-hostile gunshot incidents" among US troops in that time, with suspected suicides and accidental discharges of weapons, for example during cleaning, included under the category....

--Sunday Times (Australia)
Making critics look naive by distorting what they think: It works for Bush, so why shouldn't it work for Blair?

This is from a Guardian report on a Tony Blair press conference (asterisks mine):

He added: "The biggest problem ... is that a lot of people really don't believe that there is a threat arising from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.* I think they think it is a convenient construct politically."

Asked if he should quit if no weapons were found, he said: "There has always been something bizarre about the notion that Saddam never** had any weapons of mass destruction."

*Schmuck -- nobody disputes that "there is a threat arising from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction." What we dispute is that there was a threat to the U.S., Britain, and the rest of the West and its allies arising from Iraqi terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the past decade. We think that threat very well may have ceased to exist, or effectively ceased to exist, quite possibly because Saddam curtailed his weapons programs in response to sanctions and bombings.

**Schmuck -- no one says he never had any weapons of mass destruction. He had them. He used them. But that was a long time ago. Did he have them just before the recent war? Did he have them in the years leading up to it? Well, did he?

How exasperating....
If you're not sick of reading about the terrorism death pool yet, Sadly, No! has more -- some additional skepticism about the ability of betting pools to predict the future (Saddam's overthrow was predicted by bettors -- betting in April!), plus some questions about whether the program would have been set up well, and whether we would have known what to do with good information if we'd gotten it. Well worth reading.
CalPundit collects some interesting -- and fairly encouraging -- poll numbers.
Who's ticked off at Bush now? Engineers. This is from an alert sent out by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers:


During a Wednesday morning (July 30th) press conference, President Bush was asked a question about jobs going overseas as a result of technological innovation. His response was:

"I fully understand what you're saying. In other words, as technology races through the economy, a lot of times worker skills don't keep up with technological change."

Many people have taken his response to mean that unemployment in the high-tech sector is the result of American workers who allowed their skills to become obsolete. This is an unacceptable explanation....

When you write the President, tell him that unemployment in the high-tech sector has very little to do with the competency of American workers, and a great deal to do with the low cost of using foreign workers....

Look, I know there aren't very many pols at the national level who want to interfere with the global market's "race to the bottom" in wages and salaries. But for Pete's sake, Shrub, at least try not to actually insult the peons.
Maybe I'm beating this to death, but I want to clarify something I said last night about the ability of the Iowa Electronic Markets to see the future.

In today's New York Times business section, UCal Berkeley business professor Hal Varian specifically cites IEM's presidential vote-share betting pool and says that pools of this kind have

provided somewhat better forecasts than polls right before the election — and they provide much better (and less volatile) forecasts several months before the elections. Thus, markets do best exactly where the public opinion polls and expert opinion polls are weakest.

But this, I think, is based on a misreading of the data.

Go here (IEM's page for the 2000 White House vote-share pool), click "Price History," then check the numbers in August, September, and early October. Now compare polls for the same period at Polling Report. Months before the vote, IEM did have Bush closer to Gore than (most) polls did. But, by election eve, five of the seven polls listed by Polling Report had Bush up by a hair, or Gore up by a hair -- while IEM's betting pool had Bush up by 4.5%.

What that says to me is that IEM had a consistent, if slight, pro-Bush skew. At IEM Bush was even with Gore before he was even in most professional polls; then Bush was up by five at IEM when, in most polls (and, ultimately, the actual popular vote), he wasn't up at all.

I don't think this is right-wing bias. I think the consistently negative mainstream-media coverage of Gore skewed the results. The IEM betting pool, as I noted last night, utterly blew the 2002 congressional race, predicting a GOP House and a Dem/Independent Senate -- because, I think, the same mainstream press that loathed Gore in 2000 consistently told us in 2002 that that's how the congressional races would turn out.

So why do we believe IEM sees the future? And why should we believe that the Pentagon's death pool would have seen the future?
Theocrats put pressure on the courts, in Iraq and the U.S.:

NAJAF, Iraq, July 30 — The United States Marine colonel supervising the reconstruction of this Shiite holy city's government indefinitely postponed the swearing in of its first-ever female judge today after her appointment provoked a wave of resentment, including fatwas from senior Islamic clerics and heated protests by the city's lawyers....

"There is a woman on the Governing Council and nobody batted an eye," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Conlin, the senior commanding officer here. "Sometimes you just don't know until you hit a point of sensitivity."...

--New York Times

It's odd that the colonel was surprised. American theocrats issue religious fatwas, too:

In what critics are describing as an unprecedented challenge to judicial power, the House of Representatives last week overwhelmingly approved two legislative amendments aimed at short-circuiting a pair of high-profile court rulings regarding church-state issues.

In a 260-161 vote, the House approved an amendment to an appropriations bill July 23 that would prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce a recent 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision calling for the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from Alabama's judicial building. A day earlier, in an even more lopsided 307-119 vote, the House adopted a similar amendment regarding the enforcement of a federal court ruling in California forbidding the recitation in public schools of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance....

"Courts have to be able to enforce their decisions. What they're saying here is that if the states disregarded
Brown v. Board of Education, Congress could have prohibited the enforcement of Brown, and I think that raises serious separation of powers questions," said University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, referring to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision prohibiting school segregation. "On the other hand, I think that this is purely a symbolic show by the House, because marshals aren't going to be called out to enforce these decisions."...

--The Forward (New York)

By the way, I wouldn't be too sure those marshals won't be needed in the Ten Commandments case.

The Christian Defense Coalition and National Clergy Council will lead an effort in recruiting activists to "kneel in prayer" around preventing the removal of the 10 Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court. The Coalition will discuss these plans at a news conference on Monday, July 28, at 10 a.m. on the steps of the Alabama State Judiciary Building in Montgomery, Ala.

The Washington, D.C.-based groups applaud the courage of Chief Justice Roy Moore in his fight to keep the Commandments in the Court. Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said, "It is now time for the Church to stand and peacefully resist this kind of judicial tyranny, which crushes free speech and religious expression in the public square."

--press release posted at

That's what's going on even before Judge Moore has exhausted all avenues of appeal. I don't want to think about what will happen if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Apparently the U.S. isn't going to cut air marshals after all, says Reuters. There's a catch, though:

...Roehrkasse said operations were continuing as before and marshals would still be deployed on "critical" flights. He said some planned spending -- like for advanced training and increased administrative staff -- for fiscal 2003 would be postponed as part of efforts to cut costs.

Gotta pay for those tax cuts....

UPDATE: I should add that members of Congress (from both parties) are peeved. AP reports:

Lawmakers from both parties said they would block any effort to reduce funding for air marshals....

The Transportation Security Administration asked Congress last Friday for permission to cut $104 million, or about 20 percent, of the funding for the air marshal program to help offset the agency's $900 million budget deficit....

It's unclear how many of the estimated several thousand air marshal jobs could be affected by the proposed cuts.

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said Wednesday that the proposed budget cut actually is $74 million because the air marshals had $30 million left over from last year. That would mean the cuts would apply only to an increase in support staff and some advanced training, he said. There are no plans right now to cut air marshal jobs, he said.

Note the weasel-word "now."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and other lawmakers also were upset by reports that air marshals had received a directive saying they would no longer be allowed to fly missions requiring overnight stays to save money on hotel bills. Such a move would reduce the number of cross-country and international flights with marshals on board.

A Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no directive was sent by the agency. It was not clear whether the idea has been abandoned.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge would only say that every available air marshal is being deployed....

About 5 percent of the marshals quit or were fired in the past year, according to TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. He would not say whether those positions had been filled....

What a mess.

And did you miss this when it happened? I did:

Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, tried unsuccessfully last week to add $50 million to a spending bill to keep the air marshals at full strength this year. His proposal was defeated 32-21 along party lines.


The Pentagon’s terrorism death pool is gone, but there are still people all over the Internet -- most but not all of them conservatives -- who believe that it was a fine idea and that its opponents are hypersensitive and closed-minded. At site after site-- here, here, here, here, here -- we’re told that betting pools predict outcomes with amazing accuracy.

But is it possible that the astonishing predictive ability of widely scattered non-experts who place online bets in their Jockey shorts is one of those facts that’s just too good to check?

One of the great engines of market-based prediction, say the defenders of the Pentagon plan, is the Iowa Electronic Markets. IEM’s bettors bet on election outcomes, among other things, and often predict those outcomes better than experts, we’re told.

Well, not quite.

IEM keeps data online for some bygone betting pools. Here’s the main page for the 2000 presidential popular-vote pool. We all know how that vote turned out: a Gore-Bush dead heat. IEM allowed bets on Democrats, Republicans, and the Reform Party (Perot’s old party, with Buchanan as the nominee), and liquidated contracts after the election at 49.9 cents for the Democrats, 49.7 cents for the Republicans, and .4 cents for Reform (ignoring Nader and all other candidates, this was the three parties’ share of their joint total; it adds up to $1.00, i.e., 100%). Now, most polls leading up to the election were predicting a Bush victory. If the IEM bettors had predicted a dead heat, or a slight Gore victory, that would have shown real predictive power. But here’s what contracts were going for on election eve, November 6, 2000:

Republican (Bush): 52 cents

Democrat (Gore): 47.5 cents

Reform (Buchanan): 1.7 cents

Did IEM's bettors do a better job than professional pollsters? Hardly -- see Polling Report's summary of election eve polls.

IEM also ran a presidential winner-take-all pool -- you pick the winner, you get a buck per successful bet. On election eve, that one looked like this:

Bush: 71.1 cents

Gore: 29.1 cents

Buchanan: 0 cents

This was the right answer, but by an eyelash. A few tweaks here and there -- no butterfly ballots, for instance -- and Gore could have declared victory.

The 2002 congressional control pool was just dreadfully inaccurate. Election day was November 5, 2002; at the close of the day on November 4, here were the numbers:

Republican House, Republican Senate: 28.3 cents

Republican House, non-Republican (Democrat + Independent) Senate: 57 cents

Non-Republican House, non-Republican Senate: 10.3 cents

Non-Republican House, Republican Senate: 1.7 cents

So why do these betting pools have such a sterling reputation for accuracy?
In the post directly below, I link the MSNBC story about air marshals being pulled from coast-to-coast and international flights. Some of the right-wingers in this Free Republic thread are as angry as I am -- but others (see the first few messages) think this is a fake-out. They think it's disinformation.

Is it conceivable that even the Bush administration would do something as unspeakable as that?

Think about it: The government leaks a story that air marshals are being pulled from certain flights. Why? To make terrorists think those flights might be easy to hijack? If the administration did that, it would be inviting terrorists to hijack certain planes. It would be saying to terrorist hijackers, in effect, "Bring it on."

Presumably those flights would actually have air marshals, and maybe extra layers of security as well. But even so, the government would be using passengers on those flights as bait.

I don't even think the Bushies would stoop that low. I certainly hope not.
I'm just speechless -- the administration runs up massive deficits and then nickels-and-dimes security on the highest-risk flights:

Despite renewed warnings about possible airline hijackings, the Transportation Security Administration has alerted federal air marshals that as of Friday they will no longer be covering cross-country or international flights, has learned. The decision to drop coverage on flights that many experts consider to be at the highest risk of attack apparently stems from a policy decision to rework schedules so that air marshals don’t have to incur the expense of staying overnight in hotels....

Several marshals told that the program is suffering budget troubles and that the agency is looking to make cuts wherever it can....

The move to pull air marshals from any flight requiring them to stay overnight is particularly disturbing to some because it coincides with a new high-level hijacking threat issued by the Department of Homeland Security. That warning memo says that “at least one of these attacks could be executed by the end of the summer,” according to a source familiar with the document....


Understandably, it's not public knowledge which flights have air marshals. But if terrorists do go on to hijack a cross-country or international flight and there's no marshal on board, and if it's a route where there were marshals before this change of policy took place, I hope someone in the bureaucracy does the patriotic thing and blows the whistle.

(Thanks to BuzzFlash for the link.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Mission not exactly accomplished in Afghanistan, as Human Rights Watch reports:

"Human rights abuses in Afghanistan are being committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001," said Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "These men and others have essentially hijacked the country outside of Kabul. With less than a year to go before national elections, Afghanistan's human rights situation appears to be worsening."

[HRW's] 101-page report, "Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing for Us": Human Rights Abuses in Southeast Afghanistan, documents army and police troops kidnapping Afghans and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; breaking into households and robbing families; raping women, girls and boys; and extorting shopkeepers and bus, truck and taxi drivers. The report also describes political organizers, journalists and media editors being threatened with death, arrested and harassed by army, police and intelligence agents. The subject area of the report, the southeast of Afghanistan and Kabul city, is one of the most densely populated areas of Afghanistan.

Because soldiers are targeting women and girls, many are staying indoors, especially in rural areas, making it impossible for them to attend school, go to work, or actively participate in the country's reconstruction....

To its credit, the Bush administration wants to give Afghanistan $1 billion in new aid, so maybe the situation will improve.

(But please notice that, as Sadly, No! notes, citing a Washington Post story from Sunday, the $1 billion for Afghanistan will be "shifted from existing foreign and military aid accounts so as not to increase the deficit." This is because, I guess, the Bush administration wouldn't want Americans to think that a massive program of regime change and nation-building will actually, you know, cost money or anything.)
The administration has nominated Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Brown to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often considered the nation's most important court after the Supreme Court. Mr. Kavanaugh, 38, would be one of the youngest federal judges and has no judicial experience. The main items on an otherwise thin résumé are Mr. Kavanaugh's loyal service to Mr. Starr during the divisive investigation of President Bill Clinton and, later, his loyal service as an assistant to President Bush, in which capacity he has helped engineer the confirmation of the administration's judicial nominees....

...In analyzing Mr. Kavanaugh's record, senators should look for positive evidence that he is fit, by experience and temperament, for high judicial office. Given the vast number of federal and state judges, seasoned lawyers and academics who could be named to the circuit, it is hard to believe that Mr. Kavanaugh is the most qualified candidate available.

--editorial in today's New York Times

Just in case you forgot about Kavanaugh's work on the Starr team, here's an excerpt from Jeffrey Toobin's book A Vast Conspiracy:

The Grounds [the “Grounds for an Impeachment” section of the Starr Report] was principally the work of Brett Kavanaugh, a lawyer from Kirkland & Ellis [Starr’s law firm] and a former Supreme Court law clerk, who was perhaps the most favored of Starr’s young male proteges. In one amazing stretch of the Grounds, Kavanaugh cited Lewinsky’s sex deposition in thirty-four consecutive footnotes, and he included some material that even the [Starr Report] Narrative’s authors judged too viciously unnecessary to mention. For example, after the description of the December 31, 1995, tryst, Kavanaugh’s team dropped the following deadpan footnote: “After the sexual encounter, she saw the President masturbate in the bathroom near the sink.” Such details had no conceivable relevance to Congress’s duty, but were rather designed to humiliate Clinton.

Ah, those traditional conservative values.
Senator John Warner has announced that the Pentagon's idiotic mass-murder death pool -- really, what else should we call it? -- is being terminated. As we pay it our last respects, let's savor the enthusiasm with which law professor Glenn Reynolds, and others whom he quoted approvingly, responded to news that the death pool was being set up:

I think it's an excellent example of creative thinking, and the Pentagon deserves to be congratulated for it....

The notion that the dim-bulbs in Congress and the media should attack such a useful and proven idea as the Pentagon's is utterly absurd....

I was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of "out of the box" thinking on the government's part about how to evaluate the likelyhood of terror threats. Doesn't it just figure that a couple of maroons from the senate would complain so that they can be seen "taking the high ground?" I'd pay them the compliment of believing that they wrote the complaint for cynical reasons, but just watching them on TV is enough to lead one to conclude that they really are stupid enough to be making an issue of this on principle.


Now, I do understand the thinking behind the death pool. The Pentagon's statement (quoted in this morning's New York Times) was, in its way, rational:

"Research indicates that markets are extremely efficient, effective and timely aggregators of dispersed and even hidden information," the Defense Department said in a statement. "Futures markets have proven themselves to be good at predicting such things as elections results; they are often better than expert opinions."

But it's one thing to bet on midterm elections at the Iowa Electronic Markets based on an unmistakable sense you've gathered at weekend barbecues that suburban white males are leaning strongly GOP. That's "dispersed and even hidden information" the concealment (or revelation) of which can't kill people. Information about terrorism is very, very different -- if you know a second 9/11 is coming, or have good reason to suspect this, you bloody well ought to tell the authorities and stop it, not try to finance a vacation from what you know or suspect.

It boggles the mind that the Pentagon didn't grasp this, nor do the market-worshiping Reynolds and his pals.

Remind me again: Which political wing is it that's supposed to be rife with brainiacs so besotted with their own theories that they're unable to recognize when those theories threaten the real lives of real people?
"Centrist Democrats Warn Party Not to Present Itself as 'Far Left'" is the headline of a story in today's New York Times about this year's confab of the Democratic Leadership Council.

On Sunday, Billmon posted this. Consider it a preemptive reply to the DLC:

A whole bunch of people ... have weighed in recently on the Howard Dean phenomenon, with a heavy focus (naturally) on the question of whether he is "electable" – which, the context of the modern Democratic Party, means "is he another George McGovern?"

Most, though not all, of the above have answered in the affirmative, casting Dean into the pit of left-wing losers – the kind of candidates the Democratic establishment may secretly admire, but has no wish to actually nominate.

Now personally, I think the better question is this: If Howard Dean is nominated, will he:

A. Stand up at the Democratic National Convention and swear to raise everybody’s taxes?

B. Take a ride in an Abrams tank, wearing a silly helmet that makes him look like Snoopy?

C. Break down and cry on camera because some right-wing nut case of a newspaper publisher wrote nasty things about his wife?

D. Slap a ton of orange pancake makeup on his face and sigh loudly into his mike every time his opponent tries to get a word in edgewise in the next presidential debate?

All of these, of course, are stupid things that were
actually done by the party establishment's favored candidates....

My point is that if the establishment is going to throw George McGovern in our faces, then progressives should have the right to throw some of the
establishment's turkey candidates back in its collective face. Did Wally Mondale win more states in 1984 than George McGovern did in 1972? Not that I noticed.

To give the DLCers their due, they lump Mondale in with McGovern as a sandal-wearing hippie peacenik loser.

I'm of two minds here. I don't want to see the Democrats nominate someone who's wildly unpopular outside the party's core. On the other hand, some things are starting to change in this country right now, though the DLC doesn't seem to have noticed -- voters are worrying about the effect of tax cuts on deficits, they're noticing that the star-spangled Bush has painted a big fat "AMBUSH ME" target on the troops in Iraq, they're grasping the fact that a presidential lie that isn't about oral sex can also be regarded as a sign of character deficiencies. So I'm not sure we know right now what makes someone "electable."

One thing that will make the Democrats' 2004 nominee a lot less electable is being accused by fellow Democrats of being an out-of-step pinko. One interviewee in the Times article seems to get that. The rest of the DLCers need to figure it out.
This may cheer you up: Check out the big photo on this page. Way to go! (Thanks to BuzzFlash for the link.)


And here's some more compare-and-contrast:

I don't read as much as I used to -- life's too short. And I rarely go to the blog's letters page. This means I missed a good one that's no longer posted. But SullyWatch still has it:

Imagine JFK lied about missiles in Cuba to get public opinion behind an invasion (untrue of course, but let’s run with this though experiment). Let’s say he also lied about the many extra-marital affairs he had. Which is worse? I think the answer is pretty obvious, and I think it’s also clear what analogy I am drawing. If Bush wanted to invade Iraq, he should have made his case without resorting to lies and deception. Without resorting to reckless interference in intelligence gathering. Whatever happened to bringing integrity to the White House?


Monday, July 28, 2003

Here's an instructive but infuriating story. The story describes how Richard Dyke, the owner of Bushmaster Firearms Inc., hopes to protect himself from lawsuits: He invests in Republican members of Congress -- and if I'm reading this correctly, he invests in all of them:

Dyke is a GOP loyalist and writes $1,000 checks - the maximum amount - to all Republican congressional candidates for every primary and general election, whether they are opposed or not.

This story is in a Maine newspaper, and Bushmaster is a Maine company, so maybe Dyke's largesse is limited to every single GOP candidate from that state. Or maybe not.

Dyke is smart, needless to say. He knows that it helps him if even moderate Republicans are elected, Republicans who might not toe the gun lobby's line, because building the GOP majority, and thus the power of the current leadership, is sufficient to give the gun folks victory after victory.

Dyke is currently lobbying for a federal law that

would prohibit lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, dealers or importers of firearms for damages that result from the use of their products by others.

This sounds reasonable until you realize that some gun dealers repeatedly violate firearms laws, with the result that their guns regularly get into the hands of criminals, and these dealers, as a rule, get no more than a slap on the wrist. And manufacturers know this and continue to sell to these dealers.

As I've pointed out many times, Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington, is a repeat violator of gun laws and has received nothing but wrist-slaps for it, as The Seattle Times reported last December. The gun used in the D.C. sniper killings came from Bull's Eye. That gun was made by Richard Dyke's company, Bushmaster.

Is Bushmaster partly liable for the fact that it sold guns to a shop with a documented history of gun-law violations? Richard Dyke doesn't want a jury to be able to decide.

And Maine's two "moderate Republican" senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, agree with Dyke. It's no surprise that Collins agrees:

After Collins lost the 1994 gubernatorial race to Angus King, Dyke played a big role in finding her next job. Dyke donated $265,000 to his alma mater, Husson College, to establish a center for small business, which hired Collins.

"I told Susan, 'They are looking for an executive director, and that might be a good fit for you until you decide to run again,' " Dyke said.

The arrangement was no secret, says Collins press secretary Megan Sowards. "It is called the 'Richard E. Dyke Center for Family Business,' and she was the inaugural director," Sowards said.

A year after Collins took the Husson job, U.S. Sen. William Cohen announced his retirement. Collins won the seat in 1996.

Snowe, for her part, says it's "a matter of fairness."

The people named here would beg to differ.
I'm one of the bloggers who quoted the UPI story about the 9/11 report that included the sentence

"The report shows there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaida," said a government official who has seen the report.

along with a confirmation of that assertion by Max Cleland. So, a couple of days late, I have to note that UPI subsequently updated the story:

Prior to the report's publication, a person who had read it told UPI that it showed U.S. intelligence agencies had no evidence linking Iraq to the 9-11 attacks or to al-Qaida. In fact, the issue is not addressed in the declassified sections of the report.

One other person who has seen the classified version of the document told UPI subsequently that the Iraq issue is not addressed in the still-classified section, either. "They didn't ask that question," the person said.

But the fact that a 900-page report could be written about 9/11 and al-Qaeda with no reference whatsoever to Iraq tells us something, doesn't it?
I love this.
Remember when William Bennett said he gambled frequently, wagering huge amounts of money, but essentially broke even over the years? Well, apparently he lied. That's right: America's national treasure, our living embodiment of morality, is a big liar. Roger Ailes (the good one) explains here.
For at least thirty years, the right-wingers' rap on liberals is that we're out-of-touch elitists who think we know what's good for people with less money, status, and influence, even if those people disagree with us. Well, over on their side, there's this guy:

ORANGE, N.J. -- The Rev. John A. Perricone, an erudite Roman Catholic priest who uses Latin phrases and refers to T. S. Eliot in conversation, is known nationally as [a] leading proponent of the centuries-old Latin Mass, which was banished in favor of a more accessible service by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's.

This month, Father Perricone was called from his academic post as a professor of philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and assigned here as administrator of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a working-class parish not far from Newark.

So far, the match has not gone well.

A group of parishioners is enraged that in their view, the priest is imposing on them aspects of the traditional Latin Mass, called the Tridentine Mass after the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Today, nearly three-dozen parishioners — some carrying signs denouncing the priest ("Get Rid of John Perricone Now," read one) — picketed Our Lady of Mount Carmel before and after the 10:30 a.m. service, which drew nearly 200 people....

One protester, Carmine Guerriero yelled, "Our people built this church!" He said his grandfather, a mason, had helped build the church, whose golden spire rises gleaming above Route 280. "He put his sweat and blood in this church, and his money," Mr. Guerriero said....

If any conservatives are reading this now, they're probably approaching a breakdown like HAL's in 2001, the kind that comes from being told something that utterly contradicts what they consider an inviolate rule: It's impossible that a conservative could arouse the ire of the working class! Conservatives' ideas are utterly in sync with the thoughts of the working class! Liberals always think they always know better, not conservatives! Peggy Noonan says so, so it must be true!

Er, no:

"He came in with the attitude of, `I'm here; I'm going to rule; this is a dictatorship; if you don't like it, leave,' " said a protest organizer, John J. Sammaro, 38, whose great-grandparents belonged to the church. "He's not serving God and the people. He's serving himself."...

You'd think the good father might be somewhat abashed, or at the very least ask himself whether he'd done the right thing but gone about it the wrong way. You'd be wrong.

"I guess if the people want to be captious, they will alight on anything," he said, adding that the complaints would have no effect on him. "I'm perfectly in conformity with the teachings of the church and the archbishop," he said, adding that the traditional Latin Mass is particularly popular among younger people engaged in a "cultural repudiation" of the excesses of the 1960's. "There's a sense of a right order in it," he said.

"Captious," for those of you who are intellectually inferior to the good padre, means "marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections." Nice way to talk about your parishioners.

Father Perricone, 53, also denounced the criticism of his celebration of the Mass as either "lies" or the carping of some parishioners who simply do not like the fact that they have a new priest. "I can't imagine an instance where I showed insensitivity to anyone," he said.

How about just now, when you called them "captious"?

Think this is doctrinal rather than political? Actually, it's both: Check out this speech by Father Perricone, to a Catholic organization, in which he says his message especially needs to be understood by

the very young present whose religion classes consisted in self-affirmation exercises and committing to memory all the sacred articles of Democratic platform....

He ends the speech as follows:

On September 11, 1964, William F. Buckley Jr. addressed the national convention of the Young Americans for Freedom. Barry Goldwater is going to lose the coming election, he tells them. But, he continues, the Goldwater campaign and the conservative efforts that will follow are the parts of the decades-long assault on the walls of fortress liberalism. On the day after the election. he says, "We must emerge smiling, confident in the knowledge that we weakened those walls, that they will never again stand so firmly against us."

Today I bid you Church Militant - soldiers - continue your assault on the walls of fortress modernism. Use your intelligence in a thousand different ways. Most of all use your sanctity and your virtue to persevere in a battle we shall soon win. For we must always stay smiling, because all of you must be confident in the knowledge that we have weakened those walls, and that they will never again stand so firmly against us.

This is expressly political.

There's a conservative movement in the Catholic Church that has much closer ties to the GOP and the VRWC than, say, Al Qaeda ever had to Saddam's Iraq. Consider the crowd who attended Robert Bork's baptism (by an Opus Dei priest); consider the people who ran the scurrilous ad accusing Democratic opponents of William Pryor's confirmation of anti-Catholic bias (despite the fact that four of the nine Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who voted against Pryor are themselves Catholic). I left the Catholic Church when I was 14, so maybe I'm no expert, but I don't think this movement reflects the thinking of the rank and file. I think it's an arrogant imposition on the rank and file. And, in addition, it's bubbling up in our political life.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Did I suggest in the post below that Afghanistan is "defanged"? Well, maybe not....

The government of a volatile southern Afghan province urged U.S. forces on Sunday to deal with resurgent Taliban guerrillas and said hundreds of them were roaming around freely.

A Taliban official said its elusive leader Mullah Omar had approved a new deputy for the south on Saturday to assist a notorious commander suffering from wounds, and ordered him to intensify attacks on U.S. and government forces.

In a further sign of stepped up Taliban activity, residents of a southern town close to the Pakistani border woke on Sunday to posters threatening death to 25 "informers" accused of collaborating with U.S. and Afghan government forces.

The deputy governor of Zabul province told Reuters Taliban officials, meeting in the Pakistani city of Quetta, had named Mullah Abdul Jabar as a rival governor for the province.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, a namesake of the Taliban leader, said hundreds of Taliban now roamed freely in several districts of Zabul and provincial forces were powerless to act as they had insufficient support from the U.S.-backed central government.

"There are about 500 Taliban in Deh Chopan district," he said. "The district is under our control, but they are walking freely in the bazaar."

"If coalition forces do not launch a big operation here, it will be a big problem."...


OK, let's say the noose really is tightening around Saddam. And let's assume for the sake of argument that the Bush administration is right -- that capturing or (more likely) killing Saddam will drastically reduce attacks against U.S. troops. That's great news for the troops -- but what happens to Iraqis if the guerrilla war ends? Isn't it likely that a pacified, defanged Iraq will be treated to the same halfhearted effort at nation-building that we're seeing in Afghanistan? Will the administration even try to appear as if it's trying to do right by the Iraqis if there's no Iraqi outrage? I'm not saying I want more U.S. soldiers to die -- I'm saying I'd prefer it the administration would act in good faith, but I don't think it will ever do so except under duress. Which means I don't see a good way out of this.
Paul Wolfowitz on Fox News Sunday this morning, as quoted by Reuters:

"The battle to secure the peace in Iraq is now the central battle in the war on terror."

Yes, he actually said that.

Iraqis reacting violently to our occupation of their country = Al Qaeda flying planes into our buildings, per Wolfowitz.

How does someone who says things like this live with himself?
Above the fold on page 1 of the print New York Times, and prominent on the Times home page, is this story about a Marine who was killed in Iraq on July 1. The 21-year-old Marine, Corporal Travis J. Bradach-Nall, was killed while clearing land mines.

Please remember this when you read (for example, here) that 49 American troops have died in combat since Bush's May 1 "mission accomplished" photo op. Corporal Bradach-Nall presumably isn't counted among those who died in combat, but he sure as hell didn't die in a way that could have happened to him back home. (The Times story does note that since May 1 "more than 100 service members have died since then, either in continued fighting, accidents, ambushes or on reconstruction tasks," but it's an exception among recent Iraq stories in the U.S. media.)

Also, please note in the Times story that Corporal Bradach-Hall's mother was and is a liberal Democrat and an opponent of the war. She loved her son, though, and the feeling was mutual -- incomprehensible as that may seem to the members of the Defense Policy Board or the staff of The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Max Rodenbeck writes in the current New York Review of Books that he recently interviewed a self-appointed regional governor in Iraq, who had taken up residence in a palace formerly owned by "Chemical Ali." After the interview, Rodenbeck learned from his driver that the governor had secretly received an interesting visitor:

Late the previous night, a car had come to the villa. A stooped, thin, balding man was released from the trunk of the car, spent several hours with the governor, and departed at dawn in the same manner. The midnight guest ... was none other than Ezzat Ibrahim, the king of clubs in the Pentagon's Most Wanted deck, a former ice merchant who had served as Saddam Hussein's most loyal deputy since the 1968 coup that brought his party to power.

It was odd that this man would harbor a wanted member of Saddam's regime -- and yet he did so:

The governor who was helping to harbor this man had spent many years in exile, hounded by Saddam's agents. His joy at the toppling of the Baath Party was apparent. He gushed about the debt of gratitude which he said all Iraqis should feel toward America. He professed deep respect for the local American commanding officer, a man he met with regularly. But did he trust the Americans? No.

Rodenbeck had asked the new occupant of Chemical Ali's palace if he knew Ali's whereabouts:

"Chemical Ali, no," he said. "But I do know where others are hiding. Why don't I tell the Americans? Because I am a son of Iraq and my children will be raised here. Perhaps in future I would be judged a traitor."

He paused, pushing away an empty coffee cup. "Look, fugitives from the old regime are being sheltered by tribes that owe them favors. It is not simply a matter of honor, or fear of retribution. The real problem is that the Americans won't say what they plan to do with their 'pack of cards.' Will they send them to Guantanamo? Will they just let them go? If we knew that these bloody criminals would be tried here by an Iraqi court, it would be a different story."

Rodenbeck filed his report on July 16. About a week later, the U.S. caught up with two of the aces in the deck -- and the result sure wasn't a trial in an Iraqi court. I wonder how the governor felt about that.

Yesterday's New York Times ran a story about Charles Napoleon, a descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte, who's a deputy mayor in his famous ancestor's birthplace of Ajaccio, Corsica.

"The name is known all over the world. I once went to a tiny village in China, and when I told them my name, they knew who Napoleon was."

His great-grandfather, Napoleon Joseph Charles Bonaparte, a one-time politician in Corsica, changed the family's last name from Bonaparte to Napoleon. That makes booking hotels or restaurants a challenge.

"When I've called and said I'm `Mr. Napoleon,' I've been told, `Sure, and I'm the pope,' " he said. "That's my heritage. What can I do?"

And in America?

It is easier, he said, in the United States: "Americans don't know much about history. I have to spell my name in the U.S."

Gosh, I'm so proud.

President Bush is contemplating major changes in the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq for the second time in three months....

As part of the effort, the White House is considering asking several major figures, including former secretary of state James A. Baker III, to take charge of specific tasks such as seeking funds from other countries or restructuring Iraq's debt....

In another augmentation of the postwar structure, the administration plans to name Reuben Jeffery III, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who is now coordinating the federal aid aimed to help reconstruct Lower Manhattan, as Washington-based coordinator for the Iraq reconstruction effort....

Jeffery, the Goldman Sachs veteran, will become the administration's Washington face for the operation in Baghdad. His jobs will include lobbying lawmakers and dealing with other parts of the government. Officials said the White House concluded that, given the distance between Baghdad and Washington, Bremer needed a senior aide in Washington who could navigate the bureaucracy and work with Capitol Hill.

--Washington Post

So we're not all on the same page here? We have a GOP White House, a GOP House, and a GOP Senate, and Bremer still can't get what he needs? And no one now in the White House, the Defense Department, or the State Department can rectify this situation? Why is that? Isn't Bush a titanic, magisterial leader before whom all the world trembles?

Oh, and here's my favorite paragraph in the Post article:

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told reporters this week after a visit to Iraq that some important administration assumptions "turned out to underestimate the problem," and that some conditions "were worse than we anticipated." ...

No! Really? You think so?

...Some officials involved in the occupation planning have complained that the administration underestimated the armed resistance and overestimated the eagerness of Iraqi soldiers and police to embrace the invaders.

A keen grasp of the obvious.

(Three more U.S. troops died today in Iraq, by the way.)

(UPDATE: A fourth U.S. soldier has been killed today.)

Friday, July 25, 2003


Publishers Lunch also spotted this one:

A Borders Books & Music store has banned a Baltimore singer-songwriter from performing there after she made an unflattering comment about President Bush's physique during a concert at the store last week.

Julia Rose, who is also a fitness advocate, told the audience, "George Bush has chicken legs. He needs to pump some iron."

...Rose said she's mystified by the reaction.

"I never said anything about Bush being a bad president or anything," she said. "I was just poking fun at his scrawny frame."


From Bookselling This Week, a publication of the American Booksellers Association:

As Bookselling This Week went to press, it was expected that Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI) would introduce the Library, Bookstore, and Personal Records Privacy Act into the Senate early next week. Feingold's bill would narrow the universe of people whose bookstore or library records could be searched under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)....

The Library, Bookstore, and Personal Records Privacy Act looks to "protect privacy by limiting the access of the government to library, bookseller, and other personal records for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes." For one, it would amend Section 501 of FISA so that, prior to seeking a suspect's records, the FBI must "specify that there are specific and articulable facts giving reason to believe that the person to whom the records pertain is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power."

Currently, the Library, Bookstore, and Personal Records Privacy Act has eight co-sponsors: Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), James M. Jeffords (I-VT), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

No Republican sponsors? Gosh, I'm shocked.

(Thanks to Publishers Lunch for the link.)

Obviously this is far from the biggest story of the day, but I just learned from Andrew Sullivan's blog (scroll down) that David Brooks is being added to the op-ed page of The New York Times.

Now, this would be a reasonable move if it were likely to be matched by the addition of liberals to the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and Washington Times, as well as to solo hosting duties on the prime-time lineup of Fox News -- but obviously none of that is going to happen.

Brooks is coming to The New York Times, apparently, to tell its East Coast liberal scum readers that they're far less worthwhile as human beings than just about everyone else in America. Brooks has advanced this argument in just about everything he's written for the Times recently, even when he's had to contradict himself to do so. And now Naomi Wolf's husband, David Shipley, is giving him a regular platform to show us more of his contempt. Thanks for nothing, David.

(UPDATE: Here's the Times's announcement of the Brooks appointment. The bloggers at The American Prospect may think Brooks is "sympathetic to the upper-middle-class, Boomer culture," but that was the Brooks who wrote Bobos in Paradise when Bill Clinton was president and Al Gore looked like a good bet to succeed him; Brooks may not be Ann Coulter, but he knows which party has been on the ascent for the past few years, and he knows that contempt for the "Eastern liberal establishment" does a lot better in today's marketplace than acknowledging that even some Republicans buy organic vegetables. I don't think his column is going to be particularly nice or gentle.)

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Michael Savage, the hatemongering talk-radio host ("You open the door to ['turd world' immigrants], and the next thing you know, they are defecating on your country and breeding out of control") and best-selling author, was recently fired by MSNBC for telling a caller to "get AIDS and die," but apparently he's not letting any grass grow under his feet: The folks at Free Republic report that he's thinking of running for governor of California. And his Web site confirms that he's giving the race some thought.

Well, fine. Maybe it'll happen -- and thus maybe for once the general public will get to see the slimy underside of the hard right. Guys like Rush Limbaugh tend to use euphemisms when stepping over the line from mere right-wing ranting to actual hate -- but Savage serves it up straight, no chaser. I don't believe all the listeners in the talk-radio audience are haters, by any means, but I think a good number are, and Savage says what they think. And now people who have day jobs may finally learn, to their horror, what a surprisingly large percentage of their fellow citizens believe. In a way, I think this could be a really good thing.

(UPDATE: Apparently I was wrong about one fact in the paragraph above -- I guess in much of the country you can listen to Savage if you have a day job. He's heard live in California from 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M., so you can compound the annoyance of your traffic jam home by listening to him whine about gays, feminists, and immigrants. So instead of saying that "now people who have day jobs" can get exposed to Savage, I suppose I should have said, "now people who have lives....")
  The current scandal [in the Catholic Church] has been billed as many things: a celibacy story, an "emotional immaturity" story, a homosexuality story. What it really is is a 1970s story.

Virtually all the sexual wrongs were committed during the 1970s and early 1980s, when liberal Catholicism was at its zenith of cultural power in the U.S. church, sticking its gooey fingers into every corner of American Catholic life, from pulpit "dissent" to music, liturgy styles, and radical church redesign to the private lives of priests — all supposedly prompted by the window-opening Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

...the Vatican II changes in the church, combined with the prevailing Sixties ethos of self-fulfillment, gave many priests the idea that anything went.

--Charlotte Allen in National Review Online, June 17, 2002

Over six decades, likely more than 1,000 people were molested by Roman Catholic priests and church workers while leaders in the Boston archdiocese engaged in a ''massive, inexcusable failure'' to do anything about it, the Massachusetts attorney general said in a report Wednesday that outlines the results of a lengthy criminal investigation....

The archdiocese itself documented 789 allegations of sexual abuse made against 237 priests and 13 other church workers from 1940 to 2000.

--Boston Globe/AP, July 23, 2003
And on the al-Qaida link, it seems to me [the press] are just not doing their job at all. There are innumerable links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida that have been demonstrated very many times. And now every broadcast and every utterance by the Ba'ath Party is as if it was written by Osama bin Laden, and half the fighters in Iraq, half the bandits there, are imported from outside jihad forces. This relationship did not begin yesterday. They are, in effect, now a fusion of those who believe in the one party and those who believe in the one-God state.

--Christopher Hitchens on MSNBC, quoted admiringly in Andrew Sullivan's blog in the wee hours last night

The report of the joint congressional inquiry into the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, to be published Thursday, reveals U.S. intelligence had no evidence that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, or that it had supported al-Qaida, United Press International has learned.

"The report shows there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaida," said a government official who has seen the report.

Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who was a member of the joint congressional committee that produced the report, confirmed the official's statement.

Asked whether he believed the report will reveal that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, Cleland replied: "I do ... There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden's terrorist followers."


I want to see this one argued head-to-head: on one side a bloated opportunist who a few years ago found favor with the forces of reaction in his adopted country and now carefully manicures the hand that feeds him, and on the other side a genuine war hero who lost three limbs in Nam and then served his country with distinction in the Cabinet and Senate. Come on, Hitchypoo -- look Max Cleland in the eye and tell him he's wrong. I dare you.

(UPDATE: I see TBOGG was thinking along the same lines last night.)
AIDS bait-and-switch, as described by The New York Times:

Two weeks after President Bush toured Africa with promises of vast increases in spending on global AIDS, the House of Representatives was poised today to approve a measure that would bring total spending on the epidemic next year to roughly $2 billion — $1 billion short of the amount set out in a bill Mr. Bush signed in May.

Democrats sought to introduce an emergency spending measure that would have added the $1 billion, but were prevented from doing so under House procedures.

OK, so let me get this straight: President Compassionate Conservative really, really wanted $3 billion spent, but those mean old House Republicans cut his request, and, well, his hands were tied? Er, not quite:

Instead, [Democrats] offered amendments that would increase AIDS spending by $375 million, taking $75 million from foreign aid to Colombia's military and $300 million from a new foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge account, which is also a high priority of the president.

But the White House has threatened to veto the entire $17.1 billion spending package for foreign assistance if the amount in the Millennium Challenge account is reduced....

So the president wanted the $3 billion, but the Republican meanies in the House cut it, and then the Dems tried to restore it in an unacceptable way, and that's why he's objecting? Well, no, it's not that, either:

The bill Mr. Bush signed, creating the new program, authorized annual spending of $3 billion on AIDS and two other diseases, tuberculosis and malaria. But in his proposed budget, Mr. Bush asked for only $2 billion....

Ah -- so the bait-and-switch is Bush's idea.

But, see, we're doing dying Africans a favor. Giving them $2 billion this year to fight disease is better than giving them $3 billion:

The White House has insisted that African nations have no capacity to absorb $3 billion in spending on AIDS next year

-- no, I'm not making that up --

...but with 29.4 million people in Africa already infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, advocates for people with AIDS insist that the money can be well spent.

No! Really? You think so?

In the Senate last week, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat, tried to add $1.1 billion for global AIDS to a defense spending measure. But the effort failed.

Yeah, but he's just a senile old coot, right?

Wednesday, July 23, 2003


In this whole saga of Iraq, congressional and other critics are focusing on the trees -- the individual questions about weapons of mass destruction, about hyped intelligence, about an unproven link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, even about whether the war is over.

In doing so, they are neglecting to address the forest. That's the much bigger and more significant question of Congress' responsibility to explore the wisdom, not to mention the constitutionality, of engaging in a pre-emptive war as part of a new and overarching American approach for dealing with the world.

....In any event, Congress needs to wake up and recognize that Mr. Bush's war in Iraq may be only the opening chapter in a foreign policy adventure that can have deep and destructive ramifications for America's role in the world and for domestic well-being and progress at home. Who will step back and examine what is being wrought?

--Jules Witcover in the Baltimore Sun

(Thanks to TalkLeft for spotting this.)

Earlier today I wrote about this article in The Weekly Standard, which argues that President Bush's choices for the Medal of Freedom are excellent while Bill Clinton's were unspeakably icky. The folks at Sadly, No! noticed something about the article that I overlooked: It's essentially plagiarized -- taken from this White House press release, with a bit of anti-Democrat nastiness tacked on. When I wrote about the Standard article, it included no acknowledgment of the plagiarism; now the cribbing is acknowledged. Hey -- I thought all right-wing journalists were scrupulously honest, unlike those fact-inventing, affirmative-action-addled liberal amoralist decadents at The New York Times. What gives?

I'd also like to note, by the way, that the Standard article, after praising Bush's Medal of Freedom choices, reproduces the entire 2003 list -- except for the first two names. Why would those honorees be omitted? The first is an esteemed American professor and author. Could the Standard have left him out because his name is Jacques Barzun and he was born in (ick!) France? (Note: Professor Barzun, a nonagenarian, has lived in the U.S. for the last 84 years.) And was the second honoree omitted by the Standard because it's Julia Child -- the French Chef?
The new New York Times bestseller list has been e-mailed to subscribers, and these folks will be happy to learn that Hillery Clinton's Living History is no longer the #1 nonfiction hardcover. However, they will probably be unhappy to learn that Hillary has been replaced at the top not by one of their heroes, Ann Coulter, but by a well-educated atheist homewrecker whose mother hung out with Margaret Sanger: Katharine Hepburn, the subject of Scott Berg's Kate Remembered. (Coulter drops to #6.)

Meanwhile, this Hillary-hater grasps at straws, noting that her book is being sold at 40% off list price at Amazon. As some of the people who respond to this person point out, Amazon discounts a lot of big bestsellers that much, precisely because they're bestsellers (and, as such, are deeply discounted at the bricks-and-mortar stores that are Amazon's competitors).

This is what I don't get: These people are conservatives, which means that, by definition, they have the utmost admiration for capitalism -- and yet they don't seem to have a clue how businesses actually operate. They don't understand deep discounting of new, hot-selling products, even though it's common in the book and CD businesses. And they were shocked, shocked, that the publisher of the Clinton book may have manufactured a pre-publication leak -- even though this practice is also commonplace in media businesses. Do these people actually know anything about capitalism that doesn't come from the heavy-breathing pages of Ayn Rand? Have any of these people ever even had jobs?

(Oh -- this is unrelated, but please note that at least one of the Hillary-haters in the first link above doesn't know how to use, or refrain from using, an apostrophe. Thanks to Dack at Rational Enquirer for spotting this. The spelling in the second link isn't so hot, either.)
Over at Eschaton, Lambert (pinch-hitting for Atrios) is outraged (here, here, and here) that American soldiers killed Saddam's sons when it was possible to take them alive. (Lambert cites this MSNBC article, which notes that psyops teams were standing by but weren't used, and this DefenseLINK article, which says we had them surrounded and they couldn't have escaped.)

Lambert's right in theory, but it really doesn't matter: Never in a million years would the Bushies have agreed to ship the brothers Hussein to the Hague. They were never going to try them publicly in America, and they were never going to allow them to be tried publicly in Iraq. The same goes for their daddy: If U.S. troops take Saddam alive and can't kill him for some reason, he'll be bundled off to an Undisclosed Location so fast it'll make your head spin -- far from Iraq, where the people he brutalized can't get their own justice, far from the public courts of the U.S., and far from the International Criminal Court.

The Bushies love secrecy. They love control. They hate what they see as a sissified, pantywaist deference to due process. And they think the American people agree with them. And while I know Bush's poll numbers are dropping right now, I think there's something to this -- when Bush seemed to be kicking ass on his own terms, with utter disregard for the opinions of others, during each of the two wars, he was riding pretty high in the polls, virtually exempt from criticism.

Forget humbling or humiliating the Husseins before the people they brutalized. Forget placing them in the dock to answer charges while the world watches. The Bushies wanted these kills, and they got 'em. They want one more, and they'll probably get that one, too.
In an earlier post I said that, according to Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds, Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show was going to feature as a guest Gilbert Merritt, an American judge who's been working for the Justice Department in Iraq and believes he's been given a "smoking gun" Iraqi newspaper story linking Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda. My mistake was to misread the date of Reynolds's post -- he wrote it Monday, not yesterday. Reynolds's mistake was to believe the person who told him the judge would appear on the show -- apparently the Merritt who was scheduled to appear on O'Reilly's show Monday was Jeralyn Merritt, who presides over the fine blog Talk Left.

By the way, Judge Merritt writes about the gag order he was subjected to in this column for the Nashville Tennesseean. So either the administration doesn't want this story floated or it doesn't want it floated the way the judge was floating it. Maybe it won't go any further than the New York Post and Weekly Standard. Or maybe it will go further, but not just yet.
I don't know how old Katherine Mangu-Ward is, but judging from the sketch that accompanies this article in The Weekly Standard, which she wrote, she's rather young. Which makes me suspect that the article demonstrates how you try to separate yourself from the pack if you're a young right-wing apparatchik/journalist: you take the most innocuous news item you can find and show that you can manipulate its facts to persuade people -- or at least people who are really, really simpleminded -- that Democrats are the embodiment of pure evil.

Here's Mangu-Ward's lead:

THIS AFTERNOON, a ceremony will be held for the 2003 Medal of Freedom recipients in the East Room of the White House. President Bush's list is uniformly excellent, and incredibly revealing when compared with some of Bill Clinton's picks for the nation's highest civilian honor.

Clinton's choices, of course, included several remarkable and deserving man and women. But he placed them on equal footing with other, lesser lights, including Jesse Jackson (2000), Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter (1999), George McGovern (2000), and Marian Wright Edelman (2000), who is currently suing the Bush administration over the No Child Left Behind program.

Clinton's most controversial pick was J. William Fulbright (1993); his most entertaining was Albert Shanker (1998). Shanker, the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, may be most famous for his cameo in Woody Allen's comedy "Sleeper": Allen's character, frozen in 1973, wakes up after 100 years and learns that civilization was destroyed when "a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead."

A glance over a full list of Clinton's choices hints at the political machinations at work beneath the surface.

Mangu-Ward knows a lot of readers won't bother to click on the link. Click on it -- and ask yourself which Clinton-era honorees Mangu-Ward finds objectionable. Thurgood Marshall? Colin Powell? Rosa Parks? Admiral Elmo Zumwalt? Admiral William Crowe? Simon Wiesenthal? Aung San Suu Kyi? And which choices strike her as made through "political machinations"? Bob Dole? Gerald Ford? Elliot Richardson?

Yes, there are a labor leaders and environmentalists and civil-rights leaders on Clinton's list -- advocates of evil liberal principles. But look who's on Bush's list this year, as Mangu-Ward reports: Charlton Heston. Albert Shanker is controversial, but Heston isn't? And Nancy Reagan and Irving Kristol made the list last year. Utterly apolitical choices?

Right-wing readers will swallow Mangu-Ward's article whole, because they so desperately want it to be true. They'll accept as accurate its preposterously hyperbolic title -- "Night and Day."

This is how the conservative two-minute-hate machine works.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

There's an odd story making the right-wing rounds.

According to the story, a certain Iraqi, Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod (or Abd-al-Karim Muhammad Aswad), was identified as Iraq's liaison to Osama bin Laden in a public document -- an article that appeared in November 2002 in Babil, a newspaper whose publisher was Uday Hussein, son of Saddam. The article was given to an American judge, Gilbert Merritt, who had been sent to Iraq by the Justice Department after the war. Merritt wrote about the document in this article for Nashville's Tennesseean newspaper. He explains:

On the back page [of the newspaper] was a story headlined ''List of Honor.'' In a box below the headline was ''A list of men we publish for the public.'' The lead sentence refers to a list of ''regime persons'' with their names and positions.

The list has 600 names and titles in three columns. It contains, for example, the names of the important officials who are members of Saddam's family, such as Uday, and then other high officials, including the 55 American ''deck of cards'' Iraqi officials, some of whom have been apprehended.

Halfway down the middle column is written: ''Abid Al-Karim Muhamed Aswod, intelligence officer responsible for the coordination of activities with the Osama bin Laden group at the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan.''

This may seem odd to you -- the U.S. was clearly hankering for a war with Iraq, and looking for a casus belli, and here, allegedly, was an Iraqi newspaper proclaiming an Iraqi link to al-Qaeda.

But it gets weirder. As a sidebar to the judge's story explains,

the list was prefaced by this puzzling passage:

''This is a list of the henchmen of the regime. Our hands will reach them sooner or later. Woe unto them.''

Since the list was published in a newspaper run by Saddam Hussein's son, it was not clear why this passage would have been allowed to appear.

The judge was told a rather farfetched tale, which he believes:

The lawyer who brought the newspaper to me, Samir, and another lawyer with whom I have been working, Zuhair, translated the Arabic words and described what had happened in Baghdad the day it was published.

Samir bought his paper at a newsstand at around 8 a.m. Within two hours, the Iraqi intelligence officers were going by every newsstand in Baghdad and confiscating the papers. They also went to the home of every person who they were told received a paper that day and confiscated it.

The other lawyer, Zuhair, who was the counsel for the Arab League in Baghdad, did not receive delivery of his paper that day. He called his vendor, who told him that there would be no paper that day, a singular occurrence he could not explain.

For the next 10 days, the paper was not published at all. Samir's newspaper was not confiscated and he retained it because it contained this interesting ''Honor Roll of 600'' of the people closest to the regime.

The only explanation for this strange set of events, according to the Iraqi lawyers, is that Uday, an impulsive and somewhat unbalanced individual, decided to publish this honor roll at a time when the regime was under worldwide verbal attack in the press, especially by us. It would, he thought, make them more loyal and supportive of the regime.

None of which explains why the threatening remarks about the honor-roll members also saw print.

Is this bizarre item a smoking gun? Is it even a real newspaper article? The Weekly Standard (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch) thinks so -- the Standard published an article about the document a couple of months before Judge Merritt did. The New York Post (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch) thinks so -- its story cheekily adds the detail that the judge is "a Democrat and longtime family friend of Al Gore." And, according to Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds, Bill O'Reilly (who is employed by Rupert Murdoch) will have the judge on his show tonight.*

Look, I don't know about this thing. Has anyone seen it who might be able to judge whether it's genuine or a crude Yellowcakegate-level forgery? Has the story of the seizure of the papers been verified? Is the translation accurate?

I worry that this story will make its way up the media food chain until it's taken seriously. On the other hand, InstaPundit says the judge has "complained about being 'gagged' by the U.S. government." So maybe something else is going on -- maybe the point is just to float a story that will keep the true believers believing, but to keep it under the radar so it's never subjected to real scrutiny by people who could really debunk it. Maybe this is being put out in the hope that it will be half-heard and half-read by people who will go on to tell their friends and neighbors, "You know, there are documents proving a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda." This would be a nonstandard propaganda technique, an odd use of word of mouth, but I wouldn't put it past the Bushies.

* That last sentence isn't exactly accurate. See this post for a couple of corrections.
Saddam's sons are nasty pieces of work, by all accounts. I made a snide comment last night about the hunt for Husseins, but if a couple have been captured or killed, the world certainly won't miss them. But let's see what happens in Iraq now if they really are in custody or dead. Is the guerrilla war just a show of loyalty to a dynasty that's perceived as capable of making a comeback, or has it taken on a life of its own? The death or capture of Saddam would be the true test, but this will tell us something. I don't know the answer -- time will tell.
From Newsweek's online front page right now:

Did President Bush know the uranium claim in the State of the Union was false?

11991 responses

No. The President was a victim of bad intelligence: 18%

Yes. He bent the truth to build his case for war: 76%

I don't know: 6%

Yeah, I know: Online polls are completely unscientific. Nevertheless...
How was David Kelly exposed?

Tony Blair today fuelled the row over David Kelly's death to insist that he had played no role in the "outing" of the government scientist as the source of the BBC's Iraq dossier story.

Speaking to reporters on the plane en route to Hong Kong from Shanghai, the prime minister stated categorically: " I did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly."

Mr Blair said he "emphatically" did not authorise the leak, but he said the confirmation of Dr Kelly's name was a different matter, adding that the judicial inquiry he had set up would look at all the facts.

Questioned on why the government confirmed Dr Kelly's identity, he replied: "That's a completely different matter once the name is out there. The inquiry can look at these things."

The provenance of Dr Kelly's name in the media has become the new focus of the ongoing blame game over Dr Kelly's apparent suicide, 48 hours after giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee.

Today's Financial Times claims the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, personally authorised his press office's strategy of confirming Dr Kelly's name to journalists who came up with it.

Meanwhile the Guardian claims that Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, came up with the idea of confirming the name if a journalist deduced it.

But although there were enough clues in both Mr Gilligan's Mail on Sunday account of his source, and Downing Street's background details, to allow well-connected journalists to arrive at Dr Kelly's identity, there is still some suspicion that Downing Street gave the name to select lobby journalists for it then to be confirmed by the MoD....


Meanwhile, a lot of Britons are thinking about regime change:

A new poll for the Daily Telegraph newspaper released Monday suggested the size of the political damage Blair, who was on a diplomatic mission to Beijing on Tuesday, has suffered in recent days. It reported that 39 percent of voters surveyed said Blair should resign, almost as many as the 41 percent who said he should stay in office. Twenty percent were undecided.
The poll also reported 59 percent said their opinion of Blair had dropped as a result of Kelly's death, while 64 percent now believed the government had not given accurate information about the Iraqi weapons threat in the days before the war began.

--Washington Post story, from tThe Salt Lake Tribune
Here in America, many of us can't quite understand why friendship has flourished between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Blair, for all his faults, seems sincere, overeager, earnest, and genuinely concerned (if delusionally) with issues of right and wrong, unlike the cynical, nasty, mean-spirited Bush, whose talk of morality always seems phony. But I guess in Britain they don't see Blair quite the way we do. This is from The Scotsman:

...the kind of brutality which led Dr Kelly to take his own life is a very close relative of the kind of brutality which has characterised Tony Blair’s years in power.

Throughout his time in office, political opponents within Labour have been discredited. Dirty tricks have been deployed. Those not prepared to toe the party line have been bullied. Those who might compromise the government have been hung out to dry. Lies have been repeatedly told. The victims have been left badly bruised - though never before dead. The hardest ministers, such as John Reid, have thrived in this administration. The most humane, such as Estelle Morris, have languished.

Politics has always been a dirty business, but it has rarely been this filthy. John Major’s regime may have been mired in sleaze and hypocrisy, but even those wallowing in that particular quagmire would have quailed at the techniques used by Blair’s henchmen. Charlie Whelan, the former government spin doctor, told me that he used to make intimidating phone calls to journalists in the middle of the night. He admitted to "doing-in Cabinet ministers" and talked cheerfully of "putting the boot into the bastards".

In ten days’ time, Blair will become the longest-serving Labour prime minister in British history, and it could be argued that these bully-boy techniques have allowed him to stay at the top for so long. They may yet, however, be the cause of his demise.

Now it starts to make sense.

Monday, July 21, 2003

I'm puzzling over the fact that the late Dr. David Kelly, a source for the BBC's report on British intelligence, was a pal of New York Times reporter Judith Miller -- the Times reported today that one ominous e-mail he sent shortly before his death (the one with the phrase "many dark actors playing games") was sent to Miller. The Times today also published an appreciation of Kelly written by Miller, an article that echoes some of what she wrote in a piece published yesterday, "A Chronicle of Confusion in the Hunt for Hussein's Weapons." In today's article, Miller says that before his death Kelly

was critical of the way in which American armed forces had gone about hunting for [WMDs], and expressed the fear that material might have been looted, hidden or carried away. "It may be virtually impossible to construct through traditional forensics what Iraq had done," he once said.

He also expressed frustration that the weapons hunters in Iraq included so few people who were knowledgeable about the country and its scientific and weapons experts.

Yesterday she wrote:

Some said that promising sites were looted — or cleared of evidence — before Americans could search or secure them.

"Because we arrived at sites so late, so often," said Capt. J. Ryan Cutchin, the leader of the team known as MET Bravo, "we may never know what was there, and either walked or was taken away by looters and Baathist elements under the guise of looting."

...some said that Special Operations forces alienated potential Iraqi sources through midnight raids and other harsh tactics....

Several analysts said that although the task force's weapons-hunting teams were highly motivated and innovative, the Pentagon initially erred in putting a field artillery brigade in charge of the hunt....

...the task force had virtually no inspectors and few analysts who knew Iraq or its weapons programs well....

It seems likely to me that Kelly was a source for yesterday's article by Miller although his opinions were seconded by other interviewees.
Does this seem as pathetic to you as it does to me?

SHAKY, Iraq - U.S. soldiers raided the home of a wealthy auto dealer Monday after a man claiming to be Saddam Hussein's mechanic said the ousted dictator was hiding there.

Four Bradley fighting vehicles smashed through the front walls of the compound in Ishaky, on the banks of the Tigris about 35 miles north of Baghdad, said Capt. Karl Pfuetze, whose 4th Infantry 3rd Brigade unit led the raid.

Dozens of soldiers stormed the compound, which consisted of three interconnected houses with an estimated 50 rooms, he said.

Saddam was not in the house, and soldiers found no escape tunnels on the property....


No Saddam, but I hear they missed Elvis by that much....
President George W. Bush's job performance rating has slipped to 53% positive, his lowest since the terrorist attacks in 2001, according to a poll of 1,004 likely U.S. voters by Zogby International. His negative rating reached 46%, just under his pre-9/11 unfavorable of 49%....

For the first time, more likely voters (47%) say it's time for someone new in the White House, compared to 46% who said the President deserves to be re-elected....

--from the Zogby Web site

The FBI blew repeated chances to uncover the 9-11 plot because it failed to aggressively investigate evidence of Al Qaeda’s presence in the United States, especially in the San Diego area, where two of the hijackers were living with one of the bureau’s own informants, according to the congressional report set for release this week.  



The long-delayed 900-page report also contains potentially explosive new evidence suggesting that Omar al-Bayoumi, a key associate of two of the hijackers, may have been a Saudi-government agent, sources tell NEWSWEEK. The report documents extensive ties between al-Bayoumi and the hijackers. But the bureau never kept tabs on al-Bayoumi—despite receiving prior information he was a secret Saudi agent, the report says. In January 2000, al-Bayoumi had a meeting at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles—and then went directly to a restaurant where he met future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, whom he took back with him to San Diego. (Al-Bayoumi later arranged for the men to get an apartment next to his and fronted them their first two months rent.) The report is sure to reignite questions about whether some Saudi officials were secretly monitoring the hijackers—or even facilitating their conduct....

Obviously, I understand why the United States of SUVs tolerates Saudi nonsense -- and I know a lot of people, across the political spectrum, wish we didn't. What I don't understand is why the FBI's coating of Teflon never seems to get scratched.

(Oh, and here's an old story about alleged ties between al-Bayoumi and the Saudi royal family.)

Why does the same story keep coming up again and again? And if the Bushies are so sure it's incorrect, why doesn't any empirical evidence ever disprove it?

As Dack at the Rational Enquirer pointed out a couple of days ago, citing this Washington Post story and this AP story, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, the Iraqi scientist who had the blueprint and centrifuge parts buried in his backyard, says the Iraqi nuclear program was suspended back in (all together now, class) 1991. Now, certainly this could be a lie everyone was supposed to tell, but if so, where's the evidence that points in another direction?

Jacques Baute, a nuclear scientist for the International Atomic Energy Agency, is quoted in the Washington Post story. According to Baute, what was buried in that backyard was woefully inadequate if Saddam wanted to restart his nuke program -- and would have been even in the unlikely event that Saddam managed to get Iraq's pariah-nation status changed:

Baute, in the interview Friday, pointed out that once U.N. economic sanctions were ended, after inspectors certified Baghdad's weapons work had ceased, the Security Council was to have imposed an Ongoing Monitoring and Verification regime on Iraq - controls short-circuited by the U.S.-British invasion.

Inspectors, with unhindered access under U.N. resolutions, would have kept close watch on Iraq's military-industrial complex, aided by air and water sampling technology, satellite and aerial surveillance, and monitoring of Iraq's imports.

An enrichment plant, a vast array of thousands of centrifuges, would have been easily detected, said Baute, who once helped build French nuclear bombs.

"To have turned it into a full-blown enrichment program while OMV was in place would have been virtually impossible," he said of the Obeidi equipment.

Although U.S. officials have not shared their Obeidi data with the IAEA, Baute's experts closely examined available photos of the components and found they included one critical part, the bottom bearing assembly.

But other vital elements apparently are lacking, Baute said, including the advanced carbon-fiber rotor, the spinning tube in which uranium gas is separated.

"It is far, far from being a complete set," he said.

He also noted the Iraqis would have had to expose themselves by searching for foreign manufacturers to duplicate complex components.

As for Obeidi's documents, they appear to be copies of centrifuge drawings and papers seized by IAEA inspectors in 1995, Baute said.

"These Iraqi drawings seem to contain mistakes," he said. German engineers who secretly assisted the centrifuge program apparently didn't leave their hosts finished designs, and the Iraqis erred at times in filling in gaps.

Oh, and as the AP story notes, Obeidi says the now-notorious aluminum tubes Iraq purchased weren't for nuclear bomb production. Go to the Rational Enquirer story for a nice list of who dismisses the tubes as possible "smoking guns" (e.g., the State Department) and who (a much shorter list) doesn't. Recall The New Republic's widely read article "The First Casualty":

The tubes' thick walls and particular diameter made them a poor fit for uranium enrichment, even after modification. That determination ... came from weeks of interviews with "the nation's experts on the subject, ... they're the ones that have the labs, like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where people really know the science and technology of enriching uranium."