Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Why do all the commie liberals in America hate capitalism? Why can't they be like these fine, upstanding, free-market-admiring Americans?

At age 3, Timberland is too young to be embarrassed about being named after a bestselling brand of footwear, but his mother cringes.

"His daddy insisted on it because Timberlands were the pride of his wardrobe. The alternative was Reebok," said the 32-year-old nurse, who is now divorced.

"I wanted Kevin."

The boy is not alone: five other Americans were named Timberland in 2000, according to social security records.

A trend for naming children after favourite possessions is accelerating in brand-driven America.

The records show that in 2000, 49 children were named Canon, followed by 11 Bentleys, five Jaguars and a Xerox....


Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is smiling.

******

(Yes, I know there's a Timbaland who produces and performs hip-hop and R&B music, but he has a decidedly normal real name, Tim Mosley.)

If you haven't yet read the New York Times story about the new firm set up by Bush cronies to broker Iraq reconstruction deals, read it (Yahoo News reproduces it here for those who aren't registered with the Times). If you're rushed, just skip to the end and learn about the principals' many ties to the Bush administration and other unsavory organizations ("Mr. Rogers, the vice chairman who was a deputy assistant to the first President Bush and an executive assistant to the White House chief of staff, is also vice chairman of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, one of the best-connected Republican lobbying firms in the capital. Mr. Rogers founded it in 1991 with Haley Barbour, who became chairman of the Republican National Committee and is now running for governor of Mississippi. Shortly after leaving the White House, Mr. Rogers ... signed a $600,000 contract to represent a Saudi, Sheik Kamal Adham, who was a main figure under scrutiny in a case that involved the Bank of Commerce and Credit International..."). And Paul Krugman has more on Bushie cronyism in Iraq.

Mathematically, it's like this:

Bushies : post-Saddam Iraq :: Mafia : pre-Castro Cuba
We were about to conquer and occupy a country that had suffers through years and years of repression, sanctions, and war, including the war we had just started. It's gratifying to learn that Donald Rumsfeld knew what was truly important at that critical moment: slapping down the State Department and kowtowing to right-wing political correctness. Newsweek reports:

 LAST FEBRUARY, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner was trying to put together a team of experts to rebuild Iraq after the war was over, and his list included 20 State Department officials. The day before he was supposed to leave for the region, Garner got a call from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who ordered him to cut 16 of the 20 State officials from his roster. It seems that the State Department people were deemed to be Arabist apologists, or squishy about the United Nations, or in some way politically incorrect to the right-wing ideologues at the White House or the neocons in the office of the Secretary of Defense. The vetting process “got so bad that even doctors sent to restore medical services had to be anti-abortion,” recalled one of Garner’s team. Finally, Secretary of State Colin Powell tried to stand up for his troops and stop Rumsfeld’s meddling. “I can take hostages, too,” Powell warned the secretary of Defense. “How hard do you want to play this thing?”

Pretty hard. Powell lost, as he often does in the councils of the Bush war cabinet, and Rumsfeld had his way. Only one of the 16 State officials was restored to Garner’s reconstruction team. It was a petty triumph, but emblematic of Rumsfeld’s dominating, sometimes overbearing style.


In Rumsfeld's eyes, who do you think Enemy No. 1 really is -- Osama, Saddam, or Powell?
Doing its best to keep people angry and stupid, the New York Post gives us this cover today. (Yes, in New York Post Land, the French are still "weasels.")

From the accompanying Post story:

DAMSEL IN DISTRESS

Grim-faced First Lady Laura Bush looks as if she'd rather be anywhere else in the world yesterday as French President Jacques Chirac takes a stab at chivalry by planting a kiss on her hand.

...Intent on playing the charming host, the French leader repeated the hand-smooching performance when the first lady departed.

Later, when reporters teased her about the kisses, the first lady said diplomatically, "I think that was just French hospitality."


AP's take is a bit different:

As Chirac bent low over her hand the first time, Mrs. Bush seemed slightly amused, smiling toward television cameras gathered to the side. Later, when reporters teased her about the kisses, she laughed. "I think that was just French hospitality," she said.

Damn liberal media! Those kisses were a fate worse than death!

(UPDATE: Tom Burka at Opinions You Should Have sees something in Laura's eyes that isn't distress....)
Remember this (from USA Today) the next time the lead story of the day from Iraq is "Whoopee, we found a weapons cache!":

In strategic sections of Iraq, just about every school, hospital or Baath Party building that U.S. forces come across is stacked high with ammunition, according to Gen. John Abizaid, overall commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The number of sites is a logistical nightmare for the coalition, which can't remove the arms fast enough and lacks manpower to guard all the caches.

Abizaid's military command estimates it will take five years to destroy all the explosives already confiscated. Meanwhile, unguarded sites become ready-made supply houses for guerrilla fighters.

"There is more ammunition in Iraq than any place I've ever been in my life, and it is all not securable," Abizaid told senators in a Sept. 24 hearing. "I wish I could tell you that we had it all under control, but we don't."


(UPDATE: Here's the New York Times story on the same subject. Disturbing quote from General Abizaid about sites we have -- ostensibly -- secured: "There's probably places where we've put Iraqi guards that may be vulnerable to people that would come in and bribe the guards." Infuriating illustration of how we're being lied to: "General Abizaid's sobering assessment directly contradicted reassurances from a senior Pentagon official earlier in September that 'all known Iraqi munitions sites are being secured by coalition forces.' ... Previously, American military and law enforcement officials in Iraq privately acknowledged that about 50 munitions sites containing explosives similar to those used in the recent major bombings had little or no security. But General Abizaid's comments now suggest that the number could be much higher." Two-way tie for the best imitation of Sergeant "I Know Nothink!" Schultz from Hogan's Heroes: "Senior Defense Department officials in Washington say they have only recently been made aware of the scope and seriousness of the problem.... A spokesman for L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian administrator in Iraq, said Mr. Bremer had also received briefings on the larger issue but was not familiar with security at individual sites.")

Monday, September 29, 2003

Two days before the end of 1988, columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak ran a column calling George W. "the increasingly likely Republican candidate for governor ... engaging and articulate, more conservative than the president-elect and the family member with the purest Texas accent." In Texas, suspicious Democrats chortled, suspecting that they saw Karl Rove's handiwork churning forward with the same columnists that George W.'s mentor Lee Atwater had allegedly enjoyed planting stories with.

--Bill Minutaglio, First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, p. 235

(With a nod to Josh Marshall and Atrios, whose coverage of the Valerie Plame story has been relentless and outstanding.)
The guys at TheRevolutionWillBeLive.com want a million Americans to post the Ten Commandments on their front lawns.

No, let me correct that: They want a million Americans to buy their Ten Commandments signs (at $19.95 a pop) and post them on their front lawns.

No, let me correct that again: They want a million people to post the Ten Commandments, then they want the ACLU and the rest of us socialist-atheist godless liberals to get hopping mad and sue them ("we can watch as the ACLU and its deceived followers go absolutely crazy over the thousands, if not millions of 10 Commandments displays cropping up all over the American landscape").

Dumbasses. They don't get it: The ACLU believes you have an inalienable right to display the Ten Commandments on your own property. You just don't have the right to slather your religion all over public property in a pluralistic society in which people of every belief and nonbelief system are equal citizens.

You know who'll really try to compel homeowners with Ten Commandments lawn signs to remove them?

Not atheists. Not liberals. Not the ACLU.

Neighborhood associations.

And when this happens, you know who'll defend the Ten Commandments sign owners -- or who'll at least offer to?

The ACLU.

And as an atheist, I agree with that.
Have you seen the cover of Time this week?

Very gratifying.
South Carolina -- still soft on treason:

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A proposal to have the bodies of eight Confederate sailors lie in state in the Capitol has drawn criticism from some who contend giving them the honor would be unfair and disrespectful.

The sailors' remains were recovered when the submarine H.L. Hunley was brought up in 2000 from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, where it sank shortly after downing the Union blockade ship Housatonic in 1864. The Hunley was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship during a war.

A Hunley Commission member said no formal request has been made, but a Web site listing details of funeral plans had initially included two days in the Capitol....

The governor, speaker of the House and president pro tem of the Senate, who are all Republicans, have the power to decide who can lie in state. The head of the Senate, Glenn McConnell, is a Confederate re-enactor and is leading the effort to raise $40 million for a Hunley museum.


I love this part:

Other critics question the fairness of honoring Confederate soldiers while not giving U.S. soldiers the same treatment.

"We have had many in South Carolina who have given their lives," said state Rep. Joe Neal. "And we have not had this kind of recognition for them."


So they honor Confederates more than they honor South Carolinians who've fought for the U.S.? Great.

You know, next time they want to secede, we should just say "Be my guest" and tell them not to let the door hit their treasonous asses on the way out.


It's really perfect timing: Last night The New York Times posted a new best-seller list that includes the first appearance of Shut Up and Sing, a right-wing book by Laura Ingraham that, among other things, denounces entertainers who talk about politics -- at just about the exact moment when Gallup was releasing poll results showing Republican "actor" Arnold Schwarzenegger blowing away the rest of the recall field (he now leads Cruz Bustamante among likely voters, 40%-25%). And, at the same time, we got a trial balloon for the possible candidacy of yet another GOP entertainer -- Dennis Miller:

The comedian Dennis Miller is being talked about, apparently seriously, as a Republican candidate for a statewide post. Three Republican strategists interviewed in the past week have said they want to draft Miller into politics. One, a prominent Republican operative and Schwarzenegger aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that once the recall election is over, he plans to recruit Miller to challenge Barbara Boxer for her U.S. Senate seat next year.

The Schwarzenegger campaign even provided Miller a political audition of sorts this week. The comedian, famous for his raunchy and irreverent rants and his stint on "Saturday Night Live" more than a decade ago, provided the campaign's official post-debate spin in Sacramento Wednesday night. Later the same evening, Miller spoke at a Schwarzenegger rally.


Last week, of course, a Kelsey Grammer trial balloon was floated by the Republicans.

This is rank hypocrisy -- as Barbra Streisand, Janeane Garofalo, the Dixie Chicks, and a lot of other entertainers know. But I don't blame the GOP -- at the national level, at least, the media have rolled over for Schwarzenegger like lovesick puppies, and it's clear that this could happen anytime a Republican star runs. (Celebrities who are Democrats are deemed decadent and out of touch with ordinary Americans' values, but GOP registration clearly confers Teflon.)

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Bush and the Mrs. gave an interview to Peggy Noonan for the October issue of Ladies' Home Journal. I read it in a checkout line over the weekend. It's pretty much what you'd expect -- but I find this little anecdote a bit jarring, because the evening they're describing is 9/11:

President Bush: But the day ended on a relatively humorous note. The agents said, "You'll be sleeping downstairs. Washington's still a dangerous place." And I said no, I can't sleep down there, the bed didn't look comfortable. I was really tired, Laura was tired, we like our own bed. We like our own routine. You know, kind of a nester. Like the way things are. I knew I had to deal with the issue the next day and provide strength and comfort to the country, and so I needed rest in order to be mentally prepared. So I told the agent we're going upstairs, and he reluctantly said okay. Laura wears contacts, and she was sound asleep. Barney was there. And the agent comes running up and says, "We're under attack. We need you downstairs," and so there we go. I'm in my running shorts and my T-shirt, and I'm barefooted. Got the dog in one hand, Laura had a cat, I'm holding Laura --

Mrs. Bush: I don't have my contacts in, and I'm in my fuzzy house slippers --

President Bush: And this guy's out of breath, and we're heading straight down to the basement because there's an incoming unidentified airplane, which is coming toward the White House. Then the guy says it's a friendly airplane. And we hustle all the way back upstairs and go to bed.

Mrs. Bush:
[laughs] And we just lay there thinking about the way we must have looked.

Noonan: So the day starts in tragedy and ends in Marx Brothers.

President Bush: That's right -- we got a laugh out of it.


"We got a laugh out of it." The president of the United States. On 9/11. I'm just shaking my head.
Boy, this sure makes me feel secure:

When two Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials found a security guard asleep at his post at the Indian Point 2 nuclear reactor last year, the agency decided not to issue a notice of violation because there was no terrorist attack on the plant during the half-hour or so that the guard was sleeping, a Congressional audit has found.

Isn't that a great standard? As long as a nuclear power plant (one that, by the way, happens to be about 30 miles north of Ground Zero) isn't actually under terrorist attack, it's OK for the guards to be asleep on the job.

Or allegedly asleep. I love this:

The report described the guard as "inattentive to duty," a term that the agency often uses in its reports. Agency officials say they cannot prove that an individual is asleep, even one who is not moving and whose eyes are closed.

And the safety drills at Indian Point? It turns out that its owners are allowed to bring in ringers -- they can add security guards just for the drills, then dismiss them as soon as the drills are over:

The General Accounting Office also said that auditors who reviewed 80 commission reports of force-on-force exercises found that at 12 plants, the operators added security guards, and at 35, guards got extra training. Most plants also took special precautions before the drills.

"It's virtually cheating when you do that," said Peter Stockton, a senior investigator with the Project on Government Oversight and a former security adviser to the federal energy secretary.

Mr. Zimmerman said the commission expected plants that made such improvements to do so permanently. But the General Accounting Office report said that a regulatory commission official, whom it did not identify, said the agency could require the plants to have on duty only the number of guards specified in their security plans, and that if they added guards before a drill and removed them later, the agency "could not hold a licensee accountable for ramping down" after the exercise.


Unbelievable.
A reporter for The New York Observer recently watched as Marion Nestle, an NYU nutritionist and food-industry gadfly, sorted through some promotional items she's collected:

There’s the Oreo Cookie Counting Book, with the story line of an adorable toddler devouring 10 cookies "until there are none." There’s also Oreo Barbie, festooned in Oreo-patterned clothes and standing in a swirling sea of creamy white filling, and her counterpart, McDonald’s Barbie, who wears the fast-food giant’s uniform and serves a Happy Meal to little sister Kelly. Then there’s a glass baby bottle with a rubber nipple and a Diet Pepsi logo. "This one really bothers me," Ms. Nestle said, burying it back in its box. "I’ve been trying to get them to get rid of this for years. They finally told me they did."

Yikes.

Well, maybe that helps to explain this:

Perhaps nowhere is the issue of obesity in America more vividly illustrated than at Goliath Casket of Lynn, Ind., specialty manufacturers of oversize coffins.

There one can see a triple-wide coffin — 44 inches across, compared with 24 inches for a standard model. With extra bracing, reinforced hinges and handles, the triple-wide is designed to handle 700 pounds without losing what the euphemism-happy funeral industry calls its "integrity."

When Keith and Julane Davis started Goliath Casket in the late 1980's, they sold just one triple-wide each year. But times, along with waistlines, have changed; the Davises now ship four or five triple-wide models a month, and sales at the company have been increasing around 20 percent annually. The Davises say they base their design specifications not on demographic studies so much as on simple observations of the world around them.

"It's just going to local restaurants or walking in a normal Wal-Mart," Mrs. Davis said. "People are getting wider and they're getting thicker."...


And this is before the widespread distribution of cheeseburger fries....

Saturday, September 27, 2003

So let’s assume -- for the sake of argument -- that Wesley Clark really was dead serious when he said he would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned his calls. Let’s take his pre-9/11, pre-Iraq quagmire praise of the Bush foreign-policy team seriously. And, while we’re at it, let’s accept Hugh Shelton’s characterization of Clark as a “nut.”

Hmm...a would-be Republican, said by some to be a bit odd, who’s now deeply, perhaps bitterly, disillusioned by a Bush administration. You know who that reminds me of?

Ross Perot.

I don’t know yet what to believe about Wesley Clark. But maybe the only way to beat one of the George Bushes is to have someone like Perot soften him up -- someone who’s out for payback and who can live with not being liked. Someone, in other words, who’s as spiteful, vindictive, and obsessively competitive with regard to Bush as both of the Bushes are with regard to everyone they run against.

Friday, September 26, 2003

At National Review Online, Thomas A. Nugent writes:

 Ten angry Democratic presidential candidates are debating over how to further increase taxes on the electorate. Here's the list they want to lengthen (courtesy of one of my conservative cohorts):

Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
Capital Gains Tax
CDL License Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Court Fines (indirect taxes)
Dog License Tax
Federal Income Tax

...[a lengthy list of taxes follows]...

Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago when our nation was the most prosperous in the world, had absolutely no national debt, and had the largest middle class in the world.

What the hell happened?


What happened is that we did a lot in the last century to eliminate living conditions like these:

Most occupations required sixty hour or longer work weeks, paid poorly, and in many cases required difficult and dangerous labor. For example many workers in the stockyards had to work 10 hour days, six days a week standing in cold water.

Employers hired and paid on a weekly or daily basis and often shut down for several months of the year due to weather or lack of business. When the employer shut down, or a worker was sick, the worker did not get paid...various sources reported that the typical laborer spent at least several months of the year unemployed and without income.

In order to get by, it was often necessary for all family members to work, often even young children. It was also very common to take in lodgers or boarders even in a rented two room tenement. In slum districts some people even housed horses in the basements, or slept in stables. Otherwise unemployed family members often resorted to small-scale and poorly paying businesses such as fruit peddling.


To a white-collar Republican like Mr. Nugent, of course, that sounds like paradise.

(Thanks to TAPPED, which points out that in 1903 we actually had a significant national debt, an infant mortality rate of 10%, and black life expectancy of 33 years.)
What excites Arnold Schwarzenegger these days? It’s not gangbangs, or even what seemed to excite him during summer interviews promoting Terminator 3—shoving an actress’s face into a toilet bowl. No, these days, what excites Arnold is learning about "all those issues" he would deal with as governor of California—at least, that’s what he told Oprah Winfrey during his recent appearance on her show. Drawing on her journalistic background, Oprah asked the tough follow-up: "Like, are they at your house to—teaching you stuff every night?"

They are. Like, every night. Oprah was impressed by Arnold. Arnold was impressed by Arnold. The audience dutifully applauded.


--Paul Brennan in Orange County's OC Weekly

Yeah, Arnold's getting a lot of mileage out of saying he now spends his evenings boning up on policy -- he also told Maureen Dowd he's been reading

"Things about electricity. `California Electricity Crisis.' And another one about how the schools work. I'm trying to educate myself and get up to speed with a lot of things that I'll need for the future...."

So is it too much to hope that some reporter might actually read The California Electricity Crisis (presumably this book, published by the right-wing, pro-supply-side Hoover Institution) and ask Schwarzie, for example, what he thinks of this or that argument laid out in Chapter Seven?

Or would that be "unfair," like expecting candidate Bush to know the identity of Pervez Musharraf?

Bush loses traction in a red state....

Many Arizona voters are disgruntled with President Bush's handling of the economy and funding for the Iraq war and wouldn't re-elect him right now, according to a poll released Thursday by Arizona State University.

Only 34 percent questioned during a weekend telephone survey would vote to give Bush a second term, according to the poll results. Forty-four percent said they would prefer someone else and 22 percent said they were undecided.

...Only 18 percent of Republicans said they would vote for someone else. But 72 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of independents said they didn't want Bush to have a second term.

... 55 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Bush's handling of the economy and 52 percent didn't like the president's request to spend another $87 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan....


--East Valley Tribune

Bush beat Gore in Arizona in 2000, 51%-45%.
You probably already know that poverty rose in the U.S. in 2001 and 2002, the first two years of George W. Bush's presidence.

But hey, we've had good economic numbers recently -- haven't we? Well, as we learn from Sadly, No! (quoting Reuters and CNN),

Orders for durable goods, items intended to last three years or more, decreased 0.9 percent in August, the Commerce Department said. It was the first decline since April and bucked expectations on Wall Street for a 0.6 percent rise.

and even yesterday's decline in initial unemployment claims wasn't all that impressive:

"About 50 percent of the decline is a result of the power outages from Hurricane Isabel that forced the closure of state offices in such areas as North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia," said a Labor Department spokesman.

But the stock market's going great guns, right? Yes, but Floyd Norris adds an interesting caveat in today's New York Times:

As this bull market nears its first birthday, its defining characteristic is that bad stocks are great.

A money manager with the foresight a year ago to buy only companies of dubious financial standing would now be a star....

Within the Standard & Poor's 500, notes Steve Galbraith of Morgan Stanley, companies that report the cost of options as an expense have underperformed. He reports that companies with "ludicrous pension assumptions," high leverage and low profitability have done quite well. Low-price stocks have doubled, while other shares trail behind.

...Perhaps the market's message is not that the economy is coming back, but only that the speculators have done so.


Norris compares the current moment to 1987:

...There is a whiff of 1987 in more than the buoyant sentiment numbers. Then, as now, there was international economic discord. The dollar was weak and the Treasury secretary was complaining about foreign economic policies that he saw as harmful to the world economy. (The target then was Germany; now it is China.) France and Germany are flouting European rules on budget deficits. The trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, broke down with both rich and poor countries complaining of unfair treatment.

And what came not long after 1987?

The first Bush recession.
I'm surprised this story about Wesley Clark's forthcoming book didn't get more attention when it surfaced a couple of days ago:

Clark wrote that a senior military officer told him on a visit to the Pentagon in November 2001 that the U.S. was planning to go against Iraq but there was more to it. After Iraq, the plan called for targeting Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.

"He said it with reproach -- with disbelief, almost -- at the breadth of the vision," Clark wrote. "I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to see moving forward either.

"What a mistake! I reflected -- as though the terrorism were simply coming from those states," said Clark....


Now, though, the big Clark story is that there's reportedly a videotape of him praising Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Reagan. If this story is true, he has a lot of explaining to do -- although the the tape is said to have been made pre-9/11 and pre-Iraq quagmire.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

John Pilger found video footage from February 2001 of Colin Powell saying, "He [Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors." He put it in a documentary that was just shown on British television, as he explains here. Well, the footage showed up on the nightly news tonight on ABC; a print version of the ABC story is here. (Powell has now told ABC, preposterously, that he hasn't changed his views.)

Now if we only see Pilger's documentary here.
Apparently the diary entries documenting Maureen Dowd's mild crush on Arnold Schwarzenegger yielded enough material for a second column (the first one is here). Schwarzie knows his wife's dress size and buys her clothes; this makes her utterly incapable of saying a harsh word about him. Or saying anything at all -- basically, she just lets him do all the talking -- about himself. Which, before feminism ever happened, was what a woman was supposed to do on a date, right?
WHY WE FIGHT

Iraq oil assets 'up for sale'

Ali Allawi, the trade minister in the US-backed administration in Iraq, has said that foreign ownership of assets in the country's oil industry has not been ruled out.

In an interview with the BBC during the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Dubai, Mr Allawi said that he expects some form of foreign involvement in the sector, although there are other possibilities than ownership.

Mr Allawi's remarks follow an announcement on Sunday in Dubai by other members of the administration of sweeping economic reforms.

The announcement included new opportunities for foreign investors, allowing them to own 100% of Iraqi enterprises. But natural resources, including oil - Iraq's most valuable asset - was excluded.

But Mr Allawi has now confirmed that it does not mean that oil is off the menu for foreign investors for good....

He said that foreign ownership of some Iraqi oil assets is a possibility....


--BBC
You don't have to be Gloria Steinem to figure out why the same sound bite shows up in story after story about last night's California debate. Here's The Boston Globe's version:

Huffington shouted down Schwarzenegger when he tried to interrupt her comments about the state budget. "This is the way you treat women, we know that," she said.

"I have a perfect part for you in `Terminator 4,' " he shot back with a grin. In Schwarzenegger's most recent movie, "Terminator 3," his character dunks a woman's head in a toilet.


Schwarzenegger has a ready defense when people criticize that T3 scene and the glee with which he's described it to interviewers:

"I saw this toilet bowl. How many times do you get away with this — to take a woman, grab her upside down and bury her face in a toilet bowl?" he said. "The thing is, you can do it, because in the end, I didn't do it to a woman — she's a machine!...."

I think an awful lot of people who enjoyed his attacks on Huffington last night follow a similar line of reasoning: it's OK to attack Huffington because she's on the far side of a line that separates real women from unnatural monsters. A few comments from the debate discussion at Lucianne Goldberg's site:

When her husband left her for another man, it did something to her psyche and now everyone else is paying the price.

She is the most annoying female nothing but a fishwife.

Ari is shrill , sour , a driven self important witch with giant control dreams .

Arianna makes Hildebeast sound sane. What a shrill.

Huffinpuff is fast becoming the obnoxious equal to the PIAPS.


"Hildebeast" and "PIAPS" are, of course, pet right-wing names for Hillary Clinton; the former is self-explanatory; the latter stands for "Pig in a Pants Suit."

"Shrill" women aren't real women. Witches, pigs, shrews, and beasts aren't even quite human. So they're OK targets for a "real man."
President Bush's anti-abortion policy has forced family planning clinics in poor countries to close, leaving some communities without any healthcare, according to a report issued Wednesday.

Even faith-based clinics that promote abstinence -- in line with White House policy -- have had to close, according to organizers.

Under the policy, known as the Mexico City rule by supporters and the Global Gag rule by opponents, foreign family planning agencies cannot receive U.S. funds if they provide abortion services or lobby to make or keep abortion legal in their own country.

A survey of Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania and Zambia by Population Action International and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America showed the rule had forced clinics to close and left many men and women without access to contraceptives that could prevent both unwanted pregnancies and AIDS....


--Reuters

The administration's response is this:

But White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the policy only affected family planning clinics, not general health clinics.

In other words, no matter how poor your area, if you seek U.S. assistance you have to set up one general clinic in which no one breathes a word about abortion, and then, if you want to offer family-planning services, you have to set up a completely separate clinic elsewhere -- even though the strain of maintaining one clinic is presumably why you seek U.S. assistance in the first place.

Or you could just do it the Bush administration's way and not offer the family-planning services altogether -- y'know, "My way or the highway."

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The New York Post noted today that Kelsey Grammer, star of the TV series Frasier and a Republican, might want to run for Senate someday -- and right-wing blowhard Sean Hannity generously helped him float this trial balloon last night on Fox News.

Sean Hannity? Wasn't he one of those guys who was appalled and disgusted by Bill Clinton's morals? I guess it doesn't bother him that Grammer's past includes multiple arrests for drunk driving and cocaine possession, not to mention, reportedly, a few other interesting tidbits:

* Grammer was accused of statutory rape by the parents of his underage babysitter. He denied the charge....

* In September 1998 a former girlfriend sparked a controversy when she threatened to sell an explicit video tape of her having sex with Grammer.


I won't mention the porn actress's allegations that he dressed in drag while having sex with her. If you absolutely must know, the link is here.

A few years ago, right-wingers were appalled by apparent libertinism in the Oval Office. A few months ago, they denounced Hollywood stars who discussed politics. Now they shrug off Arnold Schwarzenegger's orgies and serial groping and enable the reportedly rehabilitated but formerly wild Grammer.

But, hey, they're not being hypocritical -- really. After all, everyone knows that when Democrats have illicit sex, it's because they're decadent and depraved and have no sense of right and wrong -- whereas when Republicans do it, it's a sad episode in the wilderness on the road to rehabilitation and renewal... or maybe it's just a fun, frisky "youthful indiscretion." And everyone knows that Democratic entertainers are just idiots, while Republican entertainers are self-made businessmen.

So, really, there's no comparison.
Atrios (3:16 P.M. entry today) notes that the allegedly impartial Howard Kurtz was on CNN today saying that all Arnold Schwarzenegger has to do in tonight's debate/open-book test is exceed low expectations.

That's just the latest of many gifts from the media to Schwarzie -- but if I'd been a Cali Democrat, I would have been saying for weeks that a debate in which the candidates get the questions in advance is ideal for Mr. S. -- in other words, I'd have been bumping up expectations for his performance. If I'd been Cruz Bustamante, I'd have been saying, "Well, you know, I'm not a Hollywood movie star, I don't memorize lines for a living. I expect him to be really, really smooth in that format." Then, if Schwarzie stumbles, or seems awkward in any way, he loses.

That's what the Bushies did to Gore. And it worked like a charm. Three times.

Then again, the "objective" Beltway press had a crush on Bush and despised Gore, and the "objective" press now has a deep, profound hankering for Bicep Man.
"They have to agree to stop fighting. We can't make them."

That's Colonel Dickie Davis, the British leader of a civilian-military team that's trying to help maintain order in northern Afghanistan's Sholgarah Valley. His team, as explained in a story in today's New York Times, covers five provinces that have a total population of 5.5 million people.

His team has 70 people.

Do warlords run amok? Of course they do, like gangs:

In Kod Barq, a pretty, if run-down residential complex built by the Soviets on the edge of Mazar, the prize is the adjacent fertilizer factory. Residents say that commanders believe whoever loses control of the residential compound will cede their cut of the factory revenues as well, so soldiers barely out of their teens roam the shady streets.

Once controlled entirely by General Dostum, the compound is now divided between him and General Muhammad. Not long ago, the two sides almost had a shootout, residents say, when they both converged on the meeting hall where the nation's constitutional commission was holding a public meeting.


The cops can't do a damn thing:

"We are the representatives of the government, but we have nothing, and they have everything," the Sholgarah district police chief, Ridar Akbari, said of the militias. He estimated that 500 or more well-equipped commanders and soldiers have taken roost in the valley. To police its 118 villages, he has 48 police officers — earning between $15 and $30 a month — 10 Kalashnikovs, and a jeep....

The commanders and their soldiers are above the law, said Mr. Akbari, the police chief. When he tries to investigate soldiers for beating a villager who resists their extortion, their superiors tell him to stay out of military matters.

"I am ashamed in front of the people of the district that I couldn't bring peace and stability," Mr. Akbari said. He sometimes tells those with guns, "In the future, people will come to the police chief and complain you did something and I will imprison you."

In the present, they laugh at him.


The Bush legacy -- mission not accomplished.



If you're coming here from Eschaton, the cheeseburger fries post is the most recent one from Tuesday.
Remember Glenn Close in the bathtub at the end of Fatal Attraction? Here's the GOP version:

Republican leaders, pressed by conservatives furious over the demise of Miguel Estrada's judicial nomination after a six-month Democratic filibuster, will resurrect the nomination of Mississippi federal Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. tomorrow.

"They're outraged over it everywhere I go," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.


--Washington Times

I don't know what they expect to accomplish with this. No, wait -- of course I do: more campaign contributions from angry wingnuts, just when it's becoming obvious that the '04 election isn't going to be a cakewalk for the GOP.

I've given you these links before and I'm giving 'em to you again:

"The Racist Skeletons in Charles Pickering's Closet"

People for the American Way on Pickering.

Joe Conason on Pickering.

Bob Herbert on Pickering.

No surrender.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

I can't even get my mind around this New York Times story:

If the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has its way, beef will not be just for dinner anymore.

Looking to emulate the success of Chicken McNuggets and fried mozzarella sticks, the group is hoping to inject some red meat into the American snack food diet with cheeseburger fries. The fries, which look like a squat version of standard French fries, are made of a meat-and-cheese compound that tastes — as the name suggests — like a cheeseburger.

Breaded, then deep-fried and served with ketchup or barbecue sauce, cheeseburger fries have found their way onto menus in several states including Nebraska, Minnesota and Texas since June. There is also a version being made available to...


Are you ready for this?

...public school cafeterias.

Yeah, that's just what our kids need right now.

Oh, but the ones for school cafeterias are "lite" -- sort of:

Each individual fry has about 75 calories and four grams of fat. The fries for schools have less beef per serving but still have about 60 calories and, in fact, more fat — a total of 6 grams — in each fry. And nobody eats just one.

Hey, but this isn't just another cholesterol-delivery device. This is space-age technology:

...the association enlisted a food scientist, Steve Moore, who is known in the business for his expertise in developing breaded coatings. In the past Mr. Moore worked on breading projects like onion rings, jalapeno peppers, seafood and even French toast sticks (in effect, adding breading to bread).

...He likened the coating process to walking a tightrope, since the moisture of the meat and cheese must be carefully controlled for the breading to adhere. Otherwise, when the product is deep-fried, the heat of the oil will produce enough steam to blow off the breading.

"You always follow wet by dry," he said. So, before the meat and cheese could be battered and breaded, the shaped mixture had to be coated in a fine flourlike substance called predust to dry the surface of the moist mixture.

...After testing different types of cheeses, Mr. Moore settled on a processed restricted-melt cheese, meaning that it is manufactured to withstand high temperatures....


Now I know why we can't get the lights to go on in Iraq -- all of our most brilliant scientific minds are working on stuff like this.
Republicans are prepared to oppose homosexual "marriage" in their national platform, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said yesterday.

"There is a lot of energy out there, a lot of concern about gay marriage," Mr. Gillespie said. "So it wouldn't surprise me if it were addressed in some form or fashion in the platform."

He accused homosexual activists of intolerance and bigotry by attempting to force the rest of the population to accept alien moral standards. As a result, "tolerance is no longer defined as my accepting people for who they are," the RNC chairman said.

"Many of us who are practicing Catholics deal with [other people´s homosexuality] in our own fashion," Mr. Gillespie said. "I accept people for who they are — and love them. That doesn't mean I have to agree or turn my back on the tenets of my faith when it comes to homosexuality."

He said, "I think when people say, 'Well, no, that's not enough that you accept me for who I am, you have to agree with — and condone — my choice,' that to me is religious bigotry, and I believe that's intolerant. I think they are the ones who are crossing a line here."


--The Washington Times

Last time I looked, divorce was strictly forbidden in the Catholic Church -- yet all fifty states legally recognize the subsequent marriages of divorcees.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Gillespie does not consider this to be "religious bigotry."

Incidentally, this isn't just going to be a "tsk-tsk" sort of platform plank:

The plank being considered for the Republican national platform, Mr. Gillespie said, would be in the form of a proposed amendment to the Constitution. The language would define marriage as a monogamous, heterosexual union, and would forbid states from legalizing homosexual "marriages."


People are impatient when they can't get electricity. I was without it until earlier today. For four days. And I was awfully impatient, after the storm we had here.

-- Richard Perle, shamelessly comparing his temporary post-Isabel inconvenience in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to the plight of postwar Iraqis since spring, on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer last night
If you're living off your investments, things are pretty good right now. However, if you're one of those losers who depends on a paycheck....

Don't expect much of a raise

Employees won't be seeing signs of an economic turnaround in their paychecks anytime soon. After enduring the lowest pay raises in nearly 30 years, workers should expect only modest hikes in 2004.

Three recent surveys of employers show that raises will be small:

• Employee pay raises are projected at about 3.6%, according to a September survey of 1,276 companies by human resource consultants Hewitt Associates. Salary increases in 2003 averaged 3.4% and were the smallest in 27 years....

Similarly, in a poll of more than 1,700 companies, Mercer Human Resource Consulting found average pay hikes in 2004 would be about 3.5%. That marks the third consecutive year that annual pay increases have fallen below 4%....

• Employers also are becoming more frugal with bonuses and other spot incentives: Company spending on performance-based pay was only about 8.8% of payroll this year, down from 10.8% in 2001, Hewitt found.

• Another survey of 1,160 small firms by the National Federation of Independent Business found only 10% plan to give raises in the next three months.

It's a double whammy for employees, who also are paying more for health insurance....

The good news: Pay freezes are thawing, because employers are somewhat more optimistic the economy will turn around....


--USA Today

I love that -- "fewer pay freezes" is the good news.
Well, they've got their October recall back.

It may seem as if I'm not sticking up for "our side," but I wish the matter could be dropped now -- we know that right-wingers think that merely asking a court to consider this question is an act of fascist, anti-democratic thuggery, and the last thing we need is to get these people any more motivated to vote than they already are.
Some results of a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Zogby poll of Georgia residents.

Just 31 percent of Georgians said they are better off now than they were a year ago, according to the AJC/Zogby poll. About 44 percent said there has been no change, while about 24 percent said their finances have worsened.

One in five Georgians said they have more discretionary income than they had a year ago. Four in 10 said they have less, and nearly an equal number said they noticed no change.

Those self-evaluations conflict with the common assumption that this year's tax cut has padded American wallets.

...Added cash is supposed to mean more consumer spending, which ought to mean higher profits for companies that would, in turn, be more likely to hire more workers.

If the poll respondents are right, the effect is modest -- or maybe nonexistent.

Just 24 percent said they are spending more now than they were a year ago. About 31 percent said they are spending less, and 45 percent said their spending has not changed.


Economic mission not accomplished.
Another cloudy crystal ball: As the Wyeth Wire points out, 61 days ago General Tommy Franks predicted we'd capture Saddam within 60 days.

(UPDATE: The link is bloggered -- go here; the headline for the post is FRANKS PREDICTS SADDAM'S CAPTURE BY MIDNIGHT.)

Monday, September 22, 2003

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg is usually fairly astute, and often enjoyably snarky. Now, though, he's following the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign, and after he gets off a few barbs about Tinseltown grooming standards, he begins to make it clear that he has a bit of a crush on Arnold:

Schwarzenegger emerged and headed for the rope line. He looked like—well, he stood out from his surroundings like no other political candidate I’ve ever seen. He fairly popped out. He looked like a vanilla sundae topped with raspberry sauce. His hair was a rich shade of red that is seldom encountered in nature, and never atop the head of a fifty-six-year-old man. The tan of his skin veered toward orange, and it was dark enough to show through his shirt, which was of the finest, whitest, thinnest cotton voile, delicately ribbed. The cuffs were rolled to mid-forearm, showing a huge Rolex studded with buttons. His trousers were soft and cream-colored. His sneakers were Nikes. His boxy head loomed.

Hertzberg's been curling up with Schwarzie's old bodybuilding books and films, and where you and I might see a gap-toothed bell-bottom-era hedonist who had chosen to turn his body into a triangle, Hertzberg sees an ubermensch:

What comes through above all, however, is a sense of Schwarzenegger’s indomitable will. That will is manifested not only in his spooky ability to sculpt his own body and in his outlandish (at the time) vision of himself as a man of destiny but also in his total, and apparently effortless, psychological domination of his fellow-musclemen—the way he intimidates and tames them with his charm, his confidence, his humor, and his obviously superior intelligence. And this domination is not simply instinctual. It is strategic. Everything Arnold does to advance himself (which is to say, everything Arnold does) is carefully thought through by an analytical mind that always looks many steps ahead and is acute and coldly realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of everybody in the game, himself included. Megalomania usually leads to hubris, but not in Arnold’s case. Not so far.

Schwarzie is distinguishable from lesser men by details great and small:

Even the fact that...he retained his name is a marker of his powerful will. By doing it his way, he made it thinkable for others with “funny” names to do it theirs: no Arnold Schwarzenegger, no RenĂ©e Zellweger.

I bet that would be news to Art Garfunkel, or Engelbert Humperdinck.

*******

Meanwhile, in The Nation, Katha Pollitt reviews Schwarzie's past as a groper and gangbanger -- a good column, though there's not much in it you don't know. Needless to say, she's considerably less impressed than Hertzberg. She makes a good point -- that a hypothetical Democrat running for governor of California with this bio would be hounded mercilessly for it by right-wing media banshees -- then goes an interesting step further:

And if that Democrat was a woman? Forget it! A rich, egocentric, freaky Hollywood diva whose naked photos were plastered all over cyberspace, who waves away questions about her program ("details, details!") would have no credibility in the first place. Angelina Jolie for governor of the fifth-largest economy in the world? Are you out of your mind? But even if she were a Rhodes scholar, a four-star general and a churchgoing mother of six, that woman would be finished the minute the media turned up so much as the femur or tibia of a sexual skeleton among the power suits in her closet.

She picks Angelina Jolie, but why not the obvious choice -- Madonna? Consider the similarities. Here's Hertzberg:

“I was always dreaming about very powerful people—dictators and things like that,” [Schwarzenegger] soliloquizes at one point in the original film [Pumping Iron]. “I was just always impressed by people who could be remembered for hundreds of years or even, like Jesus, being for thousands of years remembered.” In “Raw Iron,” he recounts another dream: “Me being a king and standing on top of a mountain—and there was no room left for anybody else up there, O.K.? Just for me.”

Compare Madonna in 1983, when she had just one hit record under her belt, telling Dick Clark on American Bandstand that her ambition was "to rule the world."

Would anyone ever take Madonna seriously as a gubernatorial candidate? Would they discuss her candidacy with a straight face on CNN and in The New Yorker?

No way. And that's probably the right response. But, by contrast, can you think of anyone in the media who doesn't take Schwarzenegger very seriously?
Earlier in the day I criticized Maureen Dowd for giving Arnold Schwarzenegger the kid-glove treatment, presumably because meeting the big Hollywood lug rendered her incapable of critical thought. Well, while I'm at it, let me also slag the equally starstruck Peter Boyer, who profiled Mel Gibson a couple of weeks ago in The New Yorker. I almost fell for Boyer's malarkey when I read the article -- until Frank Rich went medieval on Boyer and his subject in yesterday's New York Times. Read the whole article for the pure nasty pleasure of it; for now, let me just note this:

In the New Yorker article, [Mel] says that his father, Hutton Gibson, a prolific author on religious matters, "never denied the Holocaust"; the article's author, Peter J. Boyer, sanitizes the senior Gibson further by saying he called the Holocaust a "tragedy" in an interview he gave to the writer Christopher Noxon for a New York Times Magazine article published last March. Neither the word "tragedy" nor any synonym for it ever appeared in that Times article, and according to a full transcript of the interview that Mr. Noxon made available to me, Hutton Gibson said there was "no systematic extermination" of the Jews by Hitler, only "a deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs. . . ." (This is consistent with Hutton Gibson's public stands on the issue; he publishes a newsletter in which the word Holocaust appears in quotes.)

(Fact-checkers -- isn't The New Yorker supposed to be famous for its fact-checkers? Or are they all starstruck too?)
An excellent catch at Cursor:

During an April 22nd American Enterprise Institute briefing on the war in Iraq, [vehemently pro-war columnist] Charles Krauthammer said: "Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem."

And today is September 22.

(Go here and scroll down for the quote.)

I guess they still won't let him use thumbscrews or the iron maiden, but John Ashcroft is going to get his jollies a bit more frequently now, it seems. AP reports:

Attorney General John Ashcroft is directing federal prosecutors to seek maximum charges and penalties in more criminal cases and to limit use of plea bargains to get convictions.

"Federal prosecutors must charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offenses that are supported by the facts," Ashcroft said in a memo to U.S. attorneys released Monday. "Charges should not be filed simply to exert leverage to get a plea."

Plea bargains still would be permitted, but would be more closely tied to actions by defendants, in particular a guarantee of cooperation in an ongoing investigation, the memo said....


Allowing plea bargains for mitigating circumstances? Screw 'em -- they're all evil, and they should all rot.

Other cases in which plea bargains should be used include those in which the possible maximum sentence is unaffected by the agreement...

-- read that again and shake your head. Excuse me -- doesn't that say you can cop a plea, but in return for no likelihood of sentence reduction? Who would bother?

Does this mean that virtually every defendant at the federal level will now go to trial, because Torquemada Ashcroft won't allow sensible plea deals that would have the effect of imprisoning the guilty while keeping the courts less clogged? Does it mean that if your kid is kidnapped by a pedophile and taken across a state line, no deal can be cut so that your kid can avoid having to testify in open court?*

*(Look, I don't know -- maybe that sort of thing only happens on Law & Order. Nevertheless, I can't accept the notion that a thoughtful use of prosecutorial discretion is "soft on crime." Fox News, in reporting this story, sneers that Ashcroft's new directive "reverses the Clinton administration's policy on prosecutorial discretion, which itself reversed the first Bush administration's guidelines." OK, let's go to the numbers. It says here that in the last full year of the Bush I administration we had 757.5 crimes in the U.S. for each 100,000 Americans. In the last year of the Clinton administration, we had 506.1. Does it seem to you that Clinton's policy reversal made us less safe?)

By the way, wasn't Maureen Dowd's column yesterday embarrassing? She sneers at Clinton and Gore, she sneers at Bush and Cheney and Rummy and Condi, and you think, well, she just doesn't take any of the puffed-up people seriously. But put her in the same room with a movie star and she melts into a puddle. You can practically see her mooning over the contours of his manly bicep as she writes, with far more sympathy than sarcasm, "The other candidates have ganged up on the ex-bodybuilder and kicked sand in his face."

I've met a couple of celebrities in my time. I was in a room once that Bill Clinton was working, and working quite adroitly. He was smart and charismatic, and it was impressive, but so is watching any worker -- and that would include a mechanic or a fish-cutter or a rush-hour delicatessen sandwich maker -- do a job nimbly and with grace under pressure.

I don't understand starstruck people. I certainly don't understand being starstruck when your life puts you in contact with lots of stars, or at least lots of people with influence and power. I feel as if I'm the only person in America, male or female -- or at least the only Anglo -- who doesn't want to sleep with Arnold Schwarzenegger right now.

Et tu, Maureen?
Several times in this blog I've snickered at Laurie Mylroie, who believes that Iraq is behind virtually every terrorist act in recent memory. She's a nut, but she's a damned influential nut -- she has lots and lots of powerful friends, and quite a few of them are or have been in the Bush government. Jay Bookman in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains it all for you.

"Provocative and disturbing . . . argues powerfully that the shadowy mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing . . . was in fact an agent of Iraqi intelligence."

--Paul Wolfowitz on one of Mylroie's books, as quoted by Bookman

Scary stuff.

(Thanks to Atrios for the link.)

Sunday, September 21, 2003

The total – the total amount of power available [in Iraq] once we get to pre-war levels is about 4,000 megawatts ... we’ve been working our way up and we’re going to continue to work our way up and the next 60 days we’ll get to 4,000.

--Paul Bremer, conference call with editorial writers, July 23, 2003

Well, it's now exactly 60 days later. How are we doing?

Iraq produced 4,500 megawatts of electricity before the war. Current demand is estimated at double that, and is growing quickly. Generating capacity is currently down to 3,500 megawatts.

--"Iraqis Continue to Complain About Unreliable Electrical Power," Voice of America News, 9/19/03

OK, that story appeared a couple of days before Bremer's target date -- but I don't think there was a sudden upsurge in generating capacity in the ensuing 48 hours.

And, as VOA notes,

In Baghdad, the Electricity Ministry says many residents are rationed to three hours of power, followed by three hours of blackout. That is less power than they got before the war. But Baghdad residents say the power cuts seem to be random, and often longer than the ministry reports.

But, of course, as I noted last month, Bremer subsequently moved the goalposts, pushing his target date later and later.
In The Washington Post today, an aide to Akila Hashimi, the member of the Iraqi Governing Council who was shot yesterday, was reported to have said that "she had dismissed the need for bodyguards and refused to carry weapons in her car" before her shooting. But another Governing Council member wonders why he and other members of the council can't get more security assistance from the U.S.

...Governing Council members ... are not provided with American bodyguards or police escorts.... Although the council's leaders, who head large political organizations, are protected by their militias, independent members are responsible for their own protection. While they are leery of being seen with U.S. guards, several independent members have recently complained about not being given at least an Iraqi security detail.

"The security is insufficient," said Mowaffak Rubaie, a physician who returned from London to join the council. He said he purchased three guns on the street with his own money to arm his guards, whom he must also pay.


Yet a couple of weeks ago, as I told you at the time, Paul Bremer insisted,

We have met every single request for security that has been made of us.

And another female council member, Dr. Raja Habib Khuzai, said at the time, according to The New York Times, that

she had been pleading for days with American officials to provide her with cars and bodyguards, but that so far, they had failed to respond. In an interview, Dr. Khuzai said her brother had volunteered to become her bodyguard, along with three other men who have no training. She said she was paying them out of her own pocket.

Dr. Khuzai said the Americans had provided her with bodyguards several weeks ago, but had later taken them away. Lately, she said, she has been asking the Americans to train her guards if they cannot provide her with any of their own.

"They keep telling me they will train my men, but I have given them their names on 10 occasions, and they told me they lost the list," Dr. Khuzai said.


That was in the wake of the car bombings in August. Apparently nothing's changed.
I see our friends in Afghanistan are winning hearts and minds:

Outrage over a plan to build high-end residences in central Kabul for government officials is threatening to discredit the 20-month-old administration of President Hamid Karzai.

...To build the new housing, which would be for Afghan cabinet ministers, government officials and mujahedeen commanders, a crew of 100 armed police officers with bulldozers started demolishing the modest mud-walled houses of about 30 families two weeks ago.

The crew broke down walls of 12 houses, injuring at least two children who were inside, residents said. In scuffles with the residents, the police beat several with rifle butts, residents said, leaving at least two men with cuts on their heads.

"We received no warning," said Rahmat Shah, a former army colonel who lived in one of the houses with his wife and 10 children. "We faced armed people who said our houses were rubbish."...


--New York Times

Lovely.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Another example of the "traditional values" of the state that loves Judge Roy Moore and thinks huge timber companies should pay lower property taxes than people who clean toilets:

ALABAMA: SETTLEMENT FOR INMATE'S DEATH The two teenage daughters of a mentally ill Mobile County jail inmate who died from an infection he got through wounds from his shackles will receive about $350,000 each in settlements from the county. The death of the inmate, James Carpenter, from flesh-eating bacteria in 2000 prompted a federal investigation. Mr. Carpenter, who was being held on misdemeanor charges, was found dead in his cell two weeks after his arrest, handcuffed and naked, with ulcers on his wrists and ankles from restraints. Though jail personnel were aware he was mentally ill, he was never treated for the condition, a lawyer for the family said.

--New York Times

The unrecognized mental illness, the shackling (and imprisoning for two weeks) of a guy who's up on misdemeanor charges, the failure to acknowledge the infection, the nakedness -- in how many ways is this appalling?
I've never been on the Dave Matthews bandwagon, but I always thought his rep was that he was kinda-sorta progressive politically. I know from a friend who was there that Matthews was at Clinton's second inaugural in '97, for what that's worth. So why is he doing a three-way cross-promotion thing that involves the New York Post?

The price war among New York's newspapers will hit a new low on Wednesday, when nearly a million copies of The New York Post will be distributed without charge as part of a promotion for America Online....

Geoff Booth, vice president and general manager of The Post, said that America Online, a division of AOL Time Warner, has agreed to take out 14 pages of ads in that day's newspaper....The issue will also contain a CD-ROM with a trial of AOL's Version 9.0, as well as several songs by Mr. Matthews.


--New York Times

I don't expect musicians to wear their politics on their sleeves, but surely Matthews didn't need to lie down with these dogs.

Friday, September 19, 2003

In case you don't know, there's a long, good, detailed summary of the twin quagmires, Iraq and Afghanistan, in today's New York Times. It's here. Share it with a Republican.
The conservatively correct eat one of their own:

Gay Leader of Anti-Tax Group Is Removed

PHOENIX - A conservative anti-tax group on Thursday dropped an ex-legislator as president of its first state affiliate. The dismissed man said it was because he is gay, which the group denied.

The Washington-based Club for Growth had been criticized by some Arizona conservatives for its selection of former Rep. Steve May as head of the week-old Arizona affiliate....

Club for Growth spokesman Kevin McVicker said the group "categorically denies that they are separating from Mr. May because he is gay. Rather it has to do with policy issues."

...McVicker had acknowledged earlier that May's role as state president was under review because of complaints prompted by a social conservative, Len Munsil, president of the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy.

On Monday, Munsil urged supporters in an e-newsletter to contact Moore with e-mails to protest May's role.

"Politely let him know conservatives will not support an organization led by a liberal gay activist who has declared war on social conservatives in Arizona," Munsil wrote....


--AP

"Liberal gay activist"? I doubt it. He doesn't think he'll burn in hell for having sex with men, so he's not allowed to continue fighting to demolish the social safety net so rich people can have more tax cuts. Har-de-har-har.
I find this, from yesterday's New York Times, somewhat disturbing:

ALABAMA: MOSES ON THE MOVE Chief Justice Roy Moore, suspended for ignoring a federal judge's order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the State Supreme Court building, has offered the monument to Congress. Jessica Atteberry, a spokeswoman for Justice Moore, said that he was sending the offer to the Congressional leadership and that the office of Representative Tom DeLay was researching who had the authority to decide whether to accept it. Justice Moore turned down offers from Gov. Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi and others to display the granite block.

This Moore guy is no dummy. He knows that, if he gets cooperation from DeLay, and if he can catch the news cycle just right (probably with a big assist from Fox News), his little screw-the-separation-clause act can go national -- right there in Washington, D.C.

This guy is not going to go away.
I'm a bit late in linking this, but if you haven't read former senator (and grievously wounded Vietnam vet) Max Cleland's scathing denunciation of Bush's Iraq quagmire. ("Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance"), here it is.

Kos at the Daily Kos (an Army vet) thinks Cleland would make a good vice presidential candidate. The fierceness of his rhetoric in this op-ed may now make that impossible, but I agree -- I've been thinking that for months.
THEM AND US

Tough new legislation introducing fines for unsolicited junk e-mail, known as "spam", brought applause from Australia's direct marketing industry, which called for similar measures on an international scale.

...commercial organisations sending spam can be fined more than one million dollars (650,000 US dollars) a day.


--AFP, 9/18/03

Britain has announced that those sending unsolicited e-mail must get recipients' agreement in advance. Violators will be subject to fines of 5,000 pounds (US$8,000) or more and possible lawsuits from those they've targeted.

--AP, 9/19/03

In its latest battle against junk e-mail, China has blocked 127 mail servers it identified as responsible for spam, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday.

"This has been the first large-scale spammer blockade launched by the Chinese Internet industry," Ren Jinqiang, an official with the Internet Society of China, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.


--AP, 9/10/03

One of the primary bills in Congress to crack down on spam e-mail contains a new provision that would shield bulk e-mailers from penalties if they agree to police themselves, raising new questions about the extent to which industry is influencing the legislation.

According to a revised draft of a bill being circulated to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, bulk mailers could form a self-regulatory group that would maintain anti-spam standards of conduct similar to those in the bill. Any member of the organization -- which would have to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission -- would be exempt from legal penalties that otherwise would apply to nonmembers....

"It's certainly something we've pushed for," said Microsoft spokesman Sean Sundwall, though he declined to say whether the company had any direct conversations with the bill's sponsors....

"They are writing the law so that it places them where they think they belong: above it," said Jason Catlett, head of Junkbusters Inc., an anti-spam group.


--Washington Post, 9/18/03





Newsday reports on a speech given by New York's Republican governor, George Pataki, last night -- a speech in which he articulated the new Bush administration line (not "Saddam equals Osama," but "Saddam is approximately equal to Osama"):

"This is a president who knew that there were evil forces ... and he was going to defend us from those forces, not on the streets of New York but on the streets of Baghdad," Pataki told a gathering of Republican leaders at the Northeast Regional Leadership Conference.

Speaking at the beginning of a two-day gathering designed to rally the faithful for the 2004 presidential race, Pataki made repeated connections between the terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq, but his speech made no mention of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida or Afghanistan.


Oh, and he attacked Bill Clinton's response to terrorism.

This is the new strategy, I think: Republicans have concluded that if they acknowledge that Saddam wasn't involved in 9/11, they can increase their efforts to connect him to Al Qaeda in general.

(Pataki's the perfect useful idiot for this. He's pro-choice and pro-gay rights, but over the years New York journalists have repeatedly floated suggestions -- presumably coming from his camp -- that he might be Bush's running mate in '00, that he might replace the cardiovascularly challenged Cheney in '04, and, just now on the local-news portion of NPR's Morning Edition, that he might be on the ticket in '08. It'll never happen unless he drinks the right-to-life and anti-gay Kool-Aid, but he seems not to know this: He was out there as a post-election spin doctor during the '00 recount and he's out there lying about Iraq's status as a potential exporter of terrorism to the U.S. now.)


Thursday, September 18, 2003

This is alarming:

The proportion of employees covered by employer-sponsored medical care plans has fallen gradually over the last decade. In March 2003, 45 percent of employees had elected coverage, down from 63 percent in 1992-3, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

Forty-five percent? This is the best we can do in this country? And the decline has been that great in a decade?

(Thanks to Nathan Newman for this.)

A round of applause for Kevin (Calpundit) Drum.

Here he's reproduced a great, easy-to-read table (from The New York Times) that shows that, when all forms of state and local taxes are taken into account, our tax system is virtually flat now -- there's almost no progressivity. Total tax burden for the richest fifth of the country? 19%. For the poorest fifth? 18%.

(Federal income taxes are still somewhat progressive, but there's regressivity in other taxes -- e.g., sales taxes and gasoline taxes, which consume a bigger percentage of poor and working-class people's income than they do of what the rich make.)

But the link is more useful than that. At the link are links to erarlier posts in his blog, which, in turn, contain more information about tax progressivity (or the lack thereof). If you care about this, there's a lot to chew on. At the very least, go to the link, copy and paste the Times chart, and e-mail it to anyone you know who thinks we soak the rich in this country.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a forthcoming book by Dee Dee Benkie, an assistant to Karl Rove and former president of the Young Republican National Federation. I cited an item in Publishers Lunch that said she'd been the first female president of the YRNF when, in fact, several women had been president of the organization before her. I also snickered at her name and at her book title, Red White, and You: How to Be a Better American.

Well, I've just received an e-mail from Ms. Benkie's agent. He says the misstatement about her presidency

came from a third party ... Dee Dee was the first person to call and insist that it be corrected and it will not show up in further releases.

OK -- duly noted.

The agent also adds (emphasis his),

For your information, Dee Dee Benkie's official title is Special Assistant, Office of the Senior Advisor ( Karl Rove ) and the book is tentatively titled Red, White and YOU: 9 Slam-dunk Strategies to Win in Life and Politics.

Again, duly noted.

I think this means I still get to snicker at her book title -- whoops! tentative book title. And her name.
Update on the story I posted earlier today -- AP now says:

Guerrillas ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs in separate attacks Thursday, wounding two Americans and sparking a heavy gunbattle in which a 20-year-old man was shot in the chest and two trucks were destroyed....

Al-Arabiya television reported eight Americans were killed and one wounded in Thursday violence. The U.S. military did not confirm any deaths.


It's quite possible that the claim of U.S. deaths is partly or wholly inaccurate.

But it's still been a rather unpleasant day. There's also this:

In the nearby town of Fallujah, witnesses said an American patrol opened fire on guests at a wedding, killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding six people, after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack....

North of Baghdad, fire raged at an oil pipeline following an explosion at the site, the U.S. military said, raising concerns that it was the latest in a series of sabotage attacks.

Guerrillas ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs in separate attacks Thursday, wounding two Americans and sparking a heavy gunbattle in which a 20-year-old man was shot in the chest and two trucks were destroyed.


Here's a condensed version of the story:

roadside bomb ... gunmen opened fire ... soldiers shot back with no obvious targets — often at anything they felt threatening ... reporter and photographer covering the incident were fired on ... ran to safety from their car after an American tank trained its machine on the vehicle ... Bradley fighting vehicles and 40 troops surrounded the neighborhood ... One Humvee was engulfed in flames ... people chanted: "With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam." ...Hmood said the Americans opened fire 360 degrees around themselves ...The dead boy...was on his way to buy cigarettes ...

What a disaster.
How did Bush get so many people to believe that Saddam was behind 9/11 without ever saying outright that Saddam was behind 9/11? This is the best answer I've seen, with a quote that's a perfect illustration of his method.

(And scroll down to the item directly below for a nasty little protest sign.)

(Thanks to Cursor for the link.)
A few days ago I quibbled with some aspects of Paul Krugman's New Yor Times Magazine article "The Tax-Cut Con." I think I was too harsh. The basic point of it is absolutely right: Conservatives, because they want to cut government drastically, have been selling us the big lie that we can cut taxes without curtailing services we want and need -- and we've been buying that lie.

Boy, have we ever. It's not just Alabama voting down a tax increase. Right-winger Cal Thomas gleefully recounts a few more victories in the anti-tax absolutists' jihad:

In San Diego, voters approved a "supermajority" requirement for any tax hikes in March, 2002; in Missouri, a large fuel and sales tax increase was defeated 3-1 in August, 2002; in Virginia, voters in several suburbs last November rejected a sales tax hike by an overall margin of 10 points. Just the other day, voters in Seattle, Wash., said no to what would have been the nation's first-ever espresso tax.

But Thomas says none of this will lead to disaster -- oh, no. He says everything can be hunky-dory if local governments are

encouraged to outsource more work that could be done by private industry and not state (and federal) government

(the private companies, I guess, will do this stuff for free), and he makes the following recommendations:

Local governments should be given the freedom to consolidate services with other towns and counties....

Texas is a good model for Alabama and other states. In Bowie County, Texas, the school transportation system is shared with a dozen other school districts. The Dallas County school district provides information technology services to 15 other districts. The overhead savings from these shared responsibilities can be large. The NTU [National Taxpayers Union] recommends an Inspector General process, modeled after the IGs at the federal level, who audit for waste, fraud and abuse. Montgomery County, Maryland's, IG (one of the first of its kind in the nation) has been analyzing about 500 county and school district programs for the last five years. For every dollar budgeted to the IG, the office has challenged almost $10 in costs.


Yeah, those changes should solve everything, right?

So why, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (scroll down), is Maryland facing a budget deficit of more than a billion dollars in fiscal 2004, and Texas a deficit of as much as $7.8 billon -- possibly a quarter of its state budget? Why isn't all that wonderful local sharing and auditing managing to relieve huge amounts of fiscal pressure on the states?

Meanwhile, USA Today reports on what happens when you cut what Thomas sneeringly calls "unnecessary spending":

At San Diego State University, fall "crashing" doesn't mean sneaking into a party. Rather it means attending an already-full class in hopes of winning a seat and entry into a course needed for graduation. While students always crash popular classes, this year more are rushing to complete requirements so they will graduate in four years.

The reasons behind the limited availability of courses are obvious and evident on many public university campuses. Bruising state budget cuts to higher-education funding are shrinking class offerings and putting students in a double financial bind. First, they face rising tuitions: 40% this year in California; 15% over two years in Virginia; 40% over three years in Iowa. Then, students closed out of required courses because of limited offerings face the prospect of paying for summer terms or extra semesters.

Already, the average student at a four-year public university graduates with $16,000 in debt. An extra year adds $4,500, excluding lost wages or living expenses. And summer courses can run $150 a credit hour....


Education, schmeducation. Just cut taxes!

Ann Coulter, from her most recent column:

Allende was an avowed Marxist, who, like Clinton, got into office on a plurality vote.

Once again:

Al Gore (Democrat): 50,999,897 votes (48.38%)

George W. Bush (Republican): 50,456,002 votes (47.87%)


--Federal Election Commission

She really is the Shakespeare of shamelessness, isn't she?

KHALDIYAH, Iraq - U.S. troops were ambushed on the main road of this central Iraqi town Thursday, coming under heavy gunfire that destroyed a truck.

Al-Arabiya television reported eight Americans were killed and one wounded....


--AP

Bremer, Rumsfeld, et al.: Tell us again how everything's going really, really well, with a few snags here and there. Go ahead. Tell us.
"I wouldn't have the $10 million or I wouldn't have any of the wealth that I have or the businesses I have or the career I have if it wouldn't be for America, if it wouldn't be for California."

--Arnold Schwarzenegger on The Howard Stern Show, as quoted in the New York Post

OK, maybe it's wrong to attack him for still having an accent, but do you think after thirty years in this country he could learn a few verb tenses?

*****

As I predicted, Stern handled Schwarzenegger with kid gloves and didn't ask him anything embarrassing during their 20-minute live chat. Don't believe me? Here's the Post:

Stern handled Schwarzenegger with kid gloves and didn't ask him anything embarrassing during their 20-minute live chat.
New CBS poll:

Fewer than half of Americans (43%) think the war was worth the loss of life and other costs, the lowest number yet in CBS News polls, while more (47%) think it was not worth the costs. Last month, the public was evenly split on this question.

Also,

The percentage that thinks the U.S. is in control of events in Iraq is at its lowest point since CBS News began asking the question, having dropped more than 30 percentage points since active military combat ended in April. Only 38% now think the U.S. is in control in Iraq, while more -- 48% -- think the U.S. is not in control.

According to the poll, Americans don't want any financial tradeoffs to pay for the occupation -- they don't weant domestic programs cut, but they don't want the tax cut eliminated either. But

There is one tradeoff Americans are willing to make: most would give U.S. allies a major role in deciding the course of action in rebuilding Iraq, as long as those allies would make a major contribution to the financial costs of that effort.

Full story here.

(Thanks to BuzzFlash for the link.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Oh, OK, now I get it: The Bushies are pursuing a coordinated strategy of dialing down their rhetoric about a Saddam connection to 9/11 -- while continuing to insist that Saddam had links to Al Qaeda in general. Today it's Bush himself. AP reports:

President Bush said Wednesday there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — disputing an idea held by many Americans.

"There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties," the president said. But he also said, "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks....


I don't know why they've decided that this is the moment to stop defending part of the fairytale, while continuing to defend the rest of it -- but that's what's going on.

(P.S.: I bet Laurie Mylroie is pissed.)
The new New York Times bestseller list is out.

New on the list is Paul Krugman -- at #4.

(Al Franken's still #1. Hillary's #6. Jim Hightower's #13. Joe Conason's #15.)
A MEME IS BORN

1. In The Village Voice, lefty Richard Goldstein compares General Wesley Clark to Ashley Wilkes. (Scroll down to the paragraph that begins, "You can bet your brewski....")

2. Reading the comparison, the folks at Lucianne Goldberg's Web site squeal with delight. (Scroll down to the first item in "Short Cuts.")

3. Then Limbaugh picks it up.

Coming soon: Every far-right op-ed columnist in America repeats the comparison, as does Maureen Dowd, and as do alleged non-Republicans Mickey Kaus, Mike Barnicle, Chris Matthews, Mark Shields....

Goldstein should demand a royalty.