Sunday, February 27, 2005

there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.

--Marianne Moore

I want to thank everyone who's read this blog over the two-plus years I've been doing it. I can't tell you how grateful I am that you came by. And I want to thank everyone who's linked to me -- especially the serial linkers (you know who you are). But, well, I'm wrapping it up.

It's begun to dawn on me that there's nothing I can do here that isn't being done with more style, wit, and/or reportorial doggedness by dozens of others. It's gotten harder and harder lately to say something fresh, to make a connection no one else seems to be making. And it often seems futile -- the political world doesn't pay much attention to the first-raters on the Internet left, and often snickers when it does (see: Gannon, Jeff, revelations about). I'm not in the same league as those first-raters, so I can't imagine ever having any more impact with this blog than I'd would if I were just muttering about Bush in a bar.

I've enjoyed this, but I don't read as many books as I used to, and I think and talk about this way too much. I need to move on. Maybe I'll do something similar someday, but right now it's time to let go.


UPDATE: Since I posted this, I've had a change of heart. I'm blogging again, thoughat a slightly diminished pace.
In the wake of Hunter Thompson's suicide, I noted that a number of right-wingers were saying kind things about him. But that wasn't true across the board: Stephen Schwartz reviewed Thompson's career in a Weekly Standard article that was nasty -- and, in a couple of passages, idiotic.

Today The New York Times excerpts that piece, carefully selecting its most idiotic passage for preservation:

Thompson had much in common with [William] Burroughs and [Allan] Ginsberg. First, their products were mainly noise. Their books were reissued but now sit inertly on bookstore shelves, incapable of inspiring younger readers, or even nostalgic baby boomers, to purchase them....

Say what?

Granted, Schwartz may have a point about purchases of Burroughs and Ginsberg. That's because -- and this won't surprise anyone who (unlike Schwartz, apparently) was ever young -- their books are regularly stolen.

Martin Gilbert of the Times learned in 2002 that book theft in New York varies by neighborhood; "In downtown Manhattan, for instance, it's the Beat poets and writers: Kerouac (the John Grisham of the Beats, when it comes to theft popularity), Bukowski, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Hunke." In 1999, the community relations coordinator of a Barnes & Noble in Hoboken told Dennis Loy Johnson of the book blog Moby Lives, "Did you know authors like Bukowski, Kerouac, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and Paul Auster are all kept behind the register because they get stolen a lot?" -- and three years later Johnson found Burroughs books removed from shelves at several B&Ns in Manhattan. The New York Observer's Ron Rosenbaum was told by a B&N clerk in 2001 that Burroughs was among the store's "most shoplifted" authors.

As for Thompson himself, his books are so "incapable of inspiring younger readers, or even nostalgic baby boomers, to purchase them" that, as I write this, three now sit in Amazon's Top 100 -- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at #29, Hell's Angels at #82, and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72 at #99, with the forthcoming Hey Rube just behind at #115.

Regarding Ginsberg, if you're of a mind to, do an Amazon search for "poetry" (Subject); in the "Sort results by" field, choose "Bestselling." Howl is the 50th-ranked book. But that's deceptive. Notice what beats it out: children's books, advice for poets, miscategorized essay collections, canonical authors (Homer, Dante, Poe, Emily Dickinson), and the likes of Tim Burton and Tupac. Apart from a couple of new collections and a Maya Angelou anthology, Howl is the bestselling poetry book at Amazon by any modern poet who could be called "serious."

None of this needs to be spelled out or quantified for anyone who's lived among young people trying to pry their minds open. It should be obvious to the editors who chose to excerpt Schwartz's essay in the Times.

I've thought for a while that the Times ought to consider giving up on "balance" of opinion -- the conservative press doesn't really bother reciprocating, and right-wing banshees will still howl "liberal bias" no matter how many Republicans grace the Times's pages. But at the very least the Times should resist the self-hate that leads to publication of right-wing opinion pieces premised on "facts" that are clearly pulled from the author's ass.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

It looks as if Bank of America misplaced something last December:

Bank of America Corp. has lost tapes containing personal financial information for 1.2 million accounts of federal employees, including US senators and members of the Defense Department.

The tapes contained personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, and account numbers for employees in several government agencies....

Bank of America first discovered in December that the tapes had been lost and alerted the Secret Service, but it did not make the loss public until yesterday....

According to a spokesman for the Defense Department, 900,000 of the customers were defense employees....

Oh well -- at least the chairman of Bank of America was severely punished at the end of December:

An eight-figure severance package and a special deal on Boston Red Sox tickets are among the benefits Bank of America (BAC) Chairman Charles "Chad" Gifford will get when he retires on Jan. 31.

Gifford will receive severance pay of about $16.4 million, plus cash incentives of up to $8.67 million, when he retires, the No. 3 U.S. bank said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

...According to the filing, Gifford will for the next five years be paid $50,000 a year for consulting services, and given use of a company jet for up to 120 hours a year.

He will also have the opportunity to buy up to four tickets for as many as 15 Red Sox baseball games of his choosing each year "for as long as he requests," the filing said....

Gifford had been CEO of Fleet Financial before Bank of America bought it and made him BofA's chairman. The CEO (and now chairman) of BofA is Kenneth Lewis. He certainly seems to run a tight ship:

Enrico Bondi, the man overseeing the restructuring of bankrupt milk giant Parmalat, says he will likely add BofA to a roster of financial firms (Citigroup, Credit Suisse, UBS, Deutsche Bank et al.) he is suing over Parmalat's collapse. BofA's alleged sin was to cover up Parmalat's crumbling finances while peddling the Italian company's bonds to unsuspecting investors.

The Bondi threat follows recent testimony by a onetime BofA worker in Milan that he accepted $27 million in kickbacks for helping to fob off some of those Parmalat bonds when the company was teetering on insolvency.

"The reputation that [BofA] management built over the last few years is shot," says Richard Bove, an analyst at Hoefer & Arnett....

The bad news for the bank started in October 2002. That's when BofA and 17 other banks were hit with a suit alleging they sold WorldCom bonds, now close to worthless, without the diligence that was due. BofA, rejecting an offer to settle for $447 million, is fighting the suit.

In September last year New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued BofA for helping hedge fund Canary Capital illegally trade mutual fund shares. BofA's Lewis fired several staffers and paid $375 million to settle the charges, a quick response that won cheers from Wall Street.

Then, in February, a group of institutional investors, including HSBC, sued the bank, alleging that it allowed a hedge fund client to print out phony returns bearing the bank's name before it lost $571 million and was shut down. The bank denies any wrongdoing.

In March BofA paid $10 million to the Securities & Exchange Commission for not handing over e-mails promptly during an insider trading investigation and, most damning, not disclosing that some of the requested documents had been destroyed. In July BofA paid $69 million to settle a suit brought by Enron shareholders accusing it of off-balance-sheet maneuvers designed to hide debt. BofA says it paid to avoid the "distraction" of litigation and that it "broke no law." ...

Sounds like just the sort of outfit you want handling sensitive personal data about senators and Defense Department employees, no?
Another day, another pipeline blown up in Iraq.
I just ran across this -- a "Best and Worst of 2004" list from an organization called New Mexicans for Science and Reason -- in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Here's something that caught my eye -- just let it wash over you if you don't really get it (it's not my area of expertise either):

The "Don't Stop Now - It's Getting Good" Award goes to the Theory of Evolution, which still struggles for popular acceptance while finding stupendous experimental support and utility in science. In 2004, the evolution of irreducibly complex features was documented for flagellum motors and colorful coral proteins; more transitions were found between fish and amphibians (nostrils and fins-to-legs), the handedness of primordial amino acids was better understood, a single gene was found to be capable of giving mice long, bat-like fingers (explaining rapid evolution of bats), the natural history of the Uterus was developed, a gene common in Tibetans was found to improve oxygen intake, and a possible common ancestor of all the great apes, including humans, was found. Not a bad year, except for that "popular" thing....

In plain English, this is pointing out that scientists continue to find new evidence confirming the validity of evolution every few months. Americans don't understand this. Scientists discuss this with scientists, and a few popular-science writers address it in books written for readers who lack specialized knowledge but have fairly hoity-toity educations nonetheless.

Nobody tries to reach a broad general public with this. But isn't it more or less the same wriggling-flagellates-under-the-microscope stuff millions of Americans watch on CSI?

If Peter Jennings can host a two-hour prime-time network-TV special on UFOs, for pity's sake, why not this -- real science, on a subject that has a lot of Americans genuinely worked up?


The NMSR "Best and Worst" list also recalls a statement Jimmy Carter made in early 2004 when Superintendent Kathy Cox of the Georgia Department of Education proposed removing the word "evolution" (though not the concept) from the state science curriculum.

"There can be no incompatibility between Christian faith and proven facts concerning geology, biology, and astronomy.

"There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend our religious faith."

I can't help suspecting that many Americans who doubt evolution think no one who believes in God also believes in evolution. I wish Carter would lead an effort to set them straight. And, as Jim Holt noted in The New York Times last Sunday,

Pope John Paul II was comfortable declaring that evolution has been "proven true" and that "truth cannot contradict truth."

Friday, February 25, 2005

So, in addition to the insurgent violence, we have this in Iraq:

Revenge killings of members of Saddam's former regime rise

Shiite Muslim assassins are killing former members of Saddam Hussein's mostly Sunni Muslim regime at will and with impunity in a parallel conflict that some observers fear could snowball into civil war....

The killings have intensified since January's Shiite electoral victory, and U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that they could imperil progress toward a unified, democratic Iraq.

"It's the beginning, and we could go down the slippery slope very quickly," said Sabah Kadhim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. "We've been so concerned with removing terrorists and Islamists that this other situation has reared its ugly head. Both sides are sharpening their knives."

... While Shiite politicians turn a blind eye, assassins are working their way through a hit list of Saddam's former security and intelligence personnel, according to Iraqi authorities, Sunni politicians and interviews with the families of those who've been targeted.

Former Baathists have responded in kind, this month killing several Shiites allied with major political factions....

Look, I'm not shedding tears for high-level Saddam-era Baathist officials. But I'm not going to act like a right-wing blooger -- I'm not going to raise a whoo-whoo cheer for "frontier justice" if it's leading to civil war.
So ... back in '86, when she would get dressed for work, do you think Condi used to put on "Control" or "Nasty" or "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" and lip-sync in front of the mirror?

(Story here.)
You may already have learned (via TBogg, or indirectly via Sisyphus Shrugged or Pandagon) that David Duke was one of the guests on Bill O'Reilly's TV show last night.

You'll probably be tempted to jump to conclusions about the Right -- "Like attracts like" and all that. OK -- but please note that Duke himself feels hard done by:

After appearing on an eight minute segment of the O'Reilly Factor, which amounted not to a discussion of pertinent issues but a series of scurrilous and untrue attacks on me, I have some reflections on the so-called conservatives in media.

Before I offer those reflections, I want to respond here to the core of O'Reilly's attacks on me. He accused me of being anti-black, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic.

... I have never in my life uttered an anti-Catholic word in my life. In my millions of written words and thousands of hours of recorded interviews and speeches you will not find even a single anti-Catholic utterance....

I didn't begin the show by suggesting that he was a sex offender, yet there is a lot more evidence of that charge than the completely untrue and nonexistent evidence that I was ever anti-Catholic.

Secondly, his promos for my appearance identified me as a White supremacist. I am not a White supremacist and in fact I strongly condemn any effort of any race to be supreme over or control other races or nations.

I simply want to preserve my European American heritage in our own homelands and defend the basic civil rights and human rights of our people. That does not make me a supremacist. As my book Jewish Supremacism points out, the ultimate racial supremacists are the Jewish supremacists who seek supremacy over the press and the foreign policy of every nation....

There's more. Good Lord, is there more. I've visited Duke's Web site many times over the years, and the man sure can pile on the verbiage. (Yes, I gave you a link to his site. Don't click if you have a moral objection, but really, you might want to visit sometime -- the site is both frightening and a hoot. Something you may not realize: Duke hates Jews way more than he hates any other group.)

On the other side, here's O'Reilly's take:

...The Factor told Duke that he and Ward Churchill are in effect opposite sides of the same coin: "Free speech has consequences--both you and Churchill, on opposite ends of the spectrum, have brought personal pain to Americans."

What lovely measured tones. I didn't see the show, but I kinda-sorta suspect it wasn't all like that.

(There's not much at Fox about this.)

Look -- the Bushist Right simply doesn't embrace old-school racism anymore. We on the left have to recognize that. We should have known that O'Reilly wouldn't be nice to Duke.

The new right-wing attitude toward race is this: Nonwhites have exactly the same potential to be good people as whites. We know this because some nonwhites actually do become first-rate Americans. You can recognize those nonwhites by the fact that they embrace right-wing principles. They have names such as Clarence Thomas, Alan Keyes, Condoleezza Rice, and Alberto Gonzales. We love these people, and we never tire of reminding liberals that we love these people. Regrettably, however, some nonwhites are lazy, shiftless, violent, sexually irresponsible, and overly dependent on government handouts. But that's not their fault. That's the fault of liberals, who make these nonwhites lazy, shiftless, violent, sexually irresponsible, and overly dependent by keeping them on their liberal plantation. Liberals, in fact, are the real racists. You can tell because they oppose nonwhites who embrace right-wing principles. Liberals claim they oppose nonwhites who embrace right-wing principles because they embrace right-wing principles, but we know they oppose them because they're racists. And that makes us feel very, very superior to liberals and Democrats, and to nonwhites who are liberal and vote Democrat.

Thus, we get this, from a low-level right-wing pundit:

You may be part of the right wing conspiracy if ...

You think there's a Lib conspiracy bordering on racism against conservative Blacks.

So if O'Reilly gave Duke a hard time, it's no surprise. He's arming himself for the next time a liberal calls him a racist. Then he'll pull the trigger.


An odd fact about that David Duke appearance -- Duke was in Moscow (per Fox); the page says he's "now living and teaching in the Ukraine." What's up with that?

The ADL explains:

White supremacist David Duke has set his sights on Russia. Saying that the nation holds the "key to white survival," Duke has recently embarked on a campaign to spread his racial theories of white superiority and anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union. The notorious American hatemonger has recently launched an appeal to Russian nationalists. In Duke’s eyes, Russia presents an unmatched opportunity to help protect the longevity of the white race, since he predicts that "racially aware" parties could achieve political influence there. He believes that Russia’s "sense of racial understanding" will unleash a trend internationally.

Duke has taken at least three recent trips to Russia to speak with nationalists and to promote his new book,
The Ultimate Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question (the Russian title translates as The Jewish Question Through the Eyes of an American). Duke has indicated he may move there to more actively "struggle against people of other colors and with Jews," according to the Interfax news agency....

And, in fact, here's a Duke essay, "Is Russia the Key to White Survival?"

...Russia is a White nation! Of the many capital cities of Europe, it is accurate to say that Moscow is the Whitest of them all. Although there is the presence of some ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation, Russia has a greater sense of racial understanding among its population than does any other predominantly White nation. There is a common awareness among the people of the Bolshevik-Jewish invasion of 1917, commonly referred to in the United States as the “Russian Revolution” ...

Yeesh. Sorry -- I'll understand if you think you need to take a shower now.
Nice to see that some right-wingers are showing their admiration for the Iraqis who voted on January 30 in the time-honored manner -- by exploiting them to make a quick buck.
Nothing to investigate here, move along...

Probe leaves out ex-commander at Guantanamo

The high-profile investigation into FBI agents' allegations of detainee abuses at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not examining the conduct of the man who oversaw the interrogation operation at the time that prisoners were allegedly shackled in painful positions and exposed to extreme temperatures to break their silence.

Army Major General Geoffrey Miller commanded Camp Delta, the intelligence-gathering prison, from fall 2002 until spring 2004, when the Pentagon sent him to Iraq to take over detention operations amid the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to several internal FBI memos made public in a lawsuit, agents assigned to help in the interrogations say they alerted Miller about the abusive techniques they witnessed at Guantanamo, but Miller rebuffed them.

Despite Miller's key role at Guantanamo, the US Southern Command assigned a one-star officer, Brigadier General John Furlow, to conduct its investigation into the alleged abuses. Under Army regulations, an investigating officer must outrank anyone he or she investigates, and Miller's two stars place him beyond Furlow's reach.

The assignment of a junior officer to investigate the allegations raises questions about whether the probe, which the Bush administration announced in January and has repeatedly touted in response to questions about the FBI memos, can reveal the full scope of responsibility....

--Boston Globe

Thursday, February 24, 2005


You might recall that John Ashcroft's Justice Department sought to obtain a number of abortion records last year, then abandoned the effort. Well, now (as you may already know via Atrios) it's happening in Kansas. AP reports:

Attorney General Phill Kline is seeking the complete medical records of nearly 90 women who received late-term abortions to search for evidence of crimes, according to court documents....

Kline, an abortion opponent, scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon, and his office said he would discuss "questions raised relating to child rape and abortion in Kansas."

The clinics' brief said Kline had demanded their complete, unedited medical records for women who sought abortions at least 22 weeks into their pregnancies. Court papers did not identify the clinics.

The records would include the patient's name, medical history, details of her sex life, birth control practices and psychological profile. ...


Given the reference to "child rape," it's quite likely that this involves one of Kline's crusades: He's ordered all health-care providers in Kansas -- abortion clinics in particular -- to inform authorities of evidence of any underage sexual activity. See, it's a felony to have sex with a minor in Kansas even if you're also a minor. Never mind that such a requirement might deter a teenager -- say, a fifteen-year-old girl impregnated by her fifteen-year-old boyfriend, whom she loves very much -- from seeking not only abortion, but prenatal services, STD treatment, or other medical care.

(A restraining order has been issued and Kline's directive isn't being enforced.)

One possible target of all this is Dr. George Tiller, who's been attacked by right-to-lifers for years:

...[In 1991] Operation Rescue went to Wichita and staged a 46-day picket in front of the Women's Health Care Services clinic operated by Dr. George Tiller. During that time, 2,700 protesters were arrested. Dr. Tiller was chosen for this 'mission' because he is one of the few abortion providers in the country that performs late-term therapeutic abortions to save the lives and health of women. His clinic has been bombed and he was shot several years ago by Shelly Shannon, who remains in jail for this crime....

More recently, right-to-lifers have staged a boycott of La Quinta Inns, claiming that a La Quinta hotel in Wichita offered discounts to Dr. Tiller's patients and arranged with him to allow nurses to check on the patients there after abortions. La Quinta has now distanced itself from Dr. Tiller.

Also recently, Kline held a press conference at which he announced, erroneously, that a subpoena Dr. Tiller had received from the Texas attorney general's office was in connection with the death of a 19-year-old who'd had an abortion at Dr. Tiller's clinic. Kline backpedaled after the Texas AG's office said the woman's death wasn't under investigation:

Kline, who opposes abortion, said he may have misspoken.

"It probably could have been worded more delicately," he said.

The AP story notes that two clinics have filed legal arguments opposing Kline's attempt to get the records of the 90 abortions. One lawyer interviewed by AP said he couldn't even confirm or deny whether the clinic he represented was Dr. Tiller's, citing a gag order.

One tangential detail: As I told you at the time, Merrie Turner, an anti-abortion activist who was arrested in Wichita in 1991, organized a "First Ladies' Inaugural Tea" last month in connection with the inauguration ceremonies for President Bush. A featured speaker was Judge Roy Moore.


UPDATE: In The New York Times, Jodi Wilgoren covers the story (and basically makes this post superfluous). She confirms that the Tiller clinic is the target, and adds this:

Although Mr. Kline emphasized statutory rape in his news conference, many here on both sides of the abortion debate said they suspected that his real target was doctors who provide late-term abortions.

Kansas law restricts abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, where the fetus would be viable outside the womb, except when "continuation of the pregnancy will cause a substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

Though I'm a bit puzzled -- how are they going to find an abortion outside the 22-week limit from patient records? Assuming any clinic in Kansas did perform a late abortion outside that limit, I can't imagine the fact would be put on paper. It seems far more likely that Kline is trying to intimidate women and girls seeking abortions, as well as looking for very young girls to feed to the media as tabloid fodder.

"When a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old child is pregnant, under Kansas law that child has been raped, and as the state's chief law enforcement official it is my obligation to investigate child rape in order to protect Kansas children."

--Kline, quoted in the Times story

Protesters outside his clinic have seen girls that look as young as 10 or 11 going in for abortions....

--a pro-lifer in the comments to Atrios's post on this story
Jennifer Harper writes in the Moonie Washington Times:

Try a bake sale

Is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) using former White House reporter Jeff Gannon as a fund-raising inspiration?

Depends on how one interprets a dramatic plea from Rep. Louise M. Slaughter yesterday, asking loyal Dems to sign a petition against him....    

"Sign the petition and stop the propaganda," she advised in her missive, also accusing Mr. Gannon of recycling Republican press releases verbatim and characterizing Sen. John Kerry "as 'the first gay president.' " ...    

But wait, don't forget the cause, now.

"I ask you to stand with me — and the DCCC — in demanding an end to the propaganda," Mrs. Slaughter wrote in closing.

Hmmm, good point. After all, Republicans would never use a controversial figure who reports on the news with a left-leaning slant as a way of raising money for the GOP.

Er, right?

Democratic congressional candidate Ginny Schrader marched out of a debate Monday in protest of a Republican mailing that calls her the "Hate America" candidate and invokes the name of an Islamic terrorist group....

The mailing, paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee, includes a picture of Schrader and states: "The Hate America crowd has found their candidate."

It goes on to criticize her for a July fund-raiser at which she hosted a screening of the controversial Michael Moore documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," saying that the film is "filled with propaganda that Hezbollah-related organizations offered to distribute."...

Bo Harmon, a spokesman for the NRCC, defended the mailing.

"I think that it is very disingenuous for Ginny Schrader to feign outrage when we're simply pointing out how out-of-the-mainstream the groups are that she is associating with and is using to fund her campaigns," he said.

He added, though, that the NRCC was only highlighting Schrader's use of "Fahrenheit 9/11," not trying to connect her to a terrorist group....

Nope! Guess not!

(WashTimes story via Sisyphus Shrugged and The Stakeholder.)


Oh, and here's the petition.

The GOP, which absolutely hates it when people get involved in politics who have no political experience and are well known only because they entertain people, is about to have a gubernatorial candidate in a large state who has no political experience and is well known only because he used to entertain people:

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann has filed papers forming a campaign committee for governor, his first official step toward a possible campaign for the 2006 election.

Swann's filing allows him to begin raising money for a campaign. He filed the papers Wednesday, on the eve of his first public speech as a potential candidate - at a Westmoreland County Republican dinner.

He promised to begin "a conversation with the people of Pennsylvania."...

(There's a lot of this going around in the GOP -- you'll recall that Republicans tried to draft Mike Ditka, the former coach of the Chicago Bears, to run against Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate race.)

Now, quite a few athletes have served with distinction in politics, and there are others who might do so in the future. But is Lynn Swann one of them? Well, the national party thinks so much of his political skills that at the 2004 convention it sent him out to speak accompanied by Dorothy Hamill, the figure skater; the party didn't bother to post a transcript of their remarks on its convention Web site.

News stories suggest that Swann has begun boning up on Republicanism 101, but hasn't gotten very far into the textbook. Here's GOP-friendly NewsMax, with a dispatch from the convention:

A Pittsburgh Steelers football legend tells NewsMax why he supports President Bush:

"It's an election year, and I'm involved in this particular campaign as co-chair for the African-American committee for the re-election of George Bush.

"I'm here at the convention. I'm learning quite a bit and enjoying the experience."

Lynn Swann said he had not been active in politics before, though he added, "I have supported Republican candidates in the past, but this is the first time that I just really come out and kinda finally have an influence."

Swann said this year had a "sense of urgency."

"I certainly believe that George W. Bush is the most qualified and most credible candidate to fulfill the role as president of the United States."...

(Well, that's probably better than Ditka would have done.)

Swann has to get through a primary, but if he does, look for the party to tout him as a "businessman," even though his business experience seems to be limited to selling his own memorabilia. (The Republicans pulled that stunt with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose business experience was similarly limited.)

And, yeah, the fact that Swann is black may mean his candidacy will be part of Karl Rove's never-ending quest to get the GOP's African-American vote permanently up to the low double digits.
Hey, folks -- tomorrow night Ralph Nader is holding an anti-war rally!

Whoops, sorry -- tomorrow night Ralph Nader is holding a fund-raiser to pay off debts from his 2004 campaign disguised as an anti-war rally:


WHO: RALPH NADER with a Performance by PATTI SMITH
WHAT: Rally to Stop the Iraq War and Bring the Troops Home
WHEN: Friday, February 25, 8:00 PM
WHERE: New York Society for Ethical Culture Concert Hall
2 West 64th Street at Central Park West, New York, NY 10023
Admission $10-15 sliding scale at the door

Local and national activists will speak words of insight and encouragement.
For More Info on this rally contact:
Austin Pferd at (917) 952-1842, or go to

Proceeds to help defray campaign expenses of Nader for President 2004
Contributions are not tax-deductible

(And I see that Nader's Lee Greenwood, Patti Smith, will plow through "People Have the Power" for the 8000th time. Oh, Patti -- I actually had more respect for you when you were writing songs about Pope John Paul I and singing "You Light Up My Life" in concert. When are you going to dump this creep?)
From the Executive Summary of "The White House Initiative to Combat AIDS: Learning from Uganda" by Joseph Loconte, Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #1692, September 29, 2003:

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Ugandan government, working closely with community and faith-based organizations, delivered a consistent AIDS prevention message: Abstain from sex until marriage, Be faithful to your partner, or use Condoms if abstinence and fidelity are not practiced.

The link between Uganda's "ABC" approach and the dramatic reduction in the country's HIV/AIDS rate is now widely acknowledged. Based on research data collected over the past decade, several lessons can be drawn from the success of Uganda's strategy:

* High-risk sexual behaviors can be discouraged and replaced by healthier lifestyles.

* Abstinence and marital fidelity appear to be the most important factors in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

* Condoms do not play the primary role in reducing HIV/AIDS transmission....

Got that? Right-wingers don't really like ABC -- they like AB. (C is just an icky add-on.)

Too bad there's now evidence that A and B aren't all that effective in stopping HIV.

From today's Washington Post:

Abstinence and sexual fidelity have played virtually no role in the much-heralded decline of AIDS rates in the most closely studied region of Uganda, two researchers told a gathering of AIDS scientists here....

And from the San Francisco Chronicle story about the same study:

Research from the heavily studied Rakai district in southern Uganda suggests that increased condom use, coupled with premature death among those infected more than a decade ago with the AIDS virus, are primarily responsible for the steady decline in HIV infections in that area.

This is a good study, the Chronicle tells us:

The Rakai findings are based on an extensive and continuing process of interviewing 10,000 adults each year -- a so-called population-based survey that is considered the gold standard for this kind of epidemiological research."

And here are the numbers, as reported in the Post:

In the Rakai district, the percentage of women infected with HIV fell from 20 percent in 1994 to 13 percent in 2003. For men, the rate of infection declined from 15 percent to 9 percent, a decline of roughly one-third.

Over that same period, however, the fraction of men reporting two or more sexual partners in the previous year rose from 28 percent to 35 percent. The fraction of young men ages 15 to 19 who were not sexually active fell from about 60 percent to just under 50 percent. For women that age, the proportion not having sex remained at about 30 percent through the decade.

The median age of first intercourse for men fell from 17.1 to 16.2 years, and for women from 15.9 to 15.5 years.

Condom use, however, changed markedly over the survey period. In 1994, only about 10 percent of the men said they consistently used condoms with non-marital partners, compared with 50 percent in 2003. For women of the same age, the rate of condom use in non-marital sex increased from 2 percent to 28 percent.

Professor Maria Wawer of Columbia University, who presented the study, said that the benefit from increased condom use (C) was canceled out by the decreases in abstinence and those who chose to be faithful (A and B). The decrease in infection in Rakai was actually caused by deaths of infected people.

But since Uganda is now facing a condom shortage, infection rates may go up again.

More at this NPR audio link.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


As you may know, Rush Limbaugh is in Afghanistan, apparently on our dime. He called in to his show yesterday and did what he does best -- he grotesquely distorted the truth:

As you know we've had soldiers come back from both Afghanistan in Iraq and express frustration when they go home and watch the news and they see things that they don't see when they're actually deployed in these places, and these people have the same experience. Whenever they do see news out of Afghanistan -- when the UN came out today or yesterday saying that Afghanistan is losing ground; it's the fifth worst developed country in the world and unless there's a massive infusion then Afghanistan will descend back to the ravages of the Taliban. The Taliban is done. The Taliban is defeated. It has maybe 3,000 members. It's a phony report designed because the UN is trying to get their hands in the back pockets of the American taxpayer again by talking about Afghanistan not having enough development aid.

I'm assuming he's talking about the report that was discussed in yesterday's New York Times:

Three years after the United States drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan and vowed to rebuild, the war-shattered country ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the United Nations 2004 Human Development Index, according to a new report from the United Nations....

Despite the problems, Afghanistan has shown remarkable progress in the three years since the United States-led war in 2001, the report said.

More than 54 percent of school-age children are enrolled, including four million high school students. The economy is making great strides, with growth of 16 percent in nondrug gross domestic product in 2003 and predicted growth of 10 to 12 percent annually for the next decade.

While there has been rapid progress, said Zphirin Diabr, associate administrator of the United Nations Development Program, the country has a long way to go just to get back to where it was 20 years ago. The figures, as President Hamid Karzai says in the report's introduction, paint a gloomy picture....

Got that? It's such a "phony report" that Hamid Karzai agreed to write the introduction to it. And it doesn't say the country's getting worse -- it says the country's getting better.

Lying bastard.

Rush, for his part says, in the very same trancript,

Roger, I have to tell you this place is a hell hole. This country is as backwards as any one else I have ever been or ever seen...

And to the dittoheads, it's all true.

(Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)


Incidentally, in the transcript the guest host calls Rush "the Doctor of Democracy." Twice.

The percentage of Americans who believe utter bollocks about Iraq is actually going up, according to the Harris Poll:

... * 64 percent believe that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda (up slightly from 62% in November)....

* 47 percent believe that Saddam Hussein helped plan and support the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11, 2001 (up six percentage points from November).

* 44 percent actually believe that several of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. on September 11 were Iraqis (up significantly from 37% in November).

* 36 percent believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded (down slightly from 38% in November).

Another interesting finding is that only 46 percent believe that Saddam Hussein was prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction by the U.N. weapons inspectors, a fact which most reports now support.

When it comes to presidents and foreign policy, sometimes it seems as if Americans are like Ingrid Bergman sighing to Humphrey Bogart: You'll have to do the thinking for both of us, for all of us.

(Via Cursor.)

Officials within the alliance [United Iraqi Alliance] said Chalabi was now expected to take over a senior ministry - possibly defense or finance.

--AP today

Well, there it is. Swell, huh?


Oh, and according to Eli Lake in The New York Sun, Chalabi's still saying he had the votes to win:

"Ahmad Chalabi had to withdraw his nomination for the prime minister to save the alliance's unity, in spite of the fact that he had the majority of votes," Mr. Qanbar [Entifadh Qanbar, Chalabi's spokesman] said.


Juan Cole, citing this New York Times article, writes today:

Current Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told the NYT on Tuesday that he had heard that Iran had lobbied its Iraqi allies against allowing him to continue as prime minister. Allawi professes puzzlement at this stance. Uh, Iyad, it might be because you let your defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, say that Iran is Iraq's number one enemy! You could see how a thing like that might annoy Tehran a little bit. Not that Iran really has a veto-- pretending that it does may be an attempt to smear the United Iraqi Alliance as themselves puppets of Iran.

In fact, that seems to be precisely what Eli Lake says in his Sun article -- that Iran has a veto:

Mr. Chalabi's announcement of his withdrawal followed a meeting on Monday with the Iranian ambassador. Mr. Chalabi's spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, described the meeting as "friendly." Other sources close to Mr. Chalabi's campaign said that during the meeting, the Iranians made it clear they preferred Mr. Jafari for the top post.

Lake continues:

Mr. Chalabi has recently distanced himself from Iran. In December he gave a press conference in which he said the Iraqi government would not emulate the Iranian style of political system that grants clerics unaccountable political authority. Mr. Jafari has also said that Iraq will not emulate Iran's system, though his aides have recently hinted that new laws should be vetted for their adherence to the Koran.

Is Chalabi, accused last year of doing spy work for Iran, now telling us (using Eli Lake as his mouthpiece) that he's the guy who can save Iraq from the Iranian menace ... if not now, then eventually?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This L.A. Times story notes that a number of states have given workers the option of switching their pension plans to Bush-style accounts -- and the private accounts have been a bust:

Montana: 30,000 public employees were given the two options; after a one-year enrollment period and hundreds of seminars, 3% chose individual accounts....

Michigan: Of 57,000 workers eligible to pick between traditional pension plans and individual accounts, about 3,000 chose accounts.

Ohio: About 5% of eligible state workers have opted for retirement plans based partly or entirely on individual accounts.

Florida: Given the choice of keeping a traditional pension or moving to an investment account or a hybrid plan (an account with a pared-down pension), 7% of workers picked the account-only option.

Interesting. But I think the performance of private accounts in one state is more interesting:

...when Nebraska's state and county workers were given do-it-yourself accounts, they made so many investment errors that they ended up making less than colleagues with fixed-benefit pensions -- and less than what analysts have said is needed for old age. Their poor performance led the Nebraska Legislature two years ago to junk the accounts for new employees....

The state pioneered accounts for public employees in 1964 but restricted them to state and county workers. Teachers, judges and others were left in traditional pensions, where, in contrast to the accounts, their assets were professionally managed.

Three and a half decades later, in 2000, a consultant working for the state discovered that individual account holders were making 6% to 7% a year on their money while the investment professionals who handled the state's pension assets earned 10.5% to 11%.

The Nebraska Legislature reacted by dropping the accounts for all employees hired after January 2003, in favor of a centrally run "cash balance" plan that guarantees a minimum of 5% a year and can deliver higher returns depending on how its managers do. During the first year, the accounts earned 8%.

"People weren't eating, sleeping, drinking investment all the time, so they didn't get the results the professionals did," said Sullivan, the state retirement director.

Well, duh.

(Story also available at Yahoo News).

So Rick Santorum held a town hall forum on Social Security yesterday, and, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, some older workers had the audacity to express doubts about the Republican plan. Cue the Free Republic crowd:

Seniors are one of the greediest and ignorant groups of people in this country right now.


I'd say many minds were closed....

Older folks simply can't process this info...


...they are stubborn obstinate old bastards that are concerned only for their own welfare.


I have talked with many and most are just ignorant of the facts and don't want to hear anything but AARP indoctrination.


These greedy geezers have nothing better to do than attend these town hall meeting. I wouldn't be surprised if the AARP is busing them to Santorum's town hall, followed by a stop at the casino.


I say let the greedy geezers kill this reform. When SS collapses, we won't have the Dems beating Republicans over the head with this cudgel any more. THEY will have killed it by not going along with these fixes until it was too late. As for the geezers, Alpo has more vitamins in it than tuna.


The campaign against Social Security is going so badly that longtime critics of President Bush, accustomed to seeing their efforts to point out flaws in administration initiatives brushed aside, are pinching themselves. But they shouldn't relax: if the past is any guide, the Bush administration will soon change the subject back to national security.

...I don't know which foreign threat the administration will start playing up this time, but Bush critics should be prepared for the shift.

... a president can always change the subject to national security if he wants to - and Mr. Bush has repeatedly shown himself willing to play the terrorism card when he is losing the debate on other issues....

--Paul Krugman in today's New York Times

Federal prosecutors today unveiled sweeping terrorism charges against a Virginia man, accusing him of plotting to assassinate President Bush and trying to establish an al Qaeda cell in the United States.

...A U.S. citizen who grew up in Falls Church, Abu Ali had been detained in a Saudi prison for 20 months before being flown back to the United States yesterday....

--Washington Post today

Just a coincidence, I'm sure.
First Time magazine tells us that members of the U.S. military are negotiating with a rebel leader in Iraq. Then England's Telegraph notes that a former Taliban commander is urging militants in Afghanistan to accept Hamid Karzai's amnesty, lay down their arms, and abandon jihad against Americans.

Why are we hearing all this now? It seems to me that somebody wants it reported at this time.

I'm thinking about a time-honored precinct-house practice: separating people who are suspected of the same crime and telling them, in their separate interrogation rooms, "Look, your buddy already confessed." I think these stories are being floated because the administration wants to send a message to its enemies: "Look, some of your buddies have given up."

Of course, the Iraqi leader mentioned in the Time story represents only a small faction of the Iraqi insurgency (the ex-Baathists, not the Islamicists -- who are, among other things, bombing hair salons where Western-style barbering is taking place). And the ex-Taliban commander was in Guantanamo, so it's not clear that he's really representative of the fighters who've been at large since Kabul fell. (He actually began his pro-Karzai campaign in October, when he returned to Afghanistan, as The Economist reported a few months ago.) But who the hell knows? Maybe it'll work.
The New York Times reports that "skyrocketing costs" of "junk lawsuits" aren't the real reason malpractice insurance rates regularly spike, and have spiked recently:

...for all the worry over higher medical expenses, legal costs do not seem to be at the root of the recent increase in malpractice insurance premiums. Government and industry data show only a modest rise in malpractice claims over the last decade. And last year, the trend in payments for malpractice claims against doctors and other medical professionals turned sharply downward, falling 8.9 percent, to a nationwide total of $4.6 billion, according to data compiled by the Health and Human Services Department.

"There is an underlying cost push," said J. Robert Hunter, the director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who is a former insurance regulator in Texas. "But there has not been an explosion of big jury verdicts or settlements. It's a constant drip, drip every year." ...

The recent jump in premiums shows little correlation to the rise in claims. According to the National Practitioner Data Bank of the Health and Human Services Department, the total paid out by insurance companies for claims against doctors and other medical professionals rose 3.1 percent annually, on average, between 1993 and 2003 and then declined last year.

...[Martin D.] Weiss of Weiss Ratings [an independent financial rating agency] and researchers at Dartmouth College, who separately studied data on premiums and payouts for medical mistakes in the 1990's and early 2000's, said they were unable to find a meaningful link between claims payments by insurers and the prices they charged doctors.

"We didn't see it," said Amitabh Chandra, an assistant professor of economics at Dartmouth. "Surprisingly, there appears to be a fairly weak relationship."

The insurance industry touts caps on pain-and-suffering awards as a magic bullet to solve this problem, as do the White House and Republicans in Congress. But are insurance rates for doctors really lower in states with such caps? There doesn't seem to be any correlation:

The most expensive place in the country [for medical liability insurance] is South Florida, where some obstetricians and general surgeons paid nearly $280,000 for coverage last year, according to The Monitor. Obstetricians in Illinois paid as much as $230,428, The Monitor said, while in Nebraska, the least expensive place in the country for malpractice insurance, obstetricians paid $16,194. Florida adopted a cap on awards of $500,000 to $1 million in 2003. Illinois has no cap and Nebraska has a cap of $500,000.

So what causes the spikes? Frequently it's just a lousy stock and bond market. Insurance companies, obviously, don't take premiums and put them under the mattress -- they invest those premiums on Wall Street. And when Wall Street suffers, insurance companies suffer.

Also, the insurance industry tends to go through price wars, after which insurance companies raise prices sharply to make up for lost revenue.

Yes, as this chart shows, insurance rates seem to go up steadily, even after an adjustment for inflation, no matter what. But I'd say that's just because the cost of medical care regularly rises faster than the inflation rate.
Good news from Iraq:

Chalabi Withdraws Bid to Be Next Iraqi PM

Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen Tuesday to be his Shiite ticket's candidate for prime minister after Ahmad Chalabi dropped his bid, senior alliance officials said.

Pressure from within the ranks of the winning United Iraqi Alliance forced the withdrawal of Chalabi, a one-time Pentagon favorite, said Hussein al-Moussai from the Shiite Political Council, an umbrella group for 38 Shiite parties.

"They wanted him to withdraw. They didn't want to push the vote to a secret ballot," al-Moussawi said....


Gee, a couple of days ago Chalabi was claiming he had the votes to win.

But I wonder if there's any truth in this, from the Christian Science Monitor:

Over the weekend, SCIRI leader Abdel-Aziz Hakim met with Chalabi and offered to make him the top financial overseer in Iraq, responsible for the oil, trade, and finance ministries in exchange for him withdrawing, according to the SCIRI official.

Oh, great -- let's make the fox Minister for Henhouses.

(CSM link via The Stakeholder.)

Monday, February 21, 2005


Apparently, according to a letter signed by Ann Coulter, it's now considered liberal media bias if the press fails to cover -- now, in 2005 -- an inflammatory statement made by an environmentalist in 1972 -- or perhaps never made at all. Sadly, No! explains.
Damn, I do wonder what drove Hunter Thompson to this.

It's quite possible that we were naive to think of all that substance abuse as bacchanalian -- he may have been just another depressive who was self-medicating. Was his health failing him? Was money slipping through his fingers? A bullet to the head seems like a Thompsonian grand gesture, but I have to admit I thought he'd want to live as long as possible, because that'd show the bastards.

Alas, the scoundrels who run the country now are far worse than the ones Thompson railed against in his prime. But I wonder if he failed to vanquish his foes or if his foes merely took his weapon and turned it on him. Recall that the current Scoundrel-in-Chief is a guy who, as Bill Minutaglio noted in First Son, once leapt on stage in the mid-seventies and sang, uninvited and surely unwelcome, behind Willie Nelson. Is that just a big night out for a small-minded Texas shitkicker narcissist, the kind of thing that would have repulsed Thompson? Or is it, well, gonzo?

Sometimes it seems that all the gonzo is now on the right, and it's a much nastier strain. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are gonzo; the bourgeois rioters of Florida 2000 had a little gonzo in them. It occurs to me that you can go from Hunter Thompson to Ann Coulter in two moves (via P.J. O'Rourke).

Maybe that's not surprising. In the end, a lot of what Thompson wrote about was just pure individualism -- thwarting enemies you regard as vermin, getting away with as much as possible, not giving a shit about hurt feelings. That's a fairly good capsule description of what the Right stands for now, albeit with a different enemies list.

So it's sad that Thompson's gone, but I'm afraid it's not altogether surprising that a commenter at one blog could write, "He was definitely a moonbat politically, and as for his psychological problems, well, I’m not all that surprised by this development, but reading 'Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail' in Rolling Stone is seared, seared into my memory," or that Thompson is praised by this self-described purveyor of "hardcore conservative commentary," or by Blogs for Bush.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Funny, I was planning to post something Mark Danner wrote in the current New York Review of Books about the fraudulence of political reporting in America when along comes a front-page story in today's New York Times about a curious "unauthorized" release of "secretly taped" conversations with George W. Bush.

The recordings come from Doug Wead, an evangelical and author of a book on Bush; Wead says he made them before Bush reached the White House. We are told that Wead released the tapes of his own volition, and that the White House appears mildly nonplussed ("Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said, 'The governor was having casual conversations with someone he believed was his friend'").

Many excepts from the tapes are quoted -- but there doesn't seem to be a single unguarded moment. Every word appears to be focus-grouped, far enough to the right to win over the conservatives but not so far as to alienate the center.

Either these tapes weren't made secretly or the excepts played for David Kirkpatrick of the Times were selected with extreme care, and almost certainly vetted by the White House, which almost certainly determined (or assented to) the timing of their release. (All the Times will tell us about the editing process is that "Mr. Wead said he withheld many tapes of conversations that were repetitive or of a purely personal nature. The dozen conversations he agreed to play ranged in length from five minutes to nearly half an hour.")

Here are some exceprts. Does any of this strike you as candid?

Preparing to meet Christian leaders in September 1998, Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, "As you said, there are some code words. There are some proper ways to say things, and some improper ways." He added, "I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement."


He mocked Vice President Al Gore for acknowledging marijuana use. "Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don't do them," he said.


When Mr. Wead warned him that "power corrupts," for example, Mr. Bush told him not to worry: "I have got a great wife. And I read the Bible daily. The Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego in check."


Preparing to meet with influential Christian conservatives, Mr. Bush tested his lines with Mr. Wead. "I'm going to tell them the five turning points in my life," he said. "Accepting Christ. Marrying my wife. Having children. Running for governor. And listening to my mother."


[Bush] said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a convention of the Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."...

As early as 1998, however, Mr. Bush had already identified one gay-rights issue where he found common ground with conservative Christians: same-sex marriage. "Gay marriage, I am against that. Special rights, I am against that," Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, five years before a Massachusetts court brought the issue to national attention.

That last one makes me wonder if these tapes were even made when they were said to have been made.

Now I want to talk about Mark Danner. The current New York Review prints two letters in response to a Danner article about the 2004, plus Danner's comment on the letters. What Danner says about campaign reporting seems true about much reporting that takes place when campaigns are over -- including the front-page "exclusive" about the Bush tapes:

In the major newspapers and, above all, on the television networks, campaign coverage is typically led by "inside stories" ... More often than not, this is a charade: the supposed "inside story" is just another version of the "message" that the campaign wants to get out to the public, another way of manipulating the news by creating a narrative that in fact helps reinforce the plotline designed and chosen by the campaign in the first place. Far from telling readers and viewers what is "really" happening in the campaign, the "inside story" stratagem is simply another way to get across the carefully crafted plotline developed by the campaign itself.

Danner gives an example:

On March 5, for example, The New York Times published a piece headlined "Bush Campaigns Amid a Furor over Ads," about a supposed controversy over the campaign's first television ads, which offered a glimpse of a dead fireman being carried out of the World Trade Center site. In the article the Times reporters revealed that the campaign was "scrambling to counter criticism that his first television commercials crassly politicized the tragedy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." Indeed, the controversy was so serious, according to the Times, that it had "complicated efforts by Republicans to seize the initiative after months in which Mr. Bush has often been on the defensive." Newsweek, for its part, in an article headlined "A 'Shocking' Stumble," reported that the ad controversy "threw campaign officials on the defensive -- and raised questions about the Bush team's ability to effectively spend its massive $150 million war chest, some GOP insiders say."

Seven months later, and two weeks after the election,
Newsweek published another and very different "inside account," this one based on exclusive access to the campaigns which was granted on the understanding that nothing from this reporting would be published until after the election. Here is what Newsweek's writers now told us about what "two Bush strategists" really thought of their campaign's "shocking stumble":

McKinnon and Dowd were ecstatic. At a strategy meeting the next day -- the same morning the
Times headline appeared -- they joked about how they could fan the flames. Controversy sells, they said. It meant lots of "free media"; the ads were shown over and over again on news shows, particularly on cable TV. The "visual" of the rubble at the World Trade Center was a powerful reminder of the nation's darkest hour -- and Bush's finest, when he climbed on the rock pile with a bullhorn. What's more, the story eclipsed some grim economic news....

At that Saturday's Breakfast Club, they were still laughing about the ad flap.... Dowd told the group they had received $6 million to $7 million worth of free ad coverage. "Unfortunately, we've been talking about 9/11 and our ads for five days," Dowd deadpanned at a senior staff meeting. "We're going to try to pivot back to the economy as soon as we can."

There were chuckles all around.

So much for the "inside story."

That was a big fraud. This is a small one. It's not an "inside story." It's really just more spin.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Nothing profound -- I just want to say that even though I liked The Gates, I find this quite amusing.

(New York Times story here.)

Friday, February 18, 2005

I'm going to try to do some posting over the three-day weekend, but Blogger's been as slow as rush-hour traffic, and I'll be slowed further because I'll be limited to dial-up, so I can't make any guarantees. In any case, have a good weekend.

(And if I've inadvertently posted this more than once, my apologies. Blogger really is a mess right now.)
An excerpt from the AP story on the horrific violence in Iraq today, as posted at Yahoo News:

...The bloodshed began when a bomber entered the vestibule of al-Khadimain mosque in the Iraqi capital's Doura neighborhood and detonated his explosives as worshippers prayed, witness Hussein Rahim Qassim said....

The imam at the al-Khadimain mosque used the minaret's loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations, said 1st Lt. Ahmad Ali, who added that a suicide bomber was behind the blast....

An excerpt from the same AP story, as posted at Fox News:

...The bloodshed began when a bomber entered the vestibule of al-Khadimain mosque in the Iraqi capital's Doura neighborhood and detonated his explosives as worshippers prayed, witness Hussein Rahim Qassim said....

The imam at the al-Khadimain mosque used the minaret's loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations, said 1st Lt. Ahmad Ali, who added that a homicide bomber was behind the blast....

(Emphasis mine.)

I've pointed this out before, but the stupidity of it never ceases to amaze me: Fox News has a ban on the use of "suicide bomber" and "suicide bombing" -- based on, I guess, the asinine premise that the word "suicide" will induce sympathy.

The problem with this is that you already know the thing is a goddamn "homicide bombing" -- fifteen people died -- but you don't know that the bomber blew himself up without the word "suicide."

By the way, does the word "suicide" make you want to shed a tear for a guy who blows himself up in a crowd of innocent civilians?

Me either.

Stupid Fox schmucks.
I know we on the left are supposed to be getting all faith-based and stuff, wiping the secular-humanist smirks off our faces and confronting the notion that some people are evil, just evil, but, er ... what century is this?

Priests Sign Up for Exorcism 101

Faced with a shortage of skilled clerics, Vatican is offering a course on demonic possession.

...on Thursday about 100 priests stood, prayed for protection, then sat down to begin an eight-week study of how to distinguish and fight demonic possession.

The course at Rome's prestigious Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, represents the first time a Vatican-sanctioned course in exorcism is being offered at this level.

In Italy, the number of official exorcists has soared during the last 20 years to between 300 and 400, church officials say. But they aren't enough to handle the avalanche of requests for help from hundreds of tormented people who believe they are possessed. In the United States, the shortage is even more acute....

--L.A. Times

So what profound evils will these newly trained exorcists confront? Genocide? Terrorism? Murder? Rape? Drug addiction?

...Father Christopher Barak traveled from his headquarters in Lincoln, Neb., to Rome to attend the course. Priests in Nebraska have recently heard troubling accounts from parishioners, including unexplained noises in homes and sightings of ghostlike figures, he said....

"There are a lot more behaviors and lifestyles that are not of God," he said. "There's a lot of relativism. Whatever goes, goes. There's a big surge in New Age, pantheism, young people playing with Satanism, a lot of drug use, black magic, psychics are so big, pornography, MTV…. People are not searching for holiness."

Barak is planning to stay for the entire course, which ends in mid-April, and said he hoped to take a new understanding and a new battle plan back to Nebraska.

Great -- this priest thinks Evil Incarnate inheres in creaky houses and kids watching Road Rules reruns on MTV.


And in other religion news, if you've ever suspected that God is a Republican, now your suspicions are confirmed -- by God Himself!

TV preacher Pat Robertson last month revealed his annual in-depth conversation with God and brought back good news for George W. Bush: 2005 looks like it's going to be the president's year....

After spending "a wonderful time of prayer," the Christian Coalition founder said, "The Lord had some very encouraging news for George Bush. What I heard [from God] was that Bush is now positioned to have victory after victory and that his second term is going to be one of triumph, which is pretty strong stuff."

According to Robertson, God even went into specifics. God reportedly said Bush will "also have Social Security reform passed, that he'll have tax reform passed, that he'll have conservative judges on the courts and that basically he is positioned for a series of dramatic victories...

"The vendetta against religion in America is about to end," Robertson said God told him. In what Robertson portrayed as a direct quote, God reportedly said, "I will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith."...

Then again, it's possible that Robertson is just being punked by God. It's happened before:

... On Jan. 1, 1980, Robertson reported that God had told him that the Soviet Union would in that year invade several Middle Eastern nations, seize the world's oil reserves and throw the United States and Western Europe into economic chaos, sparking worldwide conflict....

During his 2004 talk with God, the Almighty assured him that Bush would win reelection easily. Robertson reported that the race would be a "blowout." In fact, Bush won narrowly by less than 3 percent.

Your government doesn't:

Hundreds of Army Reserve and National Guard troops returning home after being wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have gone months without pay or medical benefits they were entitled to receive, military officials and government auditors said Thursday.

...Several wounded troops testified before the House panel Thursday. A Special Forces soldier who lost a leg to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan said he did not receive $5,000 in paychecks. Another veteran with knee and back injuries said he was forced to move in with his in-laws after missing paychecks totaling $3,886.

Allen, a 14-year Army veteran who serves with the National Guard's 20th Special Forces Group, has a brain injury and other injuries to his legs, back, neck and eyes resulting from a helicopter accident and a grenade blast.

But Allen said it wasn't until he returned home for extended treatment that his "real troubles began."

He had to reapply for coverage every 90 days and was at times denied pay, medical coverage and access to his military base.

After visiting his family in New Jersey for a week after his yearlong combat tour, his leave was cut short and he was ordered back to Ft. Bragg, N.C., because a commander could not find his paperwork.

When his wife went into premature labor in August 2003, she was turned away from a military hospital because his active-duty extension had not yet been approved, Allen said....

Army officials told the House hearing that they had resolved many of the problems cited in the GAO report related to benefit eligibility for part-time troops. Daniel B. Denning, acting assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said the influx of wounded was "loading our system like it hasn't been loaded since World War II." ...

However, the GAO found that recent changes had not resolved underlying management control problems. In September and October, for example, the Army did not know how many soldiers were on medical extensions or how many had returned to active duty, the study said.

The Bushies started talking about the Iraq war at the beginning of 2001. The insurgency has been rampant for nearly two years. And the system still hasn't been rejiggered to deal with reality?

And yet conservatives still write, and buy, books like this and this. I got your "dereliction of duty" -- right here.

(Story also here.)
Another creepy sentence about John Negroponte, in this case from The New York Times:

If his four decades in public service are any guide, colleagues in Washington and Baghdad predicted, he will try to be a stabilizing force who works quietly but understands the flow of power.


...Time and again during his tour of duty in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives.

A 14-month investigation by The Sun, which included interviews with U.S. and Honduran officials who could not have spoken freely at the time, shows that Negroponte learned from numerous sources about the crimes of the unit called Battalion 316.

The Honduran press was full of reports about military abuses, including hundreds of newspaper stories in 1982 alone. There were also direct pleas from Honduran officials to U.S. officials, including Negroponte.

A disgruntled former Honduran intelligence chief publicly denounced Battalion 316. Relatives of the battalion's victims demonstrated in the streets and appealed to U.S. officials for intervention, including once in an open letter to President Reagan's presidential envoy to Central America.

Rick Chidester, then a junior political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, told The Sun that he compiled substantial evidence of abuses by the Honduran military in 1982, but was ordered to delete most of it from the annual human rights report prepared for the State Department to deliver to Congress.

Those reports consistently misled Congress and the public.

"There are no political prisoners in Honduras," the State Department asserted falsely in its 1983 human rights report.

The reports to Congress were carefully crafted to convey the impression that the Honduran government and military were committed to democratic ideals.

It was important not to confront Congress with evidence that the military was trampling on civil liberties and murdering dissidents. The truth could have triggered congressional action under the Foreign Assistance Act, which generally prohibits military aid to any government that "engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights." ...
President Bush doesn't oppose sensible Social Security reform:

President Bush is not ruling out raising taxes on people who earn more than $90,000 as a way to help fix Social Security's finances....

Asked directly, Bush said he would not bar raising the $90,000 cap, although he does not want to see the payroll tax rate go up.

"The one thing I'm not open-minded about is raising the payroll tax rate. And all the other issues go on the table," Bush said in the interview, according to an account in Wednesday's New Haven (Conn.) Register.

No -- he doesn't oppose that.

He has flunkies to oppose it for him:

Flunky #1:

... Cheney seemed to suggest that was not an option.

"We cannot tax our way out of this problem," Cheney said to cheers from some of the administration's core supporters at the CPAC meeting. "We must not increase payroll taxes on American workers. Higher taxes would only buy time and then future Congresses would need to come back and raise taxes again and again on our children and grandchildren."

Flunkies #2 and #3:

The two senior Republicans in the House, Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority leader, and Rep. J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the speaker, indicated that raising the income limit subject to payroll taxes would be considered a tax increase on workers and their employers....

Asked if Bush's opening the door to consideration of lifting the wage cap would make it easier to get legislation moving in the House, DeLay replied: "No. Because we're not going to do that."

Asked why, DeLay replied, "That's a tax increase." Asked if it would be acceptable to his caucus, DeLay replied, "Nope, not at all."

Bush gets to seem high-minded and bipartisan, for the few suckers in America who still believe he's a nice guy. And then these guys go out and tell us what the White House really thinks.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

With all due respect to Jonah Goldberg, I believe this little item by Jay Nordlinger may be the stupidest thing ever published by National Review:

I was reading an op-ed piece by Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post, and he began by quoting Jon Stewart, the comedian, who said, "We did it! We had the election. And now we can say to Iraq, 'Goodbye!'"

The words "We did it!" brought me up short. I thought, "What do you mean,

It will be just like the Cold War, I think. George W. Bush and his allies will make progress in the Middle East, and then, with selective amnesia, those who fought Bush & Co. tooth and nail will say, "We, we, we."
We liberalized Afghanistan, we liberalized Iraq, blah, blah, blah.

If it had been up to Jon Stewart and his ilk, that election in Iraq would never have taken place.

"We did it!" indeed.

Excuse me?!

It was a flippant remark, fer crissake! Watch the video! It was a flippant remark by a guy who, by the way, makes a lot of money and pays a lot of taxes! To the U.S. government! Which the government used in Iraq!


Next up in National Review: Norman Mailer's novel Why Are We in Vietnam? -- if he called it that but actually wrote it in Brooklyn, is that fraud ... or treason?
I should write a post about Bush's choice of John Negroponte to be director of national intelligence, but I think this says it all.

(The uncomprehending should click here.)
Ridge, Pollsters Met During Bush Campaign

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge met privately with Republican pollsters twice in a 10-day span last spring as he embarked on more than a dozen trips to presidential battleground states.

Ridge's get-togethers with Republican strategists Frank Luntz and Bill McInturff during a period the secretary was saying his agency was playing no role in Bush's re-election campaign were revealed in daily appointment calendars obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security," Ridge told reporters during the election season.

His aides resisted releasing the calendars for over a year, finally providing them to the AP three days after Ridge left office this month....

Ridge's meetings with the pollsters occurred just before the first of 16 trips, from late May to late October, to 10 states important to the president's re-election campaign. During the same period, Ridge made 20 appearances in nine uncontested states....

--AP/Yahoo News

According to the story, Ridge met with Luntz on May 17, 2004, and with McInturff on May 26.

On May 27 there was this at MSNBC:

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said on NBC's "Today" show that there was some dissent over whether to raise the threat level from yellow, midpoint on the five-color scale, to orange.

"There's not a consensus within the administration that we need to raise the threat level," he said Wednesday. But later in the day, he echoed Ashcroft in saying all key officials are in agreement about the terrorist threat.

That was in connection with this:

Having warned the public of a gathering threat of another major terrorist attack, law enforcement agencies on Thursday were focusing on providing protection for a number of high-profile events in the coming months, beginning with Saturday's dedication of a new World War II Memorial in Washington.

A day after Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller warned that "credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaida plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months," security officials were facing an immediate test in the dedication of the new war memorial....

In another pre-emption effort, federal and local authorities will conduct interviews nationwide of people who could provide information about terrorist plans or seven suspected al-Qaida members identified Wednesday by Ashcroft as presenting a "clear and present danger." ...

In Wednesday's warning of the potential for a major terrorist attack this summer, Ashcroft said that "disturbing" intelligence, collected for months, augments al-Qaida's own declaration that its plans for a devastating follow-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are 90 percent complete. Ashcroft said that could mean terrorists already are in the United States to execute the plan, though he acknowledged there is no new information indicating when, where or how an attack might happen.

Ashcroft and Mueller also announced creation of a new FBI task force to focus on the threat and appealed to all Americans to be extra vigilant about their surroundings, their neighbors and any suspicious activity....

One of the seven al-Qaeda suspects named at that time was Adam Gadahn, whom you may recall as a hippieish-looking ex-metalhead from Orange County. Five months later -- a week before the election -- Gadahn was ID'd as the speaker making threats on a purported al-Qaeda terror tape.

If one were paranoid, one might wonder whether there was something fishy about the appearance, at key points in the campaign, of an alleged terrorist who roughly matches the typical Limbaughnista's stereotype of a left-leaning youth. One might wonder if those responsible for crafting Bush's campaign "message" might want Gadahn to be part of that message. One might suspect that Gadahn didn't become a really big part of the message because Howard Dean, the candidate whose followers Gadahn most resembled in the Limbaughnista mind, failed to receive the Democratic nomination -- but one might also suspect that the Gadahn card was played anyway because, what the hell, when you're running against a Democrat, it never hurts to plant the thought that harmless-looking counterculturals could easily be insane terrorists.

That's what one might think if one were paranoid.

(Ridge story via Taegan Goddard.)

In case you're wondering who the next Goldstein is, I just saw the latest New York Times bestseller list. (It'll be posted on the Times site on Sunday.) All the way up at #4, in its first week on the list, is this book:

MEN IN BLACK, by Mark R. Levin (Regnery, $27.95)
A lawyer and conservative commentator enumerates ways in which "the Supreme Court is destroying America."

Amazon page here. (It's #3 at Amazon.)

From the Inside Flap
The Supreme Court Endorses Terrorists' Rights, Flag Burning, and Importing Foreign Law.

Is that in the Constitution?

You're right: It's not. But these days the Constitution is no restraint on our out-of-control Supreme Court. The Court imperiously strikes down laws and imposes new ones purely on its own arbitrary whims. Even though liberals like John Kerry are repeatedly defeated at the polls, the majority on the allegedly "conservative" Supreme Court reflects their views and wields absolute power. There's a word for this: tyranny....

I love it that these people actually think the right to political speech (e.g., flag-burning) isn't in the Constitution.

Levin is the president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, of Paula Jones fame.
... (3) War with Iraq will bring more terrorism. This is a hardy perennial. It was claimed before the Gulf war and the Afghanistan campaign--and when bombs fell on al Qaeda and the Taliban during Ramadan. Rather than more terrorism, removing Saddam will bring more respect for the United States. Terrorists will be increasingly fearful.

(4) The Arab street will erupt. Another perennial. This is often predicted but rarely happens. A swift, decisive victory over Saddam will quiet the Arab street....

--Fred Barnes, "The Peacenik Top 10: A Look at the Ten Most Popular Objections to War and Some Common-Sense Responses to Them," Weekly Standard, 3/6/03

War Helps Recruit Terrorists, Hill Told

... the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday.

"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence....

"Our policies in the Middle East fuel Islamic resentment," Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate panel. "Overwhelming majorities in Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia believe the U.S. has a negative policy toward the Arab world." ...

--Washington Post, 2/17/05