Friday, January 31, 2003

Oops -- apparently Tony Blair is a Euroweenie after all:

Blair Says He Wants Second UN Iraq Resolution

Sorry, David Brooks, I'm afraid you can't take this nauseating piece of Blair flattery ("we swoon at the mere mention of his name") back.

So where were the mobs of pro-terrorist demonstrators in Boston yesterday when shoe bomber Richard Reid was sentenced? After all, isn't the antiwar movement a fifth column that supports America's enemies, as right-wingers insist? Here was one of America's enemies in the flesh, being sentenced to life in prison. Where were his supporters? Why haven't we seen them during his trial? Why haven't pro-Reid petitions clogged our e-mail in-boxes? Why does a Google search for "free Richard Reid" come up empty?

Some fifth column.
Imagine if President Clinton, or President Gore, had decided to pursue a war that was opposed by most of the nations of the world. Now imagine that a letter of support for the war appeared, signed by the heads of state of a mere eight countries, including Denmark, Poland, and Italy. How loud would the derisive laughter be on the American right?

Thursday, January 30, 2003

So now Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson is going to head the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. From the Reuters story:

AIDS activists said the decision was ironic. They have criticized President Bush for his decision to give the fund less than requested. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Bush announced a $15 billion, five-year plan to fight AIDS in Africa and Haiti, but designated only $1 billion of it to go to the fund....

"Secretary Thompson will be chosen to chair the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS a day after a generous presidential AIDS initiative largely sideswiped the Global Fund," Asia Russell, director of international policy at AIDS lobby group Health GAP, said in a statement.

"If the U.S. is going to buy the chairmanship, they could at least use real money," she added.

A few highlights of Thompson's tenure as HHS secretary:

From July 2001:

Government report on condoms stresses abstinence

A draft government report on the effectiveness of condoms says there's "insufficient" evidence to say that they guard against sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, other than HIV and gonorrhea in men.

Critics fear that Bush administration will use the report, obtained Thursday by USA TODAY, to bolster its support for federally funded "abstinence only" sexual education programs, which restrict schools from teaching children about other methods of protection.

Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson awarded an additional $17 million for abstinence only education programs, now in all 50 states....

From May of last year:

US Pushes Sex Abstinence at UN Children's Summit

The United States on Wednesday stressed sexual abstinence as part of its vision of a better life for children at the opening session of a U.N. global summit on young people.

Listing "healthy behaviors and right choices" for children, Health Secretary Tommy Thompson said U.S. efforts have included "strengthening close parent-child relationships, encouraging the delay of sexual activity and supporting abstinence education programs."

"As President Bush has said, abstinence is the only sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted disease, premature pregnancy and the social and personal difficulties attendant to nonmarital sexual activity," Thompson said....

From last November:

Removal of Web info concerns Democrats

Valuable scientific information is being stricken from government Web sites because it does not support the Bush administration's political agenda, a dozen House Democrats have charged.

In recent months, agencies that are part of the Department of Health and Human Services have removed information related to condoms, HIV and abortion from some of their Web sites, say the Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The disappearance of material from Web sites operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, both part of HHS, prompted Waxman and 11 colleagues to question "the administration's commitment to the tradition of scientific excellence and science-based decision-making at HHS."

In a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the group complained about the removal of three items: National Cancer Institute information debunking the claim that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer; a CDC fact sheet stating that condoms are effective in stopping the spread of HIV; and a CDC report that described programs deemed effective in preventing tobacco use, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among young people....

Not encouraging.

The Bush administration's advisory panel on college sports voted to reject a major overhaul of Title IX. A pleasant surprise.
The reason we're about to go to war with Saddam is precisely to avoid the possibility of Saddam becoming Kim Jong Il. Once Saddam gets a nuke for sure, we're completely screwed.

--Andrew Sullivan, 1/7/03

And tell us again why we're about to invade Iraq but we're "working with the countries of the region" to pinion North Korea, which is further along the nuclear trail and can't even be bothered to lie about it. Bush's "axis of evil" coinage last year and recent flagrant North Korean nose-thumbing made it almost impossible for Bush to avoid addressing this logical conundrum. [Bush's] solution [in the State of the Union address] was artful but mysterious: "Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula, and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq." He seems to be saying here that the United States should have invaded and conquered North Korea years ago. But as Bush sets it out, the "lesson" of Korea seems to be that if you don't go to war soon enough, you might have a problem years later that can be solved through regional discussions.

--Michael Kinsley, 1/29/03

Advantage Kinsley.
A couple of weeks ago, I determined that some conservatives don't understand ordinary English words. Apparently this is still a problem: InstaPundit -- who, you may recall, is a professor -- links a post by Volokh in which, InstaPundit says, Volokh "is condemning French unilateralism." Now go to the Volokh post itself: Not only does Volokh describe the Iraq policy of (come on, you can guess) the French as "unilateralism," he suggests in the title of the post that the French are "going it alone." Needless to say, they're not "going it alone" -- France is one of eleven members of the Security Council (out of fifteen) who oppose the rush to war.

I can understand not knowing the meaning of a big, hard word like "unilateralism." But "alone"?
Reuters says that condoms will be a part of the Bush AIDS initiative. That's a pleasant surprise. Reuters also says that key elements of the program will be, according to administration sources, "faith-based efforts and abstinence education." That's what I thought the administration would say.

I don't have a problem with a plan that includes all these elements in an appropriate balance. What I worry about is that the U.S. may soon decide to focus its aid on the religious, abstinence-oriented elements of overseas AIDS programs. And I also worry about the administration using Africa as a stick with which to beat Western secularists.

A New York Times article on the AIDS plan mentions Uganda's Peter Mugyenyi and refers to the drugs AIDS patients receive in his clinics. Will that continue to be the emphasis of AIDS stories about Uganda, or will the administration eventually stress only the abstinence aspects of Uganda's plan? I think the latter is quite likely.

Don't get me wrong -- the AIDS initiative is good news. But I fear the administration will soon conclude that Africa's AIDS wards are a new front in the American culture war.
Bush's post–State of the Union approval-rating bounce: just 3%, according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll. That's approximately the poll's margin of error. And the percentage of Americans who disapprove of him went down by just 1%.

(Bill Clinton, by contrast, gave his 1998 State of the Union address days after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke; the next ABC News/Washington Post poll, on January 28 - 29, showed his approval rating had increased by 8% -- to 68%, higher than Bush's current 61% -- and his disapproval rating had decreased by the same percentage.)
On ABC's World News Tonight last night, it was amusing to hear State Department reporter Martha Raddatz dash the hopes of conservatives that Colin Powell's February 5 appearance at the U.N. will provide smoking-gun evidence of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Here's what Raddatz told Peter Jennings:

Secretary Powell said today that basically what he’ll talk about is an expansion of things that have already been out there. He will fill in the gaps, so to speak. He does have some new evidence; it’s all circumstantial evidence. He’ll pull out some charts, some graphs, probably some satellite imagery, but, Peter, I think this will be more of a comprehensive term paper.

...The intelligence community is probably more skeptical of this than anyone. Most officials I talked to say there is no undeniable proof in Powell’s presentation.

Today The New York Times outlines the administration’s case, such as it is. Smoking gun? Hardly. At best, a deeply unsatisfying game of “Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

There's a superb debunking of virtually the entire State of the Union address here at LiberalOasis. Particularly good is the demystification of the noblest-sounding initiative in the speech, the promise to increase funding to combat HIV/AIDS overseas. Another skeptic, Nathan Newman, questions whether the Bush administration will really stretch the money as far as it can go by buying less expensive generic drugs; LiberalOasis cites a White House press release to suggest that that fear is quite justified. Bush implied that every dose of medicine bought with the fund would be at rock-bottom -- i.e., generic -- prices; that may very well not be the case.

I'd like to add that there are several reasons that this initiative made it to the State of the Union address. Some you've probably already figured out: Bush needed to put a little compassion in his conservatism; Bush wanted to appear sympathetic to people of color after the Trent Lott affair, the renomination of Charles Pickering, and the filing of a brief opposing the University of Michigan's admissions policy.

But there are two reasons beyond that.

One reason is the opening it gives the administration to talk about abstinence. One of Bush's guests for the speech was Peter Mugyenyi, a prominent AIDS fighter in Uganda. Uganda has significantly reduced HIV infections in recent years; it has a national program that urges abstinence, the limiting of partners, and the use of condoms. As noted in a January 21 story on NPR's Morning Edition (go here and scroll down for the audio link; the direct audio link is this), the Bush administration admires the program but stresses the abstinence aspect of it; in the future, expect to hear more talk of abstinence and Uganda.

Another reason is Bill Frist, Bush and Karl Rove's handpicked Senate leader. Frist has frequently traveled to Africa and visited AIDS wards there. Perhaps he has sincerely interested his friend the president in the plight of HIV-positive Africans. Nevertheless, a focus on AIDS in Africa makes Frist, and by extension the GOP and Bush, seem truly compassionate as mean budget choices are made and as bombs cause civilian casualties in Baghdad.

Compassion? Maybe. Calculation? Certainly.
Well, I was wrong yesterday -- apparently exile for Saddam is just fine with the war party. In fact, the administration is offering to be Saddam's realtor. I should have realized that -- I'm sure any arrangement, including a rampant Saddam flush with WMDs and with torture chambers working three shifts, would be just fine with the Bushies if Saddam were "our" evildoer and the Carlyle Group controlled the oil.
And, of course, border-dwelling al-Qaeda fighters and Taliban supporters are planning to intensify their attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan in the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq, as The New York Times noted yesterday. Great. Looks as if we won't need North Korea to test whether we can fight two wars at once.
I mention below that the president said the U.S. will fight the war in Iraq "sparing, in every way we can, the innocent." That's preposterous. Read this assessment of the likely humanitarian crisis that will result from the war with Iraq. Then recall that the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign, as noted below, will be like the forty days of Gulf War I's bombing compressed into one day, then repeated. The innocent won't be spared.

"He did not strike me as in any sense eager for war."

--merely the most delusional sentence in Andrew Sullivan's gushy encomium to the greatness that is Bush
The Comcast cable television company rejected ads that an anti-war group wanted to air during President Bush's State of the Union speech, saying they included unsubstantiated claims. --AP

Irony's not dead.

If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing, in every way we can, the innocent.

--George Bush's State of the Union address

The US intends to shatter Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.

The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad.

It is based on a strategy known as "Shock and Awe", conceived at the National Defense University in Washington, in which between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 Gulf War.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," a Pentagon official told America's CBS News after a briefing on the plan. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before."

--Sydney Morning Herald story, 1/26/03

 "We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

"So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes," says Ullman.

--CBS News story, 1/24/03

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

I keep hearing from the right wing that liberalism is dead, that America is tired of it. Well, if that's the case, what was up with the first half of the State of the Union address?

“To insist on integrity in American business, we passed tough reforms, and we are holding corporate criminals to account....We must put doctors, and nurses, and patients back in charge of American medicine.... Medicare is a binding commitment of a caring society.... All seniors should have the choice of a health care plan that provides prescription drugs.... Tonight I am proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles.... I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean....”

If this very conservative president was so desperate to appropriate our language, if not some of our actual ideas, then liberalism must be a lot more appealing than most people -- including far too many Democrats -- realize.


But then we got the macho part of the State of the Union address. Count the lies in this short passage. Assume that by "we" and "this nation," Bush means "this administration":

"This nation fights reluctantly (1) because we know the cost (2) and we dread the days of mourning that always come (3). We seek peace (4). We strive for peace (5)."

Twenty-six words. Five lies. Amazing.
At tonight's State of the Union address, according to this AP article, there will be "one seat left empty to symbolize 'the empty place many Americans will always have at their tables and in their lives' because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

Is it just me, or is this a cheap, tasteless stunt? The president did nothing to prevent 9/11; sixteen and a half month later he turns to it once again for reflected glory.

Additionally, one of the president's guests at the speech will be "Marine Corps Corp. Michael Vera, of Jersey City, N.J., who was less than 20 yards from the site of impact of a hijacked plane into the Pentagon on Sept. 11 and who, with a fellow Marine, went into the burning building 14 times to rescue people." And as the tears fall, Bush will talk about Iraq, as if al-Qaeda operates out of Baghdad.
Bush Commission Plans to Endorse 57% Quota for Male College Athletes

That's essentially what this AP story says:

The Bush administration's Title IX commission appears set to recommend that the 30-year-old gender equity law in sports be made less rigid, a commission member said Monday.

...A draft copy of the report, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, lists 24 recommendations culled from five public hearings across the country over the last five months.

The most controversial proposal ... would allow schools to have a 50-50 split of male and female athletes, regardless of the makeup of the student body.

Critics note that the proposal includes a leeway of 5 to 7 percentage points, which means schools could be in compliance with the gender requirements with as little as 43 percent female representation.

So the women get second-class status again, and the men get ... well, they get a really, really stern talking-to, maybe:

One of [commission member Julie] Foudy's recommendations would have President Bush and [Secretary of Education Rod] Paige use their offices as "bully pulpits" to encourage schools to stop the so-called "arms race" of spiraling spending on football and basketball facilities and coaches.

Yeah, right. I'm sure that will happen.
In order to avoid war with Iraq, a proposal has been made that would allow Saddam Hussein to live the rest of his life in exile and thus avoid prosecution for any action he took as leader of Iraq. In exchange, Saddam would have to agree to peacefully step down as the leader of Iraq.

Would I approve or disapprove of this proposal? Yes, I would approve of it.

If the passage above appeared on the op-ed page of a liberal British newspaper or in a left-wing American journal of opinion, right-wing commentators would rail against its author; a "Sontag Award" nomination would follow in short order from Andrew Sullivan.

Well, Andrew, get ready to issue a whole lot of Sontags -- what I quoted above is from a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted January 23 - 25, and 62% of Americans approved of exile for Saddam (scroll down to the tenth question). Many of these people approve of war with Iraq in the abstract and distrust the European approach, as the other poll questions show -- but they'd let the man end his days at a villa to avoid the war the Bushies and their acolytes so obviously long for. I guess there's really not all that much difference between us and those lily-livered Brie eaters across the pond.
What? Didn't we already win the war in Afghanistan?
There's not much I can add to this:

Already today European officials were saying that even if everything Mr. Blix says is true — and they did not dispute it — Iraq has been hiding whatever weapons it has for a decade. And the question that Germany and France have pressed remains: If Saddam Hussein's power is contained by the presence of inspectors and the troops massing on his border, what is the urgency of toppling him now?

"The pressure on Saddam is fine, and we want to keep it up," one senior German official said today by telephone from Berlin. "Why risk everything else that can go wrong — uprisings in the streets, a broken Iraq — if we have him where we want him?"

Monday, January 27, 2003

Double taxation? The president sheds tears for millionaires allegedly subjected to it, while many ordinary Americans suffer triple taxation without a word of sympathy from the White House.

Donald Barlett and James Steele write about that inequity in Time this week. Barlett and Steele are the dogged economic populists who wrote the 1992 bestseller America: What Went Wrong? In the article they also give examples of potential windfalls for the rich from an elimination of the tax on dividends (the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton: $187 million), and they point out the extraordinarily regressive nature of the Social Security tax (everything above $87,000 a year is exempt from the tax, so middle-income workers pay it on every dime, while CEOs with seven- and eight-figure salaries pay it on only a small fraction of what they make).

Don't plead innumeracy. Just read the article and get angry.

(Some of what B&S say will be familiar to those familiar with this much-discussed New York Times article -- together, the two articles help explain why we have an essentially flat tax rate, when all forms of taxation are taken into account, as this chart shows, despite our progressive income tax.)
I'm intrigued by something in Peggy Noonan's latest column:

Four months ago a friend who had recently met with the president on other business reported to me that in conversation the president had said that he has been having some trouble sleeping, and that when he awakes in the morning the first thing he often thinks is: I wonder if this is the day Saddam will do it.

"Do what exactly?" I asked my friend. He told me he understood the president to be saying that he wonders if this will be the day Saddam launches a terror attack here, on American soil.

There's no way of knowing whether this is true, of course -- but if it is, you have to wonder whether bloodthirsty courtiers are whispering in Bush's ear precisely what they think will motivate him to do what they want him to do. An attack on the U.S. -- by Saddam rather than al-Qaeda or North Korea (or even Hamas or Hezbollah)? And now? Are hawks telling Bush to expect this highly improbable scenario in order to get what they want, just as the trigger-happy FBI reportedly told Janet Reno that children were being abused in David Koresh's Waco compound, knowing that child abuse was a hot-button issue for Reno?

Waco and Iraq seem similar in another way, incidentally: Bush seems to be ignoring the very real possibility that, if attacked, Saddam will choose to go down in flames along with everything around him, just as Reno and the FBI ignored this possibility in the case of Koresh. I'm no Reno-hater, but I never understood this about Waco -- it seemed obvious to me that Koresh's fervor and belief system might well lead him to choose a gruesome death (and, presumably, what he thought would be a glorious afterlife). Saddam seems very much the same -- yet the hawks don't seem to be worried that he might embrace conflagration if cornered. The danger of such a conflagration seems the obvious reason to oppose the war we're on the verge of fighting, and prefer deterrence and containment.

In her column, Peggy Noonan also says this:

Mr. Bush's passion is well-established. Too much so, actually. Last summer, when Mr. Bush told Bob Woodward's tape recorder that he personally loathes Kim Jung Il, when he spoke of his disdain in startlingly personal tones--and when the world heard it on television, for Mr. Woodward apparently provided the tape to publicists when he was selling his Bush book--well, that was not a great moment in the history of diplomacy. Mr. Bush's father was often accused of allowing himself to express too little. George W. Bush may be remembered in part for allowing himself to express too much.

For a GOP coat-holder of several decades' standing, these are harsh words. If a liberal had published these words, Andrew Sullivan would have declared the writer a "Sontag Award Nominee" or "Krugman Award Nominee," or whatever it is he calls people who don't fully avert their eyes when His Serene Highness the Emir of Bush enters the room.
You may have read that the commission investigating September 11 will have roughly a year to do its work and a budget of $3 million -- one year and $2 million less than a commission appointed in 1996 to study legalized gambling. But here's another comparison: Independent counsel Donald Smaltz's investigation of Clinton agriculture secretary Mike Espy on charges that he took $35,000 worth of illegal gifts from regulated businesses ran even longer and cost even more -- and Espy was acquitted by jurors who called the case "a travesty." (Smaltz did obtain a number of convictions or guilty pleas by others in the course of his investigation.) News reports at the time of Espy's acquittal put the duration and cost of the investigation at four years and $17 million; however, this report by the independent counsel himself was made nine months later, at the five-year mark, and claimed costs of $22 million -- with more anticipated. No update to this 1999 report is posted at, but in 2001 the total cost of the investigation was reported to be $24.2 million.

Now, I'm no fan of corporate lobbyists who dole out goodies to public officials or of the officials who take them, but here's what we're being told:

* $35,000 worth of freebies merits a $24 million investigation.

* 3,000 dead merits a $3 million investigation.

In Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane decides at one point to run for governor. On election night, the newspaper he publishes has two headlines set in type and ready to be printed: one is KANE ELECTED, the other, for the opposite result, is FRAUD AT POLLS.

UN weapons inspectors issue a preliminary report today. The Bush administration has clearly been preparing to take a Charles Foster Kane approach to that report.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

U.S. prepares for possible use of nukes in Iraq, expert says

As the Pentagon continues a highly visible buildup of troops and weapons in the Persian Gulf, it is also quietly preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons in the potential war against Iraq, according to a report by a defense analyst.

Although they consider such a strike unlikely, military planners have been actively studying lists of potential targets and considering options, including the possible use of so-called "bunker buster" nuclear weapons against deeply buried military targets, says analyst William M. Arkin, who writes a regular column on defense matters for the Los Angeles Times....

Don't say I didn't warn you -- back in October.

Here's the article I linked at the time (yes, from Popular Mechanics). Note that Rob Nelson, a Princeton physicist, doubts that we can guarantee radiation from bunker-buster nukes will stay underground; PM summarizes his argument thus: "While it is true that most material would remain within the blast area, a radioactive cloud seeping from the crater would release a plume of gases that would irradiate anyone in its path."

Oh, great.

But it gets worse. This morning on CNN, Fredericka Whitfield interviewed James Walsh of Harvard on this subject. Walsh had this to say about what the administration is telling us:

You asked whether it was new or old, and what I was talking about was the general policy of deterring chem or bio use with nuclear. The preemption part, that is brand new. There's no president in U.S. history that has openly advocated striking a non-nuclear country first with nuclear weapons.

And how that would work -- there's been a lot of talk in the Pentagon about creating a bunker buster. They know that Saddam has German-made NATO-quality bunkers in which he could hide from conventional bombs, and what they wanted to do is design a bomb that would burrow into the earth and then set off a nuclear detonation and then take him out. Of course, you got to know where he is, and if you knew where he was, he probably would have been killed a long time ago. So I think that's problematic. There are problems all over the place here.

And let me focus on two in particular. One, this gives Israel more permission -- a greater ability to respond in the same way. If Israel gets hit with chem or bio, do we want them to respond with nuclear weapons? By saying we are going to do, I think it creates conditions that that's a more likely outcome.

And secondly, just personally now, I think we have to step back and ask, how did we get here? This is supposed to be a war in the name of non-proliferation, to stop the use of weapons of mass destruction. And now the CIA tells us in a report that by attacking Saddam, he will use his weapons of mass destruction, and now we're saying we'll use nuclear weapons against him, or even first, and that Israel might also do that. So somehow a war in the name of non-proliferation is a war all about using weapons of mass destruction. So I think somewhere along the line, we've gotten off track.

Good points.
Someone else notices that identical pro-Bush letters are appearing in multiple newspapers over multiple signatures.
A nice matched set of articles arrived in my mailbox yesterday. In The Nation, Eric Alterman assesses anti-Americanism in Europe and discovers that Europeans don't resent us, they just resent Bush, while in The New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash looks at anti-Europeanism in America and finds that it comes primarily from the Bush government and its supporters. Gosh, you don't think there might be a cause and effect here, do you?

Garton Ash's article is valuable because he reproduces examples of current right-wing pundit rhetoric in all its bratty infantilism ("Euroweenies"). This is good because he's writing for a readership that's unlikely to be familiar with the work of Jonah Goldberg, much less Scrappleface. Some of what Garton Ash quotes has escaped my attention -- I didn't realize Mark Steyn had made reference to "the Eurinal of history," and now that I know he has, I'd argue that it says a lot more about Mark Steyn's psychosexual development than it does about geopolitics.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

For right-wingers who are cackling because they think the recent cold snap in the U.S. proves that global warming is a myth, here's a reality check from meteorologists at Penn State, courtesy of The New York Times:

As of late last week, January 2003 was only the 36th coldest January on record for New York City. Averaging 29 degrees, this January has been downright balmy compared with, say, January 1918, when the average was 21.7 degrees.

Not a single low temperature has set a record. The lowest temperature so far this month was an un-record-shattering 7 degrees on Jan. 18 in Central Park. That would not be a record for any day in Januaries past....

New York City has an illustrious weather history. In January 1857, ... temperatures hovered at zero degrees before dropping on Jan. 24 to minus 9....

By contrast:

* A preliminary assessment of weather data from around the world indicates, according to the British Meteorological Office and the University of East Anglia, that 1995 was the warmest year since recordkeeping began in 1856.

* The global mean temperature anomaly for March 1998 is the second warmest on record at 0.79 degrees C above the 1961-1990 mean.

* September 1998 was the warmest September on record both globally and in the contiguous United States, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported...

* October 2001 was the warmest October on record globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

* Last month [April 2002] was the second warmest April on record worldwide, and was warmer and drier than usual for much of the United States.

* Climate of 2002, May in Historical Perspective: Globally averaged surface temperatures were the third warmest on record for May and second warmest for spring, based on preliminary data.

* Climate of 2002, June in Historical Perspective: Globally averaged surface temperatures were the second warmest on record for June, based on preliminary data.

And that's just from one quick Google search.

Well, someone noticed that prefab "Astroturf" letters were being generated by the GOP and sent out over different citizens' signatures -- Stephen Phelps, the opinion page editor of the Bristol Herald Courier in Bristol, Virginia. He writes about it here. Nice work. Other papers that fell for this scam (hello, Boston Globe!) have some explaining to do.
A reader points out this story from January 16:

Florida International, a former power in men's soccer, eliminated the program Thursday because of financial reasons.

FIU won national championships in 1982 and 1984 while competing at the Division II level. It also reached the 1996 Division I championship game against St. John's....

FIU began a football program last season, a sport that is regarded to be the most expensive for a school to maintain....

Interesting -- the connection between college football's parasitical nature and the decision to eliminate less popular collegiate sports is so self-evident now that even mainstream reporters point it out. Ah, but the Bushies can't acknowledge that. The commission Bush appointed will soon recommend the undermining of Title IX, all because Bush -- yet again -- has to "shore up his base" of angry guys.

A house that had been "shored up" as well as George Bush's base could withstand a nuclear blast in the middle of a perfect storm.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Belated thanks to Atrios for the link. Thanks also to TBOGG -- good luck to your daughter. And to Conrad at the Gweilo Diaries, um, thanks for looking in, and I'm sorry you completely failed to comprehend what I was saying.

Bush approval rating:

CNN/USA Today/Gallup: 58% (down 3%)

CBS/New York Times: 59% (down 5%)

NBC/Wall Street Journal: 54% (down 8%)

ABC/Washington Post: 59% (down (7%)

Newsweek: 56% (down 4%)

CNN/Time: 53% (down 2%)


U.S. official: weapons inspections may be extended

--AP story posted this afternoon
Many thanks to Cursor for the link today.
Quotas are bad, the Bushies say -- except, y'know, when they limit women's participation in guy things, in which case they're good:

Changes to Title IX considered

Colleges and universities would be allowed to limit the number of scholarships awarded to female athletes without regard to enrollment under the most controversial recommendation being considered by a national commission studying reform of Title IX, the landmark law that bans sex discrimination in collegiate sports.

UNDER THE proposal, which is among two dozen the panel is studying, schools could devote as little as 43 percent of their athletic scholarships to women and still comply with the law — even though women comprise 55 percent of the enrollment in the nation’s four-year colleges....

(By the way, read the December New York Times Magazine article about the money-sucking effects of college football if you still believe that Title IX is why your alma mater's fencing team got axed.)
Bow your heads in respect! Professor Instapundit informs us that "Axis of Weasels" is now a meme.

(Sorry -- I'm not impressed. I grew up in Boston and lived through busing in the 1970s. Nobody used the word "meme" then, but back then "NIGGERS SUCK" was a meme. Only it was usually spelled "NIGORS SUCK.")
Kevin at Beyond the Wasteland has kind words for me and for Europe. Much appreciated.

There’s nothing new about the current right-wing Euro-bashing. It’s really not very different from what the globalize-or-die crowd was slinging back in the 1990s. The inclusion of Germany is a new wrinkle, perhaps, but, as Thomas Frank pointed out in 2000 in One Market Under God, hegemonists in the ’90s just couldn’t stop making fun of France:

…it began to seem as though some blue-ribbon committee had chosen France to succeed the Soviet Union as the avatar of economic and cultural error, the rhetorical straw man to set the peanut gallery hooting and hissing….

[The French] are a stubborn people swimming mulishly against the current both culturally and economically, American pundits maintain; they are ruled by a martinet government that prevents people from riding the ecstatic waves of commerce; and they are a nation of uptight killjoys bent on ruining the sweet American buzz that everyone else is getting into. Whether the French person in question was a rude waiter mocking your request for ketchup, a skiier turning up his nose at snowboarders, or a social planner seeking to soften the blows of the global economy, they were all one and the same for American observers, and the nifty possibility of mixing stereotype with economic crusading was too great for the culture-warriors of the new global order to resist.

Back then, of course, the American establishment thought turbocapitalism could do no wrong and might even bring about permanent, recession-free prosperity. Right now the American government thinks a war with Iraq could be a walk in the park and will almost certainly rain blessings on the planet. Guess who was right last time?
"Axis of Weasel" (minus the final "s," mysteriously) makes the front page of the New York Post.

The process of cultural de-evolution is now all but complete. We now live in Pro Wrestling Nation. Bush pledged to "restore honor and dignity"; instead, our discourse has been reduced to hormone-addled trash-talk.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Good Lord, these right-wingers just can't get enough of the painfully unfunny "Axis of Weasels" -- there's now a subtle-as-a-flying-mallet hommage to it here.

And in case you haven't had your fill of right-wing humor, here's what happens when you teach these people Photoshop....
Run for your lives -- it's more right-wing humor!

Rumsfeld Sorry for 'Axis of Weasels' Remark

(2003-01-22) -- U.S. Secretary Defense Donald Rumsfeld apologized today for referring to France and Germany as an "Axis of Weasels."

"I'm sorry about that Axis of Weasels remark," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "I didn't mean to dredge up the history France and Germany share of pathetic compliance with ruthless dictators."

The Defense Secretary said he was "way out of bounds" with the comments.

"I should have known better than to remind people that these two nations--which live in freedom thanks only to the righteous might of America, Britain and their allies--that these nations are morally and politically bankrupt, and have failed to learn the lessons of history," he said. "It really was an inappropriate thing to say--you know, the Axis of Weasels thing. I really should not have called them the Axis of Weasels. I think it's the 'Weasels' part that was most know, when I said that France and Germany form an Axis of Weasels. Of course, I'm so sorry."

This thigh-slapper comes to us from blogger ScrappleFace, and conservatives think it's just the bee's knees -- Instapundit loves it, and he reports that Fox News viewers literally do spit-takes when they hear it. It must be the jazzy Borscht-belt rhythms that make this such a hoot: "...these two nations--which live in freedom thanks only to the righteous might of America, Britain and their allies--that these nations are morally and politically bankrupt, and have failed to learn the lessons of history." Da - da - boom!

By the way, guess what else ScrappleFace thinks is funny? Stale Ted Kennedy jokes!

Tucker Carlson claimed on Sunday that conservatives have more of a sense of humor than liberals. Perhaps he'd like to reconsider that assertion, in light of the fact that a conservative illustrator drew this cartoon and Andrew Sullivan thinks it's funny.
Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak was just hired by Fox News Channel to host "a one-hour 'celebrity- and newsmaker-driven talk show.'" Surprise! Sajak is a conservative.

Sajak is a board member of the very right-wing Claremont Institute, which confers awards on people who think William Rehnquist is too left-wing. (A fellow Claremont board member is deep-pocketed evolution opponent and Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson).

Here, at ChristianAnswers.Net, is "The Disconnect Between Hollywood and America," an abridged version of a Sajak speech. If you don't have time to read it, here's a quick summary: Hollywood is a cesspool of liberalism and America isn't.
AP reports that, according to yet another poll, this one from NBC and The Wall Street Journal, Bush's overall approval rating is down and Americans don't think his tax cuts will work. No surprise there. The AP story adds this silver lining, however: "Bush still has a commanding lead over potential Democratic rivals in head-to-head matchups, though that lead is dwindling."

Well, that's true, according to the summary of the NBC/WSJ poll at But notice this: The response to the generic question "If President Bush runs for reelection in 2004, do you think you will probably vote for President Bush or probably vote for the Democratic candidate?" is now down to 41% Bush, 34% Democrat -- a drop of 7 percentage points in the past month. And the CNN/USA Today/Gallup results are even worse: Asked, "If George W. Bush runs for reelection in 2004, would you say you will definitely vote for him, might vote for or against him, or will you definitely vote against him?," only 36% said they'd definitely vote for Bush, while 32% said they'd definitely vote against.

Other polls differ with this, but it sure looks to me as if Bush is dropping like a rock...
You may have read that a letter beginning “When it comes to the economy, President Bush is demonstrating genuine leadership...” has now been published repeatedly, in dozens of newspapers -- each time bearing a different signature. The text of the letter has been traced to an online wing of the Republican National Committee; GOP loyalists simplied copied the letter, added their signatures, and the letter soon showed up in one newspaper after another.

But just how many such letters are floating around? Gary Stock’s UnBlinking site has determined that the “genuine leadership” letter and two additional pro-Bush letters have recently appeared in multiple newspapers; he includes a chart of the letters and their appearances. And Declan McCullach's Politech has evidence of yet another “Astroturf” (phony grassroots) pro-Bush letter.

Maybe a few newspapers ought to consider assigning an intern to keep track of what’s coming out of these letter mills.

But, of course, weren’t we all told that Bush and his party have a solid mandate from the American people to govern as they see fit? If so, why is it even necessary to use deception to nudge public opinion GOP-ward? We’ve all simply embraced the Republican agenda unquestioningly -- haven’t we?

(UPDATE: Failure Is Impossible is tracking five GOP Astroturf letters -- and FII's list doesn't include the letter being tracked by Politech. This campaign to manufacture consent seems sicker and sicker the more you examine it.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Bush warns Iraqi military on attacks

...President Bush on Wednesday warned Iraqi military commanders not to unleash chemical or biological weapons on invading U.S. troops....

Just in case anyone was assuming he would think doing that was OK.
Pixelforge has my back, for which I’m grateful. The first Pixelforge post in response to my tête-à-tête with Lee from Right-Thinking from the Left Coast is here; a longer response is here.

Now, I haven’t demonstrated much in recent years, but I certainly recognize the experience described in the longer post of spontaneously joining up with a group of like-minded protestors without stopping to ascertain their opinions on every last issue; apparently, right-wing protestors never do this -- apparently, right-wing protestors mate for life, and therefore demand that fellow picketers provide a complete curriculum vitae and a full set of references.

The longer Pixelforge post also reminds me that Lee of Right-Thinking says the right "repudiated" Trent Lott. The right did not "repudiate" Trent Lott. Trent Lott was kicked sideways into a less visible but still quite powerful position, presumably at full salary, after which his racism-tolerating pal Charles Pickering was renominated for a Supreme Court-track judgeship. Is Trent Lott pounding the pavement right now? No? Then he hasn’t been "repudiated."

[UPDATE: The second Pixelforge post on the protest has been expanded since I first linked it, with (courtesy of the blog Polyglot, Inc.) an utterly Hitler-free list of signs seen at the demo ("49 Small-Town Wisconsin Teachers Against War -- But remember...this isn't a mainstream movement") and a first-hand account of the demo that rings true to me ("...nicky challenged a guy holding up a sign accusing jews of dominating the media and egging on this war. i heard a couple guys holding up a 'jews for peace' banner say 'we should go talk to that guy'. there were drums..."). No mention of any Kim Jong Il Indoctrination Tents, so conservatives may continue to be skeptical.]
An update to the previous post:

The sober-sided dean of right-leaning bloggers, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, writes this today:

Let's be honest here: there's a whole crowd in Europe that can't get over its disappointment that the wrong side won the Cold War, and that even lesser-path communism (that is, Euro-socialism) has been shown up as a failure. That's what this [opposition to an Iraq war] is all about, really. And it's contemptible -- and morally indistinguishable from a bunch of fat Germans sitting around nostalgically singing the "Horst Wessel."

Did you get that? Mr. Reynolds is essentially denouncing any western European who wants inspectors to keep working as the moral equivalent of both a Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist and a Nazi.

Once again, the right wing wallows in its high opinion of its own moral superiority while arrogating to itself the right to engage in precisely the behavior it condemns. This is repugnant.
Oh dear me -- I seem to be in a pissing contest with a wingnut.

On Monday night I defended those who attended Saturday’s antiwar demonstration, which has been attacked by righty bloggers because some or all of its organizers have some unpalatable political opinions. Now Lee at Right-Thinking from the Left Coast has responded to me at length.

Lee essentially has one argument, which he makes over and over, namely that the politics of the A.N.S.W.E.R./Workers’ World Party honchos are widely known, and therefore anyone who attended their demo (and anyone who defends those attendees) is a traitor.

But the politics of the A.N.S.W.E.R./Workers’ World Party honchos aren’t widely known -- even now. The blogosphere is not the media universe. People who don’t spend hours a day online still don’t know much about A.N.S.W.E.R. How in the world can they be held responsible for A.N.S.W.E.R.’s opinions?

Even if the demonstrators are to blame, I’m not quite sure what amends they’re supposed to make for the organizers’ sins. Lee, presumably, would like all the attendees to get back on buses, reassemble on the Mall, and beat their breasts in unison while pledging to write checks to David Horowitz’s Web site. Or something like that.

Lee and his pal Jane Galt compare A.N.S.W.E.R. to the Klan. This is, I guess, because some or all of A.N.S.W.E.R.’s leaders haven’t sufficiently denounced Milosevic, Kim, and Saddam. But, of course, many conservatives were lukewarm at best when Bill Clinton sent troops to the former Yugoslavia -- has Lee denounced Paul Weyrich for this? Has Jane Galt? And Republican presidents cozied up to both Saddam and the the Taliban not all that long ago -- why no denunciation of an earlier decade’s realpolitik from righty bloggers? Why no denunciation of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s call for an acceptance of “authoritarian” (as opposed to “totalitarian”) regimes in the 1980s? Remember, we’re now talking about the actual policies of an actual superpower, policies that affected actual lives; Lee and Galt apparently believe such things are trivial, whereas shrill articles in sectarian newspapers no one reads are of paramount importance to the fate of the world.

Ultimately, we’re wasting our time arguing about this -- the Workers’ World Party will continue trying to advance unpopular, ill-considered ideas and the American people -- including the vast majority of American leftists and liberals -- will continue to reject those ideas, or never encounter the ideas in the first place because groups like the WWP do such a lousy job of getting their message out. But meanwhile, war drums are sounding. And what happened over the weekend was not a pro-Kim rally or a pro-Saddam rally or a pro-Milosevic rally, but an anti-war rally. And the fact that it got up so many right-wing bloggers’ noses strongly suggests that the demonstrators did something right.

(By the way, Lee’s complaints about demonstrators who compare Bush to Hitler might have a tiny bit more credibility if the logo of his blog weren’t the outline of the state of California with a hammer and sickle imposed on it. I guess Lee would say this is just a pun. Or maybe a palindrome. Of course, one of Lee’s own fans makes clear that Republicans who talk of “Hitlery” really aren’t kidding. But we knew that.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

When Congress debates the Bush proposal to cap lifetime pain-and-suffering awards at $250,000, John Edwards should read this, from Dwight Meredith's blog P.L.A., into the Congressional Record.

Excellent work, Dwight.
I took Latin in school; apparently Glenn Reynolds and Josh Chafetz didn't. Listen, guys, it's simple: the prefix "uni-" in "unilateral" and "unilateralism" means "one." Therefore, if you accuse a country of unilateralism, you're saying that country is acting alone. Chafetz says France is "unilaterally imposing its will on the rest of the [UN Security] Council"; Reynolds nods in agreement. But the story that's Chafetz's source says this:

But in a diplomatic version of an ambush, France and other countries used a high-level Security Council meeting on terrorism to lay down their markers for the debate that will commence next week on the inspectors' report. Russia and China, which have veto power, and Germany, which will chair the Security Council in February, also signaled today they were willing to let the inspections continue for months.

Only Britain appeared to openly support the U.S. position that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has thwarted effective inspections.

(Emphasis mine.)

Uni-? One.

Uni-? One.

Uni-? One.

Class dismissed.

Don’t you just want to slap the next Republican who offers helpful advice to the Democratic Party?

Here is a party that lost the popular vote in the last three presidential elections, failing to crack 41% in the first two and not even managing in 2000 to beat to the widely ridiculed vice president of an impeached horndog. Here is a party that squeals "Mandate!" when it has not quite 53% of the seats in the House of Representatives (recall that the Democrats had three-quarters of all House seats after the 1936 elections and two-thirds after the election of 1976, and even managed to win 58% of all House seats the year Reagan won 49 states). Here is a party whose president was handed the task of dealing with the most hated enemy any American leader has ever faced (bin Laden is surely more hated than Hitler, who had a fair number of U.S. defenders in the runup to World War II), yet this president, with his incoherent foreign policy, has managed to squander the sense of national unity engendered by 9/11 and now struggles to maintain a 60% approval rating. Who the hell are these people to tell us what we’re doing wrong?

David Brooks put his arm around the Democrats' shoulder in last Sunday’s New York Times; this week it was Tucker Carlson’s turn. Some of Carlson’s advice is obvious, and repeats what many liberals have said: The Democratic Party could use a massive infrastructure of think tanks with bottomless bank accounts, funded by stinking-rich ideologues, just like the GOP. Some of what he writes is self-contradictory: First he criticizes the Democrats for having too wonky a focus -- he says that "the entire Democratic strategy" in 2002 "seemed to consist of criticizing Bush’s economic policy by insulting Harvey Pitt" -- then he urges Dems to bestir the electorate with a clarion call for -- folks with weak hearts should pop a beta blocker now -- more money for port security! Can’t you just feel the excitement? Gosh, where is Norman Rockwell when you need a painting?

Carlson suggests that Republicans came to dominate American politics because they had a sense of humor and Democrats didn’t. This is a crock. Yes, Reagan was a happy warrior, but in the early 1980s, when conservatives took over the joint, who else among the dominant figures of the right had a light touch? George Will? Allan (Closing of the American Mind) Bloom? Sure, years later Rush Limbaugh and P. J. O’Rourke and The American Spectator used (contemptuous) humor to score right-wing points, but O’Rourke’s books no longer sell, the Spectator has been reduced to a shell-of-its-former-self Web site, and the few laughs to be had on the right come from Rush and Ann Coulter telling stale Ted Kennedy jokes.

According to Carlson, the Democrats lost their 1960s brio and "became the that’s-not-funny-young-man party." Well, perhaps. But recently, it was Bill O’Reilly who wagged a nannyish finger and got rapper Ludacris canned as a Pepsi spokesman. It’s Andrew Sullivan who patrols the world of political commentary like a high school hall monitor, prissily handing out "Sontag award nominations" like so many detention slips. And, of course, it was the Bush White House that pressured ABC to kick Bill Maher off the air -- the GOP is literally "the that’s-not-funny-young-man party" in Maher’s case. (Not a lot of laughs in the White House, by the way, particularly in its upper echelons. Bush is testy and snappish, Cheney is incurably dyspeptic, Rumsfeld is withering in his condescension -- they’re like a three-judge panel from Salem 1620.)

Reading the GOP’s smug advice columns, I’m reminded of something I saw Eddie Murphy do in a comedy club in his Saturday Night Live days. It was audition night at the club, and Murphy, who was in the audience, prevailed upon the MC to let him go on stage and test some material. The audience, having watched a succession of lousy wannabes, went crazy for Murphy. But Murphy wasn’t satisfied. When a hapless auditioner followed him and stumbled nervously through his routine, Murphy heckled the auditioner from the audience, then returned to the stage and humiliatingly lectured the poor guy on his delivery. Murphy then left the stage and let the guy continue -- but when he stumbled again, Murphy went back up and humiliated him even more.

This was around the time when Murphy was telling interviewers he wanted to be "the Beatles of comedy."

In other words, this was before Bowfinger, I Spy, and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Sooner or later, the fate of the arrogant GOP is going to look a lot like Eddie Murphy’s career.

Monday, January 20, 2003

In a post on Saturday, I said that the number of Americans who actually support the regimes of North Korea and Iraq is tiny. I'm supposed to hang my head in shame because that tiny group apparently includes all or some of the organizers of Saturday's D.C. peace demonstration. Well, fine. Now go do a scientific poll of demonstrators and ask how many of them knew that. Even right-wingers trying to horrify us with the most egregious photos of picket signs they could find from Saturday (Bush compared to Hitler! Good heavens! Conservatives would never do something like that!) show nothing in support of Saddam's regime or Kim's ("God bless Iraq" is not "God bless Saddam" -- the U.S. "has no quarrel with the Iraqi people," remember? -- and a demonstrator who sees a moral equivalence between Bush and Saddam, however simpleminded, presumably doesn't think Bush is a good guy, so he's not praising Saddam, either). The 1963 March on Washington is remembered for the "I Have a Dream" speech, but the point of most demonstrations is whatever the majority of demonstrators think the point is. Eric Alterman says people with dubious politics unfortunately organize left demonstrations the most effectively, and maybe he's right. But such people are utterly inept at getting the weird, fringy part of their message across, even to the people who march in their protests. This demo was about stopping an unnecessary war. It wasn't about the Workers World Party's agenda.
Jennifer Lopez's hit song "Jenny from the Block" was cited again in this week's Sunday New York Times. That makes three Sunday Times citations in two weeks. "Jenny from the Block" is unquestionably the seminal sociological text of our time.

Caryn James said in last Sunday's Times that the song deceives average Americans by suggesting that rich, famous J.Lo is just an ordinary person; James believes this is a bad thing. David Brooks said in last Sunday's Times that the song deceives average Americans by suggesting that rich, famous J.Lo is just an ordinary person; Brooks believes this is a good thing. Rob Walker said in yesterday's Times that the song sends a contradictory message to average Americans by suggesting that J.Lo is both an ordinary person and rich and famous; it's not clear whether Walker believes this is a good or bad thing.

One can only marvel at the textual richness of a song that is able to sustain such a multiplicity of interpretations from America's finest minds.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

I realize that many conservatives are frustrated because they can’t amass sufficient evidence to have all liberals rounded up and sent to camps on treason charges. Nevertheless, it seems to me that it’s been a while since a professional conservative writer expressed that frustration by just making stuff up about liberals and accusing us of treason for what he imagines we’re guilty of. But that’s what Richard Brookhiser does in his current New York Observer column. He writes:

How long will it be before American peaceniks arrive in Pyongyang to stand in solidarity with the Dear Leader and the dead Great Leader? We know what the cast of characters will be: Unitarian ministers, Jewish Buddhists, unemployed poets, white-haired hippies from the Green Mountains. We know what they will do: form a human chain, give interviews to CNN, hold up hand-lettered signs ("Give Peace A Chance," "Say NO To Cowboy Bush"). Nominally, they will be there because they don’t want war. Emotionally, they will be there because they admire North Korea. They admire it because it isn’t the United States. We know this will be the scenario, because it’s already happening, with Iraq as the peg for moral superiority.

I’ll say this flat out: I have not heard or read a single word of praise for Kim -- or Saddam or the leaders of al-Qaeda, for that matter -- from any left-wing American. If there is any respect or admiration for these men on the American left, it’s invisible to me. Yes, I imagine there is a sad old-school Marxist contingent or two out there that dutifully praises Kim, but I simply don’t know who these people are. The links at right of this page give, I think, a fairly representative sampling of left thinking right now. Scour them. Scour the links at those links. Find any praise for Kim. Go on, I dare you.

You’ll recall that in the immediate aftermath of September 11, when attacking liberalism was Priority One in the war on terrorism for many on the right, the evidence of fifth-columnism those right-wingers amassed was laughable: an isolated picket sign here, an ill-considered flip remark by a professor there. Well, Brookhiser’s data set is even more pathetic: one item of graffiti.

"Make Love To Iraq" was the slogan I saw stenciled on a mailbox in the East Village. But is Iraq (more precisely, its regime) lovable?

No, it isn’t -- and, schmuck, the graffitist isn’t saying it is. I lived in the East Village for seven years in the 1980s. I know what this graffito is: it’s a little koan of hipster inscrutability. The big, honking hint is the fact that it doesn’t say “Love Saddam.” Clearly it’s not meant to be taken literally -- what it recommends is essentially impossible for anyone who reads it to accomplish. The graffito could well be a sneering allusion to the old slogan “Make Love, Not War,” which would be ancient history for a spray-paint wielder who was probably born in the 1980s. If so, the graffito isn’t even left-wing.

Thanks for playing, Richard. Try again sometime.

Friday, January 17, 2003

VATICAN CITY, Jan 16 - The Vatican told Catholic politicians on Thursday they must oppose laws on abortion, euthanasia and gay marriages and can not accept compromises on Church teachings when formulating policy or legislation....

--Reuters story

And capital punishment, right?

Lots of Catholic politicians support capital punishment, in defiance of the Church, right? Surely, they have to stop doing that, no?

No? That's not on the list?

Whoops! Must be an oversight, right?
"Did I say 58 percent? I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry! I meant 61 percent! Please don't kill me, Mr. Rove! I swear it will never happen again!"
Something Michael Kinsley just wrote about President Bush reminds me of a famous Hollywood anecdote, an anecdote that I think says a lot about how guys like Bush think. First, here’s Kinsley, wrapping up his recent Slate piece about the Bush economic "plan":

Bush, in a funny way, seems to be a man of ideas. He doesn't have a lot of them himself, but hand him one and he'll run with it, undeterred by opposition, or by subsequent evidence and logic. He has the unreflective person's immunity from irony, that great killer of intellectual passion. Ask him to reconcile his line on Iraq with his line on North Korea and he just gets irritated. Tell him he can't be for tax simplification and offer a Rube Goldberg contraption like this at the same time and he'll say, "Oh, yeah—just watch me."

The anecdote I’m thinking about appeared in Bob Thomas’s biography of Frank Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles; Pauline Kael quotes the passage in her essay "Raising Kane":

Cohn began the conversation: "Last night I saw the lousiest picture I’ve seen in years."

He mentioned the title, and one of the more courageous of the producers spoke up: "Why, I saw that picture at the Downtown Paramount, and the audience howled over it. Maybe you should have seen it with an audience."

"That doesn’t make any difference," Cohn replied. "When I’m alone in a projection room, I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it’s bad. If my fanny doesn’t squirm, it’s good. It’s as simple as that."

There was a momentary silence, which was filled by Mankiewicz at the end of the table: "Imagine -- the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass!"

Not long ago we heard something similar to this from Bush, as Paul Krugman reminded us earlier this month. In response to a reporter’s question, Bush snapped, "You said we're headed to war in Iraq. I don't know why you say that. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you."

Krugman’s gloss on this statement was: "L'état, c'est moi."

Spend enough years as a member of the managerial class -- specifically, in the highest brackets of that class -- and you may well start thinking and acting and talking this way. You may well assume that no one really has a right to question or challenge anything you do.

And, of course, the whole world -- literally -- is (figuratively) wired to George Bush’s ass. Imagine.


BOGOTA, Colombia - Dozens of U.S. Green Berets flew in to a Colombian war zone this week to train Colombian army troops to protect a key oil pipeline from rebel attacks, a U.S. official said Thursday.

The arrival of the members of the 7th Special Forces Group marks a turning point in U.S. involvement in Colombia's civil war. Previously, U.S. military aid and training was restricted largely to battling cocaine production, which rebels and rival paramilitary gunmen profit from, fueling the war....

The ... U.S. troops, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., are to train two Colombian army brigades that protect an oil pipeline that carries oil for Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum across northern Colombia to a seaside depot....

--AP story at Yahoo News

Today much of the Great Plains is undergoing a catastrophic demographic collapse. Stretching 1,600 miles from central Texas to the Canadian border and 750 miles across at its widest point, and containing all or most of ten states, this region accounts for a fifth of the land area of the United States, but only four percent of the population—about 12 million people. To put this in perspective, the population of the Los Angeles region is now greater than that of the Great Plains, an area five times the size of California.

Sixty percent of the counties in the Great Plains declined in population in the past decade.... Already more and more of what early Americans called "the Great American Desert" fits the nineteenth-century definition of frontier territory: an area with no more than six inhabitants per square mile.

Meanwhile, the coasts are rapidly filling up. Although coastal counties occupy only about 17 percent of the territory of the contiguous United States, they contain about 53 percent of the nation's population.

--Michael Lind in The Atlantic Monthly

So much for the ridiculous 2000 electoral map right-wingers so enjoy waving in our faces to support their dubious claims of a 2000 mandate for Bushism. And if these demographic trends continue -- Lind cites statistics that suggest they probably will -- it's just possible that 2000 will be only the first of several presidential elections in which a Republican rejected by the electorate wins the White House thanks to the utterly outdated Electoral College.
What’s missing in this New York Observer front-page story about Senator Charles Schumer’s fight to block the confirmation of Charles Pickering and other right-wing Bush judges? Well, for one thing, what’s missing is any attempt to ascertain whether Schumer is right -- whether Pickering’s record is so extreme that he is unworthy of confirmation. Do you wonder what Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler howls about, day after day? This is what he howls about. The Observer assigns a two-man team to write a 1,758-word, 26-paragraph, front-page article on this subject, and neither reporter can be bother to look into the facts of the case. Or maybe it’s not laziness -- the Observer traffics in a lite version of 1980s-style, Spy magazine-style cynicism and irony, and perhaps the reporters who wrote this story, and their editors, believe that unearthed truths are of interest only to wimps and wonks and geeks; cool people who eat in tony restaurants care only about who’s up, who’s down, who’s jockeying for position.

So it’s not surprising that another thing missing from the Observer story is any sense whatsoever that Schumer actually thinks what he’s doing is right -- that he actually believes it’s a bad idea to have Pickering and other right-wing ideologues on the bench. He’s doing this to make himself a national figure, he’s doing this to play to his base, he’s doing this because he’s pathologically publicity-hungry, say the Observer’s writers -- it’s just inconceivable to them that Schumer means what he’s saying. (The article is titled “Chuck’s Game.”)

What else is missing? Any mention whatsoever of the fact that Republicans blocked Bill Clinton’s judicial nominees regularly and relentlessly for years, thus creating many of the judicial vacancies Bush wants to fill with conservative ideologues.

Ideologues will dominate the federal bench for decades if the White House gets its way. Schumer is a hero. This article is a disgrace.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Only Four Planes Successfully Hijacked by Suicidal Terrorists in First Two Years of Bush Presidency, GOP Shill Boasts; Total Number of Dead Civilians Fewer Than 3,000
That grunt you heard not long ago was the sound of a million trigger-happy armchair GI Joes experiencing a testosterone frenzy because the inspectors found empty chemical warheads in Iraq. Andrew Sullivan, not surprisingly, let out a subtle war whoop more than an hour ago.

I'd be a sandal-wearing liberal appeaser wimp if I said the discovery of the warheads means the inspection process is, y'know, working, wouldn't I?

Yes, I do favor letting the inspectors continue. No, this doesn't change my mind. The pro-war right-wingers would much rather have war than peaceful disarmament, and they're lying if they piously claim otherwise. Well, I'd rather have peaceful disarmament than war.
Apparently the anti-abortion movement is so desperate for a win in the court of public opinion that it's been reduced to concocting surveys so vague that respondents probably don't even know the questions are about abortion, then trumpeting the results as right-to-life. "Are you in favor of restoring legal protection for unborn children?" What the hell does that mean? If I were cooking dinner and a pollster threw this question at me over the phone, I might think it had to do with custody cases or child support or whether parents-to-be can sue if a miscarriage results from product liability. Only by leaving the word "abortion" out can these people get the results they want. And the amen chorus -- the Moonie Washington Times and the far-right phony feminists of Concerned Women for America -- trumpets this sham poll as the real thing.

Here are some real poll results on the question of abortion. They show support for abortion rights that's solid, although with quite a few caveats -- just as you'd expect.

Many conservatives were elated by Mr. Bush's stance [on the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy]. However, there was still uncertainty among longtime opponents of affirmative action, who worried that his administration's brief might not go far enough.

Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that works to end racial preferences, applauded the president's remarks. But she said it would be a disappointment if Mr. Bush left the door open to the slightest possibility that it would be acceptable to consider race in admissions.

"If the court leaves any door open on taking race into account," Ms. Chavez said, "you'll just have more and more creative attempts from university administrators to accomplish what they have been doing for years."

Ms. Chavez said that for the administration to maintain its credibility on the issue with its conservative supporters, it would have to say directly that race may not be taken into account because there is no compelling state interest in promoting diversity.

--front-page story in today's New York Times

"No compelling state interest in promoting diversity"? That's nice, isn't it?

And remember, this woman was almost secretary of labor.
You'll like these graphs of Bush's dropping poll numbers -- the positives have gone down steadily since 9/11/01, while the negatives have gone up. The graphs look like Christmas trees tipped over.

Does "Mandate, my ass" apply in this case? Why, yes, I think it does.
One of the world's largest drugmakers has warned Canadian pharmacies to stop shipping its drugs to U.S. customers or it will cut off their supplies.

The move by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline was sharply criticized by a Canadian pharmacy group, the Manitoba International Pharmacists Association, who said it would have a "devastating" impact on U.S. customers who buy the company's drugs from Canada for around 50 percent less than what U.S. pharmacies charge....

The company also said that as of Jan. 21, it would refuse to provide drugs to wholesalers or distributors that supply Canadian pharmacies with GlaxoSmithKline drugs for export, Thorkelson added....

A few price comparisons show why so many Americans shop for drugs across the border. The same amount of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen that a major U.S. pharmacy sells for $340 costs only $56 at, Catroppa said. The site's price for the cholesterol medication Lipitor, one of the biggest sellers, is 30 percent to 35 percent less than U.S.-based pharmacies, he said

--Yahoo News

If you take a prescription drug made by GlaxoSmithKline, you probably have to keep taking it. But if you’re thinking of buying an over-the-counter GlaxoSmithKline product, maybe you want to consider buying something else instead. If GSK’s hardball tactics piss you off, maybe you just don’t want to buy any of GSK’s over-the-counter products, as conveniently listed at the GSK Web site:

Abreva / Aluna / Balmex / BC Powder / Beano / Citrucel / Contac / Debrox / Ecotrin / Feosol / Geritol / Glyoxide / Goody’s Powder / Natures Remedy / Nicoderm CQ / Nicorette / Nytol / Oscal / Oxy / Phazyme / Polident / Poligrip / Remifenin / Sensodyne / Sominex / Tagamet / Tragon / Tegrin / Tums / Vivarin

Just a thought.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003


"What evidence is there that the U.S. is no longer serious about al Qaeda? Why would it even be in Bush's interest to ignore it? On proliferation, the administration's intent in North Korea (even if one disagrees about methods) couldn't be clearer."

--Andrew Sullivan showing signs of being clinically delusional in his blog, 1:14:18 P.M. today
The indefatigable Atrios is after another of Bush's extremist judicial nominees, Jeffrey Sutton, a former Scalia law clerk. By all means read this angry summary of Sutton's career from WampumBlog; there's also this from Justice For All Alerts.

I will quibble, however, with this bit of speculation from the otherwise fine WampumBlog post: "one has to wonder if the renomination of Charles Pickering was in fact a cynical attempt to distract attention from even more objectionable, due to age and track record for inflicting widespread damage, nominees." That's not how Bush thinks. He wants to win them all.
While you weren’t looking, the Bush administration gave Otto Reich another job last week.

For his last job with the Bush administration, Reich had to get a recess appointment -- a presidential appointment while Congress was not in session -- which meant he wasn’t subject to a Senate confirmation process he wouldn’t have cleared. Reich’s new position doesn’t require Senate approval.

Reich headed the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy during the Reagan years; he was reprimanded in 1987 by the U.S. Comptroller General’s office for "engaging in prohibited, covert propaganda activities." But that’s not the only reason senators (including some Republicans) balked at confirming him as an assistant secretary of state last year. Another reason is the fact that he lobbied -- successfully -- for the release of Orlando Bosch, a fellow Cuban exile who is widely believed to be one of the people responsible for blowing up Cubana flight 455 in 1976. Cubana 455 was a Cuban passenger airliner; this act of terrorism killed seventy-three people.

"Among the seventy-three killed aboard the Cubana jet were the twenty prize-winning athletes in their teens and early twenties who made up Cuba's national fencing team, their five coaches, and twenty-five Cubana and government employees," Ann Louise Bardach writes in her 2002 book Cuba Confidential. "There were also five North Korean passengers and eleven residents of Guyana." Bosch, a U.S. resident, was arrested in Venezuela in connection with the attack on the plane.

Bardach quotes one CIA memorandum that summarized an eyewitness account: "Meeting took place when Orlando Bosch and others discussed terrorist acts such as placing bombs on Cuban aircraft." She quotes a memo from Henry Kissinger, who was then secretary of state: "U.S. government had been planning to suggest Bosch deportation before Cubana Airlines crash took place for his suspected involvement in other terrorist acts and violation of his parole. Suspicion that Bosch involved in planning of Cubana Airlines Crash led us to suggest his deportation urgently." (Bosch had earlier been convicted of firing a shot into a Polish freighter that had traveled to Cuba in 1968.)

Orlando Bosch was jailed in Venezuela for eleven years. This is where Otto Reich comes in. He became ambassador to Venezuela in 1986. Bardach writes,

A half dozen State Department cables suggest that Reich used his position to lobby for Orlando Bosch, a man who, the [first] Bush Justice Department had concluded, had participated in more than thirty terrorist actions....

On July 21, six weeks after Otto Reich presented his credentials in Caracas, a Venezuelan judge issued a surprise ruling that Bosch was innocent of the Cubana bombing.... Former Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez ... went on to claim that "the Bosch file had been tampered with." But Reich ... eagerly cabled Washington to report that Bosch had been "absolved" and queried his superiors about Bosch's eligibility to return to the U.S.

The first President Bush went on to pardon Bosch and grant him U.S. residency -- even though his own attorney general had called Bosch an "unreformed terrorist," and even though Bosch himself, in a jailhouse interview, had told investigators from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, "You have to fight violence with violence. At times you cannot avoid hurting innocent people."

In 2001, The Miami Herald reported that a source had claimed Bosch "sent 'explosive materials' to Cuba before a 1997 Havana hotel bombing." Bosch had rather cheekily denied involvement in the bombing shortly after it happened -- he told the Herald in 1997, "We had nothing to do with those attempts. Besides, even if we had, we would deny it because it's illegal to [direct bombings] from this country.''

Otto Reich, a terrorist’s champion, will soon work for the National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice.

Your tax dollars at work.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

"Americans must never again enter any crisis, economic or military, with an excessive dependence on foreign oil and an excessive burden of Federal debt."

--President George H. W. Bush, speaking months before the (first) Gulf War, September 11, 1990, as quoted in John Rudolph's report "War in Our Time: The Economic Cost of Going to War," broadcast on WNYC, New York, 1/14/03

Justice Thomas insisted that the book contract include provisions allowing him to control any promotional appearances, in part, he said, to preserve "the dignity of the court."

He also indicated that he anticipated hostility from certain news organizations and wanted to avoid unsympathetic interviews. He told editors that he would not appear on the television network morning shows, for example, because he feared they might attack him on the air. But he said he was willing to appear on Fox News, which he perceived as more sympathetic to his conservative views.
--from yesterday's New York Times

Essentially, what Thomas is saying is that there are two nations, one of which -- the one in which non-conservatives live -- he simply has no need to address. He’s also saying he doesn’t believe an interviewer who is not conservative could possibly conduct an interview with him in good faith. Thomas is operating from the presumption that non-conservatives are categorically incapable of fairness.

Keep in mind that it is entirely possible Thomas will be chosen to be the next Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. If this happens, he should be asked whether his boycott of non-conservative America means he believes right-wingers are better people, better Americans, and more worthy of his attention as a Justice than the rest of us. He should be asked if he thinks liberals are immoral merely by dint of being liberal. He should be asked which nation he serves -- America or right-wing America.
Eight days after the midterm elections, Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler pointed out that anger about the Confederate battle flag had played a part in the defeat of Democratic governors in South Carolina and Georgia (see "Long May She Wave," the second item on the Howler's 11/13/02 page). Somerby wondered aloud why national reporters never mentioned this issue in connection with the two governors' races. His conclusion was that the press preferred the consensus story on the midterm election results -- "Bush Transcendent."

But that doesn't quite explain why the issue wasn't discussed in the national news before the election, or since -- especially in the aftermath of the Trent Lott affair.

Well, now we learn from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that protestors angry at the deemphasis of the Confederate flag on the redesigned Georgia state flag buzzed the inaugural of the state's new (Republican) governor Sonny Perdue, and plan a pro-Stars-and-Bars rally today. They're angry at the governor because during the campaign he promised to allow a referendum on reverting to the old state flag with a greater emphasis on the Stars and Bars, and he's now retreating from that promise.

Angry people, striking visuals -- will it make your nightly news? And if not, why not?

If this story doesn't go national, it's because the national press doesn't want to give offense by telling the uncomfortable truth that there are an awful lot of neo-Confederates and racists out there -- and the major party that gets their votes, the GOP, still won't cut them loose. ("If the governor wants to distance himself from that, I'd like to see him stand up and say this is wrong," an observer of the seg flyover is quoted as saying in the Atlanta Journal article. The neo-Cons may be angry at Perdue now, but he voted for a flag referendum as a state senator before promising a referendum as a gubernatorial candidate.)

The Trent Lott story became permissible for the mainstream press when some GOP-friendly pundits denounced Lott. At that point it became a story about one bad apple, not about a party that has no problem giving a top leadership position to a racist. But notice that the mainstream press won't write about John Ashcroft's ties to neo-Confederates, won't run down Charles Pickering's seg-friendly past in any detail, and hasn't covered the Georgia flag flap. Doing so would convey the message that the GOP has a systemic race problem -- a fact the press would have to tread on powerful toes to tell you.

(Thanks yet again to Atrios for the Atlanta Journal link.)