Saturday, January 31, 2004

Some not-exactly-satisfied Bush customers:

When she could find an extra quarter during the Depression, Marie Scott saved it in a coffee can. When she could afford Stride Rite shoes for her daughters, she bought them a half size bigger so they could be grown into. She didn't think a car was broken in until the odometer said 50,000 miles.

For all of her 77 years, Marie Scott did everything the straight and narrow American way – including paying her Social Security taxes – so she could enjoy a secure retirement.

Now she feels like her country punched her in her gut. It passed a Medicare prescription drug bill that, she says, will hurt her – and millions of other senior citizens.

Scott has a coronary heart condition. The new bill could cost her $3,600 per year in drug costs....

She was one of a crowd of 50 who turned out for the first meeting of the revived Senior Legislative Action Committee, which featured Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, D-Saugerties, blasting the bill he called "obnoxious."

"We are no longer the silent majority,'' said Priscilla Bassett. "I'm 70 plus and I'm angry."...

--Times Herald-Record (Monticello, N.Y.)

So ordinary citizens are holding meetings to get this legislation repealed (and they're coming out in weather that's pretty damn cold) -- and a congressional Democrat (i.e., by definition a member of a highly risk-averse group) shows up to egg them on.

Remember when this bill was being described as a political home run?

Friday, January 30, 2004

Burke would refuse communion to Kerry

If Sen. John Kerry were to stand in Archbishop Raymond L. Burke's communion line Sunday, Burke would bless him without giving him communion.

Kerry, a Catholic, has voted to support abortion rights, contrary to Catholic Church long-held teaching opposing abortion.

"I would have to admonish him not to present himself for communion," said Burke. "I might give him a blessing or something," he said....

--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

This would be a cheap stunt, perhaps, but, assuming Kerry's the nominee, I think it would boost him in the polls if, next October, he walked into a Mass that was being said by Archbishop Burke and Burke yanked the host away.

Bring it on, Father....
Don't know much about the American Research Group, but its poll has George W. Bush with a 47% approval rating and trailing Kerry, 47%-46%. Bush loses to Kerry among independents, 55%-39%, in this poll. Nice.
Bloody hell ... the GOP-majority Georgia Senate has voted to erect a statue of Zell Miller.

You know Miller -- the alleged Democrat who's endorsed George W. Bush and written a book attacking his own party? Hey, it's working for him: Once relatively obscure, he's now a New York Times bestselling author and a golden god on the Right.

Maybe, when they unveil this objet d'art, they can invite all the Democrat-hating Democrats -- Joe Lieberman, Mickey Kaus of Slate, freelance pundit/blowhard/racist Tammy Bruce.

Folks, here's a prediction: I don't think Bush is going to drop Cheney from the ticket, but if he does, his running mate is going to be Zell Miller. I'm dead serious about this. And idiots in the commentariat will tell you with a straight face that it's a sincere act of "bipartisanship."

(Thanks to Pandagon for the statue story.)
AP, January 13, 2004:

Guerrilla attacks on the 150,000 U.S.-led coalition soldiers in Iraq have dropped sharply since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein, and the number of troops killed and wounded has plummeted as well.

The figures appear to show the capture of Saddam has taken some of the sting out of the Iraqi insurgency....

The slump in combat casualties comes alongside a 22 percent drop in attacks on American-led forces in those four weeks....

According to U.S. military figures, insurgent attacks against coalition forces declined to an average of 18 a day in the past four weeks, compared to 23 a day in the four weeks before Saddam's capture. ...

Financial Times today:

US combat deaths in Iraq have risen sharply during January despite a drop in the number of attacks and the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein over a month ago.

As of Thursday, 33 American soldiers and one civilian had been killed by hostile fire during the month. That compares with 24 US combat deaths in December, and a total of 32 coalition combat deaths....

Overall, January has been one of the bloodiest post-war months for the coalition. Combat deaths in the first 28 days of January alone exceeded those in every post-war month except October (35) and November (94), according toIraq Coalition Casualty Count - a website devoted to tracking coalition deaths....

Oh, and I love this:

The US military on Thursday declined to confirm or deny the figures for combat deaths in Iraq this month, which were calculated from press releases from US Central Command in Florida. A US military spokesman in Baghdad said figures were only kept for two-month periods, and a computer malfunction made it impossible to calculate an official casualty count for separate months.

Oh, please.

(Thanks to Cursor for the FT link.)
The much awaited Hutton report is an absolute vindication for Tony Blair and a catastrophe for the BBC.

--Andrew Sullivan on Wednesday

Some 56% of [British] voters believe the Hutton report was a whitewash, according to a YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph.

Despite the report, the poll found 67% of people still trust BBC news journalists to tell the truth and 31% trust the Government.

In an NOP poll, half of those questioned said Lord Hutton was wrong to clear Mr Blair and his aides of any "underhand and duplicitous" naming strategy. A clear majority, 56%, said the peer was wrong to lay all the blame at the door of the BBC.

His inquiry was branded a whitewash by 49%, with 40% disagreeing, in the survey for London's Evening Standard. And a full independent inquiry into the reason Britain went to war with Iraq was supported by an overwhelming 70%.

Three times as many people trust the BBC to tell the truth than the Government, another poll showed today. However, almost half, 49%, trusted neither side, the ICM survey for The Guardian found. Just one in 10 had faith in ministers compared with 31% who believed the Corporation.



Update: Well, even Sullivan seems to be figuring it out now. Today he quotes an e-mail he's received about the Hutton inquiry, which the e-mailer calls "a joke":

Everyone I have spoken to here who is not directly involved in politics (but who keeps a "watching brief" on events as they affect our daily lives) is horrified. We seem effectively to live in an elected dictatorship: over-reaching powers of Tony Blair without any check whatsoever; supine parliament (whose powers of scrutiny have been wrecked by said Prime Minister); pliant judiciary; and a commercial media hamstrung by regulation preventing any form of political partiality. The inquiry seems to have suddenly clarified the unease that a number of us here have felt deep down for some time....
Attention Wal-Mart shoppers:

The US economy braked fiercely in the last quarter of 2003, slowing to an unexpectedly low 4.0 percent annualized growth pace...

Growth shrank to less than half the blistering, 19-year record 8.2 percent pace of the third quarter, defying economists' predictions of a 5.0 percent expansion to wrap up the year.

Over the whole of 2003, output in the world's biggest economy was up 3.1 percent, the Commerce Department said Friday.

--AFP today

China's economy grew a surprising 9.9 percent in the final quarter of last year, the government said Tuesday, signaling a quick recovery from the economic fallout of the SARS epidemic and hinting at a favorable outlook for 2004.

Investment and foreign trade helped drive the country's annual gross domestic product growth to 9.1 percent, according to the official figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

--AP, 1/20/04

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Via TBOGG, I learned about this post from Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online's blog. He quotes an e-mail:

...I was recently in my local Meijer store, which is a Wal-Mart like mega-store, and walked down the cheap art aisle and was stopped in my tracks by a painting of George W. Bush. It was at least 18x12 in size and portrayed our President on one knee, with an open Bible in his right hand, and a clear and distinct wedding ring on his left. He is wearing a shirt and tie, but has the sleeves rolled up.

It surprised me, in that, even out here in red country, there is still plenty of cynicism about our leaders. I guess I just don't expect our generation to lionize heroes like our parents generation did....

Hmmm -- what does this remind me of?

Oh yeah -- this:

Live appearances by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on state-run media have been rare of late, but you're never far from his image. It's on the streets and in stores and offices, often in three dimensions.

Unlike many past dictators, who usually depicted their leaders in heroic, militaristic poses, Hussein can be seen in murals handing out flowers, blessing a child, saying prayers and riding a horse.

...Salam Abid has been painting Saddam Hussein's portrait since 1976, and sells three or four a month at a price of $100 US, a whopping sum for most Iraqis.

"I paint him in military uniform, or holding a sword, or in traditional Arab-Muslim dress, but I like him best in a suit," Abid says....

Bush with a Bible ... Saddam in a traditional headdress -- is there a difference?
Georgia's Republican schools superintendent wants to clear something up:

A change that would strike the word "evolution" from Georgia's science classes is only a suggestion and far from becoming official policy, a spokesman for state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said Thursday.

Cox's proposal for new middle and high school science standards would ban references to "evolution" and replace it with the term "biological changes over time."

"The whole point for us is we really don't have a stance on the issue," said Cox spokesman Kirk Englehardt. "We're very open to hearing every side of the issue."

The proposed change is part of more than 800 pages of revisions to Georgia's curriculum that were posted Jan. 12 on the Department of Education Web site for educators to consider.

The new curriculum ... is expected to be voted on by the state Board of Education in May....

But hey, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this isn't provincial know-nothingism -- it's about freedom of choice!

Cox, a Republican elected to the state's top public school position in 2002, addressed the issue briefly in a public debate during the campaign. The candidates were asked about a school dispute in Cobb County over evolution and Bible-based teachings on creation.

Cox responded: "It was a good thing for parents and the community to stand up and say we want our children exposed to this [creationism] idea as well. . . . I'd leave the state out of it and I would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories."

Well, sure -- except that a lot of the material on the one "theory" every respectable scientist on the planet believes has been snipped out, as has the name of that "theory."

So what happened?

The Georgia Department of Education based its biology curriculum on national standards put forth by a respected source, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But while the state copied most of the national standards, it deleted much of the section that covers the origin of living things.

A committee of science teachers, college professors and curriculum experts was involved in reviewing the proposal. The state did not specify why the references to evolution were removed, and by whom, even to educators involved in the process.

Terrie Kielborn, a middle school science teacher in Paulding County who was on the committee, recalled that Stephen Pruitt, the state's curriculum specialist for science, told the panel not to include the word evolution.

"We were pretty much told not to put it in there," Kielborn said. The rationale was community reaction, she said.

"When you say the word evolution, people automatically, whatever age they are, think of the man-monkey thing," Kielborn said.

Oh. Ick! Monkeys! Well, that explains it. Can't have monkey discussed in the same breath as people, can we? Ignorance is infinitely preferable than exposing impressionable youngsters to talk about monkeys.
Afghan Weapons Cache Blast Kills 7 GIs

Yes, that's Afghanistan -- not Iraq.
Oh jeez -- here it comes (from CNN/Money) ...

Why Kerry worries the Street

Securities firms may have donated big to his campaign, but that doesn't mean the market likes him.

...In his economic plan, Kerry has said he is against Bush's dividend tax cut, but that he would lower capital gains and dividend taxes for the middle class.

Among other things, Kerry's plan calls for setting up tax incentives that would encourage businesses to create manufacturing jobs in the United States. He has also said he would use the scaling back of the Bush tax cuts to reduce the federal budget deficit.

... for those who believe the tax cuts are directly linked to the 2003 stock market rally and the surging economy, Kerry's talk is worrisome.

"I think it would be difficult for Kerry to prove that the tax cuts were not effective," said Ned Riley, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors....

And on and on and on.

And all this despite the fact that the story includes a link to another CNN/Money story that says

stocks are in fact less volatile and perform better under Democratic presidents.

That story is here. It cites a study published in the Journal of Finance.

Looking at the 72-year period between 1927 and 1999, the study shows that a broad stock index, similar to the S&P 500, returned approximately 11 percent more a year on average under a Democratic president versus safer, three-month Treasurys. By comparison, the index only returned 2 percent more a year versus the T-bills when Republicans were in office.

...On average, value-weighted portfolios returned 9 percent more under Democrats than Republicans during the 72 year period, while equal-weighted portfolios returned 16 percent more under Democrats.

This is described in the article as a "strange little irony." A market analyst, told of the study's results, is quoted as saying, "I think plenty on Wall Street would be pretty shocked to hear that."

Why? The authors of the study have their own theories, but here's mine: Consumer spending drives the economy. The rich simply don't spend as great a percentage of their income as the non-rich do. GOP policies mostly put money in the hands of non-spenders, while any tax cuts for the non-rich are offset by hikes in other taxes, job losses, increases in fees, and so on. I know businesspeople would rather have money just handed to them, in the form, say, of tax loopholes, but sometimes being forced to make money by actually selling the stuff you're ostensibly in business to sell can be good for the soul. And profitable.
I keep hearing people on TV say that John Kerry is "aloof".

Why? Because he doesn't walk around in a flightsuit and a cowboy hat?

Up here we call that "not acting like a jackass".

Why does the Northeast always have to apologize for who we are? We're Americans, too. New Englanders were the ones who stood up to King George. New Englanders risked their necks (literally) by tossing the tea into Boston Harbor. New Englanders lowered their muskets and fired at British soldiers when the whole world trembled at the sight of them.

Sorry if we talk too fast; it gets really cold here, ok? We do everything quickly so we can
go home. There's a pot of chowder on the stove, and the game is on....

That's from a blog called, and as a native of Boston I say thank you. Read the rest here (under the heading "A New England Primer").

(Thanks to Cursor for the link.)
A few days ago, I asked why John Kerry's hockey playing can't be construed as mythically manly, like, say, Bush's clearing of brush in Crawford. The Mahablog has an (unfortunately) good answer --

There are two aspects to the Andrew Jackson/John Wayne mystique. First is to be a rugged man of action, yes. But second is that you have to be a little uncivilized. The macho-mystique guy is instinctual rather than intellectual; more rough than polished; and a person for whom the rules do not apply.  This might describe most hockey players, but not, I think, to John Kerry.

-- as well as the sage observation that brush clearing is

a perfect activity for Bush because the brush can't fight back.

Yup -- that's it.

Meanwhile, George Will is telling us that Kerry's campaign seems to mark "a retreat from the feminization of politics," yet fellow right-wing Michelle Malkin insists that Kerry is an, er, "insufficiently attentive spouse" to his wife (who, Malkin implies, is nuts and wears the pants in the family). But then Ann Coulter tells us that Kerry takes advantage of rich women, his wife being the most recent. So confusing! And maybe this is reason enough for the Democrats to nominate Kerry: We know the Right is going to argue that the Dem nominee, whoever it is, is a spawn of Satan who isn't fit to be around decent people -- so maybe the best we can hope for is that they'll strongly disagree on exactly why the nominee is the Antichrist.

Confusion to our enemies!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I have a good feeling about this guy. I've asked a few somewhat alarmist questions about mad-cow disease in this blog recently, but this scientist sounds like just the person you'd want examining suspect (human) brains, and if he says he's ruled out variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in hundreds of brains he's examined (variant CJD, as opposed to plain old CJD, is mad cow disease), I believe him. But he does say he'd like more brains of the deceased to examine, in case he's missing something. Twenty-six states require reporting of CJD. C'mon, what's wrong with the other 24?

And are we really only now realizing that mad cow can spread via transfused blood? Is there a lot more we need to discover about vCJD?
The Hutton report severely chastized the BBC and exonerated Tony Blair. In The Guardian, Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor aren't satisfied:

...Lord Hutton leaves himself open to accusations of having cherrypicked the evidence that supports the government case and sidelined that which supports the BBC. Awkward bits of evidence that do not fit his final conclusion are left lying around unanswered.

He ignores the issue of the reliability of the intelligence in the government's dossier on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction published on September 24, 2002.

Instead, he focuses on the specific issue of the claim by the BBC Today reporter Andrew Gilligan in May last year that the government had tampered with intelligence to strengthen the case for war.

The evidence of the BBC science correspondent Susan Watts, whose taped conversation with Dr Kelly corroborates much of Gilligan's report, is ignored....

Evidence emerged during the inquiry from John Scarlett, the head of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), who drew up the dossier, that the 45 minutes related not to long-range weapons as had been widely assumed at the time but to battlefield weapons.

This is significant, because it supports the BBC case that the threat from Saddam was not as grave as the government dossier suggested.

But Lord Hutton said in his report that the distinction between battlefield weapons and long-range ones deployable within 45 minutes "does not fall within my terms of reference"....

...Nor does he address the extracts from the diary of Alastair Campbell, the then Downing Street director of communications, hinting at a personal vendetta against Gilligan taken to the final conclusion.

At one point in his diary Mr Campbell said it would "fuck Gilligan" if Dr Kelly turned out to be the source of his story....

Also in his diary, Mr Campbell refers to a conversation with the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, in which he spoke about "a plea bargain", suggesting that the defence secretary would offer a deal to Dr Kelly.

Lord Hutton again brushes this aside, saying: "One of those areas of uncertainty is whether in his discussion with Mr Campbell, Mr Hoon used the term 'plea bargain' in relation to Dr Kelly and, if he did, what did he mean by that term."

It was revealed last night that the family of Dr Kelly expressly referred to Mr Campbell's diary entries in its final submission to the inquiry. The family argued that the government wanted Dr Kelly's name to come out as a way of assisting its battle with the BBC.

The family said: "Alastair Campbell's diary reveals that it was his desire and the desire of others, including the secretary of state for defence, that the fact and identity of the source should be made public." ...
Direct elections, reliable electricity -- oh, and one more thing....

(I gather this has been kicking around for a while. I don't know the source.)
Dean, on "Meet the Press" in March 2003, said he believed that Iraq "is automatically an imminent threat to the countries that surround it because of the possession of these weapons." Yet, in his now familiar flip-flop style, candidate Dean later declared, "I never said Saddam was a danger to the United States."

--right-wing columnist and talk-radio host Larry Elder, 1/22/04 column

Maybe that's the difference between conservatives and the rest of us: They think the U.S. is in the Middle East.
Ezra at Pandagon worries that this bit of gossip from MSNBC's Jeannette Walls might be true:

A well-placed source says that the president will "most likely" drop Dick Cheney from his re-election ticket and his first choice for a replacement is former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I don't like going out on limbs, but I think this is impossible. It isn't just that Giuliani is pro-gun control, or pro-choice, or pro-gay rights -- the dealbreaker, I think, is that he signed New York City's domestic partnership bill into law. What could be more infuriating to Bush's base, more likely to keep them home on Election Day?

I can think of a lot of other reasons this won't happen -- Rudy's too much of an egomaniac to want to be a second banana for four years; criticism makes Bush dig in his heels, so (like his father) he won't drop a VP who's a potential liability; Jeb probably is the Bush family's choice for the '08 nomination, and a Cheney vice presidency doesn't harm Jeb's chances (though wouldn't it be a kick in the collective Bush pants if Cheney suddenly decides that he's not to sickly to head the ticket in '08?).

Don't give this another thought -- New York insiders regularly declare that local pols are on the verge of going national. (Funny how that Bush-Pataki ticket The New York Observer promised us in '00 never quite happened.) Jeannette Walls is a gossip columnist; her expertise is the entertainment world. She doesn't know that whoever told her this was blowing smoke.
So that's the message from talk radio and Drudge -- that Kerry is unfit to govern because he might have had a facelift?

Two words, my Republican friends: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two more words: Laura Bush.

(Yeah, I know -- if it turns out he's had cosmetic work they'll say the point isn't so much that as the lying. And that's an important moral litmus test for Republicans because, of course, Honest Ronald Reagan never dyed his hair.)

There's so much plastic surgery among the regularly televised that this idiocy may not migrate to the "respectable" media, but you never know.

(If the Drudge link above doesn't show the Kerry story, try this.)
Good Lord -- isn't there something in the stalker laws that Hillary Clinton can use against this sicko obsessive?

(Scroll to the end.)
John Kerry flipflopped on the war, but I think that's actually working to his advantage. I'm reminded of what a pollster named Jeff Levine told Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine recently about responses to survey questions:

''The pauses people have can be very telling,'' Levine said as we eavesdropped. ''There's an emerging school of survey research that actually times the length of the pauses. The finding is that there's a very strong correlation between the time it takes to answer the question and the strength of a person's belief.'' (The longer the pause, the weaker the respondent's attachment to the answer.)

''You saw a lot of pauses on a question like, 'Was it worth going to war in Iraq or not worth going to war?''' Levine pointed out. ''People don't feel comfortable picking one or the other.''

I can live with this -- complete rejection of a war that unseated a guy like Saddam is further than some people can go, yet many of these people hate the unholy mess of the aftermath, hate the cost in money and lives, feel betrayed by the lies that got us in, and so on, and that's good. Even if voters are responding better to the "evolving" position on the war of Kerry than to the pure opposition of Dean or Kucinich, it's still a rebuke to Bush and a rejection of Bushism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

By the way, here's a curious thing: If you go to the State of the Union page at the White House Web site, you automatically get bounced to the page for this year's speech. OK, fine -- but what if you were trying to find last year's speech -- the one with all the claims about Iraqi weapons that turn out not to be true? Well, there's a "State of the Union - 2003" link on that '04 page.

But try clicking on it. You won't get the '03 speech -- you'll get looped back to the main SOTU page, which bounces you to '04.

Yeah, the '03 speech is still available. But the only way you can get it at, I think, is by clicking on the 2002 link and replacing "2002" with "2003."

Interesting glitch.

(UPDATE: I fixed the main link in this post.)

Remember the $15 billion pledged in the 2003 State of the Union address to fight HIV/AIDS? Well, apparently the check's still in the mail. This is from Newsweek:

 ... In his 2003 speech, the president pledged the monies would assure the treatment of "at least 2 million people with life-saving drugs.” But the Global AIDS Alliance estimates that just 1,000 people overseas have received treatment funded by the United States over the past year—all from programs that predate Bush’s big announcement. Last fall, Stephen Lewis, the United Nation’s top AIDS official, said he was enraged that "rich powers” like the United States were still neglectng the crisis in Africa. Yet, the administration’s office of the Global AIDS Coordinator still operates with a skeleton staff borrowed from other departments while dozens of its positions remain unfilled. 

As you may have read elsewhere, the Bush administration bargained down the initial outlay (which then became part of an omnibus spending bill that was held up until recently):

...while Bush—to much fanfare—authorized Congress to spend up to $3 billion on AIDS this year, the administration lobbied lawmakers privately to hold that appropriation to $2 billion. They eventually compromised on $2.4 billion. The administration’s rationale: time is needed to build healthcare infrastructure in the targeted 15 AIDS-stricken countries so that the money can be utilized effectively.... But the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria], a two-year-old program created with help from the U.S. and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that now works in 120 countries, says it has the capacity to effectively spend the full $3 billion—and then some—right now. The administration, however, prefers to distribute the money through U.S. aid agencies, even if that means getting to work more slowly....

Activists say the administration views the Global Fund with the same hostility it revealed toward the U.N. in the run-up to the Iraq War.

This in spite of the fact that, around the time of last year's State of the Union, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was named chairman of the Global Fund's board, replacing a former Ugandan health minister.

Oh, and of course, there's this:

Another reason the administration prefers to distribute the aid unilaterally is that it can then spend it on programs that fit its socially conservative agenda. A third of the money to be spent for prevention is for “abstinence-only until marriage” programs.

Compassionate conservatism.....
Bush in 2004 after losing the election?

(Update: Link corrected.)
In The New York Review of Books, Ahmed Rashid, writing about Afghanistan, reports on a character assessment:

When US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Herat on April 29, 2002, he described [Ismail] Khan as "an appealing person, thoughtful, measured, and self-confident."

Rashid notes that this is perhaps too kind:

In two reports at the end of 2002, HRW [Human Rights Watch] described the horrific situation in western Afghanistan where Ismail Khan had established a dictatorial fiefdom over three provinces, ignoring the Karzai government with tacit approval from the US. In an HRW report entitled "'We Want to Live as Humans': Repression of Women and Girls in Western Afghanistan," several women described the situation under Khan as virtually similar to living under the Taliban. Local police were stopping girls in the street and forcefully carrying out virginity tests. "Herat is the worst province for women in Afghanistan," said a UN official working with women's groups in Afghanistan.

Women were allowed to study only in segregated schools, were discouraged from working, and were forbidden to ride in cars with foreigners. Those caught riding in cars with an Afghan male who was not their husband were taken off to hospitals where doctors would examine them to determine whether they had recently had sexual intercourse. Doctors said that up to ten girls a day were being tested and many girls were too ashamed even to talk about it.

Ismail Khan has also revived the Taliban's much-feared Department of Vice and Virtue, which encourages young male goons to walk around streets and schools to make sure that segregation is being enforced. "You have the right to monitor whether people obey Islamic rules, whether it be inside school, outside school, or even in the national park," Ismail Khan told a group of schoolboys who were being trained as a vigilante squad in early October 2002. By the end of 2003 the Department of Vice and Virtue was still banning all independent press and censoring television to the point where women appearing in movies were being replaced by a flower on the screen. The department continues to harass local civic leaders and journalists and to ban professional organizations such as women's and lawyers' groups, even a literary society where people read poems to one another.

The violence against women by Taliban members was memorable not just for their violation of genuine Islamic values but for their obsessive attention to sexual and gender detail. The same can be said about Ismail Khan today when he forbids women to wear makeup outside the house even though they must wear the burqa at all times. Men are forbidden to wear neckties or shake hands with local or foreign women.

Acts of torture were, and are, according to HRW, commonplace in Herat -- "beatings...hanging upside-down, whipping, and shocking with electrical wires attached to the toes and thumbs."

Nice to see Rummy's as good a judge of character as ever.
David Horowitz appeared on Dennis Miller's show last night as part of a panel that also included David Frum and Naomi Wolf. (Miller, Frum, and Horo versus Wolf -- exquisitely balanced, no?)

The first topic, discussed at length, was David Kay's acknowledgment that he never found WMDs in Iraq. Wolf was a lot better than I expected her to be -- but she was unfailingly polite.

Now, it could be argued that the proper response to Miller would have been to grab him by the scruff of the neck and beat him senseless while shouting "Apologize! Apologize!" and force-feeding him multiple transcripts of his appearance on The Tonight Show last spring:

You know Hans Blix to me is like Weapons Inspector Clouseau or something. They're in there foraging around, they're in the Scooby Doo van looking for weapons. (Crowd laughs)

But that would be wrong.

In fact, there was no mention of Miller's little quip on last night's show.
Kay also said that he thinks the weapons -- there are weapons of mass destruction in Syria.

--David Horowitz on Dennis Miller's CNBC show last night

Er, not exactly. Here's James Risen in yesterday's New York Times:

Dr. Kay said there was also no conclusive evidence that Iraq had moved any unconventional weapons to Syria, as some Bush administration officials have suggested. He said there had been persistent reports from Iraqis saying they or someone they knew had see cargo being moved across the border, but there is no proof that such movements involved weapons materials.

Now, Kay did say something rather different to The Telegraph, but it still doesn't jibe with what Horowitz said (emphasis mine):

In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph, Dr Kay, who last week resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, said that he had uncovered evidence that unspecified materials had been moved to Syria shortly before last year's war to overthrow Saddam.

"We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons," he said. "But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD programme. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved."

So it's not clear what Kay really believes, but he seems to believe that, at most, components of the program went to Syria -- though he's not sure even about that.

Monday, January 26, 2004

"...evil chemistry and evil biology..."

Uh-oh -- did somebody replace John Ashcroft's sleep-learning tapes with audiobooks by Hunter Thompson?
You may have heard that Charles Duelfer, who's replacing David Kay as America's lead WMD hunter in Iraq, is a "skeptic" on the subject of whether those weapons will be found; The New York Times used that word to describe him a few days ago. But in a story posted Friday, the far-right NewsMax site correctly points out something about Duelfer that was overlooked by the Times:

The investigator picked by the CIA to replace David Kay as head of the U.S. team in Iraq hunting for weapons of mass destruction has told British reporters that he saw terrorists training near Baghdad in airplane hijack techniques resembling those used in the 9/11 attacks.

In a November 2001 account to the London Observer, Charles Duelfer, the former No. 2 United Nations weapons inspector who was appointed Thursday to head the U.S.'s Iraq Survey Group, corroborated the testimony of Iraqi military defectors who said they helped train radical Muslim recruits to hijack U.S. airliners aboard a Boeing 707 fuselage parked at the terrorist training camp Salman Pak.

At the time the London Observer reported:

"Duelfer said he visited Salman Pak several times, landing by helicopter. He saw the 707, in exactly the place described by the defectors. The Iraqis, he said, told Unscom it was used by police for counter-terrorist training."

"Of course we automatically took out the word 'counter,'" Duelfer told the Observer.

"I'm surprised that people seem to be shocked that there should be terror camps in Iraq," he added....

(The Observer story is here; the quotes are accurate.)

So is Duelfer in Iraq to beat the Saddam = Osama dead horse?

Today, in another story, NewsMax alleges that, as a U.N. staffer during the Clinton years, Duelfer, working with Madeleine Albright, was engaging in back-channel communications with Iraq to avoid "regime change." But the story also adds this:

NewsMax has also learned that during his final months at the U.N., Duelfer had numerous dealings with the Bush-Cheney campaign, specifically Condoleezza Rice. Sources at the U.N. claim that the acting U.N. arms chief was "unofficially" providing "thoughts" on Iraq to the Bush campaign.

Curious, if true.

And there's this:

NewsMax has learned that Duelfer first entered Iraq shortly after U.S.-U.K. troops invaded in March 2003.

Neither the U.S. government nor Duelfer would disclose what he was doing in the Persian Gulf war zone during the period in question.

And even the Times story links Duelfer to spooky doings, however obliquely:

Near the end of [Duelfer's] tenure [at the U.N.], the disclosure of a covert American effort to install listening devices and otherwise gather intelligence in Iraq under cover of the inspections effort strained relations between Washington and the United Nations.

Paging John le Carre....
Golly, I hope the president doesn't fire Dick Cheney for this. We know that when Bush said he wanted U.N. backing for the war, he really, really, really meant it:

Dick Cheney, US vice-president, "waged a guerrilla war" against attempts by Tony Blair, the British prime minister, to secure United Nations backing for the invasion of Iraq.

Mr Cheney remained implacably opposed to the strategy even after George W. Bush, US president, addressed the UN on the importance of a multilateralist approach, according to a new biography of Mr Blair.

...One Blair aide remarked: "[Mr Cheney] waged a guerrilla war against the process . . . He's a visceral unilateralist". Another agreed: "Cheney fought it all the way - at every twist and turn, even after Bush's speech to the UN."

...Mr Stephens' book reveals a string of acid interventions by Mr Cheney during critical talks between the president and prime minister at Camp David in September 2002. Once, he directly rebuked Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's communications director.

In occasional contacts with British officials, Scooter Libby, the vice-president's chief of staff, made little secret of his boss's scorn for multilateralism. He once jibed: "Oh dear, we'd better not do that or we might upset the prime minister."...

--Financial Times

(Thanks to Rational Enquirer for the link; story also available here.)
Joe Lieberman Deserves Your Vote

Yup, Lieberman got an endorsement -- from NewsMax.

You know NewsMax -- home to Rush's brother, Gary "The Clintons Hung Sex Toys on the White House Christmas Tree!" Aldrich, and other fine writers.

Congratulations, Joe. People who loathe and despise Democrats almost as much as you do have endorsed you. This must be a great day for you.
Oh yeah -- these people love us:

Anti-U.S. tunes big hits in Iraq

...Americans have flooded [Iraq]'s airwaves with harmless Western and Arab pop tunes, but many are drawn more to the catchy rhythms of crooners such as Sabah al-Jenabi.

"America has come and occupied Baghdad," he sings in one popular number. "The army and people have weapons and ammunition. Let's go fight and call out the name of God."

U.S.-led coalition authorities have barred the media from promoting any kind of violence, but there is a hot market in the bazaars of central Iraq for cassettes by singers calling for insurrection.

"The men of Fallujah are men of hard tasks," Mr. al-Jenabi sings in a dialect decipherable only to people in the Sunni Muslim heartland cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. "They paralyzed America with rocket-propelled grenades. May God protect them from [U.S.] airplanes." ...
At Sabah Recordings, a popular cassette shop in a Fallujah alleyway, owner Maher al-Ajrari initially denied that he sold Mr. al-Jenabi's music. But after an hour of conversation, he admitted that the resistance tapes are best sellers.

Mr. Ajrari even carries multimedia "video" versions of the CDs, in which the anti-U.S. tunes are accompanied by footage of American troops killing and maiming Iraqis....

--Washington Times
Just noticed this:

David Horowitz will appear as a regular on the new Dennis Miller Show starting Monday night on CNBC at 9PM EST (6PM PST)

Wow, that ought to be -- how can I put this? -- unusual.

What is Horowitz going to do on TV? Give us exactly the same humorless rants week after week, over and over and over, the way he does in his books and articles? ("All college professors in America are left-wing totalitarian fascists! And all of America's cultural institutions are dominated by fascist leftists! I used to be a fascist leftist, so I should know! All college professors are...") That should work really well -- after all, America's TV viewers have always had a soft spot for whiny, humorless, paranoid, repetitive jeremiad-spewers:

Forgive me this rant. I don't know what it is -- the increasingly hysterical, increasingly lunatic Bush-hating left all over the media and the press, my particular edition of the leftwing Sunday Times promoting yet another brain dead reactionary Marxist movement -- this time against copyright law -- before I could get to my crossword puzzle, the nasty Frank Rich repeating the "mistakes" he made thirty years ago in agitating to get America to leave the Vietnam war and expose two and half million Indochinese to the tender mercies of their Communist executioners, or the two minutes of the increasingly Marxoid Democrats I indulged myself in on C-Span before flipping it off? ...

Our universities, our principal media and the Democratic Party are ...

Oh yeah -- people are definitely going to click away from Everybody Loves Raymond to watch that.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Inspired by these folks, I put Fatboy Slim's "Rockafeller Skank" and the Howard Dean Iowa speech in the audio Cuisinart (actually a copy of ProTools Free that likes to crash my PC); the result was "The Dean Skank." I think this link will work -- if not, try this.
OK -- we know that Kerry plays hockey.

Now, the gold standard for myth-building recreational activities in presidential politics is still JFK's touch football -- but since Kennedy, the two presidents who've gotten the most mileage out of what they do in their leisure time have been Reagan (horseback riding) and George W. (clearing brush and other ranch activities). There's been a slight undercurrent of fear in the discussion of these two presidents' leisure, as if the press is cowering before a dominance challenge: OK, you pasty East Coast liberals, you wanna try doing some of this?

We're regularly told that no one from the Northeast can ever be president -- it's never said in so many words, but the implication is that the South and West breed real men, partly through rugged physical activity that's native to those regions, while the Northeast breeds pantywaists.

But New Englanders play hockey, which is a pretty tough game. Oh, sure, it's played all over the place now, but it's a game with deep roots in New England. Why shouldn't New England get a little respect from the press for characteristic activities that involve toughness? Why is Bush with a chainsaw regarded as any more mythically macho than Kerry with a hockey stick?

Saturday, January 24, 2004

In 2002, the Bush administration and the GOP Congress gave certain laid-off workers what they claimed was a nifty way to obtain health insurance -- tax credits! Tax credits that would pay part of the cost of health insurance for people who have no jobs whatsoever (and thus, presumably, little or no income).

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) simply can't figure out why laid-off workers aren't taking advantage of this program. The New York Times quotes her:

"We have to find out immediately what's limiting the success of this program. We are talking about health insurance for people who have lost their jobs. The delays are troubling and unacceptable."

Roy J. Ramthun, a senior adviser on health initiatives at the Treasury Department, is equally baffled:

"We are surprised that more people have not signed up for the advance payment option. We've tried to do everything we can to make the process of qualifying for the credit as simple as possible."

E, you don't suppose these laid-off workers aren't giving the miss because, y'know, they can't afford the co-payment, do you?

Mrs. Craven said she and her 61-year-old husband had lost their jobs in a Pillowtex mill where they worked for three decades. She has asthma. He is diabetic and has had a heart attack. Mrs. Craven said the premiums for the insurance offered to them ranged from $1,700 to $5,400 a month. Their share of the premiums would be $595 to $1,890 a month.

The couple, drawing $416 a month in unemployment benefits, was in no position to pay such costs, Mrs. Craven said....

Nah! That can't be the explanation! It's obviously a complete mystery!

Terrific news from Newsweek:

Overall, 52 percent of those polled by NEWSWEEK say they would not like to see Bush serve a second term, compared to 44 percent who want to see him win again in November. As a result, Kerry is enjoying a marginal advantage over Bush, a first for the poll. Forty-nine percent of registered voters chose Kerry, compared to 46 percent who re-elected Bush. In fact, all Democrats are polling better against Bush, perhaps due to increased media attention to their primary horserace: Clark gets 47 percent of voters’ choice compared to 48 percent from Bush; Edwards has 46 percent compared to Bush’s 49; Leiberman wins 45 percent versus Bush’s 49 percent; and Dean fares the worst with 45 percent of their votes to Bush’s 50 percent.

Good Lord -- did a New York Times reporter actually refer to Joe Lieberman's smile as voluptuous?

Yup -- in the eleventh paragraph of this story.

The mind reels.

Friday, January 23, 2004

David Kay stepped down as leader of the U.S. hunt for banned weapons in Iraq on Friday and said he did not believe the country had any large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons....

"I don't think they existed," Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s," he said....


If he keeps saying this, I think Mr. Kay is about to get a little visit from the Politics of Personal Destruction Fairy....
Not even trying to conceal it, are they?

Two senators have written Chief Justice William Rehnquist to raise concerns about Justice Antonin Scalia's impartiality in a case that involves the White House's energy task force.

Scalia went on a hunting trip to Louisiana with Dick Cheney, a longtime friend, shortly after the court agreed to review a lower court's decision that required White House to identify members of the vice president's task force.

Scalia has said there is no reason to question his ability to judge the case fairly.

But in their letter, Democratic Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a presidential candidate, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont questioned whether the court can disqualify a justice who declines to withdraw from a case. The lawmakers asked if the court has issued any guidelines about accepting gifts or travel....

Scalia also had dinner with Cheney in November, two months after the administration asked the justices to overrule the lower court....


And, annoying as we may find him, let's give Lieberman a little credit for this. You know, he wouldn't be such a bad guy if he'd just stop telling us how superior a human being he is to all other Democrats.

This is weird:

MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- In the days after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that mad cow disease had been discovered in a Holstein in Washington, officials insisted that the cow was a "downer" -- unable to walk.

The government's most significant subsequent step to prevent spread of the disease -- a Dec. 30 ban on processing "downer" cows for food -- stemmed from that finding.

Now, three people have come forward to assert that the cow was not a downer. While their stories vary on what happened Dec. 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats, their accounts agree on a key point: The cow was able to walk on its own.

The distinction on whether the cow could stand is significant. The department's search for mad cow disease has focussed on downed cattle or those with obvious signs of neurological damage....

... three people who were at Vern's Moses Lake Meats on the day the cow was killed told The Oregonian the cow was a "walker." Those men include the plant manager, a former employee and a man who was present when the cow was delivered to the site. The third man asked not to be identified....

--The Oregonian

We've really shrugged this incident off -- OK, we'll test a few more downer cows and everything will be hunky-dory again (not that it wasn't hunky-dory already!). But if this wasn't a downer, that's a reminder that we don't really know what warning signs to watch for, isn't it?
Rod Dreher is the Dallas Morning News columnist who's collaborating with Peggy Noonan on the Case of the Mysterious Papal Quote. Dreher's a Catholic -- but he thinks the Vatican might be trying to screw with him by denying that the Pope praised his favorite movie, and it's really pissing him off. Here's the lead of his latest column:

Whom do you trust, Hollywood or the Vatican? That used to be an easy call. Not anymore. This week, we see that either top officials of Mel Gibson's production company are manipulative deceivers or the top aide to Pope John Paul II and the papal spokesman is.

"Manipulative deceivers"! But wait -- Dreher's not finished. Here he is talking to ABC News:

Dreher is not convinced and says he thinks the Vatican is trying to reverse itself, adding, "I think it's a disgrace. I think the Vatican has to remember the commandment 'Do not bear false witness.'"

Lecturing his church on morality? Sure. If the church is getting in the way of the right-wing culture war, then the church is The Enemy.
Lucianne Goldberg, vileness personified, on the ABC interview of Howard and Judy Dean:

Judy, the un-Hillary sweet., with just a tiny touch of Hedda Nussbaum

In case you don't recognize the allusion:

Ten years ago, Hedda Nussbaum became a household name. Her face, shattered and scarred after years of physical abuse by her live-in partner, Joel Steinberg, was splashed across newspaper and magazine covers when Steinberg beat the couple's 6 year old adopted daughter Lisa to death.

(That's from SafeNet, which also reproduces a picture of the abused Nussbaum shortly after Steinberg's arrest -- an image that's burned into a lot of memories around here.)

Goldberg worked this riff yesterday as well. And Peggy Noonan and National Review Online's Kathryn Jean Lopez have had a good chuckle over this little quip, in reference to Dean's Iowa speech: There's an old joke that Goerge Bush 41 reminds women of their first husband. Howard Dean last night reminds women of their first husband against whom they had to take out a restraining order.

Yeah, I know -- your opponent's drowning, you toss in an anvil. But there are anvils and anvils. Absence evidence, a charge like this, or even jokes like this, should be beyond the pale. This is essentially calling the man a domestic Hitler.
Lead story in today's Wall Street Journal:

Wage inequality -- the gap between America's highest and lowest earners -- has started widening again....

New data from the Labor Department show that after adjustment for inflation, salaries of the country's lowest-paid workers -- those who fall just inside the bottom 10% of the pay range -- fell 0.3% last year from 2002. Meanwhile, the salaries of the highest paid workers -- those who are just inside the top 10% -- were unchanged. The divergence appeared to grow in the fourth quarter as higher-paid workers gained ground and lower-paid workers slipped further....

(Emphasis mine.)

Gee, the fourth quarter of '03 -- that's the quarter the Bushies are always boasting about, isn't it?

The numbers continue a movement to greater wage inequality that began around the time President Bush succeeded President Clinton....
As we belabor the subject of "temperament" and a certain candidate's marriage, let's not forget that four years from now many of the people who are criticizing or questioning Howard Dean (and Judy Dean) will be calling for a Giuliani presidency.

You remember Rudy Giuliani -- a guy who was really angry much of the time (no, not in the aftermath of 9/11, but virtually every day prior to that in his eight years as mayor). Giuliani as mayor was snappish, punitive, and vindictive. Giuliani also once went ballistic before a crowd in the midst of a campaign, in 1992 -- but he didn't merely rally the faithful with an overabundance of enthusiasm. What he did was unleash a profanity-laden denunciation of then-mayor David Dinkins before a crowd of cops objecting to a proposed mayoral commission on police corruption. The cops subsequently rioted. (See Wayne Barrett's Rudy!, pp. 259ff.)

Oh, and Giuliani's wife also famously absented herself from many events she was expected to attend with him -- she too said it was because she had a career separate from her husband's. Her absence was the subject of occasional snickers on the inside pages of the papers, but that was that ... until it became clear that, unlike the Deans, the Giulianis hated each other's guts and were headed for the sort of ugly divorce you'd try to avoid if you were a grown-up.

But none of this will matter in '08. Rudy doesn't stand a chance to get the GOP nomination -- he's pro-choice and pro-gay rights, although I suppose his positions on these issues could "evolve" -- but he's loved in the media. And among the people who'll gush over Rudy most audibly will be Diane Sawyer and David Letterman, who took Dean to the woodshed last night on national TV.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Report: Rumsfeld considers striking Hizbullah to provoke Syria

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is considering provoking a military confrontation with Syria by attacking Hizbullah bases near the Syrian border in Lebanon, according to the authoritative London-based Jane's Intelligence Digest.

In an article to be published on Friday, the journal said multi-faceted US attacks, which would be conducted within the framework of the global war on terrorism, are likely to focus on Hizbullah bases in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon.

It noted that the deployment of US special forces in the Bekaa Valley, where most of Syria's occupation forces in Lebanon are based, would be highly inflammatory and would "almost certainly involve a confrontation with Syrian troops."

Such a conflict might well prove to be the objective of the US, said the journal...

The journal noted that the US administration has long considered Damascus "a prime candidate for regime-change," along with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and, possibly, Saudi Arabia.

"Syria, once a powerhouse of Arab radicalism that could not be ignored, has been seriously weakened, both militarily and politically. Washington may feel that the time is coming to oust Assad and the ruling generals....

--Jerusalem Post

UPDATE: Here's part of the Jane's story. (The rest is for subscribers only.)

Yeah, I think this is coming. The lead story in today's edition of Conrad Black's New York Sun was "Syrians Airlifted Arms to Hezbollah." It's not available to nonsubscribers, but here's how it starts:

A Syrian earthquake-relief flight to Iran returned to Damascus from Tehran earlier this month loaded with a lethal cargo of weapons bound for the Hezbollah terrorist organization, American intelligence shows.

Administration officials told The New York Sun that American intelligence agencies have collected overhead photographs of a Syrian aircraft that delivered relief aid in December to the victims of the Bam earthquake.

The plane was loaded with small arms in Tehran before its return flight to Damascus. This was also confirmed by American signal intercepts suggesting that the weapons were destined for Hezbollah camps in southern Lebanon....

And there's this, from Reuters:

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts says there is some concern Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have gone to Syria, as Washington vowed to carry on searching for such arms in Iraq.

Roberts, a leading member of President George W. Bush's Republican Party, said in Washington on Wednesday: "I think that there is some concern that shipments of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) went to Syria." He did not elaborate....

Weapons shipments or no weapons shipments, I think an attack of the kind that's apparently being contemplated would make a lot of center-dwellers start asking whether we lefties have been right along when we've said that Bush is a war-happy lunatic.
A couple of weeks ago, a Sean Hannity fan sent Sean a funny:

Many thanks to the loyal 3-hours a day listener that sent in this unique photo of a soldier meeting New York Senator, Hillary Clinton while she was on her "troop tour." Pay attention to the "hand shaking." Enjoy!

Here's the picture.

Now imagine this photo with Laura Bush or Barbara Bush substituted for Hillary -- and with the little message at the top of the photo the same. Think our soldier would already have been dishonorably discharged, under pressure from right-wing Web vultures, GOP congressmen, and talk radio?
The Economic Policy Institute confirms what we already know:

Jobs shift from higher-paying to lower-paying industries

In 48 of the 50 states, jobs in higher-paying industries have given way to jobs in lower-paying industries since the recession ended in November 2001. Nationwide, industries that are gaining jobs relative to industries that are losing jobs pay 21% less annually. For the 30 states that have lost jobs since the recession purportedly ended, this is the other shoe dropping -- not only have jobs been lost, but in 29 of them the losses have been concentrated in higher paying sectors. And for 19 of the 20 states that have seen some small gain in jobs since the end of the recession, the jobs gained have been disproportionately in lower-paying sectors....

A story in the L.A. Times summarizes the findings for California:

Statewide, since the national recession officially ended in November 2001, the jobs that have been created are in industries that pay an average of 40% less than do those in which jobs have disappeared, the Economic Policy Institute said....

...California lost 127,000 manufacturing jobs and 55,000 jobs in the information sector from November 2001 to November 2003. Meanwhile, the leisure and hospitality sector gained 48,000 jobs, retail trade grew by 32,000 and health and education, which includes day-care teachers and low-wage hospital crews, grew by 65,000.

It's pretty much like that for every state in the union.

Here's the EPI's data chart (warning: it's a PDF) and here's the California story in graph form from the Times.


U.S. Official: No Truth to Rumor Bin Laden Captured --Reuters


"There is no way this could be true. Drudge never mentioned it." --comment at Free Republic

Are we actually getting somewhere in this quest, or are the Bushies floating disinformation because, post-Iowa, they now think they're going to have a competitive election?
Skimble has turned a Washington Post profile of the vice president into a poem that I find quietly chilling: It's called "The Silence of Cheney."

An excerpt:

He likes to ask questions,

pointed and at times rapid-fire.

This is a variation on silence

in that he does not explicitly express his views

or divulge information.

He just acquires.
A lot of people (myself included) have called Peggy Noonan a liar for declaring in December that the Pope had said of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "It is as it was" -- which the Vatican denies.

But Noonan insists she's not a liar. She's not a liar because the movie's producer told her that Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz told him that the Pope told him, "It is as it was."

In a follow-up column today, Noonan acknowledges that, er, yeah, when she e-mailed the Pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, hoping for confirmation of the quote, she didn't get it:

So I e-mailed Dr Navarro Valls at the Vatican telling him I wanted to write a piece for OpinionJournal and asking him about the quote. I didn't hear back and sent another: "Dr. Navarro Valles [sic], my deadline is in two hours and I do hope you'll let me know if there is anything on the Pope's reaction beyond 'It is as it was'--wonderful words, and I know you have already been in touch with Steve about them, but I would greatly appreciate it if there's anything you could add regarding general Vatican feeling on the film, any further comment from the Holy Father, etc. Best, Peggy Noonan"

I got a response. "Dear Peggy, I don't have for now any other comment on this. I [sic] anything is said in the future I will send it to you. Greetings, J. Navarro-Valls."

So, no confirmation. But the guy who produced the movie -- and who presumably stands to make or lose a lot of money, depending on how it does at the box office -- said the quote was legit. And that was enough for Ol' Peggy.

After Noonan's "It is..." column appeared, the producer sent her an e-mail that included a Navarro-Valls message confirming the quote. But Navarro-Valls has now e-mailed Noonan and said that that quote confirmation was fabricated. (Gosh -- a Hollywood guy faking a rave review? That would never happen, would it?)

Of course, Noonan ran with the quote before getting any confirmation of it whatsoever, real or fake, and after failing to get a confirmation from the Vatican. But hey -- pass up a major propaganda coup? A good right-wing apparatchik would never do that.

(UPDATE: Yeah, World O'Crap got to this story first, and is a lot funnier.)

(UPDATE: And TBOGG is funny and nasty.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Let's do the math:

Bush proposes $250,000,000 for job training.

We have 8,774,000 unemployed people.

That's $28.49 for each unemployed person in America.

That wouldn't buy much job training, would it?
I should also have mentioned a couple of other highlights of the new New York Times bestseller list: Not only is Ron Suskind's book at #1 on the nonfiction list, as I noted below, but at #3, #4, and #5 (after Pete Rose at #2) are American Dynasty, the Kevin Phillips book on the Bushes; Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore; and Lies ... by Al Franken. Oh, and John le Carre's Absolute Friends, which includes passages critical of the Iraq war, is at #3 in its first week on the fiction list.
On the new bestseller list that was e-mailed today by The New York Times, the #1 nonfiction hardcover is Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty.

That's good, but unfortunately this book is already "so five minutes ago" as far as the press is concerned. We proles are just going to have to be gauche and keep talking about it.
Reuters reports that a Belgian cardinal has called the vast majority of gay men and lesbians "sexual perverts"; at National Review Online's blog, Mike Potemra declares that this is actually a compassionate statement. Don't ask me to explain Potemra's logic -- just read the links yourself. Where does the right find these people?

(OK, maybe this will help: Potemra notes that the cardinal thinks only about 5-10% of gay people are really gay -- the rest are just, in Potemra's paraphrase, "libertine dabblers." Can we safely assume that this cardinal doesn't get out much? And didn't I see the Libertine Dabblers opening for Wall of Voodoo at Irving Plaza back in the '80s?)
When last weekend's New York Times/CBS poll showed Bush's approval rating slipping to 50%, Andrew Sullivan declared that the books were cooked: He quoted "a seasoned Republican analyst" who said in an e-mail, the CBS/NYT poll on Sunday, the party ID was 34 percent GOP and 47 percent Democratic. Is it any wonder the numbers were what they were? This is more evidence, in my judgment, why you shouldn't trust the NYT polls.

It's not clear where the "seasoned Republican analyst" got these numbers -- they didn't appear anywhere in the stories on the poll published by The Times and CBS -- but if "a seasoned Republican analyst" said it was so, that was good enough for Andy. He called for an investigation by the Times ombudsman.

Then Sullivan heard from Rich Meislin, the Times's editor for news surveys and election analysis. To his credit, Sully reprinted what Meislin had to say:

I'm not sure where your seasoned Republican analyst is getting his numbers, but they seem to be incorrect....

The latest NYT/CBS News poll, taken Jan. 12-15, has this party ID breakdown:

Republicans 28

Democrats 32

Independents 31

So Sully libeled the Times based on a GOP operative's lie.

Incidentally, Gallup has an instant poll today on the State of the Union address. Here's the headline:

Speech Watchers React Positively to Bush's Message

Want to know what the breakdown of poll respondents was?

The sample consists of 46% of respondents who identify themselves as Republicans, 26% who identify themselves as Democrats, and 28% who identify themselves as independents.

Nearly twice as many Republicans as Democrats. No comment on this from Sullivan.
I thought it was the most belligerent State of the Union that I have ever seen. It was the return of President Bring 'Em On featuring one narrowed eye, the smirk, and an occasional glare towards the Democrats, particularly when they applauded at this:

Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. (Applause.)

...throwing the boy off his rhythm. It was scattershot and bizarre (steroids? WTF?)...

That's TBOGG on the speech. I agree, I agree.

More here.
OK -- it was an easy speech to criticize. But the Iraq section of the speech was premised on the notion that Democrats have no reply when Bush says, Hey, I got rid of Saddam, and what was your plan? Not getting rid of Saddam? -- and that's still a compelling message for a lot of voters.

We talk about Bush's "ever-shifting" justifications for the Iraq war, but for him (and for roughly half of America, alas), that ever-expanding list of reasons for war is a strength: Hey, the Iraqi people now have FREEDOM!, and Saddam had weapons programs, and ... and ... and hey, Qaddafi just disarmed! That's another good thing!

Everyone in America knows the reason-turned-multiple-reasons for the Iraq war. The counterargument just isn't as familiar to American voters. Oh, sure -- people say, "Well, what about doing something for this country?" But an awful lot of Americans still think we did a Good Thing in Iraq. We gave them Freedom.

Did we? Despite the best efforts of the troops on the ground, it looks as if we gave them chaos and anarchy, thanks to the Bush administration's "Duh, what do we do now?" approach to the "postwar" period.

Bush says, without fear of contradiction, "The world is a safer place." But Iraq is dangerously unstable. How does that make the world a safer place? And we have ten times as many troops in Iraq as we have hunting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. We captured Saddam, yet air travel got more dangerous -- and even in Iraq violence and unrest didn't abate.

And where was the threat to the U.S. in Iraq? Where were the weapons? We had Saddam in a box. Republicans talk as if we did nothing unpleasant to Saddam between the end of the '91 war and March of 2003 -- as if the sanctions and the bombing runs in the no-fly zones were a slap on the wrist. These measures were rarely mentioned by the media, so Republicans can argue that Clinton wrung his hands while Bush did something. The fact is that we had an unpleasant but measured and effective response to Saddam, then, using 9/11 as a pretext, Bush launched a war that killed five hundred Americans (and counting) to contain a threat that was already contained -- and that had nothing to do with 9/11.

I'm belaboring the obvious -- but it's not obvious to a hell of a lot of voters. This counterargument just isn't familiar out in the heartland. If that continues to be the case, the winner in November, appalling as we may find it, will be Bush, the war hero.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Practically the first thing out of George Stephanopoulos's mouth on ABC was his assertion that the State of the Union address framed the upcoming election as a choice "between optimism and pessimism."

Hunh? I defy you to find anything in the speech itself that makes that assertion. It's just not there. It's not in the speech -- it's in the spin. I heard the same "optimism" line on NPR this morning, and no doubt you've heard or read it too, somewhere or other.

Does our press even know the difference anymore between objective reality and spin?

(UPDATE: Now Peter Jennings -- who's sometimes kind of snarky about this administration -- is asking John Kerry about Bush's "optimistic" speech. Kerry, defensively: "Well, I'm optimistic." Enough already!)
Well, they removed the Ten Commandments monument. No, not that one -- another one:

A Ten Commandments monument has been removed from the grounds of city hall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina....

A city council member had the granite marker placed in front of city hall yesterday, when it was closed for the Martin Luther King Junior holiday. Vernon Robinson says he was inspired by Alabama's former chief justice, who had installed a Ten Commandments monument at the state courthouse -- and lost his job over it.

A Winston-Salem city spokeswoman says officials feared the four-foot-tall monument would topple over....


The right-wing World Net Daily had this when the monument went up:

...Vernon Robinson, a candidate for a vacant U.S. House seat, said he paid $2,000 out of his personal funds to install the monument on a walkway yesterday in front of the city hall, which was deserted because of the Martin Luther King holiday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

...The city council member said he wanted the monument to be a surprise to the city's citizens and insisted he had no thought of what effect it would have on his campaign for the Republican nomination for the 5th Congressional District, the Winston-Salem paper said.

No thought about how it would affect his campaign for Congress -- oh yeah, that's plausible.

So, who is Vernon Robinson anyway? Well, he's not really himself. Click on the "candidate for a vacant U.S. House seat" link in that quote and you get, in addition to the home page, a pop-up ad that says, proudly,

"Jesse Helms is back! And this time, he's black." --The Winston-Salem Journal

The ad features a picture of a smiling Mr. Robinson -- who is, yes, black -- along with Ol' Jesse, who's also smiling.

Not much more you need to know about Vernon Robinson, is there?

But you should go to the Robinson for Congress issues page. Among the matters that exercise Mr. R. are "the feminization of the military"; his discussion of abortion fixates on

a prostitute who is pregnant for the eighth time. In the ninth month of her pregnancy she finds out that her child is a girl and not a boy, so she decides to have a late term, sex-selection, partial birth abortion. Because she is too poor to afford the procedure, she wants you to pay for it with your tax dollars.

Because that happens all the time in this country -- right?

Oh, and the godly Mr. Robinson believes in guns. Dusty Rhoades, a columnist for The Pilot in Southern Pines, North Carolina, wrote this a year ago:

Robinson, a Republican city councilman from Winston-Salem, suggested during the recent Orange Alert that folks preparing for terrorist attacks make sure they augment their survival kits with their trusty shotgun, rifle, or other firearm of choice. Robinson made his remarks at a joint meeting with Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, held at the Green Street United Methodist Church....

Does Robinson think that we’re going to need weapons to fight off human wave attacks of wild-eyed, shoe-bombing Muslim extremists? Nope. The threat Robinson envisions comes from your fellow Americans, or to be more specific, those folks who failed to heed the words of Homeland Security and who didn’t stock up. "Robinson said people who stocked up on food and water would need guns to fend off people who had no supplies," according to a story in the News and Observer....

Yeah, that sounds just like the approach Jesus would take, doesn't it?
Ah, if only...

If Iraqis ever see Saddam Hussein on trial, they want his former American allies shackled beside him.

"Saddam should not be the only one who is put on trial. The Americans backed him when he was killing Iraqis so they should be prosecuted," said Ali Mahdi, a builder.

"If the Americans escape justice they will face God's justice. They must be stoned in hell." ...

In street interviews, Iraqis said Saddam must be tried by an Iraqi court prepared to hand down the death penalty and examine his ties to past U.S. governments....

"Saddam was a top graduate of the American school of politics," said Assad al-Saadi, standing with friends in the slum of Sadr city, formerly called Saddam City, a Shi'ite Muslim area oppressed by Saddam's security agents.

"My brother was an army officer who was executed. Saddam is a criminal and the Americans were his friends. We need justice so that we can forget the past." ...

"The Americans and Saddam should face justice. Do you really think the Americans are going to put themselves on trial?" said Ali, a U.S.-trained policeman.

"Of course we hope the Americans and Saddam will face trial. But will it ever happen? I doubt it."

The Vatican makes it official -- Peggy Noonan is a liar:

Pope never commented on Gibson's 'Passion' film, says papal secretary

Pope John Paul II never said "It is as it was" after watching Mel Gibson's film on the passion of Jesus, said the pope's longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

"The Holy Father told no one his opinion of this film," the archbishop told Catholic News Service Jan. 18....

--Catholic News Service

Here's the lie, in a December Wall Street Journal column from lying liar Noonan:

'It Is as It Was': Mel Gibson's "The Passion" gets a thumbs-up from the pope.

Here's some happy news this Christmas season, an unexpected gift for those who have seen and admired Mel Gibson's controversial movie, "The Passion," and wish to support it. The film has a new admirer, and he is a person of some influence. He is in fact the head of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Pope John Paul II saw the movie the weekend before last, in the Vatican, apparently in his private rooms, on a television, with a DVD, and accompanied by his closest friend, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz. Afterwards and with an eloquent economy John Paul shared with Msgr. Dziwisz his verdict. Dziwisz, the following Monday, shared John Paul's five-word response with the co-producer of The Passion, Steve McEveety.

This is what the pope said: "It is as it was."...

In yesterday's New York Times, Frank Rich could confirm only that the film's assistant director said that Archbishop Dziwisz said that the Pope had said the film "is as it was" -- third-hand hearsay.

Today's Times follow-up summarizes what's in the Caholic News Service story, though it ends with a blind quote that's clearly intended either to spare Noonan embarrassment (assuming she's capable of it) or to express solidarity with her and with Robert Novak, Matt Drudge, and all the film's other right-wing defenders:

One prominent Roman Catholic official close to the Vatican, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he had reason to believe that the pope probably did make the remark about the film.

"But I think there's some bad feeling at the Vatican that the comment was used the way it was," the official added. "It's all a little soap-operatic."

Rich's column, by the way, quotes a few viewers who've seen the film and have been less than enthusiastic:

Mark Hallinan, a priest at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church, found the movie's portrayal of Jews "very bad," adding, "I don't think the intent was anti-Semitic, but Jews are unfairly portrayed." Robert Levine, the senior rabbi at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, called the film "appalling" and its portrayal of Jews "painful." On Christmas Day, Richard N. Ostling, the religion writer of The Associated Press, also analyzed "The Passion," writing that "while the script doesn't imply collective guilt for Jews as a people, there are villainous details that go beyond the Bible."

A discussion of Rich's column at the right-wing chat site Free Republic doesn't mince words -- it's called

The Pope's Thumbs Up for Gibson's 'Passion' (Liberal Jewish writer accuses Mel of using the Pope)

Too soon for direct Iraqi elections? As Juan Cole notes in his blog, the British are saying no, according to this story from the Financial Times:

British officials in Basra no longer oppose early elections in Iraq, saying security and procedural obstacles to polls could be surmounted before the transfer to civilian control on June 30.

"We have a working hypothesis that you could manage an electoral process within the timeframe and the security available," said Dominic D'Angelo, British spokesman for the UK-led southern zone of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Basra.

...British officials said their discussions involved a plan whereby voters in municipal and provincial polls would elect two-thirds of the Electoral College that will nominate delegates for a national assembly. The remaining third would be selected by the Governing Council.

The officials said that, while Ayatollah Sistani's proposal to base an electoral roll on ration cards was "flawed", an electoral roll drawn up from a mixture of ration, health and identity cards could prove acceptable....

Cole does note that

The British may in part been driven to this announcement by pure fear. They appear to have upped their estimate of the number of protesters last Thursday from 30,000 to 3 to 10 times that.

Iraqi women recently got shafted -- something your newspaper didn't tell you. Here's the lead of a story from last night's All Things considered:

Despite Saddam Hussein's tyranny, women in Iraq enjoyed some of the broadest legal protections in the Muslim world. But the U.S.-backed Governing Council has voted to eliminate those protections. The decision came in an unpublicized meeting last month, when the council ordered that the "personal status" law, as it's known, be canceled. Family issues would be placed under the Islamic legal doctrine known as sharia.

To listen to the story, scroll down to "Iraqi Women Protest Loss of Rights" here; you can read Juan Cole's article on this here.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Dean is the only major Democratic candidate to evade the sissifying barbs of the GOP's shock-jock surrogates. First, comely John Edwards was labeled "the Breck girl." (He trimmed his hair, to no avail.) When Edwards flagged and John Kerry emerged, he was dubbed "Mr. Ketchup," implying that his wife's fortune, and by extension Teresa Heinz Kerry herself, wears the pants in their manse.

--Richard Goldstein in last week's Nation

I bring this quote up because a lot of people have been worried that Howard Dean would have been too vulnerable to attacks in the general election, and many of those people, I guess, are relieved, if not delighted, to see the Iowa result.

I understand that. But remember: Kerry's not going to be the candidate -- he may be the party's nominee, but if he is, Ketchup Boy is going to be the candidate. And if Edwards is nominated, Breck Girl is going to be the candidate.

You know what I mean: The process of turning the Democratic nominee into an awkward, pathetic loser and oddball is going to happen, no matter what -- the process just happened to kick into high gear a lot earlier for Dean. The mainstream press isn't parroting GOP attacks on most of the Democratic candidates yet, but it'll happen soon.

And you have to ask yourself who has the backbone to stand up to that kind of crap. Does Kerry? Does Edwards? I worry, especially about Edwards -- it's not that a sunny-dispositioned guy can't fight a bare-knuckle brawl and win (see Clinton, Bill), but right now Edwards is getting so many brownie points from the press for being nice that I'm afraid he'll be putty in Karl Rove's hands.

Well, we'll see. I suppose you could say these guys fought back in Iowa. But their primary antagonist was Howard Dean, and when they responded, the press piled on with them. The press damn sure isn't going to pile on with the Democratic nominee in the fall.

I want someone who can take hits and keep swinging. It doesn't have to be someone like Dean who seems like a battler -- maybe someone whose personality is a little less "hot" (as ol' Marshall McLuhan used to say) would play better in Peoria. But it's got to be someone who can take a low blow without crumpling, and who can battle back. I have trouble seeing Edwards as that candidate, or Kerry for that matter. But maybe they'll surprise me.