Friday, May 28, 2004

Law School Graduate!
If I can manufacture a speech transcript I will post it here. He followed former solicitor general Walter Dellinger, and, frankly, in my humble disinterested opinion, Grandmaster K left him in the dust.
Sorry, blogging is light for a few days while I'm in Beantown for graduation and moving, but I read this story and couldn't help noticing that, while I still am unsure what success in Iraq would look like, what's happening in Fallujah is a damn good picture of what failure looks like. Anyone who wonders how Howard Dean could have said that we can't be sure just yet that Iraqis are better off without Saddam should consider these developments. Our worst nightmare:
"With U.S. Marines gone and central government authority virtually nonexistent, Fallujah resembles an Islamic mini-state - anyone caught selling alcohol is flogged and paraded in the city. Men are encouraged to grow beards and barbers are warned against giving 'Western' hair cuts."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Al Gore is my President
Since 2000, 3 of the best 4 Democratic speeches have been given by Al Gore (the 4th by Howard Dean to the DNC winter meeting). This one delivered today is true and powerful. This is a man on top of his game, speaking from his heart (even if some of it involves lingering anger over the 2000 election). Link via Atrios.
"How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney Administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein's torture prison."
Wow is right.
NYT Correction
The Times is looking back to scrutinize their pre-war coverage and has found that--surprise--they were lazy and duped by the rush-to-invasion proponents. But their general self-criticism sounds to me like it could apply to all major press on most any issue:
"Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."
If this begins a trendy self-evaluation by outlets across the country, then it will be an especially good thing. Is that even possible?
Remote Blogging
The Article 19 team (ok, it's just me) made a trip to Boston today and took in the Red Sox rout of Oakland. This game was notable for being played in sub-freezing temperatures. Or at least that's what it felt like to me. I brought clothes for summer. Who knew? Here's a snapshot from my outfield seat pre-game, using the handy-dandy phone camera. Stevie T, notice how they made Fenway to look just like the lego ballpark we constructed while we had the chicken pox? They look so much alike:

So, what news did I miss from Tuesday? Help me out...

I understand there's something of an apology coming from the New York Times that I'm looking forward to very much, acknowledging their role in perpetuating the Bush lies in the lead up to the Iraq War. Hopefully I'll have time to read it and post about it tomorrow. But if you get to it first, have at it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Why are Details So Hard?
Do you think they still don't know the details of the June 30 handover, and our relationship with that...entity from that point forward? Or do they know but think we won't like it? Or maybe they're holding out for a last-second miracle?

I got no new info from the Pres earlier tonight. Did I miss the plan? After all this time, I don't know how I can still be gullible, but honest I thought he was actually going to make news, tell us what's going to happen, and how it's going to work. Wouldn't that at least change the subject? He should be for that. Does that tell us that they really have no idea what will happen? Because if they did, it would be smart to get it out there.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Stubborn on Stem Cells
Michael Kinsley has a great, terribly rational piece on the fanatacism implied by opposing stem cell research, as President Bush does, despite the objections of a growing number of Republicans, including Nancy Reagan. In Time Magazine:
"Stamping some issue as controversial can be a substitute for thinking it through. In the case of embryonic-stem-cell research, thinking it through does not require further study or commissions of experts. This is one you can feel free to try at home. In fact, thinking it through is a moral obligation, especially if you are on the side of the argument that wants to stop or slow this research.

It's not complicated. An embryo used in stem-cell research (and fertility treatments) is three to five days past conception. It consists of a few dozen cells that together are too small to be seen without a microscope. It has no consciousness, no self-awareness, no ability to feel love or pain. The smallest insect is far more human in every respect except potential.
A difficult issue is one in which you hold two or more conflicting values. Stem cells are not a difficult issue: either you think a microscopic embryo has the same human rights as you and I, or you don't. Do you believe that a woman who gets an abortion should be prosecuted for murder, just like a mother who hires a professional killer to off her teenage son? Are you picketing around fertility clinics, which kill hundreds of thousands of unborn children — if that's what you believe a 5-day-old embryo to be — just like abortion clinics do? If so, you are entitled to oppose stem-cell research. If not, please get out of the way."
I quoted too much but it's good stuff.
I want Universities to become centers of protest and political engagement again, as much as the next guy, and I would be in total agreement of the content if my graduation speaker used the occasion to criticize President Bush. So there's a part of me that is thrilled that the novelist E.L. Doctorow decided to do just that at the Hofstra University commencement. But, these days I'm kind of into winning. It's pretty much become essential. That's going to require a little persuasion. And I'm more and more convinced that protests of this sort are usually counter-productive. It would seem that "undecided," non-partisan types do not enjoy the confrontation. Indeed, Doctorow was roundly booed, making the entire event, apparently, quite unpleasant. No doubt, those same persuadable voters will blame the speaker for introducing the controversial topic at such an event, and not the booers for causing a scene.

It may feel good to vent in front of a crowd, and they may even need to hear it. But it feels like a losing strategy; I doubt you convince a single person that way. Am I wrong about this? Or doth we protest too much?
The Genius General
From a post about one brave General (Zinni) on to another. General JC Christian, patriot, is writing letters again. I'm laughing too hard to be able to decide which is better, his letter to Iranian Ambassador to the US, Pirooz Hosseini or the one to James Dobson. So there are links to both.
Voice of Military Integrity
Anthony Zinni is the former head of US Central Command, from 1997-2000. This is what he told 60 Minutes tonight about the planning and performance of this Iraq War:
"I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and (in not) fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. If you're the secretary of defense and you're responsible for that. If you're responsible for that planning and that execution on the ground. If you've assumed responsibility for the other elements, non-military, non-security, political, economic, social and everything else, then you bear responsibility,
Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced...If I were the commander of a military organization that delivered this kind of performance to the president, I certainly would tender my resignation. I certainly would expect to be gone..."
There is a new kind of cover-up infecting this scandal of a War: one based in total, absolute denial, both of respsonsibility, and of even the slightest acknowledgement that the plan has failed. It will take more experienced voices like Zinni's, telling the truth, to undo this cover-up by making its claim to fact roundly and convincingly ridiculed. That so many are willing to perpetuate the myth that the plan is working, and progress is being made, makes this cover-up a blight on our nation's history. The plan and rationale for this War were both mistakes, but the insistence on "staying the course" to cover their own back-sides is shameful.

If his new statements stick and make any news, look for Zinni to receive the Bush/Rove attack treatment. We'll hear of his political leanings, his sketchy abilities in his former position, etc. I say: more like Zinni please.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

[UPDATE: Cannes jury defends itself here.]
I'm shocked, but the Tarantino-led Cannes jury has given the top prize, the Palme D'or, to Michael Moore's new film. From the I'm-kind-of-skeptical department, Moore was assured that agreeing or disagreeing with the politics of the film played no role in the award:

"The Cannes recognition of 'Fahrenheit 9/11', he (Moore) said, 'will ensure that the American people will see this movie'. 'I don't know what impact it will have' on the elections, he told journalists, but 'these people (Bush and his officials) have been out of control from the get-go and we as Americans have been responsible for letting that happen'.
Moore said Tarantino whispered to him on stage, telling him: 'We want you to know that the politics of your film had nothing to do with this award, we are not here to give a political award, on this jury we have different politics and some of us have no politics -- you were given this award because you made a great film.'
I hope he's right that this will help us get the chance to see it. No documentary has won the award in almost 50 years. And reviews I've read seem to agree that, while powerful, it's not as well-made as "Bowling for Columbine."

Also, Frank Rich, who is not a film reviewer but an opinion writer, shares his thoughts on the film in today's NYT.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Fresh Meat from the Department of Irony
Via Talking Points Memo, a choice cut from President Bush's graduation speech at LSU, this morning:
"On the job and elsewhere in life, choose your friends carefully. The company you keep has a way of rubbing off on you -- and that can be a good thing, or a bad thing. In my job, I got to pick just about everybody I work with. (Laughter.)"
Insert Dick Cheney, Ahmed Chalabi, Ken Lay, or other joke here.
Hornby on Music
In today's Times, Nick Hornby (author of "High Fidelity," "About a Boy," "How to be Good") expresses some wistful worries about music of today. There are similar themes to some we've discussed before. His perspective is interesting. I can't help but wonder if it's the man, and not the music, approaching the fork in the road. Here's a bit:
"I understand that I run the risk of being seen as yet another nostalgic old codger complaining about the state of contemporary music. And though it's true that I'm an old codger, and that I'm complaining about the state of contemporary music, I hope that I can wriggle out of the hole I'm digging for myself by moaning that, to me, contemporary rock music no longer sounds young — or at least, not young in that kind of joyous, uninhibited way. In some ways, it became way too grown-up and full of itself. You can find plenty that's angry, or weird, or perverse, or melancholy and world-weary; but that loud, sometimes dumb celebration of being alive has got lost somewhere along the way. Of course we want to hear songs about Iraq, and child prostitution, and heroin addiction. And if bands see the need to use electric drills instead of guitars in order to give vent to their rage, well, bring it on. But is there any chance we could have the Righteous Brothers' "Little Latin Lupe Lu" — or, better still, a modern-day equivalent — for an encore?"
There's more to his piece than just this concern. If you're a music-lover, and over 27 (and I know you all are), it's worth a read.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Gangstas make mistakes too
Dear Ice-T,

You have always been straight up. Hard core. The pimp of all pimps. You rocked the world with "Cop Killer." You kicked butt acting in "New Jack City." But I beg you...if you must make a rap artist out of a middle-aged white celebrity, please take Harry Connick, Jr., or John Travolta; maybe Rod Stewart is still looking for new things, or you know that David Caruso has some edge. But please, please, I'm desperate here. I'll never think of you the same way again if you actually decide to do this with....David Hasselhoff.
"Rap legend Ice-T is risking his massive reputation on his latest recruit - middle-aged former beach bum David Hasselhoff. The original gangsta believes he can turn the ex-Baywatch star into hip hop's next big thing. Ice and Hasselhoff, 51, are neighbours in Los Angeles and have struck up a close friendship.

The rapper - real name Tracey Morrow - told The Sun: 'The man is a legend, we are going to show a whole new side of him. He's gonna come out as Hassle the Hoff. The Hoff will surprise people with his rap skills and humour.'"
Ice...say it ain't so.
Don't Worry. We Pick Good Friends
From the White House transcript of Bush's remarks today:
"I discussed with the Cabinet the plans of Mr. Brahimi, the U.N. representative who is consulting with Iraqi leadership and Iraqi citizenry, as well as our own government officials there about the interim government and who will occupy the positions of responsibility in that government. I anticipate in the next couple of weeks decisions will be made toward who will be the president and the vice presidents, as well as the prime minister and other ministers."
I wonder if we'll name someone we like as much as we liked Ahmed Chalabi. 5 months ago, Bush had Chalabi as a guest at the State of the Union. He was, apparently the White House/Pentagon choice to run the country. They liked listening to him because he told us there were lots of weapons, and that the people of Iraq couldn't wait to rise up and help us overthrow Saddam, and shower us with praise and thanks. We liked hearing stuff like that so we believed it (that's the Bush truth-criteria).

But then Chalabi admitted to playing us for a fool to get rid of Hussein, (apparently the Pentagon motto of intelligence-sifting is: "ahh, trust him. Why would he just make stuff up?"), and it turns out he may be in cahoots with Iran, so today we raided his house. That should teach him. And anyone else who takes our friendships for granted. Come to think of it, isn't Saddam Hussein a former friend? I wonder what kind of great friends we'll have on June 30, what that will end up costing us, and how long it will take to turn against them? Any bets?

[NOTE: This post has been edited for having so many facts wrong...D'oh!]

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I just do not believe this news is the truth
Via Pandagon comes this abstinence education success story:
"A German couple who went to a fertility clinic after eight years of marriage have found out why they are still childless - they weren't having sex."
Somehow this story made a news wire, but really, it can't be true right? Someone is having a laugh--just not sure who. Sex is like, uh, natural or something right? At least that's what I hear. Also, it's all over friends tend to mention it. I mean, there's no way this story is on the level, is there?
Who's Winning? Part 1 of 2
Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias are taking a step back, wondering what conservatives really have to show for their rise to prominence from Reagan/Bush/Bush White House years to a Republican-controlled congress. Matt rebuts the notion that they have won any substantive victories:
"The largest Johnson-era anti-poverty program, Medicaid, is still with us, as is Medicare for senior citizens, which has only grown more generous (most recently, via a bill passed almost exclusively with Republican votes) since it's creation. Social Security, the centerpiece of the New Deal welfare state, is likewise more generous than it was in 1964. The federal government plays a larger role in funding education than it did in 1964 (and, again, it's role has gotten even larger under the Bush-DeLay regime). Abortion, illegal in 1964, is now legal, anti-sodomy laws were eliminated in the recent past, and today we have gay and lesbian couples getting married in Massacusetts..."
And Kevin concurs with more evidence of our triumph:
"Have they eliminated any departments of the federal government? No. Cut back entitlement programs? No. Increased the size of the military? No. Reduced the size of government? No. Outlawed abortion? Restricted gay rights? Brought back prayer in schools? No, no, and no. In fact, just the opposite for most of these things.

Among major conservative causes, then, the only thing left is tax cuts...
But, letting alone the fact that liberals have, with a few exceptions (family leave, and the ADA come to mind), been reduced to playing defense all that time, the advances of the conservative movement, and the declines of the liberal movement, have been much more pronounced than that.

It is true, some social safety net programs have become essentially untouchable. But 3 accomplishments by the Right should leave us in a less celebratory mood, and are taking a slow, decimating toll:

First is the shift that has occurred in the financial burden of those same programs--from people that can afford to bear it toward people that can't. Relative to inflation, minimum wage has never been lower, the cost of raising a family has never been higher, and the local tax burden has shifted the cost of federal requirements squarely on the backs of working, middle and lower-middle class Americans. As a result, the gap between the wealthiest 25% and the poorest 25% of us has never been wider. Kevin says only their tax-cut rhetoric remains, but those tax philosophies are affecting, and will continue to affect those very programs he's glad to have merely kept. The problem is not that those programs might disappear, it's that the majority of working people will nearly drown trying to keep them afloat with adequate funds.

Second, is that conservatives have convinced the Democrats that giving corporations essentially whatever they ask for is the only way they will be elected. In so doing, they've created a silent, false war between business interests and the interests of the workers and consumers that keep businesses running; silent because there's no longer a major party committed to fighting the many tentacles of the beast we might call the corporate lobby; false because the interests of business and of workers is not an opposition at all. The conservative victory is in defining an interest ("business") in a way that benefits a very few in a huge way, on the lie that it will benefit everyone. There's nothing antithetical to the interests of the economy in continuing to grow and secure a strong working middle-class, but Reublicans and most Democrats have bought into the idea that our economic interest is nearly synonymous with bottom-line corporate interest.

Third, and maybe worst of all, the Conservative movement has done here at home what they are too arrogant to accomplish in foreign policy: they've won the battle for hearts and minds. Liberals can't even use that label on themselves, the federal government is seen as the enemy--an incompetent institution, inferior to "business" in managing money, inferior to religion in providing relief, inferior to local government in looking out for our interests. I understand that America was born on a healthy mistrust of governmental tyranny--this is nothing new--but the recent surge of conservatism has invigorated a hatred of Washington that has sterilized the Democrats (devastated them in the South), and given Republicans the platform for performing all the tax/business misdeeds that have left the working middle class shrinking and the working poor growing.

Amid all this, they have convinced the media and the electorate to focus on hot-button social issues. And it's true we've won most of those battles, barely. Abortion rights, some advances in gay rights, some public health victories, defeating most school voucher attempts, and that pesky flag-burning amendment. But in the meantime, while our arms have been upraised, our government has rewired the economy and rewritten the tax code. The drain on working Americans now funnels almost directly to corporate interests, in a lie that's sold as essential to the health of the American economy.

And did I mention that foreign relations have been a bit....strained under Republican rule?

Kevin and Matt may feel some victory. And I may just be in a glass-half-empty mood, but I feel more like the wool's been pulled over our eyes. High-profile conservative defeats have come at the expense of letting them successfully change the subject. If it weren't for the nut-job religious right wing of the Conservative movement (some see them as the base; I see them as the ball-and-chain) riling Democrats, we'd be totally getting our butts kicked.

In his fabulous, inspiring book "Achieving Our Country," controversial philosopher Richard Rorty warns that if they keep on this track--celebrating social, hot-button victories while selling working Americans down the river with pro-corporation economic policies--Democrats will wake up one day to find that some hate-monger Pat Buchanan type is the people's champion.

More on that in "who's winning, Part 2" sometime later this week...

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Military Force Emergency
I don't like merely copying the topics of other blogs--but when a single issue graces the top of my 3 most regular reads (Kos, Atrios, Washington Monthly), it's probably worth discussion. When you enlist in the armed forces and complete your active service (sounds like most enlist for 3 or 4 year terms), you are automatically placed on "inactive reserve" status. You are assured you will be called up only in the event of emergency. Now, the Pentagon is apparently using the IRS to track down inactive reservists, a move many think spells the last step before implementation of a draft. These are the last folks they can presently compel.

How long will it take to go from decision to implementation of a draft? Wouldn't it take more than flipping a switch to get those wheels turning? Does that mean--like with the Iraq War itself--a decision has already been made, well ahead of admitting it? I know that we know some draft age young we know any inactive reservists?

Kos has more info; Washington Monthly is skeptical this means draft, and provides this picture; and all of this comes from an initial post from Tapped.

Monday, May 17, 2004

How can you see the pictures of same-sex marriages happening today in MA and not be thrilled? I will not have a second thought until someone can give me one good reason why it might be damaging to the institution. Then, I'll need to hear why it's more damaging than the farce our beloved Britney Spears made out of it. Even then, I will not likely be convinced, stubborn one that I am, but it would be a start.

It's not quite Brown v. Board of Education, but it's fitting for that anniversary and this milestone to come together. Hopefully, that coincidence will not fuel more competition among the oppressed. The tension between the Jewish community and the African-American, like that between African-American and gay community, is not one I really have ever understood.

But today, let's raise a drink to progress. Today, devotion and love and the secure embrace of family have found a new home of honor. It is not a step forward for gays and lesbians, who are no strangers to devotion or love; it is a step forward for everyone else, meeting them in an improved America, more true to herself today than yesterday.

Well, at least in Massachussetts. Let's hope it plays well on TV.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nice new poll
I'm going to try to post about things unrelated to Bush/war/atrocities over the next couple of days to give everyone, including me, a break. It's kind of gut-wrenching, no? And, you're probably wondering how many more ways there really are to say that Bush stinks and we need to vote him out. So hopefully my other thoughts, some related to politics, some not, will still manage to provide some interest and conversation. Of course, circumstances may keep me from being able to avoid the shenanigans of the shrub.

But I leave the Bush-talk with some very encouraging news: there's a new Ohio poll out (Bush won Ohio in 2000): Kerry 49, Bush 42, Nader 2. I'm starting to wonder where the bottom is in terms of hard-core partisan support for Bush. It can't be much lower than 42.

Grading is today so posting will be light for a day or 2(the grading, the celebrating, the recuperating from the celebrating..), so in the meantime, scroll on down to the post about Emmitt Till and tell us all where your dedication to civil rights comes from. I know more of you than just Judith has a story to tell there and I'd love to read it. And plenty of posts below to continue discussion about the war/prison/berg/female soldiers/milgram experiments if you can't get that story off your brain. Not sure I'll be successful myself.

OK one more somewhat Bush-related thing, but I can't resist because this is so very interesting.
More Change
Votes are being counted in the world's largest democracy, India. Looks like people there are shocking predictors by voting in the opposition party...just like France, and Spain before that.

Could I know less about this? As my Magic 8-ball might say, "signs point to no." But it's still interesting. Also seems to mean that if your name is Gandhi, you're never out of an Indian election.

[UPDATE: It's official.
"'Basically it is the anger of the working class,' said Sawali Rai, 34, who works in a public sector bank. 'Privatization, no government jobs, prices rising. On the pressure of the World Bank they are pressuring the common man.' And unlike in the United States, where the most prosperous also vote the most, in India it is the poor who turn out in greatest numbers."
Wouldn't that be nice?]
Friedman is Right
I'm not always a big fan of the NYT's Friedman, but after more than a year of believing that great things could come from this war, he's finally done giving W a chance to do things the right way. It's a good read:
"I thought the administration would have to do the right things in Iraq — from prewar planning and putting in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of defense for incompetence — because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the country. But I was wrong. There is something even more important to the Bush crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal to the conservative base to do so. It has always been more important for the Bush folks to defeat liberals at home than Baathists abroad. That's why they spent more time studying U.S. polls than Iraqi history.
And, of course, why did the president praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the president appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles. (Here's the new Rummy Defense: 'I am accountable. But the little guys were responsible. I was just giving orders.')

Add it all up, and you see how we got so off track in Iraq, why we are dancing alone in the world — and why our president, who has a strong moral vision, has no moral influence."
Why do I fear that more people will be swayed by the despicable editorial in New York's other paper?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Cost-Benefit Considerations
Link #1:
"May 12, 2004

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed FY 2005 budget amendment to establish a $25 billion contingent emergency reserve fund to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although we do not know the precise costs for operations next year, developments on the ground in Iraq indicate the need to plan for contingencies. We plan to pursue a full FY 2005 supplemental request when we can better estimate precise costs. In the meantime, this reserve fund will ensure that our men and women in uniform continue to have the resources they need when they need them.

I have pledged to our troops that they will have all the resources they need to accomplish this vital mission, and I urge the Congress to approve this reserve fund.

Link #2, A new CBS Poll
Just 29 percent -- the lowest figure so far in CBS News Polls -- say the result of the war in Iraq has been worth the cost in lives and money. Almost two-thirds say it has not been worth it.
Female in Photos Speaks Out
[My internal lie detector, not especially known for its accuracy, responds with its wobbly intuition in brackets]
"Army Pfc. Lynndie England, seen worldwide in photographs that show her smiling and pointing at naked Iraqi prisoners, said she was ordered to pose for the photos [I believe it], and felt "kind of weird" in doing so [maybe she did at first].

In an exclusive interview with Brian Maass of Denver CBS station KCNC-TV, England also confirmed that abuses worse than those depicted in the photos were carried out at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad [I believe it], but she declined to discuss them.

England, 21, repeatedly insisted that her actions were dictated by "persons in my higher chain of command." [I believe it, although it sounds like there's going to be some disagreement over the chain of command, so those ordering her may not have actually had legitimate authority over her]

I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there and hold this leash [I can believe it]and look at the camera," [that part sounds fishy] she said.

England said the actions depicted in the photos were intended to put psychological pressure on the Iraqi prisoners. [I believe it]

"Well, I mean, they [the photos] were for psy-op reasons," she said "And the reasons worked. I mean, so to us, we were doing our job, which meant we were doing what we were told, and the outcome was what they wanted. They'd come back and they'd look at the pictures, and they'd state, 'Oh, that's a good tactic, keep it up. That's working. This is working. Keep doing it. It's getting what we need.'"[I believe it}
Which parts are believable to your detector?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Show Your Support of the President!
A Wisconsin paper has developed a serious editorial dilemma, I'm guessing brought on by the loss of over 70,000 jobs in that state from Jan. 2001 until now:
"We’ve been getting more letters critical of President Bush than those that support him. We’re not sure why, nor do we want to guess. But in today’s increasingly polarized political environment, we would prefer our offering to put forward a better sense of balance.

Since we depend upon you, our readers, to supply our letters, that goal can be difficult. We can’t run letters that we don’t have.
If you would like to help us “balance” things out, send us a letter, make a call or punch out an e-mail."
The opportunity to help them was pointed out by Jesus' General, a fabulous blog specializing in beautiful, pro-Republican, pro-heterosexual, 100% sarcastic call-to-arms letters from a Christian perspective.

Below is my attempt at answering the call, showing my support of President Bush. I know you can do better--here's the form. If you write one, please copy your letter in the comments so we can all read.

"Dear Editor,
Thank you for the invitation to show my support for President George W. Bush! Just think how far our country has come since the days when the evil one (Bill Clinton) and his hippie staff wore their blue jeans on Air Force One. Back then, we had all that extra money, there were too many jobs out there to choose from, the stock market was boring to watch because it only went up (no drama!), and our military boys hardly got to shoot at anyone. I mean, come on, no excitement.

Enter W. He knew why we had all those surpluses: too much tax money coming in! And he knew why we weren't doin no shooting: we weren't even at war (Duh!).

When he's not on extended vacations, George W. has brought honor and dignity back to the oval office, and sent all the Clintonian deviant sex stuff out of there and back where it belongs: into the low-morale world of an untrained, unregulated, overworked military, to try out their crazy experiments on Arabs in our new gestapo-like prisons all over the Muslim world. Thank you Mr. President!

Don B
Article 19"
Not a Religious War
Remember that guy....the General, Boykin, who, in full military gear spoke in church about how "our God" was superior to the Muslim God, and that proving that was part of what we're doing in Iraq, the guy who said Bush was made President by God?

Remember, the President had to go back and remind everyone that *wink-wink* this is not a religious war? The we-don't-really-think-we're-superior-to-all-Muslims argument the Bush Administration and the Pentagon tried so hard to peddle in the early march to war was kind of under-cut by Lt. Gen. Boykin, wouldn't you say?

So in this search for responsibility we're in the middle of right now - to figure out who it was that was in charge of defining methods of interrogation, and chains of command in that process, it would look pretty bad if it turned out that this same Boykin "briefed a top Pentagon civilian official last summer on recommendations on ways military interrogators could gain more intelligence from Iraqi prisoners," wouldn't it?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Random Monday afternoon thoughts
--There may be yet another attempt to bring up the anti-choice consitutional amendment up for a vote in the TN House late this afternoon. I'm proud to say at least it's a Republican bringing it up this time, trying to bypass the committee vote with a 2/3 majority in the full house. You don't want to know how close that will be. But it's something I'm keeping my eye out for and will update here.
[UPDATE: REPRIEVE--Only able to muster a paltry 53 of 99 House members to vote to change the constitution with an anti-choice provision (66 were required), the effort to bypass the subcommittee and bring the measure to the full state House failed. The bad news is that in a chamber controlled by Democrats there were 53 votes for this nonsense, but no matter now. The earliest this could now go to the people for a referendum is estimated to be 2010]

--Bob Mould has a blog! I guess when you're famous you can blog about how you spend your day, your allergies, etc. But it's pretty interesting at times - I did a quick scroll-through. And you'll notice he chose the same template I did. So we'll add that to the list of things we have in common.

--I don't know how often he's right, but Mr. Zogby himself is predicting a Kerry victory.
Justice or Politics?

Note to Web Searchers (I get alot of hits from people searching for Till Photos because of this post, so I've edited to help) Here is a great site that tells the entire crime story chapter by chapter, and it includes one chapter, here, that has a funeral photo.]

Probably the first time I developed a truly emotional attachment to the civil rights movement, the first time I actually woke up about it and it was real to me was watching the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize. I stumbled on it by accident but managed to catch the beginning of the first episode and then watched it every night, and thought about little else in between.

I had heard Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech in elementary school and Junior High, and could recite facts about the Abolitionist movement, about the significant African-American contribution to American culture (I think I did a February report on George Washington Carver 3 years in a row--4th-6th grade--because I like peanut butter), and about the segregated south. But Dr. King didn't make me tear up until Eyes on the Prize, when I got to see the whole story.

And the one moment I remember from that 6 or 8-hour long documentary more than anything else is a name I never heard in school (until college): Emmett Till. I had never seen anything like the funeral of Emmett Till. Ever. Once you see that, you can feel the fury the trial of his killers brings. And once you feel that, you can shutter in awe of the grace and dignity with which the civil rights movement embraced, and suffered through, non-violent resistance.

All of that came flooding back to me this morning when I turned on the TV this morning (C-Span already selected, of course) to find, shockingly, that the Justice Department is re-opening the case of the murder of Emmett Till.

Apparently there's a new documentary that suggests many more people were present for his murder, some of them alive. You don't think they would be doing this just because it's an election year, do you? Nah...not them.

Did everyone else have a civil rights epiphany? Or was I just a late bloomer (which would be like me)? If you did, I'd like to know the story.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Kenny B asks where are the Democrats? That's a good question, though Biden and a few others have been very vocal in calling for Rumsfeld to resign, but I would prefer they take the lead in the conversation, instead of just trying to let the weight of the bad news and press scrutiny take its toll on Republicans.

And I promised before that I wouldn't have anything bad to say out loud about Kerry, but it's frustrating that his many positions nuanced position about Iraq has rendered him pretty ineffective in taking on Bush there, and now, to be honest, I feel like his own acknowledged past in Vietnam (atrocities was his word to describe his own activities in 1971) has left him unable to have much of a voice at all in this scandal.

Does Kerry think Democrats are overplaying their hand with this story? From a purely political, winning new votes point-of-view, do you think they are?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Who is Lane McCotter, and why should we care?
Josh Marshall has the answer. You should read it. It's all starting to come together.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Two Paths
This prison abuse story has a couple of paths left to take, both of which I expect to come because of what I'm reading, and each points to a different, perhaps even conflicting, explanation of the cruelty to Iraqis. Both, by the way, offer direct conflicts to the Limbaugh "prank, blowing off steam" theory.

The first is along the lines of what I've tried to suggest, along with many of you, in the last several posts: that there is, or must be a supervisory role to all this, empowering this behavior as a psychological tactic, sanctioned if not encouraged. I've even gone so far as to suggest this is a mitigating factor in assigning blame to the guards, that they're being asked to do it. The Guardian has a new story that lends credence to this path. If you are like me and have thought these tactics couldn't have just been thought up by our young guards, support is found here:
"The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know what they are doing, according to British military sources." (via Talking Points Memo)
So, down this path, far from being a prank, or blowing off steam, sexual humiliation was not mere mindless sadism, but an incredibly dangerous, known tactic. Remember, these soldiers have already gone along with the order to kill Iraqis on the battlefield. Now, they're being told sexual humiliation is a tactic with military purpose. How will they know where to stop?

The other path that this story seems sure to take is worse. Rumsfeld confirmed today that there are more pictures, and videos, showing worse things than we've seen publicly to date. MSNBC has some lurid, and heartbreaking, details:
"Rumsfeld did not describe the photos, but U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and 'acting inappropriately with a dead body.' The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys."
There are already some allegations of sodomy with foreign objects. That, with, especially, rape of a female and of children takes this scandal, in my mind, far beyond any authority/following orders argument can mitigate. No soldier can claim not to know those things are not to be done. All arguments of human frailty, obedience, lack-of-training, stresses of war aside, it is not too much to demand our troops refuse to rape a child (for God's sake), no matter what or who is compelling them. These more serious things (not that the others aren't serious) could not possibly be reasonably be confused with sanctioned miliary tactic.

I know, I know, I'm the one that's been arguing for a less judgmental assessment, to not underestimate all of our capacities to be cruel in the right circumstance. But I may have found my limit in this new material. The question I will have is what relationship do the 2 paths of abuse have, the "tactical," i.e., "I needed to, didn't want to," and the clearly criminal? It can't be coincidence that both took place at the same prison. It's a total failure of organizational leadership: planning, training, oversight, guidance. Only a gutless President, blind to the reality of failure, wouldn't dump his entire military/security advisory staff and leadership.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Stay away from Rush...he's Craaaazy
If you haven't heard, Limbaugh explains away the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners as a prank, or a way to "let off steam." Josh Marshall has this right:

"how about Rush Limbaugh's idea of a fun night out and blowing off steam?

You know when you're worked to the bone and you really need to unwind there's just nothing like grabbing a half dozen Arab dudes, stripping them naked, tying their bodies together against their will and pressing one guy's penis up against another guy's butt to make it like they're having anal sex. Right?

Party time for Rush, it would seem, is a mix of Studio 54 and Jack the Ripper.

As fun as A Clockwork Orange."
I'm going to try and change the subject after this (we'll consider this a 3-post series, so scroll down and read the last 2 if you want to know what I'm thinking through), honest. As for the Milgram experiments, Stevie T points out that many of the respondents in that experiement expressed hesitation and second thoughts and genuine anguish (before they went ahead and, so far as they knew, rendered another person unconscious or worse with an electric shock, just because a guy in a white coat told him it was ok).

With that in mind, read the notes of Chip Frederick, a man now involved in this controversy at the Abu Ghreib prison. We'll take his words with something of a grain of salt, as they could have been constructed after the fact only to save his own hide. My interest is in the sense that, far from just being a bizarre exercise in cruelty for the sake of it, every indication is given that nearly all the tactics used were sanctioned, indeed ordered, by Military Intelligence, the folks running the show at this prison. If you've seen the most recent pictures, of Iraqis tied up in the middle of the floor, while no less than 8 or 9 soldiers are out and about, it comports with this version of events--certainly no one looks surprised or trying to hide what's happening.

If we take these letters at face value, Chip indeed did express concern about the tactics being used, and was told "don't worry about it" and "that's how MI wants it done." Excuse? no. But if this investigation is going to be throrough it sounds more and more like it should be about the approved, understood, accepted means of gathering intelligence through interrogation in our own military, not just a renegade band of cruel, cold-hearted underlings.
et tu, female?
Perhaps adding to the somewhat controversial conversation (woohoo - my first! please jump in!) started below, a very insteresting read is Debra Dickerson's guest post at Washington Monthly a few days back, addressing the issue of the female seen prominently in the first pictures released. Notice that it took years (years!) for Debra to have her military persona finally taken over by her true values.

After Vietnam, we shouldn't need more evidence that war ruins the psyche of its combatants. It is not just an unfortunate opportunity for bad people to show their true natures. It is a place where people do the kinds of things they never would have done otherwise. There but for the grace of God...
War - Depravity = ??
You don't need me to tell you that the story of Iraqi abuse and humiliation by US soldiers is getting worse. I truly believed the first known incidents, as originally reported, were extremely isolated. I was wrong about that. Not only is this failure apparently deeper and wider than we've seen to date--Sy Hersh is warning that there is much much more--it was a scandal known about by military leaders for months. Even when the story was on the verge of breaking, and after all the lessons we've supposedly learned over the last 40 years, the military instinct would still seem to try and keep the truth from coming out, even keeping it from the Defense Secretary and the President.

It's too bad that "Nightline" does not post transcripts online. I caught the end of the show tonight, and they were discussing this prison incident in light of the Milgram Experiement, which Mark has told me about before. In that experiment, Dr. Milgram demonstrated the human capacity to cause pain, at very high levels, and at obvious odds with our own values, when under the cover of obedience to authority. Whether we like it or not, according to Milgram's report, "The Perils of Obedience," the response is a normal one:
"The ordinary person who shocked the victim did so out of a sense of obligation -- an impression of his duties as a subject -- and not from any peculiarly aggressive tendencies.

This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority."
The role that authority and orders played in the display of depravity at Abu Ghreib prison is unclear. And I'm not trying to excuse anyone's behavior--far from it. But there is a related lesson we (humans) should have learned by now: the structure and the stresses of war bring horrible consequences. It does awful things to the defeated. It does awful things to the victorious. And is no friend of those in between.

Now, we are trying to understand what controls need to be put in place, what punishment to hand out, to allow us to wage this war in Iraq with more dignity, and less shame. But I remain unconvinced that war can be played at all on the field of dignity, the only terrain deserving of the truest human spirit. They must be prosecuted, and their violations of decency not tolerated, but the real problem here is not that we have a stream of bad acts perpetrated by bad people. The real problem is war, plain and simple. We are just not made to withstand its toll and uphold our greater nature. We can learn to do it better, and no doubt we have. But that accomplishment will not shine on us like the step of learning how to avoid war in the first place. I wish we could spend as much time on the latter as we do on the former.

{MORE: For info on a different experiment which may make an even better analogy, read about the Stanford Prison Experiment.}

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

My Dream End to Friends
The Final Episode: The Friends don't get the memo about the impending demolition of their apartment building, and are the only ones trapped inside when it is reduced to rubble. Quick, but tortured, deaths for them all.

I hate Friends.

How do you hope it ends?
The Wall Street Journal: Ethics Shmethics
You know those pull-out quotes that print publications use to highlight an article? Bigger type announcing the more compelling statements to be found within? It's designed to convince you to stop your browsing and want to actually dig in and find out who said that juicy thing and why. So you'd think the quote...since it's called a quote...and has, you know, quotation marks around it, actually appears somewhere in the piece, right?

Not necessarily. Even when it's a quote like "I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam. He doesn't deserve to be commander-in-chief."

Also, you'd think that a sentence like "I was on Mr. Kerry's boat in Vietnam," implies that the person saying it was there, on the boat, you know, at the same time as Mr. Kerry. Hence allowing the conclusion that follows.

Not necessarily.

Kevin Drum has the story and the picture at Washington Monthly.

Can we please please get a clip of a Republican saying "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'was' was"?

[MORE: Read about the history of the guy who wrote the crazy opinion (the one without the quote he was quoted as saying) here.]

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Out-do the President and Defense Secretary
The Taguba Report, detailing not just a few instances, but a culture of prison abuses at Abu Ghraib. It reached conclusions and made recommendations and has been finalized since--no kidding--February. The military kept it quiet, from the public, and from Congress. If 60 Minutes and The New Yorker hadn't broken this story, it's doubtful that they would be dealing with it in any serious way, as they are forced to now. It's certainly no coincidence that talk about court-martials and holding people accountable started coming out after the story went public.

But still...the President hasn't read the report, nor has the Defense Secretary, or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Continuing to conduct the war not by any recognizable leadership, but by being jerked around everytime their own lack of desire to know what's really going on bites them in the butt. It's happening with more and more regularity. From a Sacramento Bee opinion:
"Stunningly, although Taguba's report was finished in February, neither Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld nor Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had even read it as of May 1! Last Sunday, Rumsfeld ducked in the weeds, dispatching the general to work the Sunday TV-talk circuit.

'It's just working its way up - up the chain,' Myers explained lamely, when pressed by 'Face the Nation' host Bob Schieffer on CBS. Later, he told an equally persistent George Stephanopoulos on ABC's 'This Week': 'I'm not going to comment on it until I have a chance to read it and see what the context is. ... This sort of reporting can often be very, very wrong.'

Understand this: Taguba's report cited systemic illegal abuse of Iraqi detainees and quotes that the incidents were done at the direction of military intelligence officials. But Myers, who hadn't read the report, insisted: 'I would say that categorically there is no evidence of systematic abuse in this system at all.'

Rummy surfaced Tuesday to tell reporters that the Defense Department had been investigating this for months and had even told reporters of the probe on Jan. 16. But no, he hasn't read the report yet either.

Back at the White House, nothing is known about anything. Had National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice briefed President Bush about Taguba's shocking evidence and conclusions in February? March? April? Had he read the report? He surely could have gotten a copy quicker and easier than [New Yorker reporter] Sy Hersh did - just by commanding, one more time: 'Bring it on!'

Tone is set at the top. Bush failed to demand urgency inside and inoculate America's image by moving quickly and publicly on the outside. He needed to take strong public action against the culprits before the photos poured through the Great News Funnels around the world.
You can add distance to the measure by which you already out-class all of them by reading it yourself (finally available online, via TalkLeft) here. Warning: it's pretty long...I haven't read it all myself, but then again I'm not the Secretary of Defense and primary spokesperson for the war.
Reverse Advice Column
You know the scenario. You want coffee. You need coffee. You've already made coffee, but now it's cold. When has the coffee been sitting too long to re-heat? When must I make new coffee? When must desire be overcome by a little voice inside my head that warns: "you just can't drink's been too long." What is your threshold?
Good News for Hockey Players
"Fake teeth, denture glue and sucking on bald gums may soon become a thing of the past, say a group of British scientists working on a procedure that makes teeth grow from stem cells implanted in the gum.

The scientists at King's College, London announced Monday they had made a breakthrough in mice, coaxing stem cells to grow into teeth within only a few weeks."
This really should make me happier than it does. It kind of gives me the creeps. Read more.
Privatization on Trial
Paul Krugman wonders what damage our economic policies have done in Iraq, including--and finally someone is talking about this--privatization of military functions out to civilian personnel accountable to nobody.

"Much has been written about the damage done by foreign policy ideologues who ignored the realities of Iraq, imagining that they could use the country to prove the truth of their military and political doctrines. Less has been said about how dreams of making Iraq a showpiece for free trade, supply-side tax policy and privatization — dreams that were equally oblivious to the country's realities — undermined the chances for a successful transition to democracy.
Indeed, over the past year the Coalition Provisional Authority has slashed tariffs, flattened taxes and thrown Iraqi industry wide open to foreign investors — reinforcing the sense of many Iraqis that we came as occupiers, not liberators.
What's truly shocking in Iraq, however, is the privatization of purely military functions.

For more than a decade, many noncritical jobs formerly done by soldiers have been handed to private contractors. When four Blackwater employees were killed and mutilated in Falluja, however, marking the start of a wider insurgency, it became clear that in Iraq the U.S. has extended privatization to core military functions. It's one thing to have civilians drive trucks and serve food; it's quite different to employ them as personal bodyguards to U.S. officials, as guards for U.S. government installations and — the latest revelation — as interrogators in Iraqi prisons."
I'm terribly jealous of his ability to tie things together. It is not only incompetent government heads and Presidential advisors to blame in the current mess. Conservative economic ideology, which as Krugman points out, would never have been employed by any Democratically elected leaders in Iraq, has had its way in the war-torn state, and is on display for the world to see. I hope this NYT column, which is worth a read in total, helps open the debate about privatizing military functions to wider press scrutiny.

Monday, May 03, 2004

In Case You Missed It: A Guide to the Weekend in Iraq
Situation: Fallujah is out of control. Coalition soldiers are under attack; attempted cease fires are cracking. We've killed more than 600 Iraqis and established no foothold of order in a town quickly becoming a haven for armed Iraqis bent on fighting the US. Those responsible for brutalizing the 4 Americans have still yet to be brought to justice.

Solution: Stop playing tiddly-winks and attack the city like we mean it.
Nope...too many civilians will die and it could lead to similar situations all over the country.

Solution #2: Lt. Gen. Conway on the ground has agreed, in a surprise, to pull the troops out of that town and hand over control to General Saleh and his growing, makeshift army of hundreds of men.
Oops...turns out Saleh's a thug who worked for Saddam. He won't work with us. It's a good deal for the US troops on the ground because it makes the people happy and gives the ceasefire some teeth, and perhaps a chance at legitimate US-Iraqi cooperation, but the Pentagon and State Dept. won't go for it, and never would even admit that control was handed over to the General.

Solution #3: Mohammed Latif will replace Saleh. A bit of an outsider, but an Iraqi and that keeps our troops out.

That's where we stand. Is negotiating our retreat a victory, or a failure? Only time will tell. Speculation abounds. But one thing is for sure, from my perspective: these are moves of desperation, not of planning on our part. If good comes from it, that doesn't mean we're not scrambling. We are.
New Website
If you're like me, the last thing you need is another daily must-read website. But still...I like it. David Brock makes me nervous, he formerly of the vast right-wing conspiracy, now of the vast left-wing conspiracy. So I'll try to be careful how much credence I give to his new, impressively well-funded and staffed website, Media Matters.

It is an attempt to catalogue and debunk mis-statements and lies and flip-flops in the media. So, basically it rehashes the details of the general foolishness in Fox News that already makes us not watch it (but with footnotes). Ditto for Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. To that extent I'm not sure how helpful it will be for a dialogue on issues. I already don't take anything those people say to be accurate. But, I'm assuming that, like with the amazingly good Al Franken book, the extent to which they'll bypass truth, honesty and logic to make their point could be instructive or at least entertaining. When there's an especially good one, I'll pass it along. I'll also add it to my blog roll on the left.