As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, June 17, 2004

a couple bits and good-bye for the weekend

There are so many bizarre stories coming at me I can hardly type fast enough. First, Rumsfeld holds a press conference to defend his decision to hold a member of Ansar al-Islam without telling Red Cross officials, and it turns out the prisoner had the code name "XXX". Now, if it was really Vin Diesel they were holding, even I would admit they were justified. If they had Triple-X locked up, not only should they not tell the Red Cross, they should really not tell the heads of the major studios.

But better than that was this little story based on a CDC study on obesity. It seems that there is a direct relationship between states that have a highly obese population and states that typically vote Republican. (fattest state in the Union, incidentally: Mississippi.) Now, let's think creatively about this. Republican policies are pretty gluttonous about hording their money, so why not their food? Can this be part of a new DNC campaign? "Vote Democratic: it's good for your health!"

Mull it over, while I jet to North Carolina for the weekend. I'll have a report on Monday.


Billmon nails it

Blatant rip-off here:

Profiles in Courage

The Senate voted without dissent yesterday to require the Bush administration to issue guidelines aimed at ensuring humane treatment of prisoners at U.S. military facilities and to report any violations promptly to Congress.

Passage of the proposal by voice vote came after Republicans, facing defeat on the measure, agreed to raise no objections and offer no alternatives if the vote was taken by voice instead of putting all senators on record with a roll call, according to Democratic sources. (emphasis added)


8 Million Ways to Lie

There was a great little fit of contradiction the past couple of days in Washington, over the still-lingering yet oft-discredited claim that Iraq and al-Qaeda were inextricably linked, and that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. Vice President Dick Halliburton has usually been the main carnival barker for this nonsense, and he reasserted it on Tuesday:

"He was a patron of terrorism," Cheney said of Hussein during a speech before The James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Florida. "He had long established ties with al Qaida."

The vice president on Monday offered no details backing up his claim of a link between Saddam and al Qaida.

I like that even the AP's bullshit detector goes off in that last paragraph. As well it should have, because the next day, the 9/11 Commission, who, you know, HAVE details about this kind of thing, put the smackdown on Trickier Dick:

"We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States," one of the staff reports released on Wednesday said. "Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded." The report said that despite evidence of repeated contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 90's, "they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."

FBI and CIA later concurred with this finding. That oughta get the Administration into a fit of contrition, no? After all, they've said that they respect the 9/11 Commission and will look forward to its findings, right? They wouldn't pick a fight with them, would they?


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Dick Cheney, who took the lead in pushing the idea of long-standing links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, has no intention of backing down despite a finding to the contrary by the Sept. 11 commission, aides said on Wednesday.

"The administration's statements rest on a solid foundation of history and facts. The record of links between Iraq and al Qaeda is clear to anyone who has open eyes and an open mind," a White House official said on Wednesday.

"Hell no!" another administration official said when asked if Cheney would retract his statements...

Good to see the tone changing in Washington. And then, look at this bit of two-step logic:

Officials said Cheney asserted on Monday that there were links between Saddam and al Qaeda, not that Saddam helped al Qaeda carry out attacks against the United States... "It's not surprising people make that connection," Cheney said at one point as polls showed most Americans believed Iraq was involved.

Yeah, I guess it's not surprising, considering the top leaders in government have been all but saying it for 3 years! Somehow you're hiding behind this filmsy technicality that you never actually said Saddam was responsible for 9/11, while ignoring the 250 times you put the words "Saddam" and "9/11" in the same sentence! Yeah, I wonder how people got that impression!

Another way Mr. Halliburton has been ducking this is by the ludicrous argument of "they said it too," which doesn't absolve the lie, it just means that the whole government is full of liars:

Administration officials also disputed suggestions that Cheney was the most outspoken official about the links.

To make that case, his office provided reporters with a list of U.S. officials and lawmakers who made similar statements about Saddam's alleged ties to al Qaeda.

The list compiled by the vice president's office included outgoing CIA Director George Tenet, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New York Democrat and former first lady.

So, the entire Administration, and one Democratic senator. Of course, they had to throw Hillary in there, to give the appearance of equanimity. But look at the quote they give to prove this:

Sen. Clinton was quoted as saying: "He (Saddam) has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members," according to the list compiled by Cheney's office.

Information I'm guessing she got from George Tenet's intelligence reports, which Cheney made sure to pore over obsessively (making dozens of visits to CIA at the time), or from the Rumsfeld-headed Office of Special Plans, who did their own independent intelligence work at the time. So basically you're saying, "See, Hillary said it too, she said the stuff we told her, that means we were right!"

Even the President is refusing to deny this completely discredited claim, using similar logical leaps:

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

Asked about the commission's findings on an Iraq-al Qaeda link, Bush said, "This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. For example, Iraqi intelligence officers met with bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, in the Sudan."

Well, that's not true, actually. Because if you read the original letter from Bush to the Congress at the dawn of the war, Bush claims that invading Iraq is permitted under American law because:

(2) acting pursuant to the Constitution and Public Law 107-243 is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

So, yes, you did say Saddam was linked to 9/11. You said it to Congress. You used it as a justification for this war. You said it. You said it. You said it. Stop lying.

John Kerry, do you have my phone numbr so I can tell you about this shit?


Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Running Scared

Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary about the state of the nation immediately before, during and after September 11th, is the Devil incarnate, we're all about to be told. Those who go to see it are people who would turn out to see Josef Goebbels convince you that Poland invaded the Third Reich. A group with the ludicrous title of Move America Forward is trying to stop the film from even being released, calling on supporters to flood movie theaters showing the film with negative mail and threatened boycotts. They claim on their website that "Fahrenheit 9/11 should be shown as a recruiting video for al-Qaeda, not in our movie theaters." Other right-wing pundits have called Moore "an enemy of the state," "a Minister of Propaganda," and worse.

In short, conservatives from coast to coast are frightened as hell, because they know they're sunk. Because, by all accounts, this isn't the standard Michael Moore movie. By and large, he stays out of it, rarely displaying the kind of hijinks that typified "The Awful Truth," "TV Nation" and earlier films. There's a segment where he reads the Patriot Act out of a megaphone in front of The Capitol, and one where he accosts Congresspeople and tries to recruit their sons to go into the Army. Sounds like about 6 minutes of screen time. The rest, based on reviews, particuarly Frank Rich's excellent piece for the New York Times, is a well-told summary of all that we've squandered as Americans in the close to three years since we had the sympathy of the globe. In the ensuing space, we've lost our morality, our honor, our compassion, our ability to lead the world. Moore lets the pictures tell the story, most of them pictures you would never see on American television, despite their relevance. From inside-the-front-lines shots of disgruntled Iraqi soldiers and abused Iraqi prisoners, to the heart-wrenching tale of a conservative family whose son dies in the war, leading them to grief and disillusionment, Moore's unsparing eye and unbelievable ability to unearth this footage allows you to forget that the man behind the lens is partisan. It belongs in the tradition of journalism with I.F. Stone, Upton Sinclair, and others who dared to show the world as it really was.

That's why conservative bitching about this movie will fail, in my opinion. Because there's no Michael Moore in there to bitch about. This will be the most profitable documentary in history (which is why I paid no attention to Moore's crying about not being able to find a distributor; that was merely a publicity stunt), and people will flock to make up their own minds. At least they will in 43 states; 7 states have no theaters currently showing the movie, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Mississippi, and the swing states of Nevada and West Virginia. You can go to to find out where it's playing.

Incidentally, Ray Bradbury's pissed because Moore never asked him if he could use a variation of "Fahrenheit 451" to title the film. I've always appreciated Moore's role as an American gadfly, but have often heard tales of his meanness toward his staff, intractability to dissenting opinions, and overriding interest in money. I think this latest film represents his turning the corner, in my mind, but we'll see. I'm happy to present a full portrait of things.


Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Glass is Half-Full, and So Are The Poor

I'm still trying to recover from last week, which felt like this seven-day-long "I Love the 80s" episode (Remember when Hal Sparks and Michael Ian Black gave that eulogy at the state funeral?). But there's one thing that came out of that which I think needs to be addressed.

Almost every retrospective of Ronald Reagan praised him for his "optimism" without going any further into what that meant. Almost immediately, both John Kerry and George Bush re-edited campaign ads, blatantly putting the word "optimist" right up at the front. Kerry looks into the camera and says, "We're a country of optimists. We're the can-do people." Bush similarly directs his gaze at the lens and boasts, "I'm optimistic about America because I believe in the people of America." At yesterday's portrait unveiling for Bill Clinton, Bush's glowing speech included the line "People in Bill Clinton's life have always expected him to succeed... And meeting those expectations... took hard work and drive and determination and optimism. I mean, after all, you've got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas."

It's as if all you have to do now as a President is say "I'm optimistic" and wait for the plaudits to roll in. Is this now all we expect from our leaders? That they're optimistic? It seems to me this sets the bar a bit low.

When Gerald Ford was President, inflation had started to become a major problem (that's right folks, I know it doesn't jibe with your right-wing history lesson, but Carter did not invent inflation). Ford's big idea was called WIN, or Whip Inflation Now. He went out to a press conference with a WIN button, and said, "We're going to Whip Inflation Now!" The reporters asked, "Well, what are your plans to do this?"

"We're going to Whip Inflation Now!"

"Are you suggesting any changes in policy to counteract inflation?"

"We're going to Whip Inflation Now!"

In fact, there was no plan, only a button. Now, that's optimistic; but is it good for the country? Optimism may be a nice way of looking at things, but it's not an automatic bromide for any problem facing the nation. FDR's optimism in our ability to get out of the Great Depression ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself") was combined with serious policies designed to give poor people jobs, a safety net, and a sense of self-worth. Reagan's optimism was exactly the opposite.

Reagan would say things like, "I believe that the poor can get themselves out of poverty." Well, that's great. You're not going to help them in any way, are you? Optimism as defined by Reagan was an almost pathological need to disassociate himself what was going on in the streets of our cities. Wage stratification skyrocketed, social services programs were slashed, and rewarding the rich (through "trickle-down" economics) was given as the only political solution. I don't call that optimism. I call that ignorance.

We don't need optimists in government. We need action. We need leaders who are realistic enough to recognize fundamental problems in American society, and who want to work to solve them. We don't need people who simply believe that problems can be overcome, that we can "Whip Inflation Now" just because we say so. Predictably, even Bush's new "optmistic about America" commercial cannot resist becoming an attack ad at the end, eventually slamming John Kerry for going around the country and being so "negative" about the economy. The last line of voiceover warns, "We know one thing, pessimism never got anyone a job." Well, neither did optimism. Not by itself.


Monday, June 14, 2004

Bill Schneider: Jerk

Today on CNN's Inside Politics, Bill Schneider (an American Enterprise Institute fellow masquerading as an objective journalist) ran a report about the "sunny" economic reports coming out of the Bush Administration, based on several vagaries, poll numbers and half-truths. Then, he ended with a whopper: "Amazingly, nobody is reporting this. A study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs shows that the broadcast media is not talking about the Bush economic recovery. It's all Iraq."

Yeah, nobody in the media's talking about it. You just said that on CNN at 3:30 in the afternoon on its flagship political show.

Judy Woodruff had to reveal the truth in spite of herself: "But we're talking about it."

This comes on the heels of Salon's revelation that CNN was easily the leader in Reagan retrospectives, with 180 segments on the former President in 7 days. I swear they had some ancient Reagan cabinet member or mid-80s footage of The Gipper walking toward Air Force One every time I turned on the TV last week. So-Called-Liberal-Media indeed.


You've Got to Be Kidding Me

As if enough hasn't been bungled in Iraq already, the clock is ticking on how long the US can legally hold Saddam Hussein without charging him with a crime. The Guardian reports:

Nada Doumani, a spokeswoman for the ICRC, told the Guardian: "The United States defines Saddam Hussein as a prisoner of war. At the end of an occupation PoWs have to be released provided they have no penal charges against them."

OK, this is completely insane. We've been holding Saddam for over 6 months. You're telling me nobody has written up a case against him? I think you could walk anywhere in Baghdad and find someone willing to press charges against him. You had to wait THIS LONG!? How can you be so inept as to get the world body politic upset over HOLDING SADDAM HUSSEIN?

The real political football here is not that we're holding Saddam, but everybody else:

Doumani's comments came as the international body, the only independent group with access to detainees in U.S. custody, becomes increasingly concerned over the legal limbo in which thousands of people are being held in the run-up to the transfer of power at the end of the month.

Saddam and other senior officials of the old regime are the only Iraqi detainees to have been given POW status. Hundreds of other Iraqis have been seized since the war often, according to critics, on flimsy suspicion and held for long periods without charge, usually without their families knowing for weeks where they are.

Once again, this government believes itself to be above international law, able to detain anyone they choose for as long as they choose.


Torture Slips Out From the Rug

I think we're out from the Reagan Avalanche by today (Help! There're glowing tributes everywhere!), so now we can get back to the real business of picking nits and finding faults. And bringing things back out from under the rug where they were swept.

First, last week's testimony on Capitol Hill with John Ashcroft was truly astounding. You had a sitting Attorney General, the highest lawmaker in the land, refusing to turn over a document to Congress, in other words acting in violation of the Constitution, for the logical and stirring legal reason of "I don't want to." Joe Biden's asshole-ripping of the AG was a sight to behold. "You see, Mr. Ashcroft, the reason we hold to anti-torture treaties is so my son in the military won't get tortured!" (paraphrased from memory) The other point is that these so-called "torture memos" are getting out anyway; all the Senate committee has to do is read the Wall Street Journal. So why continue to be stubborn about it?

In fact, new reports out today show that Ricardo Sanchez, the top US Army official in Iraq, not knew about the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison well in advance, but ordered it, authorized it, and brought it over from Guantanamo Bay. The story basically explains that Sanchez put an approved list of torture methods at the prison guards' disposal, which the guards could then use at any time without having to obtain permission from anyone outside the prison. This is crucial, because it eliminates the need for a chain of command, making it easier after the fact ot blame the abuse on "a few bad apples." In reality, the "few bad apples" theory has to be the most retarded in the history of political scandals, as if these low-level privates smuggled in hoods, leashes, electrical wires, and attack dogs under their uniforms.

Here's the key paragraph, again buried about two-thirds of the way down the page:

The list of interrogation options in the document closely matches a menu of options developed for use on detainees held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay and approved in a series of memos signed by top Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. In January 2002, for example, Rumsfeld approved the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners there; although officials have said dogs were never used at Guantanamo, they were used at Abu Ghraib.

Then, in April 2003, Rumsfeld approved the use in Guantanamo of at least five other high-pressure techniques also listed on the Oct. 9 Abu Ghraib memo, none of which was among the Army's standard interrogation methods. This overlap existed even though detainees in Iraq were covered, according to the administration's policy, by Geneva Convention protections that did not apply to the detainees in Cuba.

How many different times do you have to say "torture was the policy" before people have to start getting fired? This is going on all over the world. And. if we are to believe Britain's Daily Telegraph, the shitstorm's about to go headlong at 80mph into the fan:

New evidence that the physical abuse of detainees in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay was authorised at the top of the Bush administration will emerge in Washington this week, adding further to pressure on the White House.

The Telegraph understands that four confidential Red Cross documents implicating senior Pentagon civilians in the Abu Ghraib scandal have been passed to an American television network, which is preparing to make them public shortly.

(Editor's Note: You gotta love those British idiosyncracies of language: "The Telegraph understands".)

If I was the White House, I'd hire some more lawyers. Or maybe not, since the bar has been lowered so much:

"What I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law," Bush told reporters at the close of the G-8 summit in Savannah, Ga.

Asked if torture is ever justified, Bush replied, "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. ... The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you."

"That oughta comfort you tree-huggers and baby-lovers! We legally inserted lanterns into prisoner's asses! WE weren't breaking the goddamn law! So get off my back!"