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

Friday, July 16, 2004

Democracy is actually best taught by you shutting up

Just when I thought I'd get out of blogging today, our old friends at Clear Channel rear their misshapen heads. You may know that they own or operate over 1,200 radio stations and 39 television stations, but they're also exercising their right to censorship on one of their 776,000 billboards.

Project Billboard, an organization residing right here in my backyard the Bay Area had squared a deal to put up an anti-war message on a Times Square billboard. The message, a cartoon bomb colored with the stars and stripes under which would have read "Democracy is best taught by example, not by war," would have been displayed during the Republican National Convention in September. A division of Clear Channel Communications that owned the billboard apparently changed their minds after agreeing to the deal, deciding later that the image would be innappropriate for those naive, backwoods rubes that reside in the Big Apple.

UPDATE: Yesterday Project Billboard settled its case against Clear Channel. Project Billboard agreed to replace the red-white-and-blue bomb with a dove, and in return they get twice as much billboard space in better locations in Times Square, including a ticker displaying an updated total cost of the Iraq War. The billboards will now also be up through the elections.

Still censorship, but the kind of censorship where the censorer admits he's wrong without stopping the censoring.


Do I have to blog today?

No. Thank you David Cole for writing this piece on your trip to the O'Reilly Factor show, thereby picking up the slack for my laziness today.


MARTHA SENTENCED!!!! also that Iraq guy killed a bunch of people...

While every major and minor news story is covering the Martha Stewart trial and its Earth-shattering effect on our society, nay, the global society as a whole, there's a story out of Baghdad that, amazingly, is shocking, even though I thought nothing could be shocking coming out of that part of the world anymore. But check this shit out:

Baghdad, Iraq, Jul. 16 (UPI) -- Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi killed six suspected insurgents just days before he was handed power, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

The report cites two witnesses to the killing who say Allawi fatally shot the prisoners, who were handcuffed, blindfolded and lined up against a wall in a courtyard near the maximum-security facility at al-Amariyah security centre near Baghdad. They quoted Allawi as saying the men "deserved worse than death" because each had killed some 50 Iraqis.

The newspaper added the killings were seen by about a dozen Iraqi police and four Americans from Allawi's security team. Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, another alleged witness, is said to have congratulated Allawi.

The Herald report in its Saturday editions said both Allawi's office and Naqib denied the report.

The newspaper quoted witnesses as saying Allwai told those present he wanted to send a clear message to police on how to deal with insurgents.

Seven prisoners were brought out. Six were shot in the head and died. One was wounded, the report said.

When we installed Allawi, who had lifelong ties to the CIA, I expected him to use CIA tactics to battle the insurgency. Indeed, some of his first acts included reserving the right to declare martial law in the cities, conducting overnight sweeps and mass arrests in Baghdad, and establishing a new intelligence service to combat terrorists. All that is well and good, but now we're talking about cold blooded murder to set an example of intimidation. Hey, that sounds like Saddam Hussein!

So, now it appears we again have a brutal strongman in Iraq. The difference is that he's OUR brutal strongman.


Thursday, July 15, 2004

Shalom, I mean, Kia Ora!

I've been to New Zealand. Lovely country. Exceedingly nice people. More sheep than people, but still. In fact, saying you're from New Zealand would be a great way to travel the world. Nobody would ever suspect a New Zealander had any wrongdoing in mind.

Looks like Israel had the same idea:

New Zealand jails alleged Israeli spies
by Matthew Clark |

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark launched a "blistering verbal attack" and slapped diplomatic sanctions on Israel Thursday. Ms. Clark announced this after two suspected agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency were imprisoned for six months for illegally attempting to obtain New Zealand passports, reports The Scotsman.


In a July 4 article, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that "intelligence specialists in New Zealand, including one individual who said he had once worked for the Mossad, said in interviews that the members of a group associated with the case had been working systematically for years to obtain New Zealand passports, which are considered 'door-openers' and do not arouse suspicion in the Arab world."

In her comments Thursday, Clark pointed to Mossad's past connection with false passports and assassination attempts. "Israeli agents caught in an unsuccessful assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997 were found to be carrying fraudulent Canadian passports," she said.

By the way, the Mossad is all class:

Urie Zoshe Kelman and Eli Cara were arrested in March after they "tried to collect a passport in the name of a New Zealand national who is a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victim," reports The Scotsman.

New Zealand is a very open society, and most of its citizens go on OE (overseas experience) at a young age. Their passports have virtually no visa restrictions anywhere in the world. But the lesson here is, don't get a Kiwi angry. Good for Helen Clark to bring the smackdown.


I can start breathing again

No Iron Mike on Capitol Hill:

CHICAGO (AP) - With four months to go before the election, Illinois Republicans are desperately searching for a U.S. Senate candidate after former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka said he wouldn't run.

"There was a moment when I said, God, I'd like to take this and run with it, and then I said, you know, put your head on straight and think about what you're getting into," Ditka said outside his restaurant.

I think this marks the first time a Senate candidate held a news conference in front of his own crappy tourist-trap restaurant.

Meanwhile, the Illinois GOP might as well make this an open seat, because they can't find a soul to run against Barack Obama. Their latest potential candidate, Dr. Andrea Barthwell, former deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, apparently told someone "I know you like it big and meaty" during a office birthday party. Somebody in the Cook County GOP floated Ted Nugent's name as a possibility, even though he (a)doesn't live in the state, (b)is a maniac and (c)is a maniac. James Oberweis, who was second in the GOP primary behind Jack Ryan (who dropped out after a scandal involving taking his ex-wife to live sex clubs), isn't even being asked.

I have some ideas for Illinois Republicans, because surely they can find a native son that'll run. Al Capone? Ronald McDonald (Hamburger University is in Oak Brook)? Ms. O'Leary's cow? A piece of sausage?


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, and Bush Campaign Ads

There's a new Bush ad that's been running for about a week that talks about Kerry's missed Senate votes due to campaigning (as if Bush and Cheney have been sitting diligently in the Oval Office and not going to whistle-stop tours and million-dollar fundraisers for the past year). They make a point of saying "But Kerry did find time to vote against the Laci Peterson Law, which protects pregnant women from violence."

So what is this "Laci Peterson Law"? Well, it wasn't called the Laci Peterson Law when it passed. It was then the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. And here's what it does: it makes it a crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman. So does that protect pregnant women, really? If you're a criminal, and you're looking to harm a pregnant woman, are you ACTUALLY thinking "Hmm, this would be TWO counts of assault, not one, so I'd better go home"? No. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is another way right-wing fundamentalists can eat away at abortion rights. Because if it's illegal to harm a fetus, how far are we from arresting abortion providers? In fact, a GOP Senate candidate in Oklahoma has already gone that far:

Tom Coburn, a former member of the House of Representatives from Oklahoma, who is campaigning to become the Republican party's candidate to replace retiring Senator Don Nickles, recently said he supports the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.

"I favor the death penalty," Colburn told the AP last week, "for abortionists and other people who take life."

Let's put aside the point that Colburn, a man now on the record for killing doctors, would somehow be labeled by his party as pro-life. The real point is that invoking some tabloid star like Laci Peterson puts in the minds of less savvy Americans phrases like "why would John Kerry not want to protect that nice woman?" when actually, what we have is a craven disguising of the facts. It's disgusting to use an antiabortion law as "proof" that your opponent is soft on crime.

Give Bush and Rove credit, however; just when I think I've reached the top level of my hatred, they find a way to raise it even more.

UPDATE: After posting this story on another site, commenter Bidabunch makes a great point:

It's also pretty useless. The federal government doesn't have police power. Generally, there are no and can be no capital crimes since only the states' police power.

This law applies only to federal lands or committing federal crimes. Had it been in effect at the time, it wouldn't even apply to Laci Peterson.

So Kerry voted against the Laci Peterson law... which doesn't, um, apply to Laci Peterson...

UPDATE #2: Now it appears that the aforementioned Tom Colburn, based on some research by the folks at Atrios, has PERFORMED abortions on two occasions. I'm guessing (hoping) he's a doctor. So he favors the death penalty for abortionists not named Tom Colburn.


AIDS. Think of All the Money We Could Make...

Let's see, Powell is off to France to try to smooth over our sour relations with them. Our staunchest ally Britain is standing by its claims that the war with Iraq was necessary thanks to the weak-kneed Butler report, thereby making their government a bigger pariah and making them hate Americans all the more. We've stated in no uncertain terms that Turkey should join the EU, thereby making us again look like big bullies. Okay, let's check the list, what have we missed? Oh yeah, Africa!

The 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand has become ground zero for criticisms of U.S. policy on the pandemic, with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias finding his speech delayed by protestors chanting "Bush Lies! Millions Die!" Kofi Annan is angry that the U.S. isn't spending enough money. Stephen Lewis, a Canadian UN special envoy on AIDS in Africa is angry at the way they're spending the money. "The American money going to 15 countries is not leadership on AIDS. It's a significant role, but the global fund is in 120 countries." In short, said Tobias, American policy displays "an inability to recognize the way the world most effectively works."

It's true that U.S. funding (which constitutes twice the amount of all other countries combined) gets earmarked in ways that may seem quaint to other donor countries: stressing abstinence over condoms, for instance. Hell, they can send me to Africa and I'll whisper in everyone's ear "Don't have sex" if it'll mean money will be saved for real treatment and prevention programs. But leave it to the French, whose name has been struck out on fatty American food staples, to zero in on the other American obsession (after a Puritanical reaction to anything involving sex):

The AIDS crisis is a great way to make some money. The Bush plan for U.S. funds stipulates that drugs be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It's not hard to credit vigorous testing programs, de-stigmatization policies and... wait for it... cheap generic drugs for getting AIDS treatment on track. But who cares about a bunch of sexed-up people living in squalor? We could charge whatever we want to give them the drugs they need! Talk about finding the perfect target group... just think of the advertising "you're dying to get what we have..." On second thought, screw advertising, word of mouth works for independent films, let them do the work for us! Chirac called it "tantamount to blackmail." No Jacques, it's called finding your market niche. Supplying weapons to countries we'll one day conquer is so 1980's.


Hate Fails!

The Senate voted against a cloture vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment by a count of 48-50. The two Senators not voting were Kerry and Edwards, which means this expression of hatred went down to a clear defeat. Kudos to everyone who called their Senators, and to the 6 Republicans (John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee, John Sununu, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell) who stood up to the right-wing nuts in their own party to vote against the measure.


Stolen from Josh Marshall

TPM should be a daily read. Lookit this:

The lawyer representing President Bush in the Plame case, James E. Sharp, is also defending Ken Lay in the Enron Götterdämmerung case.

Admittedly, it probably doesn't presage a joint defense. But the optics leave a bit to be desired, no?

The GOP belief in the ignorance of the American electorate and the willful silence of the American media cannot be overstated.


Da Senate

Well, Matt Drudge is reporting that Mike Ditka will announce that he's running for the US Senate in Illinois against Barack Obama. That probably means it's not true. But if it is, this has got to be the dumbest, most contemptible insult to the intelligence of the American electorate since... well, since last October, when Schwarzenegger became governor.

I'm not sure I can live in a country where Mike Ditka is a Senator. I t makes me long for the days when state legislatures chose the Senators, taking it out of the hands of the rabble. If he gets voted in, I'd call for immediate repeal of the 17th Amendment. "We clearly don't know what we're doing. Take our voting rights away from us!"

The good news is that Obama is a god damn rock star, and only a preceived "legend" like Ditka would have a shot at him, and even then I'd give Obama the edge. Obama has political skills at least equal to Oklahoma's Brad Henry, who beat Seahawks WR Steve Largent like a drum in the OK governor's race a few years back. If Ditka does in fact run and lose, it would be the end of the GOP as we know it in Illinois. There's a reason they call the desperation pass at the end of a football game a "Hail Mary," you know; if it fails, it's over.

I guess I just don't want to know how stupid the American people are. Can we just not allow fucking football coaches to be in politics? Hmm, I guess it's too late; Dr. Tom Osborne, former Nebraska football coach, holds a House seat. OK, maybe the American people are that stupid.


Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Shut Up! I mean- we'll be right back after a break...

If the salvos against Fox News in the documentaries "The Corporation" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" aren't enough for you (who can forget the story related in the former where the "boss" tells his hapless reporter that Fox will tell you what the news is?), then you'll be waiting as eagerly as I am for the release of "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism."

Unfortunately, that wait might be longer than you think, as the initial release will consist of "house party" screenings (whatever that is) and eventually DVD sales. The filmmaker Robert Greenwald also worked on a 2003 doc called "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About Iraq War" which I'd never heard of (but would love to see), and became interested in covering Fox's slanted news coverage after hearing journalists use the word Foxification to describe it (like Google or Photoshop, when a brand name becomes a verb or noun with a general meaning, it's best to pay attention).

Yahoo has posted a story on the release from AP, so check it out, but here are a few highlights:

"Fox host Bill O'Reilly is seen on his show insisting he has told a guest to shut up 'only once in six years,' after which he is seen in clips telling one person after another with whom he disagrees to 'shut up.'" (I know that O'Reilly "shut up"-watching is one of our very own D-Day founder's favorite pastimes, so he'll definitely enjoy that...).

"The documentary also includes a rapid-fire succession of clips of more than a dozen Fox hosts using the phrase 'some people say' — which the filmmakers say is a way to insinuate opinion disguised as reporting into on-air discussions."

"The study found conservatives accounted for nearly three-fourths of ideological guests on the network's marquee news program, "Special Report with Brit Hume," between June and December 2003, and that Republicans outnumbered Democrats five to one."

If you haven't seen "The Corporation" yet and are interested in the Fox "Just Like Journalism" TM style, I strongly recommend you run, don't walk, to theaters to see it. Sandwiched between a look at corporations as having the characteristics of pathological individuals and a look at their runaway pillaging of the Third World is a fine report of two Fox reporters' attempts to cover the Monsanto case. As strong as I think the rest of the film is, this is really the highlight, as the two extremely sharp and funny journalists give a step-by-step account of Fox burying their story under pressure from Monsanto.

As a final postscript, I (finally) saw Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday after dozens of missed opportunities and crossed wires. The film is strongest when it sticks to hard documentation (the two versions of Bush's service record) and less so when it leaves innuendo to fill in the blanks. Moore is still the master though of deriving emotional impact from the stories of everyday people, especially in Flint, Michigan and in particular one very brave and patriotic mother. For all the attacks on liberals as elitist and latte-drinking (drive around Michigan and try not to find a Caribou or Starbucks coffee everywhere you go), Moore clearly loves the people of Flint, goose-with-bonnet welcome mats and all, and his "elitism" hasn't altered at all his wardrobe which still consists of jeans and the ubiquitous baseball cap, Mid West standard issue. Having grown up in southeast Michigan, and attended band shows in Flint union halls that looked like bombed out hulks (which at the time I associated with Beirut), it's clear Moore hasn't given up on middle America despite their often being associated strongly with the Bush presidency. The most telling fact is that Moore is no longer credited with quirky gimmick-laden docs which allow you to laugh along to release some of the pent-up frustration over being powerless. No, you can't stop the auto companies from leaving Flint, or Nike to act in a responsible way perhaps, but you can vote. While "Roger and Me" is more of an elegy for the death of American manufacturing, his films and books have progressively been injected with a sense of urgency- that it's now or never. His works draw a line from Flint factory workers to Third World shoe manufacturers to Iraqi families and back to American soldiers, direct from, where else? Flint, MIchigan.

The other day I saw P.J. O'Rourke on Tucker Carlson, who voiced his point a view that whatever the reason for going into Iraq, knocking a major player off the chess board was always to be commended.

Guess who the pawns are?


Monday, July 12, 2004

F**king pot calling the f**king kettle black

So, late last week there was a Kerry fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall, and a number of celebrities took the stage with undecorous insults lobbed at our current President (which I'm pretty sure still fall within the confines of the First Amendment, even if they are said by celebrities). Whoopi Goldberg in particular made a ton of references that went along the lines of "we got Bush right here (poinitng to her crotch), we don't need Bush in the White House."

So the Republican National Committee gets super pissed-off, and denounces the "crudity and vulgarity" that came out of the New York City fundraiser. Mind you, this is the same party that defended the Vice President dropping an F-bomb on Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the Senate floor. And the hypocrisy train just keeps rolling along.

Now isn't that ridiculous?

I mean, that Whoopi Goldberg still gets invited to shit? Isn't that ridiculous?


Hate Amendment reaches the Senate Floor Wednesday

The Republicans believe their "ace in the hole" in this election cycle will be about "conservative family values," a charge that Kerry has parried quite nicely with statements like "Values are not going into schools and sitting with little children and having a nice photo opportunity," and then "walking out of that school knowing that that school doesn't have the resources it needs." But this hasn't stopped the homophobes and bigots that be in the GOP to bring the Federal Marriage Amendment to debate in the Senate, with a vote scheduled on Wednesday. In case you were wondering if this was being done by right-wingers in Congress without White House approval, the President, on a week which saw a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report on prewar intelligence in Iraq, devoted his entire radio address this weekend to the FMA, saying that "traditional marriage is also critical to the health of society."

Privately, even the most hard-core conservative admits that the FMA has no chance of passing in the Senate, being that as a Constitutional amendment it requires a 2/3 vote for passage. So why are they doing it? To get a certain two Senators who have the same first name (it's John) on the record against it. Well, good. I hope they are on the record, supporting individual rights, denouncing hatred. Ted Rall noted a while back that a disturbing majority of the hate mail he receives from conservatives contain antigay statements, including calling him a "faggot," "a hateful, bitter gay man," and "praying that "you find AIDS in one of your lover's asses." Go ahead, read them.

It's clear to me that the Administration is playing to the basest instincts of its party, and in fact, fomenting the mentality that ends in gay-bashing. People will undoubtedly die from this political stunt, just so Bush can go back to the religious right and say "We tried, but those godless Congressmen want homos to marry!" Shameful.

If you want to call your own Senator and tell them to vote against the Hate Amendment (you should; I will be), then follow this link.


The Fine Print

Turn on the news and you're likely to hear the same themes bandied about when it comes to the Senate Intelligence Committees' report on the CIA: allegations of 'Group Think,' sloppiness and a dysfunctional command structure. Or you're likely to hear the sound of congressmen skittering for cover like cockroaches (Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, D. Virginia: "We in Congress would not have authorized that war, we would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now").

But the New York Times offered up some other interesting facts about the report Saturday that are getting lost in the shuffle elsewhere:

- About 20 percent of the report didn't even see the light of day. Why? The CIA asked nicely. That was a lot less than what they wanted- they initially asked that nearly half the report be blacked out entirely. What's missing? According to Tom Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive (a George Washington University affiliated research group) the deletions would have revealed that the committee believed that the CIA had misled Colin Powell and Senator Carl Levin, and that the agency had decided not to air reservations about an October 2000 white paper which was fundamental in making the case for an invasion of Iraq.

While the Committee's excoriations over the CIA's lack of intelligence to back up their assertions is getting a lot of buzz, it's interesting to see what they feel the agency did get right:

- From Section 90 under "Iraqi Links to Terrorism:" "The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that Sadam Hussein was most likely to use his OWN (my emphasis) intelligence service operatives to conduct attacks was reasonable, and turned out to be accurate."

- From the same heading, Section 93: "The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda throughout the 1990's, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship."

- Section 96, same heading: "The Central Intelligence Agency's assessment that to date there was no evidence proving Iraqi complicity or assistance in an Al Qaeda attack was reasonable and objective."

- Section 99, same heading: "Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime's possible links to Al Qaeda."

It will be interesting to see what findings are unearthed when the Butler report, Britain's investigation into their own intelligence services' conclusions about Iraq, are released on Wednesday.


Sunday, July 11, 2004

Control Room

Control Room, the recent documentary that spotlights the Arab news network Al-Jazeera, has become overshadowed quite a bit by the success and wider release of Fahrenheit 9/11. But there's a lot here that makes it worth your while, even if the film fails to uncover any "smoking guns." When the toppling of the statue in Baghdad is viewed by Al-Jazeera journalists, they, like everyone else are left to try to sort out fact from fiction as best they can. One reporter mentions that the accents of participants aren't Iraqi. Another notes that one of the participants is carrying a flag from the pre-Saddam regime, an unlikely and dangerous souvenir to keep stashed in the basement in the hopes that Hussein would one day be ousted.

The film is helped immeasurably by the world-weary and sardonic wit of Al-Jazeera's journalists, who respond with visible fluster at non-sensical statements given by Rumsfeld or spouted (sometimes seemingly unwittingly) from U.S. military press officers. They are likeable people, and clearly doing a thankless job considering that they are excoriated by the Arab world and the U.S. government . One wonders why, as one reporter jokes, "everyone" leaves the BBC for Al-Jazeera, when the safest bet would be to turn tail in the opposite direction. But the real artistry of the film is the brilliant and subtle way the filmmakers juxtapose statements and events in unsettling ways. In one sound bite Bush says that no one on the Iraqi side should rely on claiming later that they were just following orders. The filmmakers let that sink in, move on, and then show the Al-Jazeera broadcast of captured American soldiers claiming, hey, we're just following orders.

A reporter in the film cleanly dissects the bias of Al-Jazeera by claiming that they appeal to their viewers by showing the devastation the war costs on average people, while Fox news knows its viewers want to see the flag waving high and proud. One wonders if this is the only possible future of journalism: diametrically opposed outlets twisting and spinning the news for their constituents. If Clear Channel or ABC is going to own everything, perhaps the only defense is to start up your own liberal radio network in California. Last night on 20/20 was a "report" on the meager historical facts that back up the possibility that King Arthur was a real, live person, somewhere back there in the past. When they cut back to the news desk, the reporter announced with a grin that, of course, the company that owns 20/20 just happens to own the company releasing that new King Arthur film with the adorable Keira Knightly. Aren't we stinkers?

The U.S. military clearly counted on reporters playing along to the set-up devised in the Vietnam War- coverage by press conference: total control of the facts. Embedded reporters wouldn't be allowed the latitude given in the Vietnam War either (nor would they ask for it). No more bodies on stretchers, no more "it's my right as a journalist to film this." The press largely played along. The most disturbing moment comes near the end of the film when a U.S. jet fires on Al Jazeera reporters, killing one of them (several other reporters are also killed in Baghdad in "separate" incidents on the same day). Once again, the filmmakers' technique shines through- the viewer who hasn't already been overloaded with the sensory barrage remembers a brief throwaway bite earlier in the film when an Al-Jazeera reporter tells her colleagues that they'd provided the coordinates of their offices in Baghdad to the U.S. Military. The message was pretty clear- this was a war of information.

With a U.S.-run Arab news network now broadcasting, it's time again to dust off that copy of Orwell's mediocre classic and wonder just how bad things are going to get. In the film, Hassan Ibrahim, one of Al-Jazeera's reporters who has achieved something of star status on the talk show circuit, comments that the U.S. administration keeps us in constant fear with everchanging purple, orange, and pink terrorist alerts popping up to keep us unsettled. On Sunday, Newsweek (channeling Reuters) reported that "U.S. counterterrorism officials are looking at an emergency proposal on the legal steps needed to postpone the November presidential election in case of an attack by al Qaeda." One wonders just how far the war of information extends, and to what end.