March 31, 2004

Enough is Enough

I think Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle must have hired a new speechwriter, because lately, he's been on a roll with some great stuff on the floor of the Senate. It has taken many years, but maybe that man has finally decided to quit pandering to Republicans to try to save his seat (he's from conservative-leaning South Dakota). Or maybe he's just on powerful drugs. Either way, he's finally saying some things that desperately need to be said and heard:

Mr. President, last week I spoke about the White House's reaction to Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9-11 Commission. I am compelled to rise again today, because the people around the President are systematically abusing the powers and prerogatives of government.

We all need to reflect seriously on what's going on. Not in anger and not in partisanship, but in keeping with our responsibilities as Senators and with an abiding respect for the fundamental values of our democracy.

Richard Clarke did something extraordinary when he testified before the 9-11 Commission last week. He didn't try to escape blame, as so many routinely do. Instead, he accepted his share of responsibility and offered his perceptions about what happened in the months and years leading up to September 11.

We can and should debate the facts and interpretations Clarke has offered. But there can be no doubt that he has risked enormous damage to his reputation and professional future to hold both himself and our government accountable.

The retaliation from those around the President has been fierce. Mr. Clarke's personal motives have been questioned and his honesty challenged. He has even been accused, right here on the Senate floor, of perjury. Not one shred of proof was given, but that wasn't the point. The point was to have the perjury accusation on television and in the newspapers. The point was to damage Mr. Clarke in any way possible.

This is wrong–and it's not the first time it's happened.

When Senator McCain ran for President, the Bush campaign smeared him and his family with vicious, false attacks. When Max Cleland ran for reelection to this Senate, his patriotism was attacked. He was accused of not caring about protecting our nation -- a man who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, accused of being indifferent to America's national security. That was such an ugly lie, it's still hard to fathom almost two years later.

There are some things that simply ought not be done – even in politics. Too many people around the President seem not to understand that, and that line has been crossed. When Ambassador Joe Wilson told the truth about the Administration's misleading claims about Iraq, Niger, and uranium, the people around the President didn't respond with facts. Instead, they publicly disclosed that Ambassador Wilson's wife was a deep-cover CIA agent. In doing so, they undermined America's national security and put politics first. They also may well have put the lives of Ambassador Wilson's wife, and her sources, in danger.

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealed that the White House was thinking about an Iraq War in its first weeks in office, his former colleagues in the Bush Administration ridiculed him from morning to night, and even subjected him to a fruitless federal investigation.

When Larry Lindsay, one of President Bush's former top economic advisors, and General Eric Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff, spoke honestly about the amount of money and the number of troops the war would demand, they learned the hard way that the White House doesn't tolerate candor.

This is not "politics as usual." In nearly all of these cases, it's not Democrats who are being attacked.

Senator McCain and Secretary O'Neill are prominent Republicans, and Richard Clarke, Larry Lindsay, Joe Wilson, and Eric Shinseki all worked for Republican Administrations.

The common denominator is that these government officials said things the White House didn't want said.

The response from those around the President was retribution and character assassination -- a 21st Century twist to the strategy of "shooting the messenger."

If it takes intimidation to keep inconvenient facts from the American people, the people around the President don't hesitate. Richard Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, found that out. He was told he'd be fired if he told the truth about the cost of the Administration's prescription drug plan.

This is no way to run a government.

The White House and its supporters should not be using the power of government to try to conceal facts from the American people or to reshape history in an effort to portray themselves in the best light.

They should not be threatening the reputations and livelihoods of people simply for asking – or answering – questions. They should seek to put all information about past decisions on the table for evaluation so that the best possible decisions can be made for the nation's future.

In Mr. Clarke's case, clear and troubling double standards are being applied.

Last year, when the Administration was being criticized for the President's misleading statement about Niger and uranium, the White House unexpectedly declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate. When the Administration wants to bolster its public case, there is little that appears too sensitive to be declassified.

Now, people around the President want to release parts of Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony in 2002. According to news reports, the CIA is already working on declassifying that testimony – at the Administration's request.

And last week several documents were declassified literally overnight, not in an effort to provide information on a pressing policy matter to the American people, but in an apparent effort to discredit a public servant who gave 30 years of service to his American government.

I'll support declassifying Mr. Clarke's testimony before the Joint Inquiry, but the Administration shouldn't be selective. Consistent with our need to protect sources and methods, we should declassify his entire testimony.

And to make sure that the American people have access to the full record as they consider this question, we should also declassify his January 25 memo to Dr. Rice, the September 4, 2001 National Security Directive dealing with terrorism, Dr. Rice's testimony to the 9-11 Commission, the still-classified 28 pages from the House-Senate inquiry relating to Saudi Arabia, and a list of the dates and topics of all National Security Council meetings before September 4, 2001.

I hope this new interest in openness will also include the Vice President's Energy and Terrorism Task Forces. While much, if not all, of what these task forces discussed was unclassified, their proceedings have not been shared with the public.

There also seems to be a double standard when it comes to investigations.

In recent days leading congressional Republicans are now calling for an investigation into Mr. Clarke. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary O'Neill was also subjected to an investigation. Clarke and O'Neill sought legal and classification review of any information in their books before they were published.

Nonetheless, our colleagues tell us these two should be investigated, at the same time there has been no Senate investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity as a deep cover CIA agent; no thorough investigation into whether leading Administration officials misrepresented the intelligence regarding threats posed by Iraq; no Senate hearings into the threat the chief Medicare Actuary faced for trying to do his job; and no Senate investigation into the reports of continued overcharging by Halliburton for its work in Iraq.

There is a clear double standard when it comes to investigating or releasing information, and that's just is not right. The American people deserve more from their leaders.

We're seeing it again now in the shifting reasons the White House has given for Dr. Rice's refusal to testify under oath and publicly before the 9-11 Commission.

The people around the President first said it would be unprecedented for Dr. Rice to testify. But thanks to the Congressional Research Service, we now know that previous sitting National Security Advisors have testified before Congress.

Now the people around the President are saying that Dr. Rice can't testify because it would violate an important constitutional principle: the separation of powers.

We will soon face this debate again when it comes time for President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet with the 9-11 Commission. I believe they should lift the limitations they have placed on their cooperation with the Commission and be willing to appear before the entire Commission for as much time as the Commission deems productive.

The all-out assault on Richard Clarke has gone on for more than a week now. Mr. Clarke has been accused of "profiteering" and possible perjury. It is time for this to stop.

The Commission should declassify Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony. All of it. Not just the parts the White House wants. And Dr. Rice should testify before the 9-11 Commission, and she should be under oath and in public.

The American people deserve to know the truth -- the full truth -- about what happened in the years and months leading up to September 11.

Senator McCain, Senator Cleland, Secretary O'Neill, Ambassador Wilson, General Shinseki, Richard Foster, Richard Clarke, Larry Lindsay ... when will the character assassination, retribution, and intimidation end?

When will we say enough is enough?

The September 11 families – and our entire country – deserve better. Our democracy depends on it. And our nation's future security depends on it.

I like the speech. It's nice. Ties everything together effectively, and it's pretty damning. Claims of partisanship on the part of Democrats are going to be hard to substantiate since the people from the administration who have been speaking out over the years are mostly career Republicans. I'd like to think there is a wing of that party, embodied by people like John McCain, who are sick to death of Bush and want to return to a party of principles, fiscal responsibility, smaller government, etc.

I just wonder if it is possible for them to reclaim the party from the right-wing nutballs who want to kill all the fags, muzzle protesters, question the patriotism of every critic, etc. That's one thing that makes this next election more important than usual, because I think it represents a chance for rational Republicans to reclaim their party if it implodes after catastrophically losing an election (and maybe the House or Senate as well, if Bush really drags them all down).

America needs a healthy and rational Republican party. We need a choice between two supportable positions, not a choice between Democrats and the Worst Administration in History.

Posted by Observer at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2004

Security? Who cares!

Josh Marshall has the latest on how the administration plans to try to further discredit Richard Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism who has made a very convincing case that Bushco dropped the ball in the War on Terror. Here's a shocker: they don't give a flying fuck about national security when it comes to political expediency.

Declassifying the transcripts is not compatible with national security. But taking the transcripts, cutting the individual words into scraps and pasting them back together into incriminating sentences might be okay.

How far different is this ...

U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.

That's the last graf from a late story from NBC.

You know something's wrong -- when an administration is truly out of control -- when they discuss their dirty tricks on background.

Look at what this is: using the CIA and the classification process for an explicitly and exclusively partisan purpose, at the direct behest of the White House. Call me old-fashioned but back in the good-old-days this used to be done with a bit more indirection, subterfuge and cover, no?

It's one thing to declassify the whole thing. Perhaps there's some rationale for that -- though why Clarke's testimony and no one else's should be released seems questionable.

But the whole thing won't be released -- which would be the only way to really judge what he said -- only portions which can be selected to highlight apparent contradictions.

We're moving on to dangerous enough ground when the White House starts using the nation's intelligence agencies for explicitly domestic political purposes. But you know we're really in trouble when they don't even try to hide it.

Why bother to hide it when so many Moron Americans have their blinders on? Why bother to hide it when so many voters will vote based on who has the best haircut or who aired the most attack ads in the last week before the election? Nobody cares, and nobody has for a long time, but Bush is the absolute worst about cynically exploiting the ignorance and apathy of Americans.

Of course, it goes without saying that after they release the selective quotes that appear to damn Clarke, Clarke and other people trying to get at the truth will demand that the entire relevant transcript be released so we can get a full picture of all the testimony, the context, etc. At that point, Republicans are going to suddenly wonder why Democrats are putting partisan politics above national security.

Who wants to seriously explore and correct the failures that led to 9/11? Richard Clarke or George Bush?

Posted by Observer at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2004

Choice Rice Quotes

This has to be my favorite news story quote in a while:

Rice said "the war on terrorism is well served by the victory in Iraq."

Told there have been more terrorist attacks since Sept. 11 than before it, she replied: "I think that's the wrong way to look at it."

Speaks for itself, doesn't it? Elsewhere in the same article, Rice repeats her tired and false assertion that she just can't testify in public under oath in front of the 9/11 commission. Darn the luck, national security advisers just aren't allowed to do that sort of thing! Precedent, separation of powers, you know, that sort of thing.

Unfortunately for Rice, it is very easy to go back into the historical record and find examples of someone like, oh I don't know, maybe national security adviser Zbignew Brzezinski testifying in public under oath for an investigation (Josh Marshall has the details). I mean, it wasn't about *policy*, so Rice is technically true but misleading.

Downright Clintonian, if you ask me.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 AM | Comments (2)

Losing Streak

Over the past month, I have now seen on the order of 25 goals scored against teams with my kids playing on them. I have seen my kids' teams score once (Cody's team has scored twice, but I missed one of the goals while running to the car to get napkins to help with Cody's bloody nose). Sarah's team hasn't scored at all, and the poor kids suffered about a 7-0 loss yesterday (I stopped counting at halftime, so who knows?). Such is life when your kids get assigned to expansion teams, I guess.

The thing is, in the things that count, I'm pretty happy. Cody has made a couple of pretty good friends on his team who play as well as (or better than) he does, and he has a lot of fun at practice. I'm trying to teach him how to juggle a soccer ball, and he's catching on slowly. He's starting to get discouraged about the game results, but his team seems to be improving (that's a parent talking, isn't it?). Sarah is also making friends on her team, though the poor girl just can't play the game. If some friendships with kids her age arise from this, it will be worth sitting through at least another 25 goals against (which is about what we have to look forward to, since the season is half over, and we end up having to play each team twice).

Posted by Observer at 06:50 AM | Comments (5)

March 28, 2004

Had Enough?

Just finished James Carville's latest, "Had Enough?", which is a brief summary of how bad Bush has been. What makes this a little different is that Carville lays out some pretty solid Democratic arguments and alternatives instead of just complaining about Bush. The part that got me thinking the most deals with national health care.

Everyone pretty much agrees that if a person can't afford health care, we aren't going to let him or her die if something goes wrong (especially if it is a child). We'll treat the person, and it usually will end up being in the emergency room, one of the most expensive hassles all the way around. It would obviously be a much better deal if we socialized the costs, used government-funded national health care to negotiate better prices, etc., just like corporate health plans do now. We could encourage preventive medicine, too, and keep people healthier while keeping overall health care costs down. It's a win-win.

For businesses, it is also a huge winner. After all, most foreign businesses that we compete with do not have to factor in the cost of employee health care in the price of their product. Those costs are borne by their respective governments, and it gives them an edge over our companies that have to pay to provide health care for their employees. Even a chintzy health care plan like Wal-Mart costs the company money and raises prices, and if you are talking about trade balances, it would obviously be to our benefit to make our exports cheaper.

This is a winner of an issue for Democrats, and there's no reason business-friendly Republicans shouldn't get behind it. I hope Kerry jumps on this issue and makes it his own.

Posted by Observer at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Bush Logic

Thanks to Bob Somerby of "The Daily Howler" for this link. One of my favorite "moderate" columnists ever is Michael Kinsley, who used to write for "The New Republic" and later "Slate". Although a lot of the time, he'll take a pass on confronting right-wing bullshit and he'll go along with the typical mainstream media memes, he occasionally breaks through with a smart and funny column that seems obvious in retrospect.

Here's his latest on Bush's campaign credibility:

One of the weapons in Bush's arsenal is an old family heirloom. Bush fired it himself during his big Florida rally over the weekend. He asserted that John Kerry had voted for higher taxes 350 times during his 20 years in the Senate. Vice President Cheney and other presidential surrogates have been using this statistoid for several weeks, and it has been picked up and repeated in the conservative media echo chamber. In 1992, Bush's father charged that Bill Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, had raised taxes 128 times. This shabby and deeply disingenuous allegation became an embarrassment to the elder Bush, but it took weeks and months of pounding by the media and the opposition to make it this way. [...]

The purpose of a phony statistic such as this one isn't to convince people of its own accuracy. The purpose is to trap your opponent in a discussion he doesn't want to have (in this case about his past votes on taxes), bog down the discussion in silly details that few people will follow, and leave a general impression that where there's smoke there must be fire. And certainly, if what matters to you above all else is paying fewer taxes, you'd be a fool to choose Kerry over Bush. But this isn't about taxes; it's about honesty. Honesty means more than factual accuracy, it means avoiding disingenuousness: not talking rot when you know it's rot. If that matters to you above all, you may be out of luck with either candidate this election. But if you wish to measure comparative rot, this 350-tax-increases business may be hard for Kerry to top.

Counting tax increases is an absurd way to measure a candidate's general propensity on taxes. George the elder's list of Clinton tax increases included such things as an extension of the dog-racing season, on the logic that a longer season meant more tax revenue. George the younger's first item asserts that "In 1995, Kerry Voted For [a] Resolution That Said Middle Class Tax Cuts Were Not Wise." This turns out to be a vote in the midst of that nearly forgotten frenzy, the Gingrich revolution. It was a vote against a particular tax cut of $700 billion, on a resolution declaring with almost tautological justice that subtracting $700 billion from revenue would make it harder to balance the budget. The resolution passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but a decade later the Republican president uses it to tar his Democratic opponent.

The documentation on the GOP Web site about Kerry's supposed 350 votes to increase taxes lists only 67 votes "for higher taxes." Most of these are votes against a tax cut, not in favor of a tax increase. The 67 include nine votes listed twice, three listed three times, and two listed four times. The logic seems to be that if a bill contains more than one item (as almost all bills do), it counts as separate votes for or against each item. The Bush list also includes several series of sequentially numbered votes, which are procedural twists on the same bill. And there are votes on the identical issue in different years. The only tax increase on Bush's list (counted twice, but hey . . . ) is Kerry's support for Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction plan. That's the one that raised rates in the top bracket and led to a decade of such fabulous prosperity that even its most affluent victims ended up better off.

The best way to see the absurdity of saying that Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is to apply Bush's madcap logic to Bush himself. Every year, in the president's budget, there is a table called "Effect of Proposals on Receipts." It lists the president's proposed changes in the tax rules and how they will affect government revenue for various periods up to 15 years. Most of Bush's proposals will cost revenue, obviously. But in the four fiscal years between 2002 and 2005, Bush has proposed 63 actual "revenue enhancers," as his father used to call them. This doesn't include, as Bush includes for Kerry, his opposition to any tax cuts (and there have been some, such as Democratic proposals to reduce the payroll tax). Nor does the list seem to include any "supply-side" revenue enhancement by magic or growth. These are actual proposals to take more money out of people's pockets and give it to the government.

At Bush's current rate of 16 "tax increases" a year, he'd have 320 under his belt if he could stay in the White House for 20 years. Depending on how you figure -- but without wandering beyond Bush himself into the jungles of absurd logic -- this is as many as eight times the number that Bush has managed to pin on Kerry. But isn't it unfair to call, for example, more efficient administration at the IRS a tax increase? And isn't it simply ridiculous to suggest that George W. Bush is more complacent about higher taxes than John Kerry? Yes, it's unfair. It's ridiculous. That's the point.

I'd like to see a full list done, using the same rules on Bush as he has used on Kerry. I'll bet the numbers would end up remarkably close. Of course, in the larger scheme of things, the only reason it matters is because it has the potential to make Moron Americans think they should vote against Kerry. If you vote for Bush just because you think you'll get lower taxes, you have to keep in mind that you'll end up paying one way or the other. For example, in this morning's paper, I read that a nearby university is raising tuition 24% in the fall to make up for shortfalls in state and federal funding.

That's a Bush tax. That's a cost to people that wouldn't be there unless Bush were purposely starving the government for revenue. Overall, costs like these for things that were formerly subsidized or funded by the government end up being borne largely by the poor. Bush is overseeing one of the largest transfers of wealth (from poor to rich) in history as a result.

Posted by Observer at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

Hunting Down the Threats

Here's a good one from Tom Toles:

Posted by Observer at 10:56 AM | Comments (2)

Expensive Bullshit

If you haven't read much Get Your War On, I highly recommend browsing the archives. It's a comic consisting of conversations between stock characters, and it can often be very biting and funny. Here are some of the latest excerpts of the conversations.

First, on the Iraq war and the fact that the government is paying Ahmad Chalabi to be a consultant even after virtually all of his pre-war claims (which were instrumental in the administration's media selling of the war) turned out to be false:

Woman: The Defense Department is paying Ahmad Chalabi's group $340,000 a month.

Man: Goddamn! Now that's some expensive bullshit! We really couldn't find anyone to make shit up off the top of their head for cheaper than $340,000 a month? Jesus, wouldn't it have been cheaper just to pay a million monkeys to type random shit about Iraq on a million typewriters?

Woman: Yeah, but then you would've had a million monkeys fantasizing about being the king of Iraq, instead of just one creepy asshole.

Man: If we're paying $340,000 a month for Ahmad Chalabi's Bullshit, it better be the greatest goddamn bullshit the world has ever seen. Does it know how to do long division and tie sailor knots and shit like that? I mean, if you paid me $340,000 a month for my bullshit, I'd at least make sure it was useful. I know my bullshit would be able to fix your microwave or something.

Woman: For that kind of money, I expect Ahmad Chalabi's Bullshit to mop every kitchen in America and press our slacks.

Then there's this excerpt on the latest economics news:

Standing Guy: Do you think working in a fast-food restaurant should be classified as a manufacturing job?

Sitting Guy: Why not? I mean, after all, when I sit at my desk typing on my computer, I'm actually skydiving from a purple dirigible.

Standing Guy: Hey! If they turn "slapping together a Big Mac" into "manufacturing," can they turn "taking a multivitamin" into "having health insurance"?

Sitting Guy: Whoa ... if I jump up and down in my cubicle, am I an astronaut?

On human rights and foreign policy:

Standing Guy: Did you hear the good news about our new landmine policy?

Sitting Guy: You know it! We can keep using smart mines forever, all over the world! Woo-hoo!

Standing Guy: I've always wondered -- if a kid steps on a smart mine, does he turn into a genius?

On our progress in Afghanistan:

Woman: Hello? I'm your old friend, the Afghan Woman. I think you mentioned me in some speeches? You were gonna liberate me and make my life better? Listen. I hate to be such a feminazi, but when you have a moment could you let me know when I'll be able to walk outside without getting raped by your allies?

Sitting Guy: You know what? No offense, but your calling every two minutes to complain that Afghan women aren't quite as liberated as we promised is getting a little old.

On the president's recent performance on "Meet the Press":

Woman: What did you think of the President's interview on Sunday?

Sitting Guy: Holy shit -- that guy was the PRESIDENT???

Woman: You got it. Remember Abraham Lincoln? This guy has the same job.

Sitting Guy: Well, I guess it's inspirational -- if a man who can't talk can become president, surely I can invest in the stock market and become a millionaire!

On the Iraq war:

Office Guy: I have mixed feelings about invading Iraq. I'm a little glad we did it, but I'm also relieved to know I wasn't an idiot FOR FEELING TOTALLY SAFE FROM SADDAM HUSSEIN for the past twenty years.

Other Guy: What about the "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" we've found in Iraq?

Office Guy: You see, when the situation can only be described by a phrase that's so fuckin' long I can hardly remember how to say it correctly, I kind of give up feeling scared. Seriously, would you know a "weapons of mass destruction-related program activity" if you saw one? What the hell is a "program activity"? It sounds like something my son does during "circle time" at preschool.

Other Guy: Do you think the State of the Union Address qualifies as a "bullshit-related program activity"?

Office Guy: What if "program activity" just means "wishing for"? Like, "last night my wife and I were engaged in an affordable health care-related program activity"?

Other Guy: You know what, man? Your sarcastic remark-related program activities might come back to haunt you some day. What if everything turns out perfect in Iraq? Won't you feel like a big ol' stupid-ass-related program activity?

Office Guy: If everything turns out perfect in Iraq, I'll engage in some praise-the-Lord-related program activity. I'll also be real interested to see who's in the White House.

Lots more where these came from. Go read and catch up if you haven't already been keeping up. Many priceless one-liners are buried in that site's archives.

Posted by Observer at 07:39 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Karen Ryan Reporting

This is something that I've heard about that is much better visually (but I typed up some of it anyway). The White House has recently (at taxpayer expense, of course) fabricated a suite of news reports (from fictional correspondents such as "Karen Ryan") that play up the positive aspects of the recently passed Medicare bill in a very misleading and/or inaccurate way. They send these out to local news stations (you know, those bastions of your "liberal media"), who then proceed to play them uncut on the air as though they were part of the legitimate newscast. Here's a partial transcript:

Jon Stewart: Clearly this medicare bill will be a contentious and complex campaign issue, one that the media has an obligation to inform people about. Fortunately, one local news station in Nashville, Tennesee recently aired a story that explained the issue clearly.

Voice Over from Commercial: When President Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act into law last month, millions of people who are covered by Medicare began asking how it will help them. The new law, say officials, simply offers people with Medicare ways to make their health coverage more affordable. In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting.

Jon Stewart: Wow. That news report really makes me feel like the Medicare bill is a positive thing. Here's the problem: There's no such person as Karen Ryan, and that news report is completely fake. The White House produced so-called news packages on the Medicare bill and sent them to local TV news stations with actors playing the roles of reporters. 33 of those stations then aired them as if they were actual news reports. [...]

The faux journalism gained further legitimacy by featuring an interview with Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson.

Tommy Thompson: This is the same Medicare system, only with additional benefits for those seniors, plus additional choices that any senior will be able to have.

Jon Stewart: Well, that was really some heartfelt reading. Basically, this new Medicare bill is so good, the guy in charge of it can't say anything nice about it without a teleprompter. Even the General Accounting Office, an independent agency responsible for monitoring White House spending, has faulted the ads as containing "notable omissions and other weaknesses".

But a spokesman for Tommy Thompson defended the fake news spot, noting, "Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools." He added, "Come on, it'll all right there in the handbook." [image of "1984" by George Orwell appears over right shoulder]

It's official. Propaganda is now considered to be legitimate news by the mainstream media. You have to see this to believe it. Watch the little clip of the report and see what Jon Stewart has to say about it. Lots of other good videos there lately, too, well worth a browse.

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2004

Shoot the Messenger

That seems to be the motto of this administration, as they slime every whistleblower who comes forward to tell people what's really going on. Krugman has a good summary of the latest:

It's important, when you read the inevitable attempts to impugn the character of the latest whistle-blower, to realize just how risky it is to reveal awkward truths about the Bush administration. When Gen. Eric Shinseki told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a large occupation force, that was the end of his military career. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV revealed that the 2003 State of the Union speech contained information known to be false, someone in the White House destroyed his wife's career by revealing that she was a C.I.A. operative. And we now know that Richard Foster, the Medicare system's chief actuary, was threatened with dismissal if he revealed to Congress the likely cost of the administration's prescription drug plan.

The latest insider to come forth, of course, is Richard Clarke, George Bush's former counterterrorism czar and the author of the just-published "Against All Enemies."

On "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Mr. Clarke said the previously unsayable: that Mr. Bush, the self-proclaimed "war president," had "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism." After a few hours of shocked silence, the character assassination began. He "may have had a grudge to bear since he probably wanted a more prominent position," declared Dick Cheney, who also says that Mr. Clarke was "out of the loop." (What loop? Before 9/11, Mr. Clarke was the administration's top official on counterterrorism.) It's "more about politics and a book promotion than about policy," Scott McClellan said.

Of course, Bush officials have to attack Mr. Clarke's character because there is plenty of independent evidence confirming the thrust of his charges.

Did the Bush administration ignore terrorism warnings before 9/11? Justice Department documents obtained by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, show that it did. Not only did John Ashcroft completely drop terrorism as a priority — it wasn't even mentioned in his list of seven "strategic goals" — just one day before 9/11 he proposed a reduction in counterterrorism funds.

Did the administration neglect counterterrorism even after 9/11? After 9/11 the F.B.I. requested $1.5 billion for counterterrorism operations, but the White House slashed this by two-thirds. (Meanwhile, the Bush campaign has been attacking John Kerry because he once voted for a small cut in intelligence funds.)

Oh, and the next time terrorists launch an attack on American soil, they will find their task made much easier by the administration's strange reluctance, even after 9/11, to protect potential targets. In November 2001 a bipartisan delegation urged the president to spend about $10 billion on top-security priorities like ports and nuclear sites. But Mr. Bush flatly refused.

Campaign commercials for the Democrats are going to be soooo easy to write this time around. There's really no excuse for Bush's nonsense. Every time you see someone like Dick Cheney complain about how John Kerry voted against defense funding or intelligence funding, they are effectively looking you in the eye and calling you a moron, because they don't think you know any better. Can you blame them, after the 2000 election, where people still think all that shit the mainstream media -- not the Bush campaign, they didn't have to go to the trouble, it was the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the rest of the mainstream media behind "inventing the Internet", "Earth tones", "Love Story", "Love canal" and all the similar nonsense -- made up about Gore is true? As Bob Somerby puts it, "Hey, rube!"

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

44452

About six weeks ago, one of the kids was looking around in our van for something late in the evening. They left the interior light on, so in the morning, the battery was dead. We jump started it no problem, but the dead battery tripped an anti-theft thing on the built-in radio/CD player. In order to restart the device, we needed to enter a five-digit code. Well, we had no idea what this code was, so we scoured the van with no luck.

Later, I called the dealership service department and explained my problem. They had me check the same places I checked before to see if the code had been written somewhere. It should've been provided to us at the time of the sale, obviously, since it is one of the many things on Honda's extensive certification checklist (but, like the hubcap key, tire jack and handle, the dealership apparently overlooked that detail ... we got new versions of that equipment a few months ago when we had new tires put on the van). Well, I couldn't find it, and they told me they only way to recover it would be to remove the front panel of the dash, read the serial number off the radio and call the manufacturer.

Well, that's an expensive operation, and the dealership is about twenty minutes away. The last thing I want to do on a day off with Daniel is cart him over there to a dealership waiting room and spend half of it waiting for all this. I was hoping the sales manager or someone there had the code on file, so I called the sales guy. I ended up calling that guy about 7-8 times over a few weeks, and he just wouldn't return my call. I'm terrible about that sort of thing. I should've been more pushy, but I just figured I'd keep being friendly and persistent, hoping the sales guy would give in. What I should've done is taken a page from the Book of Chuck and taken a screaming baby to his office, let the other three run wild around the dealership and sat down until they gave me the code.

Anyway, I finally decided to go around the sales guy and call the service department again directly to schedule an appointment to get this done. The guy told me it would probably cost around eighty bucks, and I explained the situation to him, how I couldn't get hold of the sales guy, how I bought this from them, etc. He said, "Wait a minute, is that a certified van you've got?" Yes, that's right. After about ten seconds, he said, "Hmmm, ok, let's see here, yeah, try 44452 on that one." This is the same department I called first thing six weeks ago, and they didn't know to give me the code or look it up.

So I try it and it works, and we have a radio/CD player again. Grrr.

Posted by Observer at 12:09 PM | Comments (3)

Um, Isn't That a Lie?

The blogosphere that I roam around in is going crazy over the whole Richard Clarke thing that I mentioned on Sunday. People have been talking about his book, his apperance, and the battle over what he's saying. Many of the links in my sidebar have a lot more than I did about this, with Atrios leading the way with lots of good links.

Today, though, I just want to react to something I read from the Wall Street Journal, which yesterday tried to reconstruct the events of September 11, 2001. An excellent article, overall. Their news department is first rate, and it's often funny to see them flatly contradict that wack-jobs who write their editorials.

Anyway, something struck me there, and made me wonder about a hypothetical. Here's the quote:

At the Dec. 4, 2001, town-hall meeting in Orlando, Mr. Bush said, "I was sitting outside the classroom, waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and I said, 'Well, there's one terrible pilot.' " Several weeks later, he said essentially the same thing at another public event in Ontario, Calif.

Actually, no scenes of the first plane hitting the Trade Center were broadcast on television until late that night, when amateur video footage became available. The TV in the room where Mr. Bush waited wasn't even plugged in, according Ms. Rigell, the principal.

This made me wonder. What if Gore had said that instead of Bush? How do you suppose that would've played out in the mainstream press? Perhaps during the 2000 campaign? I mean, is there really any question that Gore would be absolutely crucified? Meanwhile, Bush gets a pass, and our So-Called Liberal Media moves on to talk about the next haircut scandal or whatever.

Posted by Observer at 06:50 AM | Comments (2)

March 22, 2004

Moneyball

I've been doing a lot of reading over Spring Break (now over, alas). Another book I just finished is "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis. In this book, Lewis follows Billy Beane around. Beane is the general manager of the Hated Oakland A's. Yes, to everyone else, they are just the Oakland A's, but to me, having rooted for Texas and/or Seattle for my entire life, they are the Hated A's.

Sadly for me as a Texas fan, my team has a deeply stupid (and ardently Republican, by the way, but I guess that's redundant) owner named Tom Hicks. The guy knows enough about baseball to think he knows everything, and he's hired a collection of Standard Baseball Guys, the likes of which Billy Beane make to look like idiots in this book. Beane's basic philosophy is to try to make his team better by actually paying attention to why teams score runs.

That means you don't pay attention to things like how a guy looks in his uniform, his "leadership" qualities, clubhouse chemistry, RBI's, stolen bases or any of the other stupid things Standard Baseball Guys think is really important. Following in the tradition of Bill James and other baseball statheads, Beane is a believer in analyzing data. And the data show that on-base percentage (a high one means you are good at drawing walks) is highly correlated with offensive success. Though it is a small sample size, one could argue that Beane has proved his point with the A's for the last few seasons, with one of the 3-4 lowest payrolls in baseball and the best regular season record (except maybe the Yankees).

This book talks about how Beane started out, his history, how he has run the club, how the Hated A's tick, etc. It is very engaging, with the standard mix of funny little baseball anecdotes, like this one:

Kelly Heath had played second base in the Royals organization, and had exactly one major league at bat, in 1982, after the Royals' regular second baseman, Frank White, decided in the middle of the game that his hemorrhoids were bothering him. As one of the other scouts put it, Kelly was the only player in history whose entire big league career was made possible by a single asshole.

Or this one...

Fielder is the semi-aptly named Prince Fielder, son of Cecil Fielder, who in 1990 hit fifty-one home runs for the Detroit Tigers, and who by the end of his career could hardly waddle around the bases after one of his mammoth shots into the upper deck, much less maneuver himself in front of a ground ball. "Cecil Fielder acknowledges a weight of 261," Bill James once wrote, "leaving unanswered the question of what he might weight if he put his other foot on the scale."

This book probably comes as a big surprise to a lot of baseball fans and fantasy baseball fans and the like, but actually, my eyes were opened to this sort of thing long ago thanks to some knowledgeable friends (like John and Toby) and great web sites like Baseball Prospectus. Often times the things that truly correlate with success are undervalued by baseball teams. Lewis refers to this as a type of market inefficiency, and Beane takes advantage of it (and a few other teams are starting to do that as well ... obviously not the Rangers) to build Oakland into a strong contender very quickly with a very deep farm system.

That's why the analysts you find at websites like Baseball Prospectus have a pretty good track record, why people like Bill James (who finally has a paid position in baseball now, with the Red Sox if memory serves, and what the hell took baseball so long to use this guy?) are so well respected among intelligent baseball fans. It's a new, more scientific way of looking at the game, something difficult to do in, say, football because of the smaller, more subjective sample sizes.

I used to play in a fantasy league that used these sorts of "Runs Created" stats to judge a player's performance. After a couple of seasons, I even ran the league. What I could never do successfully, though, and what "Moneyball" doesn't really answer for me is: how do you predict good pitching? My pitching was always pretty horrible, but my Texas Leaguers did win the league once.

Anyway, it's a pretty quick read, funny and interesting. A lot of people are saying this is one of the best baseball books to come out in the last decade, and I'm inclined to agree. It's sure different from the standard player biography and certainly readable along the lines of "Seasons in Hell" and "Ball Four", which I mentioned earlier.

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (2)

March 21, 2004

The Right Tools

Richard Clarke, the head of counter-terrorism on the National Security Council under both Bush (Sr.) and Clinton, is providing some damning testimony that refutes the central thesis of Bushco's reelection campaign. The Bush administration wants everyone to believe that our best chance for protection against more terrorist attacks is to let them keep running the show, but let's look at the track record so far. I'll let Josh Marshall lay it out:

It is fair to say that anyone who has seriously reported on this issue, or has read a lot of the good reporting on it, already knows this: namely, that the incoming Bush administration downgraded the attention given to terrorism and al Qaida specifically in the last years of the Clinton administration, and this after being warned by out-going members of the Clinton team that combatting al Qaida should be at the top of their agenda.

In short, they pushed al Qaida and a lot of resources aimed at fighting al Qaida to the backburner until the whole thing blew up in their faces on 9/11.

Their focus, as we've noted before, was on the centrality of states rather than shadowy transnational terrorist groups -- thus their preoccuption with issues like national missile defense.

In any case, as I say, we've basically known this.

But it's another thing to have the person who was there at the center of the action as NSC counter-terrorism czar -- both under Clinton and Bush -- saying on camera that the president ignored terrorism and al Qaida right up until the day of the attacks. Clarke was there. In fact, to the extent that Bush and Rice and Cheney and the rest of the team were ignoring the issue, it would have been Clarke's urgent warnings they were ignoring -- since he was the head of counter-terrorism on the NSC staff.

White House Spokesman Sean McCormick told the New York Times: "The president and his team received briefings on the threat from al-Qaida prior to taking office, and fighting terrorism became a top priority when this administration came into office. We actively pursued the Clinton administration's policies on al-Qaida until we could get into place a more comprehensive policy."

But Clark says that's baloney. And he was the one who headed up Clinton's counter-terrorism policies and Bush's. So who are you going to believe?

Now do you understand why they're stonewalling the 9/11 commission?

Ah but wait. There's more. It shows you the extent to which Bush will go to cover his culpability on the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

Consider this passage from a piece in today's Times ...

They said the warnings were delivered in urgent post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr. Bush's national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now Ms. Rice's deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team, among others.

One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke, who was President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism coordinator, said in an interview that the warning about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence briefings that he led.

At the time of the briefings, there was extensive evidence tying Al Qaeda to the bombing in Yemen two months earlier of an American warship, the Cole, in which 17 sailors were killed.

"It was very explicit," Mr. Clarke said of the warning given to the Bush administration officials. "Rice was briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in." Mr. Clarke served as Mr. Bush's counterterrorism chief in the early months of the administration, but after Sept. 11 was given a more limited portfolio as the president's cyberterrorism adviser.

Now we know about Rice and Hadley, her deputy. But how about Zelikow? He's a former NSC official from the first Bush administration and a close associate of Rice's. The two of them even wrote a book together.

He was in the key meetings where the warnings -- seemingly ignored -- about al Qaida came up. He seems like someone you'd want to talk to to find out what they were warned about and why they didn't take the warnings more seriously.

Well, you don't have to look far to find him. He runs the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow is the Executive Director of the Commission, which means he has operational control of the investigation under the overall management of the two co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.

Now, Zelikow is no hack. He's an accomplished Republican foreign policy hand. But Condi Rice and what happened in the hand-off between the administrations is central to the whole 9/11 investigation enterprise.

Does it make sense to have the guy who's running the investigation be one of her close professional colleagues?

The 9/11 families didn't think so either.

So what we have here, basically, is that the administration is putting politics ahead of everything, including 9/11. As I've said before, the guiding philosophy of the Republican party right now, insofar as anyone can identify it, is for the reelection of Bush at all costs. There is no other philosophy that is consistent with their behavior, unless you buy into the idea (as I do) that they're trying to drive the country so far into debt that we'll have to shred the social safety net (already the least generous among all fully developed countries).

They won't tell us that, of course, not directly (except for Grover Norquist). Why should they bother? They've already got the Moron American set distracted with everything else, like gay marriages. Oh yes, God hates fags, don't you know, and so we'd better reelect Bush. It gives me grim satisfaction to know that religious nutcase gay bashers and their ilk are seen even by a friendly administration as mere tools to distract people (hell, even Bush is a tool in that sense, with his incurious, born-again ignorance and childish nature) while they go about the serious business of looting the treasury.

That may be the worst part of all. This is not the worst administration in history because they lack competence or coherence. The people in charge are quite competent and quite focused on their goal. And they are good at what they do. It's just that what they do is leading to the dissolution of America. I don't know what country the Republican party thinks they stand for, but it ain't us. Not with these leaders.

Posted by Observer at 07:27 AM | Comments (1)

March 20, 2004

Lots of Driving

Between yesterday and today, I'll be in the car for about ten hours, I think. I drove the kids up to meet their grandparents and a few other of the grandkids in the family at a campsite yesterday (about a two hour round trip). With one set looking after the older three and another set looking after our baby Daniel, Michelle and I were free to have some fun. We drove to the big city, went to a neat farmer's market, the aquarium, a couple of shopping places and had really good food.

I had a smoked sirloin for lunch, small but delicious, then salmon and rice for supper at The Cheesecake Factory, followed by a slice of Chocolate Mousse cheesecake. Wow, that was some good eatin'. We had a great time yesterday, first time we've eaten out alone together since Daniel was born, I think. That's eight months!

Today I've got to go fetch the kids, drive Cody down to his soccer game (45 minutes in a different direction) and back, then take the kids around town on our usual Saturday thing. Cody called from the campsite yesterday while we were out and about, and I feared it was trouble. But he just wanted me to ok a trade between him and his friend who was also there (it was a bad trade from the friend's standpoint ... two pretty valuable Yu-Gi-Oh cards for a four dollar yo-yo ball). I told Cody I wasn't sure, and he said, "But he REALLY wants to do it! PLEEEEASE?" So I said fine, but I figure I'll try to talk him out of it this morning (half-heartedly).

Michelle said I should be happy that he even called to check. Yeah, that's a fair point, isn't it? Heh.

Posted by Observer at 07:59 AM | Comments (2)

March 19, 2004

Happy Anniversary

If you have time today, you should go over and visit my wife's blog (aka Felicity ... see over there? in the sidebar?) and tell her how wonderful she is. She is celebrating an anniversary of her 29th birthday today, and she doesn't like anniversaries.

Posted by Observer at 08:30 AM | Comments (0)

Focus on the Truth

Thanks to Atrios for the pointer. John Kerry said something kinda dumb the other day. I mean, it was a dumb thing for a candidate to say tactically, but the bottom line is that it is undoubtedly truthful. This is how the question was put by CNN's Wolf Blitzer to Richard Holbrooke, who was Ambassador to the U.N. under Clinton:

BLITZER: Ambassador Holbrooke, thanks very much for joining us. A little revised version of what John Kerry said. He said, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you got to win. This you got to beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that." So there is enormous energy out there. The president today said, if he makes an accusation, he has a responsibility to back it up. What do you say?

See, the game Bushco is playing is by asking publicly to Kerry: "Who?" See, Kerry can't come out and say who these leaders are because I'm sure they told him in confidence. These leaders can't well come out and back Kerry. You just don't do that sort of thing diplomatically. It's a no-win situation. So Bush gets to paint Kerry as a liar because Kerry can provide any names, even though it is common knowledge that a *lot* of foreign leaders would love to see Bush replaced (try Germany and France, for starters, and now Spain).

During a joint press conference with the Dutch Prime Minister the other day, Bush tried to put the guy (Balkenende) on the spot when a reporter asked about this story. The reporter asked Bush to comment on the fact that Kerry can't "back up" his assertion, etc. (this is a mainstream media asking this question, keep in mind ... that damned "liberal bias", you know). Bush repeated his little sing-song gotcha that Kerry can't back it up, blah blah blah and then he turned to Balkenende to see what he would say.

Bush was probably expecting Balkenende to just come out and say, "Oh, of course, we support America, etc." I mean, he really put the guy on the spot. What else could he say? Well, good for the Dutch. He said, "I won't talk about that issue. It has to do with the campaign here in the United States." Talk about your emergency brakes. Heh, the awkward pause that refreshes.

Anyway, here was Holbrooke's response to Blitzer's stupid question about Kerry (that's the "Clinton News Network" keeping this anti-Kerry story alive for three days running now, for those of you scoring at home):

John Kerry committed an unpardonable crime in Washington: he spoketh the truth. What he said is self-evidently true. There's a new poll out today by the Pew Institute, a worldwide pool, which shows massive and growing anti-Americanism around the world. Now American voters need to make up their own mind who they prefer, George W. Bush or John Kerry. But they also ought to know this administration is isolating us in the world, weakening us. Recent events in Spain, this election are another example.

John Kerry said something everybody knows is true. And, Wolf, you know it's true. And why don't I say just one other thing. Why don't you, instead of staging a silly he said/he said between the White House, which is throwing all this mud at John Kerry after he said something true. Why don't you poll your foreign correspondents on CNN. And ask them who the population and leaderships in the world would prefer to see elected? Very simple.

What's that? A strange concept, I know, wondering about truth and all that when there is a political horserace going on. It just shows what a radical left-wing nut Holbrooke is, I guess.

Posted by Observer at 07:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 18, 2004

Kerry and the Military

Josh Marshall has a good discussion of the latest Bushco campaign ad, this one trying to assert that Kerry is weak on defense:

This one uses last year's $87 billion Iraq supplemental, and the fact that Kerry voted against it, to accuse him of voting against each of the various line items for troop funding included in the bill.

Now, this is inherently misleading since I believe Kerry, like many other Dems, voted for an alternative bill which would have funded these needs by rescinding part of Bush tax cuts. So to say he voted against these particulars is really a distortion of the legislative process.

(Admittedly, it's not quite as bad as what they tried to pull last week, but still pretty bad. In that case, the President charged Kerry with a reckless plan to cut Intelligence spending in 1995, without mentioning that the agency targeted was was mismanaging the funds in question or, much more importantly, that the Congress, then under Republican control, voted a substantially larger cut than the one Kerry had proposed.)

What's more, the commercial highlights three budget items, each of which were ones the president opposed and had to be bullied into supporting -- by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The text narration says: ""No body armor for troops in combat. No higher combat pay. No to better health care for reservists and their families. No -- wrong on defense."

What's most bracing about this narration is that this is actually a pretty factual statement if the target is the president, not Kerry.

Now, one claim really stands out here. The ad says Kerry voted no to "higher combat pay."

This is truly a milestone in the long bilious history of gall.

If you watched this debate at the time you'll remember that last summer the Bush administration went to great lengths to cut combat pay for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to save money for other priorities. They only relented when Democrats, Republicans and most of all military-oriented publications like Army Times expressed so much outrage that they had no choice but abandon the effort.

Here's a snippet from an article which appeared on August 15th, 2003 in the San Francisco Chronicle which gives a brief glimpse of their ignominious retreat ...

The White House quickly backpedaled Thursday on Pentagon plans to cut the combat pay of the 157,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after disclosure of the idea quickly became a political embarrassment.

The Pentagon's support for the idea of rolling back "imminent danger pay" by $75 a month and "family separation allowances" for the American forces by $150 a month collapsed after a story in The Chronicle Thursday generated intense criticism from military families, veterans groups and Democratic candidates seeking to unseat President Bush in 2004.

And so the White House which was pushing to save money by reducing combat pay for troops currently serving in two combat zones is now challenging Kerry's national security bona-fides by alleging that he opposed increases in combat pay.

Sometimes you try to dress it up or package it in some artful way. But the truth is irreducibly blunt: lying and indifference to a factual record often no further away than the google web site is the hallmark of this administration.

This just shows you how much contempt Bushco holds for the average Moron American. They *know* that most people won't bother to look this stuff up. So they can assert it, the other side refutes it, and to the Moron American, it is another "he said, she said" deal. "A pox on both houses!" they cry, and then they vote for the guy with the best hair and wonder why the country is going to hell. As long as people refuse to take their responsibilities as citizens seriously (that means get informed), we're going to keep going down this road.

Part of that is the media's fault, too. It is the media's job to objectively call people out on stuff like this, to point out when one guy has a point and the other guy is just a manipulative liar. God forbid they do that in this case, though, because the cynical bellows of "liberal bias!" will stream from the right wing rafters.

If I say "2+2 is not equal to 3", it isn't because I have a bias against small numbers. It's because it's a fucking fact. The media should be smarter than this, but they are well paid to keep their heads in the sand. All the administration needs is for good people to do nothing, to stand by and watch it happen, to change the subject to earth tones, haircuts, whatever. My only hope is that the internet will help change things, that it will reach a critical mass and make a difference.

Posted by Observer at 07:49 AM | Comments (1)

March 17, 2004

Spanish Common Sense

If you hadn't heard, Spain held a presidential election last week, just a few days after the terrorist bombing of their train system in Madrid. The Aznar administration, which supported Bush's stupid war in Iraq against the wishes of the majority of its population, was ousted. Krugman has a brief overview:

"My most immediate priority," Spain's new leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, declared yesterday, "will be to fight terrorism." But he and the voters who gave his party a stunning upset victory last Sunday don't believe the war in Iraq is part of that fight. And the Spanish public was also outraged by what it perceived as the Aznar government's attempt to spin last week's terrorist attack for political purposes.

Apparently, shortly after the attacks, the Aznar government tried to blame internal terrorists, separatists who want independence from Spain. He tried to use fear to imply that it is no time to switch presidents (sound familiar?). Turns out, though, that Aznar knew it was probably Al Qaeda and suppressed the evidence (sound familiar?). He was worried that people would be angry that the war in Iraq did *not* make them safer, because it had nothing to do with the war on actual terrorists, and it turns out they were made about both that and the manipulation of facts.

The new government immediately declared its policy to remove all troops from Iraq, withdrawing support from that mess of a war. Conservatives (by which I mean the mainstream media) are spinning this election result as an either/or. If it was a defeat for one of Bush's allies, it must have been a victory for Al Qaeda.

Bullshit.

As I've pointed out in the past, Bush is doing a lot of stuff that is making Al Qaeda (and other terrorist organizations that get their inspiration from groups like Al Qaeda, which is turning out to be the main threat now) stronger, inspiring a new generation of terrorists and preventing world cooperation on this issue in some sense. The war in Iraq has nothing to do with getting Bin Laden. Everyone knows that, and even Bushco has admitted it. So opposing the war in Iraq has nothing to do with fighting the terrorists responsible for 9/11.

So what *does* the Spanish election mean for us, if anything? James Pinkerton has some interesting thoughts:

Are the Spanish cowardly for tossing out their pro-Iraq intervention government? Or are they wise? [...]

Now that the pro-intervention Popular Party (PP) has been defeated, to be replaced by the anti-intervention Socialists, American hawks are reversing course, accusing Spain of "appeasing" terror. Peter Robinson, writing in Nationalreview.com, lamented, "Terrorists have now succeeded in producing a change in government in a major Western European nation."

Not exactly. What happened was that Spaniards went to the polls and rejected the PP's pro-Bush policy. Intervention in Iraq was a "disaster," declared newly elected Socialist leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. [...]

Happily for Spain, casualties inside Iraq have been light - just 11 dead. But the Madrid bombings demonstrated yet again that the real danger to the West was never inside Iraq. Instead, the danger was always to "soft targets" in the West, such as train stations or the World Trade Center. And the bad guys weren't Iraqi agents, but rather supranational networks using low-tech weapons of medium destruction. These networks may not consist of Iraqis, but they draw strength from the perception - justified, in the case of Iraq - that America and its allies have launched their own jihad against the Arab world.

Revealingly, these latest alleged mass killers had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein, who was never a popular figure among Islamicists. Instead, they appear to be Islamic radicals linked to al-Qaida. [...]

The lesson of Madrid was clear enough. Those Spanish troops currently hunkering down in Iraq, dodging snipers, could have been used instead to secure "soft targets" on the homefront, guarding Spain's borders and transport system.

So what will the incoming Zapatero government do in regard to security policy? Here's a prediction: Even as he honors his campaign promise to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq, Zapatero will take obvious and commonsensical measures to improve Spain's homeland security. That is, he will tighten up on border enforcement, scrutinize aliens more closely and improve security around public places. And he will even work closely with allies in "Old Europe."

Indeed, Americans might wish to study Spain's alternative approach to national defense. Voters here might wonder why it's a good idea to have 130,000 American troops in Iraq - while our own borders are sparsely monitored and our own rail system is wide open to terror bombing. And why does the Bush administration wish to spend $200 billion to "liberate" Iraq, but just $40 billion for the Department of Homeland Security this year?
Finally, Americans might ask themselves the most basic question of all: Has the invasion of Iraq really made the United States safer?

I personally doubt that the typical Moron American will pay any attention at all to what happens in Spain. But it is nice to know that in a Democracy, stupid rhetoric, stupid decisions and stupid wars can sometimes carry a price. I just hope Americans are smart enough to make Bush pay it.

Posted by Observer at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2004

Heaven Help Us

I've been working my way through Eric Alterman and Mark Green's new book, "The Book on Bush". It's very detailed and interesting, but I have to admit, a lot of this stuff I already knew. It would be a better book if I hadn't spent the last few years reading about all the different aspects of this horrible administration, so a lot of the outrage would be fresh. At any rate, there are some good summary passages, and this one has to do with Bush's style of governing:

Bush's own aides believed that the president had "shown little interest in the details of the complex disputes in the [Middle East] region" and demonstrated "a viscerally negative reaction when officials try to delve deeply into issues."

The foundational belief for Bush's impressive self-confidence appears to lie in his personal belief -- following a bout of near alcoholism and a born-again religious experience -- that his decisions are divinely inspired. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, perhaps the president's closest friend, echoes a remark frequently made by speechwriter Michael Gerson, that Bush believes "he was called by God to lead the nation."

David Gergen, who served in four separate White Houses and was close to many in the Bush White House, would also observe, two years into the Bush presidency, that the occupant of the Oval Office believe he "somehow may be an instrument of Providence, that part of what he's on is a mission that has some sort of theological roots." [...]

David Frum, author of an almost worshipful memoir of his brief tenure as a White House speechwriter, could not help but admit that his hero was nevertheless "dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill-informed." (Frum also notes that during his time in the White House, "attendance at Bible study was, if not compulsory, not quite uncompulsory.") In the view of Richard Brookheiser, another Bush-admiring conservative intellectual, "Bush's faith means that he does not tolerate, or even recognize, ambiguity: there is an all-knowing God who decrees certain behaviors, and leaders must obey." His decisions, therefore, are limited by what Brookheiser generously terms these "strictly defined mental horizons." [...]

The final quality Bush manifested in foreign policy might be termed the "good man" syndrome. In Bushworld, foreign leaders -- and for that matter, nearly everyone, women included -- fell into the category of either "good man" or "evildoer," with little differentiation beyond that. "Good men" had "no hatred in their hearts" and could be trusted to be "with us." "Non-good men" could not, and hence were understood to be on the side of the "evildoers." In many cases, it didn't seem to matter whether a "good man" had any demonstrable positive qualities -- whether a commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights -- so long as he professed a belief in a higher power and distanced himself, if only rhetorically, from other evildoers.

One of the most remarkable demonstrations of this doctrine came in summer 2001 upon Bush's first meeting with Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB chief and elected strongman of Russia, who was, at the time, in the process of conducting a brutal war against separatists in Chechnya and attempting to wipe out his internal opposition and vestiges of a free press. Bush announced to the world that he fully trusted the former spymaster because "When I looked at him, I felt like he was shooting straight with me." Bush claimed to have gotten a sense of Putin's "soul" and found the former KGB boss a "remarkable leader" and an "honest, straightforward man ... who loves his family" and professed a sincere belief in God. [...]

When Bush wasn't feeling very affectionate, he would practice the politics of personal pique. In fall 2002, for instance, at the summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, Bush grew impatient with Mexican president Vicente Fox, who was withholding his support for Bush's plans to invade Iraq, in conjunction with the view of 80 percent of his nation. During the planned joint press conference, Bush "glowered during Fox's windup and looked annoyed at the unruliness of the camera crews," according to a Washington Post report. "The last straw was when a cell phone went off, which infuriates Bush ... In a breach of protocol, Bush cut off the translator before Fox's answers could be rendered into English" and walked away.

Bush threw another of these fits at a joint press conference with French president Jacques Chirac, though this time it was directed at a journalist, NBC's David Gregory, who had the temerity to ask a foreign leader a question in his own language -- just as most foreign reporters courteously did for Mr. bush. In this instance, the leader of the Free World whined, "Very good, the guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's an intercontinental. I'm impressed. Que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages."

Those were hardly isolated incidents, for Bush's feelings about other leaders seemed to be among the most important determinants of U. S. foreign policy. He refused to congratulate German chancellor Gerhard Schroder on his election victory because he did not like the way the campaign had been run, and would not speak to Schroder when he called to offer his congratulations following the 2002 Republican electoral victory. When Bush traveled to Evian, France, for a Western summit in spring 2003, his spokespeople let it be known that he had no intention of speaking to the leaders of Germany or France.

The post-Iraq policy, as Ms. Rice allegedly defined it, was "Punish France, isolate Germany, forgive Russia." Alas, as the pundit Anne Applebaum noted at the time, the policy made no sense whatever, even on its own terms of childlike pique: "Not only did the Russians support the French during the prewar squabbles at the United Nations, but a pair of Russian generals may also have advised Saddam Hussein, and Russian tracking equipment may have been used in the defense of Baghdad."

"As the president sees it, Putin was led astray by bad companions," a "top official" told a Wall Street Journal reporter. [...]

Bush once found himself confronted by a series of photographs of wounded Palestinian children by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Bush reportedly cried out, "I want peace. I don't want to see any people killed on both sides. I think God loves me. I think God loves the Palestinians. I think God loves the Israelis. We cannot allow this to continue." He then grabbed the hands of his guests and asked them to join him in prayer, as both sides looked on in an apparent state of shock.

But while God may have loved both the Israelis and the Palestinians as His children, Bush loved only the former. Or rater, only Israel was represented in Mr. Bush's eyes by a "good man" -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom Bush deemed to be a "man of peace." As a result, Sharon, like Mr. Putin, was given a free hand to defy Bush's wishes and deal with his enemies however he saw fit, irrespective of God's purported affections. Virtually all the progress made toward peace under the Clinton administration dissipated as a result.

Bush's apparent belief in his own divinely inspired infallibility is enforced within the administration to meet any contingency, which means the president is never to blame for anything unfortunate that happens on his watch. If an "evildoer" cannot be found to blame, a scapegoat is always at hand -- together with an official denial that anyone associated with Bush would ever even imagine employing scapegoat tactics. On the Middle East question, for instance, Bush's spokesperson, Ari Fleischer, went so far in February 2002 as to try to praise his own boss's inaction by blaming ex-president Clinton's energetic peacemaking efforts for the recent outbreak of murderous violence there. "You can make the case that in an attempt to shoot the moon and get nothing, more violence resulted," Fleischer explained to inquiring reporters. "That as a result of an attempt to push the parties beyond where they were willing to go, that it led to expectations that were raised to such a high level that it turned into violence." Fleischer was eventually forced to apologize for this statement, but his boss never did.

What can one say in response to this sort of thing? I mean, all I can hope for is that they don't screw things up too much more before the grown-ups are back in charge.

Posted by Observer at 08:45 AM | Comments (1)

March 15, 2004

Soccer Parents

I drug my ass out to (11-year-old) Sarah's morning soccer game on Saturday. We thought for sure it would be rained out, but no such luck. Sarah really didn't want to go either, and that's something Michelle and I feared when we signed her up. I reminded Sarah that Sarah had promised *not* to be difficult about going to games, that she would be a team player, stick with it, etc. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, okay, OKAY," she sighed.

We got to the fields, about 15 minutes away, and there was hardly anyone there. It was about 30 minutes before game time, and we were there when the coach told us to be there. Within about two minutes, though, the parking lot was almost full of SUV's, and things got underway. Other parents told me they always have a hell of a time getting their kids up and around for early games, especially when the weather is rotten (it had rained most of the night and was spitting drizzle and rain on and off, probably about 50 degrees with a decent north wind ... the kind of cold that gets bone-chilling if you aren't really bundled up after about ten minutes).

One parent told me her (12-year-old) daughter didn't want to come because her boyfriend had been in a motorcycle accident the night before and Care-flighted to the hospital. I tried to figure out which part of that statement concerned me the most. Gah.

Sarah's match began, and immediately a parent over on the other side of the field began non-stop yelling. Turns out he is an assistant coach. And boy, was he mean. "Courtney! COURTNEY!! HEY!!! Wake up out there! What are you doing? Don't just stand there. HEY WAKE UP COME ON!!!" He was like that for the whole match. It was bad enough that Sarah's team was completely outmatched (the whole game was on her end of the field, pretty much), but to hear this guy screaming the whole time ... sheesh. At first, I laughed because he was so cartoonish, but as time went on, it really grated.

I couldn't believe the soccer parents over there just sat and let it happen. He yelled at so many players. I could hardly hear their coach. "Hey! Rachel! When you see the ball, you GO AFTER IT! Come on! Don't stop attacking! Go after the ball! Don't quit! STAY ON THE BALL! GO! RUN! COME ON!" And that was just during the break before a goal kick. The whole field was dead silent, and all you could hear was Mr. Loudmouth. I swear if our coach were like that or allowed a parent to be like that, I'd pull Sarah out in protest. No question. It's a freakin' recreational league. This isn't "select" soccer or anything.

Sarah's team held on to a 0-0 draw in the first half. Sarah, being the worst player on the team pretty much, was assigned to simply "mark" the opposing team's best player. She actually did a great job. She guarded her opponent like a basketball player, holding her arms out to block her progress, getting in the way, even kicking the ball clear a couple of times. It was miles better than her performance in the first week, where she was basically a piece of furniture on the field.

All of us parents on our side were really enthusiastic in yelling out positive encouragement to the players and so on, and I really tried to tell Sarah she was doing a great job. We didn't want the kids to only hear the jackass. Finally, the other team scored late in the second half (twice), so the final was 2-0. Every team the other team scores, the jackass blows a little airhorn. Very annoying. I was hoping for a scoreless draw just to see the guy melt down. He's definitely got Angry Little Man syndrome going.

By the time Sarah and I got home, it was time for the whole crew to go to (9-year-old) Cody's game. The weather was turning worse, actually, but the game was on. We watched poor Cody's team lose 4-0 in heavy rain, on and off (it was more evenly matched than that, but the other team had one extremely good player who was responsible for 3 of their four goals, probably all four if you count indirectly). Cody played very, very well, though.

There was even one point where Cody and that stud player from the other side were racing for the same ball. They got their legs tangled up, and the other player went down while Cody ran after the ball. After about five steps, though, Cody looked back, saw that the other kid was down, and actually turned around to go back and see that the kid was all right. That was probably the most impressive thing I saw all day.

Both kids have practices this week on Tuesday and Thursday. I guess punishment for losing. That, and the mud caked all over shoes and stroller wheels when we got back to the van. Note to self: Remember to bring lots of plastic! Blech.

Posted by Observer at 09:09 AM | Comments (6)

March 14, 2004

Strategery

Some good thoughts around various blogs yesterday about Bush and the issue of national security. Josh Marshall starts kicking it around, offering some free advice for John Kerry:

it's time for Kerry to engage on the defense and national security issue. Since that's really what this election will come down to.

The president cannot win this election on the economy. Barring a rapid change of circumstances over the next three months the data and people's experience of the economy is as best too muddled for the president to run on it successfully.

But he can win on national security. And that's the reason Kerry should engage him on this issue now -- at a moment when the White House seems to be having great difficulty reacting to quickly changing events and shaping the direction of the campaign debate. This is the one issue on which Kerry cannot allow himself to be pigeonholed or adversely defined.

Does this take the debate onto more friendly territory for the president? Perhaps. But the shift will come eventually. And it's difficult to imagine a more propitious moment.

I tend to agree that we should meet the Republicans head on. They're going to try to make the whole election about scaring people, that much is obvious (because every other part of their policy is pretty horrible anyway), so let's have the debate on realistic terms. First, Atrios makes an interesting point about terrorist attacks and the conventional wisdom:

Conventional wisdom, which we'll assume to be true for the moment, tells us that if the people responsible for the horrific bombings in Spain were al Qaedaish or Islamic extremists or something similar, rather than ETA terrorists, that it could cause the defeat of Aznar's party, PP, in the elections tomorrow. The reason being that Iraq was not popular with the Spanish people, and if Aznar directed resources to fighting a non-threat instead of spending time to find real threats, or if the terrorism is a response to their participation in the Iraq war, then he and his party obviously failed in their duty.

On the other hand, I would say that conventional wisdom in this country would be that a major al Qaedaish terrorist attack in this country before our election would be good for the Republicans and Bush. I have no idea if this, or the other, conventional wisdom is true, but the contrast is interesting.

I wonder what will happen to the political dynamic if we do have another major terrorist attack this year before the election. I would like to think it would wake people up, especially if it comes via a route that the President clearly could anticipate but did nothing about (like, say, something smuggled into a port). Republicans would try mightily to spin the attack by saying, "See? This is how desperate the terrorists are. It means we're winning!" They did the same thing in Iraq (and continue to do so), and it makes you wonder under what circumstances the Republicans would concede that their anti-terrorism policy is a failure.

Anyway, Atrios has more about the failure of leadership by Bush and how Kerry should attack it:

What Kerry - and the Democrats - need to do is to overturn conventional wisdom by re-framing the debate. September 11th happened on Bush's watch, after his administration completely ignored the threat of terrorism. Right now, We All Know that George Bush showed "great leadership" after 9/11. How do we know that? Well, because the goddamn Democrats keep saying it.

Truth? Bush ran and hid and then didn't stop wetting his pants until 3 days later. He then went and bombed a stone age country back to the stone age, and then didn't provide the resources to rebuild it. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda members were allowed to escape to Pakistan, defeating much of the purpose of said bombing, and we never found Bin Laden, the stated architect of the 9/11 attack.

We now know that we haven't been devoting the resources to find Bin Laden, because we're now "stepping up" that attempt with Operation Mountain Storm. Why we didn't step up that threat two years ago is obvious - we had to mobilize for Iraq and this gang can't walk and chew gum at the same time (frankly, they can't do them separately either).

So, resources were diverted away from a fighting a gathered threat to a non-threat. We've spent $200 billion fighting this non-threat, much of which went into the pockets of corporations which failed to provide the services they were contracted to do. The immediate aftermath of the Iraq war was bungled, largely due to the utter lack of planning by the "grownups." Suspected WMD sites were looted, civil infrastructure wasn't repaired as the money was diverted to contractors who didn't do it, and civil order was not maintained.

We're spending billions on missile defense, and a measly few million on improving port security. While terrorists may obtain a nuclear weapon, they are unlikely to obtain a reliable intercontinental missile delivery system. Why bother? They just need to float into any port and push the button.

The only great leadership Bush showed after 9/11 is that he miraculously failed to shit his pants while giving a speech post-9/11. Just about everything else has been a total disaster.

Friendly territory for the president? Sure, but only because no one is bothering to point out the obvious. The Bush foreign policy is a miserable failure.

The whole "Bush has shown great leadership" thing is another one of those ironic situations. Bush goes on and on about "the soft bigotry of low expectations", but then that's exactly how he wants to be judged. They set the bar so freakin' low (like in the debates vs Gore when he was declared the victor by the mainstream media because he didn't throw up on stage or something, even though Gore made him look like a fool time and time again), and then when he somehow beats it, Republicans crow about how he's the Heir to Reagan (no title to be proud of, that) and so on.

Kos sums up the step-by-step history perfectly:

1. Bush took power

2. Bush ignored the threat of terrorism

3. 9-11 occured

4. Bush was indecisive in that kindergarten class

5. Bush then hid out in Nebraska while his staff invented a "threat" to Air Force One to justify his absence

6. Bush went to war against Afghanistan (so far okay)

7. But instead of finishing the job, he let Bin Laden, Omar Mullah, and lots of Taliban and Al Qaeda to escape

8. Why did they get away? Because they diverted intelligence and military assets to fight a non-threat in Iraq

9. And how do we know Iraq was a non-threat? Because they invented evidence to justify the war and lied to Congress and the American people

10. They botched the occupation of Iraq, and close to 700 allied and countless Iraqis have paid the ultimate price, and more continue to do so

11. They botched the occupation of Afghanistan, as the US-backed government controls nothing more than Kabul, and the rest of the country is a haven for terrorists, religious fanatics, opium producers, and regional warlords

12. And now, over two years after 9-11, the administration is finally training all of our intelligence and military resources toward capturing Osama Bin Laden

I wouldn't call that a successful run.

Exactly. Who would, aside from the corporate media?

So what's the alternative? It's easy to sit back and criticize Bush's decisions, like shooting fish in a barrel. What should've been done? Well, actually, it's pretty obvious and what people like me were thinking and saying all along. Here's an editorial that kind of sums it up.:

When President Bush took office, an imminent threat against the United States indeed existed, but it wasn't from Saddam Hussein. It was from terrorism worldwide -- most immediately from Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida.

The Bush administration was apprised of that threat by the outgoing Clinton administration and presented with a plan of action for taking the fight aggressively and soon to Bin Laden. The White House all but ignored the warning. Instead, counterterrorism funding was cut and, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has disclosed, the president and his national security team focused on removing Saddam Hussein from power.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001, the Bali bombings, the attacks in Istanbul and others, numbering almost 30 in all. Now comes the horror of the attack on Spanish trains Thursday to again illustrate just how important a worldwide, coordinated focus on terrorism is -- and how wrong America's focus on Iraq was.

No one knows for sure at this point whether Al-Qaida was connected to the bombings in Madrid -- although the operation certainly looks more like a Bin Laden-type operation than an attack by the Basque separatist group ETA, which reportedly has denied involvement. But the reality is that it doesn't matter whether a hard link is found. This latest attack demonstrates anew how important it was, before 9/11, to build a strong international coalition capable of a tightly focused, sustained and comprehensive effort against terrorist groups of every stripe everywhere in the world.

At the beginning of the Bush administration, the United States enjoyed immense amounts of what Harvard University's Joseph Nye calls "soft power" -- respect, admiration, friendship. That soft power increased dramatically in the days and weeks following 9/11. The Bush administration failed to use that soft power before 9/11 and caused it to evaporate after 9/11, first by attempting to go it alone in Afghanistan, then by lurching away from the focus on terror to invade Iraq -- where no imminent threat existed, where containment was working and where most of the world didn't want the United States to go. As many critics have emphasized, Iraq was a distraction from the war on terror, not part of it.

Imagine a different scenario: Instead of unleashing a radical neoconservative foreign-policy agenda focused on Iraq, what if the Bush administration had spent its first months taking the terrorism threat seriously and building a very strong international coalition that included France, Germany, Russia, China, India, Spain, Britain, Italy and others?

What if such a coalition had sought to take preemptive action not against Iraq, but against known terrorist groups that had already bombed U.S. embassies, attacked the USS Cole, and so on? What if that coalition had followed every lead, every link, every money transfer and arms purchase? What if the coalition had sought to root Al-Qaida out of its Afghan base? Would that coalition have been capable of preventing 9/11? Would it have led to discoveries that might have foiled the attacks in Bali, or Istanbul or Madrid?

Those questions can't be answered, and the answer could be no. But this much is certain: The Bush administration didn't try.

It's not that hard to see what should've been done, and it's not that hard to see that the Bush administration has been maliciously incompetent. They obviously want to avoid having the debate center on fiscal policy, on the environment, on "No Child Left Behind", on social security, and so on, so what about national security and terrorism? I say "Bring it on."

Posted by Observer at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004

Budget Watchdogs

Catching up on my blogs this week, lots of people are talking about this story, which is pretty much a perfect summary of this whole administration.

The government's top expert on Medicare costs was warned that he would be fired if he told key lawmakers about a series of Bush administration cost estimates that could have torpedoed congressional passage of the White House-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan.

When the House of Representatives passed the controversial benefit by five votes last November, the White House was embracing an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that it would cost $395 billion in the first 10 years. But for months the administration's own analysts in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had concluded repeatedly that the drug benefit could cost upward of $100 billion more than that.

So let's see...where to start. Well, first of all, they knowingly lied about the cost. Second, they covered it up. Third, they acted just like a corporation, threatening a potential whistleblower. And fourth, I think this counts as another flip-flop, no? Heh. The only thing this administration is consistent about is lying. I guess that's what they meant when they said "steady leadership". You can count on them ... to lie. Great. But then I thought the next part was funny, too.

Withholding the higher cost projections was important because the White House was facing a revolt from 13 conservative House Republicans who'd vowed to vote against the Medicare drug bill if it cost more than $400 billion.

Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, one of the 13 Republicans, said she was "very upset" when she learned of the higher estimate. "

Woo, look at that brave Republican, firmly holding that budget line just like a good fiscal conservative. FOUR HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS and NOT A PENNY MORE (cue the patriotic music). When our fiscal policy has friends like these in control of every branch of the government, who the hell needs enemies?

Can someone please explain to me what the guiding philosphy of the Republican party is these days, other than simply staying in power at all costs? Anyone? Bueller?

Posted by Observer at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2004

Break Time

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (3)

March 11, 2004

Poker Nation

I blew through another poker book over the last couple of days, this one "Poker Nation" by Andy Bellin. This isn't really an instructional book, but more of a story/journal by a guy who plays poker for a living in New York City. He talks about what the life is like and shares some very funny stories, things you could only get from someone who has lived and breathed the game for a long time.

There is a little bit of tutorial at the front, just for the casual reader who lacks experience. Bellin even includes a figure of hand ranks in poker, from lowest to highest, "for the benefit of a number of friends whom I am too kind to mention by name." Here is a typical excerpt from one of his hands:

I've just been dealt my down cards: 3-3 (a pair of 3's, for some reason, are called crabs). Not a great hand, but because the table is so short, I decide to play aggressively. I raise $30. Liam takes a break from eating his dinner to check his cards and then matches my bet. Wilson's dealing; he's the only other caller.

The flop comes: J-J-6. This gives me two pair, jacks and 3's, but it's really not the best flop for my crabs, so I check, Liam looks at his cards again and then bets $50. Wilson folds, and I do the same. As Dr. Liam is sweeping in the chips, Wilson decides to show the hand he just folded: J-10. His two pocket cards, when combined with the flop cards, gave him three jacks. A very big hand. Everybody at the table is shocked by his fold. "Man, you flopped trips, that's a tremendous fold," Dr. Liam says.

"Jesus, I would've bet my G-string on those cards," Amy adds.

Wilson nods, "Any man taking time off from eating a steak and then bets into me has got to have me beat. I put you on queen-jack." Dr. Liam thinks for a second -- then exposes his cards: K-J. He had trip jacks with a better kicker than Wilson. The only way Wilson could have won the hand is if the turn or the river cards were one of the three remaining 10's in the deck, giving him a full house. Liam was about a seven-to-one favorite after the flop. Usually a great night is not decided by how many big pots you win, but how many you don't lose. Wilson just avoided a brutal beating. "I give lessons on Tuesdays," Wilson says, smiling.

Later, Bellin has a 7-8 of clubs and the flop comes 6-7-K with the latter two clubs. Anyone who has played Hold 'Em knows this common scenario, where you get four of a suit and so are tempted to chase the flush (with about 50/50 odds) on the turn and river cards. When your suit doesn't come up and you are left with four of a suit, Bellin points out that your hand is a "toilet flush".

Bellin goes on to tell the story of a friend of his who plays:

Dave Enteles is a friend of mine from college, an occasional participant in my original Vassar poker game. David is a nice guy, very funny, quick-witted, with a unique aesthetic appeal that you could only understand if you pictured a white Chris Rock with Bruce Willis' hairline. Yet his most striking characteristic is that Dave Enteles is a terrible poker player. He is perhaps the worst I have ever seen. [...]

His card strategy is akin to the U. S. exit strategy in Vietnam. He has none. Absolutely none. It's shocking. His play is completely devoid of all rational thought. To give an example, I was once "sweating his hand" (playing along with him, looking at his cards) and watched him call the final bet with an ace high in a game of seven-card stud when the person who bet was showing a pair of nines on the board. I asked him why he called when there was no way he could win, and Dave replied, "I didn't want anybody to think that I had bad cards."

Bellin then goes on to tell his personal "bad beat" story when he lost a small fortune to Dave, who drew two runners on the last two cards of a seven-card stud hand to beat Bellin's full house. Very funny story but too long to quote here. The whole book is like that. Some general comments on poker, like how to approach the game, what life is like, etc., mixed in with a lot of personal stories about hands he had played and so on. Unlike McManus' "Positively Fifth Street" (in which there was a lot of dreck mixed in to the very interesting poker stories), this one is all poker and a good read from start to finish.

Posted by Observer at 08:11 AM | Comments (6)

March 10, 2004

Flip Flops?

Every politician flip-flops. I mean, it's stupid to always stick to the same ideology, especially if the facts contradict you. Of course, if the facts contradict one of Bush's policies, his usual response is to look for new facts. But sometimes, he flip-flops, and it is usually a result of political pandering. That's fine, lots of politicians do that, but the Developing Narrative of the So-Called-Liberal-Media is that John Kerry is a flip-flopper. He has changed policies over the years on a variety of issues, sure.

But Bush? Mr. Steady Leadership in Changing Times? Let's look at the scorecard, thanks to references here, here and here:

Fiscal Policy:

Initially opposed budget deficits. Now they don't matter.

Foreign Policy:

Used to advocate a "humble" policy, avoiding nation-building. Now? Heh.

Campaign Finance:

Opposed the McCain-Feingold act during the campaign, then signed it into law as president.

Health Care:

Opposed patients' bill of rights, even vetoed it as governor, then took credit for its passage when running for president.

Gay Marriage:

During the campaign, it was an issue that needed to be left to the states. Now he's calling for a constitutional amendment.

Homeland Security:

First opposed it, then favored it, then opposed it, then favored it, then opposed it, then finally agreed it was extremely important.

UN Authority:

Vowed to call for a second UN vote on the Iraq invasion, then never called for it when he realized it would go against him.

North Korea:

Clinton was an inept coward for negotiating with North Korea. Now Bush is ... wait for it ... negotiating with North Korea (and getting less out of it).

Insider Trading:

So many back-and-forths on strengthening the SEC, it's hard to know what his current position is. He says he will but he never does.

Social Security:

During the campaign, everyone agreed that the "lockbox" of Social Security funds wouldn't be touched. Now? What lockbox?

9/11 Commission:

Opposed creation of it. Has fought it every step of the way. Now claims he is giving them unprecedented cooperation (promising to meet with only the leaders for one hour ... he's real busy, you know, going to rodeos and fund-raisers and all, no time for getting to the bottom of 9/11, which Changed Everything, right?).

Nuclear Proliferation:

Promised US would intervene and "end" proliferation by rogue states. Well, except for Pakistan, I guess.

Greenhouse gases:

Promised to stick by agreements to limit emissions of Carbon Dioxide as a candidate, then reversed this position when he took office.

Heat Subsidies:

Promised to fully fund a program to help low-income people pay heating bills. Proposed to cut a half-billion from that program in the 2002 budget.

Free Trade:

Supported NAFTA, supported free trade as a candidate. In office, instituted controversial steel tariffs among other protectionist measures, later dropped under threat of European trade sanctions.

Daily Kos has many more, and I'm sure there are many, many more to come. Again, some of these are surely defensible (some are more hypocritical stances, not necessarily changing positions over time, but there's a little flip-flopping in each one), just as they are with Kerry, but watch how the media portrays Kerry as the waffling opportunist while Bush is the steady, consistent leader.

Posted by Observer at 06:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2004

Bringing Down the House

After finishing the Mars trilogy, I was hungry for something quick and fun, so I devoured "Bringing Down the House" by Ben Mezrich. It's a story that follows a former MIT student who was recruited by some acquiantances into a blackjack card-counting ring. The book describes their techniques and adventures at various casinos, their rise and fall, etc.

Basically, the system works like this. They have a team of several "spotters" who sit at various tables in a casino making minimum bets. The spotters are counting with a very simple system (+1 for 2-6, -1 for 10+). When the shoe (usually six decks combined) gets down pretty low and has a big positive value (meaning there are lots of 10, J, Q, K, A left), it means the odds favor the player, so the spotter makes some sort of body language signal. That's when the roving player comes to the table, gets some sort of verbal cue as to the count, and begins betting big accordingly.

The spotters lose money thanks to the natural house advantage, but it is more than made up for by the statistically predictable long-term gains of the big bets. The big player leaves once the shoe is exhausted and then moves on to another table or at least waits for a signal from another spotter. How much they earn is limited only by how much they can afford to bet (you have to have a bankroll and bet a small fraction of that each time to guard against a run of bad luck), so they are backed by bigger investors expecting a certain percentage return. The players keep the rest and live the high life, at least until computer recognition software, inter-casino databases and irritated pit bosses catch up to them.

I am surprised something that seems rather crude like this techinque was working as of the late 90's when events took place, but then again, there are lots of very crowded casinos. It is an interesting read, good if you can find it in the library. It's a bit overpriced as a trade paperback.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (8)

March 08, 2004

The Bush Bust

Before I start, let me say for the record that I really don't care that Bush used fake firefighters in his 9/11 themed campaign commercial. I see a few news organizations talking about this as a major gaffe, a big stumble, etc. Come on. Can we please stick to the issues? It's just a stupid ad. Some PR firm hired some actors instead of going to the trouble of finding real firefighters (and I'm sure they could've found some who would've been fine with the commercial, though it might've taken a little longer than they'd like), and this is zero reflection on Bush's abysmal record as president. It just doesn't matter.

It goes without saying (almost) that it isn't front page stuff like "Earth Tones", "Love Canal", or "Inventing the Internet" were in the Washington Post, of course ... the corporate media has standards, you know. But it is being reported at some level by some papers as a story. I can't even get a sense of satisfaction going on this one, because I know it's going to happen to Kerry about five times for every time it happens to Bush. On the front page.

Anyway, I'd like to talk a little bit about this entry from Atrios on Bush's tax policy and the economy, because I think it ties a lot of my thinking together:

The centerpiece of Clinton's economic plan was his deficit reduction plan, which included both tax increases and a determination to restraint spending growth. The tax increase of 1993 raised top marginal rates from 31% to 39%. It removed the income cap on Medicare taxation. It also expanded the EITC for low income families. For the vast majority of taxpayers, the 1993 plan had zero effect on their federal tax burden.

At the time, we all remember, the Republicans predicted that the Clinton tax increases would bring on an economic armageddon. They didn't, but if the economy had tanked or failed to recover for whatever reason, in 1996 every Republican would have blamed it on the tax increases, because as we all know tax increases are bad for the economy. Whether deserved or not, that would have been the media narrative of the 1996 election. [...]

Funny how we never hear about this anymore from conservatives. Idiots like Phil Gramm were talking about Clinton's policies like they were going to bring on another Great Depression. In no uncertain terms, they labeled the tax increases catastrophic. So, ummm, wha' hoppin', guys? Anyone?

It's clear the Bushies were pinning this campaign season on some good job numbers - if they get them they would "prove" that tax cuts were working, and they'd campaign for yet another round of cuts. Perfect in an election year. But, despite their hopes, the December, January, and February numbers were all quite disappointing. And, fortunately, the press is finally starting to get a wee bit smarter (except for Pravda on the Hudson) about the jobs numbers making it more difficult for the Republicans to spin them.

But, no matter what happens with the economy this year, the media will never allow the narrative to be "the Bush tax cuts caused the poor economy" the way "the Clinton tax increases caused the poor economy" would have been the narrative in 1996 if it had been the case. Why? Because, "we all know" that tax cuts are good for the economy and tax increases are bad for the economy. The media has internalized this as a basic fact, even though there's no reason to think it to be true. The golden years of the US economy, 1945-1973, coincided with the period of record high top marginal tax rates.

The bottom line here is that you can't have it both ways. If you want to argue that taxation really doesn't have a major impact on the economy, great. If you want to argue that presidents don't really affect unemployment, job growth, etc. nearly as much as the business cycle, fine. If that's the case, then there's no reason our government should run a deficit. We should always tax people as much as we need to pay off whatever programs the government decides it needs to pay for. After all, whether the rate is high or low shouldn't affect the economy much, right?

Want a tax cut? Cut the budget in exact proportion to the tax cut. Want a new government program? Let's find out what new tax you want to trot out. But if you want to argue that the crappy job numbers, the recessionary economy, etc. have basically *nothing* (or *extremely little*) to do with Bush's taxation policies, then there is absolutely no excuse to support him in the face of the unnecessary and massive deficits he has incurred.

If, on the other hand, you believe Bush has a lot to do with the economy, then the last three pretty terrible years lands right at his doorstep. Is this country better off fiscally, economically (not to mention environmentally, etc) than it was four years ago? Heh, I don't think so.

Did the Bush tax cuts "cause" a sluggish economy? It's doubtful, but what we can say with some certainty is that they spent a lot of money and don't have much to show for it. And, now, there's nothing more they can do. Greenspan can't lower rates anymore.

Any further deficit spending would likely have fairly strong negative consequences, even if it were used for truly stimulative policies. It's likely the economy will lumber a long a little while longer and eventually start to improve. However, a sudden negative shock to the economy -- oil price shock, terrorist attack, natural disaster, international unrest -- could be much more disastrous than normal because the fiscal and monetary policy gas pedals are both pushed down all the way.

And the deficit isn't even truly reflected because Bush didn't include the cost of the Iraq war in this year's budget. He's saving that for after the election. And it seems to me that he's also saving the news about instituting a draft for after the election, too, because if you look at how many troop commitments we have everywhere, we pretty much are going to have to start drafting people.

Either that or just abandon Iraq and have it turn into a chaotic terrorism oasis, a clear downgrade from Saddam's regime. Oh, and you think human rights will be better under the Shiites after we leave? I mean, you *do* care about human rights a whole lot, since that turns out to be why we invaded since the WMD's and Al Qaeda links didn't exist. Uh huh. Whatever.

Everything this guy touches turns into a mess. Unless you are a millionaire who doesn't really care much about America.

Posted by Observer at 06:55 AM | Comments (2)

March 07, 2004

I'm Feeling Lucky

Results from Google searches on the entire web. I've listed the search string, followed by my rank in the overall Google listing for that string.

"Carpe Datum" - 1st

"Cargo Cult Science" - 10th

"Fossil Fuel Alternatives" - 3rd

"Conservative Talking Points" - 1st

"Nelson Laugh" - 1st

"Hoist by His Own Petard" - 3rd

"The waitress and the lawyer" - 1st

"Arod salary" - 4th

"Mootrix" - 10th (most common search string to find my blog)

"Yu-Gi-Uh" - 8th (2nd most common string to find my blog)

"Stupid Conservative" - 1st

These are just a few of many interesting results. Someday I'm going to have to read up on Google's algorithm.

Posted by Observer at 01:32 PM | Comments (8)

Red Mars

It took me about two months, I think, or maybe three, but I finally finished slogging my way through the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This trilogy consists of three lengthy books, "Red Mars", "Green Mars" and "Blue Mars". Overall, it was something to read, but the payoff wasn't worth the time I invested in it.

The overall plot, which covers a time period on the order of 200 years, is that a hundred initial settlers are sent to Mars to begin a long-term terraforming project. As Mars transforms into a more habitable world, the structure of society on the planet changes as dramatically as Mars does (the symbolism is laced throughout the text). Many of the first settlers survive for the entire series, thanks to longevity treatments developed by Martian scientists. That's a bit of a relief, because there were about ten too many major characters to begin with.

I wish the book had focused more on the most enjoyable characters to read about, like John Boone and Sax Russell (and to a lesser extent Coyote and Maya). These two are given quite a bit of time, especially Sax in the final book, but it was hard to keep my interest. I found myself without much motivation to read this series for days at a time, hoping when I picked it up again that it would get back to something interesting.

Parts of the series make for interesting short stories. In fact, because Robinson tends to focus on one character for a long time (instead of intercutting between various threads) and because of the long timescale covered, the vast scope of events, etc., it really does feel like I'm reading a short story anthology. And I don't really like short stories all that much. The quality was hit (and there were some very satisfying hits, to be sure) and miss. There were times when the book would go for a hundred pages on pretty much nothing but fictional Martian politics.

I read enough about real-world politics, and the last thing I want to do for entertainment is to read about the passions stirred up by politics on a fictional world. And I *definitely* don't want to read about the legislative process, the constitutional convention, council meetings, etc. I know it is a vehicle for Robinson's very interesting ideas, but it was too heavy, too long.

I'm glad to be finished with it so I can get on to some shorter, more interesting and more entertaining books. The Mars series is one of those books that is pretty neat to have read, but it wasn't a lot of fun to read. I appreciate the literary merits and the power of some parts of this story, but damn, I need some easy mind candy reading now. Time for more poker books.

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (2)

March 06, 2004

Mr. Cool

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 07:19 AM | Comments (4)

March 05, 2004

Tax Math

All these many years of doing tax returns, and I've never made a mistake. Until this year. Last year, around August, we got a check from the gummint for $400 per kid. I had read that they were increasing the child tax credit from $600 to $1000 per kid, and I thought I had read that it was retroactive, which is why they were sending additional money on top of the refund we got in March 2003.

Nope. Turns out the $400 per kid check they sent back in August 2003 was an *advance* on our child tax credit that we claimed this year. I guess they meant retroactive to the beginning of 2003, not 2002. Or something. Anyway, the point is that we claimed $1000 per kid this year, but we got back $1200 less than I assumed we would. It meant that our refund check was delayed for a couple of weeks, and we just got the letter of explanation in the mail yesterday.

I don't know about you, but that seems really stupid. Why did they bother sending the checks out last August? I'll bet you a *LOT* of people who got checks last August are claiming the full $1000 per kid on their returns. Well, if you are one of those, get ready for a surprise. On the bright side, I'm sure this will give the Moron American set another reason to be pissed at Bush. No big deal to me, just needlessly confusing.

Posted by Observer at 07:49 AM | Comments (5)

March 04, 2004

Personal Responsibility

Let me preface today's post by saying once again how cool MTBlacklist is. I've been spammed 7 times in the past 24 hours, and each time it took all of five seconds to delete. No telling how many times I've been comment spammed by someone trying to post an ad comment to every entry. If I didn't have an easy tool like MTBlacklist, I'd probably end up making this blog by email subscription only. It's that crazy. Good thing Congress passed that powerful anti-spam legislation, eh?

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo summarizes the first round of TV ads financed by the president's huge war chest, and it's not pretty:

If you look at the TV ads the president just unveiled today, you quickly see a main -- probably the main -- theme of his reelection campaign: it's not my fault.

Yes, there are all sort of bad things going on. The economy's been rough. The deficit is deepening. Job growth is barely registering. There's all sorts of chaos on the international stage. But it's not my fault. When I got here there was a recession already, which I didn't have anything to do with. That was Clinton's fault. And the same with all the corporate scandals. And then Osama bin Laden got involved and that wasn't my fault either. And that Iraq thing didn't completely work out. But that's the CIA's fault. So if there's anything that's bad now it's not because of anything I did. It's because of 9/11. And if it's not because of 9/11 then it was already broken when I got here. So don't blame me.

Here's Bush reading what someone wrote for him in a speech last year:

America is ushering in a responsibility era; a culture regaining a sense of personal responsibility, where each of us understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life.

I'm not sure what America he's talking about, but apparently this era of personal responsibility doesn't include the White House. To think that any person could say with a straight face that Bush is a great leader ... wow. Talk about delusional. This man is a moral coward, and his administration is a disgrace. I wonder what he would've blamed it all on had 9/11 never happened.

Oh right. Clinton. These graphs pretty much say it all:


Keep in mind those 2003 and 2004 numbers are both out of date. Thanks to new data and more spending, they are both closer to -$500 billion.

If graphs like this were on the front page every once in a while like they should be, the polls that right now show Kerry with a slight lead wouldn't even be close. The only way Bush is going to be competitive in this election is if (no, *when*) the media does his work for him. Just look at the most recent debate if you want to see how the corporate media is going to do it.

Our economic situation, especially with the deficit, is going down the fucking toilet, but a reporter wants to know, real quick, is God on America's side? I hear that stuff, and I am reminded of the scene in "Contact" where Jodie Foster's character is asked if she believes in God. She answers honestly, and she gets rejected for the mission. Her boss, who believes as she does, lies and tells everyone what they want to hear. He tells her that hey, sometimes the world is unfair, and she responds, "I always figured the world is what we make of it."

Right now, America's situation is what Bush has made of it. The media had better not let him off the goddamned hook, *ESPECIALLY* when it comes to the way he has treated the military, after the whole Texas Air National Guard nonsense and prancing around in a flight suit. I hope Kerry hammers that one mercilessly home. Maybe it'll put to rest once and for all the myth that Republicans are somehow better for our national security, military, etc.

Posted by Observer at 07:21 AM | Comments (6)

March 03, 2004

Guardians of the Flame

Time to get busy with another book review. Even though these days, most of what I read is non-fiction, I still dabble occasionally in speculative fiction and/or fantasy. When I was younger, of course, I devoured that stuff, and one of the most memorable series was "Guardians of the Flame" by Joel Rosenberg. This series has now reached 10 books, and the first few are being re-released as Omnibus editions.

The initial premise is like something out of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" bad movie: Some role-playing gamers don't realize that their mysterious game master is about to magically transport them to a fantasy world in which the gamers will inhabit the bodies of the characters they play. And of the group, half of them are female. I'm not sure which part of the premise is more preposterous, but either way, when I first realized this was the premise, I wasn't optimistic. But this is some seriously good mind candy.

After some initial mishaps, the characters decide to make it their mission in this fantasy world to eradicate slavery. The whole series (so far) stretches over a few decades, which is time for characters to die, relationships to change, kids to be had, etc. The characters introduce some modern technology (i.e. gunpowder) to this fantasy world to give their side an edge, and everything they do has an interesting ripple effect. The whole series has "edge" to it, reminiscent at the best of times of Brust's writing in the Vlad Taltos series.

By the time the series got to about the 6th book, it was getting pretty old for me, and it seemed like Rosenberg had run out of good ideas. I kept at it, though, and I have to say that one of the most recent ("Not Quite Scaramouche") was quite good, with a very powerful ending. Maybe it will represent a second wind for the series. If you've never read it, I'd recommend picking up the omnibus of the first three books, which are the highest quality of the whole series. I believe that's just called "Guardians of the Flame" and it consists of "The Sleeping Dragon", "The Sword and the Chain", and "The Silver Crown".

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (10)

March 02, 2004

Park Service Science

One symptom of the whole Bush regime is that you occasionally get the wingnut religious type appointed, and they do something that's really bizarre. The latest example has the poor Park Service as the victim of a pathetic attempt by creationists to foist religious propaganda on visitors to the Grand Canyon. Bush Greenwatch has the details on this sad story:

Ignoring recommendations by its own senior scientist to withdraw approval for a creationist book now being sold in park facilities, the National Park Service appears to be supporting religious doctrine over sound science, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

"Based on our review, we recommend that the book not be sold in park bookstores because the book purports to be science when it is not, and its sale in the park bookstores directly conflicts with the Service's statutory mandate to promote the use of sound science in all its programs, including public education," states a January 25 memo sent by David Shaver, the Chief of the Park Service's Geologic Resources Division, to Headquarters.

Last summer the Park Service initially approved Grand Canyon: A Different View, by Tom Vail, for sale in park bookstores and museums one week after NPS Deputy Director Donald Murphy ordered the Grand Canyon Park to return three bronze plaques bearing biblical verses to the public viewing areas in the Canyon's South Rim.

The "appropriateness" of offering a book claiming that the Grand Canyon developed on a biblical rather than an evolutionary time scale was questioned by the Grand Canyon National Park superintendent in August.

Ignoring the controversy, top leadership of the Park Service has approved hundreds more copies of the book, is offering it for sale on the Grand Canyon Association's website as "natural history," blocked publication of guidance for park rangers and other interpretative staff that labeled creationism as lacking any scientific basis, and refused requests by the Grand Canyon superintendent, agency geologists and others for a ruling on whether the book violates Park Service rules.

"In order to avoid offending Christian fundamentalists, the National Park Service has been forced to adopt a position of geological agnosticism," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Runch. "On the same basis that public schools do not approve creationist books as science textbooks, the National Park Service has no business promoting Christian ideology masquerading as science."

It's hard to know where to begin with this. What the hell are a bunch of creationists doing working for a scientific organization? I guess I just don't get the whole creationist movement. First of all, you've got to be pretty desperate to ignore the basic science that proves creationism wrong. I mean, creationists try to imply that radioactive dating is all wrong, for example, as if scientists who understand the behavior of the nucleus well enough to create bombs and reactors, who understand radioactivity to such a degree as to use it in medicine and many other applications, who understand nuclear reactions well enough to model (correctly) the behavior of stars ... that these same people somehow can't figure out how to measure decay times.

Hey, I know it is exponential math and all, but that's why you've got those three extra rows of buttons on your calculator, you know? They aren't just there for decoration! And the pseudoscience that masquerades as their alternative to evolutionary biology is cartoonish at best. Anyone who takes a serious look at creationist critiques of evolution should at least take an equally long look at the details of how creationists purport to explain the origin of species.

So there's not only that level of craziness, but then you've got to be committed enough that you *really want* to push your beliefs onto others, trying to infect them as you would with a virus. Hey, you, here's a biblical verse! It's going to root out all that nasty science and common sense in your head, and you'll start thinking this whole canyon was somehow dug out by a river in a few thousand years. If river water were that effective at erosion, we'd have gigantic canyons all over the place! I guess I must have missed the great Mississippi canyon.

I understand that there is a certain comfort level in the certainty provided by some religious beliefs. Every contradictory piece of information is a test of one's faith, and you soldier on as a servant of Jesus or whatever. And if you want to live that way, fine. It's America, so go do what you want. I'm not going to try to dictate my beliefs to you (although if you are in my class, you better learn how science works or I'll test your faith with a big fat "F"), and you don't try to force yours down my throat, especially by trying to establish your religious views through an association with a government entity that I help pay for.

It's wrong on so many different levels, it makes me wonder if these people are as ignorant of American history and tradition as they are ignorant of science.

Posted by Observer at 06:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2004

Another Tournament Report

Ever since the Great Yu-Gi-Oh adventure a month ago, the kids and I have added another stop to our usual Saturday day out. Before we do the usual rounds (hit the park, the library, maybe Sam's or the store, maybe campus so I can get a few things done while they play games in the computer lab), we now often go to a local comic shop's Yu-Gi-Oh tournament. This tournament, held every Saturday morning, is very different from the big mall event.

They take a maximum of 32 contestants on a first-come, first-served basis. Only once in the five times we've gone has it been full when we arrived (and we only missed it by a couple of minutes, so that was a bummer because the place is 20 minutes from the house). Usually between 15-25 are there, so the single-elimination bracket has a lot of byes built in most weeks. Each person pays five bucks to enter. Every participant gets a "tournament pack", which is a special pack of three cards you can only get at sanctioned tournaments (the cards are usually not that good, but occasionally you get some good rare cards, etc., a cut above what you would normally get in a nine-card pack off the shelf).

Depending on the number of participants, they prize levels vary. Usually they take the total money in (say, $100 for 20 entrants) and split about half of that among the top two or top four. So if you count the prize money, the tournament packs and paying minimum wage for a judge to watch the whole thing until the bitter end 3 hours later, the comic store probably breaks even. Their real profit from this just comes from having 20+ sweaty gamers in the store for three hours, where they might impulse buy or at least get some ideas for later purchases. We play in a back room where there isn't merchandise, just folding tables and chairs, but still, there is some down time where you can wander the store (and it is a big store, probably the equivalent of a double-wide trailer part of a strip mall).

The first couple of times at the tournament, we had one or two of us make it a few rounds in, but there are some sharks swimming the waters there. Kids and young adults with very expensive, very hard-to-beat decks (and the time and energy to go to a lot of tournaments), and when one of us would run into those types, that would be that. As a counter, I have bought a couple of cards for each of us to upgrade our decks, and also, we have a policy where if one of us gets knocked out, we strip the very best 3-4 unique (among our family) cards and donate them to whomever is going on.

This past Saturday, it was just me and the two boys (14-year-old Justin and 9-year-old Cody). Sarah had soccer practice. In fact, I doubt any of us will be able to go much in the next eight weeks or so thanks to soccer conflicts on Saturdays, but we'll see when the schedule comes out. There were only 14 people present, the smallest crowd we've yet seen. The prize levels were correspondingly small: $15 for 2nd, $20 for first and nothing for anyone else.

Justin won his first round match but lost his second round match to one of the sharks (he's not the best of the sharks, but he's very good). I won my first round match pretty easily, too, against a shark who tried to get a little too cute with his deck. Sometimes you think you've got a perfect combo but without much experience with your deck against different opponents, you lose track of how many monkey wrenches people can throw in to shoot your wheels off. Once I killed his combo twice in very quick duels (the matches are two out of three duels), he went off to talk to his shark buddy about restructuring his deck a bit, I think.

Next to me in the first round, Cody was dueling this little 8-year-old punk named CJ. When the judge showed CJ his opponent, CJ looked at the judge and fake-whined in that annoying little kid way, "Awww, Chris! Why do you always match me up against such crappy opponents in the first round? I want a challenge!"

I raised my eyebrows and kinda smiled at Cody. Chris said, "Uhhh, I think you're going to find this guy (pointing to Cody) is very good. You should be careful." Obviously, this CJ was a tournament veteran (though we hadn't seen him there in the past few weeks) who knew everyone at the comic shop, and he was super cocky. No sign of a parental unit in sight. It figures.

So they were playing, and CJ was trying to bully his way through the match, kinda like Justin tries to do sometimes, only CJ is *much* ruder. He was trying to play fast on his turn, not giving Cody a chance to react. Cody is used to the much more methodical, polite way of dueling that I teach around the house. I always get on him and Justin when they try to "fast-play", because one of the overriding game philosophies is supposed to be respect and politeness, etc., give your opponent a chance to react. Anyway, Cody kept saying "hang on", and CJ kept complaining that Cody was playing too slow. "Come on!" he whined, "You are just looking at that one card over and over. You're just stalling!"

Cody practiced with a little kid of similar personality last week during his down time. These kids always seem to have these great plans, and when Cody would kill the kid's powerful monster, the kid would say, "Bah, I don't care." So when the kid was winning, he was trash-talking, "Ha ha! I get to attack you for 3000! You are so dead. Man, this is so easy!" When he was losing, it was "It doesn't matter anyway. I can't draw any cards. You're so lucky." It's so stereotypical that it would have been funny if Cody weren't the victim of the abuse.

Anyway, Cody was holding his own. He won the first duel pretty easily, but CJ won the second duel. CJ, of course, is a shark wannabe. He has all the pricey cards (and sometimes that *does* make the difference, no matter the relative skill of the player), and so he was very competitive. He obviously knew how to play the game well, but he was very impatient, very rude, and I could see him making some pretty silly mistakes. The third duel began and CJ started kicking his feet under the table, harder and harder until he finally reached Cody. Now he was kicking Cody, at least until Cody pulled his feet up under him. Not hard, but just to be an annoying little brat.

I looked over at CJ, because I was done with my duel. Cody told him to stop, but CJ kept right on kicking. I said to CJ, "Hey, kid! You know what, there's no place here for that kind of behavior. Quit it and play the game." He shrugged his shoulders like "what's the problem?", and I was afraid to take it a little further because really, I was not supposed to interfere in their duel. The last thing I wanted was for Cody to be disqualified and CJ to win by default. It was up to the judge, who was kind of watching out of the corner of his eye but also watching another duel and issuing rulings.

Cody eventually let the kid spend all of his expensive ammunition, absorbed or deflected the attacks, and then put together a big attack of his own. CJ was obviously doomed, so he started the "you're lucky" kind of nonsense sore-loser trash talking, and Cody teared up a bit. He was really embarrassed at the way CJ was treating him, but he still followed through and blew CJ away, ending the match. I went around the table to kinda console Cody, and CJ said, "Why is he crying? He won! Heck, I lose all the time, and I don't *CRY* about it."

I said, "Yeah, you know what, there's definitely a kid sitting at this table who should be ashamed, and it isn't Cody!" He just shrugged and started collecting his things. A little girl who had been bouncing around watching everyone came over, and she asked, "Why is he crying?"

I told her, "Ask CJ."

She looked at CJ and, like a little robot, said, "Why is he crying?"

CJ said, "Get off my back."

Taken aback, the girl said, "Uh, I wasn't on your back, jerk."

*Finally* at this point, the judge comes over to find out what was going on. I gave him the 30-second summary but decided not to make a bigger issue of it. Looking back, I probably should've told the judge that CJ should have lost by default and shouldn't be in the tournament the following week. But the judge seemed like a pretty level-headed guy (for a comic store geek ... picture the comic shop guy from "The Simpsons" about 20 years younger), so I assume he did the right thing. I saw him walk over and give about a 2-minute lecture to CJ, after which CJ walked out of the room and into the comic store. I assumed he had left.

I had a bye in the next round, so I decided to keep an eye on Cody. Justin was over losing to Luis (one of the sharks I mentioned earlier ... Luis is a nice guy, very friendly, and a fearsome player). Luis is the guy who stomped me two weeks ago, then I beat him last week to advance to the final four (and I won my first prize then, a $10 store credit). Cody did just fine in the next round, playing against another kid his age who was like 90% of the duelists there. Polite, normal, friendly, but not as good as Cody. Cody got over his sad mood and rebounded, advancing to the final four.

Versus me.

Only the top two were going to finish in the money this week, and after Cody's experience, I *really* wanted him to advance. I hope someday if this entry still exists and Cody is old enough to read it and appreciate it, he will understand and believe me when I say: I took a dive. Obviously, not tournament legal. I'm not saying I played no cards. I put on a good show, but I also purposely made mistakes and held back playing certain cards. Cody was still pretty nervous, and he lost the first duel because of it. I couldn't *not* beat him that first time, because it would've been too obvious I wasn't trying.

CJ came over to our table during that duel. He saw that I had sprung for a few new cards for all of us since the boys had some spending money, and he asked if he could see them. I looked at him and said, "You know what, kid? You aren't welcome here. Get lost." He seemed pretty shocked. I guess he really didn't think his rude behavior was a big deal. I took another quick look around the place for parental units. No luck.

Cody said to me, "That was kinda mean."

I responded, "Hey, if CJ wants to apologize, then that's fine, but he can't come over here and act like nothing happened. I can't believe you didn't say something like that before I did. If CJ is here next week, I hope I get to play him. I'll wipe the floor with that little punk and complain to the judge about matching me up against such crappy players." He smiled and granted that I had a good point, and we kept dueling.

The second and third duels, Cody had good enough cards to beat me once fair and square (I think) and the second time with a little bit of underachieving on my part. I held back a lot of powerful cards and then told him afterwards I was saving them all up for a one-turn killing attack. I usually do that anyway, but I could've executed that attack a few turns before he won the duel. So it was enough to be believeable. If I had tried all-out, it is possible that Cody would've won but not very likely.

Cody advanced, winning the second two duels in our best-of-three match, and so he went on (of course) to face Luis in the finals. Cody found his sea legs by this point and played Luis very, very tough. Both players won a duel, but then the third duel ended when Luis played a card that effectively "locks" the duel if you don't happen to have the correct counter ready. We officially hate that card around here, and I guess if we're going to win any tournaments consistently, we'll have to spring for that card (or completely redesign our decks to counter it, which makes them weaker against everything else). It has knocked one or more of us out of each tournament we've played in so far.

We ran into CJ on the way out, and he was asking the judge how the tournament turned out. I spoke up and told him Cody had made the finals and won 2nd place. Cody was really beaming. He immediately blew through his store credit for a new bunch of cards. Justin vowed to do a bunch of chores (which he has since done ... he had a busy Sunday cleaning the house) so that he could do his part to keep the arms race going. Me, I didn't really have an excuse or anything. I just bought myself some cards, too.

On the way to the pizza place (our usual post-tournament stop), Justin spoke up out of the blue and said, "Uh, thanks, Dad, for taking us to the tournament and letting us buy those new cards. That was a lot of fun." Wow. Bonding. I told them both that I was very proud of the way they behaved themselves at the tournament, especially compared to little jerks like CJ.

It was a good day.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (7)