April 30, 2004

Mmmmm, Propaganda

Via Atrios, I see this:

Sinclair Broadcast Group, an owner of 62 television stations (including Baltimore's Fox 45) in 39 markets around the country, is sick and tired of all that supposedly "bad news" coming out of Iraq. It has decided to do something about it, too. Beginning this month, it plans to broadcast programs from that ill-fated Arab country that will emphasize "the positive" about Iraq, according to an article by David Folkenflik in the Baltimore Sun (02/18/04), entitled, "In Iraq, Going for the Upbeat."

Ooooo, I loves me summa that propaganda! Thanks, guys! What? There's more?

STATEMENT OF THE SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP
 
The ABC Television network announced on Tuesday that the Friday, April 30th edition of “Nightline” will consist entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. Despite the denials by a spokeswoman for the show the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.

While the Sinclair Broadcast Group honors the memory of the brave members of the military who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country, we do not believe such political statements should be disguised as news content. As a result, we have decided to preempt the broadcast of “Nightline” this Friday on each of our stations which air ABC programming.

We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some. Before you judge our decision, however, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of the 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorists attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, you will find the real motivation behind his action scheduled for this Friday.

Ah, the heavy hand of censorship falls on Ted Koppel. Give those ABC News guys some credit. They did respond with some vigor:

We respectfully disagree with Sinclair's decision to pre-empt "Nightline's" tribute to America's fallen soldiers which will air this Friday, April 30. The Nightline broadcast is an expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country. ABC News is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor -- as our audience expects, deserves, and rightly demands. Contrary to the statement issued by Sinclair, which takes issue with our level of coverage of the effects of terrorism on our citizens, ABC News and all of our broadcasts, including "Nightline," have reported hundreds of stories on 9-11. Indeed, on the first anniversary of 9-11, ABC News broadcast the names of the victims of that horrific attack.

Those good old conservatives, always watching out for what's best for us Americans. Just when we were starting to get worried about all those troops dying over in that Iraq quagmire, you've got all the mainstream media chasing after John Kerry's ribbons or medals he threw in 1971 (and like most of the Gore stuff, there isn't a single bit of decency or truth in conservative charges ... they're just trying to muddle things for the Moron American and get some more of that "pox on both your houses" vibe going).. And in case anyone tries to bring the attention back where it rightfully belongs ... well, they can just shut up, because guess who controls the media outlets?

Here's a hint: It ain't liberals.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (2)

April 29, 2004

President Keno

Some choice quotes from the latest Get Your War On:

All I know is I'm from New York City. I can actually think on my feet, I can string two fuckin' sentences together without notes, and I could answer some motherfuckers' questions about a war without just spitting out eleven different permutations of the same goddamn "goo-gah freedom" phrase! So sue me -- that makes me elitist? Good! If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room," I'll be an elitist! [...]

His mind is like one of those spinning cages where you pull out the winning lottery numbers -- but there's only four goddamn little balls in his cage: "Freedom", "Democracy", "Terror", and "Stay the Course". He opens his mouth, one of the balls drops out. That's not a conversation, that's Keno. [...]

Complicated times call for simple language! How else do you justify being allies with Pakistan without your goddamn head exploding from cognitive dissonance?

Listen. Me like simple words. Make me feel strong. OK. But simple words plus morally compromised geopolitical strategic framework not so great. Maybe? Or me bad citizen for think that? [...]

Are you suggesting that if we're fighting a "war of ideas" in the Muslim world, we need a commander-in-chief who can successfully express one when he opens his mouth? I always thought the White House was just handicapping itself so the Clash of Civilizations wouldn't look fixed.

I loved it when the reporter was basically like, "Just who the hell exactly are we turning sovreignty over to on June 30th? Space Ghost?" And Bush said, "Fuck, I don't know -- go ask Lakhdar Brahimi."

And everyone in America was like, "WHO THE FUCK IS LAKHDAR BRAHIMI? Can he balance the budget, too?" You know the last country Brahimi saved? It's called "Afghanistan". I dare you to go live there.

Meanwhile, Tom Tomorrow is concise and funny as always. His past few weeks have been great. I need laughs from these places and "The Daily Show" just to stay sane these days.

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

April 28, 2004

With Friends Like These

Bob Somerby's Daily Howler is a must-read, especially during campaign season. Yesterday's entry about the latest coverage of John Kerry was priceless:

Last Wednesday, Nedra Pickler was at it again, reviewing Kerry’s military records for the Associated Press. Try to believe that you live in a world where this could be an AP lead paragraph:

PICKLER (pgh 1): Records of John Kerry’s Vietnam War service released Wednesday show a highly praised naval officer with an Ivy League education who spoke fluent French and had raced sailboats—the fruits of a privileged upbringing that set him apart from the typical seaman.

Try to believe that you read that! Could anyone believe that this was a sensible summary of Kerry’s military records? Of course, “spoke fluent French” and “a privileged upbringing that set him apart” are pure, unvarnished RNC spin-points—the kind of hack-work Bush’s shills present to make a joke of your discourse. But to Pickler, these were the key points in Kerry’s records. [...]

another shill had her way with Kerry’s records, this time in the New York Times. Last Thursday, Katharine “Kit” Seelye noted some of the ways Kerry was praised by commanders:

SEELYE (pgh 10): When Mr. Kerry was an ensign on the Gridley on his first Vietnam tour in 1967, his commander described him as “intelligent, mature and rich in educational background and experience,” as well as “polished, tactful and outgoing” and “a brilliant conversationalist.”

(11) “He uses the English language expertly, both orally and in writing,” the commander wrote.

(12) A few months later, another commander was similarly impressed.

(13) “His division’s morale is one of the best on the ship due to his dynamic leadership,” the officer wrote. “He is a polished diplomat at ease in distinguished company” and “is impressive in appearance and always immaculate.”

(14) Months later, Mr. Kerry’s bearing struck another reviewer. “He presents a very neat appearance and meets people well,” that captain wrote. “For his age and experience, he writes and speaks exceedingly well.”

But Seelye always crams those RNC spin-points into the New York Times’ “news reports.” Here is the amazing way she prefaced that part of her story:

SEELYE (pgh 9): The military records offered no hint of atrocities, but repeatedly cited Mr. Kerry’s initiative in battle and patrician manner.

Yes, that really appeared in the Times! No, “patrician manner” isn’t in those records—but it’s high on the list of RNC spin-points. As you know, Seelye propagandized like this against Gore for two years, making an utter joke of her paper. [...]

In yesterday’s New York Times, Jim Rutenberg explained the origins of the new script that had your press corps all a-twitter. Why were reporters so concerned about an ambiguous, 33-year-old statement by Kerry, a statement about whose medals (or ribbons) he once discarded? Rutenberg explained the story’s origins—and its important message:

RUTENBERG: Republicans…have raised the issue to revive accusations by some veterans that the discarding of medals dishonored those who served and died in the war. At the same time, the Republicans have said that Mr. Kerry’s explanation of what happened at the ceremony is an example of his proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue.

Kerry has a “proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue!” It’s now a primal RNC script (quite similar to scripts that were sold about Gore). As Rutenberg notes, the RNC is pushing it hard—and a string of scribes have fallen in line. Result? They’re parsing a comment made in 1971, helping voters understand John Kerry’s Disturbing Proclivity.

How easily are these weak-minded scribes stampeded by the RNC’s scripts? Try to believe that George W. Bush, of all human beings, is successfully pushing this issue:

October 2000: In his third debate with Gore, Bush said, “I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients’ bill of rights through.” In fact, Bush vetoed the original version of this bill in 1995. In 1997, he allowed a subsequent bill to become law, but refused to sign it. (A veto would have been overridden.) In short, Bush didn’t support or even sign the law for which he now was claiming credit! Why, an observer might call such laughably dishonest conduct “an example of George Bush’s proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue.”

October 2002: For the first nine months after 9/11, Bush opposed creation of a Homeland Security Department. In June 2002, he suddenly “embraced an idea he had long resisted” (Mike Allen, Washington Post) and came out in support of a new department. But that fall, despite his own reversal, he hammered Democrats who didn’t support the precise form of Homeland Security he favored. In Georgia, Max Cleland was compared to Saddam and Osama—because he didn’t support the specific form of a bill Bush himself long opposed.

October 2003: Bush threatened to veto the $87 billion spending measure for Iraq if the bill required Iraq to repay any of the money. But guess what? Having threatened to veto the bill himself, he now attacks Kerry for voting against it, falsely implying that Kerry’s position put American troops into danger.

There we see three ugly (and recent) high-profile examples of a “proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue.” But in the past few years, you’ve heard very little about these episodes. In fact, we recently spoke with a talk-show host who didn’t know that Bush had ever opposed a Homeland Security Department. Why was this host uninformed? Duh! Because your press corps ruthlessly types treasured scripts. They like to pretend that Kerry’s a flipper. They deep-six such conduct by Bush.

For whatever reason, your “press corps” is now in love with the thought that Kerry has this troubling proclivity. It comes to them straight from the RNC, and they’re head-over-heels in love with the concept. For that reason, they are minutely parsing an ambiguous statement Kerry made 33 years in the past. By contrast, Bush’s statements are recent and clear—and they’ve been sent down the memory hole. Your “press corps” has been stampeded again, exactly as Rutenberg described. “Republicans” pushed this silly tale. The “liberal” press corps, true to recent history, ran to their consoles and typed it.

There was more than just this in yesterday's entry, and it's all great stuff. I don't know how he has the time to put together such a thoroughly detailed original analysis every day, and the scary thing is, all he can do is scratch the surface of all the nonsense that's out there.

It used to give me tired-head to read the Howler. I used to think mainstream media stupidity like this was just too much "inside baseball" to really matter. But I see it more and more everywhere, these stupid points echoed by Moron Americans, by talk radio, by newspapers, by local news, network news, etc. It's nice to have someone pointing at the source and telling it like it is, just so I know I'm not alone.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2004

It's April

... and that is why I am naturally pessimistic about my Rangers chances, even though they sit atop the American League West division, which I don't think anyone predicted. All the talk radio guys around here are drinking the Kool-Aid and talking about how stunning this all is, how they can sense "chemistry" building in the Rangers clubhouse. Geez. You'd think after so many years watching sports, they would be smart enough to know that winning creates chemistry, just as losing destroys it.

And there is going to be some serious losing.

I mentioned this briefly a couple of days ago, but today I'm going to elaborate some more on the two reasons for this. First, the Rangers' ERA is currently 5th in the league out of 14 teams. But their pitching just isn't that good. It's a lot of young kids who are stringing together quality starts for now, but even the best young kids are going to get shelled one time in three. And all of ours are due for a shelling. Then there's Chan Ho Suck, who continues to pitch like a man with millions of dollars in his pocket and no real incentive to try hard. The bullpen is doing fine for now, but they will inevitably get overused thanks to the poor quality of our starters, and when that happens, those arms are going to start to show their weaknesses. Right now, New York, Anaheim and Seattle are all behind Texas, and you know that won't last. If Texas finishes the season in the top half in ERA, it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Then there's the hitting. Texas is currently scoring nearly 6 runs a game, and that's largely based on an inflated batting average. Their batting average is 17 points higher than 2nd place Minnesota, which is an enormous gap that won't last. Batting averages fluctuate. What doesn't is the ability of a team to take walks. You can't learn it on the fly. You have to make a habit of it, and Texas is averaging fewer than 3 walks per game. Oakland is averaging over 4. New York and Boston are averaging over 5.

It's no coincidence why Oakland and New York have been in (or close to) the playoffs the past several years. They both have decent (or great) pitching, and they both get on base a lot, which correlates with a huge offense like nothing else. 2 extra walks per game doesn't sound like much, but that's two innings that have been extended by at least one plate appearance (or one big inning extended by two plate appearances). Extra plate appearances mean runs, and when even the best offense is only scoring 5-6 runs per game, it is obvious that Oakland (currently a game behind Texas) and New York (at 8-11 thanks to the Red Sox) are going to turn it around and leave Texas in the dust.

Right now, Oakland and New York have horrible batting averages (New York is an unbelieveable .217, 24 points behind the next-to-last Blue Jays), but both of them have on-base averages within about 30 points of Texas. As their batting averages go up, their walks will stay consistent, and when Texas' hitting falls back to Earth ... well, it's going to be another long, hot summer at the ballpark. Texas will go through a streak soon where they can't seem to buy a crooked number in an inning, and they'll blame at on everything else except the real problem ... their team philosophy is all screwed up.

It's a good young nucleus they are building around, and the pitching will definitely be better in the years to come than it was for the past few years. Hell, it can't get any worse than last place. But in the end, even if they do make the playoffs a time or two (very unlikely unless Oakland implodes, but that's hard to count on when their walks are consistently keeping them in games), they're going to run into a buzzsaw in the first round just like they did the past two appearances against the Yanks. Oh sure, they playoffs are a crapshoot, and they might advance, and that hope is what keeps me interested.

I would just like to see a systematic approach that makes sense so that I could feel there was some hope to the season, instead of feeling about as much hope as I feel when I buy a lottery ticket.

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

April 26, 2004

Karen Ryan and the "Liberal" Media

I did a little more digging (aka finding someone else who did a bunch of research, in this case the Columbia Journal Review, or CJR Campaign Desk) on the Karen Ryan thing. She is the fake reporter I mentioned a while back who is actually a PR flack in a government-sponsored infomercial masquerading as a genuine news report. A lot of local news stations ran these unedited as part of a successful propaganda campaign in which Bushco tried to drum up support for their Medicare legislation.

Guess who else is involved:

The real question, however, is: How did so many television stations end up running the segment? While taking ultimate responsibility for their error, many news directors pointed the finger at two other targets: the Bush administration and CNN.

The news directors we talked to all said they had strict policies against running VNR material unless it is specifically identified as such to viewers. In each case, a hurried or inexperienced producer looking to fill airtime found a pre-produced, complete story sent by CNN, saw that it treated a compelling national issue, and used it without adequately scrutinizing the content. [...]

This suggests a clear conflict of interest for CNN, which is apparently charging both the party with a vested interest in promoting a particular story -- in the case of the now-notorious Karen Ryan, that would be HHS -- and the receiving station. Along the way, it mixes in the client's material with legitimate, CNN-produced news stories to be used by local stations - acting as a paid "news launderer" on behalf of the VNR producers.

CNN did not return repeated calls for comment over a three-day period. A news director who had received the Medicare VNR from CNN and run it told Campaign Desk she contacted CNN to complain. She was referred to the company's lawyers.

Thanks, "liberal" media!

My favorite part of the article is where the PR firms as well as the government agency originally responsible (Health and Human Services) blames the stations for running the stories. LIKE THERE WAS ANY OTHER REASON FOR CREATING THEM, GUYS! HELLOOOO!! Elsewhere, Karen Ryan herself (who manages a PR firm) is portraying herself as ... wait for it ... THE VICTIM OF ALL THIS!

She's a conservative straight through to the bone. No doubt about it.

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2004

ARod Curse?

Done with my workshop. What an exhausting experience. It was a good thing to do once, but they're going to have to pay me a lot more next time if they're expecting me to spend another entire weekend away from my family. Oh, and Michelle's blog is back for those of you who have been trying to access with no luck...

In other news, what's the deal with ARod? I mentioned this jokingly a couple of weeks ago, but now it seems like deja vu. When the Mariners lost ARod, the M's immediately became great, and Texas finished in last place. Now that ARod has gone to the Yanks, the Yanks are losing game after game to Boston (getting swept this weekend), and suddenly Texas is sitting on the top of the heap in the AL West. Weird. I wonder if the umps have it in for the guy or something. I mean, I'm trying to find a rational explanation for it, and I can't.

It's almost to the point where I should start paying attention to the Rangers because they might be good this year, but I am discouraged by two things. One is that we are still relying on Chan Ho Park to be a starter, and he still royally sucks. Even the starts where he gives up few runs, he gets knocked around for lots of hits and walks, so eventually you know that's going to come back to haunt him.

Two is that we are pretty close to last in the league in walks. The only reason our offense is working right now is that we lead the league by a huge margin in batting average. That isn't going to last forever, not with our hitters. They need to figure out how to take a free pass once in a while because, dammit, long-term offensive success depends on getting on base no matter how you slice it.

Still, the ERA isn't bad right now, and the team is over .500, so I suppose I shouldn't complain. You'd think, though, that after Oakland kinda showed everyone how to do it these past several years, stupid teams like the Rangers would catch on.

Posted by Observer at 05:22 PM | Comments (4)

April 24, 2004

Busy Weekend

I'm teaching on campus for about 20 hours this weekend, plus a few extra hours there for eating, meetings, etc. It's run by the same folks who let me earn extra money over the summer by helping out with Advanced Placement workshops. Nice to earn the extra money, but it's real beating missing a whole weekend with my family. Today was 9am-9pm. Tomorrow is 830am-500pm.

Posted by Observer at 09:23 PM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2004

Liberal Bias? Prove It.

It takes more than just simple assertion to prove that the media has a bias. One must undertake an analysis that begins by defining the liberal and conservative position on an issue, then analyzes coverage in detail, looking paragraph by paragraph, headline by headline, photo by photo, counting up the instances of bias for one side or the other.

Down here, the local paper reprints a Molly Ivins column (nestled in among George Will, Cal Thomas, Marvin Olasky, Mark Davis and a slew of conservative clones), and you'd think the whole world just came to an end. "LIBERAL BIAS!" scream the letter writers. For them, it isn't good enough that the paper endorses every single Republican to come down the pike for election to any office, it isn't good enough that they back virtually every Republican initiative, every corporate tax break, every weapon that can be used to break down the wall between church and state. Nope, not good enough. They print one column by a liberal, and THAT'S IT!!!

Conservatives control all three branches of government. They also have an enormous influence over the media and a virtual monopoly over talk radio. Recall this quote from Sidney Blumenthal: "Newspapers (that is, their publishers) endorsed Bush over Gore by a two-to-one margin; editors voted for him in the same proportions, according to one survey. Publishers voted for Bush by a whopping three-to-one margin." Yet, despite this, it is somehow the conventional wisdom that we have a "liberal media". I think it just shows you how desperate conservatives are to play the victim card.

Remember all those death threats I got last year just for trying to engage that idiot neanderthal in a rational debate? That moral coward went on and on about how liberals were too afraid to debate him, that he would overwhelm anyone with facts and arguments, etc. After I obliged, he talked like he was being bullied or picked on by me (this from a guy issuing death threats!). All he wanted to do, after all, was exercise his right to free speech, and here I was talking trash about him, blah blah blah. Pathetic, really, but it's the exact same behavior that sparks the claims of liberal bias. It's like conservatives don't have meaning to their lives if they can't find something to feel victimized about.

If they're rich, they bitch about all the taxes they have to pay, even stooping to the point of calling the working poor who pay very little in income taxes "lucky duckies". Oh yeah? Want to switch places so you can avoid all those taxes? Didn't think so. Or with affirmative action. Poor us, these middle-aged white guys whine, minorities are getting all the jobs due to affirmative action and all the spots at the great colleges (nevermind that legacy admissions are never discussed). Oh yeah? Think life is great in America as an African American? I'll bet you'd never switch places with one.

Same thing with gay marriage. Why do you think conservatives portray gays as a "threat"? As if a couple of gays getting married has anything to do with other straight marriages. But that doesn't stop them from playing the victim card. The whole conservative philosophy these days seems intent on defining themselves as the victim in every situation so that they are entitled to something. God, it makes me sick.

In the end, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Instead of claiming bias like it is a received truth, try using a more analytical tool, like research. Anecdotal evidence is meaningless to someone really interested in pursuing the truth systematically. If you want the truth, you have to work at it, and most people just don't have time to bother. That's fine. I do bother because it is an issue I care about. If someone wants to dispute my findings, fine, show me why. Otherwise, you're just making shit up for what reason I cannot fathom.

For a tour de force book that does exactly this kind of research, read Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?". He not only does the legwork, he also shoots down conservative claims masquerading as serious research, and he documents everything. Read that, then get back to me, k?

Posted by Observer at 07:06 AM | Comments (2)

April 22, 2004

Actionable Intelligence

Very good and to the point Tom Tomorrow this week and the incredibly stupid and obvious way Bush is a hypocrite about intelligence (you'd think the "liberal media" would have picked up on this by now ... huh):

ACTIONABLE INTELLIGENCE, PART ONE: August 6, 2001.

General Presidential Advisor (GPA) #1: Here's today's PDB, sir -- "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U. S.!"

Bush: Hmmm... preparations for hijacking -- explosives -- federal buildings -- New York -- blah blah blah -- this is all pretty vague fellas! I need details! I want to know exactly what he's doing to do and exactly when he's going to do it!

GPA #1: Uh -- I'm afraid our information's not that precise, sir.

Bush: Well, without specific, credible, well-sourced intelligence, there's absolutely nothing I can do! Zip! Zilch! Nada! Now if you boys will excuse me, I'm supposed to be on vacation here.

GPA #1: Yes, Sir.

GPA #2: Sorry to bother you, sir.

PART TWO: Early Fall, 2002

GPA #1: We don't really have any evidence, sir -- but Ahmed Chalabi knows a guy who knows a guy who has a friend who says Saddam definitely has weapons of mass destruction!

Bush: Good enough for me! Evidence, shmevidence -- we're goin' to war!

GPA #1: Yes, sir.

GPA #2: Very good, sir.

Speaking of Chalabi, guess the last name of the guy who is going to head the tribunal that prosecutes Saddam! I know it's a crazy coincidence, but it just happens to be Chalabi!

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (9)

April 21, 2004

Setting Things Straight

Good find by Atrios on this. This is from an Associated Press story putting the Spanish withdrawal of troops into the "proper context":

Also Sunday, Spain's prime minister ordered the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq as soon as possible, fulfilling a campaign promise made after terrorist bombings that al-Qaeda militants said were reprisal for Spain's support of the war. Spain has about 1,300 troops there.

Actually, the campaign promise was made well before the bombings. The story makes it sound like Spain is running scared from the terrorists. But it gets better:

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist party won the March 14 general election amid allegations that outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, by backing the war in Iraq, had provoked commuter-train terrorist bombings that killed 191 people three days before the vote.

Actually, according to just about every reliable story I've read about the Spanish elections, the biggest reason the polls turned on Spain's old government is because voters found out that Aznar's government was purposely lying about the bombings, trying to blame them on Basque separatists. They got mad about the lies and *that* was a big reason, aside from Iraq war fatigue and general hatred of the current US administration, that Aznar got voted out.

But according the associated press, events in Spain now conform to the right wing spin. The Spanish were cowed by terrorists into voting a weak, wimpy socialist government into power which will now withdraw the troops in Iraq that are threatening Al Qaeda, making the War on Terror that much tougher for our brave Commander in Chief and our troops.

Right. So exactly what is that link again between Iraq and Al Qaeda? Hello? Anyone?

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2004

Things That Get "Lost"

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

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (8)

April 19, 2004

What Will We Tell the Children?

From Daily Kos comes this excerpt of Bob Woodward's new book ("Plan of Attack"), which contains more embarrassing details (stuff that was pretty obvious all along, but now there's more evidence proving it's true) about Bushco:

Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told 60 Minutes that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election -- to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day.

Woodward says that Bandar understood that economic conditions were key before a presidential election: "They're [oil prices] high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."

Something to watch for, I think. What will Saudi Arabia do for Bush before the election? You know, the country all the bin Ladens were allowed to fly to shortly after 9/11? The country where most of the hijackers were from? Hey, just asking, you know?

Elsewhere in the book, Woodward documents that Bush had a meeting in which the entire focus was trying to drum up support for an Iraq war. Right after the meeting, Bush came out and told the press that all they were doing was discussing the war with Afghanistan. Huh. So let me get this straight, Bush came out, looked into the camera and lied to the American people. As Atrios would say (quoting moralistic hand-wringing Clinton-haters): when the president lies to all of us, what will we tell the children?

Posted by Observer at 07:05 AM | Comments (3)

April 18, 2004

Where's My Country?

Another book I finished last week was "Dude, Where's My Country?" by Michael Moore. This is more similar to "Stupid White Men" (which I've read before but not reviewed here) than to his first "Downsize This!" (which I revieved here) in that it focuses largely on politics at the national level. Moore's approach is quite a bit more caustic and rabble-rousing than, say, Eric Alterman's or Paul Krugman's, and in some sense, it is effective.

My problem with Moore's political stuff (including his movie, "Bowling for Columbine") is that he has a bad reputation for factual accuracy. A lot of that is overblown, of course, by the corporate media. His claims are probably correct more than 9 times out of 10, but you only hear about those few times where he screwed something up. His philosophy, like his fact-checking, is a little sloppy, but it is fun to read about.

Moore is the guy who, rightly or wrongly, brought Bush's military history back into the national spotlight a few months ago (Bushco dumped a bunch of documents on the press, none of which answered the relevant questions because some obvious documents that *should* have been there weren't there, but then Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez split up and the Moron American along with the media decided that the whole thing gave them tired-head). He's also trying to make an issue about Bush's treatment of the bin Laden family after 9/11, which is pretty scandalous. Why were they allowed to fly around the country when other planes were grounded, and why were they allowed to leave for Saudi Arabia (where they are now, of course, completely unavailable) without some extensive questioning? This seems to me like a huge elephant in Bush's closet that will probably come up during the campaign.

Anyway, I checked it out from the library, so no money lost. I'm trying to find a few more quick things to read during this busy time before the end of the semester. I figure that after the last class day (during finals week, which is usually fairly slow), I will reward myself by devouring Brust's latest trilogy. If I started to read it now, I'd get absolutely nothing done between now and the end of it.

Posted by Observer at 08:29 AM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2004

Palmer Eldritch

I finished Philip K Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" last week. Like the other PKD books that I've read ("Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" and "The Man in the High Castle"), this one was a very interesting idea, but I didn't really enjoy the execution.

The setting is a very hot future Earth, so hot that you can't go outside while the Sun is out without essentially wearing a spacesuit. Many inhabitants are now colonists on places like Mars. But life is so dreary there that most of the colonists use hallucinogenic drugs to recreate an idealistic Earth setting using actual minitiature props (layouts) to help. There are also precogs (like in "Minority Report", also based on a PKD novel) who can sort-of forsee future possibilities, an idea for which I really liked the development.

Into this mix comes a rich guy (Palmer Eldritch) who is returning from the first journey ever to another star system, where he has returned with a new, more powerful drug that he's going to try to get everyone to use. The drug is like a communal virus, where everyone experiences the god-like Eldritch in their dreams (which are hard to distinguish from reality, a usual PKD device) and some even begin to take on Eldritch's features in real life.

Very weird. Lots of potential, and I'm sure at the time it was released, many enjoyed this groundbreaking work. Not really my cup of tea, but sometimes I'm in the mood for something weird like this.

Posted by Observer at 11:05 AM | Comments (2)

April 16, 2004

Stupid Tax Arguments

I was listening to Al Franken's show yesterday, and I got pretty mad because he didn't do a very good job at all deflecting one of the easiest and most common conservative talking points about taxes. His guest used the tired old one about liberals and taxes: "If you think the tax cuts are so bad, why don't you just send your tax cut back to the government? Go ahead and pay your taxes under the old system and consider the extra that you pay a gift to the government you love so much. If you don't, you're a hypocrite."

The commenters on Franken's blog have many good rejoinders that Al could've used. As it was, he made some valid points. One is that the only reason anyone pays taxes is because *everyone* pays taxes, so asking one person to voluntarily pay more in taxes is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the argument is too subtle for the Moron American to grasp. They think the liberal is squirming out, and so the point is scored for the conservative side. But there are better arguments to be made.

For example, I think Al should've challenged the guy: He should've said, "I'll make you a deal. You like that war in Iraq, right? Well, if you like it so much, go enlist to fight over there. The moment I see you on a plane headed over for duty in Iraq, I will write a check to Uncle Sam to give my tax cut directly back to the government." Ok, maybe not such a perfect comparison (then again, Al's guest was comparing opposing tax cuts to supporting child pornography and talking about the need for "civil disobedience" and so forth ... what a joke).

Or Al could've said, "Well, fine, I will be glad to do that, as soon as I get a refund for all the extra taxes and fees my state and local government is charging me to make up for the lack of federal revenue." The thing is, if the level of services provided by the government is going to remain pretty much the same, they're going to get the money from us (or our kids) to pay for it, period.

Here are some other suggestions:

The bottom line is that we should not have had a tax cut, regardless of economic conditions, when National Debt is $6 Trillion, 43 Million Americans are uninsured, Social Security is not guaranteed, and our public education system is tumbling into third world status.

Ask a typical conservative the following: Say you have $15,000 in credit card debt, and that debt has been growing because you do not make enough money to cover your bills. Over the years you get raises and now you finally have a situation where you have more money left over at the end of the month and you are no longer growing your debt. do you:

a) Start to pay off debt.

b) Fix the leaking roof before it caves in.

c) Put the money into savings so you don't have to worry about growing your debt in the future.

d) Spend it foolishly on a new gizmo from the Sharper Image that you don't really need.

e) Give it back to your employer, stating that you no longer need the extra money because you can now pay your bill.

Answers (a), (b), and (c) make a lot of sense. (d) makes less sense. I challenge you to find any conservative who would pick (e). But that's exactly what Bush told the country to do when he enacted his tax cuts.

Here's another:

Al and Rush each have $10,000. The communal debt is $8,000.
Al says, "We should both pay $4,000 in taxes so that all of our communal obligations are met."

Rush says, "No, we should pay $2000 each, if you want to pay $4000, you go ahead."

Of course, this makes the burden unfair on Al since (a) he'll be paying more than someone in the same economic condition (and Rush will benefit just as much as Al will) and (b)Al's "extra" contribution will still not pay for all of the communal debt.

It isn't hypocritical to hold that (1) Al and Rush should pay more taxes and (2) Al should pay no more than Rush (given their economic equality)

Ok, maybe that one is a little too academic for the Morons. How about this:

If rich liberals should send back their tax cut to stop from being hypocrites, then conservatives should stop using government services if they don't believe in adequately funding them with taxes. Conservatives should not drive on roads, use schools, courts, call the police or the fire department. Then there are the secondary services... plane travel requires the FAA to control air traffic. Many goods and services are cheaper because of government subsidies. Perhaps conservatives should pay more for their food because farmers are subsidized. If they believe in paying for things themselves, instead of collectively, they should. Let them put out their own fires and build their own roads, grow their own food.

The thing is, there is no one-liner response that is really satisfying to the conservative meme of liberals sending back their tax cuts. That doesn't mean there isn't a valid response. It simply means that the argument is an effective one for conservative because it wins among those who have short attention spans and/or no sense of economics. Conservatives who use this argument are either too dumb to know better or (more likely) are cynically lowering the level of discourse because they know deep down that the tax cuts can't be justified in a fair fight.

Kinda makes you realize which side is trying to do what's best for America.

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

April 15, 2004

Say You're Sorry, Dummy

William Saletan, in Slate, has a pretty good rundown of what was so creepy about Bush's press conference. It also summarizes, for me, why Bush has so much of a problem telling the truth. He seems to genuinely believe a lot of stuff that is total bullshit, and I'm not sure why he believes it. Is it because he is like an overgrown child, being fed nonsense by his advisors because he doesn't care to read the paper? Is it because he is so incurious about the world, he doesn't care to challenge his internal belief system? I don't know, but whatever it is, it can't be good.

To Bush, credibility means that you keep saying today what you said yesterday, and that you do today what you promised yesterday. "A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America's word, once given, can be relied upon," he argued Tuesday night. When the situation is clear and requires pure courage, this steadfastness is Bush's most useful trait. But when the situation is unclear, Bush's notion of credibility turns out to be dangerously unhinged. The only words and deeds that have to match are his. No correspondence to reality is required. Bush can say today what he said yesterday, and do today what he promised yesterday, even if nothing he believes about the rest of the world is true. [...]

Three times, Bush repeated the answer he gave to Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times: "Had there been a threat that required action by anybody in the government, I would have dealt with it." Outside Bush's head, the statement was patently false: The 9/11 threat required action, and Bush failed to deal with it. But inside Bush's head, the statement was tautological: If there were a threat that required action, Bush would have dealt with it; Bush didn't deal with it; therefore, there was no threat that required action. The third time Bush repeated this answer—in response to a question about whether he owed an "apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9/11"—he added, "The person responsible for the attacks was Osama Bin Laden." This is how Bush's mind works: Only a bad person can bear responsibility for a bad thing. I am a good person. Therefore, I bear no responsibility.

Bush, I think, would be a very gifted author of children's books because his point of view is like that of an adolescent wrapped up in adult language. They talked about this on the radio yesterday, and it rang true. Over and over, Bush was asked if he made mistakes, if he would apologize, etc. His response was like that of an adolescent.

You tell the kid to apologize, and he says, "Ok, fine, I'm sorry!" Then you asked what he's sorry for, and he doesn't know. It's like Bush when he says he's thought long and hard about all the mistakes that were made, etc., but then somehow he can't name any. He just figures that if he mouths the words of contrition without the sincerity behind it, that's fine, but parents realize it is that very sincerity which is critical to getting the message across and changing behavior.

The oval office is not the place for an overgrown kid to be working out his responsibility issues.

Or maybe he isn't being childish. Maybe he's genuinely off his rocker. Remember this quote from Kurt Vonnegut last year?

Psychopathic Personalities (PP's) is a medical term for smart, personable people who have no conscience. PP's are fully aware of how much suffering their actions will inflict on others, but they do not care. They cannot care.

An American PP at the head of a corporation, for example, could enrich himself by ruining his employees and investors, and still feel as pure as the driven snow. A PP, should he somehow attain a post near the top of our federal government, might feel that taking the country into an endless war, with casualties in the millions, was simply something decisive to do today. And so to bed.

With a PP, decisiveness is all.

Bush seems to combine this PP personality trait with an adolescent stubbornness for clinging to a story long after it has been discredited. It's like Cody continuing to insist that yes he brushed his teeth five minutes ago even when I am holding his bone-dry toothbrush two inches from his nose. Eventually, I get the truth out of him, and that's fine. But I wouldn't want his finger on the nuclear button!

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2004

Press Pass

I watched some of the press conference last night. Bush is so ... just flat out unqualified. I was glad a couple of reporters had the balls to ask him if he would be willing to apologize for any mistakes regarding 9/11, Iraq, hell, *anything* he's done, and darnit, he just couldn't come up with any. He's the perfect president, I guess, never makes any mistakes. I wasn't angry. I wasn't disgusted. More than anything, I was creeped out.

I didn't bother watching any media analysis, because *then* I would've gotten pissed, I'm sure. "Well, Brad, I have to say that the fact that our distinguished and beloved war leader didn't crap his pants live on national television just proves that he's the greatest ever. Sure, he got a few facts wrong, but he was just so darned resolved about everything, not like that waffling opponent of his. It's a good thing he explained to us that Iraq is a crucial battle in the War on Terror (which will never end, and that's great, because we spent a fortune on that "America At War" graphic there in the corner of your screen) because I'll bet that's where Osama bin Laden has been hiding out all this time, right next to the 500 pounds of enriched uranium from Africa."

"You're right, Judy. He was magnificent. So presidential. It was a stunning display of determination and competence. John Kerry might as well give up now, heh heh."

For some *real* analysis, check out the Center for American Progress. They usually do a good job of "claim" vs "documented fact". One of the authors, David Sirota, has some stuff, too. He's a good regular guest on Al Franken's show.

Posted by Observer at 07:28 AM | Comments (9)

April 13, 2004

Tic-Tacs and the End of the World

Time for a quick recap of 9-year-old Cody's last couple of days. Let's see, on Easter Sunday, he got (from us) a new soccer ball and probably about five pounds of various assorted sugary treats, etc. He also got money from relatives, etc., and had a pretty fun day. From the time he got home today until time for soccer practice, he pretty much got to eat candy non-stop. The deal is that we won't ration their candy for them -- too big of a headache -- so we let them eat all they want but no snacks from the kitchen for a week. If they run out (as they almost always do), then they have to "suffer" for a few days without snacks.

Today, I took Cody to soccer practice (always an ordeal to get him organized and out the door, 10-15 minute drive there, hour wait, back home, etc.) and also to get some new clothes (an inventory earlier today showed he was outgrowing or wearing out lots of stuff). So I let him help pick out a whole bunch of t-shirts, jogging pants, etc. Probably $60-$70 worth. He was pretty hyper in the store, coming off the sugar high and excitement, and the deal is that if any kid comes with me to the store and is good, I will buy them a little treat on the way out.

So halfway through the store, he starts the begging. "Pleeeeease, am I gonna get a treat?" Bounce around, run around the cart, bang into an aisle, "Pleeeeease?" I told him that he had plenty of candy at home and he was acting like an idiot, besides, so forget it. Well, the line was so damned long that he got about 5-6 more opportunities to plead and be freshly disappointed. By the time we got to the car, he had the proverbial storm clouds over his head.

I kinda summarized the situation for him from my perspective and decided to laugh about it rather than get angry. I mean, I've spent how many hours and how many dollars on the kid in the last two days, and he thinks it's the End of the World because he didn't get a twenty-four cent box of tic-tacs. I just had to laugh, and boy did I laugh.

You know, you'd think that yelling and getting mad would be the most effective thing to get a reaction out of a kid who is clearly in the wrong, but I've found that laughter gets under their skin a LOT faster. I'm not sure that it helps correct the wrongdoing and all, but I figure it's better to mix it up. I asked Cody if he would prefer I get mad at him or that I laugh at him. He wisely said, "Neither," which is the usual response to that question. And my automatic reply is (all with me): "Then stop being a brat!"

Posted by Observer at 08:52 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2004

Faux Cards

When the three older kids went on a campout last month with their grandparents and a set of step-cousins, Cody made a trade with one of his cousins, Colin. Both of them are about the same age and huge Yu-Gi-Oh fans, but Colin's fandom is not really supported actively by his dad. That means Colin is not really "informed" about how to battle properly, all the rulings for the weird cards, how valuable some cards are vs others, which cards look good but are really useless, etc. That means he is vulnerable (like Cody was before I got myself informed) to getting ripped off in trading. He also apparently doesn't have a proper and legal supply of Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

See, when Cody and I were battling a few days ago, I noticed something a little odd about the text of one of Cody's cards. It looked different than my card of the same name. Cody noticed it, too, and eventually he realized that the new cards he got in a trade by Colin (a trade that was ok'ed by me so as to prevent either party from getting ripped off) don't have the little hologram patch in the bottom right corner that distinguishes them as official, legal cards. In other words, the three pretty cool cards Cody got in trade were actually counterfeit. If Cody had been caught trying to use them in a tournament, he would've been kicked out and probably had his cards confiscated with some suspicious and nasty looks from the judges and other players.

Upper Deck, which manufactures these cards, is pretty big on tracking down counterfeiters. They have a web form you can fill out to report fraud and that sort of thing, but it is hard for us to report because we don't know where Colin got his cards. There is no doubt in my mind that Colin had no idea that his cards were fake, so I passed along the word through the family grapevine yesterday at an Easter gathering to find out where Colin is getting his cards. If we can bust the counterfeiter, we might be in for a nice little reward from Upper Deck. I wonder if they will make it worth our while? Probably academic, because I am pessimistic that Colin's supplier is anywhere near the top of the counterfeit food chain. Probably some other kid at his school who got it from another kid, etc.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2004

Day Off

Yesterday was our first Saturday off from soccer in about 5-6 weeks (seems like forever), so I took the kids to the comic store where we normally enter Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments. We didn't have time to do a tournament, but I wanted to stop in there and spend my store gift certificates that we had won previously and also see if they had anything new. Sarah was determined not to spend any money because she's saving up to buy "Brother Bear", but that determination went out the window about two minutes after we arrived. (Hell, she's getting it for Easter anyway, but she doesn't know it, so I didn't try to stop her.)

At the store, they always have a helpful employee lurking around to show kids how to play the latest neat board game they have on display (like "Blokus" or "Doubles Wild" or whatever). One of them sucked Cody into a game demonstration, and Justin and I started to watch. But then Justin saw the display for "Duel Masters" (a new collectible card game in the Yu-Gi-Oh genre) and asked what it was. Gah, big mistake. Mr. helpful employee goes into sales pitch mode, and Justin is hooked.

I told Justin quite plainly, "No, Justin, we are not doing any new card games, not while we're still playing Yu-Gi-Oh."

Employee says, "Oh, well this new game is going to replace Yu-Gi-Oh. We're even starting to have tournaments this afternoon!"

Justin, oblivious to my warning, asked, "Uh, is this a starter deck?"

Employee beamed, "Why, yes! But it isn't just one starter deck, it's two! You get two starter decks in the same pack for just eight dollars, and the tournament entry fee is only $3." [The tournament we play in costs $5 to enter.]

Justin got excited. "See, Dad, it's cheaper!"

Big sigh. "Nevermind, Justin, we'll talk about it in the car."

I walked around a bit to get away from the scene, looked at the fairly extensive library of books for sale and -- uh, whoa, wait is that what I think...? It is! "Sethra Lavode", the last book in the latest trilogy by Brust. In hardback, of course, for $26. I consider buying it on the spot, if only to support the comic store that hosts the tournament, you understand, but I eventually execise a modicum of self-control. I'll buy it at Bookstop for 20% off and use my bookstore gift certificates.

Again in the car, I warned them in no uncertain terms to not even *think* about starting some new collectible card game, because I am not going to learn something different yet. As long as people are still playing Yu-Gi-Oh, especially still having tournaments, we're going to stay with it. We're still having lots of fun dueling, etc.

Anyway, by the time we left, the boys and I had each bought some special packages of Yu-Gi-Oh cards that contain a very rare card from a past set that we didn't have. It was actually a pretty good deal, even better than what I could find online, which is saying something for this card store (which is often way overpriced). Cody said as he ripped into his new packs, "Wow, this is like Christmas!" I guess with soccer it had been a while since we spent a day out just goofing around.

Posted by Observer at 08:33 AM | Comments (5)

April 10, 2004

Home Opener

I haven't caught a moment yet of any Rangers game this season, not on TV or the radio. The first series was out in Oakland anyway, much too late for me to follow. From what I can tell, the pitching was much better than expected, the defense was about what was expected (which is to say, pretty horrible), and the offense was sputtering a bit (but Oakland has good pitching). The Ranger home opener was last night, and they walloped Anaheim, 12-4, evening their record at 2-2.

That may be the last time they reach .500, but maybe I'll pay attention for a week or two until they're out of it. Hell, if my calculations are correct, their staff ERA is 2.65 (they've allowed more runs than that, but with the errors, etc.), which is *first* in the entire American League (Detroit is second at 3.00 and a 4-0 record, so you know it's early). If their pitching is still in the top five at the end of April, and their record is anywhere above .500 at that point, I may just have to start drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid. Until then, I remain profoundly skeptical.

Wouldn't it be funny, though, if for the second time in his career, Alex Rodriguez jumped ship from a flailing team ... only to have that flailing team kick ass the following season? It would be fantastic if the ARod curse hit the Yankees. We can dream, can't we?

Posted by Observer at 07:40 AM | Comments (5)

April 09, 2004

Says Who?

The war in Iraq is a very tough issue for all sides now. We obviously need to stay the course there, finish what we started, try to make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile, try to make the country a better place. Just as obviously, we need to pull our troops out of there and try to get a multinational authority that has some credibility to Iraqis, if only to stop the horrible parade of wounded and dead coming home. Which is more important? I don't know. What I do know is that I don't want the idiots currently in charge making that difficult choice.

What's more is that I don't want a bunch of pro-war people acting like they have more credibility in addressing this question than I do. Atrios addresses this:

If things are not going swimmingly in Iraq, it is not the fault of domestic critics. It is the fault of the people who sent in too few troops and failed to plan for the aftermath of the war.

One should not have to have been "pro-war" to be a critic of what's going on. I'm tired of people prefacing their criticisms with phrases like "as someone who supported this war..." Well, you were wrong. Why should we listen to you now? There were plenty of reasons to be against the war, but the only one which was necessary was the fact that the people in charge were utterly incompetent - that people opposed to "nation building" had no real desire to carry it out. Once their incompetence was clear, no other reasons were necessary. Even Tom Friedman recognized this was a risky venture, but he failed to understand that you do not support risky ventures run by inept lunatics.

As for yesterday's big news, I listened to Rice's testimony. She certainly was very composed, and she gave a strong performance. Unfortunately for her, she is stuck with the bad horse. My favorite new factoid from yesterday is that we now know the title of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief memo: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Immediately after receiving that briefing, Bush went on vacation for a month. Rice, years later, is stuck trying to say that not only had we no idea they could use planes as missiles but that the conventional wisdom was that even if we were attacked, it would be on foreign soil. The Center for American Progress has a very thorough debunking.

Posted by Observer at 07:29 AM | Comments (6)

April 08, 2004

Context, Please

I saw this item in yesterday's McPaper, and I actually laughed out loud. You see, the White House is apparently getting all snooty about Condi Rice having to testify before the committee. Why, only five members of the 10-member committee even bothered to show up at her first private round of testimony last month, so the committee must obviously be grandstanding and not *really* interested in what Rice has to say, says White House spokesperson Scott McClellan. Context, please:

What McClellan didn't tell reporters was that on Nov. 21 -- long before Rice met with the five commissioners in February -- the White House counsel's office had sent the commission a letter saying no more than three commissioners could attend meetings with White House aides of Rice's rank.

Remember, this is the guy we're supposed to elect because he's so good on national security issues. Puts what's good for the country ahead of petty politics, you know, that sort of thing. The jokes just write themselves these days with these boneheads.

Meanwhile, for fun, you should read this point-counterpoint on the Iraq war from "The Onion". Thanks to Atrios for the pointer. For less fun, read this lengthy, very interesting article from last week's New York times magazine about how Bushco is using executive orders and otherwise bypassing a reluctant Congress to poison the environment in order to fatten the profits of the power industry. If you don't like the rules, apparently, you just issue new interpretations of them.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2004

Elton Butchered

You would think after a few years, the people who run American Idol would figure out how to put together a solid top-12 from the tens of thousands of amateurs who try out for the competition. Last night's show was the worst yet (and Michelle and I have watched a lot of these shows together) -- everyone did Elton John songs. Fantasia was very smooth and professional, as she has been every week. LaToya was also excellent, but for some reason, she keeps getting put in the bottom three. Jennifer was very, very good, but there is something about her personality that just puts me off. She reminds me of a spoiled brat I knew when I was a kid (and when I really wanted something, I would remind my mom that at least I wasn't *that* kid, etc.). I like George ok, but I can't imagine him winning. I also like Jasmine, and I think she has been a consistent, hard worker. I thought last night she was great, but the judges didn't like it. I can't see her winning yet.

On the flip side, poor Camille looks like the girl from last year who wasn't having any fun. Her name escapes me but she had a spat early on with one of the other contestants in the tryouts, and they made a show of making peace, etc. Anyway, every week this girl and Camille have that furrowed brow like they're worried about something. They project a total lack of confidence, and it doesn't help that Camille's performance last night was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Jon Peter Lewis was amateurish and bleah, as always. John Stevens (the red headed kid) was absolutely horrible, and the judges told him so.

What I can't figure out about Jon and John is that they've been mediocre to horrifying every week on a consistent basis, but it is only now that the judges are telling them how terrible they are. The fact that a decent singer like Amy got the boot when John Stevens has never seen the bottom three tells me that the people phoning on all the votes must have mental issues. I still think the only reason John was put through to the final 12 is because Simon wanted to see if he could take someone really horrible, then praise the hell out of him on TV, then see if Americans would be stupid enough to vote for the guy. Oh well, it's still fun to watch every week, even for the train wrecks.

Posted by Observer at 07:16 AM | Comments (1)

April 06, 2004

Foresight is 20/20

Eric Alterman sums it up perfectly about the foresight we liberals had regarding the war with Iraq. And yes, of course, he links to the references to back up his claims (I reorganized his stuff and omitted a couple of minor things). For all you conservatives out there, that is a practice known as "documentation" which tends to bolster the credibility of assertions:

What we said before the war, in no particular order

1. The invasion of Iraq will cause, not prevent, terrorism.

“The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has accelerated the spread of Osama bin Laden's anti-Americanism among once local Islamic militant movements, increasing danger to the United States as the al Qaeda network is becoming less able to mount attacks, according to senior intelligence officials at the CIA and State Department." [reference]

2. The Bush administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD threat.

"Secretary of State Colin Powell conceded Friday evidence he presented to the United Nations that two trailers in Iraq were used for weapons of mass destruction may have been wrong.”  Powell:  “It appears not to be the case that it was that solid.” [reference]

3. Going in without the U.N. is worse than not going in at all.

“The Bush administration is scrambling to develop a new Iraq exit strategy with help from the United Nations over the next two to three weeks, but the array of political and security challenges is now so daunting that U.S. officials also quietly acknowledge that the U.S.-led coalition may end up in an even worse position if the latest effort fails.” [reference]

4. They were asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up ever since.

“The broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.” [reference] (and more references from the Center for American Progress)

5. And they manipulated 9/11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.

“President George Bush first asked Tony Blair to support the removal of Saddam Hussein from power at a private White House dinner nine days after the terror attacks of 11 September, 2001.” [reference]

6. Any occupation by a foreign power, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one, will likely create more enemies than friends and put the U.S. in a situation similar at times to Vietnam, and at other times, similar to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon; both were disasters.

“By unleashing mass demonstrations and attacks in Baghdad and southern Iraq on Sunday, a young, militant cleric has realized the greatest fear of the U.S.-led administration since the occupation of Iraq began a year ago: a Shiite Muslim uprising.” [reference]

7. An invasion of Iraq will draw resources and attention away from the genuine perpetrators of the attack on us, and allow them to regroup for further attacks.

“A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a “terrorist breeding ground” unless there is a significant increase in development aid.” [reference]

Like Alterman and many others, I was saying all of this stuff a year ago. I was hopeful for America but profoundly pessimistic because of the track record of these malign incompetents in charge of our foreign policy. I hoped we would at least do more good than harm, but I think that possibility went out the window months ago. If we just jump ship and leave on June 30 like Bush keeps insisting we will, I think by the time of the election, the overall outcome in Iraq will be quite clear. But will the Moron American care by then?

Are you kidding me? These are the same people who supported the invasion because Saddam was such a threat and "sent those planes into the towers" (just look at polls at how many *still* believe in a link between Saddam and 9/11), etc. These are the same people who then said it doesn't matter if all the pre-war justifications were wrong because Flight Suit Georgie made us all safer. These are the same people who swallowed the after-the-fact justification that we should've invaded all along based on humanitarian grounds alone (to which I quoted a thoughtful, nuanced and detailed response from the Human Rights Campaign ... what a silly waste of their time trying to throw reason into the mix, you know?).

And these are the same people who now think we should turn the whole place into a radioactive parking lot, killing hundreds of thousands of "those savages" because they keep picking off foreign occupying soldiers that they don't want in their homeland. Oh well, so much for the humanitarian compassion. I wonder what the next justification will be for this quagmire?

Posted by Observer at 06:54 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2004

Air America

When I have time on off-days, I am hooked up via an internet stream to Air America, the new liberal talk radio network. I don't like political talk radio enough to stick with it all the time, but I must say, it is refreshing to hear. They're just starting out, so sometimes, it's not as polished as it should be, and my connection is a bit stop-and-start at times. I've listened to Al Franken's show and a lot of Randi Rhodes so far, and they are both quite good.

I'd like to hear Janeane Garofalo just to see if she's as interesting as I think she would be, but she's on from like 7-10pm my time. I'll listen to the radio during the mornings sometimes (sports talk, usually) when I'm eating breakfast or in the car or during the day when I'm home with Daniel, but I'm not going to listen to it when the rest of the family is home, especially not in the evening when we're either watching a movie or a show or just having some quiet time. Radio, especially talk radio, is the perfect thing when you have about 25-50% of your attention to spare because you're doing something else.

Posted by Observer at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

Changed Tunes

Atrios pointed out something to this effect as well. I noticed in the paper over the weekend that job creation numbers were sharply higher (compared to Bush's sad history). Still, the monthly numbers (revised upwards for last month) for either of the last two months are still *below* the average number of jobs that need to be created in order to simply keep pace with population growth. They are also lower than the monthly *average* compiled during the Clinton years.

But that doesn't matter to the dittohead, brain-dead conservatives. Nope, according to them, suddenly the president *DOES* have some control over the economy, and boy, look at that job growth! Watch how much conservatives (and the mainstream media, of course) mention this big job growth number in the weeks to come just to see how desperate they are to spin any positive fact into the big news of our time.

A couple of things I've read of interest lately. Steve Gilliard provides his usual interesting and well-informed perspective on the recent battle in Sadr City which cost at least seven American lives. Josh Marshall has more on the Shia perspective and what the future holds for our troops in harm's way.

On another note, Molly Ivins has her usual funny and informative column on the latest doin's with Bush and the environment, wacko judges and the other issues you've come to know and love with Bush and his buddies. Well worth a few minutes to read.

Posted by Observer at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2004

The Book on Bush

Another book I finished reading Friday night while I sat for an hour waiting for Justin's track team to return to the school is "The Book on Bush" by Eric Alterman and Mark Green. I previously reviewed (and really liked) Alterman's "What Liberal Media?", and like that book, this one is a thorough, well-documented and extremely compelling case. I also quoted an excerpt about Bush's personality from "The Book on Bush" here a couple of weeks ago.

For example, all the stuff now coming to everyone's attention as a result of Richard Clarke's new book and his testimony before the 9/11 panel is right there, chapter and verse, in thorough detail in "The Book on Bush", written and released months ago. Of course, the authors go further into chilling detail, like in this passage about the terror warnings put out by the administration shortly after 9/11:

Recall for a moment the degree of panic Americans experienced in the fall of 2001 following the initial attacks. In early October, the first of at least five envelopes containing deadly anthrax was opened at news organizations in New York and Miami. More mailings arrived at Capitol Hill later that month. Simultaneously, the media reported on possible al Qaeda plots to launch a "dirty bomb", or radiological weapon, in Washington, D.C. Twice that October the attorney general and FBI director went on national television to warn about the possibility of additional attacks.

With alarming consistency administration figures terrified Americans with near-certain, but curiously vague, warnings about upcoming attacks. Vice President Cheney explained that such an attack was "almost a certainty" and "not a matter of if but when". [...]

US authorities issued separate warnings that al Qaeda might be planning to target apartment buildings nationwide, banks, rail and transit systems, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. As a Time writer noted of the fearmongering: "Though uncorroborated and vague the terror alerts were a political godsend for an administration trying to fend off a bruising bipartisan inquiry into its handling of the terrorist chatter last summer. After the wave of warnings, the Democratic clamor for an investigation into the government's mistakes subsided."

Makes you wonder what they'll try to do this time to shut down the investigation. You know they haven't exhausted all of their options yet. Not nearly. Alterman continues on the credibilty of the warnings:

Indeed, the national security historian John Prados found "ample reason to suspect that some of these recent warnings of terrorist threats have been made for political purposes." In the case of alleged "dirty bomber" Abdullah al Muhajir -- a former Chicago gang member who was born Jose Padilla -- Prados notes that the subject was apprehended on May 8. "A desire to allay public fears should have led to an immediate announcement of the arrest. Instead the act was kept secret, allowing Donald Rumsfeld to have his cake and eat it too: The administration could raise the specter of al Qaeda nuclear attacks while not revealing that the man who constituted the threat was already in custody. Thus the arrest was only revealed when it offered maximum opportunity for turning attention away from inquiries into what went wrong before 9-11."

I know, I know, shocking stuff. The Bush administration actually putting politics above what's good for the country. Whodathunkit? Then there's the recklessness of the war itself, ostensibly fought to make America safer, but the intelligence we had suggested that invading Iraq would only put us in more danger and make desperate actions by Saddam more likely. As it was, he was contained. Not a happy ending, but it worked for a long time. Bush was so eager to kick some ass, though, that he avoided obvious precautions:

Before the war began, according to a secret report released by the White House as part of its postwar propaganda offensive, the CIA and other agencies were perhaps most concerned with the danger that Iraq "probably would attempt clandestine attacks against the U.S. homeland if Baghdad feared an attack." The agency even believed that Hussein was likely to use biological weapons in this case and had instructed his intelligence service to do so. The Bushites went ahead with the war anyway, leading one to the conclusion that either they did not believe their own intelligence reports or they were so committed to attacking Iraq that they were willing to risk the possibility of biological attacks against the United States in order to achieve their aim.

Reckless. Malign. Dishonest. Mean. Divisive. Cynical. Corrupt. That's the kind of administration in charge of this country right now. It is supremely amazing to witness the contempt they hold for the American people, especially the Moron Americans who still support them.

Posted by Observer at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2004

A Poker Education

I finished Herbert Yardley's famous book "The Education of a Poker Player" last week, upon recommendations and references to it in several other poker books that I've read. It's a classic of the genre, written back in the 50's. Unlike current books, this book was written before the invention of Hold 'Em, so Yardley mostly talks about strategy on more basic games, like stud and draw games, including games with wild cards.

Yardley has lots of stories about his education as a helper/player in a poker room. He recounts the stories his boss tells him and mixes in strategy for various types of poker games. He replays hands from the perspective of each player much like a bridge book, talking about the thinking of each player, mistakes made, etc. He also has some funny stories about his experience prior to World War II over in China, where he was doing some spy work and playing a lot of poker. It's a pretty quick and fun read, probably hard to find in the bookstore but easy to find in the library.

Posted by Observer at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2004

Loser Tribe

I liked the twist on last night's "Survivor". They need to do more of that sort of thing to keep the game less boring after the tribes merge. It was getting way too predictable for the bigger tribe to pick off the smaller tribe one-by-one. When the losers formerly of Mogo Mogo got Amber, I thought for sure she would be gone. Amazingly, though, Lex and company looked like amazing saps keeping Amber on their team to vote off Jerri. I mean, I know it's edited and we can't possibly know everything that is said and done, but it looks pretty simple to me: when the tribes merge, Amber will be effectively part of Rob's tribe again and they'll pick off the remaining losers of Lex's tribe in short order.

I got a lot of laughs out of this show. It was funny to watch Rob grumble about his crappy new camp, funny to watch the former Chapera tribe try to rationalize it. Those disgusting shots of Jerri brushing her teeth were hilarious. I think they need to have the next "Survivor" in Antarctica, though I guess there wouldn't be much swimming, fishing or foraging for food there. Not sure what they would do except have snowball fights unless they go hunt penguins or something. I wonder if they could even get permission to do it.

Posted by Observer at 01:26 PM | Comments (2)

Clarke Wars

Paul Krugman's Wednesday column ties together the news well, just like Daschle's speech I linked yesterday, but Krugman also twists the knife into the mainstream media a bit:

The truth is that among experts, what Mr. Clarke says about Mr. Bush's terrorism policy isn't controversial. The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sources — including "Bush at War," by Bob Woodward.

And new evidence keeps emerging for Mr. Clarke's main charge, that the Iraq obsession undermined the pursuit of Al Qaeda. From yesterday's USA Today: "In 2002, troops from the Fifth Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures."

That's why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassination.

Some journalists seem, finally, to have caught on. Last week an Associated Press news analysis noted that such personal attacks were "standard operating procedure" for this administration and cited "a behind-the-scenes campaign to discredit Richard Foster," the Medicare actuary who revealed how the administration had deceived Congress about the cost of its prescription drug bill.

But other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."

Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler has followed up on this. Blitzer, of course, vigorously denied Krugman's accusation on his TV show, saying (and/or implying) that he never passed along rumors about Clarke's personal life and never passed along stuff from White House smear professionals (er, sources). But then if you look at the videotape of what Krugman was talking about, there's no mistaking what was going on, no mistaking that Blitzer was whoring for the White House. Krugman himself replies in his Friday column, covering the same ground as Somerby, only more concisely (and he also has a summary of the crazy story about a CNN video that Letterman aired).

Thanks, liberal media! Krugman, meanwhile, continues...

This administration's reliance on smear tactics is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics — even compared with Nixon's. Even more disturbing is its readiness to abuse power — to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics.

To be fair, Senator Bill Frist's suggestion that Mr. Clarke might be charged with perjury may have been his own idea. But his move reminded everyone of the White House's reaction to revelations by the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill: an immediate investigation into whether he had revealed classified information. The alacrity with which this investigation was opened was, of course, in sharp contrast with the administration's evident lack of interest in finding out who leaked the identity of the C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame to Bob Novak.

And there are many other cases of apparent abuse of power by the administration and its Congressional allies. A few examples: according to The Hill, Republican lawmakers threatened to cut off funds for the General Accounting Office unless it dropped its lawsuit against Dick Cheney. The Washington Post says Representative Michael Oxley told lobbyists that "a Congressional probe might ease if it replaced its Democratic lobbyist with a Republican." Tom DeLay used the Homeland Security Department to track down Democrats trying to prevent redistricting in Texas. And Medicare is spending millions of dollars on misleading ads for the new drug benefit — ads that look like news reports and also serve as commercials for the Bush campaign.

These people are taking advantage of the "he said, she said" reporting style of the media to be as cynical and dirty as possible. They *KNOW* that if a Democrat (or even a REPUBLICAN, fer cryin' out loud!) calls foul, the media will just report as more boring old partisan sniping at one another.

No.

This is the same kind of thing with people comparing someone like Al Franken to Ann Coulter. Both are ideologues for their respective political wings, but there are two enormous differences: Franken is funny, and Franken doesn't lie. You may think, "Oh, come on, they all stretch the truth, etc." Nope. Franken sources everything. He carefully qualifies things he isn't sure about, and he documents the hell out of all his assertions of fact. Conservative authors, on the other hand (you can take your pick) pretty much can't write a single page without some glaring mistake or lie (there are lots of "watch" sites out there that document this stuff, like "Rush watch", "Coulter watch", "Hannity watch", etc.).

Until Moron Americans lose this fucking stupid "pox on both houses" notion, this election season is going to be filled with the worst gutter politics we've seen in a long time, and there's a good chance Bushco will be shameless enough to do whatever it takes to win back the White House. Just for example, suppose they decided to cancel the November election, you know, put it off for a couple of years. I'm not saying they would or even that there's a remote chance that they will. Just a hypothetical.

Exactly which conservative pundit will speak out against that decision, should it come to pass? You think Rush is going to be on his show talking about this horrible thing that the election was cancelled, and what happened to Democracy? You think CNN is going to report it straight? No, for every "wild-eyed liberal" they have on explaining why elections are important, there will be three administration officials (either in person or quoted on background) spinning the whole deal so the Morons think, "Aw, hell, what do those whiny Democrats want elections for anyway? What a buncha losers."

You think the media is liberal? Look at what has happened to our great country in the last three years under the Boy King, look at how the media is reporting on him, then go see if there is any way to reverse that lobotomy you got.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2004

Bomb the Hell Out of 'Em

If you've looked at the front page of any paper today, you know about the Mogadishu-like events in the Iraqi city of Fallujah yesterday. Sad, horrible and utterly predictable. Americans burned and stomped to death, bodies torn apart and/or hung from a bridge by a cheering mob. This time, news cameras were there, so we'll hear a lot about it.

Many conservatives, like Bill O'Reilly, are calling for a "final solution" for the city, which basically means "bomb the hell out of 'em" (though it is a chilling reminder of Hitler's plans for the Jews). Keep in mind, these are the same conservatives telling us that our chief justification (well, at least, now that no WMD have been found) for the war in Iraq is because we want the Iraqi people to be better off, because Saddam was a brutal dictator who murdered his own people, etc.

Billmon has the best post I've read about this so far, summarizing conservative comments about Iraqis "then and now" as well as putting it all into the proper historical context, with photos. It's funny how so many of the conservatives who are complaining about the barbarous savages in Iraq, celebrating a public lynching ... well, they are the direct ideological descendants (only a few decades removed) from the same kind of behavior in America. Don't miss it.

Posted by Observer at 07:42 AM | Comments (1)