Huh. The big conservative theory over on Fox and among all the ConservaBorg bloggers is that Sandy Berger is some kind of treasonous spy trying to cover up for something they did wrong during the Clinton years, trying to keep the 9/11 commission from learning something horrible by stuffing documents in his clothes and stealing them from the secure National Archives. Berger's story all along was that he was just doing research so he could provide testimony to the 9/11 commission, and he was too casual and walked off with copies of things he shouldn't have.
He screwed up, but it wasn't a big deal. Still, he owned up to it, and he cooperated fully with the quiet investigation for over a year, until some Republican on the inside decided to leak the whole thing to try to embarrass Berger (and by proxy, John Kerry). Bush-supporters have been crowing about this for nearly two weeks now, without realizing Berger puts Bush to shame.
I mean, here is someone accused of jeapordizing national security (however innocuously, no one ever suggested he broke any laws) and what does he do? Unlike Bush, he fully cooperates. Unlike Bush, Republicans immediately begin an intense investigation, and it is reported all over the mainstream media (Bob Somerby over at The Howler has been all over this). Meanwhile, the Plame case continues to perk along, ignored.
Well, so it turns out Sandy Berger never took any original documents, didn't deny the 9/11 commission anything (the 9/11 commission said this when the story first came out, but that didn't stop the ConservaBorg from spinning a nice tale for the Moron American). In fact, he has been cleared of all wrongdoing:
President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger -- who'd been accused of stealing classified material from the National Archives -- has been cleared of all wrongdoing.
The National Archives and the Justice Department have concluded nothing is missing and nothing in the Clinton administration's record was withheld from the 9-11 Commission.
The Wall Street Journal reports archives staff have accounted for all classified documents Berger looked at.
Late last year they asked investigators to see if the former national security adviser removed materials during his visits.
Berger's lawyers said his client had inadvertently removed several photocopies of reports, but later returned them.
Well, that was fun. Sorry to disappoint all you nutballs out there, but Berger made a mistake and then, here's the part that is going to be tough for you to hear, he owned up to it, cooperated with the authorities, then was cleared. See what happens when you actually care about national security, when you act like a patriot (even though you aren't perfect)?
So, uh, anyway, about that whole blowing the cover of an undercover agent thing...? We're still all waiting for Mr. Mission Accomplished to get to the bottom of this whole thing, just like we're waiting for OJ to find the real killer. Thanks to Atrios for the link.
Josh Marshall asks a question to which he should already know the answer:
See CNN's Breaking News Alert: "Security forces have captured a high-level al Qaeda operative in a raid in central Pakistan, Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said."
Then, after you see that, remember that we noted in May and then The New Republic reported out extensively early this month, that this White House has been telling the Pakistanis for months that they wanted to see a big-time al Qaida leader -- hopefully bin Laden -- produced during the Democratic convention.
Reuters is reporting that the guy they've served up may be a Tanzanian involved in the 1998 African embassy bombings. So apparently they couldn't come up with bin Laden himself. [...]
So I'd be very, very curious to hear whether when, oh say, CNN goes on about how this al Qaida guy has been hauled in they will mention at all, or with any consistency, that one of the most respected political magazines in the United States reported just weeks ago on the pressure the administration has been placing on the Pakistanis to serve up an al Qaida bad guy on this day.
Will they make the obvious connection? Or will they just ignore it?
Of course, the answer is "no". Networks and newspapers, your bastions of the so-called liberal media, are just reporting it straight. We captured a terrorist bad guy over in Pakistan on Sunday, and the news was released, oh what a coincidence, by Pakistan on the day of John Kerry's acceptance speech. No context, nothing. Thanks, corporate media!
This is just the latest, but perhaps the most blatant, example of how this administration has placed politics and, really, political dirty tricks above national security itself, and along the way persisted in defining political deviance down until tactics we used to associate with banana republics start to seem commonplace here.
See, normally when an ally like Pakistan would capture a terrorist high up on the organizational ladder, they want to keep it quiet for a long time while they question the guy and try to root out his contacts, etc. It's very peculiar that they are outing this capture so quickly. Maybe they have good reasons, of course. Maybe the reports of a "July surprise" from Pakistan during the convention are all wrong.
Has this administration given you any reasons to give it the benefit of the doubt on such things?
Oh, and speaking of timing, it's time for another Friday Afternoon Document Dump. For some reason, the administration was just FORCED to wait a full 15 days later than usual, the day after the Democratic Convention ended, to release the news that this year's $400+ billion deficit will be the largest in history. I want to know when the fiscal conservatives in the Republican party turned into such pussies. If Democrats can pull off a switch to become known as the party of fiscal sanity (not to mention military sanity), Republicans won't have a leg to stand on.
But yeah, you go right on giving the Boy King the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure he's being totally up front with all of us on things. Lots of things he knows that we don't, you see. Uh huh. Yeah, that budget deficit was a big national security secret, lots of classified stuff in there we can't see. Whatever.
As an interesting side note, that image from a card in the Illuminati game pre-dates the 9/11 attack by several years.
The Daily Mislead sometimes is a great place for a well-documented summary, connecting all the dots in a simple and effective way. Today, it's the War on Terror:
Vice President Dick Cheney claimed yesterday that under the President's leadership we "closed down the training camps [in Afghanistan] where terrorists trained to kill Americans." His comments are not only bold, but a look at the record shows they are deliberately misleading. Just two weeks ago the Bush administration essentially contradicted the claim, warning Americans of an imminent attack on the U.S. homeland from terrorists operating in Afghanistan.
As CNN reported on July 8, Bush administration officials are warning that "a plot to carry out a large-scale terror attack against the United States in the near future is being directed by Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda members." According to the administration, these terrorists are operating in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
Unfortunately, in 2002, the Bush administration shifted key special forces out of Afghanistan, effectively removing them from the hunt for al Qaeda. These troops were sent to prepare for an Iraq invasion. That leaves the U.S. with only about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan hunting down al Qaeda, whom they now say are plotting an imminent attack against the country. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has designed plans to add troops to the 140,000 already stationed in Iraq - a country that never had any collaborative relationship with al Qaeda or connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (even though the Bush administration has claimed both).
Follow the link for the documentation of the claims from various news sources. I still can't believe that we put Afghanistan on the back burner. It's hard enough trying to rebuild that country and root out Al Qaeda over there, but to take on Iraq for no decent reason? Unbelieveable. Can you imagine just how different things would be today, how much more support we would have around the world, how much more successful we would've been, how much less our troops would be stretched and suffering, had we simply finished what we started over there?
I read your eye-opening column in the paper today, and I want to thank you for your insight. You wrote that poor liberals like me have a lot of strange delusions in our pretty little heads. For example, you wrote, "They believe the economy is simply terrible. Nearly every indicator has been more positive than negative in the last few months, so where does this come from?"
And here I thought we were in a recession! Heck, Bush is due to be the first president since Herbert Hoover to suffer a net loss of jobs in America on his watch. Not only that, the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever, thanks in part to all the tax cuts for the rich, all the millionaires in corporations moving their taxable assets and operations off-shore, and the poor are a lot worse off because of all the government services that have been cut back as a result of the lower tax revenue. Plus the deficit is totally out of control.
But, hey, in the last few months, we've added some jobs to the economy! Of course, the rate of job creation hasn't been enough to keep up with the growth in the population of working-age adults, but positive is better than negative, I guess. This kind of thinking has made me reevaluate the baseball game I saw the other day.
See, the Rangers were down 12-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, but then Hank Blalock came up and hit a two-run homer. So it was 12-4, and I think the other team may have scored a few more runs in the top of the ninth, but who cares? We scored some runs kind of late in the game, so I don't know where the hell the idea comes from that we lost the game! I must have been delusional!
And think of all the games we "lost" in the last few months! Gah, think of all the Cubs fans, deluding themselves into losses for lo these many decades! Mark, you've given me a whole new outlook. I'll see you at the World Series this year, I guess, and every year to come!
Tom Tomorrow has a good parallel universe story about the Iraq War:
The President warns of an impending threat.
Bush: We have proof that Saddam is creating an army of giant mutant lizards that shoot laser beams out of their eyeballs! We can't wait for the smoking gun to come in the form of a bunch of giant lizards!
Members of his administration put their own credibility on the line.
Powell: Not only does he have the lizards -- he also has the capability and intent to manufacture unstoppable killer robots! Honest!
The public grows increasingly frantic.
Voter #1: Do you have any idea how much damage an army of mutant lizards can do with their laser-shooting eyeballs?
Voter #2: Especially if they're backed up by unstoppable killer robots!
The inevitable war ensues, victory is quickly declared.
Rumsfeld: We have liberated the grateful, rose-petal-tossing populace of Iraq from their lizard-creating overlords!
Wolfowitz: We expect to find the lizards any day now.
Eventually, it becomes politically palatable for Democrats to acknowledge the obvious.
Kerry: Why -- there was never any real evidence of giant lizards -- or killer robots!
Edwards: Had we but known the truth, we surely would not have voted for this now-unpopular war!
Republicans, meanwhile, continue to clutch at straws.
Pundit #1: It says here [holding book] that there are many species of lizards in Iraq -- and some of them grow fairly large!
Pundit #2: Big lizards, eh? Well then -- the entire war was totally justified! We were right and the lefties were wrong! They should get on their knees and apologize profusely!
This whole reality-avoidance thing is the only way Bush-supporters can continue to function, I think. The whole conservative machine these days is spitting out irrefutable belief after irrefutable belief, without really thinking of the consequences when two irrefutable beliefs conflict. An example: The invasion of Iraq was a good idea. You disagree with that? Well, you must support Al Qaeda. You must want the terrorists to win. Why do you hate freedom so much?
And if you don't buy the irrefutable beliefs, every day is another chance for a distraction. If it isn't Sandy Berger, it's Teresa Heinz-Kerry telling some conservative hack "journalist" to shove it. I'm really concerned about what a John Kerry presidency will bring, because there is no question that if Republicans control either chamber of Congress, there will be a neverending stream of trumped-up investigations, each of which will be more breathlessly covered than the last by the so-called liberal media. This by the same Congress that is ignoring obvious Bush problems right and left.
It's depressing to think about, but "four more wars" of Bush would be far worse.
We were so busy with the new baby experience last year that we really didn't have the chance to mark this occasion properly, but today is an important anniversary, as it marks the day Michelle and I met. It was a moment and a day that opened a whole new and exciting chapter in our lives, and I'm so blessed and lucky that it happened.
Like I'm sure many couples are, we have many special anniversaries, but this one and our wedding day (January 5) are the big ones. I don't always make a huge deal out of anniversaries. I try to make a huge deal out of every day that we are together. Waiting for a special occasion to buy flowers or gifts or to show affection or love makes it seem very hollow to me. I count my blessings every day. But still, you like to do maybe a little extra something special on your anniversary, just to keep some little surprises in life.
My sweetie will get hers when she hops in the shower this morning. I had to skip going with her yesterday to get the baby photos done so I would have a chance to install it. Turns out it was easier than I thought it would be, but it still took 15 minutes to get everything out, set it up, then hide all the evidence. I was just about to bust many times yesterday wanting to tell her that I had a surprise for her, but every time I got close, I managed to hold back and wait so she could be surprised on our anniversary. I knew if I told her I had a surprise for her, she would get it out of me in about 10 minutes.
I had a big, dopey grin on my face many times yesterday, and I think she knew I was up to something, but she had mercy on me and didn't force it out of me. One of many reasons I love her. And I know she doesn't need me to do silly things like this to show her that I love her, but I love to do them anyway.
I have finally accumulated enough bookstore gift certificates (that's the credit card hook we have) so that I could go out and drop all ninety bucks of 'em on something I've been lusting after for quite a while now: "The Complete Far Side". It is massive. Each book is about 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide, weighing in at a good 10 pounds (20 pounds total for the set). If I were rich and foolish, I'd have gotten the signed leather-bound edition for $800! As it was, the set was a little over $100, so my certificates didn't quite cover it.
These books are so massive, it isn't really all that comfortable to hold them in my lap, but I will find a way, even if I have to sit at a desk to read them. I'm going to savor these books for many months to come. I also spent some old Best Buy gift cards I had left over from my birthday and a DVD return to buy the other two CD's in the "Lord of the Rings" soundtrack trilogy (I got "The Two Towers" for my birthday from Michelle).
So it was nice to satisfy a couple of wants I've been thinking about for a long time now, and I hardly had to spend any money to do it! I also helped all three kids at the library find some fresh books to read. They've been sticking to the same authors for a while, and it has grown stale, especially for Cody, who has now gone through my entire Calvin and Hobbes collection at least four times over the past month. He asked me once why Calvin's dad lies to Calvin. He didn't think that was very nice. Heh, I do the same thing to the kids sometimes, making silly stuff up as explanations to answer their questions, always in my most authoritative professor voice, and if they believe it, I just keep adding weirder and weirder stuff until they realize I'm kidding.
Oh yeah, speaking of obsessions of mine, they just announced the name last night for Episode III of the six movie set, due to come out in May 2005: "Revenge of the Sith"
The headline says, "Records Fail to Shed Light on Bush Service", but the story is something very different. It's always fun to keep an eye on every administration for the Friday Afternoon Document Dump. Nobody pays much attention to the news on Friday evening or Saturday, so releasing bad news late on Friday afternoon ensures it is left out of that evening's national news broadcasts. Something else usually happens on Saturday, so the story ends up buried in either Saturday's or Sunday's paper, and the Sunday morning shows are usually booked far enough in advance that the guests can't comment on the Friday story anyway.
The latest dump comes from the Pentagon (which I thought was non-partisan, but I guess I was wrong), which announced that it actually found Bush's National Guard pay records (or his lack-of-pay records) which it had earlier claimed were destroyed in a tragic and rare microfilm accident. Various versions of the story are out there on the wire, and from what I gather, it was the initiative of some employee who found these records. My guess is someone there doesn't like Bush and decided to do some digging on the QT, pretending it was part of some project to organize and catalog everything that was "lost" for future reference.
However it happened, the records were released, and they show that contrary to Bush's claims, he actually did go AWOL in 1972 (because he never got paid for the period in question), blowing off his Guard commitment entirely. So, technically, Michael Moore's charge of Bush as a "deserter" is accurate. For most people, going AWOL meant getting shipped to Vietnam when they caught you, but for Bush, he somehow got an honorable discharge later.
Unfortunately, thanks to multiple "complete releases" of Bush's Guard records, none of which has actually been complete (there's still more out there supposedly in an archive in Austin that the Associated Press is suing for access to), the situation is very muddled. Even though this sort of rouge behavior in the past is far more serious than Mr. "I Didn't Inhale" Clinton, it doesn't have an easy hook or storyline for people to understand. That doesn't change the fact that Bush has lied repeatedly in public and in "his" book about his past. And for those so enamored of the "rule of law" for Clinton, saying it is doubly important for the Commander in Chief to obey all the rules, etc., because he's a role model for our kids: Well, there's no statute of limitations on prosecutions for desertion, so what gives?
As soon as I saw this story in a couple of blogs, I commented to the effect of, "Hey, isn't this about the time they trot out Tom Ridge or someone to tell us there's a new terrorism threat?" I mean, that happens with such predictability now whenever bad news comes out. Sure enough, late yesterday, they were reporting on CNN that the terror threat today is just as bad as the data showed in the Summer of 2001. As Atrios points out, though, the Bush line about 9/11 has been that we didn't have any evidence of a threat in Summer of 2001 (which is supposedly why they didn't do anything, why Bush went on vacation for a month after being briefed that "bin Laden intends to attack targets in the United States", that they were training to hijack and fly planes, etc).
Where's the so-called liberal media pointing all this stuff out? Why is this simple, basic, common-sense analysis only being found in the blogosphere? The way the media is spinning it, this release of Guard records is nothing new, but hell, even the 101st fighting warbloggers' brigade knows that the story stinks for Bush, because they're all ignoring it.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: Thank God for MT-Blacklist, a nice little script that attaches to any Moveable Type powered blog. According to our blog's activity log, both blogs on this site (my wife's and mine) are getting lots of attempted comment spam. In the last week, it has averaged over 50 attempted spams per day. As 15-year-old Justin would say over and over, "I'm not lyin'!"
We probably only see about one-tenth of that total because MT-Blacklist automatically shuts out comments with certain strings (like "diet pills", "penis enlargement" or variations on the spellings of different prescription drugs) by comparing all text of comments to a master list of forbidden strings. This list is kept updated locally, and you can also add to it from a master list at the MT support site.
Still, some new spam that isn't on the list yet gets through occasionally. When it does, MT-Blacklist makes it really easy to delete it all at once, clean up the blog and update your blacklist to prevent future spams with the same string. I go a step further and research the IP numbers of spammers when I have time.
More than half of attempted spams are from IP addresses that track back (via ARIN) to either the "Asia Pacific Network Information Centre" in Australia or the "RIPE Network Coordination Centre" in the Netherlands. Those two entities control huge ranges of IP address (e.g. any IP address that begins with 58, 59, 60, 61, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 152, 159, 202, 203, 210, 211, 212, 213, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, and I am sure there are others I am missing). In other words, the addresses 184.108.40.206 or 220.127.116.11 or 18.104.22.168 all just track back to the same place, which controls all IP's with a 58 prefix.
I have decided to step up the battle a bit and ban those IP prefixes from accessing this site. I can't imagine who the hell would want to read either blog from Australia or the Netherlands anyway. I'm sure some regular readers will nevertheless get shut out of the blogs at some point, and I hope they figure out a different way to get access or email us or something.
Anyway, the rest of the spam comes from miscellaneous random addresses and is more than likely the result of virus software that posts spam comments from the computers of unsuspecting users who have been infected. I block out those individual IP's as they come in, but man, there's a flood of 'em. No telling how many attempted spams don't even show up in my activity log because they are simply banned from accessing the site.
I also get a ton of referrer spam. These are hits that seem to come from nude celebrity, poker, pharmaceutical, etc. web sites. I guess they do this because those referrals show up in web stats that are actually linked, like from extreme-dm.com. Then those URL's appear in published web pages and further increase that site's credibility with search engines like Google or Yahoo, I guess. Not much I can do about that other than banning IP's from Asia Pacific or RIPE and see if the totals drop.
I've been seeing lots more spam lately on other blogs, and it has all the hallmarks of the behavior of an exponentially increasing virus. I just hope I have enough gates shut to keep it down to a manageable trickle that I can delete with MT-Blacklist without getting overwhelmed. Of course, the internet gods are talking greatly increasing the number of available IP addresses in the near future, so I'm probably just spitting into a tidal wave.
Anyway, if you get banned from this site all of a sudden, don't take it personally (unless you are a troll, in which case please do take it personally). Email me and I'll fix it. Right now, I'm in "measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk, cut with an axe" mode, and it's a bit sloppy. There will probably be some collateral damage.
I mentioned my problems with public water utilities and lead a few days ago in reaction to the news that they discovered city officials in Washington, D. C. have been suppressing the news about dangerous levels of lead in the drinking water there. Well, wouldn't you know it, this month's Scientific American has some interesting news about some unexpected consequences:
The public reporting last year of high lead levels in the drinking water in Washington, D.C., has led to a congressional investigation, the firing of a D.C. health official, and calls for a review of the 1991 law that is supposed to keep the neurotoxic metal out of drinking water. That law, however, may not contribute to the problem as much as the changes made to disinfection procedures resulting from another water safety rule. The conflicting regulations mean that other municipalities may also soon find too much lead coming out of their faucets.
To date, at least 157 houses in D.C. have lead levels at the tap higher than 300 parts per billion (ppb), and thousands more have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 15 ppb. Residents have received contradictory advice about whether tap water is safe to drink and whether replacement of lead service lines will solve the problem.
Lead should not normally enter the flow, because layers of different lead-snaring minerals naturally build up inside the pipes. But these mineral scales act as a trap for lead only as long as they remain insoluble; a sudden shift in water chemistry can change that.
Such a change may have triggered the D.C. problems. In 2000 Washington Aqueduct, the area's water treatment plant, modified its procedures to comply with the 1998 Disinfection Byproducts Rule (DBR), which restricts the presence of so-called halogenated organic compounds in water. These compounds form when disinfectants, particularly chlorine, react with natural organic and inorganic matter in source water and in distribution systems. The DBR directs water companies to make sure that the by-products, which might cause cancer, stay below a certain level.
This is what they do these days, I guess, to get rid of the complex organic molecules that form with chlorine (they're called THM's, and I can't recall what that stands for off the top of my head). Those are potentially some of the nastiest pollutants. Most places refer to this class of chemical as VOC's, for Volatile Organic Compounds.
One of the most common ways to comply with the DBR is to use a mixture of chlorine and ammonia--called chloramines--instead of chlorine. Some 30 percent of major U.S. water companies currently take this route, and the proportion will probably grow as limits on disinfection by-products are tightened during the next few years. Because no one has investigated the effects of chloramines on corrosion in drinking-water systems, meeting DBR requirements may mean violating the 1991 lead-copper rule, which sets maximum limits on these metals (for lead, 15 ppb).
Evidence for chloramines' effect on Washington's pipes comes from EPA chemist Michael Schock. He discovered that different mineral scales--especially lead dioxide scales--are particularly vulnerable to changes in water chemistry. With chlorine, Washington's water was highly oxidizing. As a result, the mineral scales that formed consisted of lead dioxide, which Schock has found in every sample of Washington's lead service lines that he has examined. The switch to chloramines lowered the oxidizing potential of D.C.'s water, which probably dissolved the lead dioxide scale and thereby liberated the lead.
Corrosion scientists warned about potential conflicts between the two rules. "We were concerned that drastic changes in water treatment could disturb scales and mobilize metals," says one scientist involved in the investigation of the D.C. lead problem, who asked not to be named. Another researcher echoed the point: "There was essentially no research concerning interactions between the lead-copper rule and the DBR. There was zero consultation with corrosion scientists even though we screamed for it."
The EPA noted potential conflicts in a 1999 publication entitled Microbial and Disinfection Byproducts Rules Simultaneous Compliance Guidance Manual. But the document offers little in the form of specific procedural advice, scientists say. Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards, a former EPA consultant who first called attention to the D.C. problem, has warned the agency and the water industry for years that changes in drinking-water treatment were liable to cause trouble for home plumbing systems.
He believes that lead problems may lurk in other cities, too. Chemist Mark Benjamin of the University of Washington concurs, noting that the factors affecting corrosion--the pipe material, the mineral scales and the water quality--are universal in water systems. "It would be remarkable and unlikely to think that these factors just happened to combine in a unique way in Washington," he states.
Note well that this problem began back during the Clinton administration (though under the Republican Congress, which never met an EPA funding bill it liked). No administration is immune to scientific foolishness, of course, but the current crop of idiots is completely unprecedented. That link points to a page where Henry Waxman (a House Democrat) has been keeping track of all the different ways the Bushies ignore or abuse science. You should follow the links there regarding drinking water and lead poisoning (just two relevant examples) to find out the difference between scientific ignorance (which is sad but typical most of the time) and malicious hostility toward science (which is sad but typical for this administration).
Science policy in this administration is basically being written by the equivalent of tobacco industry science whores. When it comes to your own health and safety vs corporate profits, you can't trust these people. I'm thinking of getting our own drinking water tested (and the bottled water we buy, for that matter), just to satisfy my curiosity, but crap, places like Aqua MD, ETR Labs or e-watertest charge 100-200 bucks to test for lead, MTBE and other crap. If I could get it done for 10-20 bucks, maybe I'd do both. 100 bucks is a bit steep just to play Erin Brockovich, you know?
Over at the busblog, Tony Pierce has the news and links regarding Riggs Bank, which has been conspicuously *not* in the news lately:
i didnt know you could sell a bank that was being investigated by everyone from the fbi to the 9/11 commission for allowing money-laundering to happen.
a bank whose former manager yesterday pleaded the fifth as a Senate panel investigation tried to get to the bottom of the fact that fomer Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was allowed to bring in a 60-pound suitcase to a branch filled with $3 million in cash wrapped in plastic without raising an eyebrow.
but Riggs bank is a special bank. the president's uncle, after all is the CEO of its investment branch, so when the 9/11 Commission spent 28 pages reporting about how the Saudis funded terrorists through the bank, the president redacted those pages.
riggs bank, who the Associated Press described as having a "near exclusive franchise" on the banking needs of Washington DC embassies, serving 95% of them including the Saudi embassy, the one who funded at least the two terrorists in san diego and probably more.
so special is this bank that the instapundit wont even talk about it. has never ever mentioned riggs bank, and probably has no plans on mentioning it, especially since it will soon just be PNC Bank, and Riggs Bank nevermore.
why does the instapundit take it easy on Riggs?
probably because the president's uncle johnathan, gw bush's brother, is probably knee-high in dirt from these dealings, and the attitude has always been from conservative bloggers that it's not news unless drudge says its news.
and drudge sure aint gonna talk about it.
why on earth would drudge or the instapundit be interested in a once-respected bank being run by the president's uncle that is being embroiled in controversy and fines and bad dealings?
i dont know... cuz its news. 9/11 news at that.
things are completely fucked when you have to go to the busblog for your news.
A guest poster for Atrios offers further perspective, noting that the NY Times *has* talked about Riggs Bank but has never mentioned Bush's uncle or his close friend and longtime fundraiser Joe Allbritton, who has owned controlling interest in the bank for the past 23 years.
Just for fun, imagine that a close relative or longtime business associate of Bill or Hillary Clinton had been involved in a bank that laundered money for terrorists. What do you suppose the mainstream media coverage would look like? Keep in mind the to-do raised over Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Vince Foster, the blowjob and everything else. Now tell me we have a liberal media. Go on, make yourself look like a joke.
Jon Stewart had a funny line on "The Daily Show" when he was interviewing Wolf Blitzer from CNN. This is going to repeat on Wednesday night this week, I think, and it is worth watching for that great interview because absolutely NO ONE ELSE is holding media whores like Wolf accountable, even with a smile and a laugh, for their disservices to the nation. Stewart (paraphrased) said, "Look, this whole thing about Iraq, going to war under false pretenses, including a preemptive strike, intelligence failures and all that. I mean, this sounds to me like one of the biggest scandals in history. Do you think just maybe you guys over at CNN could make it a bigger story than, say, Filegate?"
Is there any accountability at any level for anything this administration does wrong? Is anyone *ever* going to get fired for anything? Or maybe at least asked a difficult question with a follow-up or two? You know, the whole reporting thing, where you keep on asking questions until you get a real answer?
My mom loaned us a copy of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", and I've let it rot on my shelf for a few months. Over the weekend, I decided to give it a try to see why everyone is talking about it. Wow, it was a real page-turner. It was like reading the depth, the history and the secret conspiracies of Umberto Eco while reading the pace and twists of Michael Crichton. Seriously, the best of both authors, and I finished this in less than a day.
The gist of the novel is that an American professor studying religious symbolism gets mixed up in a situation where the high-ranking members of a secret society are murdered. The last one to die feels like he needs to pass on his secrets, so he encodes them in a way that his granddaughter and the professor can figure it all out. The secret is a version of the Holy Grail, though the Grail is not really a cup or anything physical here, but rather an alternate history of Christianity which has been suppressed.
The "Grail" in Brown's book is a treasure trove of documents and manuscripts that provides confirmation that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife (Brown details evidence that Da Vinci is promoting this idea in "The Last Supper") and had kids together, starting a female-dominated bloodline that has stretched down through the ages. The Catholic Church is desperate to keep this quiet while others are just as desperate to get it out in the open. Meanwhile, the French police are desperate to bring someone to justice for all the murders that have taken place, and they think the professor is responsible, so he spends the whole novel basically on the run from them (and the chase is fun and fast-paced).
As you might imagine, Brown is probably taking a lot of liberties with Christian history, and I know the fundmentalist Bible-thumpers have their panties bunched over this bestseller. They're almost as pissed about the success of this book as they are about "Fahrenheit 9/11", which will pass through $100 million in another week or two. I've now seen two or three books that claim they refute Brown's harmful propaganda, etc., and there is apparently a whole cottage industry (on Amazon) of books trying to confirm or deny many of the things Brown claimed in his novel. I'm hardly a scholar of this field, so I wouldn't know where to begin on what to believe. All I know is that it was a good story, and I'm definitely going to look into his other books (his upcoming book is right up my alley, looks like: "Illuminati").
I'm interested in reading further on lots of the stuff Dan Brown talked about. Like I said, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. My problem is that I wouldn't know which of the many "Da Vinci" books would be a reliable reference, and I'd hate to waste my time on something that turns out to be full of crap. I absolutely loved Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" (excellent Sean Connery movie, too), and I really wanted to like "Foucault's Pendulum", but that book was just too damned hard to read. I didn't have the patience for it. Both of those books deal with old European religious history and have very complex plots with satisfying twists at the end.
"Rose" is about a murder investigation in a 14th century monastery, and you will really learn a lot of interesting stuff about history by reading it. "Pendulum" is set closer to modern times when a small group decides to publish a lot of crazy conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar and their connections throughout history, and they find out they've accidentally hit a little too close to the truth (or at least the truth as some people believe it). These books remind me of the feeling I get when watching that BBC show with James Burke (?) called "Connections", only the books require the kind of sacrifice of time and devoted attention that no TV show could ever match.
They say a leopard can't change his spots, and my favorite right-wing nutball is once again showing his true nature. I'm telling you, this guy epitomizes everything anti-American about right wing Bush-supporters these days, so I like to link to him occasionally as an alternative way of getting my main point across.
Want to criticize the Boy King, like Michael Moore did in "Fahrenheit 9/11"? Let's publish Moore's home address in a fanatical newsletter (yes, really happened), and hey, if something should happen to him or his family ... well, them's the breaks, eh? Life's tough, ain't it?
Want to criticize the nutball himself? Well, then, here come the death threats (followed closely by fake apologies and other embarrassing nonsense). It's so ironic that people like this will foam at the mouth at the thought of suppressing their second amendment rights (even more ironic that people who throw around death threats in a political discussion are among the *last* people you want armed in our society).
But then they're all perfectly A-OK with trying to suppress your first amendment rights to free speech and free expression when you disagree with them. If you want to get picky, oh yes, I banned him from commenting here (I do not suffer fools ... or trolls ... gladly), but that's not quite the same thing as him threatening my life and trying to shut down my blog. Know what I mean?
I've really had fun picking this guy apart in the past. It has been all the more fun because he vowed to "inundate me with facts and logic" or something like that, then he tucked his tail and ran while shouting the equivalent of "I'm gunna git you!" over his shoulder like a schoolyard bully whose bluff has been called. The poor fool never responded to a single argument I raised, which was, frankly, a real disappointment since when he does actually try to express his political philosophy (or, more generally, his prejudices, some of which are apparently racial), it's like watching a train wreck. I like to keep up with his blog because it is a good representative sampling of what the average nutball is focused on these days, and it looks like Air America and Al Franken is really getting under their skin.
Well, crap, dude. Welcome to my world, where Rush, Sean and the other conserva-Borg dominate talk radio. Nice to have an alternative voice on there, to be honest, but for a nutball, "fair and balanced" = "100% conservative". Anyway, they do anything they can to attack Franken (I talked about this a few weeks ago ... even their "Franken Watch" websites are riddled with the same kind of ridiculous, sophomoric errors as books by Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, etc).
One article goes after Franken for trying to prank John Ashcroft. Ironically, the source material for the attack article is Franken's own book (Franken has spent more time in Iraq than Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld combined, by the way, and he describes his popular USO tour in his book, too). Franken *admits* his mistakes and even apologizes for them. I know, it's a crazy-sounding idea what with the current "Mission Accomplished" leadership and all, but there are people in the world who actually assume responsibility for their own actions. They're called grown-ups!
Some of the latest clap-trap on his blog was on sex education, and it reminded me of a resource I use in my class on a regular basis, a great book by Roland Pine called "Science and the Human Prospect" (you can read the whole thing online). If you read the typical conservative quote from Pine's article, it's pretty similar to the what conservatives say these days about sex education and abstinence education. The difference is how conservatives deal with things and how grown-ups deal with things:
Consider the following letter to the editor in a daily newspaper:
Just why is everyone pushing this sex education in schools? Why is it necessary? The worn-out reason is that a lot of parents do not talk about it at home, therefore it must be taught in school. Yet, since this trend started, VD and pregnancy among teenagers and even preteens has sharply gone up. Why then? I thought sex education was supposed to reduce it, not increase it. The answer is that it is a "how-to-do-it" course, nothing else. That is why the dirty books are being pushed in schools now to go with it. Sex education is bunk.
Suppose the observation is accurate. There has been a significant rise in venereal disease and pregnancies among teenagers simultaneous with the introduction of sex education courses in public schools. Even so, what for this person is proof that there is a causal connection between sex education in schools and a recent rise in venereal disease and teenage pregnancy is only an observation of a possible correlation from a scientific point of view.
It is important to note that what for most people is the conclusion of an investigation is only the beginning of an investigation for science. Many other factors could cause the rise of teenage VD and pregnancies. A rise in the population of teenagers is possible, causing everything that teenagers do to go up: automobile accidents, the purchasing of particular types of clothing, music CDs and tapes, and acne lotion for example. Few would claim that teaching sex education in schools has been the cause of increased purchases of acne lotion.
There also could be an increase in the population of particular types of teenagers, those in an area of the country where sex education is not taught or where early sexual experimentation is encouraged by various social or family pressures. Correlation does not prove causation. A correlation between sex education and teen sex problems does not prove a causal connection, and by itself, it does not give us a clear indication in which direction there may be a connection. Knowing only the basic correlation, it is possible that an increase in teen sex problems caused an increase in sexual education classes!
Just for fun, I should note that Pine's book is now over 10 years old, but if you read that "typical conservative" letter above, it sounds almost exactly like the columns that are published today. It's like a broken record, with the same already discredited thoughts regurgitated year after year. I'm sure Pine's book will remain relevant for decades thanks to this kind of nonsense.
Pine goes on to elaborate further on this hypothetical study and how science works in practice. This is in Chapter 2 of his book, which is required reading for all of my students. Why? Well, because I teach a survey course in science, that's why. What point is it giving them a bunch of facts to memorize with no context? I try to teach them to think like scientists. That means to be intellectually honest, to look at both sides of an issue, to look for ways you could be wrong, to be open-minded. "What for most people is the conclusion of an investigation is only the beginning of an investigation for science." That kind of open-minded. You know, all the things that are the antithesis of the typical nutball Bush-supporter.
This is one reason I love my job. Not only do I get to teach, which is always a blast on any level, but I get to really introduce people to a way of thinking. In the best cases, I get to open their minds to make connections between science and the real world. Maybe they'll think twice when they're being lied to. Even in the worst cases, I can at least get them to admit that both sides usually have a point that needs to be heard. This means the bleeding hearts in my class are pretty disappointed when I bring up an issue like, say, global warming, because I look at it skeptically and talk about why both liberals and conservatives have good arguments to make that are hard to counter. I think that's the way a political debate should be: present the best possible construction of the philosophy of each side on the issues, do your best to educate voters honestly, and then let them choose.
Which leads me to my problem with many conservatives. It's not that I think they're stupid. Even though I poke fun a lot, I do not think Bush is truly stupid, and I'm sure there are as many stupid liberals as stupid conservatives, but you'll have to look elsewhere for a valid list of "stupid liberal myths" as I've got enough fish to fry. On the contrary, I think the conservatives who come up with opinions like this (on sex education, for example) and feed them to the average Moron American are quite intelligent. The conservatives, often in the mainstream media, know they are being dishonest. Take Steno Sue Schmidt, for example, at the Washington Post: her latest on Wilson was really embarrassingly bad, even for her. But to hell with the objective facts, they decide the manipulate the rubes anyway.
My favorite part is when they then accuse liberals of some kind of "elitism". Again and again, I ask thoughtful conservatives the following (and still no answer): If the case for conservative government in America is so strong, the case for deep upper class tax cuts, the case of war in Iraq, etc., then why must you be dishonest to make your case? As Feynman would say, if you want to be intellectually honest, you put the facts out there, explain them to the layperson in the most honest, objective way you can mange, and then let them decide how to vote.
When conservatives want to start being intellectually honest (and that includes an end to form letters from "soldiers in Iraq" showing up in comments), I'll stop saying things like "Boy King" or "nutballs". Until then, don't pretend you are interested in a real debate, you fucking cowards.
Good news and bad news. The good news is that the Rangers picked up where they left off at the All-Star Break, and if Kenny Rogers has recovered from his sort-of leg injury, we're looking good to sweep the Blue Jays tonight. Our two oldest boys, Justin and Cody, are being taken to the game tonight by my Mom and Stepdad. They supposedly have really good seats, down on the first row just behind the home dugout, so we'll be DVR'ing the game while we're out (we can't waste an evening that two kids are gone) to see if they appear on camera.
It's their first ball game. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't taken the kids to a baseball game yet. Part of that is that the Rangers have sucked the past couple of years since the kids moved down here, and part of it is that usually by the time I am free to take them to a game, it's about 1000 degrees (drops to 994 by the end of the game, of course). This year, I just haven't gotten around to it, and I'm reluctant to with just the boys. I'd like Michelle and Sarah to go, too, and then there's baby Daniel to worry about. Oh well, I will definitely take them at some point. I sure want to go to a game or two, maybe even this season.
The bad news is that my sentimental favorite Ranger pitcher, Rick Helling, decided to sort-of retire after his last bad outing at AAA Okie City. 1-4 with an ERA around 9.00 isn't going to get you a major league call-up, not even when rosters expand next month. He's young enough that he should still be able to pitch for a good long time, so I'm hoping he'll get his head right with ball, keep training, then show up as a non-roster invitee next spring training to battle for a spot on the ballclub. He's out of the picture for this season.
I was gonna do a book review today. I figured I would finally cover Donaldson's Thomas Covenant trilogies which are among my favorites. I was all set to reminisce and write a good long review of a memorable series. Well, then I did an Amazon search so I could link them up and dammit if that bastard Donaldson hasn't announced that the first book of the "final" Chronicles will be released on October. "The Runes of the Earth" will be the first of a four book set.
Waiting for books like that is gut-wrenching. I went through that with the 2nd Chronicles (it is why to this day I still have the hardbacks of "The One Tree" and "White Gold Wielder", which cost me a relative fortune back when I was in high school), and after that, I swore off reading any more incomplete series (until Rowling forced me to break that rule with Harry Potter thanks to the movies coming out). Now I'll have to decide whether to read Donaldson right away and then agonize over each book as it comes out or just ignore it for six years until they're all out.
Anyway, the news shot my wheels off, and now I'm thinking about re-reading the whole series, so I should wait to review Donaldson until after that.
I've mentioned my concerns about tap water quality in the past, prompted in part by all the MTBE from gasoline going into the groundwater and chlorine-related nasty things. Sure, I get the annual report from our city's water department about how wonderfully safe and clean the water is, but from what I can tell, that's tested at the city's reservoir, not at my tap. Of course, I know the flouride in the water is a good thing, but how important is it for us if we brush regularly anyway? And I worry about what leeches out of the pipes between there and here.
I also worry about the honesty of the city government, frankly. Especially in this era of understaffing, budget cuts and flat-out corruption when it comes to reporting and/or acting on polluters. Stories like this one don't ease my troubled mind:
According to a report released Friday, the District of Columbia's water department had known for several years about dangerous levels of lead in the city's water supply, but it failed to notify the public or report the results to federal authorities as required.
The report, which the city's Water and Sewer Authority paid for, supports allegations made in a series of Washington Post articles that thousands of Washington's older homes - including some of the city's fanciest - had unsafe levels of lead when their water was tested.
Some WASA officials manipulated the city's water sampling in ways that understated it, the Post reported. Among the duped was the Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors water contaminants based on city sampling and reporting.
Outside Washington, the problem remains largely a secret. The city's Web site says nothing about lead in the water. Hotels don't mention it to guests.
While not as dangerous as lead paint, lead in drinking water can contribute to such health problems as attention span deficits, learning disabilities and delays in physical and mental development. Children under the age of 6 are the most at risk of developing such problems, but lead in water can also increase blood pressure and contribute to strokes, kidney disease and cancer in adults, according to the EPA.
"They knew for three years and didn't tell anybody," fumed Katherine Funk, an attorney who lives on Capitol Hill and the mother of an infant.
"My question for everybody out there is: Do you know what's in your water?" Funk continued. "People take for granted that their water is safe."
The thing is, I have to admit that I don't know whether the bottled water we get from the store (we fill several 5-gallon jugs periodically from the store machines) is any better. I mean, sure they claim it is better, that goes through all kinds of filters and so on, but I haven't had it formally tested. Presumably, some government agency like the EPA is looking after this, but I know they have bigger fish to fry (especially if the company pumping out the water I use is a big Republican contributor).
It does definitely taste better, and that's largely because it is in a dispenser that keeps it cold. I should do a taste test of chilled bottled water and chilled tap if that were ever the deciding factor. Maybe someday for the sake of curiosity, I will figure out where I can get both kinds of water tested locally. It would be a relief to find out I'm being paranoid for nothing, and it wouldn't be the first time.
I saw a clip of the Boy King answering questions a couple of days ago, and I couldn't believe what I heard. This guy is *still* blaming the prison-abuse scandal in Iraq on "a few bad apples". I don't have any sympathy for people who believe that. Yes, they are being misled, and Bush should tell the truth, but it's time for Moron Americans who buy this crap to take some responsbility and get informed. People claim to be patriotic, but they don't seem to give a shit when people are tortured by Americans.
Why do the Iraqis hate us? Is it because of our freedoms, like "Mission Accomplished" condescendingly tells us over and over with a self-satisfied smirk? Or is it because we treat them like shit? I don't care what Bush says. This doesn't make America safer, and the fault is squarely at the feet of the Bush Administration:
President Bush has claimed that the prison abuse scandal in Iraq was just "conduct by a few American troops." But with Congress investigating the scandal, a series of explosive new reports provides evidence that the tactics may have been approved at the highest levels of government. Even worse, one leading investigative journalist says the Administration is holding videotapes of soldiers sodomizing Iraqi children.
According to a newly released Pentagon memo from 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally authorized the use of controversial interrogation tactics, including using dogs to intimidate, stripping prisoners of their clothes and placing hoods on prisoners so they cannot see. Rumsfeld also ordered military officials to hold prisoners without listing them on prisoner rolls requested by the International Red Cross. And according to Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was the head of detention operations at Abu Ghraib, Rumsfeld "approved tactics at the prison" directly. As reported by Newsweek, these memos and orders were signed off by Rumsfeld, President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft and were part of a "secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods" of abuse seen in Iraq.
Seymour Hersh (the guy who has done the lion's share of the original investigative reporting on the problems in Iraqi prisons) has a long speech here (streaming, the transcript below starts at 1:30:46) in which he talks further about what he knows about the torture and abuse in Iraqi prisons. His quote pretty much speaks for itself. Thanks to the Bush Administration, these horrors are being done in our name. Remember that.
Some of the worst things that happened that you don't know about, ok? Videos. There are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out or communications out to their men. This is in Al Ghraib which is about 30 miles from Baghdad, 30 kilometers maybe, just 20 miles, not sure what. Anyway, the women were passing messages out saying, "Please come and kill me," because of what's happened. And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys -- children -- in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized and, uh, with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has. They were in total terror. It's gonna come out. It's impossible to say to yourself, how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there?
When I did My Lai, I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened, and I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had. I can tell you some of the personal stories that some of the people are just -- who were in these units who witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers. And so we're dealing with an enormous, massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher. And we have to get to it, and we will.
Damn right we will.
We have to. If we're ever going to regain the standing America has traditionally had in the last 100+ years, we have to make this right. We're supposed to be different. We're supposed to be better. People around the world count on that. The people in this country count on that. They expect it. And they are right to do so.
To: Bob Novak
Re: Joe Wilson
I was pretty mad at you for the last year for risking our national security assets to just "gig" Joe Wilson by revealing the idenity of his wife as a covert operative. But then I read your latest column in which you "feel compelled" to talk further about what you know about Joe Wilson and the whole "Uranium from Africa" debacle, despite having kept silent for a year about it on advice of your lawyers (who are probably rich, slick Democrats). It must've been tough to keep silent for so long when you just want to let everyone know the truth.
According to your column, the "Uranium from Africa" claim in the old State of the Union address has now been shown to be accurate by the latest report from British Intelligence. It's very brave of a conservative like yourself to report things that are counter to what the Bush Administration has claimed. You remember that, right? They said that at the time of the speech, that claim was completely unfounded based on the existing evidence at the time, and those "16 words" should've been left out of the speech regardless of later revelations.
So those of us who questioned the speech and, in fact, thought the whole run-up to the Iraq war was a great big pile of crap (you know, all the WMD claims, the "human rights" argument that fell to pieces when we were found out to be torturing people and so forth, all that stuff)... well, we were vindicated on that back last year. This column of yours was nice to see because it reminded me of that victory, forcing the Bush administration to retract a (then) baseless claim and admit a mistake, and I am glad you are willing to celebrate that with us.
In the interests of further patriotic, truth-revealing behavior, I am wondering if you have decided to go ahead and let everyone know which senior administration offical illegally revealed the covert identity of Valerie Plame (Joe Wilson's wife) to you? We're all willing to put partisanship aside when there is treasonous behavior involved, right?
PS. Say, you knew that Iran has not only been asking around about Uranium lately, but they actually got some (from our War-On-Terror Ally Pakistan) and have their own reactor and everything now? Crazy world, huh?
They're doing it again. The media, that is. They're being stupid. Between now and the election, it's going to be wall-to-wall stupid. Maybe not as bad as with Gore, but it's still going to be almost impossible for the average Moron American to sort out the differences between the candidates based on the mainstream media's insipid reporting.
The latest regurgitated spin point is that Kerry desperately wants our troops over in Iraq to starve to death. The proof? Oh, well, he said he was proud to cast a vote against the latest $87 billion appropriation. So therefore he simply hates America. Sound stupid? Well, that's what the media is basically saying by just quoting Bush and not providing any kind of rebuttal.
The irony is that Bush didn't support some versions of the Iraq appropriations bill either (Kerry wanted the funding to come from reducing the very highest end of the tax breaks, but Bush wanted to just balloon the deficit further), but do you ever hear that spun as "Bush must hate our troops"? *Will* you ever hear that? Man, there's stuff like this every single day. I don't talk about it every day because it gives even me, a class A political junkie, incredible tired head.
I guess I just felt like bringing it up today as a tribute to the latest liberal documentary that is out, "Outfoxed", about the bias of the Fox News network. Media Matters has a nice set of 33 internal "memos of the day" from Fox exec John Moody to the various reporters, telling them how to spin the news every day. I'm looking forward to seeing it, as it was just released on DVD.
I guess the bottom line with this Ranger team is that a lot of unlikely guys are putting together career years all at the same time. It's the only way to explain their amazing success. They just aren't built to be a solid team, but somehow they keep winning. I'm really worried that the lack of fundamentals (low quality starting pitching, poor on-base percentage) is going to lead to some kind of 5-20 skid in August or September, but even then, they'd still be a .500 ballclub, and that's loads better than last year.
My pipe dream of Rick Helling is pretty much gone. The poor guy has started five times now in the minors and has a stout 9.00 ERA, allowing about twice as many hits as innings pitched (hey, at least his walk totals are respectable!). He just doesn't have his stuff for whatever reason. He's still preferable to Chan Ho Park, mind you, who is trying to work his way back into the big league club via a bunch of confidence building starts in A and AA ball. We're paying this guy more than the whole all-star-caliber infield put together, and he's wowing the fans down in Frisco. Better than stinking it up in the majors, I guess.
Anyway, the big All-Star game is tonight, and though I probably won't have time to watch the thing, I will DVR it for 15-year-old Justin, who is very excited. I recorded the Home Run Derby for him last night, even though I know the one Ranger in there, Hank Blalock, didn't do well. Justin is always playing Home Run Derby on his Gamecube baseball game, so he's spending the afternoon in front of the TV to catch up on things. My mom called last night and offered Justin and 10-year-old Cody a chance to go to the game with them. They won front-row seats near the first base dugout for next Sunday evening's game with the Rangers and the Blue Jays. I'll DVR that and see if I can catch the boys on TV. I'm sure they'll be thrilled.
Image courtesy of Steve Jackson Games. There are so many things buzzing around out there that I'd like to mention but don't want to devote a whole long post to, so I'll do a little bit of metablogging this morning. First, if you've been paying much attention to Washington Beltway inside baseball lately, you know that there are new things coming out now about Joseph Wilson (the Ambassador whom Bush sent to Africa to check out Iraq-Niger-Uranium links, whose CIA agent wife got outed, etc). Some reports supposedly vindicate the administration's claim that Iraq sought Uranium from Africa, at least that's what the warbloggers would have you believe.
Naturally, it's a bit more complicated than that. See Tim Dunlop's fine (and long) analysis of the situation for what's really going on. The bottom line is simple: even the Bush administration knew the Iraq-Africa Uranium claim wasn't verified and didn't meet a reasonable standard of proof at the time they were making the claim. They admitted this themselves. For a more complete picture of Wilson and his story to provide the context for what's out there, see Bob Somerby's latest on the matter. Wilson is no saint in this, but compared to the Bush administration, he's a regular Dalai Lama. And that still doesn't make outing his wife okay.
On a completely different subject, I'm hearing a lot more noise about the possibility of terrorism influencing the elections. A very big story comes from "The New Republic", with credible sources in Pakistan saying the Bush administration is putting heavy pressure on for the Pakistanis to help capture some kind of high value target during the last week of July, ostensibly to help deflate the Democratic National Convention. Why are they doing this now instead of hunting full throttle for bin Laden and his cronies all along? Is there any truth to the idea that bin Laden is "on ice" and they are waiting for an opportune moment to announce his capture? I'm not sure at this point I'd greet news of bin Laden's capture without a lot of cynical skepticism, just because of the way this administration does business.
And it gets worse: the good folks over at BuzzFlash are very worried about the latest trial balloons being floated by the administration, assessing the possibility of cancelling the presidential election or postponing it indefinitely in the case of a terrorist attack. There are lots of other stories and editorials on this over at BuzzFlash to make you wonder. BuzzFlash also had an interesting contribution today from a reader who wonders about Bush's microfilmed Guard records being destroyed. Why was it even necessary to try to "save" the microfilm (a process that we are supposed to believe actually ended up destroying it accidentally) when the film supposedly has an expected lifetime of over 500 years?
Then you have Ronald Reagan's son endorsing John Kerry and planning to speak at the Democratic National Convention while Republicans continue to work tirelessly in state after state on behalf of Ralph Nader. How can you *not* be a conspiracy theorist these days? Sheesh.
We got babysitting arranged, and we took the three older kids to see "Spiderman 2" yesterday. I had pretty high expectations on this one; otherwise, we'd have probably just waited to see it on DVD. Roger Ebert called it possibly the best superhero movie he'd ever seen, certainly the best since the first "Superman" movie. That first "Superman" was really good, and I actually liked the sequel with the three bad guys from Krypton, but after that, it got *horrible* fast.
Then there was "Batman". I think the first movie there was underrated. It was very difficult to capture that comic book, and I liked that interpretation. Jack Nicholson was awesome, of course, and he made the whole movie work. Without him, later movies were all cluttered messes, with too many major characters and out of control plot threads. I mean, ok, it's an interesting idea to have Jim Carrey or Uma Thurman or Ahnold to play a supervillain, but for crying out loud, you've got to let them *do* something more than pose for the camera.
Well, I'm happy to report that Spidey 2 lived up to the hype. I mean, it wasn't a seminal movie going experience or anything, but it was great fun. I liked it better than Michelle, but a lot of that is because I used to read and collect Spiderman comics as a kid (along with X-Men, another movie where the sequel lived up to the hype). My only worry about the movie is damn, they sure let a lot of people in on Spidey's secret identity. About the only person who doesn't know is Aunt May, and after all this, why not tell her, too?
I figured they would wait on letting M. J. in on the secret until at least the third or fourth movie, not to mention Peter's buddy Harry Osborn. I also thought the setup scene for Harry following in his father's footsteps would've been a nice place to start the third movie. Oh well, I hope they keep the same directing team as they have for the first two (Sam Raimi). I'll keep on seeing these as long as they want to make 'em.
Speaking of movies, Sarah discovered the IMDB website for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" last week. Wow, it's not coming out until November 2005, but they've already got the casting done. If you want to find out who plays all the new characters, go check it out. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Mad-Eye Moody) is being played by Brendan Gleeson, who is been in a ton of stuff, but I can't recall any movies where he was very memorable.
My favorite casting decision so far has been Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. He's so great. I've loved Rickman in everything he has done. We were watching "Die Hard" on the DVR the other night, and when the head bad guy (Hans Gruber) came on the screen, Cody pointed and said, "That's Snape!" I'm the other way around. I keep seeing Snape on the screen and expecting him to say, "Now put down the gun and give me my detonators."
I have such a nice set of cards from Steve Jackson's awesome old collectible card game "Illuminati: New World Order" that I thought I would use some of them for my blog illustrations. The card above refers to the gap in the Nixon White House oval office tapes he submitted to Congress in response to questions about the Watergate scandal. Nixon submitted tapes, but they had suspicious gaps in them because they had edited out all the bad stuff. And so "18 1/2 minute gap" has become a standard reference to anything the government conveniently deletes (like Bush's complete national guard records).
About 95% of the time on this blog, I review books or authors that I've liked. It's not that I haven't read any bad books. I've read a lot of really mediocre books, and those are just too boring to talk about. Today, I'm going to talk about one of the few books I've read in the past 10 years or so that I just loathed: "Mutation" by Robin Cook.
Cook is the author of numerous best-seller-list potboilers, along the same lines as Michael Crichton (the difference being I really like most of what Crichton has written). Maybe this is just one of his bad ones. The premise is that a geneticist decides to create a son as an experiment. The son is incredibly brilliant and (muhahahaaaa) insanely evil.
I can't recall exactly how old the kid was during the main action of the novel, but he was definitely less than about 10 years old. He starts up a Nobel-prize-worthy genetics lab of his own about 500 yards away from his father's workplace in some kind of concrete tunnel using stolen equipment. On top of that, he's also the feared leader of a notorious drug cartel. Oh, and his mother, who is a child psychologist, doesn't notice any issues and thinks he's a perfectly normal boy.
It was such a horrible and unbelieveable book, I've never wasted my time with anything else Cook has written.
As a side note, I am sad to report that I couldn't find my "Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow" card, which would've been a more appropriate illustration for today's entry.
Bob Somerby has a very good discussion this week about pundit reaction to "Fahrenheit 9/11". You can go to this entry to see the last part with links to the first three parts. I'll quote some of the concluding paragraphs here (go to the Howler for links to the original articles, if you are interested):
You might as well know why Moore’s film is so strangely trashed. Why do you read accounts of its failings that are wildly ginned up? Why do you read few accounts of its strengths? You are reading these oddball accounts because the Washington press corps is now made up of men and women of the president’s class—men and women who instinctively side with Bush, not with an underclass shambler.
We can’t enter the mind of Ellen Goodman, but her recent column, treated as literature, seems to present a perfect example. Poor Goodman! She says that Bush has lied us to war. She says he has “toyed” with our terror alerts. You’d almost think she’d be outraged at Bush. But instead, she’s upset with those who oppose him. Just listen to what she has gone through:
GOODMAN (pgh 1): Maybe it was because the man of my left was doing a play-by-play when any member of the Bush team came of the screen. Maybe it was because the movie was within pitching range of Fenway Park.
(2) But halfway through “Fahrenheit 9/11,” I realized this wasn’t an audience, it was a fan club. They weren't watching the movie, they were rooting for it.
(3) I saw this movie in a sold-out theater on a Monday night surrounded by people in their 20s. You go, Michael.
Poor Goodman! Yes, she agrees with Moore’s stunning claims—“that we were misled into Iraq, and that the White House has used the terrorism alerts as a political toy.” But so what? “[A]t some point, I also began to feel just a touch out of harmony,” she reports. And, reading Goodman’s column as literature, the explanation for this is plain. Poor Goodman! She finds herself thrown in with the proles, right there in the city—and some aren’t showing perfect decorum. (Our three audiences were all quite restrained.)
Later, a letter-writer to the Times also gets under her very thin skin. And so she spends the bulk of her column complaining about the things Moore has said. Has Michael Moore lied us to war? No, it’s something far worse than that. He’s shown us footage of a boy in Iraq, Goodman says, throughly troubled.
But then, Ellen Goodman’s odd reaction is precisely what "Fahrenheit 9/11" is about. The film is about the way our elites don’t give a sh*t about those found far down below them. Alas! Your mainstream press is a high elite; its members tend to punish those who intrude on the pleasures of their upper-class aeries. Moore isn’t just saying Bush lied us to war; he’s also saying that people should care. But, judging by her puzzling column, there’s no real sign that Goodman does, and she seems to lash out at the shambling man who brings this small flaw to the surface. [...]
In last Wednesday’s Times, Nicholas Kristof made an a striking claim (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/1/04). “In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth,” he said. “The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations.” Yikes! All about exaggerations! But Kristof didn’t aim his anger at Bush—he aimed it at uncouth fellows, including Moore, who were brand these “exaggerations” as “lies.” Bush may have “misled” us, but he didn’t “lie,” Kristof strangely insisted.
Two days later, in the Post, Richard Cohen also unloaded on Moore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/04). The scribe said he himself had been “stupid” in the run-up to war in Iraq. “I spent more time and energy arguing with those who said the war was about oil (no!) or Israel (no!) or something just as silly than I did questioning the stated reasons for invading,” he lamented. And yes, he admits that this was “stupid”—that it caused him to overlook the fact that the Bush Admin’s stated reasons were flawed, perhaps bogus. But now, his earlier feelings return. What effect did Moore’s film have on Cohen? It made him feel sorry—for Bush:
COHEN: Some of that old feeling returned while watching Moore’s assault on the documentary form. It is so juvenile in its approach, so awful in its journalism, such an inside joke for people who already hate Bush, that I found myself feeling a bit sorry for a president who is depicted mostly as a befuddled dope.
But just what sort of “awful journalism” produced this same old feeling in Cohen? The scribe devoted almost half of his column to a single sentence from Moore’s film—a single sentence that is perfectly accurate! (And quite unremarkable.) Why in the world would this trouble Cohen? Again, we’ll present a wild thought:
Why did Cohen feel sorry for Bush? Let’s suggest the obvious reason—he was expressing the instincts of his class. Before the war, and now again, he found the proles presenting claims which he simply couldn’t abide. And guess what? The rabble was again upsetting him more than Bush—even when, as in Moore’s case, the rabble was saying things that were perfectly accurate! Like Goodman, Cohen didn’t seem to care a lot about things happening around the world. In effect, he really cared about the fact that there was some kid in some movie theater whose deportment wasn’t perfectly decorous.
Cohen was upset with Moore—because he said something perfectly accurate. Goodman was upset with Moore—because he showed a brief shot of a boy in Iraq. Surely, these can’t be the actual reasons for the reactions of these High Pundits. Might we suggest a more obvious thought about why these pundits were landing on Moore? Here it is: Members of your High Pundit Class don’t really care about people in Flint! Nor do they care about people in Baghdad. And when a shambling man suggests that they should, they begin to find themselves getting offended. They start feeling sorry for poor abused Bush. They complain about kids in a theater.
Readers, we hate to break the news, but Britney Spears really is somewhat empty. But as we’ve seen for year after year, so is the gang which makes up our High Press Corps. Goodman averted her gaze for two years while they invented their tales about Gore, and now she recites their overblown claims about a dude who comes from Flint and dares to make her spend twenty seconds on the fate of a young boy in Baghdad.
Somerby's basic point is that there really isn't a liberal media bias. It's more of a class bias, and the mainstream pundits as a whole tend to sympathize with the wealthy, ruling class. I personally don't think that's it. After all, how many times have they laughingly referred to the trappings of wealth when talking about Democrats?
Remember Bill Clinton's haircut aboard Air Force One? Remember all those references to Al Gore's "Washington hotel" upbringing, the references to his expensive Earth tones suits? How many times have we heard about the wealth of John Kerry and his wife? John Kerry's "butler"? His "patrician manner"? How many homes he has? How many times in the coming months will we hear about the millions of dollars John Edwards has won in lawsuits?
Actually, even though you will hear over and over about the millionaire ticket of Kerry and Edwards, it turns out Bush and Cheney are also both multi-millionaires, too. I know, it's surprising. I mean, why would Bush go the trouble to clear all that brush at his ranch when he could easily hire an army of groundskeepers? Truth is, they're all quite rich. I think the press points it out on the Democratic side because they enjoy reporting on irony. They think it is ironic that Democrats, who supposedly side with the lower class, are rich, and they think that is a hook that will get people to read their stories or listen to their blather.
It also enables the press to act sympathetic toward the lower class without really getting their hands dirty and doing some kind of service, like, oh, I don't know, maybe doing some serious skeptical reporting during the run-up to the Iraq war. Or asking the occasional unscripted questions during a White House news conference. No, the press corps is fronting, and the Moron Americans lap it up.
They think it is ironic that Moore, who is exposing Bush lies, isn't completely honest himself, so the focus goes to Moore, even though his sins are of far less consequence than Bush and certainly less significant than the daily standard fare at, say, Fox News. This irony is comforting to the Moron American, who can safely say "a pox on both houses" and retreat into a carefully maintained and happy ignorance without deep, troubling thoughts about just what is being done in America's name. "See?" they think, "they're all liars, so I'll just vote for the guy I'd like to have a beer with."
The press does it because their goal is to sell something, to get people to buy it. There's no room left for journalism to play the crucial role it has in any Democracy and act as an independent arbiter of the truth. Hence my claim of a corporate media bias.
I was just looking into health care issues yesterday, and apparently, so was Paul Krugman:
Will actual policy issues play any role in this election? Not if the White House can help it. But if some policy substance does manage to be heard over the clanging of conveniently timed terror alerts, voters will realize that they face some stark choices. Here's one of them: tax cuts for the very well-off versus health insurance.
John Kerry has proposed an ambitious health care plan that would extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, while reducing premiums for the insured. To pay for that plan, Mr. Kerry wants to rescind recent tax cuts for the roughly 3 percent of the population with incomes above $200,000.
George Bush regards those tax cuts as sacrosanct. I'll talk about his health care policies, such as they are, in another column.
Considering its scope, Mr. Kerry's health plan has received remarkably little attention. So let me talk about two of its key elements.
First, the Kerry plan raises the maximum incomes under which both children and parents are eligible to receive benefits from Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. This would extend coverage to many working-class families, who often fall into a painful gap: they earn too much money to qualify for government help, but not enough to pay for health insurance. As a result, the Kerry plan would probably end a national scandal, the large number of uninsured American children.
Second, the Kerry plan would provide "reinsurance" for private health plans, picking up 75 percent of the medical bills exceeding $50,000 a year. Although catastrophic medical expenses strike only a tiny fraction of Americans each year, they account for a sizeable fraction of health care costs.
By relieving insurance companies and H.M.O.'s of this risk, the government would drive down premiums by 10 percent or more.
This is a truly good idea. Our society tries to protect its members from the consequences of random misfortune; that's why we aid the victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and terrorist attacks. Catastrophic health expenses, which can easily drive a family into bankruptcy, fall into the same category. Yet private insurers try hard, and often successfully, to avoid covering such expenses. (That's not a moral condemnation; they are, after all, in business.)
All this does is pass the buck: in the end, the Americans who can't afford to pay huge medical bills usually get treatment anyway, through a mixture of private and public charity. But this happens only after treatments are delayed, families are driven into bankruptcy and insurers spend billions trying not to provide care.
By directly assuming much of the risk of catastrophic illness, the government can avoid all of this waste, and it can eliminate a lot of suffering while actually reducing the amount that the nation spends on health care.
Still, the Kerry plan will require increased federal spending. Kenneth Thorpe of Emory University, an independent health care expert who has analyzed both the Kerry and Bush plans, puts the net cost of the plan to the federal government at $653 billion over the next decade. Is that a lot of money?
Not compared with the Bush tax cuts: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that if these cuts are made permanent, as the administration wants, they will cost $2.8 trillion over the next decade.
The Kerry campaign contends that it can pay for its health care plan by rolling back only the cuts for taxpayers with incomes above $200,000. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which has become the best source for tax analysis now that the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy has become a propaganda agency, more or less agrees: it estimates the revenue gain from the Kerry tax plan at $631 billion over the next decade.
What are the objections to the Kerry plan? One is that it falls far short of the comprehensive overhaul our health care system really needs. Another is that by devoting the proceeds of a tax-cut rollback to health care, Mr. Kerry fails to offer a plan to reduce the budget deficit. But on both counts Mr. Bush is equally, if not more, vulnerable. And Mr. Kerry's plan would help far more people than it would hurt.
If we ever get a clear national debate about health care and taxes, I don't see how President Bush will win it.
I honestly don't see what's so complicated about health insurance. I think everyone can agree that we, as a society, have decided that we don't want someone who is suffering to simply die because they can't afford basic care. I mean, if some kid accidentally hurts himself badly and shows up in any emergency room, he is definitely going to be cared for. No hospital, no doctor is going to turn him away if his life is threatened, right?
So if that's the case, it simply makes sense to get everyone insured at least at some basic level (it doesn't have to replace private insurance, just be a safety net for people who can't afford insurance or lose it by switching jobs). Wouldn't you rather someone with a problem make an appointment with a doctor and practice some preventive care, or do you want to just have them wait until the last minute and show up at the (far more expensive) emergency room? Insurance coverage tends to promote preventive care, which is cheaper and keeps people healthier. Everybody wins.
I talk to a lot of pre-meds every year. It's part of my job at this university, to teach potential doctors the basics and then evaluate their competency for medical school. Part of that process involves giving them practice interviews to prepare them for the application process. During these interviews, I often ask what they would change about the health care system now that they have some experience as a scribe, an intern, an observer, whatever. They all say the same thing: too many people lack basic health insurance, and they suffer because of it. Check out your local county hospital waiting room if you don't believe me.
Clinton tried to remedy this problem with a national health care proposal many years ago, but Republicans successfully demonized it simply by labelling it as "socialism". Too many Republicans seem to forget about the concept of "economy of scale" and worry too much instead about fighting the Communists. There are some things that the government can simply do more cheaply and more effectively (and with more accountability) than private industry. Take our national defense industry. For all its flaws, would you accept for a moment our armed forces run by a private company? Hey, I hear Ken Lay is available to manage it. Wouldn't that be great?
And why speculate? We've already farmed out a whole bunch of military jobs to Halliburton in Iraq on a no-bid, cost-plus basis, and that's just going great, isn't it? I mean, it's more expensive, less effective and with pretty much zero accountability, so they hit the trifecta!
The New York Times has a new guest columnist who will be writing a couple of times per week in place of Thomas Friedman, who is writing a book until October, and the change is refreshing. Finally, somewhere in a major newspaper, we have a regular columnist who is genuinely left wing. I'm not talking Paul Krugman left-wing (Krugman is economically, fiscally, quite conservative ... he mainly hates Bush because Bush is incompetent). I mean someone who genuinely advocates liberal things, like massive increases in the minimum wage, universal health care, heavily subsidized education and housing, far more generous welfare and aid to single mothers, etc. Basically, someone who is genuinely against the governmental trends of the last 25 years (aside from maybe Molly Ivins).
I'm talking about Barbara Ehrenreich. I reviewed her latest popular book, "Nickel and Dimed" over a year ago here. Her first few columns have all been good (and widely quoted on liberal blogs that I read), and I particularly liked her latest one on Bill Cosby's comments. If you follow the news much, you know that Cosby has spoken out a couple of times in the past few months, criticizing the black community for not doing enough to pull themselves out of a bad situation, to integrate themselves into the American mainstream, etc. Ehrenreich offers some helpful perspective you just aren't going to get anywhere else:
It was such a dog-bites-man story that I almost skipped right by: Billionaire Bashes Poor Blacks. The only thing that gave this particular story a little piquancy is that the billionaire doing the bashing is black himself. Bill Cosby has been attacking the poor of his race, and especially the youthful poor, for a range of sins, including using bad words, "stealing poundcake," "giggling" and failing to give their children normal names like "Bill." "The lower-economic people," Cosby announced, "are not holding up their end in this deal."
They let me down, too, sometimes — like that girl at Wendy's who gave me sweet iced tea when I had clearly specified unsweetened. She looked a little tired, but, as Cos might point out: How hard can it be to hold a job, go to high school and care for younger siblings in all your spare moments while your parents are at work?
But it's just so 1985 to beat up on the black poor. During the buildup to welfare "reform" in 1996, the comfortable denizens of think spas like the Heritage Foundation routinely excoriated poor black women for being lazy, promiscuous, government-dependent baby machines, not to mention overweight (that poundcake again). As for poor black youth, they were targeted in the 90's as a generation of "superpredators," gang-bangers and thugs.
It's time to start picking on a more up-to-date pariah group for the 21st century, and I'd like to nominate the elderly whites. Filial restraint has so far kept the would-be Social Security privatizers on the right from going after them, but the grounds for doing so are clear. For one thing, there's a startling new wave of "grandpa bandits" terrorizing rural banks. And occasionally some old duffer works himself into a frenzy listening to Cole Porter tunes and drives straight into a crowd of younger folks.
The law-abiding old whites are no prize either. Overwhelmingly, they choose indolence over employment — lounging on park benches, playing canasta — when we all know there are plenty of people-greeter jobs out there. Since it's government money that allows them to live in this degenerate state, we can expect the Heritage Foundation to reveal any day now that some seniors are cashing in their Social Security checks for vodka and Viagra. Just as welfare was said to "cause poverty," the experts may soon announce that Medicare causes baldness and that Social Security is a risk factor for osteoporosis: the correlations are undeniable.
And the menace posed by the elderly can only get worse, as ever more of them sink into debt. What's eating up their nest eggs? In many cases, drugs. How long before the streets are ruled by geezer gangs mugging us to support their insulin and beta-blocker habits?
All right, before the AARP issues a fatwa against me, could we please acknowledge that the demonization of welfare recipients wasn't based on reality either? Contrary to the stereotype, welfare moms in 1996 averaged two children per family, not six, and in surveys always expressed a desire to work, should child care become available. Incidentally, only a minority of them were African-American.
As for the black youth who so exercise Cosby, their pregnancy rates aren't "soaring," as he reportedly claimed; in fact, they're lower than they've been in decades. Ditto with crime rates. And if Cosby's worried about poor grammar and so forth, why isn't he ranting about the Bush 2005 budget, which would end a slew of programs for dropout prevention, recreation and school counseling?
Or, if he's looking for tantrum fodder, what about the fact that a black baby has a 40 percent chance of being born into poverty? You can blame adults for their poverty — if you're mean-spirited enough — but you cannot blame babies, and that's, in effect, what we're talking about here.
As the sociologist Michael Males, who monitors youth-bashing outbreaks, told me: "Younger black America today is struggling admirably against massive disinvestments in schools, terrible unemployment, harsh policing and degrading prejudices, and they're succeeding amazingly well. They deserve respect, not grown-up tantrums."
But it must be fun to beat up on people too young and too poor to fight back, or the elderly rich wouldn't do it. Cranky old rich people: now there's a demographic group that qualifies as a genuine Menace 2 Society.
If we had a balanced media, you'd think we'd see opinions and stories like this more often. Hell, it wasn't two days ago that I learned in Texas, about 1/3 of the current participants in the CHIP program (subsidized health insurance for kids) are dropping out because they can't afford the new premiums (which went up from $15 to $180 per year). Why did the premiums go up so much? Well, the legislature is trying to balance the budget, you know, and they don't want to have to match the federal money coming in for this program, so it's better to just price people out of the market. Is the media going to do a good job of reminding people of this when the election gets closer? Or are they going to just tell us that both sides just want what's best for the people?
Newly minted 12-year-old Sarah came to work with me this morning. While I was waiting for class to begin, I was doing some blog surfing and came across this (link thanks to the people currently posting for Atrios). It is information about a German investigation that supposedly has documented the mistreatment of Iraqi children in prisons in Iraq under US control.
One that knows something about this is Sergeant Samuel Provance, from the US Military. He spent half a year stationed at Abu Ghraib. Today, 5 months later, we meet him in Heidelberg. His superiors have strictly forbidden him to speak to journalists about what he experienced in Abu Ghraib. But Provance wants to talk about it nevertheless. His conscience troubles him. He discusses a 16-year old he handled:
"He was very afraid, very alone. He had the thinnest arms I had ever seen.
His whole body trembled. His wrists were so thin we couldn't put handcuffs on him. As I saw him for the first time and led him to the interrogation, I felt sorry. The interrogation specialists threw water over him and put him into a car, drove him around through the extremely cold night. Afterwards, they covered him with mud and showed him to his imprisoned father, on whom they'd tried other interrogation methods.
They hadn't been able to get him to speak, though. The interrogation specialists told me that after the father saw his son in this condition, his heart was broken, he started crying, and he promised to tell them anything they wanted."
There's a lot more there, including independent documentation of the basic fact (though not of this anecdote) that were are imprisoning a lot of kids over there. It wouldn't shock me at all to find out that they are being abused in a fashion similar to what Provence describes. It's a messy issue, I'm sure. I mean, you've got kids over there as young as 10 years old toting AK-47's and firing upon soldiers. What the heck are you supposed to do with them? And this business about using kids to get leverage on their parents is pretty horrifying, especially considering so many who are imprisoned have turned out to be innocent. Is this how we're supposedly winning Iraqi hearts and minds?
Sarah asked me, while looking over my shoulder, "Wait a minute. Why are they putting kids in jail?"
I said, "I don't really know, Sarah. The kids were bad, I guess, or their parents were bad, but I don't think it is a good idea to mistreat them."
She said, "What do you mean?"
I explained to her some of what the article says about how we mistreat kids and how other articles have showed we abuse and torture adults. She was pretty appalled at the idea of making people walk around totally naked.
She said, "Who are the bad guys doing this to those people?"
I said, "It's us, Sarah."
She looked confused, "Huh?"
I said, "It's American soldiers doing this stuff, Sarah. And they have orders from Bush and the other people in charge."
She said, "But we're supposed to be the good guys! Why are we even over there in the first place?"
I explained, "Well, I don't really know, Sarah. President Bush gave some reasons for it, but they turned out to be wrong."
She asked, "What do you mean? So we don't have a reason to be there?"
I explained about the WMD issues, the human rights issues, the 9/11 and terrorism issue, etc., and how those reasons all look very hollow now. She wasn't too impressed with Bush, "Why didn't he just mind his own beeswax?"
She's only 12 years old, and she's already asking tougher questions than we get from the mainstream media. Amazing.
Ok, so I finally got to see Michael Moore's new movie yesterday. I wasn't sure how crowded it would be. I had read some letters on Moore's web site written by people from Fort Worth who said it was sold out well in advance last weekend. To be on the safe side, I paid an extra buck to order tickets online ahead of time, and I got there about 30 minutes early. Turned out I was able to walk right up to the ticket window, so I felt pretty stupid. If I hadn't been able to get in, though, it would've wasted probably my best chance to see the movie for the next couple of weeks.
I walked in to the theater, which probably seats about 150, and there weren't too many people there. Less than 10. But people kept steadily streaming in, and by the time the film was ready to go, only the front row was empty, and the rest of the theater had filled in enough that there were easily 120 there. That's what the movie ticket sales seem to indicate as well, that Moore is averaging 60-70% capacity crowds at the screens his movie is showing (over the weekend, while Spider Man 2 was breaking all kinds of records, Moore film was earning about 60% of Spider Man's per-screen take, about $10k vs $16k, which is astounding for any film in its second week, let alone a documentary). There was some scattered applause throughout the film (like for the guy who compared Flint, Michigan to Baghdad and wondered why we're spending billions over there and not here) and sustained applause at the end (though no several minute standing ovations like I've heard about ... I guess the truly committed saw it the first weekend).
From what I had read, I thought that the first part of the film would kind of focus on the seven minutes Bush sat there in the classroom after finding out about the 2nd attack, but Moore actually spliced that up to take up only a couple of minutes of film. Here is where Moore makes his controversial assertions about how much money Saudis have invested in the US, what day and where the bin Ladin's got to travel after 9/11, etc. The rest is a lot of daming facts and lots more damning innuendos about Bush and his various business relationships. There's also some interesting stuff about the 2000 election that I didn't know, such as the scale and effectiveness of the inauguration protest, which I definitely don't remember seeing on TV. I was familiar with almost all of this, though, so it is really hard to know how effective or convincing it was. He was preaching to the choir with me. It was nice to see this stuff put together somewhere besides a blog.
The second half of the film is about the Iraq war, and this was the most powerful stuff for me. You know, a lot of conservatives complain that the news media doesn't show us enough of the good news that's coming out of the War on Terror. Well, other than Saddam's capture, the major good news has always turned out to be wrong. Remember all the times we thought we had found WMD? Remember Bush saying we had won ("Mission Accomplished")? Remember the rescue of Jessica Lynch, originally a military action movie against overwhelming odds that turned out to be pretty silly? Remember when they pulled down the statue of Saddam in Baghdad? Turned out that was a PsyOps thing, not a spontaneous thing by the Iraqis like it was played up to be.
Remember when the administration bragged that we were winning the war on terror, that terrorist incidents (however they measure them) were down to a thirty year low? Oops, turns out they undercounted, and it is actually more like a thirty year high (honest mistake, I'm sure, just like how the price scanners at the supermarket never seem to undercharge you by accident). Most of the big "good news" stories conservatives have been trying to sell have turned into bullshit, and a lot of the stuff they would like the media to report on ... well, the media can't get to that new school with the new coat of paint, because there's a half-decent chance they'll get shot at in the 5-minute drive from their hotel (if the hotel hasn't been hit yet by a rocket attack). And if you think that school is actually in session or that any kind of normalcy is returning to Iraq, the basic numbers will tell you otherwise (electricity for a few hours a day at most, total power generation at half of pre-war levels with nothing new coming on line because everyone is too afraid to leave their homes to go work on it, oil production continually sabotaged and way lower than pre-war levels, etc.).
The horrible security situation is just overwhelming everything, and it isn't clear there is a plausible fix to that (unless we implement a draft and double or triple the troop count over there, which still might not be enough). If anyone is gaining credibility in this Iraq thing so far, it has to be the NRA. About the only country were the civilian population is more heavily armed than in Iraq is the US. I think we can see just how hard it is to successfully occupy a heavily armed country that doesn't want you there. Which is partly what the founding fathers had in mind with the 2nd amendment, after all. Of course, the difference for now is that we're in no danger of being invaded. Anyhoo...
So the second half was about the Iraq war. Probably the one part of the movie that I really can't get any exposure to through the mainstream media or other sources of news is the human effects of the war. Some of the most brutally emotional parts of the movie deal with the relatives of soldiers and victims. One Iraqi lady was screeching out in grief that her home and her entire family had just been destroyed by a bomb, begging to God for some sort of revenge while at the same time crying out in anguish. I've seen this sort of thing before from Vietnam documentaries (and movies), but it really hits at the gut level to know that we are the ones who caused this woman such pain, and it is still happening right now. And to what end? Moore spends some time talking with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed hospital, and it is difficult to see so many brave men so ... reduced. Again, to what end?
Moore also follows around the mother of a soldier who is killed when his helicopter goes down. She has a lot to say both before and after the news comes back about her son, and it is a perspective you just don't get anywhere else. She goes to the White House in the movie, just to see the place so she can have some image in her mind of where to place the blame for her son's death. While there, some Young Republican accosts her and accuses her of making it up as a publicity stunt. This occurs in the film shortly after she finishes reading aloud the final letter her son sent to her from Iraq, a few weeks before his death. Where is the mainstream media with her story? Who is seriously exploring what the hell we are supposed to be doing there now that pretty much every original rationale for the war has been exploded into myth.
The only remaining justification for the war is some sort of "finish what we started", and is that even possible now?
Moore also throws in a few gags. Lots of stuff with Bush looking silly. Lots of people are just edited to look silly. From what I've read, the film is accurate though it can be misleading (either directly or by omission). Most of the mainstream media are dismissing this movie as propaganda. I agree with this guy who says, basically, "Yeah, it is propaganda, but so is Fox News, so is the Administration's spin on the war, so how come Moore's movie is the only thing getting that propaganda label in the mainstream media?" I'll let him have the final word today:
Now, I’m off to read about why the War In Iraq is going magnificently and why America must stay the course, because the terrorists hate our freedoms and want to kill my family and will do so if America doesn’t elect Bush and dramatically increase military spending so we can shoot every living terrorist in the head for the sake of liberty.
Who needs propaganda, after all?
I'm pretty well resigned to waiting to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" when the DVD comes out. In the meantime, the one thing I can observe is the media's reaction to it. Matt Yglesias has a summary of the basic problems we liberals have with the media, Michael Moore and the president:
* It is very strange that the media is more concerned with Michael Moore's invalid argumentative techniques than with the extremely similar techniques employed by the president of the United States.
* It is very strange that the media is more concerned with the fact that Michael Moore is a polemicist rather than a journalist presenting a balanced view of events than with the fact that the Fox News network and a small army of conservative radio hosts are doing the same thing.
* It is a very strange thing indeed that the media does not provide outlets for stridently liberal commentary in lieu of the fact that Fahrenheit 9-11 clearly demonstrates that there is a large audience for such things. [...]
Along these lines, I hear that Air America Radio is getting good ratings in the markets where they have a decent signal. They are supposedly beating Rush in his time slot in most of their markets (New York for sure), but I've only read reports on the data, not actually seen it. I'd like to listen to it more, and I probaby would if they had a local broadcast station I could get on my walkman. As it is, I don't have time to sit by the computer and listen online most days.
Anyway, Yglesias has one more really good point to make:
While Moore has done us all a great service by bringing to light the footage of the president not reacting to the second WTC attack, he fails to make what I think is the most important point here: The President's own aides have such a low opinion of Bush's leadership capabilities that they didn't think it was immediately necessary -- or, perhaps, desirable -- for him to take charge of the situation right away.
One thing I've heard over and over about 9/11 is that the most interesting moment is the seven minutes Bush sits with the kids after he learns of the 2nd plane hitting the tower. It is the "Emperor Has No Clothes" moment of the film and perhaps of Bush's presidency. Just imagine for a moment how Al Gore or, hell, even John McCain would've reacted to that news. Do you think they would've sat there and kept reading to the kids until asked to leave by aides?
Sundays feel like good days for book reviews. Today, one of my top 20 reads of all time, Greg Bear's "Songs of Earth and Power". The premise here is that many unexplained phenomena on Earth (i.e. the placebo effect, strange disappearances, ghosts) can be explained by the existence of an alternate parallel world ("The Realm" where the elf-like Sidhe live) which connects at various odd points to our own. The connection between the worlds grows stronger when "songs of power" are performed, and an old composer who has discovered this secret leaves behind some clues for a young man (Michael) to follow in his footsteps.
In the first part, Michael finds his way to the Realm but has no way to return, so he is taught survival skills there by some sympathetic friends, and he is taught about the links between the worlds. Eventually, Michael learns how to return on his own, but in the process of doing so, he becomes involved in a story that involves the possible undoing of both worlds. So when Michael returns as a skilled mage, he has to work in our world to merge the two worlds and try to handle the consequences. That's probably a much worse summary than this fine story deserves, but I'm no author myself.
Anyway, this was the first thing I ever read by Bear. Bear is a hard science fiction author, and that shows through here, even though it is a fantasy (Bear goes into the nitty gritty of just how "magic" works in our world, for example). This was originally released as two books, "The Infinity Concerto" and "The Serpent Mage", but it was republished later when Bear got a lot more popular into the omnibus "Songs of Earth and Power".
Another of Bear's books I want to mention is "The Forge of God", an end-of-the-world story that has a much more interesting premise than most. The basic idea is that scientists make some weird discoveries around Earth and piece together the fact that someone or something has dropped a mini-black hole into the Earth (similar to the plot from David Brin's "Earth"), which will cause the whole planet to disintegrate within a few months. About the same time, we make first contact with a couple of alien races, one of which tells us they are here to help us out of our fix because we've been targetted for elimination by the other species, which is trying to stake a claim to our solar system.
What I liked most about this was the way the discoveries were first made. For me, a good science fiction novel starts in the present or near future and makes little, plausible steps one-by-one into something competely nuts, carrying me along for the ride. This one does it. Without spoiling it too much, I will just suffice to say that the ending was quite vivid, well-written, and pretty damned depressing. I don't like sad endings, myself, but there you have it.
The sequel, "Anvil of Stars" poses a very interesting ethical dilemma. Basically, the benevolent aliens from the first book offer some kids from Earth the chance to avenge the attack on the Earth. They pack these kids aboard a death-dealing spaceship bound for the home system of the attackers. It's a long "Lord of the Flies" journey during which the kids grow into adults. Due to relativistic effects, by the time the kids get there, the attacking aliens have evolved out of that phase or had a civil war or something and are now basically benevolent and wonderful (and scared to death of the retribution that they know is coming) ... so what should the crew do?
It's the kind of ethical dilemma you can really only get in science fiction, though I know there are parallels in classical literature (villains who get amnesia and turn nice, so what to do with them). Unfortunately, Bear does a poor job of it. I was impatient with this novel, and I really didn't want to read hundreds of pages about the society of kids that grows up on the spaceship. In retrospect, I wish I had just read the first book and let it be. I read the second book partly because I would've liked a happier ending to the whole tale.
I've found most of Bear's SF to be so-so, like "Forge of God". Not bad, but nothing memorable that I would enthusiastically recommend (among the books I've read are "Queen of Angels", "Eon" and its sequel "Eternity", "Blood Music", "Hegira", "Moving Mars", "Heads" and "Darwin's Radio"). Bear has a knack for coming up with really cool ideas (especially "Eon", "Blood Music" and "Hegira"), but then he can't do enough with them to keep me really happy. Just happy enough to give him one more try the next time.
My Christmas list is now up to two items. A case full of nice poker chips and "The Shawshank Redemption" when it comes out on DVD this Fall. I thought "Escape from Alcatraz" was the ultimate prison movie (it's still really good, but second best), but "Shawshank" is awesome. One of the few movies that brings a tear to my eye at the end every time I see it.
I won't be able to wait for Christmas to get the Extended "Return of the King" which is due out in August. I mean, let's not kid ourselves.
Thanks to Kevin Drum for some good links today. I don't take conservative economists very seriously, you know the ones who thought supply side economics (and specifically, Reaganomics or worse, the Bush "tax cuts") were a good idea. But I do think it is a useful barometer for just how unenthusiastic conservatives are over the Boy King when career conservatives like Bruce Bartlett start comparing their guy unfavorably to Bill Clinton:
Like most conservatives, I thought Bill Clinton was a terrible president when he was in office. Especially after the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, we all dreamed of the paradise that would be ours if we could just get a Republican in the White House. We could fix the budget and the tax system, rein in the bureaucracy, neuter the trade unions and trial lawyers, and do all those other things that could never be done because Democrats were always blocking the way. It was foolish to think like this, of course....
Conservatives should rethink the Clinton presidency. At least on economic policy, there is much to praise and little to criticize in terms of what was actually done (or not done) on his watch. Bringing the federal budget into surplus is obviously an achievement. After inheriting a deficit of 4.7 percent of gross domestic product in 1992, Mr. Clinton turned this into a surplus of 2.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2000 — a remarkable turnaround that can be appreciated by realizing that this year's deficit, as large as it is, will reach only 4.2 percent of G.D.P., according to the Congressional Budget Office....
More important, from a conservative point of view, Mr. Clinton achieved his surplus in large part by curtailing spending. Federal spending fell to 18.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2000 from 22.2 percent in 1992.... Mr. Clinton was also steadfast in his support for free trade. It is doubtful that anyone else could have persuaded Congress to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement. On monetary policy, he reappointed Alan Greenspan, a Republican....
By contrast, Mr. Clinton's Republican successor has caused the surplus to evaporate, raised total federal spending by 1.6 percent of G.D.P., established a new entitlement program for prescription drugs and adopted the most protectionist trade policy since Herbert Hoover. While President Bush has done other things that conservatives view more favorably, like cutting taxes, there is no getting around the reality that Mr. Clinton was better in many respects.
This comes perilously close to heresy for one of the ConservaBorg. I mean, he's all but saying he was wrong about Clinton, *and* he's compounding the offense to the collective by saying bad things about Flight-Suit Georgie. I suspect most of the conservative bloggers out there (the "101st fighting keyboarders" as the pro-war bloggers are called) are busy today questioning Bartlett's conservative credentials, even though the guy spent his career drooling over Reagan and any conservative idea that came down the pike.
There's a parallel here, of course, with yesterday's post about Richard Clarke. I probably shouldn't get on conservatives who want a pet "liberal" (or at least an opponent -- I don't think Clarke is a liberal) to say what conservatives want to hear. After all, we liberals do the same thing with John McCain, and this whole charade is why Zell Miller (Democrat from Georgia) has been invited to speak at the Republican convention. It's the reason the "Fox Democrat" exists, just to drive the real liberals crazy. Still, it is dishonest to hold someone up as an example only when they agree with you.
Better instead to just examine what they say, right or wrong, and judge it for itself. Sure, the credibility of the person who is saying it is important, but sometimes even idiots can make some sense. Anyway, the point with Clarke yesterday was not just that conservatives were using him as a convenience but also that they were misrepresenting what he said (and also misrepresenting what Moore said in the movie, according to the transcript). If Moore is supposedly such an easy target, why do conservatives have to go through so many contortions just to try to level a half-decent charge?
Meanwhile, Brad DeLong has some helpful perspective on the Bush tax cuts of the past few years:
Can we please please please please please please PLEASE!! stop talking about Bush's "tax cuts." There are no tax cuts. There's a tax shift--current taxpayers pay less, and future taxpayers pay more. Only by pretending that nobody has to service and amortize the growing federal debt can you talk about Bush's "tax cuts." They aren't there, any more than a $5,000 increase in your VISA limit is an increase in your income.
I would also argue that the shift is not just from present to future taxpayers but also from rich to poor and middle-class taxpayers. It goes back to the waitress and lawyer parable from Franken's latest book. Sure, a lot of rich people got big tax cuts, but a lot of important programs were eliminated (such as after-school child care or housing vouchers ) or greatly reduced (public transit, health care). One of the most important reasons Bush is going to lose this election (but by far not the only reason) is that so many people can honestly say they simply aren't better off than they were four years ago, and Bush shoulders some of the blame for that.
The Poor Man is confused, and I share his confusion. We wonder why conservatives are so darned concerned over lies, misleading distortions or other inaccuracies in Michael Moore's movie (which I still haven't found time to see, dangit). I mean, from what I've heard, Moore had some sharp and horribly mean words for our president, and he just might have stretched the truth here and there. I guess I can understand why *those* things are so troubling to patriotic conservatives.
But why do the lies from our president get a free pass? Where's the outrage, conservatives? What will we tell the children?
He has lied about his time in the National Guard, and lied about his criminal history. He lied about his relationship with Ken Lay, he lied about who would benefit from his tax cuts, and he lied about stem cells. He lied about his visit to Bob Jones University, he lied about why he wouldn't meet with Log Cabin Republicans, and he lied about reading the EPA report on global warming. He lied about blaming the Clinton administration for the second intifada, he lies constantly about how he pays no attention to polls, he lied about how he loves New York, and he lied about moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He lied about finding WMD in Iraq, he lied about making his decision to go to war, he lied about the CIA's dismissal of the yellowcake rumors, and he lied about the IAEA's assessment of Iraq's nuclear program. He lied about funding the fight against AIDS in Africa, he lied about when the recession started, and he lied about seeing the first plane hit the WTC. He lied about supporting the Patient Protection Act, and he lied about his deficit spending, and now my wrist hurts.
Oh well, I guess what really matters is that John Kerry's wife is really rich or that apprarently, Bill Clinton mentions himself an awful lot in his autobiography. All this stuff about torture, alienating our allies, the lies and (oh protect my virgin eyes) the misleading distortions about Iraq and Al Qaeda ... you know, all that stuff. It just doesn't matter.
The favorite conservative talking point I've run across on "Fahrenheit 9/11" is this idea that Richard Clarke, the same guy who resigned (like so many others) from the Bush administration and wrote a harsh critique of their total lack of preparedness for 9/11, etc -- this same Richard Clarke has supposedly discredited Moore's implication that members of Osama's family were allowed to escape FBI interrogation and/or leave the country before anyone else could fly. Moore didn't outright assert this, so he can lawyer his way out of it, but I agree that it sounds misleading from reading the transcript.
What did Clarke actually say? Does it matter to conservatives? Nope, but Bob Somerby has the details of what he's found on Clarke's statements. Clarke seems to say at one point that he personally approved of getting the bin Laden's out of the country, but then later, it isn't so clear that's what he meant, etc. At any rate, the actual truth is somewhat complicated, but conservatives are hammering at home as a black-and-white "Moore can't be trusted" point. While at the same time ignoring outright lies like the ones above from Bush himself.
Of course, it is nice to see conservatives granting some credibility to Clarke now. These are the same conservatives who totally ran Clarke down six months ago, saying he was an idiot with an axe to grind, couldn't be trusted, etc. Oh, but now that Clarke can be used to partially kinda-sorta rebut something that Moore may be implying? Well, now he's the conquering hero of truth, justice and the American way, right? Apparently, Clarke has credibility when it is convenient for Bush-supporters.
The hard truth is that he's been credible all along, and cynical Bush-supporters know it. So who is really being dishonest here?