Friday, April 30, 2004

Turf War
In lieu of a regular post this morning, I present an e-mail from a friend, received early this morning, in its entirety:

From http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/29/politics/29POLL.html

Violet Adams, 66, of Delta, Colo., who identified herself as a Republican, said she thought the United States would have to maintain a presence in the Middle East for a decade as part of the broader effort to confront Islamic terrorism.

"We either take them in their territory, on their turf, and keep them there, or we let them scatter all over the world and start their little cells, and then we'll all be living like Israel," Ms. Adams said.

Thank you, Ms. Adams, for showing that you don't have a clue that "their little cells" had already spread all over the world long before 9/11, and that Bush's little Iraq venture has been a distraction from "taking them in their territory, on their turf." Ms. Adams, OUR turf is their turf. They are here, and in Europe, and Asia, and Central
America, and Africa. They weren't, however, in Iraq---not until our presence drew them there. Now it is innocent Iraqis who are living like Israel, or rather, like Palestine under Israeli occupation.

It is people like you, Ms. Adams, who are to blame for the fact that we have as our president an idiotic puppet with a messiah complex. You are the reason we should reconsider requiring IQ tests for voter registration.

Couldn't have said it better myself. And I won't be saying anything for a couple of days. Back posting again sometime Sunday night or Monday.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Time of the Shark
If these were normal times, we'd be talking about how the blood is in the water and it's only a matter of time before the Bush/Cheney administration was going to be shark shit. Other administrations would be hiding in a bunker in the wake of today's news alone: approval numbers plummeting, ever-growing skepticism about Bush and Cheney's basic truthfulness regarding 9/11, and the Iraq war looking more and more like a fiasco every day, especially through the eyes of the Iraqis themselves.

But these are not normal times. Politically, not much goes according to long-established form anymore. The presidential election, if it were held today, would be a dead heat. John Kerry is getting very little traction out of all this.

The reasons are several. For one thing, Bush's advertising is defining Kerry better than Kerry is defining himself. (And Kerry hasn't spent nearly the money on advertising Bush has.) And then there's the more troubling reason: Kerry is looking more and more like a bad candidate every day, somebody who fails to understand what is at stake. Kerry's attempt this week to redefine himself as the candidate of economic opportunity doesn't strike me as a very good idea. It is--to return to a theme sounded here before--a strategy that could have been adopted by any Democrat in the last 30 years, but this is most assuredly not like any election in the last 30 years. (Or 60 or 100. To find a precedent for this one, you have to go back to 1864 at least.)

Last year, I blasted people like Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman for refusing to understand that the 2004 election is essentially a fight for survival--survival not just of the Democratic Party as an institution capable of carrying on the ideals it's stood for historically, but for the very viability of those ideals. But Gephardt, Lieberman, and other Democratic centrists insisted on conducting the campaign in a gentlemanly fashion, even though for 10 years the Republicans have fought elections like back-alley brawlers who would sucker-punch their own grandmothers if it would get them a win. And now I'm afraid Kerry is taking the same high road to defeat.

If the Republicans win the electoral war this fall, they are going to take those of us who oppose them prisoner, and then machine-gun us--if not literally, then figuratively, by gutting everything we stand for, and on such a scale that they will leave nothing for some future Democratic administration to rebuild. Actually, they've already started. In the latest Harper's, Bryant Urstadt describes how the machinery of environmental protection developed since Nixon's day has been largely dismantled, not by anything that attracts publicity or Congressional oversight, but by a combination of bureaucratic action and inaction, mostly unreported and unknown. Most troubling is the attrition among environmental regulators--over 200 experienced hands have quit in frustration, which quite effectively ties the hands of any future administration inclined to protect the environment. And that's just one example. Bush will continue to have his impact long after he's gone--and if he's gone in 2009 instead of 2005, it's only going to be worse.

Only John Kerry stands in the way of this steamroller. So he has got to understand that his campaign is far more important than as a vehicle for the quadrennial repackaging of the usual Democrat schtick, more important than his personal quest for the nation's highest office, more important than the apotheosis of the Vietnam generation. And he's got to fight, fight hard, fight dirty if necessary--but fight. Cut the high-minded patrician rhetoric and get real. Get pissed at Bush, at what he's done to the country and the world, and at what he is planning for his second act. Republicans are going to accuse Democrats of unseemly anger anyhow, so we might as well score some points with it.

And another thing: Start talking in explicit terms about the wild extremism of Bush and Cheney, who are wildly extreme on everything, from foreign policy to judicial appointments to civil rights. On a policy basis alone, this administration is so far off the chart of American political norms as to be almost unrecognizable to anybody who's followed politics over the last 30 years. Asking American voters to take a historical perspective is risky, given that many people couldn't even tell you who was president 30 years ago--but they can still get their minds around the concept of truthfulness. It seems to me that if there's hay to be made on the campaign trail this summer, it can be made on the question of truthfulness--how Bush and Cheney (and other members of their team, other Republicans, and the GOP's Amen Corner in the media) have consistently misled the American people, blithely contradicted earlier statements, and sold their policies with flat-out lies. To that end, the Center for American Progress has set up a searchable database that leads readers to the lies, and the truths that debunk them.

But here's what troubles me the most about these abnormal times. Even though there are a million reasons to throw Bush out, a large number of his partisans believe the presidency is his by something like divine right. Whether they're overtly religious or not, their fealty to Bush, and their belief that any Democrat is by definition unfit to take his place, seems to come from a place beyond rational argument. So if it starts to look like the voters are going to subvert the will of God, or history, or whatever you want to call it, and throw Bush out of office, will they simply stand by and let it happen? I have feared since September 11 that Bush might find a pretext to simply cancel the 2004 election. Or will the Bushistas put the fix in via doctored touch-screen voting, a pliant Supreme Court, or a convenient terrorist attack? As crazy as that sounds, nothing is beyond the capacity of this administration, because they prove it anew nearly every week.

Yes, if these were normal times, we'd say that the blood is in the water and the sharks are moving in for the kill. And maybe it is. But what we can't quite tell is--whose blood is it?

Disaster Day
Christ Almighty, as my father used to say when reaching a particular level of exasperation. Ten more Americans dead in Iraq today, Bush's approval rating at an all-time low, he and Cheney set to lie through their teeth to the 9/11 commission today, and Congress getting set to throw more money down the adminstration's rat hole.

During the 1988 campaign, there was a famous Saturday Night Live sketch in which Dana Carvey's Bush the Elder was debating Jon Lovitz's Michael Dukakis. After one particularly convoluted and long-winded speech by Bush, Dukakis looked at the camera and said, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy." John Kerry's got to be wondering the same thing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Chicken Salad
That a pack of chickenhawks led by a deserter dares to smear the record of a rich kid who enlisted in Vietnam when he didn't have to is a sign of the deep dysfunction of the political system in our country--not to mention an affront to common decency. Wesley Clark weighed in today with a column in the New York Times about the release of John Kerry's military records and the response of the GOP attack machine. Earlier this week, Best of the Blogs featured a post from Michael Scott giving Kerry advice on how to respond the next time it happens. It has a great headline: "Kerry to Bush: F*ck You, Strong Letter to Follow." If only the senator had the sense (and the stones) to take Michael's advice.

Caught in the Net
Last week I noted how Wisconsin's Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate think the Patriot Act is just fine. For further enlightenment into the depths of their cluelessness, TomPaine.com helpfully provides the comments of David Cole of Georgetown University Law School. For one thing, Cole rebuts Tim Michels' assertion that the Act does little more than expand existing investigative powers used for criminal investigation to national security cases. Wrong again, Timmy. The threshold for Patriot investigations is far lower than in traditional criminal cases--and any investigation, from legitimate inquiries to fishing expeditions, is under a strict gag order that will keep most of them from ever becoming public.

More importantly, Cole provides a talking point that every one of us ought to memorize, to respond to the argument that as far as the Patriot Act goes, "If you don't have anything to hide, you don't have anything to worry about"--an argument that's coursing through the body politic today as the Supremes hear the Hamdi and Padilla cases. Simply stated--yes you do. Are you willing to gamble that our government, which can screw up a one-car funeral, is going to act with perfect wisdom in all terror investigations? Or is it more likely that innocent people are going to get caught in the Patriot net--a net woven through and through with secrecy to keep it safe from the annoyance of having to provide due process?

Elsewhere, the Bush campaign's latest TV ad, which accuses John Kerry of voting against "vital military hardware," such as body armor for troops in the field, is through-the-looking-glass crazy, for one thing--and extremely misleading, as the folks at FactCheck.org note. By the same logic the Bush/Cheney campaign uses to smear Kerry, Cheney himself and George Bush the Elder would be equally guilty.

Every time Bush slams Kerry, the campaign sends me an e-mail solicitation for a contribution. As a result, I am getting three or four of these a week. True, Howard Dean did it, too, but not as often, and not as stridently. Yes--in one way, at least, John Kerry is more strident than Howard Dean. If Kerry would show half the determination to beat Bush that his staffers are showing in hopes of getting my money, the race wouldn't be so close. (James Ridgeway of the Village Voice has given up on Kerry entirely.)

And finally, I direct your attention to the first blog that actually claims to be inspired by this one--my old friend Willie out in Arizona has launched his new blog "Baseball is My Life." He is about to discover that maintaining a blog is the biggest, most entertaining time-waster since the yoyo.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Caution: Morons at Work
I heard a caller to C-SPAN yesterday morning wondering if the media would pay as much attention to the death of NFL star-turned Army-Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan as it did to the capture of Jessica Lynch. The guy doubted that it would. He said, "People on the left just can't understand why somebody would give up millions of dollars to fight for their country." This, of course, would make more sense as commentary if some other high-profile person had given up millions of dollars to fight for his or her country. If anything, Tillman's death proves precisely the opposite point of the one the C-SPAN caller intended. Tillman is the exception that proves the rule--that America's wars are fought by people who don't have other options.

Tales of GOP nonsense: Republicans in the Senate are launching yet another defense of marriage this week. Any Republican anywhere in the country who has ever been divorced is presumably going to remain a discreet silence on the subject.

But the dumbass quote of the weekend, if not the entire year 2004 to date, comes from former Bush advisor Karen Hughes. If you are not pro-life, you are with the terrorists: "I think that after September 11, the American people are valuing life more and we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life," she said. "President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions. And I think those are the kinds of policies the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy and, really, the fundamental issue between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life." Tell that to the civilians we've killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Or the people in our own country on Death Row.

Speaking of boneheads, here's an idea that's dumb enough to be Republican, but it's from the mind of a Democrat. I am already on record as wanting to give Georgia back to the Cherokees. Do you think the French would take back Louisiana?

Note: This feature is going on hiatus yet again. Posts will be light to nonexistent from now until Wednesday or Thursday.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Ticket Talk
A friend checks in from Iowa this morning with news of an event the Kerry campaign is calling "historic," set for Sunday in Des Moines. My friend wonders if it isn't going to be the announcement of Iowa governor Tom Vilsack as Kerry's running mate. Could be--and Vilsack is still on the media's short list of possibilities. But it's far too early for Kerry to make the pick. If he waits, he can gauge the pick for maximum political impact.

If you search "Kerry running mate" on Google News this morning, what you get are a bunch of stories about how Hillary isn't interested in the gig, and reports on Kerry's Southern campaign swing this week, on which he was joined by John Edwards, Max Cleland, Bob Graham, and Florida senator Bill Nelson. Here's how I'd handicap the betting right now: If Kerry wanted to make the most popular pick right now, on April 24, he'd grab John McCain. I hope he doesn't--it would be a tremendous pick to get elected but lousy when it came time to govern, although there is a type of precedent for it. In 1864, with the Civil War raging, Lincoln chose Andrew Johnson, a Unionist Democrat from Tennessee, to run with him, to make the point that Union was all. (Lincoln even discouraged Republicans from calling themselves Republicans in that year, for that reason.) A Kerry/McCain ticket could make a similar point in reverse--that Bush is isolated within his own party, and that there's a united opposition to him made up of both Democrats and alienated Republicans.

McCain could still be the best option later this summer, but other people may be better choices by then, too. If Florida remains as competitive as it is right now, and if it looks like Kerry might have a shot anywhere else in the South, Bob Graham might help the ticket. And if Iraq goes further to hell, particularly after the June 30th abdication, Wesley Clark becomes a good choice. Imagine the political benefit in Kerry announcing, as Iraq dissolves into civil war, that if he's elected, Clark will become his point man on Iraq. That could be an argument for Clark as Secretary of State, too. (It would be politically advantageous for Kerry to start rolling out his Cabinet choices before the election. Surely some swing voters might have had second thoughts about Bush last time had they known they would be getting Ashcroft, too--although Ashcroft had to lose to a dead man in November before he was available to become AG.) Cleland would be an interesting choice, too--a triple-amputee who got smeared out of his Georgia Senate seat in 2000 would make a hell of a contrast on the debate stage with chickenhawk Cheney.

If Kerry picked Vilsack, especially now, it would be a blunder of epic proportions. Vilsack, although a nice guy and a popular governor, brings little to the ticket apart from geographical balance. He certainly doesn't fit the Gore/Cheney "chief operating officer" model for VPs. So let's hope the term "historic event" is just hype, and that it's not really so historic as to box the campaign into a corner there's no need to get into yet.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is up for reelection to the U.S. Senate this fall. At a debate among his prospective challengers yesterday in Milwaukee, it became clear that Republicans intend to make Feingold's lone vote against the Patriot Act the centerpiece of the fall campaign. His vote was called "cowardly," "un-American," "unpatriotic," and "wrong." His civil-liberties objections are not well thought out, and he was making a statement and being a maverick. In general he is, as we will hear over and over, Out of Touch With Wisconsin.

(Seems to me taking the time to actually read a bill few senators read, and to stand up on the Senate floor and make an argument against the bill while the Twin Towers were still smoking and when no bill could have been more popular, is the precise opposite of cowardice. But that's just me.)

Feingold's most serious opponent is, in my view, millionaire businessman Tim Michels of the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha--the most Republican area of the state. Michels said of the Patriot Act, "All it does is say you don't have to call the terrorists first to tell them you're going to tap their phones." All it does? Well, thanks for clearing that up, Tim. In another drastic oversimplification, Michels calls the war in Iraq "maybe the most important thing to happen in my lifetime." (He's 42.) Michels has already gained the endorsement of Wisconsin Right to Life, one of the most virulent anti-choice groups in the country--so you can expect more sanctimonious platitudes from him before the race is over.

The other challengers include attorney Robert Gerald Lorge of Bear Creek, whose father was a state senator (and whose website leads a visitor to believe his number one priority is ending "Chinese Communist slave labor," which must be a hell of a problem in Outagamie County). Lorge says he'd have problems with the Patriot Act if a Democrat were president, but "I trust this president with it"--which has to rank high on the list of the stupidest political quotes of 2004.

Also in the running are car dealer Russ Darrow of West Bend, whose primary advantage seems to be that his name is plastered on the bumpers of millions of cars in the state. When asked last year why he was running for the Senate, he said it was because he could afford it. He gets points for honesty, at least, and for sparing us a bucket of pondwater about following in the tradition of great Wisconsin Republican Senators. (Of course, there haven't been that many. The LaFollettes were Republicans, but they'd be Democrats today. Joe McCarthy was a Republican, though.) Also running is badly underfunded state senator Bob Welch of Redgranite, who is fast becoming a perennial Senate candidate, but who actually seems to have some specific ideas for what he'd do in office, as opposed to mouthing platitudes and slamming the incumbent.

Wisconsin's Republican primary isn't until September 14, so Feingold will be outnumbered by his challengers in a game of political whack-a-mole all summer. Good thing they're all numbskulls.

Eat This
One of Karl Rove's political wet dreams has been to peel Catholic voters away from the Democrats. Today's announcement by a top Vatican cardinal that politicians who favor abortion should be refused communion might help peel a few, should its consequences eventually fall on John Kerry. The Reuters story linked above concludes with a fine irony: "In Kennedy's days, non-Catholic voters were afraid another senator from Massachusetts might follow papal doctrine too strictly. Now, some conservative Catholics are criticizing Kerry for not adhering to it closely enough." On a purely religious basis, as opposed to the political one, it's unlikely that the typical mainstream American Catholic will care. American Catholics are not always swayed when the Pope himself makes such pronouncements, let alone cardinals from the Third World, whose particular brand of Catholicism is often so different from the American variety as to be irrelevant. And Americans of most faiths tend to adopt Kerry's position that most religious matters are private. But for Rove's purposes, this is a useful political club, especially if Kerry tries to put himself through another contortionist, have-it-both-ways explanation like the one regarding his vote on the Iraq war. Such a thing can be spun as hypocrisy, or flip-flopping. At the very least, it can be used to brand Kerry one of those awful moral relativists not blessed by the moral clarity that Bush wears like a halo.

No Scientific Method Please, We're Fundies
Harper's Index reports that one in three American adults believes government and politics are too complicated to understand. The figure for those who were home-schooled is one in 25. Which makes it significant that members of the first graduating class will get their diplomas from Patrick Henry College in Virginia this spring. The school, which is aimed primarily at Christian home-schooled students, was established in 2000 with one major--public policy.

The Independent reports that the college has become a rich source of interns for--you guessed it--Republican representatives, senators, and the White House. The report is one of the creepiest stories I've read in a long time. Patrick Henry College is seeding the public policy arena with young conservative pod people who will presume to govern a world about which they know practically nothing by experience, and who will stand in the way of common sense and human progress for the next 50 years or more. And the report ought to give pause to anybody who thinks that simply by electing John Kerry we can stop the government's ongoing colonization by the fundamentalist Borg. Fact is, although only 15 percent of Americans claim to believe in or belong to a fundie sect, it's their country and the rest of us are just living in it. (In The Guardian earlier this week, Georges Monbiot explained the fundie mindset to his European readership.)

Late last year, Washington Monthly reported that the majority of staffers of the Coalition Provisional Authority running Iraq are young Republican political operatives--as opposed to people who are experts in any of the various functions the Authority is responsible for. Recently, reporter Jason Vest got his hands on a confidential memo written by an officer of the Authority. The identity of the author is unknown, other than that he/she was someone who has steadfastly maintained faith in the rosy neocon dream that regime change in Iraq would transform the Middle East. Nevertheless, Vest reports, the memo offers a candid critique of how the United States has screwed up the regime change so far, and how much trouble our screwups portend for the future. (Vest's report will be appearing in alternative papers all over the country this week. This is your chance to read it now.)

Recommended reading: Arianna Huffington has discovered the blogosphere--and she likes us! She really likes us! "[The blogosphere] reminds me of my schoolgirl days when providing the right answer wasn’t enough for our teachers--they demanded that we "show our work." Bloggers definitely show their work. It’s why you don’t just read blogs--you experience them."

If you want to know what's really going on, you've got to be out here with us. But don't just read me. Click any of the links on the right side of this page--or go to Blogdex, Blogwise, Salon Blogs, or any of the other blog directory sites on the Web to find something that suits your interest. And here's the really shocking thing--not all blogs are about politics. (Although what's the point otherwise?)

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Ask an Expert
'Twas ever thus--I left town for a couple of days and the news piled up while I was gone. Here's a quick trip from headline to headline.

News that the White House redirected $700 million meant for Afghanistan to war-planning for Iraq means we can now "follow the money" in the Iraq affair, just as Deep Throat urged Woodstein to do in Watergate days. At TomPaine.com, Thomas Asher hears the echoes of Watergate in many of the administration's activities--and suggests that if Bush's ship starts sinking and rats begin getting off, the echoes could grow louder as the number and size of the administration's scandals increase.

When Watergate first hit the fan, Richard Nixon famously said, "I don’t give a shit what happens, I want you to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else, if it’ll save the plan." Bush's refusal to admit any mistakes is a 21st century version of the same thing. Mark Morford wonders why it's so damn hard for Bush to say he's sorry.

One way for Bush to change course without admitting he's changing course might be to bid farewell to Dick Cheney. I am on record as saying I don't think this will happen, although Slate's Timothy Noah thinks there are solid political reasons for dumping Dick--chief among them that Cheney's adios might appeal to the all-important swing voters, if they are uncomfortable with Cheney as the administration's unfettered id.

Swing voters don't necessarily have to swing from one major party to another. The Christian Science Monitor reported this week on the potential impact of third-party candidates of various stripes on the 2004 election. It ain't just Ralph Nader who should cause worry--the Monitor says 20 percent of voters consider themselves disaffected from both major parties, and could cast their ballots in many different ways. It's worth noting that for all the anger directed at Nader voters in Florida last time, the fact is that several third-party candidates got more votes than the 523 or so by which Bush carried the state. So perhaps it wasn't entirely Nader's fault.

Recommended reading: On this Earth Day, you might want to hazard a few minutes inside the brain of the Heritage Foundation's Edwin J. Feulner, who explains that Earth Day is a misnomer, and that we ought to call it "Growth Day," because nothing is better for the environment than economic growth. You might want to celebrate it by taking an unnecessary trip in your car because, Feulner says, cars have actually improved the environment a great deal, by replacing the horse, and replacing all the waste horses generated (which, he says, "was itself a dangerous form of pollution") with much safer exhaust.

Maybe he's right. After all, when it comes to horseshit, nobody knows more than the Heritage Foundation.

Correction: Cream does in fact boogie, on "Spoonful" and "Crossroads." Your correspondent regrets the error.

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's Diva-geddon!
One fine night in a bar somewhere, we got into an alcohol-fueled discussion of the term "boogie" as it applies to rock and roll. For example, ZZ Top boogies, but Hall and Oates do not. REO Speedwagon boogies, but Styx does not. As great as he is, Elton John does not boogie, because English performers don't generally boogie, unless they are Foghat or Savoy Brown. What about Eric Clapton, you ask? Clapton boogies when he is playing straight blues, but many of his most famous groups, such as the Yardbirds, Cream, and Blind Faith, do not boogie. And so on. Bottom line: Certain people boogie and certain people don't, and if you have to ask why, you'll never know.

So it is with the word "diva," I am convinced. VH1 held its annual Divas Live show last night. Over the history of this show, some of the divas have been divas, and some have not. Aretha Franklin, for example, is a diva. Shania Twain is not. From last night's show, Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle qualify as divas--but Jessica Simpson and Joss Stone do not. Joss Stone has one of the most incredible voices you'll ever hear, and could be a diva someday--but she just turned 17. You cannot be a diva if you are only 17. (Although you can boogie at that age, like blues musicians Johnny Lang and Charlie Sexton did--except Joss can't, because she's English.) As for Simpson, I had to ask my wife just why she is famous. Was she a singer, actress, or what? Did she sleep with somebody famous or infamous? (Don't laugh--that sex tape was the best career move Paris Hilton ever made.) So diva-hood may also have to do with your ability to get publicity. Longevity also can do it. Apparently, you can to be a diva on VH1 if you ever have been famous, even if you're not famous now--which explains Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper last night, who are 25 and 20 years removed, respectively, from their prime hit-making years.

Just Shut Up: The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox conclude a four-game series today--which I heard someone refer to this weekend as "Armageddon in April." Please. The East Coast bias of the major sports media is never more clearly displayed than when they talk about this rivalry. It's one of the fiercest in sports, yes--but west and south of Hoboken, it's just another rivalry. The entire East Coast may have stopped what it was doing to watch this weekend, but the rest of the country did not. Fox, which doesn't usually televise baseball until June, even carried the Friday night game--which, I am guessing, will be one of the lowest-rated TV programs of the week nationally.

Out here in the provinces, the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry is much more important to baseball fans--but it's dwarfed by a rivalry in another sport, Packers/Bears. The Michigan/Ohio State football rivalry is bigger out here, too. Yeah, it's my Midwestern bias showing. But at least I admit it--where ESPN, for example, does not.

I must acknowledge, however, that ESPN is covering one West Coast athlete, Barry Bonds--except they're doing it to excess. The San Francisco Giants' slugger's pursuit of Willie Mays for third place on the all-time home-run list earlier this month was covered in mind-numbing detail, and then dragged out to an excruciating length when Bonds started the season with a cold streak. Now he's like Tiger Woods--no matter what everyone else in his sport is doing, he always merits a mention. If he's doing well, it's news. If he's not doing well, it's news. But in a way, his performance is really beside the point. He's famous for being famous.

In other words, he's a baseball diva.

Note to all: Be sure to click over to Best of the Blogs for my Dick Cheney caption contest. Also, I have another hiatus coming up. Posts here will be light to nonexistent until Thursday night or Friday.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

This Just In: Pigs Fly
I am about to do something I almost never do. I am about to agree with somebody in the Bush Administration.

Condoleezza Rice told Fox News this morning that the United States will not negotiate for the release of an American soldier who has been taken captive in Iraq, Keith Maupin of Batavia, Ohio. And she's absolutely right. There's some speculation that the rise in kidnappings over recent weeks is a psychological warfare tactic by the resistance--by taking civilians captive and displaying them terrorized on Al Jazeera, they weaken the resolve of countries participating in the occupation. Negotiating with hostage takers would only lead to more hostage taking.

But let's be precise about our terminology in this case. Maupin is a soldier, not a civilian, and therefore, he is a prisoner of war, although you'll hear him called a "hostage." (The yellow ribbons are already out in Batavia.) Calling him a POW has certain advantages. For one thing, we make it clear that we expect him to be treated in a specific way under international law. If we simply call him a hostage, we make his status less clear legally. That, of course, would be bad. Those who hold him might claim he's not subject to international law at all, and decide to keep him indefinitely without giving him any rights at all. (Imagine!) Of course, the flipside is that if we call him a prisoner of war, that gives the lie to the idea that the war's been over for nearly a year, and it gives the "insurgency" greater legitimacy.

But whatever we call Maupin, let's hope there's no repeat of what happened when an American pilot was shot down over Kosovo in 1999. That was a perfectly normal occurrence in wartime, but the Clinton Administration nearly went berserk with fear and worry. State Department spokesmen with grave faces gave hourly updates on the search, cable news networks went into full disaster mode, and the whole thing consumed public attention far beyond the event's actual significance. Although the pilot was never taken prisoner, the parallel is close enough. You have a war, you're gonna have people go missing--and you're gonna have prisoners. Soldiers have been taken prisoner in wartime since the first tribe of cavemen threw rocks at the next cave over. (It's never reported in the United States, but we have no doubt taken thousands of them in Iraq over the last year.)

Reading over this post, I find that it sounds quite unlike what one would expect from an antiwar liberal such as myself. My heart should be bleeding, I suppose. I should launch an impassioned screed about why we need to get all of our sons and daughters home from Iraq right now. Yet this post almost sounds . . . Republican. Well, let's be clear about this, because the Bush gang and its supporters won't be. The Bush Administration put Keith Maupin in harm's way--unlike a civilian contractor, who, in a much different sense, chooses to be there. Nobody should act like Maupin was just minding his own business, building bridges or working on a power station, and so nobody should portray his capture as some sort of beyond-the-pale flouting of international law. His capture and the suffering of his family and friends back home, however unpleasant it is for all of us to think about, is part of the price Bush has to pay for his optional war. Responsibility for what Maupin and his family--and the country--are going through ultimately lies with the White House.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Huey's Alter Ego
Aaron McGruder of The Boondocks is the subject of a lengthy profile in The New Yorker this week. A few highlights:

--He flipped out the audience at The Nation's 138th anniversary bash last December by telling the largely white, old-line liberal audience that they were not nearly as courageous as they were making themselves out to be, and that he voted for Nader in 2000.

--The Green Party asked him if he wanted to run on their ticket for president this year. (Cluelessness, thy name is Green.)

--His first editor, in college, was disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair.

--His greatest comedic influence is Monty Python.

--He doesn't actually draw the strip anymore--he only writes it, and "writing" occasionally consists of a phone call to the artist who draws the strip to pass along an idea.

--He's finishing up a pilot for a Boondocks TV series for Fox. (Does Bill O'Reilly know this?)

What comes through the strongest in this profile is that those of us who enjoy The Boondocks had best better savor it, because it's not likely to capture McGruder's attention much longer. He's got bigger ambitions, yes--but he also sounds a little bit like the kind of guy who would happily pull a Bill Watterson, take his money, and ride into the sunset without looking back, even though McGruder is only 29 years old.

Tell It Like It Is
In the current Atlantic Monthly, Howard Dean's chief pollster Paul Maslin tells the inside story of the implosion of the Dean campaign. This week, The Atlantic's website features a must-read interview with Maslin that offers more insight into the campaign's rise and fall. In the most poignant quote of the interview, Maslin says, "I remember I called up [Joe] Trippi one day. It must have been two days after the Fourth of July, right after we busted the numbers for second-quarter fund-raising. I said, 'Joe, you know what this is, don't you? This isn't Jimmy Carter or George McGovern or Jerry Brown or Ross Perot or any of the analogies people are making. You know who this is?' He said, 'Yeah, I know exactly who. It's Andrew Jackson.' And he was right. If we'd really pulled this off, you'd have the equivalent of that scene when Andrew Jackson becomes President and the people just break down the fence at the White House and say, 'This is our place.' That's what we were trying to do. I think somewhere, somehow, someway, someone may do that. I think John Kerry could be a step in that direction."

I have my doubts, Paul, but your mouth to God's ear anyhow.

Recommended reading: Also in the current Atlantic, Joshua Green writes about the delicate art of being a funny candidate. So far, that's one thing Kerry isn't--but he needs to get at it. Showing a sense of humor is critical to helping people feel that a candidate is warm and fuzzy enough to vote for.

Elsewhere, The Onion may be onto something, with a story headlined "New Negative Campaign Ads Blast Voters Directly." Far from being a joke, their Kerry ad seems pretty appropriate to me: "In the past four years, America's national debt has reached an all-time high. And who's responsible? You are. You're sitting there eating a big bowl of Fritos, watching TV, and getting fatter as the country goes to hell. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. . . . The Medicare drug bill is a triumph of right-wing ideology masquerading as moderate reform. The pharmaceutical-drug and insurance industries are tickled pink. Guess who's paying for it? You. Congratulations, moron. I'm John Kerry and I approved this message."

What's wrong with that, exactly?

Friday, April 16, 2004

Friday Night Frolic
I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Wisconsin, it's been glorious today--in the 80s with a breeze, and fluffy clouds overhead. But did I go outside and enjoy it? Frolic with small animals? Lie down in the grass and become one with the universe? Hell no! Sometimes the vast responsibility that comes with this blog is a bitch. I have instead come up with more recommended reading. Just the thing if you're frolic-phobic or something.

--Yesterday, an outfit called OpenTheGovernment.org released its list of the 10 most-wanted documents classified secret by the U.S. government, as well as the results of a survey regarding citizens' concerns about government secrecy. One of the documents originally set for the list, the fabled PDB from August 6, 2001, was declassified last week--but plenty of other documents remain out of public view, despite the fact that they are ostensibly records of business done in the public's name.

--While doing his taxes the other night, journalist Dave Lindorff started wondering how much of the bill is going to fund the war in Iraq, especially since he got (Warning: the following is sarcasm. Thank you.) such a big, extravagant tax break this year. (End sarcasm.) What he found after a little research was eye-opening. A fairly typical two-earner household probably paid at least two grand to fund the war--and their tax cut was a hell of a lot less than that.

--Last week, we had the first-of-its-kind blogger feeding frenzy. It started when Kos remarked bluntly that he didn't give a damn about the deaths of the four Americans in Fallujah whose corpses were mutilated, because they were mercenaries. The ensuing brouhaha reached all the way to John Kerry's campaign website. The Gadflyer examines the controversy, and says that liberals reacted to it in precisely the wrong way.

(Earlier this week, the Gadflyer published the Reader's Digest version of Bush's Tuesday press conference. It's hilarious.)

Quiz: The country was a rogue nation that exported terrorism. Its terrorists collaborated in underground cells, and staged attacks on Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and Central America. A segment of the world community joined in an effort to confront and stop the terrorists, and some people accused the country's government of actually sponsoring them. Which country was it?

In and Out of the Box
Pepe Escobar of Asia Times paints a dark picture of what's going on in Najaf and Fallujah--its roots and likely fruits. To me, it looks as though if we attack Najaf and another holy city, Karbala, what happens next may be something we can no longer control with firepower. Elsewhere, Carolyn Lochhead of the San Francisco Chronicle surveys the concerns of Washington insiders about Iraq. While not ready to declare failure yet, what the analysts have to say makes it clear that failure is not unthinkable, no matter what Bush believes.

(By the way, hats off to the Chronicle's website, SF Gate, which has finally seen fit to bring back columnist Mark Morford, who vanished without a trace nearly six weeks ago and only resurfaced last weekend. Seems there was an unexpected, ugly legal kerfuffle caused by his daily e-mail newsletter--which may not be back.)

Recommended reading: Democrats are forever getting put in boxes by the way Republicans choose to frame debate. They're left to explain how they can vote against something called the Healthy Forests Initiative (even though it's actually about increased logging) or the No Child Left Behind Act (which leaves behind millions). At Best of the Blogs today, Evelyn Keyes imagines making Republicans play a similar sort of impossible defense. She comments on a tax increase bill passed by the lower house of the Virginia state legislature. Repugs would like to put the increase proposal to a referendum, presumably so they could demagogue it to death. If so, Evelyn suggests phrasing the question this way: "If we raised the taxes for the very richest people in the state so you folks would have better education and roads, would you vote 'yes' or 'no'?"

American Airheads
Air America was off the air in Chicago yesterday (but will be back on today) and remains off in Riverside, California (100 miles east of downtown Los Angeles), thanks to a dispute with the owner of its affiliates in both cities. The station owner claims Air America bounced checks for its affiliate payments, while Air America claims the stations were violating their agreements to air the network.

So the disappearances are due to a good old-fashioned business dispute. They are not the result of some kind of mass revulsion to liberal talk--although go to any right-leaning website and you'll see that claim. It occurs to me that Air America's biggest problem may be that it launched with everybody in the country watching, and half the country wanting it to fail. And it might. But two weeks into its existence is too soon to know for sure. Nothing so unpredictable as a live radio network can ever roll out without encountering problems at first. A safe prediction, however, is that one year from now, Air America will be a lot different than it is today--some hosts will fail and their replacements will succeed, the format (and perhaps the very concept) will be tweaked--and then we'll be better equipped to judge its prospects for long-term survival.

Some people in the radio biz are dreaming that Howard Stern, the newest crusader for free speech and against George W. Bush, might want to join the network. Doubtful. For all his talk about politics, Stern is ultimately a 14-year-old boy obsessed with the human body, not a pundit, and his schtick would alienate many, if not most, of the people Air America wants to attract. Although having him on the same network with Janeane Garofalo would make for an interesting sort of multiculturalism.

Quote of the Day (Dumbass Division): From James Taranto, who writes "Best of the Web" for the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal website, salivating about young Republican Shandi Finnessey of Missouri, the new Miss USA: "It turns out that the pageant's four runners-up were Misses South Carolina, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, and the next five finishers, who made it to the swimsuit competition, were from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho and Oregon. That means nine out of 10 of the top beauties come from states George W. Bush carried in 2000; the only exception, Oregon, was very close (Gore by 0.44%). Gore carried four out of 10 states, so this year's Miss USA results suggest that the GOP is by far the more attractive of the two major parties."

Up next for Shandi is the Miss Universe Pageant. It would serve Taranto right if Miss France were to win it.

Fact is, nobody expects beauty pageant winners to be liberals. And physical beauty can only take you so far, anyhow--no matter how attractive your partner is, sooner or later, you're going to have to talk. And I'd rather talk to Janeane Garofalo.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Hyping Osama and Omarosa
One of the first things you learn in any college course about 20th century American foreign policy is the myth of monolithic Communism. We believed back then, during the high halcyon days of the Cold War, that every communist movement was being directed from the Kremlin, and was all part of an orchestrated international conspiracy to subvert democracy and the purity of our precious bodily fluids. Now, of course, we know that many Communist movements were indigenous, and didn't take direction from shadowy powers in Moscow. Not that we've taken the lesson to heart or anything. We're making the same variety of mistake again as we face terrorist threats. I just came across a piece that appeared last week in the International Herald Tribune that says by lumping all terrorist movements from Uzbekistan to Spain under the broad umbrella of the "War on Terror," and then focusing so much on Al Qaeda, we actually "extend the reach and prestige of Al Qaeda." Fact is, local terrorist movements, like local Communist movements 40 or 50 years ago, often grow from roots far removed from Osama Bin Laden's apocalyptic clash of civilizations, roots having to do with more localized political issues. So despite the rhetoric coming from American politicians (some of whom are old Cold Warriors themselves), every terrorist threat can't be defeated by the same blunderbuss approach.

Please, God, Make It Stop: Tonight is the finale of The Apprentice, which has mutated from TV phenomenon to broader cultural phenomenon to fingernails-on-the-blackboard annoyance in record time. NBC replaced The West Wing last night with an hourlong preview of tonight's two-hour finale, and will present a two-hour recap in prime time tomorrow night. Four of the "fired" contestants posed in lingerie for a magazine, and their photo is one of the most e-mailed of the day today on Yahoo. (They turned down $250,000 to pose naked in Playboy and did the other photo shoot for free. This lack of business savvy explains why they didn't make the cut with Trump.) And somebody associated with the show named Omarosa has become approximately Elvis in the last week or so, for reasons that are unclear to me. In the end, The Apprentice is not about the apprentice who wins the "job" with Trump tonight. It's about Trump himself, who seemed so 1980s when the show started. He hasn't reinvented himself as much as he's recycled himself. Good thing mediagenic boorishness never goes out of style.

Trouble to the Max
Remember the Sony Betamax--the pioneering home-video technology of the late 1970s and early 1980s? If you've still got one in the attic, it's a museum piece now--swamped by a competitor widely recognized as inferior, but one that was better-marketed, the VHS VCR. On Alternet this week, Laurie Spivak argues that Democrats have been "betamaxed" by the Republicans in the marketplace of ideas. Republican ideology is inferior, but is simply marketed more effectively. Twice as many Americans self-identify as "conservative" than "liberal," even though survey data shows voters consistently prefer by large margins liberal themes like stronger environmental protections and tighter handgun control. Spivak explains how it happened, and offers some suggestions for turning it around.

Other recommended reading this morning is from analyst Micah Sifry, who explores reasons why Americans continue to support Bush on Iraq. He also examines the likelihood that John Kerry has an idea better than Bush's "stay the course." To this point, it doesn't look like it. Sifry says that strictly as a political matter, Kerry needs to stop framing the argument as "Bush has it wrong and I can do better," and roll out a specific plan for finishing the job. Only a handful of peace protestors want us to get out now--the majority of Americans want us to finish what we started and leave Iraq better than we found it. For all its faults, Bush at least has a plan for finishing, and you can't beat something with nothing.

Mohammad Ali Eskandari is a press attache with the Iranian embassy in London. He wrote in The Guardian yesterday about the disconnect between the West's talk of support for democracy and what we have historically done in the Middle East. Since the United States helped overthrow a legitimate, popular democracy in Iran more than 50 years ago and reinstalled the autocratic Shah (who was propped up by the British from the 1920s forward), Western talk about favoring democracy over dictatorship has seemed like a joke over there. So any government installed by Westerners in Iraq is going to be viewed as less than legitimate by many of those governed--because it's always been that way.

No news from Fallujah and Najaf over the last 24 hours or so has seemed like good news--but those two cities will be back on the front page soon enough. A peace group in Tacoma, Washington, has posted two worthwhile pieces on its website, one from Newsday on the preparations soldiers are making for their assault on Fallujah, and one from the Christian Science Monitor, on conditions inside the city. (Scroll down to find them.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Choose Your Favorite Flavor
Last night Bush claimed he couldn't think of a specific mistake he'd made since 9/11. The Center for American Progress has thought of five, and is inviting us to vote for the one we think is the biggest. The choices: invading Iraq without a plan for the aftermath; telling the American people that Iraq definitely possessed WMDs; failing to send U.S. troops into Tora Bora to capture Osama Bin Laden in November 2001; disparaging Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said more troops would be needed in Iraq; and focusing on missile defense while ignoring repeated warnings of an imminent Al-Qaeda attack before 9/11.

Not since my last trip to Baskin-Robbins have I had this much trouble making a decision.

I've been pretty much proven right in my supposition of yesterday that the Bush press conference was scheduled in part to take the focus away from John Ashcroft's testimony before the 9/11 commission. Even though some observers characterized his appearance as a snoozer devoid of fireworks, there was plenty of evidence that he, too, was asleep at the switch during the Summer of Threat. To get an idea of how bad it was, click here. When we're calling Bush the Worst President Ever, let's keep in mind that on the Worst-Ever list, Ashcroft is definitely number one-A. (His attempt to blame the 9/11 attacks on Bill Clinton was priceless.)

Also in the news today, MoveOn.org is running a couple of online petition drives worth noting. I know, I know, I've said before that online petition drives are pretty close to useless, but MoveOn has had some success with them, starting with its drive against relaxed TV station ownership caps last summer. MoveOn's latest drive calls on Bush to transfer management of the Iraq authority to the United Nations. It's also running one with the Campaign for America's Future calling on Bush to fire Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

(The thing I love about MoveOn.Org is that it does the sort of viral marketing campaigns only the cool kids would think of. It announced last week it's holding a nationwide bake sale on Saturday to help fund MoveOnPac's campaign to take back the White House. Yesterday, the group announced its Great Goals forum, where likeminded progressives can discuss issues and shape MoveOn's future direction.)

I like the way Clickback America does its online petitions, too. James Carville sent me an e-mail yesterday about Clickback's inagural campaign. If you want to read it, go here. Also on the petition front, the Kerry campaign wants you to join its drive to "bill" the Bush/Cheney campaign for using taxpayer funds to run for reelection.

Recommended reading: You've heard about the famous PDB of August 6, 2001. You may even have read it. What you may not have seen is Bush's own personal copy of it, which has surfaced at Whitehouse.org.

Missionary Position
Now that I've choked down the bile from last night and earlier this morning and have been able to do a bit of reading, I've found that Daily Kos has some interesting analysis of the press conference: on Bush the missionary and on Bush the evader of responsibility.

Tom Shales, the Washington Post TV critic, reviews Bush's performance here. People who deserve marks as low as Bush (apart from the entire press corps on the scene) include Dan Rather, who called Bush "steady, competent, and forceful." Thus the Great Dan, who made his reputation jousting with Nixon in similar forums, is reduced to a part in the chorus. And Chris Matthews thought it was "powerfully candid" when Bush said he wouldn't like being occupied any more than the Iraqis do. How about "powerfully grasping the obvious"?

Recommended reading: At Orcinus, David Neiwart reprints an L.A. Times column by Jean Rosenfeld, an expert on extremist religious movements and how they inspire violence. It's about applying the lessons of the Branch Davidian siege at Waco to the current standoff in Najaf. Rosenfeld notes that the violent end to the Waco siege came about when tactical officers who were on the ground overruled the team negotiating with David Koresh and his followers and launched a heavy assault. Those tactical officers are now among the leading planners of the military components of the war on terror.

Cattle Call
I get tons of e-mail newsletters--so many that I can't always read them daily. This morning I was clearing out my inbox and read one from yesterday that had some suggested questions for Bush's press conference last night. Reading them, it occurred to me that even if those questions had been asked verbatim, it wouldn't have made any difference. He wouldn't have answered them, because he didn't answer anything.

I watched about 30 minutes of Bush last night before turning it off in disgust. This was as embarrassing a public performance as I have ever seen by a President of the United States--and I remember some of Nixon's press conferences during the Watergate meltdown, and Reagan's when the Alzheimer's was starting to kick in. Bush mostly ignored the questions to make little speeches, and if they touched on the question he was asked in some way, it was purely coincidental. And the little speeches themselves were mostly gibbering nonsense. The press corps was little better--refusing to follow up, refusing to interrupt--somebody could have made his or her reputation for a lifetime by standing up last night and calling the man out on his evasions and bullshit. But instead, they mostly stood there like cows watching a train go by. In retrospect, it's easy to understand why Bush's advisors ran him out there. Who's afraid of a herd of cows?

But what's most embarrassing is Bush's utter refusal to take responsibility or admit mistakes--to acknowledge one single thing he's done might that have been done differently to a better result. Nobody who really understands their work or who cares about it can claim to have done it perfectly all the time. All of us strive to do our best, but we don't always succeed. There's never been anyone in the history of humanity--up to and including Jesus, I might add--who didn't feel as though he'd failed at some point in his life, didn't look back and wish he could change something. There's never been anyone, apparently, until George W. Bush.

You wouldn't hire someone so utterly lacking in self-awareness to paint your kitchen, let alone run the free world. That millions of our fellow citizens look at this man and think he's just what the world needs in a leader is an embarrassment to the rest of us. And it makes me reluctant to leave my house.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Bad to Worse
The more I read about the pending U.S. assault on Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, the more uneasy I get. We have 2,500 troops surrounding the city ready to attack it. And no matter how the operation goes, lots of things could happen as a result, and most of them are bad. If the U.S. kills al-Sadr, contrary to making Iraqis go home and wait for democracy to arrive, it will inflame people by the thousands, especially the young--al-Sadr himself is just 31. Najaf is a sacred city to Shi'ites, who don't like us very much now. Imagine how they'll react if we defile their shrines AND kill one of their prominent leaders. How many more young men and women--American and Iraqi--are going to die in this operation? If we don't catch or kill al-Sadr, we're just going to have to repeat it--causing more destruction, inspiring more rage, and killing more people--somewhere else in a few days.

So whose idea was this? Salon reports that the entire operation against al-Sadr is straight from the mind of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile, the man who said we'd be greeted by Iraqi damsels throwing roses, the international sleazeball who's been leading the neocons around by the nose all this time while being demonstrably wrong on everything, and who apparently has Dick Cheney's testicles in a jar on his desk.

Get ready, folks. We are about to begin the transition from bad to worse--coincidentally, almost at the exact moment when our Maximum Leader is going to go on TV and prove once again that he's the leader of the blind, immune to persuasion and impervious to reason, sweetly complacent in his confidence. I am trying to decide if I should watch his press conference tonight, or if it would put my picture tube at too great a risk.

Season of Threat
How smart can Karl Rove be if his ace in the hole when all else starts going to shit is to run Bush out in front of the press corps on live TV in prime time? Here's my theory. They knew John Ashcroft was going to testify in front of the 9/11 commission today, and they know it's going to make him look bad. During the fabled Summer of Threat, he was clearly more interested in draping the bosoms of statues in the Department of Justice lobby than in protecting the country, as he took an oath to do. And not only that, he is going to have to explain why he quit flying commercial just before September 11. All of which would be explosive stuff--were it not going to be a bare footnote in the paper tomorrow thanks to Bush's appearance tonight.

Lots of observers are expecting a replay of the prime-time news conference just before the war started last March, in which the questions and questioners had been selected in advance and Bush looked sedated. Some people are convinced he is capable of more. The New York Post has a hilarious editorial today in which they suggest Bush should come across like an avenging angel, calling on him to threaten hideous flaming death to anyone who takes hostages or otherwise messes with us, presumably in Iraq, but also presumably anywhere else in the world. After all, we don't want to let Osama win--which is what the Post says we're doing if we don't kill as many people as possible wherever and whenever necessary.

They do not suggest Bush come out in his flight suit holding a dagger in his teeth, but they might as well have.

Bush's appearance is bumping the Fox series 24 from its regular slot tonight to Sunday at 8:00 Central time. The show has been scary good since returning from a lengthy hiatus--this season's storyline has federal agents trying to find a terrorist who is threatening the broader release of a deadly biological weapon that has already been released in a Los Angeles hotel.

Watching 24 since its return has been like looking into the future. Because we have hacked off a lot of ruthless people with the wherewithal to do it, and because forever is a mighty long time, there will be a biological attack on the United States someday. It may not be masterminded by a stylishly groomed ex-government agent with an upper-class British accent who hopes to gain revenge on the United States for being left behind on a mission in Kosovo, as seems to be the case on 24. But the panic and terror among those exposed to the virus, the frantic attempts of the good guys to succor the victims, contain the outbreak, and find the perpetrators, and the overwhelming fear on the part of everyone that as bad as it is at any given moment, it could get so unimaginably worse that the living will envy the dead--how can anyone believe that could never happen in real life? Even if we extended the Post's advice to its logical endpoint, and killed every person between Riyadh and Bombay who wishes us ill (or bears any physical or cultural resemblance to those who wish us ill), it will most likely not diminish by one iota the likelihood of its happening.

Until the current regime is replaced by people who are smart enough to see that "the beatings will continue until morale improves" is no way to make the world safer, this season's 24 storyline is not so much fiction as prophecy.

Bright Lights, Dim Bulbs
Well, it happened again--I logged onto the Internet to check my address book, and 20 minutes later, I gotta blog, because you gotta read this from Jerry Bowles at Best of the Blogs. One of the key points in Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 commission three weeks ago showed how on taking office, the Bush Administration put in place a national security agenda that was distinctly backward-looking: focusing on missile defense and Iraq even though other, more contemporary threats had replaced them in importance since 1991, the last time this crew was in charge. Jerry observes that these guys (and Condi) were unable to imagine the power of one fanatic in a cave--albeit a cave wired with Internet access, and failed to see how the Internet combined with the global economy had made publicly transparent what used to be the province only of insiders like them. In short, "The world changed profoundly during the 1990s, but the mindset of Bush's senior advisors didn't keep pace." So our "war on terror" is mispackaged as the sequel to World War II. The clash of civilizations that was supposed to be between communism and capitalism gets transposed to a clash between the West and the Arab world. And the whole thing becomes a debacle, because it's the wrong approach politically and historically. You can't fight an idea with tanks and armor.

The real nut, however, comes in the comments to the post, in one from Jerry's fellow contributor Evelyn Keyes, who observes: "Interestingly enough, it's not just the people who put Bush in power who do not understand the forces of the Internet and globalization, but those who have been left behind--red staters and fundamentalists--who are backing this guy. It's as if they are sticking to Bush because of his very inability to grasp the world we live in."

Exactly, exactly, exactly. I wish I'd said that. Part of Bush's appeal to his base--and what enrages so many others--is that dim-bulb view of the world, the idea that everything in life is simple and that acknowledging nuance just leads to unacceptable moral ambiguity. And the equally dim-bulb idea that every problem, no matter what it is, has a simple solution, whether it's "cut taxes" or "bomb Iraq," both of which have been deployed as a sledgehammer solution to a staggering array of stubbornly nuanced problems. Not that every Bush supporter is equally dim, though--many are plenty smart, smart enough to see how the dimness of Bush and his sheeplike base make possible things that would never pass muster if people were really paying attention.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Hoo-Ah Comin' Down
We're still trying to sort out the meaning of Condi Rice's 9/11 testimony and the Presidential Daily Briefing at the heart of it. From reading the headlines, you learn that the PDB either showed that Bush knew Al Qaeda might try attacks with airplanes on American soil, or he didn't. Where a news source comes down in its headlines often has to do with its politics. So much for the nonpartisan nature of the 9/11 commission.

Even though I have always believed that the Bush Administration will stop at nothing to advance its agenda and hang onto power, I have been reluctant to claim flat-out that it had foreknowledge of the specific attacks we suffered on 9/11 and intentionally did nothing to stop them. Instead, I have come down on the side of people who think they screwed up in an impeachable way and then took advantage of events with shameful ruthlessness, but not with those who think Bush deliberately let the attacks happen for political purposes. But I also have to admit that when evidence pointing to the possibility of the latter is laid out in front of me, I wonder. David Ray Griffin, a philosopher of religion at Claremont, is out with a book called The New Pearl Harbor, in which he argues the administration indeed gave Al Qaeda an unobstructed shot at the World Trade Center. Is his case persuasive? You be the judge.

Despite the dramatic hearings of the 9/11 commission, we've remained focused on Fallujah for over a week now--quite an accomplishment in our short-attention-span society. (My guess is that the major media will soon start jonesing for something shiny and loud they can focus on instead--like something new in the Lacey Peterson case.) But those of us not easily distracted by the toy department are still watching events in Iraq carefully, trying to understand what's happened so far, and to predict what's next.

One commentator last week remarked that the mutilation of American dead in Fallujah had put our military in full "hoo-ah" mode--"hoo-ah" being not only an all-purpose military exclamation, but also, as Kevin Baker wrote in Harper's last October, shorthand for the military's all-consuming sense of its own power and righteousness. (Baker's essay, "We're in the Army Now," isn't available online, but it's worth going to the library to find.) Thus the normally conservative American commanders became uncharacteristically bloodthirsty, as their British counterparts quickly noted. "The US troops view things in very simplistic terms," one British officer told The Telegraph. "It seems hard for them to reconcile subtleties between who supports what and who doesn't in Iraq. It's easier for their soldiers to group all Iraqis as the bad guys. As far as they are concerned Iraq is bandit country and everybody is out to kill them." What's newsworthy in this is that commanders have apparently adopted this attitude, where previously it was more common among the soldiers on the line.

There are lots of different estimates as to how many Iraqis have been killed in and around Fallujah--I've seen figures ranging from 600 to 2,500. The U.S. has famously claimed not to be keeping track of enemy and civilian casualties in Iraq, but an American general inadvertently revealed recently that we do in fact have a record, and that we have paid compensation to the families of some 1,900 Iraqi civilian dead since the war began. Of course, asking questions about things like civilian deaths in Iraq is impertinent. The inimitable Robert Fisk wrote over the weekend that "just shut up" is still one of the administration's preferred responses to criticism of anything it does militarily.

In his piece, Fisk also notes an amazing linguistic coincidence. You probably heard that the U.S. declared a brief cease-fire in Fallujah on Friday--what the commanders called "a unilateral suspension of hostilities"--which seemed rather odd to me, given our full "hoo-ah" mode and all. Fisk notes that the Israeli army uses precisely the same phrase now and then--in his words, "when they were taking casualties or the number of civilians killed was becoming too shameful to sustain." Parallels between Israeli operations against Palestinians and American operations against Iraqis are growing, and there's another.

The administration is maintaining publicly that the resistance in Iraq is still the fault of a small number of bitter-enders who haven't gotten the message that they're finished. But the Big Thinkers who got us into this mess in the first place have another theory, according to journalist Jim Lobe--the increasing resistance is Iran's fault. There's little doubt in my mind that if things had gone according to plan in Iraq over the last year, we'd be kicking Iran's ass right now. If the Iraq quagmire has a redeeming feature, keeping the neocons from running any further amok with armies might be it.

The Chicago Cubs haven't been in the World Series since 1945 and haven't won it since 1908. But after nearly getting there last year, they are widely expected to make it this year--as this Sports Illustrated cover indicates. And today is Opening Day at Wrigley Field--always a festive event, but never more than in this season of high expectations. It's kind of bittersweet for me, though. At another time and place in my life, I would have been over the moon about all this. Now, however, the possibility of the Cubs winning the World Series sparks no more excitement in me than the possibility that the Seattle Mariners or Cincinnati Reds might win it. It's just another out-of-town score.

This isn't a new or hasty decision. After over 20 years of serious Cub fandom--watching the game every Sunday afternoon and two or three nights a week during the summer without fail, listening to the West Coast games on the radio while falling asleep, and going to Wrigley a time or two every year--I began drifting away in the early 1990s. Roster turnover was one problem--guys you rooted against one year were suddenly guys you had to root for the next year. And it was hard to root for players who were being paid millions but seemed to consistently dog it on the field. In 1991, the Cubs acquired a middling-good pitcher named Danny Jackson, with the expectation that he would be one of the keys to the team's success. However, the guy was a stiff--yet after every game, he would tell the press that he felt like he'd done a good job, but things just hadn't worked out. The guy refused to stand up and take responsibility for the fact that he was flat awful a lot of the time, and took grave offense when anyone suggested he was. Jackson became the poster boy for the spoiled-rotten athlete, and for the Cubs' ineptitude at judging talent and heart. Then, after winning the Cy Young Award as the National League's best pitcher in 1992, Greg Maddux took less money from the Atlanta Braves to get away from the Cubs' martinet general manager, Larry Himes, who left the Cubs himself not long after Maddux did. Maddux won three more Cy Youngs for the Braves and became a sure Hall-of-Famer. Meanwhile, the Cubs struggled through mediocrity on the field while being wildly profitable off of it. Cubs ownership, which could afford to spend money like the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, and other wealthy franchises, didn't have to. The team was sure to draw more than two million fans every year no matter how awful the product on the field was.

Then came the 1994 players' strike that canceled the World Series, and I've never gone back to following the game. I watched a few games on TV during the Sosa/McGwire home-run duel in 1998 and went to a few Brewers games in the new Miller Park in 2001 and 2002, but that's it. I'd rather read off-season NFL news than follow baseball in the summer. So for all of my friends who are still Cubs fans, I hope the team does well this year. But I won't get on the bandwagon until the World Series begins, if the Cubs are in it--if even then.

Recommended reading: It's been my view for quite a while that we'd do a positive service to our country if we gave the state of Georgia back to the Cherokees, or built a damn big fence around it to keep the inmates inside. Two more bits of evidence for the wisdom of this have surfaced over the last couple of weeks. First there was the decision by the state legislature to ban genital piercing--but only for women, ostensibly to prevent the practice of female genital mutilation. (This is a problem in Georgia?) The bill's sponsor was flabbergasted to learn that some people get piercings voluntarily. He said he had never heard of such a thing, and doesn't think it's appropriate. Then there was the story about the high school in Lyons, Georgia, that has historically had two proms--one for white students and one for black. But this year, because some white kid wanted to bring a date of Mexican descent to the prom and a member of the white prom committee wouldn't sell him a ticket, the school is instituting a third prom for Latinos. Principal Ralph Hardy steadfastly insists that racism isn't a serious problem at his school. The reporter didn't say how Hardy was able to comment without removing the stopper from his ears and the blindfold from his eyes.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Scourge the Bunny
It's Easter weekend. This is not a big deal to me, except that it means the temptation of Cadbury cream eggs will soon be gone from my neighborhood convenience store. (I do think it's rather odd that the shopping malls close on Easter Sunday, a purely Christian holiday, while remaining open on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday Americans of all faiths--or none--can celebrate equally.) But it does make it an opportune time to meditate yet again on the religious fevers afoot in the United States at this moment.

In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas famously said that one of the delights souls enjoy in Paradise is watching the torments of sinners in Hell--which might have made perfect sense during the Middle Ages, an era of viciousness and violence unmatched even by our own, but which modern minds ought to find repulsive. Except not all of us do. From Halloween "hell houses" to the recent the scourging of the Easter Bunny at a church in Pennsylvania to The Passion of the Christ, supposedly edifying religious violence is more popular than ever. I have no great pithy point to make about it except to say I'm sick of it. Every time some church somewhere decides that what would be most effective in getting people to believe in Jesus Christ would be to threaten them with some sort of horror if they don't believe, we take a small step backward in our march toward a higher level of civilization. Belief in the efficacy of God-glorifying violence makes it a short leap to what we're doing in Iraq--bombing and killing in hopes of establishing peace and democracy (and, for that matter, love), as well as reveling in the destruction we cause, and blaming the victims for it happening in the first place.

It is a basic tenet of this blog that what this country needs is less religion, and particularly less Christianity, not more. But we're not going to get that, so the best we can hope for is a better sort of Christianity--and it's out there, if those who believe in it have the courage to stand up for it, and against the fundie version. Former president Jimmy Carter sat for an interview recently with The American Prospect, in which he explained how the fundamentalism so popular in the United States right now actually ignores the teachings of Christ. The longtime Baptist Sunday school teacher also explains why he thinks Bible believers can still find a home in the Democratic Party. If you only click one story this weekend, click this one. (Carter may have been in way over his head as president, but he's our greatest ex-president, and the competition ain't close.)

Recommended reading: Also in the Prospect, Robert Kuttner lays out the mess President Kerry will inherit. It looks like the perfect prescription for a one-termer, unless Kerry gets off to a swift and decisive start. Over at The Gadflyer, Bart Acocella has read Zell Miller's new book so you don't have to. And in Slate, Will Saletan explains what Condi Rice meant when she testified on Thursday. A sample: When Rice referred to "law enforcement," that meant Bill Clinton's weak policy of targeting individual terrorists. On the other hand, "hunting down terrorists one by one" refers to Bush's strong policy of targeting individual terrorists.

And one final bit of recommended reading this morning: Best of the Blogs' John McCreery posts a message he received from a longtime friend, ex-Marine, and military history buff who lives in Tokyo, where the Japanese are fearing the fate of three citizens held hostage by Iraqis. He says: "I am sure most people I am now writing to have seen the movie 'Titanic.' Remember that riveting scene as the stern rears up and up just before she takes her final plunge? That is where we now are in Iraq."

(For more on what's going on in Fallujah, click Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. Cole's getting a pretty good rep in the blogosphere as a thoughtful analyst.)

Friday, April 09, 2004

Hello Lamppost, Whatcha Knowin'?
It is a good thing our leaders live in this place and in this era, because if this became widely known--and if this wasn't a country in which good citizenship is defined as neither doing, saying, nor thinking anything that will distract us from doing our shopping, and if this wasn't an era when people are so damned afraid to stand up and fight back when they see injustice, even when it's spelled out in huge blinking electric letters--we'd be having a damn revolution. Paragraphs five and six are the outrageous nut.

But, of course, some of us would be happy to see our fellow citizens tarred and feathered, and for offenses far less than the rape of the working class and the closing off of the ecomomic opportunity this country has always been so proud of providing to everyone. An illustration: Despite its reputation as a bucolic place with more hogs than people and people with more toes than teeth, my much-missed former home, Iowa, is actually pretty liberal (and not just around Iowa City, Ames, and Fairfield, either). It's gone Democrat for president more often than not (it even went for the Duke in 1988), its senior senator, Tom Harkin, is a leading liberal light, and its Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, has developed a national profile in recent months. But it was also one of the first places in the country to see its state Republican party completely colonized by the Christian Coalition. As a result, some of Iowa's most high-profile Republicans, such as ex-Congressman Tom Tauke and current representative Jim Leach, have been kept from running for higher office because they are insufficiently conservative and thus unacceptable to Betty Bowers and the rest of the Borg. So it's no surprise that Republicans in the Iowa Senate are having conniptions over a Vilsack appointee to the state school board who is openly gay.

Iowa's state motto is "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." Including a good Republican's right to be an intolerant fascist, apparently, by making sure people they don't like can't have too much liberty.

Certifiably Insane
Fasten yer seatbelts. Here's a trip around cyberspace for worthwhile news and commentary bits, presented in no particular order.

Many people in Britain understand what we do not about Iraq, because of their nation's experiences imposing colonialism on other people--some of them in the Middle East. The Guardian spells it out: "This revolt shows every sign of turning into Iraq's own intifada, and towns like Falluja and Ramadi--centres of resistance from the first days of occupation--are now getting the treatment Israel has meted out to Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus and Rafah over the past couple of years. . . . Across Iraq, US soldiers and their European allies are now killing Iraqis in their hundreds on the streets of their own cities in an explosive revival of the Middle East's imperial legacy."

From syndicated columnist Ted Rall: "Read and understand: They hate us simply because we're there. Leave, and the hatred goes away. If you doubt that, visit Hanoi as a tourist."

From journalist Jim Lobe on Daniel Pipes, who wants to become the Islamic Martin Luther: "Within the United States, 'all Muslims, unfortunately, are suspect,' Pipes wrote in a recent book, which called for the authorities to be especially vigilant towards Muslims with jobs in the military, law enforcement, or diplomacy. Last year, he cited as evidence of this insight the arrest on suspicion of espionage of Muslim chaplain James Yee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility that houses hundreds of prisoners from Bush's 'war on terrorism'. The Yee case later fell apart."

From ZNet, Jonathan Schell on the hollowness of the phrase "On June 30, the Coalition will hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people." Schell says: "There is no 'sovereign,' American or other, in this Iraq; there is anarchy. The less 'sovereignty' the United States possesses, it appears, the more quickly it wants to surrender it."

TomPaine.Com blogger Robert Dreyfuss: "An establishment, bipartisan elite must emerge to order the bumbling president out of Iraq, now. Protests won’t do it, nor reason. Passionate speeches, even the best ones, such as Robert Byrd’s April 7, won’t do it. President Bush’s Iraq policy is now certifiably criminally insane, and only a soft coup d’etat, a la 1968, can stop him."

(Byrd's speech is magnificently old school, a throwback to the days when every school kid memorized the great poems of the English language, like "The Charge of the Light Brigade." I can't decide whether it loses some of its rhetorical power because people don't know the poem anymore, or if it gains because people rarely hear language like that coming out of the mouths of politicans anymore.)

And finally, on a lighter note, the World's Smartest Human explains why Miller beer is contraindicated for all refreshment applications.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Freudian Slip
So here's the thing about Condi Rice's testimony. Her opening statement and many of her answers were not at a particularly high level of complexity, and she didn't really try to get too involved in subtleties. But, see, subtleties are the whole ballgame--the details, the things that really matter. The things that most people don't pay attention to. If you are Mr. or Mrs. Swing Voter, you probably think she did fine.

I notice that the White House is blaming "minority extremist elements" for the upsurge in resistance in Iraq this week. But that's not what NPR's Anne Garrels reported from Baghdad this morning. To hear her tell it, Iraqis who have not supported the insurgency heretofore are supporting it now. Coalition forces from other countries have been forced to retreat from cities they have occupied for weeks or months. More ominously, there's speculation that Shi'ites and Sunnis, who have hated each other's guts for over a thousand years, may be starting to make common cause against the occupation. If that happens, a good question for the Bush Administration might be this: Does the name "Custer" mean anything to you?

And finally . . . I just tried my local library's online catalog to find the book by Thomas P.M. Barnett I mentioned in this morning's post, which is called The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. It's on order, but what's most interesting is that the library shows it as being part of the fiction collection. Insert rimshot here.

Idiot Wind
Condoleezza Rice is all over the TV this morning, with the major broadcast networks having dumped their talk shows and soaps to carry her testimony before the 9/11 commission. But James Ridgeway warns that people hoping her appearance will cause the entire Iraq/war on terror fuckup to implode may be disappointed. First, she's smart enough to wiggle off nearly any hook the commission might try to set. (Starting with a mea culpa, although not an apology a la Richard Clarke, was a good idea.) And Ridgeway notes the possibility that some members might be squeamish about taking out after a woman, and an African-American woman at that. When I read that, I had a flashback to the Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991, in which damn few people were thinking about the racial aspect of the inquiry until Thomas himself brought it up, with his famous phrase about a "high-tech lynching". While Rice almost certainly won't bring up her race or gender, might some of the Bush-friendly commission members try to make subtle hay out of it? Or some media observers?

Rice can say whatever she likes about the administration's priorities. She can even try to overtly discredit Clarke. But whatever tale she spins won't change the fact that Clarke isn't the only ex-administration official who believes Bush has failed the country by diddling with Iraq. Reuters reports this morning on the exodus of anti-terrorism officials from the administration, people who left because of the misplaced focus on Iraq. These are not political partisans--they are professional civil servants who, in many cases (like Clarke himself) have worked for several presidents, Republican and Democrat. Their opinions carry a lot more weight than those of political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president, and therefore have as their ultimate task to pull their chief's chestnuts out of the fire when necessary.

Ridgeway also reported this week on yet another hopeful glimpse into the future by a neoconservative prophet, Pentagon analyst Thomas P.M. Barnett. Hopeful, but also mighty odd. Barnett believes that by 2050, we will have added up to a dozen more states to the Union--all from the Western Hemisphere at first, but later, perhaps, from other parts of the world. He speculates that Mexico will be one of them (maybe more than one), and says that the United States should simply pick off the strongest economies in the West as a way of harmonizing economic policies. How we'll do this isn't clear from Ridgeway's brief piece, but if the neocon playbook continues to hold, these countries will wake up one morning to see the self-evident wonderfulness of the United States and be eager to give up their own nationalistic impulses and rush to our lovin' arms. And if they don't, we can always just invade.

Ridgeway often publishes quotes from administration officials under the heading "Say What?" Which he should have done with this, although it does underscore the reality that Iraq is, essentially, the 51st state already.

Recommended reading: Just in case there was any doubt remaining, the Sixties are officially over now. Bob Dylan, who licensed "The Times They Are A-Changing" for a bank commercial a few years ago, is now actually appearing in an ad for Victoria's Secret. My initial reaction was that nothing is sacred anymore--but as Mike Marquesee writes in The Guardian, Dylan's career has been filled with unusual twists--and big blunders--so at this point, such a move is probably trivial. But if by taking on the Victoria's Secret gig, the voice of the '60s generation has become the voice of the current generation--the one not necessarily defined by age, the one more preoccupied with half-naked supermodels and reality TV than with things that really matter--that really hurts. And Marquesee knows it. He says, "Now, if Dylan spoke out against Bush and the occupation of Iraq, that would be a shock."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Me and Paul
Well, this will help us win hearts and minds--the bombing of a Fallujah mosque during daily prayers. The story has it that insurgents were firing on Americans from inside, but we also seem to have killed a fair number of civilians while trying to get the insurgents. We are offended down to our souls at terrorists who make no distinction between civilians and soldiers, between the innocent and the culpable--but as long as we make so little distinction between the innocent and the guilty when it comes to blowing Iraqis to kingdom come, we can expect to reap what we sow.

That the shit is starting to unravel in Iraq is a pretty common sentiment today--at least among that part of the polity not congenitally predisposed to believe that everything George W. Bush touches is wonderful by definition. (And even some precincts there are starting to stir.) Just one example is a piece in Salon by Jen Banbury, which describes the change in Iraqi attitudes toward Westerners in the last few days. It's obvious that we've moved into a new phase of Bush's war, but what it is, nobody can tell yet.

But it's all the same to our Maximum Leader. We can most likely expect him to go out in front of a camera in the next few hours and repeat that we will stay the course and we will not be deterred. Nobody really wants to know how bad it would have to get before the administration would admit that they might need to modify their policy. But you can bet that if and when they see the light, they'll couch their modification in such a way as to make it sound like they meant to do it all along.

Recommended reading: From the "You Had to Know It Was Coming" department, the news that the final report of the 9/11 commission may be delayed until after the November election thanks to the vetting it will undergo at the White House. What a perfect opportunity for a stonewall. If it starts to look like the administration is dragging its feet to save its ass this fall, somebody will need to leak the damn thing. Daniel Ellsberg, call your office.

And finally, if you were a New York Times columnist, which New York Times columnist would you be? Take this quiz and find out. (I'd be Paul Krugman. I'm so proud.)

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