Friday, June 13, 2003

Remember how we won that war in Afghanistan, against the Taliban? Well, you may have believed that, but the Taliban didn't. So now, American and Pakistani agents are reportedly getting together with the Taliban for a quiet powwow to try and come up with some other story that they will believe, before one of the firefights that American troops are into there turns deadly, and they can't keep it off CNN.

Among the reported American demands is that "any US or allied soldiers held captive must be released." How... intriguing.

This all comes from a source within Pakistani intelligence, though, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. It's possible that they may be as unreliable as the Americans...

(via The Agonist)

A few quick pointers (and, save for Billmon's piece, quick reads):
  • The Daily Kos has just the facts about our spiraling national debt. Billmon, the blogger so good you wonder if it isn't his day job, has the implications.
  • Nathan Newman on how zealous enforcement of copyright law is literally rotting away our cultural heritage
  • The scene: Shreveport, Louisiana. The crime: driving while black. The aggravating circumstance: carrying a cell phone. The penalty is death.
And, via Charlie Stross, a late addtion:
With all the gangster shoot-em-up video games coming out these days, how's a body to know which ones are really any good? decided to ask a genuine expert. They had Henry Hill, the federally protected witness whose memoir was the basis for the movie Goodfellas, try out four games: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, a third called The Getaway, and just for laughs, Animal Crossing, a game in which the player makes friends with furry little forest animals.

The result? Suffice it to say that if the teenager in your life can be persuaded to like the same games as the real tough guys, you might have a much more peaceable household...

(via Slashdot)

I give you the latest wit and wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld. Here he's speaking on the American response to Belgium's war crimes law, which allows victims of war crimes anywhere to file suit in Belgium:

If the civilian and military leaders of member states can not come to Belgium without fear of harassment by Belgian courts entertaining spurious charges by politicized prosecutors, then it calls into question Belgium's attitude about its responsibilities as a host nation for NATO and Allied forces. For our part, we will have to consider whether we can allow senior uniformed and civilian officials to come to Baghdad . . . to Belgium, I mean. (laughter) Because of the charges flowing out of the activities in Baghdad, which of course would involve other coalition nations as well. Certainly until this matter is resolved we will have to oppose any further spending for construction for a new NATO headquarters here in Brussels until we know with certainty that Belgium intends to be a hospitable place for NATO to conduct its business, as it has been over so many years.

These remarks acquire added bite when you read that they were delivered at the current NATO headquarters, which is, as Rummy says, in Belgium.

Now, as it happens, it's been possible to file suit against foreign dictators in American courts for human rights violations for at least the past 23 years or so, due to a formerly obscure statute called the Alien Tort Claims Act, which was actually one of the first laws passed by Congress, in 1789. But we can't accuse Dubya's crew too much of inconsistency here -- they're trying to gut that law as well, saying that it might get in the way of cordial relations with despots who happen to be useful in the war on Terror.

And of course, this is of a piece with the Dubya crew's continued efforts to evade the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, most lately by pressuring countries dependant upon American military aid into agreeing not to extradite American personnel into the ICC's jurisidiction. As of July first, if they haven't signed such an agreement, the funds get cut off.

And again, we have to ask ourselves what war Dubya is really fighting here. They say foreign despots are useful allies in the war on Terror. But the despots' populations would be more likely to see them as allies of Terror. What Dubya's crew is really trying to squelch is the notion that anyone might try to hold them to account for what they do. And in that sense, it's of a piece with the tenor of Dubya's administration from the moment it began, from the stone silence concerning the activities of Cheney's energy commission to the refusal to release records of his father's term as required by the Presidential Records Act. It's the War on Accountability.

(Some pointers from The Daily Kos).

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Desperate to quickly reduce costs, to boost the bottom line, Circuit City is firing salesmen -- not all of them, though, just the best, as measured by the fairly objective standard that they're the ones who bring in the most sales (and hence, get the highest commissions).

So, if you're a salesman at Circuit City, and you want to keep your job, it's clear what the company wants you to do -- talk down the products, take a lot of coffee breaks, and do what you can to subtly annoy the customers. That's obviously the sort of thing that's in their financial best interest; otherwise, why would they have set up incentives which push you to do it?

Emma of Late Night Thoughts is a little ticked off...

(original link, here, appears to be bloggered...)

Remember former University of Florida professor Sami al-Arian? Dubya's crew has all sorts of reasons for hoping you'd forget him -- he's currently accused of funding Palestinian terrorists, but also had a known role in funding Dubya's campaign, as a reward for which he got, among other things, a photo with Dubya during the campaign, and access to a White House briefing with Karl Rove afterwards.

His current circumstances are somewhat reduced. He's now being held, pending trial, on charges of funding terrorist organizations -- charges based largely on evidence that the government is refusing to divulge to his lawyers until they get a security clearance, which they've refused, pointing out, among other things, that the procedure could make them criminally liable if they discussed the defense with their client.

Needless to say, that trial, coupled with the photograph, creates the prospect of all sorts of embarassing visuals during the next election. How nice for Dubya then that al-Arian's request for a speedy trial has been denied; the trial is now expected to start in January of 2005 at the earliest.

(Yet another item originally found on the bulletin board at The Agonist)

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

North Carolinian Allan Gurganus, on "Why We Fed the Bomber", Atlanta Olympics and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph:

He somehow knew that the land and his neighbors would accept then favor him.

How could he be sure? North Carolina's state motto is one of the few that matters: "To be rather than to seem." Often described as a valley of humility between two mountains of conceit -- Richmond to the north and Charleston to the south -- North Carolina has always been a state of small yeoman farmers who in the old days owned so few slaves, ours was one of the last states to join the Confederacy. Here, to be called "a common person" still constitutes high praise.

The truest answers are the ones of being, not appearing. To locals, it didn't matter if a neighbor had been named the most wanted and dangerous criminal in America (at least of the blue-collar sort, since no one from Enron has yet made the list). Everybody knew him. He worked as a freelance carpenter. This guy enjoyed a sterling reputation, especially if you were white. He trucked to work wearing clean clothes, he used the best materials, he stayed until the job was done. He undercharged. He said "sir" and "ma'am." Last Monday, when Eric Rudolph appeared, manacled, before the judge in Asheville, N.C., his only words were, "Yes, your honor."

You see, manners matter here, even to our bombers.

In short, he seemed like a nice guy, so even though everyone knew that he was a stone killer, they were happy enough to pass the cold cuts. So, um, what was that motto again?

In Iraq, our proconsul, Mr. Bremer, is going to be spending government money to create new jobs, in order to try to get the economy moving. Boy, things there must be really messed up. It's a good thing we don't need anything like that here.

(via The Agonist)

So, let me get this straight. The Republicans are talking about effectively eliminating the filibuster rule in the Senate, in order to get party-line votes on Dubya's most extreme nominees. (And if you don't think a judge or two more or less matters, bear in mind that these are appellate appointments, to courts where judges demonstrably do follow party lines).

But, on other matters, they are clinging to the even more antidemocratic "hold rule", which allows any Senator to put a "hold" on just about any action at all, often kidnapping some needed action for a ransom of unrelated pork. That's the case right now with Senator Larry Craig, who is holding up promotions for hundreds of air force officers to try to get four C-130s transferred to the Idaho National Guard.

Then again, this could be defended as adherence to the two longest-lasting traditions of Congress -- military pork, as by the several Republican Senators who have blessed the Navy with ships built in their states which it didn't even want, and, well, pork in general, as by the Republican Senators who are trying to get loan guarantees for another generation of nuclear plants, the Republican whip who very nearly got new regulations on cigarette sales into a homeland security bill at the behest of Philip Morris, and the still-unacknowledged parties who convinced Dick Armey to get giveaways to Eli Lilly into the same bill.

All this, of course, from the party that favors small government. But, these actions all spent taxpayer money on politically connected corporations (private shipyards and coffin nail merchants), not on the operations of government itself. So hey, it's all good.

(Some links via The Agonist).

Note: corrected Larry Craig's home state. Apologies to all offended Iowans...

I don't like metablogging -- I do almost none, and at least half the time, think that's too much. But this really sucks.

Mary-Beth of Wampum is going off the net, due to what she describes as "the issue of harassment in my real life due to my online persona", specifically from a somewhat disturbed lefty blogger (who I won't link to because, well, that's what she wants; among other things, she is obsessed with climbing the various blogsphere tote-boards).

The possibility of crud like this is one of the reasons I'm pseudonymous, though I would have expected it from a different direction. In the meantime, though, I'm sad to see Mary-Beth leave; she was a unique voice, covering issues (autism and Indian issues) which don't get much attention with style and grace, and also doing superb work on topics of more general interest, like her posts on our cooked unemployment statistics, which I've been meaning to link to for a while. She will be missed.

Monday, June 09, 2003

A lot of lefties are getting seriously depressed about the state of our national politics. Witness, for instance, Douglas Rushkoff, who opined a while ago that:

I no longer feel that voting is the main channel of feedback we have available to us as Americans. If not voting, then what? Protest. Good, old-fashioned, in-the-streets protest. Protests stir unrest. They create visible signs of dissent - whether or not they are reported by the mainstream right-wing propaganda engine masquerading as the US press.

Wonder what the well-heeled have to say about that? Consider the views of Candidia Cruikshanks, dominatrix to the fiscally well-endowed, who ripostes:

What is this? The US Branch of Al Queda? Tipping points go both ways. What would shut you guys up? National Guard checking IDs? Cameras on swivels? Wiretaps? Lists of Unpatriotic Americans? Tribunals? Chinese proverb says: "The nail that sticks up gets beaten flat." Smile! I have your picture on file.

But even her "$1 bil and a fucking Harvard MBA" can't get her everything she wants:

So what about my peace dividend? Tax free? Plus they may have to keep the death tax. I mean, look, if we are going to liberate any city by fighting it out with gangs in the streets, I can think of places a lot closer to home. I mean, "Humanitarian Aid"? We have tried that crap. All it does is create a culture of dependence. Build a maquiladora, and let them help themselves. Drop a few skids of Velveeta from the bombers, take lots of photos for FOX and CNN, then round up the peasants and put them to work.

Of course, they've been trying that. But it's becoming clear that Shinseki was right, and we will need more troops to keep the peace than we did to win the war. Hey folks, we told you and told you and told you this was going to get ugly. Why didn't you listen?

Ah, these elites. If they're not preening about their access and privilege, they're whining insufferably. What they really need is another round of the spanking they got from FDR.

By the way, the Wealth Bondage site, where Ms. Cruikshanks's words appear, acknowledges up front that a lot of it is a put-on satire in the tradition of Martial -- though less than you'd think at first glance. If you poke around, which is worth the time, be sure to read the Master Contract. You're already party to it, whether you know it or not...

Note added in proof: Besides, if you don't think that there are genuine rich people who really do think something like this, you haven't been reading enough David Neiwert...

Washington isn't the only place in the world where world leaders are working overtime to make satire obsolete. On the other side of the world, we have North Korea, where, under the guidance of the Dear Leader, the population has reviewed Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal and started to act on it.

(via counterspin).

Quoth Dubya to the troops in Qatar:

Day by day, the United States and our coalition partners are making the streets safer for the Iraqi citizens. We also understand that a more just political system will develop when people have food in their stomachs, and their lights work, and they can turn on a faucet and they can find some clean water -- things that Saddam did not do for them.

Except that there was electricity and clean running water in Iraq before the war; it was the disruption of those services which lead to health crises in Basra and elsewhere. And this was well-covered in the press, let alone secret intelligence briefings.

In the Daily Kos, Steve Gilliard argues that Dubya must have been fooling himself about Iraq's WMD programs because he's not acting now like someone expecting to get caught. But this whopper was well known to be false before he uttered it. Either he just doesn't care, or he's convinced that he won't get caught. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that many of the statements regarding Iraqi WMD, like the claims that they had munitions ready for use, were almost certainly false, whatever Dubya may or may not have believed when he spoke. If they existed in sufficient quantities for battlefield deployment, we'd have found them by now; instead we're looking for hints and scraps.

What is to be done? John Dean has an already well-blogged commentary on FindLaw drawing up a preliminary case for impeachment based on the statements regarding arms. If we were operating in the Republic that the authors of The Federalist had in mind, it would be a slam dunk. But that would be a republic in which Congressmen acted first for their states' interest and for their own prerogatives as Congressmen, and as members of a political party second, if at all. Checks and balances were supposed to work because Congress was supposed to be jealous of executive power. Instead we have a Congress dominated by the so-called "Republican" party, which values loyalty to faction above all. There may be nothing left to do but vote the bastards out, if we still can.

Speech quote via comments in the daily Kos

Speaking of lies, there's been a lot of tooth-gnashing recently on the left about lies, distortion and plaigiarism -- on the left. The Guardian, with its distorted quotes and fabricated meetings. The endless hair-shirt laments over disgraced Times reporter Jayson Blair, which has most lately claimed the two top editors at the paper as victims. (See for example the Poor Man, who takes the lead in Guardian-bashing -- though, unsatisfied with this attack on such a soft target, he has gone on to fire himself for referring to Brit Hume's head as "galaxy-sized", even though it is signficiantly smaller than most major galaxies). And in our own little corner, there's the continuing rain of stones hurled toward The Agonist.

Let's put this in context, with another set of stories in the New York Times. As Howard Kurtz reported a few weeks ago (and many, many bloggers picked up), Times reporter Judith Miller very nearly bragged in email to another Times reporter that

I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper.

Let's say that again: the source of numerous front-page exclusives on Iraqi WMD in the New York Times was Ahmed Chalabi -- a convicted embezzler and soi-disant "exile leader" who had left the country as a child and had barely ever been back. But he had gained powerful friends in the American defense establishment (by spending years telling them what they wanted to hear), so uncritically reporting whatever he was making up was, I gather, acceptable.

Now, I'm not defending Jayson Blair. Making stuff up about, say, a POW's home is unacceptable. But these fabrications, as egregious as they may have been, didn't have much lasting impact on national policy. Miller's front-pagers, several, over years, arguably did. And she hasn't even faced a reprimand.

The Guardian and the Agonist, for their parts, were both quick to acknowledge their sins and publish corrections -- which is more than the Times has done for years' worth of unsubstantiated stories about Whitewater (and an endless rain of calumnies on the editorial page, penned by Howell Raines, which his latter-day critics seem never to mention).

Nobody's perfect. In particular, no one of the left. But the Times's errors don't uniformly tend in any particular direction -- though (as Daniel Davies notes in the comments here) its true bias, to my eyes, is towards stenography to the powerful, and against the notion that its well-placed and well-groomed sources might nevertheless be full of shit.

Now, can we get back to talking about the news?

One last thing: I'm not going to cheer for plaigiarism. But let's remember who's the victim. It's not so much the readers, as the other writers whose work was ripped off unacknowledged. To my way of thinking, it really isn't as bad as publishing as fact reports that you know, or should have known, to be suspect. I've seen Jayson Blair described as a "plaigiarist", but he wasn't -- finding reliable sources to plaigiarize would have served readers better than what he actually did, which was to just make things up. Which is worth remembering in, say, the case of the Agonist, who attributed snippets of Stratfor briefings to "his sources", without acknowledging the source was Stratfor. Sean-Paul Kelly and the Stratfor crew seem to have made their peace about this affair, which puts the bloggers who are still worked up about it in a somewhat peculiar position.

Oh, see also Calpundit regarding the Times.