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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 14 February 2006
Who Says What: Silence from the Shooter, Big Noise from the Amateurs
Topic: Dissent

Who Says What: Silence from the Shooter, Big Noise from the Amateurs

As time passed, by Tuesday, February 14th - Valentines Day - it was clear the major story filling the press and spawning a thousand commentaries was still what happened three days earlier, the hunting accident where the Vice President shot a seventy-eight-year-old Austin attorney. This was the day it got more serious, when the Austin attorney was rushed back into intensive care after a "silent heart attack" - not caused by stress or age, but by irritation from a bird shot pellet lodged near his heart. Watching the news you could see, at their press conference, the attending doctors downplaying this is as manageable and not that big a deal, or see various medical folks on the talks shows saying, no, this was serious. On Chris Matthew's MSNBC political show, Hardball, he found someone to say this was a big story (David Shrum, for the Democrats) and someone had some explaining to do (the Vice President), and someone from the right saying this is a bad business, but essentially a private matter and the nation should move on. The Vice President doesn't much care to answer to anyone - never apologize, never explain - as was clear from the start of his first term, where he and the leaders of the oil and energy companies met behind closed doors and developed the nation's energy policy. Who was there and what was said is still secret. He's kind of like that. What he does is nobody's business but his own.

But if this man with the irritated heart dies, he may not be able to maintain that "I don't have to tell anyone anything" position.

A quick look here (the media clips site "Crooks and Liars") gives the state of play at the end of the day - "It's been three days now and Dick Cheney has not publicly apologized for shooting a seventy-eight-year-old man in the face. With the President's approval ratings at thirty-nine when the incident happened, even Chris Matthews noted that at this rate Bush will be in the twenties by next week." And yes, at the White House daily press briefing, Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan was cracking jokes about the shooting (here, even though he himself knew about the heart attack). It just hadn't made it into the press yet. Bizarre. And who knows what to make of this - "The sheriff's office has acknowledged that they weren't allowed to talk to Cheney for fifteen hours after the accident, but now ranch owner Katharine Armstrong has told MSNBC that people in the party were drinking (though the comment was later scrubbed from the website)."

Is something up with that? It's hard to tell, but there's a pointer to this - "ABC News just reported that White House spokesman Scott McClellan laughed today during his noon press briefing, and told the media it was 'time to move on' to other matters than the shooting, we now know that McClellan already knew that Whittington had suffered a heart attack and was now back in intensive care. Yet McClellan refused to answer reporters' questions and tried to trivialize the issue."

This just gets stranger. Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, in an email to Hollywood quotes an account of Cheney's brief and enigmatic statement regarding the heart attack - "The vice president said that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Whittington and his family."

Ric's comment - "He should say he's sorry instead."

Not likely. As Byron York notes over at the conservative National Review (here) -
So far, the vice president seems determined not to make any public statement about the hunting accident. Spokeswoman McBride points out that Cheney has a previously-scheduled speaking engagement this Friday, at the Wyoming state legislature. It seems likely that he would at least mention it then. But as far as today, tomorrow, or Thursday goes, there seems, at the moment at least, to be no plan to have Cheney say anything.
As Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly notes of all this in a post titled Darth Cheney -
This is just flat out insane. What on earth is he thinking?

... This is now way beyond bizarre. Does the White House think that reinforcing the VP's "Darth Cheney" image is helpful in some way? That it's better if the world thinks he's callous and insensitive? Or what?
More than a few have speculated that, yes, this may be the thinking. It's a good-cop bad-cop hustle. Cheney is decisive, strong, and owes no one anything. And he's a tad mean. That leaves George Bush to seem compassionate by comparison. Cute. All bases are covered.

And that makes this from administration critic Andrew Sullivan seem whiney, childish, and stupid -
Just a word, if I may. You are employed by the American people. You are not a monarch; and you are not a Pope. You have seriously wounded another human being. The news was kept from the public for a day. The man is in intensive care. There are many serious questions about the incident: How did it happen? What happened immediately thereafter? Why the decision to keep it secret for so long? The least the American people deserve is your own account in public in front of the press corps. Who are you hiding from? And who on earth do you think you are?
Well, who is Andrew Sullivan? Cheney chose himself for the job and gets things done. He sets policy and pulls the strings. Of course it's his presidency, not that of the figurehead-cipher who knows little and can't be bothered with detail and mangles the language because he has no idea what he's saying. This is the face of real power, and when you have real power you don't have to explain anything.

There is a certain logic at play here. Those who buy into the fear of the bad guys they're selling, who want a strong daddy figure, will eat this up, or putting it sarcastically, there's this at "Wonkette" -
Dick Cheney is a badass, and we love him. He's like America's abusive father - we're terrified of him, we hide under our beds when we smell whiskey on his breath, but we crave his attention. We need him to tell us we've been good. We have a sick admiration for him that we'll be describing to our therapists for years.

Do Vice Presidents have term limits? Can he please be our Vice President-for-life?

We shudder just thinking that we were almost stuck with that pretty-boy Edwards.
And so it goes.

How do we break out of this madness?

The media may be useless here. They have become either cheerleaders for the odd couple in the White House (Fox and talk radio) or have been stunned and frightened into just reporting he-said she-said accusations and counteraccusations, and calling it balance. The facts don't matter any longer. Someone reports the president walks on water and turn water into wine, and you report that and hunt down someone with the opposite point of view (didn't and can't happen), and sit them down for a chat, but you don't take sides. That wouldn't be objective. Kerry was a coward and the medals from the Vietnam War awarded in some vast plot. Hillary Clinton is "angry," and thus unwomanly and this unfit to be president. Report it. Dig up someone who disagrees. Stand back. But don't ever, ever say "but that cannot be true." You'd be biased.

Where do you go for some sense? You could spend your day reading the press on the net, seeing how the same story is reported sixteen different ways, and do some tables and diagrams, and plot out what's really what. Who has the time for that?

Funny thing - some people will do it for you. Peter Daou here suggests that there's a whole bunch of citizen-journalist researchers on the web doing just that - several dozen major political or news web logs, tens of thousands of minor ones, and more than twenty-seven million web logs all told. His comments are on the major progressive "netroots" sites, the kind that were the driving force behind the Howard Dean presidential campaign.

First he cites Digby over at Hullabaloo saying this in Dispatches From The Fever Swamp -
I know that without us there would have been virtually no critical voices during the long period between 2001 and the presidential primary campaign during 2003. We were it. The media were overt, enthusiastic Bush boosters for well over two years and created an environment in which Democratic dissent (never welcome) was non-existent to the average American viewer. In fact, it took Bush's approval rating falling to below 40% before they would admit that he was in trouble.

I believe that if it had not been for the constant underground drumbeat from the fever swamps over the past five years, when the incompetence, malfeasance and corruption finally hit critical mass last summer with the bad news from Iraq, oil prices and Katrina, Bush would not have sunk as precipitously as he did and stayed there. It literally took two catastrophes of epic proportions to break the media from its narrative of Bush's powerful leadership. And this after two extremely close elections - and the lack of any WMD in Iraq.
Well, someone had to say something when the press was under pressure to be "patriotic" and all that. And Daou himself has said this -
I have written before about this and made it clear that I do not wish to destroy the mainstream media. I do not believe that this country can do without a credible press. But after waiting in vain for more than a decade for the press to shake off its torpor and exert its prerogatives as the fourth estate, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that our (and their) only hope was to join the fray and pull as hard as we can on the opposite end of the rope.

I see that the press does not know what to make of this. And I see that many Joementum Democrats don't get it either. They remain convinced that the country will wake up one day and see that our arguments are superior. They are wrong. This political era will be remembered for its brutal partisanship and sophisticated media manipulation in a 50/50 political environment. Democrats have been at a huge disadvantage because of the Republican message infrastructure and the strange servility of the mainstream press. So, we are pushing back with the one tough, aggressive partisan communication tool we have: the blogosphere.

The mainstream press is going to have to get used to us because we aren't going anywhere... It's a new day. We angry denizens of the fever swamps have emerged from the slime to fight back. We couldn't wait any longer for the professionals to get the job done. At the rate they're going we'd be extinct within the decade.
So it's the age of the amateurs, doing what the professionals won't do? Something like that.

But he does note the other side of what is called "the blogosphere" - the conservative amateurs.

What are they up to? He quotes Glenn Greenwald here on the "Cult of Bush" - the "legions of Bush apologists masquerading as conservative bloggers" -
The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who - at least thus far - have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.

And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader...

And as excessive as the Bush Administration's measures have been thus far - they overtly advocate the right to use war powers against American citizens on American soil even if Congress bans such measures by law - I am quite certain that people like John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Jeff Goldstein, to name just a few, are prepared to support far, far more extreme measures than the ones which have been revealed thus far. And while I would not say this for Jeff or perhaps of Jonah, I believe quite firmly that there are no limits - none - that Hinderaker (or Malkin or Hewitt) would have in enthusiastically supporting George Bush no matter how extreme were the measures which he pursued...

If it now places one "on the Left" to oppose unrestrained power and invasiveness asserted by the Federal Government along with lawlessness on the part of our highest government officials, so be it. The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief - and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness - is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.

The attempt to marginalize progressive bloggers as part of an angry, unwashed, irrational mob is in full swing, but truth-telling has a self-sustaining power. Bloggers will continue to cut through the fabricated storylines, providing clarity, sanity, honesty, and an abiding loyalty to the Constitution and to the principles our country is founded upon.

History will look kindly on them.
Truth-telling has a self-sustaining power? Perhaps that is wishful thinking, but those amateurs who cover events, the press, who said what and what seems to be the underlying facts, are up to something.

But the deck is stacked. As Media Matters reports here -If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An analysis of the Sunday talk show guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005 - dry stuff, with tables. But then, as we went to war, and as we were at war, something curious was going on, and Kevin Drum notes here -
One of the things they note is that although 23% of senators voted against the Iraq war resolution, only 11% of the senators who appeared on the Sunday shows before the invasion were anti-war. Why did the anti-war side get shunned so badly by the talk shows?

I suspect the chart [at the link] contains the answer. Aside from documenting the insane love affair that Sunday hosts have with John McCain, it shows that eight of the ten most popular Sunday talkers were senators and every single one of them voted for the war resolution. The reason that anti-war senators didn't get much air time was just simple laziness: the talk show bookers kept booking their favorites regardless of what was happening in the outside world and regardless of whether that meant they were shortchanging their viewers. They were on autopilot.
Yeah, well, something thinks that's crap, one of the citizen-journalist researchers on the web, Tristero, here (emphases added) -
Laziness doesn't explain why George Stephanopoulos failed to mention on the proceeding Sunday show in February that millions of people in the United States marched the day before to oppose Bush's insane plans for war. Oh, he mentioned Europe but not a word about the US marches. That's right, Kevin: Stephanopoulos failed to mention what was almost certainly the largest US demonstration in history the day after it happened. That wasn't laziness. And it's not laziness that the February and March '03 marches been all but eliminated from the official memories of 2002/2003. (Except to bring up ANSWER's involvement in organizing them and dismiss all those millions of mothers, fathers, and kids as green-haired goofballs.)

Kevin, I read somewhere that at least one of the networks began planning a year before the invasion to cover it (I'll try to look it up if you don't believe me). Meanwhile the voices opposed to war - and there were millions - were systematically excluded. Think about it. "Fuck, Saddam. We're taking him out," Bush joked (ha ha) a year before. It was in no one's interest in the media to include serious dissent to rush to war. Not only on Sunday bloviations, but throughout the week, the token representatives of opposition to Bush that were permitted on the major shows were ridiculed and smeared. Hey remember Scott Ritter, that shrill, hysterical, obnoxious guy who seemed slightly crazed? Laziness doesn't explain why Ritter's personal problems suddenly followed him whenever he confidently asserted that Saddam couldn't possibly have WMD - problems that, while no doubt truly ugly, didn't in any way disqualify his expertise. Remember when a liberal meant Michael Moore and only Michael Moore, a comic filmmaker who voted for Nader? The genuine major voices opposed to war weren't permitted anywhere near an effective microphone, but they were known. When Jessica Mathews of Carnegie Endowment - as sober an American as one could ask for and certainly known within the media - started to make a convincing case on NPR that democracy by invasion was a crazy pipe dream, even that relatively unimportant network was too big. William Kristol personally called up and horned in on her time with ludicrous assertions designed to prevent the conversation from touching upon the substantive issues at stake.

Hey, do you remember the Turkey angle, Kevin? Boy, I do. By that time, I was trying full time to understand why my country had gone insane. In the months before invasion, the press in the US was reporting a "coalition" attack - i.e. US - from Turkey was a done deal. But I smelled a rat. I asked friends for translations of articles overseas, including from Turkey. My, my what a different picture one got of that done deal! We were lied to and laziness doesn't explain that. It couldn't possibly happen given some 95% of the country was opposed to the US invading from Turkey. We were lied to. The press lied to the American people.

That is the truth. Oh yes, the press was, and is lazy. In booking guests on Sunday or reporting the news from Turkey. But that was hardly what uniquely characterized 2002/2003. What happened was that the press became an active collaborator in the single worst decision ever made by a United States president. Ever. A decision my nine-year-old daughter will have to endure the consequences of, in ways large and small, every day for the rest of her life.

Laziness excluded anti-war voices on Sunday shows? After what we've all seen of the Bush/Cheney obsession with information control? Laziness? Please, Kevin. You're smarter than that. And you know you're smarter than that, as your half-hearted attempt to make nice all-but-concedes.

Before Bush/Iraq, it may have seemed cleverly political - cute - to take your tack, to not blame the press but ever so gently suggest they are getting bored with the same tired faces. It lets them save face after all and accomplishes the same thing. But after Bush/Iraq, it's gonna take a lot more than kind gentle suggestion to make sure that the US press never, ever deliberately abandons its gadfly role out of fear of retaliation from any presidency whose lust for power and control is well-nigh psychotic. As the current presidency is. And was particularly successful at enforcing in the prelude to disaster... sorry, I meant the war.

It's going to take an angry, assertive polis fully prepared to take on the establishment press and hold both its lazy foot AND its sycophantic foot to the fire. And do whatever it takes - even if it leads to resignations and reorganizations - to ensure the American people get the information it must have to govern itself.

Laziness. Yeah, right.
But, but... the press is supposed to play gadfly? The days of Mencken reporting on the Scopes trial are long gone. The press - the news media - are owned by a handful of major corporations - George Stephanopoulos' Sunday morning show, "This Week," airs on ABC, a division of Disney, for example. Russert and Mathews are on NBC, ultimately owned by General Electric. CNN is AOL Time-Warner. CBS is Viacom. This is not gadfly territory. The bottom line doesn't permit that.

The gadflies are elsewhere. They're just not in the press anymore. One example is this - Al Gore goes to Saudi Arabia and says we haven't been very nice to Arab-Americans recently (here), and there's a lively discussion of treason. Gladly versus gadfly. This is where the actions is. The press is elsewhere.

Cheney's silence? The mainstream press will be polite, and puzzled. The amateurs will figure it out.


Supplemental Reading:

The Nation - posted February 8, 2006 (February 27, 2006 issue) - A Letter to the American Left - Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated from the original French by Charlotte Mandell -
Nothing made a more lasting impression during my journey through America than the semi-comatose state in which I found the American left.

I know, of course, that the term "left" does not have the same meaning and ramifications here that it does in France.

And I cannot count how many times I was told there has never been an authentic "left" in the United States, in the European sense.

But at the end of the day, my progressive friends, you may coin ideas in whichever way you like. The fact is: You do have a right. This right, in large part thanks to its neoconservative battalion, has brought about an ideological transformation that is both substantial and striking.

And the fact is that nothing remotely like it has taken shape on the other side - to the contrary, through the looking glass of the American "left" lies a desert of sorts, a deafening silence, a cosmic ideological void that, for a reader of Whitman or Thoreau, is thoroughly enigmatic...
He wasn't surfing the net.


Image: Corporate News, as seen from the Hollywood Hills, looking North -

Posted by Alan at 22:32 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006 06:10 PST home

Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World
Topic: Dissent

Something Is Up: Odd Doings Across America, and Around the World

What to make of all this?

Dateline Charleston, West Virginia

So what's up on the banks of the Kanawha River in the capital city? More on the mining disasters?

No, Tuesday, February 7th Charleston became one more front in the political war, and this time it was a matter of who really supports the troops. Our here in Los Angeles a comedy writer recently offended the nation mightily, when, in the Los Angeles Times, he suggested that if you have decided this war was a bad idea, and was based on manipulation of facts (either lying outright or the self-delusion of the righteous, born-again and Texan), then all your mouthing off about supporting the troops was illogical, as they were cheerfully implementing a policy with which you disagree. (That was discussed in these pages here.) As "the war a bad idea" and "we were fooled" are majority opinion now, as all polls show, this upset a whole lot of people.

And the ante went up in West Virginia, when the Charleston Gazette-News published an odd story. Who reads that paper?

Well, in this interconnected world, where just about every newspaper is online and you can use Google or any other search engine to find what you seek by combinations of key words, people with definite views found this story about First Lieutenant William "Eddie" Rebrook IV, a West Point honors graduate. After four years of active duty, the last six month of that in Iraq, he was really badly wounded there in a roadside bombing a year ago. He left the Army because of that. He was discharged through Fort Hood in Texas.

What's the story? The Army said he owed them seven hundred dollars for "lost body armor." He said the medics pulled the armor off when he was wounded, to treat him, and the last time he saw the stuff he was, according to this story, "lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered." He says they burned it so the bad guys wouldn't get it. The Army says there's no record of any of that, and as there was no body armor - he wasn't turning any in - that'd be seven hundred dollars. The News-Gazette says he "scrounged up the cash from his Army buddies and returned home to Charleston last Friday."

But his mother was ticked off - as in "soldiers who serve their country, those who put their lives on the line, deserve better - 'It's outrageous, ridiculous and unconscionable. I wanted to stand on a street corner and yell through a megaphone about this.'" Did she contact the News-Gazette reporter, Eric Eyre? Probably.

She was no doubt happy this story was picked up all over, as were the folks at the Charleston Gazette-News, although all the traffic on their website crashed their server a few times, and it's unlike this is anything more that a "one shot" and won't make them a major news source.

But it got really interesting when John Aravosis at his Americablog posted this from Washington, DC -
I've had it with the Bush administration. Enough is enough. Now they're charging US soldiers injured in Iraq for their lost body armor. Enough is enough. We liberal folk may disagree with the Bush administration over the reasons for going to war and over how they're fighting this war, but one thing you'd expect no disagreement over would be the treatment of our soldiers. They fight for their country and they deserve some respect in return. And that means not charging them for their body armor because someone blew them up on the battlefield.

That's it.

This soldier had to pay $700 for his armor, and now is out trying to find work. He has friends who have faced the same cruel, ridiculous policy. Let's finally raise some cash for these guys and show the Bush administration how compassion really works.

I'm serious. I've set up a special PayPal donation fund. If you click the button below and donate, it will be earmarked with a special code so I'll know it's for the body armor fund. All the money collected, ALL OF IT, will go the soldier who was forced to pay for his armor, and if we get more than $700, I'll give him that as well to help him get back on his feet (he's now unemployed, and he says he knows other soldiers who have faced the same problem, if he wants, he can reimburse his pals who also had to pay for their armor).

I'm pissed. Please help.
He got more than four thousand in the first two hours, from nearly two hundred people - twenty bucks was the average donation - and closed the drive when there was more than five thousand. He's going to call the guy - "I'm going to suggest it might be nice to share the money with other service members he knows have faced the same problem."

But the Charleston Gazette-News reported this -
Now, Rebrook is sending out résumés, trying to find a job. He plans to return to college to take a couple of pre-med classes and apply to medical school. He wants to be a doctor someday.

"From being an infantryman, I know what it?s like to hurt people," Rebrook said. "But now I?d like to help people."
Medical school will take more than five grand, but it's a start.

Of course, all this was followed by a lot of the left taunting the right - you guys have your yellow magnetic ribbons on your SUV's but we actually support the troops. So there!

Interesting. And go here for information on the dozen or more Iraq war veterans running for congress or the senate, as Democrats, opposing the administration.

Something is up.

Dateline NASA

Previously people were a bit upset when the New York Times reported this -
The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.
That, from Sunday. January 29, was discussed in detail in these pages here, but there is now a companion story.

That is the story of George Deutsch - the same George C. Deutsch who put Hansen in his place. He's twenty-four, and used to be an intern for the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the campaign they found him a slot as an information officer for NASA, not just riding herd on world famous climatologists, but also making sure the web designers were on track. And February 4 the New York Times reported this - he instructed a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" to every reference to the Big Bang -
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."
It's religious issue? Whatever. The administration, of course, claims we are now in the post-Enlightenment era, having evolved (oops, wrong word) to the point where we see faith is as important as facts, or some such thing.

So who is this young man who now tells eminent scientists what is correct to publish? What is his background in science?

He has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M. That's it. Expect he doesn't (see this from February 7th) - he dropped out of college. He has no degree in anything. But he's the gatekeeper, making sure what is published by uppity scientists is accurate.

Well, it's not like Michael Brown at FEMA. No one died. It's only theoretical cosmology, after all. And global warming. If the State of Kansas can define science to include the supernatural, as they have regarding the teaching of evolution, religion gets inserted here of course.


We shall become a very odd country. The president in the State of the Union speech had some words on making sure America is always the technological leader in the world. Yeah, we'll design faith-based microchips.

The Times, by the way, follows up on George C. Deutsch, here, Wednesday, February 8, noting he resigned. His résumé did list "Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Class of 2003" - so he lied. That university in Texas says he never completed the requirements for a degree. It's a federal crime to lie on a job application for a position in government, isn't it? Oops.

Not to worry. They'll find someone with a real degree to keep religion in science.

Dateline New Orleans

What does one make of this? -
Shortcomings in aid from the U.S. government are making New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin look to other nations for help in rebuilding his hurricane-damaged city.

Nagin, who has hosted a steady stream of foreign dignitaries since Hurricane Katrina hit in late August, says he may seek international assistance because U.S. aid has not been sufficient to get the city back on its feet.

"I know we had a little disappointment earlier with some signals we're getting from Washington but the international community may be able to fill the gap," Nagin said when a delegation of French government and business officials passed through on Friday to explore potential business partnerships.

Jordan's King Abdullah also visited New Orleans on Friday and Nagin said he would encourage foreign interests to help redevelop some of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

"France can take Treme. The king of Jordan can take the Lower Ninth Ward," he said, referring to two of the city's neighborhoods.
Some might see this as humiliating - "Being a charity case is not a pleasant experience" - but it's actually pretty cool. If the administration isn't that enthusiastic about rebuilding New Orleans (too black, too funky, too odd, and never "middle-American" in any way), then maybe it gets its eccentric cosmopolitan nature back when the French and Jordanians pitch in and rebuild it. And the mix will be even odder this time, driving the white-bread Republicans even further up the wall. It always was a mix of folks from everywhere - was there a few years ago for a nephew's wedding in Houma where the bride's family was originally Lebanese but had been there for generations in the shrimp business - and this will make things even more a mighty fine gumbo. Heck, the restaurant scene alone would be amazing. Bring it on. George can have dull Houston and glass-towered Dallas, and the fresh New Orleans will have a MonoPrix for every Wal-Mart. Cool.

Dateline Mexico City

Another story about immigration policy? Not at all.

The idea is this this -
Mexico and Cuba criticized the United States on Monday for demanding that the Sheraton Maria Isabel Hotel here order a group of Cuban officials, who were meeting last week with representatives of American oil companies, to check out of the hotel and leave the premises.

On Friday, the United States Treasury Department contacted the company that owns the Sheraton and warned them that they were violating federal laws against trading with Cuba by allowing the meeting to take place in their hotel.

Here, from Jeanne at Body and Soul, is some commentary -
Cuban officials have been meeting with representatives of American oil companies to discuss developing oil fields off its coasts. Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Spanish, Indian, and Norwegian companies have already signed exploration and services deals, but interest from companies like Exxon would have the added advantage of creating lobbyists against the trade embargo who have a bit more power and influence than most people against the trade embargo.

Here's where it gets really strange. The meetings were held in Mexico City, in an American-owned hotel. The Treasury Department contacted the company that owned the hotel and warned them that they were violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.

An agency of the American government is enforcing American law on Mexican soil. This is how we promote democracy in Cuba.

This administration has some real problems understanding the meaning of the word "democracy."
The hotel not only kicked the Cubans out, it sent their deposit to the Treasury Department!

I'm not sure precisely the name of the law that's violating, but I think the layman's term is theft.

The arrogance of this is mind-boggling. A country's sovereignty doesn't receive a moment's consideration. (Yeah, I know, what did I expect?)
Well, it is pretty odd, and as odd as the whole embargo on anything Cuban is concerned, most illuminating. Yes, there are a lot of solid Republican votes in the Cuban exile communities in south Florida - so no trade or travel ever with Cuba - but the OIL COMPANIES are being sneaky and doing an end run here. If you're a Republican, and especially if you're a Texas oilman Republican, this poses a dilemma - someone is going to be unhappy. If you break the embargo your oil friends love you, and the Cuban vote disappears. If you don't, Exxon-Mobile won't bankroll the next election campaign, and add to that they've got an army of natty lobbyists ready to call on everyone in congress.

It's kind of amusing. Exxon-Mobile is undermining our foreign policy, that trade and travel embargo that clearly will drive Castro from power one day. After almost fifty years it hasn't, but the concept is appealing. What do you call doing something that just doesn't work, over and over, believing it might work this next time? Yep.

As for the international issues, what are we doing stopping meetings of private firms in a foreign country? We can do that? And weren't Cuba and Mexico feuding not that long ago?

And then too, will we decimate that Alaska wildlife refuge for a few weeks worth of oil before we ever deal with Cuba?

Yeah, we'll show them.

Dateline Atlanta

Tuesday, February 7, was the funeral for Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King. It was impressive - four presidents attended: Bush, Bush, Clinton and Carter. The current Bush said some nice things, as expected.

Unfortunately he was followed Reverend Joseph Lowery, former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group King one led. At eighty-four Lowery, as Frank James of the Chicago Tribune notes here, had nothing to lose, so he let it rip.

"How marvelous that presidents and governors have come to mourn and praise. But in the morning, will words become deeds that meet needs?"

James says he saw the president say something then to his wife. He knew what was coming. This happens when you don't get to screen the audience.

The eulogy was in verse, and just fine, until it turned - Lowery spoke of the departed and said, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."

A two-minute standing ovation. Bush looked uncomfortable.

That was followed by this: "But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor."

More cheers, the day after the administration released the proposed budget - higher national security spending and cuts to most domestic programs.

Well, the next speaker was Bush's father, who knew Lowery from old battles over civil rights and domestics spending - "They used to send this guy to Washington and I kept score in the Oval Office desk. Lowery, 21 - Bush 3. It wasn't a fair fight." (See, son, the guy was going to scores some points so take it easy and don't do anything rash.)

Jimmy Carter was next. "It is always a temptation to forget that we worship the Prince of Peace." What was that supposed to mean? And the Carter brought up the way the Kings were targeted by the federal government in the sixties - "It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping and other surveillance and, as you know, her harassment by the FBI." What was that supposed to mean? Yeah, obvious isn't it.

But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

The right was appalled of course. Samples - I am so very tired of Democrats turning serious occasions into opportunities to bash Bush, Less Than Zero Class ..., Can We Have Some Dignity, Please? - and there was Kate O'Beirne on Hardball (video here, with comments).

Black commentator Oliver Willis here - "I'm sure the cons will get all hot and bothered over this denunciation of Iraq at the Coretta Scott King funeral, but they really need to stop pretending that Dr. King and his wife were apolitical people. They were progressive activists fighting against the closed minds of conservatism."

Sometimes your staff doesn't get to screen the audience and script the event, and you find out what's going on outside the bubble. Score one for reality. Everyone is not happy.

Dateline London

Everyone is not happy? Surely the Brits are still with us?

Well, not exactly -
The British government will today publicly defy the United States by giving money for safe abortion services in developing countries to organisations that have been cut off from American funding.

Nearly 70,000 women and girls died last year because they went to back-street abortionists. Hundreds of thousands of others suffered serious injuries.

Critics of America's aid policy say some might have lived if the US had not withdrawn funding from clinics that provide safe services - or that simply tell women where to find them.
But they died pure? Or something. Since 2001 we've had that "global gag" rule - Bush proclaimed it. Any organization applying for US funds must sign an agreement not to counsel women on abortion - other than advising against it - and they cannot provide abortion services. Otherwise, no money, folks.

The Brits on Monday became the "founder donor" of a fund set up specifically "to attempt to replace the lost dollars - and increase safe abortion services."

The Department for International Development and International Planned Parenthood also published a supporting report - an estimated nineteen million women will risk the consequences of an unsafe abortion this year, and seventy thousand will die - thirteen percent of the half-million maternal deaths each year.

International Planned Parenthood Federation will get money now. But you don't want to get this younger Bush guy mad. He's one mean fellow. There may be trouble in the coming weeks.

Dateline Washington

To add to all this, people were still talking about the Monday hearings where the Attorney General defended secret warrantless spying on US citizens, without any oversight by any court or congress.

You got summaries like this -
What we did was legal, or, in our opinion, could have been legal. Since there are arguments on both sides, we will rely on our opinion. However, we won't let a court decide the question, because then we wouldn't be able to rely on our own opinion.

We won't answer hypothetical questions about what we can do legally or constitutionally. We also won't tell you what we've actually done or plan to do; hence every question you ask will about legality be in effect a hypothetical, and therefore we can refuse to answer it.
Close enough.

But it was like that -
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy lost his patience during yesterday's Senate hearings on NSA wiretapping after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, for the umpteenth time, that he would not be able to answer a question because he didn't want to get into "operational details." "Oh, I'm sorry," Leahy said. "I forgot - you can't answer any questions that might be relevant." Leahy had seemed grouchy from the start. But after a marathon session that was long on theories of statutory interpretation and short on specifics about the wiretapping program itself - much less reliable assurances that the program is not being abused - it was hard not to sympathize with the senior senator from Vermont and detect in Gonzales' rote evasions and implacable smile a faint note of smugness.

Throughout the day, Gonzales did not stray from the explanations of the intelligence program already enunciated in the Justice Department's White Paper on the subject. The program targets terrorists and protects civil liberties. How does it select those targets, the senators wondered. Gonzales didn't want to get into specifics. How does it protect civil liberties? "There are guidelines, minimization procedures," he said vaguely. Could he make available those guidelines and procedures? Nope. "They're classified."

After outlining an expansive interpretation of presidential power, Gonzales suggested that in practice the best check on the executive is ... the executive. When questioned about what, if anything, the president could not do, he refused to get into "hypotheticals." The problem for the administration is that without specifics about targeting procedures and safeguards, any defense of the legality of the NSA's program is itself hypothetical. In a rare revealing moment, Gonzales said that the people who make the determination about whom to listen in on are "career professionals" at the NSA?eavesdroppers, in other words. They know better who should be targeted, he said - "certainly than any lawyer." But as Durbin pointed out, alluding to the Japanese internment camps set up during World War II, historically "career professionals" have made some pretty bad decisions about who presents a security threat. With the administration refusing to furnish Congress with any set of guidelines that eavesdroppers must adhere to, Gonzales' "trust us" assurances demand an inordinate amount of trust from Americans and from their elected representatives.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., conceded that the judiciary committee might not be the forum in which to discuss all the details of the spying program. But she pointed out that to date, the administration has not briefed the intelligence committee either. "You haven't let us ask the question, what is a link? What is an affiliate? How many people are covered?" she said. "What are the precise numbers? What happens to the data?" When asked about the legal standard that the NSA uses to determine when to listen in, Gonzales replied that the standard is probable cause but that he preferred the term "reasonable grounds." He glossed over the important difference between the two and when asked to clarify the semantic shift merely repeated that the standard is both.
And so it goes.

The day after the hearings, one of the senators who was upset, Russ Feingold, spoke from the senate floor with this -
The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA?s domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and even some Democrats.

The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program.

How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law?
There's much, much more. Everyone is not happy.

But there is humor. Feingold elsewhere put it this way - "This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view. Our government has three branches, not one. And no one, not even the President, is above the law."

Well, we'll see.

These guys play rough, as shown in the big political story of the day, from "Insight," the magazine of Reverend Moon's hyper-Republican newspaper, the Washington Times - Rove Counting Heads On The Senate Judiciary Committee. The gist of this is if you vote against the president on any of these NSA matters, or say the wrong things, and you'll be cut off from the party. No money. No support. You political career is over. There's a blacklist.

Worried about impeachment? That's what the item says. Probably just a warning. They can't do anything about the eight-four-year-old at the funeral (maybe), or do anything about the Brits, and who cares what Jimmy Carter says? But they can get the team working together.

But then six hours after the unfortunate words at the funeral, this -
Representative Heather A. Wilson of New Mexico, chairwoman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, said in an interview that she had "serious concerns" about the surveillance program. By withholding information about its operations from many lawmakers, she said, the administration has deepened her apprehension about whom the agency is monitoring and why.

Ms. Wilson, who was a National Security Council aide in the administration of President Bush's father, is the first Republican on either the House's Intelligence Committee or the Senate's to call for a full Congressional investigation into the program, in which the NSA has been eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of people inside the United States believed to have links with terrorists.
Something is up.

Posted by Alan at 23:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006 18:17 PST home

Wednesday, 1 February 2006
Getting Serious: The War of the Shirts (and other matters)
Topic: Dissent

Getting Serious: The War of the Shirts (and other matters)

One of the more interesting events at the Tuesday evening State of the Union address was, before the president spoke, this -
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a fallen soldier in Iraq who reinvigorated the anti-war movement, was arrested and removed from the House gallery Tuesday night just before President Bush's State of the Union address, a police spokeswoman said.

Sheehan, who had been invited to attend the speech by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, a misdemeanor, said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. Sheehan was taken in handcuffs to police headquarters a few blocks away and her case was processed as Bush spoke.

Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt with an anti-war slogan to the speech and covered it up until she took her seat. Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond, the spokeswoman said.
Her own account of what happened is here, and of course this caused some alarm among the civil libertarian crowd. She wasn't unfurling a banner. It was a t-shirt, basic black, with the words "2245 dead. How many more?"

Whether or not this was "in support of our troops" - it does seem she doesn't want more of them to die - can be debated. But as this seemed to be some sort of unauthorized "demonstration" they took her away. And to be fair, Beverly Young, wife of congressman Bill Young of Florida (he's chairman of the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, by the way) was asked to leave the gallery because she was wearing a shirt with the words "Support the Troops - Defending Our Freedom" on the front. She was treated a bit more nicely, but still, Congressman Young, who had no problem with the Capitol Police hauling Sheehan out, was all over the airwaves Wednesday being outraged about his wife. Curious, Sheehan was handcuffed and hustled out, and the congressman's wife was treated nicely, even if she was loudly calling the Capitol Police "idiots" the whole time.

This was odd. It set a strange tone for the evening.

Even odder, it wasn't only those lefties - who actually seem to mind massive secret warrantless government surveillance of all citizens (they must have something to hide, right?) - who had a problem with this.

From the libertarian right, John Cole at Balloon Juice (that would be hot air), offers this -
I am second to no one in my public disgust for Cindy Sheehan. She has, in my opinion, brokered her legitimate grief over the loss of her son for more than her fair share of limelight, which she has used to gallivant across the globe spreading her idiotic political beliefs while trashing this country at every opportunity, all the while shmoozing with every odious scumbag and dictator who will embrace her. Suffice it to say, I am not a fan.

Regardless of my opinion of Sheehan, this really honks me off...

It was one thing when I thought she was arrested for unfurling a banner in the Capitol or some sort of civil disobedience. But arrested for wearing a t-shirt? WTF? What the hell is going on? Someone fill me in on why an anti-war t-shirt is a criminal offense.
So his readers did fill him in, noting 40 USC 5104 (e) (2) (C) might apply -
(e) Capitol Grounds and Buildings Security. - ...

(2) Violent entry and disorderly conduct. - An individual or group of individuals may not willfully and knowingly - ...

(C) with the intent to disrupt the orderly conduct of official business, enter or remain in a room in any of the Capitol Buildings set aside or designated for the use of either House of Congress or a Member, committee, officer, or employee of Congress or either House of Congress...
But then one has to decide there was an "intent to disrupt" and there things get muddled - in the broadest sense, how do you differentiate between disagreement and disruption?

Imagine a hypothetical - in a discussion of some problem one party is explaining the problem and what he or she sees as the best solution, and a second person suggests the premises offered are incorrect (the problem is being wrongly defined) and the potential solution is thus no solution at all. The first person then says the other is being disruptive and should be asked to leave. The second party says, no, this is not disruption - it is disagreement. But is it? Or is it pointless disruption? It depends on which side you're standing - one side can say "my intent was to disagree" and the other side can say that was not the intent at all, as it just looks to them like an attempt to disrupt everything and be a royal pain in the ass. Judging "intent" can be tricky.

But what if we're dealing with a t-shirt? Note this circuit court ruling -
Believing that the Capitol Police needed guidance in determining what behavior constitutes a demonstration, the United States Capitol Police Board issued a regulation that interprets "demonstration activity" to include: parading, picketing, speechmaking, holding vigils, sit-ins, or other expressive conduct that convey[s] a message supporting or opposing a point of view or has the intent, effect or propensity to attract a crowd of onlookers, but does not include merely wearing Tee shirts, buttons or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message.
Well, that's a kick, and someone must have looked that up after the speech. As we see here, the Capitol Police will ask the US attorney's office to drop the charges, and a top Capitol Police official, speaking off the record (no name, for obvious reasons), added, "We screwed up." She didn't violate any rules or laws, and neither did the congressman's wife.


Well, we live in odd times, as noted here -
It isn't okay just because two women had their constitutional rights thrown over the balcony last night at the State of the Union. That just makes it worse. It suggests that what happened to Cindy Sheehan wasn't an accident. We have a government in power that tolerates NO dissent. And making these arrests in the moments before the president's State of the Union address is simply sickening in its symbolism.

Beacon of hope to the world? It's embarrassing what the Bush administration has turned our country into in only five years. And the only thing more embarrassing is that Republicans, who used to believe in freedom, who pre-Bush would have yelled and screamed about this kind of un-American behavior, continue to sit back silently in order to protect a president who betrays ever principle conservatives claim to endorse.
Over the top? Maybe, but in terms of "atmospherics" the whole thing becomes emblematic of something or other. It feels like late-thirties in Germany must have felt. And there's a lot of support for the original Sheehan arrest out there (see this). Anger and fear. They're wonderful things. And as tools of power, as effective as you could want.

And the whole thing seems emblematic of the administration in a general way - do something bold and dramatic to prove how uncompromising and tough you are, then be faced with reality and be shown to be more incompetent than principled.

See First Amendment attorney Glenn Greenwald here (emphasis added) -
This is nothing more than a naked attempt to stifle dissent and to create a criticism-free bubble around George Bush. Presidents routinely use all sorts of propagandistic imagery at the State of the Union to decorate their speeches with an aura of regal patriotism. We always see weeping widows and military heroes and symbolic guests of all sorts who are used as props and visuals to bolster the President's message both emotionally and psychologically. The State of the Union speech is hardly free of visual messages and propaganda of that sort; quite the contrary.

But we apparently now have a country where the only ideas allowed to be expressed in our Nation's Capitol while the President is speaking are ones which glorify the Government and its Leader and where dissenting views are prohibited and will subject someone to arrest. Message cleansing of that sort belongs at a political rally in North Korea, not in Washington, DC.

There have been stories here and there of the Secret Service and other federal government agencies exercising the police power of the state for no purpose other than to stifle dissent. Virtually every appearance of George Bush is meticulously and vigilantly staged to ensure that he is surrounded only by agreement and adoration and almost never dissent of any kind.

This is plainly unhealthy and disgustingly contrary to every defining core American value. Our leaders aren't entitled to reverence and worship and aren't supposed to want it. Criticism, dissent and divergence of opinion are things which the founders did everything possible to foster, and the idea that someone is dragged out of a speech by the President for silently and peacefully wearing an anti-war t-shirt is disgraceful and embarrassing.

And these attacks on dissent are particularly ironic given that they occurred in the midst of a speech by a President who loves to lecture the world on the virtues of liberty and who holds himself out as the Chief Crusader for freedom and democracy.

In fact, as Cindy Sheehan was being dragged out of the Royal Speech, His Majesty was regaling us with the importance of respecting civil debate, the virtues of diversity and freedom, and the need to protect minority views. It's as if there was some universal force that wanted to provide the most compelling demonstration possible of how disingenuous his speech was, and came up with the idea of having Cindy Sheehan dragged out of the hall for doing nothing other than wearing a t-shirt politely expressing criticism of Bush's war.
Well, it showed something. And the late apology and dropping the charges may be simply a wink-wink nudge-nudge to the "cult of personality" in support of the president - they did get her out of there, didn't they?

From a few miles west, in Santa Monica, Digby at Hullabaloo, has some thoughts.

Like many of us, he was "sort of disappointed that she'd decided to do any kind of stunt" - and he wasn't surprised she was hustled out. But then he says he realizes he's beginning to lose his awareness "of being a frog slowly being brought to a boil." We all know the metaphor.

Digby notes the president saying you had to support the troops (and implicitly not wear naughty t-shirts) -
Yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

With so much in the balance, those of us in public office have a duty to speak with candor. A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country, and show that a pledge from America means little. Members of Congress: however we feel about the decisions and debates of the past, our Nation has only one option: We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.
Digby -
Nice trick. Speak with candor as long as you support me. It's the same trick that rhetorically conflates dissent with treason, using the phrase "aid and comfort." In this case, his speechwriters very deftly forced the entire congress to leap to its feet to applaud their own irrelevance - they ended up cheering the assertion that "second-guessing" in "hindsight" is unpatriotic and that their only option is to do as he orders. Nice democracy we've got here.
Well, it's what we've got.

The Other T-Shirt

From the State of the Union -
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.
Human-animal hybrids? What the heck was THAT about?

Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum suggests this was "just a garden variety shout out to the religious right."

Yeah, there are lots of scary stories out there about evil scientists and the evils of science. And all over the web, the day after this, there were snide photos - the cheesy bad guys in green fur from the old Star Trek series (with Shatner in the sixties). Human-animal hybrids! Beware! Everyone had lots of fun with this.

But there are evil scientists and the evils of science. Drum digs up this -
Down syndrome is a very common genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21... We would love to have an animal model of Down syndrome... So what scientists have been doing is inserting human genes into mice, to produce similar genetic overdoses in their development.

... These mice are a tool to help us understand a debilitating human problem.
Have to stop such things, right? Drum say Bush is trusting that everyone will think he is banning monstrous crimes against nature, "but what he's really doing is targeting the weak and the ill, blocking useful avenues of research that are specifically designed to help us understand human afflictions."

Is Bush's overt message "We aren't going to let the mad scientists make monsters!" while his hidden message "We aren't going to let the doctors help those retards?"

Probably not. Some staffer stuck it in the speech at the suggestion of some evangelical leader with deep pockets. It's unlikely Bush follows such things.

But that leads to this. If you click on the link you will find you can purchase a "Human-Animal Hybrid" t-shirt, with the quote from the State of the Union speech on the front. It's black, and the words are in white - just like Cindy Sheehan's t-shirt. And note the image of the chimp in the necktie, on all fours, with a profile somewhat like the president's.

Ah well, last year there was a section of the State of the Union about how we needed to pass legislation to rid professional sports of large guys on steroids, and the business about sending a manned mission to Mars. There's always something.

But then, it's not just these wags who don't take the president seriously. There's a larger problem.

There was a bit in the speech about the out-of-control cost of healthcare in America. It seemed the president was saying we're all over-insured and he was saying things about Heathcare Savings Accounts. The idea there is you can divert some funds, tax-free, to a special account and that'd be your insurance. Some companies offer this option, along with health insurance, to shed the full cost of insuring their employees. Now this is supposed to be the new model. You get a tax break - a deduction or credit.

Of course, if you're like almost half the people in need of insurance you're in a very low tax bracket, or in the zero bracket - so reducing your taxes further is kind of a joke. But it sounds good. If it's your own money you'll spend it wisely and the whole healthcare system will become "market based" - the invisible hand of competition will fix everything.

It's nifty theory. But even Business Week has trouble taking it seriously, as here -
President George W. Bush is right when he says the US should add a dose of market competition to its health-care system. But giving the wealthy a big new tax break for tummy tucks may not be the best way to do it.
Business Week? He's lost them? That's cold.

But then, it's not only Business Week not taking the president seriously. There's an even larger problem.

Try this - Battleground of Ideas - Christopher Dickey in Newsweek, Wednesday, February 01, 2006. The subhead is "Bush's State of the Union Message confirmed the Arab world's view of the US president as a caricature who talks about strength and determination while projecting an image of stubbornness and confusion."

He's no cub reporter. He's been over there a long time. He gets out and about -
Prime time in the United States falls in the darkest hours before dawn in the Middle East - prayer time, in fact, for the Muslim faithful, the moment when the muezzin calls out (most often on a cassette tape over loudspeakers) that prayers are better than sleep. So only a few people in the region listened to President George W. Bush deliver his State of the Union address last night. But they know the message, now, almost as well as they know the call of the muezzin; it has been repeated so often, so relentlessly, and so mechanically. The difference is that many believe the muezzin, and few believe Bush.
Now why would that be?

This -
We shouldn't be surprised. The State of the Union, perhaps more than any other speech the president makes, defines the way the administration wants to see its world. But its narrative is so foreign to the thinking of most people in the Arab world that they've come to hear Bush's language as a kind of code: "liberation" means occupation, "freedom" means war, "victory" means victims, "reconstruction" means chaos, "democracy" means following directives from Washington. Bush, whatever his intentions - and I think he should be credited with some good ones - has come to be seen as a caricature, talking about strength and determination, projecting an image of stubbornness and confusion.

Journalists from the region are trapped in a sort of twilight zone between these two relentlessly opposite versions of the past and proclamations about the future. "You are caught between two extremes and neither is right," says Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of Jordan's Al Ghad newspaper. The United States comes with its agenda, but with no real understanding, while the old guard in the Middle East is unwilling to admit it has failed, decade after decade, to deliver on its hollow promises of dignity and progress. In the midst of contradictions, people cling to traditions "in their bubble of anachronism," says Safadi. Those who are attacked or denigrated by the Bush administration, like the Baathist regime in Syria, find themselves lionized by the Arab public. Those applauded by Washington are dismissed as pawns. The result on the ground is often the opposite of the Bush administration's stated desires. "Democracy has a new enemy in the region, which is the support [for democracy] by the United States of America," says Safadi.
Dickey provides far more detail, but this is the core. We talk about strength and determination, and project an image of "stubbornness and confusion."

Hey, you don't have to be in Jordon to see that. Hurricane Katrina. Remember?

We talk about strength and determination, and project an image of "stubbornness and confusion." That about sums up the State of the Union speech, and the t-shirt theatrics around it - an agenda, but with no real understanding.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006 06:59 PST home

Tuesday, 10 January 2006
Playing Fair: Knowing the Rules and What's Permissible
Topic: Dissent

Playing Fair: Knowing the Rules and What's Permissible

Tuesday, January 10, was the second day of the Alito hearings, and the first day of actual questions and answers. One could watch that all day long on television, but doing so, and watching the subsequent days of this stuff, is for those of narrow interests. How much of watching a smart man, with a fine grasp of the law, carefully saying "I have no predetermined position on what you ask and will judge each case that comes before me on its merits" would you like? There may be something fascinating in following all the variations of that - and there were many - but there are others things to do - out here on the west coast Turner Classic Movies was running "Casablanca" against the opening hours of the second-day testimony. Rick once more told Elsa about that hill of beans. Anyway, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to change his or her mind, and this will be passed on to the full senate for a vote, eventually, where everyone knows who will vote for or against confirmation. The man will take his seat on the Supreme Court. The chances of Alito saying something outrageous, or even controversial, were nil, and it was unlikely he would suddenly jump on the table and break into a chorus of "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and dance around. As diverting as that would be, there were other things in the news that could not be covered as the media prefers "the major story," as eventless as it seemed to be.

There was no coverage of our return to the late sixties, even though there was this about the National Security Agency, something new and amusing.

It seems some NSA documents they had to cough up in a court case reveal that the agency ran a massive spy operation on a Baltimore peace group, "going so far as to document the inflating of protesters' balloons." Yeah, they kept records of when balloons were inflated and what was printed on them (quotes from Ben Franklin) - the NSA folks made notes every fifteen minutes and didn't miss any details. They planted a mole in the demonstrators - a fellow none of them had ever seen before - who screamed at the police and dared them to bash some heads. Some of the demonstrators were arrested, and he wasn't. They got all the license plate numbers and started files. They sent in a team to check for WMD threats. For those of us old enough to remember the late sixties, it was bit of nostalgia. Two of those arrested sued for the NSA files on all this, and wonder of wonders, got the files.

Civil libertarians are upset, and one presumes moderates are wondering if all this is a rather stupid waste of tax money (surely these NSA guys have better and more important things to do). On the right? Who knows?

For those of us who graduated from college in 1969, what can one do but sigh, and smile ruefully? Some things never change, although when you think about it, even if the same thing happened on Nixon's watch, he was far smarter and far more articulate than this frat boy. Things have gone downhill. Even the villains now are second-rate. Nixon without the smarts.

Also not much reported (a bit in the print media and next to nothing on the broadcast and cable news), was something co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and one Linda Bilmes. They ran the numbers. This war in Iraq will probably run somewhere around two trillion dollars (that really is a "t" there). They just included disability payments for the 16,000 wounded soldiers - twenty percent of them have serious brain or spinal injuries. And there are a few other things - like the July 2005 Army statistics showing thirty percent of our troops had developed mental-health problems within four months of returning from Iraq. And there's the rise in oil prices, and you figure twenty percent of the rise can be attributed directly to the war. That's twenty-five billion there, so far. Then there's the loss to the economy from injured veterans "who cannot contribute as productively as they otherwise would." Add too costs related to civilian contractors and journalists killed in Iraq. It all adds up.

Before the invasion, the White House budget director at the time, Mitch Daniels, said this would be "an affordable endeavor." As you recall, the White House economic adviser at the time, Lawrence Lindsey, was talking one or two hundred billion, and Daniels said that was "very, very high." Lawrence Lindsey lost his job for being such a pessimist, although there was talk Bush didn't like him because he was so overweight (no discipline) and just didn't want the lard-ass around. Wolfowitz and Cheney were saying Iraq oil revenues would pay for most everything. Right.

Anyway, this Stiglitz fellow from Columbia University is a big gun - he was an adviser to Clinton and was chief economist at the World Bank and won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001 (bio here). As for Linda Bilmes, she was an assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce from 1999 to 2001 and now teaches budgeting and public finance at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Harvard reprints her August 20th New York Times editorial - a much more conservative take on all this here - only 1.3 trillion. She notes that's over eleven thousand dollars for every household in the United States.

Ah, what do the Clinton folks know? It will cost what it will cost.

Yeah, but is this news? You got a spare eleven grand (plus) sitting around the house to pay for this? If you don't, this may be news.

The price is not what you were told. Let's say you bought a cute little Ford Focus, signing a loan agreement with your credit union, and you got a great deal - three hundred a month. When you get the first monthly bill for three hundred thousand, you'd be... surprised? That's the Daniels to Stiglitz ratio. Sorry about that.

You might say you'd been misled (no car is worth that, not even the new Bugatti Veyron at 1.2 million).

But you cannot say you've been misled. That's not right. The president said so.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006, Reuters explains the deal -
President George W. Bush denounced some Democratic critics of the Iraq war as irresponsible on Tuesday and he wanted an election-year debate that "brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries"

In a speech, Bush made clear he was girding for battle with Democrats in the run-up to the mid-term congressional election in November, when he will try to keep the U.S. Congress in the hands of his Republican Party amid American doubts about his Iraq policy.

... Bush, who has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of Iraq, said Americans know the difference between honest critics who question the way the war is being handled "and partisan critics who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."

He added, "So I ask all Americans to hold their elected leaders to account and demand a debate that brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries."
Got it? Saying anyone was misled about any of this is out of bounds. That would offer "comfort to our adversaries" - as in "providing aid and comfort to the enemy." That's treason, as you know. And no talk about oil and how Israel may be part of the motivation for all this. And he claimed Americans know treason when they see it. He's just, as you see, stating the obvious.

He didn't name names. He didn't have to. He was talking about Howard Dean, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and that pesky Dick Durbin fellow, the senator from Illinois - folks who say such things about how we were all misled. They all said Bush has no strategy for Iraq. Can't do that.

Reuters quotes Ted Kennedy - "I wholeheartedly agree with President Bush about the need for accountability in the debate on the war in Iraq. 2006 must be the year when the American people demand that President Bush and other high government officials be held accountable for their mistakes." He's toast, but he's firing back. Reid said that it was "outrageous" that the president was using our troops "as a shield from criticism in an address to veterans and also had refused to address a recent Pentagon report on the inadequacy of body armor for American soldiers in Iraq." Reid's exact words - "Patriotic Americans will continue to ask the tough questions because our brave men and women in Iraq, their families and the American people deserve to know that their leaders are being held accountable."

Well, Bush did speak to the VFW. They agree this kind of criticism is just wrong, one supposes

California Democratic congressman Adam Schiff agrees we should have some reasoned discussion of the war, but "the administration cannot question the patriotism of those who disagree on war strategy and at the same time call for greater civility. We should be exploiting the divisions among our enemies, not among ourselves."

The White House transcript of the speech is here and the whole thing is about how disagreement is really, really bad - in Iraq the Shiites and Sunni had better stop fighting with each other about all the small stuff.

This was an unusual speech. The message was "shut up or the American people will know you are traitors and we'll have to deal with you."

Cool. That's one heck of a call for civility.

And this reaction seems appropriate -
Seriously. If Bush is going to go on national TV and declare that the Democratic leader in the Senate (Harry Reid), the head of the Democratic Party (Howard Dean), and a lead Democratic Senator (Dick Durbin) are committing treason by "giving comfort to our adversaries" by criticizing Bush's disastrous handling of the Iraq war, then arrest all three of them and have them summarily shot without a trial and let's be done with it.

I'm serious. If our president is going to argue in favor of America embracing the ideals of a Soviet police state, if that's the reason hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives during WWII, if that's the reason 160,000 US soldiers are risking their lives in Iraq right now, all for the purpose of America touting the ideals of our worst enemies, some of the most repressive and hated dictatorships in the history of the world, then be enough of a man to admit it, do it, and be done with it.

Otherwise shut up and start acting like the commander in chief of the greatest democracy on earth rather than some sniveling coward who doesn't even known enough about his own country, let alone the world, to understand what it is we're really fighting for.
That's blunt, but all Bush is saying is let's stop all this bickering. Some, however, think such "bickering" is what people do here. We argue things out. It seems some don't think that, and they're in charge.

Who thinks we do? Note this from Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney -
The Bush Administration's attack, distract and distort tactics reflect a Nixonian paranoia that is un-American. It's shameful that once again the Bush Administration resorted to attacking the patriotism of fellow Americans rather than answering legitimate questions surrounding the President's failures in Iraq. Personal attacks won't change the fact that hundreds of fatalities in Iraq could have been avoided if only our troops had the equipment they asked for.

Democrats welcome and will continue to push for the open and honest debate that is fundamental to our democracy and the liberties we hold dear.
It seem people have different ideas about what is fundamental. As Kos asks, can we debate whether the trillion dollar cost of the war is a wise investment? Can we debate why these clowns got us into a war without adequate planning? Can we debate what "victory" might be, since that's has never been clear? Can we debate why we don't have an exit strategy?

Maybe not. But even some Bush supports are not amused, as in this from Joe Gandelman, who stipulates he has supported the war in Iraq and does not believe an immediate pullout is the wisest course. Even he's got some advice for his leader -
An American President - especially one who has proven to be one of the most partisan in modern times - doesn't get to define a whole part of an issue's limits. You can bet that what Mr. Bush and Karl Rove consider "responsible" debate are points that won't raise prickly issues, don't beg immediate answers (even in the form of a swift denial and condemnation of the question as being silly), or seriously threaten to chip away at their party's standing in the polls.

Presidents don't get to set limits on political debate which centers on the credibility of their own and their cabinet members' statements, the accuracy of original information presented to the public to justify the war, the competency of the administrative policies and execution of the policies... particularly during a year in which Americans will generally vote for one of two parties. And, in a Democracy's tradition, that means FREE DEBATE. If the Democrats' act dumb and irresponsible there will be a price for them.

Mr. President: if you don't like the debating points raised, then answer them. Unequivocally. Point per point. Denounce each question you don't like as being extreme if you feel that is what it is.

But, no, the democracy I read about when I was growing up didn't place critical comments ... off limits.

... By the way: people who ask tough questions are as patriotic as you, Dick Cheney or the officers in the field.
The man thinks Democrats are fools, but he seems a tad put off, doesn't he?

Here's another way of looking at it, logically -
Is the Bush administration doing (1) a heckuva job; (2) a heckuva great job; or (3) a totally heckuva great job? And how can we help The President be more right?

Before we can answer that second question, we need to understand exactly why The President refuses to consider the topics he mentions as worthy of responsible discussion.

Of course, we didn't invade Iraq because of oil. Why this isn't obvious to everyone is one of the mind-boggling mysteries of our epoch. Briefly, all we're trying to do is grow the Iraq economy. Now, everyone knows the world is in a post-industrial phase, where it's high tech that rules, not Big oil-gobbling Iron. Therefore, it's vital to Iraq's infrastructure that they make use as soon as possible of their most abundant resource - sand - and become the major player they deserve to be in the international chip market.

... As for Israel, it simply must be recognized that any critic who mentions Israel in the same sentence with Iraq is not only thoroughly irresponsible but clearly an out and out anti-Semite. Now I admit, Pat Robertson may have been overstretching a bit, but only those who refuse to acknowledge cause and effect fail to see the connection between Sharon's recent stroke and the unremitting criticism he received in the past few months by all those here in the US who refused to support the Iraq war.

... How can The President be more right? Okay. I'll tell you and I'm not going to mince words. And I don't care who wants to turn me in for saying them!

I think the Big Problem is that everyone thinks The President is wrong and they won't trust his judgment. I think it's wrong that these people are wasting The President's time by making him worry that he's only doing a heckuva job. I think responsible debate should be limited to whether The President is doing a heckuva great job or better. If this proposal is adopted, The President by definition would immediately be more right! And that's what we, and he, want.

I think if irresponsible opponents weren't clogging The President's time with so many questions and empty scandals that his presidency has begun to resemble a New Orleans sewer, The President would have been able to sign the necessary emergency orders for more upper body armor for our troops. Now, let me be crystal clear about this: Because The President couldn't find time to sign that order, the critics of the The President's performance are responsible for much more - way much more - than aiding and comforting our enemies. The irresponsible critics of The President are systematically killing our soldiers. And I don't care who knows it.

Now, the Doomsayer Democrats object to certain wiretaps made without authorization. I say if they don't like them, here's a plan that will end the "illegal" wiretaps debate immediately. Disconnect the critics' telephones! And while we're at it, deny 'em ADSL. Let them rant over a 28.8k AOL connection and see how well they like it.

Bottom line: The President couldn't be more right. After all, he wouldn't be The President if that wasn't so. That's self-evident, just like it says in the Constitution. Or somewhere.
And that's only part of it. The whole thing is amusing, or would be if this weren't a case of the president making a serious threat to those who have questions.

Ah well.

Things aren't going well for him. You can understand his wanting to strike back. You don't want to mess with him when he's feeing cornered.

Watch the Alito hearings. It'll take you mind off all this.

Posted by Alan at 21:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006 07:01 PST home

Wednesday, 24 August 2005

Topic: Dissent

Midweek Heat: Some thoughts on 'Disagreeing Sensibly'

Personal Note: I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (yes, the whole Jeep product line is underpowered, expect for the new Hemi Grand Cherokee). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Indeed. And he admits he sometimes has a problem with being tied emotionally to many of his arguments. Of course. It's a war, he's lost good friends, and he's in the middle of it right now. On this end, this child of the sixties, this idealist with a decade of teaching and trying to save the world, plugged in to the news, has a similar problem.

Our sort loves this country in our own way - we love the concept of it. We old farts long ago bought into all the stuff about liberty, equality, justice, tolerance and basic rights. As kids we watched the whole Civil Rights thing explode and heard King's 1963 Washington speech in real time, or on the evening news that August night, a month before we started tenth grade. Then John Kennedy was taken out, then King, then Bobby. In 1968 we followed what the people in the streets were doing from Chicago to Paris - and watched the news as the Russian tanks moved into Prague and stopped whatever pleasant freedom was growing there. We watched the Vietnam War go sour and end badly (and a good friend, a Frenchwoman I know, was on the last Air France flight out that day) - we all faced the draft in the late sixties, and then some of us won the draft lottery and didn't face the hard choice. Lots of things - Johnson walking away from a second term - Kent State - Nixon resigning. And you want things to be better. Things can be better. You get tied up emotionally, or some do.

The Major in Baghdad and I have been trading notes on Muslim fundamentalism, and he tells me his crew had a great briefing this week on Jihadism from someone from Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). It may have been Katrine Petkova - he didn't say. But he did say this: "She enlightened many of the totalitarians in the crowd. I will see if I can get a copy of the brief to send to you." Cool. Perhaps more on that later.

The Major and I can talk. And we should. He knows lots of things not just from the war, but from his year in Istanbul at their General Staff College, from commanding a platoon of tanks in the first Gulf War, from his deep education at West Point, from his time at Fort Irwin leading parts of the opposition forces in the war games there, being one of the bad guys.

Why wouldn't I listen to him? He listens to me. Fair is fair.

This is why this from Editor and Publisher is so disheartening.

The non-personal part? From August 24, 2005 4:20 PM ET -
The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group's national commander called for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the war, even though they are protected by the Bill of Rights.

"The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples," Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group's national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates voted to use whatever means necessary to "ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism."
Whatever means necessary? The media is next?

Wait. That's not what the Major is fighting for. But in the American Legion speech you get this:
"It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction."

"No one respects the right to protest more than one who has fought for it, but we hope that Americans will present their views in correspondence to their elected officials rather than by public media events guaranteed to be picked up and used as tools of encouragement by our enemies."
As the folks at Editor and Publisher point out, this is saying that our freedoms "are worth dying for but not exercising." So much for "disagreeing sensibly."

On Cindy Sheehan, but not mentioning her name:
"For many of us, the visions of Jane Fonda glibly spouting anti-American messages with the North Vietnamese and protestors denouncing our own forces four decades ago is forever etched in our memories. We must never let that happen again....

"We had hoped that the lessons learned from the Vietnam War would be clear to our fellow citizens. Public protests against the war here at home while our young men and women are in harm's way on the other side of the globe only provide aid and comfort to our enemies."
Jane Fonda was, and still is, a second-rate actress with a tin ear, politically. She's an embarrassment to the left and to the right - and an embarrassment on screen too. (Barbarella? Give me a break.)

Why do folks listen to celebrities? But they believe what that high school dropout Tom Cruise has to say about psychiatry. Some on the left listen to Barbara Streisand and her political statements. Heck, her singing is irritating enough. Sean Penn is now reporting from Iran for the San Francisco Chronicle. Say what?

What do these people bring to the table? Cindy Sheehan lost her son in this war. You make think her a fool and unhinged - but she brings something to the table. Disagree with her if you will, but she's been there and done that, so to speak. She's not Jane Fonda. In fact, "disagreeing sensibly" might be in order. On the issues.

"Oh, her husband is divorcing her!" Heck, Ronald Reagan - somehow now the father of the conservative right - was a divorced man, the first president who ever was. So what?

What about the issues? The American Legion says they shouldn't be discussed. The Major and I should stop - or at least I shouldn't post here what he says I can post?

Wednesday, August 24, Cindy Sheehan returned to Crawford, Texas with this statement:
I'm coming back to Crawford for my son. As long as the president, who sent him to die in a senseless war, is in Crawford, that is where I belong. I came here two and a half weeks ago for one reason, to try and see the president and get an answer to a very simple question: What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?

The answer to that question will not bring my son back. But it may stop more meaningless deaths. Because every death is now a meaningless one. And the vast majority of our country knows this. So why do more young men and women have to die? And why do more parents have to lose their children and live the rest of their lives with this unbearable grief?

The presidency is not bigger than the people's will.

And when the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around.

This isn't about politics. It's about what is good for America and what's best for our security and how far this president has taken us away from both.

I'm coming back to Crawford because - now and forever - this is my duty for my son, for my other children, for other parents, and for my country.
The issues?

What is the "noble cause?" Please define more clearly.

Questions. Has it been defined clearly enough? Polls show the answer is no, it hasn't, and more than half the country thinks we were lied to. So, clarify.

Secondary question. "When the people speak out, it's the president's responsibility to listen. He is there to serve us, not the other way around." True or false, and then explain your answer.

The Major in Baghdad would be glad to deal with the questions. He has, to some extent, done just that in these pages. These are the kind of things we write back and forth. And when his leave comes up we may discuss them again, over cognac with ice water back, which is our little tradition.

What about "disagreeing sensibly" on the big question of the day at the national level?

The president gave a speech on Monday the 22nd to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the former White House speechwriter, David Frum, that expatriate Canadian who thought up the term "Axis of Evil," called it another lost opportunity - "By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public." His contention is that that you can't announce a big speech and then say the same old thing over and over again.

No kidding.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum posts a small item called Taking War Seriously -
I suppose it's only natural that a speechwriter would focus more on what Bush says than what he does, but even so it's telling that Frum seems to have no substantive advice for his former boss. Do conservatives really buy their own propaganda that things are going swimmingly in Iraq and it's only the liberal media that's making it look bad? Or do they genuinely not have any ideas?

Well, I've got some ideas to run up the flagpole:

- Make the Pentagon's goals for training Iraqi security forces public. "My fellow citizens, we're going to provide monthly reports on how we're doing against these goals. You can hold us to them."

- Encourage enlistment in the Army and Marines. "To today's youth I say, 'You can become our country's greatest generation.' Join up now and help us in our greatest struggle: ridding the world of terrorist killers and the people who support them."

- Get rid of the military's ban on gay soldiers. "We're at war, and that means we need everyone who's willing and able to fight. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female, if you're willing to enlist, our military opens its arms to you."

- Propose a genuine energy independence plan. "We need more efficient cars. We need new sources of energy to power them. We need a tax on oil use. We need better mass transit. I'll be submitting a bill to Congress next week."
Well, they're ideas, but Drum admits they pose problems, like "a tacit admission that things in Iraq aren't progressing as well as Bush has been claiming" - and they all offend some interest group or other.

Yes, "being held accountable might make the Pentagon look bad. Asking for enlistments might embarrass hawks who prefer not to interrupt their rise up the corporate ladder. Welcoming gays into the military would enrage the Christian right. And energy independence would piss off a whole array of corporate interests that Bush depends on."

So? As least they're ideas.

I kind of wish the Major in Baghdad were president. He'd address the issues.

Posted by Alan at 19:26 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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