Monday, June 07, 2004

The Death of a Great American

No, no. Not that guy that all the networks have been fawning over for days now.

Victor Reuthel.

Victor Reuther, the last of three brothers who helped unionize Detroit amid the labor strife of the 1930's and remained central to the growth of industrial unionism for the next third of the century, died on Thursday in Washington. He was 92.

His death was announced by his family and Ron Gettelfinger, president of what is now the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America in Detroit, which says it has 710,000 active members in the United States and Canada.

Victor, along with his older brothers Roy and, especially, Walter, was at the center of a momentous struggle for union contracts to improve wages and working conditions. Victor Reuther, the more intellectually oriented, left-leaning sibling, came to represent the union's educational aspirations for its members. More important, he was its envoy on the international stage.

The Reuther brothers helped to build the union, originally known as the United Automobile Workers and still known as the U.A.W., as an agent representing assembly-line workers. While their work initially focused on automobile workers in the United States, it had a national and international impact both within and beyond the labor movement.

The U.A.W. now represents workers in disparate sectors of the economy, ranging from small manufacturers to multinational corporations, as well as colleges, hospitals and nonprofit organizations.
During his years as a trade union activist," Mr. Gettelfinger, the union's president, said yesterday, "Victor displayed great personal courage and endured great personal risk for the right of workers to organize. He faced tear gas and billy clubs during the U.A.W. organizational campaigns of the 1930's, and was a victim of an assassination attempt in 1949."

On that occasion, Mr. Reuther and his wife, Sophia, had just returned from Europe. A shotgun was fired through their living room window as they sat reading one night, in an attack that resembled an attempt on his brother Walter's life the year before.

Victor was struck in the face and neck and blinded in one eye. Weeks later he addressed the U.A.W. convention. The crime was never solved.


Spreading Literacy

Well, I suppose this plan is better than f*cking chickens:

In a bid to lure men in Britain away from TV soccer games and into book shops, publisher Penguin Books will send out a sexy model to offer 1,000-pound ($1,837) prizes to males spotted reading a selected title.

The publicity ploy, launched Monday, aims to boost sales among men, who on average buy fewer books than women.

"It's to sex up the book industry, which probably needs it, but also to address the more serious issue that reading has fallen off the radar of younger men," said Neil Griffiths, author of Penguin-published "Betrayal in Naples."


Great Sucking Sound

The Iraq misadventure now involves redeployment of some troops from South Korea to the Middle East. Of course, Iraq is not the sole reason for the decision to move troops out of South Korea. However, the reasons they are giving--that we need to make the transition to fewer troops and rely more on technology--are strikingly reminiscent of their failed dreams of a cakewalk in Iraq:

The United States plans to cut its troops in South Korea by a third by the end of next year, as part of a worldwide shift to use higher technology in defense, the two countries said Monday.

Although communist North Korea's 1.1-million-strong armed forces dwarf the 37,500 U.S. troops currently in the south, any reduction is closely watched because the contingent's symbolic value outweighs its numerical strength. Ally South Korea has 690,000 troops.

"U.S. officials told us last night that under their Global Defense Posture Review they are planning to reduce the number of U.S. troops here by 12,500 by the end of December 2005," Kim Sook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North America bureau, told reporters.

That would include 3,600 U.S. soldiers already earmarked for deployment to Iraq from South Korea in the coming months.

The Pentagon in Washington and U.S. forces in South Korea confirmed that the reduction "concept" had been presented to South Korea and that a concrete timetable was being worked out in bilateral consultations.

Washington announced late last year that it aimed to transform its forces worldwide and use advances in military technology and smaller more mobile units to better respond to new security needs and fight the war on terrorism.


Utterly Vile

I normally don't pay much attention to the "big celebrity stories," since they tend not to matter at all. But this story is so phenomenally over-the-top that I have to post it here:

O.J. Simpson marked the 10th anniversary of his ex-wife's death with a series of crass and hurtful comments about Nicole Brown Simpson, her family and the accusers of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson.

His outbursts ranged from anger at his slain ex-wife for not being around to help with the kids to a flippant remark that Fred Goldman - whose only son died next to Nicole - "got such opportunity from this with TV exposure."

The disgraced former football great also revealed he may get his own practical-jokes reality show - a takeoff on MTV's "Punk'd" that might be called "Juiced."

Simpson talked with Fox News Channel in anticipation of the upcoming anniversary of his ex-wife's murder. His unfeeling comments reopened old wounds with Nicole's family and left Goldman stunned with fury.

"No one should give any credence to a lying...low-life like he is," Goldman told the Daily News.

Some of Simpson's most inflammatory remarks were made in defense of Bryant and Jackson, saying both would win their cases. He said Bryant, who is charged with bending a 19-year-old hotel receptionist over a chair and raping her after she came to his room at night, may be a victim of his NBA fame.

Many high-profile athletes "have found themselves in a situation like that before. I have, certainly, in my life," he told Fox's Greta Van Susteren.

"And when I was a kid growing up, just about every girl said 'No,' once," Simpson said with a laugh. "You know they had to because you'd think they were a slut or something." In his politically incorrect outburst, Simpson even made light of the rape allegation. "In my opinion, 'date rape' and 'stranger rape' are two different things entirely," he said.

In an apparent reference to the sexual positions of Bryant and his accuser during the alleged rape, he said, "Any adult who has an active sex life understands that you can't have sex that way without both parties helping out. It's impossible."

These statements are flat-out sociopathic. With such beliefs, I am truly amazed that Simpson has not committed (another) felony (yet).


So Much for the Constitution

Josh Marshall reports that we now, in fact, live in a dictatorship, with all authority concentrated in the person of George W. Bush:

I quote from the piece ...

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

So the right to set aside law is "inherent in the president". That claim alone should stop everyone in their tracks and prompt a serious consideration of the safety of the American republic under this president. It is the very definition of a constitutional monarchy, let alone a constitutional republic, that the law is superior to the executive, not the other way around. This is the essence of what the rule of law means -- a government of laws, not men, and all that.

Rule of law? Who needs it!

UPDATE: Billmon at the Whiskey Bar offers up an interesting concept to help us understand this position:

I used a term in an earlier post - Fuehrerprinzip - that probably should be defined. This one is as good as any:

A concept outlined by Hitler in his book Mein Kampf. According to this concept the new German State must be an authoritarian State with power emanating from the leader at the top. Already in 1921 Hitler insisted that the Fuehrerprinzip be the law of the Nazi party. He denounced democracy as nonsense, and argued that parliamentarism would be succeeded by the absolute responsibility of a leader and an elite of assistant leaders.


Star Wars

David Ehrenstein has an interesting post up about Reagan's acting career, but he neglects to mention what may well be one of the most significant movies of the past century, given its substantial influence on American nuclear policy.

The movie? Murder in the Air, starring Ronald Reagan. In the movie, Reagan's character is given the mission to protect a device (the "Inertia Protector") that can destroy all bombs before they hit the U.S.

What more can one say?


Everything's Bigger in Texas

Especially the intolerance. Look at what those wacky Texas Republicans are up to now (and wonder silently to yourself that there is such an organization as the "Texas Log Cabin Republicans"):

A group of gay Republicans brought to President Bush's back yard Thursday a TV commercial opposing the constitutional gay-marriage ban that the president has endorsed.

Appearing at the Texas Republican Convention, where their group has been denied space in the past, leaders of Log Cabin Republicans also pledged to fight GOP members who use the gay marriage issue to divide voters.

"The radical right wanted a cultural war, and now they have it," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the national group. "We simply will not remain silent during this election year if gay and lesbian families are being used as wedge issues."

Mr. Guerriero said gay and lesbian Republicans have supported Mr. Bush's other policies, including the war with Iraq and his tax cuts.

As Log Cabin Republicans made their pitch, a party committee recommended that the state make it a felony for a government official in Texas to license or perform a same-sex marriage.

The party's Permanent Platform Committee, then the full convention, will consider that and other recommendations.

"I don't understand them," Houston delegate and platform committee member Norman Adams said of the Log Cabin activists. "They are probably attracted to the party because of our stand against increased taxes and other issues. But we believe that marriage should be between a natural man and a natural woman."


One-Issue Liberals

I am all in favor of anyone who chooses to work to further the cause of social justice, compassion, and basic humanity. However, I sometimes do get sick of conservatives who work for intolerance in every way they can think of, but have a "change of heart" about one issue because it happens to affect them or someone close to them, and fail to generalize their newfound compassion and wisdom to any other area.

For example:

Mrs. Reagan, whose early White House years were marked by her interests in designer clothes and social events, turned into nothing less than an advocate for Alzheimer's causes and stem-cell research. Supporters say such research could aid the fight against Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and other serious health problems. The Bush administration has limited how government money can be spent on embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the destruction of human embryos.
Though Mrs. Reagan never publicly criticized President Bush on the issue, several friends of hers said Sunday that Mrs. Reagan had been especially disappointed that Mr. Bush, and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, were not as supportive on stem-cell research as she had hoped. "It angered her," Mrs. Ribicoff said. "And I think when Nancy gets her body and heart back together, she's going to work feverishly for stem-cell research and the Ronald Reagan library."
Mrs. Reagan grew interested in the issue through Douglas Wick, a film producer who was named a pallbearer for the funeral and whose ftather, Charles Z. Wick, ran the United States Information Agency under Mr. Reagan. One of the producer's daughters, Tessa Wick, became ill with diabetes in 1999 at the age of 8. Mrs. Reagan soon became engaged in the stem-cell issue after talking to Mr. Wick and his wife, Lucy Fisher, also a producer.

Three years ago, Mrs. Reagan quietly wrote to Mr. Bush saying that she hoped to spare other families what hers had suffered and that stem-cell research could be part of her husband's legacy. Since then, Mrs. Reagan has operated discreetly, making phone calls, sending letters and trying to avoid colliding with the Bush White House.

But early last month, in an unusual public appearance, Mrs. Reagan told a dinner sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. Because of this, I'm determined to do whatever I can to save other families from this pain. I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this."

Stem-cell research has been blocked for years by fundamentalist, right-wing Christians. These same conservatives dictated a great deal of Reagan's policies throughout the eighties, setting women's reproductive rights back substantially. But now, suddenly, Nancy Reagan has had an epiphany. Again, that's all well and good.

But it'd be nice if conservatives could also practice empathy, and work for what is right before it becomes purely a matter of personal loss.


Sunday, June 06, 2004

Bill Clinton, Heretic

How dare he?

He had one sharp line about W. that got the biggest applause — "Politics is not religion and we should govern on the basis of evidence, not theology."


Perhaps We Should Take a Lesson

from Bangladesh:

"We always have worked under the blue helmet," [Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan] said, referring to the trademark headgear of international peacekeepers operating under the auspices of the United Nations.

"We also always said that we'll go to any country at the call of that country and when we know that we are welcome," Khan said.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh is one of the world's largest providers of peacekeeping forces, with 7,000 soldiers currently deployed on 10 U.N. missions.

But then again, I doubt the present trip to Bangaladesh is what you'd call a "teachable moment" as far as Rumsfeld is concerned:

Thousands of anti-American protesters took to Dhaka's streets on Friday and Saturday to renounce Rumsfeld's visit, calling him a war criminal.


Saturday, June 05, 2004

The Catholics Are Really on a Roll These Days

Why can't those silly African-Americans just be satisfied with what they have?

The president of the N.A.A.C.P., Kweisi Mfume, has criticized a decision by Catholic University not to recognize a chapter of his group.

"It is outright discrimination and intolerance all rolled into one," Mr. Mfume said on Friday outside the campus and surrounded by about 20 activists and student chapter leaders from other universities.

He said it was the first time in decades that a university had not allowed a student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He threatened to sue.

The university rejected a student's attempt to start a chapter in April on the ground that the campus already had two groups that represent black students.


Look Up

The Transit of Venus is coming, for the first time since 1882.

Last time it came around, we used it to ballpark the size of the solar system. This time, it's mostly just kinda cool.

And I cannot help but be reminded of one of the greatest novels of recent times, both in sophistication and humor: Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.


So Much for l'Amour

I thought the French were a bunch of bizarre, deviant foreigners who do anything and everything to prove how anti-American they are, but here they are, acting in such a way that George W. Bush himself must approve:

A shopkeeper and a male nurse exchanged rings and kisses in France's first gay wedding today, but the conservative government immediately moved to punish the mayor who presided over what it considered was an "illegal" ceremony.
The government quickly made good on its longstanding threat to block the marriage and punish Mamere.
Interior ministry officials said the punishment being considered could lead to Mamere either being suspended as mayor for up to a month, or sacked from his post with no possibility of recovering it for a year.


Immigration and Customs Still Out of Control

Something has to be done about this bureaucracy. Its inefficiency and petty tyranny have been common knowledge for a long time. But now, with globalization continuing, travel increasing, and fear fueled by terrorism as never before, the situation in US airports has become unbearable.

And stories like this are becoming commonplace:

Somewhere in central Los Angeles, about 20 miles from LAX airport, there is a nondescript building housing a detention facility for foreigners who have violated US immigration and customs laws. I was driven there around 11pm on May 3, my hands painfully handcuffed behind my back as I sat crammed in one of several small, locked cages inside a security van. I saw glimpses of night-time urban LA through the metal bars as we drove, and shadowy figures of armed security officers when we arrived, two of whom took me inside. The handcuffs came off just before I was locked in a cell behind a thick glass wall and a heavy door. No bed, no chair, only two steel benches about a foot wide. There was a toilet in full view of anyone passing by, and of the video camera watching my every move. No pillow or blanket. A permanent fluorescent light and a television in one corner of the ceiling. It stayed on all night, tuned into a shopping channel.
As it turned out, I was to spend 26 hours in detention. My crime: I had flown in earlier that day to research an innocuous freelance assignment for the Guardian, but did not have a journalist's visa.

Since September 11 2001, any traveller to the US is treated as a potential security risk. The Patriot Act, introduced 45 days after 9/11, contains a chapter on Protecting The Border, with a detailed section on Enhanced Immigration Provision, in which the paragraph on Visa Security And Integrity follows those relating to protection against terrorism. In this spirit, the immigration and naturalisation service has been placed, since March 2003, under the jurisdiction of the new department of homeland security. One of its innovations was to revive a law that had been dormant since 1952, requiring journalists to apply for a special visa, known as I-visa, when visiting the US for professional reasons. Somewhere along the way, in the process of trying to develop a foolproof system of protecting itself against genuine threats, the US has lost the ability to distinguish between friend and foe. The price this powerful country is paying for living in fear is the price of its civil liberties.

The rules are byzantine, and they are enforced in an arbitrary and unprofessional manner by officials led more by their own whims than by any discernible protocol.

Not only is the system unjust, its inefficiency renders travel that much less safe in the process.



This is the man who is supposedly bringing democracy to Iraq. Once again, let me just say you cannot export what you do not have; it seems that we have plenty of instability to go around. And this is the man in control of our nuclear arsenal. More frightening by the day.

President George W. Bush’s increasingly erratic behavior and wide mood swings has the halls of the West Wing buzzing lately as aides privately express growing concern over their leader’s state of mind.
In meetings with top aides and administration officials, the President goes from quoting the Bible in one breath to obscene tantrums against the media, Democrats and others that he classifies as “enemies of the state.”

Worried White House aides paint a portrait of a man on the edge, increasingly wary of those who disagree with him and paranoid of a public that no longer trusts his policies in Iraq or at home.

“It reminds me of the Nixon days,” says a longtime GOP political consultant with contacts in the White House. “Everybody is an enemy; everybody is out to get him. That’s the mood over there.”

In interviews with a number of White House staffers who were willing to talk off the record, a picture of an administration under siege has emerged, led by a man who declares his decisions to be “God’s will” and then tells aides to “fuck over” anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration.

“We’re at war, there’s no doubt about it. What I don’t know anymore is just who the enemy might be,” says one troubled White House aide. “We seem to spend more time trying to destroy John Kerry than al Qaeda and our enemies list just keeps growing and growing.”

Aides say the President gets “hung up on minor details,” micromanaging to the extreme while ignoring the bigger picture. He will spend hours personally reviewing and approving every attack ad against his Democratic opponent and then kiss off a meeting on economic issues.
God may also be the reason Attorney General John Ashcroft, the administration’s lightning rod because of his questionable actions that critics argue threatens freedoms granted by the Constitution, remains part of the power elite. West Wing staffers call Bush and Ashcroft “the Blues Brothers” because “they’re on a mission from God.”

“The Attorney General is tight with the President because of religion,” says one aide. “They both believe any action is justifiable in the name of God.”

But the President who says he rules at the behest of God can also tongue-lash those he perceives as disloyal, calling them “fucking assholes” in front of other staff, berating one cabinet official in front of others and labeling anyone who disagrees with him “unpatriotic” or “anti-American.”

“The mood here is that we’re under siege, there’s no doubt about it,” says one troubled aide who admits he is looking for work elsewhere. “In this administration, you don’t have to wear a turban or speak Farsi to be an enemy of the United States. All you have to do is disagree with the President.”


The Heat Is Rising

I'm sure our VP was completely forthcoming:

Vice President Dick Cheney was recently interviewed by federal prosecutors who asked whether he knew of anyone at the White House who had improperly disclosed the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer, people who have been involved in official discussions about the case said on Friday.

Mr. Cheney was also asked about conversations with senior aides, including his chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, according to people officially informed about the case. In addition, those people said, Mr. Cheney was asked whether he knew of any concerted effort by White House aides to name the officer. It was not clear how Mr. Cheney responded to the prosecutors' questions.


High-Octane Irony

I find myself bitterly amused whenever I read people stating that the oil in Iraq "belongs to the people of Iraq," because almost no one who says that even realizes that that is a fundamentally socialist notion.

Imagine telling George W that the oil in the Texas fields belongs to all Texans.

Or even telling him that not only Iraqis, but also Americans, have a right to health care.

Anyway, I imagine I'll comment on these ironies again in the future, but right now they were sparked by this story, somewhat related to such musings:

One of the prewar forecasts was that by invading Iraq, the world would profit from stable exports of Iraq's oil. And that would translate into cheap gas for American drivers. Now, with U.S. gasoline averaging $2.05 per gallon — about 50 cents more than the pre-invasion price — that logic has been flipped on its head.

Instead, Iraqis seem to be the only people getting cheap gas as a result of the invasion. They pay just five cents for a gallon — thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer subsidies.

Since Iraq has little capacity to refine its own gasoline, the U.S. government pays about $1.50 a gallon to purchase fuel in neighboring countries and deliver it to Iraqi filling stations. A three-month supply costs American taxpayers more than $500 million, not including the cost of military escorts.


Buy the Book

No, I am not talking about Clinton's memoirs, but buy that too, if you'd like. I am talking about the new work by Stauber and Rampton, Banana Republicans (a brilliant title, by the way). I haven't had the chance to look at it yet, but I enjoyed their earlier work, Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!, immensely and have used it in various classes I have taught for a number of years now. They pull off the difficult feat of balancing meticulous research and accessible style better than most political writers.


Oddly, Construction on Permanent Bases Hasn't Stopped

Wonder why that might be.

The United States and Britain yesterday proposed giving Iraq's new leaders the right to send home U.S.-led troops in an apparent concession to demands from Baghdad and some U.N. Security Council nations.

The two countries circulated amendments to their draft resolution, aimed at giving international endorsement to an Iraqi interim government that takes office on June 30 and authorizing a U.S.-led multinational force to keep the peace.

Previously only a transitional government, expected to be elected by Jan. 31, 2005, would have had the right to ask troops to leave, providing the 15-nation Security Council approved.

However, there is little chance the new interim government would ask for a withdrawal of foreign troops, according to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.


Kerry's Tactics

I really think he is missing a huge opportunity by saying so very little about relief for university students, who are struggling more than they have in quite some time. But he is hitting some important issues that simply have to be addressed, in the interest not only of getting himself elected, but also of--who knows?--fostering social justice.

For more than a decade, the health care debate in America has focused on the millions of people without insurance. Now, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), in an unconventional twist for a Democrat, is focusing on the 162 million Americans who are purchasing insurance and what can be done to ease the double-digit premium increases paid by employers and their workers.

At the center of Kerry's ideas is his proposal to have the federal government reimburse employers 75 percent of medical bills over $50,000 that a worker runs up in a year. The reimbursement would, in effect, make the government a secondary insurer and ease costs for employers, workers and private insurers.

In exchange for the benefit, Kerry would require employers to offer insurance to every worker and to provide health programs that detect and manage chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure early enough to prevent the diseases from worsening.

Meanwhile, he is courting the veteran vote. The fact that that is not a gimme for him continues to amaze and appall me:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Friday celebrated the “special bond” he shares with other veterans across the country as he formally rolled out his campaign for the traditionally conservative-leaning veterans’ vote.

Kerry’s campaign has organized volunteer veterans coordinators in all 50 states who will try to recruit current and former soldiers to his campaign. The goal is to sign up 1 million veterans to help get out the vote for Kerry in what they say would be an unprecedented veterans organization in a presidential campaign.

“Every one of us comes to this with far more in mind than just the keeping of a promise made to us ourselves,” Kerry told the organizers in a conference call. “It’s not just about veterans hospitals and benefits. It’s about treatment of people in the military today.”

For a second day, Kerry criticized the Bush administration’s announcement Wednesday that it would expand the “stop-loss” program, requiring thousands of soldiers to remain in the military if their tours of duty extend to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I’ll tell you this, that for this group of veterans, there’s no stop-loss policy that gets put in place,” Kerry said. “This thing ends on November second.”

Members of "Rolling Thunder" need to pull their heads out and vote in their own interests.


Interesting Timing

I had no idea that this lawsuit existed:

An appeals court panel threw out a $959 million judgment Friday for U.S. prisoners of war who say they were tortured by the Iraqi military during the 1991 Gulf War, ruling Congress never authorized such lawsuits against foreign governments.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that said 17 former POWs and 37 family members were entitled to the damages under a federal statute allowing suits involving countries which financed or aided terrorists.

The three-judge panel said the statute only allows lawsuits for pain and suffering if they are filed against agents and officers of those foreign states responsible for the torture who are not acting on behalf of their government.


"Unadulterated, Puking Twaddle"

That's one writer's opinion of Bush's press conference a couple of days ago in which he made his arrogant statement that Howard needs to be re-elected in Australia.

Journalism from abroad can be so refreshing.

Fortunately, Howard's opposition really is an opposition, and he is not backing down at all:

The Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, has refused to give ground after an unprecedented attack by President George Bush over his pledge to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq, plunging Labor's relations with the US to a new low.

"Nothing President Bush has said today changes our hopes and expectations about the future," Mr Latham said after Mr Bush described Labor's proposed pull-out as "disastrous" and implied that he should not be elected prime minister.

"Labor never wanted the troops there in the first place. We intend to have them home by Christmas."

Analysts described Mr Bush's strong attack on Labor policy at a White House press conference with the Prime Minister, John Howard, as an unprecedented intervention in Australian domestic politics that would put the alliance under strain if Mr Latham and Mr Bush won elections later this year.

Mr Latham issued a declaration on Iraq policy, repeating Labor's claims that the Government's policies were making Australia a bigger target and diverting resources from the "real" war on terrorism.

Bush's impromptu endorsement of Howard and over-the-top castigation of Latham continue his tendency to make decisions without reflection and without bothering to inform anyone, as when they surprised the UN with their choice for new leader of Iraq and when they surprised the Pentagon with their plan to raze the Abu Ghraib prison.

Also, this outburst may serve to continue Bush's tendency to unify the rest of the world in opposition to him and in favor of more leftish parties and candidates:

It was the most dramatic intervention a US president has made into domestic Australian politics in memory, yet George Bush gave no warning to John Howard that it was coming.

Labor's commitment to bring home Australia's modest force in Iraq by Christmas was not raised during talks between Mr Bush and Mr Howard that began over breakfast and spilled over into the Oval Office.

Nor did Mr Howard's press secretary, Tony O'Leary, advise the Bush press office that this was the topic most likely to be raised when Australian media had the chance to put questions to the President.

So why did Mr Bush break with convention and accuse the man who could within months be prime minister of one of America's closest allies of advocating a policy that would "embolden the enemy"?

Insiders say that answer is all about context. Iraq dominated breakfast talk between the two leaders, and resurfaced when talks on other issues were concluded in the Oval Office.
Mr Bush is an unscripted President who feels intense loyalty to Mr Howard and, one suspects, a level of suspicion if not antipathy towards Mr Latham.

In February last year Mr Latham said Mr Bush was the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.
Mr Latham's restrained response - particularly his claim that the alliance is bigger and stronger than the mistakes made on Iraq - and the hostile reaction of talkback radio to the President's tirade suggest Mr Bush may not have done Mr Howard any big favours.


American War Criminals

The United Nations is speaking out against the atrocities perpetrated by Americans in Iraq:

The United Nations' top human rights watchdog warned yesterday that prisoner abuses committed by US forces in Iraq could constitute war crimes and called for "full accountability" of those responsible.

In a keenly awaited report on the human rights situation in occupied Iraq, Bertrand Ramcharan, the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the ill-treatment of detainees in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and other US-run detention centres "might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal".

This administration, however, has proven very good at propagating incompetence around the globe, so the odds of a "competent tribunal" ever coming together are slim.


Who Is It Again, Having Communion Withheld from Them?

I cannot recall any unruly bishops create spectacles involving pro-war politicians, but apparently they should be:

Pope John Paul II chastised President Bush on Friday for recent "deplorable events," an apparent reference to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces.

But no. Apparently, that whole "pro-life" thing is only very narrowly construed by some Catholics these days.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

A Fun Toy

You can find out what campaigns your neighbors have given money to!



Coming Soon

Fahrenheit 9/11 Trailer

It's going to be good.


My Head Is Starting to Spin

I just cannot keep up with all these twists and turns:

Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi accused CIA director George Tenet on Thursday of being responsible for allegations that the former exile leader passed intelligence information to Iran.
Chalabi, a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, made the accusation after President Bush announced that Tenet was stepping down as CIA director for personal reasons.

Tenet's announcement came amid new storms over intelligence issues, including an alleged Pentagon leak of highly classified intelligence to Chalabi.

Chalabi told reporters that Tenet "was behind the charges against me that claimed that I gave intelligence information to Iran. I denied these charges and I will deny them again."


All Is Not Well in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is supposed to be the victory story, upon which all dreams of success in Iraq are built, correct? Unfortunately, the story in Afghanistan has never really been as cheery as it is usually represented to be. And things are going quite badly these days:

The global relief group Medecins Sans Frontiers, or Doctors Without Borders, has suspended its operations in Afghanistan after a deadly attack on its workers.

The decision to pull out temporarily for "security reasons" came after five MSF workers were shot dead in an ambush in the worst attack on the aid community since the fall of the Taliban.

Three aid workers -- a Dutch man, a Belgian woman and a Norwegian man -- and two Afghan men -- a driver and translator -- were killed in an ambush in the northern part of the country on Wednesday.

The Toyota Land Cruiser they were traveling in between Khairkhana and Qala-I-Naw in Badghis province had bullet holes in the front, rear and passenger windows. Shrapnel from a grenade was embedded in its side.
Afghanistan, which is grappling with a growing drug trade and sporadic violence, is a key security concern for the West two years after a U.S.-led coalition toppled the militant Islamic Taliban regime for harboring Osama bin Laden.

Almost half of Afghanistan is still not safe, with warlords yet to be disarmed and a stubborn Taliban and al Qaeda insurgency persisting in the south and east.


Suing the Government for Torture

I had not heard of this before now. Interesting that the FOIA request was made back in October:

Civil-rights and veterans groups on Wednesday sued the U.S. government for what they said was illegally withholding records about American military abuse of prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and other locations, reported China Daily on Wednesday.

The suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, charges that the U.S. departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State have failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the groups last year. Other defendants in the suit include the FBI and CIA.

The plaintiffs are seeking records documenting torture and abuse which they said has occurred since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. They said that after they filed the FOIA request in October, numerous news stories and photographs have documented mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is growing evidence that the abuse of detainees was not aberrational but systemic, that in some cases the abuse amounted to torture and resulted in death, and that senior officials either approved of the abuse or were deliberately indifferent to it," the suit said.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, The Center For Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The groups said this is the first suit seeking to force the government to disclose these records under FOIA.


Bush: Shockingly, Awesomely Insulting

Commenter TaraIst has pointed me to this latest bit of Molly Ivins brilliance:

OK, sign me up for the Bush program. I'm aboard. Who else can we insult, offend, bribe, blackmail, threaten, intimidate, wiretap or otherwise infuriate?
President Bush said, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government (what's significant?), but there might be a reaction like the interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French, a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people." For those who oppose the United States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."

George W. Bush in chains and black leather.
A French journalist observed in horrified wonder Tuesday: "Mon Dieu, Bush has made Jacques Chirac into a hero. Jacques Chirac!" What a little miracle-man that George W. Bush is. He has that wonder-working power.
Have you ever seen such amazing arrogance wedded to such awesome incompetence?


Heating Up

The Chalabi fiasco is getting serious:

Federal investigators have begun administering polygraph examinations to civilian employees at the Pentagon to determine who may have disclosed highly classified intelligence to Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi who authorities suspect turned the information over to Iran, government officials said Wednesday.

The polygraph examinations, which are being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are focused initially on a small number of Pentagon employees who had access to the information that was compromised. American intelligence officials have said that Mr. Chalabi informed Iran that the United States had broken the secret codes used by Iranian intelligence to transmit confidential messages to posts around the world.


I Have No Words for This

Create a caption for that photo. I dare you.


Mincing Words

Which I guess is better than his usual practice, which is to mangle them:

President Bush said Thursday he was ready to cooperate in the grand jury investigation of who leaked the name of a covert CIA operative last year and that he had consulted with an attorney to determine if he needs legal advice.

"I've told our administration that we'll fully cooperate with their investigation" Bush said. "I want to know the truth. I'm willing to cooperate myself."

Bush's move suggests the president anticipates being questioned by prosecutors about whether he could shine any light on the case. But there is no indication that Bush is a target of the investigation.

"In terms of whether or not I need advice from counsel, this is a criminal matter, it's a serious matter," the president said. "I have met with an attorney to determine whether or not I need his advice, and if I deem I need his advice, I'll probably hire him."

May I just point out that meeting with an attorney to figure out whether or not one needs his/her advice means that one has already gotten advice from said attorney?

Nah, I'll just let Cabrera say it:

"It speaks for itself that the president initially claimed he wanted to get to the bottom of this, but now he's suddenly retained a lawyer," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. "Bush shouldn't drag the country through grand juries and legal maneuvering. President Bush should come forward with what he knows and come clean with the American people."


Further Arrogance

Aren't the Bushies the ones who get very irritated at the slightest hint of outside influences having an effect on our policies? I guess that really doesn't mean that we can't go meddling, though:

US President George Bush has delivered an unprecedented blow to the Labor Party, describing Mark Latham's policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq as "disastrous".

Speaking after a one and a half hour meeting with the Prime Minister, John Howard, at the White House, Mr Bush said withdrawing the troops would "dispirit those who love freedom in Iraq" and "embolden our enemy which believes it can shake our will".

"It would be a disastrous decision for the leader of a great country like Australia to say that we're pulling out," Mr Bush said as the two leaders met reporters in Washington early today, Australian time.

"It would say that the Australian Government doesn't see the hope of a free, democratic society [in Iraq]. It would embolden the enemy to believe that they could shake our will."

Mr Bush's comments are the strongest yet to emerge from the White House against Labor's position and are a highly unusual intervention in Australian domestic politics. The remarks will provide a stark contrast in the coming election between Labor and the Coalition's policy on Iraq and relations with the US.


He's Out

Tenet's been pretty shoddy all around, I feel. Further, I find it rather surprising that the CIA is taking the first black eye in all this mess (the first, hopefully, of many).

But, there it is:

George Tenet, the Clinton administration appointee who became a lightning rod for criticism of the U.S. war on terrorism, resigned as CIA director Thursday.

Tenet cited "personal reasons," according to a statement President Bush made to reporters in Washington. No permanent successor has been chosen. The agency will be run by a deputy director on an interim basis after Tenet leaves the post in mid-July.

"He's done a superb job on behalf of the American people," Bush said. "George Tenet the kind of public servant you like to work with. He's strong, he's resolute. He's been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a strong leader in the war on terror."

While a favorite among CIA agents, Tenet has been faulted over the last two years for various failures of U.S. intelligence, including the inability to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks and apparently inflated claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.


June 25

"Fahrenheit 9/11" has a U.S. release date, June 25, that presents both challenges and opportunities for Michael Moore and the consortium of companies that will distribute his new anti-Bush film.

The challenges are mainly logistical; the opportunities are mainly a function of the film-release calendar from now until June 25.

Marketing a movie is a major enterprise, one that Hollywood rarely undertakes to manage in 3 1/2 weeks -- the amount of time that will have elapsed between the announcement of a distribution deal and the actual release date for Moore's follow-up to his Oscar-winning documentary, "Bowling for Columbine."

Miramax Film Corp. co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein announced Tuesday that their new special-purpose company, the Fellowship Adventure Group, will release "Fahrenheit 9/11" in U.S. theaters with Lions Gate Films and IFC Films.

Of course, the notion that the marketing of this film is beginning only now is patently absurd. I'm just saying.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Redefining "Volunteer Army"


The U.S. Army has barred soldiers set to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan from leaving the military, even if their term of service is about to expire.
The order issued this week expands an Army program called "stop-loss," designed to keep troop numbers high enough in combat zones.

Thousands of soldiers whose volunteer commitment is ending will be blocked from changing units or leaving the Army until their overseas deployment is finished.

The order affects soldiers in units that are 90 days away or less from heading to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The move reflects the Pentagon's struggle to maintain adequate troop levels in the two main areas where U.S. troops face ongoing combat and violence. Army officials issued the first "stop-loss" order late last year. This year, the Pentagon extended the deployment of about 20,000 troops in Iraq.

In an interview last week with The Washington Post, the Army's personnel chief, General Frank Hagenbeck, acknowledged the stress the military is facing. But the general added that he thinks most troops feel they are doing something useful and serving the nation.

Wednesday, The New York Times published an opinion piece by a former Army captain who called the stop-loss program "shameful."

Andrew Exum says the program undermines the concept of the United States' all-volunteer military force.


Bush on France: Compare and Contrast

Now, when we're going back begging to the UN:

President Bush said he was never angry with France over its refusal to back the U.S.-led war in Iraq, as both countries sought to play down past tensions ahead of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

"I was never angry with the French. France is a long-term ally," Bush told the weekly Paris Match in an interview due to be published on Thursday.

And, then, when Bush still could strut about:

American anger at France over its refusal to support war in Iraq reached new heights yesterday when President George Bush took a direct swipe at President Chirac.

"I doubt he'll be coming to the ranch any time soon," was Mr Bush's tart comment in an interview with NBC News, when asked about Jacques Chirac – a reference to the informal summits Mr Bush likes to hold with favored foreign leaders at his cherished retreat in Crawford, Texas. Many in his administration – by implication, himself among them – had the impression "that the French position was anti-American", the President said.
In Paris, one French official was told by a White House official that "I have instructions to tell you our relations have been degraded", while senior Bush aides met on Monday to decide on the nature of the punishment.

The likely sanctions will include steps to marginalize France within Nato, and efforts to downgrade or even bar French participation in US- sponsored international meetings.



Nuclear Attack Inevitable

Perhaps a bit overstated, perhaps not, but definitely worth paying attention to, especially the last sentence, which is absolutely correct:

A nuclear attack by terrorists against the United States is inevitable, said an American international relations expert visiting the New Zealand University of Canterbury.

Last week US Attorney General John Ashcroft said credible intelligence from multiple sources indicated that the al Qaeda terror network was planning an attack on the US in the next few months.

Professor Terry Nardin, a political scientist from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, said in statement Tuesday that despite the intelligence sources of the US authorities, terrorist organisations such as al Qaeda are still capable of planning and carrying out attacks.

"I see a kind of offence-defence race. We're busy defending ourselves in ways that we've thought of and al Qaeda people, who are smart, are busy thinking of ways to get around it," he said.

Nardin said there are so many weapons floating around, there isso little control over nuclear material, biological weapons and soforth, "I think it's only a matter of time before there is some catastrophic event."

Nardin believed it is not difficult to transport nuclear materials or biological materials around.

"There may be a gesture of inspecting aircraft luggage and so on but the whole world container trade goes on so people move around and things move around," he said.

Fortunately, Bush has very clear ideas how to deal with the threat. No, wait, that was Kerry:

Nuclear terrorism is the gravest threat the United States faces, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said on Tuesday as he offered a plan to secure atomic arsenals and materials around the world.

"The enemy is different and we must think and act anew," Kerry said in excerpts of remarks prepared for delivery in West Palm Beach, Florida. "We have to do everything we can to stop a nuclear weapon from ever reaching our shore and that mission begins far away."


Good for Him

After the $700 million (illegally) shifted from operations in Afghanistan to the Iraq misadventure, such wariness is absolutely necessary:

A powerful senator from President Bush's own party rejected his administration's request for broad leeway on a $25 billion reserve fund it wants for Iraq and said on Wednesday he intends to limit how the money can be used.

"We expect this to be used only for Afghanistan and Iraq," declared Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which approves government spending and oversees the federal budget.

Stevens told administration officials at a hearing: "Some of my colleagues have said that you're asking us to give you a blank check because of the word 'may' in this provision. I would intend to change that to say it 'shall' only be used for these accounts."

The emergency reserve fund is intended to finance military operations in the two countries until the White House makes a separate request for a larger supplemental spending bill early next year.

Until early May, when it suddenly asked for the $25 billion, the Bush administration had insisted it would not seek more money for Iraq until next year.

Of course, they should go farther, and insist that the absurd tax cuts for the rich be repealed, at the very least.

But while I'm dreaming, I might as well dream of impeachment.


Credibility Gap

Of course the US had to put a puppet government in place. The only real question was whether that fact could be at all concealed or at least somewhat obscured.

It hasn't been:

"How can you accept people who came with the occupiers? The people who were tortured and suffered inside Iraq deserve these positions." This sentiment from the street in Iraq, said the Arab News, sums up local feeling about the government sworn in yesterday.

"The hope was that the gloomy prospect would change when a new interim government took over from the Governing Council. The logic was that it would be perceived by the Iraqis as a government of their own, with its own mind, and not a US puppet. That has not happened. The new government is seen by Iraqi political experts as pro-American and manipulated by exiles who owe their position to US patronage," the paper said in an editorial.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Speaking Plainly: Why the Bloody Hell Not?

Here's how our press should be dealing with our president. A little lesson from how the mainstream press in Australia is talking about the leader of that country:

At yesterday’s press conference, Howard was asked: “If you had known about this earlier, would you have expressed your concerns at the time to the Americans?”

Howard: "Well, I mean, look I would have done the right thing, and of course if I had known about it, of course I would have expressed my concern. Of course I would have."

So why the bloody hell wasn’t he told – if he wasn’t?


A True Heroine

People such as she are the key to winning the fight against fundamentalist intolerance in all its many guises. The present struggle between Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists is a dead end, emphasis on "dead."

We should look to people like her:

Irshad Manji is a lesbian Muslim who says her religion is stuck in the Middle Ages. The outspoken author tells Johann Hari how she became a target for assassination.

The death threats began six months ago. One morning, Irshad Manji opened her email and read the first of many pledges to kill her. "It contained some pretty concrete details that showed a lot of thought had been put into the death threat," she explains now, unblinking.

She can't say how many she's received — "The police tell me not to talk about this stuff" — but she admits that "they are becoming pretty up close and personal."

"One story that I can tell you," she says, "a story that I have the permission from the police to tell you, is that I was in an airport in North America recently and somebody at the airport recognised me. I had a conversation with them. While I was engaged in conversation with a very portly, very sweet fiftysomething man and his wife, an Arab guy came up to my travel companion and said, 'You are luckier than your friend.'

"As a nice, polite Canadian she asked, 'What do you mean?' and he didn't say anything. He turned his hand into the shape of a gun and he pulled the make-believe trigger towards my head. She didn't know what to make of this, so she asked him to clarify his intentions. He said 'Not now, you will find out later,' and then he was gone."
Irshad is a key figure in the civil war within 21st-century Islam. She is the Saladin of progressive Muslims, an outrider for the notion that you can be both a faithful Muslim and a mouthy, fiercely democratic, Canadian lesbian. As one American journalist put it,

What I want is an Islamic reformation. Christianity did it in the 16th century. Now we are long overdue. If there was ever a moment for our reformation, it's now.
"Irshad Manji does not drink alcohol and she does not eat pork. In every other respect, she is Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare."

"What I want is an Islamic reformation," she says, leaning forward, her palms open. "Christianity did it in the 16th century. Now we are long overdue. If there was ever a moment for our reformation, it's now, when Muslim countries are in poverty and despair. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?"


Eloquence Runs in the Family

Last week, it was George W. Bush saying "piss on Chalabi" (whom, by the way, Bush never really knew all that well, for your information).

This week, the elder Bush has some choice words on Michael Moore, whose latest movie Bush has not yet seen:

"I have total disdain for Moore," George H.W. Bush told us when we saw him at the T.J. Martell Foundation Awards gala, where he was honored along with Stevie Wonder and Dr. Daniel Vasella the other night.

"41" has heard enough about "Fahrenheit 9/11," Moore's documentary indictment of President Bush, to know "it's a vicious attack on our son.

"It's a free country, so he's free to say whatever he wants," the former Oval Officer went on. "But I don't appreciate it. I don't like it.

"[My son] served with honor, and to get knocked down by this guy, " he huffed. "But you got to put up with it. That's what I'd say to [my son]."

We asked what he thought of Moore's use of the comment Barbara Bush made at the start of the Iraq war: "Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths? ... Why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that? And watch [my son] suffer."

Said her furious husband: "For him to take on Barbara is just beyond the pale. She's a decent, wonderful person, and to have to answer anything about what that slimeball says is just too much."

Informed of Bush's tirade, Moore told us he had "fond memories" of "41" asking for a print of his movie "Roger & Me" to show at Camp David in the winter of 1990.

Moore, whose film explores the financial ties between the Bush family and the Saudis, said, "I appreciate all reviews of my films from the Bush family. And if they love the film this much, without having seen it, I can't wait for the reviews when they actually see it. I'd be more than happy to set up a White House screening."


Meanwhile, a Victory!

Even as fundamentalist pharmacists (shouldn't they be handling snakes or something?) strive to prevent the use of contraceptives, a serious blow has been dealt to the "Partial-Birth Abortion" [sic] Ban:

A federal judge Tuesday declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional, saying the measure infringes on a woman's right to choose.

The ruling applies to Planned Parenthood clinics and their doctors, who perform roughly half the nation's abortions.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling came in one of three lawsuits challenging the legislation President Bush signed last year.

"The act poses an undue burden on a woman's right to choose an abortion," she wrote.


If You Don't Like It, Change Careers

This behavior is just ridiculous, and any pharmacist who does this should lose his or her license:

Neil Noesen, a relief pharmacist at the Kmart in Menomonie, Wis., was the only person on duty one day in 2002 when a woman came in to refill her prescription for the contraceptive Loestrin FE. According to a complaint filed by the Wisconsin department of regulation and licensing, Noesen refused because of his religious opposition to birth control. He also declined to transfer the prescription to a nearby pharmacy and refused once again when the woman returned to the store with police. The prescription was filled several days later by the managing pharmacist. But Noesen was accused of unprofessional conduct and will face an administrative law judge on June 22. Antiabortion groups are urging Wisconsin officials not to punish Noesen. He and his attorney did not comment.

The Wisconsin case and two similar ones in Texas have prompted fears among pro-choice groups that antiabortion forces are taking their fight to the pharmacy counter. The American Pharmacists Association says pharmacists should be allowed to refuse to fill a prescription. If they do, however, it ought to be filled by someone else or transferred to another pharmacy, the group has said. Laws are vague on the subject. But two states, South Dakota and Arkansas, have passed laws that explicitly protect pharmacists who refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions on moral or religious grounds. Similar legislation has been introduced in 13 other states. Karen Brauer, who says she was fired by Kmart in 1996 for refusing to fill a birth-control prescription and is now president of Pharmacists for Life, says such laws are needed. "Pharmacists are being expected to do things that they do not believe they should do," she says. Counters Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood: "The question here is whose conscience counts. This is about a woman's most fundamental right of choosing when to have a child."

Contraception is legal. Using contraception is sensible, mature behavior and should be vigorously encouraged, not made more difficult by jackasses in white coats.

It is time to set strong precedents NOW about this sort of misbehavior, so as to have firm ground to stand on once RU-486 finally gets U.S. approval.


A Second-Rate Apocalypse

I try not to think about it, because the fact that the man in control of our nuclear arsenal is a fundamentalist of the worst sort is just too terrifying to contemplate for long. But it is true, as pointed out in The Guardian back in April.

I do take some comfort, however, in my knowledge of Bush's phenomenal incompetence. If Bush is working for armageddon, there's very little chance it'll happen.

But don't take my word for it, look at the signs and portents. For example, when the Pharaoh's world was coming to an end, he got a plague of locusts, devouring the crops and leading to massive famine.

And Bush? Cicadas. Annoying, sure, but hardly a plague.

Again, in the last days of Pharaoh's reign over the Jews, the sun was blotted out and a plague of darkness covered the land.

Today? Just a bit dimmer, is all.

I haven't heard anything much about frogs or boils or rivers turning into blood, but I am sure there are shoddy corollaries to be found.

As for the death of the first-born sons, well, let's just say that if Bush wins in November, he'll do his best.


Fahrenheit Coming Soon

Good news:

Michael Moore's controversial documentary criticizing President Bush could be in theaters before the end of the month, according to published reports.

The trade publication Daily Variety reports that Moore was eyeing a June 25 or July 2 theatrical release date for the movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11," with a home-video release in October.