The Watch

The Watch is concerned about the increasing pressure towards feudalism in the United States from corporations, social regressives, warmongers, and the media. We also are concerned with future history concerning our current times, as non-truths which are “widely reported” become the basis for completely false narratives.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Catholic Church - Should Lose Its Tax Exempt Status

This is self-explanatory and a no-brainer. The Catholic Church, the religious arm of a foreign government (The Vatican), should lose its tax-exempt status. This foreign governmental agency is attempting to influence the next election in a brazen attack on our freedom and independence. Similar letters have been issued in Colorado, and other "bishops" have attempted to influence the upcoming presidential election. We should not tolerate these attacks any longer. The Catholic Church should be stripped of its tax exempt status.

Mass. Catholic bishops rate lawmakers

Tom Musbach

SUMMARY: The Catholic Church in Massachusetts is urging churchgoers to express "profound disappointment" with lawmakers who did not vote for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Losing the War on Terra

Winnin' the War on Terra Watch

As you've probably heard by now, the State department made a "mistake" and undercounted terrorism in 2003, then declared that as evidence that we were winning the war on "terrorism". Nevermind the futility of waging war against a technique, it was then revealed that the actual numbers were way up. Thank you to Gary for this link about the "mistake". Does this mean we are "losing" the "war"? That would be an obvious conclusion from their earlier logic.

Funny how the "mistakes" they make are always in their political favor, huh?

Bob Somerby has discovered how it is they managed to undercount. They stopped counting attacks on Nov. 11th of 2003. His account of how this little fact keeps getting slipped by on various talk shows is amazing. The second half of this report highlights the not surprisingly crappy coverage Kerry has been receiving.

Liberal Oasis does a good job of taking apart Colin Powell's pathetic public response to this latest lie.

George Will Watch

And speaking of presstitutes, and things down the memory hole, Atrios recalls for us the story of George Will, how he used a purloined Carter briefing book to prepare Reagan for a debate against Carter, and then that very night declared on national TV how well Reagan had done. You'd think extraordinarily rotten ethics like that would be at least remembered by our powdered media class, but instead First Class Empty Talking Head Cokie Roberts proceeds in this way, according to Atrios:

So, Cokie's sitting there praising Reagan's debate performance, knowing full well that some of that performance was due to the fact that her colleague, on the same roundtable, had coached Reagan using stolen materials from the Carter campaign. Without mentioning it.

Krugman Watch

Paul Krugman has been on fire lately. Thank you to David for this essay, where he just comes right out and says what needs to be said about John Ashcroft:

No question: John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history.

For this column, let's just focus on Mr. Ashcroft's role in the fight against terror. Before 9/11 he was aggressively uninterested in the terrorist threat. He didn't even mention counterterrorism in a May 2001 memo outlining strategic priorities for the Justice Department. When the 9/11 commission asked him why, he responded by blaming the Clinton administration, with a personal attack on one of the commission members thrown in for good measure.

It gets better from there.

Thank you also to Paul for this link, another Krugman's take on the Gipper's economic legacy, where he calls for a little rare honesty.

Torture Watch

Finally today, if you missed this, is the Washington Post's editorial from last week on our policy of torturing people. Once in a while, even the major newspapers are disgusted with this administration. An excerpt:

Perhaps the president's lawyers have no interest in the global impact of their policies -- but they should be concerned about the treatment of American servicemen and civilians in foreign countries. Before the Bush administration took office, the Army's interrogation procedures -- which were unclassified -- established this simple and sensible test: No technique should be used that, if used by an enemy on an American, would be regarded as a violation of U.S. or international law. Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.

Monday, June 14, 2004

After the Reagasm

Reagasm Watch

Now that the Reagasm is over, I hope, it is important to remember that fact really can be separated from opinion. As Atrios notes, saying that Reagan single-handedly defeated Communism is an opinion, no matter how hard to defend. But there are facts which have been completed distorted over the last week. To quote Atrios:

The House and Senate did not both come under Republican rule during Reagan's time.
The Berlin Wall did not come down when Reagan was in office.
Reagan is not the president who left office with the highest approval rating in modern times.
Reagan was not "the most popular president ever."
Reagan did not preside over the longest economic expansion in history.
Reagan did not shrink the size of government.
Reagan did preside over what was at the time the "biggest tax cut in history" but it was almost instantly followed up by the "biggest tax increase in history."
Reagan was not "beloved by all." He was loved by some, liked by some, and hated by some with good reason.

Thanks to Marti for this article from the Washington Post on more balance to Reagan's legacy:

But however much Reagan helped wind down the Cold War abroad, he absolutely revived class war here at home. Slashing taxes on the rich, refusing to raise the minimum wage and declaring war on unions by firing air traffic controllers during their 1981 strike, Reagan took aim at the New Deal's proudest creation: a secure and decently paid working class. Broadly shared prosperity was out; plutocracy was dug up from the boneyard of bad ideas. The share of the nation's wealth held by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans rose by 5 percent during Reagan's presidency, while virtually everyone else's declined.

And thanks to Paul for this article:

Other than the fact that he was one of the worst presidents of the 20th century, I really have nothing bad to say about Ronald Reagan. He was pleasant enough, had a nice smile, and always looked sharp in a suit. It's the other stuff that bothers me, such as his insensitivity to the poor, women, people of color, the working class, and the unemployed, not to mention the damage he did to the environment, collective bargaining, and the nation's fiscal health. Am I leaving anything out? Probably, but there's enough here to question the obsession of a few members of Congress and conservative activists who are determined to place the former president's name on anything that slows down long enough to hang a plaque on.

Finally, check out this article by Ron Reagan Jr. on Bush trying to steal his father's legacy for his re-selection campaign:

The Bush people have no right to speak for my father, particularly because of the position he's in now," he said during a recent interview with Salon. "Yes, some of the current policies are an extension of the '80s. But the overall thrust of this administration is not my father's -- these people are overly reaching, overly aggressive, overly secretive, and just plain corrupt. I don't trust these people.

Conservative Idiots Watch

It's Monday, and that means another visit to DemocraticUndergound's Top Ten Conservative Idiots is due. Check out this site, you won't be disappointed:

And so at long last, George W. Bush has found a flag-draped coffin he doesn't mind standing next to. In fact, Our Great Leader was practically clambering into Reagan's casket last week in a vain effort to get some of that Gipper Goodness to rub off on him.

John Ashcroft was in hot water last week when he potentially placed himself in contempt of Congress by refusing to release a January 2002 memo which says that George W. Bush is above the law and can torture whomever he damn well pleases. "I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president have the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential," said Ashcroft. But he didn't invoke executive privilege, so he was basically saying, "oh, and by the way, I'm above the law too." The memo itself was 56 pages long, and according to Reuters said that George W. Bush had "'complete authority over the conduct of war,' overriding international treaties such as a global treaty banning torture, the Geneva Conventions and a U.S. federal law against torture." That's right folks - Our Great Leader doesn't need to abide by such petty out-dated concepts as "the law" because he's defending our freedoms. Never mind the fact that authorizing torture places George W. Bush in the same league as Augusto Pinochet. Because don't forget - even though we're doing the same things the evil-doers are doing, we know that it's wrong, and that makes us better than them. Um, or something.

Your Humanity or Your Life

A couple of days ago in our local paper, there was an op-ed piece by a man who was saddened by all of the acrimonious liberals he met in his daily life. As large, wet tears rolled down his face, he explained why when he met people who loudly exclaimed "I hate Bush", it broke his heart for the future of civil discourse in this country. I couldn't believe it. NOW this guy is worried about civil discourse? After eight years of what they did to Clinton, plus making up a basketful of lies about Al Gore? Pathetic. Polite political discourse is lying in a pool of its own blood thanks to the conservatives and their puppy dog press, and now they are going to try to re-animate the corpse to protect the Smirking Torturer? Good luck with that.

But the editorial did make me think about our "uniter, not divider" president, and the fact that things have become so polarized in this country, and why that might be.

Each person in this world values a number of things which are threatened by outside forces. Two of the most important of those things are their life, and their humanity. When outside threats arise, we are anxious to protect our physical bodies so that we can keep on living, and we are also worried about protecting our integral selves, our humanity, our compassion for other people, our ability to function in a society, the way we can rise above animal instincts.

People are concerned about these two things in much different degrees, of course. Some people, when a threat arises, abandon all of their humanity immediately and acknowledge that what they want to protect is their life, and they don't care how it is done. Torture, the killing of innocent people including children, death and destruction, abandoning our civil liberties . . . all that matters is that they stay alive. In the extreme, some people would even sacrifice friends, family, and loved ones as long as they continued to survive.

At the other extreme are people who, if faced with the incredibly stupid "ticking time bomb" argument that always gets dragged out in these cases, say if saving their life depended on torturing someone to get information to stop the bomb, they would rather be blown up. After all, they reason, they are just going to die someday anyway, and at least they can hang on to their humanity and not have become an animal.

Most of us would like to preserve both, of course, hanging on to our humanity while continuing to live. But physical danger can force us to choose. That is why war is such a horrible thing, both for the dead and the living. Many of the people who continue to live through it have to abandon their humanity in some way or another, and that can have lasting effects.

So along comes the Bush family and their business partners, the Bin Laden family. The Bush family and its retainers completely fall asleep at the wheel when they are in charge, and allows a Bin Laden family subsidiary to attack and kill nearly 3,000 innocent people on American soil. Maybe they didn't know it would be so bad. Maybe if someone had told them what to do, as Condi Rice suggested, they would have done it. Maybe.

Now, the physical threat is made real. Bush can wave the boogieman of the end of your life in front of you and force you to make that choice, that awful choice: your humanity or your life. These bad people - boo! - are coming to get you, Bush says. So choose.

That's not to discount the very real threat that some people do pose to us. The world is a dangerous place, and people will always try to kill others, for revenge for old grievances, to make a statement, because we are occupying their holy land, etc. Basically, their are a lot of people who want Americans dead and/or terrorized because of our foreign policy. And the job of our officials, I would think, is both to protect us from that kind of harm and also to formulate foreign policy that doesn't antagonize a billion of our fellow humans. But then I'm a liberal dreamer.

So that's our choice. Bush says someone is coming to get you; what do you want to do about it? Many of my fellow Americans have chosen their life. They have abandoned holding on to ideals like our freedoms, our privacy, our legal system, our tradition of not torturing people, our desire not to kill innocent people by means of explosive, burning death raining from the sky. Oh well, they say to themselves, at least I'm still alive.

Other Americans have placed these ideals above their own lives. They would choose not to destroy our entire way of life, including political freedoms, because we were attacked.

Each group feels very betrayed by the other. If I'm an American who has chosen to live and not worry about all the niceties of civilization in my quest for survival, then when I hear other people going on about "innocent until proven guilty" or fair trials for terrorists, it burns me up. The best way for my chosen survival strategy to work is if everyone becomes murderous, unthinking killing machines, like myself, and we just wipe all the brown people out and be done with it.

On the other hand, if I am an American who values my humanity as the best course for survival, then I am betrayed by all my fellows who throw the rule of law overboard at the first sign of trouble. The best way for my strategy to work is if Americans provide a united front in stating that our ideals are not worth abandoning, even to the point of losing our lives.

So there is a lot of acrimony between people right now. We feel betrayed by some portion of our countrymen, no matter which side of the argument we come down on. Some feel others are endangering our lives, some feel others are endangering our humanity.

Here is the really sad part: there is no threat. We've all made our decisions based on the bogus boogieman that Bush has been shaking at us. Weapons of mass destruction. Yellowcake. 45 minutes to attack. Drones with chemical weapons. Mushroom clouds. The Bush administration repeatedly claimed we would all be dead soon if we didn't make our choice. And there was nothing there, as many rational voices were saying before the invasion. True, there really are people who want to cause us harm. But their means will no doubt be more pedestrian: pipe bombs, box cutters. Things we have laying around the house. And they didn't used to live in Iraq. Plus, statistically, the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack are virtually zero. It is like being struck by lightening, or dying in a plane crash. It can certainly happen, but it isn't something you should spend all your time worrying about. The Bush administration, while possessing the actual means, both financial and diplomatic, to protect us from attack (though they are not using those means - see the stories about unfunded and underfunded security measures all around the country), has chosen instead to try to govern by fear.

So Bush has forced us to choose between our humanity and our lives, and once that choice is made it is hard to go back, especially when you choose your life. If once you say, "Oh please, Bush, save me! Spare my life from the evil insidious brown people, and I don't care how many eggs you break making that omelet!" that is an emotional investment that it is hard to come back from. Thus we see Iraq war hawks who have come up with a million justifications for this clearly unjust and unjustified war when it became clear that their leaders were just lying to them. Lying, lying, lying through their teeth about the "threat" from Iraq. Once you've abandoned your humanity to achieve victory over your enemies, you can't just go back and say, "Well, the right to a fair and speedy trial is important too." Much easier is to say "kill them all and let God sort them out."

But here is the real shame of this situation: it is a false dichotomy. The best way to preserve our lives is not to become beasts, slavering for the blood of our enemies. Down that path lies eternal war, with neither side achieving safety. The best way to preserve our lives IS to preserve our humanity. Keeping our society just, bolstering the rule of law, making humane decisions in our foreign policy. Playing nice. Following Robert Fulgham's advice about Kindergarten and learning something. Working for justice, even throughout the world. Those kinds of investments really do pay off in terms of peace and freedom from worry. Look at the Marshall plan and Europe. When there is justice, there is a much greater chance for peace. When there is injustice, peace is strangled in its crib.

And the Bush administration is spreading injustice around the world and around this country, like a thick, sooty marmalade that smears everyone and everything it touches. They have said, "Abandon your humanity, or you will die" and then they have proceeded to begin the process of siphoning off our freedoms, our rule of law. Already, they are declaring themselves above the law. Bush's lawyers "found" that he could wave off the Geneva convention, if he really really wanted to. Ashcroft won't disclose that legal memo to Congress, not because of executive privilege, but just because he doesn't want to. They are above the law. We are becoming, rapidly, a nation not of laws but of men.

The people who abandon their humanity, their freedom, to save their lives will find it is a false bargain, as Ben Franklin pointed out. They will have neither freedom nor safety. But history is full of the decisions of people who have just been preserving their "safety". The invasion of Poland comes to mind (I know, I know, Godwin's law).

Your humanity or your life: the ultimate con.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cruel and unusual

Torture Watch

Well, I've pretty much had it with the Republican Party. I thought for a long time there that people could be in the GOP and still maintain some semblance of human principles, but after the weak response the Republicans have mustered when it was revealed that we were torturing people I think the party has really just completely lost its moral compass. I still think there are principled people in the GOP, but they are few, far between, and just as cowed as the Democrats are. But the torture of prisoners by US military, US intelligence, and US mercenaries has really been the last straw. This administration has managed to completely reverse all of our values in just four short years. Amazing. (See this funny, but true and truly sad entry by Gen. JC Christian, Patriot on our shifting values.)

I'm constantly amazed at the way we have completely shifted from a Catholic, "we are good because we do good things" point of view to a Calvinist "we are good because God loves us" point of view. I'm probably not enough of a scholar of religions to get that comparison completely right, but I'll try to illustrate what I mean further: The USA is very rich, and relatively powerful, and people here are reasonably well rewarded for their hard work, or at least their innovation (though we are rapidly moving back to the golden era of people being rewarded for gaming the system and exploiting others). And we have a reasonably well-ordered society, which is balanced by a lot of freedoms. We have those last two things because of a strong rule of law. For all those reasons, and many others, I feel truly fortunate to be a native of the US. And I am proud of my country in as much as our system of laws allows us to rise above our baser natures and do good things: treat our poor and sick humanely, provide services for the least among us, help other less fortunate people in other countries develop their way out of crushing poverty, treat everyone as much as possible as equal under the law.

But my pride in my country, Lee Greenwood notwithstanding, ends where my government and the other people in my country do despicable things, when they take actions which are base, or cruel, or harmful, when they through action or inaction consign innocent people to explosive, burning death. I'm not proud when my countrymen, for whatever reason, commit evil acts. Instead I feel ashamed and saddened, both for the harm they have done and also to the ideal which we all pretend, at one point or another, to strive for, because of American Exceptionalism. If this is such a great country, full of wonderful ideals, then let's walk the goddamned walk and quit acting like none of the rules apply to us.

Torturing people is wrong (and so is "abuse", Rumsfeld, you worm-tongued maggot). Not only is it immoral and wrong, but it has proven historically to be incredibly ineffective at eliciting information or accomplishing much else except making people hate the torturer. Not to mention the huge, easily foreseeable PR disaster that comes from abusing prisoners, the majority of whom are innocent. So torture of prisoners is illegal (thanks to the Geneva Convention), immoral, ineffective, against everything America used to stand for, and actually harmful to our cause. Where is the upside? There is none. And yet, a team of lawyers from our executive branch spent weeks figuring out legal loopholes by which Bush is not constrained by any law (hello, theocratic monarchy) because of his burning desire that we should commit torture. How much moral bankruptcy needs to be demonstrated before the country finally turns its nauseated backs on these foul creatures?

Here is an excerpt from Digby discussing his reaction to the "torture memo":

Here we have a "working group" of government lawyers tasked to find out what, if any, legal obstacles there are to presidential orders to torture prisoners in the war on terrorism. They found that the president of the United States has the unlimited power to set aside the laws of the land within his capacity as commander in chief. As has been noted by others, this general idea was explicit in the Nazi Fuehrerprinzip and is implied in what Republican legal theorists similarly like to call the "unitary executive." The American government has, up to now, never openly embraced such a concept.

It is an incredible post, highlighting the banality of the evil of these bureaucrats, discussing "how much agony is it legal to inflict"? when it comes to our treatment of prisoners. It is very reminiscent of the German lawyers, working out how much Jewish blood you had to have before your very life was forfeit. (And don't pull Godwin's law on me, either. When the shoe really does fit, people of good will should not be afraid to point it out).

A note about Digby. After reading around the web quite a bit, I can say without reservation that he consistently writes the best progressive blog out there. He constantly is pumping out ideas and information that is informative and humane. I rarely read something he has written and don't wish that I had written it myself, or could write it myself. Atrios is much more up to the minute, but Digby's work is a close second for relevance, intelligence, and clarity of expression. Excellent stuff.

Rumsfeld was incredibly angry when they hauled him up before Congress to question him about Abu Ghraib. Angry at himself, for authorizing the torture? Angry at the administration of the prison? Angry at the guards and goons who committed the atrocities? No. He was angry because the picture leaked to the press, and the press printed them. That was the extent of his moral outrage.

Ah, Rumsfeld. The man who ordered that the MPs should "take the gloves off" and torture, I mean abuse, of course, John Walker Lindh, the American citizen who somehow or other lost all of the rights that make it great to be an American, because . . . well, because the people in charge wanted him to. What a horrible human being Rumsfeld has demonstrated himself to be.

Here is Bush taking questions at a news conference yesterday :

Q: Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law.

So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

BUSH: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you.

We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.

Are you comforted by that? What laws is he talking about here? The ones we all thought we were supposed to be following, or the ones completely made up for him? Are you happy that this country's claims to any kind of good ethical standing are now rooted in the fact that we aren't worse than Saddam Hussein? (Fred Clark has an excellent post on this. An excerpt:
The alternative, I believe, is to remind Americans of, and to recommit America to, an idea of the good that involves more than simply being slightly better than the worst people we can think of. This will involve, among other things, rejecting the notion that the Geneva Conventions are a "quaint" nuisance and instead championing them as an international embodiment of the democratic principles at the core of the idea of America.

What a pantload Bush is for pushing us to this place, for no other benefit than that he gets to play tough guy. God only knows what kind of horrible, inhuman gulag has been set up in Guantanamo (by the same people who brought us Abu Ghraib, Miller and Boykin). We just haven't seen the pictures from there yet. And you know who the people there are? They are mostly people who other Afghanis sold out for the reward money. One guy sold his own father to the US forces in Afghanistan. Who knows if they are guilty of anything or innocent? We used to have trials to find things like that out. Now we just let Bush play god, and not the New Testament god, either.

I do feel so fortunate to be born in this country, and I love so much about it. That's why it pains me to see us become a country full of assholes who torture people. Here's Digby on why it took so long for this country to slide down this slippery slope. With any luck, we can grab hold of the slope, and slippery though it is, drag ourselves back up by our fingernails and teeth before we descend any further.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Turning yet another corner

Iraq Watch

As we approach the totally meaningless June 30 "deadline" for keeping things exactly as they are now in Iraq ("partial sovereignty" has as much meaning as "partial pregnancy"), Bush is taking more and more press appearances. The bottom half of this essay provides 12 important questions the press should ask Bush about Iraq, the occupancy, and the "turnover". Here is an excerpt:

3. Presumably the American troops to be stationed on these bases will remain under the control of the Pentagon and beyond the legal reach of any "sovereign" Iraqi state. Such arrangements are usually covered by a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) that we normally impose on the government in whose territory our bases are placed. Who will sign the SOFA on the Iraqi side? What are its terms? Will it be binding on the new government you hope the Iraqis will elect early next year?

Bush Rant Watch

Here is a fantastic Bush Rant:

These are facts, not partisan rhetoric. Do any of them even make you restless? The cynical game these shape-shifters have been playing in the Middle East is too Byzantine to unravel in 1,000 pages of text. But the hypocrisy of the White House is palpable, and beggars belief. If there's one American who actually believes that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about democracy for the poor Iraqis, then you, my friend, are too dangerously stupid to be allowed near a voting booth.

Does it bother you even a little that the personal fortunes of all four Bush brothers, including the president and the governor, were acquired about a half step ahead of the district attorney, and that the royal family of Saudi Arabia invested $1.476 billion in those and other Bush family enterprises? Or, as Paul Krugman points out, that it's much easier to establish links between the Bush and bin Laden families than any between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein. Do you know about Ahmad Chalabi, the administration's favorite Iraqi and current agent in Baghdad, whose personal fortune was established when he embezzled several hundred million from his own bank in Jordan and fled to London to avoid 22 years at hard labor?

Traitors Watch

There still is (at least) one traitor loose in the halls of the White House, the person who exposed Valerie Plame's identity. That investigation is still grinding on, highlighted last week when Bush himself consulted a personal lawyer on the case. Looks like someone is feeling a little guilty. Here is a bit of John Dean on Why Bush Needs a Lawyer:

Suffice it to say that whatever the meaning of Bush's decision to talk with private counsel about the Valerie Plame leak, the matter has taken a more ominous turn with Bush's action. It has only become more portentous because now Dick Cheney has also hired a lawyer for himself, suggesting both men may have known more than they let on. Clearly, the investigation is heading toward a culmination of some sort.

Book Watch

As Dubya recently quipped about himself, he has been good for the book industry. Jon Stewart remarked, "Yes, there certainly are a lot of books about what a bad president you are".

Calvin Trillin has written a book of verse about our current mis-administration called "Obliviously On He Sails : The Bush Administration in Rhyme". Below are two delicious excerpts:

Richard Perle: Whose Fault Is He?

Consider kids who bullied Richard Perle--
Those kids who said Perle threw just like a girl,
Those kids who poked poor Perle to show how soft
A mamma's boy could be, those kids who oft-
Times pushed poor Richard down and could be heard
Addressing him as Sissy, Wimp or Nerd.
Those kids have got a lot to answer for,
'Cause Richard Perle now wants to start a war.
The message his demeanor gets across:
He'll show those playground bullies who's the boss.
He still looks soft, but when he writes or talks
There is no tougher dude among the hawks.
And he's got planes and ships and tanks and guns--
All manned, of course, by other people's sons.


(George W. Bush explains the interview arrangements he's made with the 9/11 Commission)

When called upon to testify
I said I was a busy guy
So maybe we could do it on the phone.
They really want a face to face.
I said, OK, if that's's the case,
I'm certainly not doing it alone.

I can't appear without my nanny Dick.
for Nanny Dick I've got a serious jones.
I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
I love the way he cocks his head and drones.

Cartoonists show me as a dummy,*
With voice by Cheney (or by Rummy).
I am the butt of every late-night satirist.
But I just can't go solitaire.
I need the help that's due an heir.
I need a dad, and dad's a multilateralist.

I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
He brings along a gravitas I lack.
I can't appear without my Nanny dick
The one who knows why we attacked Iraq.

Yes, Condi Rice is quite precise
With foreign policy advice
On who's Afghani and who's Pakistani.
I like to have her near in case
I just can't place some foreign face,
But Condoleezza Rice is not my nanny.

I can't appear without my Nanny dick.
I wouldn't know which facts I should convey.
I can't appear without my Nanny Dick.
It's Nanny Dick who tells me what to say.

*Though Charlie McCarthy's the dummy
Whose name has been most often heard,
Some folks who remember that act say
I'm close to Mortimer Snerd.

Dubya Poppins Watch

A little fun
with a genuine photo.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Reagasm

Hagiography Watch

Reagan finally escaped the suffering of a horrible disease this week, and the remembrances of him being played on TV and the radio have been amazingly treacly. Reagan was an interesting personality, charming, affable, optimistic. He was, to me, like a beloved grandfather whose Neanderthal-like politics did not take away fondess for him. But like that same grandfather, you wouldn't want him actually running the country.

The nation's ability to keep fooling itself into thinking we have a "liberal" media is being tested again this week, as the stories on Reagan have been, from what I've heard, completely filled with the conventional Republican wisdom on him, with hardly a balancing fact. On the wildly radical NPR, I have heard that Reagan single-handedly defeated the Soviet Union and won the Cold War. I heard that he was an amazing tax cutter. I heard how "proud" he made everyone feel. And that was all I heard. (NPR even interviewed many Russians who, to a person, agreed that Reagan destroyed the Soviet Union. For balance, the Russians disagreed that about whether this was a good thing or a bad thing). Let's briefly consider each of these statements.

On winning the Cold War, the claim is that Reagan, either through dumb luck or wily design, caused the Soviets to overspend on their defense budget due to Reagan's espousal of SDI, thereby destabilizing their economy to the point of collapse. I heard this theory put forward without reservation several times on the radio. But, first of all, we know that Reagan didn't espouse SDI because he knew it would be an end to the USSR. The "wily design" argument does not hold up, as everyone, including the CIA, was caught by surprise when the USSR collapsed in 1991. Instead, it makes much more sense to view Reagan's throwing billions of dollars at the military industrial complex on expensive boondoggles that do not work as standard Republican procedure. Bush II is still doing it (maybe he is hoping the USSR will collapse?) The other half of this story is the assumption that the economy of the USSR would have been just fine if Carter would have been re-elected and SDI not been funded. Though the CIA had been vastly overstating the robustness of the Soviet economy for years, I think in retrospect it is pretty clear that they were on the verge of collapse anyway. But in the eyes of the media, St. Reagan slew the dragon.

As far as being a tax cutter, this is a continuation of the media presentation of anything that cuts taxes for the very rich "cuts taxes", and anything which raises taxes for the very rich "raises taxes". Tax policy is always presented by the media from the point of view of the most wealthy individuals in society. Why is this? One small reason may be that most reporters, and certainly most people on TV, belong to that segment of society. And most of their editors probably do as well. But there is also the fact that all of our reporters are pretty much owned by the giant corporations that put their messages out. Giant corporations cooperate with putting huge sums of money into the hands of very wealthy individuals, because those same individuals have the power to make decisions that affect giant corporations. It is a chummy, quid pro quo atmosphere that also explains why giant media corporations do not go after other giant corporations, and why life is so good for the MBA/CEO class of people in our society.

Reagan is presented as a "tax cutter", again with no qualifiers, because overall he lowered the income tax for the very rich. It is an indisputable fact, however, that his policies raised overall taxes for the vast majority of Americans. You'll never hear that fact on the radio, on TV, or even in the vast majority of newspaper articles. (The exception being, as it often is, Paul Krugman's column in the NYT). Reagan raised payroll taxes massively. The stated purpose was to fund Social Security through the Baby Boomers, and in fact SS is in fine shape today. When Alan Greenspan started talking about having to cut SS benefits a few months ago, my head about exploded. The incredibly regressive increase in payroll taxes was a social contract. While screwing people who worked for a living, the wealthy and powerful assured them that this additional money would be used for Social Security, a benefit for all. This is what Al Gore's "lockbox" was all about. He was talking about honoring what was an agreement from the 80s, that the increased sacrifice middle- and low-income people had been making for all of these years would be protected for the cause of getting the Baby Boomers through their retirement years. Of course, the media ridiculed Gore and the "lockbox". And now, that box of money is filled with IOUs from rich people's tax cuts. When Greenspan, who of course remembers what happened in the 80s, starts talking about cutting SS benefits because of the dire financial straits we find ourselves in, he is advocating the worst screwing of the poor to pay the rich in US history. If W's tax cuts for the filthy rich result in SS cuts (remember that because of the increase in taxes on working people, SS is technically totally funded until at least 2044), borne on the backs of the poor and middle class through wage taxes, it will be the ultimate reverse Robin Hood con job. And all because our media cannot, or does not, remember the social contract from the 80s.

Reagan also presided over the largest tax increase (in constant dollars) in US history. The right likes to complain about Clinton's tax increase in 1993 as the largest in the universe (see this Daily Howler for hilarious examples), but Reagan's 1982 increase was larger. And I'll say this for Reagan's administration: they at least had some grasp on economic reality that Bush II does not. When Reagan's 1981 tax cut turned out to be financially unsupportable, they reversed themselves for the good of the country and raised taxes (the good press will never mention this, however). Dubya's crew seems to want to just keeps cutting taxes until our economy collapses, like Argentina.

Finally, Reagan seemed to be out of it most of the time, with his policy being run by his VP and other underlings. In this, W really is Reagan's successor. It's hard to really blame the US's support of Osama Bin Laden in the 80s on Reagan. It's hard to blame US support of Saddam in the 80s and early 90s on Reagan (it is easy to forget what a scandal Iraq-gate was when it was revealed all the weapons and support we had given Saddam). It's hard to blame him for trading weapons to the Iranians in exchange for hostages. It's hard to blame him for the death squads in Central and South America (we are sending Negroponte on to Iraq to continue that proud tradition). After all, what did we really expect him to know? His defense for these things, when he finally found out for them, is an echo of Bush's Abu Ghraib defense: "this isn't really America". Of the Iran-Contra crimes, he famously said "my heart tells me we didn't do this, but the facts tell me we did". Reminiscent of Bush's "listen to our words, don't watch our actions".

For some other balance on Reagan's legacy, please see Jesus' General, Slacktivist, and the Daily Howler.

See also Paul Krugman's columnn on Reagan and taxes.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Chalabi: The Iranian Sting

Con Watch

Ahmed Chalabi must be one smooooth talker. Not enough Oooooos in smooooth to describe it, even. Because it is looking more and more like our whole Iraqi adventure/disaster was his idea.

Any fool could see that invading Iraq was a terrible idea. As I've said before, I'm just a chemist who has read a couple of historical novels, and I could predict a year and a half ago that the costs would definitely outweigh the benefits, if there were any. My capacity to imagine the bad consequences of having our young people carrying guns, occupying a country where the people looked different, spoke a different language, had different religions, had a completely different culture to ours; where the subtext of our mission was repeatedly hammered into everyone as "payback for 9/11", but yet where our successful mission depended on the "gratitude" of the people we were occupying - my capacity to see that as a recipe for disaster seems to have far outweighed that of our "leaders". And my fears have been rapidly outstripped by the horrors of reality.

So, are our leaders evil, or incompetent? Both arguments work. The evil argument is to note that even with this incredible snafu that they've created, they are making money hand over fist. Richard Perle, one of the key architects of the war, was caught profiteering from the war and had to "step down" from a largely symbolic post, but his situation hasn't really changed. As we've noted before, both Cheney and Bush personally profit, and yesterday there was another revelation about how the VPs office was involved in getting Halliburton those fat, no-bid contracts. (The potential illegality of that is spelled out here and here).

But, the incompetent argument works very well, too. And it may be that this terrible, horribly misguided idea did not spring from the minds of the neocons, but one smooth-talking individual, Chalabi. Chalabi is wanted by the authorities in Jordan for embezzling millions of dollars from a Jordanian bank. The guy is a con man. But for years, he has been hitting the cocktail party circuit in DC, cultivating useful idiots like Perle, Cheney, Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, and others, convincing them that Saddam was a threat, convincing them that he could step in and take over Iraq if we overthrew Saddam, convincing them that the people of Iraq would be overjoyed, convincing them, in short, of all of the incredibly stupid and mendacious things that they, in turn, tried to convince the American people of as they followed his advice to the letter.

Imagine the scope of this ultimate con. Chalabi has gotten the US to spend its money, waste the lives of its children, endanger its very future, on trying to put him in power in Iraq. Just by conning a bunch of idiots who are now in positions of power in our government.

Now we come to Judith Miller. Ms. Miller wrote many, many articles for the NY Times about Saddam's horrible "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and how he was going to get us unless we invaded Iraq. She beat the drums for war, beat and beat them, cheerleading the public into supporting this invasion on a stream of lies and fantasies. As in the case of the Whitewater fiasco, the NYT has chosen to ignore the fact that they published (in the case of Whitewater, for years) a truckload of horseshit based on unreliable sources. They've never apologized for the incredibly reckless, libelous, injurious way they completely fell for the right wing shills who spun the Whitewater tales. They published every lie the right wing had to tell as fact, and have never apologized once for it (see "The Hunting of the President" by Conason and Lyons for the details. By the way, a documentary of the same name is about to open, I think on June 15th). And now, after it has been revealed that Judith Miller, who published lie after lie and is probably as culpable in getting us into this war as Cheney and Perle, had one source for her misinformation and that source was Chalabi, and that everything he told her was in fact, a LIE, the NYT has only made a half-hearted, vague apology, not fired Miller, continues to let her publish stories which carry water for Chalabi.

Uggabugga, a great blog, creates wonderful graphics, one of which is posted above, showing Miller's truly treasonous activities.

So, Chalabi, this slick, smooth talking embezzling con man, stroked a few people who are now running the pentagon and the VPs office, and has some sort of hold over a NYT reporter, and he managed to get our entire country embroiled in the hellhole that is Iraq. Way to go, Mr. Chalabi. Amazing. Who would have thought the rubes running our government would have been so gullible? In a way, though, it partially exonerates them. At least it wasn't their idea.

Have I mentioned yet that it looks like Chalabi is also an Iranian spy? Yeah, that too. Seems like our leaders are doing the bidding of Iran, getting some revenge at Iraq for all those years we supported Saddam against them. And they are using the same people to do it, too! Very slick. Bush, Rumsfeld, Iraq, Iran. . . the scandals of the eighties seem to have followed us faithfully into the new century, thanks to the traitors in the executive branch. I wonder how they will blame this on Clinton?

Bush, of course, is now trying to disavow Chalabi, just as he tried to do the same with Kennyboy ("Ken who?") Lay. And the press will most likely let him, as they always do. (Bush's flip flop on "Ahmed who?" is documented well by Atrios).

So there you have it, you other foreign governments, you axis-of-evil members. Shake before the mighty power of the American military. Tremble before us. Or, you could always con us into destroying your enemies for you, using our own money and killing our own soldiers. Either way.

Our Differently Abled Leader Watch

For those of you who braved President Bush's last televised speech, you probably noticed that he cannot pronounce the name of the prison in which the photos of Iraqi torture were taken. Uggabugga has a short audio clip of it, but if you really want a laugh, go to Le Show, and then click on the May 30th show. At about 16:15, Shearer starts discussing our embarrassment in chief. And at 18:40, he plays a hilarious remix of Bush's creative pronunciations.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

In which Russert is shocked

Media Whores Watch

Bob Somerby runs a website called The Daily Howler which is not to be missed. It should be daily reading for everyone who cares about the state of our politics and journalism in this country. He details the way our top people in front of the cameras or writing the top stories are afraid to ruin their positions by angering the people they are having cocktail parties with. And what could ruin their position? Actually doing some journalism. Yesterday's edition of the DH had an interesting section on Tim Russert, and his treatment of Nancy Pelosi on the latest "Meet the Press" Pelosi, you may have read a week or two ago, finally stated what has become painfully obvious to anyone with two eyes and a functioning cerebrum: that Bush is an incompetent leader, that he is dangerously incompetent, and that we have to get rid of him. Not much of a revelation.

But Russert had to act the part of the offended courtier. He was shocked, SHOCKED, to hear Pelosi say such a thing. Go read what Somerby has to say.

Primates Watch

As primates, we as people unfortunately respond to dominance and submission cues and establish heirarchy in our relationships and social systems. I say it is unfortunate, because those cues can be warped toward bad ends. Republicans, especially hypocritical, bible-banging, power-mad Republicans, have learned to act like they are winners. And Democrats have to overcome not only their hideous ideology but also that aura that Republicans have wrapped themselves in (and that the media is constantly reinforcing). This isn't a partisan thing - I pledge my allegiance to any group of politicians who can work to not treat my fellow citizens like crap - but right now it looks like that is the Democrats. The Republicans have been totally co-opted by this group of immoral moralizers.

More on dominance relationships later, and thanks to Melissa for digging out her psychology texts for me to read about some old research.

Blog Watch

I may have mentioned the site before, but Slacktivist is one of the most interesting blogs out there right now. It is run by Fred Clark, who I am proud to say works at one of our local papers here in DE. He is a real Christian (by that I mean someone who has somehow figured out that Jesus' message was not "rob from the poor to feed the rich"), and often writes about religious matters, and of course how they play out against national, and sometimes local, politics. He is also taking a painful, page by page journey through a critique of "Left Behind" to show how ridiculous, poorly written, and hollow it is. That keeps me coming back for more.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

What can you do when your leaders want war?

Iraq Watch

When I started writing last spring, it was a last ditch effort to try to keep my sanity. My country had been driven over a rhetorical cliff by the madmen at the top, and all I could do was watch. Writing about it a few times a week was a way to stay in touch with other people, organize my thoughts, and try to make some sense of a situation in which too many of my countrymen and women, especially those in the ever-gullible media, had swallowed the administration's line about fighting against that most dangerous of threats, Iraq.

No one in the national spotlight ever spoke up and mentioned the fact that the military-industrial complex had gotten itself elected to the highest office in the land, and that now the MIC was driving the car. What would be a policy goal for the military-industrial complex if they were in charge? Peace? Not in this lifetime. There is no profit in peace, at least not enough. The MIC wanted a war, and by god, they started one, against the will of the people in the world, against international law, against the "Powell Doctrine", against the interests of national safety, against the urgency for wise policies to counter fundamentalist Muslim terrorism, against all the evidence, and against concern for American lives or treasure. Well, actually, they did have a concern for American treasure; namely, how much they could funnel into their own pockets. Dick Cheney, our de facto President, still has a bundle of stock options with Halliburton, and our Republican congress kindly has been allocating money to the "war" with little to no oversight. And gee, Halliburton's stock is way up! And so is Bechtel's! So there is lots of profiteering and corruption, as there is in any war, I suppose, but occasionally I'd like to think that someone has an issue with all of those tax dollars going right into the pocket of the people who started the war.

George the Puppet's Daddy makes oodles of money when America is in a war, so he is growing his inheritance nicely whenever he says "stay the course". That's right, America. Go back to sleep. Trust us.

People wonder if the planning for this war was really as totally incompetent as it seems to have been. I used to wonder that too, but I truly believe now that the people in charge just didn't care how big a mess they made, how big a fiasco they created. To them, a larger war just means more profit, and if they inflame the billion or so Muslims in the world indiscriminately, well at least we have a new, never-ending enemy to fight.

Election Watch

And so we come to the next big crisis for the American people. Will we reward this mis-administration with legitimacy, and allow them four more years of driving us straight into the ground? Or not?

The Democrats have chosen their candidate. I suppose it is a measure of how serious they take this election that they have chosen the most solid, slow-moving, leaden candidate out of the bunch. No sudden movements from John Kerry. No surprises, most likely. No excitement - just the deadly serious business of being there when we pry these traitors' fingers off the national reins. And what a mess he will be left with, god willing.

President-in-Exile Watch

It's funny. As much as I can't stand to listen to Bush, with his sibilant, halting drawl, I never could stand to listen to Gore's voice either. Something about the way his words were shaped made him sound slightly retarded to my ear, and I have to say that Kerry's voice doesn't sound much better to me. I guess I'm too much of a critic.

But last week, I heard Gore speak and it was incredible. He gave a blistering, heart-felt, excellent speech to Move On in New York, full of the outrage, passion, and sense of loss many of us have been feeling. It was one of the best political speeches I've ever heard. You can still watch it on your computer, at, called "Fmr. Vice Pres. Al Gore Speech on Iraq Policy under "Most Watched Video". It's about an hour long, so if you have something else to do, like knitting or washing dishes or whatever, pull it up and let it play in the background. It is not to be missed.