Thursday, October 28, 2004

A Sobering Recommendation

The Economist has made its recommendation, and it recommends Alka-Seltzer.

That's a joke, but not much of one. I enjoy The Economist because its conservative viewpoint is measured and considered, as opposed to the cultural upheaval and jingoism in America. That is to say, its very existence is a stinging rebuke to Fox News. I may not always agree with The Economist's conclusions, but I always respect its reporting.

That balance can be seen in their recommendation for President. Seldom have two candidates' flaws been more coldly dissected -- it's a calm but brutal balance that almost seems sacrilegious in the America I live in. And they conclude that of the two deeply flawed men running for the presidency, Americans should choose Kerry:

Many readers, feeling that Mr Bush has the right vision in foreign policy even if he has made many mistakes, will conclude that the safest option is to leave him in office to finish the job he has started. If Mr Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and a new approach to achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority, the religious right, then The Economist will wish him well. But our confidence in him has been shattered. We agree that his broad vision is the right one but we doubt whether Mr Bush is able to change or has sufficient credibility to succeed, especially in the Islamic world. Iraq's fledgling democracy, if it gets the chance to be born at all, will need support from its neighbours—or at least non-interference—if it is to survive. So will other efforts in the Middle East, particularly concerning Israel and Iran.

John Kerry says the war was a mistake, which is unfortunate if he is to be commander-in-chief of the soldiers charged with fighting it. But his plan for the next phase in Iraq is identical to Mr Bush's, which speaks well of his judgment. He has been forthright about the need to win in Iraq, rather than simply to get out, and will stand a chance of making a fresh start in the Israel-Palestine conflict and (though with even greater difficulty) with Iran. After three necessarily tumultuous and transformative years, this is a time for consolidation, for discipline and for repairing America's moral and practical authority. Furthermore, as Mr Bush has often said, there is a need in life for accountability. He has refused to impose it himself, and so voters should, in our view, impose it on him, given a viable alternative. John Kerry, for all the doubts about him, would be in a better position to carry on with America's great tasks.

Damn straight.

 2:34 PM
Here's another video for your entertainment. I've been getting a lot of mileage out of it here at the office. (If don't want to download the file (1.2 MB Quicktime), it's George Bush in his second term as Governor, flipping the bird at the television camera and then snorting like Will Ferrell.)

And this is a Kentucky Fried Chicken training tape talking about bacteria.

And here's the thing -- I don't know which is more surreal.

 9:19 AM

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Been busy lately, and Blogger's been acting weird. But I've got two links for you:

1. Mosh, by Eminem. It's a good song, but it's a great video. Eminem channels Fight Club and Grand Theft Auto to create a get-out-the-vote motivator. My libertarian/conservative friend was so appalled by it he actually called it "sedition." That's the kind of thing we need more of these days -- not the crappy, warmed-over-60s "protest" junk that filled the lefty blogs.

What would have happened if the "flower children" had been street fighters? Actually, Chicago '68 answered that first, but Eminem puts a new millenium spin on it.

It's funny. The air has become poisonous, my tolerance for vitriol has been exceeded, and I despair of ever living in a unified country ever again. But this song is like red meat.

2. Paper Toss. The most freakishly perfect time-waster game I've seen in years. My high score is fifteen, but I think with boredom and a streak of obsessiveness, I can do a lot better.

On the whole, a better way to spend your time than obsessively checking the news for the latest voter fraud outrage.

 5:01 PM

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Oh, yeah -- one more post so that the information doesn't fall down the memory hole, as happened with Iraq. (e.g. "We only said that Saddam had programs" when everyone in the administration stated their 100% certainty that he had actual WMDs, ready to fire.)

Bush has flatly declared that he will not request a draft even if there is a national emergency.

To my mind, that has always been the more salient point. No one thinks that Bush will just turn around and institute a draft in his second term, even if Iraq heats up. The military has been asking (quietly) for more troops, and those requests are flatly (but quietly) denied, yet the occupation still continues. Thus, military strength is stretched to the limit, and Reservists are being exploited -- but we can continue in Iraq without requiring a draft to do it. The status quo will not lead to another draft. Bush will continue to make our soldiers suffer rather than to endure that embarrassment.

No, the real draft scenario involves an "incident." The more charitable view is another 9/11, in which an attack on the US suddenly motivates people and Bush asks them (for the first time) to "make sacrifices." In those circumstances, we wouldn't be likely to say "No troops -- you wasted them in Iraq." We would step up and get involved.

The less charitable (but more statistically likely) view is that Bush and Co. wait for something to go publicly wrong in North Korea or Sudan or Syria or Iran (and on and on), and then claim that this event justifies a departure from the previous promise.

This would be not unlike Bush's claim that he said he would only run deficits in case of war, recession, or national emergency, and that 9/11 was like "hitting the trifecta." Bush had never said it, but the media were gullible enough to let him demand his tax cut without holding him to his campaign promises.

That's the real concern with the draft.

Tinfoil hat time?

True story, taken from a neutral history book:

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson got his administration to draft a resolution that could be introduced in Congress to give his administration free rein to commit military actions in Vietnam. It wouldn't be a declaration of war, but it would prevent anyone in Congress from second-guessing him in an election year. When he started to suspect that Congress would kick up a fuss, he told his people to shelve the resolution and wait for something to happen that would justify it.

In August 1964, an American spy ship in the Gulf of Tonkin was fired upon by the North Vietnamese while supporting a South Vietnamese naval attack. Two days later, with the spy ships on high alert during a storm (and right back in their role of supporting South Vietnamese naval action), the ships thought they had been attacked again.

Johnson knew that nothing had happened. He told an advisor, and I quote, "Hell, those damn stupid sailors were just shooting at flying fish."

But Johnson told the world that America had been attacked without provocation, and he used that argument to justify the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution -- the same document that had been previously shelved. He leaned on his friend Senator Fulbright to get it passed.

In 1967, Fulbright found out that Johnson knew all along that nothing had happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, and their friendship turned into a very public feud.

That's what will happen with the draft. We've got our military stretched to the limit -- hell, the latest stories are that NG recruiters are sniffing around NG vets with medical training -- and we just can't take on another battlefront. Something will happen in this f*cked-up-crazy world, and we will need to defend ourselves, and we will need more troops to do it because all our regular forces are sunk into a wasteful, needless war in Iraq. It's like maxing out your credit cards on junk and then asking Mom for money to cover the rent, but it just might work. Because when it comes to Bush, America is a lot more like believe-the-best "Mom" than stern old "Dad."


To reiterate, to get re-elected, Bush responded to a very prevalent concern about the draft by stating that he would not reinstitute the draft even if world events got worse.

God grant that you don't have to remember that fact.

 6:02 PM
I'm so busy right now I can't even see straight, but I just had one of those moments of erzatz insight that make it hard to concentrate.

Right now, Houston is disgustingly hot and humid. 92 degrees, and 250% humidity. Yes, that's right -- we live in Atlantis. You can't walk to your car without mold growing on your body. It's absolutely oppressive and awful and enough to make you doubt your life choices. "What sort of sane person would end up in a city built in a swamp?," you ask yourself ten times a day.

The answer is that the people that live here came here for money -- jobs, high-paying legal work, the oil industry. The refineries east of town are said to pump out "the smell of money," but to me it smells like ass. Ass, that is, after eating a big old toxic waste burrito. That's Houston, that toddlin' town.

Yet the people that live here for their financial interest make a big deal out of supporting the city. Sort of like being a fan of the local sports team -- not because you know them personally or anything, but because only a Commie would oppose the local sports team. Similarly, Houston's wealthy boosters are stuck here, so they figure they might as well deny that there's anything wrong with the city. Such as -- to briefly reiterate -- the fact that it is nothing more than a paved swamp unfit for human habitation. The boosters see the problem as one of "perception"; that people that mention the weather and the crime and the "smell of money" are just not being good citizens. Don't they realize that the only way to tolerate the humidity is to talk about how great it is to have good ethnic food -- if you drive 45 minutes away to the place where ethnic people live? Or the arts! We have great arts! Sponsored by the local oil companies!

So, naturally I have analogized this situation to the current political climate.

Bush is the oppressive, nasty humidity that makes everyone sweat.
And the Chamber of Commerce is the Bush re-election machine. Some of the Republicans support Bush because he's their "team." Others support him only because they're stuck here, in a town that smells like toxic-waste-ass-burrito, but they can't move anywhere else. Like, say, Massachusetts.

To all those who are "stuck" in "Houston," I say this: Help is on the way, but only if you want it.
And to those of us who are actually stuck in Houston, I say this: isn't it great to live in a town with a world-class symphony?

 3:50 PM
You will, of course, recall that the 9/11 Commission was specifically limited to an investigation of our intelligence agencies. By political fiat, it was prohibited from investigating the Bush administration's own complicity and error.

The CIA got burned by that one-sided "investigation," and it's defending itself.

Robert Scheer has just reported that the CIA has produced a report that explains exactly how the Bush administration screwed up the intelligence it received, both before and after 9/11 -- thus explaining that Iraq was not, for instance, an "error with our intelligence agencies." The Bush administration pressured the CIA for certainty, and when it didn't get it, it called it certainty anyway.

But we won't be reading that report, because it's being suppressed with no cause. It's an election year. People are already voting. They surely don't need to be distracted with facts about the Bushies' idiocy.

Sometimes the lies and the rhetoric comes so thick and fast that it's easy to lose your bearings. But remember this: you're not crazy. They have drawn a line in the sand between their vision of Empire and the so-called "reality-based community." God help us all.

 2:25 PM

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Spooky Story, Just In Time For Halloween

"You want to see something really scary?"
-- Dan Ackroyd, Twilight Zone: The Movie

Just in time for Halloween, comes a story that has scared the ever-livin' crap out of me. I have chills running down my spine, and something close to nausea. I'm genuinely scared.

Here's the story. Read it at your own peril.

And the last lines are truly classic.

 3:49 PM

Friday, October 15, 2004

So here's the situation.

You're a Reserves soldier in Iraq. You've got crappy machinery because the Army skimped on spare parts. Your trucks are on the very edge of a breakdown.

You're ordered to make a delivery to a distant city. You know that you will almost certainly be attacked along the way. And you are told that the usual escort of armed Humvees and helicopters will not be available.

You will be driving crappy trucks, top speed 40 mph or so, through hostile territory. It's a suicide mission.

What do you do?

If you're a 17-member Reserves platoon from Mississippi, you say "F*ck you, arrest me."

So they did, and they did. They're in prison in Iraq, and the Army is "investigating" the situation.

To state the obvious, they're in a world of sh*t. They have disobeyed a direct order of a commanding officer, which means that they're looking at jail time unless the order was illegitimate in some way. Their only real hope is public opinion, which makes me glad that the story is getting some play on national media outlets. Unfortunately, some of the stories are omitting some of the more salient details, like the soldier that called home and said "I'm in prison because I refused to go on a suicide mission." Or words to that effect.

Here's the story, and it's developing here, and here. Here is the Daily Kos diary that keeps track of it.

I don't need to tell you that this is a very bad sign. And I don' t need to tell you that if things are really that bad in Iraq, our soldiers are going to need every bit of support we can give them.

 5:15 PM

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

I need a new keyboard

I need a new keyboard. Damn thing broke when my jaw hit it this morning.

You know, you think you've got thick skin, and then you find out about another filthy insider deal tainted by oil money, and you realize that you're still a babe in the woods.

Here's the story.

Naomi Klein explains it better than I could, but here's the short outline:

1. Bush names James Baker to be the "Special Envoy" seeking debt relief for Iraq. The stated policy of the United States is that debt relief is critical to the future success of a free Iraq, and thus we are seeking commitments to forgive 90-95% of Iraqi debt.

2. But Baker is also an equity partner in the Carlyle Group (of "Fahrenheit 9/11" fame).

3. Carlyle has proposed to Kuwait that it transfer up to $57 billion in Iraqi debt to a foundation controlled by Carlyle, in order to "protect" it from the general move toward debt forgiveness.

4. The reason this scheme is supposed to work is, no surprise, because the guy seeking debt relief would make big money by not seeking debt relief for Kuwait. The Carlyle Group tiptoes around this subject in a way that almost sounds like a sales pitch: "Gosh, we sure can't guarantee anything now, because our head honcho is currently trying to collect the debt. But he will be stepping down soon. And the Carlyle Group has access to world leaders, so it can protect your interests."

5. Thus, Bush's envoy for debt relief has a staggering conflict of interest.

6. Carlyle even has proposals in place to invest a small percentage of the money in privatized Iraqi companies, so that it will seem like Kuwait wants to "help" Iraq by collecting the debts. That way, all the robots on the right can parrot the talking points. "The liberals are too ignorant to understand that Kuwait is trying to help Iraq."

7. It will shock you, no doubt, that debt relief efforts are failing fast under Baker's stewardship, or that he has made the assertion that America isn't seeking relief of "reparations" debt -- which is most of the Kuwaiti debt -- despite stated U.S. policy to the contrary.

And here's the coup de grace: Bush used the "pledges" of debt relief to counter Kerry's assertion that other nations aren't picking up their share of the tab in Iraq. But no nation has made any such "pledge," and his best buddy Baker has an extreme financial interest in failing at his job.

It's the damndest thing. People have raked Michael Moore over the coals for "Fahrenheit 9/11," especially his section detailing Bush-Saudi connections through the Carlyle Group. Though Moore was merely showing the implicit conflict of interest, it turns out the facts were much, much worse than we knew.




 11:12 AM

Monday, October 11, 2004

Disturbing Footage

I just saw a particularly disturbing Quicktime movie that someone has assembled out there in Net land, and I recommend it highly for its video content (if not entirely for its message).

It lays Dubya's performance in the 1994 Gubernatorial debate against his performance in the first 2004 Presidential debate, and it is shocking how much less articulate he has become. The point of the video is to argue that Dubya has "pre-senile dementia," which I think is a bit of a stretch. But I had forgotten that Young Dubya was reasonably articulate -- at least when compared to his present self.


Makes you wonder about the prospects for a second term.

Bush's second debate performance was better, but not good enough. He had the most ridiculous plastered-on smile when he wasn't talking, all the more absurd because of his attack-dog body language. Once again, neither candidate actually answered the questions being asked of him. And once again, Kerry did a lot to make himself look more "Presidential" than Rove had painted him.

Meanwhile, Kerry's new problem is the New York Times Magazine article about his views on the "War on Terror." Fascinating article -- the author spends much time talking about how Kerry is hyper-careful to watch his words lest he be called "flip-flopping," even when it would make perfect sense to do so. As a result, author Matt Bai has a hard time assessing his own criticism that Kerry has not laid out his own world-view of the problem of terrorism -- probably because Rove would distort it the minute he did. Bai speculates that it actually is the "Mafia model" of terrorism that Bush tries to ridicule (e.g. the "September 10th" idea that terrorism is a criminal problem, not a military one), and defends that view as perhaps the more mature one. Yet Rove has already taken the article and distorted it to go on the attack, just as he did the "global test" line. So ironically, Kerry is proved right. Perhaps Kerry should have been even more reticent with the New York Times.

I have great sympathy for Kerry's problem. Even in an office of commercial litigators, I find that Bush supporters have no patience for nuanced political argument -- even when the complexity of the world warrants that nuance. It drives me up the wall, and I know it has to be driving Kerry berserk.

 8:05 AM

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Thoughts on the Debate

Just a few thoughts on the debate last night:

1. Wondering why Edwards made such a big deal about Saddam having nothing to do with 9-11? Obvious, right?

Nope. 42% of all people, and 62% of Republicans, think Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for 9-11. I think Atrios summed it up best when he said that Republicans were "too stupid to breathe." But I'm not being partisan or anything. We should all just hold hands together and sing Kum-Ba-Yah.

2. It made a big impression when Cheney said that he had never met Edwards before that night, right?

Whoops. Cheney not only met Edwards at a 2001 prayer breakfast, he specifically named him from the podium.

And now a short Q and A about this last item.

Q: What is your reaction to this revelation?


Q: Care to follow up?

A: (snort) (snort) HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA (cough)

3. Best thing about the debate? Gwen Ifill's questions.

4. Worst thing about the debate? The candidates' refusal to answer those questions.

5. Biggest missed opportunity of the night? Gwen Ifill didn't say "Now, because neither of you answered the question I asked, here it is again. What -- should -- the federal government -- DO -- that's a verb -- DO -- about -- AIDS?"

6. As for who won the debate, I don't think that either one of them changed any minds. It will have the least effect on the partisans, who will take what "their" candidate said without checking further. The rare person that bothers to check into the accuracy of what was said will find that Edwards had the better of the fact-checking, but who's willing to do that?

And in a final thought, I have absolutely reached the breaking point over a new RNC tactic -- the "global test" comment by Kerry. Jon Stewart tagged it pretty well last night, but I have just been disgusted at the attempt to turn Kerry's words.

What did Kerry say? (1) America has the right of preemptive action. (2) No one has the right to veto America's defense decisions. (3) But when we take action, we need to be shoot straight with America and the world so that they will trust us when we take that action.

Not hard, right?

The attempt to turn "global test" into some sort of echo of the 1972 comment about a UN veto of military action is (1) so false as to be functionally retarded, and (2) so callous as to be completely despicable.

 8:05 AM

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Sometimes I get so tickled I can't stop laughing.

Bush made a spectacle of himself at the debate by leaning heavily on Poland as a member of the Coalition of the Coerced -- "He forgot Poland!" shouted Chimpy, as if he had finally caught the smart kid in an error.

Poland returned the favor by announcing that it is withdrawing from Iraq.



Tonight, we get the spectacle of Dead-Eye Dick versus the Breck Boy, and it could be a sight to behold. The GOP demanded the sit-down format, which favors Cheney because it does not require him to exert himself in any way. Edwards has to sit down instead of standing and talking to voters -- which is what he does best. Nevertheless, it will be an entertaining fight. People generally believe that Cheney (1) knows what he's talking about, but (2) is kinda creepy. Edwards might be able to make that work for him, especially if he carries a flaming torch and scares the Frankenpresident. "FIRE!" shouts Cheney. "ME HATE FIRE! AARRRRRR!"

The most interesting thing to me about the post-debate period is the attitude of Bush supporters that it "wasn't his best performance, I admit." There is so much bound up in that statement -- that the only problem with the debate was an uncharacteristic lapse of charisma, that his fundamental plans for the world are intact. That is, the debate wasn't reality.

I see the problem as being exactly the opposite: what America saw was Dubya's real side, just as Iraq is really a disaster, and the federal budget is really screwing over our soldiers to provide tax cuts, and Bush really only talks to groups where the members sign a loyalty oath, and Bush really is so ignorant about his supposed "faith" that he cannot recall whether Jesus supported the death penalty.

For instance, there are Americans -- not to name any in particular, but I'm related to a few -- who were upset that Kerry called Iyad Allawi's veracity into question. How insulting! How disrespectful! Of course, they never bothered to discover that Allawi's speech was filled with objectively disprovable facts. (e.g. "Iraq is a safe place -- come visit and see for yourself.") They do not recall that (1) Allawi was a CIA asset (2) installed by the US (3) after the US unilaterally vetoed the UN choice for the job. He's the Prime Minister of Iraq! Just like Thieu was the Prime Minister of South Vietnam!

Easy shots aside, I'm disturbed at how the electorate is dividing into two camps. Probably because I am torn between the two camps on a daily basis.

One side is the people for whom "faith" is more important than anything. Faith is honor. Faith is the basis of leadership and personal skills, which is why this camp has so many business leaders and professionals -- people who understand that a man's honor can be more important than his ability to regurgitate facts. For this camp, faith trumps arguments about "objective proof," because there is no such thing as "objective proof" any more -- the "media" are so biased that there is no such thing as "truth" coming from the media. Sure, Fox News is slanted (they admit in their more candid moments), but it's no less plausible than any other news organization. Because there is no hard proof to the contrary, they follow their higher calling to faith and personal insight. As a result, they follow their gut, and the gut says to trust the President. After all, he has said that God wanted him to be President, and I trust God. Generally, this camp has people of strong religious faith, accustomed to the long-standing war between faith and science. (They want "intelligent design" taught in schools, for instance, under the rhetoric of "teaching the debate" between Creationism and Evolution.) Science is too slippery and too contradictory -- so what's the exact "lineage of man" this week? -- but faith in the transcendent is unchanging. They see themselves in the President, and they trust him when he says that the media is lying to them.

The other camp in America does not have "faith" in anything or anyone, and get angry at those that do because they see it as ignorance. They believe that the media are more or less reliable, so long as one is careful to follow multiple sources. As a result, they know more facts, but are prone to ignore the media's more flagrant outrages. They are less interested in the personal aspects of honor and faith, and tend to confuse those qualities with any sort of personal charisma. As a result, they don't think it matters that an extremely personable president had a cheap, low-rent fling with an intern and then lied about it. Why should it? He's still an effective speaker, and the economy kept on ticking in the meantime. More critically, this camp doesn't believe there is a culture war under way, or that there is anything wrong with the rapidly changing morals of the country. They just enjoy reality television (though they don't admit it). As for science, they believe what scientists say -- not because they have a good education in the sciences, but because they trust scientists in more or less the same way they trust the media.

This divide is why Barack Obama caused such a stir with his "We worship an awesome God in the blue states" speech. It's a message of hope, but it is somewhat out of touch with reality. For instance, every day I feel more and more uncomfortable as a professing Christian who opposes the faith-based politics of the Right. I hope that Obama can bridge the gap for people like me, but I am losing faith. Ironically.

This divide is also why Bush's performance in the debate was so devastating -- he seemed untrustworthy. It's hard to have faith in someone when he is petulant, angry and uninformed. It's hard to call someone a "flip-flopper" when he has direct answers to questions.

And most importantly of all, this divide is why the President elected (or selected) in 2004 is going to have a hell of a time getting anything done.

 8:34 AM

Monday, October 04, 2004

I would guess if we had gone into Iraq I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home.

And the final point that I think needs to be made is this question of casualties. I don't think you could have done all of that without significant additional U.S. casualties. And while everybody was tremendously impressed with the low cost of the (1991) conflict, for the 146 Americans who were killed in action and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war.

And the question in my mind is how many additional American casualties is Saddam (Hussein) worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.

Who said it? French-lovin' wuss Kerry?

Nope. Dick Cheney, the de facto President of the United States, in 1992.

Damn, I hate it when Cheney is right.

 4:25 PM

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Worst Of Outcomes

I think that the debates ended with the worst of all possible outcomes -- from my own narrow view. That is, after watching a shrieking chimp rattle his podium in petulant rage, I can say this:


It's the worst of outcomes because it seriously makes me doubt the sanity of 52% of the American public. Now, I can't feel that I have a "disagreement" with them. I have to now suspect that they are mouth-breathing troglodytes for being willing to vote for someone so obviously inferior.

But that's just my reaction. I haven't heard the pundits yet. Maybe they'll try to persuade me that Bush didn't leap up on his podium and show his shiny red ass to the world.

 7:46 AM

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