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November 27, 2002

Attention holiday shoppers

Remember, if you want a signed print in time for the holidays, you need to get your order in by the end of next week. After that, I'll do my best, but no guarantees.

Also: offering the prints has inspired a few of you to write in and ask about the availability of t-shirts. I don't have anything for you right now, but my friends in the band Cake have printed up a few more copies of their Unlimited Sunshine shirt featuring an old cartoon of mine. More information on that here.

Have a good turkey day. See you in a few.

Your George W. Bush Fun Fact of the Day

According to Secrets of the Tomb, Alexandra Robbins' book about Skull & Bones (the Yale secret society to which our President and his father both belonged), some new pledges--called "knights"--are automatically assigned traditional secret names:

"Magog," the knight who has the most experience with members of the opposite sex; "Gog," the least sexually experienced member; "Long Devil," the tallest man in the club; "Boaz," any varsity football captain; and "Little Devil," Long Devil's rival and the shortest knight in the club. The knights who are left over are free to choose their own namesÖ

But here's the fun part:

The Bonesmen who influenced George W. Bush's life would have known him by another name: Temporary, an appellation he used because he could not think of anything else and never bothered to change it.

(For what it's worth, George Senior was reportedly named Magog.)

Like father, like son

"If you're so smart, how come I'm president and you're not?"
--George Bush Senior the First.

"I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the President. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
--George Bush Junior the Second.

They're just doing this to mess with our heads, right?

President Bush signed legislation creating a new independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks Wednesday and named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to lead the panel.

"Dr. Kissinger will bring broad experience, clear thinking and careful judgment to this important task," Bush said at a signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. "Mr. Secretary, thank you for returning to the service of your nation."

More.

Sing it loud, sing it proud

I really have to remember to check in on Neal Pollack more often:

As you may have read on Friday, and should read immediately below this post, there is a new name for the new category of political thought shared by my 256,540 readers. We are Beagles! Loyal, true, and prone to howling at the slightest noise or provocation. And I have written a song that you must teach to your children. Post the lyrics on your mantle for the day when I come to visit you in your home. I will visit each and every one of you, I promise. Now sing with me:

We are the Beagles!
Long and strong and proud!
We are the Beagles!
Our voices are quite loud!
We will destroy our enemies
Like Krugman, Raines and Dowd
'Cause we are the Beagles!
Long and strong and proud!
We will multiply our minions
With the strength of our opinions!
For we are the Beagles!
Long and strong and proud!

Bearing False Witness

David Corn on Jerry Falwell:

Falwell is free to be foolish, and CNN is free to exploit his foolishness to achieve that much-sought-after image of fair-and-balanced. But Falwell went further. He claimed, "global warming is a myth." Sider tried to rebut him, saying, "Our best scientists tell us that, in fact, global warming..." But Falwell interrupted to counter, "No, our best scientists donít tell us." He explained: "It was global cooling 30 years ago ... and itís global warming now. And neither of us will be here 100 years from now to know what it is. But I can tell you, our grandchildren will laugh at those who predicted global warming. Weíll be cooler by then, if the Lord hasnít returned.... The fact is that there is no global warming."

Falwell was lying. The consensus of the climate-science community is indeed that human-induced global warming is real and that it poses serious dangers. Last year, after much foot-dragging, President Bush acknowledged this. His acceptance came begrudgingly when the National Academy of Sciences released a report that Bush had commissioned. The study decisively noted, "Greenhouse gasses are accumulating in Earthís atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.... The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities.... Human-induced warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through the 21st century."

Does Falwell not consider the NAS to be "our best scientists"? Does he know better ones? Does he know better himself?

Falwell then shifted from deceit to delusion: "The whole [global warming] thing is created to destroy Americaís free enterprise system and our economic stability." That must be why so many radical anti-American individuals and outfits such as the NAS, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, British Petroleum, William Clay Ford Jr., Kenneth Lay and Enron (yes, indeed!), Colin Powell, and Christine Todd Whitman have acknowledged the threat of global warming. Falwell is a paranoid loon to believe some devilish force cooked up global warming to annihilate America. And he ignores all the other costs of an oil-obsessed economy: air pollution, oil spills (see Spain), a dependence on imports.

* * *

Falwellís appearance on this segment illustrates a fundamental problem with shouting-head journalism. Cable news networks, adopting the bedrock principal of the adversarial judicial system, often act as if the best way to present information is to serve the viewer two opposing advocates battling it out. But in many instances, this ends up confusing rather than illuminating. Not every fact is debatable, not every opinion equal -- or worth equal time. What was the journalistic responsibility of Judy Woodruff, who moderated the Sider-Falwell exchange? Shouldnít she have informed the audience that there was absolutely no factual basis to what Falwell was saying? Is it her job to provide a platform to someone who can be proven to be a liar?

More.

Spank the Donkey

My friend Steve Perry has some somber thoughts on the Democratic Party:

You could say that times changed and the party changed with them, and you would be right so far as it goes. But it had nothing to do with the sentiments of the people. The party's right turn was a move conceived from within and designed to make the Democrats a more appealing vehicle for major private and corporate donors. This past election notwithstanding, the strategy has been an enormous success. Cash receipts have grown mightily. The business wing of the party has generated a president who became the first Democrat since FDR to win re-election to the White House, and missed electing his successor by a handful of votes (one vote, really, in the Supreme Court). The business Democrats' hold on the national party apparatus is complete.

The Reagan/Bush/Clinton years worked many changes in the political culture, and none was more profound than the market revolution. Over the past generation the American public has been relentlessly conditioned to believe that whatever is dictated by the market--in more guileless days, it was simply called the money power--is sensible, reasonable, necessary. Our values and aspirations as a society are now routinely subjected to the flummery of cost/benefit analyses in which it's understood that the only thing that really matters is cost. Democrats, under cover of "realism," are every bit as complicit in this shift as Republicans.

And where does it leave us? More than ever, the business of America is business (and its stepchild, war) and the business of Democrats is betrayal.

More.

I'm beginning to like the New Al Gore

First he calls for universal health coverage, and now he's turning into a perceptive, if partisan, media critic:

"Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, The Washington Times and the others. And then theyíll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon theyíll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story theyíve pushed into the zeitgeist. And then pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these R.N.C. talking points are woven into the fabric of the zeitgeist."

And during a lengthy discourse on the history of political journalism in America, Mr. Gore said he believed that evolving technologies and market forces have combined to lower the mediaís standards of objectivity. "The introduction of cable-television news and Internet news made news a commodity, available from an unlimited number of sellers at a steadily decreasing cost, so the established news organizations became the high-cost producers of a low-cost commodity," said Mr. Gore. "Theyíre selling a hybrid product now thatís news plus news-helper; whether itís entertainment or attitude or news thatís marbled with opinion, itís different. Now, especially in the cable-TV market, it has become good economics once again to go back to a party-oriented approach to attract a hard-core following that appreciates the predictability of a right-wing point of view, but then to make aggressive and constant efforts to deny thatís what theyíre doing in order to avoid offending the broader audience that mass advertisers want. Thus the Fox slogan ëWe Report, You Decide,í or whatever the current version of their ritual denial is."

It's about time Democrats started acknowledging the 900-pound elephant in the control booth.

More on Eli Lilly

The conservative argument in favor of the special Eli Lilly Payback Provision of the Homeland Security bill is essentially this: there's no scientific evidence linking the vaccine preservative thimerosal to autism--only anecdotal (which is true). The eeeevil trial lawyers, however, will use this anecdotal evidence to bankrupt, I tell you, bankrupt the pharmaceutical industry, and then when the terrorists unleash smallpox or some other biological agent upon us, we'll have no vaccines with which to protect ourselves, because the pharmaceutical companies will have all closed up shop and gone home.

Of course, this imaginative justification still doesn't explain why the provision was added to the bill at the last minute under cover of darkness, nor why Trent Lott had to promise to "revisit" the issue because even moderate Republicans blanched at passing the bill with this provision intact.

Nor does it address some other interesting points Bob Herbert brought up yesterday:

Now this has nothing to do with homeland security. Nothing. This is not a provision that will in any way protect us from the ferocious evil of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. So why is it there? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the major drug companies have become a gigantic collective cash machine for politicians, and that the vast majority of that cash goes to Republicans.

Or maybe it's related to the fact that Mitch Daniels, the White House budget director, is a former Eli Lilly big shot. Or the very convenient fact that just last June President Bush appointed Eli Lilly's chairman, president and C.E.O., Sidney Taurel, to a coveted seat on the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

There's a real bad smell here. Eli Lilly will benefit greatly as both class-action and individual lawsuits are derailed. But there are no fingerprints in sight. No one will own up to a legislative deed that is both cynical and shameful.

And then there's this extraordinary tidbit:

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Attorneys for the Bush Administration asked a federal court on Monday to order that documents on hundreds of cases of autism allegedly caused by childhood vaccines be kept from the public.

Department of Justice lawyers asked a special master in the US Court of Federal Claims to seal the documents, arguing that allowing their automatic disclosure would take away the right of federal agencies to decide when and how the material should be released.

Attorneys for the families of hundreds of autistic children charged that the government was trying to keep the information out of civil courts, where juries might be convinced to award large judgments against vaccine manufacturers.

Nope, nothing funny going on here. The Republicans are only motivated by a desire to protect the homeland, pure and simple.

(For more on this topic, check out PLA and Wampum.)

--------------------

November 26, 2002

More virus nonsense

Still getting the returned email which suggests that someone is spoofing my address at some point in the delivery system. These things appear to have .exe attachments, which are always a bad news for those of you on PC's. So, consider this a public service warning: if you get something with the subject line "The current version of the Outlook Express Read", or something similar, delete it immediately, regardless of the return address (it may appear to be coming from Microsoft).

--------------------

November 25, 2002

Danger--irony overload ahead

From a 1997 article entitled "Keep Big Brother's Hands off the Internet."

The Clinton administration would like the Federal government to have the capability to read any international or domestic computer communications. The FBI wants access to decode, digest, and discuss financial transactions, personal e-mail, and proprietary information sent abroad -- all in the name of national security. To accomplish this, President Clinton would like government agencies to have the keys for decoding all exported U.S. software and Internet communications.

This proposed policy raises obvious concerns about Americans' privacy, in addition to tampering with the competitive advantage that our U.S. software companies currently enjoy in the field of encryption technology. Not only would Big Brother be looming over the shoulders of international cyber-surfers, but the administration threatens to render our state-of-the-art computer software engineers obsolete and unemployed.

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights.

So who is this crusading author, this champion of privacy rights and individual liberties?

Why, John Ashcroft , of course.

Your mind bender for today

This definitely qualifies for the, "Are they out of their frickin minds?" category. The geniuses in the Bush admin are wooing Iraqi Ayatollah Muhammad Bakir al-Hakim, based in Iran, as part of their attempt to go after Saddam Hussein.

Let's get this straight. They are backing an Ayatollah, backed by the Ayatollahs they consider part of an Axis of Evil for overthrowing the secular dictator they put and kept in power, in order to help overthrow another part of the Axis of Evil led by a secular dictator they put and kept in power.

Via Rantomatic.

Clarification

This week's cartoon refers to the military discharge of six "highly trained" Arabic linguists. A couple of readers have pointed out that these guys were still at the Defense Language Institute when they were discharged, so "highly trained" may have been overstating the case. It's hard to tell from this story the extent of their training, though the dischargees who are specifically discussed seem to consider themselves proficient (and it's probably fair to assume that the DLI is not a haven for slackers). In any case, the point I was trying to make still stands: there's a desperate shortage of Arabic translators, and for obvious reasons we need as many as we can get right now, so kicking these guys out because of their sexual orientation was incredibly stupid.

Afterthought: perhaps some of my readers in the military--and I do have them, believe it or not--can help set the record straight on this one (no pun intended this time).

Update: military readers respond (identifying details removed for obvious reasons).

Here is my take on the situation. I am a Sergeant in
the Army, stationed in ____________. I've been
in for ____ years. Your readers are right, they were
not "highly trained", but were in the process of
becoming so. They were at the DLI to learn Arabic for
their new jobs as Arabic translators. DLI is no place
for slackers, as the course's 68% pass rate attests
(I've never heard of an Army school with such a low
passing rate). The bottom line is, as you said, the
Army discharged 6 soldiers from an MOS (Military
Occupational Specialty) with a critical shortage of
soldiers for a poor reason (in my opinion, anyway, not
that I'm allowed to have one).

More interesting to me is the fact that we only know
that two soldiers were actually gay. The other seven
all told the commander that they were. Teling your
commander you are gay is the easiest way to get out of
the Army. After the murder of the gay soldier at Fort
Campbell, commanders want to get gay people out as
quickly as possible so that they don't get killed. If
you tell your commander you are gay, you will get
discharged (honorably) in 72 hours. In comparison, my
friend is so injured that he hasn't been able to carry
a weapon, march, run, or do any exercises for over two
years, and he will not be discharged for another 3
months. I suspect that they realized "Oh shit! I'm
going to Iraq to get gassed and die!" and decided to
get out ASAP.

Anyway, these are just my impressions on the story.
As long as the military has this assinine policy in
effect (Which we wouldn't if Clinton had Harry
Truman's balls and forced us to accept gays), stories
like this will happen.

* * *

I just saw your blog comment about the linguists and the complaint
that they were still at DLI. I just got off of active duty and spent
my last year at a Military Intelligence battalion and some of my best
friends were arabic linguists.

Now, this is no infantry unit. These guys sit around in Hummers all
day and interept transmissions. The fact that they were gay would put
very little stress on the soldiers around them in this environment.

Now, in defense of the armed forces, they have to uphold standards.
If someone lets it be known that they're gay, then they have to be
discharged. That's just the way the regulations read at the moment.
Of course, the current administration could change that, but there's
no way Bush would do that no matter how much we needed these soldiers.

Once again, the 9-11 trail leads to our good friend and ally Saudi Arabia

You know, the country that gave us fifteen of the nineteen hijackers.

From Newsweek:

The FBI is investigating whether the Saudi Arabian governmentóusing the bank account of the wife of a senior Saudi diplomatósent tens of thousands of dollars to two Saudi students in the United States who provided assistance to two of the September 11 hijackers, according to law-enforcement sources.

--------------------

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