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Working For Change

February 01, 2003

Submitted for your consideration

An exchange from the Bush/Blair press conference:

Q Mr. President, an account of the White House after 9/11 says that you ordered invasion plans for Iraq six days after September the 11th -- Bob Woodward's account. Isn't it the case that you have always intended war on Iraq, and that international diplomacy is a charade in this case?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, prior to September the 11th, we were discussing smart sanctions. We were trying to fashion a sanction regime that would make it more likely to be able to contain somebody like Saddam Hussein. After September the 11th, the doctrine of containment just doesn't hold any water, as far as I'm concerned.

I've told you the strategic vision of our country shifted dramatically, and it shifted dramatically because we now recognize that oceans no longer protect us, that we're vulnerable to attack.

This is, of course, a demonstrable lie, as this article makes clear. This war has been on the drafting board since well before September 11. And any pundit who argues otherwise is either poorly informed or lying, and in either case, is not a person whose words should be trusted.

Not looking good

In case you're checking this site before you look at the news, it looks like we lost the shuttle and its crew on reentry.


January 30, 2003

Unscientific poll watch

Fox News is asking, "Should Bush set a deadline for Saddam?" Right now, "Yes, we've given him too much time already" is leading with 88%, while "No, let the inspectors work" has a mere 10% ("not sure" accounts for the other 2%).

As always, this site encourages you to participate fully in democracy in all its varied guises.

Update: link removed because the poll has run its course. Have a good weekend--I think I'm done here for the week.

Speaking of tinfoil hats...

A reader draws my attention to this report, titled Rebuilding America's Defenses (.pdf format), from a thinktank called the Project for a New American Century. I haven't looked through the whole thing yet, but here are a couple of sobering excerpts:

ESTABLISH FOUR CORE MISSIONS for U.S. military forces: --defend the American homeland; --fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars; --perform the "constabulary" duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions; --transform U.S. forces to exploit the "revolution in military affairs"

* * *

... the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event ñ like a new Pearl Harbor.

* * *

Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Emphasis added.

Did I mention that this was written in September of 2000? Or that signatories to the original PNAC Statement of Principles included Elliott Abrams, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush and Paul Wolfowitz?

I'm going out to buy some Reynolds Wrap now.

Update: my pal Vance Lemkuhl emails to point out that this was a front page story at his paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, on Monday.

Just because you're paranoid...

Meant to post this tidbit yesterday, but Patrick Nielsen Hayden has done the heavy lifting:


(1) Prominent Republican Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey, is the new chairman of the 9/11 commission.

(2) Kean is also a director of petroleum company Amerada Hess.

(3) In 1988, Amerada Hess formed a joint venture with Saudi company Delta Oil.

(4) One of Delta Oil's backers is Khalid bin Mahfouz, who is--here's where you need to clap your hat firmly to your skull--married to one of Osama Bin Laden's sisters. And suspected of financing Al Qaeda. Oh, and named in one of the lawsuits brought by 9/11 victims. Did we mention that he's also been involved in deals with the Carlyle Group, the ultra-secret investment group that includes, among others, George H. W. Bush? And also in deals with--yes, your tinfoil hat, properly adjusted, plays 1980s popular music!--BCCI?

There's more on his site, go read it.

(Update: just to be clear, all joking about tinfoil hats aside, this is originally from Fortune magazine.)

And speaking of the way the world really works--er, that is to say, crazy conspiracy theories--this is from The Hill:

On May 23, 1997, Victor Baird, who resigned Monday as director of the Senate Ethics Committee, sent a letter to Sen. Charles Hagel requesting ìadditional, clarifying informationî for the personal financial disclosure report that all lawmakers are required to file annually.


One underlying issue is whether Hagel properly disclosed his financial ties to Election Systems & Software (ES&S), a company that makes nearly half the voting machines used in the United States, including all those used in his native Nebraska.

ES&S is a subsidiary of McCarthy Group Inc., which is jointly held by the holding firm and the Omaha World-Herald Co., which publishes the stateís largest newspaper. The voting machine company makes sophisticated optical scan and touch-screen vote-counting devices that many states have begun buying in recent years.

An official at Nebraskaís Election Administration estimated that ES&S machines tallied 85 percent of the votes cast in Hagelís 2002 and 1996 election races.

In 1996, ES&S operated as American Information Systems Inc. (AIS). The company became ES&S after merging with Business Records Corp. in 1997.

In a disclosure form filed in 1996, covering the previous year, Hagel, then a Senate candidate, did not report that he was still chairman of AIS for the first 10 weeks of the year, as he was required to do.

Just ponder the implications of that for a moment...

(Via reader Carolyn Kay, but I see that the all-seeing, all-knowing Atrios is on it too.)


January 29, 2003

Unscientific poll watch

An ongoing public service of thismodernworld.com.

Bill O'Reilly wants to know if you think the President's State Of The Union speech was effective. There are two possible responses, either "Yes - Just what we needed," or "No-a total disappointment." Right now the results are running 94% in favor of the former.

Just so you know.

Update: Here's Wolf Blitzer's version of the same question.

Highlights of the State of the Union

Nancy Pelosi tries not to laugh as Bush claims that his tax plan will allow 92 million Americans to "keep an average of $1,100 more," and...

...the President's stirring rhetoric on Iraq apparently lulls Ted Kennedy into a deep slumber.

Anybody from Symantec reading this website?

Just got this from a reader:

Just to say that I cannot access your website, since the public access facility I use installed "Norton Internet Security Family Edition". It seems that the guys at Symantec decided that your site is not suitable for family, and hence, as an adult, I am not allowed to see it.

Is this true? Has Symantec decided that children should not be exposed to the politics of this site?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Con game

From TomPaine.com:

The president has laid out his agenda. Call it bold, brilliant, audacious or outrageous. But donít call it ìconservative.î

Real conservatives promote fiscal prudence, public accountability and limited government. But the policies promoted by Mr. Bush and his party, as outlined in the State of the Union speech, is a sad parody of those values. Bush and company are running a con game ñ they seek to gain our CONfidence by assuring us they are CONservative. But their desire to hold political power has trumped genuine public-spirited principle and the values they profess.

Fiscal prudence? The keystone of todayís ìconservativeî agenda is a dedication to tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, even though doing so will increase the deficit. Thatís short-term thinking at its worst. Because of those tax breaks, the faltering economy and the war on terrorism, some economists estimate weíll have deficits of $300 billion a year for the foreseeable future. The next generation of Americans will bear the burden of that debt. Thereís something profoundly immoral about financing tax breaks for todayís wealthiest Americans by borrowing money from the unborn.


August wonders...

...which side will co-opt this quote first:

"Your enemy is not surrounding your country. your enemy is ruling your country."

This one also struck me as ripe for appropriation:

"Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world."

Deja vu all over again
"The key weapon in the warriors' political arsenal was the fear inspired by a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein.....Initially, Safire predicted that the Iraqis would have the nuclear bomb ready to deliver to the United States by 1994 ("The first city he will take out is New York"). A few months into the crisis, in the midst of four consecutive columns on the subject, The Times man moved the deadline up to 1993..... Unfortunately, neither Safire nor anyone else in the West had any dependable information about the Iraqi nuclear program.... even Colin Powell saw the threat as years away."

From Eric Alterman's 1992 book, Sound and Fury, via Ziska. And Wampumblog has more deja vu.


January 28, 2003

I don't suppose this will change anyone's mind...

...but as the president tries to make the case for war tonight, I think it's important to remember that this is what he's talking about. (Via Body & Soul.)

Notable quotables

"UPI ought to be embarassed now that Helen Thomas has said that George Bush is the worst president in American history." --Sean Hannity, on his radio show, a few minutes ago, apparently unaware that Helen Thomas resigned from UPI when the Moonies bought it in 2000.

Message in a bottle

Ken Layne had some free advice for Salon recently. I'm especially with him on this:

Next, I'd get rid of all the right-leaning columnists. It's pointless to pretend you're all things to all people when you're clearly a left-leaning San Francisco site for left-leaning yuppies. If that's the readership, embrace it. Return to the partisan days of the Clinton impeachment. Make fun of Dubya. Profile Jackson Browne or whoever.

Well, maybe not Jackson Browne--and I think Salon has been an important critic of Dubya--but you get the basic idea. Salon is a left/liberal site, which needs the loyalty of its core audience right now more than ever. Clicking through the ad or coughing over the subscription money only to be confronted with Andrew Sullivan's Liberal Idiocy of the Week column is the online equivalent of a sucker punch.

What's the old quote? A liberal is someone who's so fair-minded, he won't take his own side in an argument?

(As always, I encourage you to share your thoughts about Salon with Salon, rather than me.)

Stormin' Norman, version 2.0
The general who commanded U.S. forces in the 1991 Gulf War says he hasn't seen enough evidence to convince him that his old comrades Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and Paul Wolfowitz are correct in moving toward a new war now. He thinks U.N. inspections are still the proper course to follow. He's worried about the cockiness of the U.S. war plan, and even more by the potential human and financial costs of occupying Iraq.

* * *

"The thought of Saddam Hussein with a sophisticated nuclear capability is a frightening thought, okay?" he says. "Now, having said that, I don't know what intelligence the U.S. government has. And before I can just stand up and say, 'Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we need to invade Iraq,' I guess I would like to have better information."

He hasn't seen that yet, and so -- in sharp contrast to the Bush administration -- he supports letting the U.N. weapons inspectors drive the timetable: "I think it is very important for us to wait and see what the inspectors come up with, and hopefully they come up with something conclusive."

* * *

"The Rumsfeld thing . . . that's what comes up," when he calls old Army friends in the Pentagon, he says.

"When he makes his comments, it appears that he disregards the Army," Schwarzkopf says. "He gives the perception when he's on TV that he is the guy driving the train and everybody else better fall in line behind him -- or else."

That dismissive posture bothers Schwarzkopf because he thinks Rumsfeld and the people around him lack the background to make sound military judgments by themselves. He prefers the way Cheney operated during the Gulf War. "He didn't put himself in the position of being the decision-maker as far as tactics were concerned, as far as troop deployments, as far as missions were concerned."

Rumsfeld, by contrast, worries him. "It's scary, okay?" he says. "Let's face it: There are guys at the Pentagon who have been involved in operational planning for their entire lives, okay? . . . And for this wisdom, acquired during many operations, wars, schools, for that just to be ignored, and in its place have somebody who doesn't have any of that training, is of concern."


On to slightly more important matters...

When you read about the evils of Saddam's regime, it all almost begins to make sense. Maybe they're right, you think. Maybe the Iraqi people really will be grateful to have been liberated from this repressive, murderous, torturous regime.

And then you read this:

The US intends to shatter Iraq "physically, emotionally and psychologically" by raining down on its people as many as 800 cruise missiles in two days.

The Pentagon battle plan aims not only to crush Iraqi troops, but also wipe out power and water supplies in the capital, Baghdad.

It is based on a strategy known as "Shock and Awe", conceived at the National Defense University in Washington, in which between 300 and 400 cruise missiles would fall on Iraq each day for two consecutive days. It would be more than twice the number of missiles launched during the entire 40 days of the 1991 GulfWar.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," a Pentagon official told America's CBS News after a briefing on the plan. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before."

And then you come to your senses.

If this is true, and not just some kind of planted Psyop story designed to freak out the Iraqis--well, fuck us all. Does even the most bloodthirsty warblogger honestly imagine that the Iraqi people are going to be grateful, if they even manage to survive a two day blitz of 300-400 cruise missiles?

Sometimes the cure really is worse than the disease.

* * *

And then there's Nicholas Kristoff's level-headed cost-benefit analysis in this morning's New York Times (registration required--get over it):

The starting point to justify an invasion, it seems to me, has to be an affirmative answer to the question: Will we be safer if we invade?

The real answer is that we don't know. But it's quite plausible that an invasion will increase the danger to us, not lessen it. As a C.I.A. assessment said last October: "Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks [in the U.S.]. Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions." It added that Saddam might order attacks with weapons of mass destruction as "his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him."

Frankly, it seems a bad idea to sacrifice our troops' lives ó along with billions of dollars ó in a way that may add to our vulnerability.

I don't know if Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction (though attacking Iraq is certainly one way to find out for sure). But I don't doubt for a moment that there are plenty of people who would like to see a reprise of 9/11, and who will view this as a terrific opportunity to make that happen. The pro-war types seem to be thinking of the Attack on Iraq as an exciting new reality series they've been looking forward to--but as a resident of the City Most Likely to be Destroyed by a Suitcase Bomb at any Moment, I have this nagging feeling that I may end up on the wrong side of the television screen...

About Working For Change

The cartoon is supposed to go up on their site on Tuesdays, but I don't know exactly when. If you can't wait, you've always got the choice to click through Salon's ads. I know it's a pain, but try to remember: Salon isn't bankrolled by Bill Gates, and they don't have a print edition whose advertising and subscriptions support their online version. They're simply trying to figure out how to stay afloat.

If those ads make you so angry that you're never going to read Salon again, etc., etc., well--I agree, they're sort of a nuisance. But what you're also telling me, of course, is that my work isn't worth an extra ten seconds of your time.

You can imagine the depth of my sympathy.

(Those of you who do consider the cartoon worth the trouble have my sincere and heartfelt thanks--as do the majority of you who have, as requested, sent your thoughts on this subject to Salon, rather than to me.)

Update: some people actually prefer the new policy.

The new Salon policy is great! Watch one little commercial -- and you get a free day pass to all of Salon Premium!

You should be pointing out what a sweet deal this is, not bemoaning it and scaring off the commercial-phobic.

* * *

Clicked through Salonís ads yesterday ñ took like 5 seconds ñ I actually prefer it cuz now I have access to all their stuff. Which means I can be even less productive!! Thanks!

* * *

People can always pay the $30 premium and not deal with Salon's ads at all. I did it. It didn't hurt too much. It's like pledging to NPR, only it's cheaper and Nina Totenberg doesn't give you a guilt trip twice a year. Seems a small price to pay for the diverse spread of views, not to mention the excellent selection of comics.

I'm not affiliated with them at all and I'm no Daddy Warbucks. I just think halfway decent alternative press is worthy of a $30 investment.

* * *

It pains me to see you have to defend (probably not the correct term, but you get my point) Salonís movement toward a ìcommercials-first, content-laterî format in order for them to maintain and grow cashflow in these online advertising-averse times.

Clearly, people who complain about such efforts by content-based sites are either (1) not business people or (2) the type of people who complain about the schmutz on the premium-grade nozzle while filling up their BMW 745is ó as in, too cheap to pay for full-serve and too self-centered to even reflect on the ridiculousness of their moans.

Salon helps pay YOUR bills ó remind them of that. So too does the patchwork of alternatives and weeklies that carry your work in print. All of these outlets ó independent, each one ó require remuneration for their efforts. Until we become a complete police state (in about 6 months or so), we still live in a vestige of capitalism. These morons need to remember that every time they blow $4.50 on fucking coffee at Starbucks.

Ignore ëem ó or better yet, shame ëem. Eventually, shame gets to everyone. (spoken like a true lapsed catholic!)


January 27, 2003

Oh hell, I just can't stay away

This is a well-worth-your-time, first-person account of the Washington rally (and the media numbers game) by Matt Taibbi of The Beast, which is apparently the successor to Taibbi's legendary Moscow weekly, the eXile. I'm not going to excerpt it, it's long and it's all good, just go read it. (Also via August.)

Okay, one more
Facing its most chronic shortage in oil stocks for 27 years, the US has this month turned to an unlikely source of help - Iraq.

Weeks before a prospective invasion of Iraq, the oil-rich state has doubled its exports of oil to America, helping US refineries cope with a debilitating strike in Venezuela.

After the loss of 1.5 million barrels per day of Venezuelan production in December the oil price rocketed, and the scarcity of reserves threatened to do permanent damage to the US oil refinery and transport infrastructure. To keep the pipelines flowing, President Bush stopped adding to the 700m barrel strategic reserve.

But ultimately oil giants such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell saved the day by doubling imports from Iraq from 0.5m barrels in November to over 1m barrels per day to solve the problem. Essentially, US importers diverted 0.5m barrels of Iraqi oil per day heading for Europe and Asia to save the American oil infrastructure.

The trade, though bizarre given current Pentagon plans to launch around 300 cruise missiles a day on Iraq, is legal under the terms of UN's oil for food programme.

But for opponents of war, it shows the unspoken aim of military action in Iraq, which has the world's second largest proven reserves - some 112 billion barrels, and at least another 100bn of unproven reserves, according to the US Department of Energy. Iraqi oil is comparatively simple to extract - less than $1 per barrel, compared with $6 a barrel in Russia. Soon, US and British forces could be securing the source of that oil as a priority in the war strategy. The Iraqi fields south of Basra produce prized 'sweet crudes' that are simpler to refine.

Story here, via August.

Fellow travelers

As noted below, if attending an anti-war rally organized by ANSWER means that you support their hidden agenda, then certainly writing for the Washington Times makes you objectively pro-Moonie. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, takes a regular paycheck from the man who once referred to America as "Satan's Harvest." Talk about "depraved" (to use one of Andrew's favorite words)...

The vast majority of demonstrators arguably had no idea who even organized the rally. But no political commentator can plausibly plead ignorance when it comes to the Reverend Moon.

The point is, guilt by association is a slippery slope. (And spare me the Trent Lott comparisons--that's guilt by deliberate affiliation, which is a whole different can of worms.)

And as Katha Pollitt noted a few months ago, communists were prominent in the civil rights movement. Would the world be a better place today if there had been right wing bloggers on the case, trying to discredit Dr. King and the March on Washington because of it?

Well, no, it would not.

Atrios is on this, of course, as is David Neiwert. As for me, I'm probably not going to be blogging much for a day or two, for all the usual reasons.

(Edited ever-so-slighty for clarity.)


January 26, 2003


If you need a reality check after reading Bill Keller's biliously worshipful profile of our glorious leader in today's New York Times Magazine, I'd recommend this piece by Robert Reich in the current American Prospect:

A midterm USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll had Bush's job approval rating falling to 58 percent, dropping below 60 percent for the first time since the September 11 attacks. Under these circumstances, any other president would be in danger of losing his job. But Rove has convinced the press, and therefore the American public, that this presidency is nearly invincible. He has done it with an ingenious blend of chicanery and obfuscation, aided by the Democrats' utter incapability of devising a coherent message in response.

Atrios nails it...

...once again:

For all the talk about how the protesters were "supporting ANSWER" why do my friends on the other side never worry too much about supporting the theocratic aims of Reverend Moon and the Unification Church? The latter owns an influential Washington daily newspaper, much beloved in all conservative circles, and has published and presumably paid ANSWER-bashers Glenn Reynolds, Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Sullivan, etc. Unlike the former, who have no political influence and presumably minimal financial backing, Moon is a billionaire who donates oodles to many other right wing causes and organizations. While anti-war protesters were accused of supporting Stalinism and coddling dictators simply for showing up to an anti-war protest sponsored in part by a pathetic shell of an organization, many of our favorite conservatives actually work for a powerful wealthy man who has used his vast financial resources to push his frightening political agenda.

More. And The Consortium has a lot more on Moon, including this tidbit:

On May 1, 1997, Moon told a group of followers that "the country that represents Satan's harvest is America." [ Unification News, June 1997] In other sermons, he has vowed that his victorious movement will "digest" any American who tries to maintain his or her individuality. He especially has criticized American women who must "negate yourself 100 percent" to be a receptacle for the male seed.

Talk about an America-hater.

In fairness to overworked newspaper editors...

Just in case my posts on astroturfing have been too harsh on them, here's a report from the front:

I'm a long-time fan and reader, both of your strip (on Salon and when I lived in Nevada at the Reno News and Review) and the Web log. Generally, I agree about 100 percent with what you are saying, but I have to take exception to the astroturfing thread.

I am a low-level newspaper editor and serve on the editorial board of a small central-Indiana newspaper that has run at least one of these astroturf letters. I stumbled onto the issue through Cursor (which I also read religiously) and passed it on to the managing editor, and the copy editor who chooses the letters-to-the-editor. We were all appalled and vowed not to fall for the trick again, if we can help it. I plan on Monday to go through our archives and see if any other of the faux letters have made it into print and I am working on a story about how and why this happened.

BUT we didn't fall for it because we were lazy or gullible or overtly conservative. We fell for it because we are a newspaper that likes to air our readers opinions. As part of our fact-checking, we call or e-mail the sender of every letter-to-the-editor and verify its source before publication. When we call or write a person at home and ask "is this your letter and is it OK to print?" we rely on the person's response to make our decision.

Frankly, even at a small newspaper like ours, we are used to seeing barrages of form letters on a given topic. Few advocacy groups are above putting out a sample letter to which the true believers can affix their signatures and zip it off to the editor. It is not illegal and certainly not unusual. Generally, when we get a slew of these we either run the first one that comes in and ignore the rest, or we could run one letter with a list of the people that have sent it to us.

In fact, at a peace rally I was covering a few months back, an elderly gent asked if I could run an anti-war letter-to-the-editor that originally ran in his hometown Tennessee paper. I told him we would be reluctant to do so, but if he retyped the letter, reworded it slightly and attached his own name to it, we would probably be happy to run it. And in fact would have no way of knowing that it already appeared in the other newspaper.

I think the astroturf letters work because they are written in a simple, almost homey style that doesn't raise any red flags. They don't come across as polished, PR-agency created letters (and I don't really mean that as a swipe at the literacy of the GOP Team Leader writers.) And the astroturfers are perfectly willing to lie through their teeth to get their grassroots campaign in the paper. And we have neither the adequate means, nor the time to check every letter to see if it has been published elsewhere.

Our story so far

Head to Body & Soul for a good recap of the adventures of Dick Cheney, Enabler of Evil. (Permalinks seem to be glitchy there, so you may need to scroll down.)

A propaganda primer

From Late Night Thoughts:

1. It appears out of nowhere as a full-blown argument and becomes the only explanation . Until late yesterday, the majority of the pro-war argument about the anti-war demonstrations had centered on the numbers (too few people to matter). Suddenly, after the pictures appeared on the Web and the numbers could not be denied, the taint by association screed appeared, and every major right-wing blogger adopted it immediately. Please note that the adopters are not the creators; they just simply latch on to an argument that reinforces their own beliefs.

2.Code words are used to discredit the opposition. "Taint" implies uncleanliness, both physical and moral. "Dupe" turns the opponent into a feeble-minded nonentity whose opinion need not be taken seriously. "Communist lover" is especially good, since it raises the hackles of past-middle-age Americans who remember Stalin, and especially that of folks who actually fled communist regimes.

3. It accuses the opponent of ulterior motives. You just want to get "your fifteen minutes of fame". You "hate America". Add your favorites here, they are easily recognizable. They all begin by creating an artificial class of being which can then be characterized negatively.

4. When confronted it diverges into tangential channels. This is important. If you answer the argument and the reply is yet another argument only distantly related to the first one, you are in the presence of propaganda. Because propaganda is actually a distortion of reality, it cannot engage in real dialogue. Once the talking point is delivered, it cannot go further except to another talking point.

Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who notes, "The author knows a thing or two about propaganda: she grew up in Castro's Cuba."


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