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April 19, 2003

Downtime

No blogging here. Go read Steve and skippy and Hesiod. Or better yet, turn off the computer and go outside.

* * *

But before I go, here's a quick quote for you:

"I don't have a problem with (government surveillance). I don't have anything to hide," Turner said. "I wish there was more government monitoring. I want to know if somebody on my block is reading a book on how to build a bomb or if there is anyone reading 'Catcher in the Rye.' They say there's a link between that book and many serial killers."

Oooh yeah, we need the government to keep an eye on those people who read Catcher in the Rye. Jesus christ on a friggin crutch. Story here, via Wil.

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April 18, 2003

Hearts and minds

Who better to oversee the rebuilding of Iraq than a weapons manufacturer?

Neal Pollack supports Jay Garner, however, thanks to fond memories of his work in the classic 1970's television series, The Rockford Files.

It's Don't Trust Anybody Day

I've written before about the publishing industry's standard practice of, well, lying about print runs. Here's an article on the subject:

But like New York private schools with an investment in getting their students into good colleges, virtually all publishers get caught up in massive grade inflation: Their survival depends on making sure their books get noticed by reviewers and reporters and booksellers who will then further the "buzz." A large first printing can do that, and it also makes authors feel appreciated, as if the house is behind them. But by now, the savviest publishing watchers know to take one-third off the top of an announced print run. So what’s the point? Wouldn’t it make more sense for publishers to release real hard numbers—of print runs, and of actual sales, for that matter?

Just last week, Random House became the largest trade publisher to sign up for BookScan, the only service that tracks and reports nationwide book sales. (HarperCollins and Penguin are the only major holdouts left.) But will executives soon begin to pass along those hard numbers to authors, booksellers and the public? It’s one thing for everybody to recognize that publishing is, after all, a lot like Hollywood—nobody knows anything. It’s quite another to break the lifelong habit that has made you the bookish version of the State Department, where everybody lies.

Rumors of his death

Media outlets always have obituaties ready to go for public figures. CNN accidentally posted their Dick Cheney obit online (along with a few others) a couple of days ago. The Smoking Gun has the scoop.

Bodyguard of lies

This is the problem: we really have absolutely no idea what's going on. We only know what we see and read in the media, and with staggering frequency, that information turns out to be of questionable veracity.

In other news

(Update: Consistent with the post above, I am sorry to report that there is no time-travelling stockbroker after all; the hard-working staff at WOKR-TV 13 News in Rochester, and many other news outlets, were taken in by a hoax. The story first appeared in the Weekly World News, which might have been a tip-off. Apparently it's been all over the net since April Fool's Day.)

Federal investigators have arrested an enigmatic Wall Street trader on insider-trading charges - but he insists he's a time-traveller from the year 2256.

Andrew Carlssin, 44, hasn't convinced investigators though.

An insider says, "We don't believe this guy's story - he's either a lunatic or a pathological liar. But the fact is, with an initial investment of only $800, in two weeks' time he had a portfolio valued at over $350 million. Every trade he made capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can't be pure luck. The only way he could pull it off is with illegal inside information. He's going to sit in a jail until he agrees to give up his sources."

Carlssin attracted attention to himself after making 126 high-risk trades and winning every time.

The source adds, "If a company's stock rose due to a merger or technological breakthrough that was supposed to be secret, Mr. Carlssin somehow knew about it in advance."

But when Carlssin was called in for questioning he declared that he had traveled back in time from over 200 years in the future, when it is common knowledge that our era experienced one of the worst stock plunges in history. Yet anyone armed with knowledge of the handful of stocks destined to go through the roof could make a fortune.

--snip--

Officials are quite confident the "time-traveler's" claims are bogus.

Yet the source admits, "No one can find any record of any Andrew Carlssin existing anywhere before December 2002."

Story here, via this space's favorite bush kangaroo.

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

April 16, 2003

Where do we go from here?

Tom Paine has a radical suggestion: vote.

Always more to the story
BAGHDAD (AFP) - Anti-American protests intensified here and in southern Iraq (news - web sites) as US forces struggled with the complex task of rebuilding the country after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Exasperated US military officials tried to hamper the media from covering new demonstrations in Baghdad on Tuesday while some 20,000 people in the Shiite Muslim bastion of Nasiriyah railed against a US-staged meeting on Iraq's future.

The protests came as the Americans delivered a first progress report in their effort to restore Iraq to normalcy and head off a chorus of criticism over continued lawlessness and a lack of basic services.

Some 200-300 Iraqis gathered Tuesday outside the Palestine Hotel, where the US marines have set up an operations base, for a third straight day of protests against the US occupation.

For the first time, visibly angered US military officials sought to distance the media from the protest, moving reporters and cameras about 30 meters (yards) from the barbed-wired entrance to the hotel.

Story.

Col. David Hackworth--who I only know from his frequent appearances on Fox News--writes an article headlined: "Please, no more made-in-the-USA monsters."

In 1963, after Qasim was knocked off in a second CIA black op, Saddam scurried home to slay his way up the power ladder and eventually become head of the dreaded al-Jihaz a-Khas, the feared intelligence apparatus of the Ba'ath party.

From there, with a little more help from his CIA pals, he continued to plot, plunder and massacre his way to the head-beast slot, where we anointed him our newest very best friend. Not just because of the Cold War or Iraq's rich oil deposits, but also because he went after our former best friend and newest major enemy, Iran. We supported our fave new despot with the works: arms and munitions, precursors for chemical and biological weapons, and intelligence information gained from our ultrasecret intelligence intercepts of Iranian radio traffic and other hot skinny from our satellites showing up-to-the-minute Iranian battle dispositions.

--snip--

Even current SecDef Donald Rumsfeld rushed to Saddam's palace in 1983 to bow and scrape and assure the Bully of Baghdad he had a Ronald Reagan-signed blank check for almost any bombs and bullets in our arsenal. After which our generals and admirals taught him how to use them, completing his morph into a master of Military Miscalculation.

Then, in 1990, Saddam did a Noriega and foolishly bit the hand that fed him – as has almost every U.S.-sponsored Cold War dictator from every dark corner of every continent. His ill-conceived blitzkrieg against one of our primary gas stations, Kuwait, only served to get him locked down in Iraq for 12 no-fly-zone years, with heavy sanctions and bombing raids.

And when he still didn't get it, the pre-emptors decided to take him out for good.

Now billions and perhaps trillions of our dollars and our best and brightest will be rebuilding Iraq to create a stable government – a beacon of democratic light in a dismally troubled region.

But that's only if we don't empower yet another world-class serial killer, and then in a decade or two have to spend still more precious American lives making another regime change in a country that's already paid too hard a price.

Also via Cursor.

The "o" word, cont'd.

Amnesty International says the U.S. put oil before people (via Cursor):

LONDON (Reuters) - Human rights group Amnesty International accused U.S.-led forces on Tuesday of being better prepared for the defense of Iraq's oil wells than of its people and infrastructure.

"There seems to have been more preparation to protect the oil wells than to protect hospitals, water systems or civilians," Irene Khan, secretary-general of the British-based group, told a news conference in London.

"And the first taste of the coalition's approach to law and order will not have inspired confidence in the Iraqi people."

The road to Damascus

From Joe Conason's Salon blog:

With our war enthusiasts agitating the world into a fearful froth over Syria, now might be a good time for sober consideration of the Assad regime. Neoconservatives itch for "confrontation" with Iraq's western neighbor (from a safe personal distance, as usual). A fine example of this latest genre, written by Iran-contra character Michael Ledeen, can be found in the Spectator. After repeating the Rumsfeld alarms about Syria's involvement with Saddam and chemical weapons, Ledeen levels the ultimate accusation against Damascus: "They are an integral part of the terror network that produced 11 September."

The insinuation that Syria had some role in al-Qaida's attack on the United States is entirely false. To manipulate public opinion, the hawks are fabricating a case that ignores certain complicated and inconvenient facts. Certainly Syria remains a repressive Baathist dictatorship, where the previous regime committed terrible crimes such as the 1982 Hama massacre. What the neocon ideologues don't mention, however, is that since Sept. 11, Syria has provided invaluable aid to the United States in the war against al-Qaida -- and that repaying such assistance with confrontation risks undermining the real war on terror around the world.

WMD MIA

Jake Tapper's got a piece in Salon that's well worth sitting through the ad for:

The American media has been rife with false alarms -- scary-sounding reports from embedded reporters -- that might give the public the wrong impression that a sarin canister here or a mobile nuclear lab there has been discovered. The rest of the world knows full well that nothing's been found yet -- at least that we know of. International groups, such as the United Nations, have requested access to the country so that its observers can also document any discoveries of such weapons. For now, the Pentagon has essentially said, "Trust us" -- and has not promised any participation in the weapons searches.

The "o" word

From Jane's:

Israel stands to benefit greatly from the US led war on Iraq, primarily by getting rid of an implacable foe in President Saddam Hussein and the threat from the weapons of mass destruction he was alleged to possess. But it seems the Israelis have other things in mind.

An intriguing pointer to one potentially significant benefit was a report by Haaretz on 31 March that minister for national infrastructures Joseph Paritzky was considering the possibility of reopening the long-defunct oil pipeline from Mosul to the Mediterranean port of Haifa. With Israel lacking energy resources of its own and depending on highly expensive oil from Russia, reopening the pipeline would transform its economy.

To resume supplies from Mosul to Haifa would require the approval of whatever Iraqi government emerges and presumably the Jordanian government, through whose territory it would be likely to run. Paritzky's ministry was reported to have said on 9 April that it would hold discussions with Jordanian authorities on resuming oil supplies from Mosul, with one source saying the Jordanians were "optimistic". Jordan, aware of the deep political sensitivities involved, immediately denied there were any such talks.

The point I was trying to make

I'm quoted in an article in the New York Times today about left-leaning writers and the war, and I think it may be one of those quotes which makes sense in the context of a forty-five minute conversation with a reporter, but which is too easily misinterpreted when read in the cold stark light of dawn.

This is the quote:

"Being against the war is somewhat analogous to defending the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie."

I think this is a slight misquote--I think what I actually said was that it was analagous to when the ACLU defends the right of Nazis to march in Skokie, an admittedly small distinction. More to the point, I emphasized that this was an extremely imperfect analogy, emphasis which unfortunately didn't make it into the article. For clarification's sake, I was not--as some emailers seem to think--suggesting that the anti-war movement was ever about defending Saddam--I was actually trying to make exactly the opposite point. What I hoped to convey was that, as the ACLU was not pro-Nazi, the anti-war movement was not pro-Saddam--in both cases, the concern was with larger principles and precedents. The successes of the war notwithstanding, I am extraordinarily troubled by the Pandora's box which may have been opened by our declaration that pre-emptive strikes are a fine way for nations to do business--India, for instance, is already considering a possible pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, using the U.S. precedent as justification.

The analogy falls apart, of course, if one thinks about it too long, which is exactly why I hoped to stress that I understood it to be imperfect. I guess this is the problem when you step outside of your own sandbox. If I have something I want to say here, or in the cartoon, I spend hours, days sometimes, thinking about it, trying to make sure that my words are not open to misinterpretation. In the course of an interview with a reporter, you have no such luxury. Which is why smart people go into these things armed with talking points, I suppose, and don't try to ad-lib it.

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

April 15, 2003

Signs of the times

An email from Robert Scheer's webmaster:

Dear readers of Bob Scheer's weekly column,

For several weeks, cable TV star Bill O'Reilly has been energetically leading a campaign demanding that Bob's home paper, the Los Angeles Times, stop running his "traitorous" columns and in general become more pro-war in its news coverage. Many thousands of emails have been sent to the Times echoing O'Reilly's denunciations verbatim.

Whether or not you agree with everything Bob argues in his columns, as subscribers to his newsletter I assume many of you appreciate hearing his contrarian voice in these unsettled times. If so, it wouldn't hurt to tell the Times!

To send an email letter to the Times for possible publication, you must use your full name and send to: letters@latimes.com

We also encourage you to send this email on to others who may be interested.

Even if you don't read Scheer, I'd encourage you to drop them a line. Anything that helps defeat O'Reilly's brownshirt impulses is time well spent.

Or maybe not
The White House has privately ruled out suggestions that the US should go to war against Syria following its military success in Iraq, and has blocked preliminary planning for such a campaign in the Pentagon, the Guardian learned yesterday.

In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, his undersecretary for policy, Doug Feith, and William Luti, the head of the Pentagon's office of special plans, were asked to put together a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme. Mr Feith and Mr Luti were both instrumental in persuading the White House to go to war in Iraq.

Mr Feith and other conservatives now playing important roles in the Bush administration, advised the Israeli government in 1996 that it could "shape its strategic environment... by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria".

However, President George Bush, who faces re-election next year with two perilous nation-building projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his hands, is said to have cut off discussion among his advisers about the possibility of taking the "war on terror" to Syria.

"The talk about Syria didn't go anywhere. Basically, the White House shut down the discussion," an intelligence source in Washington told the Guardian.

Story here. Also, a good overview here.

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

April 14, 2003

On to Syria

They've got weapons of mass destruction. They support terrorism. Saddam is there and we've got to take him out.

Second verse, same as the first.

Meanwhile, David Remnick--who I believe supported this war, albeit from a reluctant-liberal perspective--comes to his senses:

The moral and political critics of a war in Iraq were surely correct to say that the worst consequence, beyond the thousands of lives lost, was the erosion of our relations with many of our allies and their publics. There is hypocrisy everywhere (Russia’s lectures on the exercise of American power seem hollow after the devastation of Chechnya), but it is long past the moment for debate, even with the French. The future is what counts. Some liberal internationalists, having seen the use of force come to a decent end in Kosovo and (finally) in Bosnia, supported this war. But among them, as among the opponents of the war, there has been a profound sense of anxiety that the Administration was recklessly indifferent to the imperfect but irreplaceable structures of international order built over sixty years.

And now, in the language of Beltway strutting, are we really to “do” Syria or Iran? Recently, in the pages of Policy Review—a conservative journal that is enjoying the vogue and influence in right-leaning circles that Commentary did in the nineteen-eighties—Ken Jowitt, a political-science professor who divides his time between the Hoover Institution and the University of California at Berkeley, challenges a “magic bullet” scenario in which the toppling of Saddam will act as a regional democratic stimulus so powerful that the Iranians will suddenly rise up against the ayatollahs, the autocrats of Egypt and Jordan will liberalize, and the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, “being an ophthalmologist, will see the regional writing on the wall.” Jowitt is rightly dubious of an ongoing evangelical adventure. He writes, “The magic bullet scenario effectively transforms and elevates a local, dangerous-but-mundane effort to remove a pathological killer, Saddam Hussein, into a successful democratic crusade that transforms the ‘last’ anti-modern, anti-democratic capitalist region of the world: the Muslim Middle East. One might at least consider the fate of earlier Western crusades.”

New cartoon...

...is here. Don't know why it's not up on the front page.

My goodness

Remarkable exchange on Meet the Press (via Uggabugga):

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the situation, the non-military situation, if you will, in Iraq and that is the whole issue of looting. This was the scene with the Museum of Antiquities, which housed treasures dating back thousands and thousands of years from the beginning of civilization. And it was ransacked and destroyed, about 170,000 items. The head of the museum said, "Our heritage is finished." What happened there? How did we allow that museum to be looted?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: "How did we allow?" Now, that's really a wonderful, amazing statement. No, let me...
MR. RUSSERT: But, how are we...
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: ...just say a word, here.
MR. RUSSERT: No, no. Wait, wait.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
MR. RUSSERT: No, let me be precise, 'cause it's an important point.
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: But we didn't allow it. It happened. And that's what happens when you go from a dictatorship with repressed order, police state, to something that is going to be different. There's a transition period, and no one is in control. There are periods where-there was still fighting in Baghdad. We don't allow bad things to happen. Bad things do happen in life and people do loot. We've seen that in the United States. It's happened in every country. It's a shame when it happens. I'll bet you anything that if they - when order is restored, and we have a more permissive environment, that there will be opportunities to ask people to return some of those things that were taken. We've already found people returning supplies to hospitals.
MR. RUSSERT: What the heads of the museum will say is that they actually asked for the U.S. to help protect it, and that the U.S. declined. Is that accurate?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Oh, my goodness. Look, I have no idea. We've got troops on the ground, and who do you know who he asked, and whether his assignment that moment was to guard a hospital instead? Those kinds of things are so anecdotal. And it always breaks your heart to see destruction of things. But...
MR. RUSSERT: The Red Cross said hospitals were also looted. Does that surprise you? I mean, it's one thing for the Iraqis to ransack, loot Saddam's palaces, and steal his faucets, it's quite another to loot their own museum and their own hospitals. Did that surprise you?
SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Surprise me? I don't know. Disorder happens every time there's a transition. We saw it in Eastern European countries when they moved from the Communist system to a free system. We've seen it in Los Angeles, here in our own country, we've seen it in Detroit, we've seen it in city after city when there was a difficulty. And it always breaks your heart. You're always sorry to see it.
And it isn't something that someone allows or doesn't allow. It's something that happens.
We know that people - there are people who do bad things. There are people who steal from hospitals in the United States. So does it surprise me that people went into a hospital and did something? I guess it doesn't surprise me. It's a shame. It's too bad. And we're trying to get medical supplies in to the hospitals that were robbed, and we're doing it, and we're having good success at it.

The untidiness of freedom, cont'd.
"Is this your liberation?" one frustrated shopkeeper screamed at the crew of a U.S. tank as a gang of youths helped themselves to everything in his small hardware store and carted booty off in the wheelbarrows that had also been on sale.

"Hell, it ain't my job to stop them," drawled one young marine, lighting a cigarette as he looked on. "Goddamn Iraqis will steal anything if you let them. Look at them."

Story.

Quote of the week

"It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

--Donald Rumsfeld

Arrgh

New cartoon not up on Salon this morning. Usually when this happens, it means the file didn't make it through for some reason, or got lost--but they have a bad habit of letting me find out by simply not posting anything, rather than contacting me when they realize they don't have a cartoon to post. I sent another copy first thing this morning, given the time difference, with any luck it'll be up by noon.

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

April 13, 2003

Future shock and awe

Okay, so two weeks ago the war looked like it might be more difficult than anyone anticipated, and the various pundits and prognosticators were busily backing off from predictions of a "cakewalk." Then last week, Saddam's regime collapsed and proponents of the war crowed mightily, pretending that skeptics had somehow claimed that the overwhelmingly powerful nation was not going to win the war against its smaller and infinitely weaker opponent, and that such skeptics were now irrevocably proven misguided and wrong.

I think that they missed the real lesson of the last couple of weeks--i.e., when it becomes apparent that the situation can shift dramatically within the course of a few days, well, you have to keep in mind that it can change again just as quickly. With that in mind, I'm not going to pretend to have the vaguest idea what's going to happen next, but Baghdad seems to be in bad shape right now, according to this AP report (via Atrios.)

For Iraqis on the ground, such promises mean little until they're delivered.

Residents, fearing looting would move on to private homes, set up neighborhood patrols to prevent it. One family put a girder across the street at the end of their block and stood by it with guns. They, too, denounced America.

``The United States breaks into the palaces and then threatens all the people who steal from them,'' said Efil Adnan, a 48-year-old oil engineer guarding the barricade with two of his sons and his brother. He held a pistol; the brother wielded a Kalashnikov.

``The United States is a liar,'' Adnan said. ``They are not going to make anything better.''

His son, Forkan Efil, 13, wore a T-shirt that said ``Football'' and also carried a pistol. He said all his friends have guns now.

``I don't like the Americans,'' the boy said, ``but this pistol is for the thieves.''

At the market, the dozens of men attempting to tear down the Saddam statue didn't have the oomph. The chain kept snapping, and finally they turned to Plan B -- pouring gasoline over it and setting it ablaze.

But in doing so, they made sure one important point was known -- just because they revel in Saddam's ouster doesn't mean they're waving American flags.

``The army of America is like Genghis Khan,'' Fouad Abdullah Ahmed, 49, snapped as U.S. tanks rumbled by without stopping. ``America is not good and Saddam is not good. My people refused Saddam Hussein, and they will refuse the Americans.''

(Update) Steve at the Daily Kos has some thoughts on the same subject:

What also amazes me is that people think the anti-war movement was trying to defend Saddam or didn't want the Iraqi people to be free. I think Tom Friedman summed it up: was Iraq like Switzerland or Yugoslavia. Well, it's turning out to be like the Congo, but he asked the right question: what was under Saddam's rule? The anti-war movement, from my perspective saw two things: one, the immense human suffering war would bring, and two: the consequences of the war.

That was the problem. Not the actual war or Saddam, who could be disposed of easily enough, since he was hated by everyone. But what lay under his rule, why he ruled the way he did. Not three days after he's gone, civil war lies frighteningly close to the surface as Shia form militias and rob the Sunni rich and Arabs and Kurds square off in Mosul. They even looted the museums.

As we seek to restore power, we will rehire the police which enforced Saddam's law. As we have armed militias around. If you were a Shia from Saddam City, would you let a Sunni cop push you around when you have a couple of AK's, a few cases of hand grenades and a spare RPG around. The first time you get into a beef, an RPG round is going into the door of the police station.

The pandora's box of war seems to have opened and what we have under it is frightening.


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