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May 24, 2003

Appalling

David Frum suggests that the Yale bombing sounds like the work of union activists.

If I were in a Yale union, I would loudly clamor for an apology from David Frum.

On a related note, Atrios points us towards this gem:

Best anecdote from Suskind's Esquire story: In Thomas's office at the Supreme Court, he keeps a sign on the bookshelf. It reads: "SAVE AMERICA, BOMB YALE LAW SCHOOL."

Thomas should know. He's an alumnus.

Why does Clarence Thomas hate Americans?

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

May 23, 2003

Today Iraq, tomorrow Iran

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

It may be anything from a play for leverage in Iraq to the opening drumbeat for another war, but the White House, Rumsfeld, and Blair have all gotten on Iran's case for allegedly harboring Al-Qaeda suspects, which supposedly even led to this week's increased terror warning.

Iran denies the charge.

Who's telling the truth? I don't know. But keep reading.

Iran is predominately Shi'a (like much of Iraq), while Bin Laden and crew are basically Wahhabi, from an extremist offshoot of the Sunni tradition. In short, Al-Qaeda and Iran are whole different religious deals.

The Sunni and Shi'a factions split centuries ago on a fundamental issue (who speaks for God?), much as Catholics and Protestants did, except the split has existed for over twice as long. Sunnis and Shi'a recognize each other as Muslims, but with only periodic efforts at ecumenicism, just like in Christianity.

The Shi'a have a hierarchical clergy, with a divinely-inspired supreme Imam, sort of where Catholics have a Pope. Sunni clergy is much less formalized, somewhat like our Protestantism. Within each tradition are a whole variety of sects and offshoots, just like in Christianity.

Both traditions are over 1300 years old. Wahhabism, however, began only in the 18th century as a puritanical splinter of Sunni tradition so extreme that followers considered most other Muslims as errant non-believers. (Which reminds me of certain super-patriots here in our own world.)

In the last thirty years, a militant segment of the Wahhabi movement has come to prefer the name "Salafi," which roughly translates as "of our ancestors." They believe Muslims should live pretty much the way their Prophet did. In the 7th century. So their enemy isn't modernity or western culture itself, quite, but in practice, it might as well be.

The Wahhabi/Salafi movement has spread partly through the largess of the Wahhabist (in name, if not practice) Saudi royal family (itself supported by the U.S. government), and partly also because if provides, like all rigid ideologies, simple, final answers to profound, complex, and disturbing questions about our fragile little existence. In any event, mainstream Sunnis have had to fight for control of their mosques, much the same way that contemporary political moderates have fought the extremists in their own midst.

But even Salafi doctrine prohibits suicide or violence against the innocent. While Bin Laden is Wahhabi and many Al-Qaeda suspects are Salafi, we still can't paint even this movement with a broad brush.

Which leaves us where we started: looking for the most extreme of the Salafi movement, which you find mostly in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (where the Taliban is still cooking in the Pushtun border area, along with a few thousand anti-U.S. schools your taxes helped build), with a smaller number in Yemen and a few other places.

To review:
Most Sunnis consider Salafis perhaps the way a Quaker regards Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. And even some Salafis consider Al-Qaeda the way my Baptist mother thinks of people who blow up abortion clinics.

Most Shi'a don't even hang out with Sunnis, much less Salafis.

And the current Iranian government, which is struggling hard to liberalize against the will of its own fundamentalists, is Shi'a.

Yes, Iran supports the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is... Shi'a.

See how this works?

Decades of U.S. shortsightedness in dealing with the Islamic world are what got us into the current situation. More of the same is not a solution.

We can engage the moderates in Iran, the non-violent factions of the Salafi, and genuine peacemakers throughout Islam and across the mideast.

Or we can just make more threats and occasionally blow stuff up in countries Bin Laden doesn't even hang out in.

Allah help us all.

Waiting for Time

Because I cc'd myself in the mail-to script (the hotlink that opens a pre-addressed email window) in this entry, I can state with some certainty that Time magazine received at least 161 email messages concerning their publication of official GOP propaganda masquerading as a letter to the editor. (Each of those emails, I might add, were individually and thoughtfully composed and many brought up points I had not even considered myself--such as Time's responsibility to now run some sort of feature article on the whole GOP Team Leader scam.)

And from what I can tell, not a single one of those 161 people has received a response from Time magazine.

So the question is, will they print a correction or retraction in next week's issue? Be smart if they did, because I'm not going to let this one go.

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May 22, 2003

Absolute proof the media ain't liberal

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

By now you know of the FCC's pending plan to allow Rupert Murdoch to personally control everything you see and think. (OK, I'm exaggerating. Slightly.)

If you'd like that not to happen, go hang out for a minute with MediaReform.net, the Consumers Union, MoveOn.org, or FAIR, to name a few folks who can help.

Incidentally, there's one hell of a huge point to make of all this: if the media really was in liberal hands, then centralization of that power would be absolutely terrifying to the right wing. It would be all you ever heard about.

And yet those guys are strangely silent. On their websites, neither Bill O'Reilly nor Rush Limbaugh so much as mention the issue, even once, at least as far as I can find.

Point this out to people with ears and brains.

It really should be the end of the "liberal media" argument.

Bush economic record: the worst since Herbert Hoover

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

A nice article from Harold Meyerson in the upcoming issue of the American Prospect.

Suitable for bopping on the noggin

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist bobble head dolls.

More alliance-building, Bush style

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

Venezuela is generally furious at U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro, who recently hosted an event at his official residence in which a comedian in drag mocked President Hugo Chavez with a series of hand puppets.

Of course, as John Pilger has so well noted, the U.S. has wanted Chavez out since he was first elected, and seems to have at least tacitly supported one attempted coup. (Of course, respect for democratic elections is hardly a Bush trademark.)

Bottom line, apparently: try to overthrow us, and at least you show respect. But mock us with a transvestite puppet show... OK, now that's the last straw.

Texas: another glimpse of our future

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)

The Texas legislature has approved a law requiring doctors to warn women that abortion might lead to breast cancer.

That link, however, does not exist, according to the American Cancer Society and federal government researchers...

Similarly honest warnings might also include rickets, scurvy, and the green-eyed Boogie Man who will come live under their beds.

Of course, these same people think Creation is a science, giving tax money to the rich will make everyone else wealthy, and Al Qaeda is best fought with color codes, photo opportunities, and attacks on irrelevant countries. So go figure.

Busy today

No time for blogging, at least until later.

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

May 21, 2003

Rhetorical question

In what parallel universe are the stories of looting in Iraq "lies"?

Question

Looks like well over a hundred of you have notified Time magazine about their unwitting use of GOP astroturf. Probably enough to get their attention. So--have any of you gotten any sort of response from the editors? (No need to write me unless the answer is "yes,"; I'll take silence as a "no.")

Signs of the times

Here's the text of the commencement speech that got Chris Hedges booed offstage in Illinois. It's worth reading.

Excerpt:

The censure and perhaps the rage of much of the world, certainly one-fifth of the world's population which is Muslim, most of whom I'll remind you are not Arab, is upon us. Look today at the 14 people killed last night in several explosions in Casablanca. And this rage in a world where almost 50 percent of the planet struggles on less than two dollars a day will see us targeted. Terrorism will become a way of life, and when we are attacked we will, like our allies Putin and Sharon, lash out with greater fury. The circle of violence is a death spiral; no one escapes. We are spinning at a speed that we may not be able to hold. As we revel in our military prowess -- the sophistication of our military hardware and technology, for this is what most of the press coverage consisted of in Iraq -- we lose sight of the fact that just because we have the capacity to wage war it does not give us the right to wage war. This capacity has doomed empires in the past.

"Modern western civilization may perish," the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, "because it falsely worshiped technology as a final good."


(Via Cursor, which should really be on your shortlist of daily stops, if it's not.)

Long enough and loud enough

The righty bloggers are claiming that the BBC is "backing off" the Jessica Lynch story. To paraphrase Deep Throat, always follow the links. This may be a clarification, but it doesn't strike me as a "backing off." The basic fact is, we don't know what happened that day, but the whole story smells like a Manhattan fish market on a sweltering August afternoon. As Col. David Hackworth writes for the conservative World Net Daily site:

For example, as I write this, tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on covering up what happened to Jessica Lynch and her mates during and after their unit was ambushed and they were captured.

Soldiers from Jessica's El Paso, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company have been warned not to talk. A soldier in that unit said, "It's almost 'say a word and you'll be shot at dawn.'"

Jessica has been locked up in a private Walter Reed hospital room with an around-the-clock security detail normally reserved for high brass to ensure that what happened to her as a prisoner of war remains inside her room. Medical personnel who look after her have been given the same keep-your-trap-shut treatment as the 507th troopers. Almost daily, her cover story changes from amnesia to partial amnesia to more recently: "She's blocked just the ambush event."

Anyway, I'm not sure why people are treating this as solely a BBC story; as I've noted (permalink screwy, scroll down to "Saving Private Lynch"), much of the same information ran in a Times story on April 21.

Update: a reader asks a good question--is it standard operating procedure to take camera crews along on dangerous Special Forces operations?

Speaking of security

There's an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning about how effective lobbying has exempted manufacturers of toxic chemicals from homeland security regulations. You can't get it online without subscribing, but it's well worth picking up a dead tree edition to read. Key quote:

"Liberals wanted to use the tragedy of Sept. 11 as an excuse to regulate more," says Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the lead Republican legislator on chemical security.

Translated: free market ideology trumps everything, including your safety from terrorist attack. We can go invade entire countries on the off chance they might have some connection to terrorism, but god forbid we should regulate chemical plants which, if attacked, could lead to a disaster that would make Bhopal look like a pleasant afternoon in the park.

(Bonus rant: The Journal really is one of the best newspapers out there. The investors at whom it is largely aimed may enjoy wanking to the ravings of its editorial page, but when it comes to making business decisions, they need actual, straightforward information, not ideological fantasy. The NY Times is too often hobbled by its biases--not the "liberal bias" so many simpletons perceive it to have, but the class and status quo biases which too frequently inform its stories.)

Well, that sure takes care of my concerns

The ill-fated Total Information Awareness program has been re-branded as (drumroll please) Terrorist Information Awareness.

The officials said the name was changed because the earlier version created a false impression that system was being created "for developing dossiers on U.S. citizens."

Gosh, you just can't make this stuff up.

The new! improved! TIA assures us that it will comply with all federal privacy laws and that, effectively, it will use its great power for good and not evil. Of course, if anyone has somehow failed to comprehend that basic fact of human nature--that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely--the little incident with the Texas lawmakers should make it clear that even if John Poindexter and the boys have nothing but the best of intentions, there's always gonna be some shitkicker somewhere down the line who's going to use the system for less than noble purposes. And speaking of that situation, it just gets better and better: all records of the incident have been destroyed by the Texas DPS.

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

May 20, 2003

You may not have noticed...

...but as a small public service, I've been keeping a Terror Color Reminder at the bottom of this blog; it has been duly upgraded to Orange.

Before we all just accept that chocolate rations are up and we've always been at war with Eastasia, can we just pause to remember that the war on Iraq was supposed to make us safer--and that one of the reasons many of us opposed said war was that we feared the opposite would be true?

Another main reason for opposition to the war was what I suppose you could summarize as the law of unintended consequences, which as it turns out, is a pretty good description of life in Iraq right now.

But hey, we did pull that statue down, right? Er, I mean, the Iraqis did. Wink, wink.

Update: Steve has some thoughts on the law of intended consequences.

Go Warren!
NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Renewing his criticism of the dividend tax cut laid out by the Senate last week, Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett called the proposal "voodoo economics" that uses "Enron-style accounting."

The Senate's plan for dividends to be 50 percent tax free in 2003, 100 percent tax free in 2004 through 2006 and then face the full tax in 2007 would "further tilt the tax scales toward the rich," Buffett wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.

Buffett posed a hypothetical situation in which Berkshire Hathaway, which does not currently pay a dividend, paid $1 billion in dividends next year.

Through his 31 percent ownership of the company, Buffett said he would receive an additional $310 million in income that would reduce his tax rate from about 30 percent to 3 percent, while his office secretary would still have a tax rate of about 30 percent.

"The 3 percent overall federal tax rate I would pay -- if a Berkshire dividend were to be tax free -- seems a bit light," Buffett wrote.

Instead of the Senate's tax cut plan, Buffett proposed that it provide tax reductions to those who need and will spend the money in the form of a Social Security tax "holiday" or a tax rebate to lower-income people.

"Putting $1,000 in the pockets of 310,000 families with urgent needs is going to provide far more stimulus to the economy than putting the same $310 million in my pockets," Buffett added.

Story.

Time gets played

They're high-fiving it at GOP Team Leader HQ this morning: Time magazine has fallen for the "creating jobs and fostering economic growth" astroturf (scroll down). At the risk of creating a little astroturf of my own, I'd suggest politely asking the editors of Time to run a correction, noting that the letter reprinted in their May 26 issue, allegedly written by Thomas J. Stokes of Fredonia, N.Y., was in fact composed by GOP operatives and has also appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Huntsville (AL) Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Anchorage Daily News, the San Diego Union, the Gallitin (TN) News Examiner and the Glasgow (KY) Daily Times.

Update: I am told USA Today got suckered into running this one as well, but can't find it online.

Poor MCI

Has to pay a penalty of $500 million for fraud which netted it up to $11 billion. And just got the contract to build Iraq's wireless network, ultimate value undisclosed.

In other MCI news, this is what spokespeople are telling TMW readers:

We recently re-launched our company and changed the brand name of the company from WorldCom to MCI. As part of that re-launch, we have created entirely new and different advertising. We are currently reviewing our options for new product campaigns that are more in line with our corporate brand advertising.

Our contract with Danny Glover runs through January 2004 and we intend to honor our contract. With the campaign having run its course, we are moving to new creative which is more closely tied to our new MCI corporate branding campaign in terms of its look and feel.

Doesn't seem to be what they told Joe Scarborough. I'd say there are two possibilities here: (1) somebody's not telling the truth, or (2) everybody's not telling the truth.

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

May 19, 2003

Tempting fate all weekend

(Note: this entry posted by Bob Harris)


Spent the weekend in a small town in Missouri, where two friends went scuba-diving in an abandoned mine. Fortunately, they did not die.

Then we went bowling. These are pretty much the only two things to do in Bonne Terre, Missouri: almost die, and bowl.

At the St. Louis airport, my friend Patrick was briefly questioned by security. The concern? He was wearing a T-shirt with a dove of peace and the slogan "No Enemy."

He's a pacifist. The airport security, completely unaware that this meant he would never hurt anyone under any circumstances, apparently assumed that it might be some kind of threat.

Sigh.

That .02 rating really makes you a player

Joe Scarborough, whose show I--along with the vast majority of Americans for a change--have never watched, is claiming that his influence is so vast that MCI was forced to drop Danny Glover from its ad campaign.

Before this meme is spread too widely, I want to note that last winter, well before the war, well before Joe Scarborough even had a television show that no one was watching, I had dinner with a friend who is well-placed within the ad agency which produces those MCI commercials, and according to my friend, the scuttle even then was that MCI was trying to figure out a way to dump Danny Glover because they didn't want to be associated with his anti-war views.

In short, Scarborough's victory is as nonexistent as his triumphalism is pathetic.

Afterthought: here's an MCI contact page. Let them know what you think of their decision. Remind them how easy it is to switch long distance carriers.

Okay, one quick one

From Andrew Sullivan's always-entertaining site:

I'm forgetting who coined this phrase but I think it's largely true that today's right looks for converts whereas today's left looks for heretics. That's why the left tends to be duller, more self-absorbed and generally less entertaining than the right. The right is always trying to build an audience; the left is busy purging theirs'.

I'll pause while you wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes.

I assume that it's unnecessary for me to dwell at length on the various exercises in enforced conformity emanating from the right wing over the past year, from the would-be boycott of the Dixie Chicks, to Fox News' cluck-clucking over dissent, to Sullivan's own various Incorrect Thinking and General Depravity Awards.

Yeah, the right is entertaining, but not in the way they'd like to think.

Ooops

Was hoping to get some posts up this morning but just spent the morning locked out of my apartment. Now I have to get to work. Maybe Bob will have something later...

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