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April 30, 2004

Fighting the last war, or maybe the one before that


The Treasury Department agency entrusted with blocking the financial resources of terrorists has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track Osama bin Laden's and Saddam Hussein's money, documents show.

Story. (Hat tip: Gil G.)


Krugman opens his column with a quote from Orwell:

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield."

(A parenthetic aside--it's ironic that the most vocal, self-proclaimed heirs to Orwell's throne so perfectly illustrate the self-delusional thinking he dissected. Memo to Andrew Sullivan: the point of 1984 was not to argue that the manipulation of language in pursuit of a political agenda is a good thing.)

Krugman continues:

So they lied to us; what else is new? But there's more at stake here than the administration's credibility. The official story line portrayed a virtuous circle of nation-building, one that could eventually lead to a democratic Iraq, allied with the U.S. In fact, we seem to be faced with a vicious circle, in which a deteriorating security situation undermines reconstruction, and the lack of material progress adds to popular discontent. Can this situation be saved?

Even among harsh critics of the administration's Iraq policy, the usual view is that we have to finish the job. You've heard the arguments: We broke it; we bought it. We can't cut and run. We have to stay the course.

I understand the appeal of those arguments. But I'm worried about the arithmetic.

All the information I've been able to get my hands on indicates that the security situation in Iraq is really, really bad. It's not a good sign when, a year into an occupation, the occupying army sends for more tanks. Western civilians have retreated to armed enclaves. U.S. forces are strong enough to defend those enclaves, and probably strong enough to keep essential supplies flowing. But we don't have remotely enough troops to turn the vicious circle around. The Iraqi forces that were supposed to fill the security gap collapsed or turned against us at the first sign of trouble.

And all of the proposals one hears for resolving this ugly situation seem to be either impractical or far behind the curve.


Mercenaries, again
Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run prison outside Baghdad emerged yesterday from a military inquiry which has left six soldiers facing a possible court martial and a general under investigation.

The scandal has also brought to light the growing and largely unregulated role of private contractors in the interrogation of detainees.

According to lawyers for some of the soldiers, they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenary interrogators hired by the Pentagon.


Lawyers for the soldiers argue they are being made scapegoats for a rogue military prison system in which mercenaries give orders without legal accountability.

A military report into the Abu Ghraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian - makes it clear that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison, which was notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein.

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.

I think some people owe Kos an apology. (Link.)


April 29, 2004

Contrary to the public interest
NewsBlues.com is reporting [no free link] that Sinclair Broadcast Group has ordered its ABC-affiliated stations not to carry tomorrow's "Nightline," which will air the names and photos of soldiers who have been killed in combat in Iraq.

Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber tells the site: "We find it to be contrary to the public interest."

The boycott will affect eight ABC-affiliated Sinclair stations.

Link. Hat tip to reader Michael H.

Vietnam on crack

Just go read Billmon.

Hearts and minds

Way to go, guys:

American soldiers at a prison outside Baghdad have been accused of forcing Iraqi prisoners into acts of sexual humiliation and other abuses in order to make them talk, according to officials and others familiar with the charges.

The charges, first announced by the military in March, were documented by photographs taken by guards inside the prison, but were not described in detail until some of the pictures were made public.


The CBS News program reported that poorly trained American reservists were forcing Iraqis to conduct simulated sexual acts, among other things, in order to break down their will before they were turned over to others for interrogation.


In one photograph obtained by the program, naked Iraq prisoners are stacked in a human pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English. In another, a prisoner stands on a box, his head covered, wires attached to his body. The program said that according to the United States Army, he had been told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted. Other photographs show male prisoners positioned to simulate sex with each other.

"The pictures show Americans, men and women, in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners," states a transcript of the program's script, made available Wednesday night. "And in most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing or giving the camera a thumbs-up."


What he said
Other than Ted Kennedy's "quagmire" remark, I'd honestly have to contend that the main reason public opinion on the war is declining is because the situation on the ground is deteriorating. The old defense/counterargument to the realities of the Iraq war went something like this: "Sure, they blew up a hotel, but at least there was a hotel there to blow up! And there are 25% more hotels now than there were when Saddam was in power!"

You can't keep putting perfume on shit and then blame everyone else when people actually notice that it's shit. Nobody's saying that war supporters have to repent in the streets, wailing a threnody for the Iraqi occupation, but it would be nice if the severe problems with the occupation of Iraq could be addressed without blaming them on the people who point out their existence.

Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more repenting in the streets, myself. But it'll never happen--they'll just keep pouring out entire bottles of perfume, hoping against hope that it will mask the stench of failure.

Confidential to Brooklyn dog owners

If you need a kennel for your dog, I can recommend a great one. They've lost some steady clients lately by attrition--people moving out of the city and so on, as I'm about to do--and given how great they've been to my dog, I'd love to steer some new business their way. Email me if you want more info. (I believe they pick up in Manhattan as well.)

Conventional wisdom

I'm seeing a lot of, you will forgive the expression, chatter...about John Kerry and how his candidacy is already doomed, doomed I tell you, doomed.

Of course, a lot of it is coming from the same people who were nattering on last year about Iraq's WMD's and the joy with which our troops would be greeted, so you have to take it for what it's worth.

Look, Kerry's obviously not a perfect candidate. But, come on. He's up against a guy who can barely stumble his way through a single coherent sentence, let alone a complete press conference. And frankly, any of the leading Democrats would be getting this treatment right now. If Howard Dean were still the frontrunner, we'd be hearing endless commentary on his lack of experience, not to mention that uncontrollable temper of his. If John Edwards had won, the airwaves would be full of blather about trial lawyers--not to mention his lack of experience.

But despite how terribly Kerry is supposedly doing, he's still running neck and neck with Bush in the polls.

There's a long road ahead before the election. Right now the Republicans are just trying to throw out as much crap as possible to see what sticks.

The President is ready...

...to testify before the 9/11 commission.


April 28, 2004

Disorder and Dreams in (Country in the News)

Create your own Thomas Friedman Op Ed (from McSweeney's):

Last week's events in [country in the news] were truly historic, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. What's important, however, is that we focus on what these events mean [on the ground/in the street/to the citizens themselves]. The [media/current administration] seems too caught up in [worrying about/dissecting/spinning] the macro-level situation to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the [desert for the sand/fields for the wheat/battle for the bullets].

When thinking about the recent turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like [computer programs/billiard balls/migratory birds], so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. [Computer programs/Billiard balls/Migratory birds] never suddenly [blow themselves up/shift their course in order to fit with a predetermined set of beliefs/set up a black market for Western DVDs]. Two, [country in question] has spent decades [as a dictatorship closed to the world/being batted back and forth between colonial powers/torn by civil war and ethnic hatred], so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, [hope/freedom/capitalism] is an extraordinarily powerful idea.

When I was in [country in question] last [week/month/August], I was amazed by the [people's basic desire for a stable life/level of Westernization for such a closed society/variety of the local cuisine], and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of [country in question] have no shortage of [courage/potential entrepreneurs/root vegetables], and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in [country in question] are just like people anywhere else on this great globe of ours.



Remember all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Jayson Blair and how his transgressions were all due to the evils of affirmative action?

Well, Leonard Pitts, Jr. does.

It's been nearly four months since the scandal broke. Four months since Jack Kelley, star foreign correspondent for USA Today, was found to have lied his way through his professional life for the past 13 years. He lied about where he had been, what he had seen, who he had talked to, what they had said. He lied so much I'm only half convinced ''Jack Kelley'' is his real name.

Yet you, my colleagues, have not asked the most important question:

What does this mean for the future of white journalism?

Granted, you've pontificated about our damaged credibility. You've felled forests with your weighty ruminations about what this portends for the future of our profession. But, evidently cowed by political correctness, you've ignored the most vital issues.

Did USA Today advance a moderately capable journalist because he was white? Did some white editor mentor him out of racial solidarity even though Kelley was unqualified? In light of this fiasco, should we reexamine the de facto affirmative action that gives white men preferential treatment in our newsrooms?


So, loath though I am to position myself as a spokesperson, I feel confident in saying one thing on behalf of black journalists everywhere: When and if our industry decides to deal with the issues raised by Kelley's transgressions, we stand ready to help. Need someone to handle outreach to journalism programs at HWCUs -- historically white colleges and universities? Want to discuss whether hiring whites requires us to lower our standards? Looking for ideas of how to make whites feel more welcome?

We're standing by. All you have to do is call.


April 27, 2004

Confidential to the DNC

You really need to pay attention to the suggestion at the bottom of this post.

Speaking of military records

Truly bizarre that the Bush campaign keeps trying to make Kerry's military record an issue. Some perspective from Salon:

The story keeps changing. And regardless of what the White House says about George W. Bush and his time in the Texas Air National Guard, journalists tend to accept the explanation. I can't. The president of the United States is lying to hide his behavior while he was a young pilot during the Vietnam War, and he has almost taken away reporters' ability to get the whole story. Unfortunately, the national media have other distractions, and they apparently don't think the Guard story is important enough to warrant additional effort. I think they are wrong.

The president's behavior while under oath to serve in the military is an important matter. By George W. Bush's own admission, there were at least eight months in 1972 when he was not performing assigned Guard duty. What if today's Guard members behaved as irresponsibly as Bush did during his hitch?


April 26, 2004

Just in case you missed this

Karen Hughes equates pro-choice with pro-terrorism.

Another happy Monday

And I mean that with only partial irony. But I've got to focus on cartoon-related program activities today, so the usual disclaimer applies: probably not much new here, unless there is. A couple quick notes--first, I want to extend a warm welcome to this site's first official sponsor, katemckinnon.com--the ad and link are over to your left, below the nav buttons. There's also a link over there to a t-shirt design contest I'll be helping judge, along with Atrios and Milton Glaser and Chip Kidd--go click through for details. And finally, I owe thanks to a reader who also happens to work at Citibank, who's helping me to sort that mess out.


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