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June 04, 2005

Billmon:
Toilet Humor

I guess the Islamic world (and Newsweek magazine) owe Donald Rumsfeld an apology: It appears the holy Quran was NOT flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo -- just kicked, stomped and pissed on. That's all.

Or so says the Pentagon's own internal investigation.

The administration's opinion of the report's damage control value can be determined from in its release date: after the close of business on Friday -- the customary burial time for bad news. It's easy to see why: There are enough fishy details in the report -- such as the "accidental" urination story -- to suspect that it hides far more than it reveals.

We are told, for example, of a prisoner (a hardened Islamic militant, mind you) who supposedly ripped the pages out of his own Quran, handed them to his captors and told them "he had given up on being a Muslim."

Right.

This is obviously speculative, not to mention highly paranoid, but the Pentagon's decision to take the limited hangout road (to borrow a Deep Throat-era term) reinforces my suspicion that the original leak to Newsweek might have been a deliberate attempt at information warfare -- what the old KGB used to call dezinformatsiya -- designed to discredit the Quran abuse stories before they reached critical mass in the media.

At a minimum, the fact that the original toilet leak was run past the Pentagon's powers that be, who remained conveniently silent about its alleged inaccuracy, suggests somebody saw a chance to turn the tables -- both on the tough questions being asked about the gulags, and (as a fringe benefit) on the hated liberal media.

That doesn't get Newsweek or Michael Isikoff off the hook for blowing the story, but it does highlight the fact that the media are dealing with more than the customary level of official mendacity these days. I doubt few "mainstream" journalists are prepared to consider -- much less cope with -- the possibility that the U.S. government could be waging information warfare against them (and, by extension, against the American people), even though Rummy and company long ago all but declared their intention of doing just that.

Information warfare? Or simply an opportunistic bid by the Mayberry Machiavellis to capitalize on Newsweek's mistake? I'm quite certain we'll never know the answer to that, just as I'm sure we'll never really know how much damage has been done to U.S. national security -- real security, not imperial ambition -- by the administration's brutal blunders in the war against Al Qaeda.

Extended version at the Whiskey Bar.

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

June 03, 2005

Billmon:
Another Throat Heard From

Like Bob, I've been frustrated (I'd say furious, but the past couple of years seem to have burned the ferocity out of me) by the whoopla surrounding Deep Throat's secret identity, and the media's casual assumption that nobody -- or nobody important anyway -- does that sort of thing any more.

But I also think it's a bit of a cop out to blame the usual media suspects for the failure of the American people to rise up in outrage over Torturegate, WMDgate, Haliburtongate and all the other gates (they tend to blur in my mind these days) of the New Nixonians.

Most of this stuff has been covered in the corporate press -- maybe not well, maybe not aggressively, but certainly broadly enough that the average American can't claim ignorance as a defense.

Which raises the unavoidable question: Instead of new whistleblowers, a new media and a new generation of journalists willing to tell the truth to the people, maybe what America really needs is a new people.

I mean, what do you do when a democratic majority listens to the truth, hears and understands it, but nevertheless chooses -- out of habit, fear or just plain xenophobic nationalism -- to ignore, or even applaud, the war crimes of its duly elected leaders?

More on this rather depressing theme at the Whiskey Bar.

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

June 02, 2005

Bob Harris:
The New Deep Throats: Collect 'Em All!

Galling, really.

All this talk about Deep Throat has inspired so little reflection about the long list of recent equivalents -- insiders telling anyone who will listen, on the record, that Bush and his cronies are a gang of incompetents, liars, and criminals. It's damn near raining Deep Throats these days.

Matter of fact, there's a poll on my site where you can vote for your favorite. (There are also links to info about each, which to be honest I just don't have time to retype tonight.)

This list is hardly comprehensive; these are just the ones that leapt out in the first few minutes of thinking about it last night, and I had to stop at 12 because of software limitations. But here at least are a few folks whose first-hand knowledge ought to have already led to at least a few resignations, perp walks, and orange jumpsuits, if America wasn't so goddam broken already:

National Security Advisor Richard Clarke
FBI translator Sibel Edmonds
USAF Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski
Army Spc. Joseph Darby
Mining engineer Jack Spedaro
FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley
Medicare actuary Richard Foster
CIA Bin Laden expert Michael Scheuer
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
Ambassador Joe Wilson
U.S. Army General Eric Shinseki
Secretary of the Army Thomas White

These folks aren't lurking in garages and manipulating potted plants in order to drop hints of darker realms to reporters who have to do all the legwork themselves. These people are well-known experts, high-level officials, or people with first-hand experience at ground level, practically screaming from the rooftops.

I could also have included former CIA analyst Larry Johnson; former State Dept. Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism Tom Maertens; stem-cell researcher and former Council on Bioethics member Elizabeth Blackburn; and easily a dozen more.

Seriously... what abuse of power would it take for the media to notice that it's raining Deep Throats all around us, and has been for years?

Bob Harris:
The L.A. Times: Palestinians getting their property broken are just so darn funny!

I've been too busy moving to cross-post for a while, so in case you missed it, yesterday's Los Angeles Times actually ran a short piece about the invasion of a Palestinian home and destruction of the family's property... in a lighthearted humor column in the Sports section.

Tee-hee.

And since I anticipate the Times will respond (if they bother) by claiming that the column often addresses more serious issues, and thus they didn't really put violence against civilians in a ha-ha-hee-hee frame... the exact same space today is about Russell Crowe trying to make his ears stick out to look more like a boxer.

Same thing entirely. Obviously.

Tom Tomorrow:
A new addition...

...to the League of Sporadic Bloggers here at TMW: Billmon from the Whiskey Bar has agreed to pitch in from time to time.

It is an honor to welcome him aboard.

Jack Hitt:
Say No More

All the world’s blogs have exhausted a hundred thousand words trying to say what Stephen Colbert nails with one:

Stephen Colbert: That’s right, Jon, it just no longer has the credibility.

Stewart: The media?

Colbert: No, the truth.

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

June 01, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Recommendations from the Book Burners

A panel assembled by the conservative magazine Human Events has come up with a list of the "Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries". (via MeFi) While the top ten starts off predictably with The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, some of the entries that follow (as well as the runners-up) are so outrageous you'd almost think it was a parody. For example :

  • The Kinsey Report - Alfred Kinsey

  • The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan

  • Beyond Good and Evil - Freidrich Nietzsche

  • General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money - John Maynard Keynes

  • The Population Bomb - Paul Ehrlich

  • On Liberty - John Stuart Mill

  • Origin of the Species - Charles Darwin

  • Unsafe at Any Speed - Ralph Nader

  • Introduction to Psychoanalysis - Sigmund Freud

  • The Greening of America - Charles Reich
  • I'd have a hard time condemning any book as "harmful", but I can't imagine a list like this that doesn't even mention The Turner Diaries or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I'd think that the books most responsible for white-supremacist, militant extremism and the last century of anti-Semitic strife respectively would get at least one nomination, but I guess the guys at Human Events have different ideas about what's considered "harmful".

    Greg Saunders:
    A Single Word

    Geez. The Bush folks sure are pissed about Amnesty International's use of the word "gulag", huh? Perhaps Amnesty should just clarify things a bit by eschewing comparisons to the Soviet Union and making it clear that when they say "gulags", they simply meant "secret prisons in which innocent people have been tortured to death".

    On a serious note, it's clear what's going on here. The Bushies are focusing in on a single word and are going to hit back at Amnesty International until they say something even vaguely conciliatory. At that point, they'll declare victory. ("Haven't you heard? Our rape rooms aren't 'gulags'.") Nevermind the details of the report. The use of hyperbole[1] will render the actual charges obsolete. We've seen it happen over and over again.

    The fact that this particular AI report was almost dead (in news cycle terms, anyways) until the President decided to abuse the word "absurd" is the biggest irony here. Rumsfeld is giving a press conference right now because the President's poor attempt to make the question go away only made things worse. The obvious quote here is "thou doth protest too much" because it's true. These guys wouldn't be complaining this loudly if it hadn't gotten under their skin.

    Amnesty International obviously hit a nerve and the Bush Administration is going to keep hitting back until there's a moment of weakness that they can take advantage of. The key here is not to get tripped up in a semantic debate. Innocent people are being abused right now due to our President's decision that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to our new wars. Don't let a petty argument over word choice allow the President to deflect attention from the fact that he's a human rights abuser.


    1 :Which in this case isn't hyperbole at all, but whatever....

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

    May 31, 2005

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Deep Throat's identity

    Old news around here. Does this site have the smartest readers in the world or what?

    Tom Tomorrow:
    A small suggestion...

    ...to bloggers who like to talk about how blogging will someday replace the mainstream media:

    Stop talking about it in the fucking mainstream media.

    Put up or shut up, you know?

    Greg Saunders:
    Quote of the Day

    This quote from former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent pretty much says all you need to know about modern newsrooms :

    "I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data."
    Regardless of whether you think this applies to Krugman or not, this is a stunning admission that I'd imagine is pretty standard for the gatekeepers in publishing and television news. Why else would hacks like Sean Hannity or Bob Novak remain employed if it weren't for the fact that the people in charge of protecting the integrity of their news organizations had decided that pundits in lofty positions are entitled to mislead the public.

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

    May 30, 2005

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

    From the Washington Post (via Steve Gilliard):

    More than a third of the mortgages written in the Washington area this year are a risky new kind of loan that lets borrowers pay back only the interest, delaying for years repayment of any loan principal. Economists warn that the new loans are essentially a gamble that home prices will continue to rise at a brisk pace, allowing the borrower to either sell the home at a profit or refinance before the principal payments come due.

    The loans are attractive because their initial monthly payments are tantalizingly low -- about $1,367 a month for a $320,000 mortgage, compared with about $1,842 a month for a traditional 30-year, fixed-rate loan. If home prices fall, though, borrowers could lose big.

    "It's a game of musical chairs," said Allen J. Fishbein, director of housing and credit policy at the Consumer Federation of America. "Somebody is going to have the chair pulled out from under them when they find prices have leveled out and they try to sell, only to find they can't sell for what they paid for it."

    About 54 percent of home buyers in the District purchased their homes using interest-only loans so far this year, according to LoanPerformance, a San Francisco-based company that tracks loan originations nationwide. About one-third of buyers in Maryland and Virginia are buying with interest-only loans.

    Just five years ago, only about 2 percent of home-purchase loans in the Washington area involved interest-only terms.

    And that last is the key point here. In five years, interest-only loans have gone from 2% to more than a third of mortgages in the Washington area. And as Jack Hitt pointed out to me a few weeks back (before the blog became a group endeavor and I invited him on board), it's even worse in California, where the rate has jumped from 2% of mortgages in 2001 to 48% today.

    This is really not good news.

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Heh indeed

    Via Tbogg.

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Christian soldiers update

    The Chris Hedges article in Harper's that I mentioned last week is now up on their site.

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Presented without comment

    Photo from Blah Blah Blah Blog.

    Tom Tomorrow:
    Allowed to speak
    Rice, 50, a former Stanford Provost, was interrupted by at least four protesters wearing black hoods and robes who, at the beginning of her speech, stood on their seats with hands outstretched in various parts of the audience, attempting to evoke imagery from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The protesters, chanting, "Stop the Torture, U.S. out of Iraq," were led from the audience by police without incident.

    Rice proceeded with her address, but received applause when she acknowledged the disruption, saying, "Isn't it wonderful that we live in a country where people are allowed to speak?"

    Story. As reader David R. asks, "Since when does being led from the room by the police constitute being 'allowed to speak'?"

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

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