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August 06, 2005

Radio Daze

For Immediate Release
August 6, 2005

President's Radio Address

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Like me, many across this great land are taking lengthy vacations this month, to escape the roasting hot weather made possible by my bold policy of global climate enhancement. However, it has been brought to my attention that a relatively small number of families are not enjoying the summer nearly as much as I am, because their fathers, mothers, brothers, sons and/or daughters have been wounded and/or killed in the War of Heroic Action against Terrorism for the Future of a United Christian Kulture -- or, as my NSC counterterrorism experts sometimes call it: WHATtheFUCK?

All of us here in Crawford mourn the loss of these brave but ultimately expendable men and women -- although if Cindy Sheehan thinks I'm going to let her anywhere near my house, she's out of her freaking mind. However, I will now honor the sacrifices made by our slaughtered troops and their annoying families with this brief moment of presidential silence. (Pauses briefly.)

Fortunately, the minor casualties sustained in Iraq over the past week have not materially affected the fantastic economic progress being made by the wealthier members of our great society! Corporate profits continue to grow at double-digit rates, while retailers catering to the luxury market report record sales. In more affluent regions, home prices are soaring -- a trend which is enriching real estate speculators and encouraging millions of upper middle-class Americans to borrow heavily against the skyrocketing values of their suburban mini-mansions. As a result, the personal savings rate has fallen to zero, and household debt levels have reached yet another all-time high. Clearly, the properity of our socioeconomic elite now rests on a sound and stable footing.

True, the latest economic reports also show a modest share of this prosperity is finally trickling down to America's working families. But rest assured: the Federal Reserve is on the case, and will raise interest rates as high as necessary to nip this dangerous inflationary trend in the bud. America's true heros -- the CEOs and billionaires who control our giant multinational corporations -- deserve no less. We must not fail them in their hour of obscene prosperity, and as long as I am president, (sobs) we will not.

You know, we've been through a lot these past four years (and when I say "we," I am, of course, speaking hypothetically.) War, terrorism, recession, a major stock market crash, corporate accounting enhancements -- all of these things happened on my watch, and yet, with God's mercy and the blessings of the Ohio Republican Party, I was re-elected. Truly, in America all things are possible.

Now, my administration is bringing that same can-do spirit to our nation's energy policy. We're ignoring the whiny pessmists who claim today's sky-high gas prices are just a taste of the economic and environmental chaos that could result if America doesn't curb its insatiable thirst for imported oil. Are these not the same effete and unpatriotic voices who predicted the failure of my bold campaign to make Iraq safe for Iranian influence? They were wrong then and they're wrong now.

As you may know, Congress recently approved my new energy bill, which will fatten the wallets of hundreds, if not thousands, of needy oil company executives and their elected representatives in Washington. Surely, if the history of this great nation has taught us anything, it's that massive government subsidies can accomplish anything -- whether it's finding a cure for cancer or building a safe and reliable space shuttle. I'm confident my pork . . . I mean, my energy bill will be every bit as successful.

At the same time, though, we're making bold efforts to safeguard America's foreign oil supplies by stepping up our campaign to bring the blessings of democracy to the culturally backwards nations of the Middle East -- by endorsing the ruling royal dynasty in Saudi Arabia, for example.

There are some who feel the corrupt Saudi monarchy cannot survive much longer, and will eventually be overwhelmed by the forces of Islamic fundamentalism it has promoted and protected for decades. This, they say, could easily cause oil prices to double again, throwing the global economy into recession and revealing the fragile foundations of our weakly regulated financial system.

Well, my answer is: Bring 'em on. The Saudi National Guard and secret police have the forces necessary to deal with the security situation. And even if they don't, there is no policy blunder so catastrophic that our gigantic military machine can't bail me out, somehow.

After all, isn't that the most important lesson of WHATtheFUCK?

In closing, let me just remind you that the American economy is still the envy of the world. And you can bet your SUVs that I will do whatever it takes to keep it envious -- and to keep you, the American people, in a state of permanent, detached unreality. Because only then will our multinational corporations be able to completely unleash the spirit of mindless greed, so that even more of our billionaires can realize the New American Dream.

Thanks for listening.



August 04, 2005

Greg Saunders :
Jesus Hates Democrats

Well, apparently John Roberts is pro-gay and Bill Frist is pro-choice. I wouldn't get too excited about either one of these speculations, but anything that'll piss off the self-righteous culture warriors on Crybaby Sunday is good news in my book. With the program's stated theme of "God Save the United States and this Honorable Court"[1], I wonder now how they'll react to this revelation about Roberts knowing that it might mean trading Roe v. Wade for "Adam and Steve". Considering that the host of the previous theocratic pep rally is the subject of a big "Fuck You" on the homepage of the Family Research Council[2], I suggest that Judge Roberts shine his ass-kissin' shoes and start studying Leviticus.

1 : Just reading this trumpery makes me gag a little. I can't imagine actually sitting through this bullshit.

2 : You've gotta wonder how all that research has been going.


August 03, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
The Murder of Mowhoush

The Washington Post has looked at the classified documents dealing with the death in custody of Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, and today has an article with a great deal more information about that death than we've previously known. Like a lot of people I'm almost numbed by the brutality, which is probably why I find myself more shocked by the dishonesty:

Hours after Mowhoush's death in U.S. custody on Nov. 26, 2003, military officials issued a news release stating that the prisoner had died of natural causes after complaining of feeling sick. Army psychological-operations officers quickly distributed leaflets designed to convince locals that the general had cooperated and outed key insurgents.

The U.S. military initially told reporters that Mowhoush had been captured during a raid. In reality, he had walked into the Forward Operating Base "Tiger" in Qaim on Nov. 10, 2003, hoping to speak with U.S. commanders to secure the release of his sons, who had been arrested in raids 11 days earlier.

Okay, maybe "shocked" is the wrong word. The death of Dilawar was initially attributed to natural causes as well, and The Lancet reported almost a year ago on how medical personnel had covered up the cause of Mowhoush's death. Why should it be surprising that the military lied about the circumstances under which he came to be detained?

Maybe the biggest shock here is that anyone still believes them.

The other thing that interests me about this article is that the headline -- Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs -- is quite misleading. Although it starts with the story of how a soldier, on his own,  came up with the idea of stuffing a severely injured man in a sleeping bag and tying him up with electrical cord, it's very clear that culpability goes way beyond that grisly improvisation:

In the months before Mowhoush's detention, military intelligence officials across Iraq had been discussing interrogation tactics, expressing a desire to ramp things up and expand their allowed techniques to include more severe methods, such as beatings that did not leave permanent damage, and exploiting detainees' fear of dogs and snakes, according to documents released by the Army.

Officials in Baghdad wrote an e-mail to interrogators in the field on Aug. 14, 2003, stating that the "gloves are coming off" and asking them to develop "wish lists" of tactics they would like to use.

An interrogator with the 66th Military Intelligence Company, who was assigned to work on Mowhoush, wrote back with suggestions in August, including the use of "close confinement quarters," sleep deprivation and using the fear of dogs, adding: "I firmly agree that the gloves need to come off."

Another e-mail exchange from interrogators with the 4th Infantry Division based in Tikrit also suggested "close quarter confinement" in extremely claustrophobic situations, because "discomfort induces compliance and cooperation."

There isn't a huge leap between suggesting a claustrophobic situation and stuffing someone into a sleeping bag. It wasn't the creative soldier who ordered the harsher treatment of the prisoner.

Moreover, even though Mowhoush died in the sleeping bag, it looks like his death had at least as much to do with his treatment the day before by the CIA and a CIA-trained and funded Iraqi paramilitary group, code-named the Scorpions (more about them in another must-read piece in today's Post). And they are definitely not improvising.

Tom Tomorrow:
No, it's round

You know, if I were trying to satirize someone as clueless as Thomas Friedman, I might portray him hawking a book/metaphor called "The World is Flat." But only if I were feeling lazy and/or uninspired, and needed to go for the obvious joke. So it's really quite astonishing that the real Thomas Friedman is actually hawking said book/metaphor, and seems quite proud of same.

At any rate, Siddharth Varadarajan is unimpressed:

Ever since I experienced, at first hand, Nato's bombing runs over Belgrade in the summer of 1999, I've had little time for Thomas Friedman or his ruminations.

In those days, Mr Friedman – a widely syndicated New York Times columnist and an advocate of corporate globalisation and American military intervention around the world -- used to peddle the silly idea that countries with McDonalds would never go to war against each other. Well, before he could say 'take-away', the United States bombed Yugoslavia, while Pakistan and India fought a war over Kargil. All these countries had McDonalds (OK, the Indian ones don't serve beef) but they still went to war. I don't know whether the Panamanians ate Big Macs in 1989 but even if they did, I suspect George Bush (the elder) wouldn't have thought twice about invading them.

In The World is Flat, Mr Friedman ditches McDonalds in favour of another lemon, the Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention: "No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell's, will ever fight a war against each other so long as they are both part of the same global supply chain”.

This prediction is typical of the ahistorical approach Mr Friedman adopts in order to argue that corporate globalisation is the panacea for the world’s problems. Open up your economy, be less corrupt, create institutions of good governance, let companies hire and fire workers more easily – this is essentially what those who are not benefiting from globalisation must do.

* * *

Stripped of the gush, what flatness boils down to is the ability of businesses to use new communications technologies in order to push the frontiers of cost-cutting by speeding up the work process and sourcing labour and inputs from every corner of the globe. Among the 'flatteners' are Windows, the Internet, workflow and open-source software, outsourcing, off-shoring (i.e. foreign direct investment), supply-chaining, insourcing, in-forming (i.e. Google and other search engines) and digital, wireless communication. Flatness, Mr Friedman contends, is making the world less hierarchical, more prosperous and equal (eg. by allowing Indians to work in call centres or process American tax forms), more transparent and democratic (thanks to blogging), and less prone to war.

Flatman gets so carried away with his discovery that he loses the big picture early in the book. On page 39, he visits a U.S. military base in Babil, Iraq and marvels at the live feed being relayed on a flat-screen TV from a Predator drone flying overhead. The drone is being manipulated by an expert sitting in Las Vegas and its feed monitored by a low-level officer who is accessing information earlier available only to his commanders. The Great Discoverer is overawed that Bubba’s been given a laptop. "The military playing field is being levelled', Friedman writes, without a hint of irony. Remember, he's in Iraq, a country that's just been flattened by the U.S. military.

At the Arkansas nerve centre of Wal-Mart – a company he admits has labour practices that are a little unethical – Flatman finds more flatness. . Workers who are not able to move pallets piled high with boxed products fast enough are told to speed up by a "soothing" computerized voice delivered instantly through wireless headphones they must wear at all times. "You can choose whether you want your computer voice to be a man or woman, and you can choose English or Spanish", a Wal-Mart executive says proudly. Flatman is duly impressed. This is what makes the Wal-Mart supply-chain efficient. This is what makes the world a flatter place to live.

Speaking of Flatman, don't miss his column today, in which he argues that what America really needs is...better cell service. I kid you not.

Tom Tomorrow:
Radio days

As I have mentioned before, I have a Sirius satellite radio, which has come in handy now that I no longer live in a major media market. For awhile, I've been using it to listen to Air America while I work, but this summer I've found myself migrating back to the various NPR shows (I mostly listen to the radio during the day, and at a certain point, I realized that if I had to sit through one more "Oy Oy Oy" show--well, let's just say that you can have too much of a good thing and leave it at that). The point being, I've only recently discovered that Air America has given Sirius satellite subscribers the shaft and hopped over to XM. And yes, I'm getting comped, but a lot of people invested in Sirius equipment and subscriptions specifically because of Air America, and on their behalf, I'd like to send out a big "fuck you" in the general direction of the business genuises behind that little decision. (...I'm aware that you can stream audio online, but I mostly find the glitches too annoying to bother.)(And streaming doesn't really help people who installed satellite radio in their cars, does it?)

Anyway: these days, when my tedium cup overfloweth with the calm, measured rationality of NPR, I find myself doing what I did more often before AAR came along--wandering around the batshit crazy wingnut side of the metaphorical dial. Yesterday, for instance, I had the distinct pleasure of listening to G. Gordon Liddy's son Tom, who is filling in for the "G-Man" this week (and yes, he really calls his father the "G-Man"). And one of the topics of the day was how hard it is for women to stay home and raise children if that's what they choose to do--not only because of the unbearable scorn of the dominant anti-family liberal media, but because of all that darned government taxation, which takes away so much of your money, yadda yadda, blah blah blah.

Excessive taxation is a staple of right wing talk radio, but one which forces hosts to tread carefully, given that what they are actually talking about is excessive upper income taxation--the solution to which generally requires an ever increasing burden to be borne by the host's own oblivious audience. And since the host and the callers are, by definition, actually carrying on two distinct conversations at cross purposes with one another, confusion often ensues. Yesterday, for example, a woman made it on to the Liddy show and after telling Tom what a fan she was of his father, she pointed out that a lot of people she knows need two incomes because, well, they just don't make very much money.

(This is often the problem with the elaborate theories of the right: they are usually in direct contradiction to the actual life experience of anyone who's ever tried to get by on the minimum wage. So the host's unspoken question becomes: who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?)

Tom tried to gently steer the conversation back to the evils of taxation, but the woman charged on, unaware of the damage she was doing. "At that income level, they really don't have too many taxes," she said blithely, threatening to undercut Tom Liddy's entire fictional construct. You could almost hear the klaxon bells ringing as he allowed that, well, yes, poverty is a problem, and the only thing you can do is, er, try to get better jobs, and church groups can sure help. And on to the next caller!

You have to love it when the audience wanders off script.

(Speaking of talk radio, I also heard the insufferable Laura Ingraham mocking Al Gore for his new television project, which apparently invites viewer interactivity. "They want the audience to do all the work for them," cackled the talk radio host, apparently oblivious to the irony of her own words. But then, they always are, aren't they?)


August 01, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Not dead

I was away for the weekend and now I've got a cartoon to write. Everyone else with keys to the site is either on vacation or laying low. Bear with us, we're on a reduced summertime schedule here at thismodernworld.com.


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