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August 13, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
The collapsing storyline

Digby is wondering what it is about Cindy Sheehan that gets under the right wingers' skin. My own quick two cents: she makes them realize they're losing control of the narrative. For four years, conservatives have answered any criticism by invoking the flag, the troops, and of course 9/11 itself. But "the troops" are not an ethereal concept or a moment frozen in history--they are individuals, each with their own stories, not all of whom are going to happily hew to the party line. (I hear tell that some of them may even be--gasp--Democrats.) Cindy Sheehan drives this home. As the mother of a young man sacrificed on the altar of George Bush's hubris, she has the moral authority to challenge the precarious worldview they've constructed, and deep down, they know it.


August 12, 2005

Greg Saunders :
Getting Answers For Cindy

It should be noted that the search for answers regarding the Iraq war goes well beyond a grieving mother camping outside the President's posh ranch. For example, during the press conference for last year's Senate report on pre-war intelligence, committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts promised that the follow-up investigation on the use of Iraqi intelligence by senior policy-makers was "one of my top priorities". Well, it's been more than a year later and phase two isn't on anyone's radar, except for a few tenacious lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein :

I am increasingly dismayed by the delay in completing the Committee’s ‘Phase II’ investigation into intelligence prior to the Iraq War. As you know, the Committee voted unanimously on February 12, 2004 to investigate five questions on pre-war intelligence, including use of intelligence by policymakers. Nearly eighteen months later, much work remains before these questions will be satisfactorily answered.

In addition to the terms set out early last year, the Committee should address the significant issues raised by the so-called ‘Downing Street Memo’ – whether the ‘intelligence and facts were being fixed’ to support the policy of using military force against Iraq. This claim raises serious questions about the use of intelligence, and whether intelligence resources were unduly focused away from other priorities in order to provide additional – and as we have found, flawed – intelligence on Iraq.

It would also be my preference to include in Phase II any new revelations concerning the CURVEBALL case since the Committee’s first Iraq report.

It is important that the Committee complete its study of these questions, both to fulfill our oversight responsibilities and because there is no other body capable of doing this work. The Committee’s report assessing the intelligence on Iraq ’s WMD capabilities was of outstanding quality and demonstrated both our ability to inform the American public and uncover needs for intelligence reform. I urge you to take whatever steps are needed to complete the Phase II investigation and produce a report as comprehensive and thoughtful as the first phase of the Committee’s investigation. I stand ready to participate in this investigation in any way possible.

And that just covers the lies that led us into this war. As far as how the hell we get out of it, I've written in the past about the Pentagon's foot dragging in regards to giving the American public a clear set of benchmarks by which to judge the administration's performance. As I mentioned, getting those answers was legally required by the most recent war appropriation bill. Well, it seems that Congress got some answers a couple weeks ago, but they fell short of the mark.
Congressional critics of Bush administration Iraq policy lashed out at the Pentagon Thursday for keeping classified parts of a report that gave a detailed assessment of the readiness of Iraqi fighting forces.

Sen. Carl Levin, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he fears "the American people are going to be left out" of discussions about when the United States can bring troops home and the wartorn country over to Iraqi security forces.
. . .
Joining Levin, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday that if Rumsfeld submits merely "a progress report on the war without standards, goals and timetables specified" he will not have satisfied the intent of Congress.

"A meaningful strategy for success must include benchmarks by which the American people can better ask how the war in Iraq is going and when our troops can come home," she said.

A few days after those remarks, the Democrats were rebuffed again, this time by the Republicans in the House :
Iraq benchmarks: Voting 203 for and 227 against, members on Wednesday rejected a Democratic request that President Bush set public benchmarks for measuring U.S. progress in Iraq in areas such as defeating the insurgency, establishing democratic institutions and bringing U.S. troops home. This occurred during debate on a bill authorizing State Department activities and other foreign operations in fiscal 2006.

Rep. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, urged benchmarks "so we know exactly what we need to do to achieve success in Iraq. Up to this point, Congress has abdicated its responsibility on Iraq. The Republican leadership has provided the administration with a blank check when it comes to Iraq."

Cindy Sheehan is sitting in the dirt outside the President's ranch hoping to find out what the "noble cause" is that took her son's life. In seeking those answers, the American public deserves to know what the practical cause is for the Iraq war as well. Administration justifications about WMD's, ties to 9/11, spreading democracy, and "rape rooms" have been proven to be either lies or hypocritical posturing. Rhetoric about troop levels, training of Iraqi security forces, and the strength of the insurgency has been shown to be equally hollow. Two and a half years into this nightmare, we still don't know the real reason why we went there and how it's all going to end.

In the past, I've suggested that readers help in the search for those answers by contacting their representatives, but I've lost all hope that this would do any good. Clearly one side of the aisle is concerned with getting answers and the other side it concerned with covering the President's ass. At this point, if you want to get involved, contact the media and ask why they aren't concerned with the same questions. Why hasn't Wolf Blitzer shown as much interest in "phase two" as he has in patting himself on the back for interviewing Bill Clinton? Why aren't local papers covering the anti-troop voting records of their Congressional representatives? I dunno, but I sure hope that Cindy Sheehan's crusade will prompt the media to finally seek the answers we deserve.

Tom Tomorrow:
From the mailbag

I thought this was worth sharing. (Minor identifying details changed or excised to protect everyone's anonymity.)

I read your blog today about the Marine recruiter who met with the resistant (yet supportive!?!) parents.

Let me tell you about my 21 year old son John. We live in a fairly affluent area and both my wife and myself are educated professionals. John has always been a sensitive progressive, involved in his gay/straight student alliance, formally protested the unfairness of the state's standardized testing, did volunteer work in the community, etc. He is also a worldly kid having lived in or visited great Britain (3 times), Israel, Germany, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, and Brazil (mostly on his own!). We as a family saw the Iraq war as the Administration's attempt to exercise hegemony in a resource rich and politically strategic area of the world. None of us believed that the war had anything to do with the so called "war on terror." In December of 2004 John told us that he had been talking to an Army recruiter about enlisting. I wasn't too surprised, as he was uncertain about when he wanted to attend college and had talked about the military as an option. I cautioned him to be very careful and not to make any commitments. I was concerned that they would "promise him the moon" and I told him that if it was not officially in a contract promises were worthless. He understood and with open eyes, he joined. He joined as an airborne infantryman. He knew that his choice would take him to war. He explained to me that he thought we as a nation had made serious mistakes in Iraq, that he felt as though he could help, he said that the military needed more soldiers who were open minded and could deal in a positive way with people who were different from themselves.

In June all of my family went to see John graduate from Infantry training. Each of us to a person, my daughter, my sister, my parents are against this war, yet we were there to support a kid who thinks he can make a difference. As I sat in the stands at the graduation ceremony and chatted with the family and friends of the of the other soldiers something struck me. These were not the sons of the cheering pundits, the affluent neo-con ideologues, the comfortable pro-war suburbanites. The sons of people who most vociferously declared the righteous cause of the war, who branded dissent as treasonous and dissenters as not worthy to be called Americans were not there. Why join when the kids of your car mechanic and gardener will do it for you? Why have them sign up when you really do get tears at the sound of Lee Greenwood and have a yellow ribbon magnet? Why encourage them to enlist when you can ride on the backs of those who believe that they by joining can make a difference? As I sat in the stands I looked into the faces of all those going to war, who joined out of a sense of duty, for opportunity, or to "make something" of themselves. I hope to God that we give these men and women what they deserve. I am not speaking of equipment, training, and pay, but of a truly grateful country and government who will not waste their lives and idealism in cavalier wars of imperialism.

Tom Tomorrow:
Supporting the troops

You've probably seen this already (via atrios):

Staff Sgt. Jason Rivera, 26, a Marine recruiter in Pittsburgh, went to the home of a high school student who had expressed interest in joining the Marine Reserve to talk to his parents.

It was a large home in a well-to-do suburb north of the city. Two American flags adorned the yard. The prospect's mom greeted him wearing an American flag T-shirt.

"I want you to know we support you," she gushed.

Rivera soon reached the limits of her support.

"Military service isn't for our son. It isn't for our kind of people," she told him.

And that's the problem, isn't it? Americans always want something for nothing. You know the old saying: everybody wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to die.

I was listening to some right wing radio guy and his producer talking about how silly the chickenhawk argument is--the latter apparently young enough to enlist for military duty but uninterested in doing so, regurgitating the standard Jonah Goldberg argument: I'm flabby, I have other things to do, I wouldn't make a good soldier anyway. Well, gosh, that is a compelling argument--you guys go die, you're much better at it than me, I'll just stay here and wave the flag--but really, this fellow shouldn't let poor self-esteem hold him back. After all, isn't that what boot camp is all about? After nine weeks of basic training, I'm sure he'd feel a lot better about his own abilities.

The producer did allow that if this were a World War II-style conflict, and his country really needed him, he'd be more than willing to serve. In the meantime, I guess he'll continue to support the war wholeheartedly, while guys like this pay the price:

"I just want to get it done, come home, and continue my life."

Those were just about the last words that Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr. -- a 31-year-old Philly cop and up-and-coming boxer -- said to us when we spoke last last November. In less than 48 hours, Pellegrini was about to step onto an airplane bound for Iraq, along with the rest of his Pennsylvania National Guard unit from Northeast Philadelphia.

For anyone who's worried about the return of a military draft, Pellegrini was living proof that we already have one in George W. Bush's America. He desperately did not want to serve in the Persian Gulf.

He was just two weeks away from finishing up his six-year stint in the Guard when he was told that his tour of duty was being extended and that he would serve in Iraq for at least a year, maybe longer. The news could not have come at a worse time for Pellegrini. He was training for his first pro fight, newly engaged to be married, and settling into his job as a Philadelphia police officer, just like his dad.

Instead, he was ordered by his government to fight a war that he did not believe in. He told us that the conflict in Iraq was "a so-called war" and that he saw U.S. troops as caught in an impossible situation.

In the end, Pellegrini's stay in Iraq lasted little more than eight months. This morning, his parents were notified that he had been killed in action. So far, no specifics have been released -- but when we learn more we will post it.

There is so much sadness, and so much irony. The news of his death comes at the very same time that a right-wing slime machine is trying to put words in the mouth of a dead Marine, 24-year-old Casey Sheehan. They have engaged in obscene speculation that he would not have wanted his mother Cindy Sheehan -- the anti-war protester now camped outside the Bush compound in Crawford, Texas -- speaking out.

Speaking of which...I have no doubt that Cindy Sheehan--who has paid the biggest price a parent can pay--will continue to be attacked by people who think they're doing all they can by putting ribbon magnets on their SUVs. (And isn't that ultimately the pefect metaphor for this war and its supporters? Think about it: it's a magnet. Peel it off and it's as if it was never there. You can support the troops and not even risk the slightest damage to the finish of your car. That's real commitment.)

But Cindy Sheehan can speak for herself:

People have asked what it is I want to say to President Bush. Well, my message is a simple one. He’s said that my son -- and the other children we’ve lost -- died for a noble cause. I want to find out what that noble cause is. And I want to ask him: “If it’s such a noble cause, have you asked your daughters to enlist? Have you encouraged them to go take the place of soldiers who are on their third tour of duty?” I also want him to stop using my son’s name to justify the war. The idea that we have to “complete the mission” in Iraq to honor Casey’s sacrifice is, to me, a sacrilege to my son’s name. Besides, does the president any longer even know what “the mission” really is over there?

Casey knew that the war was wrong from the beginning. But he felt it was his duty to go, that his buddies were going, and that he had no choice. The people who send our young, honorable, brave soldiers to die in this war, have no skin in the game. They don’t have any loved ones in harm’s way. As for people like O’Reilly and Hannity and Michelle Malkin and Rush Limbaugh and all the others who are attacking me and parroting the administration line that we must complete the mission there -- they don’t have one thing at stake. They don’t suffer through sleepless nights worrying about their loved ones.


August 11, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Sixteen tons and what do you get

In its ongoing effort to crush what's left of organized labor in this country, the NLRB has ruled that employers can tell you who and who not to spend your free time with:

It is a regular pastime for co-workers to chat during a coffee break, at a union hall, or over a beer about workplace issues, good grilling recipes, and celebrity gossip. Yet a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) allows employers to ban off-duty fraternizing among co-workers, severely weakening the rights of free association and speech, and violating basic standards of privacy for America's workers.

So how did the NLRB decide to weaken fundamental workplace protections? Security firm Guardsmark instituted a rule directing employees not to "fraternize on duty or off duty, date, or become overly friendly with the client's employees or with co-employees." In September 2003, the Service Employees International Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Guardsmark, claiming that the company's work rules inhibited its employees' Section 7 rights.

Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act grants workers the right to "self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations…and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection..." While the law allows employers to ban association among co-workers during work hours, Guardsmark's rule was broader in that it applied to the off-duty association of co-workers.

On June 7, 2005, the Board ruled 2 to 1 that Guardsmark's fraternization rule was lawful.1 The Board majority argued that workers would likely interpret the fraternization rule as merely a ban on dating, and not a prohibition of the association among co-workers protected by Section 7. But the dissenting member of the Board pointed out that since the rule already mentions dating, workers would understand fraternization to mean something else. She noted, "the primary meaning of the term 'fraternize…[is] to associate in a brotherly manner'…and that kind of association is the essence of workplace solidarity."


Jeanne d'Arc:
"The link of brotherhood and solidarity has been broken."

It looks like the American press is finally catching up with an aspect of the food shortage in Niger -- and elsewhere --  that the British press has been on for quite a while.

From the Washington Post:

In a country adopting free market policies, the suffering caused by a poor harvest has been dramatically compounded by a surge in food prices and, many people here suspect, profiteering by a burgeoning community of traders, who in recent years have been freed from government price controls and other mechanisms that once balanced market forces.

At the same time, Nigeriens said, the tradition of sharing in their society is giving way to sharper, more selfish attitudes as Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, reaches for a more materialistic, Westernized future. That is especially true here, along the southern border with Nigeria, where an aggressive entrepreneurial culture has created the economic powerhouse of West Africa.

"There are people who are making profit out of this whole situation," said Abdoulkader Mamane Idi, a local radio journalist. "The link of brotherhood and solidarity has been broken."

That last part is especially interesting, because it's one of those touchy-feely things even those of us skeptical of the benefits of those "free market polices" rarely discuss. Even if we were not talking about powerful countries rigging the rules of "free" trade for their own benefit, even if things were as open and fair as advocates like to pretend, isn't it obvious that the disruption of a way of life is going to have effects -- some of them extremely negative -- that no one can control, or even predict?

Most of us baby boomers had parents who told us stories about surviving the Depression only because everyone was in it together, and people helped each other. I don't think any of us can even fantasize that we live in the world of our parents' childhoods any longer.

Are we better off with more things and fewer connections? Do we think Africans will be?

Please help.

Tom Tomorrow:
The no-spin zone

O'Reilly says that he and Michelle Malkin were "respectful" when discussing Cindy Sheehan. Here's what Bill considers "respectful":

O'REILLY: Well, I have to say that she obviously does because she's the lead story on Michael Moore's Web site on an almost daily basis. And she knows -- I mean, Michael Moore isn't a subtle guy. Everybody knows where he stands.

So I mean, I think Mrs. Sheehan bears some responsibility for this and also for the responsibility of other American families who have lost sons and daughters in Iraq, who feel that this kind of behavior borders on treasonous.

You know, you got to think about those people as well. What about their feelings?


O'REILLY: She has thrown in -- there is no question that she has thrown in with the most radical elements in this country. That is -- now, it happened before. Some of the 9-11 families also took this road, you'll remember, and are still active to this day. There's a big controversy about the 9-11 Museum down at the World Trade Center.

And, you know, there are some people who hate this government, hate their country right now, and blaming Bush for all the terrorism and all the horror in the world.

Here's a question, Michelle. Do they have a right to this opinion without being scorned?

MALKIN: No, without being scorned, no. And I wouldn't call it scorned. I would call it scrutiny. And the mainstream media is not doing it. I mean, the New York Times editorial board is all too eager to prop her up as some sort of martyr and to buy her line when clearly her story hasn't checked out.

O'REILLY: Yes, her story hasn't [sic] changed.

MALKIN: And so I think -- and I think that angle you're emphasizing is absolutely right here, which is the mainstream media just lapping this up and perpetuating myths and inaccuracies when they know it's not the truth.

O'REILLY: Yes. They don't identify -- in the New York Times editorial today, it was obvious they did not say her story has been inconsistent. And they did not pinpoint that she is in bed with the radical left.

She's a treasonous radical who hates America, but apart from that we respect her point of view.

As for the nonsense about the "inconsistent" story--I haven't had much time for blogging the past few days but pretty much every major liberal blogger has been on this one. Short story: it's a bullshit Swift Boat smear attempt that O'Reilly is dutifully repeating.


August 09, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Another missed opportunity

Hindsight is everything. Events played out the way they did and the world is what it is as a result. But you still can't help but wonder, when you read something like this: what if...?

WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 - More than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, a small, highly classified military intelligence unit identified Mohammed Atta and three other future hijackers as likely members of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States, according to a former defense intelligence official and a Republican member of Congress.

In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military's Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the congressman, Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, and the former intelligence official said Monday.

The recommendation was rejected and the information was not shared, they said, apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta, and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas. Under American law, United States citizens and green-card holders may not be singled out in intelligence-collection operations by the military or intelligence agencies. That protection does not extend to visa holders, but Mr. Weldon and the former intelligence official said it might have reinforced a sense of discomfort common before Sept. 11 about sharing intelligence information with a law enforcement agency.

UPDATE: Never mind. I didn't read closely enough. Weldon's involvement with this story diminishes its credibility immensely.

Bob Harris:
Who will Bush have arrested first: Osama Bin Laden, or Cindy Sheehan?

With apologies for having neither the time nor graphics-wiz abilities to repeat the whole post here, but over in puduland I'd like to offer a couple of possible frames of the Cindy Sheehan protest in Crawford.

Remember, the CIA's head guy on the ground is saying that U.S. intelligence did so too know for sure that Bin Laden was trapped at Tora Bora in December 2001. The only thing which prevented his capture was a lack of troops, courtesy Rumsfeld and Bush.

So Bush could have had Osama arrested. And blew it.

So, pending developments as the week goes on: almost four years now into the War On Tara, who will George W. Bush have managed to arrest? Osama Bin Laden, or Cindy Sheehan?

Another frame that jumps out: the wide variety of human rights abusers and oil-soaked dictators Bush has happily made time for, even though he can't find half an hour for a grieving mother.

Then again, Cindy Sheehan has never opened fire on protesters.

Maybe she should have tried that.


August 08, 2005

Greg Saunders :
Is Our Children Learning?

Now, I'm sure you could write similar articles about history students who think George Washington wrote the constitution or math students who think a rhombus is a drink from Starbucks, but this is probably what we should come to expect from a political climate that insists on blurring the lines between science and religion :

While sleek crime-scene TV shows have turned students on to forensic science, an investigation of today's high school laboratories shows that reality isn't so flattering.

Most of the labs are of such poor quality that they don't follow basic principles of effective science teaching, said a report released Monday by the private National Research Council, a prominent adviser to government leaders on matters of science and engineering.

The typical lab is an isolated add-on that lacks clear goals, does not engage students in discussion and fails to illustrate how science methods lead to knowledge, the report said.

Also contributing to the problem: teachers who aren't prepared to run labs, state exams that don't measure lab skills, wide disparities in the quality of equipment and a simple lack of consensus over what "laboratory" means in the school environment.

The study also found that the vast majority of science classes required students to bring their own Bibles from home. How are students supposed to test the salinity of Lot's wife or the molecular transformation of water into wine without the proper materials?!

Joking aside, here's a real example from a few days ago of sneaking a particular flavor of Christianity into public schools under the guise of Bible history :

The Texas Freedom Network, which includes clergy of several faiths, also said the course offered by the Greensboro, N.C.-based National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is full of errors and dubious research.

The producers of the Bible class dismissed the Texas Freedom Network as a "far left" organization trying to suppress study of a historical text.
. . .
Chancey's review found that the course characterizes the Bible as inspired by God, that discussions of science are based on the biblical account of creation, that Jesus is referred to as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, and that archaeological findings are erroneously used to support claims of the Bible's historical accuracy.

He said the course also suggests the Bible, instead of the Constitution, be considered the nation's founding document.

To be fair, that last part does make a lot of sense. There are ten commandments and ten amendments in the bill of rights. That can't have anything to do with the fact that we use a decimal number system and that we're naturally drawn to numbers divisible by ten. No way. You'd have to be a complete moron to not see the similarity between the third commandment, "Remember thou keep the Sabbath Day.", and the third amendment, "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law". This country was clearly founded by people who interpret the Bible the exact same way as James Dobson, Roy Moore, and Pat Robertson.

UPDATE : Since I've gotten a number of emails on this post, lemme clear up a couple of things. (1) The whole bit about children having to bring Bibles from home to their science classes was a joke. (2) The commandment I identified as the third is only considered the third in Catholic and orthodox Christian traditions, but it's considered the fourth by Protestants and Jews. Meanwhile, it sorta looks like it' the fifth of eleven commandments on the Judge Roy Moore version. If you're bothered by the misquote, just pretend I said "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain." instead.


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