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August 20, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Where I've been

Here. Because of this. (More here.) And it was amazing.

Sometimes it's good to have the right friends. Thanks, Louis.

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

August 19, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Travelling

Probably won't be much here from me for a few days. Not sure if anybody else with keys to the site will be popping in or not.

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

August 17, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Heads up

Jack Hitt, sporadic contributor to this site, will be guest-hosting Majority Report tonight. I'll be on the show at around eight o'clock. Merriment will be had.

Update: Looks like I'll be on closer to 7:30.

Tom Tomorrow:
Credit where due

This site has been critical of Maureen Dowd on occasion--there are too many times when she phones it in, too many forced pop culture metaphors (the sort of thing I had a little fun with here). But you have to give her props--when she's on, she's on:

As W.'s neighbors get in scraps with the antiwar forces coalescing around the ranch; as the Pentagon tries to rustle up updated armor for our soldiers, who are still sitting ducks in the third year of the war; as the Iraqi police we train keep getting blown up by terrorists, who come right back every time U.S. troops beat them up; as Shiites working on the Iraqi constitution conspire with Iran about turning Iraq into an Islamic state that represses women; and as Iraq hurtles toward a possible civil war, W. seems far more oblivious than his father was with his Persian Gulf crisis.

This president is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can't get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make the old Afghanistan look like Cipriani's. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.

The son wanted to go into Iraq to best his daddy in the history books, by finishing what Bush senior started. He swept aside the warnings of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and didn't bother to ask his father's advice. Now he is caught in the very trap his father said he feared: that America would get bogged down as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," facing a possibly "barren" outcome.

It turns out that the people of Iraq have ethnic and religious identities, not a national identity. Shiites and Kurds want to suppress the Sunnis who once repressed them and break off into their own states, smashing the Bush model kitchen of democracy.

At long last, a senior Bush official admits that administration officials can no longer cling to their own version of reality. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning," the official told The Washington Post.

They had better start absorbing and shedding a lot faster, before many more American kids die to create a pawn of Iran. And they had better tell the Boy in the Bubble, who continues to dwell in delusion, hailing the fights and delays on the Iraqi constitution as "a tribute to democracy."

The president's pedaling as fast as he can, but he's going nowhere.


Tom Tomorrow:
Yikes

A couple weeks back, I put out the call for "perverse products"--a sort of all-encompassing category of items whose common element is appalled bemusement. Things that leave you wondering what someone could possibly have been thinking.

I'd say this carnival ride, snapped by reader Mike H. at a small village festival in the south of Mexico, qualifies.

Less appalling, but no less bemusing: the inflatable church.

Tom Tomorrow:
Great minds think think alike

But I still like mine better. The word "razor" indicates something applied with precision and forethought, after all.

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

August 16, 2005

Billmon:
Viewer Discretion Advised

I see that no less an imperial personage than the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, has asked a federal judge to block the opening of the Abu Ghraib Film Festival of the Damned:

Myers . . . said in a statement put forth to support the Pentagon's case that he believed that "riots, violence and attacks by insurgents will result" if the images were released.

"It is probable that Al Qaeda and other groups will seize upon these images and videos as grist for their propaganda mill, which will result in, besides violent attacks, increased terrorist recruitment, continued financial support and exacerbation of tensions between Iraqi and Afghani populaces and U.S. and coalition forces," he said.

Sheesh. Suddenly everybody's a movie critic. But surely Gen. Myers understands that while shots of helpless little boys being anally raped don't exactly meet local community standards (either here or in Iraq) the Freedom of Information Act doesn't have an obscenity exemption. Or a stupidity exemption, which would have left Myers, not to mention his boss, completely in the clear.

Unfortunately, Myers is having some script problems of his own. In his statement to the court, which I presume was given under oath, he cites Newsweek's Koran-in-the-toilet story as an example of the kind of havoc that the Abu Ghraib kiddie porn could unleash among the natives:

General Myers cited the violence that erupted in some Muslim countries in May after Newsweek published an item, later retracted, saying that a Koran had been thrown in a toilet in the United States detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

That is, not, however, what Gen. Myers said at the time:

General Myers also told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Carl Eichenberry, disagrees with the reports that protests in the city of Jalalabad were caused by anger over the alleged Koran incident.

"It is the judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eichenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran, but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his cabinet are conducting in Afghanistan. He thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine," he explained. (emphasis added.)

He and Rove both really need to work on their dissembling skills.

Gen. Myers might have been a little more careful if he'd known his words would make the New York Times. But the goverrnment originally filed his statement -- and all the other paperwork associated with its most recent attempt to block the release of the images -- under seal. This in turn forced the ACLU to file its countermotion under seal.

Left unchecked, this procedure would have resulted in secret litigation to decide whether secret videos should be kept secret. Al Gonzales's idea of the perfect trial, in other words.

But Judge Hellerstein -- whose legal lap this horror show has landed in -- apparently has some old-fashioned ideas about the public's right to know. He unsealed the papers, giving us this chance to see Gen. Myers talk out of both sides of his mouth.

Given what we already know -- thanks to Sy Hersh and others -- about the high command's responsibility for the chain of events that led to Abu Ghraib, Myers' plea for secrecy bears at least a passing resemblance to the old chestnut about the man who murders his parents and then begs the court for mercy because he's an orphan. It would be a little easier to stomach if somebody above the rank of sergeant had been charged with a crime, if the man most directly responsible -- the colonel in charge of the Abu Ghraib intelligence unit -- hadn't been let off with a reprimand, and if the commander at the top on the chain of command in Iraq hadn't been promoted instead of being set to wash toilets in the Aleutian Islands.

Add in the fact that to this day the Pentagon is trying to shield higher ups from being implicated in Abu Ghraib-like abuses, and the temptation is awfully strong to tell Gen. Myers to go do what Dick Cheney told Pat Leahy.

But one of the things that makes this such a particularly depressing story (that is, over and above the sadistic fascism on display at Abu Ghraib) is the fact that to the extent Myers is right, the ones who suffer for it won't be the people who bear the ultimate moral responsibility for the scandal: the lawyers who wrote the Nazi-like memos justifying the presidential power to torture, the bureaucrats who set the policy wheels in motion at Guantanamo, the generals who "Gitmoized" the interrogation process in Iraq, and the sleazy partisan scumbags, like "neutron" Jim Schlesinger, who put the finishing touches on the cover up.

If release of the Abu Ghraib snuff movies does trigger a violent reaction in Iraq or Afghanistan, if it does lengthen the lines at the Al Qaeda recruitment office, or if it does inspire insurgent bomb makers to invent even more lethal IEDs, the ones who'll pay the price will be the troops in the field -- the same poor bastards who are already spilling their blood for the Pentagon's failures.

Would the Film Festival of the Damned have that kind of effect? I don't know -- and I don't think there's any way to know until and unless the videos are released. But I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand, just because Myers is a lying fuck desperate to cover his own ass. When I try to imagine the reaction of someone who already hates or fears American power to graphic footage of little Iraqi children being raped while a bunch of smirking hillbillies stand around and gawk, I can see how it might drive them crazy with rage -- just as the sight of the burned corpses of American mercenaries being dragged through the streets of Fallujah worked a lot of our wing nuts into a frenzy last year. And if there's one thing this tortured planet doesn't need right now, it's the crazed rage of cultural fanatics. We've already got more than we can handle.

Which is why I'm glad I don't have Judge Hellerstein's job. The law would seem to leave him little choice but to release the tapes, and pray the consequences -- for the guiltless, I mean -- aren't as dire as Myers predicts.

In the end, though, I also have to support full disclosure -- not just because it's the law, but because it's also the right thing to do, despite the risks. There's a greater danger here than the threat that the violence in Iraq or Afghanistan might temporarily escalate (would anybody even notice?) It's the risk that some future administration, or future army commander, might be encouraged to endorse -- or cover up -- war crimes, on the expectation that they, too, will be able to rely on official secrecy to protect themselves (and the country) from the consequences. Which may embolden still more distant bureaucrats and soldiers to commit even bigger war crimes.

We already know where that road ends. But neither the judicial nor the political system seem prepared to hold the administration and the Pentagon accountable for having started us down it. That leaves the court of public opinion -- which, unfortunately, is also inclined to imitate Sgt. Shultz.

What I'm hoping is that seeing the horror of Abu Ghraib captured on tape -- even if it is filtered through the corporate media nannies -- might at least have the same effect on American public opinion that the recent airing of a video from the Bosnian killing fields had on Serbia's willful amnesia about it's own war crimes. The tape didn't lead to some dramatic awakening of conscience, but it at least made denial more difficult. It also forced the government to do something about it:

Ms. Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, a rights advocacy group, said, "Until now the prime minister and others were afraid to touch the issue of war crimes.

"The tape has changed the strategy of the state," she said in a telephone interview. "For the first time politicians were forced publicly to react."

Of course, I may be both too optimistic and too pessimistic. After a year of media exposure, Abu Ghraib may simply have lost its power to shock at home and abroad -- no matter how graphic the images.

But if Judge Hellerstein opts for disclosure, I might at least have the satisifaction of hearing Rush Limbaugh try to explain how raping little boys is really not that much different than your average frat house initiation ritual.

Greg Saunders :
The Two Malkins Strike Back

Good grief. Ms. Malkin, to her eternal shame, couldn't do a post about the cross-destroying dickhead on her side without turning it into an attack on the left :

Nice to see the far Left finally outraged about the desecration of crosses.

Don't seem to recall their outrage about this or this or this, though. Or, of course, this.

I'll spare you the hyperlinks, but suffice to say, they're as contradictory as the rest of her oeuvre. The first three links are to news stories of desecrations of pro-life protests that used white crosses and the fourth is, hilariously, a link to the infamous art piece "Piss Christ". Perhaps Michelle and Michelle will need to have a second debate on whether or not they support the first amendment's freedom of expression?

And since we're playing the childish "you didn't denounce it on your site, therefore you support it" game, I don't seem to remember Michelle making an effort to denounce the cross burnings in North Carolina, not that I'd expect any less from the writer of a racist book. (via Atrios)

That book, of course, was In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror. Think about the title alone for a minute or two. Turn it over in your mind. Then focus on this: what Malkin defended for the length of an entire book was internment based on one characteristic alone: a person’s ancestry. This is the most blatant and repellent form of racism. Due to Malkin’s efforts, the “acceptability” and “defensibility” of racism achieved great prominence in our society. It was, and still is, a “respectable” topic of conversation. Racism as the basis of government policy was an “acceptable” subject on which to offer an opinion—and a range of opinions was encouraged. Perhaps it was bad policy, perhaps it wasn’t. Who can know for sure? The historical record is complex. Certainty on this question is impossible of achievement.

Add these further facts to your consideration of this matter. As Eric Muller and Greg Robinson examined and proved in great detail, Malkin plays fast and loose with the actual historical record. Her research methods were contemptibly shoddy. The arguments she offers cannot withstand even casual scrutiny. Her book and her subsequent arguments defending it are filled with dishonesties. In short: there are no facts or arguments to sustain Malkin’s position. The policy of internment was irrational at its foundation, and it destroyed many lives. It stigmatized a large group of people for no legitimate reason, and changed many lives forever. For nothing.

Malkin’s failures were both predictable and unavoidable. An irrational policy cannot be defended with rational arguments. Facts cannot be marshalled to support delusions. And note one additionally ugly aspect of the history of internment in World War II, pointed out in the Muller-Robinson discussion: nothing similar happened to those of German or Italian ancestry, although those countries were also our enemies. It was only those slant-eyed yellow people—those people who are not “really like us”—who were singled out. This is the lowest, most primitive, and subhuman version of racism. Racism in any form is immoral, irrational and always to be condemned. In that sense, degrees of immorality do not apply. But in another sense, this may be the worst kind of racism of all.

By the way, does anyone know how internment camps and an APB on any "swarthy" looking Arab men would have helped aid in the capture of Richard Reid , Jose Padilla, or John Walker Lindh? It seems to me that the (suspected) terrorists have already found a loophole in the "arrest any brown people with funny names" plan.

There's an additional, and somewhat amusing, disagreement between the two Michelles over the term "grief pimps" :

The Los Angeles Times graciously admits it was wrong when it said I disdainfully called activists supporting Cindy Sheehan "grief pimps". . .The Times has appended the correction to its original article. I'll be looking for corrections from all the other papers that repeated the Times' false allegation.
Where could the Times have gotten the bizarre idea that Michelle Malkin thinks the activists supporting Cindy Sheehan are "grief pimps"? Could it be the letter she reprinted without comment a letter from a reader that expounds on the term "grief pimps" or the fact that the post in question is actually called "grief pimps"? Perhaps the title of the post was referring to something else entirely? Since she didn't technically use the term "grief pimps" on her own to explicitly reference the supporters of Cindy Sheehan, I guess she's right in saying that the Times use of the words "disdainfully called" represents a "false allegation". Perhaps they should have said "callously suggested" instead. There was a time when this sort of hyper-parsing was called "Clintonian", but these days I prefer the term "Malkinized".

Tom Tomorrow:
Biltmore update

A reader sent an email to Grand Heritage's Regional Director of Operations for the Northeast concerning my little overbilling problem at what some of you have very unkindly begun to term the "Bilkmore." (This site, of course, in no way condones such irreverent disrespect.)

This is the response he got:

I appreciate your taking the time to express your concerns about an email you saw on the internet.  I do wish that you would consider that there could be more to this than what the person wrote on the site.  Every day we focus all of our intention on guest satisfaction.  In any instance where a guest feels that we have not met their expectations, we make every effort to rectify the situation.  That is our business and we take it very seriously.  I would encourage you to come and visit us.  In fact, I would love to have you as my guest so that you can experience what we believe is a 100% effort every day to be at your service.  I do believe that fairness knows both sides of the story and I am sure you would agree.

Apparently by "every effort to rectify the situation" they mean "refuse to admit error and then threaten to sue the guest."

At any rate, I've gone ahead and filed with the credit card company. It's an open-and-shut case, so there's no question that I'll get the money back--it'll just take a little longer. But it saves me any more wasted time dealing with these people.

Update: do you think the invitation to stay as this exec's "guest" means she's offering the guy a free room? Layers upon layers of irony if so.

Tangential update: here's somebody who knows how to file a complaint.

Tom Tomorrow:
Best subhed ever

From the front page of this morning's NY Times.

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

August 15, 2005

Greg Saunders :
Michelle vs. Michelle

In order to help the debate over Cindy Sheehan to move forward, I've agreed to moderate a debate between right-wing hack Michelle Malkin and conservative apologist Michelle Malkin. (most links via John Cole)




Michelle, we'll start with you. What do you think of the protest by Cindy Sheehan outside of the President's Crawford ranch? She says that she wants to know the "noble cause" for which her son died :
I can't imagine that Casey Sheehan would approve of such behavior, conduct, and rhetoric.
Uh-oh. Michelle, you're shaking your head over there and flipping back to your notes from last year's Presidential debates. Would you like to respond to what Michelle said?
John Kerry stooped to the lowest of the low with the shameless, invasive line that will be played over and over again on the news in the next 24 hours. . .Um, has John Kerry talked to Dick Cheney's daughter? Has John Edwards? Has Mary Beth Cahill, who called Mary Cheney "fair game" on Fox News Channel after tonight's debate? If they haven't talked to her, they should shut up.
Ouch. Tough words from Ms. Malkin.

Now going back to you, Michelle. You recently had some harsh words in response to the rumors that the New York Times was looking into the adoption records of Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts. So you think someone's personal life is off-limits?

I think it's the journalistic equivalent of dumpster-diving, Steve. And I think there's no excuse for it. There's no defense for it and the New York Times should apologize for it.
The name's Greg, but I see your point. On the same subject, I'm going to pass this one to you Michelle. Michelle has taken a pretty firm stand against digging into personal records, but you recently printed Cindy Sheehan's divorce records on your own site. Where do you stand on that?
Like it or not, the dispute between Cindy Sheehan and some of her family members is news.
Interesting point she's got there. Do you have anything to add, Michelle?
What could possibly be gleamed from the adoption records of four and five year old children of a Supreme Court nominee whose professional and personal lives have been beyond reproach? This is what the New York Times has sunk to? Investigative opposition research of pre-schoolers? It's pathetic.
Okay, so you both seem to disagree on whether digging into someone's personal life is fair game, but to take this back to the Cindy Sheehan case, where do you think what do you think about the attacks she's received by people on the right?
Well, I do want to emphasize what you said, Bill, which is that losing a child in any situation, whether it's in a war, from an accident or disease, is one of the most painful of human experiences. And Mrs. Sheehan deserves compassion and sympathy.

And apparently, according to the accounts from last year when President Bush met with her, that's exactly what she got. I don't think that anybody should demonize her.

Well put, Michelle, even if you did get my name wrong again. Do you have anything to add to that Ms. Malkin?
Mrs. Sheehan, as they say, seems to "have issues."
Now Michelle, you recently printed a reference to Sheehan's supporters as "grief pimps". Michelle, would you like to add anything to Michelle's contention that there's something exploitational about these activists joining grieving family members?
One of the pro-abortion Left's favorite attacks on people of faith is that we only care about children before they're born and not afterwards.

Perhaps this is why the mainstream media has ignored the amazing stories of pro-life activists who have been keeping vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice--people like Steve and Tony Sakac, the Withey family, and the Anderson sisters who won't ever appear on the front page of the New York Times or Washington Post.
. . .
For millions of Americans of faith of all ages, standing up for the sanctity of life is not just an empty slogan--but a deeply-held principle put into action daily. The MSM had ample opportunity to tell the stories of some of the inspiring people who have stood vigil outside Terri Schiavo's hospice. Instead, as they have done throughout this ordeal, they looked the other way.

And we'll have to end it there ladies. I want to thank you both for joining us and though you didn't seem to agree on much, I hope this debate has helped inform our readership by presenting both sides of what's happening down there in Crawford.

Tom Tomorrow:
About sums it up

Washington Post:

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning."

Related comments from Kos:

So Casey and 2,047 US and allies have died to establish an anti-women, anti-Israel, terrorist-harboring Islamic regime that is actually less free than Saddam's Iraq. How the hell they managed that is beyond belief, incompetence of breathtaking proportions. And nearly four Americans are dying every day to help establish Iran's new client state.

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

August 14, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Life during wartime
In 28 months of war and occupation here, Iraq has always contained two parallel worlds: the world of the Green Zone and the constitution and the rule of law; and the anarchical, unpredictable world outside.

Never have the two worlds seemed so far apart.

From the beginning, the hope here has been that the Iraq outside the Green Zone would grow to resemble the safe and tidy world inside it; that the success of democracy would begin to drain away the anger that pushes the insurgency forward. This may have been what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was referring to when, in an interview published in Time magazine this month, she said that the insurgency was "losing steam" and that "rather quiet political progress" was transforming the country.

But in this third summer of war, the American project in Iraq has never seemed so wilted and sapped of life. It's not just the guerrillas, who are churning away at their relentless pace, attacking American forces about 65 times a day. It is most everything else, too.

Baghdad seems a city transported from the Middle Ages: a scattering of high-walled fortresses, each protected by a group of armed men. The area between the forts is a lawless no man's land, menaced by bandits and brigands. With the daytime temperatures here hovering at around 115 degrees, the electricity in much of the city flows for only about four hours a day.

* * *

Americans, here and in the United States, wait for the day when the Iraqi police and army will shoulder the burden and let them go home.

One night last month, according to the locals, the Iraqi police and army surrounded the Sunni neighborhood of Sababkar in north Baghdad, and pulled 11 young men from their beds.

Their bodies were found the next day with bullet holes in their temples. The cheeks of some of the men had been punctured by electric drills. One man had been burned by acid. The police denied that they had been involved.

* * *

For much of last year, the soldiers of the First Cavalry Division oversaw a project to restore the river-front park on the east bank of the Tigris River. Under American eyes, the Iraqis planted sod, installed a sprinkler system and put up swing sets for the Iraqi children. It cost $1.5 million. The Tigris River Park was part of a vision of the unit's commander, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, to win the war by putting Iraqis to work.

General Chiarelli left Iraq this year, and the American unit that took over had other priorities. The sod is mostly dead now, and the sidewalks are covered in broken glass. The sprinkler heads have been stolen. The northern half of the park is sealed off by barbed wire and blast walls; Iraqis are told stay back, lest they be shot by American snipers on the roof of a nearby hotel.

More.

Tom Tomorrow:
Small personal problem...

Last month, I drove up to Providence to see a friend's band. I stayed at the same hotel as the band, the Providence Biltmore. Though the band made the arrangements, I was paying for my own stay. The band was there two nights; my own reservation was for a single night.

Long story short: the Providence Biltmore is convinced that I showed up at the same time as the band, and they're charging me for two nights, and the guest services guy I talked to refused to believe that I was only there a single night. We had one of those infuriating circular conversations, where I kept telling him his computer was wrong and he kept telling me what his computer said.

Anyway, this is a longshot, but does anybody out there know somebody who can set this one right? (The Biltmore appears to be part of the Grand Heritage hotel group.) In the meantime, note of caution: be very careful with this hotel if you happen to be passing through Providence--they appear to be easily confused and you may end up paying for it.

Update: It just gets better and better. I just called the hotel back, after realizing I had proof that I was nowhere near Providence at the time the hotel claims I was (I rented a car in a different state the morning after they claim I checked in)--but no dice. I may have thought I was at home in bed on the night in question, but according to them, I was actually in Providence, and that's their story and they're sticking to it. At around this point, with admitted frustration, I mentioned that I was blogging the whole thing, and that refusing to rectify such an obvious mistake probably wasn't going to reflect very well on the company--at which point, the not-very-p.r.-savvy guest services guy suggested that the hotel might sue me. Which at least gave me my first really good laugh of the day...

(Note to any well-intentioned Biltmore or Grand Heritage people: I was travelling under my real name, Dan Perkins, not my nom-de-cartoon, Tom Tomorrow. And I promise you, I stayed at your hotel for a single night, for less than twelve hours--and since I have the location-specific receipts to prove it, there's no question I can challenge this successfully through my credit card company. But that takes time, and it would certainly be preferrable not to have to go through all that trouble to correct your mistake.)

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