Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saying what needs to be said

Courtesy of Aaron Swartz. John Hockenberry spoke recently at the MIT Media Lab: "Beyond the Long Tail: Media, Tools, and the Madness of Popular Culture."

There's a piece in there about Karl Rove thinking we would improve our image in the Middle East once we got in there and started kicking ass and taking names.

But the more interesting part is about Hockenberry and NBC execs reviewing tape of "Shock and Awe." Hockenberry talks about his groupthink experience:
We played this piece for the editors. And it was very moving, very powerful, and it was a very different perspective from what we were getting. And at the end [...] there was quiet around the table, because it was kind of an emotional piece and certainly the emotion in this reporter's voice was detectable over a satellite phone line.

And the standards person goes -- and again, this is his job, I don't begrudge him that -- he goes, "Seems like, seems like she has a point of view here."

The table was silent. Just dead silent. And I was infuriated. But whenever I get this sort of infuriated feeling I think "You know, this is a career-ending moment here." There is something I could say that would be right. There is something I could say that would be wrong. And there is something that I could say that would be right -- and also would be wrong.

And it was the beginning of the coverage of an event that would be extraordinary and I definitely wanted to be around to be a part of the next day's coverage, but I had to say something. And it seemed as though, if nobody said anything, people would go "well, I guess we'll have to tone her down."

So I said, "You mean, the war-is-bad point of view?"
The piece aired, Hockenberry said.

Over the last few years we have seen the terrible results of people suppressing their consciences and better instincts, holding their tongues and going along to get along.

Follow the leader.

Do what you're told.

Don't rock the boat.

Take one for the team.

And most have known. Yes, they've known something wasn't right. But they said nothing. They'd rather be winners, stay on top, keep their jobs, get reelected, win the chairmanship or the White House. They beat their chests about how they value the truth and the rule of law, all the while trying to beat down the feeling Hockenberry describes.

Matthew Dowd, the president’s longtime aide and chief campaign strategist for 2004, has had a crisis of conscience and has finally chosen to speak out. The NYT reports, "Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced."
Mr. Dowd said, in retrospect, he was in denial.
You don't say?

You didn't say.

[h/t Atrios]

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Do the math

Firedog Lake gets help from the BBC and The Lancet:
The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt.


If the Lancet survey is right, then 2.5% of the Iraqi population - an average of more than 500 people a day - have been killed since the start of the war.


In four years.

That's one out of every forty Iraqis who were alive at the beginning of this monstrosity.

Putting It In Perspective #1: According to Human Rights Watch, Saddam Hussein, as bad as he was, managed to kill at most 290,000 people during his quarter-century in power — less than half of Bush's four-year death total. Saddam would have had to have ruled another twenty-four years to even come close to matching what George W. Bush has 'achieved' in four years. Can you imagine why the Iraqis might not feel so 'grateful' about being invaded? I sure can. [UPDATE: And there's reason to question whether the 290,000 figure cited by Human Rights Watch was inflated, as noted here and here.]
Follow the breadcrumbs. Check the numbers.

A bloody mess, anyway you count it.

All work and no blogging

What Digby said.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Got your Blinders on?

"pie-in-the-sky" promises from high-pressure salesman should set off an immediate alarm
One evening nearly 20 years ago I got a call from a stock broker at Blinder, Robinson & Co. who had a hot tip on a penny stock. Needless to say, I didn't bite. A few weeks later the firm appeared -- unflatteringly, of course -- on CBS' 60 Minutes.

The International Herald Tribune reported in 1992:
Who falls victim to these kinds of frauds? Almost anyone. Joseph G. Mari, assistant director of the SEC's International Affairs Office, said "even sophisticated investors can be victimized by schemes like this."
The thing about scams is people -- even smart people -- are loathe to admit they've been taken, believing themselves too smart to be fooled. And to avoid admitting it to themselves they'll sink even more money into a bad investment in the sad hope that a miracle will occur to redeem their initial bad decision. Anything to admit they'd been duped.

Which brings us to the remaining Bush administration faithful, the unflagging whatever percent who know -- yes, they know -- they've been had, but cannot bring themselves to admit it.

And why would they? Their champion and role model would not. He is pouring more good money and good lives into Iraq, hoping a miracle will redeem his initial appallingly bad decision, and the one after that, and the one after that, and ....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hot Foo

My friend's one-man show, "South Pathetic," features a minor character, Najeem, who runs the Dickson Motel in Thermal City, NC. Through most of the play, his sign has letters burned out, so it reads "Dick_o_ Motel."

It reminded me of the seedy convenience store across the street from my old place in Travelers Rest, SC. The college friends who lived there before me noticed that among the hot rod and biker magazines, they carried one for gay bikers. They wondered, of course, if the proprietors even knew.

They also carried the "Mountain Monitor," a weekly newspaper that featured on every front page a photo of a local's car or truck wrapped around a tree. Flashy headlines about some political atrocity always quoted from (as the voice of truth in America) a neo-nazi publication.

While I lived across the street they put in a snack bar and a neon sign out front, but one letter burned out almost immediately. For months it read, "Hot Foo_."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A strategy behind the politics behind the firings?

"Karl Rove stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting), `How we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.,"'
-- e-mail from Colin Newman, a legal aide in the White House counsel's office, to deputy counsel David Leitch, Jan. 6, 2005
Has anyone else wondered exactly why replacing most or all U.S. attorneys (practical or not) would occur to Karl Rove and the Bush White House in January 2005?

Critics have focused on the political motives behind the firings suggested by the prosecutors themselves, or on the missuse of the obscure Patriot Act Reauthorization provision invoked in replacing them. Administration spokesmen and supporters reply that it is not unusual for incoming administrations to replace federal prosecutors with their own people; the Clinton administration did so as well. True, as far as it goes.

But it is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process to recruit, interview, background check and shepherd a team of prosecutors through Senate approval. Once approved, federal prosecutors typically remain in place for four years, and if the president gets reelected, for eight. What's unusual is for an administration in its second term to consider replacing them wholesale and thus divert valuable resources from pursuing its agenda. Unless that is the agenda.

That obscure little Patriot Act Reauthorization provision enabled the Bush administration to replace any of the U.S. attorneys, no troublesome Senate confirmation required. Now they had the means and the opportunity to replace them, but what about motive?

Other e-mails being turned over to congressional investigators by the Justice Department reveal that in early 2005, White House officials considered replacing attorneys who were not, in the words of Kyle Sampson, “loyal Bushies.” Sampson just resigned his position as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Yes, they value loyalty above all else except power, but in their machinations they also think bigger than that. They love getting a twofer or a threefer, if possible. Reward favored cronies? Absolutely. And punish employees who aren't aggressive enough about reinforcing the GOP “voter fraud” meme? Sure. And tamp down investigations of Republican operatives? You betcha. But unless they can preserve the White House as a Republican frat house in 2008, Bush team members may find themselves looking over their shoulders in January 2009.

What to do?

Timothy Griffin, a Karl Rove protégée, is a veteran of Team 2000, the GOP’s opposition research effort in 2000. The June 2004 Atlantic detailed some of their efforts at discrediting Vice President Al Gore. The GOP brought back Griffin in 2004 as Bush's director of opposition research and deputy communications director.

In the current prosecutor hullabaloo, Griffin replaced U.S. Attorney H.E. Cummins in Little Rock, Ark. Griffin is the same new U.S. Attorney examined in an October 2004 BBC Newsnight investigation (reported on Greg Palast’s site ). Griffin inadvertently sent plans for a GOP vote suppression program to a prankster site, instead of to, prompting the investigation. Palast reports:
And we dug in, decoding, and mapping the voters on what Griffin called, “Caging” lists, spreadsheets with 70,000 names of voters marked for challenge. Overwhelmingly, these were Black and Hispanic voters from Democratic precincts.

The Griffin scheme was sickly brilliant. We learned that the RNC sent first-class letters to new voters in minority precincts marked, “Do not forward.” Several sheets contained nothing but soldiers, other sheets, homeless shelters. Targets included the Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida and that city’s State Street Rescue Mission. Another target, Edward Waters College, a school for African-Americans.

If these voters were not currently at their home voting address, they were tagged as “suspect” and their registration wiped out or their ballot challenged and not counted. Of course, these ‘cages’ captured thousands of students, the homeless and those in the military though they are legitimate voters.
Who better qualified (and strategically located in Little Rock) to reprise the right-wing’s muckraking “Arkansas Project” if a former first lady from Arkansas tops the Democratic ticket in 2008? There's a motive for you.

But why stop in Arkansas? By replacing all (or at least key) U.S. attorneys around the country with loyal operatives like Griffin, Bush and the GOP could be positioned to make mid-2008 the summer of the Democrats' discontent. Pre-election news of investigation after meritless investigation of Democratic officials and candidates could help eat away at Democratic efforts to retake the White House and help keep the Bushies out of the slammer.

As with the Arkansas Project and the Whitewater investigations during the Clinton years, there need not be any real fire to get the job done, only lots of smoke.

I'm speculating here. But the most pressing question for us isn't, is such a plan possible, but will Democrats in Congress make sure Bush and company never get the opportunity try it out?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

So, what's her name?

For a White House with few known competencies, skillful perception management is one of the few we’ve come to expect. It is a sign of disarray that the Bush administration has latched on to so curious defense of its recent firing of eight federal district prosecutors as this: Bill Clinton did it too.

One wonders whether the president has a favorite intern who is about become a household name.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

South Pathetic

George Bush outlined his plan for postwar Iraq, then he colored it.

Comic Jim David is a friend from college who's in the area to do a couple of gigs, including his one-man show, South Pathetic.

It's been awhile. I've only seen Jim the last few years on Comedy Central's Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. He also writes ditties like this for The Advocate.

It's nice to know a couple of people who have been able to make it in show biz for so long, and in Manhattan. It's a long way from Greenville, SC.

Brush with fame trivia: Jim's old place in the east Village was used as Michelle Pfeiffer's apartment in Married to the Mob. More bushes with fame on Jim's web site.

The voter fraud meme

This morning's WaPo ties the prosecutor firings to a push by Republicans since 2000 to use accusations of "voter fraud" to influence election outcomes.
The GOP allegation, repeated in several swing states where voting margins have been narrow, is that Democrats have illegally ratcheted up their tallies by permitting ballots to be cast by felons, by residents without proper identification, or by people who forged signatures on absentee ballots.

Democratic-leaning groups reject that allegation and counter by accusing Republicans of blocking fair elections by suppressing the votes of some eligible citizens.
Digby has been on this one for the last couple of days, speculating that it is "a very special Karl Rove initiative."
As Josh Marshall noted last night, the GOP cries of voter fraud go back a long way. It's an extension of their old habits of disenfranchising blacks in the south and latinos in the southwest (as Joe Conason outlines here.)

But since the 2000 election the Democrats have been the ones complaining about voter irregularities and I think that Rove recognized that he could deftly twist the public awareness we created and turn it back on us. His problem was that the Democrats won the election by too wide a margin in 2006 for them to cry fraud in any systematic way --- and some US Attorneys refused to play ball.
See? It was a performance issue. You're fired.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Another fine product from ACME

Rolling Stone brought together a panel of experts to discuss the fate of Iraq. The article is "Leaving Iraq: The Grim Truth."

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and author of "Imperial Hubris":
I can't help but think we've signed Jordan's death warrant.
Gen. Tony McPeak (retired), member of the Joint Chiefs during the Gulf War:
This is a dark chapter in our history. Whatever else happens, our country's international standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works. America has been conducting an experiment for the past six years, trying to validate the proposition that it really doesn't make any difference who you elect president. Now we know the result of that experiment [laughs]. If a guy is stupid, it makes a big difference.
And it's worse if his top staff are ideologues who imagine they can build democracy -- in the desert and on the cheap -- out of a crate from ACME Halliburton, like Wile E. Coyote.

And yes, the Rolling Stone panel's assessment is uniformly grim.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The United States of America

a wholly owned subsidiary of Megacorp, Inc.
The Internal Revenue Service is asking tax lawyers and accountants who create tax shelters and exploit loopholes to take the lead in writing some of its new tax rules.

The pilot project represents a further expansion of the increasingly common federal government practice of asking outsiders to do more of its work, prompting academics and other critics to complain that the government is going too far.

They worry that having private lawyers and accountants draft tax rules could allow them to subtly skew them in favor of their clients.
Gee. Ya think?
“It’s not the fox guarding the hen house; it’s the fox designing the hen house,” said Paul C. Light, a professor of political science at New York University, who studies the federal work force.
[h/t/ Atrios]

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Where are they now?

This story made a small splash in the foreign press, the WSJ and some right-wing blogs in mid-February:
Iraqi insurgents using Austrian rifles from Iran
By Thomas Harding, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 7:05pm GMT 13/02/2007

Austria distances itself from rifles row
Audio: Revelation makes US action against Iran more likely, says Thomas Harding

Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

More than 100 of the .50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.

The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.
Almost as quickly as this story surfaced, those versed in firearms began asking whether anyone had bothered to check the weapons' serial numbers against Steyr-Mannlicher's records. And almost as quickly, the story vanished from the newswires.

No reporters mention even seeing any one of the one hundred HS50s, and all the news photos are from Steyr's web catalog.

An Iran war trial balloon that wouldn't fly?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Bushies: Magical Mideast Tour

Seven countries in five years

From a Democracy Now interview last Friday:
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, in a way. But, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself exactly twice. What I did warn about when I testified in front of Congress in 2002, I said if you want to worry about a state, it shouldn’t be Iraq, it should be Iran. But this government, our administration, wanted to worry about Iraq, not Iran.

I knew why, because I had been through the Pentagon right after 9/11. About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in. He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September. I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”

Monday, March 05, 2007

No more Mr. Nice Guy

A feisty Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning to defend the President’s Iraq surge. "Whether it works, I don’t know, but I can promise you this: This is our last, best chance."

Graham was adamant that General Petraeus get “whatever resources he needs and whatever time he needs…” in Iraq because it is “a central battlefront in a global struggle against terrorism.”

(I thought Iraq was the central battlefront? Or was that last season?)
"The biggest mistake we made early on is not having enough troops, letting the situation get out of hand."


"Here’s the one thing I can guarantee you, that if a failed state in Iraq occurs, the war gets bigger, not smaller. Here’s what I’d like to do going forward. Give the commanders what they haven’t had in the past, the resources they need, give them the breathing space to do it, allow the Iraqi people to regroup, but insist that they do better, and understand that a failed state is a nightmare for this country. Plan for the worst, and don’t assume the best."
But weren't we told since our troops arrived that they had everything they needed?

Well, mistakes were made, Graham says. Whatever. We're really serious now.
"Do we have the desire to win? ... Because if al-Qaeda tastes the blood of Americans leaving and they can say with certainty they broke our will and ran us out of Iraq, and we go to Kuwait, they come wherever we go. The Gulf states are next. If we lose in Iraq, the moderate Gulf states are next. People like King Abdullah in Jordan, they’re on the hit list. We cannot allow Iraq to fail, because if you fail in Iraq, every moderate voice in the Mideast has a death sentence on their head."
Speaking of Gen. Petraeus earlier in the interview, Graham said, “Either stop him from going or give him the resources to do their job. Everything is else is just political theater. That’s dangerous.”

I couldn’t agree more. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

The Oregonian reported over the weekend that Republican Sen. Gordon "Nice Guy" Smith explained to Oregon's GOP faithful why he opposes the president's surge:
"If you're really going to do a surge, you don't do it with 20,000, you do it with 250,000," he said, noting that Baghdad is a city of nearly 7 million people. But he said the United States cannot afford such a response; instead it has to come from the Iraqi Army.

Smith said he recently spoke with Gen. David Petraeus, the new top military commander in Iraq, who told him the troop surge has only a one in four chance of succeeding.
The Iraqi Army? Cannot afford it? This country is facing a nightmare scenario! Only leaders weak on defense would risk dishonoring the sacrifices of the fallen on a plan with only a one in four chance of success; would nickel and dime America’s security now by not planning for the worst; would risk our last best chance on half measures. If 20,000 additional troops aren't adequate, how about 50,000? Or 100,000? Gen. Eric K. Shinseki suggested “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" back in 2003. We're fighting terrorists. We cannot afford half measures.

We’ll need a draft.

And a war tax to pay for everything our boys will need.

Huh? The president and the Republicans oppose a draft? And a tax?

Don’t you have the desire to win?

[h/t Josh Marshall at TPM]

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Suffering the vapors

In today's New York Times, Ann Coulter finally drew condemnation from prominent members of her party -- John McCain, Rudy Guliani and Mitt Romney -- for her non-comment comment on John Edwards this week at CPAC.

Glenn Greenwald yesterday got his hackles up over reporters (like Howard Kurtz) who get the vapors over the "angry left" after comment trolling liberal blogs for noxious anonymous comments by posters from the lefty fringe. Meanwhile, prominent, nationally known conservative standard bearers get get a pass on offensive comments wildly cheered by conservative movement faithful. (For a sample, see a small collection archived here).
The people feigning upset over those matters are either active participants in, or passive aiders and abetters of, a political movement that, at its very core -- not at its fringes -- knowingly and continuously embraces the most wretched and obvious bigotry and bloodthirsty authoritarianism.
Strong stuff.

[h/t Digby]


And in the Jose Padilla case, the highest profile prosecution in the GWOT, the government revealed that it has lost a critical piece of evidence, a DVD “of the last interrogation of Padilla while in military custody.”

The dog ate their homework, too.

[h/t Glenn Greenwald]