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saturday, december 11, 2004

No Surprises
Good thing I didn't waste time yesterday writing about what a bad choice Bernie Kerik was for Homeland Security secretary. Ol' Bernie was hauled down the nomination flagpole already.
If you still need to know what a bad choice he was, you can read Sydney Blumenthal in Salon. Kerik was a really, really bad choice. He was such a bad choice I'm almost sorry to see him go, because he was a flamboyantly bad choice. The Bushies will probably find another bad candidate who is better at faking competence than Bernie.
The original official excuse for the withdrawal of Kerik's nomination was "personal reasons." The next official excuse, in newspaper headlines this morning, is that he had discovered he may have hired an undocumented housekeeper once upon a time.    
Now, on to the speculations on the real reason. As near as I can tell, the original speculation was that the Bushies got warnings there would be a messy confirmation fight that they could lose. In Shrub World, it's better not to fight at all than to fight and lose.
Via Josh Marshall, however, we learn that yesterday evening "Newsweek reporters faxed the White House documents detailing an arrest warrant that was issued for Kerik in 1998, stemming from a dispute over unpaid bills for a condo he owned in New Jersey." The Newsweek story leaves out some facts that were already known, at least if you read Salon. Among these is his record as head of the New York Corrections Department. "One million dollars in taxpayer money used to buy tobacco for inmates disappeared into a private foundation run by Kerik without any accounting," writes Sydney Blumenthal.
(Headline from NewsMax: "Liberal Media Targeting Kerik." Like the title of this post says: No surprises.)
Blumenthal didn't mention Bernie's questionable relationship with Taser International. Here is Newsweek's explanation:

Kerik was also coming under close scrutiny for his windfall profit from stock options in Taser International, a company that makes high-voltage stun guns. He netted more than $6 million on the options, without ever having invested any of his own money. Kerik joined the Taser board after leaving his police commissioner’s job in 2002 . New York City was a purchaser of the stun guns, as was the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik sold the stock in early November, shortly before an Amnesty International report charged that there had been more than 70 Taser-related deaths since 2001.

Swaggering, incompetent, corrupt, loyal to his benefactors. Kerik was the perfect Bush appointee. The Bushies are probably sorry they had to cut him loose.
In other cabinet shakeup news: The Seattle Times has a headline today that says, "Bush Makes Surprise Pick for Energy." 
Frankly, Seattle Times, I don't see the surprise.
In a surprise move, President Bush yesterday tapped a deputy Treasury secretary and former chemical-engineering professor with limited energy-policy expertise to be his new energy secretary.

Bush asked Samuel Bodman, 66, to advance a second-term energy agenda that includes ramping up domestic-energy development to help wean the nation from foreign oil and to push the president's energy plan, which went nowhere the past four years. One controversial proposal: Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Bodman could face criticism because of his previous stewardship of a Boston chemical firm, Cabot, which often ran afoul of federal and state environmental laws.

If the Senate confirms him, he would replace Spencer Abraham, a former Republican senator from Michigan, who also had little energy-policy experience.

The article goes on to say that energy industry lobbyists were surprised by Bodman's appointment.
It's been four years. Haven't we all figured out that this is how it works? The Bushies don't want someone with knowledge or experience. Knowledge and experience get in the way of the agenda. Energy policy is going to be whatever Dick Cheney says it is, no matter what the energy secretary thinks.
The Bushies just need loyal little functionaries in cabinent positions to play the role and spread the White House message. Bodman will do nicely in that job, I'm sure.
Earlier in the week the big surprise was that John Snow kept his job at Treasury, after the usual "White House officials" had done such a good job of dropping hints that Snow was about to go. The best explanation of this I've seen so far is at Liberal Oasis. In a nutshell, Snow stayed because the Bushies couldn't find anyone willing to replace him. 
8:56 am | link

friday, december 10, 2004

A Modest Proposal
Susan at Suburban Guerrilla has a splendid idea: "I'd like to call a Third Session of the Continental Congress here in Philadelphia, for a national dialogue about our country's direction."

Please note she's not talking about a Constitutional Convention, which would be a whole 'nother critter. Here's what the first two Continental Congresses did.

This is an interesting idea. Historical precedent would allow states to convene without involving the feds. I believe anyone could call such a convention and invite states to send delegates.

Reactions? Add your thoughts to Suburban Guerrilla comments.

10:30 pm | link

Social Security Lotto
As I remember, when the stock market tumbled in 2001 a lot of us winked and said, I guess that'll put an end to the Social Security privatization nonsense.
Boy, were we wrong.
The Boy King has put privatization at the head of his second-term "agenda." He's also declared he would not raise taxes to pay for it.
Today's news stories say, delicately, that it's likely Bush's scheme will increase the deficit. It's also likely that the next Pope will be another Catholic.
Bush has placed Social Security at the top of his second-term policy agenda. He has asked Congress to approve a plan to let younger workers divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts that they would control.

Diverting money into private accounts, however, would deprive the Social Security system of money needed to pay benefits to current retirees. Economists have estimated that it could cost $1 trillion to $2 trillion over the next decade to replace the payroll taxes that would be diverted into private accounts. The additional federal borrowing could put upward pressure on interest rates, some analysts say. [Link]

treemoney.jpgIn a press briefing yesterday, Scott McClellan said that Bush has "made it very clear that the principles for strengthening Social Security are based on no changes for those at or near retirement; no raising of payroll taxes, as well as making sure that younger workers have voluntary personal savings accounts. Those are principles he feels strongly about." 

From this, I gather that if you are not already at or near retirement you can kiss off ever getting Social Security benefits.

And the Gubmint is gonna make sure young people volunteer for those personal savings accounts. Essentially, Bush is moving us from "social security" to "every citizen for himself."

Social Security privatization exemplifies Bush's policy management style, which is (1) scare people into thinking there's a danger that doesn't actually exist, and then (2) create some gawdawful expensive mess of a "solution" that will wreak havoc for generations to come.

You'll notice this is how we got into Iraq. But Bush is doing the same thing with Social Security.

At the end of the Clinton Administration, standard projections were that Social Security reserves would last until 2038.  During the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate Al Gore proposed his much-derided "lockbox" solution, which was simply to use much of the Clinton budget surplus to pay down the national debt and secure the Social Security reserve to make the plan solvent until 2054.

In May 2001, President Bush appointed a commission to "strengthen" Social Security. The commission, packed with privatization boosters, reported that Social Security was on the edge of ruin and would be bankrupt by 2016. Paul Krugman wrote in July 2001:

It's true that in 2016, according to (pessimistic) projections, benefit payments will start to exceed payroll tax receipts. By then, however, the Social Security system will have accumulated a multitrillion-dollar "trust fund." Just as a private pension fund uses earnings on its assets to pay benefits, the Social Security system can use earnings from this trust fund to pay benefits. And that trust fund will extend the life of the system for decades, perhaps indefinitely.

But the commission declares that these accumulated assets aren't "real," and don't count as resources available to pay future benefits. Why? Because they are invested in government bonds — perfectly good assets when they are accumulated by private pension funds but worthless, says the commission, when accumulated by a government agency.

You should read the entire Krugman column for the full explanation, but you get the drift. See also his column from Tuesday, "Inventing a Crisis." For other views, see this article from Dollars and Sense magazine, this policy brief from Americans for Democratic Action, and Dan Froomkin's "Framing the Social Security Debate."

fairytax.jpgNow, having manufactured a fake crisis, the Bushies are moving to Phase 2, which is to create a real crisis.

We've already noted that when funds are diverted into private accounts, the Gubmint is going to have to come up with $1 trillion to $2 trillion to pay current benefits. And since Bush refuses to raise taxes, this money will have to be borrowed, which will add to our already record deficit. Some speculate that Bush could raise taxes without raising taxes by increasing the amount of income that can be taxed, currently capped at $87,900. But this would mean putting a greater burden on upper income people, so you know Bush won't do it.

Instead, the Bushies say that in the long run privatization will solve the Social Security crisis. How? Young people will be forced to voluntarily put money into private accounts. Then the Good Fairy of Finance will sprinkle the pixie dust of profit throughout the land, and everyone will live happily ever after. 

Really, that's the plan. The plan only works if the "private" accounts make more money than they can reasonably be expected to make. And a stock market downturn ... well, we  don't even want to think about that.

In essence, Krugman writes today, the privatization scheme amounts to the government borrowing money to speculate on stocks. Good luck.

Now, there was an America before Social Security, and I assume there will be one after it's wiped out. But if the righties stay in power for the next several years, I predict Social Security eventually will be replaced by a lotto. Every week a Social Security number will be drawn from a barrel, and the lucky winner gets benefits.

Update: Dan Froomkin has more on the Social Security PROBLEM in today's WaPo.

Update #2: See Kevin Drum on "real money" and "social security around the world."

Update #3: See Josh Marshall on framing the debate.

9:44 am | link

thursday, december 9, 2004

She Who Gets Named Way Too Much
John Richard Starkey speaks my mind to Hillary Clinton (and other bigshots in the Democratic Party) in today's New York Newsday.
We probably did you a disservice, Senator, by not speaking out long before this. You dismayed us during your first 21 months in office when you were content to remain in the background. We kept silent because your devotion to attracting federal money for local programs and to providing constituent services was worthwhile, if not leaderly.

We lost patience on Oct. 10, 2002, when you voted to give the president war powers. It is painful to remember the gullible words with which you helped set the stage for the Iraq debacle: "I take the president at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible."

You made it impossible for us to respect you after it became clear that, far from "trying hard," President George W. Bush was determined to go to war. We expected you at least to express strong misgivings about the pre-emptive invasion. Instead, you resorted to another flag-waver on March 19, 2003: "The thoughts and prayers of all New Yorkers and Americans," you said, "are with the nearly 225,000 brave men and women who are at this moment putting their own lives in danger to protect the freedoms we all cherish."

We hope it embarrasses you now, given the bloodshed, torture and chaos that has ensued in Iraq.

Polls show a plurality of Americans now consider the war a mistake from the start. Although you enabled that mistake, you have said little about it since early last year. Indeed, of the hundreds of press releases your office has issued in 2004, only one that I've seen - on the need for multilateral assistance in the rebuilding effort - made direct reference to the morass this war has become.

That's not good enough for us in New York City. We demand that both you and Sen. Charles Schumer become more combative on Iraq. Schumer has been as bad as you, but he's not the one being touted as a presidential candidate.

A Democratic club member at the meeting with Green said she found instructive the uncompromising words of a right-wing adversary, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. Mahoney had warned Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist what would happen if he didn't stop moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter from becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Don't turn to us in four years when you want to run for president," Mahoney said, "and expect our passion and zeal."

No Democratic Party candidate can expect the fervor of the party's progressive base if he or she doesn't acknowledge the evil the Bush administration has done in Iraq. It should have been the moral issue of the 2004 campaign. And whatever happens between now and 2008, Iraq will be central to our response. That means, as of now, we see you as a threat rather than a hope. And, as the bluest of the blue, we'll do what we can to make this message resonate among all Democrats nationwide.
6:35 pm | link

Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored
Some Brits are pressuring Tony the Poodle to produce accurate counts of Iraqi civilians killed by the war to liberate them. The Guardian reports that yesterday Blair "rejected a call from more than 40 diplomats, peers, scientists and religious leaders who pressed for an independent inquiry for a civilian death toll."
Blair directed inquiries to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which has tallied 3,853 civilians killed between April and October this year. But the Ministry is not telling where they came by that number or even if it represents deaths in the entire country of Iraq.
According to the Guardian, the Associated Press surveyed hospitals and came up with 3,420 civilian deaths in the war, and an organization called the Campaign for Innocent Victims verified just under 2,000.  
On the other hand, as of this morning Iraq Body Count, which seems to be the only organization keeping a running tally, put the number somewhere between 14,619 and 16,804. In June, Foreign Policy in Focus released a report estimating 11,317 Iraqi civilian deaths.
You probably remember that in October the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health released a study estimating that 100,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, which includes Iraqis who died from side effects of the war, e.g. poor sanitation or lack of medical care for non-war-related illness. 
This is a distinction that has eluded some critics of the study, who think "war deaths" should inlcude only people who had bombs dropped on them. But military troop casualty figures historically have included soldiers who were struck down by disease or accidents, so I don't know why one wouldn't count civilian deaths the same way. In any event, there has been much arguing pro and con over the Johns Hopkins study and how it came by the 100,000 figure. I'm not going to hash that out right now. It should be noted that the low figures given above came mainly from surveys of hospital deaths, which of course only includes people who were taken to hospitals.
The Iraq Body Count team says a death must be confirmed by two independent sources to be included in their tally. BBC News reports:

Professor John Sloboda, part of the team behind Iraq Body Count, says the numbers are "an accurate baseline".

"There are no deaths on there that have not happened, but there may be more deaths that have not been reported," he said.

The British government pooh-poohs these findings:

"This is an estimate relying on media reports, and which we do not regard as reliable," Jack Straw said in a written statement to the Commons in November.

"It includes civilian deaths at the hands of terrorists as well as of the coalition forces."

Those terrorists (if indeed they were terrorists, not insurgents) wouldn't have been in Iraq killing civilians were it not for our little invasion, however.
The No-Body-Count policy was explained last year. From the Guardian:
General Tommy Franks, the US commander in the Iraq war last year, spelled it out before the invasion began.

"We don't do body counts," he said, referring to the Iraqis that might be killed in the forthcoming conflict.

His deputies were left to explain why a careful toll of American dead was kept but Iraqi deaths went unrecorded.

"It just is not worth trying to characterise by numbers," Brigadier General Vince Brooks, the deputy director of operations at US central command, said just days before the fall of Baghdad.

"And, frankly, if we are going to be honourable about our warfare, we are not out there trying to count up bodies. This is not the appropriate way for us to go."

This is a reason not to publicize enemy deaths. This policy is no doubt a reaction to the infamous "body count" practices of the War in Vietnam, described so vividly by Philip Caputo in A Rumor of War.
But what's the reason not to count civilian deaths?
The U.S. military goes so far as to deny civilian deaths that everybody else, including the government of Iraq, acknowledges. For example, according to FAIR,
That there were, indeed, heavy civilian casualties in Fallujah has been affirmed not only by local hospital officials, but by refugees, independent observers in the city (including journalists) and human rights groups. Iraq Body Count, which only includes multiply-cited reports from doctors and eyewitnesses, found at least 308 women and children alone were killed in Fallujah in April (, 10/26/04)-- deaths that could quite confidently be distinguished from "fighters in civilian clothing."

Even the U.S.-backed Allawi government, while claiming that civilian deaths were lower than announced by those on the scene (Associated Press, 4/22/04), acknowledged that hundreds of people were killed, including 52 women and children-- a toll that certainly qualifies as "large" or "heavy."

Only the U.S. military, which bears responsibility for these killings, denies that they took place-- without offering its own estimate of how many civilians died, or providing any evidence that the independent tallies are exaggerated.

FAIR notes that the allegedly liberal New York Times accepted the U.S. military "numbers" in its reporting of Fallujah. And I wish to add that my news google of "Iraq Body Counts" turned up news stories of British people pressuring the British government to 'fess up. Not Americans.
Now, if the U.S. government is not publicizing enemy deaths (don't tell me they're not counting) out of a sense of military honor, I can accept that. But conflating military and civilian deaths is either an example of incredibly sloppy thinking or an out-and-out lie.
Possibly both. Probably, come to think of it.
The "no civilian body count" policy only makes sense if you understand that the invasion of Iraq is not about helping the Iraqi people. It's about the exaltation of Bush. Bush wants a bright and shiny war so that he can strut around in his military costumes and be cheered and adored as a "war president." If Americans comprehended the real carnage, they'd be less enthusiastic about it. They might actually (dare I say it?) start to hold Bush accountable. Can't have that, you know.
The real reason Iraqi civilian deaths aren't counted is that Iraqi civilians don't count.
Also: Be sure to read Juan Cole today. He's fired up.
8:21 am | link

wednesday, december 8, 2004

Trampling Out the Vintage
Digby has a "cult leader fashion show" that features Our Dear Leader in his most recent play soldier costume.
I can't tell you how much this creeps me out. Central to American military tradition is the understanding that the military is under civilian authority, and at the head of that civilian authority is the President as Commander in Chief.
I believe the only time in American history a sitting President wore a military uniform was in 1794. President Washington put on a uniform and rode with militia to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. Since then, even Presidents who entered the White House after a professional military career (e.g., Grant and Eisenhower) never wore a uniform or anything suggestive of a uniform while serving as President. Certainly other wartime presidents -- Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt -- didn't strut around in uniforms.
Heads of state of banana republics, or totalitarian dictators, swagger around in military uniforms. Not Presidents of the United States. It's just wrong.
Bush modeled his new costume as he gave a rah-rah speech to Marines at Camp Pendleton yesterday.
In his remarks, Bush warned that as the Jan. 30 date set for Iraqi election nears, violence in that country would probably escalate.

"You see, the terrorists understand what is at stake. They know they have no future in a free Iraq, because free people never choose their own enslavement," Bush said. "When Iraqis choose their leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people." (emphasis added)

Free people never choose their own enslavement? Really?

How does el Presidente think totalitarian regimes come into being? It's true that, sometimes, a military junta takes over a free country or a totalitarian army invades a free people, but nearly always nations become totalitarian because citizens let it happen. Sometimes people are seduced, or manipulated, into following a dictator. Or they may not take the threat seriously until it's too late to resist. Very often totalitarian regimes follow "democratic" (in name, at least) governments that were massively corrupt; China and Cuba come to mind. More recently, the people of Iran willfully deposed the corrupt Shah and installed a totalitarian theocracy under the Ayatollah Khomaini. A charismatic leader -- Mao, Castro, whoever -- comes along and sweeps out a hated, corrupt oligarchy with popular support.

If you think about it, installation of a dictatorship purely by force of arms is relatively rare. People may not know they are choosing enslavement, but the fact is that they do. And often one kind of enslavement is a backlash against another kind of enslavement. Communism began as a backlash against imperialism. Fascism began as a backlash against Communism. People look to a charismatic leader, or an ideology, for their salvation. But they just move from one box to another box.

Like I said, Bush and his play pretend uniforms and his cult of personality really creep me out.  

As Dan Froonkin points out today, central to Bush's strategy is conflating the Iraqi insurgents with terrorists.

As the transcript shows, Bush's speechwriters were reasserting that the thousands of people who U.S. troops are fighting and killing and being killed by in Iraq are terrorists who also threaten the United States.

"Our success in Iraq will make America safer for us and for future generations," Bush insisted. "As one Marine sergeant put it, 'I never want my children to experience what we saw in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania.' He said, 'If we can eliminate the threat on foreign soil, I would rather do it there than have it come home to us.' That's why we're on the offensive today in Fallujah and Mosul, Ramadi and north Babil. We're getting after the terrorists. We're disrupting their plans." . ...

But reports from Iraq suggest that the insurgency is largely fueled by Iraqis who are opposed to the war and the occupation, not would-be suicide bombers who would otherwise be threatening U.S. shores.

You mean they're not trying to kick us out of their country because they hate our freedom? Wow.

By now you've probably heard that Rummy was grilled by a soldier in Iraq about shortages of armor. Rummy's response: "If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up." Brilliant.

For more chuckles, read "Eternally Rumsfeld" by Harold Meyerson in today's WaPo.

9:35 pm | link

Wolves at the Door
Wolves aren't at my door this time, but Susan at Suburban Guerrilla seems to be going through a rough patch and could use some coins in her tip jar, so to speak. I was in the same place last year, and I know that reader donations really can help in a pinch. 
1:25 pm | link

Cooked Cabbage
Yesterday's column by The Cabbage (aka David Brooks; see "The Cabbage Speaks," below) used data compiled by a white supremacist who promotes eugenics, according to Media Matters for America.  
The birth rate data came from Steve Sailor, who, says Media Matters,
has been a strong defender of the Pioneer Fund, an organization designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its support of eugenics, as Media Matters for America has noted. He writes for, one of the only websites that carried Sam Francis's recent column in which he decried the interracial casting of an ABC Monday Night Football promotional spot.
Garance Franke-Ruta provides more info on Sailor at TAPPED. Noting that Sailor is "mixed up with a variety of right-wing eugenicists, white supremacists, and general all-around wack-jobs," Franke-Ruta reveals that Sailor is so far off the charts that Free Republic refused to post one of his articles, titled "GOP Future Depends on White Vote." 
Sailor's advocacy of segregation and selective breeding brings us back to Brooks and his praise of "natalists." It appears the purpose of the natalist movement is to breed an army of white children who are thoroughly indoctrinated with right-wing ideology. This plan is summed up by rightie blogger Matt Rosenberg:
We're outbreeding the libs, and after our children are done with their rebellion phase (if any), they'll likely have families; settle in the 'burbs (because who but rich empty nesters, singles, or the very poor will be able to live in Seattle or San Francisco or Boston then?); and vote Red, too. The political ramifications of today's "breeder" culture (as gays call it), are huge, and not to be, uh, misunderestimated.
Be advised: This is not a joke. See also this blog post on "militant fecundity."
(Mr. Rosenberg needs to take care, however, because if he is Jewish [as his name suggests] he's one of the undesirables Mr. Sailor wants to marginalize, if not eliminate, from holy white Xtian American soil. Sailor wants to make America so "Christian" that Jesus couldn't have lived here.)
The indoctrination part takes us back to the homeschooling movement. A U.S. Department of Education report released in July found that only 16 percent of homeschooling families got into homeschooling to give the kids better academic instruction. The rest of them just want to isolate their children from ideas and values that differ from the ideas and values of the parents. In effect, they create what one educator calls a "Fortress Home."
And then if you can move your family to an isolated (and racially homogenous) part of the country, you've got the perfect setting to grow loyal little Nazis. Brooks wrote yesterday,
Young families move away from what they perceive as disorder, vulgarity and danger and move to places like Douglas County in Colorado (which is the fastest-growing county in the country and has one of the highest concentrations of kids). Some people see these exurbs as sprawling, materialistic wastelands, but many natalists see them as clean, orderly and affordable places where they can nurture children.
Yesterday I thought I smelled racism in that passage, but I decided not to comment because I realized I might be projecting. But now I know that if Brooks can't see the racism in the natalist movement, he's stupid even by cabbage standards.
Now, it's possible Brooks is that stupid. He seems to think that the point of natalism is to value families and children over all else. "What they cherish, like most Americans, is the self-sacrificial love shown by parents," Brooks writes. "People who have enough kids for a basketball team are too busy to fight a culture war."
But Jonah Goldberg at NRO says he received emails from natalists objecting to this statement.  "We do our part every day," one "prolife pro-big-family conservative" declares. So there.
Yet there is hope. Media Matters provides data suggesting all that political procreating may be wasted effort.

In suggesting that these "natalists" account for the population increases among the fastest-growing regions in the country, Brooks ignored what is in fact the fastest growing demographic in the country and in these regions -- Hispanics. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in all ten of the fastest-growing states -- including six in the Southwest -- Hispanics increased their percentage of total population, while white population rates went down.

Will Latinos save America? Hey, if the Irish can save civilization, anything is possible.
7:42 am | link

tuesday, december 7, 2004

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
Neil Lewis of the New York Times reports that two Defense Department intelligence officials who reported brutal treatment of Iraqi prisoners were threatened and told to keep quiet by military interrogators.  
This tidbit was in a memo released today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The memo was part of a cache of documents obtained by the ACLU that were from a civil lawsuit regarding extent of abuse of prisoners by the military. 

The memorandum, written by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to a senior Pentagon official, said that when the two members of his agency objected to the treatment, they were threatened and told to keep quiet by other military interrogators. The memorandum said that the Defense Intelligence Agency officials saw prisoners being brought in to a detention center with burn marks on their backs and complaining about sore kidneys. ...

Other memorandums disclosed this week, including some released by the A.C.L.U., showed that the interrogation and detention system at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had drawn strong objections from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which argued that the coercive techniques used there were unnecessary and produced unreliable information. The Associated Press reported Monday that one F.B.I. official wrote in a memorandum of witnessing a series of coercive procedures at Guantánamo, including a female interrogator squeezing the genitals of a detainee and bending back his thumbs painfully.

The June 25 memorandum, written by Vice Admiral Lowell .E. Jacoby, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was addressed to the under secretary of Defense for intelligence, Stephen Cambone. Admiral Jacoby wrote that one of his officers witnessed an interrogator from the special operations unit known as Task Force 6-26 "punch a prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention." Admiral Jacoby said that when the D.I.A. official took photos of that detainee, the pictures were confiscated. [Emphasis added.]

The memorandum said that the two D.I.A. employees, who were not identified, had the keys to their vehicles confiscated, were instructed "not to leave the compound without specific permission even to get a haircut," were threatened, and were told their e-mail messages were being screened. The memorandum said they persevered and provided their accounts to superiors in the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Drew Brown of Knight Ridder reports,

The extensive collection of government documents suggests that abuse of detainees in Iraq and elsewhere was more widespread and systematic than senior officials have admitted publicly. The officials repeatedly have tried to characterize abuse last year at Abu Ghraib as an isolated series of incidents. A small number of low-ranking soldiers already have been prosecuted or are awaiting trial in these cases.

The documents released Tuesday, however, reveal that senior U.S. officials, who claimed they were unaware of the abuse, were repeatedly informed of accusations of abuse through official channels. They also suggest that these and other reports of abuse failed to trigger investigations into what increasingly appears to have been a widespread pattern of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

And even as I keyboard, somebody at the Wall Street Journal is composing tomorrow's editorial about how the ACLU hates America.

Also in the Nooz: Be sure to read Dan Froomkin's WaPo column, "Framing the Social Security Debate." And Bill O'Reilly gets the Christmas Spirit!

8:12 pm | link

The Cabbage Speaks
The Amazing Keyboarding Vegetable praises fertility.
There is a little-known movement sweeping across the United States. The movement is "natalism."

All across the industrialized world, birthrates are falling - in Western Europe, in Canada and in many regions of the United States. People are marrying later and having fewer kids. But spread around this country, and concentrated in certain areas, the natalists defy these trends.

They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.

The Vegetable goes on to tell us that Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and took 25 of the top 26 such states, while Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates.
The Vegetable attributes this fecundity to superior virtue. All this breeding is a spiritual movement, he says. The breeders are rejecting materialistic incentives and hyperindividualism. They go to church more often than non-breeders and maintain traditional gender roles.
(Pause to reflect on the deeper meaning of the phrase "barefoot and pregnant.")
One might infer from this that those Blue State people who limit the sizes of their families are less virtuous, less spiritual, more materialistic, and more selfish than the Red State people who multiply like rabbits.
Brooks acknowledges that Red States have higher divorce rates than Blue States -- Red State people tend to marry at a younger age than Blue State people -- but even so, "Like most Americans, they wonder how we can be tolerant of diverse lifestyles while still preserving the family institutions that are under threat."
Was that a swipe at gay marriage? And why is it that only white fertility rates speak to virtue and spirituality and all that?
Well, OK, so we all know why. As I said yesterday, in Neocon Morality the moral nature of an act depends on who's doing it. So when whites have big families they are virtuous and spiritual and Republican. When blacks have big families they are irresponsible and probably Democrats, and therefore they are not virtuous. See how that works? The same rule applies to heterosexual versus homosexual marriage, of course.
This graphic shows us (thanks to Ken Melvin for emailing it) that Red State women are just more fertile, period. Maybe it's something in the water.
You understand, of course, that all those Red State and mostly unmarried teenagers who did all that begetting did so in a spirit of virtuous spirituality. The white ones, anyway. And all that virtuousness combined with "abstinence only" sex ed makes a lot of babies! Good thing those money-grubbing Blue Staters pay all those taxes that disproportionately flow to Red States, huh?
The Vegetable might be surprised to learn that similar patterns can be found in other (i.e., non-American) countries.

Within countries, rural women tend to marry earlier than urban women and tend to have larger families. Access to contraception is an important contributor to the differences in the fertility rates among countries, but culture and socioeconomics weigh heavily as well.

Women's access to education, health care, family planning, and employment all affect family size. Studies show that women who have completed primary school have fewer children than those with no education. ... Women who achieve a relatively high level of education are also more likely to enter the labor force before they marry or begin childbearing, and ultimately to have smaller families than women who marry in their teens. This trend is evident in almost every country where data are available. [Link]

The World Bank and the UN and other big multinational do-gooders have realized in recent years that the best way to lift a poor country out of poverty is to help the women. Keeping women barefoot and pregnant and out of the work force and public life is bad for both economies and governments. But buy 'em shoes and birth control pills and promote them into public life, and everybody benefits. 

The gender-mainstreaming strategy follows the release last year of a landmark World Bank study that quantified the connection between a nation's poverty and the status of its women and determined that barriers prohibiting women from equal access to jobs, education and public resources significantly inhibited a nation's economic viability.

The study's authors established a strong positive correlation between low levels of female involvement in public life and high levels of government corruption. "Whether this means that women are inherently more moral beings than men, I don't know," said Andrew Mason, co-author of the study and a senior economist at the World Bank.

More likely, he said, is that a higher level of women's participation signifies a country that is more open in general, with more transparent government and a more democratic approach. The study's findings coincided with the bank's acknowledgment that its work will not succeed where governments are characterized by poor oversight, lack of adherence to the rule of law and rampant corruption. [Link]

To be fair, the Vegetable isn't (yet) calling for women to be covered in burkhas. But it's a plain fact that most women who have litters are going to spend a large part of their lives taking care of kids. Add the current homeschooling fad to this mix, and you've got lots of women virtually cut off from adult civilization itself. And I suspect this is part of The Plan. (See the Fundamentalist Agenda.)

I'm probably not virtuous and spiritual enough to appreciate "natalism," since I have only two children. But seems to me that if enough of us live as if we're in the Third World,  one of these days we will be.

Also in the New York Times: Paul Krugman takes a break from his break and warns us that the Bushies are going to destroy Social Security. Says Professor Krugman:

They come to bury Social Security, not to save it. They aren't sincerely concerned about the possibility that the system will someday fail; they're disturbed by the system's historic success.

For Social Security is a government program that works, a demonstration that a modest amount of taxing and spending can make people's lives better and more secure. And that's why the right wants to destroy it.

I'm seeing a big future for sharecropping.

Other other stuff: Remember Pearl Harbor!

Update: See "Cooked Cabbage," above.

5:46 am | link

monday, december 6, 2004

The Time Is Now
YEARS FROM now, the mistreatment of Afghan war detainees at Guantanamo and Iraqi war detainees at Abu Ghraib will likely rank with the internment of Japanese-American civilians in World War II as a violation of the nation's principles. But the Bush administration continues to stonewall criticism of its actions, whether it comes from US courts or the International Red Cross.
I'd like to think that, had I been around at the time, I would have spoken up against the internment of the Japanese. I'd like to think I would have been opposed to atrocities against Native Americans and imperialism in the Philippines more than a century ago. I'll never know. 
But Bush Regime torture of prisoners is happening now.  This is our atrocity.  Are we doing enough to oppose it? Are we speaking loudly enough against it?
Speaking of torture, today Eric Alterman writes,
The editors of the Wall Street Journal appear to have reached a new nadir in the morality—or lack thereof—of media criticism.  In light of reports of the United States military torturing innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and innocents of all stripes in Guantanamo, they are upset not about the torture—there’s nary a word about that—but at the International Red Cross because reporters found out about it. 
Neocon morality: It's not what you do, but what you say you do, that matters. A correlation of this rule is that the nature of an act depends on who's doing it.

Once upon a time, the International Committee of the Red Cross was a humanitarian outfit doing the Lord's work to reduce the horrors of war. So it is a special tragedy to see that it has increasingly become an ideological organization unable to distinguish between good guys and bad.

See? What "good guys" do is good, what "bad guys" do is bad. Exactly what is done is not an issue.
WSJ goes on to pooh pooh the acts the Red Cross called "tantamount to torture":
In this latest case, the ICRC is alleging that the psychological conditions faced by Guantanamo detainees are "tantamount to torture." Why? Because--we kid you not--prisoners are being held for indefinite periods, and the uncertainty is stressful. And because some prisoners are subjected to psychological pressure techniques during interrogations aimed at thwarting further terrorist attacks.

The article in the New York Times that broke the story indicates there's a bit more to the torture angle (emphasis added):

The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous visits.

The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment. ...

Last month, military guards, intelligence agents and others described in interviews with The Times a range of procedures that they said were highly abusive occurring over a long period, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators. The people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, said that one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.

Some accounts of techniques at Guantánamo have been easy to dismiss because they seemed so implausible. The most striking of the accusations, which have come mainly from a group of detainees released to their native Britain, has been that the military used prostitutes who made coarse comments and come-ons to taunt some prisoners who are Muslims.

But the Red Cross report hints strongly at an explanation of some of those accusations by stating that there were frequent complaints by prisoners in 2003 that some of the female interrogators baited their subjects with sexual overtures.

Sounds like "tantamount to torture" to me. But, as Lew Rockwell points out, to Bushies this is all nothing but a public relations problem.

3:09 pm | link

Another Week, Another Atrocity
I have a new post up at The American Street. See also suggestions for war resistance at United for Peace and Justice.
8:46 am | link

sunday, december 5, 2004

Take Heart
Many thanks to Michael Miller for the link to this great quote:
"When San Francisco and other Blue cities realize that they are America, when they realize that their boundless vitality, their respect for truth, their beautiful diversity, and their cultural openness is the genuine America, then self-confidence will return and the wounds will heal. And America’s edge will then become America’s new heart." -- Stewart Nusbaumer, "Blowing Away the American Blues," Intervention magazine
12:08 pm | link

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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918


The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

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