The Sideshow

Archive for January 2002

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Thursday, 31 January 2002

05:16 GMT: Permalink
ARYAN NATIONS founder Richard Butler is giving white supremacists a bad name, his successors say, Dana DiFilipo reports in The Philadelphia Daily News:
acSo Aryan Nations leaders in Pennsylvania and Ohio yesterday announced they have booted Butler from the 25-year-old racist group, complaining that he lost the group's Idaho compound and has done little to reverse its slide from its violent heyday in the 1980s.
"We're calling it a 'kook d'etat,'" said Joe Roy, director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group in Montgomery, Ala. "It's been in the making for some time now."

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Gary Farber thinks "Gerson did a pretty decent job, overall," but Media Whores Online was not impressed with George Bush's delivery of the State of the Union speech or, for that matter, the speech itself:
acDubya barely made it through a sentence without stumbling. That's what happens to someone who is reading a script and has no idea what he's really saying. He read the speech like the kid with the broken leg in "Election." There were numerous awkward pauses after he'd complete a sentence, when he would wait for applause.. and wait.. and wait.. until finally the squirming audience had no choice but to comply, uncomfortably. What he must have thought would be his best "line" - the now hackneyed "Let's Roll" - fell flat and was met with a forced and tepid reaction.

But enough about Dubya's obvious shortcomings in style and presentation and literacy. The substance of the speech was just as lacking.

Dubya hit most of the points predicted in the MWO Viewer's Guide. "Let my greedy buddies destroy pristine lands in their search for oil." "Let my greedy buddies have multi-million dollar handouts so they can better 'stimulate' my next campaign," and so on.

And other than one mumbling reference to an "unelected few," in Iran, Dubya did not utter the dreaded "d" word: democracy. This was noticeable, because there were occasions when it should have been said, but seemed conspicuously omitted. Why? Could it be that Dubya and his speechwriters shy away from the subject, knowing they have no moral authority with which to promote democratic ideals either in this country or to the rest of the world?


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Can you guess who was going to be guarding the chicken coop?
acA couple of years ago, Hill Republicans pushed a bill to establish a chief financial officer for the White House, apparently to bird-dog the Clintonites. But the bill that eventually passed only took effect this year.

President Bush recently appointed the first White House CFO, Jim Daniels, who had been a management financial type in the military office in the Clinton White House, to oversee the $750 million White House budget.

The one really new feature in the legislation was a provision to require that White House financial statements be audited by an outside accounting firm to ensure integrity. (Most Loop Fans know where this item is heading.)

So a few months ago, an informed source tells us, the Bush folks awarded the auditing contract -- $285,00 -- to a prominent auditing firm. And that firm would be? But of course, Arthur Andersen.


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The last elected President of the United States gave his own Real State of the Union address a couple of hours before Bush did his. Meanwhile, Andrew Marr reckons President Bill did a better job of anticipating and responding to the threat of terrorism pre-9/11 than Bush did:
acIn the final analysis, it appears that whatever his flaws, Clinton responded in kind to the Al Qaeda threat as it existed in his time. Yet Bush -- who presided through the summer of 2001 when U.S. embassies across the world were buzzing with word of an impending attack -- did not. It's all there in the Times and the Post, if you're willing to see

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At last! A letter-writer to The Washington Post used the term Politically Correct Conservatism.

Wednesday, 30 January 2002

15:57 GMT: Permalink
The argument about whether Taliban/Al Qaeda prisoners should be treated according to the Geneva Convention strikes me as an error. I thought Kevin Maroney summed it up nicely on the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.fandom:
acI was thinking about that last night, and I realized that treating prisoners well is a sign of the mercy of the strong, and petty abuse is the sign of the cruelty of the weak.

The War Against Terrorism is at least as much a propaganda war as a physical war; the more that the US gives to the rest of the world reasons to believe that we are cruel or weak, the easier it will be to create terrorists against us. This is, as they say, counterproductive.


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Browse the Bible - an invaluable tool for those interminable arguments and untimely visits from the Jehova's Witnesses. Personally, I like Matthew 6:5-9.

00:06 GMT: Permalink
Media Whores online is featuring a story about attack ads launched against Tom Daschle:
acIn a sudden sneak attack, the friends of Enron and its deposed C.E.O. Kenneth Lay have begun running vicious personal television attack ads against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

The ads, currently running in Daschle's home state of South Dakota, are meant to terrify voters into submission over the White House and G.O.P.'s economic and energy plans -- plans largely dictated, we now know, by Kenneth Lay.

The ad, a classic negative t.v. smear, charges that Daschle is a dangerous partisan, and promotes the usual G.O.P. propaganda about its "economic stimulus" package.


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Remember how Ronald Reagan used to talk like he'd actually fought in World War II, in such a way as to suggest he really thought he'd been in the European theater? George W. Bush seems to have a similar problem:
acKiss told Bush that if he wasn't doing anything the next morning, he could come by for their 3 a.m. feeding. Kiss said Bush joked, "I've been to war. I've raised twins. If I had a choice, I'd rather go to war."ac

Just what war does Bush think he's "been to"? Is this a Republican thing? I know the Republian leadership is a pack of chicken-hawks, but do they think that claiming to support a war is the same thing as being there? I've got friends who lost body parts in Viet Nam; I don't think they'd appreciate Mr. "I joined the Air National Guard and then went AWOL" trying to pretend he's "been to war" like they were. And sending other people to war is not the same as being there. Hmph!

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If you want to see the full transcript of the NOW with Bill Moyers show for 25 January, featuring a story on Enron, an interview with Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, and a story about the family of Craig Amundson, who died at the Pentagon on 11 September and whose siblings are speaking up for peace, click here.

04:11 GMT: Permalink
The article is called O'Connor Wishes Bush V. Gore Had Never Come Up ("Come up"? "Come up"? Did someone hold a gun to your head?), but the paragraph that interested me says:
acShe did reveal however that she and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had dated each other when they were both attending Stanford law school. "We went to a few movies," O'Connor said. She married another Stanford student, John O'

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Sebastian Mallaby talks about crony capitalism in The Washington Post in When the Business of Business Is Politics . . .
acEnron is not a political scandal in the sense of gotcha-gotcha-now-resign. But it has exposed the administration's sleazy corporatism and underlined its relative indifference to the market principles that form the Republican Party's more attractive side. The folks at the White House tolerate the free-trade efforts of the trade czar, Bob Zoellick, but they don't really like him. They hired a free marketeer to run the office overseeing regulation, but they won't necessarily back him up. Their agriculture secretary says the right things on market-distorting farm subsidies, but they don't have the stomach to fight Congress on this issue. They won't even stand up for school vouchers, despite Bush's emphasis on education. What the White House team really cares about is cutting taxes, which has less to do with market principle than with rewarding

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Real video link for Joe Conason on c-span. And, if you have the stomach for it, he's followed by Horowitz.

Monday, 28 January 2002

02:51 GMT: Permalink
A while back I was asked to make a speech about censorship on the Internet at a one-day conference at Oxford University. My speech preceded the big-ticket item, a debate between the pro-regulation crowd and the good guys (represented by Yaman Akdeniz of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties and Nadine Strossen of the ACLU). Thanks to another hero of the Internet, Bennett Haselton of Peacefire, I get notified through his Tracerlock service of any new appearance of my chosen strings (in this case, "Avedon Carol") on the web. I failed to notice a bunch of these notifications (along with some other mail) that arrived while I was on holiday last October, and I've just started going through them and found a page about my speech at that meeting at Oxford. It includes a picture of me, a rather awkward outline of my speech, and even little .mp3 files of me stammering out bits of my speech, Porn & the Net: An explosion of fantasy, a new danger, or just more of the same old same old?

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Danny O'Brien writes:
acHere's the counter-argument to the Guardian piece you quoted in The Sideshow :

Can the Kiwi economy fly?
Nov 30th 2000 | WELLINGTON

Recent claims that New Zealand's economic experiment has failed, and that it therefore needs to change course, do not stand up

I have no idea who is right (this is an area I think I'll be investigating to no-one's satisfaction for the rest of my life), although a comparison between Australia and New Zealand does strike me as a little, well, hemispherically prejudiced. Just because two countries sit next to each other on the map and in our mental country lists, doesn't make them comparable.

On the other hand, while looking for the Economist piece, I found a hilarious World Bank item which quotes a report that *imagined* what an unprivatised New Zealand would do, compared this fictional New Zealand to the current state of affairs, then declared that the real NZ had done much much better, thank you. Now that's an unfair comparison.


Thanks for the heads-up, Danny. I don't know, either. All this reminds me of an article I wish I'd clipped (back in my pre-Internet days, of course), when all over the western world countries were trying to "reform" their economies by getting rid of a lot of public welfare-related services, noting that these countries were now all having economic problems that they hoped all their frugality would solve. Interestingly, buried deep in the article, the author noted that only one western country (Denmark, I seem to recall) had not made all these changes, and that that country alone was now the only one that wasn't having all these economic problems. It does make you wonder....

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E.J. Dionne says Bush has presented us with Conservatism Recast
acNow comes Bush, the instrument of a new fusionism. Like libertarians, he has made tax cuts a central article of his creed. His devotion to business is reflected in his efforts to roll back regulations from the Clinton era and to open federal lands to energy development. Bush is a corporate conservative, and proud of it.

But he also calls himself a compassionate conservative. Why? Because he, like the traditionalists, understands that most people do not draw meaning from the marketplace alone, and that the marketplace is not the sole or most important source of virtue. "The invisible hand works many miracles, but it cannot touch the human heart," he declared in July 1999. "We are a nation of rugged individuals. But we are also the country of a second chance -- tied together by bonds of friendship and community and solidarity."

Note well: Bush's rhetoric on the limits of markets is not about changing or regulating them more. Instead, it's about strengthening non-market institutions outside of government. In line with traditionalists, he argues that the markets' cool calculations should be tempered not so much by the state as by those havens in a heartless world -- family, church and neighborhood. Bush the First made a small bow toward this view with his "thousand points of light." Bush the Second has made it a central theme of his presidency, and will no doubt touch on it again in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.


So, this is about returning us to a system that worked so badly before that a horrified public insisted on changing it. Reinventing the square wheel, I guess.

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According to Beverley Lumpkin, John Ashcroft loves neither the Spirit of Justice nor the Majesty of Justice. In fact, he is arranging to hide them altogether, she says, in Draping History.

Saturday, 26 January 2002

15:57 GMT: Permalink
We keep hearing about how George Bush really respects the Oval Office and has returned honor and dignity and all that to the White House with his suit & tie-wearing activities. He would never, for example, do something like this. And thank goodness the Bush administrtion is erasing the stain of the Clinton surplus with his faith-based economics. (One thing you can say for Bill Clinton: he kept his feet under the desk.)

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Ernest Dumas in The Arkansas Times makes it clear that Enron is no molehill like the Marc Rich pardon; this is a real mountain. When they say it's not about politics... they are saying that real, hard-core graft and corruption are fine and dandy:
acEnron became what it was, a mammoth corporate shell game, with the active complicity of politicians and the government, which enabled it to escape regulation and disclosure and to beat competitors to contracts across the country and around the world. Enron invested gargantuan sums on politicians, even a little with Democrats, and the government became an arm of the company.

Sure, there is no evidence that the Bush administration acted on the company's overtures to help rescue it at the end, but that is not the test. Should Vice President Cheney have been trying to twist the arm of the Indian government last fall to get it to make disputed payments to Enron? The administration said it was routine, and the evidence is that it was in Enron's case.
The Energy Policy Act, enacted the last year of Bush I, forced old utilities to carry Enron's electricity sales on their wires.

Wendy Gramm, wife of the Texas senator and chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for the former President Bush, allowed an exemption in the trading of energy derivatives, which became Enron's fattest business. Then she resigned and went on the Enron board and its audit committee. An executive of Arthur Andersen, the Enron independent auditor, said the firm had warned Gramm and other committee members of possible illegal acts in the company. She was still being lavished with future stock options in 2000 when her husband, recipient of $97,350 in Enron campaign gifts, was engineering legislation that exempted parts of Enron's energy business from government oversight.

Although the current President Bush said this month that his contact with Enron was incidental and its CEO a supporter of his enemy, former Gov. Ann Richards, his labors for Enron precede his days as governor of Texas, when the governor's office was Enron's reception room.

The Texas Observer and The Nation reported several years ago that Bush telephoned the Argentine minister of energy a few days after his father's election in 1988 to urge that Enron get a contract to develop a $300 million gas pipeline. Enron had entered the bidding at the last minute with a proposal the minister considered ridiculous. Bush reportedly said giving the contract to Enron "would be very favorable for Argentina and its relations with the United States." Bush aides provided a page from his daily planner that showed no planned call to Argentina that day.


Let's say you walk into a room just in time to see a guy calmly get up, walk over to another guy who is minding his own business, and shoot him. Afterwards, lots of people explain that nothing untoward has happened because there is no smoking gun.

This is how I'm beginning to feel about Enron: even people who are laying out whole rows of smoking guns in plain sight seem to be refusing to say, "Look, these are smoking guns." Here is Henry Waxman:
acLast week, the Bush administration gave its clearest "tell" yet that it doesn't like its Enron hand. In response to my inquiries about contacts between administration officials and Enron executives, a senior White House official warned: "Waxman risks transforming himself into the Dan Burton of the Democrats."

This unusual jab wasn't meant as friendly career advice. Republican White Houses rarely throw gratuitous insults at senior Republican members of Congress like Mr. Burton, the chairman of the Government Reform Committee. To make sure the message wasn't lost, the White House press secretary later called my efforts a "partisan waste of taxpayer money."

These blunt personal attacks signal a high level of White House anxiety: Its strategy is to discredit me and make other Democrats nervous about investigating Enron's influence on White House policies.

What's especially odd is that these attacks are coming even though I've been careful not to make any accusations about the president, the vice president or any of their staff. Having seen the mistakes of Republican investigations into the Clinton administration at close range, I have no interest in repeating the pattern of accuse first and investigate later. A better way is to ask for relevant information before reaching conclusions.


Waxman then goes on to detail a whole load of pretty damning evidence, all of which leads inexorably to the question, "So why haven't you made any accusations?" For that matter, the evidence is its own accusation. This is all like saying, "We don't know that you killed anyone, but we do know that you pulled out a loaded gun, fired it at this guy, and the bullet entered his heart and he died." Graft and corruption, folks, this is exactly what it looks like.

Of course, when Will Durst writes about it, it almost seems funny. But Teresa Nielsen Hayden thinks she's found the smoking gun.

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George Bush's recent photo-op with Bernie Goldberg's book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News looks like pretty open shilling to me. The White House is trying hard to convey the impression that George actually reads books, although I can't help doubting that our product-placement "president" could be engaged in any sort of meaningful discussion of the books he is allegedly reading. It would be nice if he'd at least pretend to be reading good books, though, instead of this piece of junk. Eric Alterman is less than flattering on the subject:
acNever mind that in their more genuine moments, conservatives from William Kristol to Pat Buchanan admit that the claim of liberal media bias is bogus, cooked up for political advantage. Conservative book buyers, fortunately for Goldberg, are rather late in getting the news. "Just turn on your TV set and it's there," the author, a twenty-eight-year veteran at CBS News, declares. In doing so, he echoes the line of many a know-nothing conservative before him. "There are certain facts of life so long obvious they would seem beyond dispute. One of these--that there is a liberal tilt in the media...," sayeth the editors of the Wall Street Journal. "The fact is everybody knows that Dan Rather is an egomaniacal liberal. Everybody knows that the major news networks lean to the left," chimes in Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online. Never mind, dear reader, that young Jonah was recently signed up by CNN, where he joins liberal Robert Novak and liberal Tucker Carlson as a regular commentator on what Tom DeLay calls the "Communist News Network." He can expect to compete with liberal lunatic Alan Keyes on MSNBC, who replaces liberal criminal Oliver North and liberal miniskirt model Laura Ingraham, and joins liberal carnival barker Chris Matthews, in being given his own show on that liberal network. Thank goodness for the fairandbalanced folks at Fox.
Taking the conservative ideology of wealthy white male victimization to new heights, Goldberg pretends he has broken his pledge of omertà and suffered the horrifying consequences. He wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal attacking his colleagues. "So what happened?" he writes. "Well, as Tony Soprano might put it to his old pal Big Pussy Bompensiero in the Bada Bing! Lounge: Bernie G. opened his mouth to the wrong people--and he got whacked."

It's heartbreaking until you discover that while Goldberg admits that Heyward had every right to fire him for violating the terms of his contract, instead the boss whom "Bernie G." is either betraying or libeling in these pages found him a nice cushy job at 60 Minutes II and allowed him to serve out his time to qualify for a higher pension. Call me a liberal, but I believe the term "whack" carries a slightly different connotation among Mafia dons.


It's taking all my strength to resist quoting the paragraphs about George Will. Go read the article.

Friday, 25 January 2002:

21:45 GMT: Permalink
Even if we accept that no law was broken in the Enron scandal (which I don't), no one should feel relieved when we're told that, "To my knowledge, there is nothing that we have found that was illegal."

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Congratulations Tom Brokaw: MWO Whore of the Week

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The First Six Months of George W. Bush: Whatever your beliefs, know what your president is doing.

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They are our illegal government, they are theives, they are callous and they are liars, and now they are The Union Busters

acSuppose that on Monday, January 7, President George W. Bush had branded hundreds of Justice Department employees as potential security risks because they were union members?

Might we have expected a question or two at next day’s White House press briefing? Would the networks, perhaps, have been at least mildly interested? Or the newspapers?

Apparently not, because on January 7 President Bush did exactly that to some five hundred labor union members who work in United States Attorneys’ offices, Interpol’s U.S. branch, the Criminal Division, the National Drug Intelligence Center, and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.


Thursday, 24 January 2002:

01:40 GMT: Permalink
Joshua Micah Marshall is enjoying Ari Fleischer's performance as a sleazeball so much that he has now instituted the Ari Fleischer Ridiculous Mistatement Watch. (I copied that from his page, but don't you think it should be spelled "misstatement" or "mis-statement"?)
acThe word has been out for a while that Ari Fleischer is one of the more feckless and incapable press secretaries any White House has had in some time. And that's saying something, because to date Fleischer has really never had a challenging situation to deal with. So, say what you will about Dee Dee Myers' chaotic tenure as White House Press Secretary in the early Clinton years, but she had a lot on her

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No one tells George Bush anything. Or at least that's the excuse Howard Fineman, sitting at his feet, has offered. (How is it that these Bushes are always out of the loop?) Howard also explains that the interest in what happened to Enron is just selfish baby-boomers obsessing on their pensions. Thank god there's Gene Lyons at The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to knock this thing down:
acPause a moment to let Fineman's disdain for the victims of the Enron swindle sink in. Their jobs and life savings have vanished thanks to con men who bought politicians by the boxcar load. (And despite what you hear, almost 80 per cent of Enron largesse went to Republicans.) Many face personal bankruptcy and worse. Yet this smug little fop sees it as an opportunity to work off a grudge against the storied Woodstock generation, so "self-obsessed and selfish" it seems, as to hope for an old age eating something besides Alpo over rice. Exactly how many Enron employees attended the fabled 1969 rock extravaganza in upstate New York, I wonder? ac

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Tom Daschle disagrees with the White House and Republicans on the "stimulus" package
ac"I don't want to 'Enron' the people of the United States," Daschle said. "I don't want to see them holding the bag at the end of the day, just like Enron employees have held the bag. I don't want to destroy their Social Security system. I don't want to destroy their Medicare system."ac

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It's a mixed-up, shook-up world. The Daily Howler is surprised to learn that Larry Klayman has liberal bias!!
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Greetings, pilgrim, your search has ended! Coming soon: Giuliani the movie.

Tuesday, 22 January 2002:

21:57 GMT: Permalink
So, perhaps it's not even true that the Bush administration did nothing to help their friends at Enron as they fell, as this letter from Public Citizen to the Secretary of the Treasury implies:
acPrior to the July 2000 G-7 summit, the Clinton administration negotiated a deal with six nations—including the Cayman Islands—extracting nonbinding commitments from the countries to work with the U.S. to improve transparency of the nations’ banking laws. In exchange for this commitment, the OECD did not include them in the June 2000 list of "pariah" nations with banking systems that encouraged criminal behavior. At the July 2000 G-7 summit, the Clinton administration took the lead on a plan threatening strict economic sanctions on all nations identified by the OECD, including the Cayman Islands, unless the countries cleaned up their lax banking laws by July 2001. The threat of these sanctions alone would have helped enforce a global trend towards increased financial transparency.

But on February 17, 2001, you announced at another G-7 press conference that the Bush Administration was placing this multilateral agreeement and its threat of sanctions under review, effectively delaying it. As a result, your announcement helped allow Enron and other companies to continue to hide money in Cayman Island bank accounts. Your responsibility as Secretary of the Treasury is to collect properly owed and due taxes, not to facilitate tax avoidance. If Enron and other companies are using the Cayman Islands to hide income, then you have an obligation to end that abuse.

On November 27, 2001, a few days before Enron declared bankruptcy, your office announced an agreement with the Cayman Islands that does not force that nation to tighten its tax or banking laws until 2004—giving companies like Enron twenty-four months to move their assets to another tax haven and destroy the records of their cheating from scrutiny.

Since your efforts — whether intentional or not — have allowed Enron to hide potentially billions of dollars that rightfully belongs to shareholders and company employees, your action must be viewed in the context of the more than $1.1 million Enron contributed to George Bush’s presidential efforts and inauguration, and the close, personal relationship between the President and Enron CEO Ken Lay./I>


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The Guardian reviews a real-life experiment in free markets.

Monday, 21 January 2002:

18:36 GMT: Permalink
Avram Grumer notes that Paul Krugman has been attacked by some people for supposedly having an unethical connection to Enron. Given that Krugman has been pretty critical of Enron, it's hard to figure out what they think they've found, but Krugman has supplied a response to them.
acSome people have accused me of an ethical lapse because I served briefly on an Enron advisory board in 1999 - even though I disclosed that relationship the only time I wrote about the company (rather favorably) for Fortune, back in May1999, and again the first time I wrote about the company (in a highly critical article) for the New York Times, which I did in January 2001. Since then I've been pretty hard on Enron, to say the least: I criticized the firm's role in the California energy crisis, and have not been kind as the firm's own problems have

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The Clinton-blamers have made much of the fact that George W. Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks on the US (like there was another option). The line seems to be that Clinton didn't do anything after previous attacks on the US, but Bush didn't make the same mistakes. This is best described as "wrong", as Barton Gellman notes in this story in The Washington Post:
acThe administration did not resume its predecessor's covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships, on six-hour alert near Afghanistan's borders. The standby force gave Clinton the option, never used, of an immediate strike against targets in al Qaeda's top leadership. The Bush administration put no such capability in place before Sept. 11.

At least twice, Bush conveyed the message to the Taliban that the United States would hold the regime responsible for an al Qaeda attack. But after concluding that bin Laden's group had carried out the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole – a conclusion stated without hedge in a Feb. 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney – the new administration did not choose to order armed forces into action.


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I'm not sure how much longer Bill Keller's Mr. T., Mr. G. and Mr. H. will be up at the NYT site, so I'll try to quote as much of the meat of it as I can:
acIn that dyspeptic spirit I'd like to begin the new year by bidding farewell to three men whose departure will raise the median decency of the United States Senate. In their remaining, lame-duck months, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm will enjoy the ritual tributes of colleagues and the sanitized adieus of home-state editorialists. Let's be frank. They will leave behind an institution they have helped appreciably to debase.

Senators Helms, Gramm and Thurmond have in common the fact that they harnessed their collective century of seniority to the Taliban wing of the American right. Point to an act of cultural division, bullying unilateralism or anti-government populism committed in the Senate during their decades there and you will usually find these three men among the sponsors. But there are others in the Senate who have voted for egregious causes, right and left, and still others who have never stood for much of anything. What sets these three apart is that each has made his own special contribution to the cynicism of our public life.

It is tempting to excuse them, in their twilight, for at least having made the place more colorful. Mr. Helms affected a theatrically courtly demeanor, sirring and ma'aming witnesses he regarded as infidels. (His manners were selective; it was the courtly Mr. Helms who once remarked that if President Clinton visited North Carolina he'd "better have a bodyguard.") Mr. Gramm pokes witty fun at his own orneriness. "People say I don't have a heart," he once joked. "I do. I keep it in a quart jar on my desk." As David Plotz wrote in Slate, Senator Gramm is a mean, bitter pessimist, but "he has benefited from one of the strangest prejudices of politics: that meanness is a synonym for integrity." Mr. Thurmond benefits from another prejudice, our instinctive American admiration for those who correct themselves. He abandoned his ardent segregationist views when the demographics of his state made that expedient, and even hired actual black people to work on his Senate staff, a fact sometimes reported with such awe that you'd think he'd marched with Dr. King in Selma.

I wish I could summon up tributes to these men, if only for the contrarian pleasure of defying the liberal tradition of these pages. But alas, it has to be said that each of them has impoverished our precious political culture.

Mr. Thurmond's contribution is that he helped make Congress ridiculous. I can't think of a more cringe- making spectacle in public life than watching Mr. Thurmond, age 99, being shoveled into his seat at some committee he is only dimly aware of attending, and listening as he struggles to read a text prepared for him by an aide, losing his place at the end of each line. The Senate has never been a youth center, but Mr. Thurmond has deteriorated like Dorian Gray's picture while his constituents acquiesced and his colleagues averted their eyes. His embarrassing political shtick includes a self-conscious virility, manifested in his ability to produce children into his 70's and in his famously cute habit of leering at female interns, groping female senators and acclaiming the beauty of female witnesses before his various committees. Senator Thurmond did not invent the role of Washington lecher, but he helped cultivate the men's-club chauvinism in which Bob Packwood and Bill Clinton and Gary Condit operated.

Please understand, Mr. Thurmond's sin is not that he grew old; it is that growing old was the sum of his career. The message of his nearly half-century in the Senate is that success is to be measured not by tangible accomplishments — Mr. Thurmond has none, unless you count getting post offices and schools named for himself, and wangling an appointment for his 29-year-old son and namesake as the top federal attorney for South Carolina — but by political longevity. What Mr. Thurmond represents is the transformation of senators into self-perpetuating instruments of incumbency. For years, "Senator Thurmond" has been a shell inhabited by party leaders, campaign donors and staff who operate behind his Oz-like seniority, the way Communist Party apparatchiks ruled in the name of the sickly Leonid Brezhnev. I don't believe in term limits, on the principle that voters are entitled to make their own mistakes, but Mr. Thurmond makes me less certain of my conviction.

Mr. Gramm should be remembered for perfecting one of the more duplicitous roles in politics — the anti-government welfare queen. He has run his every campaign as a scourge of government spending and a champion of the beleaguered little taxpayer. At the same time he has built a great money sluice from Washington to his home state and pandered to the energy, banking and insurance lobbies that underwrite his political ambitions. His politics could be called hypocrisy, but only in a language that places a huge premium on understatement.

Contrast Mr. Gramm with Representative Dick Armey, another Texan with a mean streak, a Ph.D. in economics and a professed distaste for government spending. Mr. Armey, who is also retiring after this Congress, had the intellectual integrity to fight federal farm subsidies and to engineer the closing of unneeded military bases, including one serving his home district. Not so Mr. Gramm, who once boasted, "I'm carrying so much pork, I'm beginning to get trichinosis."

One of Senator Gramm's most generous benefactors was Enron, which lavished money on his campaigns and paid his wife handsomely as a corporate director. Senator Gramm, in turn, had a hand in legislation that exempted Enron's explosive energy derivatives business from government regulation and oversight. How big a hand, and whether that legislation enabled the secret funny business that led to the company's collapse, may emerge in one of the many investigations under way. Enron's business was built on the premise that just about anything could be turned into a commodity and bought and sold. The beleaguered little taxpayers who lost their jobs and pensions in the Enron fiasco will be interested to know whether that included their senator.

Mr. Helms leaves behind at least a double legacy. He helped perfect fear-mongering as a form of fund- raising, using his own and allied political action committees to raise many millions by appealing to the crudest bigotries of voters. The technique is now pervasive across the political spectrum, but Mr. Helms helped pioneer those alarming boldface solicitations that warn: "Your tax dollars are being used to pay for grade school classes that teach our children that CANNIBALISM, WIFE-SWAPPING and the MURDER of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior." (Yes, that's an actual letter that went out over his signature.)

Mr. Helms has also diminished American stature abroad by using senatorial obstruction and intimidation to undermine our diplomatic service and pre-empt our foreign policy. As the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past 15 years, and as the mentor of a right-wing mafia within the Republican Party, he has been an author of much of what makes the world resentful of America: our stingy foreign aid, our lordly attitude toward any multilateral organization, our disdain for treaties, our support of despotic regimes from apartheid-era South Africa to the juntas of Latin America.


It will be interesting to see what they manage to replace these ghastly people with.

Sunday, 20 January 2002:

00:23 GMT: Permalink
I love this story:
acA MOTHER of three children became so fed up with Jehovah’s Witnesses calling at her home that she interrupted their Sunday service by banging on their church door and offering them free

Yes, I live not very far from a JW mission and they were driving me crazy. I even put up signs, to no avail - they would knock to argue with me about the signs. Finally, after years of annoyance, I asked them if I had to call the police to get rid of them (yeah, like that'd work). Oh, they said, you just have to ask to be put on our list! "List? You have a list?" So I insisted on being put on this list, and instead got argumentative grafitti scrawled indelibly in my front doorway. So, like, I'm not impressed with the the last paragraph of the story:
acPaul Gillies, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain, said: “If someone states they do not want our representatives to call we make a note and avoid calling.” ac

Saturday, 19 January 2002:

02:35 GMT: Permalink
You know, I keep thinking about that Thomas Sowell thing that was bugging me the other day. I mean, just what kind of education is he talking about that creates kids who fly planes into buildings? And, not incidentally, created Bill Clinton.

Charles Bishop is of course 15 years old, and I have no idea what sort of education he had, but it led him to become a Young Republican. Bill Clinton is a few years older than I am and grew up in Arkansas - not a liberal bastion, and certainly he couldn't have been going to particularly liberal schools. During the 1950s, I was going to school in one of the most liberal public school systems in the nation, in Montgomery County, Maryland. We had Bible stories read to us in class, we said the pledge of allegiance every morning, kids couldn't wear sneakers or jeans and girls were not allowed to wear trousers of any kind. It couldn't have been any more liberal for Bill Clinton down there in Arkansas.

Clinton, as we all know, grew up to be an old-fashioned Republican, only without the racism or divorce. As far as I know, he hasn't flown any planes into any buildings (and, come to think of it, neither have I). So what was he even doing in that diatribe of Sowell's? These people really are nuts, aren't they?

* * * * *
Consortium News doesn't like being insulted:
acGeorge W. Bush is back on the road, flattering the nation’s "heartland" as a place where people appreciate the values of "family and faith, of personal responsibility and hard work." The implicit message is that Bush still finds those values lacking in coastal cities, despite the events of Sept.

One is often tempted to ask why high divorce rates represent such good family values. I'm a coastal girl, I don't believe in getting married until you're ready to make a commitment.

* * * * *
Hey, isn't there a law against this?
acGetting to the heart of the documents contained in the al-Qa'ida computer ­ bought by chance by the Wall Street Journal's reporter in Kabul ­ meant cracking the encryption of Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system installed on the machine, which had been used to protect the

* * * * *
What keeps confusing me is the idea that it's not against the law to buy government officials up front - or to have been purchased. I thought it was, but I keep seeing articles from people saying that Enron is not a political scandal. By which they apparently mean that the Bushistas did nothing wrong. I'm sorry, I just can't swallow this. Neither can Media Whores Online, who have miles of stuff on their pages about it.

* * * * *
Chris Floyd's Global Eye has a creepy story:
acIt was the night after Christmas on Florida's eastern shore. A tepid rain was falling as a couple of county lawmen pushed up the garage door at a ranch house on Sugar Pine Drive, just outside Boca Raton. They stood back for a minute to let the fumes spill out, a few remaining shreds of the poison cloud that had done its work hours ago. The car was no longer running. Behind the wheel - just as they'd expected after getting the wife's frantic phone call half an hour before - was the body of Peter K. Hartmann, regional manager for Service Corporation International.

"The funeral guy," said one of the deputies, then went to call for the meat wagon.


* * * * *
My goodness, is that the time? (Needs Active X.)

Thursday, 17 January 2002:

03:30 GMT: Permalink
Helen Thomas, a hero of democracy, had Ari the Liar for lunch Wednesday:
acQ Can you explain how it would hurt the economy? And, secondly, do you disagree with the premise, Kennedy's premise, which is that the tax cut was envisioned at a time when the country's finances were much different?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not only does the White House dispute the premise of what Senator Kennedy proposed, but many Democrats in the Senate do, as well -- especially conservative Democrats and Democrats who have worked with the White House in a bipartisan way on tax issues.

So this really exposes some big differences within the Democratic Party, particularly with the rank and file. I think it also shows that at the leadership level, the Democratic Party is aching to raise people's taxes.

Q But that's a political response and is unresponsive to the economic point, which is why would it hurt the economy?


And then of course, under intense questioning, Ari eventually explains that IBM can go out and buy a new dress if it gets a tax cut. I swear, these people aren't even trying. But then, they don't have to, do they?

* * * * *
Here's a good start page for an afternoon of browsing: Moose & Squirrel Information One-Stop

* * * * *
Thomas Sowell is blaming America's anti-American educational system for producing two (count 'em - two!) kids who just don't seem to appreciate their country: John Walker and Charles Bishop. That's right, your teachers are the Enemies within:
acThese are more than just isolated individuals. Other Americans who have not gone so far have nevertheless rejoiced at our tragedy in public statements on college campuses around the country and still others have hastened to blame us for bringing the September 11th attacks on ourselves.

A former President of the United States has depicted the terrorist attacks against Americans as somehow due to slavery and past wars of conquest against the Indians. And he was applauded at one of our most prestigious universities for saying it.


Ah. Well, given that this is most flatteringly described as an utter mischaracterization of Clinton's speech, the question arises: Where was Thomas Sowell educated?

Did Sowell's education include the benefits of checking your sources? Clinton's speech is easily found online, after all. Was he introduced to the idea that telling lies about people is a bad idea? It's not hard to find in, say, the Ten Commandments. And how about tying your thesis to some facts? Nowhere in the article does Sowell actually show any connection between the American educational system and the shocking behavior of Walker and Bishop.

The verdict from here is that Thomas Sowell is a deeply miseducated man.

* * * * *
As Media Whores Online points out, Gene Lyons' latest column (sadly hidden behind a subscription-only barrier at a paper that doesn't deserve your money) suggests we "Just blame it on Bill":
acLet's see now, just short of a year into a Republican presidency, and we've got a war, a steep economic recession, a return to budget deficits for as far as the eye can see, and the biggest financial scandal in U.S. history just heating up. Thank heaven it's all Bill Clinton's fault. Every bit of it. Indeed, we at Unsolicited Opinions, Inc. propose a secret Supreme Court tribunal to enact the Blame Apportionment Act of 2001, effective retroactively to the date of the Bush II Restoration.

Under its provisions, former President Clinton would assume formal responsibility for every bad thing that happens in or to the United States of America from January 21, 2001 onward, in return for a codicil limiting Republican editorialists to attacking him no more than once a week. Now that our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over, as The Onion put it, it's the least Clinton could do to serve his country. With the former president manfully serving as an all-purpose national scapegoat, everybody in Washington would be off the hook. And we might be spared grotesque items like the recent Democrat-Gazette editorial sneering at Clinton upon the occasion of his dog's death.


I must send Gene a note pointing out that this proposal doesn't cover enough ground, since President Bill is already being blamed for leaks of military secrets to China that occurred during the 1980s, before Clinton got to the White House.

* * * * *
James Higdon needs to use a spell checker (and don't get me started on the commas!) but nevertheless has a point:
acIt is way past the time for merely changing campaign finance regulation. It is time for public financing of all political campaigns. And, since broadcasters have totally breached their duty of public trust, it is time for the licensees, who pay nothing for the use of the public's airways, to provide large portions of free air time for campaign advertising and debates; equally distributed among all registered

Tuesday, 15 January 2002:

04:05 GMT: Permalink
George W. Bush's underperfomance on 9/11 left people so hungry for leaders that even Rudy Giuliani and Tony Blair ended up looking good. Some people would consider that a definition of desperation.

It has been somewhat frustrating to me to listen to some of my American friends praising Mr. Blair when I regard him as a soulless creep. In some respects, Blair shows all the signs of being exactly the sort of person who would like to be part of the loyalists of the Bush Family Empire. Why, even Julie Burchill, who surprised me yet again by saying something I nearly agree with, has compared The Creepy Smile unfavorably with Thatcher:
Because of this, having nothing to prove, she wasn't anything like the sort of privatisation lunatic that Blair and his cronies are - she wouldn't touch the railways, the Post Office or airspace, among others. She was, despite her mad, staring eyes, far more of a mixed-market moderate than Blair, who is an out-and-out free-market kamikaze, apparently completely unmoved by the disastrous track record and general unpopularity of privatisation in this country. Like the rabid American general who famously claimed that a Vietnamese village "had to be destroyed in order to save it", you can imagine Toni in his bunker making plans to privatise the very air we breathe as the railways grind to a halt and the hospitals turn away the walking wounded.

She's almost right. But it all put me in mind of an article that came out last July, after some of us had given up on finding any good coverage of the politics surrounding that recent general election that had reestablished Tony Blair as the guy who got another big majority awarded to him because he wasn't William Hague. (I still say it was a good time to vote for the Liberal Democrats, but not enough people shared my feeling. But the LibDems did have the advantage of not being either the Tories or the New Tories.) British journalism is the other thing some of my American friends have a rosy view of, but when Patrick Nielsen Hayden finally dug up a good article on current British politics, it wasn't in The Guardian or The Observer or even The Telegraph, but in The New York Review of Books :
During a BBC radio discussion of the upcoming British elections, a young journalist voiced her frustration. "Don't you agree," she asked her fellow panelists, "that there's no real choice? Tony Blair believes in privatization, just like Mrs. Thatcher." "Not quite," replied Charles Moore, editor of the (Conservative) Daily Telegraph. "Margaret Thatcher believed in privatization. Tony Blair just likes rich people." That is indeed so, and although Moore's witticism doesn't really address the question, it points, perhaps inadvertently, to something seriously amiss in England today.

* * * * *
Lyndon Johnson. Did a chill run down your spine? It's still hard to know what to think of the man. Eric Alterman is Listening to Lyndon:
It is not enough to bemoan what might have been under Lyndon Johnson if only he had listened to Ball and Russell and stuck to building the Great Society rather than bombing the Mekong Delta. Johnson's liberal hopes and dreams never had a chance against his conservative fears and nightmares. What I want to know is why? What was so seductive about the arguments of these smart Kennedy advisers that led him to ignore his own political genius? Why is the right so much more threatening than the left, even at this moment of a putative liberal Democratic landslide? What was so important about whether South Vietnam, whose people could barely bring themselves to fight, went communist?

Monday, 14 January 2002:

04:20 GMT: Permalink
Need proof that The Nation has more on the ball than TIME? Here it is. There's a story to go with that, of course. It's called Huey Freeman: American Hero.

Everything seems to be about Enron today. Well, up until George choked on that pretzel. There's no point posting a link, there are just too many of them - check out Bartcop, Media Whores Online, Buzzflash, Smirking Chimp, you name it, you'll find plenty about Enron.

Sunday, 13 January 2002:

02:25 GMT: Permalink
The best news of the year so far comes from Norman Solomon, who says:
As the owner of noncommercial radio stations based in five metropolitan areas -- San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Washington -- the nonprofit Pacifica Foundation operates with a national board of directors. During the 1990s, a succession of power grabs enabled a board majority to emerge with ill-disguised contempt for the progressive principles and grassroots innovation that had long enlivened the Pacifica airwaves.

In 1999, turmoil reached a boiling point at the Pacifica station headquartered in Berkeley, Calif. -- the nation's oldest listener-sponsored radio outlet, KPFA. Long-simmering conflicts erupted after Pacifica's national management tried to prevent KPFA from airing news reports about firings at the station.

People at KPFA refused to knuckle under. They resisted in ways that journalists and activists have resisted for hundreds of years -- by speaking out and by organizing. Apparently baffled that so many employees would take principled positions at the risk of losing their jobs, the Pacifica management called in police, even ordering the arrest of longtime reporters in the KPFA newsroom.
For years, the corporate-minded new regime atop Pacifica had a grip on the network. Along the way, it was sometimes grim to see the responses from left-leaning institutions that had for decades been among key constituencies of the Pacifica network. Some accommodated themselves to the network's new regime.

But a lot of other organizations protested the new censorship and thereby risked being frozen off Pacifica's airwaves. Nationwide, dozens of community radio stations helped by condemning Pacifica actions and boycotting its news show. Across the nation, countless listeners became media activists as they devoted enormous amounts of time and energy to a movement aimed at recreating Pacifica as an unabashedly progressive grassroots network.

Because of such efforts, ranging from lawsuits and picket lines to boycotts and public education campaigns, the pressure became too much for the corporate-minded majority on the Pacifica national board. In late December, a legal settlement reconstituted the board. And now, for the first time in many years, the board's majority is committed to progressive principles.

There's more to the story - please do follow the link. Pacifica is one of very few hold-outs against the Clear Channel/Murdoch/GE madness that is swallowing up anything resembling decent news media, so this is an important story for those of us who are to the left of Jessie Helms.

Saturday, 12 January 2002:

15:03 GMT: Permalink
The question of whether "Taliban John Walker" is technically guilty of treason has reopened the issue of whether the Reagan-Bush team were also guilty of treason during the Iranian hostage crisis. The idea that the latter was legally treason has always been dismissed on the grounds that the US had not declared war on Iran. But the same voices want very much to treat John Walker as a traitor, and that argument has now been dismissed itself. Which means, once again, Reagan, Bush, and William Casey could have been guilty of treason if the charges are true.

However, the Reagan-Bush supporters have taken for granted that the whole story is nothing but a crazy conspiracy theory that has been thoroughly debunked by both Newsweek and The New Republic. From the archive at Consortium News:
At a pivotal moment in the October Surprise investigation (in November 1991), two national magazines, Newsweek and The New Republic, published matching cover stories declaring that records at the historical conference revealed that Casey arrived in London Sunday evening, July 27, and attended the next morning's session, July 28. That proved, the magazines declared in unison, that a two-day meeting in Madrid was impossible. The October Surprise story was declared a "myth."

The impact of those two magazine stories cannot be overstated. They convinced most of the Washington news media and many members of Congress that the longstanding suspicions of Casey's skulduggery were false. A kind of debunking hysteria followed, with other publications joining in a stampede that trampled any careful examination of the October Surprise facts.

But Newsweek and The New Republic were wrong; they had completely misread the London evidence. When more thorough interviews were done with Americans who had attended the London conference with Casey, it became clear that Casey was not there on either Sunday night or Monday morning. He arrived late Monday afternoon, as a notation on the attendance sheet corroborated. It said Casey "came at 4 p.m."

Of course, my favorite right-wing scam is the idea that the US news media, and particularly the Washington press corps, is liberal. Again, "conservatives" sometimes attempt to back this up with documentation, this time a survey by the Freedom Forum. And, again, Robert Parry at the Consortium has the score:
To try to clear up this mystery, we contacted Kenneth Dautrich of the Roper Center, the polling firm that handled the Freedom Forum's data. Because of the confidentiality, Dautrich would not supply the names of those who were sent the questionnaires, nor did he know which of the 139 journalists returned the surveys. But he did agree to send us the company affiliations of the 323 journalists who were on Roper's original mailing list.

That list contained news organizations from all over the country. But it was not what many would expect when they think about the Washington news media. Major national media outlets were represented, but not in very high numbers. Only 60 questionnaires -- or less than 20 percent of the total -- had gone to the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS, National Public Radio, Time, Newsweek, US News, The Associated Press and Reuters.
But more than 80 of the list's newspapers -- roughly a quarter of the total -- were much smaller, often with only one reporter or "bureau chief" in Washington. One questionnaire went to the 58,000-circulation The Green Bay Press-Gazette, for instance. Another went to a Wisconsin neighbor, the 27,000-circulation Sheboygan Press. Also on the list were The Mississippi Press, Fort Collins Coloradoan, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Idaho Statesman, Thibodaux Daily Comet, Hemet News and many other newspapers that are not normally counted as part of "the national news media."
But what was most dramatically missing from the list were many of the principal conservative journals. The Washington Times did get four questionnaires; Human Events one; The New York Post one; and another Murdoch newspaper, The Boston Herald, one -- the seven equalling about two percent of the total. But the other big-name right-wing publications got zero.

A likely reason for the absence of these prominent conservative journals was the fact that many are organized as non-profit corporations so they can accept tax-deductible donations from individuals and foundations. But non-profits have difficulty getting credentials from the Congressional Press Gallery. And it was from that credentialed list that the survey recipients were selected.

04:12 GMT: Permalink
Media Whores Online have caught George Bush in another whopper:
Yesterday, in his press appearance about Enron, George W. Bush stated flatly that Kenneth Lay, CEO of the bankrupt Enron Corporation, supported his opponent, Ann Richards, in the 1994 Texas governor's race, and that he, Bush, only got to know Lay after that election.

But easily obtained reports and records directly contradict Bush's statements. The sources for this information are the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Responsive Politics, Newsweek, the Boston Globe, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the New Yorker, and the Nation.

These reports show that Dubya and Lay go back a very long time.

Lay contributed handsomely to Bush's 1978 congressional campaign: a full SIXTEEN YEARS before Bush told the press he got to know the man.

Enron and the families of its top executives donated at least $100,000 to Dubya's gubernatorial campaign in 1994 -- the year, Bush told the press, that Lay supposedly supported Ann Richards. Although Lay may have given money to Richards, he strongly supported Dubya.
Yesterday, Bush sat in the White House and told the American people, in effect, "I had no relationship with that man, Mr. Lay before I became governor in 1995. He was a supporter of my opponent in 1994."

OK, news media: will you call Bush and Ari Fleischer on this outrageous lie? Or will you sweep it under the rug?

Meanwhile, Cragg Harris in The Houston Chronicle is talking tar and feathers:
In addition to some other contributions sent Ashcroft's way, Lay gave $25,000 to a political action committee that Ashcroft headed when he was a U.S. senator from Missouri (before he was defeated in 2000 by a dead Democrat). Ashcroft recused himself Thursday (and his top Justice aide followed suit) from the Enron investigation, but only after the contributions were cited by the Center for Public Integrity. Fleischer, even before the recusals, did the usual tap dance: "The president has full faith and confidence in the professional prosecutors of the Department of Justice and in the attorney general to do what is right. ... " Prosecutors, sí; Ashcroft, no.

But the best part of this article is the utterly unprofessional contempt with which the author refers to Ari Fleischer. Well, I enjoyed it, anyway. The man is a weasel.

* * * * *
A friend of mine said he'd always intended to be cremated until he found out he could get buried inside a giant chicken.

* * * * *
Ever wonder: what color is the universe?

Friday, 11 January 2002:

05:14 GMT: Permalink
Politics is what it's all about.
"All in all," President Bush said of 2001, "it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me."

That assessment may have sounded a bit off key to some. Thousands were dead from the Sept. 11 attacks, an anthrax terrorist was at large, smallpox and suitcase nuclear bombs were in the news, the country was at war and in recession, and Al Gore was still wearing a beard.

But Bush was not talking about the state of the union; he was talking about the state of his presidency. In that sense, his remark reflects a belief held by Bush and his aides as they look back on their first year in power. They see little to improve after a near-perfect performance in 2001, as ratified by opinion polls reporting support from nearly 90 percent of the public.

I'm sorry, but I can't even imagine a real president saying that 2001 had been a fabulous year in any way, shape or form. At worst, maybe something like, "It has been a tragic year. I won't pretend it has hurt me politically, but I could never have wanted this to be the price of my political success." But a really good president would simply have refused to be engaged on the subject for at least another ten years.

* * * * *
Gary Farber reads the web faster than anyone, and now he has a weblog. Fortunately, he doesn't write nearly as fast as he reads. Gary is a political junkie who probably knows more about your own Congressional reps than you do. He also inhales info about the war, about the Palestinians & Israelis, and if he doesn't know about something yet, just ask him and wait a few minutes. If Al Gore decides to run for the presidency again, he needs to hire Gary to do research.

* * * * *
Al Gore went to Silicon Valley and his jokes were better than George Bush's.
Still, he seemed to win over his audience from the start. "I'm Al Gore," he began. "I used to be the next president of the United States. Hey, you win some, you lose some, then there's that little known third category."

Gore noted that since narrowly losing the election, he has been teaching at Columbia, UCLA and the University of Tennessee, carrying the title of visiting professor. "That's VP for short," he said. "It's a way of hanging on."

He praised President Bush's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then added, "The economy is something else, but I'm not going to make a political speech." Just as he seemed ready to do just that and shift into full campaign mode, he changed the tone: "I am concerned about the economy. I was the first one laid off."

I would like to state for the record that it was hard for me to resist editing the punctuation above. Well, I got rid of the stupid double-apostrophes and replaced them with quotation marks (why do people do that?), but I really don't think that should have been a comma between "lose some" and "then there's that little known third category." A dash, elipses, even a semicolon, but not a comma.

* * * * *
Michael Kinsley has a little fun with Bernie Goldberg:
As a liberal, I had long suspected that we might have a secret coven over at CBS News. It's hard to say why, exactly. Maybe it's that little smirk of Dan Rather's whenever he gets to report something bad happening to America. Or maybe it was the famous episode when Walter Cronkite ended his broadcast by denouncing capitalism as "a system of class oppression that must be destroyed root and branch." But it was only a suspicion.

So I was happy to get confirmation from the current bestseller (categorized as nonfiction), "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News," by former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg. The book is rich with anecdotes about the horrors -- ideological and otherwise -- of working for CBS, culled from Goldberg's three decades of working for CBS. He must have been chained to his TelePrompTer or something, because a man who "was once rated by TV Guide as one of the ten most interesting people on television," as his author ID brags, surely didn't need to spend all those years at a corrupt and dishonest institution.

Thursday, 10 January 2002:

18:00 GMT: Permalink
Feminists Against Censorship has responded to the British Board of Film Classification's declaration that a certain type of female sexual response does not exist.

Tuesday, 8 January 2002:

20:00 GMT: Permalink
Are we Leaving Our Rights Behind? Wael Masri believes it's a real risk:
Ignore your rights, and they will go away -- for all of us, immigrants and citizens alike. We must protect our freedom, not sacrifice it through fear. And it is precisely during a time of national emergency when abiding by our valued American principles is most critical. If we believe in the principles symbolized by our flag, "liberty and justice for all," then Attorney General John Ashcroft is wrong in suggesting that some people do not deserve due process of the law. Just as we have zero tolerance for terrorism, we must have zero tolerance for violations of civil and human rights for all residents of the United States.
This war on terrorism is open-ended, much like the everlasting war on drugs. When will it be possible to declare victory? Can we risk waiting that long while civil rights continue to be eroded? Shall we wait until our Bill of Rights becomes a relic and our freedoms a mere memory? When and how will we regain our squandered rights?

* * * * *
The story about that book by two French authors is finally creeping into the American mainstream media, with not only an article appearing in The Village Voice, but a discussion that appears to take it seriously on CNN:
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Time to check in with ambassador-in- residence, Richard Butler, this morning. An explosive new book published in France alleges that the United States was in negotiations to do a deal with the Taliban for an oil pipeline in Afghanistan.

Joining us right now is Richard Butler to shed some light on this new book. He is the former chief U.N. weapons inspector. He is now on the Council on Foreign Relations and our own ambassador-in- residence -- good morning.
BUTLER: The most explosive charge, Paula, is that the Bush administration -- the present one, just shortly after assuming office slowed down FBI investigations of al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan in order to do a deal with the Taliban on oil -- an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

ZAHN: And this book points out that the FBI's deputy director, John O'Neill, actually resigned because he felt the U.S. administration was obstructing...

BUTLER: A proper...

ZAHN: ... the prosecution of terrorism.

BUTLER: Yes, yes, a proper intelligence investigation of terrorism. Now, you said if, and I affirmed that in responding to you. We have to be careful here. These are allegations. They're worth airing and talking about, because of their gravity. We don't know if they are correct. But I believe they should be investigated, because Central Asian oil, as we were discussing yesterday, is potentially so important. And all prior attempts to have a pipeline had to be done through Russia. It had to be negotiated with Russia.

Now, if there is to be a pipeline through Afghanistan, obviating the need to deal with Russia, it would also cost less than half of what a pipeline through Russia would cost. So financially and politically, there's a big prize to be had. A pipeline through Afghanistan down to the Pakistan coast would bring out that Central Asian oil easier and more cheaply.

It's getting harder and harder to know when you're in tinfoil hat territory anymore....

01:10 GMT: Permalink
When I wanted to link to Jay Haldeman's homepage after the announcement of his death, I discovered that it was temporarily down. But I'm pleased to see it's back up again. His daughter Lori also has a page of her own up with the last pictures of Jay, along with his brother, even-more-famous sf writer Joe Haldeman. (And yes, that character in All My Sins Remembered is indeed based on me.)

* * * * *
More signs that The Washington Post is shaking loose from the spell in this editorial:
LIKE IT OR NOT, it seems we have entered the 2002 election season. Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle fired first on Friday; President Bush came roaring back over the weekend. The subjects were taxes, budgets and the economy; all fair game, you might say -- this is what politicians are supposed to argue about. But Mr. Bush came close to suggesting that the partisan rhetoric he was employing to such fine effect wasn't legitimate when used by the other side. "It's time to take the spirit of unity that has been prevalent in fighting the war and bring it to Washington, D.C.," the president said. His economic stimulus plan metamorphosed over the holiday into an "economic security plan." The implication is that opposition to his tax cuts would carry a whiff of failed patriotism.

And it's a good trick, too. Where else have we ever heard someone argue that bankrupting a country was good for it?

Additionally, we have When Partisan PR Passes for News by William Raspberry:
I ponder the commentaries (I very nearly said "rantings") of those whose politics are counter to my own, and I wonder: Do I sound like that to them?

* * * * *
Wonder what the presidential polls have been saying? A lot of questions stopped being asked after 9/11, and in the last month there's been a lull in tracking Bush's approval ratings, but Polling Report shows what the figures for all the various major polls looked like over the last year.

Monday, 7 January 2002:

01:40 GMT: Permalink
Sometimes Bush's ability to string incompatible thoughts together into an incomprehensible whole is spellbinding. This might be forgivable if they were big thoughts, but they're actually pretty simple ones. I guess we're supposed to think it's funny that The Man With His Finger On The Button gives the appearance of a gibbering idiot every time he is required to speak off the cuff, but let's face it, it's embarrassing. We're told that Bush is "smart" even though he seems dumb, but I don't think we want to mistake his instinctive arrogance for brains. It doesn't take a genius to avoid falling into pits like "put food on your family" and "Is our children learning?" Little children learn syntax before they are five without even knowing they're doing it; there's no excuse for a grown man to talk this way. It's amazing how often he stumbles as soon as he goes off-script. Take his performance at the Town Hall Meeting in California Saturday:
Q What is the status and your feeling on the amendment to prohibit flag desecration?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know what it is. I'm for it. And that's a good question. I just don't know exactly where it stands right now. I need to -- okay. Como esta?

And surely someone must have told him after his last gaffe on the subject that he's not supposed to have seen the first plane hit the tower on the morning of September 11th, but:
Q What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard that a plane crashed into the first building?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Well, I was sitting in a schoolhouse in Florida. I had gone down to tell my little brother what to do, and -- just kidding, Jeb. (Laughter.) And -- it's the mother in me. (Laughter.) Anyway, I was in the midst of learning about a reading program that works. I'm a big believer in basic education, and it starts with making sure every child learns to read. And therefore, we need to focus on the science of reading, not what may feel good or sound good when it comes to teaching children to read. (Applause.) I'm just getting a plug in for my reading initiative.

Anyway, I was sitting there, and my Chief of Staff -- well, first of all, when we walked into the classroom, I had seen this plane fly into the first building. There was a TV set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot error and I was amazed that anybody could make such a terrible mistake. And something was wrong with the plane, or -- anyway, I'm sitting there, listening to the briefing, and Andy Card came and said, "America is under attack."

And in the meantime, this teacher was going on about the curriculum, and I was thinking about what it meant for America to be under attack. It was an amazing thought. But I made up my mind that if America was under attack, we'd get them. (Applause.) I wasn't interested in lawyers, I wasn't interested in a bunch of debate. I was interested in finding out who did it and bringing them to justice. I also knew that they would try to hide, and anybody who provided haven, help, food, would be held accountable by the United States of America. (Applause.)

Anyway, it was an interesting day.

I'll bet it was - the rest of us had to wait 'til many hours later to see footage of that first plane, because no such footage was available until long after both towers had fallen. But Bush seems to think he saw it live on television as it was happening.

I guess Bush's handlers have figured out that he can say anything and get away with it, because no one has yet asked the question: Why does Bush think he saw the first plane hit live? Because, let's face it, the only way he could have seen it as it happened would be if someone already had it on closed-circuit because they were expecting it. And that can't be true, can it? (And if it was, surely he'd know to keep his mouth shut, wouldn't he?)

Alternatively, he's just lying, but that's one hell of a lie for them to let him tell twice. And if he's misremembering - my god, how can he not remember what he saw - what the rest of us saw, and have talked about, over and over and over from the moment we learned about it?

Please don't try to tell me this guy is smart. He's rich, and he's powerful, and he's got a lot of people holding him up, and he has just enough low animal cunning to get by, but that only makes him smart for a lower primate, and not for a president of the United States.

* * * * *
On Christmas day Richard Cohen's column in The Washington Post, Clinton's Compartments, attempted a sort of defense of Clinton's handling of the terrorist threat in the midst of a "long, arduous and contemptible effort to shame the president from office." The following Saturday, a Clinton-hating letter-writer responded with the astonishing defense that Richard Nixon and Andrew Johnson had both managed to serve admirably in office despite investigations and impeachment. This Saturday, the Post actually printed objections from readers:
Kathleen Giffin criticizes Richard Cohen for defending President Clinton [op-ed, Dec. 25] and asserts that other impeached presidents were able to transcend the distractions of their political misfortunes and "rise above self-absorption and a rhetoric of blame to lead the country out of crises." She cites Andrew Johnson's "successful" leadership during Reconstruction and Richard Nixon's ending the Vietnam War and opening the door to China.

In reality, most historians regard Andrew Johnson's presidency as a failure and his leadership of Reconstruction as a disaster. To be fair, much of the liability for Reconstruction's failure rests with a radicalized Congress determined to punish the South, but Johnson's lack of leadership skills allowed a congressional minority to dominate policy.

As for President Nixon, the accomplishments Giffin cites occurred before Watergate became a political distraction. President Nixon visited China in February 1972. The Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973. The Senate's investigation of the Watergate break-in began on Feb. 7, 1973, with public hearings beginning in May. The House of Representatives began consideration of impeachment in February 1974, fully two years after the visit to China. Of course President Nixon was not distracted by impeachment when he visited China; it had not yet happened. [Mark Benbow]

There are two things about this that interest me. One is that it's getting pretty tiresome seeing the right-wingers grabbing every chance they can get to praise Nixon for being so exemplary in doing things that, in fact, he didn't do - as they did during the Florida recounts when they pretended that Nixon had graciously conceded the election without asking for recounts. (And neglecting to mention that, unlike Nixon, Gore hadn't lost the election and therefore had no reason to concede.) It's even more unsightly to watch these people purvey their hallucination that Nixon somehow compares favorably with Clinton.

The other thing that interests me, though, is that the Post actually printed two letters demurring from the right-wing spin. Last year and the year before, letters defending Clinton and Gore were a rarity. This isn't because they weren't being written - I know they were, because quite a few were copied to me. The paper just wasn't printing them. The fact that they are now doing so suggests that something is happening at The Washington Post Has the worm turned?

Saturday, 5 January 2002:

16:55 GMT: Permalink
Jerry Falwell has his knickers in a twist about what he claims is a Democratic strategy to equate the religious right in America with the Taliban:
According to a report in Newsweek, Democratic Party officials plan to smear fundamentalist Christians who back the Bush administration by actually linking us to the Taliban. The Newsweek account said that top party strategists "are planning a daring assault on the most critical turf in politics: the cultural mainstream."

"The theory goes like this," explained the newsmagazine. "Our enemy in Afghanistan is religious extremism and intolerance. It's therefore more important than ever to honor the ideals of tolerance - religious, sexual, racial, reproductive - at home. The GOP is out of the mainstream, some Democrats will argue [this] year, because it's too dependent upon an intolerant 'religious right'."
The Democrats are conducting this slander and smear campaign against faith-based voters - what I call the mainstream of America, from Billy Graham across the gamut. Not only is it a failed political strategy, it sustains the anti-Christian zeal that is frequently carried out in public schools against students of faith.

I confess, I distrust any claims by the news media about what "Democratic strategists" are up to, and I missed the press release about how the party will now compare the religious right with the Taliban. But I'm downright offended at Falwell trying to claim that his breed of extremist fruitcakes represents "the mainstream of America." In fact, mainstream Americans usually show an instinctive understanding of why Jesus of Nazareth was less than approving of people who make too much of a public show of their piety.

Average Americans may not want their kids to turn out to be queer, but they don't usually feel a need to have the law protect public discrimination against queers, either. Americans are generally uncomfortable with gay marriage, but they don't mind gay characters on TV. Americans don't want their teenagers to be having sex, but they do want their kids taught real sex education in the schools, including information about birth control - and if their kids do have sex, they want them to know how to protect themselves. Average Americans, in short, are not much like Jerry Falwell.

In the wake of 9/11, a lot of people (quite rightly) noted that the strength of the Mujahadeen and the resulting healthy condition of Al Qaeda were an outgrowth of US foreign policies of the 1980s, but nodding at our foreign policies in any way was termed by the right "blaming the victims". Leaving aside the sheer dishonesty of equating airline passengers and 9-to-fivers in New York with the Reagan-Bush administrations, I found something very sinister in this tendency to attack the "blame-America left" for trying to locate the conditions that had led to a mass movement in the Middle East of people who were apparently prepared to die just to demonstrate their hatred for our country. Only the religious right - famously represented by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson - tried to blame America's culture of freedom, decency and tolerance itself for the 9/11 attacks, claiming that we had now become so evil that god had withdrawn his protection. (They have yet to explain why god didn't protect us from Pearl Harbor, of course.)

But the meme that acknowledging cause and effect in our government's policies is wrong (unless you're blaming Clinton) has taken such thorough hold that even outside the right it seems to have some credence. Consider this paragraph from Michael Massing's final Press Watch column in The Nation, Mopping up:
In writing "Press Watch," I constantly wrestled with what I think is the greatest challenge facing anyone analyzing the attacks of September 11: finding a way to raise questions about US actions in the world without seeming to apologize for terrorism. On the one hand, there's the pitfall of the "blowback" school, with its insistence that the United States, by virtue of its invidious interventions around the world, somehow had it coming. This is blame-America-first-ism of the worst kind. On the other, there's the fear of inciting the bash-the-left camp, which holds that any discussion of US actions constitutes giving in to Osama bin Laden. In light of what's happened to us, how can we not take a hard look at our policies and figure out how to do better? Finding an intellectual framework that can accommodate both a tough stand on terrorism and a reassessment of America's role in the world seems the greatest task facing intellectuals, policy-makers and, yes, journalists.

While it may very well be true that the occasional Bobby Fischer out there thinks the US "had it coming", this isn't really what "the blowback school" is, and it's disquieting to see a journalist implying that "blowback" means anything of the kind. "Blowback" is a term used in the intelligence community to refer to the unintended negative effects of policies or operations - in effect, having your own weapons turned on you. It has nothing to do with what is "deserved". The US government helped arm, train and organize the Mujahadeen; now some of those same people are using the skills and anger they got from that training and organizing to hurt the US. Whether we "deserve" it doesn't enter into it.

But just what are we supposed to make of the idea that pointing to the weaknesses in our foreign operations is "blaming the victims"? I've seen no one examine this process, but it seems to me it's a bit of sleight-of-hand, a red-herring meant to distract us from paying attention to whose policies those were - that is, the Reagan-Bush administrations. Immediately after the planes hit the towers, the media was focused not on Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, but on Arafat. We saw the Palestinian kids dancing in the streets, we had a lot of talk about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians and whether Arafat's expression of outrage against the attack on the US while he gave blood were sincere, but we weren't allowed to talk about the US relationship to the Mujahadeen or whether the Gulf War played any role in the madness of Osama bin Laden.

So is that what it was really about? We were supposed to be silent because talking about "American foreign policy in the Middle East" can only be about US support for Israel? And if it's about our support for Israel...oh, I see, it's all the fault of those New York Jews! Ah! So I'm supposed to feel like a guilty liberal who doesn't want to blame New York Jews for having planes fly into their buildings, so I have to shut up about American foreign policy.

And I think that probably works on people who don't actually know what bin Laden is angry with the US for. It also works rather nicely to make some people question our support for Israel, and, not incidentally, to blame New York Jews - in effect, to imply that they did indeed bring it on themselves. It even makes the people who are doing it sound like they are being wonderful and tolerant and trying to protect their Jewish brethren - "Hey, don't blame New York Jews!" - in such a way as to obscure the fact that what they are really doing is drawing attention to those New York Jews. And yet, by never actually spelling it out, they keep their distance and make it hard to argue with. Pretty crafty stuff, really.

But make no mistake: It's really the far right that blames the victims, and it's really the far right that hates America. They openly declared war on us a long time ago, and they haven't stopped being at war with us. They hate us for having evolved past slavery and repression and aristocracy, as noted in the Matt Smith article below, and they have every intention of turning back the clock. They don't care that they are in the minority; they regard that as evidence that America has lost its morality and needs them to bring it back. And their man is in the White House.

* * * * *
Just how sick is the anti-Clinton press? Imagine seeing a columnist in a formerly respectable newspaper use the occasion of a pet's death as another excuse to write an entire column attacking the Clinton family:
At any rate, the Clintons most likely won't be getting another dog, seeing as how it wouldn't serve any political end at this point.

If they should try, however, one would hope that the animal rights people make a negligence claim to try to prevent it. (More likely, though, their ideals will take a backseat to Bill Clinton's whims, just as those of the National Organization for Women did.)

Then again, one shouldn't rush to judgment, since we don't yet know the full story. Perhaps Buddy wanted to die. Maybe he pulled a Vince Foster. Maybe he had seen and heard too much in that house, was privy to too many unspeakable schemes and just couldn't take the guilt.

01:15 GMT: Permalink
So, have you changed since September 11th? I know some people have, but the main change for me is that I'm feeling a bit more despairing about getting rid of the illegal government. Bush's figures were dropping through the floor on 10 September before Osama's boys swooped in to save his "presidency". Now it looks like the aristocracy has pretty much wrapped things up, especially with Michael Powell running the FCC and snipping the last threads that held the mass media to the public interest. I didn't need to see planes flying into the Twin Towers to make me love my country - and, especially, to love constitutional democracy. But I guess some people have indeed changed, and far from making them love their American freedoms more, they seem to be getting with the Bush program.

Of course, the media is telling us we aren't supposed to care about little things like a stolen election or our Constitutional rights being zapped, but they were telling us the same thing a year ago, so no change there. Matt Smith calls them Chump Changes:
Many of these "Changes" articles contain some version of the phrase "before, overt patriotism was considered somehow tacky," as if the hostile, flag-waving misogynists who ply America's back roads suddenly have become icons of erudition. Another bit of bollocks: "We never will look at police officers and rescue personnel the same way. We also never again will look at our military in the same light. Such men and women help define the word 'hero' in America" (again, citing egregious offender USA Today). The idea, I imagine, is that Americans now believe we should go back to the days before Vietnam and the Knapp Commission, when we were a nation of apologists for military adventurism and police brutality.

The following "Changes" story also distorts reality to suit cynicism: The country was once riven by a contentious presidential vote; we now stand behind our leader. While it's true that Americans have allowed George W. Bush to grossly violate the public trust in numerous ways since Sept. 11, the idea that we've all become patsies seems overly pessimistic.

It's no accident that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the most faithful propagators of the "Changes" theme, intoning whenever they can that America will never be the same. They and their wealthy right-wing backers have always believed America should transform, and become the sort of country that existed 100 years ago, before we actually did change in myriad, profound ways. This has been George W. Bush's agenda from the moment he entered government.

Most of the last century was distinguished by events that provoked profound shifts in our national sensibilities, much to the consternation of wealthy conservatives.

The turn-of-the-19th-century corporate scandals and the muckraking journalism that followed inspired a permanent, widespread suspicion toward corporate behemoths. The Great Depression forged a national consensus about government's responsibility to care for the poor, aged, and infirm. The civil rights movement transformed the way the state was permitted to treat racial minorities. In Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala, and El Salvador, we found that putting blind faith in our armed forces can turn us into a nation of savages. After Watergate we learned to be suspicious of secretive politicians. And after the Watts riots, the Knapp Commission hearings, and Rodney King's televised beating, we concluded, as a people, that criminal justice must be exposed to public scrutiny.

The news business and our president have created an untoward synergy, each helping the other fulfill unrelated needs. But the "Changes" story won't suit journalists in the end. The Bush administration's goals of a more secretive government and a less closely supervised justice system will leave the Fourth Estate out in the cold. America at large, which invested a century in forging changes for the better, has even more to lose.

* * * * *
Remarks by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on America's Economy: Rising to our New Challenges

* * * * *
Let's play, If Clinton were in office.... says "Valk" on the Bartcop forum:
Yesterday I read somewhere where Laura Bush was asked about what they had for Thanksgiving dinner. She said, "oh no, we did not have the traditional" we had Tamales and Enchiladas and other Mexican fare. Now if President Clinton were in office and Hillary said they did not have the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, the Freepers would be howling.

This man and woman are so vile they even hate our country's holidays. They are so uppity and snobbish they can't eat what other true Americans eat on a very sacred holiday. Their hatred for Democracy and Decency knows no bounds......

And on and on it would go.

* * * * *
Paul Krugman continues to tell it like it is, in America the Polarized:
A recent article in Slate led me to Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, political scientists who use data on Congressional voting to create "maps" of politicians' ideological positions. They find that a representative's votes can be predicted quite accurately by his position in two dimensions, one corresponding to race issues, the other a left vs. right economic scale reflecting issues such as marginal tax rates and the generosity of benefits to the poor.

And they also find — not too surprisingly — that the center did not hold. Ralph Nader may sneer at "Republicrats," but Democrats and Republicans have diverged sharply since the 1980's, and are now further apart on economic issues than they have been since the early 20th century.

Whose position changed? Tom Daschle doesn't seem markedly more liberal than, say, the late Tip O'Neill. On the other hand, Tom DeLay, who will soon be House majority leader, is clearly to the right of previous Republican leaders. In short, casual observation suggests that American politics has become polarized because Republicans have shifted to the right, and Democrats haven't followed them. And sure enough, the Poole-Rosenthal numbers that show a divergence between the parties also show that this divergence reflects a Republican move toward more conservative economic policies, while Democrats have more or less stayed put. As people like James Jeffords and Lincoln Chafee have found, it has become very hard to be what we used to call a moderate Republican.
You might have expected the concentration of income at the top to provoke populist demands to soak the rich. But as I've said, both casual observation and the Poole-Rosenthal numbers tell us that the Democrats haven't moved left, the Republicans have moved right. Indeed, the Republicans have moved so far to the right that ordinary voters have trouble taking it in; as I pointed out in an earlier column, focus groups literally refused to believe accurate descriptions of the stimulus bill that House Republican leaders passed on a party-line vote back in October.

That's pretty scary - the Republicans are so over-the-top that when you try to tell people, they refuse to believe it. Oh, wait, we already knew that....

Thursday, 3 January 2002:

03:06 GMT: Permalink
I don't want to be overly optimistic, but has David Broder started coming to his senses? Lately he seems to be writing relatively sane columns. I don't mean I necessarily agree with them, but whatever possessed him over the last few years seems to have faded and returned him to something more like his old, boring, middle-of-the-road self. Why, you'd almost think someone had removed the mote from his eye when he writes about Bush's Stealthy Pursuit of a Partisan Agenda .
It was a classic stealth maneuver -- and it worked. Two days after Christmas, with President Bush at his Texas ranch and most of official Washington on vacation, the White House announced the rejection of regulations that would have barred companies that repeatedly violate environmental and workplace standards from receiving government contracts.

Few in the press noticed, and those papers that printed anything about the decision buried the stories on inside pages. But this was no trivial matter. A congressional report had found that in one recent year, the federal government had awarded $38 billion in contracts to at least 261 corporations operating unsafe or unhealthy work sites. The regulations Bush killed were designed to stop that.

* * * * *
The Clinton-blaming has escalated, predictably. Yes, 9/11 was all Clinton's fault. I expected this to intensify, since people were actually starting to talk about Middle-East policy, which meant sooner or later people were going to start talking about George H.W. Bush and his cute little diplomatic errors that led to the Gulf War and Osama's beef with The Infidel. As usual, when Republicans foul things up, they blame Clinton. Joe Conason is one of the few people in the media whose memory still works:
It was perfectly predictable that in the aftermath of terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the search for political scapegoats would be as intense as the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It was just as obvious that Bill Clinton would quickly become the favorite quarry of this quest–particularly among the former President’s old adversaries in the national media and the Republican Party (two entities which often seem to be locked in a mind-meld these days).

There’s another convenient place where these worthies might look for culprits but never do: the mirror. Whatever the various failures and flaws of Mr. Clinton’s tenure may have been, his efforts against terrorism compare favorably with the frivolous preoccupations of his critics.

As articulated by America’s foremost analysts, the general complaint is that the Clinton administration "didn’t do enough" to forestall the atrocities of Sept. 11. This deep insight is a truism: Al Qaeda’s suicide operatives achieved their mission despite any and all measures taken by the government to frustrate and destroy the bin Laden network. Those measures, which were hardly insignificant, were by definition not "enough."

That simple notion was at the heart of The New York Times’ Dec. 30 investigative report, a long disquisition whose front-page headline conveyed its slant: "Planning for Terror But Failing to Act." The facts and quotes accumulated by reporters Judith Miller, Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth didn’t quite justify that damning summary.

The Times reporters appeared to be laboring under the assumption that Mr. Clinton could have mustered a full-scale unilateral invasion of Afghanistan to capture the Al Qaeda leadership–at a time when the Congressional majority was seeking to impeach him. But if that naïve fantasy is discounted, it is clear even in The Times’ account that the Clinton administration made many attempts to strike lethally at Mr. bin Laden. And the fact that Mr. Clinton took terrorism very seriously would have been clearer still if The Times had mentioned the enormous increases he approved in counter terrorism spending by the F.B.I. and other federal agencies.

Speaking of the F.B.I., the Times story neglected another prominent name that scarcely passes the lips of those seeking to apportion blame. That would the bureau’s former director Louis Freeh, a bungler who has become virtually invisible since September. In an article that highlighted several paragraphs of preening recollection from Dick Morris, that’s an odd omission.

The indefatigable consultant evidently convinced the Times reporters that, based on polling done in 1996, he strenuously urged his Presidential client to federalize airport security and prosecute a "broader war on terrorism." Mr. Morris didn’t reveal this prescient proposal anywhere in the 340-plus pages of Behind the Oval Office, his memoir of his years advising Mr. Clinton, which scarcely mentions terrorism at all.

If Mr. Morris did foresee the horrors to come five years ago, he was quite alone in his clairvoyance. More likely he is rewriting history to denigrate his old boss and inflate himself, an important duty of his current career. In truth, he has been heavily preoccupied during the past several years by smut and petty scandal, not by the looming "terrorist threat." And in those obsessions, he wasn’t alone at all.

The pundits and personalities who now assign responsibility to Mr. Clinton might as well interrogate themselves about the failure of news organizations to focus on the problem of terror (and, for that matter, on broader international issues); that is a subject, after all, about which they know a lot.

Not all are equally culpable. Several reporters on the Times staff, for example, did outstanding work long before Sept. 11. But as independent broadcaster Simon Marks recalls in Quill, the journal of the Society of Professional Journalists, the failure was general. Most American reporters and commentators were far more interested in Chandra Levy than Osama bin Laden.

In a remarkable passage, Mr. Marks notes that both Reuters and United Press International ran dispatches last June about Al Qaeda plans to attack the United States. Hard to believe, but true – and wholly ignored by every significant news outlet in the country. Most of them were too busy frying Gary Condit to notice. [more]

There's gotta be a special place in the Sleazeball's Hall of Fame for Dick Morris. And Louis Freeh is the guy who thought fidgeting around in Clinton's underwear was more important than looking into, oh, terrorism, or the well-known living-beyond-his-means of his Opus Dei pal Robert (the spy) Hanssen. Maybe 9/11 wouldn't have happened if we'd managed to get all the partisan hacks out of government and media first. Oh, well, not much chance of that now....

* * * * *
Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman proves he can dream:
All hail to President Bush for how he has conducted the war against Osama bin Laden. Mr. Bush has emerged a far better commander in chief than anyone predicted. In the war on terrorism he has shown steely resolve, imagination, leadership and creativity. Thank you, Mr. Bush.

And now, I wish Al Gore were president.

Why? Quite simply because instead of showing resolve, imagination, leadership and creativity on the domestic front, Mr. Bush has done just the opposite. He has tried to use the tremendous upsurge in patriotism, bipartisanship and volunteerism triggered by the tragedy of Sept. 11 to drive a narrow, right-wing agenda from Sept. 10 into a Sept. 12 world. It's wrong. It won't work. It sells the country short and it will ultimately sell the Bush presidency short.

Wednesday, 2 January 2002: Remembering Jack C. Haldeman - science fiction writer & friend - 1941-2002

02:57 GMT: Permalink
I met Jay Haldeman in 1974 when he was the chair of the World Science Fiction Convention and I was working on it. He was immediately likeable and I never stopped liking him. He smiled and laughed a lot and was mellow and gentle. He managed to see out this last, horrible year, and then he went - painlessly, his daughter said - from cancer of the kidneys. An awful lot of people are going to miss him. Rest in peace, Jay.

* * * * *
Despite the sour note of Fred Phelps, The Portsmouth Herald is really telling a somewhat uplifting story in Intolerance comes to town - that is, that intolerance had to come to town, from outside, because these kids really do seem to take diversity and tolerance seriously. Not to mention the 1st Amendment:

DOVER — Dover residents have a message for the Westboro Baptist Church, and it is this: "You're not in Kansas anymore."

So said Peggy Kieschnick of Dover.

"Here in Dover, we think that every single kid has a right to be safe and be treated with respect," she said. "We are really, really proud of each one of our kids. We want to be sure that they understand that the tiny group of people outside the school don't speak for us."

The Topeka, Kan.-based church has promised to stage a rally at Dover High School on Wednesday morning in protest of the school administration's decision to recognize two female students in the 2002 Dover High School yearbook as the class sweethearts.

In opposition to the Kansas group, Kieschnick is calling on local residents to wear green and white on Wednesday as their own silent demonstration as students return to school after the holidays. First Parish Church, located on Central Avenue in Dover, will hold a prayer vigil in support of the students at 7 a.m. that day.

Outraged by the church group's Web site, 16-year-old Christina Hatcher said she will disregard the "hurtful" demonstrators scheduled to arrive at her school Wednesday and go about her routine schedule.

"I think we just have to remember that they have the right to protest and say what they believe, but that doesn't mean that we have to let it change our lives," Christina said. [more]

* * * * *
Richard Dawkins has written a letter saying Children must choose their own beliefs:
Dear secretary of state,

The Government has decided, reasonably enough, that heredity is no basis for membership of Parliament, and the hereditary peers are either gone or on their way. Yet, in the very same year, you propose increasing the number of faith schools. Having disavowed the hereditary principle for membership of Parliament, you seem hell-bent on promoting the hereditary principle for the transmission of beliefs and opinions. For that is precisely what religions are: hereditary beliefs and opinions. To quote the headline of a fine article in the Guardian last week by the Reverend Don Cupitt: 'We need to make a clean break with heritage religion and create something better suited to our own time.'

We vary in our opinions and our tastes, and it is one of our glories. Some of us are left-wing, others right. Some are pro-euro, others anti-. Some listen to Beethoven, others Armstrong. Some watch birds, others collect stamps. It is only to be expected that our elders should influence us in all such matters. All this is normal and praiseworthy.

I would just like to point out that some of us listen to both Beethoven and Armstrong (as well as Butterfield, Led Zep, Zevon, Anastacia...).

* * * * *
Even the pacifists will go for this. (Requires Active X.)

Tuesday, 1 January 2002:

20:50 GMT: Permalink
Happy New Year. I can say that because Media Whores Online is back from their Christmas vacation and now taking votes for MWO Whore of the Year, as well as providing their traditional pointers for links again. I missed them.

On the other side of the coin, The New York Post rather proves the point about "liberal" media by having trouble finding much in the way of examples of it in MEDIA BIAS: THE 2001 AWARDS:
December 31, 2001 -- For 14 years now, the Media Research Center has been compiling its list of "notable quotables." The quotes come from prominent members of the mainstream news media and provide a clear window into the left-liberal mindset that pervades most of America's large news organizations. At the end of the year, the center - with help from a panel of outside judges - chooses the "best" notable quotables. This year's crop tellingly reveals the media's contemporary spirit and obsessions - which revolve, as usual, around contempt for all things conservative. Actually, the winners more or less explain themselves. Happy New Year!

Swiss Press Corps Award for Neutral War Coverage

"The Pentagon as a legitimate target? I actually don't have an opinion on that, and it's important I not have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. . . . I can say the Pentagon got hit, I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean, that's perhaps for me in my private life . . . But as a journalist I feel strongly that's something that I should not be taking a position on. I'm supposed to figure out what is and what is not, not what ought to be."

- ABC News President David Westin

Got that? That's an example of liberal bias.

Here's one that might score on the "individual bias" front if it didn't just sound like being impressed with (a) celebrity and (b) another one of those book-of-records things:

Media Hero Award

"What an exhilarating moment it must have been for [Hillary Clinton] - the first First Lady in history to be elected to public office. There, for all the nay-sayers to see, was the woman who had finally come into her own, free at last to be smart, outspoken, independent, and provocative, all qualities she had been forced as First Lady, to ‘hide under a bushel.' Still she was voted one of America's most admired women. Just wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet."

- "On My Mind" commentary by ABC anchor Carole Simpson

Bias toward a Democrat? Maybe. But this hardly compares with the absolute reams of media carrying-on about what a Great Statesman George Bush is merely for having managed to remain erect (mostly) after 9/11. And I can't remember a previous president having been, according to the media, ordained by God. Let's face it, they have to dig pretty deep to find anyone actually flattering a Democrat, but it's not hard to find members of our "news" media over-amping on hype for Bush. Pretty hot stuff for a guy who can mostly be characterized as: "He's on vacation."

And of course, they go after Helen Thomas for giving a laudatory introduction to a Clinton speech - but let's remember that she wasn't hosting a major network news-talk show when she did that. Nor was she calling an election in favor of the guy who lost, unlike some people we could name.

* * * * *
Looking for a 2002 calendar that speaks to your support for freedom of belief and expression? How about Freedom Forum's First Amendment Calendar? It's got loads of quotes, only costs eight bucks, and goes to a worthy cause. And I'm on June 20th.

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Happy New Year!

Avedon Carol at The Sideshow, January 2002

December 2001
November 2001
Is the media in denial?
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And, no, it's not named after the book or the movie. It's just another sideshow.