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It's a day to fly the flag, proudly and well, and to honor the memory of all those who have given their lives in service to the country. For those who continue to serve, may we use their talents wisely, justly, honorably. It is no small thing to ask a man or woman to commit themselves to a cause so thoroughly that they will obey lawful orders without question, with a willingness to put themselves in harm's way.
We should never take it lightly.
To the extent that our military's mission (that word used advisedly) has been taken over by religious fanaticism, we should be very afraid of the consequences, and demand change. Separation of church and state is more important than questions of whose monument goes where, and how much funding government should be supplying to secular charities. Fanaticism claims that its ends justify unlawful orders and the sacrifice of innocent lives. It does not answer to reason.
God is not only not on our side, we humans are setting ourselves up for a collective smiting such as the world has never seen, and as John Prine said, your flag decal won't get you into heaven any more.
I've been waking up at 4-something for the past three days, mostly thinking about a silly tennis tournament. We're at that broad middle of the year when dawn and birdsong comes not long after 5am, and twilight fades past 10 o'clock, less than a month from the solstice. It still feels like spring, though, the rain finishing on Friday, the clouds thinning out on Saturday and the high not quite making it to 70°F yesterday. Beautiful spring weather, suffused with the smell of Russian olive flowers.
I'm into "the second week," as it were, playing for the men's 3.0 singles championship at 10, then doubles at noon. It's a long, long way from Roland Garros, but I'm having every bit as much fun as the big boys and girls. (It doesn't pay nearly as well for me, though.)
The cute commercial with Damon Wayans advertising Pepsi's Billion Dollar dingaling caught my attention, mostly because the fine print flashes by way too fast to be read and it made me wonder "can they really be giving away a billion dollars?" I mean, carbonated sugar-water is good business, but it can't be that good, can it?
Of course it can't. Deep, deep down in the rules, you can read "Exhibit A" and discover that 200 lucky winners (no purchase necessary, get those 3x5 cards ready) will each get to pick five 6-digit numbers. The numbers will have to be unique, giving 1,000 numbers. A "Billion Dollar Number" will be drawn from the same million number pool (i.e. 6-digit numbers), and if there's a match... we'll have a One Billion Dollar Prize winner. Said prize isn't actually a billion dollars, of course, as paragraph B describes. It's the "assignment of Sponsor's rights under a prize indemnity policy issued to Sponsor by an insurance subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc." Said prize indemnity insurance policy is figured to be worth $250 million as a lump sum (still nothing to sneeze at!), and becomes the advertised, four-times-that-big amount only with a 40-year payment plan, starting with "only" $5M/yr. for 20 years. The lump-sum payout of the remaining $710M at year 40 is designed to get supposed winner to take one-fourth the money and run.
The winner is "supposed" because there's a 999:1 chance there won't be one, as the actuaries at Berkshire Hathaway (and everyone who can divide a million by a thousand) know quite well. They have a quarter billion to risk (or "invest") on an almost certain deal for which Pepsi should be paying no more than $275,000 -- the expected payout, plus a 10% service fee.
There is a bigger prize at stake - the One Million Dollar prize, which will be paid, and will be paid as a lump sum, so it really is a million bucks (unlike any of the "million bucks" you buy chances for with state-run lotteries). With contestants' airfare and expenses, the whole prize shebang comes to well less than $2M, which I imagine is a lot less than than the ad spend to promote the contest. (In case you're wondering, none of Pepsi's ad spend is coming to me for blogging this.)
The joke-behind-a-joke irony is that Damon's supposed error in saying "billion" when he meant to say "million" is that the only real prize actually is a million dollars.
What do Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans and Sudanese have in common? They have been (or are) victims of genocide. Nicholas Kristof has been writing about the current atrocities in Sudan, and asking difficult questions: "Where are Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac? Where are African leaders, like Nelson Mandela? Why isn't John Kerry speaking out forcefully? And why are ordinary Americans silent? Islamic leaders abroad have been particularly shameful in standing with the Sudanese government oppressors rather than with the Muslim victims in Darfur. Do they care about dead Muslims only when the killers are Israelis or Americans?" Part of the answer is compassion fatigue, part of the answer is that Sudan is a world away and our attention is occupied with the war in Iraq, threats of terror and the high price of gasoline.
One hopeful sign is the lede for Kristof's column: "Bush administration diplomacy that led to an accord to end a 20-year civil war between Sudan's north and south after two million deaths." But there is no good news coming from Dafur.
It's been a cool, rainy month in Boise; not so much that people are talking about the end of the drought, but enough to fill up some of the reservoirs. (On the way to school yesterday, Kayla said "we might as well live in Portland!" with annoyance.) Last year's May 28th had lows in the upper 60s in town, just below 60 at the lake, and a midday high over 100°F. Yesterday's high was below last year's low.
Some of last night's games in the local tennis tournament finished outdoors, but many did not. I was watching an indoor game when the day's third wave of showers and thundershowers came through and afterwards, rode home on a slightly soggy bike. Coming past the church next to Albertson's at Cole and Fairview where the sky opens up to the east, there was this BIG, BRIGHT rainbow arcing up from the middle of the city halfway into the sky, its colors as sharp and clear as I have ever seen. I let out an inadvertent wow, and struggled to pay enough attention to Cole Rd. to stay out of traffic. A second rainbow framed the gray understory to the north as the setting sun had found a patch of blue sky to shine through.
London's International Institute of Strategic Studies figures that the occupation of Iraq has made the world less safe. Over here, we're all supposed to salute when we hear how much better the world is now that the evil dictator has been removed from power. I'm hearing The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" playing in my head at the moment... but oh yes we will. (And so will they -- the IISS WMD dossier was fodder for the Brits to join the fray.)
I'm not sure what's motivating Al Gore these days, but after reading an article or two about his speech, I heard a soundbite from it on the radio. Yowzer! It might have been this part:
"How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace. How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein's torture prison."
It's a lot different hearing it than reading it, I'll say that. I don't know whose strategy this plays into, but popular sentiment is heading that direction if you believe the polls. The RNC's response that ObL was ascendant during Gore's tenure is a bit too academic to pull much weight, I'm afraid. Maybe if the front page news had been about the war on terror instead of the war on Iraq... The confounding of those two very different undertakings has been worked hard by the right, but the fabric is unraveling at this point.
No, this isn't humor, but it is kind of funny if you appreciate irony: Richard Perle apoplectic as he marches into Condi Rice's office to complain about "an outrageous abuse of power" by United States government officials in Washington and Baghdad. He's talking about the "smear campaign" to discredit good old Ahmad Chalabi. The news story leaves us uncertain as to where Wolfie, Dick and Scooter are on this: they're not talking at the moment.
Perle doesn't do righteous indignation nearly as well as Al Gore, I'm afraid, but then I didn't get to hear any soundbites for comparison.
He did bring up the possibility that the Chalabi's apparent fall from favor in the US would "burnish his anti-American credentials in Iraq" (as Elisabeth Bumiller put it), or perhaps allow him to start his collection of those.
Studying the rationale for the war in Iraq: "(T)wenty-seven rationales for the war on Iraq were used at one time or another, twenty-three of which can be attributed to the administration. Five rationales were prominent in all three phases: the war on terror, the desire to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the lack of inspections, the desire to remove the Hussein regime, and the fact that Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator. One rationale surfaced initially and gained favor over time: the interest in liberating the people of Iraq. One other rationale emerged later and became very important to official sources and the media: the imminent threat that Iraq posed, though the words 'imminent threat' did not appear in official statements of the administration but became the catch-phrase in the media and the public...."
I'm guessing that you, dear reader, may fall short of the highest echelon of the monied class, and you might stare in amazement at a news report that someone "discovered that he inadvertently owned more than $10 million in debt issued by those government-sponsored enterprises..." What do you think -- any $10.9M chunks in your portfolio that you haven't dusted off and looked at lately?
It's especially embarassing if you find out that you're the US Secretary of the Treasury at the same time. But it wasn't his fault -- his investment advisor didn't know the difference between Treasury Bonds and investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. D'OH!
How about this story: kite-boarding in from the Farallon Islands, 28 miles west of the Golden Gate. "Sharks were definitely a consideration. But sharks can't fly, and kite-boarders can."
Let's clear up this "carrot-and-stick" thing, shall we? You dangle the carrot at the end of the stick, and then mount the stick over the horse's (or whatever's) head, so that the horse (or whatever) is induced to move toward the carrot. The carrot, however, is not reached, and the inducement remains, producing continued forward movement. I have no idea how well this works in practice. Does the horse (or whatever) get bored? Does it figure out that well-timed accelerations can oscillate the dangling carrot into sufficient oral proximity? Or that sufficient violence can dislodge the apparatus and deliver the desired reward? Perhaps science can answer these questions for us, or perhaps it already has, I don't know.
At any rate, please understand that the stick is not to be used for beating the horse (or whatever), or otherwise threatening corporal punishment. A different cliché and/or metaphor is required to describe the motivational approach of presenting positive inducements and negative threats simultaneously or in succession. Try "good cop, bad cop," maybe.
You probably haven't heard much about "sailor-mongering" lately, unless you saw the news about how Ashcroft is going after Greenpeace. The law against it dates from 1872, and the Justice Department imagines that they can strike a blow against "terrorism" by squelching pesky protestors. It's all about "safety and security" in the marketing department, and perhaps to distract us from the fact that port security remains a glaring hole in our efforts toward domestic security.
Amnesty International sees the human rights climate as the worst it's been in 50 years. "While governments have been obsessed with Iraq they have allowed the real weapons of mass destruction - injustice and impunity, poverty, discrimination and racism, the uncontrolled trade in small arms, violence against women and children - to go unaddressed."
Maybe the problem wasn't that it was insufficient, but rather that the training was incorrect: how else could beating prisoners to the point of permanent disability be described? Kentucky National Guard Capt. David Page said "There was a training accident, after which he was medically discharged."
Back at home, the ACLU reminds us that the extent of prisoner abuse goes far beyond military facilities. Having the highest incarceration rate in the world is just the beginning of the injustice system.
Krugman's latest column encouraged me to go look at the BLS' data on employment, and I found this graph, among other things. It shows 12 mo. net change in employment over the last 20 years. The 2 black bars cover the years of the Bush I and Bush II administrations. There's an uptick at the end (which looks better if you look at 1 month or 3 month net change), but is it good enough to guess that Bush III is the charm? Follow the hyperlink under the graph to get your own views from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Fewer than 1 in 3 (closer to 1 in 4) Idaho voters bothered to go to the polls yesterday. Can you imagine? In some countries people are fighting to the death over democracy, and here we mostly can't be bothered with the entry-level act of citizenship. The good news is that for people such as the voters in our household, our votes count 3 or 4 times as much.
How the speech sounded from Lebanon: "The US president's remarks, like those of Secretary of State Colin Powell last week to the World Economic Forum in Jordan, are not convincing to most people in the Middle East because they appear to come from a different planet. Washington insists on convincing us over and over again that it wants to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq and the Arabs, and that it will punish those American individuals who committed crimes at Abu Ghraib prison to emphasize how American justice and democracy work. Those are fine words and noble deeds - but they appear to most Middle Easterners like a rainbow in the sky at the same time that a thunderstorm is killing people a few kilometers away. We want to get out from under the US-made thunderstorm so we can then find our own way to the rainbow."
At least the Texas state comptroller was big enough to admit she was wrong: Carole Strayhorn reversed her decision denying the tax-exempt status of the Red River Unitarian Universalist Church. The first notion was that because the church "does not have one system of belief," it must not be Religious. It's a bigger universe than Ms. Strayhorn initially understood.
Time to VOTE today, at least in Idaho.
Which makes a political topic timely... I hadn't seen one before yesterday, but it turns out that the Republican National Committee uses opinion surveys in their fundraising letters, just like the Democrats. The one I saw is headed "REPUBLICAN PARTY CENSUS DOCUMENT" and has a questionnaire with little circles to fill in, just like a real census. I suppose technically it could be considered a census, as they're interested in counting Republicans, and your contribution. If you like getting this sort of thing and filling in the little circles, they note that a contribution of $100 will pay to mail 250 more CENSUS DOCUMENTS to registered Republicans. Misery loves company?
1. Do you support President Bush's initiatives to promote the safety and
security of all Americans?
() Yes () No () Undecided
Count me "undecided" on that one, if it includes military expeditions to countries that pose no meaningful threat to the US, and the unbridled attack on the Bill of Rights that's underway. I am in favor of safety, security, motherhood and apple pie, of course.
2. Do you support the use of air strikes against any country that offers safe harbor or aid to individuals or organizations committed to further attacks on America?
These guys don't beat around the bush, do they? Do you support the military? Are you with us or against us? And so on. Here's the "census" agenda:
You can use your credit card to donate, but please note: Credit Cards MUST be personal -- not corporate.
I can't help but wonder how much more interesting it would be to have someone like Eliot Spitzer as the US Attorney General instead of John Ashcroft. The Feds have been paying lip service to "getting tough on corporate crime," while Spitzer has actually been doing something about it. Here comes a lawsuit to enforce the obvious: there are no services one could legally perform as head of a non-profit corporation that would be commensurate with $140 million in pay over 8 years.
In case such big numbers cause your eyes to roll, look at this way: his pay works out to a nice middle-class annual salary of $50,000 every day, for eight years. (Don't feel too bad for Dick, though -- Spitzer isn't asking for all of it back; Grasso would still have $40M to tide him over.)
From Dan Ackman's point of view, "Grasso is a very dangerous individual because he has nothing to lose--except of course the $140 million. He has already lost his job and there is no indication he is about to take another. If SEC or the New York Attorney General does go after him, he could wreak havoc--much like Oliver North threatened to do--by exposing dirty laundry all over Wall Street." The SEC is issuing subpoenas wholesale, to "as many as" 65 former NYSE directors. The Oliver North reference is inspired by Grasso's choice of lawyer: Brendan Sullivan, Ollie's one-time defender. Ackman looks for "Spitzer, Donaldson and the Big Board to quietly back down." I can believe it for the latter two, but I haven't seen the news report of Spitzer backing down on something yet.
Kurt Vonnegut can still write up a storm, and he doesn't need to go as far as a short story to do it. Check out his feature, "Cold Turkey," In These Times. He's had a bleak and cheerful outlook -- simultaneously -- for as long as I've been reading.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course thatís Moses, not Jesus. I havenít heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
Speaking of chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power, the other half of the duo that busted the Watergate case open has something to say about what Republicans in the Congress ought to do: stop Bush.
"Today, the United States is confronted by another ill-considered war, conceived in ideological zeal and pursued with contempt for truth, disregard of history and an arrogant assertion of American power that has stunned and alienated much of the world, including traditional allies. At a juncture in history when the United States needed a president to intelligently and forcefully lead a real international campaign against terrorism and its causes, Bush decided instead to unilaterally declare war on a totalitarian state that never represented a terrorist threat; to claim exemption from international law regarding the treatment of prisoners; to suspend constitutional guarantees even to non-combatants at home and abroad; and to ignore sound military advice from the only member of his Cabinet – Powell – with the most requisite experience. Instead of using America's moral authority to lead a great global cause, Bush squandered it."
Richard Blow deconstructs Andrew Sullivan's criticism of Susan Sontag, et al. I recommend Susan Sontag's feature in last Sunday's NY Times Magazine, Regarding the Torture of Others. (5 days until it goes behind the paywall.) Sullivan? Still waiting for a reason to recommend something of his.
Apparently the "Camp Redemption" renaming didn't poll well enough, now the plan is to "fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison" to replace Abu Ghraib, and to raze the memory of the recent ignominy.
The Bush administration has made it clear that outsourcing is "ok" and can make economic sense. Now that the economic recovery has finally come to the point of adding jobs, it may be an easier sell convincing the voters who are part of the labor force of that. Still, it seems as if there's something wrong about running your fundraising call centers out of India, as the RNC has apparently been doing.
The outsourcing going on in the war in Iraq is more than a nagging sense of something not quite right. Taking care of meals and laundry sounds fine. Taking care of security, training, protecting pipelines and interrogating prisoners does not sound so fine, expecially given that contractors are "not subject to the code of military justice, and their status under U.S. criminal law is vague."
Jack Beatty looks on the bright side in The Atlantic: "Paradoxically, the very scale of the debacle in Iraq may yield one long-term good: the repudiation of neo-conservative 'democratic imperialism.' The Americans killed in Iraq will not have died in vain if their sacrifice keeps other Americans from dying in neo-con wars to "remediate" Syria, Iran, or North Korea."
"[The necons] identified the wrong enemy (a state), attacked it for the wrong reasons (WMD), and in a way that strengthened our real enemy, the transnational terrorists of September 11. America has made mistakes in foreign policy, but nothing compares to this."
News from the top of the world never ceases to amaze me. With more than 5 dozen expeditions on Mt. Everest, the numbers of dead and missing are mounting, along with the records of personal accomplishment. 27-year-old Pemba Dorjee Sherpa went from Base Camp to the top in 8 hours and 10 minutes, a feat which can only be described as Superhuman. At least 113 others have been up to the top as well, making the superlative seem almost routine, from our comfortable seats down where we take breathing for granted.
Google takes another step toward bringing its technology to The People and accepting their investment in return: they now have 31 underwriters set to sell shares in their IPO. I was hoping our brokerage account would make the list, but it didn't; I'm now supposed to open an account with somebody on the list if I want to get in on the fun. If their Dutch auction makes good on preventing the opening day pop, though, what's the point? I should be able to just buy on the open market and save myself the trouble of reading all that IPO paperwork, and jumping through special hoops. Opening another brokerage account is too much trouble from my point of view, I know that.
Brooks and Shields did their weekly dog and pony routine on the Newshour last night, and the first topic was the prison abuse scandal. David wasn't ready to go as far as Jim Inhofe and get outraged at the outrage, but he did wonder if maybe we hadn't had enough now after three weeks. I watched Shields' reaction and thought about someone with 10 or 15 years' more experience limited by the few minutes of pundit give and take, nothing to do but shake your head.
Brooks has found time to get a new book out, On Paradise Drive, and it's delightfully dissected by Michael Kinsley in The NY Times Book Review section. "His latest pseudo-sociological treatise" (following Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There) "starts by slicing and dicing the American population into categories and subcategories, each with its own values and habits and sartorial preferences." Kinsley ultimately confronts the core issue of Brooks: "Is he serious?" Good question.
While you're in the Book Review, don't miss John Dean's review of Joseph Wilson's book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir.
"For those interested in the most vicious hatchet job inside the Beltway since my colleague in Richard Nixon's White House, the dirty trickster Charles W. Colson, copped a plea for defaming Daniel Ellsberg and his lawyer, that headline-grabbing story unfolds in the second half of the book."
The Times has Chapter 17 excerpted, "A Strange Encounter with Robert Novak." Amazingly, when confronted with his gossip about classified information, Novak tried to get Wilson to confirm what he'd been told about Wilson's wife. That's some chutzpah for a reporter, eh? Wilson may or may not be an "asshole" as Novak apparently claimed, but we see that Novak is definitely scum.
This particular scandal is old, old news, 10 months old. There's an investigation going on (isn't there?), but somehow neither the mysterious "senior government officials" nor Novak have yet to be prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Imagine if roles were reversed, and an enemy of this Administration had revealed something they didn't want revealed. Can you say "enemy combatant held at an undisclosed location without access to lawyers or the press"? Sure you can.
And speaking of the prison scandal, the latest update from the ACLU says that the Pentagon twice rejected the ACLU's call for "expedited processing" of their Freedom of Information Act request filed in October 2003, for documents related to the abuse and possible torture of U.S.-held detainees. The Pentagon claimed that the subject matter of the request was not "breaking news" and that there was no "compelling need" for the immediate release of information about the mistreatment of detainees. The Defense Department also claimed that expediting the request was unnecessary because failure to expedite would not "endanger the life or safety of any individual."
Maybe it's time we start paying more attention to the ACLU's recommendations than what passes for statements of fact from the Pentagon.
The Canadian Supreme Court affirms Monsanto's patent-aided business strategy to control the means of production without providing economic benefit to those it controls, affirming the ability to patent genes along the way. Read more...
My country used to be
sweet land of liberty...
Was the terrorist attack in 2001 really sufficient cause to suspend our moral values in favor of creating a police state? That's far too simple a description of what has happened, of course, but the leverage that government provides gives us pause. At the root of the war prisoner abuses, we find one John C. Yoo, University of California law professor and Justice Department functionary coming up with legal cover for skipping those inconvenient Geneva Conventions, with disingenuous bullshit such as "Guantánamo isn't on US soil, it's in Cuba." (There's an evangelical connection too, just in case this doesn't seem bizarre enough to you yet.)
The objections from Colin Powell and the State Department were overridden.
It was a great idea to have a General serve as Secretary of State. It was an astoundingly bad idea to let a bunch of chicken hawks start and run wars for us.
The plot may be sicker still, when you consider that the legal memos talked about the US avoiding taking "custody" of prisoners in order to avoid culpability, and then you read that "The U.S.-led occupation authority says that the FBI visited (Nicholas) Berg three times after Iraqi police arrested him but that he was never in U.S. custody" just before his videotaped beheading.
I flipped by the two CSPAN channels we get last night and happened to see the House adjournment for the Memorial Day recess. You know, that holiday that's a week from Monday? They're out until Tuesday, June 1st. A lot of the people who pay their salaries are happy to have a 3-day weekend, or maybe to take a vacation day for a whopping 4-day break, but our Representatives get a four day weekend and a week.
Nice work if you can get it.
On their way out, the House (but not the Senate) did manage to finish work on a budget appropriation for the Pentagon, not quite half a $trillion to keep the lights on, Humvees rolling and bullets flying. $400 million for body armor is good to see in that; our neighbor says his son is responsible for obtaining (or is it just paying for?) his own body armor before shipping out.
The United Methodists are bucking the corporate trend away from pension plans and starting a new, defined-benefit plan for their 25,000 pastors and lay employees in the US. The NY Times story reports that more than 17,000 employers in the United States have discontinued their traditional pension plans in the last 10 years!
It also reports that the church "has about $12 billion in other types of retirement plans, putting it on a par with big pension-plan sponsors like Bank of America, Dow Chemical and R.J. Reynolds." The new plan is intended to simplify the administration process for everyone involved, and to solve the problem of a few years ago when their defined contribution plan did too well and encouraged employees to cash out and retire rather than keep doing the work of the church.
The latest in the progression of clever library tricks: an email message telling me I have a couple books that are soon to be due. It suggests I may want to call the automated phone service to renew them (I do, in fact). Maybe the next time I get one of these it will have a URL or identifier that enables "simply reply to this message with 'renew' in the subject line to renew the books."
More shareholders in favor of expensing stock options, another Board that says "thanks but no thanks for the advice." Intel's CFO says they'll obey the law, but they don't think 54% of their shareholders know what's best for the company.
Now you can follow the money in your own neighborhood: Fundrace.org now has city maps and neighbor search features. You may have to wait in line, though: with the publicity from The NY Times, it looks like they're struggling to keep up with demand.
"We are terribly sorry. So many people are coming to the site that our database cannot handle it for the moment. Please try again soon (like very soon. how about right now?)."
It's just a hint of the I word coming from the lefty Capitol Times, but still, the point is coming into clearer focus. Not that the Republican-controlled Congress is actually going to hold GWB to account for his high crimes and misdemeanors, of course.
Today's prayer meeting with Bush on the Hill included a roundup of the usual suspect clichés: "strong leader," "decisive," "stay the course," "re-election" (sic). I doubt anyone said "don't impeach," but we expect that was implied.
Nancy Pelosi's response used both barrels: "I believe that the president's leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment, and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to our taxpayers." "The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality? Pull this curtain back." The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee suggested Pelosi "should just go back to her pastel-colored condo in San Francisco and keep her views to herself," because she wasn't properly supporting our troops.
Troops, yes, mission, no. Is that too complicated for you, Mr. Reynolds? With a friends like George Bush and Don Rumsfeld "supporting" our troops, why the hell would we need enemies?
The interesting part about the US military and Iraqi police action to raid Ahmad Chalabi's home in Baghdad is not that they were working together, and not that he's fallen out of favor (although a military raid makes the point more forcefully than just cutting off your $335,000 a month stipend), but that his place is furnished with the same cheesy plastic furniture as our corporate-sponsored apartment in Palo Alto, California, a couple years ago. It was porch furniture there, and when the clean-up crews would come by, they would throw the old stuff in the dumpster rather than bothering to clean it.
I don't know exactly how the rules go, and of course being President (etc.) is more than a full-time job, but it doesn't seem right that the taxpayers fund travel for campaigning incumbents. The sidebar in this NY Times story describes the recent "official" travel of half a dozen Secretaries, conveniently providing time for a little fundraising in Alaska, Florida, Michigan and Minnesota. The story itself, though, is about the White House bragging about programs that it has tried to cut: Community Oriented Policing Services (proposed cut of 87%), coverage for people without health insurance, rural health care (proposed cut of 72%), a program to buy defibrillators (proposed cut of 82%).
We're assured that they're following the rules, and that we can trust them 100%. Reminds me of George Tirebiter's campaign for dog killer: "You can believe me, because I'm always right, and I never lie."
On the prison front, the day's big developments: the first of the accused pleads guilty, takes a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge; the generals testify to the Senate that the civilian leadership of the DOD is fault-free; Abu Ghraib's population to be downsized and the place renamed "Camp Redemption." That ought to fix things.
In one of those free-wheeling conversations between waking and rising, an undisclosed source and I discussed how we might encourage members of the Bush administration to be more forthcoming for the next Senate hearing on whatever. Have the witness drop his pants, put on a black hood and a few electrodes here and there before the cameras start rolling. Senator Clinton could be drafted to give the thumbs-up. Colin Powell might want to hold the leash when it's Rummy's turn to testify.
But seriously, while the Pentagon is trying to deny, deny, deny the claims in Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece, The NY Times reports this morning that a Colonel testified to Taguba that yes, the MPs were given orders to do what they did, although with "no formal system" to monitor the exact instructions given.
Colonel Pappas: "To my knowledge, instructions given to the M.P.'s, other than what I have mentioned, such as shackling, making detainees strip down or other measures used on detainees before interrogations, are not typically made unless there is some good reason." Yeah, there's always a good reason, isn't there?
David Brooks continues to astonish and amaze with his opinions. In our current "moment of disappointment" in Iraq, "the emerging responsible faction" (reassuring to hear there is such a thing!) "has no time now for the witless applause lines the jeering jackdaws on left and right repeat to themselves to their own perpetual self-admiration and delight. Even in a political year, most politicians do not want this country to fail."
Hey, I hope his indefatigable optimism about this adventure turns out to be accurate; I just don't think it's all that likely.
One positive sign is that in spite of the administration continuing to send blank checks up to the hill for Congress to sign, we are going to save $335,000 a month by cutting off Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. Hopefully they've invested the $27 million we've paid for "useless, misleading or even fabricated" intelligence (aka "intelligence") so they won't have to use extortion or something to keep the bills paid.
Thanks to my friend Alison for a pointer to the Diebold Variations. "Life's a crapshoot. Elections don't have to be."
Yup, all Americans have a right to be heard in this debate, even George Bush. He thinks we need a Constitutional ban on gay marriage, and I think we don't, and our two votes count exactly the same for getting the issue decided: zero. Will two-thirds of the House and Senate agree with him, and will 38 states go along? My bet is no. In the meantime, let those Massachusetts wedding bells ring! How wonderful to widen the constituency that's enthusiastic about the sacred institution of marriage.
T. Boone Pickens thinks there's nowhere to go but up: he says we'll see $50 a barrel oil before we see it for $30 again.
Seymour Hersh drops the other shoe at The New Yorker: "The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeldís decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt Americaís prospects in the war on terror."
This while the courts martial unfold, and we learn that at least some of the soliders in the photographs thought they weren't at all over the line, just doing their duty to soften up the prisoners. Experiments long past tell us how little context it takes to overcome inhibitions against sadism, but we don't want to believe them. Out of sight, out of mind.
That's what the Rumsfeld team was counting on for its covert action in the war on terror: as long as we're safe, and we don't know what's being done in our names, we'll be OK with that. At least one "senior C.I.A. official" talking to Hersh is breaking ranks, however, as the strategy seems to have long since passed the threshold of counterproductivity. And yet I still have the feeling that one more prominent terrorist attack in this country will mute all the second-guessing and cause the majority to support whatever authoritarian measures the Bush regime thinks are needed.
After watching NOW's analysis of all the lies in political ads last night, the latest missive from GeorgeWBush.com in my inbox seems to drip with irony. The message deprecates Kerry for fundraising: "Yesterday, John Kerry sent an e-mail to supporters telling them it's 'time to get local.' Their idea of getting local? Asking for more of your hard-earned money. Our idea of getting local is asking you to open your home, invite in some friends and neighbors, and tell them why you support the President."
It's "national party for the President day," July 15th. I expect an invitation from some nice Republicans, with good drinks, hors d'oeuvres on tap and no fundraising. I'd have a party at my place, but really, it's a little too humble to have you all over.
This may help explain why this particular mailing played down the fundraising angle: on his way to speaking at a commencement in Mequon, Wisconsin yesterday, "Mr. Bush raised $2.2 million for the Republican Party at a lunch in Bridgeton, Mo., just outside St. Louis, that was held in a small car museum at the Hunter Engineering Company, a maker of automotive service equipment." 90 boosters showed up and forked over the $25,000 cover charge. I bet they got some nice hors d'oeuvres!
Just like old-fashioned analog churches, the virtual church has some house rules, but unlike those for the former, the rules for the latter are written down. "Don't become a distraction," and "don't put on a floor show." (I guess it's not leaning toward the Pentacostal; in fact, the tagline says it's sponsored by the Methodists.) The number 1 rule works in so many situations around the world: Treat others with respect.
My computer is not yet worthy, lacking the Shockwave version 8.5.1+ plug-in.
Among the other things I learned at today's Funeral Consumers Alliance of Idaho annual meeting is the fact that a cardboard coffin can be legal. At the other extreme, if you need to supersize your final ride, you can do that, too.
Interesting speculation about who leaked the photos, and why on spiked. The argument is that some in the military are not at all happy with the way SecDef is running things. I have no idea how likely it is to be true, but there are definitely many layers to this unfolding story.
Did my second shift at BAM this morning, "acting bored" for What Does a Human Do When There's Nothing To Be Done? The inflatables were more lively today, the roomfull of big silver Mylar pillows debouching them over toward the air return with regularity. I used the quiet moments to herd them back into their home space with the tall ceiling, played footsie with the ladybug balloon in "my" exhibit.
I arrived a bit after the 10:00 opening, and when I went to my venue, found a class of schoolkids there ahead of me. The teacher was giving them turns at being "the actor," and modeling a variety of emotions for the rest of the class. As they got ready to leave, she realized I was the talent, and brought them back after I'd settled in, for another look. I think my favorite comment on the day was one kid asking "can he see us?" as if I were inhabiting an alternate universe. I did have my listless gaze directed over their heads, to avoid the distraction of eye contact...
At the tail end of one group leaving Gallery Five, one of the teachers was imagining that I had a rather nice job, turned back and offered to trade with me, letting me teach a bunch of 2nd graders. She probably wouldn't be happy with the trade, actually, given that I was doing it for free. The 2nd graders would be more fun for me than her, at least to start! She was the first person to get me to break character, though, as her comment made me chuckle.
And then one teacher took a wild flyer with the work, apparently not bothering to read the wall placard, or not caring what it said. "What if he's thinking about a movie he's making, and he's wondering who should be the star?" She then polled the class, asking "who do you think it would be?" while they picked Bugs Bunny, or the flamingo (which one?) or whatever. Then she said, "now he's thinking about a magazine cover, and one of these characters will be on the cover. Which one do you think it will be?" Mercifully, she didn't proceed to prod every kid to say something the way she did for the first round. Her accent was really thick, too; I had to struggle to understand her, and it made me wonder if the kids knew what she was saying half the time.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of his statistics, but they are provocative, at the very least; in his essay, Mel Gibson's Passion and Fascism's Piety of Pain, Matthew Fox writes:
"The income of the three richest people in the world is equal to the collective national incomes of the poorest forty-nine countries! It would take no more than 5 per cent of the overall annual sales of arms in the world to feed all the starving children, to protect them from dying of preventable diseases, and to make basic education accessible to all."
Last Friday night, I slept with earplugs in to mask certain teenaged comings and goings. In the quiet middle of the night, I woke up and took them out, after noting that I wasn't hearing the ubiquitous background hum with them in. The hum remained absent when I took them out, too! Our electrical power was on, windows open, traffic light to non-existent. Ok, so it's not a permanent condition of my hearing, and verified unrelated to household appliances. I think I noticed it "off" the next night as well. A couple days later, it was back, and this morning, is loud enough to notice even with my laptop's fan going. I'm guessing it's all about traffic, and I probably sleep through whatever waning tends to happen late at night and early in the morning.
Today's NY Times had a feature about the payphone project, merging the new with the old. Sort of like having surveillance cameras on buggy whip factories, but there are plenty of interesting situations and questions left to be resolved before the once essential fixtures go away.
I liked the gallery of phones from around the world. Is this photo of a phone in the middle of Lake Victoria a spoof, or for real? Either way, it's an act of imagination.
It doesn't say much for the quality of an argument if it can't tolerate opposing views. Here's our federal government using transportation funding to censor messages against current drug policy, for example. Here's the headline so scary it must be hidden from users of public transit: "Marijuana Laws Waste Billions of Taxpayer Dollars to Lock Up Non-Violent Americans."
"Ads promoting the governmentís position on marijuana are all over the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and other public transit systems around the country," said Steve Fox, Director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Policy Project. "For the government to advertise one view while banning ads expressing differing opinions in the same forum is viewpoint discrimination and a clear violation of the First Amendment."
Gloomy, cool and a chance of rain today, the last wave put fresh snow on the Boise front above 5,000 feet. Seems quite spring-like, after doses of 70s and 80s made us think we were going to ease into an early summer. We can use all the water we can get, of course. We ended up having "April weather," with thunderstorms, hail, heavy rain, mixed with moments of sunshine.
Bound to be in next Sunday's copyrighted feature of "Apologies of the Week": CEO of Diebold, Walden O'Dell, acknowledged that it was a "huge mistake" to make a public announcement that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." Gee, you think? Being a Bush Booster is one thing, "delivering votes" when your company makes voting machines is another.
I stopped in at the Mudville Gazette to see how the hard-core military boosters were taking the growing scandal. I actually expected a bit of circumspection, but execution of messengers seems to be the order of the day. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma speaks for this group, apparently, outraged at the outrage of abuse of insurgents. "Many of them probably have American blood on their hands," he said in the Senate, with the implication that if prisoners had been brought to cell block 1A or 1B, we can be sure they're guilty.
I started to add a comment that disagreed with the chorus, but decided I don't need to spend time on something that pointless.
Just in case you weren't sure, the military does have rules for this business and they aren't hard to understand. "The use of physical or mental torture or any coercion to compel prisoners to provide information is prohibited.... Prisoners may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disparate treatment of any kind because of their refusal to answer questions."
The Hive Group calls itself "the world leader in treemap technology," said technology being "space-constrained visualizations of information." They've got a Newsmap of Google's news aggregator which is pretty darn neat.
What do you do when it's time to exchange goods for money, but you don't quite trust the other party to hand over his stuff when you give up yours? You use an escrow process, with a 3rd party that both sides trust. When the money is real, but the goods are virtual, it gets a little more complicated, as Robert X. Cringely describes in the Case of the Missing Platinum.
Sorry I missed a few days there; I was out playing tennis in the Icebreaker tournament. I won the men's 3.0 singles, enjoying my big frog in a little pond status while it lasts. Chet and I didn't make good on our #1 seeding in the 3.0 doubles, though, and gave up the final in straight sets. The second one contained a punctuation mark for me, as I ran into a fence pole after chasing a tough angle further than was prudent. I've got a swollen ear in a convenient spot to remind me to use my head next time.
The Alabama Supremes said they didn't want Roy Moore back, thanks. He can probably find a new career in talk radio or something, though.
The 2000 election scandal is still on low heat over here, where freedom and democracy are supposed to be givens. Greg Palast writes about the travesty of the "Help America Vote Act," one of the many pieces of legislation with Orwell-inspired names that we've seen during this administration, in the May 17th issue of The Nation.«Help America Vote»
"If you're black, voting in America is a game of chance. First, there's the chance your registration card will simply be thrown out.... Second, once registered, there's the chance you'll be named a felon.... At step three, the real gambling begins. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 guaranteed African-Americans the right to vote--but it did not guarantee the right to have their ballots counted. And in one in seven cases, they aren't."
I became part of the current exhibition at the Boise Art Museum for a couple hours today, the "people" medium in Elin Wikström's What Does a Human Being Do When There is Nothing to Be Done?, 1996. It was light work on a Friday morning, happily enlivened by groups of school kids touring through, between which I read. When asked to identify what I was feeling, one or two in the first group guessed "he's depressed," causing me to lighten up a bit on my portrayal of "extreme lassitude." My instructions didn't say anything about having to sit still, but it seems kind of fun to pretend to be a statue in that circumstance. While another group was guessing whether or not I was a real person, I repositioned myself a bit, drawing out enough surprise to gratify.
It would have been more fun if there'd been more visitors, as the internal tension between "looking bored" and being intensely interested in each and every moment is fascinating. I imagine that Wikström's design is targeted at the participants more than the viewers, really. Spending two hours "in" the art is a lot more involvement than a stroll on by. I got up and looked at the placard at some point, was amused to find that it was Swedish. Boredom played out in a spare setting with a collection of cartoon character balloons looking on seems so inherently Swedish, an Ibsen or Bergman treatment with not nearly enough plot and the only constructive attribute being that you feel better by comparison. Which I did. Plus, the sofa was comfortable, and I brought plenty of interesting reading.
The emails that I get from BushCheney04@GeorgeWBush.com are mostly forgettable and tiresome requests for donations, and today's was really just the same thing, but I found its form remarkable. The plain text of the return address was our former First Lady and now First Mother and she didn't beat around the bush getting to the point:
"With Mother's Day coming up this weekend, I've been thinking about how proud I am of our children.
"And it's with a mother's pride that I'm writing you today to ask you to support our eldest, George W., and his re-election campaign with a donation of $1000, $500, $250, $100 or $50."
You couldn't make this stuff up as parody, I swear.
Oops, yesterday was proclaimed a national day of prayer, and I missed it.
We're in the market for a new Braun 10 cup carafe to replace a cracked one. I could buy it online easy enough, but that won't take care of tomorrow morning. I bought the coffeemaker at Fred Meyer, so I looked there first. No Braun stuff there anymore. Their website's "where to buy" function is weak, but it did have a long list of "National / Regional Accounts"... that included Fred Meyer. I tried the nearby Rite-Aid, ShopKo and Walgreens and they've all moved on to Mr. Coffee and Bunn and others. Maybe one of their replacements will work, but none listed any Braun models on their box's "will fit" side panel. I let my fingers do the driving to Target and Wal-Mart, and neither of them carry it, either. Mr. Coffee, and Black & Decker, Bunn. Braun is out. Bummer.
Krispy Kreme got toasted today, after a profit warning that the anti-carb zealots are going to ding their profits. They said they're working to develop a lower-carb, lower-fat doughnut, but let's get real. Would you have heard of this company or their product if it was low-carb, low-fat? Fortunately, I'm not invested in KKD and didn't take the 30% plunge today. I've just been watching since Carol said she thought it would be a good investment. I counseled caution after checking the fundamentals, turns out to have been damn good advice.
Which is not to say I didn't get dinged with today's red ink. The economy is picking up, finally, the jobs picture is improving, and so interest rates are going to climb out of their historic hole... time to panic?! Something's not making sense here.
Thanks to my buddy Jim Browning for the deluxe guided fishing tour of C.J. Strike, I pulled my first smallmouth bass out of the lake today. It was a fun outing for us and the dog, a little bit more wear and tear on the fish, though. We caught at least a couple dozen fish from unmentionable size up to more than a pound and a half. I can see where attention to keeping your line untangled is important -- he'd catch two or three while I was trying to pull out loops and knots and getting ready to cast again.
Friedman: "This administration needs to undertake a total overhaul of its Iraq policy; otherwise, it is courting a total disaster for us all. That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- today, not tomorrow or next month, today."
Hmm, forgot to mention another "triangular day" yesterday: 3.5.4.
I went looking for some help with extended SSI syntax today, and it looks like the little manual for them that I wrote is still the best reference floating around. It's amazing how many places you can find the "original" documentation presented with nothing more than format tweaks. It wasn't that good, for heaven's sake, it can stand rewriting, people.
Michael Ignatieff has an important book coming out later this month, The Lesser Evil. This week's feature piece in the NY Times Magazine is adapted from it, and comes out with impeccable timing. It does not answer the incredibly difficult questions we face, but it at least poses them, identifies the issues that confront the core of democracy as it battles against enemies who want to destroy it.
"When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights. How can democracies resort to these means without destroying the values for which they stand? How can they resort to the lesser evil without succumbing to the greater?
"Putting the problem this way is not popular. Civil libertarians don't want to think about lesser evils. Security is as much a right as liberty, but civil libertarians haven't wanted to ask which freedoms we might have to trade in order to keep secure."
Calpundit connects the dots on one of the intelligence contractors in Fallujah. How is it that a General can urge that you be fired over there and have it not happen for more than two months? It comes back to the observation that we've employed contractors in the process to keep the dirty business out of the chain of command, military courts, and light of day.
Doing that work and keeping an online diary that names names is another not-too-smart move that's come to light in this scandal. Not quite as bizarre as the "thumbs-up" photos, but still. "Please remove the site now" doesn't quite cut it afterwards.
He's also got an assessment of Bush's CEO caliber with a rather inflated grade of "mediocre."
There were a lot of flags flying after 9/11, but the stickers and decals are getting faded and the cloth tattered. William Broyles Jr.'s essay in the NY Times today makes the point that the call to patriotism used to be more demanding than just "keep shopping," and that it's time to make participation more than voluntary.
"There are no immediate family members of any of the prime civilian planners of this war serving in it -- beginning with President Bush and extending deep into the Defense Department. Only one of the 535 members of Congress, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, has a child in the war -- and only half a dozen others have sons and daughters in the military.... Our president's own family illustrates the loss of the sense of responsibility that once went with privilege. In three generations the Bushes have gone from war hero in World War II, to war evader in Vietnam, to none of the extended family showing up in Iraq and Afghanistan."
I got the pointer to the column from the Mudville Gazette who saw fit to ridicule the notion, and the horse it rode in on.
As events spin out of control, take a moment to consider to what extent they revolve around Ahmed Chalabi in a Salon exclusive from John Dizard. The leading picture is worth a 1,000 words, but there are more than 6,000 in the article, so don't stop there. Is he just being neighborly with the folks in Iran, or...?
George Will examines GWB's "extraneous thought" as a reflection of "the mind of this administration." "(I)f any Americans want to be governed by politicians who short-circuit complex discussions by recklessly imputing racism to those who differ with them, such Americans do not usually turn to the Republican choice in our two-party system."
By which he means Republicans don't often make charges of racism, they usually pretend it doesn't exist. But hey! What a surprise! When candor outruns the handlers, out it pops.
I don't usually find myself on the same side of issues as Mr. Will, but I have to agree with his conclusion: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts." "Strong and steady" leadership isn't a good thing to have if it's steadily driving the country off a cliff.
What else is there to say about the misbegotten war in Iraq? If you think George W. Bush and his administration are performing God's will, criticism is out of the question, but for the rest of us, it's more education in something we should have learned a long time ago. War is hell.
A year after "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring 'em on," only black humor is left, a pall over every path forward. The one bit of good news, Thomas Hamill's escape, is framed by another dozen soldiers killed, and the enormity of war crimes perpetrated on our prisoners coming to light. Viewers of the Sunday talk shows learned that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense had not yet got around to reading the 53-page Army report from Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. That's the one that was completed February. Now that The New Yorker has a copy, it appears to be a higher priority for them.
Speaking of lessons we should have learned by now, Joe Wilson has one: "The government serves the people — not vice-versa."
Forecast from Vir Sanghvi in India: "George W Bush will be remembered as the President who began the process of fundamentalising the Muslim mainstream."
Here's another tourist trip to China, with some of the same features as ours but with a significantly different purpose. Our friends Loren and Kristin are on a journey for adoption.
We watched Frontline's The Jesus Factor last night, and gained some insight about George Bush's success. I'd heard Terry Gross' short interview with Dr. Richard Land, giving more context to the short quote Frontline used about Bush believing God wanted him to be President; if you're going to watch the PBS show, it would be good to listen to both segments of the edition of Fresh Air first.
Bush's answer to the question in the debate before the 2000 election, about what philosopher/thinker that had most influenced him:
"Christ. Because he changed my heart."
(Moderator: Well, I think the viewer would like to know more about how he's changed your heart.)
"Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain... when you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as (your) Saviour, it changes your heart, it changes your life."
For a lot of people in this country, that answer is complete, sufficient, and exactly what they wanted to hear. It makes Bush their candidate, regardless of what mistakes he might have made: his heart's in the right place, he's right with God, and he's the hope to expand evangelical morality in this country.
There is no argument I can make that would persuade some away from this point of view. The deception, lies, cronyism, taking the country into a misguided war that exacerbated terrorism in the world, all those notions are simply erroneous judgements on my part. George W. Bush is carrying out God's plan here on earth.
That scares the hell out of me.
Dinosaur Adventure Land offers an exciting vacation adventure mixed with "Creation Science" Evangelism. Fun for all ages, endless hours of activities and mind-blowing lessons are what they advertise. (Thanks to the NY Times for the heads-up on that.)
With prescription discount cards getting rolled out to seniors, PBS' NOW ran a segment on the new Medicare drug benefit last night. They focused in on the "benefit gap" (a.k.a. "Doughnut hole") which didn't get my attention when I wrote about the plan in November. At $2500 worth of drugs in a year, it's about a 50-50 split between the recipient and Medicare. For twice the much, the recipient will pay 80% of the cost of the drugs -- $4k for $5k worth. Folks in the middle are essential to funding the program.
But all that's about the future benefit, not the initial plan of discount cards from your choice of multiple vendors, which come out on Monday. Apparently, that decision-making is not straightforward, and to make matters worse, the Medicare website reportedly has a bunch of mistakes in its pricing information.
Seems like it all could have been -- should have been -- simpler.
Having the web as primary repository for documentation makes history mutable, to some extent. On the other hand, someone might notice if things go away, such as 25 reports about issues such as pay equity and reproductive healthcare on the Women's Bureau Web site.
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org