Thursday, October 27, 2005

Over a Barrel

More oil company profit reports are coming in and the news is great—for them, at least. Exxon Mobil and Shell both posted "their best quarterly results ever on Thursday, with Exxon becoming the first U.S. company ever to ring up quarterly sales of $100 billion."

Exxon's profits are up 75% over a year ago, and Shell's are up 68%—positively dwarfing the 34% increase posted by BP a few days ago.

How'd they make so much money? By fleecing you and me, that's how. Apparently neither profit nor pain is a shared commodity in the business world. The real question is this: How much more of this before people wise up to the fact that they're being screwed?

Too bad the current administration is run by a cabal of oil cronies. Otherwise, we might be able to count on the government for help. So, when you're freezing your ass off this winter because you can't pay your heating bills, don't forget who to thank.

Harriet Miers Withdraws

The first note of sanity struck for a long, long time in the Bush White House.

A terrible SCOTUS decision wisely undone. But who's next...? Given Bush's ineptotism, I'm putting my money on E!'s Billy Bush.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Orwell Watch

In "Politics and the English Language," perhaps the greatest evisceration of political hack writing ever published, George Orwell notes that the "great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."

So, how about using a tired old cliche to accuse your political opponents of—wait for it—cliche? That's the cue for our friend Rush Limbaugh, who was so eager to smear "these libs who are going half cocked on clichés," that he forgot to turn on his unintended-irony scanner (yet again).

Just thinking of all the essays on boilerplate and intellectual insincerity we're now missing because Orwell didn't live long enough to hear El Rushmo boggles the mind. It's funny how close Orwell's cuttlefish image comes to how I imagine Rush in my mind—only it's not ink he's spewing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Crude Behavior: Pumping Disaster for Profit

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is immutable and universal. There's just no getting around that. So when people are feeling the pinch, don't forget that somebody's doing the pinching.

BP has just reported a 34% rise in quarterly profits at the same time that we're all suffering at the pump and hunkering down for a horrible, cold winter. It goes to show that the fat rises to the top even in lean times. BP Chief Executive Lord Browne was quoted as saying, the "recent hurricanes in the U.S. have impacted our results." You don't say! I wonder how many more disasters they could take.

Thank god the Bush administration pushed through an energy policy chock full of subsidies for the petroleum industry. The policy is designed to translate into lower costs and it's obviously doing its job—for the oil companies. There's nothing like a little price gouging to drive this point home: they have us over a barrel. To quote Johnny Rotten, "Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

I Vant to Drink the Blood of Christ

There's going to be a lot more praying and a lot less preying in Anne Rice's novels from now on. The famed spinner of vampire yarns is giving up the flesh trade for something a little less evil.

"I promised that from now on I would write only for the Lord," said Rice, who sank her teeth back into the religious life after a health scare. Her new novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, reportedly has no vampires at all in it, but I think there might be a re-animated corpse in there somewhere if I'm not mistaken.

Rice's radical decision has left die-hard fans scratching their heads and nervously fingering their prosthetic fangs. Gone is the blood and gore (at least the good kind). Gone are the night stalkers (unless Pharisees count).

Hollywood has also reportedly taken the news like a stake to the heart (metaphorical heart, that is—we all know Hollywood doesn't have a real one), with Tom Cruise allegedly taking it particularly hard (the news, that is). Never again will he get to portray one of Rice's soulless predators—a role he was positively born to play.

Rice isn't too worried about a backlash from her fans however. After all, "Christ is the ultimate supernatural hero....The ultimate immortal of them all." That sound you just heard, in case you're wondering, was thousands of people simultaneously rushing to Blockbuster to stock up on Buffy DVDs.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Let Sleeping Attack Dogs Lie

It's time for US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to drop his briefs. Legal briefs, that is. He needs to call off the Democratic attack dogs because the Plame Game is over. Karl Rove may indeed have been behind leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent to Robert Novak in 2003, but he's already suffered enough.

According to an exclusive story in the New York Daily News, President Bush punished his trusty adviser two years ago for his role in the Plame name leak (this despite the fact that our crafty leader claimed no knowledge of Rove's role at the time).
"He made his displeasure known to Karl," a presidential counselor told The News. "He made his life miserable about this."
There you have it. What could be worse than doing hard time in the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. dog house? Sure it has its own chandelier, but the breeze can be a bit nippy coming off the Potomac and the smell of cherry blossoms gets to be positively asphyxiating in the spring.

One shudders to think what Bush must might have said to signal his displeasure with Rove. Perhaps it was this remark: "Karl's got my complete confidence. He's a valuable member of my team." Or maybe it was this zinger, relayed by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan: "any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the president." Even as far back as 2001, the president showed that he wouldn't be shy when it came to disciplining his troops: "[Rove] adheres to the ethical rules of our government and he's done a great job on behalf of the American people."

Yes, little Ralphie is all grown up now and he has moved on from his Red Rider BB Gun to bigger and better (and deadlier) things. What he has to learn—and he obviously has, thanks to Bush's fatherly intervention—is that he has a lot more to worry about than just shooting his own eye out. Thank god he had the leader of the free world there to set him straight. The important thing is that he's learned his lesson and would never, ever stoop to dirty political tricks again. Not even on a triple-dog dare. Honest.

Once again, thanks to President Bush, the world is a safer and happier place, and you don't need to be in front of a federal grand jury to testify to that.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Senate to New Orleans: Drop Dead

Thursday was a dark day for the United States Senate. After weeks of pious concern for Katrina victims and budgetary soul-searching concerning the costs of disaster relief, it took a freshman Senator to force that august body to put its priorities where its pie-hole is. How did that turn out? Not so well.

Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, proposed an amendment to a transportation and housing spending bill that would undo some of the more egregious pork barrel projects earmarked in a recent highway bill. Shortly after the highway bill passed, you may remember, ex-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay famously crowed that there was simply no fat left to cut out of the federal budget. What DeLay failed to disclose (and doesn't it seem like he's failed to disclose an awful lot recently?) were such gems as an appropriation of over $200 million for a bridge in Alaska that would connect an island—with a population of less than 50—to the mainland.

Coburn's amendment proposed that this earmark and several others like it would be canceled and funds would be diverted to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief instead. Sounds reasonable, no? Apparently not. In his idealism, Coburn failed to recognize that hell hath no fury like a politician's pet project scorned. Only 15 Senators stood up and voted for this amendment (and only four of them were Democrats). For the rest of the Senate, special interests and personal priorities take precedence over a national emergency. How else are they going to get re-elected, right?

It's a good thing hardly anyone pays any attention to this kind of thing or people would get a little ticked off.

In another shining moment on Thursday, the Senate failed to muster the necessary 60 votes to appropriate over $3 billion for heating oil subsidies for low income families—this in response to forecasts that home heating bills may soar between 25 and 45% this winter. 53 Senators, 11 of them Republicans, voted in favor of the bill, while 46 (an overwhelming 44 of which were Republicans) voted against it.

I don't know if the disparity is because Northern Democratic strongholds are more likely to use heating oil during the harsh winters, or if families in Southern red states are simply more likely to heat their homes by burning wood and Harry Potter novels. It certainly couldn't be because the Republican Party doesn't care about poor people, could it? (You can borrow that line if you want, Kanye.) Maybe it's just because Republicans are well known to be fiscal conservatives—except in cases of personal pet projects, corporate tax breaks, oil subsidies and military spending, that is.

So, take it in stride, New Orleans. The Senate didn't just tell you to drop dead, they gave a great big "screw you" to the whole country.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My Little Crony—The Harriet Miers Saga

As if he learned nothing whatsoever from the 'Brownie' FEMA debacle—and let's face it, when has he ever demonstrated the ability to admit to, let alone learn from, his mistakes?—President Bush went on yet another cronyism bender and woke up in the morning with a blinding headache having nominated Harriet Miers—a personal friend and lawyer with no apparent qualifications for the job—to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. That's the top court in the land, if you didn't know (I wrote that in case Dubya happens by my little blog...).

Bush's political appointment philosophy—let's call it ineptotism—leaves no room for shame or second guessing. Used to ruling by fiat, Bush seemed a bit taken aback when back-stabbing traitors members of his own party raised a few innocent questions, such as, "Who the hell is Harriet Miers?" and "Are you crazy or what?"

His response was, get this, "Trust me." That's what he actually said. That didn't quite wash with some observers. Doug Bandow's column at townhall.com, part disappointed and part incredulous, is representative of the Miers-wary right. As Bandow dryly points out, "it is cause for concern when a putative Supreme Court justice reportedly has described the president whose conduct she would judge as the most 'brilliant' man she has ever met." Is there some medicine she keeps forgetting to take?

Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had my favorite response to Bush's latest blunder:


In addition to the richly undeserved 'trust' that Bush requested, we were asked to take comfort in the fact that Miers is a born-again Christian with a rock-solid faith in God (and a disturbingly strong faith in the president, to boot). Her nomination was even pre-approved by James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Now, how on earth could it be appropriate to have a religious test to determine if someone is fit to interpret the secular constitution of a secular republic? It couldn't be, unless of course, the whole 'secular' part doesn't mean diddly to the guy in charge.

One of the biggest issues with Harriet is that nobody seems to be able to pin her down politically. She's a Republican ex-Democrat who may or may not favor gay rights; she's a born-again Christian who goes to Episcopal services—this nomination is turning out to be hard work for anyone who likes their world separated into tidy little ideological boxes (that's all of Washington and all of the media, by the way).

Then yesterday more clues emerged which caused some people to jump for joy and most everybody else to look around in confusion. On a questionnaire she filled out during her 1989 run for the Dallas City Council, Miers stated that she "backed a constitutional amendment to ban [abortion] in most cases and promised to appear at 'pro-life rallies and special events.' Asked in a Texans United for Life questionnaire whether she would support legislation restricting abortions if the Supreme Court allowed it, Miers indicated she would."

Even more shocking, however, are these comments that were scrawled on a Hallmark Expressions card in 1997: "Dear Governor GWB, You are the best governor ever—deserving of great respect!" That just sends a shiver down the spine.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Unmasking the Faces of Jihad

It would be impossible to be taken seriously as a reporter or expert on Russia, France, Germany, Latin America, or perhaps even China or Japan without knowing the requisite languages but for "Islam" no linguistic knowledge seems to be necessary since what one is dealing with is considered to be a psychological deformation, not a "real" culture or religion.
—Edward Said, Covering Islam

The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global by Fawaz Gerges is essential reading for anyone interested in the story behind Al Qaeda and the events that led up to the spectacular terrorist attacks on America in 2001. Gerges, an Egyptian Christian who teaches international affairs and Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, gives an intimate portrait of the events and personalities that caused radical Islamists to abandon their traditional fight against al-Adou al-Qareeb, or the near enemy (autocratic Muslim regimes such as Egypt), and take on the far more dangerous foe, al-Adou al-Baeed, or the far enemy (the United States and the West).

In the process, Gerges offers a penetrating critique of the way terrorism and terrorists are portrayed in the Western media and, more generally, the shallow manner in which Muslim societies are seen through Western eyes. Through voluminous interviews with jihadis themselves, a close reading of Al Qaeda bigwig Ayman al-Zawahiri's self-serving memoirs and a careful examination of countless documents culled from captured Al Qaeda hard drives in Afghanistan, Gerges provides a detailed look into the inner workings of the jihad world—and acts as a counterweight to the sloppy scholarship that informs the prevailing ideas about the threats we face from Islamic terrorism. This book is a challenge to the U.S and the West in general to rise above platitudes and delve into real history with all of its complexity. It couldn't come at a more critical time.

The jihadist movement was born in the early 1970s as a reaction against the authoritarian regime in Egypt and was inspired by Sayyid Qutb, a radical Islamist who was executed by the Egyptian state in 1966 for opposing the Nasser government. Qutb and the jihadis who followed in his wake elevated the importance of jihad, or armed struggle, believing it to be equal with the five pillars of Islam. None other than Osama bin Laden himself believes that jihad is second only to faith as a Muslim ideal—a notion rejected by virtually every religious authority in the Islamic world.

Gerges points out that since the time of Mohammad, jihad has been seen as fard kifaya, or a collective duty, the agenda of which can only be determined by the whole community. Jihadis, on the other hand, consider it to be fard 'ayn, or a permanent and personal obligation. As such, jihadis believe that they are justified in taking up arms and carrying out terrorist attacks on their own authority.

Fawaz corrects several misconceptions regarding jihad and its place in Islam. The first is to note that while all jihadis share this conception of jihad, they represent "a tiny ... minority," even among Islamists. Theirs is far from the dominant view. The second misconception—and the crux of this book's argument—is that the jihadist movement has always seen the United States and the West as its primary enemy. Quite the contrary, Al Qaeda's attack on America was the result of a "civil war within the jihadist movement" and "represented a monstrous mutation, an implosion from within, not just another historical phase in the movement's evolution."

Jihadis always saw the near enemy—particularly the secular Egyptian regime—as their main foe. Apostate Muslim rulers stood in the way of their goal of establishing an Islamic government based upon Shariah, or Islamic law. It was to this end that al-Jama'a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), one of the largest jihadist organizations in the world, and Tanzim al-Jihad (Islamic Jihad), led by current Al Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, collaborated on the 1981 assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. (Jama'a al-Islamiya is not associated with the Indonesian group of the same name who recently immolated Bali for a second time.) Even as late as 1995, Zawahiri was preaching jihad against the near enemy exclusively. Despite his subsequent alliance with Osama bin Laden and his conversion to transnational terrorism, "the overwhelming majority of jihadis have been religious nationalists whose fundamental goal was to effect change in their own society."

Gerges goes into minute detail to lay bare the fissures with the jihadist movement which led to the rupture that created Al Qaeda and the transnational terrorists. Years of clashes with government troops in Egypt and Algeria—home to the vast majority of active jihadis in the Muslim world—left traditional jihadist groups in tatters and on the run. By the mid-1990s, most of the leaders of these groups were dead or behind bars. The only fertile ground remaining for the jihadis was Afghanistan, home to highly trained and battle-seasoned mujahedeen who had served American foreign policy for a decade as a buffer against the Soviets. And while the American hand in creating Afghanistan's jihadis cannot be denied, Gerges points out that Muslim states themselves were at least as guilty because they aggressively encouraged local jihadis to travel to Afghanistan in order to deflate the jihadist threat at home.

Zawahiri, whose story forms the backbone of The Far Enemy is portrayed as an excessively vain man who made the radical choice to join Bin Laden in the 1990s and subsume Tanzim al-Jihad into Al Qaeda—without the knowledge and against the wishes of his top lieutenants—because he was broke and joining up with Al Qaeda would allow him to keep some of his influence in the jihadist universe. The fight was dying down on the home front and the only choices left to him were to join forces with a new breed of terrorists whose ideas he had never before championed, or to fade away into obscurity—a fate worse than death for Zawahiri.

The eclipse of the traditional jihadis had much to do with military defeat, but it was also the inevitable result of intellectual poverty. Far from being a vanguard, the jihadis "have conceptually reached a dead end and no longer possess radically original ideas of any consequence." Al Qaeda striking out at the United States was not the pinnacle of the jihadist movement as some might imagine. Rather, it was an act of desperation that aimed to save the sinking ship by precipitating a "clash of civilizations" with the West that would bring the ummah, or world-wide Muslim community (often disparagingly referred to as the "Arab Street"), into the battle on the jihadists' side.

When measured by this standard, the 9/11 attacks were an utter failure. While many in the Muslim world feel a deep enmity towards the United States, Islamic opinion after the attacks on New York and Washington was almost universally critical of Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. If for no other reason, this revelation makes The Far Enemy a critically important book for Westerners to digest. While debate and criticism of the attacks raged in Muslim lands, it was barely mentioned at all in the Western media, who prefer to give voice to firebrands and provocateurs to the exclusion of moderate voices.

Gerges attempts to correct this tremendous imbalance by meticulously delineating prevailing public opinion following the 9/11 attacks. While members of the intelligentsia and the religious leadership throughout Muslim lands were united in their opposition to Al Qaeda, the most vehement criticism came from members of al-Jama'a al-Islamiya itself, who hold Bin Laden and Zawahiri responsible not only for sullying the name of jihad, but for recklessly endangering the ummah as well.

There has been no room for such complexities in the Western media, however. The schism within the jihadist movement—sparked by a momentous religious and philosophical debate—simply does not fit the template of terrorism as it is regarded in the West. Much more common is an acceptance of Osama bin Laden's own terms: a clash of civilizations and the inevitability of conflict between Islam and the West. "Both camps," says Gerges, "overlook and neglect history and substitute ideology and propaganda for critical analysis and reflection on a highly complex subject."

The Edward Said quote at the top of this review, even though it was written over a decade ago, still applies. A journalist who cannot speak Arabic and has not been immersed in the culture about which he or she is reporting could never have written a document as revealing—and important—as The Far Enemy. The primary target of Said's derision was Judith Miller of the New York Times, who didn't speak Arabic but felt qualified to write stacks of articles and books about the Islamic world nonetheless. Up until her role as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration's WMD claims was exposed, she was a well-regarded expert in the field. The problem is that sloppy, shallow reporting leads to shallow thinking and half-baked ideas. More often than not, when seen through the lens of the Western media, the multiplicity of cultures in the Islamic world merges into an undifferentiated soup of anger and discontent. As Gerges points out, nothing could be further than the truth.

One of the reasons that people tend to conflate Al Qaeda's nihilistic vision with general Muslim sentiment is that too much Al Qaeda propaganda has been taken at face value. Gerges takes the governmental 9/11 Commission to task for their heavy reliance on Al Qaeda sources who are likely to be self-serving and misleading. The transnational jihadis, who represent a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction, would very much like people to believe that they carry more weight than they do or that their decisions were the result of years of careful thought. We shouldn't bolster their cause by taking their word for it.

The Far Enemy makes a very convincing case that Al Qaeda, after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, was highly degraded and on the verge of collapse. It was Bush's decision to invade Iraq that breathed new life into the organization. The Bush administration has, both through their rhetoric and their actions, played into Al Qaeda's hands by uniting a substantial portion of the ummah in opposition to what they perceive as America's imperialist aims.

Unfortunately, you can't unring the bell, and to withdraw from Iraq now would plunge the entire region into misery and bloodshed (more so, that is). A more nuanced understanding of the complexities of Islamic societies and the unique problems they face would go a long way toward ensuring that the American intervention in Iraq ends up being a force for good. As such, Gerges gives a shadow of a warning to the prison keepers of Baghdad, Bagram and beyond: "Arab/Muslim prisons, particularly their torture chambers, have served as incubators for generations of jihadis." It should go without saying that it is a grave error for the Bush administration to follow the Muslim autocracies down the dangerous path of torture and degradation. No good can possibly come of it.

Of course, even though we have forcibly taken it upon ourselves, the task of transforming Muslim societies is not up to us. Gerges writes that the role of Western powers should be to pressure their Muslim allies to change. But, in the end, lasting and positive changes in these societies must be built from the ground up. A truly better life can only be created by those destined to live it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Immaterial Girl

According to Matt Drudge, ex-pop-diva and eternal box-office poison Madonna has eschewed her Material Girl past (although, sadly, not her phony British accent).
The material world. The physical world. The world of illusion, that we think is real. We live for it, we're enslaved by it. And it will ultimately be our undoing.
"To me," the multi-millionaire self-promotion machine continued, "'The Beast' is the modern world that we live in." That's funny, I could have sworn 'The Beast' was that grotesque succubus who gobbled up every last scrap of her sense of humor and left us with the insufferable, preachy culture-squatter we have before us today.

(Word is that executives over at Sony Entertainment also referred to Swept Away as 'The Beast.')

According to Madonna—who took on the Kabbalah name 'Esther' to symbolize her deep and abiding devotion to Jewish mysticism—people "are going to go to hell, if they don't turn from their wicked behavior."

Interestingly enough, there is no hell in Judaism, but let's not forget: she's not a Christian and she's not a Jew. She's just yet another shallow celebrity who feels that she's above the rest of us mere mortals and can pick and choose whatever 'spiritual' nuggets promise to fill the aching void where her soul should be.

It will come as little surprise that, apart from her role as spirit-guide and prophetess, Madonna is shilling for her new documentary film and a new CD. Since she has utterly lost her ability to shock us through her 'art', Madonna has to resort to damning us all to hell or declaiming that "most priests are gay" to get publicity.

At least she didn't have another highly spiritual make-out session with fellow deep-thinker and Kabbalist Britney "Call Me Brandine" Federline-Spears. I think I'd rather watch Swept Away.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Panic in Toledo

I don't know which is more embarrassing: the disgusting neo-Nazi march against "black crime" yesterday in Toledo, Ohio, or the orgy of violence, looting and burning perpetrated by local gang members that went a long way toward proving the white supremacists' point.

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, speaking of the National Socialist Movement members who had planned Saturday's march, noted that the violence was "exactly what they wanted."

While I don't condone it, throwing rocks at the police is one thing because the cops possess the means to protect themselves. Assaulting an ambulance with rocks is another matter altogether and it points to the utter pointlessness of the gang violence. They weren't "protesters," they were just thugs who, in Mayor Ford's words, were "taking advantage" of the situation.

One hopes the city of Toledo will send a clear message that it can do equally well without neo-Nazi provocateurs and nihilistic street gangs. Both groups, when it all comes down to it, represent the same things: the love of violence and the fetishization of power. To hell with the lot of them.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

No Hugging, No Learning

You know we live in a screwed-up world when Curb Your Enthusiasm plots are coming to life. Turns out that New York City's glitterati and literati were alerted in advance about the impending terror attacks on the subway system (as if any of them would be caught dead—or alive—on the subway) while the metropolis' unwashed proles were left in the dark until the NYPD went public.

I guess it makes sense. After all, the great mass of New Yorkers could do little more than duck and cover, while the martini and nail-biting set needs the advanced warning in order to get the custom-made terror suits onto their bichon frises.

Good thing it was just a hoax. Otherwise, regular New Yorkers might be a little pissed off (more than usual, that is).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Overheard on CNN

Jack Cafferty responding to viewer mail from a grammar nazi who points out that Saddam Hussein, if convicted, will be hanged rather than hung:
"You're absolutely right, he would be hanged. We don't know whether he's hung."
I nearly choked on my coffee. And they say TV has nothing to offer.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Pondering the Nobel Peace Prize

The International Atomic Energy Agency, and its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to stop nuclear proliferation—particularly with respect to two spokes of the "Axis of Evil", Iran and North Korea.

The White House heartily applauded the decision. According to Press Secretary Scott McClellan, the Bush administration "welcome[s] the committee recognition of the importance of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons," and added that the U.S. government hopes "to work with Doctor ElBaradei to meet the dangers posed by proliferation, including the threats posed by North Korea and Iran nuclear programs."

That's all well and good, but, unsurprisingly, McClellan made no mention of the Bush administration's own recent use of nuclear intimidation in the War on Terror. You see, at the same time we're applauding the non-proliferation camp, the Pentagon is drawing up plans to use nuclear weapons against terror groups and the countries that support them.
To deter the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, the Pentagon paper says preparations must be made to use nuclear weapons and show determination to use them "if necessary to prevent or retaliate against WMD use."
So, we're willing to help the Nobel laureates counteract nuclear threats from abroad, but we're totally unwilling to even consider the idea that our own massive nuclear arsenal might pose a threat as well. As usual, the Bush administration navigates down a network of one-way streets.

Now, someone better go comfort Bono. He's the one sobbing quietly in the corner.

God Bless America('s Wars)

According to Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath in a forthcoming BBC documentary about the peace process in the Middle East, George Bush told Shaath and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that God talked to him and told him to go to war. "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq,' and I did," Shaath quoted the president as saying.

If that sounds familiar, it may be because you are reminded of what Bush told Bob Woodward in 2004: "I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that." Or is that totally the opposite? My mistake.

The White House is now in the delicate position of having to deny a story that makes Bush look like a schizophrenic nutjob to many people, but plays directly to the religious fundamentalists who form his base and find nothing weird at all about chats with the Almighty.

(A BBC News story about Scott McClellan calling the Palestinian minister's comments "absurd" is running under the unintentionally hilarious headline, "White House denies Bush God claim." Something tells me that whatever our dear leader said, he didn't take it quite that far.)

If these stories turn out to be true and President Bush truly does receive military advice from the father of his favorite political philosopher, then I have a question for God: How come whenever You get chatty, people end up dead? Rather than telling someone to invade a foreign country (or two) or kill their demon-possessed next-door neighbor, couldn't You have a word with the guys on the other side? Maybe a conversation with Saddam about how he should stop killing people would have been in order. And Osama says he knows You. How about having a word with him?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fox in Dubya's Hen House

According to an exclusive ABC News report, Leandro Aragoncillo, who was apparently spying for the Philippines, "worked undetected at the White House for almost three years" (emphasis added). Both the FBI and the CIA—not to mention former White House counter-terrorism expert Richard Clark—say it's the first case of a spy penetrating the inner sanctum of the president that they know about.

The operative phrase here is, "that they know about." The problem with that explanation is that the only spies we tend to "know about" are the unsuccessful ones. Who knows what successful spies there have been—or are now—in the White House. For example, I have it on deep, deep double-secret background from a trusted source who I'll call "Scooter" (or should that be "Libby"?—wait...oh, crap!) that Karl Rove is working for the Death Eaters. Or was that Focus on the Family? I can never keep them straight.

One official summed up his feelings thuswise: "Of course, it is a source of embarrassment when you find out that this kind of activity has been carried out literally right under your nose." True, but the "embarrassment" angle tends to understate matters a smidge by downplaying the "horrendous danger to national security" angle.

But, to anyone paying even a modest amount of attention to the state of the American intelligence community, this should come as no surprise whatsoever. Once again, the clowns in Washington who are "protecting" the nation—and remember, this cuts across party lines because Aragoncillo worked for both Gore and Cheney—have fallen dreadfully short of the task, incapable of protecting even the Oval Office. (Granted, it is oval, so you can't exactly station sentries in the corners, but still....)

So, if the government wants to find Osama bin Laden, why don't they have a look in the West Wing basement? After all, Oliver North was able to run an arms smuggling ring and a secret war from down there for years without anyone noticing. Of course, he's the only person who's ever done that—that we know about.

Monday, October 03, 2005

DeLay's Doo-Doo Deepens

The day after Tom DeLay was indicted on his initial conspiracy charge, I was listening to Rush on the radio (I know, tsk-tsk) and the jolly pundit was positively ebullient. "This is all they got?" he crowed. "One lousy charge?" Rush, always one to blow sunshine up the collective conservative ass, saw this as proof of the Democrats' desperation, impotence and increasing irrelevancy.

Eager to spin contextualize the indictment, Rush quickly added, "This is not money laundering, folks!"

Well, this is.

DeLay has been indicted on two more charges: money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering (something that Rush knows a thing or two about, himself). What's next for for the man ensconced behind the golden E.I.B. mic? "This isn't bestiality or vehicular manslaughter, folks! Three measly charges?"

For once I'd have to agree with El Rushmo. DeLay is a much bigger bastard than this. Perhaps these three charges only represent the tip of the iceberg as The Hammer is Rostenkowskied out of office and into the federal lockup.

A boy can dream.

I Am So Smart, S-M-R-T!

Me, on Saturday, talking about unanswered questions in l'affaire Judith Miller.
I guess we'll have to wait for her tell-all book to know for sure [why she chose to play the martyr for 12 weeks in the pokey when she could have been out and rewriting Bush administration press releases for publication in the New York Times].
(Note: Original quote snarkified by 40%)
Arianna Huffington, today:
Sources tell me that Judy Miller is telling friends that she has made a $1.2 million book deal with Simon & Schuster. I’ve heard from senior editors at the publishing house that the deal is still so hush-hush that word of it has not appeared in the memos that circulate among the editorial staff, keeping them updated on pending deals and acquisitions.
Forget patriotism—a book deal is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Not Hillary, Not for President

(With apologies to Jami.)

Not because she's a Democrat, not because she's a woman, not because she is or isn't a lesbian, not because she's moved too far to the right or she's still too far to the left, not because she did or didn't have something to do with Vince Foster's death, not because she dissed Tammy Wynette and cookie baking moms, not because she's a Cubs fan, not because she pretends to be a Yankees fan, not because of that hairdo—in short, not for any of the usual reasons that the partisans dredge up.

I'm against Hillary Clinton becoming president for what I would consider a practical reason: I'm against political dynasties. Wherever you find a political dynasty—even in democracies (especially in democracies!)—you're sure to catch a whiff of corruption and decay on the breeze.

Look at the Duvalier family in Haiti, the Gandhi-Nehru nexus in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Sukarnos in Indonesia, the Kennedys. Each case proves that immutable fact of dynastic political families: the law of diminishing returns. Nowhere is this law more evident than in the United States right now with the Bush clan. Say what you will about Bush the elder, but he's genius and a brilliant statesman compared to his son.

Even if we were to trade up the current dynastic scale in 2008, a Jeb Bush presidency would do even more to damage America's image—at home and abroad—than George W. has. Even the Republicans seem to realize that there would be something unseemly about having Jeb run for president.

Hillary Clinton was essentially gifted her Senate seat—the first political office she's ever held—because of her role as First Lady. If she becomes president, it will appear to many that she got where she is because of her connections and her last name. That's not the message we want to send to the American public, and it's most certainly not a message we want to send across the pond to friends and allies who may already be questioning just how democratic our political system is. We fought two wars against the British to free ourselves from the tyranny of hereditary rule. Do we really want to return to it by choice?

Now, don't get me wrong. I'd like to see a female president as much as the next guy. But is our democracy really so weak that she's the only one? American political history is already lousy with political dynasties. Let's not make it one more.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

New Wrinkle in Plame Game

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post this morning about the ongoing investigation into the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The other day, New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified to the grand jury that her secret source was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

We learned back in July that Bush's Brian, Karl Rove, had given the same information to Matthew Cooper of Time (Cooper, not having a martyrdom complex, worked out the deal that allowed him to testify before he was sent to prison).

So, we have two members of the upper echelons of the White House who—wittingly or not—blew the cover of a covert CIA operative in a broader attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, who was calling "bullshit" on Bush administration claims that Saddam had attempted to acquire uranium from Niger.

According to the Post, the involvement of Scooter and Rove contradicts statements made to the press in the wake of the July 2003 Robert Novak column that blew the top off of this whole affair.
In October 2003, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that he personally asked Libby and Rove whether they were involved, "so I could come back to you and say they were not involved." Asked if that was a categorical denial of their involvement, he said, "That is correct."
The real question is whether this lie will have any consequences. The special prosecutor on this case, Patrick Fitzgerald, has been investigating a possible violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In order to make his case, Fitzgerald has an uphill battle to prove that Scooter and Rove knew that Plame was undercover and deliberately blew that cover.

The blockbuster revelation from the Post is that Fitzgerald might not be barking up that tree after all.
... a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged ... from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.
Conspiracy charges, as can be seen in the Tom DeLay fracas are easier to bring than straightforward criminal charges. Other lawyers close to the case, however, guess that Fitzgerald has no evidence of criminal intent and will ultimately bring no charges against Scooter, Rove or any other White House official.

The grand jury expires on Oct. 28, so we will know one way or another by then. If no criminal charges are filed, it will be interesting to see what President Bush decides to do. All throughout the intrigue, Bush has not commented on the case, citing the ongoing investigation. Once the investigation is over, however, Bush will be free to comment and, assuming no charges are filed, to take disciplinary actions of his own against the offenders.

What it may come down to is this: does George Bush really value national security? Does he really support the mission of the CIA? Or does all of that go out the window when his buddies are involved? Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Judith Miller Joins Plame Game

New York Times reporter Judith Miller has been released after 12 weeks in the can for refusing to testify as to the identity of a confidential source in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation.

She has now faced the grand jury and lawyers involved in the case say Miller named her source as I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Libby had apparently spoken to the vice president about how to deflect claims that Cheney himself was responsible for sending Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate Saddam Hussein's alleged attempts to acquire uranium. Cheney's response was to emphasize that the CIA had send Wilson "on their own initiative."

These new revelations do little to unravel the central mystery: Did anyone in the White House knowingly blow Plame's cover?

We do know that two White House sources, Karl Rove and I. Lewis Libby, mentioned that Plame suggested her husband for the mission and that she worked for the CIA. It is plausible to infer that Cheney told his chief of staff about the Plame-Wilson connection. The fact that both Rove and Cheney's people were talking to reporters about Plame points to a generalized White House strategy to smear Wilson and discredit the damaging assertions he made in a 2003 New York Times editorial.

What we don't know—and this will be the key to any prosecution that might follow in the wake of Plame's outing—is whether any of the people involved knew she was a covert agent and deliberately blew her cover. This is the burden that the law requires.

Regardless of the law, however, President Bush has the means—if not the responsibility—to punish those responsible for divulging Plame's CIA ties. Whether they did so knowingly, these people are responsible for compromising a covert CIA agent and jeopardizing all of the WMD work she had been involved in. How solid President Bush's commitment to national security is will be determined by how he disciplines those responsible. Don't hold your breath.

An interesting side note to this story is Judith Miller herself. Why, exactly, did she spent those 12 weeks in prison? According to the Times, the same deal that released Miller to testify against Libby has been on the table for some time. It has been suggested by Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post that she may have stayed in prison to transform herself "from a journalistic outcast (based on her gullible pre-war reporting) into a much-celebrated hero of press freedom." I suppose that anyone eager to view Miller as the paragon of journalistic virtue should read what New York magazine had to say about her back in June of 2004.

I, for one, think she may have stayed for the food. If her prison was anything like Guantanamo (as has been shrilly pointed out by our elected representatives and Ann Coulter), she may have gotten used to dining on orange glazed chicken, fresh fruit crepes, steamed peas, and mushrooms and rice pilaf. I guess we'll have to wait for her tell-all book to know for sure.

Bill Bennett, Genocidaire?

Former Drug Czar and long-time Republican presidential appointee Bill Bennett is a lot of things. Here's Brad DeLong's laundry list:
Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place—when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber than he does.
But, as DeLong points out, one of the things he's not is a despicable racist hellbent on destroying the African-American youth of America.

This simple fact has been left out in much of the coverage following his jaw-dropping comments on his national radio program, Bill Bennett's Morning in America. What has been widely reported is Bennett's assertion that, "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

As a stand-alone comment, this is disgusting, racist and inexcusable. But, in the interest of the truth (that pesky thing), it is important to introduce the context in which these words were uttered—a context that is rarely fleshed out in news reports. Bennett was fielding a call from some nut who was postulating the if the abortion rate in this country hadn't been so high for so many years, we would have a fiscally sound Social Security system now.

Bennett's response was to introduce his abort-black-babies theory as a reductio ad absurdum argument. Immediately following the offensive remarks—and much less frequently quoted in the media—was this: "That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

Clearly, Bennett's point was that abortion is not the appropriate lens through which to view such things as economics or crime. That doesn't let him off the hook for the racist assumption of his postulation about the crime rate, but it's only fair to view his comments in their original, unedited context.

There are undoubtedly statistics to back up Bennett's equation of African-Americans to crime. It would be disingenuous to argue otherwise. Perhaps Bennett should take his own advice, however. If it is inappropriate to look at economic matters solely through the lens of abortion, it is certainly inadequate to look at crime only in terms of race. Bennett should know better. The fact that he seems not to leaves some questions about Bennett disturbingly open.
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