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May 29, 2004

The Iraq - al Qaeda Connection

Stephen F. Hayes presents the best case to date of a real connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

According to Hayes, lists of known members of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen force contained one Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Hikmat Shakir. Why this is so interesting is that Shakir also turns up on a list of known attendees of the now famous al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2000. It is believed that this was the chief planning meeting for the attack on America that followed a year later.

Certainly far from conclusive proof, but yet another hint that an Iraq connection to 9/11 may not be so far fetched.

May 28, 2004

Great High Mountain

My wife, God bless her, got us tickets for the Great High Mountain concert tour, which we saw at the Beacon last night here in New York.

What a night. It was some of the finest Appalachian and old-time string music I've heard anywhere, and the acoustics were superb. Ollabelle was amazing. The Nashville Bluegrass Band was amazing. Ralph Stanley and Allison Krauss were, as always, amazing.

As a transplanted Tarheel, it did my heart good to see these ambassadors of my culture come into New York City and flat-out knock the ball out of the park. I was also proud to be a New Yorker. The performers were so warmly an enthusiastically received by the adoring audience that whatever lingering perceptions people may have had about New Yorkers being cold or unfriendly were surely left behind in the Beacon with the empty popcorn boxes. An incredible night, all the way around. If you get a chance to catch the tour, I would highly recommend it.

Speaking of things Southern, I'm leaving first thing tomorrow morning (at some ungodly hour) to spend a week in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Blogging by me will be light or nonexistant. Perhaps CRB can keep the ball rolling until I return. Have a great Memorial Day, all.

Terry Nichols and double jeopardy

All right, I don't have a problem with Terry Nichols frying. Despite my qualms about the death penaly, as long as we have it, we might as well give it to him.

I do, however, have some double jeopardy concerns. I know the legal argument, that because he's being tried by two different sovereigns (federal and state governments), the double jeopardy clause does not apply. Legal loopholes aside, this sort of thing certainly violates the spirit of double jeopardy protection, particularly since the overwhelming majority of crimes are only tried by one sovereign or the other, not both.

The precedent was set in the Jim Crow south, when local governments were not trusted to do justice in certain civil rights cases. Ever since, it's been used to re-try individuals who, for whatever reason, certain people really really really want to convict.

It's still bogus, though. I didn't buy it with the Rodney King cops, I didn't by it with Lemrick Nelson, and I don't buy it now, much as I'd like to see Terry
Nichols fry.

Sick of Michael Moore

God damn, I am SO sick of this guy already!! How long am I gonna have to see that fat-ass obnoxious shit-eating grin on the cover of every newspaper, magazine and website?!

So he got a Palm d'Or. BFD. In the current climate, they would have given me the Palm d'Or if I'd managed to splice together the biggest pile of anti-Bush vitriol in the competition. Michael Moore, your fifteen minutes are up!! Take your Palm Odor award or whatever it is and go home and shut the hell up.

(Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. I feel better now.)

May 27, 2004

Freedom or Security?

We've all heard the famous quote of the American founding father, Benjamin Franklin:

"He that would give up even one freedom for security, deserves neither freedom nor security."

That statement was used frequently as an argument against the PATRIOT Act.
But in reality, we Americans make a personal decision to cede freedom for security all the time. And the amount of freedom given up is in direct proportion to the level of threat.

For example, we grant local police officers powers in return for the promise of protection or we grant airline security the power to search our belongings, something even the police would need probable cause to do anywhere else. Or on another level, people living in high crime neighborhoods put bars on their windows and doors and lock themselves up at night for protection. They give up the freedom to sit outside or walk around after dark for the benefit of security.

With freedom comes risk. As we enter another period of high threat, we Americans need to be vigilant that our government keeps the two opposing forces at the right ratio. A delicate balancing act indeed.

May 26, 2004

God and the E.U.

I have pointed out before how Europeans are often critical of the prominent role religion plays in our daily life here in America. Many on the continent view us as naive and superstitious, and question our commitment to the separation of church and state.

With no apparent sense of irony, however, the people charged with drafting the European constitution are involved in a contentious debate regarding whether explicitly to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage and nature.

So what's the deal? Did they get religion all of a sudden?

Sorry, I'm more cynical than that. I think it's a crass tactical move to keep out the Turks.

Navel-gazing at the Old Gray Lady

Well, the good news is that we finally learn that the New York Times is indeed capable of critical self-examination. The bad news is that they've concluded they were too easy on the Bush administration.

Ah well, it's a start at least. I guess this kind of thing takes practice.

May 24, 2004

Bush's Iraq address

Oh hell, what is there to write? I can't exactly say I "hung on every word" (Cicero he's not). I was, on the other hand, glad to hear some actual details for a change. Lord knows we've heard few enough of them up to this point. I would have preferred to hear a bit more about the security situation specifically, but I think the speech served its primary function: to dispel the impression that the administration is rudderless, and without a concrete plan of action. The White House is partially responsible for this perception due to its secretive, non-communicative nature. The American people can be understanding and supportive of a war effort that is more difficult than anyone had previously believed. What they won't tolerate, however, is a belief that our forces are adrift in Iraq, wandering about more or less randomly, lacking a clear strategy, while the situation steadily degrades. No one's opinion of the war will have been changed on either side tonight. The goal was much more minimal than that -- merely to stem the panic. To that extent I think the speech was a modest success.

From the "don't let the doorknob..." department

This probably won't be of interest to anyone here other than me, but this guy was sheriff of my neighboring county when I lived in North Carolina. It's always gratifying to see such a loathsome individual brought down to earth.


For nearly a decade, Gerald Hege was both loved and loathed as the larger-than-life embodiment of law enforcement in Davidson County. Then his career fell apart. Facing 15 felony counts in a corruption and abuse investigation, Hege pleaded guilty last week to two counts of obstruction of justice in a deal that kept him out of prison.

For a sheriff who kept inmates in pink jail cells and had deputies dress up in paramilitary uniforms, it was an ignominious end -- and there was no trace of his flamboyant self when he slipped out a side door of the downtown courthouse and got into the back seat of his attorney's silver Chevrolet Suburban.

As his lawyers sped away, Hege's face was hidden by tinted windows.

May 23, 2004

More on foreign insurgents in Iraq

Several Arab newspapers are reporting that Kuwaiti youths are being recruited and trained in Syria for jihad duty in Iraq. Many Kuwaitis are unhappy.


The Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam reported: "Kuwaiti Islamist missionaries (Du'aat) enticed Kuwaiti teenagers with the idea of Jihad, urged them to take part in the Iraqi resistance against the Americans, and arranged their passage to Syria. There, the teenagers met clandestinely [with trainers] who prepared them for combat and secured their crossing into Iraq via the Syrian border.

"Family members of two Kuwaiti youngsters said that a [certain] group in Al-Fuheihil lured their sons aged 16 and 17 and convinced them to go to Syria after requiring them to shave off their beards and to change their hairstyles according to the new fashion to avoid suspicion. They added that they had discovered their sons' intentions through friends who disclosed to them parts of the propaganda and enticement schemes. The relatives gave the information to the [Kuwaiti] foreign ministry, which demanded from the Kuwaiti embassy in Damascus to find the two Kuwaiti teenagers immediately, and to coordinate that with the Syrian authorities in order to prevent their travel to Iraq. The search for them is still going on."

Sources in the Kuwaiti Defense Ministry reported that one of the teenagers contacted his relatives and told them that he was indeed in Syria, but did not disclose his location.

May 22, 2004

Michael Moore takes the Palme d'Or

Woo hoo. Hurray for Michael. The French love him. Just like Jerry Lewis.

He didn't fall...

...the sonofabitch pushed him.


President Bush suffered cuts and bruises early Saturday afternoon when he fell while mountain biking on his ranch, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
Bush was on the 16th mile of a 17-mile ride when he fell, Duffy said. He was riding with a military aide, members of the Secret Service and his personal physician, Dr. Richard Tubb.

"He had minor abrasions and scratches on his chin, upper lip, nose, right hand and both knees," Duffy said. "Dr. Tubb, who was with him, cleaned his scratches, said he was fine. The Secret Service offered to drive him back to the house. He declined and finished his ride."

Bush was wearing his bike helmet and a mouth guard when the mishap occurred. Duffy said he didn't know exactly how the accident happened.


I do. The sonofabitch pushed him.

May 21, 2004

Strange week in Iraq

Like most Americans, I don't quite know what to make of the "wedding" massacre in Iraq. I do wonder whether stories such as this one, combined with a fresh round of photos from Abu Ghraib will be enough to drive erstwhile hawks such as Andrew Sullivan and Charles Krauthammer over the edge.

I also don't know what to make of the recent raid on Chalabi's residence, although this may be a clue. At least it's a signal that this administration is capable of admitting mistakes after all, at least tacitly. That's something, I suppose.

May 20, 2004

Men's liberation

I wonder if my friend Chet was involved in the recent powder bombing of Tony Blair in the name of father's rights. Chet was a "men's liberationist." He shared the radical feminist view of marriage as an institution of slavery, but he differed as to which party was being enslaved. When we lived in Paris more than a decade ago, I'd spend many a night listening to Chet expound his theories over Neil Young music and many liters of Alsacian malt liquor. While I regarded many of his views as bullshit, I also found them endlessly fascinating. I'll try to share one of them with you now, as accurately as my beer-faded memory will allow. Chet, if you're out there, correct me if I'm wrong.

According to Chet, men and women each have a primary and a secondary fantasy. For a woman, the primary fantasy is a husband, a house, two kids and a dog, and a stable, secure home life. Her secondary fantasy is Enrique the gardener. A man's secondary fantasy is much the same as a woman's primary fantasy. His primary fantasy, however, is the Swedish Bikini Team. So why is a bride's wedding day the happiest day of her life? Because it represents the triumph and fulfillment of her primary fantasy. Simultaneously, however, we have the subordination of the husband's primary fantasy primary fantasy to his secondary. The rough male equivalent of a wedding would be having the Swedish Bikini Team parachute into your backyard, and to have a 1,000-foot high brick wall suddenly spring up from the ground, surrounding your house for all eternity.

That's the theory in a nutshell, at least as well as I remember. I'm still not sure I completely buy it, but, as with many of Chet's screeds, it has given me ample food for thought over the years. Chet, you should start your own blog, dude.

Sarin wrap-up

Blogging has been light recently, due in equal parts to my increasingly busy schedule and my increasingly slow server. The chemicals in the IED attack have been confirmed as sarin, although you wouldn't know that unless you read Fox News. The reaction of the major media (or lack thereof) to this story is stunning, but I won't belabor the points and observations that have already been made by others in the blogosphere. I will, however, add a few postscripts.

This dismissal from the Left I find the most fascinating goes like this: It was a very old shell, most likely left over from when Saddam gassed the Shiites. That could well be, but so what? That would imply it originated from the known stockpile that Saddam claimed to have destroyed, but could not satisfactorily substantiate their destruction. That was a major, oft-cited reason for the war, and one that now seems to have been at least partially validated. Granted, one shell does not a stockpile make, but the things are mass produced, and to me it's like cockroaches: if you see one, it's safe to assume there are plenty more where that one came from.

As I recall, another major justification for action was fear that these chemical weapons might fall into the hands of terrorists. This too, it would seem, has come to pass. So why only now, if the weapons have been there all along? Perhaps the enemy just now discovered them. God knows their whereabouts
couldn't have been obvious.

Finally, just in case you missed it, I'd like to share with you what I thought was the greatest exchange on this subject yet, between two readers on Tim Blair's site. Enjoy.


Reader IXLNXS writes:

Invading Iraq for one shell of outdated sarin gas equates to the local police kicking in your door and shooting your family because your supposedly have a huge weapons cache, and they end up finding a pistol.

Lets wait and see what else develops of this before the "Mission Accomplished" banner unveils shall we.

And reader CurrencyLad responds:

Your analogy should run like this:

Three of that family's neighbours had been shot at by the householder concerned. The Kurdish neighbours down the street had been poisoned to death. The police issued operational commands for the household to be lawfully raded by SWAT unless the madman came out peacefully. Affadavits had been signed by most of the local citizens attesting to the relevant crimes.

The miscreant householder didn't come out with his hands up. A few of the neighbours were being bribed to look the other way, as were a few police officers. Fearful for their well being, some of the neighbours facilitated the rading of the house by a coalition of security firms. The madman was removed.

Doesn't even really matter whether or not they found weapons in the manhole or the basement. As it happens, they found a few. Kurdish neighbours will not be slaughtered again, others will not be burgled again. Madman's children will not be abused again.

Mission goddam accomplished.

May 18, 2004

Rupert, give this guy a job!

Blaster's Blog has suggested a headline for the NYP's article on the sarin shell:


potential NY Post headline: "Blix Shits Brix"

Maxi pads?

From the latest set of revelations, we learn that Iraqi prisoners were forced, among other things, to wear "maxi pads".

I have it on good authority that detainees were also made to don white pantsuits and ride horses along the beach in slow motion.

Kerry honors Brown

What is this, a UPS commercial?


Brown summoned our country to make real the ideal of one nation and one people.... All of America is a better place because of Brown.... Brown began to tear down the walls of inequality.... Because as far as we've come, we still have not met the promise of Brown.

May 17, 2004

Rallying cry revision

"THERE ARE NO WMD IN IRAQ!!!"

"THERE ARE PROBABLY NOT MANY WMD's IN IRAQ, AND BESIDES, THEY'RE PROBABLY REAL OLD AND PROBABLY WON'T KILL VERY MANY PEOPLE!!!"

Hmm, it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it? I guess that's why some of Bush's critics are downplaying recent WMD stories currently coming from Iraq (oh, it appears we can add mustard gas to the list of recent discoveries, by the way).

Still, it seems to me the discovery of this sarin shell raises some very obvious questions that we should all want the answers to, no matter which side of the war debate we're on: Where did it come from? How many were created? When? By whom? Where has it been hiding all this time? Are there others where this one came from? If not, why? If so, how many and where?

Astonishingly, many of the liberals I have spoken with seem to have zero interest in learning these answers. Indeed, they seem only interested in dismissing the significance of the story altogether. Once again, it's the subordination of reasoned inquiry to blatant politics.

Make no mistake, the significance of these discoveries is far from clear. There have been false alarms in the past, and this could certainly be another. The reflexive dismissals of the liberal left, however, before all the facts are even in, speaks volumes.

Non-existent WMD explodes in Iraq

Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq. We all know that, so where the hell did the sarin gas come from? Huh? Anyone? Beuller?


A roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent exploded near a U.S. military convoy, but there were no casualties, the U.S. military said Monday.

"The Iraqi Survey Group confirmed today that a 155-millimeter artillery round containing sarin nerve agent had been found," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq. "The round had been rigged as an IED (improvised explosive device) which was discovered by a U.S. force convoy.

"A detonation occurred before the IED could be rendered inoperable. This produced a very small dispersal of agent," he said.

May 15, 2004

Two newspapers 'fess up

Well it didn't come easy, but both the Daily Mirror and the Boston Globe were finally forced to admit that they published bogus pictures of coalition soldiers torturing and raping Iraqis. I don't expect much from the Mirror, but I'm still stunned that the Globe fell for those cheesy porno vidcaps hook, line and sinker. Geez!

More torture videos on the way?

Roger Simon says so, but these are different. They were all filmed under Saddam Hussein. He says we can expect to see

  • [A]ctual live castrations of Kurds.
  • Two beheadings, during one of which "Happy Birthday, Saddam" is being sung in Arabic.
  • Fingers being cut off one by one from a hand tied to a board.
  • People being thrown off four-story buildings, one forced to wear a Superman costume.
  • A man scourged ninety-nine times.
  • Three different instances of gas poisonings (probably employing different types), including dead babies.
Loyal readers will understand that I'm not posting this to minimize the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. As a democracy we should not shy away from critical self-examination. Neither, however, should we forget the living nightmare we have ended in Iraq.

May 14, 2004

Vintage candy

My post the other night about Space Food Sticks got me waxing nostalgic, and I found this great site on the web. Check out all this great old candy! Who knew they still made this stuff?

Remember Marathon bars? They were 12 inches long and had that cool ruler on the back of the wrapper. I guess they can no longer be had, alas, even here, but there is a replacement.

Remember the milk bottles with colored liquid? And I had forgotten about these wax lips.

Astro Pops were cool looking, but they didn't taste very good. I always liked these chocolate babies, but I never knew what they were called. I won't tell you what my grandmother called them.

Mikey died from eating these and drinking Coke, but I preferred Zots, for a less intense experience. I always disliked Necco Wafers and hated Circus Peanuts. My ex-fiancée used to like Circus Peanuts. That should have been a warning sign. These Candy Buttons always looked so weird to me that I never even tried them. Kind of like flypaper.

Ah, the memories....

Making fun of a dead soldier, for fun and profit

Ted Rall is auctioning off the original artwork for his disgusting Pat Tillman cartoon. Current high bid is $4,500.


Many people have written to ask about the price for the original artwork for last week's Tillman cartoon. Current high bid is $4,500; whoever is the high bidder as of Sunday night gets it.

For those who wonder, my originals normally sell for $500-$750.

Krauthammer on Rummy and Abu Ghraib

I may disagree with Charles Krauthammer on the issue of Rumsfeld's resignation, but he does bring up a very good point. Isn't the spectacle of all these Democrats clamoring for Rummy's head just a little hypocritical?


Democrats calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation invoke the principle of ministerial responsibility: a Cabinet secretary must take ultimate responsibility for what happens on his watch. Interesting idea. Where was it in 1993 when the attorney general of the United States ordered the attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, which ended in the deaths of 76 people?

Janet Reno went to Capitol Hill and said, "It was my decision, and I take responsibility." This was met with approving swoons and applause. Was she made to resign? No. And remember: This was over an action that did not just happen on her watch but that she ordered -- an action that resulted in the deaths of, among others, more than 20 children.

May 13, 2004

Hey, remember Space Food Sticks?

Those were cool.

Tucker Carlson, dork

Tucker Carlson jumped the shark when Hillary made him eat a shoe on national television, and I don't think he's ever recovered. Now the New York Observer is making a big deal over the fact that he's going wobbly over the war:


...[I]t seems Mr. Carlson has had a change of heart recently. While he's still a staunch conservative -- he's anti-abortion, married with four kids -- he's changed his mind about the war in Iraq. "I think it's a total nightmare and disaster, and I'm ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it," he said. "It's something I'll never do again. Never. I got convinced by a friend of mine who's smarter than I am, and I shouldn't have done that. No. I want things to work out, but I'm enraged by it, actually."

Say what? The guy CNN chose to represent the voice of American conservatism only hawked the war, against his own better judgment, because a "smarter" "friend" of his talked him into it? Can a pundit of such national prominence actually be so malleable?

You'd better believe it. Check out this jaw-dropping passage from his recent book. It deals with his reaction to a spurious rape charge that was levied against him by a deranged Kentucky woman:


I went home and went to bed. At three in the morning I woke up feeling completely out of control. Still half asleep, I was suddenly convinced that somehow I must have raped this woman, whoever she was. I must have done it while sleepwalking or during some sort of memory-erasing seizure. She couldn't have made up the whole thing. Maybe I have a brain tumor, I thought. Maybe I'm leading a double life I don't even know about. Maybe I'm going insane.

I got up and walked downstairs. For an hour I sat on the front steps thinking about my life, my wife and my three children, my job, and how it was all going to end because of something terrible I didn't even remember doing. I felt sadder than I had in a long time.


Jesus on a surfboard, can you believe that? The guy doesn't know whether he raped a woman or not. How can he be expected to form a consistent, principled position on the war? Am I the only one who thinks this guy is absolutely pathetic?

I'm not knocking Tucker just because he's turned on the war. I've had misgivings about it myself, and there are many principled war critics whose opinions I respect. Tucker Carlson is not among them. If our fortunes in Iraq were suddenly and dramatically to change for the better, it's too easy to imagine this bow-tied dweeb saying, "Well, I was never really against the war either. I shouldn't have listened to Pat Buchanan. I'll never do that again. Never."

Bad news for Bush

Hot on the heels of the California poll I posted earlier comes this poll out of Ohio, sure to be unsettling for the Bush campaign.


John Kerry leads George W. Bush among likely voters in Ohio according to a survey by the American Research Group. A total of 49% of likely voters say they would vote for Kerry if the presidential election were being held today and 42% say they would vote for Bush. A total of 2% of likely voters say they would vote for Ralph Nader and 7% of likely voters are undecided.

Cobbling together an electoral victory without Ohio will be almost impossible for the Bush team.

Can this be true?

Roger Simon is reporting that a recent poll has Kerry leading Bush by a mere one point in California. I was prepared to believe some earlier reports about Democratic panic were exaggerated and premature, but now I'm not so sure anymore.

Some good news for a change

While the Abu Ghraib and Nick Berg atrocities have sucked all the oxygen from the news cycle, there seems to have been slow but steady progress in parts of Iraq where the coalition is fighting to put down Sadr's Shiite uprising.


...American forces, which have been ringing Najaf and Karbala for weeks, have in recent days struck decisively at Mr. Sadr's militia.

In Karbala, American soldiers killed at least 22 insurgents in an 11-hour battle around a mosque that began late Tuesday night. Soldiers killed at least three more in fighting in the same neighborhood on Wednesday, said Col. Peter Mansoor, the commander of the First Brigade of the First Armored Division, who is charged with crushing the insurgency by Mr. Sadr's militia. At least seven Americans were wounded.

The fighting at the Mukhaiyam Mosque and the warrens of the surrounding neighborhood brought hundreds of American soldiers within a quarter mile of two of the most sacred places in Shiite Islam, the golden-domed shrines of Hussein and Abbas. Though the Americans say they are determined to destroy Mr. Sadr's forces, they have been cautious about bringing the war to the holy areas here and in Najaf. Invading the city centers of either place, they fear, could stir the wrath of Shiite Muslims around the world, even those who dislike Mr. Sadr.

Tuesday night, the Americans made a high-risk gamble by trying to breach the Mukhaiyam Mosque, situated just west of the Shrine of Hussein. The attack was one of the largest operations carried out in the past year by the First Armored Division, which until now was responsible for controlling Baghdad. Fighting raged on all sides of the mosque, with soldiers scrambling through rubble-strewn streets and ducking sniper shots and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Americans relied heavily on the devastating cannons and machine guns of their M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, which pounded surrounding buildings, setting many on fire.

Colonel Mansoor said that he believed the attack on the mosque had broken the back of the insurgents and that their activities would drop off sharply. But he also observed that the insurgents were "tenacious."

Nobel Peace laureate defends the war in Iraq

Jose Ramos-Horta, East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize winner, has an interesting opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal.


Those who oppose the use of force at any cost may question why overthrowing Saddam was such a priority. Why not instead tackle Robert Mugabe, the junta in Myanmar, or Syria? But while Mugabe is a ruthless despot, he is hardly in the same league as Saddam--a tyrant who used chemical weapons on his own people, unleashed two catastrophic wars against his Muslim neighbors, and defied the U.N.

Saddam's overthrow offers a chance to build a new Iraq that is peaceful, tolerant and prosperous. That's why the stakes are so high, and why extremists from across the Muslim world are fighting to prevent it. They know that a free Iraq would fatally undermine their goal of purging all Western influence from the Muslim world, overthrowing the secular regimes in the region, and imposing Stone Age rule. They know that forcing Western countries to withdraw from Iraq would be a major step toward that goal, imperiling the existence of moderate regimes--from the Middle East to the Magreb and Southeast Asia.


Read the whole thing.

Racism on American Idol?

Nah, I don't really think so, but I'm predicting the question will be posed. Last night, for the second time in recent weeks, the bottom two contestants were both African-American girls. To make matters worse, La Toya London and Fantasia Barrino are arguably the best singers in the competition. La Toya was voted off, unfairly in my opinion.

Before the charges of racism fly however, we should consider a few things. Four of this season's final twelve were black, and most of them made it quite far into the competition. Last year, of course, Ruben Studdard won the title. Still, injustices like last night's have happened before. The most egregious still being in season one, when Tamyra Gray met her untimely demise.

The explanation, I think, lies not with racial bigotry, but with a flaw in the voting system. The television audience phones in each week to vote for their favorite contestant, and the one with the fewest votes gets booted off the show. That sounds okay as far as it goes, but one of the side effects is that it encourages "strategic" voting. A viewer often decides to vote for a sentimental favorite, someone viewed as needing some extra help, instead of actually voting for the best performer. Last night, for example, I think Jasmine Trias got a strong sympathy vote, since


  • she was widely expected to be kicked off this week, and
  • she cried.

Many voters likely assumed that La Toya and Fantasia were "safe", and therefore didn't need any extra votes. A good way to end this kind of unintended travesty would be to change the voting system. Instead of voting for their favorites each week, viewers should vote for the person they want kicked off. That way, there's no ambiguity in the results. When a person gets kicked off, it's because America voted that way. Crueler, perhaps, but certainly fairer in the long run.

For the record, I'm pulling for Fantasia, not only because she's a fellow North Carolinian, but I think she's got the voice and the personality to be the next Idol.

May 12, 2004

Pete Stark, call your office

I guess I wasn't the only one pissed off at the 50 congressmen who voted against HR 627 after all. According to Citizen Smash, a certain Daniel Dow of California (a sergeant in the U.S. Army, by the way) faxed Pete Stark, his representative, to express his disapproval of Stark's "nay" vote. To Dan's surprise, the congressman called to leave the following message on his answering machine:


Dan, this is Congressman Pete Stark, and I just got your fax. And you don't know what you're talking about. So if you care about enlisted people, you wouldn't have voted for that thing either.

But, probably someone put you up to this, and I'm not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in your letter, and somebody wrote it for you. So I don't pay much attention to it.

But I'll call you back later, and let you tell me more about why you think you're such a great God-damned hero. And why you think that this general and the Defense Department who forced these poor enlisted guys to do what they did, shouldn't be held to account. That's the issue.

So if you want to stick it to a bunch of enlisted guys, have your way. But if you want to get to the bottom of the people who FORCED this AWFUL program in Iraq, then you should understand more about it than you obviously do.

Ah well, at least that "personal touch" hasn't been entirely lost. All I get from my congressman is a franked, mass-produced newsletter showing him shaking hands and cutting ribbons.

Te-RAY-sa's 11%

Geez, no wonder she wanted to keep her tax returns secret.


Democrat John Kerry's wife, Teresa - one of America's richest women - had over $5 million in income last year, but paid a lower tax rate than an ordinary person earning $50,000, according to a campaign statement released yesterday.

The campaign said Mrs. Kerry, who files her returns separately from her husband, had $5.1 million in income and paid at least $587,000 in federal taxes - a rate of 11.5 percent.

AWOL senator

In days past, the citizens of Massachusetts would get pissed off about "taxation without representation". No more, it seems. John Kerry (who served in Vietnam) has missed the majority of votes in the senate since he began his presidential campaign. Now the senator's absence has cost a defeat for his party in their efforts to extend jobless benefits:


The bid to extend federal jobless benefits for an extra 13 weeks failed by 59-40, one short of the 60 votes needed because the cost would exceed last year's budget agreement.

Contrast this with Bob Dole, who, although facing longer odds than Kerry, had the good manners to resign from the senate when he launched his presidential bid.

More thoughts on the Nick Berg murder

Unwittingly, Zarqawi has reminded us why we fight. We also have images to compare side-by-side with the outrages in Abu Ghraib, and help put them in perspective. We also see the contrast in how our two cultures respond to their respective atrocities. Americans are shocked, embarrassed, and (rightly) outraged at the behavior of our soldiers. But we have not become like our enemy. Were that the case, we'd have been out in the streets dancing when the prisoner photos were released, and shooting guns in the air. Instead, we are having congressional hearings and courts martial. This horrific video puts lie to the offensive notion of "moral equivalency" that much of our Western media has been flirting with of late.

May 11, 2004

Also a Jew

If the murder by beheading of Nick Berg in Iraq seemed eerily similar to the murder of Daniel Pearl, it's likely not a coincidence.

From CNN:

Berg's father said his son was Jewish and had a fringed religious cloth with him, but he did not think Berg wore the clothing in public. Still, "there's a better chance than not that they knew he was Jewish," Michael Berg said. "If there was any doubt that they were going to kill him that probably clinched it, I'm guessing."

If you are so inclined, a link to the unedited video can be found here. I normally don't recommend watching such a brutal execution, but with all the worldwide criticism heaped on America for the mistakes of a few of its soldiers, perhaps seeing what real torture looks like will provide some much needed perspective.

Air America ugliness

For those of you who missed it (and I'm sure most of you did), here is Air America's Randi Rhodes, from yesterday's program, comparing George W. Bush to Fredo Corleone. She's openly lamenting that Poppy or Jeb hasn't taken the president on a "fishing" trip, and blown his brains out. Give it a listen. Does this qualify as "hate radio"?

This just in

Reports of anti-Semitic hatred and violence continue to pour in... at exactly the same rate as prior to the release of The Passion of the Christ.

Thank you, that is all.

May 09, 2004

Losing faith

I'm going to add my voice to the growing chorus of people calling for Rumsfeld's resignation. Many of these people, particularly some Republicans, view Rumsfeld as a sacrificial lamb: "it's either his job now or Bush's in November". I think there's more to it than that. I think Secretary Rumsfeld bears serious, direct responsibility for a number of the failures in this war.

I wasn't so keen on the Rumsfeld appointment after Bush was elected, but I was reassured, at first, by his efforts to modernize our armed services, as well as a number of other positive initiatives. He carried a good idea too far, however, and prized the realization of his vision of a lightweight, ultramodern military for the 21st century above all else. Everyone should now agree that he seriously underestimated the commitment in terms of "boots on the ground" necessary to stage this occupation, much less to put down a growing insurgency. But I can forgive that. What I cannot forgive is the DoD's obstinate refusal to address, or even acknowledge this miscalculation.

It's not a stretch to say that this failure, in part, ultimately led to the atrocities in Abu Ghraib. Prisons were woefully understaffed, largely by reservists and other servicemen who lacked MP training, and there was an over reliance on the use of private contractors. I still believe the war and peace in Iraq are both winnable, but it cannot be done on the cheap. Grave damage has already been done to our war effort. Let's not inflict any more.

Rumsfeld must go, and the sooner the better.

Happy Mother's Day!

Cherish 'em while they're here, folks. I'm going to call mine later today.

May 08, 2004

"Morning after" Chicken Littles

<Cue Maureen McGovern>
There's got to be a morning after...

All right, I'm pro-choice, and I realize that by writing this I'm going to piss off some people who would otherwise be my allies. The FDA has decided not to approve the so-called "morning after" contraceptive for over-the-counter sales. In so doing, they went against the recommendation of a panel of scientific advisers, so I don't doubt for a minute that politics was at work here.

Nonetheless, forgive me if I don't see at a sign of impending apocalypse. A prescription is currently required for standard oral contraception, so the fact that a prescription should be required for what is essentially a mega-dose of the same hormones does not exactly herald a return to the Dark Ages.

I know I'll get angry mail about slippery slopes, stealing a loaf of bread a slice at a time, and boiling a frog in water. Spare me, I've heard 'em all before. And remember, I'm on your side. But those who are doing the whole Chicken Little bit about this peripherally choice-related issue are of the same ilk as the NRA crowd who claim that if you ban howitzers, they'll eventually come for our Daisy Sharpshooter BB guns.

Had the FDA decision gone the other way, I certainly would have had no complaint, but it didn't. It may not be the decision you or I would have made, but it's also not the end of the world. I promise.

The balls on this guy!

Ted Rall, in discussing the controversy surrounding his Pat Tillman cartoon, has the gall to condemn "the right-wing hatred" of those that dared criticize the strip, apparently with no sense of irony whatsoever!

Worse and worse

Well it looks like more is coming in the ever-widening Iraqi prisoner scandal. It's hard to find a silver lining here, but at least it's heartening to see the world finally begin caring about Iraqi human rights.

May 07, 2004

Dogs can be heroes too

As a heartfelt dog lover, I found this slideshow tribute to the heroic 9/11 dogs especially moving. Be careful watching this at work. If you're like me, you might get a little weepy. Check it out. (Hat tip: Tim Blair)

288,000 Net Jobs Created in April

More good economic news today as the Bureau of Labor statistics released their latest job statistics. The preliminary April number was +288,000 net new jobs, which was higher than expected. The BLS also revised upwards the March number to +337,000 net new jobs created.

Summary

Unemployment was slightly lower at 5.6%, the number of unemployed dropped by 118,000 in April.

More on HR 627

The exact text of the resolution is here. While I could certainly identify elements to which some war critics might object, I still feel like this was the wrong time for such posturing and grandstanding. It's time to get on the record condemning these atrocities, period.

Am I the only one who's pissed off about this? How is this vote going to play in the rest of the world? It's hard to explain to other countries that 12% of our congressmen are simply jerks who don't know when to just vote "YES" and shut up, and that it doesn't really mean we condone barbaric behavior by our troops.

May 06, 2004

WTF?!?

The house just passed a resolution deploring the abuse of Iraqi figures. The final vote was 365-50! Sweet, sufferin' Jesus, who were the 50 "No" votes? Names, I want names!! Well, we got 'em here.

UPDATE: Upon examining the list of dissenters, I see quite a few familiar names. Some of them were already on my shit list, and some will have to be added. You should check it out in its entirety, but a few names stood out for me:


Clyburn
Jackson-Lee
Kucinich
McDermott
Owens
Pelosi
Rangel
Waters
Waxman

I don't care what kind of lame-ass excuse they have for voting against this measure, but there's no excuse that would justify it in my mind. Shame!

More thoughts on the U.N.

I think one reason that many in the West are so enamored of the United Nations is that they view it as the ultimate democracy: a global town hall, where each nation gets an equal say in the General Assembly, regardless of size, population or wealth (the Security Council is decidedly less democratic, but that's another story).

But is that a good thing? The U.N. has a charter, and its purpose is to promote liberty, human rights, and tolerance, not simple majority rule for the international community. I think it's reasonable to demand that member states demonstrate at least minimal adherence to the principles set forth in the U.N. charter as a precondition for inclusion.

What purpose is served by allowing Sudan to have voting membership at all? Are we really to believe that the Sudanese delegation is in any way representative of the will of the Sudanese people? How many delegates to the U.N. are there representing governments that came to power simply by being the toughest thug on the block? To confer legitimacy on these nations, and to grant them the same influence as, say, Belgium (don't ask why, I just picked it), makes a mockery of everything the U.N. supposedly stands for.

One can legitimately ask why we need the U.N. at all, at least in its current form. Its advocates present us with a false choice between the current world body on the one hand, and rampant, reckless, unilateralism on the other. But alliances and coalitions of nations have always banded together to address international crises. They have done so long before the advent of the U.N., and would continue to do so if the U.N. were to magically disappear tomorrow.

Indeed, the U.N. was founded around just such an alliance -- the victors of World War II. The problem is that the makeup of the Security Council is frozen in time to reflect an alliance that arose to face a specific threat more than half a century ago. One of the five permanent member nations no longer even exists (the Soviet Union), and probably shouldn't have been included in the first place. They were only an "ally" because the Germans betrayed them. Up until that time, they were a happy member of the "Evil-Dictators-Taking-over-the-World" club. The UNSC is an anachronism. Why China and not Japan? Why Russia and not India? Why France and not Germany? The current structure is, at best, an anachronism. These are fundamental, structural problems, above and beyond the widespread corruption we're seeing again with the "oil for food" program.

So should the U.N. reform itself? Only if it means to be taken seriously.

A Republican fights for fiscal restraint

I was encouraged today by Bob Novak's column about Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan. He has proposed a bill that would limit the growth of federal spending, and eliminate the ridiculous practice of "baseline" budgeting (whereby a certain amount of growth is structurally built into the budget) among other things.

Granted, there will be entrenched opposition to such reforms, but Ryan seems to have the majority of the GOP caucus in his corner. It may be an uphill battle, but it's an important one, if the Republicans are to have any hope of reclaiming the mantle of the party of fiscal discipline.

The U.N. and Sudan

In light of this, can someone explain to me again why we should grant the U.N. veto power over American foreign policy decisions, or cede to them the authority to prosecute U.S. citizens for "war crimes"?


Sudan won an uncontested election yesterday to the United Nations' main human rights watchdog, prompting the United States to walk out because of alleged ethnic cleansing in the country's Darfur region.

Iraq: who does it help?

Let's face it, things haven't been going so well over there lately. So who benefits politically? Common sense would suggest Kerry of course, yet the polls haven't borne that out. Daniel Drezner attempted to explain this divergence last week, by positing that increased unrest and turmoil overseas keeps the focus on issues of national security and defense, where Bush still enjoys a strong advantage over his opponent.

I thought it was an interesting idea, but I wasn't convinced at first. Now, however, I can't help but wonder whether Daniel's counterintuitive theory has not become the new conventional wisdom. Kerry's campaign has launched a "three day education tour", in which he slams Bush for the No Child Left Behind Act (for which Kerry, ironically, voted).

Where did this come from? With all the news coming out of Iraq these days, most of it bad, why would Kerry suddenly choose to highlight education policy? Answer: it's a classic Democratic strong suit. My guess is that Team Kerry studied the polling data and came to the exact same conclusions that Drezner did. Maybe Dan's not so crazy after all.

May 05, 2004

The State of California

My favorite weekly read, The Economist, focuses its survey section on the condition of California. Ah-nold has a unique opportunity to fix the 6th largest economy in the world, but he has a long, long way to go.

Graph

From a heavy debt load, to a broken education system, to a direct government system that helps to make California one of the most expensive places to do business, Schwarzenegger will be busy.

And if he somehow manages to succeed, I'll be the first to call for a change to the Constitution so he can run for President.

May 04, 2004

Kerry loses ground in key states

John Kerry (who served in Vietnam) has seen his approval ratings slip over the past two months, according to the Annenberg Election Survey (PDF). The decline is even more pronounced in key battleground states, where he is now viewed unfavorably by 36% of the population, and favorably by only 35%. The report is not all good news for Bush either, but the Democrats have got to be worried.

Campaign Finance Reform?

Kerry and Bush Awash in Money

In the first Presidential election campaign since the McCain-Feingold reform law, this is what we now learn:

This year's presidential race - fueled by more than a million donors,
including many who have never given before - is well on its way to
becoming the country's first $1-billion political campaign, experts say.

While I never agreed with campaign finance reform, it is ironic that more money is now flowing into the campaigns than ever before. I can't help but think that money could be better spent.

First Air America, Now Gore TV

This is getting ridiculous. Apparently the belief is that because FoxNews and Conservative talk radio has become so popular, the Liberal message is no longer being heard.

Well, if Air America is supposed to be the counterweight to Hannity and Limbaugh, then I guess Gore TV is the same to FoxNews.

I guess we can't be trusted to think for ourselves anymore.

"Dumbass analogy of the year" nominee

Tony Robinson compares the abuses of Iraqi detainees to fraternity hazings.


ROBINSON: I've seen -- I've seen worse than this at -- frat hazing is worse than this.

Ted Rall responds

Ted Rall defends his latest outrage in his blog:


The purpose of a political cartoon is to stimulate discussion, and there was no discussion about America's post-9/11 death cult.

Ah, so he wanted to "stimulate discussion". Well here he succeeded. Unfortunately, most of the discussion seems to be centered on what an asshole Ted Rall is. I'd be surprised if he didn't also succeed in "stimulating" some discussion in the boardroom of his syndicator about whether they're going to fire his ass. (And what's that about a "death cult", anyway?)

Kerry was in Vietnam? Who knew?

From this piece on Kerry's new campaign ads:


John Kerry yesterday launched two new biographical ads to introduce himself to voters - and they focus almost entirely on his Navy service in Vietnam.

Gee, now there's a shocker.

North Korea "gets" the message

I'm sure there's a reason why this is insignificant, but while we wait for the antiwar left to explain it to us, let's just savor it, why don't we.


North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.

Isn't this really what the whole thing was about?

May 03, 2004

MSNBC's statement on Rall cartoon

Here it is.


The cartoon, like others on MSNBC.com, is published daily on the site via an automated syndication feed. Such feeds are rarely reviewed. However, MSNBC.com Editor in chief Dean Wright concluded Monday's Rall item did not meet MSNBC.com standards of fairness and taste.

Hoo boy! When you've violated MSNBC's sense of "fairness", you know you've done something!

Portland's IndyMedia strikes again

This "write a letter to a soldier campaign" is a little different from the ones you usually hear about.


Write a letter to a soldier to let him/her know what people really think of this war. Send a photo of a dead Iraqi civilian. Send a photo or message about an anti-war protest.

I found this organization Soldiers Angels maybe there are others. Outreach to soldiers is the best way to persuade them to stop killing civilians. Maybe they will even begin fragging (killing their officers) like in Vietnam. It's worth a try.


Charming.

Has Rall hit a new low?

He never learns, does he? For the love of God, Ted Rall just finished a weeks-long whine-a-thon about being dropped by the New York Times. You'd think he'd make some effort to retain the few remaining customers for his syndicated poison, but I guess not. MSNBC has just replaced Rall's current Pat Tillman strip with an older one, presumably in response to complaints. MSNBC may well be the next to bail, and then we can be treated to weeks on end of Rall's carping about censorship and fascism in Ashcroft's America.

UPDATE: According to Power Line, MSNBC did not remove Rall's cartoon because of complaints, but because they actually read it.

New guest blogger

A belated welcome to this site's new guest blogger, CRB, whose inaugural post appears below. CRB is a thoughtful writer, and just cynical enough to fit right in. He will be posting in this space whenever the mood strikes him, which hopefully will be often.

Maintaining a blog is a lot of work (no, really!), and with my other obligations and commitments it is sometimes difficult for me to maintain the mediocre quality which my readers have come to expect. I'm happy to have CRB aboard to help with some of the heavy lifting. Props!

It's not quite Dukakis in a tank...

...but a lamentable photograph nonetheless.

Glad the senator's okay. (He didn't fall! The sonofabitch pushed him!)

May 02, 2004

Oil-for-Food Scam

What better way for me to begin my blogging journey here than to write about the world organization whom I view with the most cynicism, the United Nations. Or more specifically, the UN's Oil-for-Food program which not only sustained Iraq's Saddam Hussein from 1996 through 2003, but provided service fees to the UN itself in excess of $1.9 billion. Not surprising, I guess, that the UN would view enforcing its own resolutions and killing its cash cow to be the greater evil than ending the reign of a brutal tyrant. A good primer can be found here.

Claudia Rosset of the Wall Street Journal and other publications has spearheaded this emerging story, with its latest twist found here: Oil-for-Terror.

And this is just the "legally" exported oil. It's not hard to imagine that in addition to the oil that was knowingly exported with UN oversight, some could have found its way to other pipeline destinations, like Syria. Although not one of the official reasons for invading and removing Saddam Hussein from power, ending this program and exposing its abuses may end up being one of the war's most important achievements.

Posted by: CRB

Prisoners tortured in Iraq

One of the reasons I didn't post on this topic sooner is that if I'd posted my initial reactions candidly, I would probably regret it (here's a hint: it involved the culpable American soldiers and a bridge). Dammit, we did not need anything to make this job more difficult than it already is.

I understand what others have pointed out, that these are the actions of a warped few, and are not representative of our servicemen and women as a whole. I further appreciate how these images, disgusting as they are, do not rise to the level of either My Lai or the genuine torture that was de rigueur in Saddam's regime.

Nonetheless, the stupidity of these few has resulted in a full-scale PR disaster. Worse, it is far more than a simple "image" problem. There will be repercussions from this.

President Bush has appropriately expressed disgust. I do not envy these low-lifes who have incurred the wrath of an embattled, vindictive president during an election season. Whatever punishment they receive, however, will be less than they deserve.