Friday, April 30, 2004


From the Nation, the best American journalist in the world, Greg Palast, writes about the potential disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of African-Americans for the 2004 Presidential election:

That's Florida. Now let's talk about America. In the 2000 election, 1.9 million votes cast were never counted. Spoiled for technical reasons, like writing in Gore's name, machine malfunctions and so on. The reasons for ballot rejection vary, but there's a suspicious shading to the ballots tossed into the dumpster. Edley's team of Harvard experts discovered that just as in Florida, the number of ballots spoiled was--county by county, precinct by precinct--in direct proportion to the local black voting population.

Florida's racial profile mirrors the nation's--both in the percentage of voters who are black and the racial profile of the voters whose ballots don't count. "In 2000, a black voter in Florida was ten times as likely to have their vote spoiled--not counted--as a white voter," explains political scientist Philip Klinkner, co-author of Edley's Harvard report. "National figures indicate that Florida is, surprisingly, typical. Given the proportion of nonwhite to white voters in America, then, it appears that about half of all ballots spoiled in the USA, as many as 1 million votes, were cast by nonwhite voters."

So there you have it. In the last presidential election, approximately 1 million black and other minorities voted, and their ballots were thrown away. And they will be tossed again in November 2004, efficiently, by computer--because HAVA and other bogus reform measures, stressing reform through complex computerization, do not address, and in fact worsen, the racial bias of the uncounted vote.

Click here for the rest.


Disturbing photos of Iraqi prisoners surface on TV

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

One photograph shows Iraqi prisoners, naked except for hoods covering their heads, stacked in a human pyramid, one with a slur written in English on his skin.

That and other scenes of humiliation at the hands of U.S. military police that appear in photographs obtained by CBS News have led to criminal charges against six American soldiers.

The images were shown Wednesday night on 60 Minutes II.

CBS says they were taken late last year at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where American soldiers were holding hundreds of prisoners captured during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In March, the U.S. Army announced that six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade faced court martial for allegedly abusing about 20 prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The charges included dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person.

Personally, I think that the behavior of American military personnel will get worse the longer they're in Iraq: this is probably a taste of things to come.

Click here for the rest.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

(and more!)

David Barsamian, longtime alternative radio journalist, interviews linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky for the Progressive:

Q: Why do so many people in the United States just go along with U.S. policy?

Chomsky: What's striking is that this view is accepted without coercion. If you're living in a dictatorship or under kings and princes or in a place run by murderous bishops, you'd better take that view or you're in deep trouble. You get burned at the stake or thrown into the gulag or something.

In the West, you don't get in any trouble if you tell the truth, but you still can't do it. Not only can't you tell the truth, you can't think the truth. It's just so deeply embedded, deeply instilled, that without any meaningful coercion it comes out the same way it does in a totalitarian state.

Orwell had some words about this in his unpublished introduction to Animal Farm. He says straight, look, in England what comes out in a free country is not very different from this totalitarian monster that I'm describing in the book. It's more or less the same. How come in a free country? He has two sentences, which are pretty accurate. One, he says, the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And second--and I think this is much more important--a good education instills in you the intuitive understanding that there are certain things it just wouldn't do to say.

I don't think he goes far enough. I'd say there are certain things it wouldn't do to think. A good education instills in you the intuitive comprehension--it becomes unconscious and reflexive--that you just don't think certain things, things that are threatening to power interests.

Not everyone accepts this. But most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, can look back at our own personal history. For those of us who got into good colleges or the professions, did we stand up to that high school history teacher who told us some ridiculous lie about American history and say, "That's a ridiculous lie. You're an idiot"? No. We said, "All right, I'll keep quiet, and I'll write it in the exam and I'll think, yes, he's an idiot." And it's easy to say and believe things that improve your self-image and your career and that are in other ways beneficial to yourselves.

It's very hard to look in the mirror. We all know this. It's much easier to have illusions about yourself. And in particular, when you think, well, I'm going to believe what I like, but I'll say what the powerful want, you do that over time, and you believe what you say.

Click here for more.

I must admit that thoughts like this one are what first got me thinking about education in a deconstructive way--in my first year of teaching, I watched the Noam Chomsky documentary Manufacturing Consent; at one point in the film Chomsky says that "education is a system of imposed ignorance." The idea stuck with me. After reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, I was convinced: public education teaches us all to obey.

I have looked in this mirror to which Chomsky refers, and I am now disgusted with myself. If one is to survive as a teacher, he must believe in what he is doing. Since learning the hidden truth about our national indoctrinational system, it is impossible for me to believe that I'm doing good work. In fact, every time I punish a kid for breaking a minor rule, or reward a kid for asking how high when I say jump, I'm doing bad work.

Thank God I'm quitting. Continuing as a teacher would eventually drive me insane, or, to paraphrase Chomsky, make me buy into the system. Of the two choices, insanity is preferable.

It's almost May...


Common sense must be a
factor in school discipline

From a Houston Chronicle editorial:

Many school districts across the United States adopted severe disciplinary policies laying out rigid punishments, especially after two Littleton, Colo., students killed 12 classmates, a teacher and themselves five years ago at Columbine High School. Parents and school officials demanded measures to keep schools free from weapons, drugs and violence.

An April 18 Chronicle report by reporter Rachel Graves presented evidence that some districts have gone too far, greatly expanding the number of prohibited behaviors and possessions considered contraband, and punishing even first offenders with special discipline school, suspension, expulsion, police citation or arrest.

Now a backlash is growing against draconian measures such as random drug and weapons searches. But the policies also have their staunch defenders, including anxious parents and school administrators who like the idea that zero tolerance requires them to employ almost no judgment of their own.

Click here for the rest.

This is, of course, no surprise when one considers the overemphasis on discipline that has been the core philosophy of public education in the US for over a century. Throw in our general society's gradual drift toward "get tough on crime" attitudes, and all it took was one high-profile massacre to transform our schools into the soft-touch gulags that they are now. The Chronicle is right to condemn "zero tolerance," but it won't be enough to simply call for an end such policies: the schools are about discipline; we must eradicate what we have now and begin anew. Nothing less will halt the rise of such policies.


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Free Market Debunked

From AlterNet:

In actual fact, there is no such thing as a "free market." Markets are the creation of government.

Governments provide a stable currency to make markets possible. They provide a legal infrastructure and court systems to enforce the contracts that make markets possible. They provide educated workforces through public education, and those workers show up at their places of business after traveling on public roads, rails, or airways provided by government. Businesses that use the "free market" are protected by police and fire departments provided by government, and send their communications – from phone to fax to internet – over lines that follow public rights-of-way maintained and protected by government.

And, most important, the rules of the game of business are defined by government.


Which requires us to puncture the second balloon of popular belief. The "middle class" is not the natural result of freeing business to do whatever it wants, of "free and open markets," or of "free trade." The "middle class" is not a normal result of "free markets." Those policies will produce a small but powerful wealthy class, a small "middle" mercantilist class, and a huge and terrified worker class which have traditionally been called "serfs."

The middle class is a new invention of liberal democracies, the direct result of governments defining the rules of the game of business. It is, quite simply, an artifact of government regulation of markets and tax laws.

Great article! I think I'm going to try to memorize these arguments: they ought to come in handy when confronted with the conventional wisdom that government is bad for the economy. If you only read one article today, this is it.

Click here the rest.



From the New York Times courtesy of WorkingForChange:

Still, Mr. Cheney's determination to keep his secrets probably reflects more than an effort to avoid bad publicity. It's also a matter of principle, based on the administration's deep belief that it has the right to act as it pleases, and that the public has no right to know what it's doing.

As Linda Greenhouse recently pointed out in The New York Times, the legal arguments the administration is making for the secrecy of the energy task force are "strikingly similar" to those it makes for its right to detain, without trial, anyone it deems an enemy combatant. In both cases, as Ms. Greenhouse puts it, the administration has put forward "a vision of presidential power . . . as far-reaching as any the court has seen."

That same vision is apparent in many other actions. Just to mention one: we learn from Bob Woodward that the administration diverted funds earmarked for Afghanistan to preparations for an invasion of Iraq without asking or even notifying Congress.

What Mr. Cheney is defending, in other words, is a doctrine that makes the United States a sort of elected dictatorship: a system in which the president, once in office, can do whatever he likes, and isn't obliged to consult or inform either Congress or the public.

Which would make the office of the President a kind of elected dictatorship. Scary.

Click here for the rest.


A Conservative Case for Voting Democratic

God, I love that title. From courtesy of my old pal, Matt:

Republicans have long claimed to be fiscal tightwads and railed against deficit spending. But this year big-spending George W. Bush and the GOP Congress turned a budget surplus into a $477 billion deficit. There are few programs at which they have not thrown money: massive farm subsidies, an expensive new Medicare drug benefit, thousands of pork-barrel projects, dubious homeland-security grants, expansion of Bill Clinton's AmeriCorps, even new foreign-aid programs. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation reports that in 2003 "government spending exceeded $20,000 per household for the first time since World War II."

Complaints about Republican profligacy have led the White House to promise to mend its ways. But Bush's latest budget combines accounting flim-flam with unenforceable promises. So how do we put Uncle Sam on a sounder fiscal basis?

Vote Democratic.

Democrats obviously are no pikers when it comes to spending. But the biggest impetus for higher spending is partisan uniformity, not partisan identity. Give either party complete control of government, and the Treasury vaults are quickly emptied. Neither Congress nor the President wants to tell the other no. Both are desperate to prove they can "govern"—which means creating new programs and spending more money. But share power between parties, and out of principle or malice they check each other. Even if a President Kerry proposed more spending than would a President Bush, a GOP Congress would appropriate less. That's one reason the Founders believed in the separation of powers.


Clearly, this is yet more evidence that Bush's administration is so awful, so out of control, that even conservatives want him out. Sure, the essay comes up with a nice argument based on history and sound reasoning, but it's still fascinating that the column's writer, Doug Bandow, a former visiting fellow at the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, is calling for the election of a Democrat.

On the other hand, it may only be validating my firmly held belief that there's really not much difference between Republicans and Democrats: one is the corporate pro-life party; the other is the corporate pro-choice party. Bandow must be feeling nostalgic for the man who Michael Moore has called "the best Republican president we've ever had," Bill Clinton.

Actually, this essay just makes my voting for Kerry all the more depressing.

Click here.


State GOP money trail muddy,
possible violations of law

From the Houston Chronicle:

Texas law prohibits political parties from spending corporate or labor union money on anything other than running a party primary, paying for a convention or administrative expenses. State law also requires those funds to be spent through a separate, restricted account, which can also include money from other sources.

But the state Republican Party transferred its corporate donations to a federal committee it runs and designated all general election expenses as administrative.

In one instance, the party defined $1.9 million in television advertisements as "administration" in campaign reports. Another $453,815 in direct mail was reported as "admin."

A week before the state deadline for raising or spending corporate money, the Texas Republican Party raised $929,000 from corporations in four days and transferred the money to its federal account.

Republican officials deny any violation of state law and say all the expenditures were legal under federal law. But the state ethics commission says spending on Texas races and other state political activities must comply with state law.


A violation of the law restricting the use of corporate money for general election campaigning by political parties is a Class A misdemeanor. Violating the law forbidding parties to raise corporate or labor union money for the separate account within 60 days of a general election or spend money from it within the same period is a third-degree felony.

This is the same issue that the District Attorney in Austin has been investigating. Tom DeLay says it's just politics, but this Chronicle investigation makes it appear to be much more than simply a partisan smear campaign.

I really hope some asshole Republican goes to jail over this.

Click here for more.


Monday, April 26, 2004


From the New York Times courtesy of Eschaton:

Why was it predictable that Iraq would go wrong? The squandered victory in Afghanistan was an obvious precedent. But the character flaws in the Bush administration that led to the present crisis were fully visible in the months that followed 9/11.

It quickly became apparent that President Bush, while willing to spend vast sums on the military, wasn't willing to spend enough on security. And 9/11 didn't shake the administration's fanatical commitment to privatization and outsourcing, in which free-market ideology is inextricably mixed with eagerness to protect and reward corporate friends.

Sure enough, the administration was unprepared for predictable security problems in Iraq, but moved quickly — in violation of international law — to impose its economic vision. Last month Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator of Iraq, told the BBC that he was sacked in part because he wanted to hold quick elections. His superiors wanted to privatize Iraqi industries first — as part of a plan that, according to Mr. Garner, was drawn up in late 2001.

Meanwhile, the administration handed out contracts without competitive bidding or even minimal oversight. It also systematically blocked proposals to have Congressional auditors oversee spending, or to impose severe penalties for fraud.

Cronyism and corruption are major factors in Iraq's downward spiral. This week the public radio program "Marketplace" is running a series titled "The Spoils of War," which documents a level of corruption in Iraq worse than even harsh critics had suspected.

Click here for more.


Nearly half of Texas
teachers want to quit, study finds

From the Houston Chronicle:

Nearly half of Texas teachers are considering leaving the profession, according to a study released Friday.

The 45 percent represents a record high in the survey, which has been conducted every two years since 1980. The top reasons given for considering leaving the profession were working conditions (41 percent) and compensation (25 percent).

The study, "Texas Teachers, Moonlighting, and Morale," also found that 35 percent of teachers are moonlighting an average of 10 hours a week in order to make ends meet, up from 26 percent who reported working a second job two years ago. The extra work brought in an average $4,705 a year.

Click here for more.

Here's another reason to quit teaching: it sucks. And it's destructive to America's youth and, therefore, America. As regular Real Art readers know, I think the public eduction system is so horrible, so indoctrinational, so authorty bound, so anti-learning, that it should be dismantled--there's no saving it. I'm taking the plunge here, myself, in just a few weeks; I'm quitting, too.

Think I'm crazy? Read my statement on the issue from last December, "PUBLIC EDUCATION DECONSTRUCTED." I think I do a good job of arguing my position.


Sunday, April 25, 2004

Abortion-rights rally draws tens of thousands

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

Abortion-rights supporters marched in huge numbers today, roused in this election year by what they see as an erosion of reproductive freedoms under President Bush and foreign policies they say hurt women worldwide.

Political agitation suffused the gathering of hundreds of thousands. Their target: Bush, like-minded officials in federal and state government and religious conservatives.

Speaking beyond the masses to policy-makers, Francis Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice declared, "You will hear our pro-choice voices ringing in your ears until such time that you permit all women to make our own reproductive choices."

Women joined the protest from across the nation and from nearly 60 countries, asserting that damage from Bush's policies is spreading far beyond U.S. shores through measures such as the ban on federal money for family-planning groups that promote or perform abortions abroad.

Click here for more.

Abortion rights are not about convenience or irresponsibility as the anti-choice crowd seems to believe. Rather, abortion rights are about women's equality: no woman can be equal to a man in our society unless she is able to determine the circumstances under which she has or does not have a child--otherwise, she is socially handicapped by her biology, a baby making machine; obviously, men do not have this albatross around their necks.

It seems that the Pro-Lifers would try to find some common ground, find ways to make abortion less likely. But no. These zealots are, in addition to being anti-abortion, both anti-birth control and advocates of "abstinence based" sex education, which emphasizes condom failure rates, and therefore makes teenagers less likely to use them--"we might as well not use one; they don't work anyway." Pro-life is, in short, far more about controlling women, far more about fostering a male dominated society, than it is about saving the lives of "unborn children."

I'm glad there's still some steam left in the movement.


Ron Returns to the Stage

I mentioned a few posts back how I expect my commentary (but not my daily posts and links) to slow down a bit as the play I'm in approaches its opening. I noticed that the theater company that's producing the play, Infernal Bridegroom Productions, has a website. Sure enough, they've got a nice little write-up on the show, Wallace Shawn's The Hotel Play.

I thought Real Art's loyal readers might like to know what I'm up to in the world of real art, so here's an excerpt:

Written by Wallace Shawn and first performed in 1981 at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, the first cast to tackle this massive theatrical undertaking was made up of actors and non-actors alike, including the playwright himself. To commit to Shawn’s plan of a seemingly unending stream of strange characters all passing through the same hotel in the course of a single day, each role was played by one person, with most characters appearing onstage for just a few minutes.

It is in this spirit that Houston’s leading avant-garde theater company has assembled its own cast. In addition to actors who regularly appear in IBP productions, it includes young children of IBP supporters, local musicians, staff members, and parents of company members.

“My plays have been strange from the beginning, and they never got unstrange.”
– Wallace Shawn

Infernal Bridegroom Productions has always produced adventurous contemporary plays not normally seen in Houston. The Hotel Play is such a work. Showcasing the best of Shawn’s verbal humor and ability to create really memorable characters, The Hotel Play focuses on a clerk as he moves seamlessly in and out of the lives of many guests. Sometimes he toys with them, sometimes he ignores them, and sometimes he just sits back and watches.

There’s the hate-filled husband in pink and the wife who wants to go home. There’s the florist, and there’s the man who gets bad coffee. We meet them for a moment, and then they’re gone.

Click here for more.

This is actually a pretty good production. I've never worked with IBP before, and I wasn't really sure of what to expect--I've only seen two of their shows, which didn't quite live up to the company's hot-shit reputation, but was interested in working with them because they take on challenging material. Because the cast is so huge, the role dropped in my lap; a friend recommended me to the director who then gave me a phone call--after a brief audition, I was cast in a small part, the man who gets bad coffee.

The play works well because of the army of actors. (In fact, I keep thinking this is like a massive super-hero crossover, you know, like Marvel's Secret Wars or DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths.) There are manic actors and mellow actors, over-actors and subtle actors, old actors and child actors, novice actors and experienced actors, amateur actors and professional actors, tall actors and short actors, fat actors and skinny actors...I'm sure you get the idea. Given the surrealism of Shawn's script, given the lack of firm story, somehow this gumbo of theater all comes together into a coherent whole. Kudos to the director for riding herd on this weird and fun circus.

(One small criticism I want to make: as far as I can tell, the cast is all white; to be fair, this is a problem that seems to be shared by the entire underground theater scene in Houston, but that's not a very good excuse for shunning diversity, if you ask me.

UPDATE: At rehearsal today I did count a single Asian actor. It also occurred to me that ethnicity, as opposed to race, knows no color; there may be some actors in the cast who do not think of themselves as Caucasian, but appear to my Anglo eyes to be white. Maybe my criticism is too harsh. Or not. It's a great show, at any rate.)

I haven't had this much fun in years. If you're in Houston in the next month, try to come see it.

Wallace Shawn

You do all realize, I hope, that Shawn plays the Grand Nagus of the Ferengi on Star Trek. He gets my admiration and respect for that work alone. His writing is, in my opinion, just as good as his acting. I mean, this guy's, like, a total genius!


P. Diddy sheds rap for 'Raisin'

Oh my God. Tell me it's not true. Rapper and professional moron Sean "Puffy" Combs is playing the lead in a Broadway revival of the classic play by Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. From MSNBC:

“I want somebody who can make me believe the three-dimensional quality to Walter Lee,” Leon, former head of the Alliance Theatre Company in Atlanta, says. “Walter Lee is a man who has his good side and his bad side and his wrinkles and his warts and his smooth side. He’s a smart man, he’s an intelligent man — he’s not just an angry black man. ... Sean has crafted a Walter Lee that allows you to understand the man.”

While Combs is aware of the play’s importance, he had never seen the movie version and failed to complete an assigned reading of the play when he was a teenager.

“I was supposed to read the book back in high school but I never read the book. I did the Cliff Notes,” he says, referring to the abbreviated synopsis series popular with some students.

“I couldn’t do the Cliff Notes for the play though,” he says with a laugh.

His name became attached to the revival of “Raisin” when his acting coach encouraged him to audition: “I didn’t think that I would really get the part, though.”

Leon says Combs was not only cast because of the strength of his acting, but because he would bring a new demographic to Broadway: young hip-hop fans who may not have ever seen a theater production before. Combs himself is not a theatergoer, having seen few plays in his life.

Click here for the rest.

I think I'll let the great actor Samuel L. Jackson comment on this kind of travesty for me (quote courtesy of the Internet Movie Database):

"To take people from the music world and give them the same kind of credibility and weight that you give me, Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker - that's an aberration to me. It's not my job to lend credibility to so-and-so rapper who's just coming into the business. I know there's some young actor sitting in New York or LA who has spent half of his life learning how to act and sacrificing to learn his craft, but isn't going to get his opportunity because of some actor who's been created."

'Nuff said.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Right-leaning punk rockers
making some noise on Web

From Cox News via the Houston Chronicle:

Some on the American punk rock scene -- whose anthem has long celebrated anarchy but for many years embraced a liberal agenda -- are now singing a little louder, thanks to a little-known movement of conservative punks seeking to rally like-minded rockers through a new Web site.

They're also trying to change the overall attitude of the mainstream punk community, the majority of whom are anti-Bush, to become more accepting of those whose politics lean to the right.

"I believe conservatism and punk go hand in hand," said Nick Rizzuto, 22, founder of, a Web site launched at the beginning of the year that promotes conservative politics and provides a forum for punk rockers to air their views.

Up is down. Day is night. Cats and dogs living together...all I can do is just keep shaking my head.

Click here.



The uber-blogger speaks out on the two topics that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company:

Give me a call when the President of the United States says about Christians what one said about atheists:

"No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots."

No one finds it particularly troubling when it's pointed out that an "out" atheist couldn't get elected dog catcher in most of this country, let alone to Congress. I'm actually not complaining really - I'm not trying to establish some sort of new victim group here. But, nonetheless, I'm a bit sick and tired of White Christian Males pretending that they're the persecuted ones.

In addition, I'm a bit fed up with people hand-wringing about anti-religious sentiment from "the Left." First of all, "the Left" which has any clout or power in this country is explicitly "pro-religion" to a degree which disturbs me. My retinas still burn with the image of the members of Congress on the steps of the Capitol screeching out "UNDER GOD" while performing the pledge of allegiance.

The anti-atheist quote comes from George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States, which is a bit weird considering that his son, our current Leader, is the born-again fundamentalist. I bet that the chimp would like to outdo his father on this somehow. Burn atheists at the stake or something.

Anyway, Atrios uses the comment as stimulus for a nice little rant. Check it out.

Click here.


Friday, April 23, 2004

Old Watergate Era Muckraker
Turned Establishment Shill Shows
He Still Has Some Juevos

(Quick note: I'm acting in my first play in nearly two years and, even though it's a small part, as we approach tech rehearsals, I'm starting to feel squeezed for time. I'm going to keep posting on a daily basis, but my usually sparse commentary is, no doubt, soon to be even more sparse. I'll be back to my normal self in about ten days or so.)

Just in case you haven't noticed the press party going on this week, here are some highlights from Bob Woodward's appearance last Sunday on 60 Minutes. For background, it is important to remember that Woodward, one half of the duo that broke the Watergate story back in the early 70s, has recently turned White House apologist: his recent book, Bush at War, is, according to all reports, quite a lionization of our idiot President. Woodward's new book, however, Plan of Attack, appears to level some major criticisms of the Oval Office's handling of the Iraq War.


"Rumsfeld and Franks work out a deal essentially where Franks can spend any money he needs. And so he starts building runways and pipelines and doing all the preparations in Kuwait, specifically to make war possible," says Woodward.

"Gets to a point where in July, the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn't know and it is done. They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the Treasury unless appropriated by Congress. Congress was totally in the dark on this."

That's right, Bush violated the Constitution by funding his pre-war build up with misappropriated funds. This was before a single shot had been fired. Clearly, this is an impeachable offense.


"A year before the war started, three things are going on. Franks is secretly developing this war plan that he's briefing the president in detail on," says Woodward. "Franks simultaneously is publicly denying that he's ever been asked to do any plan."

For example, here's Gen. Franks' response to a question about invading Iraq, in May 2002, after he's been working on war plans for five months: 'That's a great question and one for which I don't have an answer, because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that.'

Of course, it's been clear for some time now that the White House was lying about their intentions toward Iraq. This latest quip just drives the point home.


In his book, Woodward describes Cheney as a "powerful, steamrolling force obsessed with Saddam and taking him out."

"Colin Powell, the secretary of state, saw this in Cheney to such an extent, he, Powell, told colleagues that 'Cheney has a fever. It is an absolute fever. It's almost as if nothing else exists,'" says Woodward, who adds that Cheney had plenty of opportunities to convince the president.

"He's just down the hall in the West Wing from the president. President says, 'I meet with him all the time.' Cheney's back in the corner or sitting on the couch at nearly all of these meetings."

This certainly adds to the perception that Cheney is the real boss, using his Jedi powers to influence the chimp. Again, no surprise here.

Still more:

He calls Colin Powell in alone, sitting in those two famous chairs in the Oval Office and the president said, 'Looks like war. I'm gonna have to do this,'" adds Woodward.

"And then Powell says to him, somewhat in a chilly way, 'Are you aware of the consequences?' Because he'd been pounding for months on the president, on everyone - and Powell directly says, 'You know, you're gonna be owning this place.' And the president says, 'I understand that.' The president knows that Powell is the one who doesn't want to go to war. He says, 'Will you be with me?' And Powell, the soldier, 35 years in the army, the president has decided and he says, 'I'll do my best. Yes, Mr. President. I'll be with you.' And then, the president says, 'Time to put your war uniform on.'"

Woodward says he described Powell as semi-despondent "because he knew that this was a war that might have been avoided. That's why he spent so much time at the United Nations."

This comment bolsters the view that Powell was the lone good guy in the administration. One wonders if he would have been more aggressive in his opposition to the invasion if he hadn't had 35 years of a military mind-set that makes him ask how high when his commanding officer says to jump.

And check out this weird outrage:

But, it turns out, two days before the president told Powell, Cheney and Rumsfeld had already briefed Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador.

"Saturday, Jan. 11, with the president's permission, Cheney and Rumsfeld call Bandar to Cheney's West Wing office, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Myers, is there with a top-secret map of the war plan. And it says, 'Top secret. No foreign.' No foreign means no foreigners are supposed to see this," says Woodward.


Prince Bandar enjoys easy access to the Oval Office. His family and the Bush family are close. And Woodward told 60 Minutes that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election - to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day.

Woodward says that Bandar understood that economic conditions were key before a presidential election: "They're [oil prices] high. And they could go down very quickly. That's the Saudi pledge. Certainly over the summer, or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly."

Not only did they dis Powell by informing him of the invasion last, but as Atrios has pointed out, this little oil price deal comes perilously close to treason: Bush conspired with a foreign power to manipulate the US economy for the purpose of being reelected. Can we impeach Bush now?

This bit is interesting:

And in the wake of the war, according to Woodward, there's a deep rift between Powell and Cheney.

"The relationship between Cheney and Powell is essentially broken down. They can't talk. They don't communicate," says Woodward. "Powell feels that Cheney drove the decision to go to war in Iraq. And Cheney feels that Powell has not been sufficiently supportive of the president in the war or in the aftermath."

Perhaps Woodward means that Cheney feels that Powell has not been sufficiently supportive of the vice president. This is assuming that Cheney is the real power in the White House.

And finally:

But who gave President Bush the duty to free people around the world? "That's a really good question. The Constitution doesn't say that's part of the commander in chief's duties," says Woodward. "That's his stated purpose. It is far-reaching, and ambitious, and I think will cause many people to tremble."

How deep a man is President George W. Bush? "He's not an intellectual. He is not what I guess would be called a deep thinker," says Woodward. "He chastised me at one point because I said people were concerned about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. And he said, 'Well you travel in elite circles.' I think he feels there is an intellectual world and he's indicated he's not a part of it ... the fancy pants intellectual world. What he calls the elite."

How does the president think history will judge him for going to war in Iraq?

"After the second interview with him on Dec. 11, we got up and walked over to one of the doors. There are all of these doors in the Oval Office that lead outside. And he had his hands in his pocket, and I just asked, 'Well, how is history likely to judge your Iraq war,'" says Woodward.

"And he said, 'History,' and then he took his hands out of his pocket and kind of shrugged and extended his hands as if this is a way off. And then he said, 'History, we don't know. We'll all be dead.'"

I think this last bit speaks for itself.

Click here for the rest. And be sure to watch some of the streaming video--you get to hear it from the horse's mouth. Woodward, of course, is the horse. A big stinky, self-important horse, to be sure, but still worth a few rides it seems.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004

On Bush and God

Longtime observer of the conservative movement Bill Berkowitz juxtaposes Bush's Godliness against Bush's bloodthirstiness:

Bush's Messianic complex

George W. Bush was at church with his mother when he first heard "the call" to run for president. Before he announced his candidacy, he met with Texas-based evangelist James Robison and told him that he believed God wanted him to be president. As we learn more about what motivates President Bush, it becomes clear how much he -- a Methodist and a fervent born-again Christian -- believes he has been chosen by God to shepherd America through this demanding period.

"No one in recent memory has pounded that pulpit for religion's role in government quite like the forty-third president," Stephen Mansfield writes in the introduction to his book "The Faith of George W. Bush." Bush's "unapologetic religious tone" and his willingness to "speak of being called to the presidency, of a God who rules in the affairs of men, and of the United States owing her origin to Providence," separate him from recent predecessors.

Click here.

With God on his side

Columnist Robert Scheer explores how Bush has found the authority to both sidestep the Constitution and ignore good earthbound advice:

Of course, as a self-described "messenger" of God who was "praying for strength to do the Lord's will," Bush was not troubled about shredding a little secular document called the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution reserves to Congress the authority to allocate funds and to declare war. Thus it would seem to be an impeachable offense to misappropriate $700 million that had been earmarked to restore order to Afghanistan and put it toward planning an invasion of Iraq -- in a secret scheme hatched, according to Woodward, only 72 days after 9/11.

Click here.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004


My old pal, Matt, has been an occasional contributor to Real Art in the past--over the months he's sent several links and a bit of commentary here and there. Lately, however, he's been really busy getting ready for his wedding, which happened last month (congrats again Matt!) and his contributions have necessarily slacked off. But now he's back, so I've decided to have another all Matt day at Real Art. Here goes.

Downhill Battle

Downhill Battle is a music activism project that's working to bring positive change to the music industry. The discussion of technology and the future of music has recently been dominated by the major record labels and the RIAA, and we're working to introduce a public voice to the debate. Instead of asking 'what's good for major label CEOs and profit forecasts?' we want to ask 'what's good for music, musicians, and fans?' Above all, we think there is an incredible opportunity over the next few years to redefine the music industry by ending the monopoly of the five major labels.

Given the strength of the recording industry, I'd say this is more of an uphill battle, but I wholeheartedly approve of their efforts anyway.

Click here for music industry activism.

The Writings on the Stall

One day I, Jonathan Horak (Janitor in Chief), was musing at the writings on the stalls when one in particular immediately drew my attention. I started thinking not of what it read but more of what stalls can reflect in general society: a whole lot.

They serve as (informal) forums for politics, pop culture, humor, and so forth. What better, then, than to bring the best of these writings out to the world over this thing we call the Internet? Thoughts and ideas that once were localized can now be made globally available. Huzzah!

That's right, a site that chronicles the writing on the walls in public restrooms. Matt's favorite:

Love is like a snowmobile racing across the tundra;
It flips and pins you to the ground.
At night the ice weasels come.

Damned ice weasels. Click here for more.

Punk Voter

Punk bands, musicians, and record labels have built a coalition to educate, register and mobilize progressive voters.

Something needs to be done to unite the youth vote and bring real activism back into our society. Punk rock has always been on the edge and in the forefront of politics. It is time to energize the majority of today's disenfranchised youth movement and punk rockers to make change a reality.

Punkvoter is about organizing the many diverse and regional movements into one voice of political change. Punkvoter is our way to educate today's youth about what is really going on in Washington, DC and how we can collectively force change. This is our chance to be a strong voice against the serious flaws in the current political system. This is our way to talk about new laws and scenarios that could change our quality of life for years to come. Punkvoter is your organization. It will be run with the same energy and spirit of all punk efforts. With your help we will be a credible force to truly shape the future of our nation.

Again, I approve wholeheartedly. Click here for more.


A new CD compilation that consists of rock against Bush. And it's only six bucks!

Click here.

So, there you have it. I've actually got a couple more Matt links, but I'll get to those in the next few days. This concludes all Matt day at Real Art.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Liberal Radio Goes Dark

AlterNet gives the scoop on the new liberal radio network Air America's loss of signal last week in Los Angeles and Chicago:

Air America contends that it intentionally withheld payments to KBLA, because KBLA was illegally reselling airtime already paid for by Air America. The disputed airtime rolled by in February and March, before Air America began broadcasting. To fill the time, MultiCultural slotted in Spanish talk and apparently earned revenues by doing so. These revenues should have gone to Air America, said Air America general counsel David Goodfriend, because his network owned that time, even if it wasn't yet using the time for its own programming.

"We sent a letter to them Monday," said Goodfriend. "We said, you've violated our agreement in Los Angeles, and you owe us money. We will negotiate some settlement with you, but we're not happy." Goodfriend said these negotiations were under way the next day, Tuesday, in New York City. "We were engaged in what appeared to be settlement negotiations, and then we find that we're taken off the air in Chicago and Los Angeles. We were all paid up in Chicago, under a separate contract, and they take us off the air anyway."

So, for those L.A. listeners who tuned in this morning, the sudden format change – to Spanish – was not, in fact, a calculated attempt to get Latinos to vote Democratic.

MultiCultural's representative declined to go into as much detail, but said it was a case of no pay, no play. What happened "is not unusual in our type of radio," said Dave Sweeney, executive vice president of MultiCultural's West Coast operations. "We sell block time to many different people. If they can't or don't pay their bill, or bounce checks, we take them off. It's just a matter of paying your bills. We're in the business to sell airtime, not in the business of taking it away from people." He added, "As a general rule, there's plenty of time given to people who fall into default."

Click here for the rest.

Thanks to Brian, Matt, Michael, et al for the tip.



And I don't mean the Anti-Christ, either. From the Age courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

But some scholars who study religion say that the phenomenal popularity of their Left Behind series of apocalyptic thrillers - now the best-selling adult novels in the United States - are part of a shift in American culture's image of Jesus. The gentle, pacifist Jesus of the Crucifixion is sharing the spotlight with a more muscular, warrior-like Jesus of the Second Coming, the Lamb making way for the Lion.

Scholars who study religion in American culture say the trend partly reflects the growing clout of evangelical Christians and the relative decline of the liberal mainline Protestant denominations over the past 30 years. The image of a fearsome Jesus who will turn the tables on the unbelieving earthly authorities corresponds to a widespread sense among many conservative Christians that their values are under assault in a culture war with the secular society around them.

The shift coincides with a surging interest in biblical prophecies of the Apocalypse around the turn of the millennium, the terrorist attacks of September11 and the two wars with Iraq. And the warlike image of Jesus also fits with President George Bush's discussions of a godly purpose behind US military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For more on the strange philosophy that the fundamentalists use to transmute "love your neighbor" into "kill your neighbor," click here.


9/11 panel finding threat more evident than thought

From the NY Times via the Houston Chronicle:

For most Americans, the disbelief was the same. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, seemed to come in a stunning burst from nowhere. But now, after three weeks of extraordinary public hearings and a dozen detailed reports, the lengthy record makes clear that predictions of an attack by al-Qaida had been communicated directly to the highest levels of the government.

The threat reports were more clear, urgent and persistent than was known. Some focused on al-Qaida's plans to use commercial aircraft as weapons. Others stated that Osama bin Laden was intent on striking on U.S. soil. Many were passed to the Federal Aviation Administration.

While some of the intelligence went back years, other warnings -- including one that al-Qaida seemed interested in hijacking a plane inside this country -- had been delivered to the president on Aug. 6, 2001.

The new information produced by the commission has led six of its 10 members to say or suggest the attacks could have been prevented, though there is no consensus on when, how or by whom. The commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, a Republican, has described failures at every level of government, any of which could have altered the outcome. Kerrey, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, said, "My conclusion is that it could have been prevented. That was not my conclusion when I went on the commission."

Click here for the rest.

Well, I already thought that Bush knew. This commission, however, is making a pretty good argument that it was simply a case of utter incompetence. I wonder if we'll ever really know the truth.


"I don't think anyone could have predicted
that these people would take an airplane
and slam it into the World Trade Center..."

From USA TODAY courtesy of Eschaton:

NORAD had drills of jets as weapons

In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.

In a third scenario, the target was the Pentagon but that drill was not run after Defense officials said it was unrealistic, NORAD and Defense officials say.

NORAD, in a written statement, confirmed that such hijacking exercises occurred. It said the scenarios outlined were regional drills, not regularly scheduled continent-wide exercises.

Click here for the rest.

I'm sure that nothing will come of this.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

HIV puts scare into California porn industry

From the Los Angeles Daily News via the Houston Chronicle:

Much of the multibillion-dollar adult-movie business in Southern California has halted production and banned nearly four dozen actors and actresses from working after two tested positive for HIV, industry officials said.

Companies that churn out movies in what is estimated to be a $9 billion to $10 billion industry annually took a cautionary approach to the scare, which was revealed by the health agency that the industry created several years ago as part of its self-policing of sexually transmitted diseases.

Click here for more.

I first read this on Friday at the school where I teach. After reading the article, I looked out at my students who were busy working on their assignments, and it struck me that this story has much wider ramifications than simply within the porn industry.

Consider these facts. High school sex education in American public schools is lousy--even the lucky schools that use "comprehensive" rather than the fundamentalist Christian driven "abstinence based" sex ed programs deal far more with issues of sexual health and biology than they do with issues of sexual roles, sexual technique, and sexual etiquette. Most teens, however, are quite interested in the latter topics, and many tend to do their own research in those areas. Given that a recent study shows that nearly 50% of American internet users visit (more like “admit to visiting”) pornography sites, it doesn't take a genius to realize that a lot of these people are teenagers. My bet is that much of the aforementioned research is done at these sites (and in the back seats of cars, but that's another story). In other words, pornography, for better or worse, has become a de facto alternative form of sex education.

This is bad.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like porn. Much more than I'm willing to admit. However, pornography is not sex education: porn sends out lots of negative and harmful messages. Pornography tends to objectify women. That is, women are almost always portrayed as completely willing to have lots of sex with pretty much any man who pops onto the screen waving his willy--this is not at all like real life, and certainly not at all like my own personal experience. Pornography rarely shows anybody's feelings being hurt, rarely shows anyone feeling used or burned by macho-asshole attitude--this, too, is not at all like real life. Most importantly, pornography never shows the negative consequences of unprotected sex. No one gets pregnant; no one gets any sexually transmitted diseases--again, this is not at all like real life.

I must repeat: this post is not to be construed as being anti-pornography. Rather, my point is that the young impressionable minds that are being horribly failed by our public schools are very likely picking up some very negative ideas about sex from pornography. The solution to this problem is not to ban pornography (which I like, and censorship is, after all, unAmerican): the solution is to develop sex ed programs that understand the true realities of teen lives, that are non-judgmental, and that are open, honest, and unafraid of human sexuality.

However, given that our overall society is in denial about teen sexuality, is very judgmental about sex, and is narrow-minded, dishonest, and scared shitless about sex, I'm not going to be holding my breath waiting for such programs to be implemented.

Just another cause for despair in 21st century America.



My buddy Kevin writes in Real Art comments in reference to my last post:

Actually, twice as many US soldiers have died in the last year in Iraq than died in the first 2 years that we had "boots on the ground" in Vietnam. The death toll shot up like a rocket right after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution allowed Johnson to send in and retain more soldiers (I guess his generals told him they couldn't do the job without more troops).

Of course the difference now is that in Vietnam the enemy was using sneak-attack-run, guerilla tactics and in Iraq the enemy is using attack-run-sneak, guerrilla tactics so we should be alright once we send in and retain more troops.

Well put. And timely, as this Knight Ridder article from the Salt Lake Tribune courtesy of Eschaton shows:

The first part of April has been the bloodiest period so far for U.S. troops in Iraq. There were 87 deaths by hostile fire in the first 15 days of this month, more than in the opening two weeks of the invasion, when 82 Americans were killed in action.

"This has been some pretty intense fighting," said David Segal, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization. "We're looking at what happened during the major battles of Vietnam."

The last time U.S. troops experienced a two-week loss such as this one in Iraq was October 1971, two years before U.S. ground involvement ended in Vietnam.

Click here for more.

Not only are we breaking casualty records set during the "major combat operations" phase of the Iraq War, but we are also breaking casualty records set during the Vietnam War.

Oh, sorry, Mr. President; I forgot that observing such facts would undermine the war effort. Sorry. My bad. It's so terrible of me to do something that could get our boys killed or wounded. I guess you wouldn't know anything about that.

Would you?


Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Vietnam Analogy

Good guy columnist and economist Paul Krugman on the analogy that pisses off the hawks:

Iraq isn't Vietnam. The most important difference is the death toll, which is only a small fraction of the carnage in Indochina. But there are also real parallels, and in some ways Iraq looks worse.

It's true that the current American force in Iraq is much smaller than the Army we sent to Vietnam. But the U.S. military as a whole, and the Army in particular, is also much smaller than it was in 1968. Measured by the share of our military strength it ties down, Iraq is a Vietnam-size conflict.

Click here for more.

I've made the Vietnam comparison numerous times, myself. Of course, I realize that there are many differences between the two wars: the politics, geography, motivations, and history are all very different in many ways. The similarities, however, are so numerous that ignoring them would be a disservice to any discussion of the Iraq war. Bush doesn't hate the comparison because it undermines the war effort. He hates it because it hits too damned close to home.


Feeling a Draft

Economist and former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, shows how when the situation in Iraq is combined with Bush's vow to fight until the bitter end, a military draft seems inevitable:

Meanwhile, US forces are poised to attack the Shiite holy city of Najaf in order to kill or capture the rebellious cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The US started Sadr's rebellion by closing down a Shiite newspaper that was not sufficiently obsequious to the American dictatorship which has taken Saddam Hussein's place.

Moderate Shiite clerics, who have been attempting to hold the US to its promise of democracy and elections, have indicated that an attack on Najaf would lead to a generalized Shiite uprising.

Such an uprising would involve huge numbers. The calls for more US troops would be urgent. The only source of those troops is to reinstate the draft. If the insane idiots running the Bush administration persist in their macho bully mentality of escalating the conflict, we will have a test of Kaplan's prediction that Americans will gladly sacrifice 30,000 of their sons.

Click here for the rest.

Personally, I think Bush is going to do everything he can to avoid conscription. The military prefers soldiers who want to be soldiers, and a draft would make the growingly unpopular war all the more unpopular. As the insurgency continues to take its toll, however, the President's options will decrease: he can only burn money on mercenaries for so long.

This is an interesting dilemma. If only we weren't talking about human lives.

Thanks to J. Orlin Grabbe for the link.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

America's Ayatollah

From Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen courtesy of Eschaton:

Shortly after Sept. 11, Bush used the word "crusade" to characterize his response to the attacks. The Islamic world, remembering countless crusades on behalf of Christianity, protested, and Bush quickly interred the word in the National Archives or someplace. Nonetheless, that is pretty much what Bush described in his news conference -- not a crusade for Christ and not one to oust the Muslims from Jerusalem but an American one that would eradicate terrorism and, in short, "change the world." The United States, the president said, had been "called" for that task.

Some people might consider this religious drivel and others might find it stirring, but whatever it is, it cannot be the basis for foreign policy, not to mention a war. Yet it explains, as nothing else can, just why Bush is so adamantly steadfast about Iraq and why he simply asserts what is not proved or just plain untrue -- the purported connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, for instance, or why Hussein was such a threat, when we have it on the word of David Kay and countless weapons inspectors that he manifestly was not. Bush talks as if only an atheist would demand proof when faith alone more than suffices. He is America's own ayatollah.

Click here (and deal with WaPo's NY Times style registration's not that bad).



Conservative pundit and the journalist who published the leaked name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, Robert Novak, weighs in on the President's press conference last Tuesday via the Houston Chronicle:

The result was an unprecedented hybrid: the president delivering a 17-minute speech to the nation over the heads of reporters, who anxiously waited their turn. Bush was ready to parry Democratic claims that Iraq was becoming another Vietnam, contending that the "false" analogy "sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy." Facing the anticipated onslaught of press demands that he apologize or admit error, the president wisely avoided an answer that would have been repeated endlessly on television.

Inexplicably, however, Bush seemed adrift when asked whether he had ever made a mistake other than trading Sammy Sosa to the Chicago Cubs when he owned the Texas Rangers. He apparently did not anticipate being asked why he and Vice President Dick Cheney insisted on testifying together to the independent commission, and simply refused to give a responsive answer even when the question was repeated. That is why the president avoids news conferences.

Click here for more.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004


From Tom Tomorrow at This Modern World:

About last night

It's hardly a surprise when a politican gives evasive answers at a press conference. It's just that Bush is so terrible at it--he has maybe eighteen pre-programmed sound bites ready to go, and if none of them are applicable to the question, he just starts sputtering like a computer on the original Star Trek, after Captain Kirk has just irrefutably pointed out the illogic of its basic programming.

One of the standard soundbites is, of course, that no one could have imagined 9/11 beforehand:

"But there was nobody in our government at least ? and I don't think the prior government ? could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale."

And yet, mere seconds later:

"I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And part of it had to do with the Genoa G8 conference that I was going to attend."

Alert readers will recall that one of the major security concerns at the Genoa conference was the possibility of aerial incursions.

Click here for more.

And from the Progressive:

A Scary Performance, and a Signal for Slaughter

No, his performance was scary because he plunged the United States deeper into a no-win war in Iraq.

"We will finish the job of the fallen," he said.

He gave only a pro forma nod toward the additional innocent Iraqis the United States may kill in the process.

"We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm to innocent civilians; yet we will not permit the spread of chaos and violence," he said. "I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect our troops."

He reiterated this point later, saying, "Our commanders on the ground have got the authority necessary to deal with violence, and will--and will in firm fashion."

Here is the President warning that U.S. troops, who have already killed more than 600 Iraqis in the last week, will have a free hand.

That is a signal for slaughter.

Click here.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

DODGE BALL: Bush's Press Conference

Here is an exchange from this evening's press conference that kind of encapsulates the whole thing:

QUESTION: Mr. President, I'd like to follow up on a couple of these questions that have been asked.

One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9-11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism, and do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made related to any of those topics I brought up?

BUSH: Well, I think, as I mentioned, you know, the country wasn't on war footing, and yet we're at war.

And that's just a reality, Dave. I mean, that was the situation that existed prior to 9-11, because the truth of the matter is most in the country never felt that we'd be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin Laden unleashed on us.

We knew he had designs on us. We knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.

The people know where I stand, I mean, in terms of Iraq. I was very clear about what I believed. And, of course, I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.

I don't think anybody can -- maybe people can argue that. I know the Iraqi people don't believe that, that they're better off with Saddam Hussein -- would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power.

I also know that there's an historic opportunity here to change the world. And it's very important for the loved ones of our troops to understand that the mission is an important, vital mission for the security of America and for the ability to change the world for the better.

What the f$$k?

They're already calling the entire event incoherent gibberish over at the Eschaton comment boards. I'm inclined to agree with them. Without going into a lot of analysis, I would add that the President was also extraordinarily evasive. He was asked to name what he thinks his biggest failure as President is; he said he wasn't prepared to answer. He was asked if he had failed to get his message about Iraq across to the American people; he said that would be left up to the elections in November. He was asked if he owed an apology to America for 9/11; he said that bin Laden is responsible. He was asked about the Iraq/Vietnam analogy; he rejected it as false, but then launched into some of that incoherent gibberish, without offering any explanation as to why that analogy is false. He was asked about the White House's pre-war claims, ultimately proven false, about WMDs, Iraqi oil paying for the reconstruction, and the love and goodwill of Iraqis toward their liberators; Bush's response was near incomprehensible.

After the speech, I watched a bit of an interview on MSNBC with an editor from the liberal Nation magazine and an editor from the neo-conservative Weekly Standard: both of them were in agreement that Bush didn't effectively address the reality of the situation in Iraq.

As Shakespeare said in The Tempest, "misery acquaints a man with strange bed-fellows."

Click here for the rest of the transcript.


Decoding the PDB

In an editorial from (courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe), former CIA and Department of State counter terrorism expert and registered Republican Larry C. Johnson lambasts the Bush administration's characterization of the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing:

The PDB article released Saturday is a classic CIA response to such a request. It lays out the historical and evidentiary antecedents that undergird the analyst's belief about the nature of the threat and provides current intelligence indicators that reinforce the basic conclusion of the piece--i.e., Bin Laden was determined to attack the United States. It is true that the piece did not contain specific details about the plot that was launched subsequently on 9/11. However, the details that are included in the piece are so alarming that anyone familiar with the nature of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda should have asked, "What are they planning and what can we do to stop it?"

Remember the furious attacks against Richard Clarke during the past month? Now that we have seen the content of the PDB we know he was telling the truth when he said that President Bush and Condoleezza Rice did not make fighting Al Qaeda a priority prior to 9/11. At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals' meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president's national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the Al Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of Al Qaeda operators in the United States. While Condoleezza Rice is correct that there was no "silver bullet" in that PDB, she conveniently ignores the huge pieces of the puzzle that were in the hands of various members of the U.S. government.

Click here for more.


Monday, April 12, 2004


From the Nation:

Condi's Cover-up Caves In

A small but signficiant White House cover-up fell apart this past weekend.

When the White House finally released the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief, it marked the end of a two-year effort on the part of the Bush administration to prevent the public from learning that a month before the 9/11 attacks--and weeks after the U.S. government had collected "chatter" indicating Osama bin Laden was planning a major strike--Bush received information indicating that al Qaeda was intent on mounting attacks within the United States.

Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in the attempt to keep the contents of this PDB--which was entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US" and which noted that al Qaeda "apparently maintains a support structure [in the United States] that could aid attacks" and that the FBI had detected "suspicious activity...consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks"--from becoming known. And it is obvious why it was so important for her and the White House to smother this PDB.

Click here for more.

And again from the Nation:

Off the Ticket

Unfortunately for Rice, however, her testimony will be remembered for a single exchange.

Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste asked Rice if she could recall the title of President Bush's daily briefing document for August 6, 2001, which crossed her desk more than a month before operatives associated with Osama bin Laden's al-Queda network attacked the world Trade Center and the Pentagon. After several inept attempts to avoid the question, Rice finally answered, "I believe the title was, 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

Rice knew she was in trouble; she claimed immediately that the August 6 briefing paper was a speculative document, not a real warning. The administration's defenders then spent the rest of the day trying to convince Americans that they had not heard what they had, in fact, heard. But, as 9/11 widow Lorie Van Auken correctly noted after the title was revealed, "That pretty much says it all."

What it says, above all, is that Condoleezza Rice will forever be remembered as the national security adviser who knew bin Laden was determined to attack inside the United States but who, by all indications, felt no great sense of urgency about that threat. On "The Daily Show," host John Stewart simply played the tape of Rice's response to Ben-Veniste's inquiry. It got the best laugh of the night.

Click here for the rest.

Even though it is now clear that the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) from August 6, 2001 revealed quite a bit of information that should have sent the American security apparatus into overdrive, the institution that should have jump-started the process, that is, the White House, did nothing. Unfortunately, Condi and Bush seem to be doing a pretty good job of deflecting criticism by staying on message: as Rice said in her testimony last Thursday, "If we had known an attack was coming against the United States, against New York and Washington, we would have moved heaven and earth to stop it." That is, the Oval Office is consistently stating that the PDB did not specify when and where an attack would take place. That statement may very well be true enough when considered on its own. In this context, however, the statement is quite misleading.

I am reminded of the White House response to the Enron debacle. Worried that they might somehow be implicated in the multi-billion dollar scandal, the White House admitted that Ken Lay had called them, desperate for help, but they proudly proclaimed that they did nothing. Okay, that's good. I guess. Actually, given all the retirement funds that evaporated, given all the job loss, I wish that Bush had done something. However, the initial Oval Office response to the Enron scandal was a nice sleight of hand: Bush had been in bed with Ken Lay for years--Enron had even loaned a corporate jet for Republican congressional staffers to be brought to Florida during the 2000 presidential election recount to stage the infamous bourgeois riot that managed to put a stop some of the recounting; Bush and Kenny-boy were seemingly the best of friends. The White House managed successfully to frame the issue in terms of whether they had helped Enron out of this one particular jam; they answered a question that wasn't asked: did you do anything illegal to help your buddies out this fine mess? The real questions should have dealt with Bush's longstanding relationship with Lay, and how that access may or may not have gotten Enron some favorable policy decisions.

Sadly, both the press and politicians bought into Bush's answer to the question that wasn't asked, and the political dimension of the Enron scandal faded from the public memory. It became simply a business scandal. Nothing to see here, folks; move on.

Essentially, the same thing may be happening right now with the release of the PDB. When Condi earnestly says that they didn't know the exact time and place of the attacks, she is answering a question that wasn't asked. The real question here is asking if the White House could have done more to prevent 9/11. It is now clear that the answer to that question, whether the White House admits it or not, is an unequivocal "yes."

In short, they blew it. Big time.



From the London Guardian:

This surprising reappraisal of American and European physiques is the work of researcher John Komlos of Munich University. 'Much of the difference is due to the great social inequality that now exists in the United States,' Komlos told The Observer last week. 'In Europe, there is - in most countries - good health service provision for most members of society and plenty of protein in most people's diets. As a result, children do not suffer illnesses that would blight their growth or suffer problems of malnutrition. For that reason, we have continued to grow and grow.'

On the other hand, America has eight million people with no job, 40 million individuals with no health insurance, 35 million living below the poverty line, and a population that exists mainly on junk food. There, the rise in average height that marked its progress as a nation through the 19th and 20th centuries has stopped and has actually reversed - albeit very slightly - in recent years. Many Americans are rich and do well anatomically as a result, but there is a large underclass that is starting to drag the country down the stature charts.

This discovery, which has been revealed through research that Komlos has assembled over decades, amounts to an assault on the values of the free market economy espoused by Americans and provides powerful support for those who back European ideas about universal healthcare.

Click here for more.

Does anyone think I'm being alarmist when I say that neo-liberal economics is rapidly turning the US into a third world country? Now there's undeniable proof: Americans are getting shorter due to malnutrition.

News like this makes it really hard not to be pedantic and tell conservatives where they can stick it. "Oh, you see, good for business, harumph, don't understand economics, blah, blah." No, I think you don't understand economics, you bunch of self-important, sniveling blow-hards.

One day, if there's any justice, you're all going to be "f'ed in the a."

Thanks to South Park for the phrase "f'ed in the a."


Bush's indifference is most troubling

The Washington Post's "Dean" of journalism, David Broder, weighs in on Condi's testimony before the 9/11 Commission last Thursday. Via the Houston Chronicle:

In her testimony before the 9/11 commission on Thursday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave glimpses of the inner workings of the Bush White House that were extraordinarily revealing for this highly secretive administration.

Anyone who listened closely to her three hours on the stand could glean much about the strengths and weaknesses of this White House, a place where few outsiders have gained much of a clue about how it really operates.

What emerged was a picture of an organization with great discipline and a strong belief in orderly structures and clearly articulated concepts and policies. But it is also a top-down bureaucracy, with little capacity for hearing variant viewpoints or testing its theories against the practical wisdom of front-line operatives.

As if seeing Rumsfeld crack the whip during press conferences didn't tell us that already.

Click here for the rest.



From the London Guardian:

For nearly 10 years, the resources of the Department of Justice's anti-obscenity division have been allocated almost exclusively to the war on child pornography, leaving those involved in the $10 billion-a-year adult market to their own devices.

But with producers of adult porn becoming increasingly lawless, according to Andrew Oosterbaan, head of the DoJ's anti-obscenity department, it is time to 'send ripples' through the industry and prosecute those producing and distributing obscene material. 'Nothing will be off-limits as far as content goes,' he said. 'We'll do everything we can to deter this conduct.'

These are the same people who were so scandalized by an exposed breast on a statue, mind you, in a Department of Justice building that they, at great cost, draped over it. These are also the same people who sent Tommy Chong up the river for selling bongs over the internet--a product I could buy legally myself, if I wanted, at a sleazy store just around the corner from where I live. Why am I not surprised by their latest shenanigans?

White collar crime is rampant. The threat of terrorism has increased greatly since the Iraq invasion a year ago. Petty street crime in the Bush economy is on the rise. Ashcroft's answer? Attack pornography.

We live in strange times.

Click here for more.


Easter Grinch

I wrote this a year ago:

First, it’s pretty easy for me to be good. I’ve had an easy life. I have wanted for almost nothing. I have a loving and emotionally supportive family. I am well educated. Nothing particularly bad has ever happened to me. I deserve none of this. I have gotten this wonderful life because of luck, because of the circumstances of my birth. Second, if my ability to easily be good is, by and large, due to luck, any notions of absolute individual responsibility for good and evil become, at best, problematic. Third, Heaven and Hell, the absolute reward and the absolute punishment for good and evil, become absurdly simplistic, absurdly unfair. As the great philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell writes, “eternal punishment is inhumane.” I have discovered that I can no longer believe in Hell, as no just God would ever condemn souls to such a place. I have realized that I no longer care about Heaven—why should I be rewarded for the circumstances of my birth? I’ve already received ample reward here on Earth. Furthermore, doing good has become to me an end unto itself, with its own rewards. Because I now know that I, too, am capable of great evil, it is now much easier to forgive those who have wronged me. Abandoning the prison of the Heaven/Hell concept has allowed me to become a more enlightened person, a more moral person.

Click here for the rest. And hoppy Easter.


Sunday, April 11, 2004


From the NY Times via the Houston Chronicle:

After releasing the memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US," on Saturday evening, White House officials said none of the information given to the president at his ranch on Aug. 6, 2001, was later linked to the attacks. But the page-and-a-quarter-long briefing document showed that Bush was given more specific and contemporary information about terrorist threats than the White House had previously acknowledged. As recently as Thursday, the White House described the brief only as a "historical" account of al-Qaida activity.

Of course, as the pro-establishment NY Times is so kind to point out, the briefing does "not point to any specific time or place of attack, and [does] not warn that planes could be used as missiles." Nonetheless, despite the Times' attempt at "balance," the article shows that the White House has been guilty of Clintonizing the nature of the document: they knew more than they've admitted.

Click here for the rest.


Old Nintendo Games on Your PC

Okay, this is, like, totally dorky. But I'm gonna post it anyway.

I've successfully managed to download and run on my PC an emulator program for the old Nintendo Entertainment System. For several hours earlier today, I played Dig Dug, Ikari Warrior, and other games: what an 80s fest! Believe it or not, some of these old school games are still quite playable by today's standards, and fun, too.

So...wanna play? Go to Snake People: NES Roms. Dowload one of the emulator programs (I'm using the fceuwin emulator). Then download some roms (a.k.a. game programs) from the left side of the page. Once you've opened the emulator program, you'll need to configure the keyboard to be your controller (go to the Config menu, click on "input," click on "configure" for port 1, click on "keyboard," and the rest should explain itself). To play one of the roms you've downloaded, just go to the file menu, and then click "open."

Pretty easy, huh? If it was any harder, I'm sure I couldn't have figured it out.

One last thing. There's rules and stuff somewhere on the Snake People site for copyright and what not such that nobody gets sued by the massive Nintendo corporation: be sure to read them, yadda-yadda, and what not.

So put on some Love and Rockets, or maybe that Grateful Dead album with "Touch of Grey" on it, fire up the NES emulator, and have an 80s good time!

Sorry, no ice hockey.



Title courtesy of Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, currently stationed in Iraq.

From the London Guardian courtesy of J. Orlin Grabbe:

"We are expecting to be overrun tonight," he emailed friends in Colorado. "We may have to fight our way to a safe haven. Unfortunately all the safe havens are already under attack ... We'll probably be OK! I'll email when I'm safe."

Mr Bloss didn't send another email. He managed to keep the assailants at bay long enough to enable the contractors he was protecting to escape. But he was killed in a gun battle - and with him a little more of what optimism is left in Iraq.

On the first anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the country was in the grip of mayhem and insurgency, Mr Bloss was one of at least a dozen people to die at the hands of insurgents across the country yesterday.

Click here for more.

This article is similar to the Houston Chronicle article that I linked to last night. However, it's interesting to note how the non-profit, non-American Guardian has quite a different tone--it just straight up calls the situation "mayhem," and doesn't seem to offer any White House or Pentagon spin on the story. The article also emphasizes a few different facts, most notably the increasing use of mercenaries instead of soldiers by the "Coalition."

God, I love the Guardian. It's totally outside of the US pro-establishment corporate news media's control.


Saturday, April 10, 2004

U.S. suffers its deadliest week with 46 losses

From the LA Times via the Houston Chronicle:

On the anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, thousands of women and children fled this war-ravaged city Friday as the U.S.-led coalition sought to regain large swaths of the country now under the control of anti-American militias.

As U.S. officials also tried to stave off a revolt from its handpicked governing council, authorities reported Friday that five more U.S soldiers were killed in the last two days, bringing to 46 the number of American troop deaths since Sunday -- the deadliest week for the U.S.-led occupation since Saddam's ouster.

Iraqi insurgents declared they had taken more hostages Friday, including two Americans and four Italians, a day after militants showed footage of three captured Japanese aid workers whom they threatened to burn unless their country withdrew their troops from Iraq.


Despite the widespread revolt, U.S. authorities here sought to cast the turmoil in the best light.

"It's a gross mischaracterization to say the entire country is at war," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters Friday. "The entire country is under combat."

Click here for the rest.

Not only is the situation in Iraq horrible, it's turning surreal: "The entire country is under combat." That's great. Just great. I'll file that away with "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."


Jimmy Carter takes president to task

From the Houston Chronicle:

"President Bush's war was ill-advised and unnecessary and based on erroneous statements, and has turned out to be a tragedy," Carter said. "And my prayer has been that brave young American men and women, and others who are there, that their lives will be spared and there will be some peaceful resolution of the war."

Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, also blamed what he called Bush's pro-Israel policies for engendering animosity against America.

"The prime source of animosity towards the United States is the lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue," Carter said, adding that past U.S. administrations since Harry Truman's have maintained a "balanced position" in dealing with the rights of the Arab population within the Jewish nation.

"The present administration has not done so at all. We have been exclusively committed to the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel, and have made no effort to try to have a balanced negotiating position between Israel and the Palestinians," Carter said.

Click here for more.