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Thursday, May 27, 2004  
There has been a lot of crosstalk regarding the speech given by Gore at the New York MoveOn meeting today. The reactions have been quite predictable, and while it would be easy to simply dismiss this as knee-jerk bile or praise, there is something I found interesting about the speech and people's reactions to it. To be sure, Gore laid out, in exhaustive detail, the current liberal critique of the Bush Administration. He didn't miss a thing; this speech had everything, from Chalabi to Clarke, from David Kay to Curtis Boykin and all the rest. But the primary "text" of his speech, in the Sunday-sermon sense of the word, was Sy Hersh's damning articles describing the abuse in Abu Ghraib, and the network within the administation that allowed, even encouraged, the abuse to happen. Put it to you this way - if you thought that Hersh's New Yorker articles were nothing more than a lie and a lefty smear job, then you thought that Gore's speech was the delusional rantings of a dangerous, fringe-dwelling tinfoil-hatter, irresponsibly slagging an honest man without a shred of proof. If you thought the Hersh articles were credible and presented a damning case for responsibility to move pretty far up the ladder, you thought that Gore was being positively heroic.

This isn't exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but from my perspective at least, it is simply staggering how successful the media bias argument has been as a tool to enforce consensus among those on the right. Hersh is among the foremost investigative journalists of his generation. Hersh's articles, at the very least, demand some serious consideration. So, what is the conclusion of those who are emotionally/ideologically/ whateverically invested in a Bush re-election? Hersh is just plain lying. He is a biased little rat who is actively seeking to bring down the President, and who has been "wrong -- and always in a way that was damaging to America -- before."

What different worlds we live in. From my perspective, I feel nothing but a raging shame when I think about what happened in that prison, and when I listen to Gore say "How dare the incompetent and willful members of this Bush/Cheney Administration humiliate our nation and our people in the eyes of the world and in the conscience of our own people. How dare they subject us to such dishonor and disgrace?", I say amen brother!

But then; here is the essential, unbridgeable divide: maybe I'm lying. Maybe I feel none of that shame, but rather I am hiding my exultation that the shame of Abu Ghraib redounds most profoundly against Bush, my bete noir, the fixed icon of my powerless rage. It is possible, I suppose, that the liberal media have truly got me buffaloed; that I find these allegations credible because I, too, am a mealy-mouthed Bush hater who feels a secret flush of joy when America stumbles; it is possible that Fox and NewsMax and TownHall and FrontPageMag and The Weekly Standard and NRO have had it right all along. It's possible. God knows I'm not going to convince you otherwise with this post or any other. And it is that, the willingness to assume that our opponents are not people of good faith, that allows this schism to widen and worsen.

Well, that was a long way to go to wind up with some standard-issue hand-wringing about the bitterness of the contemporary partisan divide. Hmmm, well, er, sorry about that. You've read it; you can't unread it.


Monday, May 24, 2004  
Up with the P.O.U.M.! Crush the P.S.U.C.! Kos embarks on an oddly ironic rant about the Democratic Leadership Council, excoriating DLC leader Al From for his "self-destructive and fundamentalist ideological purity," and his repeated attempts to enforce a one-dimensional party line on the Democratic Party. That's all well and good. I agree the DLC message is hopelessly outdated. Aggressive movement towards the center was the perfect strategy to beat Bush I and marginalize a moderate Republican like Dole, but the issues at stake in this election largely run outside of the traditional comfy domestic wedges that Clinton ran on, and a unified, activated Democratic base will be essential to give Kerry credibility on the national security themes that will dominate by necessity this time around.

What I find ironic, however, is Kos's conclusion: the DLC's obsession with ideological purity is flawed and obsolete, therefore . . . we must aggressively purge the party of the DLC, and replace it with Kos' own favored organization, the New Democratic Network. Or, as Kos puts it, "the new and improved NDN. The one that has ditched the DLC dinosaur and moved into the 21st century . . . [I]t's time to euthanize the [DLC]. Whatever role it may have played is spent. As of now, it's the single most divisive Dem-affiliated organization, refusing to play nice with others even in these desperate ABB times. As such, it deserves nothing but exclusion and ridicule." Amen, comrade! Down with the revanchist running dogs!

Now, to be fair, I have clipped out the entire center of the post, wherein Kos lays out the case against From and the DLC's petulant fight against marginalization. He's right about all of it; From is a dangerous joke and the DLC is a relic. My issue comes with Kos' apparent failure to realize that today's DLC is tomorrow's NDN; that he himself is engaging in the balkanization of the party into "good" and "bad" Democrats, and that maybe the time for party purges, however justified, is not 5 months prior to the most important national election in a generation, one of the most important in a hundred years or more. From is a tool who gets press by slagging other Democrats. Who cares? From will eventually marginalize himself; there is no reason to help him turn his tantrum-on-the-way-to-the-exits into a full blown schism.

Atrios gives Kos a conditional amen, if only for accurately diagnosing From as the poison toad he is. Title of this post explained here.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004  
Elvin Jones (1927-2004), R.I.P. Elvin Jones, quite possibly the greatest jazz drummer (maybe the greatest kit drummer) in history, died yesterday at 76. This is a heavy blow for everyone who loves music. After establishing himself throughout the 1950's as a leading new school drummer, Elvin Jones almost singlehandedly engineered a revolution in modern percussion, and had a hand in one of the most significant turning points in jazz itself. Elvin was critical to the fluid, expansive sound pioneered by saxophonist John Coltrane, whose early 60's quartet took the lead in ending the primacy of hard bop and launching a period of wild experimentation with the forms and possibilities of jazz.
The critic and historian Leonard Feather explained Mr. Jones's significance this way: "His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group."

That's all true, but it doesn't begin to capture the degree to which Elvin Jones deepened and darkened jazz music, expanded the range of emotions it could express, unlocked sub-basements of soul that lurked underneath the music. Once freed from the chang-changadang-spang chang-changadang of the hard bop masters, jazz jumped the banks and began to flood, not merely to flow. I don't know what "A Love Supreme" would have sounded like if it had been performed by, oh, say, Art Blakey. It would have been great, but it would simply not have been the revolutionary document that it is. This is not a swipe at Blakey, god forbid, but Elvin Jones was something fundamentally different. Instead of driving straight lines, Elvin Jones summoned up boiling seascapes of rhythm, providing vast oceans for Coltrane to sail upon, unfettered from the need to turn the corner after 16 or 32. A jazz drummer friend of mine sent me this somewhat more technical analysis:
Elvin really brought the "polyrhythmic" style of drumming into the light. Instead of having all of the limbs locked in together in the time (with occasional accents by the snare and bass drum), this style has all of the limbs interacting and constantly shifting to create a swirl of movement. Less formulaic, and much more interactive. Elvin's major contribution in this respect is his constant triplet based snare comping that fills in and around his ride cymbal beat.

And of course, Elvin is responsible for that rolling thunder around the drums, and soloing on the drums based on the melody of the tune, and not purely on drum rudiments (Max Roach got this started, but Elvin added a looseness and "flow" to it that endures today) . . . Ron Carter explained Elvin's impact on drumming like this: Listen to a pre-Elvin Jones drummer, then listen to Elvin Jones, then listen to a post-Elvin Jones drummer.

I know that everybody's got to go sometime, and by all reports, he lived a long happy life doing what he loved. We should all be so lucky. But a giant has moved on, and we won't see his like again. The list below sets forth a few essentials:

A Love Supreme (Coltrane)*
My Favorite Things (Coltrane)
Complete Live at the Village Vanguard 1961 (Coltrane)
Live At Birdland (Coltrane)
Crescent (Coltrane)
The Real McCoy (McCoy Tyner)
Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
Juju (Wayne Shorter)
Night Dreamer (Wayne Shorter)
Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Bill Frisell)
Live At The Lighthouse (Elvin Jones)

* Seriously, if you don't have this, what the hell is the matter with you, anyway?


Tuesday, May 18, 2004  
Mister Krugman, he's mad. In an utterly caustic column today entitled "The Wastrel Son," Paul Krugman administers to Bush's supplemental-supplemental-funding request the vitriolic mocking that it so richly deserves:
[A]fter declaring "mission accomplished" and pushing through a big tax cut — and after several months when administration officials played down the need for more funds — Mr. Bush told Congress that he needed an additional $87 billion. Assured that the situation in Iraq was steadily improving, and warned that American soldiers would suffer if the money wasn't forthcoming, Congress gave Mr. Bush another blank check.

Now Mr. Bush is back for more. Given this history, one might have expected him to show some contrition — to promise to change his ways and to offer at least a pretense that Congress would henceforth have some say in how money was spent.

But the tone of the cover letter Mr. Bush sent with last week's budget request can best be described as contemptuous: it's up to Congress to "ensure that our men and women in uniform continue to have the resources they need when they need them." This from an administration that, by rejecting warnings from military professionals, ensured that our men and women in uniform didn't have remotely enough resources to do the job.

The budget request itself was almost a caricature of the administration's "just trust us" approach to governing.

It ran to less than a page, with no supporting information. Of the $25 billion, $5 billion is purely a slush fund, to be used at the secretary of defense's discretion. The rest is allocated to specific branches of the military, but with the proviso that the administration can reallocate the money at will as long as it notifies the appropriate committees.

Senators are balking for the moment, but everyone knows that they'll give in, after demanding, at most, cosmetic changes. Once again, Mr. Bush has put Congress in a bind: it was his decision to put American forces in harm's way, but if members of Congress fail to give him the money he demands, he'll blame them for letting down the troops.

Now, I don't necessarily reach the same conclusion Krugman does. I agree that the Bush administration is equivalent to that worst of barroom nuisances, the arrogant drunk with no money. But, god help me, I don't know how its possible not to spend this money, and keep spending it. We are responsible for the outcome in Iraq in a way that the cut and runners of both parties don't get.

Whomever we give power to on June 30 (only five and a half weeks away!) is going to have to stake out a position in an uncomfortable no-man's land between their American patrons and their Iraqi constituents. I realize that this dichotomy may be artificial, and insufficiently nuanced, but I think it is undeniable that whatever reservoirs of good feeling there may have been towards the U.S. by the Iraqi people have had some pretty big holes kicked in them in recent months. At the very least it must be accurate to say that given the current climate, no government that finds itself unable to criticize and effectively bring grievances to and against the Americans will not be seen as a legitimate government by the majority of Iraqis.

So, if the government is not to be a puppet, there must be at least some tension between the new bosses and the old boss (i.e. us). So what to make of Powell and Bremer's statements that if we are asked by this teetering, jury-rigged assemblage, the U.S. will duck out and bug the fuck out . . . ?

I don't know. More on this later, I gotta go play the pub quiz.


Monday, May 17, 2004  
Indian stock market tanks. Following up on my comments below, it seems that shocking political upsets that revitalize the Communist Party are not conducive to market confidence:
A record plunge in Indian stock markets on Monday left investors stunned and sent brokers to the streets to protest against Sonia Gandhi's Congress party, which is set to form a new government with communist support.

"There is blood on the street. People are just queueing up to sell," said Arun Kejriwal, director at research firm KRIS. "There is absolutely no volume to justify this kind of fall. It is a scam now. We will start hearing of bankruptcies soon."

India's key share index plummeted as much as 15 percent as foreign funds stampeded for the exit, adding to last week's heavy losses and leaving investors shell-shocked.

While the market's plunge triggered a few trading suspensions in the morning, a few hundred brokers and investors gathered for an impromptu protest on Bombay's Wall Street, Dalal Street, shouting "Sonia Gandhi, hai, hai (Down with Sonia Gandhi)." Dozens of armed policemen surrounded the towering Bombay Stock Exchange building, which was shuttered and cordoned off during the trading suspension.

"This is the worst day in our lives -- we've lost everything, we're dead," said Sandeep Sirsalewalla, a broker. "We want the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) back."

Ironically, the market slide was set off upon the announcement that the two Communist parties would not be joining the Gandhi government. The Communists voiced their support, but stated that they would offer such support from outside the government. Essentially, the far-left parties are keeping their options open:
The leftist parties, which have more than 60 seats in the 545-member lower house, were essential for the government to secure a majority in Parliament. Gandhi's Congress party and its allies won 216 seats in the elections, short of the 272 needed for a majority in the 545-member lower house of parliament. For that, she needs the 62 seats held by leftist parties.

The communists differ sharply with Congress over such key economic and foreign policy issues as privatization of state-run companies and support for greater ties with the United States.

Even with the support of the socialist Samajwadi Party, which announced Monday it would join the alliance and bring in its 36 seats, the Congress would still be short with only 257 seats.

Political analyst Pran Chopra said the communists' decision will make Gandhi's government unstable. ``Their decision not to join, leaves the left parties free to raise objections against policies that they don't agree with,'' said political analyst Pran Chopra. ``At the same time, the left parties can escape blame for whatever may go wrong.''

This decision by the Communist parties sent two signals that were of deep concern to investors both foreign and domestic (but mostly foreign): (1) the Communists did not intend to accede to Congress' statements that the market reforms would be continued under the new government. In other words, the Communists intend to use some of their renewed clout to roll back the BJP reforms that are widely credited with improving the investment climate in India; and (2) Gandhi's government will not have a majority in Parliament, and will thus be a duck born lame. Congress has enough seats to rule as the largest party, but will have no mandate.

What does it all mean? I'm not sure; many of the market reforms were increasing inequality across India, but who are we kidding - even a good leftist like me can't deny that foreign investment and technological development are irreplaceable foundations of any broad improvement in the lot of most Indians. I mean what's the alternative? Indian agriculture is in pretty good shape (even with a billion people, India is a net exporter of agricultural products, and receives no food aid), but agriculture only accounts for about 25% of India's GDP, and it isn't likely to become much more profitable or productive than it is now. India needs global markets, and it may be more difficult for Indian companies to access those markets if the world investment community does not think the Congress Party is a credible advocate for continuing reform.

I don't know enough about it to cry doom or counsel optimism; it seems likely to me, however, that India may be too far down the road to open markets to significantly change course. The best case scenario might be that the leftists will use their new status to target some specific issues that can be leveraged, such as environmental or labor issues, and leave the general thrust of market reforms alone. Given its well-educated workforce and technological capacity, India can probably remain an attractive investment opportunity even if it insists on environmental and labor standards a few steps higher than some of its less-prosperous competitors in the global labor and investment market. I hope that the leftists take advantage of such opportunities, rather than simply playing a spoiler's role.


Friday, May 14, 2004  
Something I hadn't considered about Social Security. On my way in to work, I usually stop for a few minutes and bullshit with the guy who runs the parking garage I use. Today, he mentioned something I found fascinating:

ME: Oh, I'm sure there are perfectly happy people in the world with no money.

HIM: Oh, yes, that's probably true, but . . .

ME & HIM TOGETHER: Not in this country.

ME: But somewhere.

HIM: In my country [Sri Lanka], there are many such people.

ME: A friend of mine spent some time there a long time ago - he still wants to go back. He says it's just amazing.

HIM: It is a beautiful island. I will go back when I retire.

ME: Oh, yeah?

HIM: Yes. When I am eligible for my Social Security, my children will be grown, so I will leave them here, and I will go back there. My whole family is there, and with the Social Security I will have after working for twenty years or so, I will live like a king. [Laughs.] Like a bloody king!

Goddamn, that sounds like a sweet deal. I hadn't considered before what a role social security might play in encouraging immigration. To Americans, when we read our SSA income and benefits statements, and try to imagine retiring in the US on that amount, we snort derisively, then call our benefits manager to try to bump up our 401K's another fraction of a percent. And that's if we are lucky enough to have one. For those who don't have savings plans of some type, Social Security is more about mere survival than security. But take that same amount and bank it monthly in Sri Lanka? That's a pension, an honest-to-god pension, and a long, happy retirement, spent in the bosom of an extended family. Not too fuckin' shabby, eh? The American dream of the 1950's, sent overseas along with all the good Union jobs that used to provide that kind of security to the working class of this country.

By the way, please don't think that I am in any way criticizing him for leaving the country and still getting paid Social Security, because I'm not. He's paying the tax, he should get the check, wherever and whoever he is.


Thursday, May 13, 2004  
Holy crap! Vajpayee is out, Congress is in. Jeez, you stabilize the rupee, reach detente with your nuclear rival, and preside over the best monsoon harvest in a generation (though I guess you can't credit the BJP with the rain), and what do you get? Thrown out on your ass is what you get, apparently:
In Huge Upset, Gandhi's Party Wins Election in India
NEW DELHI, May 13 — Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will resign this evening after his ruling coalition suffered a resounding defeat in parliamentary elections, party officials said today.

The Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, emerged as the single largest party in the poll results announced today. It appeared poised to form the country's next government with the likely support of its electoral allies and the country's Communist parties.

It is not yet certain — although it seems likely — that Mrs. Gandhi herself will stake claim to be prime minister, since even some of the party's allies have questioned whether a woman of non-Indian origin should lead this nation of more than 1 billion people.

Still, the verdict represents a totally unexpected resurrection for the Congress Party of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which ruled India for 45 of the 57 years since independence but had floundered so badly in recent years that it was being written off as an historical relic.

A defeat for Hindu nationalism, and a rejection of the BJP's slick, Western-style "branded" campaign ("Shining India") seem to be good developments on margin. But the Times article ascribes much of the Congress victory to a knee-jerk anti-incumbency at the local level, as many BJP Members of Parliament were thrown out. It is interesting how the significant personal popularity of a national leader can be blunted and diffused in a parliamentary system, where each voter is only electing his or her local representative, and only secondarily endorsing the leadership of the party as a whole. Vajpayee was really quite popular, and had enjoyed a recent winning streak; it was believed, by the BJP and most of the Indian and international press, that Indians would vote a BJP ticket as a way of re-electing Vajpayee. Thus the effort to brand the party nationally.

But it didn't turn out that way. As it happens, local issues still trump, and people still like to toss out their local politicos. Also, it seems that the poorer Indians who have not shared fully in India's recent boom were simply angry with the modern, city-dwelling, technological image of India pushed so hard in the "Shining India" campaign:
But even more, voters — particularly, but not exclusively, in rural areas — rebelled against the idea of "India Shining" that had been pedaled by the incumbent government in a glossy, costly public relations campaign.

The resentment of the BJP and its efforts to pedal the "feel-good factor" was almost palpable today among a small knot of working-class men gathered to watch the results on a news ticker in New Delhi. Many expressed dismay, common among Indians nostalgic for the quasi-socialist economy of India's first 40 years, at the economic reforms with which the BJP had proudly identified itself.

"Basically it is the anger of the working class," said Sawali Rai, 34, who works in a public sector bank. "Privatization, no government jobs, prices rising. On the pressure of the World Bank they are pressuring the common man."

Well, in any case, the Gandhi dynasty is back in the saddle. Two things occur to me. First, Vajpayee and the BJP have been surprisingly successful in reining in the violent fringes of their Hindu nationalist constituency. Not entirely successful, mind you, but certainly the fears of country-wide, government-sponsored, anti-Muslim pogroms have not materialized. It's likely that the fringes may have been quieter in recent years because they felt that they, in some sense, controlled the agenda. When these elements are out of power, and marginalized, as they surely will be under Congress Party leadership, it may be that they will consider violence more readily. The second issue is, obviously, Pakistan. The cooling down of the latest hot cycle of the endless Kashmir conflict was widely credited to an unexpectedly friendly personal relationship that arose between Gen. Musharraf and Vajpayee. Musharraf's reaction to the election result is critical; since the recent thaw is apparently the result of a very personal brand of diplomacy, how will the successor government deal with the General, and how will the General respond?


Today I saw the video of the execution of Nick Berg. I won't link to it, it's all over the place out there, if you want to see it, you can. I was reading an article about Berg's family on, and encountered the link. I hesitated for a moment before clicking through, but curiosity overcame my squeamishness. Curiosity made me watch it, and I can't unwatch it. I don't recommend the experience. It doesn't teach you anything except that this thing actually happened, and you can take my word for it, it did. It is without a doubt the most disturbing, most upsetting, most disgusting, filthy piece of savagery I have ever seen, and I can't wish enough pain and death upon the monstrous pigfuckers who performed it.

So, there is that. Questions obviously remain. First of all, exactly who is Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, anyway? The administration claimed he is an al Qaeda affiliate operating in Iraq, and pointed to him as evidence of that ephemeral 9/11-Saddam link that is undergirding much of the continued support for the war. But according to this ABC News article, Al Zarqawi may not even be affiliated with Al Qaeda, and may, in fact, be an active opponent:
While it is known that Zarqawi ran a poison-training camp in Afghanistan where one of his legs was injured by allied bombing his network's relationship with al Qaeda is not clear.

European officials believe that money changed hands between the two networks, but they are not sure Zarqawi took orders from al Qaeda leaders. They say he is closely linked with the Chechen rebel movement, which tends to operate independently within the world of Islamist terror.

Zarqawi also appears to have close links with Iran. When he fled Afghanistan, he crossed overland to Iran. He received medical treatment there for his wounded leg, though he was later deported.

A suspect who provided extensive information about Zarqawi to German officials last year reportedly said the Jordanian was aligned with Iran and opposed to al Qaeda. Zarqawi had "links with all [terrorist] groups with the exception of al Qaeda.? He is against al Qaeda," the suspect was quoted as saying by The Chicago Tribune this week.

However, there is significant evidence suggesting that Zarqawi is Al Qaeda, not least the referenced chemical plant in Afghanistan. I, obviously, have no idea who this butcher works for, but it is clear that he has found a fertile field for his particular diseased seed in Iraq; a lawless, target-rich environment, full of civilian Americans with completely insufficient security.

There has also been some chatter today reminding us of the fact that the administration repeatedly declined to go after al Zarqawi in his camp despite repeated notice from the Pentagon that Zarqawi was probably present in the camp and could be struck with cruise missiles or special forces capabilities, with a high probability of successfully killing him. The administration believed that such action would spook possible coalition members for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Another example of limited resources (in this case political goodwill) being marshaled away from the fight against stateless terror groups and into the war on Saddam. I would like to know more about that decision; it seems to me if there was ever a defensible incursion, it would be into friendly, Kurd-controlled Northern Iraq for the purposes of taking out a probable al Qaeda affiliate involved in the manufacture of chemical weapons. But apparently not. Another mystery to lie rotting atop the teetering pile of mysteries that casts its shadow over this war.

Zarqawi story via the Bitter Shack of Resentment, though I'm not sure I agree with (or understand) the point he's making.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004  
Not sure when he's not good, but Josh Marshall has been particularly essential over the last few weeks. On particular interest to me was this little tidbit, thrown out yesterday:
JUST TO PASS on some added information, about which we'll be saying more. There is chatter in Pakistani intelligence circles that the US has let the Pakistanis know that the optimal time for bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects in the untamed Afghan-Pakistani border lands is the last ten days of July, 2004.

Odd, that. I would have thought that the optimal time for "bagging 'high value' al Qaida suspects" would be right fucking now. If this story can be confirmed, it will be interesting to note what reason the administration gives for postponing the capture of the people responsible for the deaths of 3000 Americans.

The Democratic National Convention, of course, runs from July 26-29.


Thursday, May 06, 2004  
Related without comment. From Rush Limbaugh on May 3, under the heading "Babes Doing the Torture in Iraq":
Folks, these torture pictures with the women torturers, I mean Marv Albert looking at those pictures would say, "Hey, that doesn't look so bad." You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don't know if it's just me but it looks like anything you'd see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie.

via uggabugga.


Government by first draft. Today, Kevin Drum relates a transcript of Sy Hersh's interview with Bill O'Reilly, in which Hersh states that Major General Geoffrey Miller, the architect of the Guantanamo Bay facility, wrote a report in October of 2003 setting forth recommendations for treatment and interrogation of detainees at Abu Ghraib based upon his Guantanamo experience. In that report, Miller apparently recommended that Abu Ghraib cut ties to the observed world and put military intelligence in charge, measures which are widely seen as leading directly to the abuse and humiliation of the detainees there:
HERSH: No, look, I don't want to ruin your evening, but the fact of the matter is it was the third investigation. There had been two other investigations. One of them was done by a major general who was involved in Guantanamo, General Miller. And it's very classified, but I can tell you that he was recommending exactly doing the kind of things that happened in that prison, basically. He wanted to cut the lines. He wanted to put the military intelligence in control of the prison.

Josh Marshall also notes the existence of the Miller report, and makes what I think is a singular and important observation:

[C]ertainly this doesn't mean that everyone in Iraq literally got the Gitmo treatment. But I can't think of a more tangible example of the corrosive effect our embrace of lawlessness at Guantanamo has had on our conduct. First we devise these outlandish rules to deal with the worst bad guys behind 9/11 and the next thing you know we're applying those brave new rules to miscellaneous bad actors who fall into our net in Iraq. What are we looking at here but the fraudulent connection between Iraq and 9/11 suddenly become flesh, as we look into our own faces and see a paler shade of our enemies looking back at us?

This gets to something fundamentally alarming about the current administration. The fact is that 9/11 seems to have...unbalanced the current president and his footsoldiers. It is clear that the administration was and is completely overwhelmed by the watershed nature and immense challenge of 9/11, and, in its frantic search for properly devastating reprisals against our enemies, has thoughtlessly improvised us into a bloody, lawless mess.

The Bush administration is riddled with jingoists and "national greatness" conservatives who were and are simply incapable of a measured response to an event like 9/11. They were and are terrified and desperate to strike back, and they believe that fundamental elements of American society must change, to "safeguard freedom." And maybe they were right, in some limited sense, at the beginning. But these idiots make no distinctions between what must change in the American character and what must never change. For them, it is all on the block, everything about our national soul is up for revision. And not careful, incremental, considered revision, either; vast, ad hoc, improvisational changes, the consequences of which simply cannot be predicted. If someone can make a strong pitch that one action or another will increase security, it is written up and thrown out there as policy. The Patriot Act. The repudiation of the United Nations. The institution of nonpersonage for American citizens at Guantanamo Bay. Military tribunals. Reflexive bellicosity to North Korea. And biggest of all, the eyes-closed, fingers-crossed, armed-to-the-teeth leap into the heart of the Middle East.

Most important here is the lack of concern for consequences. The invasion and occupation of a non-belligerent foreign country is serious business; as Colin Powell explained to Bush in the months before the war, invading Iraq carries serious consequences, serious responsibilities. It seems obvious now that Bush was content with Plan A - total military success, rapidly escalating oil revenues to pay for reconstruction, and a jubilant and cooperative population. It has also become clear that there was never a Plan B. Nothing was done to prepare for the possibility that the country and the population would not be instantly pacified, would not welcome us as heroes.

To any sane observer, the invasion of Iraq always carried with it the possibility of fiasco, of catastrophic damage to US credibility and prestige throughout the world, and lasting damage to the secular, moderately pro-US governments in the region that endorsed or, at least, did not condemn the invasion. However remote this possibility may have seemed at the time the war was being planned, how can it be that it was ignored altogether? How can we have been caught up so short?

We seem to be in the grips of government by first draft. There is, in fact, a minor consonance with the dotcom bubble of the 1990's. During that period, we saw what happened when banks and investors gave out millions of dollars based on business plans scribbled on the back of cocktail napkins. We are now seeing what happens when Congress adopts this model. The first draft of the PATRIOT Act hit Congress less than a week after 9/11. The final bill was passed on October 26th, 2001. Ths damaging improvisation was further abetted by the passage of the Iraq Resolution by Congress in October of 2002. The prison at Guantanamo was set up without debate or discussion (though there obviously has been some since, none of which has affected the Cuba operation in any way). It sounded like a good idea at the time.

I suppose this post is just an iteration of Kevin Drum's "Bad CEO" thesis. The Bush administration certainly does have the flavor of a dying business under incompetent management, trying out every crack-brained management gimmick advanced by every outside consultant that manages to sleaze his way in the door and start billing $300/hour. That would certainly explain a lot about the inordinate influence (and enormous paychecks) of Chalabi and Perle, to say the least.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004  
The VP field. Here is CNN's seeded field of the most likely candidates. Howard Dean doesn't even make the top 32? Ouch.

Via Pandagon.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004  
Mix your very own Fela track using this cunning little Flash application. Listen to my humble effort here. The (incredible) album this little game is promoting is available here.


Monday, May 03, 2004  
The shots may be cheap, but it is not I who have depressed the price. From David Sirota comes this jaw-dropping factoid:
The White House today announced it will be spending another $18 million of taxpayer money on television ads promoting its new Medicare bill. Not only was the last round of ads criticized by government regulators as misleading, but the White House is on track to spend more Medicare money on television ads ($80 million) than its own FDA commissioner says is necessary to create a safe system to import cheaper, FDA-approved prescription medicines from abroad ($58 million).

Wow. The cynicism is breathtaking. If you will recall, the primary objection the Bush administration has made in public in favor of the re-importation is that there wasn't enough money to create a safe system that would ensure that seniors got the proper drugs in the proper strengths; i.e. that in the search for savings, seniors could be victimized by unscrupulous vendors, and/or get 500 mg pills instead of 250 mg pills and accidentally overdose. Big Pharma has echoed these concerns. The Bush administration knows how much it would cost to safeguard against such problems, but they would rather spend more pushing the merits of their bullshit prescription drug bill, which is little more than a massive subsidy to the drug companies, than spend the money needed to overcome even their own straw man argument and make drugs truly affordable.

It just reminds me of the whole "death tax" bullshit, where the five family farmers affected by the estate tax are trotted out to weep for the cameras about big gubmint takin' the family ranch, while a massive, and I mean massive tax cut for the very richest people in this country floats past and on down the river with scarcely a word. In both cases, an ostensibly altruistic motive is advanced for the action (The "death tax" is killing the family farm! Reimportation of prescription drugs is dangerous to seniors!), but behind all the crap and sanctimony is another massive subsidy to corporate and wealthy interests.

And now, of course, the pharmaceutical companies themselves have started to saw the violin in defense of high drug prices in a national television advertising campaign. Don't get me wrong; I'm not deaf to the arguments made by the drug companies that, given the 7-year horizon for generics, research costs have to be recouped somewhere. But let's just deal with that honestly. Big Pharma is not just barely making ends meet, worried about bouncing the check they wrote to cover the light bill on the lab that's curing Alzheimer's disease. Their profit margins are huge, far bigger than any other major U.S. industry. Canada gets the drugs cheaper because their single-payer system is an enormous customer that can afford to break balls when negotiating pricing. We aren't, so we get screwed, and subsidize socialized medicine abroad, and massive profits here at home.


Not good enough. An emerging element in the narrative over the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison is that the U.S. soldiers and contractors running the place had received no training as to what was or was not permissible under the Geneva Convention. This factoid has appeared in many press accounts, as if this somehow explained the events. Josh Marshall points out that this has even been raised by the attorney for one of the soildiers facing court martial over his actions at the prison. Oh, of course. It's a failure of training. If only we had made these guardsmen sit through another six-hour training video, none of this would have happened. Right? Right?

Marshall asks the central, very uncomfortable, question:
Can this possibly matter? Perhaps as a fine point of law this would be relevant in court-martial proceeding. And the tolerance or intolerance of these soldiers' commanding officers for this behavior is relevant. But surely no formal training in the Geneva Convention guidelines should be needed to warn people off these sorts of outrages.

That's it in a nutshell. Was sexually humiliating prisoners and beating them to death not immoral prior to 1949?


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