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Thursday, February 13, 2003

 
VICTORY OF THE LOUD LITTLE HANDFUL.

(Googled this after reading an excerpt in SojoMail, which led me here.

SojoMail also had a nice link to this piece on Gulf War veterans organizing against Gulf War 2.)

Victory of the Loud Little Handful
by Mark Twain

The loud little handful -- as usual - will shout for the war. The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object ... at first. The great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, "It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it."

Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded, but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the antiwar audiences will thin out and lose popularity.

Before long, you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men ...

Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.

-- Mark Twain, "The Mysterious Stranger" (1910)


posted by Fred Clark 3:49 PM

 
YELLOW RIBBONS AND FOOD STAMPS.

The patriotic education president cuts funding for soldiers' kids.

Not content simply with disrespecting America's veterans, the Bush administration is now cutting funding to help educate soldiers' children.

Since 1950, the federal government has provided financial assistance, called impact aid, to certain local school districts hosting military installations that are exempt from local taxes.

But President Bush has proposed that the government ends this aid for the children of military personnel who don't live on military bases.

The News Journal's James Merriweather explains:

Under Bush's proposal, which would be implemented in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, the administration would continue to pay for about 270,000 children who live on federal installations. The change, however, would delete 900,000 students from the formula used to calculate yearly payments in lieu of taxes ...

In Delaware, this would mean the loss of about $70,000 for the Caesar Rodney School District, which educates the children of personnel at the Dover Air Force Base. The district includes less than 500 of the 900,000 children whose funding will be affected nationwide.

Others among 1,300 or so school districts around the country that now qualify for impact aid -- those with at least 400 federally connected students or those in which such students represent at least 3 percent of average daily attendance -- would be much harder hit than Caesar Rodney.

John Deegan, superintendent of Nebraska's 9,000-student Bellevue Public School District near Offutt Air Force Base, estimates, for instance, that his school system would lose $7 million under the proposal.


And note this aside buried in the Dover story:

The district also claimed 44 students who live in the Mifflin Meadows subsidized housing development ...

Subsidized housing because while America salutes our brave fighting forces and "supports our troops," we don't actually care enough to pay them very well.

posted by Fred Clark 3:26 PM

 
DRUGS AND THE CIA IN PHILADELPHIA.

This story is odd and disturbing.

A couple of Pennsylvania narcotics agents got transferred to the boonies:

... after they complained that federal and state authorities had allowed a political candidate from the Dominican Republic, one the CIA was backing, to leave the United States in 1995 with about $500,000 in alleged drug profits disguised as political contributions.

After they complained of the CIA connection, federal and city authorities stopped prosecuting the agents' drug cases, and began investigating the agents for alleged misconduct.


The story is actually even murkier -- the petcare-and-dieting local TV "news" station KYW-3 provided a startling look at the narcotics officers' claims:

The agents' allegations involved leftist politician Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, the longtime leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party and a three-time presidential hopeful. Pena Gomez died in 1998.

[Agents John] McLaughlin and [Charles] Micewski said they had uncovered a Dominican drug-trafficking ring operating in Philadelphia, New York and other Eastern cities that funneled drug profits to the Dominican Revolutionary Party, which they claimed was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department. The agents said the federal government had allowed Pena Gomez to return to the Dominican Republic after a 1995 fund-raising swing through New York with $500,000 in alleged drug profits.

The agents said that shortly after they made their allegations, the Philadelphia district attorney and U.S. Attorney's office began questioning their credibility and stopped prosecuting their drug cases. More than 125 drug cases were ultimately dismissed or dropped after prosecutors accused agents of fabricating evidence and lying on the witness stand.


The claims of these two agents -- that the CIA was allowing Dominican drug lords to raise funds for a political campaign by selling heroin in Philadelphia -- are outrageous, shocking, scandalous. These claims are also, according to a federal jury, credible. McLaughlin and Micewski were awarded $1.5 million.

Many claims have been made over the years about CIA involvement in the domestic drug trade. I have always regarded such claims as Mulderesque, through-the-looking-glass conspiracy talk. This time, however, a federal jury has ruled that Mulder was right.

Hmmm.


posted by Fred Clark 3:11 PM

 
IT MAY SEEM STRANGE ...

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.
-- Abraham Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address

A Southern Baptist press release tells us:

A prominent Christian media critic is urging evangelicals to support "Gods and Generals," a new Civil War movie which opens in theaters across the country Friday, Feb. 21.

That "prominent" critic is Ted Baehr. Baehr believes that Christians can best influence the entertainment industry by working with Hollywood, instead of against it. Baehr has thus embraced as his calling the ministry of obsequious junketeer, becoming a kind of Southern Gospel version of Joel Siegel. Baehr is also, the press release tells us:

... chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, writes a syndicated column about entertainment based on biblical values. He is also the coauthor of a book about the film, titled "Faith in God and Generals," published by the Broadman & Holman division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

How's that for synergy? Baehr the "critic" urges people to go see the movie about which he, coincidentally, has authored a book. The SBC -- which also owns Broadman & Holman, the book's publisher -- plugs the book through its press release. You can't buy this kind of positive publicity. Or, rather, you can.

Anyway, the Baptist Press release celebrates the film for the way it shows the bloody men who fought the Civil War were all good Christians.

Especially the Southerners.

Good, Christian folk. Sure they had their little foibles -- like the buying and selling of human beings, and the way they'd sooner commit treason than be told that the holocaust of chattel slavery was morally suspect -- but they also had their heritage. Their good, Christian, Southern heritage, don't you know:

The film largely focuses on Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, portrayed by Stephen Lang, who played General Picket in Gettysburg, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, played by Robert Duvall. The strong Christian faith of both men is unapologetically portrayed in the film.

Unapologetic? There's no need for the filmmaker's to apologize for the Christian faith of these men -- only for the way that faith was somehow able to abide its antithesis, the Antichrist heresy of slavery.

With regard to "all the wealth piled by the bondsman's 250 years of unrequited toil ... and every drop of blood drawn with the lash" the mythmakers of this Southern Christian heritage remain woefully, sinfully unapologetic.

But let us judge not, that we be not judged. ... With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
posted by Fred Clark 2:52 AM

 
FRANCE : IRAQ :: U.S. : NORTH KOREA.

From Glenn Kessler's Washington Post article:

[Country X] officials said they would seek either a relatively mild resolution or a statement from the Security Council president deploring [Country Y]'s action and urging compliance with international obligations.

As it turns out, Kessler is writing about the U.S. position on North Korea, but he could just as easily have been writing about the French position on Iraq. Keeping that in mind, here's more from Kessler (slightly, but not substantially, modified):

"We sare-tanly thought zee matt-tare belonged in zee Security Coun-sail for a long time," said Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton. "Eet ees hard to judge what gets through to zee Koreans du Nord," he said, but "zees ees zee appropriate place to talk about eet."

Bolton added that, despite tactical differences with other nations in the region, "zee bottom line fundamentahl ees zat everyone agrees zere should be a nonnuclear Korean Peninsula."



posted by Fred Clark 2:15 AM


Wednesday, February 12, 2003

 
FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON ME.

Fool me 31 times, Colin Powell, and every word out of your lying mouth becomes suspect.

Ron K. utterly dissects Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech before the U.N. Security Council on his "loose cannon" blog, Cogent Provocateur. In a post below, I listed five of Powell's assertions that were questionable and/or utter rubbish. Ron lists 31.

Then he follows up with a post listing several more exaggerations, misrepresentations and bluffish hogwash from Powell's speech, along with links to several other articles and posts debunking the bunk. Including these points, from Newsweek:

The intercepts clearly refer to stray items, not big caches.

Iraqis are disputing the English translations provided by the U.S. State Department.

... truck-mounted labs would be all but unworkable. The required ventilation systems would make them instantly recognizable from above, and they would need special facilities to safely dispose of their deadly wastes ... U.S. intelligence, after years of looking for them, has never found even one.

U.N. inspectors said they verified the destruction of almost all Iraqi chemical weapons and ingredients after Operation Desert Storm. By now, any leftover supplies would have degraded beyond use.


The larger point here is what Ron calls the "O.J. Question: Why frame a guilty suspect?"

In an effort to prove its case for war on Iraq the administration has repeatedly misrepresented and distorted facts. All they have succeeded in proving is that they are not to be trusted.



posted by Fred Clark 3:52 PM

 
FOUR COMMERCIALS.

1. Whirlpool clearly spent some money on its latest TV spots, featuring this creepy-cool Silver Surfer-meets-Mr. Snow Miser lady. As she glides around through the vast, unexplored regions of the company's latest space-saving refrigerator, the announcer hits the pitchline: "The conquest of space."

I'm not saying this is necessarily in bad taste right now, but the timing is sub-optimal. Whirlpool's "conquest of space" line -- like the Air Force's retired slogan, "No One Comes Close" -- has been overtaken by events.

2. Ads for the new Saturn Ion feature a brilliant choice of music -- the sappy-but-catchy "Forever Young" from Alphaville. When I was 15, that song made me feel all wistful and Prufrockian, and hearing it again created this weird echo-chamber of nostalgia for nostalgia.

Key point here: why has no one cut a punked-out, Ramones version of this song? It's begging for it. Teen angst always sounds better fast and loud.

3. The new Wendy's ad confuses me. It features an oddball guy attempting to seduce an attractive older woman with descriptions of Wendy's latest sandwich. Mrs. Robinson accompanies the kid to Wendy's, only to have the lad apparently shamed and embarrassed when it is revealed that he also works there. (The kid's shame is weirdly sexualized by the ad -- the fact of his employment at Wendy's evidently implying his sexual and masculine inadequacy. There's a "Where's the Beef?" joke lurking here, but I'll avoid it.)

The company's Web site includes a link labeled "Career Opportunities," which includes the slogan "Everybody's somebody at Wendy's." So why is this same company putting out ads that imply working at Wendy's is for losers? If there is no dignity in working there, then there is no dignity in eating there. (This sort of thing never happened when Dave Thomas was alive.)

4. Ray Charles, by whoring for the Man in those wretched Powerball commercials, seems determined to overtake Dionne Warwick's title as Music Legend Whose Later Disgraces Came to Overshadow Her/His Original Genius. Powerball is a multi-state ripoff. It is predatory and evil. It's the public-policy equivalent of peddling crystal meth.

If you drive one mile to purchase a Powerball ticket and drive back home, you are four times more likely to be killed on the road than to win the Powerball jackpot.


posted by Fred Clark 2:50 PM


Sunday, February 09, 2003

 
HOORAY FOR THE DIXIE CHICKS.

After hearing their lovely rendition of the national anthem at the Super Bowl, I paid more attention to the Dixie Chicks last night on the increasingly pointless Saturday Night Live.

(Memo to Lorne Michaels: Quit pissing on John and Gilda's graves and just shut the damned thing down. It's embarrassing. It's Leno-lite. It's hospital food. Saturday Night Live is now to political satire what the Olsen Twins are to political satire. Al Gore has been the funniest performer on your show all season -- mainly because he was the only one with a point. Justify your existence or get off the air.)

The Chicks performed two songs: a mournful anti-war lament, "Travelin' Soldier," and then a rollicking rendition of "Sin Wagon" (a.k.a. "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"). Aside from a blunt (pun intended) Matthew McConaughey skit mocking war protesters, it's been about the only evidence that anybody at SNL has even noticed we're about to go to war. (Once the bombing starts, SNL will probably begin distributing yellow ribbons. Don Rumsfeld will host and Lee Greenwood will be the musical guest.)

There's some good discussion in the comments threat to this Atrios post about how verily SNL doth suck.

UPDATE: My buddy Dwight reminds me that "Sin Wagon" isn't really much of an anti-war song. "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" is kind of a nonsequitur refrain in a song that's mainly about drinkin', smokin' and "matress dancin'." True, but the refrain does mimic and mock the Bush administration's wanton, reckless, devil-may-care attitude toward the coming war(s). And while "make love, not war" isn't the most compelling or forceful statement against this war, at least it's some kind of statement, which is better than we're getting from Lorne Michaels and his fawning court minstrels.


posted by Fred Clark 6:07 PM

 
GROWTH THROUGH DOWNSIZING.

AP business writer Rachel Beck examines recent corporate earnings and may provide some insight into the Bush team's plan for the economy:

The jump in corporate earnings last quarter didn't come because there was a sudden surge in business. Much of it was fueled by cost-cutting across corporate America.

Profit growth far exceeded sales growth for many companies that recently reported their quarterly results. That means they successfully lowered expenses and were more productive with the resources they had, but still struggled to sell more goods, raise prices and find new customers.


Beck cites an example of this corporate strategy to boost America's share price:

At Kimberly-Clark, earnings rose 10 percent in the fourth quarter while sales were flat with a year ago. The tissue and diaper maker said belt-tightening, including the shutdown of four plants, helped boost the bottom line and offset a decline in its prices.

"Hmmm," the executive thinks. "We shut down four plants and earnings rise 10 percent. What if we shut down all the plants? Infinite growth! I'm a corporate genius!"

posted by Fred Clark 4:36 PM

 
OIL, THAT IS.

War on drugs shifts to protect Occidental pipeline in Colombia.

From the "are you freakin' kidding me?" files comes this report by The Washington Post's Scott Wilson:

SARAVENA, Colombia -- The arrival of U.S. Special Forces trainers in this battered town last month signaled the beginning of a change that gives the United States more direct military involvement in Colombia's long civil war ...

Over the course of this year, Arauca province is scheduled to become the center of gravity for a $470 million-a-year U.S. effort to help President Alvaro Uribe cripple the enduring leftist insurgency by strengthening Colombia's miliatry. ...

This month, U.S. officials will begin shifting military resources previously used in anti-drug operations in southern Colombia to this province, which lies on the Venezuelan border and is 220 miles east of Bogota, the capital. Helicopters will be used directly against the two guerrilla armies, which the State Department considers terrorist organizations. ...

The effort has been presented as a way to help Colombian troops protect an economically important government oil pipeline from guerrilla attack. But it is clear from the training taking place on an army base here that defending the pipeline will mostly entail offensive operations against the seasoned guerrillas who have prospered on this swampy stretch of oil and coca fields. ...

"I look at this [program] more as one that is trying to establish security in an area where there just happens to be a pipeline," a U.S. official said.

... The most prominent guerrilla target has been the pipeline, jointly operated by the government and Occidental Petroleum Corp. of Los Angeles.


So our war-on-drugs has become a war-to-protect-oil. Scarier still are the implications of this: U.S. Special Forces are gathering along the Venezuelan border. Bush & Co. may not be satisfied until there's a war for oil on every continent.



posted by Fred Clark 4:04 PM

 
A BIG, STEAMING POWELL.

Less and less of the secretary's "evidence" remains credible.

The Big Speech was front page news on every paper in the country. The retractions, corrections, clarifications and rebuttals have trickled out in lower-profile articles. But while the speech made a bigger initial splash -- and the post-speech spin of "Powell's overwhelmingly authoritative and convincing case" continues to be parroted by the macaws of CNN -- it has been whittled away to a few remaining shreds.

Powell appealed to our trust and presented alleged evidence. So much of that evidence has since been called seriously into question that the remaining evidence -- and everything else the secretary said that day -- must be viewed with extreme suspicion. Powell has earned this suspicion. To recap:

1. The ongoing saga of the aluminum tubes.

2. The garbled Googling from British intelligence. (No defense allowed here -- plagiarism = failure and expulsion.)

3. The mysterious "terorrist camp" in Kurdistan. Powell's murky, illegible satellite photos showed a very different camp than the one journalists have been visiting.

4. Powell has repeatedly asserted that Iraq has "mobile bioweapons labs" on 18-wheelers throughout the country. The chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has repeatedly denied this. Powell's only new "evidence" of such labs? A poorly done computer graphic.

Let's keep in mind the buildup for this speech, the grandiose claims that Powell would be making the Bush administration's ironclad case. And he shows us a drawing? He drew a picture and wants us to consider this evidence? Powell's cartoon slide-show is no more compelling or convincing than the police sketch of the Imaginary Negro Susan Smith claimed carjacked the children she had just murdered.

5. Powell asserted that his satellite photos -- which invited volumes of well-deserved ridicule -- showed "unusual activity" at a "suspected weapons plant." Here's what Powell didn't tell the security council: the site was being monitored closely by weapons inspectors who have found no evidence of the weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. has been pleading with them to find there. Some excerpts from Charles J. Hanley's Powell-deflating AP article:

Iraqi authorities took foreign reporters to two sites the secretary of state had mentioned. One Iraqi site director, at a missile assembly installation, sounded puzzled at Powell's charge that the loading of a truck in his compound, photographed by a U.S. reconnaissance satellite, masked suspicious activity.

Karim Jabar Youssef said such shipments are an everyday occurrence at his plant on the Euphrates River, 35 miles south of Baghdad. "So any day Colin Powell can claim there is intense activity here," he said.

In his address to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, Powell charged that such sites make Iraq a global threat. But U.N. officials say U.N. teams had repeatedly inspected some of the installations.

Arms investigators have not reported finding violations of U.N. bans on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. ...

The Rasheed Co.'s missile assembly site at al-Musayyib was one of numerous Iraqi installations that Powell said posed threats. But he did not say U.N. teams have at least six of them under close watch.

Powell's presentation was intended to convince more council members that early military action may be necessary because Iraq allegedly retains threatening amounts of chemical and biological arms and is developing missiles with ranges beyond the U.N.-authorized limit.

At one point, he displayed a satellite photo labeled "10 Nov 2002" showing a large truck and missile and warhead canisters outside a workshop building at the Rasheed missile assembly site. He suggested this was a sign of Iraqi deception, two weeks before U.N. inspections resumed in Iraq.

"Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections?" he asked.

But Youssef, the site director, said that "on any day there would be constant activity," that is, shipments of parts and finished missiles. On Friday, a similar truck sat near the photographed location, along with missiles, canisters and missile components waiting for transfer.

Youssef said that the U.N. inspectors have visited the al-Musayyib location 10 times since November. The short-range Fatah missiles there, legal under U.N. resolutions, bear U.N. inventory stickers, indicating recent visits. Inspectors have not reported any violations at the site.




posted by Fred Clark 3:44 PM


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