Saturday, March 29, 2003


Expanded facility at Dover will be "very, very efficient."

Beth Miller, who works the Dover Air Force Base beat for The News Journal, provides this update on progress at the base's new, expanded military mortuary.

DAFB is where the giant C5 Galaxy transport planes are based. In an odd twist during wartime, the base will be facing layoffs in the coming years as the C5s are phased out and replaced with smaller, less elegantly named C-17 Globemasters.

Those who work at Dover's military mortuary -- the only one in the nation -- have a bit more job security:

Construction should be completed by June at Dover Air Force Base's new $20 million mortuary, and Army Corps of Engineers officials led a tour through the facility Friday. ...

Officials said the new building -- and the $10 million of new equipment it will contain -- will streamline the mortuary staff's ability to prepare remains for return to families and loved ones. It is expected to be fully operational by October.

Tom Lavender of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the project, said of the new facility: "... We will have a very, very efficient flow through this building."

Storage capacity also is enhanced at the new facility, [Joe] Zurzolo [project engineer for the Army Corps] said. Refrigerated facilities will be available for storage of more than 100 remains. After the embalming process, 200 to 500 remains can be stored while awaiting transport to their hometowns or Arlington National Cemetery.

Then Zurzolo added what we all should be thinking and praying:

"My hope is when I get done with this building, it remains empty forever," he said.

Sadly, some of Joe's superiors have other plans.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

DAFB spokeswoman Lt. Olivia Nelson lists among the recent arrivals at the mortuary "six Air Force troops killed in a helicopter crash during a mission to bring medical aid to children in Afghanistan."

Medical aid to children? Reports at the time of that crash said the helicopter was on a "medical evacuation mission." Not quite the same thing.

This is a small instance of something that has become depressingly typical of American media coverage regarding the war on Iraq. Journalists report, unquestioned, information provided by a single source. A single official source. A single official source that portrays itself in the best possible light. To parrot such information as fact without any confirmation or skepticism is utterly irresponsible.

The personnel on board that helicopter died in military service -- they died as heroes. We need not pretend they were Medecins Sans Frontieres. (It calls to mind the comment on the Bush administration made by an unnamed defense official in this Jonathan Weisman article: "This is an outfit that cannot ever admit they are not perfect.")

It is possible, of course, that the helicopter really was bringing medicine to sick children -- in which case we should invite the Air Force to North Philadelphia -- but we cannot know this based only on a single, self-serving source. And with the track record of this administration on this subject, official spokespersons should be subject to an extra measure of journalistic skepticism.

posted by Fred Clark 5:38 PM


"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

So which nations, exactly, constitute the "coalition of the willing"? And what does membership in that coalition entail?

Neither question has an easy answer.

Take for example the case of Angola. They were a charter member of the coalition, but were mysteriously dropped from the original list:

The United States dropped Angola from the public list of "coalition of the willing" nations supporting war on Iraq, but added Costa Rica, Palau, and Panama for a net gain of two declared members. ... The African nation was on the official White House internet list on [March 20], but had vanished from the accounting a day later. White House and State Department officials offered no explanation for the change.

Or consider the Solomon Islands, still listed as a member of the coalition despite its government's insistence that it is far from "willing" to support the White House effort.

Consider also that, as The New York Times reports, some nations listed:

... have distanced themselves from participating in the war. For example, the Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has sharply criticized the attacks on Iraq, and the government of the Netherlands has assured its citizens that Dutch forces won't enter combat.

This report, via Australia's The Age, quotes one "senior U.S. official" as saying the list has "become a logistical nightmare. ... We've created a monster." (The official meant a logistical monster, I suspect, but interpret that as you will.)

The article (read the whole thing -- and don't miss Palau's indignation over the gentle mockery this list has prompted for that island nation) offers more on the worries of coalition members and nonmembers alike:

Slovenia, which has never been on the list, asked on Thursday to be removed after coming under the mistaken impression that US funds set aside for it to fight the war on terrorism were intended as a reward for supporting the war on Iraq.

Poland, one of several eastern European countries to provide troops to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear attack by Iraqi forces, asked that its participation not be used for "propaganda purposes" after President George W Bush mentioned Warsaw's contribution prominently in a Wednesday speech.

The AP wire, as of early Saturday morning, continues to list the Solomon Islands -- dutifully noting that the country never asked to be included, and has demanded its removal, but is still a part of the official White House list.

UPDATE: Turns out Al Kamen hit on the "Hotel California" reference a day before I did in this fun piece in The Washington Post. A taste:

This of course would not be the first time someone confused Slovenia and Slovakia, which is a willing member of the coalition of the willing. Bush, asked during the presidential campaign about Slovakia, said, "The only thing I know about Slovakia is what I learned firsthand from your foreign minister, who came to Texas. I had a great meeting with him. It's an exciting country. It's a country that's doing very well." Turns out it was the prime minister of Slovenia.

posted by Fred Clark 4:57 PM


Covert "munitions experts" are on the ground in Baghdad.

On Wednesday, March 26, an explosion in a crowded Baghdad marketplace killed 14 Iraqi civilians and injured dozens more, some severely.

The initial response from U.S. Central Command and from British forces was a matter-of-fact statement of regret. U.S. officials pointed out that military targets were often very close to civilian areas, and that, regretably, stuff happens: "... in some cases such damage is unavoidable when the regime places military weapons near civilian areas." British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon insisted that "... a marketplace has never, never been targeted" and said the incident would be examined to prevent future tragedies.

Both statements conveyed all that needed to be said: civilians were not deliberately targeted, regret, resolve, double effect and all that. No spin required -- this is, after all, war, and sometimes innocent people get killed in the crossfire.

But soon after the Pentagon spin-machine was in high gear. The people who brought us "that Afghan wedding had it coming" rolled out their favorite tricks:

1. Delay and obfuscate. Toss out multiple competing theories for what may have happened. It doesn't matter how implausible these theories are -- the whole point here is to prevent journalists from being able to write simple declarative sentences. Deflect the straightforward story: "U.S. bomb kills 14 civilians." Hit journalists with enough alternative theories, and in the fog of war, that headline will have to read: "14 civilians killed in what Iraqi witnesses say was an explosion caused by a U.S. bomb" with a deck reading "Pentagon studying incident, say may have been spontaneous human combustion." Even the few readers who make it through that story won't have any idea what happened.

2. Whenever anything bad happens, cast suspicion on the enemy. Suggest the explosion may have been caused by an Iraqi missile gone awry. Remind people that since Saddam is evil, he's not above bombing his own civilians as a propaganda stunt. (I'm sure he's not above such behavior -- and let's try not to give him any ideas -- but isn't he a little preoccupied just now?)

The spinning spokespeople seemed willing to say anything to avoid accepting responsibility for this tragic-but-unsurprising incident. Their sleazy shirking was of a different character than the initial grimly honorable shouldering of responsibility from Central Command.

This article by The Washington Post's Dana Priest, suggests a possible explanation for the different responses to this marketplace explosion.

U.S. covert teams have been operating in urban areas in Iraq trying to kill members of President Saddam Hussein's inner circle, including Baath Party officials and Special Republican Guard commanders, according to U.S. and other knowledgeable officials.

The covert teams, from the CIA's paramilitary division and the military's special operations group, include snipers and demolition experts schooled in setting house and car bombs.

It is possible that the marketplace bomb did not fall from above, but was planted on the ground by people whose actions Pentagon spinners would prefer not be examined too closely.

Not all the explosions in Baghdad captured by western television cameras are the result of aerial bombs and missiles, the source said, implying that some have been planted by the teams.

Our aerial attacks may be as precise as vaunted, but our covert killing teams may be a bit less discriminate.

In any case, the civilian casualties from Wednesday's marketplace bombing were soon overshadowed by the civilian casualties from today's marketplace bombing, which may have killed more than 50 of the people we're trying to liberate.

And don't miss this odd little nugget at the bottom of Hamza Hendawi's AP report on that incident:

Iraqi state television, meanwhile, said three Iraqis had been arrested for spying for the United States, alleging they were assigned to inspect areas of Baghdad that had been attacked to determine if they needed to be hit again.

The report identified the men as Ibrahim Abdel Qader, Ghareeb Ahmed Hamadeh and Hussein Shahed. Qader was quoted as saying he was given about two pounds of TNT from "foreigners -- Americans," and Shahed said he was recruited by an American he identified as "Gen. Mike" who was from the CIA.

posted by Fred Clark 4:30 PM

Friday, March 28, 2003


Here via Pentagon spokesman Maj. Ted Wadsworth, is an explanation of how the U.S. plans to adhere to a lawyerly minimum interpretation of the Geneva Conventions for Iraqi irregulars captured as prisoners of war:

All prisoners of war must be treated according to the Geneva Conventions, Wadsworth said, as long as they meet the following criteria: They are part of a military command structure; they are in regular uniforms with clearly visible insignia; they carried their weapons openly; and they obeyed all of the Geneva Conventions. This means that paramilitary troops or those captured in civilian clothes may not be protected by the rules.

This war is not supposed to be only about territory, it's also supposed to be to win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people. Technical adherence to the Geneva Conventions, while violating the humane spirit of the rules, is not the way to win hearts and minds. It's also a sleazy, no-class approach that isn't what Good Guys do.

Soon to be overheard outside of Nasiriyah: "You can torture this one, boys, his insignia ain't clearly visible ..."

posted by Fred Clark 5:35 PM

Thursday, March 27, 2003


The Solomon Islands was listed in the coalition without their knowledge.

The "coalition of the willing" has been the subject of some bemusement, particularly since the official list includes many countries that aren't exactly military powers. Here's the list, via the White House Web site. I'll reprint, rather than just link, just in case this list is edited or removed from the site in the future:

Forty-eight countries are publicly committed to the Coalition, including:

Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan

This number is still growing ...

That White House list is from a press release tagged "For Immediate Release
March 27, 2003."

Now read this, dated March 25, 2003:

The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific denied Tuesday it was part of the US-led "coalition of the willing" backing war in Iraq.

Earlier in the week the White House issued a list of 44 nations it said supported the US.

In a signed statement Solomons Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza said he noted with concern his country was on the list.

"The government is completely unaware of such statements being made, therefore wishes to disassociate itself from the report.

"Solomon Islands wishes to clarify to the international community that it supports the United Nations and its efforts to address the Iraqi issue," Kemakeza said.

After much of the islands were leveled months ago by the fiercest cyclone ever recorded, the Solomons have sunk into lawlessness and utter economic stagnation. The only thing they have of value that they might contribute to an international coalition is their name -- and so the Bush administration has misappropriated their name to pad out his "growing list" of coalition members.

The charitable interpretation is that this was a simple mistake -- a diplomatic bookkeeping error by the administration. But even this would confirm that the Bush White House is not a reliable source of information. In any case, the country's prime minister corrected this error two days ago, yet the administration has yet to correct it's information. The charitable interpretation is implausible. Far more plausible -- the Bush administration is lying. Again.

My guess is that the Solomon Islands will either be: A) bought off -- they're truly desperate, or B) removed from the list, once an additional country is "recruited" so that the total number is not reduced and perhaps no one will notice.

My suggestions for replacements: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Latveria, Wakanda, Zamunda, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

UPDATE: The New Zealand Herald is on to this story in, er, tomorrow's paper. But as of 3/29/03, The White House is still including the Solomon Islands.

posted by Fred Clark 5:43 PM


We've seen this movie before.

Don't know about you, but every time I hear talk of journalists being "embedded" with the military in Iraq, I think of George Clooney and/or Nora Dunn in David O. Russell's satirical history Three Kings.

Roger Ebert aptly described the film as "some kind of weird masterpiece." I'd tell you to go rent it if you haven't already seen it, but if Blockbuster ever carried it to begin with, it's probably been Ashcrofted off the shelves by now. (And nobody seems to be showing it on cable reruns either.)

I was reminded of Russell's film reading this article from the Los Angeles Times' Paul Watson. Watson describes the fear and cold and deprivation facing Kurdish refugees, who fled their home when the war began.

They are convinced that the relative peace in most of northern Iraq is a mirage, and that the ground war is coming soon. They're determined to stay put on this hillside until it is over, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime is dead.

They know Hussein's cruelty too well to take a chance on this war being any different. Each family in the Baqren camp has a story of seeing relatives and friends die in the exodus that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi forces crushed a Kurdish uprising.

What sparked that uprising? And why was the just-defeated Saddam Hussein able to crush it so easily even inside the U.S./British patrolled northern no-fly zone? Watson doesn't say, but George Clooney does, in Russell's film:

Bush told the people to rise up against Saddam. They thought they'd have our support. They didn't. Now they're being slaughtered.

It was a different George Bush, of course, and a different Gulf War -- but the people of Iraq are the same and they haven't forgotten. They've been promised "liberation" before and they risked and gave their lives to fight for it. And they were crushed. They haven't forgotten.

We will eventually see the promised scenes of U.S. forces being greeted by smiling villagers waving American flags. The Iraqis, after all, have lived under repressive dictatorships for decades -- they know how to stage a jubilant rally when such a rally is called for by men in uniform. But behind the smiles, what will they be thinking?

posted by Fred Clark 4:17 AM


Dick Cheney doesn't care what you think.

Tuesday night's Daily Show coverage of Halligate proved once again that -- despite the show's making no claims of being "real" journalism -- the fake reporters often outdo the "real" ones.

Some context: Halliburton, the scandal-ridden former employer of Vice President Dick Cheney has just been awarded a lucrative no-bid contract for putting out fires and rebuilding oil wells in the soon-to-be-liberated colony of Iraq. Keep in mind that Cheney is still being paid by Halliburton -- to the tune of $100,000 to $1 million a year.

This reeks of corruption. The very best one could argue in defense of such a maneuver is that the White House has failed to avoid the appearance of corruption. The likeliest reason why they failed to avoid this appearance, of course, is that the White House is corrupt. Blatantly, thumbs-in-their-ears-wagging-their-tongues-at-all-notions-of-propriety corrupt.

This stinks to high heaven. It should be getting A1 coverage. Even during wartime? Especially during wartime? And it should remain on page A1 every day until: A) the contract is reviewed and put to a competitive bid, B) Cheney discloses the details of his ongoing compensation from Halliburton, and C) Cheney apologizes for at least the appearance of impropriety.

Yet it has been buried deep in the paper. Reports dutifully mention that Cheney used to work for Halliburton, but inexcusably omit that he is still on their payroll. The sense one gets from the fleeting coverage this scandal has received is that for a guy like Dick Cheney, $100 grand or even a million bucks is below his threshhold of corruptability. (Much the same as President Bush's proposed tax plan -- which would net him a windfall of $40,000 a year.) The response seems to be "Surely you're not suggesting that a man as wealthy and powerful as Dick Cheney would violate fundamental ethics for a mere $100,000 a year?" But yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. That's exactly what this looks like.

How is this not huge? People made gallows-humor jokes about such a possibility before the deal occurred -- jokes they thought at the time were funny because they presented what they considered an exaggerated view of the Vice President's self-serving chutzpah, greed and corruption. Then the jokes became true.

A responsible Fourth Estate would be pressing for Cheney's resignation by now. Hell, even a competently profit-driven press should be chasing this story -- scandal sells, people.

So, with most of the media AWOL on Dick Cheney, we turn for truth -- as in Shakespeare's plays -- to the fools. Here (via Nathan Newman, via Atrios) is how the Daily Show's "senior" senior correspondent Steven Colbert attempted to describe Halligate:

Jon, keeping in mind that Haliburton was a major campaign contributor to the campaign and Dick Cheney was the former CEO, this move is extremely ... I'm a bit of a stickler for language ... if this word was a flavor, it would be a thick brown taste in the back of your throat, an acrid tang of decay, like you're rotting from the inside ... I've tried appalling, shameful, reprehensible -- I've tried cramming words together, greed-ragicous, backstabtastick, and Christ-just-when-I-was-beginning-to-buy-their-line-of-crappical, but nothing quite captures it.

posted by Fred Clark 3:53 AM

Wednesday, March 26, 2003


How was such a big mouth drowned by a quintet of boos?

So I'm driving home from work early Monday, listening to BBC World Service, which is giving a lot of play to filmmaker Michael Moore's comments at the Academy Awards. They played his entire 45-second acceptance speech, which I heard clearly for the first time -- when broadcast live on ABC, of course, Moore's comments had been drowned out by loud booing. The booing did sound a little odd -- with one or two voices rising above all the others, muffling what sounded like cheers in the background. You couldn't tell from the sound what the audience was doing, especially since ABC chose to cut to an extreme closeup of an inscrutably bemused Louis Gossett Jr.

The BBC's sound clip was so different I figured they must have somehow filtered out the boos -- although I wondered how they managed to do that while leaving the cheering intact.

Here's an answer (thanks to Brian) from Indymedia:

When Michael Moore delivered his blast of the Bush Reich at the Oscars, he was, in reality, given a standing ovation and hearty applause. But, to hear the soundbyte presented on the network news, you'd never know it. All you can hear are boos ... which, in fact, came from about five people, from eyewitness accounts. ...

Indymedia attributes this to the "mysterious microphone" trick -- the selective placement of microphones and creative editing of crowd response to muffle approval of dissent or to exaggerate audience enthusiasm for the official line.

So when you combine the mysterious microphone effect with skillful editing you can, quite effectively, lie through your teeth. ... Example: The network coverage of Moore (all 3 seconds of it) shows Moore briefly, then, while cutting to a handful of stony-faced people, cranks up the volume on the five booers. The result: a totally false statement: Moore's speech was met by boos and grim silence, not by enthusiasm and a standing ovation ...

The AP report of Moore's speech, like the BBC, provided a more accurate account than the mysterious microphones of the network coverage:

A standing ovation and a handful of jeers from Hollywood's elite greeted filmmaker Michael Moore when he criticized President Bush and the U.S.-led war in Iraq during his acceptance speech Sunday after winning the documentary feature Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine.

"We live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man who's sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it's the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts," Moore said.

Applause gave way to some boos, as the orchestra began to play the filmmaker off the stage.

"We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you," Moore shouted ...

The AP also reported Moore's dead-on commentary afterward:

Asked backstage why he made the remarks, Moore answered: "I'm an American."

"Is that all?" a reporter asked.

"Oh, that's a lot," Moore responded.

posted by Fred Clark 3:28 PM

Monday, March 24, 2003


That's all you ever saw of him when he was playing the organ naked in the Flying Circus. But he's also back writing in the Observer (link via Rubber Nun). The whole thing is worth reading, but here's his take on Richard Perle, the man Maureen Dowd calls "The Prince of Darkness":

Richard Perle, who happens to be chairman of Mr. Bush's defence policy board, only this week called the UN "the chatterbox on the Hudson" -- despite the fact that it's on the East River (hope his geography is a bit more accurate when he starts ordering the bombing!)

Perle was penning an obituary for the United Nations and he didn't seem too sad to see it go. "What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order ... the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions."

And what will replace the UN, in Mr. Perle's fairy tale world? Why the good ole USA of course! It will administer worldwide justice and punishment in the interests of "a new century favourable to American principles and interests". Not much comfort there for us elves and brownies.

You know Mr Bush and his advisors can't wait to sell the UN building off as a luxury apartments with stunning views of the East River -- sorry, Richard! -- the Hudson. (I'm sure they're going to swap the names so as to bring the chairman of the defence policy board's remarks into line with reality.)

posted by Fred Clark 8:59 PM


The favorite Scripture for vellolatrous Republican CHINOs.

Atrios points to this article on religious leaders' views about war and peace. He includes these comments from one Dick Bernal, the pastor of "Jubilee Christian Center," a pentecostal congregation in San Jose, Calif.:

Jesus did not come to bring peace on Earth. I don't agree with those clergy who say Jesus would be marching for peace. Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Jesus brings peace to the individual heart amid war and pestilence and famine.

Hmmm. Let's look at the two sides of this little theological dispute. On the one hand we have Mr. Bernal saying "Jesus did not come to bring peace on earth." On the other hand we have, among many, the Gospel of Luke, the angel of the Lord, a multitude of the heavenly host, and Linus, from the Peanuts.

So what do we do with the passage Mr. Bernal cites that seems to gainsay the angel's message at the nativity? Many star-spangled CHINOs trot this passage out every time their godandcountry goes to war:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).

Extracted from context the way Mr. Bernal employs it, this passage does seem to support his contention of a military Messiah. Of course Mr. Bernal's interpretation also creates a disparity between this verse and the famous "real meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown." Bernal attempts to rectify this contradiction by spiritualizing the meaning of "peace" of which the angels sang. It refers, Bernal says, to "peace in your heart." This seems an odd choice -- the angels seem to be speaking of actual "peace," while Jesus seems to be speaking metaphorically ("a sword" -- it's hard to read that as a literal sword). So Bernal's interpretation requires the counterintuitive step of reading an apparently literal passage metaphorically and reading an apparently metaphorical passage literally.

(N.B., One of the stranger obsessions of right-wing evangelicals is their advocacy of teaching phonics rather than other methods of teaching reading skills. For these folks, literacy means phonics -- thus the inability to understand figures of speech, metaphor, allusion, idiom, etc. I've got not problem with phonics per se, but if it's all we teach, we'll end up with schools full of illiterate readers like Bernal.)

But the crux of the problem -- and the problem of the crux -- for Mr. Bernal is the contradiction between his idea of the militant Messiah and the Christ of the cross. There's an old gospel hymn that says of Christ on the cross that "He could have called 10,000 angels / to destroy the world, and set him free." Mr. Bernal apparently sings that hymn as "He should have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world ..."

(And since that story didn't happen this way, Mr. Bernal doubtless ascribes to one of Tim LaHaye's heresies of Ragnarok in which eventually this does happen.)

But any hope at all of salvaging Bernal's interpretation of Matthew 10:34 crumbles to dust if we read the context of the passage he cites:

34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn:

" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law --
36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

37 "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

The entire passage, in context, cannot be used to support literal militarism. Rather, the passage puts its "focus on the family" -- but not in a way that right-wing "pro family" groups would be comfortable with.

posted by Fred Clark 6:16 PM

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