Friday, May 09, 2003


Just saw a TV commercial for Parade magazine and I'm trying to figure out why.

It's not like anybody actually buys Parade -- it comes free in the Sunday paper, stuffed in with the circulars and coupons. Yes, we pay to get the paper, but it's not like we're consciously or intentionally buying our copy of Parade. I don't think I know anyone who looks forward to reading it, or who even remembers it's stuffed in there until they get the Sunday paper home and start sifting through the inserts. I've always looked at it like Marmaduke or Family Circus -- something that comes unbidden with the paper, but that will not require or reward my attention.

And yet the magazine boasts a circulation of about 35 million. 35 million. This for a magazine that has done more to reduce America's IQ than lead paint.

So are they just advertising to try to attract more advertising? Or are they advertising to prevent Sunday papers from dumping them? Or do they expect viewers of X-Files re-runs on TNT to think "Hmmm, I should buy the paper this Sunday so I can get me a copy of Parade"? What gives?

posted by Fred Clark 5:42 PM


West Virginia contains a great deal of coal.
Coal is extremely valuable.
The people of West Virginia are poor.

Detroit is home to America's auto industry.
America's auto industry has been an extremely lucrative business.
Detroit is a poor city.

Iraq contains a great deal of oil.
Oil is extremely valuable ...

Mike Brian makes a separate, but related, point in this fine item:

You have promised the Iraqis that they will share in the wealth of their oil. We could use some of that same sharing here. We have coal and timber that is being extracted, yet very little of the profits remain in our area. If the Iraqis are to share in the profits from their natural resources, we would like to share in the profits from ours.

You have promised healthcare for all Iraqis. We could use the same thing here. Far too many of us are without health insurance and adequate access to good healthcare facilities. You have also promised to rebuild the schools in Iraq. We too have schools that need rebuilt and that need more funding. ...

posted by Fred Clark 3:16 PM


Want to know the real story behind the rescue of former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch?

If you answered "yes" then you're way ahead of most journalists, editors, publishers and broadcast outlets.

The dubious official version goes something like this:

A one-woman Rambo finally overcome by multiple gunshots when she runs out of ammo in an ambush is rescued in a daring midnight raid by ninja-like special forces operating on a tip from a heroic Good Native who risked his life and tiptoed past Uday Hussein in order to alert U.S. forces of where their comrade was being held captive, abused and beaten.

As more and more sources report more of what actually happened, it begins to seem the only truth in the above account is that the special forces did, indeed, arrive at the hospital at midnight.

The mysterious Good Native turns out to be a lawyer named Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, whose wife worked at the hospital as a nurse and who served as the hospital's messenger to tell the Americans to please come get their soldier. He's currently on his American tour after he and his family were granted asylum and a six-figure book deal.

[The want/settle/get to play al-Rehaief in the movie: Want -- Goran Visnjic (he could pass for Arabic), Settle -- Stanley Tucci, Get -- Mario Lopez .]

The Toronto Star's Mitch Potter, unlike most news outlets, has done some actual reporting on this story (interviewing people, confirming stories, checking facts, all that bothersome stuff). According to Potter, the biggest risk for any Iraqi trying to help return Pfc. Lynch to her comrades was from the Americans themselves:

"The most important thing to know is that the Iraqi soldiers and commanders had left the hospital almost two days earlier," Houssona said. "The night they left, a few of the senior medical staff tried to give Jessica back. We carefully moved her out of intensive care and into an ambulance and began to drive to the Americans, who were just one kilometer away. But when the ambulance got within 300 meters, they began to shoot. There wasn't even a chance to tell them 'We have Jessica. Take her.'"

Al-Rehaief, the official mythmakers sing, "risked his life" to save Pfc. Lynch. And he probably did -- since getting close enough to the Americans to talk meant risking getting gunned down before you could get them to listen. Despite his starring role in the official myth, however, the lawyer does not appear at all in Potter's account:

One night later, the raid unfolded. Hassam Hamoud, 35, a waiter at Nasiriya's al-Diwan Restaurant, describes the preamble, when he was approached outside his home near the hospital by U.S. Special Forces troops accompanied by an Arabic translator from Qatar.

"They asked me if any troops were still in the hospital and I said `No, they're all gone.' Then they asked about Uday Hussein, and again, I said `No,'" Hamoud said. "The translator seemed satisfied with my answers, but the soldiers were very nervous."

At midnight, the sound of helicopters circling the hospital's upper floors sent staff scurrying for the x-ray department — the only part of the hospital with no outside windows. The power was cut, followed by small explosions as the raiding teams blasted through locked doors.

A few minutes later, they heard a man's voice shout, "Go! Go! Go!" in English. Seconds later, the door burst open and a red laser light cut through the darkness, trained on the forehead of the chief resident.

"We were pretty frightened. There were about 40 medical staff together in the x-ray department," said Dr. Anmar Uday, 24. "Everyone expected the Americans to come that day because the city had fallen. But we didn't expect them to blast through the doors like a Hollywood movie."

Al-Rehaief's wife was a nurse at the hospital and may have been among the staff cowering in the x-ray department. The lawyer didn't just risk his life, he also risked his wife.

I hope it does not seem like I am picking on Mr. al-Rehaief. He seems like a good man who did a good deed, and he isn't to blame if irresponsible and lazy journalists fail to question official propaganda that portrays him as a cross between Squanto and the local-ethnic-sidekick-who-gets-killed-helping-the-white-guy-hero in every Hollywood spy movie.

posted by Fred Clark 2:34 PM


That's the link-headline from The Washington Post's home page to Jim Vandehei's article "GOP Senators Endorse Tax Hikes: Panel Tries to Save Bush Dividend Plan.

The big I-told-you-so here is that, as we all learned or should have in 1982, these epochal income-tax cuts always involve tax increases elsewhere. And where the progressive income tax is target No. 1 for tax cutters, the consequent tax increases are usually in more regressive areas of the tax code.

What this meant in 1982 was a massive transfer and redistribution of wealth from the working poor and middle class to the very wealthy. It will be no surprise if President George W. Bush repeats this aggressive reverse-Robin-Hood redistributionism in order to get his gigantic second round of income tax cuts passed.

This isn't just "robbing Peter to pay Paul." It's assaulting, rogering and beating senseless Peter to pay for Paul's third house.

Consider Bush's tax-cutting priorities. The income tax is progressive -- having a slightly deeper impact on wealthy Americans. Bush wants to cut it. Even more progressive are the estate tax and the tax on stock dividends. Bush wants to abolish these. The man seemingly won't be satisfied until every trace of fairness and balance is removed from America's tax code.

As for the specific increases currently being pushed for by Republican senators, some may actually be good ideas -- such as Vandehei's vague, fleeting reference to tax hikes for "companies sheltering income overseas." Such sheep should surely be fleeced, but it is unlikely that these laudable efforts will amount to much of a fraction of Bush's proposed $726 billion transfer of funds to the rich.

All told, committee members approved more than 30 tax increases or other revenue raisers to help fund their tax cuts in other areas, including dividends.

What are those "more than 30" increases? And who will they hit the hardest?

Here's another hint from Vandehei: "House Republicans are less likely to support ... the proposed $20 billion in financial aid to states ..."

The 30+ tax hikes proposed by Senate Republicans will pale in comparison to the plethora of tax and fee increases and miscellaneous revenue-raising schemes being proposed in statehouses and city halls across the nation. The states are broke and more such schemes are in the works -- the cumulative effect of which, particularly in terms of "stimulus," will dwarf Bush's $726 billion proposal.

posted by Fred Clark 1:33 PM

Thursday, May 08, 2003


This story, about a health-walk across the state, would be much more impressive if the state in question were not Delaware.

And the health-walkers have chosen the narrowest stretch of the state's northern neck -- a walk of 13.7 miles. Walk across Colorado, or Montana, or Texas and I'm impressed. Heck, walk across Jersey and I'll buy you a beer to celebrate. But walk across Delaware? What're they going to do for the rest of the morning?

Anyway, the link above is included mainly to draw your attention to this felicitous section:

Figures show that 37.3 percent of the state's adult population was overweight in 2000. Another 15.8 percent of the state's adults were clinically obese. Almost 63 percent of adult men were overweight or obese ...

"If you look at those figures you can see that we have some work to do to convince people that regular physical activity is important to them," said Tom Fanning, who is helping to coordinate the walk.

"Figures show." Big, round figures.

posted by Fred Clark 2:59 AM

Wednesday, May 07, 2003



How to make allies and influence international opinion

Jack Hitt has a dynamite piece in the latest Mother Jones exploring the greatest failure of the Bush administration in the months since September 11, 2001. President Bush has chosen to make America universally feared, rather than developing and nurturing international goodwill. In doing so he has made America less safe, and he has embraced (and perversely legitimated) the violent logic of terrorists who believe that all power comes from the barrel of a gun.

One is reminded, again, of the Samuel Huntington comment that serves as an epigram for the Baghdad blogger: "the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do."

Hitt daydreams about the path not taken -- about what it would have meant if America had lived up to its calling as a beacon of freedom and democracy in the world. What if we had sought to demonstrate and propagate our ideas and values rather than merely our impressive capacity for organized violence?

A few months back, a terrible earthquake rattled a portion of Iran. Entire villages were erased. The immediate death toll was 500. Thousands were injured. A radio account of people trapped and dying beneath a collapsed mosque had me riveted. ...

When the news moved on to something else, I fell into a waking dream. I do this a lot lately. It begins with some other president, or at least another version of George Bush. This president reacted differently to 9/11. ...

... this doppelgänger Bush would have seen the advantage -- oh, about a year ago, when half the world seemed to be wearing NYFD caps -- in stationing a fleet of C-5 cargo planes at Kennedy Airport. When an Iranian earthquake or a Bali bomb blast occurred, 200 of New York's bravest and all that rescue paraphernalia for which we are famous -- Jaws of Life cutters, search dogs, remote cameras -- would immediately be dispatched. In my dream, I see NYFD pulling trapped Persian grandmothers out of that collapsed mosque. And the fantasy plays on out, with the president -- Bush would be especially great at this part -- taking to a podium and saying, "Al Qaeda blows up buildings and kills people. We dig through rubble and save human lives. This is what America does."

Hitt's imagined emergency-response team would be doing enough actual good in the world that it could bear the jingoistic name it would inevitably be given -- "Team America" or some such thing.

I like this idea. I love this idea. (And apart from the struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of the world, such a team could save many lives and help many people struck by tragedy.)

The image of such a team -- on satellite television and the worldwide Web -- would do far more to advance America's struggle against terrorism than the clumsily manipulative images of a diminutive, inarticulate president looking adrift and redundant aboard a warship off the California coast. In Hitt's daydream, the American leadership would be quick to realize the importance of such images -- and would understand that the struggle against terrorism is not only a military struggle. Hitt's doppelganger Bush:

... realized right away that Al Qaeda's attacks were conducted on two fronts. One was old-style terrorism, which kills civilians in unexpected ways. The other front is new -- the medium formed by the global reach and speed of television and computer screens that now bind the world into a tight infosphere. On this second front, the actions of the first are amplified in such a way that every violent act by Al Qaeda provokes global terror and every military maneuver by the United States is seen as imperialism. This president not only would have mounted a strong ground effort to bust Al Qaeda, but also would have realized what bin Laden has known all along: In the infosphere, you can no longer address "America" without also talking to the world.

The actual president's speech televised from the USS Abraham Lincoln showed no evidence that Mr. Bush understands this last point. Although he addressed some of the remarks to America's allies and enemies, the entire made-for-TV event was orchestrated for domestic consumption. For Bush, the event was about a domestic election campaign.

Here's the nut of Hitt's argument:

Since 9/11, our government has gone about responding to bin Laden all wrong. We've deployed our soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq with ill-defined missions, while bin Laden has waged most of his war in the infosphere. We have effectively refused to engage on this second front because Bush aims his tough-guy rhetoric exclusively at the domestic Nielsens. By sending out into the world only our soldiers and threats, we've managed to unite our enemies and fracture our alliances. In just a year, we've burned off the world's sympathy without earning an ounce of national security in return. On this second front -- which, it should be said, America invented -- the terrorists have won, practically without a fight.

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

One last telling example from Hitt's article (I'd just link there and tell you to read the whole thing, but MoJo only has an excerpt up) --

RECENTLY I WAS IN ENGLAND, and a Brit asked me why no one in America attended any of the funerals of the British who died on September 11. It's a good question. Of the several hundred victims of 9/11 who were not American, 67 were British, 24 Japanese, 17 Mexican, and so on. People from 91 countries died in the World Trade Center and yet a president who talks only to his domestic audience ignored the others so that, in time, all the sorrow of 9/11 seemed to be selfishly American. ...


... doomsday scenarios ... aimed at a domestic audience ... seem to be a boon for both television ratings and presidential-popularity numbers-two statistics hard to separate nowadays. Maybe that's why no American bigwig attended any funerals abroad. Television shut down its foreign bureaus years ago because overseas news scored poorly among test audiences. Now that the president takes his lead from ratings mongers, why bother to dispatch even an undersecretary of state to attend a single funeral? No one in the domestic audience would notice. The problem is, the rest of the world did.

posted by Fred Clark 4:27 PM


Good news -- everyone's favorite Baghdad blogger is back online (sort of). This is good news for those who were worried about him, and good news for those who value a unique perspective on the country we Americans will glibly forget about when we move on to the next war and Iraq becomes like, what do you call it, Somalia Haiti Sarajevo Kosovo Afghanistan.

Let me tell you one thing first. War sucks big time. Don’t let yourself ever be talked into having one waged in the name of your freedom. ...

The truth is, if it weren’t for intervention this would never have happened. When we were watching the Saddam statue being pulled down, one of my aunts was saying that she never thought she would see this day during her lifetime.


War. No matter what the outcome is. These things leave a trail of destruction behind them. There were days when the Red Crescent was begging for volunteers to help in taking the bodies of dead people off the city street and bury them properly. ...

Go read the rest.
posted by Fred Clark 4:06 PM

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