31 January 2005
If Jeff Jacoby is any indication, then the ranks of second-rate conservative columnists are starting to generate a wee bit of dissension. For on Sunday, Jacoby actually write something that made sense in his recapitulation of the torture of prisoners by the American military.
Granted, these are only allegations. But there are a lot of them—enough to fill this whole page, never mind this column. That is too many to dismiss as unfounded. Too many to shrug off as the deeds of a few rogues on the night shift. And too many to make excuses for in the name of political or ideological loyalty.
As regular readers know, I write as a war hawk. I strongly support the mission in Iraq. I voted for President Bush. I believe the struggle against Islamist totalitarianism is the most urgent conflict of our time.
But none of that justifies the administration's apparent willingness to countenance—under at least some circumstances—the indecent abuse of prisoners in military custody. Something is very wrong when the Justice Department advises the president's legal adviser that a wartime president is not bound by the international Convention Against Torture or the US laws incorporating it. Or when that legal adviser tells the Senate, as Alberto Gonzales did last week, that "there is no legal prohibition under the Convention Against Torture on cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment with respect to aliens overseas."
If this were happening on a Democratic president's watch, the criticism from Republicans and conservatives would be deafening. Why the near-silence now? Who has better reason to be outraged by this scandal than those of us who support the war? More than anyone, it is the war hawks who should be infuriated by it. It shouldn't have taken me this long to say so.
Jacoby leapt into action after a former translator at Guantanamo Bay revealed the gruesome details of some of the more creative interrogation techniques there. But these details add little to the overall enormity of what the Bush administration has done in the name of fighting terror—exporting prisoners to countries where American advisors can oversee torture; deciding that prisoners from Afghanistan were not subject to the basic protections of the Geneva Convention; allowing the abuses and tortures at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons; and so on. None of this is news. When it was news, Jacoby and his conservative brethren either ignored it, downplayed it, or attacked those who mentioned it.
On 20 June 2004, Jacoby tried to deflect attention from the Abu Ghraib stories and pictures by touting six feel-good stories from Iraq. Did you know that the Boy Scouts are making a comeback in Iraq? Jacoby wanted to make sure you knew then, when the horrors he now deplores could have affected the American political climate before the elections.
On 13 May 2004, he deplored those in the media who printed or televised pictures from Abu Ghraib but edited the horrible images of Nick Berg being killed by his kidnappers.
Poor Nick Berg. The anybody-but-Bush crowd isn't going to rush to publicize his terrible fate with anything like the zeal it brought to the abused prisoners story. CBS and The New Yorker couldn't resist the temptation to shove the Abu Ghraib photos into the public domain—and the rest of the media then made sure the world saw them over and over and over. But when it comes to video and stills of Al Qaeda murderers severing Berg's head with a knife and brandishing it in triumph for the camera, the Fourth Estate is suddenly squeamish.
At the time, Jacoby was so filled with revulsion that there might be political ramifications for a president who allowed abuse and torture to occur on his watch that he forgot that the United States is supposed to act with a more refined moral compass than a bunch of thugs. Now, Jacoby is dismayed at the conservative silence about torture. Then, he was full of vitriol because of liberal voices about torture.
And on 25 May 2004, Jacoby went so far as to accuse Ted Kennedy of slander. Kennedy had the nerve to compare the horrors of Abu Ghraib with the horrors committed under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Two weeks ago Senator Ted Kennedy uttered what may turn out to be the single most disgusting remark made about the United States in the course of the Iraq War. The reaction to his slander—l;or rather, the lack of reaction—speaks volumes about the moral bankruptcy of the American left.
Speaking in the Senate on May 10, Kennedy had this to say about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal:
"On March 19, 2004, President Bush asked, 'Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chambers still be open?' Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management—US management...."
"This is just a continuation of disaster after disaster in terms of Iraq policy," Kennedy seethed. "We are the most hated nation in the world as a result of this disastrous policy in the prisons. I think our troops are in greater danger than they have been before. I think it's going to be tougher to fight Al Qaeda. I think the chances of another attack here in the United States have been enhanced..."
To be sure, Kennedy has a long history of opposing American interests in the world. During the Cold War, he fought time and time again against US efforts to promote liberty and repel totalitarianism. From demanding the abandonment of South Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s to advocating a "nuclear freeze" in the 1980s to opposing the liberation of Kuwait in the 1990s, Kennedy has repeatedly raised his voice and cast his vote in support of some of the world's worst tyrants. His furious opposition to the current American campaign in Iraq is in keeping with that ignoble record.
But even for Kennedy, it crosses a line to claim that US forces in Iraq are no better than the monster they toppled. It suggests that his partisan hunger to defeat President Bush is so great that he would rather see America fail in Iraq than let Bush reap the benefit of success. Which is why the silence of the liberal establishment in the face of Kennedy's terrible falsehood is so ominous.
Then, Jacoby reserved his blistering screed for Kennedy's easy parallel—Abu Ghraib was originally a prison under Saddam Hussein—and left alone any analysis of whether anything systematic was going on. Now, although he does not go so far as to imply that the military under Bush and Rumsfeld has earned a parallel to that regime, he manages to use the phrases "religious torture" and "indecent abuse" for what was going on in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. In May 2004, harsh criticism merited claims of "slander" and "anti-American[ism]." Now, after the election is over, Jacoby finally feels that criticism is merited.
He's your president, Mr. Jacoby. You voted for him when you had to know that the abuses in our military camps, prisons, and secret hiding-holes were widespread and systematic. You touted his policies and lambasted his critics. You pointed to news of soccer teams and boy scouts instead of questioning whether our leaders bore responsibility for maiming, killing, torturing, and humiliating our prisoners. Your apologies, so far only implied, will go only so far to ameliorate what you did to put these knaves in power for another four years.
30 January 2005
What particularly galls me about PBS deciding that having an episode of "Postcards from Buster" in which the parents that Buster meets are lesbians is that PBS caved in so easily to right-wing opposition. Please understand that I fully expect that right-wingers will have some sway at PBS, the only network to give both William F. Buckley and Tucker Carlson weekly forums for whatever enters their pointy little heads. But what the years have shown is that PBS often does far better by kids than almost anything that commercial networks or cable channels can put forth.
Yes, every so often something worthwhile emerges from the muck of commercial television for children—for example, "Blue's Clues" (until the producers lost their faculties and turned most of the show into a second-rate puppetry act). But too much of commercial children's television is poorly-animated rot, or poorly-animated program-length commercials for toys, or poorly-acted soap operas for teens, or just plain garbage. And when commercial children's programming gets edgy, it's edgy in the sense of taking a PG-13 movie, expanding the plot, and aiming it straight at the grade-school set.
When PBS gets edgy, Mister Rogers talks to kids about divorce, or on Sesame Street, Mister Hooper dies, or on "Reading Rainbow", LaVar Burton meets with kids who overcame the 9/11 attacks, or, this season, devotes an episode to talking about parents in jail.
Indeed, what truly bothers conservatives like Minister of Culture Margaret Spellings is not that shows like "Postcards from Buster" are bad television, but they are good television with a particularly tough message for social conservatives to swallow. Our country, much like the world around it, is replete with different cultures and different lifestyles, and children can learn a lot from people who are different, even radically different, from them.
Conservatives love to criticize liberals and leftists, for being "politically correct." Alas, what we have seen from the Minister of Culture is political correctness in every sense of each word.
(And if life were anything like a bad television show, about now Shaggy and Scooby Doo would be showing that Minister Spellings and Vice President Cheney were trying to scare PBS executives in order to give William Bennett a second chance at some PBS programming time.)
27 January 2005
Flunking the Rabbit Test
What is it with the Bush administration and the fools who serve as Secretary of Education?
Now Margaret Spellings is concerned that PBS was going to have Buster the Bunny—he's a cartoon character, originally from the Arthur series—visit kids in Vermont who live with their lesbian parents. The horror!
The nation's new education secretary denounced PBS on Tuesday for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles.
The not-yet-aired episode of Postcards From Buster shows the title character, an animated bunny named Buster, on a trip to Vermont—a state known for recognizing same-sex civil unions. The episode features two lesbian couples, although the focus is on farm life and maple sugaring.
PBS has decided not to air the episode, and it claims that it has nothing to do with criticism from the Department of Education, one of its main founders. Right. Josh Marshall, of the perennially astute Talking Points Memo weblog notes that PBS has obliterated all signs of the episode on its website, although Google still has a copy of the offending webpage. If the episode is anything like "Buster's weblog"—and I know from experience that episodes and their "weblog" pages are consistently in parallel—the episode concentrates much more on the kids and what they do on the farm. It doesn't take a doctorate in education to realize that the show is all about teaching kids about how kids live in different parts of North America (Buster also goes to Canada and Mexico). And, believe it or not, if you visit dozens of families, some of them will be different, even radically so, from the Republican norm.
Yet somehow it escaped the attention of not only our current Secretary of Education, but also her ethically-challenged predecessor, when Buster visited a family earlier this season who practice an alternative lifestyle. As Buster himself notes,
Liesel and her family are Mormons. Did you know there are more Mormons in Utah than anywhere else in the world? It's true!
On Friday night they have family night. They begin with a prayer, then a bible lesson. After that, they might sing, or do readings. When I was there, they baked cookies for their new neighbors.
Does Secretary Spellings realize that Buster was pushing Mormonism, yea even a particular form of Mormonism, on an unsuspecting nation of gradeschoolers?
And does Secretary Spelling realize that poor Buster comes from a broken home? Shame on that evil Marc Brown and the devils at PBS for presenting divorce as something that does not lead to horrible ends for all concerned.
25 January 2005
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
It was not so long ago that a vociferous proclaimer of freedom and liberty was explaining the enormity of Saddam Hussein's regime to the United Nations.
Saddam Hussein's monuments have been removed and not only his statues. The true monuments of his rule and his character—the torture chambers, and the rape rooms, and the prison cells for innocent children—are closed. And as we discover the killing fields and mass graves of Iraq, the true scale of Saddam's cruelty is being revealed.
But removing a brutal and oppressive dictator is only a good thing if what follows is no more brutal and no more oppressive. And we now know that the forces nominally commanded by that vociferous proclaimer of freedom and liberty don't always act like defenders of liberty and freedom.
Pentagon documents released Monday disclosed that Iraqi prisoners had lodged dozens of abuse complaints against U.S. and Iraqi personnel who guarded them at a little-known palace in Baghdad converted to a U.S. prison. Among the allegations was that guards had sodomized a disabled man and killed his brother, whose dying body was tossed into a cell, atop his sister.
The documents, obtained in a lawsuit against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest for the first time that numerous detainees were abused at Adhamiya Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's villas in eastern Baghdad that was used by his son Uday. Previous cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners have focused mainly on Abu Ghraib prison.
Torturing prisoners at an old Hussein palace was a brilliant ironic touch—brilliant in the sense that the Marquis de Sade was brilliant.
And some Americans wonder why the rest of the world ranges from indifferent to inveterately hostile.
21 January 2005
That Liberal Fortress on the Charles
Remind me of how Harvard University is supposed to be the exemplar of liberalism, the bastion of liberalism, and the bulwark of multiculturalism. Not long ago, the president of the august institution, was proclaiming that advocating divestment of stock in companies doing business with Israel was tantamount to anti-Semitism. And last week, he was at it again, musing that innate differences between men and women might be responsible for underrepresentation of female professors at universities like Harvard.
Summers spoke from a set of notes—not a prepared text—so a transcript is not available. But in an interview with The Crimson this evening, Summers said that his speech was a "purely academic exploration of hypotheses."
Summers' speech came against the backdrop of widespread faculty criticism this fall following reports that only four of 32 tenure offers made in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences last year went to women.
Early in his speech, Summers noted that women remain underrepresented in the upper echelons of academic and professional life—in part, he said, because many women with young children are unwilling or unable to put in the 80-hour work-weeks needed to succeed in those fields.
"I said that raised a whole set of questions about how job expectations were defined and how family responsibilities were defined," according to Summers. "But I said it didn't explain the differences [in the representation of females] between the sciences and mathematics and other fields."
Goldin, who herself prepared a memo Summers cited in his speech Friday, said the president "had mountains of research" on the subject, although he spoke extemporaneously.
Summers referred repeatedly to the work of University of Michigan sociologist Yu Xie and his University of California-Davis colleague Kimberlee A. Shauman, who have found that women make up 35 percent of faculty at universities across the country, but only 20 percent of professors in science and engineering.
Their analysis of achievement test results shows a higher degree of variance in scores among men than among women. According to Ascherman Professor of Economics Richard Freeman, an organizer of the conference, the research found that "there are more men who are at the top and more men who are utter failures."
Summers suggested that behavioral genetics could partially explain this phenomenon.
Freeman and Goldin both said that after Summers'[sic] mentioned the "innate differences" hypothesis, he explicitly told the audience: "I'd like to be proven wrong on this one."
By that point Hopkins, a renowned cancer researcher who last year was inducted into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, had left the conference room. She said she was concerned that it would be "rude" to get up midway through Summers' speech, but "it was just too upsetting" for her to stay.
I have a provocative idea: pretty much none of the difference between male and female representation in universities faculties is due to genetics, and much of it is due to socioeconomic factors. Take and gander at anything mentioning base and superstructure and you will see an easier path toward the current state of affairs that the notion that external genitalia make one a better engineer.
What is particularly galling about Summers's speech is that the same sort of logic has been used were since Darwin sailed on the Beagle to explain why race, religion, or ancestry made any number of types of people ill-suited for all sorts of jobs. I don't think I'm being too provocative to write that Harvard can do with a different president than Larry summers. I don't think his genes are up to the job.
The Cylons Look Like Us Now
Is this fiction or fact? We report, you decide.
That Explains It
The Edison/Mitofsky report on the 2004 election exit polls is finally out, and there's finally some good data on what went wrong. In summary, Kerry voters were more likely to talk with interviewers, and older voters were less likely to talk with young interviewers (roughtly one-third of whom were under 25).
In other words, anomic Bush voters skewed the polls away from the truth. By strange coincidence, much of the Bush administration acts the same way in its daily activities.
14 January 2005
Facts In Context
Did you notice the stories that ran this week in the Washington Post on the WMD hunt coming to an end stated that this action took place just before the holidays as opposed to just after the election? Context is everything.
Good Imus, Bad Imus
Don Imus was at his best Wednesday morning, attacking Bush, Frist and others for the hypocrisy of the lavish inaugural in comparison to the treatment of soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq. He spoke from the heart about the small death benefits ($10,000) to the widows and children of soldiers killed in action and of soldiers in Walter Reed that can't even call home except at their own expense.
Tuesday he was singing the praises of Howard "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz (as Alterman calls him), telling his audience that Kurtz plays it straight. Can it really be that Don does not understand that leaving out facts, or selectively including facts, makes all the difference in a column?
12 January 2005
Pfizer Can Run, But It Can't Hide
Last month, I urged our dozens of readers to check out the Google cache of Pfizer's late and lamentable "safe pain relief" website that was just another way to push all-too-unsafe Celebrex on scared consumers.
If you failed to do that, I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that the Google cache has expired. The good news is that here at K Marx the Spot World Headquarters have rescued this exemplary piece of vile marketing from the virtual dustbin of history. Enjoy!
Eye on America
Four CBS News employees have been forced out of their jobs in the aftermath of sloppy work on a story about Georgw W. Bush's National Guard Service.
Poor souls. In a truly just world, they would instead have received the CBS Presidential Medal of Freedom for their spotless and selfless service to the corporation. And one of them might be nomianted to servce as the corporatin's chief counsel.
11 January 2005
Moore Gerry Callahan
Promoted as "the highest rated sport's radio station in the country," WEEI in Boston has been on a roll given the success of the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox. A few years back, WEEI replaced Don Imus' morning drive-in show with a sports talk show, Dennis & Callahan. John Dennis had been a local sports anchor on television and Gerry Callahan wrote a sports column for Murdoch's local tabloid, the Boston Herald. Dennis & Callahan talk as much politics as Imus and their reactionary bent makes Don look progressive in comparison.
Yesterday, I caught five minutes of the show on my drive to the train station. Callahan was hysterical over Michael Moore winning a People's Choice Award. According to Callahan, the vote had to be "in the bag." No way could America vote for Michael Moore. Callahan was further outraged that Moore, in his acceptance speech, noted the military personnel in Iraq and dedicated his award to their parents. According to Callahan, Moore doesn't care about American men and women in the military.
How can a man who is both a columnist for a major metropolitan newspaper and an on-air personality for the self-proclaimed "highest rated sport's radio station in the country" not have a few basic facts at hand? First, Michael Moore is a #1 best-selling author whose latest movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 , is the highest-grossing documentary of all time. Second, Moore is in the process of publishing a collection of letters written to Moore by American G.I.s in Iraq and Afghanistan. Third, some of these letters have already been published on his website.
While Callahan pontificates (and collects a hefty income for doing so), Moore states: "I'm proud to give voice to the troops who have written to me." Callahan cannot fathom that Americans with the views of Michael Moore believe we live in a great country and love our country very much. Given Callahan's friendship and past-working relationship with Charlie Pierce, I have to wonder what he sees in Moore's politics that he does not see in Pierce's. I doubt Callahan would claim that Pierce does not love his country. Maybe what trouble's Callahan most about Moore is the number of Americans that share his political views.
10 January 2005
Making Nixon Look Good, or at Least Sort of Good
The Bush administration would like Americans to know that Armstrong Williams was the only pundit paid to back its policies. If Williams had no compatriots, then it is rather frightening to consider what some pundits will say for free. And if he had company, then it is frightening to consider how easy it is for some conservatives to cozy up to that big government they so deplore.
The White House said Monday that the case of the Education Department paying a conservative commentator to plug its policies was an isolated incident, not a practice widely used by the Bush administration.
With the Education Department still defending its $240,000 contract with syndicated columnist and TV personality Armstrong Williams, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was cautious in choosing his comments.
"Questions have been raised about that arrangement, it ought to be looked into, and there are ways to look into matters of that nature," McClellan said. The spokesman did not say precisely who should look into it, and stopped short of backing an inquiry by the department's inspector-general, as some lawmakers have sought. He noted that department lawyers have taken up the matter.
In the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon and his minions were engaging in all manner of dirty tricks, they at least used campaign money that they distributed on the sly. They were at least ashamed of what they were doing, or at least ashamed enough not to rob the public till to do it. Bush and his hand-picked team have no such shame.
Joshua Micah Marshall, or the justifiably popular Talking Points Memo weblog, correctly chews out the Washington Post editorial board for deciding that most Americans are comfortably affluent.
The Post editorial yesterday noted that a sane Congress would need to raise taxes not only for Medicare but also for the Republicans' quadrennium of borrowing. But then it reversed the polarity of the neutron flow.
Some cost control makes sense. If workers aren't happy with a pension that, while generous in relation to the living standards of their younger years, feels stingy in relation to their earnings immediately before retirement, they can, if not in the lower brackets, save privately to supplement their Social Security benefit; if healthy, they also can postpone retirement.
Marshall knew crazy talk when he saw it, and he showed how skewed this sort of talk is. Assuming that affluence is typical in America is hardly the sole bailiwick of the Post; it's all too common in the mainstream press.
The authors observe that recipients, instead of whining about the cuts, should simply save more on their own—as long as they're "not in the lower brackets."
Now, there aren't that many tax brackets. In fact, if memory serves there are now six federal tax brackets—10%, 15%, 25%, 28% 33% and 35%. For next year, the upper three brackets are for joint-filing couples making $120,000 a year and up and individuals who make over $72,000.
By inference, this must be the class of whiners the Post is addressing since these are the folks who are "not in the lower brackets." Does the Post really think that these high-income earners are the folks this debate is about? Or the folks for whom Social Security represents a critical component of their retirement security?
Later, the editorialists argue that the "poor" should receive unspecified "special protections" from the benefit cutting.
But does anybody seem like they're left out of this picture? Right, the overwhelming majority of Americans in those lower three brackets who spend their lifetimes making middle-class wages—Bill Clinton's folks who 'work hard and play by the rules.'
They aren't 'poor'. So they wouldn't qualify for the "special protections" (i.e., old age welfare) that the Post advises. And they rely on the Social Security they've been paying into all their lives as a key protection against having to become poor in their retirement years.
They're just not in the Post's field of vision.
Marshall is almost exactly right. There are a number of reasons to be extremely dubious of the power of "private accounts" to fix what ails Social Security. I hope to cover some of those reasons in the coming days. But what is most important about Social Security is that it represents the bulk, if not the entirety, of retirement income for millions of Americans. The affluent have the ability to sock extra money away for retirement. The rich already have. For many in these two groups, Social Security is an annoyance—$5,450 that is off limits to speculation on mutual funds or stock shares. For everyone else, Social Security is vital.
But Marshall understates his case. The third-highest tax bracket does not apply to taxpayers making$120,000 or higher for married couples or $72,000 or higher for individuals. The bracket applies to taxable income above those levels—in other words, to income after personal exemptions and either the standard or itemized deductions. A single taxpayer would generally qualify for a personal exemption of $3,200 and a standard deduction of $5,000. (Itemizing deductions—primarily for state and local taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable contributions—could increase that $5,000 figure.) And a married couple would generally qualify for two exemptions and a standard deduction of $10,000. (Each dependent child would generally qualify for another $3,200 exemption, and the couple could qualify for higher deductions by itemizing.)
So, the threshold for single taxpayers is at least $82,000 and the threshold for married taxpayers is at least $136,400. And it's often higher than that, because high-income taxpayers are very likely to reduce their gross income by contributing money to 401(k) or traditional IRA plans.
09 January 2005
The aptly-initialed Alberto Gonzales is likely to be the next Attorney general of the United States, but it is not the office that is the most important AG associated with his name. Rather, the mistreatment, abuse, torture, and even murder of prisoners—the Bush administration and its apologists would like us to call them "enemy combatants" because using terms like that keeps Americans from retching when we hear about indefinite imprisonment—at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were due in large part to his obsequious and fallacious legal reasoning.
If Alberto Gonzales had failed to pay Social Security taxes for his housekeeper, or if he had used marijuana in (say) the past 10 years, he would have no chance of becoming Attorney General. Yet it is only because he provided the legal fig leaf to American policies that allowed the brutality at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and at the secret prisons of our all-too-undemocratic allies in the War on Terror that he came to be nominated as out Attorney General.
Historians will surely note someday that Abu Ghraib and the Iraq War made it all too easy for billions of persons to learn to hate the United States, yet it was all too easy for a few million Americans to convince themselves that both the war and the torture were either unavoidable or even beneficial outcomes.
08 January 2005
"What A Country"
On my first day back to work after being away on vacation for two weeks I was handed my payroll check. I stated out loud: "What a country."
Life is not fair, but, over the brief life of our country Americans have worked hard to make it fairer. The social evolution of fairness underlying American culture has helped Americans sacrifice for the good of our children and our fellow Americans. That culture allowed government to lead us out of the Great Depression. It created the social fabric that led Americans to respond in unity to the sinking of the battleship Arizona and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite reactionary resistance, our culture has promoted the liberation of women from restrictive roles and African-Americans from slavery and racism. Alas, such proud thoughts as "What a country" could soon be anachronistic in the brave new world of the Bush administration.
Unabashed, the Bush administration has taken a wrecking ball to the culture of fairness in favor of the "ownership society." Might makes right.
For those of us that expected the airing of the administration's responsibility in the crimes of Abu Ghraib to produce shame and apologies, we now see an administration that knows no shame. The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales (a man central to providing the legal defenses if administration officials were charged with violating laws barring torture) as attorney general will send the message that the administration is not only above the law, it is the law. We are now a country where paying a nanny on the side is not only a worse offense than conspiring to twist the law to condone torture, but one where the defender of torture is made the country's top prosecutor.
The administration's attack on Social Security, which requires the creation of "a crisis," appears to be the next order of business in the revenge of the owners. Anyone who really thinks they are going to receive the rights of ownership in exchange for giving up Social Security benefits needs their head examined. If you trust Wall Street, please do me and yourself a favor and read "Serpent on the Rock" by Kurt Eichenwald.
I recently posted comments that the Democrats should welcome reform of the Internal Revenue Code. The next item on the Bush administration's agenda, common sense told me that tax reform would open up an opportunity to create greater fairness given that the current Tax Code so favors the wealthy and that cherished deductions like the mortgage and charitable deductions would be politically untouchable. But, given the administration's ability to create a crisis around an issue and lie, the Democrats' inability or lack of real intent to protect the interests of the American people, and a cowed media's ability to literally take bribes from the administration, I am now rethinking common sense.
07 January 2005
Duck and Cover
Dan Kennedy noted on Tuesday that the most humorless and most ham-handed comic strip in the Boston Globe pantheon—and that's a pantheon that includes "Garfield," so both descriptions are at least a couple of standard deviations from the norm—is now officially the ickiest. The "Mallard Fillmore" strip on Monday included a particularly gruesome caricature of a Hollywood executive; the problem is not lampooning Hollywood, but in resorting to centuries-old stereotypes of Jews. The Gawker weblog provides a helpful yet dispiriting comparison between the strip in question and a classic in the genre. (I would direct our gentle readers to Eric Alterman's weblog from Thursday, but the help desk at MSNBC, despite having the world's most successful computer software company as part-owner, cannot provide its writers with permanent links.)
If only this were the only time. Tinsley's strip often features these sorts of caricatures. Perhaps he has portrayed some Jews in a positive light, but I suspect that they are all named Sharon or Netanyahu.
One ironic twist to all this is that "Mallard Fillmore" is archived at the Jewish World Review site. Somehow, the strip in question is missing (it would be #8 in the series on New Year's resolutions).
A more ironic twist stems from how the comic came about. This is what "About the Comic" page at King Features Syndicate has to say about that maculate conception.
"Mallard" almost did not see the light of day. When asked to come up with a mascot for The Daily Progress entertainment section, artist Tinsley showed editors three ideas: a blue hippopotamus; a big nose in tuxedo and cane; and a duck.
Tinsley says the hippo went unused for fear of offending overweight people, and the nose was axed because it would "offend people of Jewish and Mediterranean descent, not to mention Arabs and anyone else with a big nose." Tinsley says he thought his editors were kidding, but they were not.
Once Mallard Fillmore was off and running, his editors requested Tinsley tone down its conservative bias. When he refused, he was fired.
The strip caught the attention of The Washington Times, which used Tinsley's wise-quacking journalist in the commentary section before moving the strip to the comics pages. The rest, as they say, is history.
Were it not for the self-proclaimed messiah-owner of the Washington Times, Tinsley would have no outlet for his work. And were it not for the Daily Progress editors, Mallard would be all nose. God truly does work in mysterious ways!
04 January 2005
It has become more than a bit harder to root against Michael Schumacher now, even if his does drive for Team Carcinoma. For today, Schumacher announced a $10 million donation to the German Red Cross. In a fair world, the titans of commerce and industry would be striving to match his generosity.
Blood On Their Hands
The American Civil Liberties Union has helpfully compiled a slew of declassified memos pertaining to abuse and torture fo prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom for the part about "interrogation techniques made lawful by the President's Executive Order."
So much for bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Kissinger of Death
Normally, white papers from University Centers for XYZ Studies do not make the most scintillating reading. But the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies recently issued a most fascinating piece by Kenneth Maxwell, who was, until July 2004, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Western Hemisphere book reviewer for its publication, Foreign Affairs. How and why he cut his ties is truly fscingating and more than a little frightening—appearently, if your name is Henry Kissinger, you can prevent the truth frm coming out even three decades after your worst misdeeds.
What follows is a Nixonian drama in four acts: preemption, suppression, and cover-up followed by denial; and it led to my resignation... over
what I regard as a fundamental matter of principle. This was not a battle I sought out, nor was it on a topic of my choosing....
Three strands had come together in 2003 which refocused attention on the U.S. role in Chile during the 1970s: (1) the thirtieth anniversary of the coup of September 11, 1973,which overthrew President Salvador Allende, was imminent; (2) thousands of U.S.
government documents had been declassified as a consequence of the arrest of General
Augusto Pinochet in London on October 16, 1998; and (3) the dogged and on-going efforts over the years of the National Security Archive (NSA), a Washington-based nongovernmental
research group at George Washington University, to gain access to the secret
records about Chile under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) were beginning to bear fruit. The NSA's lead researcher on Chile, Peter Kornbluh, took advantage of these circumstances to produce a powerful and comprehensive dossier on Chile and the United States, entitled The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.
I was asked to write a review of Kornbluh's book by James F. Hoge, Jr., the editor of
Foreign Affairs. I did so, and it appeared in the November/December 2003 issue of the magazine under the title "The Other 9/11: The United States and Chile, 1973." My review provoked a response from Rogers, who had served under Kissinger in the State Department in the 1970s, to which I replied. This exchange was published in the January/February 2004 issue of the magazine. Rogers then wrote again, angrily attacking me for alleged "bias," and Kissinger conveyed his acute displeasure to Hoge via at least two powerful intermediaries. This time I was not permitted to reply. The questions in debate were thus left overly personalized and diverted attention from the real issues. Moreover, the unprecedented denial of the right of response by Foreign Affairs to one of the magazine's own book reviewers to a harshly critical letter about a review allowed serious misrepresentations of historical fact and ad hominem accusations of bias to stand unchallenged. The result was to
cut off a discussion about the role of the United States and Henry Kissinger in Chile, and of the accountability of public officials in highly controversial foreign policy actions in the principal foreign affairs journal of the nation. This converted a controversy over the historical record into a suppression of free debate.
Go read the article—it's impressive and impassioned, with scads of footnotes. it's just the thing that would be at least discussed in the media if the media had a liberal, let alone leftist, bias. (What the media has is a bias towards laziness. Reading long articles, or even learning about Chile in 1973, is hard work, or at least work.) The New York Times and, in particular, The Nation (which even noted Maxwell's rcecent white paper as well as the original contretemps) took notice of the shenanigans at Foreign Affairs. Yet the actions by Kissinger and his cronies to cover up his abetting of the Pinochet dictatorship found tragically little dissent.
A Christmas Story
Feeling sick and tired of the supposedly Christian holiday season celebrated as an orgy of capitalist commodity fetishism? If you're a right-winger, you make up a conspiracy against Christmas. If you're a left-winger, you either grin and bear it or you write a funny and mordant fiction. or at least you read said funny and mordant fiction, from China Miéville, writing for the good souls at the United Kingdom's own Socialist Review.
Don't get me wrong. I haven't got shares in YuleCo, and I can't afford a one-day end-user licence, so I couldn't have a legal party. I'd briefly considered buying from one of the budget competitors like XmasTym, or a spinoff from a non-specialist like Coca-Crissmas, but the idea of doing it on the cheap was just depressing. I wouldn't have been able to use much of the traditional stuff, and if you can't have all of it, why have any? (XmasTym had the rights to Egg Nog. But Egg Nog's disgusting.) Those other firms keep trying to create their own alternatives to proprietary classics like reindeer and snowmen, but they never take off. I'll never forget Annie's underwhelmed response to the JingleMas Holiday Gecko.
There's more—lots more—where that came from.