Monthly Archives: July 2004

Fortress America

The Republicans, whose paranoia is reaching epidemic proportions, have already shut down Washington.

[I]n the past, Washington had remained completely open through four presidential assassinations, eight attempts on the lives of presidents, a Civil War that raged only miles away and two world wars. But now, it is closed. All because of 19 men, armed with box cutters, who were able to enter the country only because of incompetent immigration officials. To continue to close off the nation’s capital to the very people to whom it belongs seems both unwarranted and misguided, say a growing number of critics. The need for common-sense vigilance, they say, has now slipped into ugly paranoia.The grassy area in front of the south lawn of the White House, known as the Ellipse, was once a favorite place for Sunday touch football games played by Georgetown University students, and a choice photo spot for tourists. Today, it is now largely a part of the White House’s security zone, which the Secret Service calls “the box.” Legally, the Secret Service has virtually unlimited discretion to do what it feels necessary to protect a president, and there is talk of expanding the security zone around the White House to include Lafayette Park, which faces the north side of the White House and has been a place of giddy protest for generations.

The section of Pennsylvania Avenue fronting the White House is already closed, and the north lawn of the mansion can now be seen only through a 6- foot chain-link fence. Just a few hundred yards from the White House, across Constitution Avenue, the Washington Monument is encircled by an ugly 10-foot gray wall. Officials say it’s only temporary and will be taken down once a more permanent and less intrusive earthen wall is constructed.

Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the extensive redevelopment of the Capitol grounds. It was once a splendid bucolic setting of century-old oak trees and slopes of Bermuda grass, where this writer once enjoyed reading the Sunday papers on a picnic blanket, and where friendly passing National Park Police would look the other way if they spotted an open beer bottle — an offense in Washington. Today, the grounds are being torn up to make way for a new underground visitor’s center, which will include sweeping new security measures. The outer perimeter near the surrounding streets have been lined with a series of concrete barriers.

Closer in, a wooden wall and chain-link fencing have been thrown up around the Capitol itself, preventing walkers or joggers from stepping onto the grounds except at the main entrances.

The overall effect suggests that security planners want to transform the Capitol (known historically as “the people’s house”) into an enclosed facility like a military base with specific points of entry, where only people with the right papers, or with appointments, will be permitted to pass unsightly security huts.

“Trying to have an open city is hard,” Washington Mayor Tony Williams said recently. “But our city is a working symbol of democracy. We could make it really a lot safer by putting Jersey barriers around everything, but then we wouldn’t have much of a city to protect.”

That’s the idea, apparently, because they’re going to do the same thing in NY for the Pub Convention: shut it down and turn the Convention Center (MSG) into one of their patented ‘bubbles’–protected, restricted, heavily re-inforced and guarded areas where Junior doesn’t have to even see an actual, in-the-flesh voter at close range.

New York once again looks like a threatening, alien land and the party of the President whose greatest claim to fame is that he’s made Americans “safer” is about to treat the city as if it were Baghdad.The free-speech limiting, life-disrupting, artificial-reality-inducing security “bubbles” that empty the globe’s central cities as George Bush and Dick Cheney travel through them, are already well known. From August 30 through September 2, when the Republican National Convention invades New York, the GOP wants to see the same – a Manhattan emptied of life and the entire event “bubble-ized.” The estimated 48,000 people who will attend the Convention including 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternate delegates, their hotels, their outings, their travels around the city, the massive media presence (sequestered away in the Farley Post Office Building, connected to MSG via an enclosed, climate-controlled pedestrian bridge to be built across Eighth Avenue); along with the RNC’s convention headquarters at Madison Square Garden will all be locked inside that bubble — and kept from the sight of the feared hundreds of thousands of citizens heading for the Garden to tell the President he’s “not welcome.”

To contain protesters and “protect” GOP’ers and fellow travelers, New York City is engaging in some of the same sorts of permit games that typified the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago. For example, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office has, with a helping hand from the city’s parks department, thwarted efforts of the national coalition, United for Peace and Justice, to secure a permit for a march ending in a large-scale demonstration in Central Park. Officials have cited fears that the park’s grass, home in the past to large demonstrations and huge concerts, would take a beating. Just recently, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly decreed that the Park would be off-limits, as would Times Square. Instead, UFPJ was told it could utilize the sure-to-be-sweltering, distant West Side Highway.

We can’t have a demonstration in Central Park because it might hurt the grass??!! Does Bloomberg think the whole damn country is going to show up to protest this president? Or even the whole damn city? Ten million people in Central Park would certainly do a number on the vegetation. But a glance at the planning for this event suggests that it isn’t the grass that worries Mike Bloomberg (not the famous crazy rock guitarist, btw; that was Mike Bloomfield, although they share a certain similarity of outlook–it’s called ‘paranoia’).

Bloomberg and his associates clearly hoped that a lot of tough talk, terrorist alerts, and traditional New York City Police Department tactics — interlocking metal barriers (if not closed pens), horses, street closures, misinformation (telling protesters they can’t enter a certain area or sending them on wild odysseys to non-existent protest entry-points), and a conspicuous show of uniformed and riot-gear clad force– would contain protestors inside a police-imposed bubble, if not simply scare them off. The NYPD is, of course, a massive army unto itself; a force of about 40,000, approximately 6,500 of whom are slated to “patrol the Garden, hotels, bridges and tunnels, protest sites and points of interest for delegates” while another 5,500 have been assigned to patrol the subway system, commuter trains and the railroad and bus stations. Roughly one-third of the department, armed with handguns, batons, and tear gas canisters — and some, apparently inside a new state-of-the-art SWAT vehicle — are to be deployed in support of the convention.Back in February, this was considered more than enough manpower for whatever was coming and tough-talking NYPD spokesman Paul Browne simply stated that the city’s police did “not anticipate the need for federal troops” to augment their forces. Since then, however, fears of the size of the coming protest — given growing dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and possible uncontrolled, autonomous protest actions across all five boroughs — led New York officials to take another tack. Raymond Kelly, the city’s pistol-packing Police Commissioner (he carries a .38 in an ankle holster), soon flip-flopped on his department’s position, noting, “If people want to give us help, we’ll take it.”

With the chief moving in reverse, and fearing the NYPD might be outnumbered and overwhelmed, New York governor George Pataki made the call to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge requesting federal assistance and, on July 9th, Ridge (with Pataki, Bloomberg, and former mayor Rudy Giuliani in tow) announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be designating the Republican National Convention in New York (like the DNC in Boston, which is undergoing its own lockdown) a “National Special Security Event.” With the invocation of that status the NYPD was relegated to a backseat role, while the United States Secret Service became the “lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.”

By the end of August, at least portions of the Big Apple will be under the control of the Feds….

A president who needs the National Guard and all 48,000 member of the NYPD to protect him from his own citizens, to paraphrase Tony Williams (not the jazz drummer; different guy), can’t be much of a president. Island Dave wrote in a recent post:

Unfortunately, the GOP, and Rove for sure, are far from finished in this political fight.Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Well, Dave, you’re seeing some of Rove’s planning in NY. Turning NYC into an armed camp has two terrific advantages for Karl:

1) He has near-total control of everything we will see on television and most of what we will read in the papers. The protestors will be on the West Side Highway, for chrissake, and the convention will be well inside the tightly-controlled bubble around MSG. It’s a control-freak’s dream come true.

2) The very setting sells the Admin’s main theme: fear. All those troops and Humvees and armed guards on the streets of our largest city to protect the ‘war-time’ president from imaginary cadres of evil terrorists who would do anything to stop the Only Man in the World who is their sworn Nemesis, and never mind the little fact that Bush has proven to be OSB’s best recruiter and has done so much to bring about the conditions he thought were necessary for a successful jihad that he might well think of Junior as his most loyal subject.

Look at the military base the paranoid radcons are turning Washington into; look at the armed and garrisoned fortress-bubble they’re turning NYC into. That’s their vision for America: Guns. Screw the butter.

Update: A commenter named Grant claims he lives in DC and the Chronicle article is a tissue of lies. His ‘evidence’ for this charge is anecdotal and as an ideologue who claims to be ‘non-ideological’, he doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility to start with. However, since he not only left the link for his blog, Properwinston (I have no idea what the title means) in comments but emailed it to me, he wants to make sure he has his say. I’m not convinced, but you can read it here and make up your own minds.

Intel Czar? Pfui!

The 9/11 Commission accuses everybody–Bush Admin, Clinton Admin, the Congress and even we, the people–of a ‘failure of imagination.’ Having made that charge on every media channel in the known world, they then produce recommendations so thoroughly lacking in imagination and so predictable that we need hardly have waited all these months to hear them, and they need hardly have held all those hearings and waded through all those documents to come up with them: an Intelligence Czar. Brilliant. We could have seen that coming blindfolded.

I’m not sorry the Commission held the hearings or gathered the information; both were important duties and had to be done or the whole thing would have been swept under the carpet by the Bushian Denial Squad. But the recommendations I’ve read so far–particularly the one for an intel czar–are both glaringly unimaginative and patently unworkable.

Biting criticism of the total failure of Nixon’s War on Drugs in the late 60’s led to a similar commission and identical recommendations. Starting in 1970, we were burdened with a Drug Czar and the formation of a new agency, the DEA, that was supposed to solve all the problems by gathering and co-ordinating the information previously scattered among a dozen agencies, setting overall policy, and eliminating the turf battles that had hampered enforcement operations. The Drug Czar quickly became a joke, the DEA an enforcement travesty and legal nightmare, and the turf wars went on unabated, in some cases exacerbated (Customs still isn’t speaking to the DEA without either a court order or a Presidential Directive). Drug enforcement remains largely in the hands of local police, and although the DEA has been in existence for 35 years, it has had no measurable effect on drug smuggling except for this: by centralizing the policy-making, it has successfully promoted a single set of rules drug smugglers have to worry about, and the rules have holes in them–it’s actually a little easier to smuggle drugs since the formation of the DEA.

The concept of an Intelligence Czar is attractive both because of its deceptive simplicity and its systemic nature. Blame the system and you don’t have to face the much more dangerous political waters of pinning responsibility on individuals and agencies in the present Admin who fucked up. More importantly, you don’t have to try to explain to the American people why they fucked up: because they deliberately subverted the system that was in place in order to promote the outcome they wanted.

There is no change you can make to any system that’s going to work if the people who run it are ignoring it, sidestepping it, and twisting it for political reasons at every turn, and that is clearly what happened here. The NIE was purposefully re-written in order to remove all the doubts expressed by CIA analysts; OSP and C-TEC stovepiped raw intelligence data nobody in those groups had either the experience or the knowledge to evaluate properly; intel was cherry-picked for its ideological value, not its operational or informational value; even though the ‘system was blinking red’, as the Commission Report puts it, terrorism was not a Bush Admin priority so it was simply ignored; Condi Rice chose to define her job as National Security Advisor as (the CR again) ‘beginning at the water’s edge’ and focused on international threats from nations rather than domestic terrorism–which David Neiwert at Orcinus has been been saying for years (and documenting it) is a much more immediate and dangerous threat–or the plans of international terrorists to attempt an attack on American soil. Sandy Berger couldn’t even get a meeting with Rice during the transition because she didn’t think his input would be ‘relevant’. How is an Intel Czar, reporting to and responsible to the president going to change or improve any of those collosal failures?

It can’t, because the fix is systemic and the problem isn’t. 9/11 was clearly preventable. That it wasn’t prevented is a direct result, not of the failure of the system but of the failure of the people running it to care about what it was telling them, and their insistence on forcing it to say what they wanted it to say whether what they wanted it to say was true or not. Does anybody with half a brain really believe that a political appointee responsible to this president with these attitudes would have done more than Tenet? If he had, there would soon have been a ‘change’–either he would be shuffled out of the picture, as Colin Powell was until he started playing ball, or else he’d be replaced by somebody who would throw his hands up in a meeting and tell Junior what he wanted to hear–‘It’s a slam-dunk, Mr President’–as soon as he understood that he wasn’t getting out of that room until he did.

By failing to address the actual problems in the BA that allowed 9/11 to happen, the Commission has utterly failed in its duty to explain it, which is bad enough. What’s worse is that that failure may foist on us a false solution that will add a layer of bureaucracy, officially politicize intelligence gathering and analysis, and institutionalize all the attitudes and incompetence that led to this debacle.

Like the pronouncements of the BA itself, the Commission’s recommendation for an intel czar sounds good, but it’s a superficial and doomed solution. The jewel is a prop made of wax, and it will melt the first time it’s exposed to the sun.

Sgt Missick Rebuts

On Sunday, I reviewed three blogs by soldiers from Iraq, including one written by a Sgt Chris Missick called A Line in the Sand which I suspected wasn’t legitimate because of the way it read. It would seem I have done Sgt Missick a gross injustice.

Much of the following was written tongue in cheek.1. To address Mr. Arren’s fist fallacious statement, that I am “a PR flack for the military,” I have this to say: I am a 31 Romeo, a multi-channel systems transmission operator/maintainer. I am currently working with Army phone and internet networks, administrating them to ensure they run properly. Unfortunately I can not go too much further into my daily job descriptions because of something the military refers to OPSEC, Operational Security, and I can not breach that trust. I have never admitted to being on the frontlines on a daily basis and have always made quite clear that I am simply proud to be a cog in the wheel that is the machine of the US Army. Mr. Arren, you may just be receiving a confirmation from my lieutenant after he reads this, he’s a good man and can verify that my word is good. I do have PR experience in my civilian career, but when I am in uniform, I simply a soldier with a blogging hobby.

That isn’t necessary, Sgt Missick. I believe you. That was Charge No 1. Charge dismissed. To the charge that the required disclaimer is missing:

I beckon you all to now examine my pages, each one of them, and look at the very bottom. On each page I state, “© 2004, please request permission to use any images from this site: This site reflects the opinion of the author and is in no way connected to the US Army, DOD, or any Federal agency.”

He’s right–it’s there and I missed it. It’s in very small letters at the very bottom of the screen, but it’s there. Charge No 2. Dismissed. To the charge that it’s a complicated site that must have required a lot of time:

The essays are the same thing as the blog, the two are actually the same page. In terms of the pictures, check the last time I had a chance to post any: May 4, 2004. That’s nearly three months ago! The letters page is long, but again, I have not had any time to post new one’s since sometime in May. The video section is complete with a list of recuitment videos’, (er, wait) I have actually never posted anything up there. And the guest book, where I even request e-mail addresses… I am sorry Mr. Arren, but this is not a dark recruitment scheme. Rather, I have tried in the past to thank those who take the time to sign it by sending them a thank you e-mail for supporting the troops. Hhmm, I’ve never been told I look like Oliver North, that’s a first. And finally, the Signal Battalion reference: I do help build and monitor the phone networks, sounds a lot like the Signal Corps to me. Take a look at the pictures, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

For this, there is no excuse. I made a snap judgment without actually checking and jumped to a conclusion I shouldn’t have made. My abject apologies, Sgt Missick and I assure you I will not make that mistake again. It was bonehead, bush-league, and arrogant. Truly, I’m not usually any of those things–well, at least I’m not usually amateurish; one out of three is better than nothing, isn’t it?

In any case, I grovel at your feet. I fucked up, Big Time, and I’m sorry. I should have checked the tabs and I should have looked more closely at the bottom of the page. I owe you an apology and you may consider that you have it. Now let’s get to what’s really important.

In this entry [Desperate Enough to Serve–MA], I made the case that people all too frequently make the assumption that military personnel are the most desperate of our society, the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream. Within this typecast soldier that some media personalities have fostered as indicative of the American soldier, many honestly begin to doubt the ability of our fighting men and women to do anything but kill. My blog has been my own attempt to help break that stereotype and allow people to open their minds and see a soldier who has undying love for his country, his Army and the people whom we have attempted to liberate in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt, what I just quoted above is much clearer, more passionate and more readable than what’s in that post. I think I need to make this point clear: My critique has nothing whatever to do with what you wrote and everything to do with how you wrote it. If what you wrote above was the point of that post, you buried it in so much institutional language that it was all but invisible, and that’s a goddam shame because your point is well-taken and deserves real discussion and thought. And my question is: if you can write as well as you do in the above paragraph, which is clear, direct and provocative, why in god’s name are you putting such an important human issue under layers of bureaucratic PR-speak like this:

I am however typical of many of the people I know in the Army, who were driven to service in recent years by a determination to serve this country, to make a contribution, and to earn our freedom.

It isn’t that I disbelieve the emotion, necessarily, but that it’s so general, so remote from personal language that it could have been ripped whole off a recruiting poster, which means, to me, maybe it’s true and maybe it’s something he thinks he’s supposed to say.

Blogs aren’t recruiting posters or campaign speeches, they’re personal journals. What you wrote above (in the bold) are nothing but slogans; as a reader I want more than that. Tell me why you believe them so passionately; tell me about some of the people you’re talking about, in their own words if possible–what did you and they sacrifice to be answer this call? why did you decide to do it? why did they? If you have seen things or heard things since you’ve been there that confirmed your belief–or didn’t–what were they? what happened? who was involved? how did it go down? what did they say to you? You, Chris, not the Army or the politicians or the Great Geo-Political Imperative.

Come out from behind the bureaucratese and write as you did in the passage from your rebuttal: directly. There isn’t one slogan in that passage. Instead, that passage contains this:

…the intellectual dregs and simpleton’s who have no other opportunity than to work for Uncle Sam until s/he can receive their pension and finish out their mediocre American dream.

Now that’s writing. You don’t need slogans. Your writing is far better–more forceful, more persuasive, clearer–without them. That’s a marvelous sentence (well, half-sentence): pissed off at a wrong-headed and unfair judgment by people who are making assumptions and generalizing about other people they don’t know but who are individuals and have more reasons than poverty for what they chose to do. All of that comes through that sentence (and the rest of the passage); none of it–NONE OF IT–comes through in the original.

Write more like that and A Line in the Dust will be not just a better blog, but potentially a must-read. You’ve obviously got things to say, and if they’re like your concern over the ‘desperation’ stereotype, I want to hear them. So will a lot of other people.

I write in a civilized tone and live my life in the very same manner because I am here not just for one demographic of our country, I am here for all Americans.

That’s the problem, Chris–no, not the civilized tone. You may be there for all Americans but you are NOT all Americans. You’re Sgt Chris Missick, one American, one soldier, as far as we and your blog are concerned, and you can only speak for yourself; you may represent the feelings and beliefs of others to some degree, but you can only speak for them effectively through your voice, the voice in that passage.

Your blog–and the others I read–prompted me to offer some advice on writing to military bloggers. One section was specifically the result of reading your blog. Here it is:

4. Write what’s in front of youWriting is about people, not things. Somebody once said that if you set out to write the Great American Novel about The Immigration Experience, you’re going to end up with nothing but social-scientist cliches and platitudes. You can only write about the people who immigrated–who they were, the experiences they had, what happened to them. The ‘Immigrant Experience’ comes through them. Blogs are no different. They’re about you, the people you work with, the people you hang out with, the people you meet, not about The Great Geo-Political Issues. Those things will come–can only come–from writing about the people who live with the consequences. A story about how a family’s life changes when its electricity gets turned on is worth a thousand stories repeating again and again like ad copy, ‘We turned on their electricty!’ Maybe it shouldn’t be but it is; that’s the way people are.

In the case of the ‘Desperation’ post, one story about somebody you know and why–in personal terms–they gave up so much to be there, or even you explaining your own decision writing as directly and honestly and passionately and convincingly as you do in your rebuttal, is worth more than 10,000 pages filled with slogans.

My criticism stands. In fact, having seen how you can actually write free of the stultifying cliches, it’s stronger than ever. You have an interesting and unique voice and I urge you to let it loose. You’ll be doing a disservice to those you would like to use your blog to explain and/or defend if you don’t. Sloganeering isn’t going to help them; explaining them to us as the people they are, will. I don’t say it will be easy; I say you have the ability if you choose to develop it.

PS: Sgt? It’s ‘Arran’, not ‘Arren’. But don’t worry about it. Everybody makes mistakes.

(Cross-posted at LitBlogs)

Halliburton in the Jug–Again

You know, as Island Dave says, this gets old. Another day, another charge that Halliburton broke the law while Little Dick was CEO, this time by setting up a shadow subsidiary in the Cayman Islands so it could avoid the sanctions against Iran.

WASHINGTON — A Halliburton controversy erupted Tuesday, fueled by a grand jury investigation into whether the oil services giant violated federal sanctions by operating in Iran while Vice President Dick Cheney was running the company.The investigation centers on Halliburton Products and Services Ltd., a subsidiary registered in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Dubai that provided oil field services in Iran. The unit’s operations in Iran included Cheney’s stint as chief executive from 1995 to 2000, when he frequently urged the lifting of such sanctions.

Numerous U.S. companies operate in Iran, but under strict guidelines requiring that their subsidiaries have a foreign registry and no U.S. employees, and that they act independently of the parent company.

At issue is whether Halliburton’s subsidiary met those criteria.

The Treasury Department has been investigating the matter since 2001. But Halliburton disclosed in public financial filings this week that the department had forwarded the case to the U.S. attorney in Houston for further investigation. The company said a federal grand jury had subpoenaed documents on its Iranian operations.

The Treasury Department refers such complaints only after finding evidence of “serious and willful violations” of the sanctions law, a government official said.

Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), whose office has provided information on the case to the Treasury Department, said Tuesday that Halliburton Products and Services was a sham that existed only to circumvent the sanctions.

“It’s unconscionable that an American company would skirt the law to help Iran generate revenues,” Lautenberg told reporters during a conference call arranged by the campaign of the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Note that last sentence. I believe I mentioned once or twice that those of you who aren’t familiar with Kerry may not know that he’s perfectly capable of playing hardball, and the closer the election, the harder it gets. This is just a taste, a smidgen, as my mother used to say, of what’s to come.

The Bushies of course answered the charges against Cheney by insisting that the Veep had done nothing wrong and providing evidence that Halliburton met all the legal criteria.

Oops. Nooooooooo, sorry. They responded by…attacking Kerry for arranging the call.

“The Democrats have made clear that their all-purpose strategy, no matter the issue, whether it’s healthcare or John Kerry’s plans to raise taxes or John Kerry’s votes against our men and women in uniform or John Kerry’s proposals to cut the intelligence budget, will be met by one word: Halliburton,” Schmidt said. “The Kerry campaign has become increasingly flailing in their attacks as there has been increasing focus on John Kerry’s record.”

Actually, everybody’s been so busy focusing on the BA’s attempt to evade and/or subvert the Geneva Conventions with dubious legal theories, and their attempt to use the PATRIOT Act to evade and/or subvert the Constitution with even more dubious legal theories, and their attempt to sell off the govt piece-by-piece to private corporations, and their cronyism and their Orwellian lies and their mess in Iraq and…and…and…that they really haven’t had a chance to get to Kerry yet. They keep trying but every day brings yet another charge, yet another anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional law or imperial edict, yet another fresh proof that these people have no agenda, no conscience, no respect for the law, and no humility.

Lautenberg’s office distributed copies of four letters from 1997 sent from a London arm of the Iranian state oil company to Halliburton Products and Services in Dubai.The four letters, all requests for goods and services from the Halliburton subsidiary, included handwritten notations to specific individuals. Lautenberg’s staff questioned whether the individuals worked for the foreign subsidiary or for a U.S. subsidiary, in violation of the sanctions.

Halliburton confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but said that two of the individuals were British citizens who had never worked for any U.S. Halliburton subsidiary.

The other two handwritten notations did not list first names of the individuals, and Halliburton said it was unable to locate records for them.

“These documents do not suggest that any violation of the applicable regulations occurred,” Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said in a statement.

I’m not going to bother going into the specifics here–it would bore you to tears–but suffice it to say that their ‘explanation’ is skating on a very thin legal technicality.

There came a time when we all got tired of hearing about Clinton’s escapades with Monica. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m getting awfully tired of reading and writing about Bush and Cheney’s built-in contempt for little things like the law and the concept of ‘public service’ when it doesn’t lead directly to private profit. The prospect of a second term, unbridled by the need for re-election, should be scaring the bejeezus out of us right about now.

Fox Could Be Sued for Consumer Fraud and Common Cause have filed a complaint against FoxNews with the federal Trade Commission claiming that its ‘Fair and Balanced’ slogan is so untrue that it amounts to deceptive advertising and consumer fraud.

Liberal and historically nonpartisan Common Cause assert that Fox News’ reports are “deliberately and consistently distorted and twisted to promote the Republican Party of the U.S. and an extreme right-wing viewpoint.”Alleging consumer fraud, the complaint calls for the FTC to order Fox News, consistently the highest-rated cable news network, to cease and desist from using the slogan.

Complaining to the Republican-dominated FTC about Fox’s blatant right-wing bias is a little like taking a complaint about corporate thievery to that corporation’s PR flack, and in fact, before he’s even seen the petition, FTC Chair Timothy Muris is dismissing it.

“I am not aware of any instance in which the Federal Trade Commission has investigated the slogan of a news organization. There is no way to evaluate this petition without evaluating the content of the news at issue. That is a task the First Amendment leaves to the American people, not a government agency.”But Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said the legal actions were consistent with the First Amendment. “Fox has no obligation under the law to be fair and balanced, just not to market itself as fair and balanced,” he said.

Pingree has a point. The slogan is advertising and the law, despite conservative attacks, still exists that protects consumers from false advertising. If ‘Fair and Balanced’ isn’t false advertising, then the phrase has no meaning.

But if MO and CC are on the right track, they’re on the wrong horse. Petitioning the FTC is a monumental waste of time. What they might consider doing that would have more teeth–and more chance of success–is suing Fox in the courts for consumer fraud: selling a shoddy and unsafe product under false pretenses. Recent studies which we’ve mentioned here before have made it crystal clear that consistent Fox viewers are frighteningly ill-informed. Sixty percent believe that Saddam planned 9/11 with Al Qaeda; half believe we have found WMDs in Iraq; fully two-thirds believe that the moon is made of green cheese. OK, maybe not that last one–yet. But they would if FoxNews kept telling them it was.

The laws against consumer fraud were written to protect the gullible and the misinformed. Fox’s audience qualifies on both counts, and the evidence is overwhelming that the deception was deliberate, a Murdoch-ordered policy, in fact, which daily memos from his office telling the news division how to slant that day’s news will prove. Fox followed exactly the same pattern as the tobacco companies when they turned their ‘health studies’ into thinly-veiled ads based on false findings deliberately concocted to fool consumers. If they’re guilty, then so is Murdoch.

Summer Fun

The Swedish Chef translates Junior’s infamous SOTU speech:

Mr. Speeker, Feece-a Preseedent Cheney, felloo Repoobleecun CEOs, terrureest-cuddleeng leeberels, telegeneec culured tuddlers, und uneeffurm-veereeng meelitery prups:Emereeca thees ifeneeng is a neshun vheepped intu a stete-a ooff perpetooel perunueea oofer terrureesm. Und I, yuoor Soopreme-a und Oomneeputent Leeder, em reesing tu soosteeen thet. (Applause.)

In shurt… BE EFREID. Be-a fery effreeed. Be-a cunstuntly und perseestently effreeed. Be-a tutelly cunsoomed by feer. Be-a ebsulootely, *censured*-in-yuoor-Duckers terreeffied. Tu du oozeerveese-a is tu fuloontereely ley yuoor blooe-a-iyed bebeees et zee Mooslemeeun elter ooff secreefficiel moorder. Ooff cuoorse-a, dun’t be-a su a’scered thet yuoo feel leeke-a yuoo cun’t let yuoor keeds pley hupscutch oon zee seedooelk oor gu ebuoot yuoor deeely booseeness es iff yuoo vere-a leefing in zee 90’s. I’fe-a gut yuoor beck. In fect, I’m zee oonly oone-a vhu knoos hoo tu prutect thees cuoontry frum zee hule-a dvellers vhu treeed tu keell my deddy.

This is a hoot–if you’re easily amused or bored out of your skull or a fan. You can write anything you like and this gizmo will turn it into Swedish Chef-speak. Very cool.

Right-Wing Civility Strikes Again

According to the Las Vegas Sun, Linda Ronstadt was thrown off the stage of the Aladdin Theater by Aladdin President Bill Timmons when she dared to dedicate a song to Michael Moore.

Timmins, who was among the almost 5,000 fans in the audience at the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts, had Ronstadt escorted to her tour bus and her belongings from her hotel room sent to her. Timmins also sent word to Ronstadt that she was no longer welcome at the property for future performances, according Aladdin spokeswoman Tyri Squyres.

Near the close of her performance, Ronstadt dedicated the Eagles hit “Desperado” to Moore, producer of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and the room erupted into equal parts boos and cheers.She said Moore “is someone who cares about this country deeply and is trying to help.”

Hundreds of angry fans streamed from the theater as Ronstadt sang. Some of them reportedly defaced posters of her in the lobby, writing comments and tossing drinks on her pictures.Timmins told Las Vegas Sun gossip columnist Timothy McDarrah: “We live in a city where people come from all over the world to be entertained. We hired Ms. Ronstadt as an entertainer, not as a political activist.

“Whether you are politically on the left or on the right is not the point. She went up in front of the stage and just let it out. This was not the correct forum for that.”

Gutsy call, Bill.

Timmons’ explanation is as rank as his action. Tell me that if Wayne Newton dedicated a song to George W, Timmons would throw him off the stage and banish him forever for being ‘political’. Bullshit. It’s all political. Timmons is a Bush supporter who hates Moore and Moore’s film so he exercised his power to enforce his political views and then, with standard right-wing hypocrisy, blamed Ronstadt for being political.

It’s the Dixie Chicks all over again, and it stinks.

(Thanks to Thrasher at BlogCritics)

Edmonds Suit Dismissed

Sibel Edmonds, the translator who was fired by the FBI after criticizing its nepotism and incompetence, brought suit to get her job back. It was dismissed without a hearing. Dig the reason:

[A] federal judge tossed out her case, not on its merits but on the grounds that hearing her claims might expose government secrets and damage national security. That keeps under wraps the inspector general’s report that investigated Edmonds’ allegations.U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, a Bush appointee, said he couldn’t explain himself further because the explanation itself might expose sensitive secrets. He did say that he’d accepted Attorney General John Ashcroft’s explanation that the suit could “expose intelligence-gathering methods and disrupt diplomatic relations with foreign governments.” The Boston Globe reported that Ashcroft ordered material in the case retroactively classified.

Edmonds must feel a bit like Alice at the tea party, where justice is not being served, and where a secret is a secret but why it’s a secret or who says it’s a secret is a secret, and we can’t tell you why because it’s a secret.

Welcome to your US Govt in action–Down the Rabbit Hole, with Dick Cheney as the Queen of Hearts (‘Off with their fucking heads!’), W as The Mad Hatter, and featuring John ‘Dormouse’ Ashcroft.

What a crew.

Please Don’t Vote

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: one of the neatest features about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is its willingness to give ordinary citizens space on its Op-Ed page. This generosity has led to some surprising, informative, and entertaining pieces. This one, by Neal Starkman, is amusing while making some very good points that bear thinking about.

I would like to urge some of you not to vote. You know who you are: You really don’t know much about the politicians or the issues but feel an obligation to choose one or the other. Or you’ve decided how you’re going to vote, but you’ve used rather — how shall I put this? — unsophisticated rationales for your decisions. “He stands for strength.” “She has a really nice smile.” “I haven’t heard anything about that initiative, so it must not be any good.” “God guided me.”No, voting isn’t for everyone, and I really think it’s better if some of you sit this one out. Be proud of your spectator status. Don’t be misled by otherwise well-meaning people who give voice to the following platitudes:

It’s your patriotic duty to vote. No, actually it isn’t. It may be your patriotic duty to be an informed voter, but that’s different from merely voting. Are you going to tell me that the world was a better place because in 1933 Germans exercised their patriotic duty to vote for Adolf Hitler? It’s not voting that makes the world safer; it’s whom and what we vote for.

It’s what democracy is all about. Democracy isn’t about voting; it’s about having the right to vote. Big difference. I would never say that you, you, or you shouldn’t have the right to vote. You have every right; you should just recognize when to exercise that right and when not to.

You know, come to think of it, there are a few people I’d like to urge not to vote, too….

Where Greed Leads: Lodi’s Rip-Off

Lodi, California had a water pollution problem so severe that ‘the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control had listed the heart of Lodi as a hazardous waste site’. The perps were known–‘ Two drycleaners, a manufacturer and the city’s own aging, leaky sewer lines’–and a deal had been struck to apportion responsibility: if the firms would pay to clean up the land, the city would pay to clean up the water. So far so good.

Actually, so far not good. The real problem wasn’t the pollution, it was in the word ‘pay’. Lodi is a conservative, Republican, anti-govt, anti-tax town proud of its ‘frugality’. It didn’t want to pay. The City Council knew that if it raised its tax rate to pay for the clean-up, it would be thrown out of office in the next election and be replaced by even harder-line tax-cutting radcons. Lodi was so cheap, it preferred poisoning itself slowly to paying a few extra $$ a year on their water bill–which had been a mere $10/month for years.

So when a high-priced corporate attorney suggested a legal scam to get outside insurers to pay for the clean-up instead, the Council jumped on his plan with both feet. Except for Susan Hitchcock, ‘who was derided by colleagues and threatened with censure when she was the only city official to oppose the plan.’

‘The plan’ was a complicated swindle that involved blackmailing the city’s insurance carriers with endless lawsuits and legal delays, tying them up in court for years until they agreed to settle even though the city had never bought insurance from them that covered this situation (it would have been ‘too expensive’). But the plan needed financing to cover legal costs until such time as the insurance companies paid up. Since going to the taxpayers was off the table, the lawyer who suggested the swindle, Michael C Donovan, went to Wall Street and brought in Lehman Bros.

The plan went like this: The city would borrow $16 million from Lehman at 25% interest to finance a barrage of lawsuits. Donovan and his firm would pursue the suits, billing at rates of up to $425 an hour. Courts would shift all the costs to insurance companies. In the end, Lodi would clean up the problem without having to pay for it.

Get out your calculator and figure 25% on $$16MIL$$–Lehman Bros had poached the Lodi City Council like they were eggs. Susan Hitchcock:

“Boy, were we duped. The more I learn, the more I realize it was about greed. There is no free lunch, and everyone knows that.”

Everyone but the rest of the Council, it seems. The result of their paticipation in this scheme was predictable.

Today, the strategy is a shambles, picked apart by state and federal courts and condemned by a federal judge as “environmental litigation for profit.”Donovan has been fired, along with the Lodi city attorney who pushed the plan. Lodi has sued Lehman, alleging the deal was illegal. Lehman has countersued to collect its debt — roughly $25 million to date, city officials say — pitting some of the country’s biggest law firms against a city that once made national news for banning silly string from its downtown parade.

Lodi’s financial future is in question. Interest is accumulating at $325,000 a month. The pollution has spread. And criminal investigations are underway.

This is a cautionary tale. The anti-tax brigade is willing to poison you tomorrow to keep a few bucks in their pockets today. They’re willing to sign onto complicated fraud schemes, engage in legal blackmail, and mortgage the city–your city–to big corporate bankers rather than spend a dime of their own to clean up a mess they helped make. They acknowledge no–NO–responsibility to the society which nurtured them, and no call that society might have on their purses, however legitimate. They would rather watch you die–that’s a price they’re willing to pay.

But you go ahead and vote for them again. Vote for the fantasy, vote for their charm and ‘optimism’. Vote for how good they look on tv and how easy they make everything sound. After all, life is just a reality tv show, and if yours gets cancelled, why, there’ll be another along in a minute to take its place.

Omnium Interviewed!

Yes, we said it and we meant it. We were interviewed! We feel like we have arrived. We feel like celebrities. We feel plural.

Jamison of BiteSoundBite is interested in bloggers and why they do this (I told him it was ego but he’s looking for a more complicated answer) so he’s decided to interview a blogger-a-week until he can at least answer the question without rolling his eyes and gagging. For some warped reason probably best kept to himself, he decided to start with us. We could have told him he was wasting his time but we didn’t want to spoil the fun. And we never have been able to resist talking about ourselfs. So we did it.

Jamison asked some excellent questions, we have to give him that, which we then expounded on at inexcusable length with marginal coherence and an almost impossibly complete absence of chromosomal integrity. Among other things, he asked about blogging itself–

BSB: Do you have many unfinished drafts that just sit on blogger unpublished, or do you pretty much hit the “send” button for everything you write?Mick: …I’ve read that other bloggers do drafts and I guess it’s a good thing but I don’t see the point. By the time you get back to it somebody else has already said it, probably better than you did, and everybody else has moved on. Blogging moves as fast as the news, for better or worse–and, like marriage, it’s both. As David Neiwert said, one of the great strengths of blogs is their ability to jump on an issue, spread it around, correct mis-statements or lies almost as soon as they’re told, and track the tale as it makes the rounds. They’re less successful at long, thoughtful, magazine-style essays.

–familial relationships–

BSB: Do you tell your friends and family about your blog?Mick: …[M]y friends tend not to be as politically radical as I am. This is a conservative part of MA. I didn’t used to worry about spouting off now and then and neither did they, but Bush’s quasi-election polarized people here just like it did everywhere else and politics got to be a dangerous subject….In the interest of keeping them as friends, I agreed to keep politics out of the discussion. Actually, given everything that’s happened, I may need to test them again; their attitudes may be changing.

–the ‘larger purpose of blogs’–

BSB: You…[call] attention to other bloggers that you enjoy…. [I]s there a larger purpose to this?Mick: …I’m not really sure yet…I’m in the process of figuring it out…

–and our almost pathological distaste for Tom DeLay and Grover Norquist.

BSB: …You’ve called Tom DeLay a cockroach and Grover Norquist a toad. Why these two in particular and not, say Bush, Ashcroft, Wolfowitz or a host of others?Mick: …They are both pompous, arrogant, primordially self-centered, elitist ambulance-chasers who have shamelessly crow-barred their way to power using nothing but extortion, bribery, threats, and blackmail. They don’t have a single redeeming quality or selfless act between them, and either of them would call down a nuclear holocaust if they thought it would advance them one small step personally. They recognize no limitations or restrictions on either their monumental greed or their slimy, inhuman, criminal tactics. ‘Might Makes Right’ is their Golden Rule. They’re miniature Hitlers–and I mean that literally, not figuratively: at root, they are autocratic, dictatorial types who would ‘cleanse’ the earth of their enemies, real and imagined, by whatever means necessary, given half a chance. Delay would have run a crematorium without a qualm; Norquist would have planted himself in the central warehouse to weigh and count the gold teeth shipped from the ovens and been proud of his work even as he stole half of everything that came in and put it in a numbered Swiss bank account….Maybe DeLay is nice to his family, but I doubt it. Maybe Norquist gave a homeless man on the street a quarter once, but I’d want to see the videotape….Does that answer your question?

In short, we covered a lot of ground, mostly with mud and string cheese, and brought terminal opacity to an otherwise crystalline topic. We were brilliant.

Jamison was good, too.

Blogs From Iraq

While surfing this week, I stumbled across a remarkable new blog called MY WAR–Fear and Loathing in Iraq. Written by a combat infantryman currently serving in Mosul who goes by the tag ‘CBFTW’, the writing is so strong that I added it to LitBlogs‘ ‘Journals’ list. You can read the review there; the post title is a link to My War. I urge you to check it out. It is a first-hand, real-time glimpse at the war from ground-level, and one of the best war diaries I’ve ever read. You’ll be sorry if you miss this one.

I began my review by saying, ‘This is, as far as I know, one of a kind. Not only is it a blog written by a soldier now serving in Iraq, it’s written by a soldier who can write.’ A commenter, Kayz, wrote in to tell me of others written by soldiers currently serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and left a link to a page devoted to such blogs, Bloggers 4 Freedom. There are 8 or 10 by soldiers, and an equal number by Iraqi citizens. I just spent the afternoon reading through most of the soldier-blogs, and while the first part of that sentence is certainly wrong, the second is not: whatever other virtues these blogs may have, good writing is generally not one of them. A couple of them are hard slogs to get through–dense with adjectives tripping over each other, light on actual information–a couple are readable, and I think at least one of them is a fake.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to try to give you a thumbnail description of each of them, soldier and civilian, at least enough to know if you might want to check them out. I’m going to do three of them today, and I’ll start with the one I think may be a phony.

# Not phony in the sense that he’s not a soldier or not in Iraq; a phony in the sense that Sgt Christopher Missick’s blog, A Line in the Sand, reads like the last piece I saw written by a PR hack: it’s superficial, full of cliches that he uses like slogans and taglines for ad copy, and he hits all the right talking points with the kind of turgid hyped-up prose you’d expect.

The first time this form of “culture shock” surfaces for members of the national guard and reserves, it is a shared experience with those who will be entering active duty. Basic Training is more than a period of physical conditioning, it is a rite of passage into a new life structured by discipline and guided by values. The 9 weeks of basic training is continued as soldiers enter AIT, Advanced Individual Training, and receive class room and hands on training in their MOS, or Military Operational Specialty. After these months of joint training and rigorous preparation to become a member of America’s fighting forces, the experiences of Reserve/Guard soldiers and Active Duty soldiers becomes starkly different. Reservists return to their civilian careers and colleges, and active duty soldiers continue in their military careers, living their lives day in and day out as soldiers.In theater however, we all must meet the expectations of being soldier’s on active duty, and as the nature of this war has placed 40% of the force in theater in the hands of America’s guard and reserve forces, the expectations of our performance are high.

It’s all like that, like somebody auditioning to write recruiting pamphlets. Which is what I suspect Sgt Missick really is: a PR flack for the military, one of whose assignments–or brainstorms–is this blog.

To begin with, his page is entirely without the usual disclaimer the military demands for material written outside its authorization by its members, a disclaimer presented prominently on every other one of these blogs I looked at, in one form or another.

This website is privately operated and is designed to provide personal information, views and commentary about the authors experiences in Iraq. The images depicted and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author and contributors and not those of any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. The site is not designed, authorized, sanctioned, or affiliated, by or with, any agency of the United States Government, expressly including, but not limited to, the Department of Defense, the United States Army, or the United States Army Reserve. Users accept and agree to this disclaimer in the use of any information accessed in this website.

That’s on the My War sidebar and it’s clearly straight out of the manual. That it is absent from A Line in the Sand is virtual proof that Missick’s site is ‘authorized, sanctioned or affiliated’ by or with the US military.

Second, for a serving soldier, this guy seems to have a lot of time on his hands. His site is complicated, with tabs leading to separate pages devoted to essays, pictures, letters, even videos and a ‘Guestbook’–which asks for an email address, no doubt; his entries are longer by far than any of the other blogs; his header features a cloudy picture of a soldier who looks a lot like Oliver North; and finally, his description says he’s with a ‘Signal battalion’, that curious Army catch-all that includes everything from message-relay to and from the battlefield, to PR and organizing entertainments.

None of that means that his blog is useless; it just means that what it says should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I did, however, come across a passage that suggests that either a) Sgt Missick is starting to question the Iraq mission, or b) that the Army has decided to acknowledge the doubts that have arisen due to the vast gulf between neocon promises of an easy war and the reality of a growing insurgency.

Andrew J. Bacevich’s article in the American Conservative entitled “A Time for Reckoning,” similarly evokes the need for us to learn from our mistakes in Iraq, the same way we were forced to learn from our mistakes in Vietnam. Mr. Bacevich does lay a convincing argument of several aspects to the war in Iraq that went wrong, with the most predominant failure being the expectation of ideology to carry the strategy. Expectations were high in Iraq, and the concerns expressed and articulated by Colin Powell often took back seat to those who believed a free Iraq would fully embrace its newfound freedom and consequently the American forces that provided it. Ironically, recent weeks have displayed that foreign terrorists have done more to further the case of America’s efforts in the minds of the Iraqi people, than a year of Paul Bremer’s occupational government.

Still in my early twenties, part of my idealism has been shaken from time to time, and as a soldier in theater, I am able to witness aspects of this war firsthand that are shaping new opinions and beliefs.

But it’s a token gesture. He soon retuns to a flat-out defense.

I for one am in no rush to begin another war, but that does not mean the cause for pre-emptive war is dead, that the MCA is no longer applicable, or that I no longer support the roadmap the president set forth. Rather, as the sole super power in the world, we must learn from our mistakes and victories in Iraq, and move forward with a policy of defeating terrorism and securing American safety at home and abroad. You may take a few hours out of the day to be entertained by films like Fahrenheit 9/11, but we can not afford as a nation to take time away from our vigilance in extinguishing the threats among us that seek to end the world as we know it.

He even manages to get in the regulation swipe at Michael Moore’s film. The major strength of this blog is its strong defense of the status-quo. I don’t know that you’ll read anything you haven’t read before, but he at least puts the case with genuine conviction. Its major weakness is that it almost entirely lacks any real news or information that CNN didn’t have weeks ago. It’s a straight-up polemic, but if you read as many lefty blogs as I do, there’s a value in getting an opposing viewpoint that comes from conviction rather than hatred or contempt. Missick makes it clear where his sympathies lie, but he is never mean or threatening or uncivil. Whether that was his choice or the Army’s, it’s a refreshing change from the hate-filled profanities of the freepers. You come away thinking it might actually be possible to have a civilized discussion with this guy, whether you ended up agreeing or not, and that’s a rarity among war-bloggers.

# Iraq calling lacks breaking news, too, but for an entirely different reason: nothing much is happening where he is–or so he says.

Just finished reading a well written and interesting blog from one of the guys in the Stryker brigade up in Mosul. He’s riding around in an armored vehicle on missions every day doing infantry stuff. Made me feel like I’m doing very little in comparison. Same stuff every day here, it lacks the excitement and adrenaline of combat patrols. Its also less tangible, except when I occasionally work as a medic.

He goes by the letter (not even a handle) ‘J’, and won’t say who he is, what he does, or where he is ‘for security reasons’. He does admit that he’s some sort of medic and that he’s stationed at one of the new bases we’re building, and reading between the lines, it’s probably in the south.

Iraq calling is full of day-to-day events and his opinion of them, much more like the kind of standard war diaries we’re used to. His sense of humor is a nice leavening agent, as well.

We’ve got some Strykers here too. During April, when all the convoys were getting hit they started accompanying the trucks. The PMO (Provost Marshall) – the sheriff on post had to get the guys to slow down while driving around base. They were tearing around the perimeter road and caused some accidents with other vehicles. The tanks sometimes have similar problems of not playing well with others. A few days ago one of the tanks broke down when out on patrol. The recovery vehicle went out and picked it up. On the way back somehow the towbar came undone. The loose tank rolled right over some poor guys car – a small opel. We will send the reimbursement team out and make restitution. Someone joked at one of my meetings that the army just bought a “new, mint condition 1989 Opel with a very rare Elvis music collection”. Commenting on the fact that we will pay significantly more than the car was worth partly based on exagerations from the owner. Hey, he didn’t ask for a car pancake!

A description of the ‘Union Meeting’ held by the Bangladeshis who work in the chow hall before they’re allowed to eat will be followed by thoughts on TCNs (Third Country Nationals, as the military calls soldiers from the coalition).

I’m not sure what the effect of the Philippine withdrawl of troops will be on the Filipino workers here on base. We have well over 1000 of them. A few weeks ago a mortar round landed right in the middle of a cookout some of the guys were having. I think 15 or so were wounded, several very seriously. A few were evacuated to Germany for medical treatment.Politically, the withdrawal is another victory for the terrorists following that of Spain. The terrorist are drawing extremely dangerous conclusions. The threat to the US this summer and fall is very real. I think a terrorist attack for the purpose of throwing the election would backfire. Bush would be sure to win. Of course removing the current administration is just one of many goals. America is an ideological and moral enemy and any pain inflicted is seen as a plus. If they are thinking strategically they will not attack before the election to give voters a chance to kick out President Bush. I fear that they think Spain and US are more similar than they actually are.

The strength of this blog is its everyday voice. It isn’t hard to read, unlike some of the others, and while he occasionally sabotages himself when he tries to ‘Write’, for the most part it’s a straighforward account of what J sees, thinks, and feels. It reads honest and sincere, a good combination, and the details are sometimes telling, sometimes funny, and almost always interesting.

I’m running out of time and probably trying your patience, so for the third I’ll pick the most promising of all because it’s also, at this point, the shortest.

# Hard Deck is new, and I mean brand new: last Tuesday. There’s only one post up, so what in the world would make me think this is the most promising? Three things:

1) It’s going to be written by an Army scout helicopter pilot.
2) He promises pictures.
3) While it’s really nuts to reach conclusions based on a single post, I have a feeling, OK? I think he writes well. The first post is short but concise, relaxed, and anything but timid.

Being a fan of blogs for some time, I wanted to run one while I was here in Iraq. Finally, 7 months later, I’m doing it. My primary goal with this weblog is to share stories, insights, and views from my experiences as a OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot here in Iraq. I’ll be posting pics, links, and stories somewhat regularly once I get this whole weblog business figured out. Right now, this blog is primarily for friends and family to follow along with the highs and lows of my year ‘in the sandbox’, but I certainly welcome any visitors who feel like dropping by. More to follow soon!

OK, not much. Call it a hunch but there’s something about the easy, casual way he puts words together that makes me think this guy is going to be interesting once he gets rolling. This is one to watch, and remember: You heard it here first.

The History of Happy-Talk News

In his latest column for the NYT, Frank Rich uses Will Ferrell’s new film, Anchorman, to explain how our definition of ‘news’ has changed from the days of Walter Cronkite to the days of Babwa Wawa, and gets it exactly right (except for leaving Walters out; her role was crucial).

[T]his toxic element was first injected into the media bloodstream by innovations in local news at the dawn of the 70’s. One of its earliest sightings was in New York, where Al Primo, a news director at WABC, brought Eyewitness News in late 1968. Looked at today at the Museum of Television and Radio, the early on-air promos for this then-novel brand of news are revelatory of what was to come and even funnier than the parodies of them in “Anchorman.”

In one, the young Geraldo Rivera brings the fellow members of his news “team” to a Puerto Rican wedding so that his ethnic “friends,” seemingly played by actors, can get to know his WABC “friends.” The next thing you know, one of the anchors, the grim Roger Grimsby, is shedding his sports jacket and hitting the dance floor with a sizzling Latina mama. The commercial’s sell line: “The Eyewitness News Team: The reason people like them so much is that they like people so much.” In 13 months, WABC doubled its ratings at 6 and 11, starting a nationwide stampede by local stations to ditch their authority-figure anchors for happy-talking surrogate news “families” of their own.

The format officially crossed over into network news in 1973, when ABC hired Frank Magid, a consultant who specialized in these theatrics, to develop the morning show, “AM America.” Built around a surrogate TV family and outfitted like a suburban home, it begat “Good Morning America” two years later. The rest is metastasis. “By the nineties, the tail was wagging the dog,” wrote the critic Steven D. Stark. “Now, local news was setting the journalistic standard for the networks.”

As dead-on as this explanation is, it’s only one arm of the joke-beast that’s come to be known in this country as the ‘news media’. The other arm is the injection of entertainment values into the news process, making Ashton Kutcher’s hairstyle equal in importance of coverage to Israel’s fence-construction or Bush’s rape of the environment to please his corporate contributors. Happy-Talk would have died a quick and painless death if it had had to follow serious stories; it’s hard to justify jocularity when you’re showing bodies in the streets and taking about political corruption, environmental negligence, and economic disaster for 80% of the newscast. It’s a lot easier when it’s only 20% and you’re spending the rest of your time on celebrity news like the Ben-JLo fiasco and titillating fillers like the Scott Peterson trial.

Continue reading

LAT Admits Bush ‘Evangelical’

After three solid years of accepting and broadcasting the myth that Junior’s religion–about which he makes such a to-do–is centrist-Methodist, the LAT’s Peter Wallsten finally, if casually, dumped it. In a report on how hard it is to satisfy the far-right while trying to appeal to moderates for election purposes, Wallsten writes in an off-hand way, as if everybody always knew this:

Polls show that the president remains enormously popular among social conservatives and other elements of the Republican Party base, and can expect overwhelming backing from them. And many leading conservatives stressed this week that despite the failure of the same-sex marriage ban, they continue to see Bush, an evangelical Christian, as one of their own. (emphasis added)

For three years, Omnium has been insisting that Bush is not and has not been for years the moderate Methodist he pretends to be when he campaigns. He is an evangelical, born-again, radically conservative, fundamentalist Christian whose favorite spiritual advisors are Pat ‘Homosexuals cause earthquakes’ Robertson and the faculty of segregationist, far-right Bob Jones University. The story that he called Billy Graham when he had a question about his faith (Graham is a centrist evangelical as these things go) was a nice story but it happened a long time ago, before Bush’s ‘conversion’.

We have been castigated for saying this. People insisted that we were being ‘unfair’ to Junior, that we were flying on rumors and innuendo, and that he counldn’t possibly be an evangelical because when he goes to church, it’s a Methodist church, the same one his father attends and has attended for years. Yes, but–it’s for show.

Like everything else he does in public, Junior’s ‘Methodism’ is an act, a carefully-contrived bit of stage-business calculated to fool people into thinking he’s a centrist when he’s not. In American Rhapsody, Joe Esterhasz said that where Poppy is a centrist who played toward the right, Junior is a hard-rightist playing toward the center, and that pretty well sums it up. His trips for ‘guidance’ (and a political boost amongst Christian conservatives) to Bob Jones are a matter of record; his phone calls to Robertson seeking ‘advice’ have been widely reported from time-to-time and never denied. But the most telling proof, as always with this Admin, is in the decisions he has consistently made since coming to office.

Bush has signed into law a ban on one type of late-term abortion procedure. On Friday, the administration announced that for the third year in a row, it would not pay dues to the United Nations Population Fund because U.S. officials said the fund indirectly supported Chinese government programs that force abortions.Bush has changed federal rules to allow faith-based groups to compete for federal contracts. He has also used special powers, available only when Congress is in recess, to place some conservatives on the federal bench after they were blocked by lawmakers.

Every one of them through the back door in the middle of the night, and by Executive Fiats that don’t require assent from any other branch of govt–his preferred way of doing business.

Given all this, can we now finally abandon the pretense that King George II is a centrist? He isn’t. He hasn’t been for almost a quarter-century. His claim that he is is another out-and-out lie–which is the problem. I’m not against fundamentalist Christians holding office, not even the presidency, provided that they a) don’t lie about it, and b) aren’t theocrats who want to turn the US govt into their peculiar god’s private preserve with them playing High Priests ‘transmitting his will’ to a reluctant congregation. But I have enormous problems with Junior’s ‘stealth’ faith, a faith that denies itself in public and calls the shots in private.

Offered Without Comment

From today’s Washington Post:

UNITED NATIONS, July 15 — The Bush administration is withholding information from U.N.-sanctioned auditors examining more than $1 billion in contracts awarded to Halliburton Co. and other companies in Iraq without competitive bidding, the head of the international auditing board said Thursday.

Jean-Pierre Halbwachs, the U.N. representative to the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB), said that the United States has repeatedly rebuffed his requests since March to turn over internal audits, including one that covered three contracts valued at $1.4 billion that were awarded to Halliburton, a Texas-based oil services firm. It has also failed to produced a list of other companies that have obtained contracts without having to compete.

The Security Council established the IAMB, which includes representatives from the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in May 2003 to ensure that Iraq’s oil revenue would be managed responsibly during the U.S. occupation. The council extended its mandate in July so it could continue to monitor the use of Iraq’s oil revenue after the United States transferred political authority to the Iraqis in June.

The dispute comes as the board released an initial audit by the accounting firm KPMG on Thursday that sharply criticized the U.S.-led coalition’s management of billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenue. The audit also raised concerns about lax financial controls in some Iraqi ministries, citing poor bookkeeping and duplicate payments of salaries to government employees.

The Pentagon did not specifically answer questions about withholding information to auditors, but released a statement saying the Coalition Provisional Authority worked hard to manage Iraq’s oil resources.