Friday, September 24, 2004

Nicks from Occam's Razor

Okay, so President Bush has been citing a poll that says lots of Iraqis believe their country is going in the right direction:

Bush was referring to a survey by the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit group aimed at promoting democracy, which showed that more than 51% of Iraqis felt their country was headed "in the right direction." Thirty-one percent said it was headed in the wrong direction.

Now, I see via a link from Atrios that the group that did the survey may have been biased.

But I have a simpler explanation. I'm guessing that a majority of Iraqis think the country's going in the right direction because a majority of Iraqis are now part of the insurgency.


Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Reasonable Rumsfeld

Just a little linguistic observation here: has anyone ever noticed how wimpy Donald Rumsfeld would sound if you took away his rhetorical gimmick?

It's often been remarked how grizzled and manly The Donald sounds when he interrogates himself with silly rhetorical questions. This, of course, is an endlessly fun habit to imitate: A good friend wrote to me asking for suggestions for cat names; I suggested "Donald Rumsfeld," because I think cats have a sort of Rumsfeldian steely glare in their eyes, don't they? ("Would I like to just sit around and eat fish all day? Goodness me, yes. Is that likely to happen? Gracious, no. But are we going to look everywhere in this apartment until we find some fish and eat every last little bit of it? You're darn right we are.")

Anyway, today Rumsfeld was at it again. He had to explain why some parts of Iraq won't be participating in their new elections because they're too violent. As usual, The Donald was philosophical:

"Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet," he said.

What I want to point out here is just how weak and snivelly Rumsfeld sounds if you take away his pet rhetorical gimmick. "Is it better than not having an election? You bet" sounds pretty tough, right? Now rephrase: "Well, it's better than not having an election" is the pinnacle of whiny excuse-making.

The substance of these two remarks is the same, of course. But without the weird self-interrogation, it sounds small and sad.

Of course, on a substantive level, it's dizzyingly goofy to defend our failure to secure huge chunks of Iraq by saying "Nothing's perfect in life." And calling an election in which only some of the country participates "not quite perfect" is like calling a man with one leg "not quite a pole-vaulter."

It's just denial wrapped in machismo. When you're losing, you need to admit it and fix it. "Come back here, I'll gum you to death" is not a viable policy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Keeping the World Safe from Cat Stevens

Our intrepid Transportation Security Administration has narrowly averted a national security disaster:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A plane bound for Washington from London was diverted to Maine on Tuesday after passenger Yusuf Islam -- formerly known as pop singer Cat Stevens -- showed up on a U.S. watch list, federal officials said.

United Airlines Flight 919 had already taken off from London en route to Dulles International Airport when the match was made between the passenger and the watch list, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration.

The plane was met by federal agents at Maine's Bangor International Airport around 3 p.m. ET, Melendez said.

Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the individual as Islam.

Which was lucky, because apparently his conversion to Islam has led him to some really dark and twisted ideas:

Islam recently condemned the school seizure by militants in Beslan, Russia, earlier this month that left more than 300 dead, nearly half of them children.

In a statement on his Web site, he wrote, "Crimes against innocent bystanders taken hostage in any circumstance have no foundation whatsoever in the life of Islam and the model example of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."

To be fair to TSA, Stevens/Islam is not entirely innocent of wrongdoing:

Last year he released two songs, including a re-recording of his '70s hit "Peace Train," to express his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Now, if only they could have stopped Elton John from re-recording "Candle in the Wind" when Princess Diana died. Apparently, it takes a major breakdown in the system before the government wakes up and sees the threat.

We should have seen it coming, people -- we should have seen it coming.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

A Brief Review of the Movie "Panic Room"

Sort of like an evil Home Improvement.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

A Uniter, Not a Divider

Great jumping Christ. Noam Chomsky has come out saying that voters in swing states should vote for John Kerry.

[Chomsky] said: "Kerry is sometimes described as 'Bush-lite', which is not inaccurate. But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. In a system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes."

Now, Chomsky himself is voting for Nader. That's because he lives in Massachusetts, a safe state.

“I will vote for Nader because Mass. is a safe state. And voters in ‘safe states’ should not vote for Kerry.”

Okay, a little weird -- if Chomsky really thought any significant number of people would follow his advice, Massachusetts would stop being a safe state.

(Besides, even if Kerry loses the Electoral College, it's important to give him a big popular-vote victory, because it could at least provoke more debate about whether we should get rid of the Electoral College, the most anti-democratic institution outside of Tom Delay's office.)

But in another interview, Chomsky has a beautiful, absolutely withering attack on the view that it makes no difference who you vote for:

These may not look like huge differences, but they translate into quite big effects for the lives of people. Anyone who says "I don’t care if Bush gets elected" is basically telling poor and working people in the country, "I don’t care if your lives are destroyed. I don’t care whether you are going to have a little money to help your disabled mother. I just don’t care, because from my elevated point of view I don’t see much difference between them." That’s a way of saying, "Pay no attention to me, because I don’t care about you." Apart from its being wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster if you’re hoping to ever develop a popular movement and a political alternative.

That's it. Little differences matter too. Even if you think it's only the lesser of two evils, isn't it still less evil? Even if it saves only one life, isn't it worth showing up to vote for?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What the Weather's Like on Planet Cheney

OTTUMWA, Iowa, Sept. 13 -- Vice President Cheney suggested Monday that the Sept. 2 terrorist strike at a Russian school may signal a shift in how the Putin government and others in Europe view the fight against terrorism: They will become more aggressive.

Right -- the Putin government has been really soft on the Chechen terrorists. When will those Russian wimps wake up and realize that nice guys finish last? All over Chechnya there are smoking heaps of rubble going, "That didn't hurt!"

This is so head-bangingly, mouth-wateringly, eye-rollingly crazy it's worth quoting at length:

"There's been in some circles . . . in Europe, for example, a lot of our European friends have been somewhat ambivalent about this whole proposition with respect to how we deal with these terrorist attacks," Cheney said. He had been asked at a town hall meeting here in southeast Iowa whether he believed the siege would prompt Russia to be more forthcoming in assisting the United States in fighting terrorism.

Yes, Dick. They've been ambivalent about you using the terrorist attacks as an excuse to go off and invade a country that had nothing to do with the perpetrators. "This whole proposition." There is no "whole proposition"; there's the war on al-Qaida, and there's the war in Iraq. Apparently you think there's enough suckers in southeast Iowa that you're not going to get called on that. (And it terrifies me that you may be right.)

The vice president did not directly mention any foreign governments that have refused to support the war in Iraq. But he said, "I think some of them hoped that if they kept their heads down and stayed out of the line of fire that they wouldn't get hit."

"The line of fire." What line of fire? The line of fire from Washington to Baghdad? Russia hasn't exactly stayed out of the line of fire between Moscow and Grozny. Does anyone even bother to ask Dick Cheney what he's talking about anymore?

The attack on the school in Beslan, which killed at least 328 people, cannot help but prompt many governments to rethink their isolationism, Cheney said, noting that Russia, for example, "of course did not support us in Iraq."

Well, Russia "of course did not support us in Nicaragua" either, nor did it support us in Kosovo. But what does that have to do with anything? It's like he's asking us to say, "I got mugged last night by some random thugs. I guess that means I should go beat up my brother Bob."

Don't beat up Bob, Dick Cheney.

Free Manny Miranda!

This is just pathetic.

Normally, I'm not someone who has a lot of sympathy for sticky-fingered right-wing hacks, but Manuel Miranda is starting to make me feel bad. Fired a while back by his boss Bill Frist for copying Senate Democrats' confidential files, Miranda has been waging a one-man campaign against, er, the Republican party ever since. Democrats and some momentarily clear-minded Republicans referred the case to the Justice Department, which has been investigating whether his snooping broke any laws.

Miranda feels he was wronged--all he did was clandestinely read secret communications between Democratic senators and their trusted advisers on sensitive political issues. It was perfectly okay to download Democrats' files, he's argued, because, er, Democrats still had copies when it was all over:

Miranda’s lawyers argue that their client did not steal or embezzle government property because the documents were read and not removed in a fashion that would have prevented Democratic lawmakers and aides from making use of them.

So much for laws against theft of intellectual property! Anyway, all Miranda wants is justice; he says so himself:

“My motivation was to bring this to an end and to do the right thing because what was done to was so wrong,” Miranda said. “I was moved by the fact that what happened was an abuse of power so unfair it shouldn’t happen to anyone.”

Yes; no one should have to go through the experience of reading someone else's secret files, and then getting in trouble for it. To right this wrong, Miranda has decided to sue John Ashcroft, demanding that a federal judge order Ashcroft to stop investigating him.

I'm a little bit speechless. Can you even do that?

Unrelated thought: how come, in Steven Seagal movies, they bother to make up names for Steven Seagal's character? Wouldn't it save time just to refer to him as "Steven Seagal"? Would anybody really notice?

Monday, September 13, 2004

The Rocket We Haven't Launched

Okay, Democrats have got to start using this weapon. Zell Miller, defending his preposterous speech to the RNC on the Wall Street Journal's Why Democrats Should Be Arrested and Held Without Food in the Basement page, actually uses 9/11 to explain his flip-flop on Kerry's character:

But, again, timing is everything. I made that introduction in March 2001--six months before terrorists attacked this country on Sept. 11.

In other words, Kerry was a strong, good man before 9/11, but after 9/11, he became a skunk. Or something. Say 9/11 and it doesn't count! (If for some reason you missed it, go immediately to the Daily Show's website and click on "Zell on Earth" so you can get the flavor of the assault. And click here for the Carpetbagger's refutation of his, er, substantive arguments.)

Why doesn't Kerry start using this tactic when he's accused of flip-flopping? He could just sort of bark "9/11" at people the way the Republicans do, until they whimper off to write stories about the force of his character.

Seriously, though, why hasn't Kerry accused the Republicans of fundamentally misunderstanding the implications of 9/11? They keep saying this about us, but it was Republicans who wanted to invade an irrelevant country, pulling troops out of the war on terror; it was Republicans who used 9/11 to alienate our allies, rather than unify them; it was Republicans who squandered the biggest opportunity in history to unify Americans and the world against a common enemy, instead dividing us and playing petty politics with our safety. They thought 9/11 meant business as usual--another opportunity for political gain, another lever to use against the Democrats. They were profoundly wrong, and we should be saying so.

9/11 did not change the way they thought, and it should have.

On September 11, I crossed out of New York over the Williamsburg Bridge about 3:00 in the afternoon, hoping that the bridges were safe (we had no phone, internet or media contact with the world and really didn't know what was going on). There were people lined up there passing out bottles of water; half of Brooklyn had come out of their houses to see if they could help. And the next day, on a streetcorner, a young woman had set up a little table with a sign that said, "Want to talk?" And people were just gathered around, talking about whatever was on their minds.

And it wasn't just New York. I remember the first time I saw a bumper sticker that said, Texas Loves New York, and I thought, since when? But the whole country came together. Of course, this spirit couldn't last; but it could have been mobilized. Instead, it was corrupted, and it's still being corrupted by demagogues like Zell Miller.

They speak for the Republican Party. And they're saying, 9/11 is our tragedy, not yours. 9/11 belongs to a political party, to an ideology, not to all Americans. For that they should be ashamed, and voted out of office in a landslide.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Oh, please god, let this happen

Bill O'Reilly is apparently considering a run for the Senate from New York in 2006 (i.e., opposing Hillary). Imagine how beautiful it would be, for the people of New York to have this opportunity to resoundingly reject the biggest bully in American public life.

I know, there's always the risk he could win, and then we'd suffer like never before -- it'd be like six years in a dentist's chair, having your teeth drilled. But I'd give almost anything for the opportunity to actually vote against Bill O'Reilly, and I think most New Yorkers feel the same.

Besides, this is a great excuse for me to post a link to one of my favorite websites: Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly, International. Truly, they're doing the Lord's work.

Monday, September 06, 2004

People Are People

The Bush administration has decided to send 3,000 Sierra Leonean refugees back to their country, which was known for much of the last decade as "the worst place on earth." The war is over, so regardless of how traumatizing it may be for these survivors to return, regardless of how many family members they lost in the violence or how desperate the situation that awaits them in their ravaged country, the administration says our immigration laws require sending the refugees back.

They may be right about that. The question is, why do our laws work this way? Does this country lack the resources to absorb 3,000 people, or just the heart?

[I]n the last decade, and especially after Sept. 11, 2001, the number of refugees allowed into the country has fallen, from more than 112,000 in 1991 to fewer than 29,000 in 2003.
Why? How many refugees have carried out terrorist attacks against this country? How many tens of thousands of people have to suffer so that we can save the FBI the trouble of doing thorough background checks on them?

In most areas that matter, the law has gotten better and better over time. Civil rights, gay rights, freedom of speech--there are bumps and dips, but the curves usually rise, and it's easy to believe that history is carrying us toward a better, more caring system. With immigration law it's different--sure, there are improvements, but it's still a rare political leader who questions our right to take away people's hopes, dreams, and chances for survival on the basis of where they happened to be born.

I know, it's a radical position, to think immigrants should be treated basically the same as citizens. (It's also the Biblical position, remember: "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 24:22.) I just can't think of a morally coherent reason why I should be allowed to stay here and get all the great things that go with being American, while Anita Kennedy Johnston lives in fear of being sent back to the hellhole she fled in terror fifteen years ago.

Michelle Malkin apparently can, although I'm not sure she's ever bothered to articulate it. With all the human tragedy in the world, Malkin took the trouble a while back to write a column about the horrible case of Jessica Santillan, a 16-year-old illegal immigrant who died after being given the wrong type of blood during a heart-lung transplant operation. The rest of the world was horrified by the easily avoidable medical error, but in the days between the operation and her death, while we all waited anxiously to see if Jessica would pull through, Malkin had a more urgent concern. This was her cri de couer:

if Jesica recovers from the second heart-lung transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce the law and send her and her family back home to Mexico?

It's not a failure of policy we're suffering from. It's a failure of decency.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Girls on Trapeze Vote

In case you were wondering what's gone wrong with our political system, this is the answer. From a story about how some of the parties at the RNC got kind of "risque":

At a bowling party hosted by House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) on Sunday, a bikini-clad dancer entertained the crowd from a pink trapeze. At one point, the dancer’s gyrations were transmitted live by closed circuit to dozens of television screens above the bowling lanes [...]

Girls in bikinis on trapezes? Then the Democrats must have had Girls Jumping on Trampolines, right?

Democrats at their convention in Boston in July were sedate by comparison, reaching a low level of excitement when Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) started a conga line at a Caribbean-themed party.

This is vastly depressing. If we're not the party of immorality and the senseless exploitation of women, who are we?

(Note: the first person to make a crack in the comment section about girls on trapezes and "swing" votes gets their IP address banned.)

Ragin' Cajun, Shootin' Blanks

This morning on Meet the Press, Russert asked James Carville whether Kerry's credibility on Iraq was undermined by Kerry's saying he would have voted to authorize the war, even knowing what we know now. Carville muttered a bunch of outraged incoherencies (when he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad he's Boomhauer).

Okay, as McLaughlin might say, the correct answer is:

There was a split in the intelligence community over whether Saddam had WMDs. We needed to get inspectors in, to find out what was going on in there. The only way to get the inspectors in was to credibly threaten force. Kerry voted to give Bush the power to credibly threaten force against Saddam Hussein; if we couldn't make that threat, we couldn't get the inspectors in. We now know the inspections were working, until Bush rushed us into war. It's Congress' job to give the President the tools he needs to threaten force, and as a Senator, Kerry did so. But Bush took those tools and misused them.

It's not my position, but at least it's intelligible.