Saturday, January 15, 2005

Unforgivable Blackness 

Ken Burns' documentary about the rise and fall of boxer Jack Johnson was released this week in time for the MLK holiday weekend. [Oh, and condolences go out to Dick Cheney: it must disturb you that the man whose holiday you opposed will now soon have a place on the Mall, too.]

Both Burns and Senator John McCain are advocating a posthumous presidential pardon for Johnson. Five months ago I provided an excerpt from an article about the documentary. Initial reviews, unsurprisingly, are favorable.
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"With a taste of a poison paradise" 

4000 feet from where I'm currently typing:

A toxic mix of banned and restricted pesticides has been found in samples of water and dirt taken from outside an old pesticide-mixing plant in the Gert Town neighborhood in New Orleans, community leaders and a Xavier University toxicologist announced Friday.

The old Thompson-Hayward Chemical Co. building, at 7700 Earhart Blvd., has been surrounded by a chain-link fence, and the ground inside the fence was sealed with asphalt in the early 1990s after toxic chemicals were removed from the site.

Some toxic materials were allowed to remain onsite because no place could be found to dispose of them in the United States, state officials said.

Not even Nevada? Damn. Well what the heck is it, anyway?
The samples contained DDT and two break-down chemicals from that pesticide, plus the chemicals endrin, lindane, heptachlor, chlordane, toxaphene, aldrin and dieldrin. All either have been banned or are highly restricted because of their toxic potential for humans and wildlife.

The toxic metals arsenic, meryllium and chromium also were found.

But how serious is that?

"It is serious, serious, serious, serious, serious business, and the only way we can handle this situation is to alert this community and alert all those powers that be that we need to have them clean up this place before someone . . . dies outright," said the Rev. Lois DeJean, chairwoman of the Gert Town Revival Initiative, which has led the battle against the Earhart reconstruction project.

New Orleans: I'm addicted to you, but don't you know that you're toxic?

Gert Town, of course, is a poor black neighborhood. [The SCLC was also there yesterday, threatening a city-wide tourism boycott over the Razoo's murder.]
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Friday, January 14, 2005

"A concession, a regret, a something" 

Yesterday, I pilloried the President for his ill-considered, unretracted "Bring'em on" challenge to the terrorists. Well, today they're reporting that Bush directly addressed the infamous statement in the context of regret. Tom Webb summarizes:

During an interview Thursday with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a dozen other newspapers, Bush said: "Sometimes, words have consequences you don't intend them to mean. 'Bring 'em on' is the classic example, when I was really trying to rally the troops and make it clear to them that I fully understood, you know, what a great job they were doing.

"And those words had an unintended consequence," Bush continued. "It kind of, some interpreted it to be defiance in the face of danger. That certainly wasn't the case. Or, you know, 'dead or alive' in referring to Osama bin Laden at the Pentagon. I can remember getting back to the White House, and Laura said, 'What did you do that for?'

"I said, 'Well, it was just an expression that came out. I didn't rehearse it.' ...I don't know if you'd call it a regret, but it certainly is a lesson that a president must be mindful of, that the words that you sometimes say-- I speak plainly sometimes, but you've got to be mindful of the consequences of the words. So put that down. I don't know if you'd call that a confession, a regret, something."

Contra Jonah, I do appreciate George Bush's regret over the stupid "Bring'em on" phrase. But I'm monumentally puzzled about his regret over the "Dead or Alive" comment. Can someone please tell me what the bad, "unintended consequences" were surrounding the exchange below (made a week after 9/11)? How was it inappropriately defiant, given the circumstances?

Q Are you saying you want him dead or alive, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I just remember, all I'm doing is remembering when I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the old west, a wanted poster. It said: "Wanted, Dead or Alive." All I want and America wants him brought to justice. That's what we want.

In Dan Froomkin's long, link-filled report, he provides the following explanation for why Bush might regret the statement:
Bin Laden, of course, has still not been captured.

No f*cking shit! I see nothing objectionable in the "Dead or Alive" comment. Sure it looks Texan and un-Presidential-- but how in hell can Bush possibly avoid being either of those two things? That's his nature, for goodness sakes!

So, is the statement regrettable because it highlights-- THREE YEARS AFTER THE ATTACKS-- that Osama bin Laden is still at large? Is the comment regrettable because it shows how much of a distraction Iraq has been from the so-called "War on Terror"? Because it exposes how much of a strategic mistake it was? Does the comment bring to mind how badly we erred when we subcontracted al-Qaeda hunting to the Pakistanis while we withdrew our Special Forces from Afghanistan and put them in Iraq... in the Spring of 2002!!

I mean, chreezus, we've created a terrorist incubator in Iraq-- just as many feared. We've given a whole new generation of jihadists a place to plan, train, and kill. Osama bin Laden has never seemed more healthy, poised and in control. His protege, Zarqawi, is also near the height of his powers. When he ran for president, Wes Clark promised that he would move "heaven and earth" to get bin Laden. That's part of the reason I supported him. It seems Bush's commitment is something less than that. After today's inexplicable "regret", I would say far less.

Please, can anyone explain why Bush wanting Osama bin Laden "Dead or Alive" was a mistake? I'm utterly baffled.

Did less informed folks misunderstand what he was referring to...?
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Unpleasantries 

The most popular and most favored man in government, Secretary of State Colin Powell, reportedly told Bush "We're losing" in Iraq.

The President replied by asking him to leave the room.

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Billmon, who is elevating the sequencing of selected quotes into an art form, has the post you should read. (Thanks to Suburban Guerilla for the heads up.)

I would only add that, between the recent Nelson Report and this article in FT, American citizens should be very, VERY concerned about the leadership of this country.

Hell, even Mr. Corleone insisted on hearing bad news immediately.
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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Does anybody remember laughter? 

Shari from an old soul generously nominated one of my entries for Funniest Post at Wampum. She did this despite my not responding to her request for a link to the post for nearly a month (due to a gmail error). Luckily for me, Island Dave was there to help. The allegedly humorous post is my "Advice for New Dads", which describes a, er, tight spot which daughter Colicky and I were able to survive. Kind of like a "jaws of life" emergency in reverse.

If you look past the stilted writing, and throw in a little imagination, the scene might grab you.

My nomination was for "Made Up Demographics" by Happy Furry Puppy Story Time with Norbizness. I laugh out loud every time I read it. It hits me perfectly every time-- I love it. Like TBogg, Norbizness is a huge talent-- two comedy overlords.

In addition, nearly everyone deserves an assist for playing along in this classic Pandagon post + comments. Blog addicts will revel-- that's teamwork, baby!

Vote here. Once again, if you feel pity, my entry is at the bottom.

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not for this one
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You're bringin' on the heartbreak  

President George W. Bush has presided over the largest single-day loss of life among Louisiana troops since the Korean War.

The following statement has never been retracted by an administration that, while campaigning for reelection, constantly warned of words that might "embolden the enemy":

There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there... My answer is 'bring them on'. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation. (George Bush 7/2/03)

Eighteen months later there are still "some" in Iraq who "feel" that they "can attack us". As it so happens, they've explicitly responded to the President's statement. From the Reuters story:

"George W. Bush; you have asked us to 'bring it on'. And so help me, (we will) like you never expected. Do you have another challenge?," asked the narrator before the video showed explosions around a U.S. military Humvee vehicle.
...
A masked speaker with a machine gun beside him delivered his message to triumphant music with the ring of U.S. military propaganda films during World War Two.

He said the enemy was on the run as the video showed guerrillas firing on U.S. convoys, standing beside the corpse of an American soldier, or loading a large shell for an attack.

In light of these developments, it would be totally legitmate to ask:

"Mr President, do you still call upon insurgents to 'Bring it on'? Would you like to once again express your confidence in our forces overseas by inviting the enemy to attack them? Terrorist leaders have publicly responded to your statement, and appear, if anything, emboldened after your election. To what do you attribute-- ...oh, never mind. We already know the gist of what you're going to say: 'Freedom's hard, expensive work and I'm an incredibly steadfast, hopeful and religious man... yadda yadda'

"Just keep doing what you do, Mr President-- fixing big things like the Middle East and Social Security. We're sorry for asking you impertinent questions. Us liberal mainstream media types will try our best not to be such nattering nabobs in the future... good luck and godspeed, Mr Bush. This country really doesn't deserve you. "



"I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people... He has weapons of mass destruction... He has trained and financed... al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations."



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Can't you see? No!!
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Tax rebates for businesses who hire New Orleanians? 

That's the Flaming Liberal's idea, which is layed out in Christopher Tidmore's column in Louisiana Weekly.

The Flaming Lib proposes to rehabilitate the tax base in the Crescent City by using incentives to make New Orleans residents more attractive to area employers. Many people work in N.O. but live outside it, and the Flaming Liberal wishes to reverse that trend. He believes a tax incentive for businesses to hire New Orleanians would re-energize the city's economy, ultimately benefitting both new and longtime residents alike.

Councilmember Jackie Clarkson expressed her immediate disapproval of the idea, which indicates that it might have significant merit. From what I understand, the tax incentive plan has also been pitched to Mayor Ray Nagin, and he's considering it.
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Speaking of the Honorable Ms. Clarkson, I've yet to see any comments from her about the murder of a visiting black football player in her French Quarter district. Btw, the Razoo's bouncers charged with the crime commuted to work from their homes in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes...

Jeffrey's thoughts are here (4th bullet point).

And the first call for a boycott on New Orleans is here. While this is understandable, I think it's unwise. Limiting any boycotts to particular businesses would be better, in my opinion.

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Finally, Prometheus 6 at the Niggerati Network recommends a five part series in Louisiana Weekly entitled "Young Black Males: Are they the 'Throwaway Generation'?" It's sad that I need the internet to inform me about an excellent (but sobering) story that's featured in a local paper sold just blocks away from my doorstep. When you get the time, this is a gripping read. Parts I, II, III,IV,V

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Disclosure: The Flaming Liberal is a personal friend of mine. Currently he is donating some of his time to work as the Canal Street Madam's publicity manager. He's also talking about running for mayor.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Like a scamp in a sewing circle 

The Daily Howler catches more of W's "what other people are saying" style of argument. This time, the ridiculous premise is the Social Security "crisis". Somerby's summary:
George Bush lies the way other men breathe... he even had the gall to tell his audience this:
BUSH: Most younger people in America think they'll never see a dime. Probably an exaggeration to a certain extent. But a lot of people who are young, who understand how Social Security works, really do wonder whether they'll see anything.

Incredible! Because uninformed people "wonder" about something, Bush repeats it as if it's a fact. Will younger people "never see a dime?" This is probably an exaggeration, to a certain extent, George Bush says. If anyone doubted, you see it there-- George Bush lies the way others take air. Why does Congress allow such a man to remain in his great public office?
I have no answer to the concluding query, but be sure to read the whole post.

And for the record, in 1978, a 32-year old Bush unsuccessfully ran for Congress, predicting that Social Security would go broke in ten years if it weren't privatized. Perhaps the responsible, "informed" young people he spoke of reminded him of his own youth.
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Heidegger and Pulp Fiction both came to mind while I was writing this. You will be relieved to see I'm only going to quote from Pulp Fiction:
MIA: Is that a fact?
VINCENT: No it's not, it's just what I heard.
MIA: Who told you this?
VINCENT: They.

(Mia and Vincent smile.)

MIA: They talk a lot, don't they?
VINCENT:They certainly do.

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Corollary "religion and patriotism" post here.
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Squirrels bury their payola... but where? 

For wall-to-wall coverage of the Armstrong Williams scandal, you should be reading the trenchant, exhaustive commentary over at my other site, Punditbook.


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"That's just the way it is"... aw, but don't you believe him 

President Bush spoke to The Washington Times yesterday about those who may misunderstand him about the role of faith in his life:

"I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person," Mr. Bush said. "I've never said that. I've never acted like that. I think that's just the way it is."
...
"On the other hand, I don't see how you can be president... without a relationship with the Lord," he said.

Bush is a master at slaying straw men. Here, he "defends" himself from attacks which never occurred precisely so that he can publicly conflate religiosity and patriotism. He basically asserts, "I think atheists and seculars are lesser patriots and unfit for the presidency, but I'm careful not to express such beliefs, as some of them might fear."

The topic of patriotism always comes to the forefront during wartime. Too often conservative squirrels will add religion to the mix-- as a blessing upon the country's killing and destruction of other people. They see no disconnect there. And for Bush to claim "That's just the way it is..."-- what an insult to all the nonbelievers serving in Iraq! Especially to those who might one day run for political office.


Photo courtesy of An Atheist Soldier


Bush's favorite political (!) philosopher is Jesus of Nazareth, because Jesus "changed his heart". Well, the Nazarene speaks thusly to all who might hear him: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also." (Dr. Luke 6:27-29) How 'bout them pacifist apples, Mr. President?

If someone knows of a verse that trumps the above (that is, a New Testament passage that endorses war) please let me know. Otherwise, I'll humbly submit that the concepts of Christianity and wartime patriotism are profoundly opposed to one another.

And as far as one's personal Jesusism enabling one to be an effective President, here's a tasty little packet of butterscotch:

"The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites." (--Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782. )

If the deist Jefferson had made mistakes on the same scale as the twice-born Bush, there would be no United States of America for latter-day patriots to love.


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Update: Bush's "the way it is" comment can also be read as a reference to the bogus fear of his critics, rather than his inner view of religiosity and patriotism (as I took it). That interpretation immediately collides with Bush's stated view of a President needing a relationship with God. So, if that's indeed what he meant, Dubya should be removed from the "hypocrites" and placed in the "fool" pool.

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The Heroism of Lt. Col. Chris Hughes 

Conservative writer Thomas Sowell has a point:

You cannot fight a war without many brave men taking risks with their lives in order to try to accomplish their mission. Yet can you name a single American hero in either of the two wars going on today in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Chances are you cannot - not if you rely on the mainstream media. You may be able to name someone from the little band of people involved in the prison scandal in Iraq or perhaps Jessica Lynch who was rescued, but not those who rescued her.

There apparently are no heroes among the more than 100,000 men and women fighting for us overseas - only victims. At least, that is how the news gets filtered and spun in most of the media.

Now certainly the media always overweighs the negative. Truisms like "If it bleeds it ledes", and "no one cares how many planes land successfully each day" still apply. But I'll also grant Sowell's point. Above and beyond normal media biases, and even after the Jessica Lynch fiasco, there's still no reason why a single heroic report hasn't been picked up nationally and gone mainstream in a way people can remember. Even if you disagree with the war, you can applaud when exceptional people display grace under pressure.

So, to assist that effort I will highlight the heroism of Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes, as described by Dan Baum in the New Yorker:

During the early weeks of the Iraq war, the television set in my office was tuned all day to CNN, with the sound muted. On the morning of April 3rd, as the Army and the Marines were closing in on Baghdad, I happened to look up at what appeared to be a disaster in the making. A small unit of American soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf when hundreds of Iraqis poured out of the buildings on either side. Fists waving, throats taut, they pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror. I reached for the remote and turned up the sound. The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic with rage. From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as frightened as the soldiers. This is it, I thought. A shot will come from somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My Lai massacre of the Iraq war. At that moment, an American officer stepped through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel pointed to the ground. Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a striking gesture-- almost Biblical. "Take a knee," the officer said, impassive behind surfer sunglasses. The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy. Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to withdraw.

It took two months to track down Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes, who by then had been rotated home. He called from his father's house, in Red Oak, Iowa, en route to study at the Army War College, in Pennsylvania. I wanted to know who had taught him to tame a crowd by pointing his rifle muzzle down and having his men kneel. Were those gestures peculiar to Iraq? To Islam? My questions barely made sense to Hughes. In an unassuming, persistent Iowa tone, he assured me that nobody had prepared him for an angry crowd in an Arab country, much less the tribal complexities of Najaf. Army officers learn in a general way to use a helicopter's rotor wash to drive away a crowd, he explained. Or they fire warning shots. "Problem with that is, the next thing you have to do is shoot them in the chest." Hughes had been trying that day to get in touch with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a delicate task that the Army considered politically crucial. American gunfire would have made it impossible. The Iraqis already felt that the Americans were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution, to Hughes, was a gesture of respect.


YRHT salutes Chris Hughes' bravery and ingenuity. America should be very proud of such acts. Without them, there is no chance of success in Iraq.

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(H/T wongdoer at The Key Monk)
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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Everybody's doing the toxic waltz 

1.) Ozone pollution raises death risk.

The study, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, compared death rates and daily atmospheric ozone levels in 95 U.S. cities over 14 years. It found that increases in daily ozone were associated with concurrent increases in deaths due to cardiovascular, respiratory and other causes.

"I think this study really nails down, for the first time, that ozone air pollution can cause increased risk of death in the general population," said George Thurston, [Professor of environmental medicine at NYU and co-director of NYU's EPA Particulate Matter Research Center.]
...
"It's actually a rather conservative study," he said. "For one thing, it only considers acute death -- it doesn't consider that long-term exposure to ozone may have a cumulative effect over and above that sudden, acute effect."
The American Lung Association awarded East Baton Rouge Parish an "F" for its 2004 Ozone Grade. See the linked summary for statistics on vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly.


2)
Speaking of the "cumulative effect" of pollution, here's an idea for the Tulane enviro law clinic: let's fund and publicize studies that investigate the deleterious effects of pollution on a person's sense of taste and smell. Since lethal risks don't bother Louisianans, perhaps they'll mobilize if the taste of their food is endangered.

I can't wait for candidates to incorporate (quite literally!) "the flavor of Louisiana" into their environmental platform. That's a quality of life issue par excellence!


3)
The EPA can declare your neighborhood a Superfund site, which means you live in one of the most toxic places in the country. Of course, there are other, subtler tipoffs:

[Phyllis Smith's home] had been built atop the city of New Orleans' old Agriculture Street landfill, active between 1909 and 1958 and reopened for a brief time in 1965 to dispose of debris from Hurricane Betsy.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans began the home ownership program after the landfill was closed and capped and slated for redevelopment. Smith explained how HANO officials guided her and her husband through the reborn neighborhood without ever telling them of the old dump beneath it. Pamphlets extolling the new neighborhood also failed to identify its past.

She didn't suspect the dump, even when old cans, a tire and human bones mysteriously popped up in her yard that first year... And she still didn't suspect anything in the mid-1980s, when workers who were dressed in protective clothing dug dirt out from underneath Moton Elementary School across the street, Smith told schools attorney Nannette Jolivette.

In fact, Smith testified, she even bought a load of the dirt from a truck driver hauling topsoil from the school, to fill in holes in her own yard, and again with no warning from New Orleans public schools officials.
Sweet mercy me.


4) More news, if you can take it, on Louisiana toxicity and protruding bones...

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Going the extra mile-- out of Iraq 

Months ago, after reading an article about Christians fleeing Iraq in droves, I said "Reflect on this for a moment: thousands of Christians who spent a lifetime under Saddam Hussein now find conditions in Iraq unendurable." The exodus continues, and now their advocates are making frantic appeals to the Bush administration for help (my emphs):

Tens of thousands of Iraq's nearly one million ChaldoAssyrians, as this indigenous cultural and linguistic ethnic group is called under Iraq's Transitional Administrative Law, have fled into exile over the past few months. Their leaders fear that, like the Iraqi Jews -- who accounted for a third of Iraq's population until facing relentless persecution in the middle of the last century -- they may leave en masse.
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In the run up to elections, Sunni terrorists and insurgents have targeted the ChaldoAssyrians with particular ferocity, linking them to the West.
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Both Sunni and Shiite extremists who seek to impose their codes of behavior have been ruthless toward the Christians, throwing acid in the faces of women without the hijab (veil) and gunning down the salesclerks at video and liquor stores. In the north, Kurdish administrators have withheld U.S. reconstruction funds from ChaldoAssyrian areas, and, together with local peshmerga forces, have confiscated some Christian farms and villages. Of the $20 billion that American taxpayers generously provided for the reconstruction of Iraq two years ago, none so far has gone to rebuild ChaldoAssyrian communities. The State Department is distributing these funds exclusively to the Arab and Kurdish-run governorates -- the old Saddam Hussein power structure -- who fail to pass on the ChaldoAssyrian share.
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Should the ChaldoAssyrian community disappear from Iraq, it would mean the end of their Aramaic language (spoken by Jesus), and their customs, rites, and culture. A unique part of Christian patrimony would disappear along with this first-century church. The United States would have presided over the destruction of one of the world's oldest Christian communities.


Something to keep in mind the next time a Squirrel lectures you on the importance of preserving a country's Judeo-Christian heritage.


[Yes, as a tribute to the late Buddy "D", I'm going to appropriate his descriptive term for my own political ends. Henceforth YRHT will substitute "squirrel" and "squirrelnuts" for "winger", "wingnuts"... et al.]

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(Thanks to the Flaming Liberal)
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Monday, January 10, 2005

"Multi-National Force Iraq deeply regrets the loss of possibly innocent lives"  

That "possibly" qualifier is a real corker, isn't it?

The more I read about this bombing story, the odder it gets. As my informed audience knows, an F-16 dropped a 500lb GPS-guided bomb on a house in the town of Aitha, Iraq. Between 5 and 14 people were killed. According to the military, the bomb missed the "intended target" which was supposedly at "another location nearby". This occurred as part of an operation aimed at capturing an "anti-Iraqi force cell leader". (Note the language: insurgents are now "anti-Iraqi forces".)

"Ok," you might reply. "But so what? Bombs miss their targets all the time, even GPS guided ones. Civilians are killed in war. Nothing new there. Seems like just an unfortunate mistake at an admittedly delicate time (prior to the elections)... no big deal, though."

Not so fast, my friend. Today's Washington Post adds more information, plus an interesting twist (my emphs):

[In] a village near the northern city of Mosul, where the U.S. military reported that it had mistakenly dropped a 500-pound bomb on the wrong target Saturday, residents said the Americans actually hit the correct house, killing an insurgent who they said had killed Iraqi security forces.

The residents of Aaytha, 30 miles south of Mosul, said the bomb hit the home of the Numan family, members of the prominent Sunni Muslim Jubori tribe, one of the largest in Iraq. Witnesses said the blast killed 14 members of the family, including 10 women and children. Neighbors said a toddler related to the family was the sole survivor.

Salem Jasem Jubori, who lives close to the house that was destroyed, said the head of the household was a middle-age man who "used to kill and cut" his victims, primarily Iraqi police and National Guardsmen, in front of villagers.

"He was ferocious, very fierce and wild," Jubori said.


The U.S. military said in a statement Saturday that five people were killed and that it "deeply regretted the loss of possibly innocent lives." The statement said the house struck by an F-16 fighter jet "was not the intended target... The intended target was another location nearby."

The military had no immediate reaction to the villagers' account.
...
Residents said the village of Aaytha has been largely peaceful but harbors extremists who oppose U.S. forces in Iraq.

Other accounts describe how U.S. forces raided the place but left without arresting anyone. Five minutes later, at 2:30am, a bomb decimated the brick house and its inhabitants. According to witnesses, "American troops immediately surrounded the area, blocking access for four hours." The military claimed its quick response was for "assistance" purposes (for the "possibly innocent" children I presume).

"Get to the point pearl-boy!"

Ok. I think the bombing was a direct hit. I think the intended target was killed (along with his family) and I think the release expressing "deep regret" for the "possibly innocent" is a load of intentional disinformation. We're supposed to believe a laser-guided bomb which killed a "ferocious" insurgent who publicly "killed and cut" Iraqi Police and National Guardsmen was meant for some other "cell leader", in some other nearby house? I suppose that's possible, but in this case, I'm profoundly skeptical.

What seems much more likely is that this bombing was intended to scare everyone in a town known for "harboring extremists". The message was: insurgents endanger everyone-- help us find them, or you're in danger too. I've previously referred to conservatives who note the high comfort level among some sympathizers of the insurgency, and who argue that these people must be "rattled", and forced to choose between democracy or death. Perhaps this "errant bombing" operation helped serve such goals. I hope my speculations are incorrect, but the story strikes me as very suspicious.

The military, it seems, has stepped up efforts to unnerve the harborers, aiders and abetters of the insurgency. Instilling in them the fear of an inaccurate bomb attack (or roving deaths squads) may be a central part of counterinsurgency efforts in coming months.

Therefore more "possibly innocent" Iraqis must be sacrificed, and more false statements will likely be issued. If you feel incredibly hopeful about the implications of such tactics, let me know.

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Dr. Mahajan seems a step ahead of me in seeing how this might play out politically in the U.S.: "Expect pundits to say, should it prove necessary, that [proposed "death squads"] are far more humane and efficient than large-scale military operations or aerial bombing."

Successful or not, the bombing in Aitha has set the table pretty well for such (loathesome) arguments.
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The spoon experience 

You know that freedom is on the march when there's talk of training and underwriting Iraqi "death squads", a la Salvador. Billmon opens the Whiskey Bar with one of his "quote posts". This selection was particularly graphic:

One [Salvadoran] death squad member, when asked about the types of tortures used, replied: "Uh, well, the same things you did in Vietnam. We learned from you. We learned from you the means, like blowtorches in the armpits, shots in the balls. But for the "toughest ones" --that is, those who resist these other tortures -- "we have to pop their eyes out with a spoon. You have to film it to believe it, but boy, they sure sing." (Raymond Bonner, Weakness and Deceit, 6/84)

As usual, Rahul Mahajan clearly distills the issue:

The truth of the matter is that, just as torture isn't really primarily about extracting information, death squads aren't primarily about killing particular people who are judged to be a threat. The true rationale for both is to create a climate of pervasive fear.


I can't think of a single way in which this could possibly backfire.

It's like we're at a big craps table, and the Bush administration "feels" a hot hand coming on. So they make a few passes, and we decide to move most of our bankroll out on the numbers. Odds might disfavor that, but hey, the Bushies assure us that they'll keep the dice for over an hour. They say: "If you're timid, you might miss out on all the riches! And don't forget to play the hard ways: lucky ten, eyes of tejas will shine upon you..." Caught up in the moment, we cry out "Okay, LET'S ROLL!"

As the dice tumble down the green felt, we figure, "How wrong could they possibly be, anyhow?"



Aw, crap.


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(H/T Moon of Alabama)
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Sunday, January 09, 2005

You only like me for my sweet titles. 

Go to Wampum and vote for your favorite new blog. YRHT is at the very end of the list, far below the infinitely more deserving Empire Notes.

I'm honored and flattered to be a nominee for a Koufax award. Thank you, friends, for the nomination. As far as I can tell, I think I'm the only representative from the "Gret Stet" of Louisiana. Oh, the pressure.

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Now some of you may have noticed that I've yet to receive a single vote. Therefore, if you are moved to spare me some embarrassment, and (mis)cast a vote for Your Right Hand Thief, I will make you the following offer: vote for me, and I'll let you join my private Scentstories circle of friends. Our select group takes magical "scent trips" together each afternoon, and-- get this!-- we chat about our experiences in real time over the internet. What we're smelling, what we're feeling, who we're thinking about... It's a beautiful, fun thing to do. And I especially enjoy it now that I can Tivo Barefoot Contessa and watch her later.
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Doom Doom Doom let's go back to my gloom... 

Serving up a mixed grill of depressing cuts:

1) First, an article from Foreign Affairs by James Dobbins. It's titled Iraq: Winning the Unwinnable War. Dobbins has worked for four different presidents, and was the Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan. I advise reading the entire article, even though his quite reasonable proposals (like others I've parsed) are not what Bush and Rove want to hear. Here's his bottom line:

By losing the trust of the Iraqi people, the Bush administration has already lost the war. Moderate Iraqis can still win it, but only if they wean themselves from Washington and get support from elsewhere. To help them, the United States should reduce and ultimately eliminate its military presence, train Iraqis to beat the insurgency on their own, and rally Iran and European allies to the cause.
An interesting companion piece to Dobbins' analysis can be found in the Weekly Standard. This one is by Reuel Marc Gerecht and is titled "The Struggle for the Middle East".

The Bush administration ought to admit to itself two obvious facts. First, we are losing the "war of the roads" in Iraq.
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It beggars the mind to believe that the U.S. military cannot deploy sufficient forces to secure the highway between Baghdad and the capital's international airport. Insurgents and brigands--it's very difficult often to tell the difference--now own this short stretch of highway...

Second obvious fact: The government of Ayad Allawi has failed. It is possible that Allawi and his list of candidates will do well enough in the January 30 elections to remain a force in Iraqi politics... The United States will, however, be enormously fortunate--even though many within the American government, particularly within the State Department and the Clandestine Service of the CIA, strenuously argue the opposite--if Allawi flames out in the elections, and the "Shiite list" backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's preeminent divine, the rabble-rouser Moktada al-Sadr, and Ahmad Chalabi proves overwhelmingly triumphant.

His provocative view is that Allawi's approach to the Sunni moderates has failed, and they continue to want it both ways. They must be pressured to choose either the insurgency or the new government.

Gerecht's is a conservative perspective worth mulling over. For "friction", ya know...


2) Domestic pessimism courtesy of Jim Kunstler at Clusterf*ck Nation:

Speaking of the US economy (aka, the dual WalMart / Housing bubble), here's what I see: the fantastic apparatus of mortgage-and-credit creation wobbles as misfeasance in Fannie Mae combines with a falling dollar and loss of overseas customers for US debt to cause interest rates to rise substantially. Rising interest rates crush large numbers of homeowners holding absurd mortages on over-priced houses that never should have been granted in the first place (and only were because lending standards turned to shit over the past decade.) Also clobbered are "consumers" over-extended on credit card debt (who are actually the same people as the ruined homeowners). A knockout punch comes in the form of up-ratcheting oil-and-gas prices, which thunder through the economy as price inflation. The housing bubble pops like a zeppelin and a giant sale of distressed properties begins, with house prices plummeting. (Prices on other things, especially food, shoot up.) Yesterday, the New York Times ran a typically clueless business section story on an expected bull market in corporate mergers. This was pawned off as a sign of economic vitality; I see it as an obvious sign of weakness. Virtually all mergers will result in substantial layoffs of workers, as merged companies seek first to eliminate payroll redundancy. Many mergers will represent the desperate marriage of losers, for instance Sears and K-Mart, two giant chain retailers who had lost out to WalMart and Target for a huge-but-limited customer base, and were headed down the drain. Now Sears and K-Mart will head down the drain together as that customer base becomes even more limited by the credit default orgy of 2005.

As regular readers know, I foresee the credit bubble popping soon. Perhaps not as spectacularly as Led Zeppelin's first album cover, but it won't be pretty. That I know.


3) Of local concern: Queeen Bee and LA's congressional delegation are doing all they can to prevent the Naval military base in Algiers from being included on the base closure list that'll be released in four months. From the T-P:

Gov. Kathleen Blanco has committed the state's financial support to the proposed $166 million "federal city" at the Naval Support Activity in Algiers, in an effort to stave off closure of what Louisiana and local leaders believe is the metro area's most vulnerable military base.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior defense and homeland security officials, Blanco said the state will use bond money to construct new facilities at no cost to the Defense Department, which then would be leased to federal tenants at "substantially below current market rates."

"The Federal City concept represents a promising investment in the future and has the full weight and resources of my office behind it," according to Blanco's Nov. 12 letter.

The article makes pretty clear that none of these efforts are supposed to factor into the formal consideration process. But, it can't hurt to try. I don't know who gets the inside dope on these things, or how it filters out, but the amount of activity in recent months suggests important people in this state are seriously worried. Here's why:

State officials say the military has a $7.8 billion annual effect on the metro New Orleans economy, with the Naval Support Activity contributing 4,650 military and civilian jobs and a $142 million payroll to that tally.

Great Caesar's ghost those are big numbers for this city! Imagine losing that! Uggh.

If our base is on the list of recommended closures, it's a gone pecan. My understanding is that it's an all or nothing deal when Congress receives the list. No "line item" ammendations can be made. Congress either approves all of them, or they must start over at square one.


4) I'll reprint a couple of comments I received regarding the Anthony Creme case in my post below. This was the guy from Dallas who dined at Galatoire's, allegedly shoving a 69-year old into the street and cracking the guy's skull open. Like ole LBJ who devoured two bowls of soup on Air Force One, Creme didn't lose his appetite after seeing violent brain damage occur.

Bubba and Vicky Photos shed light on the "story behind the story". My emphs:

Bubba: "Pressboys are sitting on this a little bit. Thinking it over. What we might have here is hardcore gaybashing. Our art collector buddy and his pile may not want his gassy privacies exposed a hell whole of a lot."

Vicky: "John Bullard's comments to the press that the Dr wouldn't harm anybody are a little self serving. Bullard and Steve Maklansky have been given a lot of important photos and even more important cash by the Dr. Of course, Bullard would have a bare museum if he didn't take in freebies from sociopathic New Orleanians."
This article adds some more details:

The marketing manager for Hillwood Properties, a division of Ross Perot Jr.'s Hillwood Development Corp., was arrested over the New Year's weekend on battery charges.

Tony Creme, 28, of Dallas, was charged Jan. 2 with second-degree battery, a felony, and released the next day on his own recognizance, New Orleans police told the Dallas Business Journal on Friday.
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According to a witness at the restaurant, Creme shoved 69-year-old Russell Albright to the ground after Albright tossed a mint onto Creme's table... Albright suffered a fractured skull and remained unconscious Friday at a New Orleans trauma center, said Albright's attorney Henry Kinney.
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The New Orleans District Attorney's Office is awaiting the police report to determine whether the charge will stand against Creme, said spokeswoman Leatrice Dupree.

"We have witnesses," Dupree told the Dallas Business Journal Friday. "They're banging down the door to help."


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