January 2nd, 2006

Sunni Clerics — Done Dirt Cheap

by Philip Baruth


It appears that, in addition to purchasing Iraqi “journalists” for pennies on the dollar, the Pentagon has been buying up all the Sunni clerics and religious scholars it can find. Their PR/psych-ops people, the Lincoln Group, seem to have managed to flip several holy-men like pancakes (pita bread?).

The idea was to change “hearts and minds” from within — that is, within the actual men running the mosques and religious schools. But what do you think the effect will be now, with the cat out of the bag?

Think of it this way: suppose religious extremists in the US found out that Pat Robertson had accepted 9 million dollars “enabling [Osama Bin Laden] to exercise influence in [American] communities on behalf of clients, including the [Iraqi insurgency].”

Would that encourage them to lay down their arms and break bread? Or lock and load?

Again, as with Abu Ghraib, the story is the gang who couldn’t shoot straight: US military shoots self in femur — much news to come at 11, I’m afraid.

January 2nd, 2006

Monday Must-Read Sentence, Uzbekistan-style

by Philip Baruth

The chorus of voices singing from within the Blair and Bush Administrations now officially rivals the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

This past weekend Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, published a series of documents on his website (www.craigmurray.org.uk) that go a long distance toward proving that Britain made routine use of data obtained by torture. The NY Times has the story.

In one of these documents — all written during his official tenure — Murray wrote, “Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.”

And of course this little gem from a 2003 summary: “U.S. policy is not much focused on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the U.S. pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship.”

This was Britain’s ambassador, keep in mind.

But Murray’s Monday Must-Read Sentence comes from still another official summary letter penned in 2003. After pointing out that the U.S. gave Uzbekistan half a billion dollars in aid the previous year, half of that military in nature, Murray fashions an MMRS that gives the lie once and for all to Bush’s rhetoric about ending global tyranny: “Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one-party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom.”

I know: that was three sentences.

So sue me. They were big-ass sentences.

January 2nd, 2006

Vets with Progressive Fire in the Belly

by Philip Baruth

Nothing trips up the Bush Administration’s preening on Iraq like an actual Iraq Vet campaigning in opposition to the War.

It produces a whole chicken/egg glitch in the logic.

If increasing funding for the War is supporting the troops, then how to deal with one troop (two troops, three troops, four) who hit the stump with a loud message about the incompetence of the civilian leadership, the ever-changing mission in Iraq, and the dire need to get our soldiers out of a war zone they’re tasked not with capturing, but with policing?

That’s why Paul Hackett made such a noise.

And that’s why I found this new website utterly fascinating: Band of Brothers. Building on Hackett’s success, Band of Brothers is an attempt to bring together under one cyber-roof a whole crop of active candidates dedicated to making Bush’s life miserable on the question of the War.

As they say in their “Mission” section: “We will highlight the unpopularity of the war in Iraq while turning a populist critique of excessive corporate influence into a broader statement about the contrast between special interests and the real interest of the nation.”

Now, let’s not get starry-eyed here: not all of these folks are Iraq War Vets sticking it to the Man. Some served in the ‘70’s.

And clearly not all of the Band of Brothers are raging pacifists: in order to agree on a common statement they’ve hedged a bit on the War on Terror. Under “Foreign Policy” they write, “Not contesting the need to fight the war on terror, but illustrating that the Bush foreign policy makes it more difficult and costly.”
Sounds like Kerry pragmatism, of course, and the website’s handle is a deliberate bit of homage to the Senator, I think. Myself, I’d prefer a statement pointing out the falsity of the “War on Terror” metaphor itself.

But on balance, this is an exciting effort, drawing together men and women of diverse backgrounds and ages. They offer “a bold new progressive politic,” and they can go toe to toe with any Republican anywhere on how to keep their state — and their country — safe.

And they will give Karl Rove another ulcer. Have a look. Cough up a ten-spot.

How often can you give Rove gastritis for less than the cost of a sushi lunch?

December 31st, 2005

Dubie Channels Bush — With Audio!

by Philip Baruth

I did a post a few weeks back, noting that incumbent candidate for Lt. Governor Brian Dubie owes more than a little to the Bush administration and the Bush world-view.

But who knew how far that relationship would take Dubie?

bushHere’s a quick commercial spot from Dubie’s website, and I kid you not — if you close your eyes and let it wash over you, you’d think you were listening to Bush the Younger himself. And I’m not just talking about content, although Dubie parrots a low-calorie version of the Washington Republican line.

No, no, no.

I’m talking about delivery: Dubie has adopted the actual verbal mannerisms, the empty optimism, the accent even. I kid you not. If it’s not a conscious bit of mimicry, then it’s the sort of echo that kids manage of their parents, the sort brought on by intense identification and hero-worship.

He even hits Bush’s signature “working hard” line, for God’s sake.

I’ve always been something of a mimic, and I can do a decent George W. Bush, about a 6 on a 1-10 scale. But Dubie’s got an 8 going here. Give a listen. It’s a freaky thing.

December 29th, 2005

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

by Philip Baruth

After a few posts in which I took issue with the systemic anonymity over at Politics VT – arguing among other things that it encouraged a lack of civility in political discourse — Politics VT responded: by recommending VDB to their readers while they’re on holiday hiatus.

Talk about disarming.

But it’s a fact of life that VDB is a sucker for any love from anywhere at any time, even if it comes from shadowy types with the names of dead Governors and Revolutionaries. And so in a fit of holiday good-fellowship, we’ve added Politics VT to our list of VDB-Approved Sites.

And I should add that the only thing I don’t like about the site is that it allows long, anonymous screeds — other than that, it’s informative, and sharply designed.

Remember that old novelty record about Snoopy and the Red Baron, where they land behind enemy lines and share a holiday toast, before zooming off into battle again?

I feel like that, sort of.

December 28th, 2005

Washington Post Fine Print

by Philip Baruth

Blogging from Washington, D.C, for a few days, and one of the brilliant things about waking up here is that when you go to the coffee shop, there’s the Washington Post in three-dimensions.

For thirty-five cents. What a sweet deal.

And it means that I go through sections of the paper that I avoid electronically, like the letters to the Editor. And occasionally in those letters, you find something that goes by you like a brushback pitch. Here’s an excerpt from a letter that appeared on the 26th:

“While I’ve admired the Post’s overall coverage of issues related to intelligence and terrorism, the paper’s approach seems to be to shoot missiles at isolated targets — the CIA, CIFA, the National Security Agency, etc. I would suggest burrowing in and finding out what the larger picture is here.

“In particular, I have seen little of John D. Negroponte, who was supposed to bring control over and harmony to disparate, decentralized intelligence services and activities.

cheney“Where does [Negroponte] stand on CIA secret prisons and renditions and on Pentagon and NSA spying programs?”

Most excellent point. Anyone seen coverage of Negroponte in the last, I don’t know, six months? Are we talking about another secure location scenario? When only Cheney had one, I was fine with that; less of Cheney is less of Cheney, after all.

But are we moving to a system of permanently cloistered top officials in the War on Terror?

By the way, the above letter is signed, “Charles M. Franklin,” and followed by this biographical note: “The writer worked in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) from 1992 until he retired in 1996.” You know the Bush Presidency has officially reached the embattled phase when not only the front pages, not only the op-ed section, but the letters to the Editor are full of recriminations from former and current highly placed government officials.

Franklin was clearly a first-term Clinton man, but that’s the point again: Bush’s conduct has been so egregious that all traditional rules about decorum between administrations past and present have been scrapped. As they should be, in this bizarre historical moment.

You go, Charles M. Franklin. VDB has got your back. Word is bond.

December 27th, 2005

VDBea Mea Culpa

by Philip Baruth

Okay, about two weeks ago, we predicted on this page that ovoid huckster Karl Rove would be indicted by Christmas. We were pretty darn sure of it, as I remember. The headline was something along the lines of “Luxury Rove-Liner Now Inches from Iceberg.” Pretty sensational. Pretty darn cock-sure.

roveWell, that didn’t happen. VDB got it wrong.

And I’m sorry about it.

Last night, I lay awake for hours, night-sweating, feverish: Was it something I did, or failed to do, that has allowed Rove to continue to roll freely about the White House grounds? I just couldn’t say for certain, and I still can’t this morning.

But I wanted you to know that I’ve searched my heart.

Oh, don’t misunderstand: this fear-mongering tub of goo is still going down, and the shock waves will reach even the deepest of Cheney’s nested bunkers. But it might not be until Ground Hog Day. And I’ll have to live with my error every day for the rest of my life.

So be it.

With that said, can I just end with a small tribute to the genius of Marc Nadel? Look at that caricature over to the left of this post, really look at it. How many artists could conceive of four chins, let alone render them? Breath-taking.

December 26th, 2005

Monday Must-Read Sentence, Con Fidel

by Philip Baruth

While you were making merry, the News-Obsessed Ectomorphs were discovering that the Middle East isn’t the only place echoing with the soft strains of Bush-style diplomacy. Apparently we’re also making much headway in convincing Fidel Castro to help us prepare for his inevitable demise.

From the Gulf Times, Doha, Qatar:

condi rice“Cuban President Fidel Castro has called US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ‘mad’ after having condemned the head of the US diplomatic mission in Havana as a ‘little gangster.’

“The communist leader’s latest tirade against the United States came in response to Rice’s meeting last week with a US government commission intended to prepare for a democratic transition in Cuba after Castro.

“’I am going to tell you what I think about this famous commission: they are a group of s***-eaters who do not deserve the world’s respect,’ Castro told the National Assembly.”

But since VDB has a strict rule against choosing an MMRS laced with profanity, we selected Castro’s next gentle phrase. The last MMRS of 2005, then:

’In this context, it does not matter if it was the mad woman who talks of transition — it is a circus, they are completely depraved, they should be pitied,’ added the 79-year-old Cuban leader.

Think about it: the whole world has its eye on the Middle East. But Cuba is always an idee fixe in the Bush political mindset. You’re stone crazy if you think Bush intends to leave office before Fidel. So look for Special Forces destablization tricks in Cuba sometime soon!

Next year — in Havana, baby.

December 26th, 2005

Like a Bridge Over Troubled Waters

by Philip Baruth

My Jonas Galusha/Deep Throat post on blogger anonymity generated a good amount of mail, running about 50/50 between those who swear by anonymity, and those who swear at it.

VDB-addict NJ argues that anonymity does not escalate the rhetoric. Quite the contrary, in fact: he argues that just as often it’s the desire to promote one’s name that leads contributors to flame on. NJ continues:

“And the choice to be anonymous has many reasons. Not wanting there to be a paper trail of at-work blogging, concern for personal safety — particularly for women . . . concern over public airing of one’s political views if it might jeopordize one’s job . . .”

Well said, and sure, there are all sorts of exceptions to the rule that make all kinds of sense. But to me these exceptions don’t destroy the rule as I see it: in most situations, attaching your name to your views promotes responsible political behavior.

And there’s a long-standing procedure for granting anonymity to those who feel they need it: a newspaper or radio show or blog reports the views in question anonymously, but only after verifying the identity and the situation of the source in question.

Which is to say that what Jonas proposed — playing Deep Throat to my Bob Woodward — was ridiculous only because 1) he had no real information to share, and 2) no reason to share his non-information anonymously, other than to escape the penalties for slander.

But if anyone out there does have explosive information that will absolutely annihilate the known political wisdom — and you’re hard up against it, anonymity-wise — never fear: like a bridge over troubled waters, VDB will lay itself down.

December 24th, 2005

Extraordinarily Polite Rendition

by Philip Baruth

I guess it’s what a lot of us fear these days.

I’m walking down the sidewalk, heading over to Church Street for some chicken tikka masala, maybe an order of garlic naan, and suddenly there it is: the screeching of tires, the sudden scuffing of boots behind me, and then the sickly sweet smell of ether under my nose.

Everything fades to black.

And then I wake up with my hands and feet tied tight — tight like you tie down a roast of beef tight — in the back of a Ford Econovan with tinted windows. The van is moving very fast, so fast and so straight that you know it can only be shooting up the Interstate. Eighty miles an hour, say.

Sitting on the seat in front of me are two men wearing black pants, coats, ski masks, gloves. I clear my head, and I manage to mumble, “Who are you?”

The two ninjas say nothing. I can hear a car outside beep its horn indignantly as the van muscles past, into the exit lane.

“Where are you taking me?” I ask, with a little more fight in me now.

At first they’re quiet, and then the one on the left can’t resist, and he whispers, “Wouldn’t you like to know.

It’s about three minutes later when the van slows down, prepares to stop. The ninja on the right takes out a gun, then makes it very clear with a single gesture: If I make the slightest sound, I’m history. So I’m silent. And in that silence, I hear a voice ask the driver what his business is in Canada this evening.

Suddenly all of the pieces fall horribly into place.

When the CIA thinks you have crucial information, and they can’t get it legally in the US, they ship you to a country where the laws are looser and the techniques of extracting information are stricter, places like Egypt and Syria. This is known as extraordinary rendition.

But when they think you have information that’s not exactly crucial, but might be sort of good to have someday, they turn you over to the Canadians.

This lesser-known tactic is called extraordinarily polite rendition.

Once I’ve figured that out, my blood-pressure settles down pretty quickly: I’ve had a few friends go through extraordinarily polite rendition and while it’s not pretty, it’s not fatal.

I can tell by counting the twists and turns that we’re on Rue St. Denis in Montreal when the van jerks to a stop, and the two ninjas heave me out the door. I fall into the arms of two men who are also wearing black, but normal black, the black leather jackets and pants and shirts that every other person wears on the streets of Montreal.

“Watch your step, okay?” says the bigger of the two. “This ice here is tricky.”

The two Canadian intelligence guys take me to a Tim Horton’s, and when I say that I’m not in the mood for coffee and donut bits, they offer to take me someplace else, maybe for a smoked meat sandwich?

I tell them I’m fine.

Finally they come out with it. The CIA is concerned about a call I made a few months back to my friend Joe in Indiana. Apparently I mentioned buying a compact disc by REM titled “Green.” They want to know if the CD has anything to do with environmental organizations, especially extremist groups like the Sierra Club.

“No,” I tell the Canadians. “But it’s really a killer album.”

So then we talk music for awhile, and I’m feeling better so I get some coffee, and then some donut bits, and we talk about what a shame it was they lost their hockey season last year to the NHL strike. I’m having such a good time I almost forget that it’s a long cold way home, and that there’s no guarantee things haven’t gotten worse since I left.

But that’s nothing new, really. It’s always that way, when I head south from Montreal.

Next Page »