Saturday, April 24, 2004

An Eye-Opener

This memo, published by the Association of American Newsweeklies in collaboration with an article by investigative reporter Jason Vest, was written by an unnamed source who was in the process of return from his/her work in rebuilding Iraq. It is, quite simply, a must-read.

According to the Chicago Reader's indefatigable Michael Miner, the blogosphere has fingered American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin as the author. Rubin served in-country for 16 months as a CPA advisor. And if Miner thinks the evidence is good enough, that's good enough for me.

Regardless, this is a pretty amazing account from a young neo-con.

He starts:

I want to emphasize: As great as the problems we face, and the criticisms back home, and mindful of the sacrifice that almost 600 Americans have made, what we have accomplished in Iraq is worth it.

The author then goes on to vaccilate between explaining how life in Baghdad is somewhat thriving (things for sale, entrepreneurial spirit, new goods, the ubiquitous Internet cafes) and how the CPA has failed and is failing. After giving congratulations for the interim Constitution, he gives it to Bremer and the CPA ministers for staying in their supposedly safe microspherical Green Zone and rarely interacting with Iraqis who might give insights into the meddling of Iran and other ne'er-do-wells. He points to cronyism and corruption (NPR's 'Marketplace' program recently ran a major investigation into similar problems) in handing out contracts: something we in Chicago are quite familiar with. He blames the CPA for unintentionally driving the weapons black market, and for allowing al-Sadr a wide enough berth to establish himself. The memo concludes with a plea to keep the U.N. out of Iraq until the investigations into the corruption of the Oil-for-Food program are completed.

I have to disagree with his contention that the U.N.'s carpet-baggers would be, in some way, more corrupt than our carpet-baggers who are there now. But this is a chance to see what things look like when the rose-colored glasses come off.

69 days 'til hand-off.

Brooks Covers Metallica: "Kill 'em all," the puffy-faced scribe exhorts. In this morning's New York Times, David Brooks implies that we should bomb every Muslim nation into the Stone Age:

If today's suicide bombers are victims of oppression, then the solution is to lessen our dominance, and so assuage their resentments. But if they are vicious people driven by an insatiable urge to dominate, then our only option is to fight them to the death.

How "sensible," Brooksy.

- Marc

Friday, April 23, 2004

Free as a Bird: The New York Daily News offers this week's most compelling story:

Two lovers, naked as jaybirds and apparently as crazy as looneybirds, climbed a tree in Central Park yesterday - and put on a bizarre four-hour show that drew cops and hundreds of gawkers.

In a shocking new twist on the birds and the bees, a 17-year-old boy and a 32-year-old preoperative transsexual offered an X-rated sex spectacle - refusing cops' pleas to leave their unlikely love nest 50 feet above the Chess and Checkers House.

If you read on, it only gets better.

- Marc

The NYT's Silver Bullet: Pat Boone favors censorship so mistakes like this won't occur:

Thursday's New York Times misidentified GOP Senate candidate Pete Coors as a Ku Klux Klan member who murdered a black sharecropper.

The best part is Coors' spokesperson Cinamon Watson's response: "It could have been worse. Pete could have been identified as John Kerry."


- Marc
Playing the Who-Gives-A-Shit Card

Last night, during the House one-minute speeches, the basic Republican strategy to counteract Kerry's military service was unveiled. Point 1: imply that he wasn't quite the soldier he says he was. Point 2: he was only in country for 8 months. Point 3: he didn't really get hurt enough to qualify for a Purple Heart. Point 4: something to do with Jane Fonda (though as someone who gets creeped out by boner-drug commercials, I don't exactly know why Jane Fonda is such a lightning rod).

Since military service is such a severe liability for this "war president" and at the cornerstone of the creation story of Kerry, it's a problem. How best to deflect the issue? If you can cast doubts about Kerry's decoration and metaphorically photoshop him into Hanoi John, then the rubes will get confused. They might even think: what's the difference between serving with distinction and going AWOL in Alabama? Who cares?

What do apathetic Americans do when they're confused? They turn the channel to ''Friends'' or pick up People magazine. Let the smooth pap of American Idol calm you after a feverish tour through the looking glass.

As the president's polls slip, and November draws near, there are increasingly fewer chances for him to redeem himself in many people's minds. His best bet is just to divide sentiments, draw John Kerry into the muck with him, cause millions to willfully disenfrancise themselves and tip the scales in the closest races.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Lie About the Earth Day: Bush opened his mouth again today:

My administration has put in place some of the most important anti-pollution policies in a decade -- policies that have reduced harmful emissions, reclaimed brownfields, cut phosphorus releases into our rivers and streams. Since 2001, the condition of America's land, air and water has improved.

Come on. Even conservative columnist David Brooks wrote just this week that:

The first thing to be said is that air pollution trends are unchanged under President Bush... If you look at the charts showing that decline, you can't tell when the Clinton era ended and the Bush era began.

In other words, Bush says he "put in place some of the most important anti-pollution policies in a decade." His supporters argue that Bush has merely continued Clinton-era policies. Who's lying?

Meanwhile, a Google search of "Bush" and "anti-pollution policies" at this time yields only 27 results. Several of these results comment on a 2002 EPA report that Bush dismissed as part of the "bureaucracy." Of course, this EPA report showed that greenhouse gases cause global warming: an issue Bush suffers an "inability" to fix, according to Brooks. The poor man's hands are tied.

Bush says he has created "important" anti-pollution policies. Neither his backers nor his record agree.

- Marc
Ben Kweller Review: I just realized my review of previously precocious singer/songwriter Ben Kweller's disappointing new CD isn't online yet. An edited version appeared in the print edition of this month's UR Chicago magazine. Here's the unedited text:

Ben Kweller
On My Way (ATO)
By Marc Hogan

Admirers of Ben Kweller's goofy pop breakthrough, Sha Sha, may find the singer/songwriter's latest effort as frustrating as Rock 'n' Roll was for Ryan Adams fans. Like Adams' latest, On My Way masterfully cops a trendy sound: in this case, stripped-down rock 'n' roll circa 1965, filtered through the melodic-pop lenses of Elton John and Ben Folds. Yet also like Adams, Kweller seems to have lost his soul. Gone are earnest, memorable tracks like "Wasted and Ready," "In Other Words" and "Lizzy," though the 22-year-old's voice remains poignantly adolescent. Forget about the emotional power of "I Hope Tomorrow Is Like Today," his deft collaboration with Guster. "You speak to me / without speaking," he ruminates in "Believer," an American Idol-worthy love song so unspecific one questions if its young composer has ever truly loved. The album's garage rock-inflected approach neglects that genre's minimalist mindset, embracing repetition instead. "Nothing can bring me down," Kweller chortles 27 freaking times in "Down." For "Ann Disaster," Kweller shouts the mouthful "I know what you want / you want a piece of me" 16 times over "You Really Got Me Now" guitars. Indeed, On My Way could be a lost Kinks B-sides compilation, if only Ray Davies had the IQ of Gavin Rossdale. Kweller can do better than this.

- Marc
Sounds Like Nothing: I'm not sure why the local media didn't at least comment upon this, but it looks like my initial worries about John Kerry's New Orleans trip were groundless. Local writer Paul Greenberg tells me:

Actually the bomb was in Lake Pontchartrain and Kerry was not scheduled to be in that area at all. He was on a waterway in Louisiana today in a boat, but not even remotely near where the bomb was. As for the bomb, it has been labeled "amateurish" and "crudely made," a product of all home-made materials. It was fueled by gunpowder. So, when they recovered the bomb from the water and accidentally blew it up on the deck of a coast guard ship, it did almost no damage at all. It would seem there is no connection between Kerry's presence in the city and the bomb in the lake.

So there you have it. Sorry for the alarm.

- Marc

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Update on Kerry/Bomb Story: The mainstream media still haven't noticed the correlation (if not connection) between Kerry's appearance in New Orleans and the bomb found in Lake Pontchartrain. Whopundit first broke the story below.

We've found an answer to at least one disturbing question: Was Kerry's schedule today publicly available?

Though his website only lists a 6PM gala, Associated Press previously published his itinerary:

Kerry was scheduled to meet with a group of veterans at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport, then take a boat trip and discuss coastal erosion at a campaign event at Shell Beach, in St. Bernard Parish.

But given the size of Lake Pontchartrain, it's still difficult to tell if Kerry was the target. The bomb was found " a couple of miles from the Causeway," police reported, or "three miles west of the Causeway," according to WWLTV. Where exactly did the boat trip occur? If our crack press corps don't answer the question, Whopundit will. The Causeway is 24 miles long, though, so the police report is a tad vague. One more eerie quote, though:

[Sheriff Harry Lee] said the homemade bomb would not have damaged the Causeway, but it could have caused a serious accident with smaller boat.

Was this an attempt on Kerry's life? How often are bombs found in major lakes? Does George Bush know what "rhetorical" means?

Finally: A newspaper realizes there's been a bomb. Of course, they don't mention that a presidential candidate happened to be in the same vicinity. Can no one even imagine two plus two equalling four any longer?

- Marc
Kerry Assassination Attempt? An alert DailyKos dairist observes that John Kerry took a boat trip today, apparently on Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain. In other news, authorities found a bomb in Lake Pontchartrain.

Local reports are still playing this close to the vest, and national networks don't seem to have picked it up. We'll have more if this turns out, God forbid, to have been an actual attempt on Kerry's life.

Update: Local sheriff: 'Organized terrorism' unlikely. Possibility of "lone bombman" remains. Jim Garrison, Oliver Stone suspect "magic explosive."

- Marc
Bush Spoke Today: So, understandably, he said some funny things.

Regarding the Taliban: "The Taliban were given a notice. They didn't respond and so we got rid of them."

Earlier this month, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported, "The Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda."

Regarding women's rights: "It's hard for the American mentality to grasp how barbaric the Taliban was toward women in Afghanistan."

In Iraq, a previously secular country where women did not need to wear the Taliban's iconic burkas, women are now being forced to don Muslim garb, UPI reports. Wives and daughters don't have the freedom to roam the streets for fear of rape or kidnap. "Women without veils are fallen women," read new signs at Baghdad University.

Regarding WMD: "Saddam Hussein chose not to disarm."

According to a recent, exhaustive U.N. report, Husseini has had nothing to disarm since 1994.

Regarding Hussein: "He paid suiciders to go kill Jews."

Um, what? Oh. Well. First, what a weird sentence. Second, Hussein paid "thousands." How many million did the U.S. give bin Laden during the Russians' Afghan War. How many million did the U.S. give Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war? Um. Well.

On Iraqi insurgents: "They can't stand the thought of Iraq being free."

(Much like Pat Boone's thoughts on America. Why does Pat Boone hate freedom?)

On Pakistani nuclear arms: "Part of understanding North Korea better was a great success by our team and the Brits, in unraveling the A.Q. Khan network."

Others suggest Bush is playing nice with Pakistan because he hopes its government will turn over Bin Laden in time for the election. In any case, our "war president" considers allowing the Pakistani government to sell nuclear weapons to rogue nations and terrorists is a "success."

See what I mean? Silly.

- Marc
After Starting Nipple-Flashing Craze, White-Bread Boone Supports Nipple Censor Crackdown:

From the Moonie Times (requires free registration):

A healthy society needs censorship to survive, 1950s musical icon Pat Boone said yesterday. He added that he would welcome strong content restrictions governing movies and other artistic works.

"I don't think censorship is a bad word, but it has become a bad word because everybody associates it with some kind of restriction on liberty," said Mr. Boone, who is in Washington making the rounds as the national spokesman for the 60-Plus Association, a conservative senior citizen lobby.
"But we do know that at some point a line that has to be drawn between one man's liberty and another man's license."

-- Fritz

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Full of Hot Air: What would the New York Times be without disingenuous sunniness from David Brooks? In a piece lauding Bush's efforts on the environment, Brooks' makes a tellingly myopic criticism of the administration:

The Bush administration's biggest air pollution failure has been its inability to restart the global warming debate.

What Brooks won't tell you is that this failure has not been due to an "inability," but rather an unwillingness. Remember Dr. Robert Watson? Probably not. This scientist was forced out of the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Bush administration is likely to blame. Watson's crime? He blamed global warming on human causes, such as fossil fuels.

It's not that Bush couldn't have pushed for reforms that would limit global warming. It's that he denies global warming's scientific basis. Bush once dismissed a 268-page EPA report on global warming as "report put out by the bureaucracy," even though it was released by his own administration.

Still disagree, Brooksy? Observe this Ari Fleischer press briefing from 2002. See Fleischer dodge expertly on question after question -- poor Brooksy, the press secretary probably confused even our hapless scribe!

Then note that Fleischer concludes "there is considerable uncertainty" about global warming. I'm sorry, Brooksy, but Bush can't plead "inability." As with Bush's pre-9/11 inactivity, you have to actually try to do something to claim that you were unable to do it. If Bush believed there was uncertainty about global warming, why would he do something about it? The word is "unwillingness" -- some will say "stubbornness."

In typical form, Brooks concludes, "This is yet another issue around which it would be easy to build a sensible majority if things were judged on their merits." See what he's doing? In this sentence, David Brooks is sensible, part of the prospective majority. Anyone who disagrees with him is not sensible. And as his entire thesis is that Bush is (nearly) blameless on the environment, the only people who disagree with him are those senseless critics of the Bush administration. (Surely no one else is with the sensible Brooks in running around wishing Bush had the ability to do something about global warming?)

"If you look at the charts showing that decline, you can't tell when the Clinton era ended and the Bush era began," the scribe declares. But if you read the news, you can certainly tell which of the two presidents believes that global warming needs to be addressed. And it ain't Bush. Thanks, Brooksy.

- Marc
Desperate Times Call for Funky Measures: In a much-overlooked, Onion-worthy turn of events, Colin Powell really did appoint James Brown Secretary of Soul (and Foreign Minister of Funk) last year. With all those Iraqis who listen to Sly Stone, but can't really hear Sly, you know James is the hardest-working man in politics.

- Marc
Soullessness Update: Yesterday the President said that Iraqi insurgents "have no soul." But our Christian-in-chief has a long history of explaining that certain human beings simply lack an immortal soul. For instance, after violence in Bali in 2002, he said we must "do everything we can to disrupt, deny and bring to justice these people who have no soul."

While speaking at a White House menorah-lighting, Bush said of bin Laden, in the presence of a child, "He has no conscience and no soul."

Meanwhile, he said in February that "Freedom is inherently a part of every soul." His logic becomes easy to follow. Why do terrorists hate freedom? They have no soul. Yet even freedom-crushing Vladimir Putin has a soul: "I was able to get a sense of his soul," Bush infamously said.

Ask not, why do the terrorists hate freedom; ask, why does Bush hate Christianity? He believes his soul has already been saved. But surely it is easier to fit a camel through an eye of a needle than for a sanctimonious, heretical Skull and Bonesman to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Update to the Update: Sharp-eyed reader bobinkc points out that yesterday's speech also marks perhaps the first time that Bush directly asked listeners to "save a soul." To wit: "If you really want to help America, take time out of your life and help save a soul." If you really want to lead the country, take time out of your life to start a literal Crusade.

- Marc
Snow Patrol Can't Get No Respect: I take back all my cracks at Pitchfork's Snow Patrol review. The new PopMatters review is that of a critic pining for another mellow twee-pop album and taken aback by the album's My Bloody Valentine influences. She absolutely misses the point. I should have written a review myself: Final Straw is not a perfect album, but the lyrics reach new heights in detailing the quotidian quarrels of a real-life relationship, and the music bridges indie-rock, twee-pop, mainstream rock and even shoegaze in unprecedented ways. That's what the British critics saw. What's up with these American disses?

- Marc

Monday, April 19, 2004

Soul Survivors: The President today declared that some human beings do not have souls. A self-declared born-again Christian, Bush has taken a theological leap beyond that of any humanistic faith, including his hated Islam. Show me one mainstream cleric who will claim that any human lacks an eternal soul. Well, that's our God-loving President:

We will never show weakness in the face of these people who have no soul.

If Bush were a Democrat, you could argue that he's merely declaiming against the jihadists' aversion to the music of James Brown and Sam Cooke. But by that standard, Bush has no soul, either.

Ow, I feel good. So good. So good.

- Marc
Combustible Fungibles: Donald Rumsfeld is learning that some words are comestible. Quoth the wise secretary (according to the AP): "Come on, people are fungible. You can have them here or there."

Personally, I'd like Rumsfeld, with his mandibles of death, to fly away on a dirigible. Oh, the fungible humanity!

- Marc
Eyewitness News: Giving Iraqis a first-hand glimpse of the "War on Terra," U.S. soldiers killed employees of the U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiya station, AP reports:

U.S. troops shot to death two employees of a U.S.-funded television station Al-Iraqiya on Monday and wounded a third in the central city of Samara, the station said.

Correspondent Asaad Kadhim and driver Hussein Saleh were killed. Cameraman Bassem Kamel was wounded "after American forces opened fire on them while they were performing their duty," the station announced.

The U.S. troops were subsequently bedecked with flowers as a sign of gratitude for liberating Iraq.

- Marc
The Howler Nails It: As usual, Bob Somerby makes a cutting observation somehow missed by the earth tones-fetishizing mainstream press:

Bush said the obvious:

BUSH (4/13/04): Now, in the, what’s called the PDB, there was a warning about bin Laden’s desires on America.

There was a warning! Why did our reader find that amusing? Because five days earlier, Condi Rice had hotly insisted that there wasn’t a warning in that same PDB! We all recall the heartfelt testimony she gave to her nation, under oath.

RICE (4/8/04): Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo.

Perjury? I don't know. But why did the press criticize Ben-Veniste for his tough questioning of Rice when even Bush has contradicted her account, which she made under oath?

She's a liar and, perhaps, a perjurer. And she's not talking about blow jobs. (Unless, of course, she is... see Fritz's post below.)

- Marc
As I was telling my husb... I mean: As I was telling Marc...

Condi Bush.


Sunday, April 18, 2004

Apologies to David Brooks: I've found the worst writer at the New York Times, and it's not David Brooks. It's not even Elisabeth Bumiller or Judith Steinberg. Sure, those scribes play with the truth like they were writing for Weekly World News and not the nation's paper of record, but most of the time, like a James Bond villain, they're clever in their evil schemes.

Music writer Kelefa Sanneh just wrote an article on rapper Lil' Flip that should have been too poorly written even for a college newspaper. Observe its hopelessly amateurish denouement:

Let's hope that Lil' Flip doesn't spend too much time gloating about the success of his latest mixtape — let's hope he's already working on the next one.

That's after Sanneh discusses the Houston hip-hop scene's codeine addiction with a rah-rah, "drugs are cool!" attitude not seen in serious music writing since the 1960s, when people still thought acid was harmless.

As you peruse my French Kicks profile for next month's UR Chicago, in which I will discuss their new album, The Trial of the Century, note that I will not write, "Let's hope that French Kicks don't spend too much time gloating about their success in their latest "trial" -- let's hope they're already preparing for the next one."

If only Medill had done a better job of teaching me how to write badly, I'd be at the New York Times by now.

- Marc

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