Jon Stewart: The Accidental Journalist

Saturday, April 28, 2007

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Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Last night "Bill Moyers Journal" aired an interview with Jon Stewart. It was one of those wonderful, rare opportunities to hear Jon Stewart speaking directly and with very little of his trademark humor. He proved once again, as he did when he took the piss out of Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, that he is actually one of the most insightful political commentators in the business, even though he swears he's not. The entire transcript is available on the PBS site, as is a brief video excerpt. Here are some of the some of my favorite moments.

On what is and isn't journalism:

BILL MOYERS: You've said many times, "I don't want to be a journalist, I'm not a journalist."

JON STEWART: And we're not.

BILL MOYERS: But you're acting like one. You've assumed that role. The young people that work with me now, think they get better journalism from you than they do from the Sunday morning talk shows.

JON STEWART: I can assure them they're not getting any journalism from us. We are, if anything — I do believe we function as a sort of editorial cartoon. That we are a digestive process, like so many other digestive processes that go on. The thing about you know, there's a lot of young people get this and you know, young people get that from me. People are very sophisticated consumers of information, and they're pulling all different things.

It's the same argument people say about the blogs. The blogs are responsible. No, they're not. The blogs are like anything else. You judge each one based on its own veracity and intelligence and all of that. And if you like, you could cherry pick only the things that you agree with from various things. Or, if you want, you can try and get a broader perspective, or you can find people who are absolutely out of their minds, or find people that are doing incredibly complex and interesting and urgent journalism. And the same goes for our show. It's a prism into people's own ideologies, when they watch our program. This is just our take.

On how the White House uses its apparent incompetence as cover:

JON STEWART: Yeah, it's kind of astonishing. There is I used to have a real disconnect, I think, with the administration, I couldn't figure out what was going on. I think it's suddenly become clear to me. They would rather us believe them to be wildly incompetent and inarticulate than to let us know anything about how they operate. And so, they do Constitutionally-mandated things most of the time, but they don't — they fulfill the letter of their obligation to checks and balances, but not the intent.

For instance, Alberto Gonzales, and you've been watching the hearings. He is either a perjurer, or a low-functioning pinhead. And he allowed himself to be portrayed in those hearings as a low-functioning pinhead, rather than give the Congressional Committee charged with oversight, any information as to his decision-making process at the Department of Justice.

And I used to think, "They're doing this based on a certain arrogance." And now, I realize that it's because they believe there is one accountability moment for a President, and that is the four year election. And once you get that election, you're done.

BILL MOYERS: They're right, are they not?

JON STEWART: They're completely not right. The election moment is merely the American public saying, "We'd rather you be President than that guy." That's it. The next four years, though, you still have to abide by the oversight process that is there to prevent this kind of bizarre sort of cult-like atmosphere that falls along. I mean, I accept that kind of veil of secrecy around Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, but I don't accept that around our government.

On Alberto Gonzales as Henry Hill in the Bush Mob:

BILL MOYERS: Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of words were written about Gonzales' testimony last week in Congress. And I still don't think a lot of people get it. And all of the sudden, there on THE DAILY SHOW that evening, you distilled the essence of it.

JON STEWART: And by the way, that was all just — that was a game, and he knew it, and the guys on the committee knew it. And for the President to come out after that and say, "Everything I saw there gave me more confidence in him," that solidified my notion that, "Oh, it's because what he expected of Gonzalez was" it's sort of like, do you remember in GOODFELLAS? When Henry Hill got arrested for the first time and Robert DeNiro met him at the courthouse and Henry Hill was really upset, 'cause he thought Robert DeNiro would be really mad at him. And DeNiro comes up to him and he gives him a $100 and he goes, "You got pinched. We all get pinched, but you did it right, you didn't say nothing."

BILL MOYERS: Gonzales said nothing.

JON STEWART: Right. And "you went up there and said nothing. You gave them no legal recourse against you, and you made yourself a smart man, a self-made man look like an utter pinhead on national television, and you did it for me."

On the iconic interview with John McCain:

BILL MOYERS: You know, we watched the McCain interview you did this week. Something was going on in that interview that I have not seen in any other interview you've done with a political figure. What was going on in your head?

JON STEWART: In my head?


JON STEWART: Are his arms long enough to connect with me if he comes across the table?...

JON STEWART: I don't particularly enjoy those types of interviews, because I have a great respect for Senator McCain, and I hate the idea that our conversation became just two people sort of talking over each other, at one point.

But I, also, in my head, thought, I would love to do an interview where it's just sort of de-constructed — the talking points of Iraq — sort of the idea of, is this really the conversation we're having about this war? That if we don't defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, they'll follow us home? That to support the troops means not to question that the surge could work. That, what we're really seeing in Iraq is not a terrible war, but in fact, just the media's portrayal of it. So, I wanted to just go through-- like, is this really the conversation that we're going other be having about something as significant as this war?

On the devolution of American politics:

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't we having that conversation? Well, that's a very good point, Why is the country not having this conversation, the kind of conversation that requires the politicians who are responsible for the war to be specific to the concerns of the American people. I mean, they do come out and a kind of gauze goes up.

JON STEWART: Because I don't think politics is any longer about a conversation with the country. It's about figuring out how to get to do what you want. The best way to sell the product that you want to put out there, but not necessarily for the products on you know, it-- it's sort of like, when a dishwashing soap you know, they want to make a big splash, so they decide to have more lemon, as though people are gonna be like, "That has been the problem with my dishes! Not enough lemon scent!"

On our lack of shared sacrifice and why there will be no draft:

JON STEWART: It's very hard to feel the difficulties that the military goes through. It's very hard to feel the difficulties of military families, unless you're in that environment. And sometimes you have to force yourself to try and put yourself in other people's sort of shoes and environment to get the sense of that.

JON STEWART: You know, one of the things that I do think government counts on is that people are busy. And it's very difficult to mobilize a busy and relatively affluent country, unless it's over really crucial-- you know, foundational issues. That come sort of sort of a tipping point.


JON STEWART: But war that hasn't affected us here, in the way that you would imagine a five-year war would affect a country. I think that's why they're so really — here's the disconnect. It's sort of this odd and I've always had this problem with the rationality of it. That the President says, "We are in the fight for a way of life. This is the greatest battle of our generation, and of the generations to come. "And, so what I'm going to do is you know, Iraq has to be won, or our way of life ends, and our children and our children's children all suffer. So, what I'm gonna do is send 10,000 more troops to Baghdad."

So, there's a disconnect there between — you're telling me this is fight of our generation, and you're going to increase troops by 10 percent. And that's gonna do it. I'm sure what he would like to do is send 400,000 more troops there, but he can't, because he doesn't have them. And the way to get that would be to institute a draft. And the minute you do that, suddenly the country's not so damn busy anymore. And then they really fight back, and then the whole thing falls apart. So, they have a really delicate balance to walk between keeping us relatively fearful, but not so fearful that we stop what we're doing and really examine how it is that they've been waging this.

On his role in the political conversation:

JON STEWART: I don't consider myself a serious and social political critic.

BILL MOYERS: But I do. And I'm your audience.

As do I, Bill. As do I.

Equal Pay Day: The Numbers Are In

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

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They're not so good. Women are still earning less than men, according to a newly released study from the American Association of University Women.

Analyzing U.S. Department of Education data on 19,000 men and women, Hill's team found that one year out of college, women in 1994 earned 80 percent of what their male counterparts made. By 2003, a decade after graduation, they had fallen further behind, to 69 percent of men's incomes.

While some of the gap is accounted for by career choice variations and the demands of motherhood, even women who make the same choices men make throughout the course of their careers earn less.

Controlling for the number of hours worked, parenthood and other factors, college-educated women still earned 12 percent less than their male peers, according to the report, suggesting that "the effects of gender discrimination are cumulative."

Even women who graduate with the same majors and go into the same general field as their male counterparts earn less.

The recent graduate numbers includes an apples-to-apples comparison of full-time workers who majored in the same subject, and the discrepancies are jarring. One year after graduation, female business majors are earning 81% of what male business majors earn. Among biology majors, women get paid only 75% as much as men. Even in traditionally male-dominated fields, in which women are theoretically sought after for diversity's sake, women still earn less than men. One year after graduation, female engineers make 95% of what male engineering majors do, and women who majored in math earn only 76% of what their male counterparts earn.

Ironically, women do better in school.

Women outperformed men academically, and their grade point averages were higher in every major.

Rush Limbaugh's War Against Good Taste

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A week ago Rush Limbaugh launched into a tirade against the "Stalinist" Media Matters. The reason: In the wake of the Don Imus scandal, Media Matters had dared to point out that Limbaugh had an equally ignoble history of sexism and race-baiting. In a flurry of outrageous statements, Limbaugh dropped this little gem.

I'm not going to let the Democrat Party or the left or some lackey watchdog group or a couple of race hustlers dictate my speech. They don't get to use the power of government to silence conservatives, which is their real purpose.

No wonder Limbaugh was feeling a little nervous. Public opinion is turning sharply against his brand of humor; his stock in trade. With the political movement he helped define in its embarrassing downward arc, what does he have left?

As per a Town Called Dobson, Limbaugh threw caution to the wind and let fly with an exercise in bad taste called "Barack the Magic Negro," sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon" by Al Sharpton impersonator Paul Shanklin. In it Limbaugh and his cohorts revel in the divisions in the black community over Obama's supposed lack of adequate blackness. For good measure, they throw in images of Obama dressed as a Klansman and "real black" man Snoop Dog's mug shot. Get it? "Real black men" go to jail. It gets worse from there. Enjoy!

Of Trump And Class Warfare

Monday, April 23, 2007

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I've never watched "The Apprentice." Don't think I ever will either.

But you don't want to think about society's castoffs and losers, do you? No way! It's bad enough just glimpsing them on the street or smelling them in the corner store when you're in the middle of some really important gourmet-ice-cream-related errand.

The ambitious young yuppies on NBC's "The Apprentice" can totally relate! When asked to create a 60-second commercial for Renuzit Super Odor Neutralizer, Frank and Nicole made a super-funny commercial about a mom whose son is in the hospital right next to a smelly homeless guy! Ewww! As the camera rolls, the son's cute little button nose wrinkles in disgust and he gestures at the guy in the next bed. Like most proud citizens of your first-world nations of choice, Junior's pristine nose was revolting at the merest unwanted whiff of something that didn't smell completely citrusy or shower-fresh. Mommy took a moment to grimace at the stench emitted by the bum (Haw haw haw! The sweet-smelling, creative-minded yuppies in the room laughed and laughed!), then she helpfully whipped out her bottle of delicious-smelling chemicals and sprayed it in the air 50 or 60 times. And just like that, the middle-class mom saved her innocent son's virgin nose from the nasty stank of an under-bathed ne'er-do-well! Hurray!

Yeah. Poor people are funny. And just think. We'll have so many more opportunities to laugh at them in the coming years.

This Is Your Brain On Iraq

Saturday, April 21, 2007

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Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Cube Head

I could feel a huge concussion wave,
and then I couldn’t hear anything.

I told my sergeants my ears were hurting

and that I felt really weird.

My vision was acting all strange.

-- Spc. Paul Thurman

Paul Thurman was not supposed to be deployed. His brain had been damaged before he even left Ft. Bragg; a training accident in which a log was dropped on his head. Brain scans showed evidence of lesions. Yet, inexplicably, he was sent to Iraq. There he sustained a second head trauma; another training accident. An IED simulator went off three feet from his head.

Soon he was having dizzy spells, was losing his balance and couldn’t sleep.

His company sent him to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany, where the doctors, he said, told him he shouldn’t have been deployed to Iraq. They forwarded him on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he said he spent “eight hours with the USO ladies eating cookies” before being packed off to Fort Carson. He said he was not examined while at Walter Reed.

Since the injuries, Thurman said he blacks out, has seizures that last up to 40 minutes, has short-term memory loss and maintains a constant headache. Once, in front of his Army lawyer, he started throwing up and having a seizure, he said.

But Thurman's Kafkaesque journey through the Army system continues. Instead of proper treatment, he has received disciplinary actions for problems resulting from his injury; an Article 15 for leaving a formation to take anti-seizure medication and a bad counseling statement for refusing to attend an 80 hour driving course. His medical file says he cannot drive. Today he is hoping for a court martial hearing so that his story can be heard farther up the chain of command.

Brain trauma is the signature injury of the Iraq war. As increasingly elaborate body armour protects the torso, and even the limbs, the brain is still vulnerable to shock waves that helmets cannot deter.

For the first time, the U.S. military is treating more head injuries than chest or abdominal wounds, and it is ill-equipped to do so. According to a July 2005 estimate from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq who don't immediately return to duty have traumatic brain injuries.

Here's why IEDS carry such hidden danger. The detonation of any powerful explosive generates a blast wave of high pressure that spreads out at 1,600 feet per second from the point of explosion and travels hundreds of yards. The lethal blast wave is a two-part assault that rattles the brain against the skull. The initial shock wave of very high pressure is followed closely by a huge volume of displaced air flooding back into the area, again under high pressure. No helmet or armor can defend against such a massive wave front.

It is these sudden and extreme differences in pressures — routinely 1,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure — that lead to significant neurological injury. Blast waves cause severe concussions, resulting in loss of consciousness and obvious neurological deficits such as blindness, deafness and mental retardation. Blast waves causing traumatic brain injuries can leave a 19-year-old who could easily run a six-minute mile unable to stand or even to think.

Referred to as "the silent injury," in many cases the damage caused by concussive waves is not immediately apparent. And these "closed-head" injuries are harder to treat than even those commonly suffered by motorcyclists.

Traumatic brain injuries from Iraq are different, said P. Steven Macedo, a neurologist and former doctor at the Veterans Administration. Concussions from motorcycle accidents injure the brain by stretching or tearing it, he said. But in Iraq, something else is going on.

"When the sound wave moves through the brain, it seems to cause little gas bubbles to form," Macedo said. "When they pop, it leaves a cavity. So you are littering people's brains with these little holes."

Indeed it appears that even those troops who are not at close proximity to IED blasts can be affected. It is estimated that one third of our combatants may be suffering brain injuries, many who don't even know that damage has occurred. This has prompted the VA to start screening all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who enroll. That will still leave roughly two thirds unexamined, as most never apply for veteran's health benefits. More tragic, the Pentagon has demonstrated far less vigilance than the VA in addressing these pernicious injuries.

What's baffling is the Pentagon's failure to work with Congress to provide a steady stream of funding for research on traumatic brain injuries. Meanwhile, the high-profile firings of top commanders at Walter Reed have shed light on the woefully inadequate treatment for troops. In these circumstances, soldiers face a struggle to get the long-term rehabilitation necessary for treatment of a traumatic brain injury. At Walter Reed, Macedo said, doctors have chosen to medicate most brain-injured patients, even though cognitive rehabilitation, including brain teasers and memory exercises, seems to hold the most promise for dealing with the disorder.

In fact, last summer the Pentagon reacted to the startling numbers of brain injuries by cutting it's funding request for treatment and research of the problem in half; from $14 million to $7 million.

That maneuver seems consistent with a larger agenda of minimizing treatment funds to troops across the board. As reported by NPR, troop disabilities are being pencil-whipped down to nothing. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Parker USA (Ret.) found that the Pentagon is now providing disability payments to fewer veterans than they were before the war.

Parker started digging through Pentagon data, and the numbers he found shocked him. He learned that the Pentagon is giving fewer veterans disability benefits today than it was before the Iraq war — despite the fact that thousands of soldiers are leaving the military with serious injuries.

"It went from 102,000 and change in 2001... and now it's down to 89,500," says Parker. "It's counterintuitive. Why are the number of disability retirees shrinking during wartime?"

One of the Pentagon's disappearing tricks is assigning injured veterans drastically lower disability ratings than their injuries demand. Tim Ngo who suffered a traumatic brain injury was rated by the Pentagon as only 10 per cent disabled.

Tim Ngo almost died in a grenade attack in Iraq. He sustained a serious head injury; surgeons had to cut out part of his skull. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he learned to walk and talk again.

When he got back home to Minnesota, he wore a white plastic helmet to protect the thinned-out patches of his skull. People on the street snickered, so Ngo's mother took a black marker and wrote on the helmet: U.S. ARMY, BACK FROM IRAQ. On this much, everyone agrees.

But here is the part that is in dispute: The Army says Tim Ngo is only 10 percent disabled.

"I was hoping I would get at least 50 or 60 or 70 percent," Ngo says. "But they said, 'Yeah, you're only going to get 10 percent'... And I was pretty outraged."

Even a 30 per cent rating would have guaranteed him a monthly check and enrollment in the military's health-care system. As it was he was given a medical discharge and a small severance payment; leaving him adrift, with no coverage, until he had matriculated into the VA system.

Instead, Ngo enrolled with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Typically, there's a waiting period for the VA.

In October, while he was uninsured, Ngo had a seizure, caused by his war injury. He remembers being outside and blacking out; he fell to the ground on the driveway.

"My girlfriend was freaking out because she didn't know what to do," Ngo says. "She didn't know if I was going to die because I had hit the wrong side of my head."

An ambulance took Ngo to the nearest emergency room for treatment. It cost him $10,000. Ngo says that today, the bills for the incident are still unresolved.

Since then, Ngo's injuries have been acknowledged by the VA as so serious that he has been granted 100 per cent disability. In fact, more than half of disabled veterans who transfer into the VA system have their disabilities uprated from 10-20 per cent to over 30 per cent. The Senate is currently investigating concerns that the DOD is simply punting their disabled veterans to the VA to improve their own bottom line.

What we have is a military system near the breaking point. Our troop levels are stretched so thin that we are redeploying injured, even broken, troops, and a chronically underfunded VA is left to clean up the damage. Ironically, the very resources that are keeping more of our troops alive on the battlefield, are returning them to a living hell of inadequate treatment.

These are the war's injured who once would have been the war's dead. And it is the unexpected number of casualties who in a previous medical era would have been fatalities that has sunk the outpatient clinics at Walter Reed and left those in the VA system lost and adrift.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the ratio of wounded service members to fatalities is 16 to 1, if the definition of "wounded" is anyone evacuated from a combat zone. During the Vietnam War, according to the VA, the ratio was 2.6 to 1.

So we are bringing back more of our troops alive but to what kind of life?

Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Vargas was a high school football player. Now, even though he looks fit, he cannot toss the football with his buddies, let alone be part of pickup games with other off-duty Marines.

“I can't catch anything,” he said. “I can't remember any plays."

Vargas, 20, was subjected to innumerable mortar and roadside bomb blasts while patrolling the insurgent stronghold of Hit in the Euphrates River Valley. In mid-January he was shot in the hand and cheek by a sniper and airlifted to Germany and then the United States for treatment.

He has the classic signs of post-concussive injury.

“My thinking has gone down,” he said. “I can't remember what I did this morning. I have trouble putting memory and speaking together. I'm trying to learn to speak as clearly as possible.”

Lance Cpl. Keene Sherburne, 20, who was injured when a bomb exploded under his Humvee in Fallujah, is frustrated at the slow pace of his recovery.

“I can't read,” he said. “I used to love it, but now I hate it. I pick up a snowboard magazine and I get so mad because I don't understand it.”

Addendum: I just noticed this commentary on The Huffington Post from Paul Rieckhoff. It includes an action step, calling for mandatory screening of all troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also, thanks to jimstaro of ePluribus Media who alerted me to yet another deeply affecting article on the ramifications of combat brain injuries.

Riza's Iraq Trip NOT A Boondoggle

Friday, April 20, 2007

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Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

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A Pentagon panel has cleared Paul Wolfowitz in its investigation of his involvement in his girlfriend's Iraq junket.

Paul Wolfowitz, while serving as deputy secretary of defense, personally recommended that his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, be awarded a contract for travel to Iraq in 2003 to advise on setting up a new government, says a previously undisclosed inquiry by the Pentagon's inspector general.

The inquiry, as described by a senior Pentagon official, concluded that there was no wrongdoing in Wolfowitz's role in the hiring of Riza by the Science Applications International Corporation, a Pentagon contractor, because Riza had the expertise required to advise on the role of women in Islamic countries.

The investigators also found that Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, had not exerted improper influence in Riza's hiring. Earlier this week, Science Applications International said an unidentified Defense Department official had directed that she be hired. She had been a World Bank employee for five years at the time.

That Wolfowitz's girlfriend was hired by DOD contractor SAIC to go to Iraq was reported in the New York Times earlier this week.

The Defense Department directed a private contractor in 2003 to hire Shaha Ali Riza, a World Bank employee and the companion of Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense, to spend a month studying issues related to setting up a new government in Iraq, the contractor said Monday.

The contractor, Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, said that it had been directed to hire Ms. Riza by the office of the under secretary for policy. The head of that office at the time was Douglas J. Feith, who reported to Mr. Wolfowitz.

After her trip to Iraq, Ms. Riza briefed members of the executive board of the World Bank on efforts to rebuild after the American invasion and specifically on the status of Iraqi women, according to Ms. Riza’s supervisor at the time.

As was the fact that the assignment took her well outside of her World Bank job's purview.

It was not clear why the Pentagon specifically asked for Ms. Riza to travel to Iraq. At the time, however, the World Bank did not have a relationship with Iraq. Normal bank rules do not allow the bank to provide economic assistance to an area under military occupation.

Ms. Riza’s trip raised concerns among some bank officials, who said they did not know under whose auspices she had traveled to Iraq at a time when it was against bank policy for its officials to go there.

Bank officials said, however, that after the ouster of Mr. Hussein, the Bush administration tried to get the bank to help assist in the redevelopment of Iraq and that it was trying to involve the United Nations in the occupation to provide a rationale for the bank’s assistance.

The irony is just a tad hard to miss. This maneuver issued from the same neoconservative cabal that moved heaven and earth to destroy Ambassador Paul Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson because of supposed nepotism. But then, Wilson's findings in Niger discredited a key element in their plan for war in Iraq.

Time magazine's Matthew Cooper has written that he was told by Karl Rove on July 11 "don't get too far out on Wilson" because information was going to be declassified soon that would cast doubt on Wilson's mission and findings. Cooper also wrote that Rove told him that Wilson's wife worked for the agency on weapons of mass destruction and that "she was responsible for sending Wilson."

This Washington Post reporter spoke the next day to an administration official, who talked on the condition of anonymity, and was told in substance "that the White House had not paid attention to the former ambassador's CIA-sponsored trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction," as reported in an Oct. 14 article.

Of course the nepotistic boondoggle charge was as false as the rest of the case for war.

Over the past months, however, the CIA has maintained that Wilson was chosen for the trip by senior officials in the Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division (CPD) -- not by his wife -- largely because he had handled a similar agency inquiry in Niger in 1999. On that trip, Plame, who worked in that division, had suggested him because he was planning to go there, according to Wilson and the Senate committee report.

The 2002 mission grew out of a request by Vice President Cheney on Feb. 12 for more information about a Defense Intelligence Agency report he had received that day, according to a 2004 report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. An aide to Cheney would later say he did not realize at the time that this request would generate such a trip.

Wilson maintains that his wife was asked that day by one of her bosses to write a memo about his credentials for the mission--after they had selected him. That memo apparently was included in a cable to officials in Africa seeking concurrence with the choice of Wilson, the Senate report said.

So if you're trying to keep up with the logic here, it's pretty simple. Fact finding missions that advance the Administration's aims are good, even if they are recommended by the paramours of those who undertake them. Fact finding missions that disprove the Administration's assertions are bad, even when they come at the behest of officials other than the spouses of those who undertake them. So bad that the White House feels fully justified in assassinating the character of both husband and wife, ruining the wife's career, and undermining the CIA's efforts to track WMD. It comes down to priorities.

Indeed, the White House continues to affirm its support of Mr. Wolfowitz, in spite of nepotistic machinations that have resulted in a massive job promotion and, it appears, the highly unusual action of granting security clearance to a foreign national, who holds no other such classification.

Riza, who is not a U.S. citizen, had to receive a security clearance in order to work at the State Department. Who intervened? It is not unusual to have British or French midlevel officers at the department on exchange programs, but they receive security clearances based on the clearances they already have with their host governments. Granting a foreign national who is detailed from an international organization a security clearance, however, is extraordinary, even unprecedented. So how could this clearance have been granted?

State Department officials familiar with the details of this matter confirmed to me that Shaha Ali Riza was detailed to the State Department and had unescorted access while working for Elizabeth Cheney. Access to the building requires a national security clearance or permanent escort by a person with such a clearance. But the State Department has no record of having issued a national security clearance to Riza.

As of this writing, Wolfowitz still has his World Bank job. That may change as the World Bank's board expands its investigation of Wolfowitz to include the hiring and contracts of his closest advisers. Apparently he's surrounded himself with Bush Administration insiders.

Did I mention that the position Wolfowitz finagled for his lady love reports to the Vice President's daughter? I've said it before. I'll say it again. It's the hypocrisy, stupid.

I Love the Smell of a McCain Meltdown in the Morning

Thursday, April 19, 2007

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First he dismisses his gross distortions of the security situation in Baghdad as a bit of "fun." Now he's making up amusing ditties on the potential horrors of a bombing campaign in Iran.

Another man — wondering if an attack on Iran is in the works — wanted to know when America is going to “send an air mail message to Tehran.”
McCain began his answer by changing the words to a popular Beach Boys song.
“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran,” he sang to the tune of Barbara Ann. “Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. That alone should concern us but now they are trying for nuclear capabilities. I totally support the President when he says we will not allow Iran to destroy Israel.”
He stopped short of answering the actual question and did not say if he supports an invasion of Iran.

Yeah. War's funny.

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours.

When it was all over, I walked up.

We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body.

The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill.

Smelled like... victory. Someday this war's gonna end...

-- Apocalypse Now

Oh Bloody Hell

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

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The Supreme Court Bush has built has now proclaimed "partial birth" abortion illegal.

A divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld a nationwide ban on ``partial birth'' abortion, marking a shift on the issue and underscoring the impact of President George W. Bush's two high court appointments.

The justices, voting 5-4, said the 2003 law is constitutional even though there is no exception for cases posing a risk to the mother's health. The court also rejected claims that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is so vaguely worded it would force doctors to forgo a commonly used, constitutionally protected abortion technique for fear of prosecution.

``The government has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life,'' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

But not women's lives, apparently. That last statement sure sounds to me like a harbinger of horrors to come.

Sasha has collected some of the salient bits from Justice Ginsburg's decent. My favorite parts:

Because of women's fragile emotional state and because of the "bond of love the mother has for her child," the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. . . Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

We're also prone to "hysteria" you know. Thank goodness there are such big strong men to protect us from our health care.

Throughout, the opinion refers to obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons who perform abortions not by the titles of their medical specialties, but by the pejorative label "abortion doctor."

Well I'm glad they entered into their deliberations with such seriousness and lack of bias. Oy. We are in trouble.

Markos Issues Non-Apology Apology

Sunday, April 15, 2007

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But first let me quote Booman's post from yesterday, addressing the urgent need for Markos to make an apology.

And here is my conclusion. Markos has pissed off so many people, and pissed them off so much, that there is no more benefit of the doubt left for him. I seriously doubt that these reactions would be anywhere near as strong if the dismissive statements had been made by any other blogger on the left.

My inclination was to assume he had no idea that Kathy Sierra experienced significantly more trauma than mere run of the mill death threats. I assumed that he was tired, uninformed, and annoyed with yet another call for blogger ethics. I assumed that he did the equivalent of blogging while drunk. I did not assume that he was picking on her because she was a woman. I did not assume that he was dismissing what really happened to her because it did not appear that he knew what really happened to her. But there are two things that are more important than the possibility that he was tired and his post was unintentionally assholeish.

First, he hasn't apologized or clarified his position. I know he is busy with his children and his wife, but he is getting a lot of criticism and he surely knows that people (including some of his front-pagers) are very upset about what he wrote. His continued silence will eventually force me to abandon any benefit of the doubt I was willing to grant him.

Somehow, I don't think anything less than a full-throated, I acknowledge the grievousness of my omission and ignorance, type of apology will really quell the outrage Booman is referring to. I don't think this will cut it.

I don't disagree with anything Lindsey wrote. I disagreed with using a bloggers threats as an excuse to foist upon us all a "Blogger Code of Conduct".

That's what I was saying. 1) There are assholes that will 2) email stupid shit to any public figure (which includes bloggers, but 3) that won't be stopped by any blogger code of conduct.

You see, stupid asshole psycho threatening emailers don't care about codes of conduct. That's all.

Leave us say it's not going to cut for me. I can't help but notice, and not for the first time, that Markos and Bush have way too much in common. Mostly it's the autocratic, dictatorial thing. But, in this case, I refer to his total inability to admit mistakes; glaring, odious, epically poorly judged, mistakes.

Terrance has an interesting take on this that I respect, even though I completely disagree.

First, the “code of conduct” he refers to isn’t being “foisted” on anyone. It’s entirely voluntary. At last count, there are 76.4 million blogs out there. There’s little chance of anything being successfully “foisted” on anyone, let alone being enforced. (By what authority?) Kos, and any other blogger can simply ignore it. (And Kos might have done well to do so in the first place.)

Second, nobody’s said that “stupid assholes” are going to stop making threats because of a code of conduct.

Assholes tend not to follow any code of conduct, and deeply resent any suggestion or expectation that they should. They tend to reject any notion responsibility to or for anyone but themselves.

The recommended code of conduct here doesn’t apply to the assholes making the threats. It applies to those of us who (a) operate blogs and (b) chose to follow the suggested guidelines. . . .

In all fairness, I can understand why this might be cause for concern for a blogger of Kos’ status. After all, how many comments does his site get on any given day, counting front page posts and member diaries? Far too many for Kos to keep up with, and probably too many even for his “trusted users” or others with administrative capabilities to keep up with. The idea of taking responsibility for comments on a blog that size, given the possibility that some like the ones Kathy received might escape notice and actually result in someone getting hurt or killed would be enough to keep anyone up at night.

So why do I disagree with this? For starters, as I said, I actually agree with Markos that the Code of Conduct is wrong-headed. It's a very slippery slope to start drafting apologia for censorship of content we don't like. Obviously death threats -- which are illegal -- should be deleted, as should people's addresses and phone numbers, obvious libel, etc. My problem with this idea is that it justifies the censoring of ideas and personalities. As I've said many times, no one has a first amendment right to publish anything on another person's blog, but I have always aimed to adhere to the spirit, if not the letter of the law. I believe in a marketplace of ideas and that includes protecting the right of others to say bonehead shit. That said, I think the blog administrator that allowed pics of Kathy Sierra with a noose around her neck to remain is an idiot. Death threats! Illegal! Not protected! Do we not know this?

But the major reason I disagree with Terrance, in this instance, is that Markos's problem has never been a laxity in enforcing speech restrictions on his site.

As caliberal said the other day:

I left dailykos because of the misogynistic and sexist statements made to women, I also left because the man in charge never said one word about it, he banned those with conspiracy theories but didn't deem it a bannable offense to say hateful, vitriolic things to women.

No, thought policing has never been in short supply on Daily Kos. It's just that misogynistic vitriol is not one of the numerous thought crimes for which a kossack may be banished to cyberia.

If Markos's contempt for all things feminist wasn't apparent when he referred to a solid chunk of his membership as the "sanctimonious women's studies set," his utter inability to comprehend and articulate why a woman getting graphic rape/mutilation/murder threats is hideously serious, should really clear up any remaining misconceptions.

But there are those who are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Not surprisingly one is his former enforcer, the Cuban Heel. And skippy explains it all to you:

we think big tent armando needs to attend a few 12 step meetings learn the meaning of the word enabler. because then he might not be so quick to defend markos as "merely clueless" rather than outright "misogynistic.". . .

however, in this case, he is making the same mistake that most humans with penises between their legs make in their approach to active misogyny, and that is that, as eldridge cleaver said about rascism, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

sorry, bta, but being clueless about misogyny, especially in the 21st century america, is not a valid, or even believable, excuse. to say, "hey, the guy wasn't the one who punched the broad in the face, he was just watching," is not a defense that will hold up under scrutiny.

armando would have us believe that markos does not hate women. replace the concept of women with the concept of black people in that world view, and you get the old canard, "some of my best friends are negros."

just as there is such a thing as lying by omission, there is such a thing as bigoty by inaction. and in something as horrific as a woman getting photoshop-quality graphic death and rape threats anonymously, such firmly-stated inaction can be legitimately viewed by some (read: human beings with vaginas) as beyond the pale.

you don't have to lynch negros to be a racist, you just have to sit by as institutionalized racism destroys entire communities.

and you don't have to rape to be a misogynist, you can just as easily poo-poo someone's legitimate fears of rape.

Stay Tuned

Comments: (1)

As per Booman something big is percolating in the blogosphere. He dropped this little tidbit in a thread on the aformentioned Markos/Kathy Sierra maelstrom. Frontpager Steven D called on A-list bloggers to take a stand on Markos's stunning tone-deafness on the abuse Kathy Sierra endured. According to Booman, MyDD has enough trouble brewing. Hmmm....

that whole scene is about to blow...they don't need this scandal.
by BooMan on Sun Apr 15th, 2007 at 02:27:54 AM EST
Well, the only reason MyDD might face problems is if the Edwards/Obama flame wars continue to heat up over there. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure what you may be referencing...
by PsiFighter37 on Sun Apr 15th, 2007 at 02:31:06 AM EST

Stay tuned.
by BooMan on Sun Apr 15th, 2007 at 02:34:08 AM EST

Maybe related. Maybe not. Certainly related in the broader sense, Maryscott dropped some hints the other day about an interview with Mother Jones.

The interview: funny, I hadn't expected such an in-depth conversation. Usually when I'm asked for "telephone interviews," the conversations last less than an hour, and I'm rarely quoted in the resulting pieces. An exception is a long-awaited/delayed piece by Alex Koppelman (that link is to a brief piece he wrote about She Whose Name I Dare Mention All I Wish, But Do Not Wish) for He had planned its publishing in early March, but when I emailed asking if I'd missed it, he responded (raw-thah mysteriously, I thought) that Salon was still "waiting for something to happen." I decided not to ask what that something is, since A) he's probably constrained from telling me anyway and B) I am too overwhelmed by real life to care much, to be perfectly blunt.

Aaaaanyway. GOD, I can go on. Where was I? Oh. Mother Jones. Telephone interview. Yeah. I'm not gonna blow the guy's story; suffice to say we covered a wide-range of topics, mostly about blogging. He'd read my Something Is Rotten in Blogmark from last summer and it spoke to a lot of what he is writing about. So, there. I blew it anyway. I expect a VERY interesting article, to put it mildly. And if he quotes me heavily enough, I may just find myself, for once and all, tossed out of Blogtopia (y! sctp!) and renamed Princess of Fucking Darkness by the Powers That Be.

Something IS rotten in Blogmark. A lot of us know it and have been writing about it for some time. Could it be that a lot more people are about to find out just how rotten it is?

Markos Said WHAT?!!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Comments: (4)

I've been taking it very easy the last couple of days trying to kick this cold once and for all. Imagine my horror upon awakening from my four hour nap this afternoon, to read on My Left Wing that Markos has weighed in from the orange pulpit on the Kathy Sierra firestorm, and pronounced it much ado about nothing.

I'm in and out of commission, so I hadn't heard of this so-called "death threat" thing. So I looked it up.
Prominent blogger Kathy Sierra has called on the blogosphere to combat the culture of abuse online.

It follows a series of death threats which have forced her to cancel a public appearance and suspend her blog.

Ms Sierra described on her blog how she had been subject to a campaign of threats, including a post that featured a picture of her next to a noose.
Look, if you blog, and blog about controversial shit, you'll get idiotic emails. Most of the time, said "death threats" don't even exist -- evidenced by the fact that the crying bloggers and journalists always fail to produce said "death threats".

I don't know what's worse. Markos's ignorance about women's issues, his laziness, or his pseudo-British punctuation. He goes on to compare the campaign of hate waged against Sierra with an ambi-directional rant against liberals he received... and strangely what sounds like some threats he kinda shoulda reported because they were leveled at his children.

So according to Markos, the answer for women like Sierra who receive death and rape threats is, hey, toughen up. Don't be so thin-skinned.

Believe it or not, I agree with Markos's broader point. I think the Code of Conduct for bloggers is a poor if well-intended idea. I honestly think it trivializes what happened to Sierra to cast it as a case of bad manners. No one thinks writing death threats along the lines of "fuck off you boring slut... i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob," publishing her home address, and photoshopping pictures of her with a noose around her neck, are protected speech. They're actually a form of assault and that's why the authorities are involved.

The conversation that needs to happen on the web is not about how we can be more civil and restrained in our verbiage. I've met some very subtle, articulate misogynists in my life. As in most cases where free speech is involved, I think the answer is more dialog, rather than restricting the parameters of debate. The discussion we need to have is about why it is that there is no corner of the world where women can go and not be reduced to our body parts, our sexual exploitability, and our physical vulnerability.

It's too bad Markos drove off so much of the "sanctimonious women's studies set" from his site. Because it looks like it's going to be up to those of us who have read Steinem, Atwood, Bunch, et al., to explain why the terror campaign endured by Kathy Sierra strikes such a delicate nerve. It comes down to fear. Not irrational fear. Fear of the kind Gavin DeBecker endorses women to heed in his book "The Gift of Fear." It's the ever present fear of predators. It is exactly that fear that Sierra's verbal attackers were counting on. Whether or not there is any chance of this escalating to a physical confrontation -- and that is a legitimate concern -- they know full well that a good way to silence a woman is to make her afraid to leave her house. And that is exactly what happened. Not because she's too thin-skinned, but because she came face to face with every woman's worst nightmare.

A woman's worst nightmare? That's pretty easy. Novelist Margaret Atwood writes that when she asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women, he answered, "They are afraid women will laugh at them." When she asked a group of women why they feel threatened by men, they said, "We're afraid of being killed."

I you think, gentle reader, that this famous anecdote is not indicative a greater social phenomenon, read the article I quoted. That would be a good start. Then read Chris Clarke's fantastic response to Kos. Says Clarke:

If no woman in your life has ever talked to you about how she lives her life with an undercurrent of fear of men, consider the possibility that it may be because she sees you as one of those men she cannot really trust.

In closing, I think The Fat Lady Sings put it best on My Left Wing:

Every man walking down the street towards you is a possible attacker - and you size him up as such. What is he capable of? How can I escape? Can I use my purse as a weapon? It's automatic - something you just do if you're female. Why do you think every woman goes out to her car carrying her keys wrapped through her fingers as a weapon? To put some mans eye out should he attack. And before some of you pooh-pooh this as unnecessary or extreme - try asking the women in your life what they think. You will find they walk through life in permanent paramilitary mode. We always have to be prepared; and those of us who are survivors of rape look upon men with a more jaundiced eye than most. So Markos should shut the fuck up about Kathy Sierra. He has no idea what she's going through - none at all.

That's the Way the Pie Chart Crumbles

Thursday, April 12, 2007

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In case you missed it -- I did -- Harold Meyerson's column in yesterday's Washington Post is must reading for anyone concerned with our disappearing middle class. Actually the news is worse than that. Income is down for 90% of Americans. The wealthiest 1%, however, is doing swimmingly.

Circuit City may replace Wal-Mart as the emblem for all that is wrong with an economy evangelized by free market fundamentalists. Fuck Horatio Alger. Work hard and climb the ladder at Circuit City and your reward is getting knocked off the ladder.

On March 28, Circuit City announced that it was laying off 3,400 of its salesclerks. Not because they had poor performance records, mind you: Their performance was utterly beside the point. They were shown the door, said the chain, simply because they were the highest-salaried salesclerks that Circuit City employed.

Their positions were not eliminated. Rather, the store announced that it would hire their replacements at the normal starting salary.

There was a time when such cynical corporate maneuvers would have shocked me, but when I first read about that last week, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and shake my head in disgust. Then I told my husband who shrugged his shoulders and shook his head in disgust.

Meyerson succinctly articulates what is ailing the average American worker; union busting.

What all this amounts to is a triumph of corporate and financial power, and of the conservative economics that shores it up. Once upon a time, American prosperity actually benefited Americans. From 1947 through 1973, productivity in the U.S. rose by 104 percent, and median family income rose by an identical 104 percent. Those were also the only years of real union power in the United States, years in which one-quarter of the workforce, and in some years one-third, was unionized. Apparently, this level of worker power and mass prosperity proved intolerable to our financial elite and their political flunkies.

Since the '70s, American business has generally done its damnedest to keep its workers down. Employers routinely opted to pay the negligible penalties for violating the National Labor Relations Act rather than permit its employees to join unions. In 1969, according the National Labor Relations Board, the number of employees who'd suffered illegal retaliation for exercising their right to join or maintain a union was just over 6,000; by 2005, that number had risen to 31,358. According to a study out this January from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, fully one in five activists on unionization campaigns are illegally fired. And as worker power declines, so do living standards. Secure retirement pensions are history; employer-provided health benefits are going fast.

Meyerson's hope is that the Senate will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. So call your Senators... and read Meyerson.

Press Gives Head -- Curmudgette Has Head Cold

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

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The latter is really apropos of nothing. But I appear to have a fife and drum corps living in my sinuses and I feel like complaining.

Remember Media Whores Online? Gone but not forgotten, it still ranks as one of my favorite political sites of all time. I think Katrina VandenHeuvel was giving them a little high five on the "Colbert Report," when she said, and I quote, "We [The Nation] never lost our head, while too much of the media gave head."

For a view from within the red light district, read Gary Kamiya's "Iraq: Why the media failed" in Salon. Writes Kamiya:

It's no secret that the period of time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq represents one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media. Every branch of the media failed, from daily newspapers, magazines and Web sites to television networks, cable channels and radio. I'm not going to go into chapter and verse about the media's specific failures, its credulousness about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds and failure to make clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 -- they're too well known to repeat. In any case, the real failing was not in any one area; it was across the board. Bush administration lies and distortions went unchallenged, or were actively promoted. Fundamental and problematic assumptions about terrorism and the "war on terror" were rarely debated or even discussed. Vital historical context was almost never provided. And it wasn't just a failure of analysis. With some honorable exceptions, good old-fashioned reporting was also absent.

Like most of the apologia to issue from members of the fourth estate, it puts a lot of the blame for the media's credulity and lack of vigilance on 9/11. In short, it does not wholly satisfy. Worthwhile reading, none the less.

I wish I could get homemade chicken soup delivered.

Hillary Cuts Off Nose -- Spites Face

Monday, April 09, 2007

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There have been rumors circulating for months that Hillary has been trying to win the money primary by means of extortion. We've all heard the tales of her threats to big money donors that she wants them to lard up her campaign and only her campaign. Now comes news that her strong arm tactics have backfired.

Under intense pressure from the Clinton team to pick sides, [Leonore] Blitz—who bundled more than $1 million for John Kerry in 2004—felt deeply conflicted. Clinton operatives have warned donors not to contribute to other campaigns, and put a price on disloyalty: early supporters will be valued and latecomers scorned. But now Blitz is coming out of the shadows, ready to test the rules. "I have been a lifelong advocate of women and minorities' participating and running for political office," she told NEWSWEEK last week. "Therefore, I'm supporting both Clinton and Obama."

Well I'm sure that'll be fine with Hillary, because when she told people it was her way or the highway, she didn't really mean it.

The Clinton campaign denies that it has strong-armed anyone, saying the warnings were made in jest.

Oh that Hil. Such a cut-up. Always with the teasing and the joking. I'm sure she had them in stitches over at the Jon Tasini campaign, when they found they were shut out of the primary debate by Clinton donor TimeWarner.

But seriously folks, Hillary understands what campaigns are about. Money. Who's got it and who wants to use it to gain access to the halls of power. She just didn't expect that some high rollers would consider Obama the better bet.

What happened to the Clinton juggernaut? The answer lies partly in her go-for-broke strategy. There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and for some fund-raisers the Clinton team crossed it. "They clearly communicated a message that this candidacy is inevitable because we'll have more experienced consultants, more political insiders, more money and more of every resource that is vital to being nominated," says a prominent New York donor who joined the Obama camp but declined to be named to protect friendships with Clinton supporters. "Therefore, you are politically stupid if you don't get it, if you can't add."

Big donors to any campaign are keenly interested in what their money gets them. [Emphasis Added] Newcomers to Clinton's orbit don't expect to have much influence or access. So they have fewer reasons to call on wealthy friends for more cash. "That tent seemed pretty much full," says Howard Gutman, a D.C. lawyer who was part of the small team that raised $10 million for Mark Warner's aborted presidential effort. Several campaigns courted Gutman, but he chose Obama over Clinton. "I could raise money from now to eternity and not really be on the radar screen. And the Obama camp seemed to offer more upside in terms of personal fun for the next year and change for the country for the future."


Why "Support the Troops" No Longer Works

Friday, April 06, 2007

Comments: (7)

Columbia with Flag

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

The American Prospect sounds the death knell for the slogan that two Bush Administrations have used to whip an ambivalent public into line behind their oil wars. "Support the Troops." I hated the phrase during Gulf War I and I hate it now. I know when I'm being manipulated. As Bush the Elder set out to lick the "Vietnam syndrome," he tweaked a public made guilty by urban legends about returning veterans spat upon by anti-war protesters. My neighborhood, then, was a sea of flags and yellow ribbons. How can you protest the war? You have to support the troops. I support them so much I want to bring them home, I'd say, but there is no reasoning with the mindlessly jingoistic.

In our fifth year of Operation Endless Bloody Occupation, the phrase has been stripped of its utility. As our troops sustain back to back deployments. As they return with broken bodies and broken minds, to rat infested hospitals and a failing VA, any assertion from the Administration that those who want the bloodletting to stop are the one's who fail them seems like crude burlesque.

So the American Prospect informs us, as it reports that deep in red America, Democratic Senator John Tester is facing no serious resistance to his oppositional stance on the war and his vote for the supplemental bill that included a timetable for withdrawal.

Indeed, the only direct mention of the vote came from a young Army wife, who thanked Tester for "supporting the troops by voting for deadlines to bring them home." Heather Scharre is 28. She's married to 27-year-old Sergeant Paul Scharre, who served three tours in Afghanistan while on active duty, then left the Army only to find himself involuntarily recalled last September. He is now on his way to Iraq. "We've been told to expect 14 to 16 months," Heather said of her husband's deployment.

Scharre asked Tester, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to make sure that returning Iraq veterans have access to counseling, including couples and marriage counseling. "We were used to four-month deployments," Scharre said. The adjustments after those tours were difficult enough; she could only imagine what re-entry into everyday life will be like after a tour of 14 or 16 months.

"I think we been hearing from some people, like the president and the vice-president, that if you don't support the war, you don't support the troops," said Scharre, "and I feel very strongly that that is not the case."

But the damage done as this idiotic meme crashes to earth is more than the loss of it's use as a rhetorical bludgeon. There is substantial damage to the troops themselves. For having been used as political cover for a corrupt agenda, they are now convenient targets for a public disgusted by this war. Why not? They're not so much human as they are human hyperbole. They ceased to be human beings when they were turned into symbols of mindless nationalism. When they became set dressing for speeches and props for photo ops. Made mute in all matters of political debate by their uniform code, they were, none the less, used as instruments of propaganda for dark political motives. Unable to pick and choose their wars by virtue of signature and oath, they went where they were sent.

As any of my regular readers knows, my husband is one who signed, who swore, who went. So, yes, it pains me when he is called a murderer, an uneducated dupe, a fool. While outrage at the troops themselves for their role in advancing American imperialism is, in my experience, still confined to a small, vocal, minority, it, none the less opens a window into the American psyche. It is only the most extreme example of the shadow projection of a cloistered public, cut off for so long from the direct experience of war.

That we have had no war fought on our soil in our memories, has enabled most Americans to view the horror only through a media aperture. But, unlike the first Gulf War, which looked like nothing so much as a fireworks display, this one "comes into our living rooms" with blood and sinew still attached. Not so easy to ooh and ahh at pictures of the dead children on whom the fireworks fall. But graphic as these images are, they still do not, cannot, capture the experience of the troops on the ground or of the Iraqis who live it daily. We still sit at safe distance, discomfited but naive.

And so we reject it, project it, displace it. Those invested in keeping war "glorious" decry that we see it at all, calling on our media to hide the "graphic" photos in the name of decency; diverting our gaze from coffins and amputees. But at the opposite extreme are those who see the horrors and disown the war itself like a bastard child. At both ends of this sharp polarity is the same disease; the utter failure to take responsibility for what our country has become and for what it has wrought.

We must support our troops. They are keeping America safe.

Fuck the troops. Look what they have done.

Our poor troops do these awful things but they were duped because they are young and poor and had no options.

And all of it, all of it, is denial. Mental tricks to keep unimaginable violence "over there." Ways of keeping a safe distance from the hard reality that war is a fact of life. That every sovereign nation prays for peace but prepares for war. That soldiers the world over are trained to kill, because sometimes killing is necessary. Wars are ugly. People die in them. Many of them horribly. That's true in "just" wars just as it is wars of aggression waged on lies.

But the greatest shame of all; the one that forces us to glorify, to distance, to displace, to rescript, to shun, is that, like it or not, this war is intrinsically linked to our way of life. If we live here, work here, shop here, pay taxes here, we are responsible. If we use petroleum, including plastics, we are most definitely responsible. This war is the dark underbelly of our civilization. It is an imperialist adventure. We are an imperialist nation. Embrace it or protest it, but for pity's sake, own it.

This war is not necessary but it was inevitable. Inevitable in a nation where roughly half the people vote, where politics is a football game, where public schools teach ignorance, and social institutions reinforce learned helplessness. In a nation where slapping magnets on our SUVs is participation in a war effort, but a fraction of the populace fights wars mostly hidden from public view. We have a military to protect our borders. And without them our borders would inevitably be breached. As our empire has grown to encompass corporate agendas that know no boundaries, they protect our "interests." But more than anything, more than anything, they protect our illusions.

"We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." ---George Orwell on a BBC broadcast, April 4, 1942

Are Women Always Wrong?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Comments: (43)

Adam and Eve

Author of "The Feminine Mistake" Leslie Bennetts writes in The Huffington Post:

Everyone knows that authors have to be prepared for negative reviews. What I didn't anticipate was an avalanche of blistering attacks by women who hadn't read my book but couldn't wait to condemn it. Their fury says a great deal about the current debate over women's choices -- all of it alarming.

In the comment thread that follows, hcgorman asks:

Maybe it is the title?

You know hc, I had the exact same thought. And yes, I get that it's a play on "The Feminine Mystique." But maybe a lot of us are just tired of being told that no matter what we do, no matter what we choose, we're always wrong.

There is a lot to recommend this book on the substance. Women who give up gainful employment to raise a family risk a lot. I personally have known a number of women who derailed the career track to focus on childrearing, only to find that in a divorce their lack of earning power left them at a disadvantage in custody battles. Imagine devoting your life to your kids only to find that having done so means you could lose primary custody of them.

Bennetts goes on:

My goal in writing The Feminine Mistake was to provide women with what I saw as one-stop-shopping that would help close this information gap. My goal was to gather into a single neat package all the financial, legal, sociological, psychological, medical, labor-force, child-rearing and other information necessary for them to protect themselves. My reporting revealed that the bad news is just as ominous as I'd feared; so many women are unaware of practical realities that range from crucial changes in the divorce laws to the difficulties of reentering the work force and the penalties they pay for taking a time-out. I devoted two chapters to financial information alone.

What I find unfortunate in Bennetts's approach is not the pragmatism, but the hectoring tone and the conflation of financial remuneration with empowerment. Like many who have reacted to her book, I should disclose that I have not read it as yet. Perhaps having done so, I might feel differently, but nothing I've read so far, including her own words on Huffington Post, makes me optimistic. Nor does it make me want to read it. I can be insulted anywhere and I don't need to shell out $24.95 for the privilege.

Bennetts seems highly focused on women who left their careers because of rescue fantasies.

And yet millions of women continue to be misled by the fairy-tale version of life, in which Prince Charming comes along and takes care of you forever. Our culture programs women to believe that they can depend on a man to support them -- the classic feminine mistake -- and fails to explain how often that alluring promise is betrayed, whether by a change of heart or a heartless fate.

I'm sure those modern-day Cindarellas are out there. I haven't met them.

There are many reasons that women choose to return to homemaking and childrearing. One is the continuing perception that it is better for their children. And in case it slips our minds, there seems no end to the reminders; like this one from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The government-funded, ongoing study of more than 1,000 children found that very young children who spent long hours in day care were more likely to become aggressive and defiant in school, beginning in kindergarten and continuing through sixth grade.

I heard that sound-bite today. It made me feel like I had deja vu. As did reading the more complete coverage, which points out that kids who have quality daycare have better verbal skills and no increase in behavioral problems. (So if you're going to put your kids in daycare, be sure and be wealthy). But here's the kicker:

While that fact is continually highlighted, it is important to note that 83 percent of the children in the study did not display these behaviors. In addition, this is not a scientific study, and there was no evaluation of how many stay-at-home children displayed the same tendencies. [emphasis added]

So why was this even released to the press? This ongoing study has been marred by controversy from the beginning. From a Los Angeles Times story of 2001:

A week after a high-profile study cast a negative light on child care, researchers--including the study's lead statistician--are sharply questioning whether their controversial work has been misrepresented.

As reported last week, the study showed that the more time preschoolers spend in child care, the more likely their teachers were to report behavior problems such as aggression and defiance in kindergarten.

But several academics involved in the study said that its conclusion was overstated and that other important findings never reached the public. In the aftermath, a rift has been exposed among the research team, and questions from other experts have caused the researchers to perform additional analysis before formally publishing their findings.

"I feel we have been extremely irresponsible, and I'm very sorry the results have been presented in this way," said Margaret Burchinal, the lead statistician on the study, funded by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "I'm afraid we have scared parents, especially since most parents in this country [have to work]."

Several of those involved in the project accuse Jay Belsky, a professor at the University of London and one of the lead researchers on the study, of downplaying other important information when he presented the findings at a news conference last week. They accuse him of having an anti-child-care agenda.

Belsky charged that his colleagues are "running from this data like a nuclear bomb went off" because they are committed to putting an approving stamp on child care.

The pattern at that time was the same as we are seeing play out now. An alarm about daycare increasing aggression and the caveats ignored by most news venues. Because, lets face it, the idea that working mothers are bad for kids is part of an established narrative. And when facts and narrative conflict, narrative wins. So many working mothers feel like the trade-offs may be a necessary evil, but an evil none-the-less.

A number of women have embraced the return to "traditional roles." Along comes Bennetts to tell those women, that -- guess what -- wrong again.

Stay-at-home mom Nello had the same reaction that the aforementioned hcgorman and I did. Bad title.

Interesting title, no?
That’s what I thought too. And that is why I read the article that has heretofore been given the award for “Article That Has Upset Nello The Most Since She Doesn’t Know When.”

And I quote:

“I think it’s time to tell women, especially young ones, the truth: The feminine mistake- building a grown-up life around the notion that someone will take care of you- is an outdated idea that could jeopardize your future.”. . .

Why am I upset?
Reason number one: Because I don’t like my life being referred to as a “mistake”.
Hell. Who does?

Reason number two: I wasn’t aware that I was “being taken care of”. I thought that my family was taking care of each.other.
But hey. I’m just a stupid Home Mom. What the hell do I know?

Reason number three: Because this Leslie Bennetts obviously hit one of my fragile nerves. Yeah. That’s right Leslie. I’m not afraid to admit that a part of me is afraid that you could be right. Maybe I did make a mistake...

So, yes, women tend to be a little sensitive to the whole, "you're wrong" thing. But, more importantly, Nello raises what I think is a crucial point. The idea that stay-at-home mothers just want to be taken care of is a canard. Families, whether single or double-income are interdependent units. The "traditional" family structure is at bottom a division of labor. The men worked outside the home. The women worked in it. But, particularly in a highly developed society like ours, work is not considered, well, work, unless it earns a wage and contributes to the GDP. One of the casualties of early feminism -- with its focus on freeing women from codified gender roles -- is an idea that NOW has embraced in more recent years: "Every Mother is a Working Mother."

This is not to say that the idea that money equals value is a trap only for women. I would love to take at face value Bennetts's assertion that working for a living imbues us with a sense of personal empowerment, but that's not been my experience. Too many women and men are living lives of quiet desperation as "wage slaves." I've personally known a number of women who ran back to home and hearth, because the promise of work as freeing and esteem building didn't pan out. What they found, when they snatched that brass ring, was that it turned their fingers green. They had babies and went home because it turned out to be the more fulfilling choice, after all. And wasn't personal fulfillment one of the major goals of the feminist movement?

To hear Bennetts tell it, stay-at-home mothers are not making proactive choices at all. They are passive and indolent.

Thus buffered from harsh realities, stay-at-home mothers can often preserve their illusions for quite a while. But over the long run, neither willful obliviousness nor a double standard that treats them like second-class citizens will save these women from the all-too-real problems I have documented in my book. The facts don't change just because you refuse to look at them.

I hope I'm wrong about this. Maybe the stay-at-home moms will devour the information in The Feminine Mistake and debate my findings in their book clubs. Maybe some of them will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them.

Gosh, Leslie, I can't imagine why you're getting such a negative reaction. You'd expect to be embraced when you tell a bunch of women who thought their lives were very full and rewarding, that they're really being feckless.

There's quite an industry in criticizing women. Many of its voices are female and sound like the mothers and grandmothers who always seemed to be harder on female children than male ones. We're not accomplishing enough. We try to do too much. We're too sexual. We're not attractive enough. We should make our own choices. Our choices are wrong. On and on it goes.

From what I've read so far of Bennetts's work the warnings themselves are sound, like telling women not to walk the streets at night. The world is a far less safe place for women than for men on every level; physically, sexually, economically, emotionally. I guess I've just gotten a little tired of being treated like I'm a fool because no matter what I do I can't adequately protect myself from it.

Chicken-Hawk O'Reilly Cuts Off Colonel

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Comments: (3)

If you can stand the sound of O'Reilly's blather, this clip is worth watching. As a study in cowardice I mean. O'Reilly always makes me think of nothing so much as one of those terrible profs who warns new students that his class is really tough, but if you get a good grade you've really earned something. Then spends the rest of the semester burying students in piles of useless, busy work and grading unfairly. I've had them. I think we've all had them. The ones who think unreasonably difficult equals academically challenging. I was always astounded at how many students bought into the bluster and thought they were actually learning something. And I continue to be astounded at O'Reilly's ratings. Sure he says he's cutting through spin, but all he does is shout down anyone who disagrees with him. In other words, a garden variety bully. And like all bullies, he's really a coward. Not news, but I needed to get it off my chest.

Sadly, I think he's probably quite proud of the abuse he heaped upon Colonel Ann Wright, because he seems to think cutting someone's mic is winning an argument. But anyone with an ounce of analytical skill will recognize that she buried him. And as News Hounds points out, the straw that broke O'Reilly's back was her pointing out that she had actually served in uniform, while he...

It seems the last straw that led to Bill O'Reilly cutting the mic of retired US. Army Colonel Ann Wright on The Factor last night 3/30/07 was her declaration of 29 years of service, and her questioning O'Reilly about how many years he served. This happened as she refused to let him silence her by overtalking, twisting her words and accusing her of blaming America for the Iran-Britain situation going on now. With video.

Wright,who taught the Geneva Conventions to troops at Fort Bragg, might just know what she's talking about, but O'Reilly didn't like the direction of her comments so overtalked with increasing agitation, accusing her of blaming America.