Monday, February 28, 2005

Gwine Up Ta Hebbin, Part 2: What God Wants

Warning: Will probably be offensive to devout Catholics. Such is life. This is more an attempt to explore, rather than deplore.

With the imminent demise of Pope John Paul II, and the constant media coverage thereof, many spiritual -- as opposed to merely religious -- questions arise. Since we have been discussing various wampeters (sacred objects/people) lately anyway, here is an instance where the foma (harmless, comforting untruths) and granfalloons (proud and meaningless associations of people) are in full accompaniment.

For someone only moderately familiar with the customs and rituals of the church, like myself, this is all a bit perplexing. Religious institutions are inherently political, but true spiritualism is the antithesis of that earthly paradigm. So to see quotes like this tend to wobble the mind:

"We are so scared because he has been sick in the past," said Vanessa Animo Bono, 32, a Roman Catholic being treated at Gemelli.

Outside the hospital, law student Francesca Sciauchi brought a bouquet of roses with a message attached from 1,000 classmates who will be graduating Monday. She said the message read: "Get well soon. You are our guide, with your spiritual faith that is a font of knowledge."

Of course, just as a fellow human being, we all wish the pope a speedy recovery. But he is old, and has been quite frail for several years. So the intellectual quandary we see here involves the problematic conditions of worshippers seemingly unprepared for his death, as if they would be completely lost, unable to interpret the meaning and purpose of scripture without their wampeter to do it for them.

Quite simply, I do not understand this track of thought. There is no other way I can put this.

Perhaps you have seen the movie Stigmata. It is a rather run-of-the-mill religiously-based thriller. The main plot is largely irrelevant; the real nut of the film is the church's supposed conspiracy to suppress the Gospel of Saint Thomas.

As it happens, there really is a Gospel of St. Thomas, and there really is a passage which a politically- and financially-motivated religious hierarchy would find fairly problematic [emphasis mine]:

(3) Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: See, the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will go before you; if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.

This Gospel, unlike the four traditional ones, was written contemporaneously with Jesus' life -- that is, rather than the Rashomon-style ex post facto retelling of the other four, Thomas can be taken as more of a direct link to what Jesus actually said.

And again, given that the vast majority of the history of the church is one of fear, persecution, superstition, and above all, guilt and shame, we can see just why the notion of plainly laying out before the worshipper that the kingdom of God is all around them, rather than exclusively within the ornate walls of cathedrals, would be antithetical to such a power structure.

Real faith needs, by definition, to be contemplative and self-reflective. The proprietary notion of trading heavenly favors on celestial brownie points does not encourage good, but rather merely discourages bad. If you know that you just have to say a few dozen Hail Marys and Our Fathers for [pick a sin], human nature is such that you weigh the offense against the putative punishment. If you think your slate is automatically wiped clean by rote intonation as prescribed at confession, there is less motivation to search deep within your character and figure out why you did what you did in the first place.

One of the most offensive practices of the church is indulgence. This is the practice of allowing wealthier people to buy their way out of things, especially failed marriages. Thus Michael Kennedy, the late babysitter-banger, was allowed to have his marriage annulled, even though he already had two children. This is indefensible. Other famous annulments have been granted for people like Rudolph Giuliani (from his cousin, no less), and John Kerry. It is one thing to grant an annulment to a short, childless marriage; it is quite another to allow wealthy politicians a pass on long-time relationships with multiple (in some cases grown) children, merely to retain some sort of credibility with the devout components of their constituency.

This is a base cynicism all the way around, and does not withstand any level of honest scrutiny. It is merely a none-too-subtle reminder that their are different sets of rules and principles, based on one's place in the socio-political strata.

Another enormously offensive practice that the church has gotten away with for years is the molestation of children, primarily altar boys, by priests, as well as the church practice of merely transferring these animals to other parishes when they were caught. Finally the chickens are starting to come home to roost, but many of the cases have passed the statute of limitations, or are at least so long outstanding that they are too difficult to prove in a court of law.

And law is the key here, that the church hierarchy saw itself above the law for decades, and granted itself the right to circumvent civil prosecution. Imagine for a second that instead of priests, we were talking about public-school teachers doing this sort of thing. How forgiving would the law be? Certainly it would not be dragging its feet the way it has in so many urban parishes. Indeed, were there this widespread a molestation problem in the public-school system, with corrupt school principals transferring molester teachers without informing law enforcement, you would likely have congressional investigations into the whole rotten system -- and rightly so.

Instead, aside from a few marquee names actually going to prison for this, the church has been allowed to buy silence from the victims, for the most part. This is possibly the most inexplicable part of the whole mess to me -- exactly why would anyone in their right mind willingly donate money to an organization that has willfully and knowingly committed and abetted such awful deeds?

A corollary to this would the preponderance of so-called "cafeteria Catholics". If you don't like the rules, why would you want to stay a member? If you feel you have found a better path to actualizing your own personal spiritual journey, then why not just pursue that path on your own?

Some have attempted to excuse such messes by pointing to the many good works the church does. True enough, but the US government does many benign things too; that does not excuse them from, say, starting wars based on bunk intelligence.

The sheer inability and unwillingness of the church to get to the root of these problems suggests a systemic malaise, an institution that is being propped up at this point by sheer longevity. This can also be evinced by the number of canonizations and beatifications by this pope, far more than all his predecessors over the last two thousand years combined. To the outsider, this would reasonably appear to be effective marketing strategy, more than mere spiritual actualization and self-realization.

Finally, we turn our attention to the objectification of suffering, as a path to redemption.

More than 20 years ago, after recovering from the pistol shot that almost took his life in front of St. Peter's, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity. "Human suffering evokes compassion," he wrote in 1984, "it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates." In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. "I must lead her with suffering," he said. "The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future."

If you've read Christopher Hitchens' The Missionary Position, then you know that Mother Teresa was a big believer in suffering as a "gift from God" as well; besides living austerely herself, she was known for gutting furnished houses and lining them with cots, and giving cancer patients dying agonizing deaths nothing stronger than aspirin. She was also rather injudicious about whence some of her donations came, including animals like the Duvaliers, and savings-and-loan thief Charles Keating. (Even after the US government contacted her and explained that Keating's $10,000 donation had been grifted from US taxpayers, Mother Teresa never returned it.)

Now, the notion of suffering having a redemptive value is, at its heart, one of medieval times, when life for the vast majority of people was nasty, brutish, and short. (Frequently because of the church, rather than in spite of it.) Of course, we all experience suffering in our lives now, in modern times, but less so, and there are many secular coping mechanisms. So the church has been behind the curve on taking a break from the fetishizing of suffering. Considering they took 500 years to apologize for the Inquisition, and for torturing Galileo, this is not a huge surprise.

Science, philosophy, politics, and the intellectual freedom of humanity grew by leaps and bounds once the church got its claws out of them, and I submit that personal spirituality can do the same. Not in the "if it feels good, do it" sense, but in the sense of letting people come to terms with who they are on their own, without lectures from sanctimonious hypocrites who refuse to clean out their own closets first.

Just in the last half-century, movements comprising millions of people have demonstrated their caring for human and civil rights, as well as a serious understanding of what the stewardship of all God's creatures and creations entails. This has happened in the secular world, by and large, despite the execrable entreatites of some that agnostics and atheists can never be as moral as a person of faith. That this notion can be disproven in both directions is so obvious, it barely merits mentioning. And yet, for some, it does.

That is what Saint Thomas was trying to get across, I think -- that God's cathedral is all around, within, without, and not just behind certain doors of certain buildings populated by hypocrites in dresses with their rituals and incantations. It is not in the weird principle of transubstantiation. It is not in the gnomic utterances of a single man who heads a very worldly institution. Nor does it all boil down to a single hot-button political issue, nor over the jumping through hoops to get an annulment instead of a divorce so you can still receive communion. It is not an hour in a certain place on Sunday, it is everywhere, all the time. What Thomas said -- what Jesus said, according to Thomas -- was that you really don't need all that shit. If you truly believe, it does not need to be reinforced with trinkets and doodads and chalices and spells, because the believer knows that it's all around them.

Even those of us who do not have a belief in humankind as a divinely-inspired creation can accept this gospel in its practical utility and spiritual simplicity.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A River In Egypt

Denial. When the schadenfreude's gone, all you're left with is the head-shaking, eye-rolling process of watching it all go down. Such is the case with what's left of James Guckert's nascent career as a fake journalist, and very real propaganda tool. The latest cut, in the death of a thousand cuts, is the "temporary" removal of the Talon "News" website.

This, after Talon had already removed Guckert's "work", which really qualifies more as leg-humping and transcribing, rather than anything resembling actual reportage and analysis. As much as the righty bloggers keep on keepin' on with their cuckoo-call repetitions of "Helen Thomas" and "Dan Rather", the analogy is dishonest and inapt, and they damn well know it. For one, CBS didn't try to lose Rather's entire existence down the virtual poop-chute when he got slammed; nor has Helen Thomas ever hustled 8" of cut man-sausage at $200/hour on gay porn sites (as far as we know).

Oh, but of course JimJeff's two-day crash course in journalism absolves him from all this and everything else, doesn't it? He sure seems to think so; as everyone knows, this utterly shameless little prick is cashing in on his last few minutes of ill-gotten fame by starting his own website and proclaiming that after trial by fire in the lefty-blogger "crucible", he's "baaack". Really.

If you're JimJeff, and you think it's a good idea to use a lame, played-out catch-phrase from twenty years ago to plug yourself, wouldn't "Where's The Beef?" make more sense? I'm just sayin'.

At any rate, Jimbo's really just another blogger at heart. He's not a real journalist, and his former employers, who got into office on fear and loathing of Jimbo's type, were the first to disavow him. So welcome back to Earth, chowder-breath.

The publicist for Talon News says it has temporarily gone offline because the founder “can only take so much of a beating” over its political slant.

Boo-fucking-hoo. It's not as if Talon and GOPUSA and Guckert himself didn't do everything they could to invite this "beating". The Republicans, in conjunction with the evangelical fascists, have made a college industry out of this bullshit persecution complex. It takes King Kong-sized balls to have the gall to run everything and still cry that people are mean to you. Awwww, poor you. Now fuck off and die, the whole lot of you.

Speaking of Democrats, he asked President Bush how he would work “with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality.”

Mm-hmm. Who is divorced from reality on this, now? The real-life whore who turned into the definition of a media whore, and got caught lobbing a softball based on a falsely-attributed quote? Or the people -- in Congress and in the blogosphere -- who are responsible enough to understand just what kind of machinations this administration has already proved itself more than capable of, and who refuse to just let it go?

It's understandable why the network media doesn't want to bother with this -- after all, most of them are whores and potted plants as well, easily cowed, never bothering to investigate or expose anything worthwhile, reluctant to engage in any real criticism of what's going on, preferring to stick to only the most salacious and lurid of details. When you get right down to it, their only real function anymore is to sell boner pills and laxatives anyway.

Come to think of it, they can fuck off and die as well. (Except Seymour Hersh and Eric Boehlert, whom I would never insult by lumping them in with the MSM anyway.)

Bonus: Check this out. It's a great parody of JimJeff's new vanity page.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Top Ten Nicknames For George W. Bush Or Rejected Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Flavors

[from the Home Office in Big Bone Lick, Kentucky]

10. Liquored Shitkicker
9. Chunky Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey
8. Mullah Fudger
7. Heavenly Deficit Crunch
6. Shit-For-Brains
5. Social Security Surprise (costs $20/pint, container is mostly empty)
4. Broccoli Garcia
3. WMD Pistachio (pistachios rumored to be there per British intelligence)
2. Chock Full O' Guckert (8" cut)
1. Fucking Retard Waffle Crisp

Sharing The Love: Right Vs. Left

From our good friends at Football Fans For Truth comes another take on the media dynamic informing coverage of the Guckert/Gannon mess, especially that of the blogosphere.

This particular passage sums it up nicely, I think:

Look at the activity on each side. Conservative bloggers further down the ecosphere compiled opinions of other conservative bloggers. Liberal bloggers as well as their everyday readers spent their time investigating public data and building a case.

The popular meme I have caught is the reference to the conservative side of the blogosphere as the "Borg", apparently an indication of hive mentality. (Sorry, I've never really watched Star Trek, nor any of the spinoffs, so the context I've gleaned through osmosis may be somewhat erroneous.) The few overtly conservative blogs I check into (Sun Tzu reminds us that the effective general always knows what his enemy is thinking) do seem to be remarkably consistent with one another, and constantly trade attributions with one another.

Liberal bloggers seem more interested (in my humble estimation) in pulling together the stories and facts (including from each other, of course, but it's generally a pretty quick step to a readily attributable info source, rather than another blogger) and coming up with their own take. This is why they're so hard to mobilize -- it's like herding cats. But this story is starting to become its own wampeter of sorts, a rallying point for the liberals who see in this story a useful consolidation of Republican moral hypocrisy and likely corruption.

Watching it gain traction and credence has been interesting, and that is where I think it may have stumped some of the more partisan conservative bloggers. They do not tend to fight well when they're on their heels, so to speak, and the particulars of this story have been especially unhelpful to the perpetuation of the pet causes of many of their more devout believers. Many of them are used to spending time and effort defending the indefensible by smearing the other side. This becomes problematic when someone with Jim Guckert's past enters the picture. So, since this story functions as a fairly consistent reduction of how the actualization of Republican (more like neo-con) policy tends to fly in the face of American notions of societal good and individual dignity, they've had a tough time of it in finding a proper handle on this story that they can exploit using their usual demonization model.

Between this episode and the current stunning lack of success in Bush's attempt to push Social Security down the proverbial flight of stairs, there may be cracks forming in this machine. If the cats can be properly herded, the cracks can be duly wedged and exploited. This is critical, because the media, despite its many recent embarrassments, has shown no real signs of learning from its poor performance. So they cannot be counted on; they will have to be carefully prodded, with accurate accounts of the facts at hand, before they'll get in to do any real digging.

The current conservative distraction, as the FFFT analysis points out, is that the left is whooping it up over a relatively minor "scalp", since we are all apparently now cultivating the practice of collecting scalps. This is merely reflexive on their part, and masks some possibly deeper problems in the narrative of this story. Eason Jordan is a nice claim for them, but he's not a household name; Dan Rather is their big "scalp".

As it may very well turn out that names on the Dan Rather scoop may have been handed to Guckert by someone in the White House (rhymes with "drove"), Guckert's scalp may well end up cancelling out Rather's. But more importantly, it may serve to pull the curtain back on their whole rotten little media-management scheme.

Don't be surprised if they (either the GOPUSA party arms, or Faux News, or even some of the big-kahuna righty bloggers) try to hand off some blankets loaded with smallpox, such as bunk information designed to be passed off as truth for the lefty bloggers to use, that can then later be exposed as a hoax, thus discrediting everything that has surfaced up to this point.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Does This Mean I Have To Burn My Rush CDs?

The Great White North asserts itself.

The formal announcement Thursday that Canada will refuse any further participation in the controversial U.S. missile-defence shield was met with an immediate warning that Canada had given up its sovereignty.

Although Prime Minister Paul Martin said Canada would “insist” on maintaining control of its airspace, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci warned that Washington would not be constrained.

“We will deploy. We will defend North America,” he said.

Being of half-Canadian heritage, we sympathize with our neighbors to the north, and the unique position they find themselves in. After all, they have twice as much land as the US (most of it unusable, but still), yet fewer people than California. This is quite a dilemma.

Of course, thanks to the continuing feckless nonsense from our Dear Cheerleader, more Murkins will be voting with their feet over time, but can't stop us, Canada, you can only hope to contain us.

Remember, this is really for your own good. Trust us.

And when we start pouring maple syrup in the streets, bulldozing Bryan Adams CDs, burning Geddy Lee in effigy, and renaming a certain breakfast meat to "freedom bacon", don't take it too personally. We don't really know what we're saying sometimes.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Support Our Fucking Troops

Hopefully you watched Frontline’s A Company Of Soldiers on your local PBS affiliate Tuesday night. This documentary takes you right into the heart of the tactical operations of Dog Company, part of the Army’s 1-8 Cavalry Regiment, stationed in South Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris. The Frontline documentarians were embedded with Dog Company for 30 days, participating in 26 tactical missions.

The documentary is quite even-handed and non-partisan, not espousing any particular position on the right-or-wrong aspect of the Iraq War and current occupation. It is very powerful and moving in its straightforward simplicity.

What it shows most graphically is the frustration with which these soldiers are striving to do their job. It is very good-guys-bad-guys stuff, and the ever-shifting milieu of Iraqi civilians – each with their own issues of anger, frustration, and grief – makes it nearly impossible to use this with much discernment as an operative dynamic. Nobody is wearing white or black hats, or even uniforms. The terrorists are wearing masks to hide their identities, but then so are the police.

What we want to discuss here is the minor controversy which arose with the release of the documentary. Because it exclusively features military personnel in the belly of the beast, conducting actual operations, there is some salty language, as they say. PBS issued the documentary with the proviso of allowing each local affiliate to make their own call as to whether they would show the uncensored version, or the bleeped version, so as to avoid possible FCC action due to viewer complaints.

Our local affiliate chose to show the bleeped version. What surprised us most, after watching the entire thing, was how little language was bleeped. Maybe two or three “fucks”, a couple “goddamn”s (with just the “god” bleeped), and a half-dozen “shits”.

Now, the bleeping did not necessarily detract or distract from the overall point of the film. But keeping in mind the context in which the new fear of the FCC has arisen (i.e., a split-second side view of one of Janet Jackson’s nipples during the Super Bowl halftime show), and keeping in mind that dozens of ABC affiliates flat refused to air Saving Private Ryan last Veterans’ Day, we simply have to wonder at this point just what brand of glue these moral guardians are sniffing.

Enough is enough, goddammit. Some circumstances are simply above and beyond the normal call to just sit down and shut the fuck up with the constant braying nannyism, and this is most definitely one of those instances. Any person who thinks that merely slapping a $2 made-in-China yellow ribbon on the back of their Expedition is all that is necessary to show support can piss up a rope, as far as I’m concerned.

Without a genuine understanding of the totality of the troops' current circumstances, the reality of their mission, and the geopolitical ramifications of overall strategy and current tactics, the ribbons mean nothing – maybe less than nothing. If anything, displayed on a giant gas-guzzler, they display an unconscionable disregard for reality, an unforgiveable cognitive dissonance.

It is not too much to ask the Brent Bozells of this misbegotten cultural landscape to publicly announce that they can take a day off from griping about our hell-bound moral decline, for a special type of informative program that discusses events which affect us all. Go count semen references in one of the forensic porn shows or something, you tireless (and tiresome) nags. Not every “dirty” word has a prurient connotation.

Yer-a-peein' Vacation

As our Action-Figure-In-Chief traipses around Europe "mending fences" (which is Texan for "telling them how stupid they are while simultaneously hitting them up for money and help"), it becomes more and more apparent that our moment in the sun is passing. It was pleasantly surprising to see Jacques Chirac shake hands and signify the official getting-over-it period (though Chirac looked like someone was holding a turd under his nose, not that you could blame him).

But it's pretty clear that the post-argument makeup sex is not about to happen any time soon. Thanks to years of debt-financed economic growth, we are basically treading water, rather than gaining actual economic ground. The dollar continues its precipitous slide against the euro, leaving the Euros more and more in the proverbial catbird seat. (Demographically, their position cannot last indefinitely, but they are at least getting themselves in a decent position to counter East Asian economic ascendance, where we are not.)

So Bush's response to this long-developing scenario is to insist that freedom is still on the march, and shame on the Euros for being unwilling to help sacrifice lives and treasure to help Sistani and Chalabi and Allawi and the rest of the gang to transform Iraq into a less-thuggish authoritarian society. This while he and his handlers keep one eye on the emergency exit, and plot their timeline of departure, the diplomatic version of "let's get the fuck out of here".

In the midst of all this, as some sort of action against Iran looks more and more imminent, we get Parsdent Cooter, itchy stub fingering that nucular trigger like it's Salma Hayek's love button. In one breath Bush asserted both that we were emphatically not planning to take action against Iran, and that all options were still and always on the table. Well, duh. That a national leader should never say never is so obvious, it shouldn't even require mentioning. But it apparently does, and consistently has, for Bush, whose diplomatic arsenal evidently consists of "stick" and "bigger stick with nails".

Perhaps the most telling part of this sojourn takes place in Germany. There had been a Q&A "town hall" meeting planned, to give Bush a chance to address German citizens directly, but when Bush's people realized that this would be a real town hall, and not one of those pre-scripted bullshit ones Bush has used to pimp his nonsense on the campaign trail for years, they squashed the whole deal.

The much-touted American-style "town hall" meeting the White House has been planning with "normal Germans" of everyday walks of life will be missing during his visit to the Rhine River hamlet of Mainz this afternoon. A few weeks ago, the Bush administration had declared that the chat -- which could have brought together tradesmen, butchers, bank employees, students and all other types to discuss trans-Atlantic relations -- would be the cornerstone of President George W. Bush's brief trip to Germany.

State Department diplomats said the meeting would help the president get in touch with the people who he most needs to convince of his policies. Bush's invasion of Iraq and his diplomatic handling of the nuclear dispute with Iran has drawn widespread concern and criticism among the German public. And during a press conference two weeks ago, Bush said Washington is still terribly misunderstood in Europe. All the more reason, it would seem, for him to be pleased about talking to people here.

But on Wednesday, that town hall meeting will be nowhere on the agenda -- it's been cancelled. Neither the White House nor the German Foreign Ministry has offered any official explanation, but Foreign Ministry sources say the town hall meeting has been nixed for scheduling reasons -- a typical development for a visit like this with many ideas but very little time. That, at least, is the diplomats' line. Behind the scenes, there appears to be another explanation: the White House got cold feet. Bush's strategists felt an uncontrolled encounter with the German public would be too unpredictable.

At the beginning of the article, Der Spiegel seems to think that the town hall was to have been the "cornerstone" of Bush's European trip. Maybe that's just German pride, but one has to figure, on a continent whose citizenry is even more hostile to US government policy than the leaders, Bush would have to address some segment of the European populace directly at some point. This was his opportunity, and he shied away from it. Kudos to the Germans for holding their ground and insisting on an honest debate, but what exactly is Bush so afraid of?

This is all he's been doing for three years plus now -- is he so monumentally unprepared that he is unable to discuss these issues extemporaneously? This is one of the real mysteries of this administration to me -- right or wrong, if you believe steadfastly in what you're doing, you should quite easily be able and (more importantly) willing to debate the facts of the case. This ongoing system of canned discussion has got to stop -- it an irretrievably nasty emblem of Bush's intransigence to seeing all sides of the situation. The rest of the world is long tired of us telling them that their opinions don't matter for shit, and there are a lot more of them than there are of us.

This article in the International Herald Tribune essentially underscores Der Spiegel's take on the Mainz visit.

But there was something about the very physical setting that suggested how different and less automatically warm German-American relations remain, despite Bush's strenuous effort to improve them. Most conspicuously was the almost total lack of any contact between ordinary Germans and an American president visiting what could almost have been a stage setting, a German town with buildings but no people, a depopulated place, its shops and restaurants closed, and only police in green uniforms visible on the streets....Bush was so sealed off from Germans other than Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the two German journalists able to ask questions at a joint press conference that even a town meeting-type encounter with Mainz residents was scrubbed, out of the worry that the mood would be hostile. A meeting with a group of carefully screened Young Leaders was put in its place.

This sort of intellectual cowardice is inexcuseable in a politician of any party. Either you believe enough in what you're doing to be able to argue your case, or you're too much of a pussy to face the people who are critical of your actions. Either you're a leader and thinker, or you're a wuss. Which is it, Mr. Bush?

Then we have the pièce de resistance, the face-to-face with Putin. Already one of Putin's ministers had made some rather peremptory remarks about each country's putative commitments to true democratic principles.

Mr Bush, with European Union backing, has pledged to raise concerns about the Kremlin’s moves to roll back democracy when he meets Mr Putin in a castle in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.

But Sergei Prikhodko, a foreign policy adviser to Mr Putin, indicated that the former KGB colonel was in no mood to be lectured. “For Russia, relations with the United States have been and will be truly strategic,” he said. “In such a responsible approach . . . there is no place for nervous Nellies who are eager to bring some objective difficulties, imperfections or sometimes disagreements to the forefront.”

His remarks reinforced Mr Putin’s statement a day earlier that Russia would pursue its own model of democracy based on its history and traditions — and that the summit should focus on security issues.

Mr Prikhodko laid out a summit agenda which pointedly excluded many of the issues highlighted by Mr Bush on his fence-mending tour of Europe.

Under mounting pressure at home and overseas, the US President said this week that he would call on Mr Putin to renew Russia’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

Western governments are particularly concerned about the Kremlin’s abolition of elections for regional governors, its interference in Ukraine’s election last year and the break-up of the Yukos oil giant.

But Mr Putin is expected to retaliate by raising his own concerns over issues such as the US-led war in Iraq, the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and even the American electoral system.

Yuri Ushakov, the Russian Ambassador to the US, told The New York Times: “We are aware of our shortcomings on the domestic front and the challenges we still face in overcoming the multitude of complex problems we inherited from the recent and not so recent past.”

But he said that Mr Putin would bring up “our own concerns about the situation in the US and certain troubling aspects of Washington’s policies.”

Iran is another issue on the table between Bush and Putin. The primary customer for Iran's nascent nulear-energy production will be Russia; indeed, the Russians provided some assistance in building several of the plants. They (and China, for that matter) may not just stand idly by this time. At any rate, there was a snippet of a live conference this morning, in which Bush emphasized how well things were going between he and "Vladimir Putin", which is apparently now pronounced "Vladmer Poot'n". Really, you get the impression Bush would call Putin "Bill Pooty-Poot" on camera, if only someone were to explain to him that the name "Vladimir" has an English counterpart.

This profound lack of public respect is enormously embarrassing, and not a little bit off-putting. Whether Putin accepts nicknames behind closed doors and away from cameras is one thing; this incessant "me n' Pooty-Poot [or "Jacques", or "Gerhard"]" comes across less as the palsy-walsy way Bush intends it, and more as sheer diplomatic ignorance. These are people who fight over the shape of the conference table; they do not appreciate worldwide televised conferences being larded with obsequious backslapping.

At any rate, brilliant performance, Mister President. I can feel our international regard growing by the second, throbbing as if infused with diplomatic Levitra.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

How Not To Run A Football Team

Obviously the NFL season is well over, and we have certainly gone the extra mile in attempting to demonstrate similarities in successful football philosophy and successful political/cultural/economic philosophy. I did not anticipate writing any more football-oriented screeds at least until the draft in April, but something occurred just a couple hours ago that requires I rescind this unofficial moratorium.

Apparently Vikings wunderkind/malcontent Randy Moss is being dealt to my beloved (and evidently punch-drunk) Oakland Raiders. Don't get me wrong; Moss is a prodigiously talented wide receiver, probably the best in the entire league. (Just ask him, he'll tell you that himself.)

The problem is, while the Raiders have many pressing needs, WR isn't one of them. They just spent big bucks retaining budding superstar Jerry Porter (a very wise decision), and they have several exceptional young WRs coming up the ranks, in Doug Gabriel, Ron Curry, and late-season addition John Stone.

The real need for the Raiders' offense is an every-down running back; last year's attempt at RB-by-committee with Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue, and Justin Fargas was abysmal, with Wheatley and Fargas injured most of the season, and Zereoue rather streaky. (In defense of the RBs, I hasten to point out that the troubles at QB after Rich Gannon broke his neck took much longer to fix than they should have. That placed an inadvertent amount of pressure on the running game, and all their opponents stacked the line against them, knowing the obvious.) With the banged-up Wheatley probably either retiring or getting cut, the theory was that the Raiders would try for a quality free agent like LaMont Jordan of the Jets, or Shaun Alexander of the Seahawks (who was tagged a franchise player by Seattle, thus probably putting him out of Oakland's price range). Or they could use their high draft pick for a quality RB.

Having said all that, offense isn't even their biggest need; the defense is leaking like the USS Candy Crowley, taking on water at every spot. Last year's overpriced additions of Warren Sapp and Ted Washington did little to help a porous line (then again, it didn't help that Sapp was moved out of position, and playing in a mostly 3-4 defense for the first time in his pro career).

The secondary is an even bigger mess, especially the cornerbacks. Free agent signee Denard Walker was a bust. Phillip Buchanon isn't half as solid as he thinks he is. For every play he breaks wide open with his blazing speed, he either gets burnt in coverage or fumbles a punt. Charles Woodson, whose college and early pro career seemed to herald the second coming of Night Train Lane, had his bump-and-run skills severely undercut with the NFL's five-yard "chuck" rule instituted last season. He's a great tackler still, but held out through training camp (with a new coach, and thus a whole new playbook to learn), and missed the last four games due to yet another injury. He would be far more effective at safety. Bottom line -- Nnamdi Asomugha (yeah, I can't pronounce it either) is the one in this unit that really wants to play. Great tackler, improving coverage skills. Safeties are okay in this secondary (though "Big Play" Ray Buchanan got burnt a lot more than he used to with Atlanta or Indy, when he was a CB), but the corners need to be totally overhauled.

Which brings us to our final team section, and our biggest mystery in this (impending, and hopefully false) Moss deal -- linebackers. There was no reason to get rid of Napoleon Harris; he hadn't developed quite as quickly as the Raiders would have liked, but a lot was asked of him, and he was generally doing pretty well. Danny Clark was a standout at LB last year, and may turn out to be their most solid FA acquisition since Rod Woodson. But in a 3-4 setup, you simply can't have too many linebackers. Period. (Especially someone who is very likely to be a star player, like Harris.) The Vikings chronically need to beef their own secondary; the Raiders would have been far better served by dealing Phillip Buchanon and his bullshit attitude -- which, since he is younger and a higher pick than Harris, would probably have meant a lower draft pick to go with him.

And that's the final part of this travesty, that draft pick. That pick needed -- needed -- to be used on either an every-down RB or a stud pass rusher. Nothing else militated the use of that pick, certainly not another WR in a well-developing corps led by a future star in his own right.

The problem with having money offenses at the expense of defense was demonstrated quite handily by Oakland's 4-12 1997 campaign. The offense featured QB Jeff George (who, by all accounts, is apparently a complete tool, but threw some of the most amazing passes I've ever seen in my life) and speedy wideout James Jett to complement the masterful Tim Brown. This was a very high-powered offense that could score any time, from anywhere on the entire field.

And that, as the current Colts and Chiefs have found out, is a problem in its own right. Defenses get exhausted more quickly when they're back out there more quickly. In the age of parity, most games are won near the end of the fourth quarter, so stamina is more critical. There is very little "garbage time" anymore. A tired defense lets the offense control the tempo of those late drives.

Last year's collapse was qualitatively different than that of the previous season, in that the players accepted responsibility for their dismal play, rather than blaming the coaching staff. But Moss could monkey-wrench this fragile situation enormously, if he wanted to. He certainly hasn't gotten the Vikings very far into the post-season in some time; indeed, the last two seasons have ended on temper tantrums from him. The Raiders do not need any more locker-room cancers.

I hope I'm wrong about all this. After watching Oakland put on a stellar 2002 season, then get embarrassed badly in Super Bowl 37 (fuck that XVLCDIXEIEIO bullshit), the team has only won nine games in two full seasons. I want them to win, and Randy Moss is the ideal receiver for Norv Turner's vertical offense. But they need a running game more than they need another WR, and they need better defensive players even more than they need that running back. So unless they think they're dealing C-Wood to get that 1st round pick back, they fucked up.

Sorry, Randy. Prove me wrong, and I'll plunk down for a jersey. Hell, I might even come down and attend a game. And I will most definitely apologize in print. If I'm wrong.

Electile Dysfunction: So Far So Good?

It's almost unfair to start making calls on the Iraqi election results, a mere three weeks after they took place. But we can already see which way the winds are blowing, and as the usual suspects are already starting to come back out of the woodwork, it behooves us to at least make a few critical observations.

Fortunately, international asshole of mystery Ahmad Chalabi didn't quite have the numbers he thought he had to be selected prime minister. Ibrahim Jaafari got the nod, and comes from the same list of parties that Chalabi did.

It would be hard for Jaafari to turn out to be as treacherous and untrustworthy as Chalabi has, and as Juan Cole points out, Jaafari is seen as a more unifying influence. Chalabi, as can be seen by the Stephanopoulos transcript further down Prof. Cole's page, would have just been a thorn in our side. (Indeed, he may still be, as Chalabi is considered a front-runner for the Interior Minister job, which would have hin overseeing everything from oil to internal security.) Still, we are talking about a party bloc dominated by fundamentalist Iranian-influenced clerics. They may not turn it into an all-out mullah-ocracy, but it will take a nuanced hand to get them to help us further our putative goals in the region. People can get funny ideas sometimes, and decide they want to pursue their own goals.

And the violence keeps on, despite the promises and appearance of resolution. Even the CIA admits that the war has not only fed the insurgency within Iraq, but turned into a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda and similar groups.

The insurgency in Iraq continues to baffle the U.S. military and intelligence communities, and the U.S. occupation has become a potent recruiting tool for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, top U.S. national security officials told Congress yesterday.
"Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists," CIA Director Porter J. Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"These jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said. "They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries."

If only someone had stood up before the war and warned of this possibility.

The histrionic triumphalism immediately after the election has already abated completely; it's as if it was a merely ceremonial function designed to prop up Bush for the State of the Union speech. Since then, the corner does not seem as obviously turned as it was again supposed to be. This is actually too bad; this is about the last issue on which one should have even a trace of schadenfreude.

But it is indicative of the operative foreign policy dynamic at work here, and the domestic propaganda mechanisms in play that whip people up with loads of hortatory rhetoric for the weekly news cycle, then disappear just as quickly, rather than render some depth to the argument with, say, objective facts.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pushing Grampa Down The Stairs

A conservative lobbying group called USA Next has hired some consultants that performed the "Swift Boat Veterans For Truth" hatchet job on John Kerry, this time to go after the dreaded AARP. Apparently USA Next has a problem with the AARP's intransigence in their opposition to Bush's "plan" to eliminate (uh, "overhaul") Social Security.

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next and former deputy under secretary of the interior in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."

More like they'll be the Wile E. Coyote painting a tunnel on the side of a mountain in a vain attempt to foil the Roadrunner. Good luck with that, guys. This plan has "successmanship" written all over it, not unlike Bush's lame privatization scheme.

To help set USA Next's strategy, the group has hired Chris LaCivita, an enthusiastic former marine who advised Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, formerly known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on its media campaign and helped write its potent commercials. He earned more than $30,000 for his work, campaign finance filings show.

Officials said the group is also seeking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a firm that was hired by Swift Vets and was paid more than $276,000 to do media production, records show.

For public relations, USA Next has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets - the company was paid more than $165,000 - and Regnery Publishing, the publisher of "Unfit for Command," a book about Senator John Kerry's military service whose co-author was John E. O'Neill, one of the primary leaders of Swift Vets.


In the case of USA Next, the group and the White House say they are not working together. Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said the administration was familiar with the group and has interacted with it on issues in the past, but said that it had no input on its current efforts. USA Next says it has taken pains to disassociate itself from the administration, even declining to join the large lobbying coalitions the White House is working with to pass Social Security legislation.

Uh-huh, and I'm sure there are no in-house lawyers advising these guys either, right? Just like last time. Jeez, you can just about set your watch by these people.

Mr. Jarvis said donors have included food, nutrition, energy and pharmaceutical companies, which have given money to support various advertising campaigns.

In previous years, and often during elections, the money was used to saturate the airwaves with advertisements. In 2002, for example, the group relied partly on money from the pharmaceutical industry to spend roughly $9 million on television commercials and mailings supporting Republican prescription drug legislation and the lawmakers who backed it.

The group spent more money than any other interest group on House races that year, according to a study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, and drew charges from Democrats that it was a stealth campaign by the pharmaceutical industry to support House Republicans. The group denied the allegations. Critics contended that the group was a front for corporate special interests. In a 2002 report, Public Citizen's Congress Watch denounced it, calling its leadership "hired guns."

In 2003 and 2004, USA Next was again heavily represented, spending roughly $20 million, according to the group's own numbers. It sponsored more than 19,800 television and radio advertisements last year alone.

To USA Next, the battle lines have already been drawn, and it does not shy away from comparisons to the veterans' campaign against Senator Kerry. "It's an honor to be equated with the Swift boat guys," Mr. Jarvis said.

Yeah, I guess it would be an honor for a shill to be equated with a pack of hyenas. It either doesn't occur or doesn't matter to them that there are plenty of legitimate concerns even with honest privatization plans, much less this dog-and-pony show.

No matter. They can publicly disassociate themselves from the White House all they want, but all these tactics will do is breed resentment against the Republicans. Art Linkletter aside, the elders are not going to take to kindly to getting strong-armed by these guys, and they're the one demographic that can actually do something about it. One commercial showing a purse snatcher mugging a little old lady and these clowns are done for, Art Linkletter or no Art Linkletter. And as Bush has made SS dismantlement the first cornerstone of his second term, a resounding defeat could be the first thread in a wonderful unraveling of their whole rotten tapestry. (Mmmm, mixed metaphors.)

So in the finest spirit of briar patch politics, oh no, whatever you do, please don't put out hit ads on the AARP!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Eason Down The Road

We haven't had a whole lot to say about Easongate thus far, because at face value, something seemed a bit hinky. It was rather difficult to believe that the Chief News Executive of CNN would so careless and radioactively stupid as to assert that US troops were deliberately targeting journalists; even more so that he would choose to make the great unveiling of said assertion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Still more stupid is that when confronted with protest to his assertion, Jordan immediately began backtracking, apparently unable to provide solid evidence for his claims. Too little, too late -- the righty bloggers were all over this like stink on shit, and Jordan was summarily told not to let the door hit his ass on the way out.

At first blush (and maybe even second), you might figure "fair enough". After all, while we have all heard of this or that journalist being accidentally killed in the crossfire, to brazenly assert that this could be a policy seems unlikely. Still, just to say we made double-sure, we should hope that someone in the MSM would take a break from weather wildness and Michael Jackson sightings to investigate the actual safekeeping of their embedded brethren. We have all also heard about the myriad death threats one journalist got when his videotape of a US soldier killing a prostrate, unarmed Iraqi combatant went public. So maybe someone oughta check into it, just so we can call it good.

Well, someone actually checked into it. And while this doesn't prove Eason Jordan's assertion -- particularly given his subsequent waffling and backpedaling -- there is at least enough here to safely say that more care should be taken. Where Jordan leapt far too quickly to the imputation of outright malice, we see more of the usual military stance of indifference to the problem. This is understandable; they're in the middle of an ongoing conflict, and they're going to look out for their platoon first, Geraldo Rivera second. (Indeed, maybe not at all for Geraldo. Who could blame them for that?)

It's difficult to feel any sympathy for Jordan -- he made a remarkably irresponsible claim at a worldwide event, with not a shred of evidence to back it up. But in cursorily glancing at the various bloggers who managed to claim Jordan's scalp, they seemed more interested in resurrecting the Alien and Sedition Act than trying to find facts to refute Jordan's claim. Merely insisting "we would never do something like that" is not a refutation. We never thought we'd be torturing anonymous unpersons at the Gitmo gulag, or sexually humiliating them at Abu Ghraib. But we did, and we are, and we even knowingly promoted the people responsible for such policies.

So after knowing what we know, we all need to be responsible, and perform due diligence, and get to the bottom of these things in a fact-based fashion, rather than jumping to our assumptions. This is a contrast with how the "Jeff Gannon" scandal has unfolded, with many bloggers compiling actual facts, statements, and timelines with which to build a foundation for their conclusions.

[via Altercation.]

Fools Rush In

This has been out for a couple weeks, but it's still well worth checking out -- Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief Rod Nordland takes questions about the still-new Iraq elections, and Iraq policy in general. Nordland's answers are pretty solid and non-partisan; what's refreshing is the smackdown he brings to uninformed rhetorical bomb-throwers, both left and right. The great thing is that it's done in the spirit of objectivity, which is what good commentary should always have.

Cal Lanier at Football Fans For Truth gives the play-by-play on some of Nordland's more cranky and caustic answers. Good stuff, and a sobering testament to the lack of informed discourse these days. People seem more concerned with civil discourse, but to hell with that. Informed trumps civil every day of the week, especially in serious times like now. Being civil to an uninformed fool does no one any favors, especially the fool.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Running For Cover

Editor & Publisher has more specifics in the vetting process that allowed Jim Guckert into the White House press room. Consider the public ass-covering officially begun.

McClellan, who was deputy press secretary under Ari Fleischer when the initial Guckert approvals were given, became press secretary in July 2003. He said he currently has a staff of 12, only one of whom handles the 20 to 25 daily press passes issued each day. He said he had spoken with the staffer who approved Guckert's initial credential, but would not identify the person or comment on how he or she could consider GOPUSA -- which is run by Texas Republican activist Bobby Eberle -- to be a legitimate news organization.

"Our staff assistants do a good job," he said. "The staff assistant went to verify that the news organization existed."

However, Eberle has told The New York Times that he later created Talon to build a news service with a conservative slant and "if someone were to see 'GOPUSA,' there's an instant built-in bias there."

Gee, you think, Bobby? With geniuses like this calling the shots, it's easy to see why the Republican Party and its high-handed bullshit tactics are respected universally by the finest minds humanity has to offer.

Or not.

Anyway, take a look at the GOPUSA site and judge for yourself. It studiously avoids specific mention of the Republican Party on its title page (except for, um, the name of the site itself, but that's just nitpicking), but is chock-full of low-forehead boilerplate.

Even the ads are moronic, specifically designed to provoke. "FREE Special Report Exposes AARP's LIBERAL AGENDA", offers one. Oh, you mean the liberal AARP that Bush scammed into pimping his Medicare bill for him, the bill that's going to cost anywhere from $200 billion to $700 billion more than promised; the bill for which a supervisor threatened a bean-counting subordinate with his job if he leaked the actual cost of this turkey?

It's beside the point. The AARP is more than happy to remind both liberal and conservative politicians that they are there to insure that their constituency is seen to, and that they can be relied on to get out and vote their pleasure or displeasure. But no matter; they're pissed at being lied to, they're saying so, but it must be because they're liberal. It's base propaganda, pure and simple.

The "columnists", such as they are, are also a hoot. Case in point: a floater called Peter Principles, written by a "political analyst" for the Moonie-owned UPI press agency. The linked column attempts to show some sort of even-handedness, I suppose, in that it attacks Republicans for being insufficiently awed at Bush's non-fix-it for Social Security. Et tu, Lindsey Graham?, Peter somberly intones, as if he were trodding the boards with Kato Kaelin in a back-alley Shakespeare For Dummies production.

Never mind; Peter Principles at least live up to their namesake by finding their own special level of incompetence, and then burrowing in. It is precisely the level of 'turf hack commentary one would expect from an employee of the Moonies, much less a certain now-infamous gay hustler who originally tripped everyone's radar for just being a garden-variety plagiarist/shameless partisan tool.

So that's your quickie rundown of the "media" site which putatively employed Jim Guckert until its boutique agitprop offspring got birthed. Who knows how much cruder and more obvious that site was two years ago when Guckert first came on board, but whatever. The bottom line is that if it's so damned legit and obvious to all, why did Talon feel the need to flush their Guckert archive the second he came under scrutiny? Huh? Hmm? Riddle me that one, Pete, if your creepy lunatic cult-overseer boss will let you. You might have to put a crown on him and call him "Daddy" first.

Fleischer told E&P yesterday that he had concerns in 2003 that GOPUSA was not a legitimate news service and might have Republican Party ties, and he stopped calling on Guckert at briefings for about a week. But, after speaking with GOPUSA and Talon News owner Eberle, and being assured that the sites supposedly had no connection to the party, he resumed calling on Guckert.

McClellan confirmed that such concerns were raised. "I remember when Ari and I talked about it, we were concerned who he represented and checked with staff who said he represented a conservative news Web site named GOPUSA," McClellan said. "We were concerned because he was a new face in the White House. I think we did ask questions about it and Ari talked to the editor."

Oh, well I guess that settles that, doesn't it? Please. "[B]eing assured that the sites supposedly had no connection to the party" is just a euphemism for plausible deniability. Eberle is a GOP delegate. Are we seriously expected to just believe that a party delegate sets up a de facto propaganda site independent of any and all party influence -- platform papers, talking points, etc.? Once again, we turn to our trusty IOKIYAR issue-consequence model, pay slight scrutiny to the picayune things we spent eight years and $50 million digging for last time 'round, and see a rather stark contrast in function and fact.

Here is the transcript of Guckert's interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. It's typically dodgy and self-serving. Payback is indeed a bitch -- a big, fat, sweaty 500-pound bitch with ham-hock arms and dimpled knees and six or eight chins, wearing an old car cover for a muu-muu. Payback has to rent people to scratch her back and tie her shoes.

Come give Payback a big ol' wet sloppy kiss, Jimbo.

COOPER: You have been very clear that you believe this is politically motivated. And I think just about everyone probably agrees with that, that you asked that question, it was a softball, and liberal bloggers went after you to find out what they could in the public domain about you. But isn't that -- and you say that's unfair. Isn't that -- aren't those the same techniques that you yourself used as a reporter that sort of -- to publish innuendo, to publish advocacy-driven, politically motivated reports?

GANNON: Well, I don't see it that way. But what was -- what's been done to me is far in excess of what has ever been done to any other journalist that I could remember. My life has been turned inside out and upside down. And, again, it makes us all wonder that if someone disagrees with you, that is now your personal life fair game? And I'm hoping that fair-minded people will stand up and say that what's been done to me is wrong, and that -- that people's personal lives have no impact on their ability to be a journalist, you know. Why should my past prevent me from having a future?

Even as we've been making schadenfreude-laden cracks about Guckert's online sex hustling, we are acutely aware of the fine line we tread when we crack wise about this sort of thing. But we always walk the talk when we go to the voting booth; we have always and consistently been pro-leaving-people-the-hell-alone. Conversely, Guckert's dark lords despise him for who he is, and use him as political currency to curry favor with evangelical fascists.

So I don't wanna hear any more bullshit about how hypocritical liberals are in taking down a gay prostitute for his ideology. Several of the people who have been integral in breaking this story are gay. John Aravosis of AmericaBlog is gay. David Brock of Media Matters is gay (and a recovering ex-right-winger). For that matter, Anderson Cooper is gay. So what? It's the prostitution aspect of Guckert's sexual proclivity that is unseemly, not the particular orientation. The thing is, the bullshitters know that already. But that's all so yesterday, so reality-based.

Bonus: RawStory is saying that many mainstream outlets are gearing up to finally investigate the whole Guckert mess. Even the New Yorker is jumping onboard, which should help give some serious credence to what has so far been portrayed as a mere token obsession of the pajamahadeen. Stay tuned....

Saturday, February 19, 2005

....And The Horse They Rode In On

Flying below the media radar of Michael Jackson effluvia and "Jeff Gannon" scamboogery, we have the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. This is the meeting of crypto-fascist wingnuts that makes people with three-digit IQ's wonder what the hell might be in the wingnuts' DNA.

The thing about the CPAC is that you can learn so many interesting facts. For instance, did you know:

"America's Operation Iraqi Freedom is still producing shock and awe, this time among the blame-America-first crowd," he crowed. Then he said, "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq."

The "he" in question is a member of the United States Congress, the aptly-named Rep. Chris Cox. Isn't it inspiring how Rep. Cox has overcome severe mental retardation to represent his district? Let's give him a hand, because at CPAC, everyone's a winner!

More seriously, what do you think the odds are that anyone in the liberal media will call Cox on this nonsense? At what point did the US citizenry decide that lying about blowjobs was an impeachable offense, but it's perfectly fine to flat-out lie about something that has cost us enormous amounts of blood and treasure, and has no definable end in sight?

Ah, but these miserable humps aren't done yet. They haven't just drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid, they're surfing on an ocean of it.

Like comrades celebrating the success of Mao's Great Leap Forward, attendees at CPAC, the oldest and largest right-wing conference in the country, invest their leaders with the power to defy mere reality through force of insistent rhetoric. The triumphant recent election is all the proof they need that everything George W. Bush says is true. Sure, there's skepticism of the president's wonder-working power among some of the old movement hands -- including the leaders of the American Conservative Union, which puts CPAC on. For much of the rank and file, though, the thousands of blue-blazered students and local activists who come to CPAC each year to celebrate the völkisch virtues of nationalism, capitalism and heterosexuality, Bush is truth.

This is where it's gotten creepy quite some time ago. Principled conservatives -- and there are such creatures, there really are, they just aren't allowed to speak for the party anymore -- have been overwhelmed by these neo-con jackals, who have tethered their disaffected liberal idealism to a cult of personality. Strangely, the object of that cult -- the "wampeter", as Kurt Vonnegut might call it -- is as unintelligent, uncharismatic, and uninspiring as they come, as far as I've ever been able to tell. One can only figure that these people have a need for someone or something in their lives, and Bush has filled that void that might otherwise be filled by heroin or self-mutilation -- or worse yet, Billy Ray Cyrus.

There is an important distinction to make here. Again, a principled conservative will argue ideas. He really doesn't care who's putting them forth, so long as they remain true to First Principles. Whether you agree with said principles and their specific implementation is another story, but you can at least respect the fact that the principled conservative will always hew to principle, rather than personality.

But the breed of mouth-breather that is so un-self-aware, so lacking in self-reflection and contemplation, that they will hitch their wagon to someone just because they've heard of them -- well, that's just pathetic. They have cast their lot entirely with one man, because they do not operate from a place of principle, but rather from an irrational hatred of the Other. They are only interested in the perpetuation of their power, insofar as it emphasizes their projected hang-ups about masculinity and the appearance thereof.

If they were true to principled conservatism, they would take issue with the callous disregard for facts that everyone within this administration has displayed in regards to waging war and foreign policy; the fact that the Republicans are blowing far more money than the Democrats ever did -- and lying about the amounts; and that the neo-cons are in thrall to their Straussian sensibilities, where they seriously think everyone will just roll over for their hollow promises of democracy-whiskey-sexy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is another example of the neo-con wampeter. There's a lot to respect about Arnold: here's a guy who came to America with nothing, and he's had the world by the balls for about 20 years now, in terms of the American ideals of wealth, power, and prestige. And aside from the first two Terminator movies, everything he's done has been total crap. So he's really made something out of nothing, when you think about it.

But when Arnold was making his run for the CA recall election, virtually everyone I'd talked to knew nothing about Schwarzenegger's politics. They knew that they didn't like the fastidious and corrupt Gray Davis, which was entirely understandable, but after that, they just knew the guy they saw in Commando and Junior. In a rational universe, movies like that would have been reasons to not vote for Arnold, no matter how great his ideas were. (Which they're not. Arnold is just a better fund-raiser than Davis. That's the only practical difference. Everything else has been fluff and Gonad-the-Bavarian boilerplate.)

Anyway, moderate Republicans like Schwarzenegger and Giuliani were not in attendance. Their Lord God King Bufu W was, though, in spirit if not in body:

They don rhinestone W brooches and buy mouse pads, posters and T-shirts showing the president as a kind of beefcake Uncle Sam, with flowing white hair and bulging muscles threatening to rend his red, white and blue garments.

Where to begin with such people, and their pathetic little projections? This is the apotheosis of the personal being made political -- all the insecurities and psychological hangups of these weirdos have been projected on to their wampeter, their fantasy object of desire. Not sexually, of course, unless W were to take the form of a bull and rampage the countryside impregnating the daughters of mortal man with his divine seed. That would be okey-doke with this crowd.

And they're nothing if not hypocritical about it, whining as they did about Bill Clinton's popularity and putative magnetism, and lampooning the painful earnestness of "Hillary!" every chance they get, while they put on their "W" cuff-links and masturbate to their He-Man Uncle W poster. One waits for Chairman Mao to swim the Potomac at this point. At least we'll never have to worry about Bush actually writing a book enumerating his principles. He has people to do that shit for him.

Lest we delude ourselves into thinking that this is a fringe group and nothing more, keep in mind that Cheney gave the keynote address, Rove also gave a speech, and tonight will feature a speech by none other than Zell Miller. I assume any self-respecting Democrat has long since excommunicated Miller, who is not a "good man", who is not a person of principle, but rather a toxic loon. Henceforth he's to be known by his former colleagues as "Fredo", as in "you're dead to me".

Anyway, they got Fredo speakin' tonight. Should be plenty of banjo playin', cousin-marryin', and hopefully some duellin'.

The most important element of the much-derided Bill Moyers article from a week or so ago is his point that what was once considered delusional and marginal by sensible people has long since become de rigueur. This is no accident; the hard right of the Republican party has mobilized their troops and taken over significant aspects of policy formation. Many people ascribe this to a manifestation of post-9/11 hysteria, but this has been building for years, off and on. 9/11 just served as a useful catalyst to these crackpots.

We used to hope that their delusions would wither as their heroes' feet of clay became more obvious, or as time goes on and they fade from public life. But through the miracle of transference, the iconodules simply move their hang-ups and projected anxieties to another icon. And strangely, inexplicably, their numbers keep growing, the ranks keep swelling.

They can no longer simply be dismissed as a few dozen self-hating latent homosexuals ranting about white power from their Elohim City compound. They have managed to sanitize their message just enough so that the auslanders get the picture, and they traded in their usual fascist symbols for a man who has neither the drive nor the intelligence to use these things to their full capacity, thank the God they pretend to worship.

Unfortunately, many of the speakers at CPAC, who were literally paid to lie about the facts at hand even as they gin up hatred and resentment for everyone else, do have the drive and intelligence to drag the rest of us down for the next couple generations. Here they come. Stand and fight, or grab your ankles and grit your teeth.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Propagannon, Part 2

While we wait for the Freedom of Information Act documents regarding the White House press room access given to Jim Guckert/"Jeff Gannon", a few new wrinkles have been added to the mix.

It seems that Guckert's first press briefing was on 2/28/03, nearly a full month before his Potemkin "news" agency employer, Talon "News", had been established. Guckert is already on record as stating that he had no journalistic experience before hooking up with Talon.

Therefore, he got access without any news agency affiliation, by his own admission. How and why was he allowed in, and by whom? That's what we'll find out when the FOIA docs are released, one hopes.

At any rate, Raw Story fleshes out the new Guckert allegations. As we already know, Guckert got a look at the classified Valerie Plame memo, as did Robert Novak. For some reason, Judith Miller and Matt Cooper are facing jail time for failing to disclose their sources on the memo, yet Novak doesn't even appear to have been talked to. Is this because Novak knows where all the bodies are buried, or do we have different rules for different people?

Intelligence Squad has the rundown on all the questions asked at that 2/28/03 briefing. Most of the questions were serious and topical, regarding the impending buildup to invasion and war, European allies, Hans Blix, oil prices, economic ramifications, etc.

Here's what Guckert asked, for a "news" agency that did not even exist yet:

There have been reports out of Maine that the children of deployed service personnel are being harassed as a result of their elementary school teacher's expression of anti-war views in the classroom. Could you comment on that?

This was an urban myth spread by the usual wingnut radio suspects, especially Oxycontin Limbaugh. Its veracity has been disputed, but regardless, the angle on this question cannot be drawn with a real-world protractor.

At this point, it behooves us to ask the question, why then? What was so special about that particular point in time, that Guckert needed to be there to lob that kind of softball? And remember -- he was not there by accident. Someone vetted this guy, despite the fact that he had zero journalist credentials, and by his own admission did not work for any news agency at the time, since he has said Talon was his first.

Was Talon's pending formation a known entity, as an in-house pro-war pro-Bush propaganda mouthpiece, and as such, getting Guckert in before the pending start of war was critical to getting the message pushed as early as possible? How is it possible, that in the stepped-up security of post-9/11 America, someone with zero journalist credentials, no credible profession whatsoever, and pending tax-evasion problems in Maryland, waltzes into the White House press room and gets a pass? And what is the practical purpose of such a tactic?

And the Drudge(another weasel that bears scrutiny)-like scoops that were apparently handed to Guckert -- the starting time of the Iraq invasion before it was announced; the name of CBS News producer Mary Mapes' name, which Guckert helpfully passed along to Sean Hannity, so Fox News could break the Dan Rather Memogate scandal. Guckert clearly didn't get these scoops by investigating; someone gave them to him. Real reporters don't give away their scoops, they break them for their own news agencies. Fake reporters hand breaking news scoops off to propaganda arms for their party benefactors.

The most relevant advice comes from that most infamous of anonymous journalist sources, Deep Throat: Follow the money.

Daddy Dearest

I guess you have to at least give Alan Keyes some points for consistency. After spending the summer tilting at Illinois' senatorial windmill, and inveighing loudly in his Marvin the Martian voice against the eeeevils of lesbians, he has carried the battle right into his own family, disowning his 19-year-old daughter, and refusing to pay for any more of her college education.

This must be the "love" part, I guess; it's so hard to tell anymore. I don't know what to make of this sort of "man", except that if there were really such a thing as karma, Keyes' wife would have a mid-life crisis and leave him for the girls' PE teacher at the local high school.

And to think that this jerk almost came within 50 points of beating Barack Obama for that Illinois US Senate seat....

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Last week, as the Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert/Fred Garvin story started breaking, we here at the Hammer were secretly lamenting that The Daily Show had picked that week to take their monthly vacation. (Must be rough.) Surely the story would blow over, we thought.

We're elated to be wrong. Last night's send-up of the Rear Admiral™ fiasco was a powerful one-two punch, and hilarious to boot, thanks to Jon Stewart's sheer inability to keep a straight face and look over at Stephen Colbert Ted Hitler.

But the points behind the punches are what we want to start addressing here. It has been fun hoisting this shameless jerk-off up on his own sanctimonious petard, though. Imagine for a second the unbridled gall it must have taken for this gay online escort/hustler to write a piece asserting that John Kerry would have been the first gay US President. (Let's forget about James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln for now.) It's probably not self-loathing so much as the whore's motto of being willing to do anything for a buck, and we do mean anything.

Anyway, the first punch TDS delivered is what a good salesman would call the "eye-catcher": the photos of the Admiral wearing nothing but underwear, dog-tags, and a "fill me up with 9 inches of man-meat and make it hurt" look on his face. These serve to underscore the sheer hypocrisy of an administration which has used gays as political currency to buy favor with the Christian evangelical politcial activists. And make no mistake, Guckert's connections with high-ranking members of this administration are only now starting to be uncovered.

This is where the second punch comes in. If the network news-readers get off their asses and start looking into all the behind-the-scenes players that the lefty bloggers have managed to dig up in the space of a couple of weeks, it could be a real body blow.

In the meantime, let's do Leslie "Wolf" Blitzer's fucking job for him. Ready?

A little background may be in order on this. The more obvious aspects of this White House's propaganda efforts (and that is exactly what they are) began last year with the "Karen Ryan" "reports", promotional videos produced by the Department of Health and Human Services that were purposely made to look like the product of a television news-reporting effort. The General Accounting Office promptly declared that these videos violated federal anti-propaganda laws. In the last month the HHS has been caught paying not one, but two conservative columnists, Maggie Gallagher and Michael McManus, to advise the HHS on its marriage initiatives. Apparently the escape clause is that neither columnist was explicitly told to promote White House policy in their columns. But by an amazing coincidence, they went ahead and did precisely that.

Then, of course, there's Armstrong Williams, who was paid $241,000 by the Department of Education to shill the "No Child Left Behind Policy", which is generally considered an abject failure, even by Republicans.

This article has a pretty good rundown of the specifics of the White House's journalistic propaganda operations that have been uncovered thus far.

"Over the past several years, the Bush administration has learned that it can engage the press in an adversarial way, and the public won't mind. It's yet another step in managed news," says Tom Hollihan, another journalism expert at USC's Annenberg School.

These include screening the people who attend meetings that appear to have a town-hall format, and bypassing the national media to go directly to local media where, he says, "there are more softball questions."

You may recall snippets of those pseudo-town-hall meetings during last summer's campaign, where some drone would stand up to ask Himself a sub-Larry King softball of a question, or even just make a declaration along the lines of, "I just thank the Lord God Jesus Christ of the United States of Sanctified America that you're our President and Grand Deacon, sir. May I tea-bag you for a few minutes while you take the next question?"

That such craven, mewling shite even made it to public airwaves ought to be grounds for another propaganda investigation.

Our next witness for the prosecution is none other than Maureen Dowd. This is quite remarkable in itself, for us to even consider sourcing someone who has tragically fallen from second-rate Sex and the City-isms to using her column to find a man. (Yeah, that's gonna work, dear. I bang you, I forget to call you, and the whole goddamned world reads about it the next day. What guy wouldn't line up for that in a heartbeat?)

But when Dowd gets serious and on her game, she can actually be quite good. Some thought-provoking paragraphs:

I'm still mystified by this story. I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration, but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the "Barberini Faun" is credentialed to cover a White House that won a second term by mining homophobia and preaching family values?

At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, even though I'd been covering presidents and first ladies since 1986, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass - after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months.

In an era when security concerns are paramount, what kind of Secret Service background check did James Guckert get so he could saunter into the West Wing every day under an assumed name while he was doing full-frontal advertising for stud services for $1,200 a weekend? He used a driver's license that said James Guckert to get into the White House, then, once inside, switched to his alter ego, asking questions as Jeff Gannon.

Mr. McClellan shrugged this off to Editor & Publisher magazine, oddly noting, "People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors."

I know the F.B.I. computers don't work, but this is ridiculous. After getting gobsmacked by the louche sagas of Mr. Guckert and Bernard Kerik, the White House vetters should consider adding someone with some blogging experience.


With the Bushies, if you're their friend, anything goes. If you're their critic, nothing goes. They're waging a jihad against journalists - buying them off so they'll promote administration programs, trying to put them in jail for doing their jobs and replacing them with ringers.


They flipped TV's in the West Wing and Air Force One to Fox News. They paid conservative columnists handsomely to promote administration programs. Federal agencies distributed packaged "news" video releases with faux anchors so local news outlets would run them. As CNN reported, the Pentagon produces Web sites with "news" articles intended to influence opinion abroad and at home, but you have to look hard for the disclaimer: "Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense." The agencies spent a whopping $88 million spinning reality in 2004, splurging on P.R. contracts.

Even the Nixon White House didn't do anything this creepy. It's worse than hating the press. It's an attempt to reinvent it.

This is exactly the problem at hand. Every president has had adversarial relations with certain partisan elements in the press. You could no more fault Bush's reluctance to speak to Mo Dowd than you could fault Clinton if he refused to engage, say, some window-licker from the Moonie Times.

But the PR shenanigans pulled by this administration, literally using taxpayer dollars to bamboozle them with fake newsmen and Potemkin "news" agencies -- which not only regurgitate administration talking points, but are literally bought, funded, and run by GOP delegates and party members -- are unprecedented. This is quite literally the sort of thing that goes on in banana republics, or the old Soviet Union. It is of a piece with pinning this nation's highest honor on a failed moron like George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, pretending everything is a monumental success and glory while the facts burn all around us.

All right. Next batter up is Frank Rich, who cuts ever closer to the bone on this issue.

But it shouldn't distract from the real question - that is, the real news - of how this fake newsman might be connected to a White House propaganda machine that grows curiouser by the day. Though Mr. McClellan told Editor & Publisher magazine that he didn't know until recently that Mr. Guckert was using an alias, Bruce Bartlett, a White House veteran of the Reagan-Bush I era, wrote on the nonpartisan journalism Web site Romenesko, that "if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover." (Otherwise, it would be a rather amazing post-9/11 security breach.)

By my count, "Jeff Gannon" is now at least the sixth "journalist" (four of whom have been unmasked so far this year) to have been a propagandist on the payroll of either the Bush administration or a barely arms-length ally like Talon News while simultaneously appearing in print or broadcast forums that purport to be real news.

In Rich's article, while the efforts of Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart in getting to the heart of the matter are commendable, the real unsung hero may be Bruce Bartlett, for pointing out the obvious -- Guckert could not have done all this on his own. It's the fucking White House -- they don't just let in the guy from your local street sheet to these things, and they sure as fuck don't call on them. As Salon's intrepid Eric Boehlert points out,

"It is a huge deal for Bush to pick on you at a press conferences," says a member of the White House press corps. "There are people in the press room who have covered Bush for four years and haven't had a chance to ask him a question."

He's right. This administration has been notoriously hostile to significant portions of the media, and even to the notion of press conferences in general. They've had more lately than is normal, but this administration has still had far fewer than any in recent history. In an era of multiple (and spreading) wars, and a precipitous economy with a sinking dollar and iffy job market, this can be safely assumed to be a cynical interpretation of the "no news is good news" axiom, I suppose. Whatever. Bottom line is, Bush only calls on people he knows and likes. Everybody knows this. So somebody vetted this asshole.

But at long last, along with Bruce Bartlett's helpfully obvious clue, this last is the true crux of the biscuit:

Thanks to the continued digging by online sleuths, there's now documented evidence that Guckert attended White House briefings as early as February 2003. Guckert, using his alias "Jeff Gannon," once boasted online about asking then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer a question at the Feb. 28, 2003, briefing. The date is significant because in order to receive a White House press pass, Guckert would have needed to prove that he worked for a news organization that, in the words of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, "published regularly," in itself an extraordinarily low threshold. Critics have charged that while Talon News may publish regularly, it boasts a nearly all-volunteer news team which includes not a single person with actual journalism experience. (The team does, though, have quite a bit of experience working on Republican campaigns.) In other words, the outfit is not legitimate nor independent, two criteria often used in Washington, D.C., to receive press credentials.

But what's significant about the February 2003 date is that Talon did not even exist then. The organization was created in late March 2003, and began publishing online in early April 2003. Gannon, a jack of all trades who spent time in the military as well as working at an auto repair shop (not to mention escorting), has already stated publicly that Talon News was his first job in journalism. That means he wasn't working for any other news outlet in February 2003 when he was spotted by C-Span cameras inside the White House briefing room. And that means Guckert was ushered into the White House press room in February 2003 for a briefing despite the fact he was not a journalist.

Whereas it was once suspected that White House press officials in charge of doling out coveted press passes went easy on Guckert, a Republican partisan working for an amateurish news outlet who would routinely ask softball questions, it now appears those same unnamed White House officials simply ignored all established credential standards -- including detailed security guidelines -- and gave Guckert White House access, even though he had no professional standing whatsoever.

The day pass requires just a minimal background check. It was designed to be used on a temporary basis, such as for reporters coming in from out of town to cover the White House for a brief period. Guckert, though, with the help of somebody inside the press office, turned the day pass system into his own revolving door. That was when he was at least working for Talon News.

To learn Guckert was waved into the White House for fourth estate briefings even before he was affiliated with any kind of news outlet is startling.

Startling, to say the least. As Boehlert points out, Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Reps. Slaughter (D-NY) and Conyers (D-MI) have already filed under the Freedom of Information Act to get to the bottom of this.

The jig is up for the Rear Admiral™. What remains is the spin that the hypocritical, shameless right will try to put on all this, and whether this spurs any true investigative journalists out there to do their goddamned jobs for once, to grow a pair and stop letting bloggers wipe their asses for them. Editorial "discretion" at a commercial media outlet is simply no excuse; obviously anyone can put up a website and say whatever they know. Put the facts out, provide some commentary and analysis, and don't just let the chips fall where they may, but knock 'em over. We're on the sixth 'turf hack found out in just the last few months or so. Gee, you think there might be more where that came from.

Eric Boehlert can't do it all by himself. As we said here a month or so ago, while Dan Rather's career fades into that good night, he does not have to go quietly. He has nothing left to lose, unless he wants to let these shameless assholes take his pride as well.

Go hard, Dan. Die with your boots on. Take the game to these guys. Be a man, for Christ's sake.

One last thing: throughout the antics and mal-fee-ance of this toxic administration, I have found myself retreating more and more to a mantra which I find a bit unseemly -- that if any (and I mean any) of this shit had happened during the Clinton years, we'd never have heard the end of it. It's become a fairly popular web-abbreviation, IOKIYAR (It's OK If You're A Republican).

I am uncomfortable with it because in an empirical sense (and after all the pimp-slaps, we do make an honest attempt to be reality- and fact-based here at The Hammer), it requires speculation and conjecture, the syllogistic equivalent of attempting to prove a negative.

And yet, as much as Clinton's unceasing bullshit annoyed me at the time, I am as certain of this mantra as I am of practically any empirically-based point of knowledge. There is no doubt in my mind that if Al Gore had yanked us into a failed war on false pretenses and idealistic whimsy, the Limbaugh/Hannity/Coulter wing of factoid manufacture would have used any and every pretext to concoct as wild of a scenario as you like.

That alone is as good as any reason to not listen to their hypocritical bullshit about picking on a helpless gay guy. They're cynically trying to "Matthew Shepard" him, and pray to their greenback god that this all just goes away. If we let that happen this time around, with all that lies beneath the surface of a couple of oogy dog-tag photos on a gay hustler website, then maybe we deserve to keep losing.