Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Was that a party or what?! I mean, of course, that “celebration of freedom” on January 20 and the $40 million spent to take our minds off dark distractions like Iraq. And what a speech! “Freedom” 22 times, “Liberty” 15, and “Iraq” not once. But, not to worry, there are endless possibilities for new wars and other adventures contained in the President’s rhetoric and the Vice President’s jocular interviews. Let’s talk about those possibilities and other idiocies leaking out of their echo chamber on the Potomac.

“Outposts of Tyranny”

In her January 18 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State-designate Condi Rice sought to broaden the horizons of the senators, challenging them to look beyond Iraq – already the “last war” – to the exciting new possibilities that awaiting our over-stretched citizen soldiers. “To be sure,” she said, “in our world, there remain outposts of tyranny, and America stands with oppressed people on every continent, in Cuba and Burma, and North Korea and Iran, and Belarus and Zimbabwe.” Breathtaking! In a throwaway line not questioned by the press – or the senators – the “axis of evil” just doubled in size.

The “enemies of freedom” are everywhere – on every continent, save Australia and Antarctica – but, alas, not in China, Sudan, or Saudi Arabia. One can only assume that the latter countries are free. The main criteria for making our hit list seem to be oil or constituents in South Florida. One wonders, on the other hand, how Saudi Arabia slipped under our screen. Might it be friends in high places…like Crawford?

Ah, surely, Rummy’s radar will catch those trying to slip through our tyranny detectors. Indeed, according to Bart Gellman in the Washington Post, JCS Chairman General Richard Myers has reportedly sent Rummy “an early planning document” focusing on emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines, and Georgia.” The Philippines an “emerging target?” (Yes, I know, Moros in the south. But has anyone asked Manila?)

According to Gellman, Rumsfeld has created a new, undisclosed unaccountable organization, the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), that has been operating “off the books” for the last two years in Iraq, Afghanistan, “and other places [DOD] declined to name.” In his January 17 New Yorker article, Seymour Hersh has named Iran as one of the countries where these cowboys are mucking about.

I know that inspires confidence in the fear-filled minds of my red state friends. But still I worry, when I learn that Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence Lt. Gen. William Boykin and Assistant Secretary (for special operations policy) Thomas O’Connell are running these “black” activities. Boykin, who you may remember as the God-is-on-our-side, Bible-toting loose cannon, admits that Rummy has arrogated to himself functions formerly performed by the now-gutted CIA. For his part, O’Connell brushes aside historic restrictions on such activities, noting in the Post article that Rummy has no patience with the “hidebound way[s] of thinking” and “risk-adverse mentalities” of his predecessors. Boykin and O’Connell, by the way, are the deputies, respectively, of the morally-challenged Under Secretary for Intelligence Steve Cambone and that arch neo-con Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s “denials” of Hersh’s article on Iran are, in fact, nothing more than obfuscatory non-denials. Far from denying it, our soft-spoken Vice President shows up on the Don Imus show on Inaugural Day with a variety of worrisome statements. The President, he says, is “very concerned” about Iran and has placed that country “right on the top of the list,” presumably of “emerging targets.” Might Israel do the job for us – bomb Iran? The Vice President smiles and continues: “Israel might do it without being asked,” and “leave it to the international community to pick up the broken china.” (One wonders: Is that how he views our dead young men and women in Iraq – so much “broken china?”) Another “green light” for Sharon? Or, as more charitable commentators put it, is he seeking merely to “rattle Teheran’s cage?” Trouble is, he’s rattling my cage, our allies’…and maybe yours.

What are these people thinking? Why is this crowd that launched an aggressive war, killed and maimed tens of thousands, stained our honor by ordering – or, at very least, explicitly countenancing - the torture of prisoners, and broken a once proud and effective army still running things?

Meanwhile, Back in Iraq

What do you call an election where no one knows who’s running or where the polling places are? Where hardly anyone is registered? Where gun-toting U.S. soldiers pass out election flyers? Where there are no foreign observers? Where you might be killed if you show up at a polling place? The President calls it “freedom on the march,” and Fox and MSNBC breathlessly promise minute-by-minute results on Sunday. I wonder what the exit polls in Fallujah will say?

The Price of Freedom

Our election was almost three months ago and today we learn the President is asking for another $80 billion “supplemental” for Iraq – now nearly $320 billion for our burgeoning overseas “war on terror.” In the face of another record budget deficit, the President, who promised in October to half the deficit in four years, also wants to tack on another $600 billion by making his tax cuts permanent.

We also learned today that the Pentagon estimates that we will need 120,000 American troops in Iraq for at least two years. Others claim that that is a conservative estimate and that we will actually need more like 150,000 for six years.

For his part, the President claimed this week that the 2004 election was our “accountability moment.” Iraq was debated, and, he says, “the people chose me.” Oh? Do you remember the President mentioning figures like these in October? Is that light at the end of the tunnel looking brighter? Or is the darkness deepening?

Our Abu Ghraib and Others’

Speaking of darkness, have you noticed how stories about Abu Ghraib and other American torture centers (like Bagram and Guantanamo) have migrated to the deep inside pages of your papers and disappeared completely from your television news. Frank Rich, the New York Times media critic has noticed. In addition to the efforts of the Administration to pin all accountability on a few hapless NCOs and the ideologically-motivated efforts by folks like Fox and MSNBC to hit the “erase” button, Rich, in a January 23 story, cites two non-ideological factors that, although seemingly contradictory, are, in fact, reinforcing: TV’s perceived need for pictures and the FCC’s campaign against “indecency.”

Noting that no cameras were allowed in the courtroom of Spec. Graner’s court martial, TV turned instead to much more visual legal proceedings such as the circus surrounding the Michael Jackson case. Obversely, the networks, cowed by the FCC, “are unlikely to go into much depth about war stories involving forced masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that end in death [Some 30 such deaths are under investigation,].”

The result is, as Graner’s lawyer explains, the turning of Nuremberg on its head: [In Nuremberg] we were going after the order givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.”

Fact is, as Rich notes, our government has been allowed to get away with “strictly quarantin[ing] the criminality to a few Abu Ghraib guards” and insulating itself from any charge that that criminality derives from U.S. policy that permits torture. And the authors of that policy – Rumsfeld, Cambone, Alberto Gonzalez, and others – continue, unchastened and unaccountable to plot new outrages.

Meanwhile, recent reports reveal that – Whew! – we’re not alone. British and Danish soldiers have, it turns out, similarly abused Iraqi prisoners – a fact that led the BBC news on cable last week, but didn’t get a mention on American network or cable news.

The Continuing Shame of the American Media…and Signs of Hope

The American media – especially the telegenic airheads on TV – have been AWOL since September 11, “choosing,” Rich says, “to look the other way rather than confront the evil committed in our name” in Iraq. With precious few exceptions, television has assumed the role of Administration lap dogs, be it CNN’s “Defending America” nonsense, Chris Matthews’ “Heroes Tour,” or Brian Williams “journalism-free ‘Road to the Inauguration’.”

That said, there are voices out there that give rise to hope. On TV, ABC’s Ted Koppel and a compassionate and perceptive team that includes Chris Bury and Dave Marash cover real news on “Nightline;” Keith Olberman is a refreshing breath of fresh air in the midst of MSNBC’s smog alert; PBS still offers “Frontline,” “The Lehrer News Hour,” a slightly truncated “Now,” Charlie Rose, and, after Rose signs off at midnight on KRCB, Amy Goodman and “Democracy Now.” The best newscast of all these days is Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. I encourage you also to search out the BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle on cable (usually KRCB). Their reality-based take on the world stands in refreshing contrast to the unreality of American television “news.”

On the radio there is good ole KPFA, FM 94.1, and – Here’s the really good news! – Air America on KQKE, “The Quake,” AM 960. Air America’s big names – Al Franken and Janine Garafolo – leave much to be desired. Its real stars, however, are shining more brightly every day. They are the intelligent, passionate, and witty Ed Shultz (noon to 3:00 p.m.) and Randi Rhodes (sp?) (3:00 to 7:00 p.m.). Watch for Ed Shultz on this Sunday’s George Stephanopoulos show.

Profiles in Courage

Under the guise of considering Condi Rice’s nomination, the Senate held an historic debate today on Iraq policy. You had to watch C-SPAN, however, to catch it. There were wise and courageous words uttered by folks like Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, and our own Barbra Boxer, who forced the debate. There was also more craven fawning over Rice by Dianne Feinstein.

I urge you to contact Senator Boxer at and express your appreciation. I also urge you to contact Senator Feinstein at or at (202) 224-3841. I called today and told her staffer that I intended to vote against Feinstein for any office she sought. Better to have an upfront Republican senator than the one we’ve got now.

Be Scared, Be Very Scared

I for one am very scared. You might be too after you re-read Animal Farm and compare its plot against the bizarre one we’re now living through. God help us. I mean that…God help us.