Friday, August 31, 2007

Month 53 of the War By the Numbers

As far as the war in Iraq is concerned, the trouble with September for the Bush administration is that August has to come first.

This means the good news in the run-up to the anxiously awaited Petraeus-Crocker progress report gets upstaged by the bad news: Negligible decreases in U.S. and Iraqi casualties despite all of the spinning about how much better things are.
Beyond all of those congressional junkets to Iraq, which almost inevitably produced statements from returning honorables like "Golly gee, that surge thing sure is working!," August also was notable for:

* An Associated Press investigation that found deaths from political violence have increased
since the surge began, averaging 62 per day, while deaths per day from political violence in 2006 averaged 33. And while Baghdad is safer that is because the violence has been pushed out elsewhere.

* A growing debate over troop levels. Some active-duty commanders and a fair number of retired ones are warning that the war is bringing the Army to its knees because of the physical and emotional demands that it is putting on its soldiers as well as the Pentagon's inability to quickly replace damaged and destroyed vehicles and materiel.

* A declassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq concluded that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can't find his mojo and there won't be legislative reforms unless there is a fundamental shift in governance. Translation: Throw the bum out.

* Despite its years-long efforts to stabilize Basra in southern Iraq, the British Army is watching Shiite militias fill the power vacuum being created as their troops draw down by escalating their rivalries in a violent effort to control the region's rich oil resources.

Over 400 people were killed in a series of coordinated suicide bombings in northern Iraqm kaing them the deadliest coordinated attack since 9/11.

* * * * *
Herewith our monthly numbers roundup, or what's left of it because U.S. and Iraq officials have been withholding an increasing number of statistics. (August 2007 totals are in orange; July 2007 totals are in black.):

1,548 -- (1,688) Iraqis killed (*)
81 (88) -- U.S. troops killed

3,238 -- (June-July: 3,033) Iraqis killed (*)
169 (June-July: 179) -- U.S. troops killed

3,735 (3,657) -- Total killed

$447,471,000,000 ($431,991,000,000)

(*) Includes Iraqi Army personnel, security forces, national police and civilians. Sources: National Priorities Project, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, Defense Manpower Data Center.

Photograph by Agence France Presse

Sgt. Princess C. Samuels (1985-2007)

I want to know why I'm planning a funeral while George Bush is planning a wedding.
--Anika Lawal, Princess's mother

Princess C. Samuels enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in suburban Baltimore.

"We just wanted to see the world . . . and just get out of Maryland," said friend Jacqueline "Nikki" Ellis, who is serving in the Air Force in Guam. "We saw so many people that just stayed in there and never do anything else."

Sergeant Samuels, an imagery specialist in military intelligence, left for Iraq last winter after spending some time in Afghanistan. Last week she was killed in an attack by insurgents.

"She was a very vibrant and very happy girl," said an aunt, Kathy Smith. "She's always been very smart, very intelligent. She was sergeant at 21 - that says a lot about her."

More here.

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Glenn McCoy/Universal Press Syndicate

We're On the Road Again & Boogying

CHARLESTOWN, Rhode Island -- We're on the road again for our annual pilgrimage to the Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Beach near here. Last year's festival was rain soaked, but there is nothing but sunshine in the Labor Day weekend forecast and we're getting ready to boogy -- and zydeco and cajun and creole and folk and rock.

The festival opens this evening and continues through Sunday night with as eclectric a range of performers that you're likely to find on a single stage, including Canadian fiddler extraordinaire Natalie MacMaster (photo), who headlines tonight's bill.

Click here for my rave preview of the festival, which is an easy drive from anywhere in the Northeast and a great way to pay homage to the New Orleans music tradition, which is coming back and better than ever after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

If you can join us, email me with your cellphone number I'll give you a ringy dingy and we can rendezvous and fais do-do.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Boy walks past burned cars after fighting in Karbala. More here.

For those inclined to think that a willingness to grind up real people's lives in the pursuit of grand political causes is a distinctively left-wing vice, we present Mr Bill Kristol.


Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration. . . .

"Overall," the report concludes, "key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," as promised. While it makes no policy recommendations, the draft suggests that future administration assessments "would be more useful" if they backed up their judgments with more details and "provided data on broader measures of violence from all relevant U.S. agencies."


When people say that they want to end the war in Iraq, I always want to ask them which war they mean. There are currently at least three wars, along with several subconflicts, being fought on Iraqi soil. The first, tragically, is the battle for mastery between Sunni and Shiite. The second is the campaign to isolate and defeat al-Qaida in Mesopotamia. The third is the struggle of Iraq's Kurdish minority to defend and consolidate its regional government in the north.

I will tell you that when you get in the Green Zone, there is a physiological phenomenon I think called Green Zone fog. . . . It’s death by PowerPoint. . . . It’s always that their argument is winning.


I hold no brief for [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as such, but it's fair to note that we are asking him to reconcile a nation that by almost every indication does not wish to be reconciled. Our deep and continual misunderstanding of sectarian aspirations in Iraq is at the root of our inability to see Iraq for what it is.


The need to be honest about Abu Ghraib and correct the abuses at military and C.I.A. prisons is not only about upholding the law and American values. It is about the safety of American soldiers. Every right the United States denies to its detainees may one day be denied to Americans captured in wartime. Every abuse the United States visits on detainees increases the risk of American soldiers being abused in foreign prisons.

If humanity and law are not reasons enough to end the detainee abuse, then it should be done for the cause that Mr. Bush invokes daily: supporting the troops.


A growing clamor among rank-and-file Democrats to halt President Bush's most controversial tactics in the fight against terrorism has exposed deep divisions within the party, with many Democrats angry that they cannot defeat even a weakened president on issues that they believe should be front and center.

The Democrats' failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party's leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies -- on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.


They . . . have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty."


Photograph by The Associated Press

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blackwater USA: Armed & Dangerous

It seems right out of a shoot-'em-up Hollywood thriller: A shadowy private American security company led by a messianic right winger by the name of Erik Prince who has close connections to the White House and Pentagon hires out his own air force to put down civil unrest at home and insurgencies abroad.

Well, it's not a movie, but all too real.

There is an
Erik Prince and he heads Blackwater USA, which touts itself as "The most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping and stability operations company in the world" with a mission "To support security, peace, freedom, and democracy everywhere."
Blackwater is no stranger to readers of Kiko's House. I've written extensively about what are politely called private soldiers -- but in reality are mercenaries -- in Iraq.

Many of Blackwater's operatives there are former Army Special Forces troopers and Navy SEALS who get paid fat salaries and out-of-this-world bennies to guard prisoners, protect convoys, stand sentry and do security overflights in their armed-to-the-teeth black helicopters. Oh, and keep their mouths shut.
Four of those mercenaries, you might recall, were killed by a mob in Fallujah in March 2004 and their bodies hung from the trestles of a bridge.

Their widows sued Blackwater. They claimed that the Dark Prince, in an effort to increase his profit margins, failed to provide the armored vehicles, weapons, maps and necessary lead time in which the four men could have familiarized themselves with the area.
Incredibly -- that is until you understand Blackwater's modus operandi -- the Dark Prince's response was to take a page from the Dick Cheney playbook and claim that Blackwater is above the law.

When that ludacrious argument failed to pass muster with the courts, Blackwater countersued the men's estates for $10 million to try to silence the widows and keep them out of court.
Did I mention that the Dark Prince is well connected?

This Born-Again Christian, himself a former SEAL, helped bankroll the Republican Revolution of the 1990s and his family's good works include providing seed money to right wingnuts, including James Dobson's Focus on the Family. He also has given lavishly to President Bush's election campaigns.
The payback has been profitable as Blackwater has capitalized on the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld push for increased privatization of the military and use of mercenaries and other contractors in Iraq and elsewhere.
The Dark Prince's legal team includes Fred F. Fielding, one of President Bush's lawyers and a long-time Washington heavyweight; Joseph Schmitz, who was formerly the inspector general at the Pentagon; Cofer Black, who was director of the CIA Counter-Terrorist Center, and some guy by the name of Kenneth Starr.

But I digress, because the big news is that the Dark Prince is buying himself an air force.

Blackwater has placed an order for Brazilian-made
Embraer Super Tucano light combat prop jets, which as you can see from the photograph are not used for giving rides at county fairs. Blackwater claims that the prop jets will be used for pilot training, but that begs the question:
Training for what?
The company has branched out into disaster response management since Hurricane Katrina, where it overbilled the feds ungodly sums, but appears to have other stateside plans in the works, as well.

Explains Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, in an interview:
"Blackwater's been in negotiations with several state governments in the United States. Blackwater met recently with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about doing disaster response in California. They’re opening up a new private military base in San Diego. Another one is in Mount Carroll, Illinois. They have applied for operating licenses in every coastal U.S. state. This is the expansion of a privatized army."
Creepy, isn't it?

Now try this on for size: Could it be the the Dark Prince is planning for the day that martial law was imposed after a disaster and would come to the aid of the very clergy folks whom the Department of Homeland Security is training to help put down citizen unrest?

Sound's batshit crazy doesn't it?

But as Jim Booth, who has aggressively covered Blackwater at Scholars and Rogues, notes:
"Having planes that are good at counter-insurgency in the hands of a dedicated private army headed by an evangelical dominionist could be a back-up in case pastoral diplomacy fails.

"Of course, this could merely be a business decision on the part of Blackwater. After all, as we’ve noted already, there's no business like war business. And to do business properly, you’ve got to have the right tools."
Be fearful, America, be very fearful.

Faux News: Oops! We Did It Again!

Entire websites bogs are devoted to pushing back against Faux News, and for my money far too many bloggers spend far too much time chasing their tails every time they belive that these hacks have pulling another conservative dirty trick.
But Faux's habit of ignoring a pol's Republican affiliation or even changing it when they get caught in the crosshairs ad Mark Foley did is really too unbelievable to pass unnoted.
And so it is noted that Faux did it again this week with Senator Larry "Wide Open Stance" Craig, who morphed into being one of those damned Democrats.

Hat tip to Crooks & Liars

Hot Diggity Dog!

The Boss's new single is available for free on iTunes.

The iPhone-Copyright Law Smackdown

The cats will have iPhones before I do, but I've followed closely the story of the New Jersey teenager who successfully unlocked his iPhone so it can be used on cellular networks other than the vile AT&T.
My interest stems from the utter coolness of what the kid did and because his daring act is inevitably colliding with copyright law, something that I know a thing or three about.
But not as much as Publius, who has posted a erudite explanation over at Obsidian Wings about why copyright law even applies.

Click here.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

'Some Son of a Bitch Would Die'

By Bruce Cockburn
Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher . . . I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher . . . Some son of a bitch would die

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

As you'd expect from a bloke who wrote a book titled No Tattoos Before You're Thirty, I'm not a huge fan of most skin art, mainly because it's a mistake impressionable kids can't easily undo and also because I've never come across an image, slogan or design that I want to see on my body every day for the rest of my life.

Then there are the people who actually have tatts: although I know many wonderful and adjusted men and women who've cartooned up, there do seem to be an inordinate number of wankers, wannabes and weirdos who equate inking the yin-yang symbol on their bum with being cool.

I know it's very hip nowadays to get ironic tattoos - I remember going to a Sparklehorse gig a few years ago and his percussionist, surely the nerdiest man ever to strut the stage at the Annandale Hotel, sported a flaming violin on his forearm - but this represents the minority of tattoo owners.

Most of the girls I see strutting around with arse antlers and blokes sporting tribal bands and Chili Pepper-style patterns strike me as, well, clueless tools and their "f--- you world" pretensions more of a "look at me" cry for attention.

Throw in the masses of criminals, strippers and junkies whose use of tatts is as original as the business suits they'll tell you they're rebelling against and I wonder if the whole phenomenon is less about self-expression than it is about about low self-esteem . . .


Patients seeking an appointment with a dermatologist to ask about a potentially cancerous mole have to wait substantially longer than those seeking Botox for wrinkles, a study published online by The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology said.

Researchers reported that dermatologists in 12 cities offered a typical wait of eight days for a cosmetic patient wanting Botox to smooth wrinkles, compared with a typical wait of 26 days for a patient requesting evaluation of a changing mole, a possible indicator of skin cancer.


I have held for years that the so-called Women's Liberation movement was quite simply the natural formation of a “collective unconscious” among women that baby making had been demoted. In effect women did not and were not choosing liberation. Nature had “liberated” them in order for earth to achieve human population/resource homeostasis.

Consider this quote . . . which reduces the entirety of womens' natural reproductive options and the intellectual underpinnings of the Womens Rights Movement to a few simple choices:

"If women decide to spend their 20s clubbing rather than child-rearing, and their cash on handbags rather than diapers, that's up to them. But the transition to a lower population can be a difficult one . . . "

Looking back from this perspective, in the now, one wonders what was all the fuss really about?

Disclaimer: I believe passionately that women did not enact the liberation they so passionately espoused. They were liberated, as in less responsibilities and more free time, by the nature mandated necessity to have fewer children. I think a substantial portion of the theory of Women's Lib is false. The steps called for post-liberation to achieve equality and fairness were and are valid.


Oh the poor widdle babies. Being on the down low isn't working out so well for them, it almost never does. The Republican party long ago forgot that people who live in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones. In the last few months, two men have been busted for soliciting sex in the men's room (Gross, isn't it dirty in there?) and another Senator's number (now considered old news) was found in the phone records of a prominent escort service. All are married. Barney Frank must sit at home and laugh over the the stupidity, hypocrisy and inability of the Republicans to get laid in the manner that they so obviously desire. Don't ask, don't tell. From McGreevy to Craig, the effort to deny their true biological urges has become an unmitigated disaster, both politically and personally. Then they try to justify the scandals by bringing up Jefferson, but money in the freezer is nothing like dick in a box. Or stall. Makes you wonder what the next sex peccadillo will consist of . . .

From two years and many people's lifetimes ago. And I will ask the same question again. Will we ever learn?

-- DEB

Tomorrow will mark the tenth anniversary of the night the Princess of Wales died in a Paris car wreck while being pursued, as always, by photographers.

In my last years as an editor, Diana’s was the face that launched a thousand magazine covers, a Cinderella who rose to the height of celebrity after marrying Prince Not-So-Charming.

In less than a year, she transformed herself from a shy, somewhat chubby teaching assistant into the world’s most stylish woman, a never-ending feast for the cameras.

But it turned out to be more a Faustian bargain than a fairy tale. She did her part by giving birth to two heirs, but the price was a cold husband who preferred his former mistress, royal resentment of her popularity and constant sniping by the palace establishment.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Iraq & The Forever War: To Everything There Is a Season: Burn, Burn, Burn

Conservatives, as absent minded as their president when it comes to the lessons of history, are forgetting a significant cyclical aspect of the history of the Iraq war in their hearty hosannas over the "success" of the surge.
In each of the first four years of the war, there has been a spike in violence as temperatures cool down, summer wanes and Ramadan approaches.
I pray that this year is different. But in a scary confluence of events, Ramadan begins on September 13 this year, two days after the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that President Bush insists were launched by insurgents in Iraq and two days before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker go up to Capitol Hill to deliver the most anticipated progress report since the Bush twins got their braces off.

Brigadier General Richard Sherlock, deputy director for operational planning for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that insurgents are likely to attempt to make use of these events to launch “sensational” attacks.
In past years, frequent targets have been women, often with children in tow, who are queuing for cooking fuel to use throughout the holy Muslim month, as well as Christian churches and other civilian targets.
In August 2006, the Baghdad government reported that 2,966 Iraqis were killed. In September 2006, that number spiked at 3,539.


"In November of 1967, the Administration launched an extensive 'public relations' campaign. It was designed to convince Congress, the press, and the public that there was "progress" in Vietnam and that the war was being 'won.' [President] Johnson was advised to '[E]mphasize light at the end of the tunnel instead of battles, deaths, and danger.' 'There are ways,' Johnson was told, 'of guiding the press to show light at the end of the tunnel.' To head this effort, Johnson brought General William Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam, to Washington. Westmoreland addressed the National Press Club saying that the U.S. had reached the point 'where the end comes into view.' "

Yes, this is one strange war, and no aspect may be stranger than the role that Washington, D.C., consultants and lobbyists are playing far from the field of battle.
Take one-time and perhaps future Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a Shiite and former Baathist, has always been about foreign support and has no real domestic political base to speak of. And so he has hired a powerful D.C. lobbying firm to pitch his comeback campaign.

The firm, Barbour Griffith, is to receive $300,000 over six months, but Allawi hastens to add that:
"These figures are really much less than the figures that are being paid by others, our adversaries."
Marc Lynch over at Abu Aardvark has Allawi's number, writing that:
"Allawi would not solve any of America's problems in Iraq, and . . . he'd have a rough time getting a change of government through Parliament or taking control of an Iraqi state thoroughly penetrated and controlled by pro-Iranian Shia factions. But he represents an easy out for those who want to blame Maliki for problems which really flow from the nature of the Iraqi state, and an excuse to kick the can down the road for another year. What makes Allawi plausible is the absence of any other serious contenders to rule Iraq - which is, perhaps, the real indictment of the Iraqi political system."
More here.


It is obvious that there is big money to be made in purchasing and delivering weapons and other material to American and Iraqi forces.

The New York Times reports that several federal agencies are investigating a slew of fraud and kickbackcases involving billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains, including a logistics operation set up by a senior American officer, Lieutenant Colonel Levonda Joey Selph, who worked closely with General Petraeus when he was in charge of training and supplying Iraqi forces in 2004 and 2005.

Although Selph's neck seems to be in a noose, there is no indication that investigators have uncovered any wrongdoing by Petraeus.

The Times said that the logistics operation:
"Moved everything from AK-47s, armored vehicles and plastic explosives to boots and Army uniforms, according to officials who were involved in it. Her former colleagues recall Colonel Selph as a courageous officer who was willing to take substantial personal risks to carry out her mission and was unfailingly loyal to General Petraeus and his directives to move quickly in setting up the logistics operation."
More here.

When U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky made her first trip to Iraq this month, the outspoken antiwar liberal resolved to keep her opinions to herself. "I would listen and learn," she decided.
At times that proved a challenge, as when Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told her congressional delegation, "There's not going to be political reconciliation by this September; there's not going to be political reconciliation by next September." Schakowsky gulped -- wasn't that the whole idea of President Bush's troop increase, to buy time for that political progress?
But the real test came over a lunch with General Petraeus, who used charts and a laser pointer to show how security conditions were gradually improving -- evidence, he argued, that the surge is doing some good.

Still, the U.S. commander cautioned, it could take another decade before real stability is at hand.

Schakowsky said she gasped:
"I come from an environment where people talk nine to 10 months. And here he was talking nine to 10 years."
Well, while Schakowky doesn't get it, Senator Lindsay Graham and blogger Ed Morrissey sure do.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican who happens to be the only congressperson to serve his reserve duty in Iraq, is back from the Big Dusty and is now all gung-ho for the surge.

Explains Captain Ed at Captains Quarters:
"Graham still remains critical of Nouri al-Maliki's leadership, but argues that he's become almost irrelevant to the reforms. . . . The changes on the ground have provided momentum for the reforms necessary, and Graham says that all Maliki needs to do is get out of their way.

" . . . The opportunity comes at a curious but providential juxtaposition of events. General David Petraeus had finally implemented the correct counterintelligence strategy at almost the precise moment that al-Qaeda overplayed its shari'a enforcement. The final straw for most Iraqis was a ban on smoking on top of all the brutality they had already endured from the terrorists. Even the nationalist insurgents saw the American troops as preferable to the radical Islamists at that point.

"Graham believes that we already have the momentum for real reform and stability, although it will take a while to get the Sunnis to buy into democracy. All we need to do is keep clearing ground while the Iraqis stabilize from the ground up."
In like nine to 10 years, eh?

More here.

Cartoon du Jour on the War

Jeff Danziger/New York Times Syndicate

'I Have a Dream That One Day . . . '

Has it really been 44 years? Click here for more.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere


Every time something bad happens with this administration we get new articles saying that President Bush now has some great opportunity to do...something less bad. At this point the articles almost write themselves.


Now that Alberto Gonzales has decided to walk away from the smoking wreckage once known as the U.S. Justice Department, it will be instructive to see whether President Bush decides to hand the reins to another incompetent crony (assuming there are any left), or whether he takes the high road (a rare excursion) and actually nominates someone with the smarts and integrity to repair the beleaguered institution.

President Gerald Ford took the latter route in 1975, not long after he replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon and was tasked to clean up Justice. The department had been badly tainted by Watergate; as Ford later remarked, "it was essential that a new attorney general be appointed who would restore integrity and competence." He tapped Edward Levi, a University of Chicago legal scholar with strong leadership skills who earned plaudits from Democrats and Republicans alike; as Antonin Scalia would later write, "(Levi) brought two qualities to the job, a rare intellectuality and a level of integrity such as there could never be any doubt about his honesty, forthrightness, or truthfulness."

Will Bush opt for the Levi model, and pick an independent-minded outsider? I suspect that would not be his first impulse, given his habit of relying only on a small circle of diehard loyalists.


The problem with French winemaking is that there is far too much wine made, and far too much of it is mediocre or worse.

When Sen. David Vitter was brought low by disclosure of his phone calls to the D. C. Madam, it was another instance of furtive deviant behavior in a private setting. But [Sen. Larry] Craig’s solicitation of sex in a public place is a reminder that anonymous homosexual encounters in “tearooms” are far from a practice of the past.

Moral outrage seems to be the reaction of choice to this kind of behavior. Sadness might be another.


The obituaries for entrepreneur and TV legend Merv Griffin in the mainstream media are predictably lacking certain details.

Gay readers have learned from the recent deaths of Susan Sontag, Luther Vandross, Ismail Merchant and others not to expect too much in the way of honest reporting in the obit pages. Celebrities are doomed to an eternity in the closet when it comes to how the mainstream media cover gays, even in death.


If the plays had been written with a word processor on a computer that had somehow survived, we still might not know anything definitive about Shakespeare's original or final intentions — these are human, not technological, questions — but we might be able to know some rather different things... We might discover the play had originally been called GreatDane.doc instead of Hamlet.doc. We might also be able to know what else he had been working on that same day, or what Internet content he had browsed the night before (since we'll assume Shakespeare had Web access too). While he was online, he might have updated his blog or tagged some images in his Flickr account, or perhaps edited a Wikipedia entry or two. He might even have spent some time interacting with others by performing with an avatar in Second Life, an online place where all the world is truly a shared virtual stage.

. . . We may no longer have the equivalent of Shakespeare's hard drive, but we do know that we wish we did, and it is therefore not too late — or too early — to begin taking steps to make sure we save the born-digital records of the literature of today.


Photograph by Audrey LaCatis

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mythos & Alberto Gonzales' Red Shoes

We observe the ebb and flow of our political leaders' fortunes from a simple and safe two-dimensional perspective. They earn our esteem and trust or do not. Success smiles on them or does not. They stay clear of controversy or wallow in it. Sooner or later, they retire or are pushed from the stage.

We may occasionally remark that "Senator Stanley was born under a bad sign" or other allusions to there possibly being a perspective beyond those two dimensions, but except for reading the daily horoscope with our morning coffee we stay comfortably within the confines of those dimensions that conform with our cradle-to-grave world view.

On the surface, the arc of Alberto Gonzales' stormy career in Washington followed typical two-dimensional signposts. But I've long had the feeling that there is another dimension that reveals a heckuva lot more about him and other public people. Commentators don't notice this dimension in their rush to be authoritative, edgy or first with a story. And even if they did, it wouldn't make sense to them because they were born under a literal sign.

* * * * *
It's the morning after Gonzales' resignation and I've just come back into Kiko's House from viewing the opening phase of a total lunar eclipse as I write this. It was so amazing. The crickets are cricketing, but the birds that would be singing their songs at this hour are silent and will remain so until the eclipse is over.

So I'm feeling a good deal less two dimensional than usual as I introduce
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a friend, psychoanalyst and folklorist who is possessed with the ability to not just see that other dimension beyond our normal scrutiny but also describe it in vivid strokes.

In an enthralling
post over at The Moderate Voice that is unlike any of the zillions of others you've read in the last 24 hours, Dr. E takes us into that dimension as she muses on the rise and fall of Alberto Gonzales.

She does this by stirring together the mythos of the Carreta del Muerto, in which a passenger climbs on board a gilded carriage without realizing the driver is Death, and the fairy tale "The Red Shoes"
in which an impoverished child who has made her own shoes from cloth scraps is walking in a forest when a gilded carriage draws up beside her and she is beckoned inside by an old woman dressed in finery.

Following are excerpts of Dr. E's essay, although I urge you to read the whole thing.

* * * * *
First we must ask: Will the girl in the red shoes climb into the gilded carriage?

Dr. E answers:
"This is the part that . . . children in the theatre would cry out, 'Don’t get in! Don’t get in!'

"But, the child, dazzled by the wealth and accommodation, and offer of friendship from on high, cannot hear her own conscience, her own instincts for self-preservation. So overwhelmed is she by the opportunity . . . without consideration, she scrambles up into the carriage."
So what of Alberto Gonzales and his red shoes?
"[W]hether the red shoes were too big for him, too fast for him, or controlled by others by unseen means, whether he wore them willingly, or suddenly woke with these as requirement of his office . . . someone tapped the soles of his shoes, and thus he began to dance. Eventually danced crazy and out of control. No limits. Dancing into hearings, dancing around the topics, dancing and dancing.

"Mr. Gonzales, like the child in the tale, is, in reality, a boy from nowhere, he says. Those of us from poor beginnings are often all the more vulnerable to gilded carriages, that's for sure. For Mr. Bush to choose a Latino boy from poor beginnings means extra loyalty from that boy, and more importantly, an ever grateful ally. The operative word: grateful.

"There is often in those who come from nothing a perpetual wonder that we are in the presence of those who claim to breathe rarified air. It ought be our first warning sign that we are about to lose our wits and be exploited. But, more often being invited into the sanctum sanctorum can seem a wondrous step away from our history of our ancestors and parents . . . All the more reason to be wary when sudden gold is offered with wheels.

"So, Mr. Gonzales, like many, stepped into the gilt conveyance willingly, gladly, likely at first seduced by all the trim and fit . . . and especially by being able to be unlike his father, unlike his mother, being able to ride instead of walk that dusty road.

"Fairy tales have such irony. Mr. Gonzales' feet were severed by those he severed. Those persons who raised the 'hew' and cry, along with Congressional committees; together they all hoisted the axe . . . and though it was not a clean cut, but a severance from a hundred cuts . . . it is done at last."

Detail of photograph of "Caretta" by Marina Ludanova

Musings On the 2nd Anniversary of Katrina

It is hurricane anniversary season in New Orleans, and the beleaguered city is threatened with a new inundation: a tidal wave of reports, assessments, stock-takings, prognostications and tongue-lashings.

On Wednesday, New Orleans will have endured exactly two years since Hurricane Katrina hit, and the moment will be marked by ceremonies solemn and silly, in keeping with the city’s twin masks. President Bush, an object of lingering if unfocused resentment here, is expected to drop in. In the meantime, nothing in the city’s halting march back is too small, or too large, to be examined in earnest prose and PowerPoint presentations raining down from Washington and points north, sometimes accompanied by overnight politicians or think-tankers vowing to bravely fight on.

The condition of the swamps, the progress of the poor, arsenic in the schoolyards, awful conditions at the jail, great conditions at the hotels, the generosity of corporate donors, the parsimony (or beneficence) of the government, the wisdom of the bond-rating agencies, the in-migration of the young, the out-migration of the old, the hopeful (or hopeless) schools: all of it is grist for the report-making, assessment-mongering frenzy in a slow August news season.

The bewildering range of outlooks adds up to a giant question mark, a collective split personality. Is the city recovering, standing still or sinking back?


Hurricane Katrina clearly changed the public perception of Bush's presidency. Less examined is the role [Karl] Rove played in the defining moment of the administration's response: when Air Force One flew over Louisiana and Bush gazed down from on high at the wreckage without ordering his plane down. Bush advisers Matthew Dowd and Dan Bartlett wanted the president on the ground immediately, one Bush official told me, but were overruled by Rove for reasons that are still unclear: "Karl did not want the plane to land in Louisiana." Rove’s political acumen seemed to be deserting him altogether.


As the second anniversary of Katrina approaches, residents in hurricane-prone areas are still concerned that they cannot obtain insurance to cover damage to their homes from future disasters. Specifically, the decision by State Farm, Mississippi’s largest insurer, to discontinue selling new policies on homes and small businesses there has sent shock waves beyond the state. Banks that normally require homeowner’s insurance as a condition for obtaining a mortgage are also not sure what impact this will have on their clients’ ability to buy such coverage.

. . . State Farm’s decision is only the tip of the iceberg of a much broader problem: how this country can reduce future losses from natural disasters and aid victims in their recovery efforts. Because of increasing development in hazard-prone areas and the effects of climate change, we are in a new era of catastrophic losses from natural disasters. Ten of the 20 most costly natural disasters have occurred during the past five years — all 10 of them hurricanes, typhoons or tropical storms.


With the cost of natural disasters far beyond the insurance industry’s ability to pay, a new market has sprung up to spread the risk. But how do you calculate the odds of catastrophe?


Over the past two years since Hurricane Katrina, I've seen waves of hardworking volunteers from nonprofits, faith-based groups and college campuses descend on New Orleans, full of compassion and hope.

They arrive in the city's Ninth Ward to painstakingly gut houses one by one. Their jaws drop as they wander around afflicted zones, gazing at the towering mounds of debris and uprooted infrastructure.

After weeks of grueling labor, they realize that they are running in place, toiling in a surreal vacuum.

Two full years after the hurricane, the Big Easy is barely limping along, unable to make truly meaningful reconstruction progress. The most important issues concerning the city's long-term survival are still up in the air. Why is no Herculean clean-up effort underway? Why hasn't President Bush named a high-profile czar such as Colin Powell or James Baker to oversee the ongoing disaster? Where is the U.S. government's participation in the rebuilding?

And why are volunteers practically the only ones working to reconstruct homes in communities that may never again have sewage service, garbage collection or electricity?


In a funky, crowded, smoke-filled bar in the French Quarter, locals are passing a tip bucket 'round the room, while singer John Boutte whoops and hollers, banging on his tambourine, crooning tales of regret and rage over the havoc wreaked by that witch Katrina. Adding his own spin to an old Randy Newman song, "Louisiana 1927":

President Bush flew over in a airplane . . .

President Bush said, "Great job, good job!

"What the levees have done to this poor Creole's land . . . ."

Backstage, in between sets, the Virgin Mary gazes down from her perch on the wall while the bar's managers count the proceeds, every single, every fiver, every ten-spot, counting aloud, one, two, three, four . . . $147. They count again . . . $147. And then hand the loot to Boutte, the son of seven generations of musicmaking New Orleans Creoles.

"I'm rich," Boutte says sardonically, fanning out the bills in his hands like a deck of cards.

Two years post-Katrina, it's like this for the city's musicians: New Orleans may be the music mecca, the birthplace of jazz, the place where you go to get your juice. But it's no place to make money.


Bottom photograph by Matt. More here.

A Special Way to Help Katrina Survivors

Detroit Brooks and the Cousin Rich Banjo
There are quite a few ways to help Hurricane Katrina survivors, but there is one that has a special place in my heart and my wallet, the Katrina's Piano Fund.
Started by soundmen John "Klondike" Koehler and Juan LaBostrie, they have been working to rebuild the lives of New Orleans area musicians by sending them instruments to replace those lost during the hurricane.

Through the generosity of many good folks, including the producers of this weekend's annual Rhythm & Roots Festival in Charlestown, Rhode Island, the fund has now replaced all but two dozen instrutments of the 300 applications they received.
Katrina's Piano Fund is a 501[c]3 non-profit organization. Click here for more information about how you can help.

Another GOP Hall of Closeted Pols Nominee

It's time to ask yet again why it is that Republican politicians seem to get caught doing naughty things much more than Democrats?

That's tough to answer, but we have yet another case of a closeted gay in a political party that officially loathes them.

The latest nominee to the GOP Hall of Closeted Pols is Larry Craig of Brokeback Mountain . . . er, Idaho, as smarmy and self righteous a conservative prig U.S. senator who has ever been caught trying to solicit sex from a guy in the Minneapolis airport.
Which is exactly what Craig appears to have done despite his protestations, including a wonderfully wacked out statement that he spreads his feet really far apart when he pees and didn’t mean to tap the foot of the undercover officer one toilet stall over.

By the way, Craig has pleaded guilty, although he later said he didn't mean to do so.
It has been rumored for years that Craig is as gay as Dick's hatband, to use one of my dear departed gay friend's favorite terms, but that would be anathema in conservative Idaho.

No less a loyalist than Hugh Hewitt, the hack Republican broadcaster, has called on Craig to resign:
"I realize that I did not say this about Senator Vitter, but Craig’s behavior is so reckless and repulsive that an immediate exit is required. . . . I don’t believe him. Read the statement by the arresting officer. He must think the people of Idaho are idiots. But even if I did believe him, this would make his judgment too flawed to be in the United States Senate in a time of war. He has to go."
Craig joins other recent nominees to the hall, including Glenn Murphy Jr. and Bob Allen, with a special kudo to Michael Flory, who was nominated for entry into the Non-Consensual Sexual Assault wing of the hall.

Tittering aside, neither political party has a monopoly on virtue, but as Steve Benen notes at The Carpetbagger Report:

"If we were to go back over the last few decades and do a tally on which side — left or right — had more high-profile sex scandals, I have a hunch it’d be about even. The difference, however, is that only one side claims the moral high-ground, holds itself out as the arbiter of virtue, is quick to judge moral/sexual failings in others, and wants desperately to use the power of the state to regulate (and ban) some of the behavior they personally engage in."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alberto Gone-zalez: The End of an Error

Alberto Gonzalez, a legal lightweight and dull-witted apparatchik whose name was once floated as a possible Supreme Court justice, leaves in shambles a Justice Department that he willingly helped the White House transform into a branch of the Republican Party.

President Bush repeatedly stood by Gonzales even as he faced increasing scrutiny for his abysmal leadership of the department and bipartisan calls for his resignation, his role in the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys and whether he testified truthfully in numerous appearances before Congress. To do otherwise would have been to acknowledge that this longtime colleague and helpmate was not up to the job, and that was not about to happen in an administration where politics trumps policy and loyalty, not honesty, is the greatest virtue.

Gonzalez, as it turned out, had sworn allegiance to the president and not the Constitution.
When asked about the storm clouds surrounding Gonzalez, the president’s typical answer has been: "Why would I hold somebody accountable who's done nothing wrong?"

Whining to the end that he has been treated unfairly and (isn't this rich) was being hounded out of Washington by partisan politics, Gonzalez leaves an extraordinary legacy:
A disdain for the rule of law -- whether it had to do with torture, civil rights or fair elections -- that bordered on the obsessive.
Obdurate to the end, Gonzalez was denying through his press spokesman up to this morning that he was leaving although he had told Bush of his decision on Friday. Sources say the president initially rebuffed Gonzalez' decision but relented after a face-to-face meeting in Crawford, Texas, yesterday.

Gonzalez would not explain why he was turning in his badge at a brief press conference this morning and refused to answer questions, although in a reference to being the first Hispanic AG, he said:
"I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general were better than my father’s best days."
I would say it was more a case of screwing up the American dream.

The president later praised Gonzalez as "a man of integrity, decency and principle."

Michael Chertoff is said to be the leading choice as a successor. What better way to honor his service as the sycophantic Homeland Security czar on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina? And if Chertoff is the prez's pick, doesn't it just speak volumes that there seem to be so few people who qualify as Cabinet-level department heads under the president's special standards that he seems to keep picking the same people from the same small pool?

(Solicitor General Paul Clement will be interim AG after Gonzalez steps down on September 17. The safest bet for the White House would be to stick with Clement, who has not been dragged into the U.S. attorney scandal.)

In any event, do not expect wholesale changes at main Justice as the successor will spend the next 15 months doing damage control and dealing with the various investigations that he inherits.

Gonzales' greatest achievement?

He made John Ashcroft and even Janet Reno look good.
While the departure is welcome, it's not like Bush and Dick Cheney are packing their bags anytime soon, so the sound you hear is one hand clapping.

For one thing, it removes some of the urgency from the various Democrat-led investigations into Gonzo's mischief. For another, it is "a real moment of truth" for the majority party, as Glenn Greenwald puts it:
"Democrats, who have offered up little other than one failure after the next since taking power in January, can take a big step toward redeeming themselves here. No matter what, they must ensure that Gonzales' replacement is a genuinely trustworthy and independent figure.

" . . . The standard excuse invoked by Democrats to justify their capitulations -- namely, that they cannot attract a filibuster-proof or veto-proof majority to defy the President -- will be unavailing here. They themselves can filibuster the confirmation of any proposed nominee to replace Gonzales. They do not need Blue Dogs or Bush Dogs or any of the other hideous cowards in their caucus who remain loyal to the most unpopular President in modern American history. . . . They only need 40 Senate votes to achieve it.
Josh Marshall, who singlehandedly broke the U.S. attorney scandal at Talking Points Memo and rode it hard until the MSM finally took notice, deserves a victory lap.
The blogosphere is very much and always will be a work in progress, but Josh showed the Big Boys a thing or three about doggedly staying on a story in the face of world-class stonewalling, as well as creatively using his readers as citizen journalists to help in his investigation.
More here on the resignation.