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  xSaturday, September 13, 2003

frank o'bannon r.i.p.

More sad news this afternoon. Governor Frank O'Bannon died this morning as a result of the storke he suffered Monday. Governor O'Bannon dedicated his life to public service, and Planet Swank joins his friends, family, colleagues and constituents in mourning his loss. Our thoughts remain with his wife Judy and his family through this difficult time.

Here's more from CNN.


guilty pleasures

Atrios has an interesting idea: an open thread for readers to list their guilty pleasures. Here's my contribution:

Music (genre): jpop (Japanese pop)

Music (group): The Go-Gos

Music (song): Disco Inferno (The Trammps)

TV Show: Xena Warrior Princess

Movie: Wild Side,a truly bizarre 1995 erotic thriller starring Anne Heche, Steve Bauer, Academy Award nominee -- not for this movie, of course -- Joan Chen and Christopher Walken, who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed. I got the DVD with some freelance money back in August. It's mesmerizing in part because of Walken's performance and in part because director Donald Cammell evidently attempted to make a real movie but was thwarted at every turn by his prodcers, who wanted something trashier. The result is a bizarre mix -- a trashy movie with occasional glimpses at the decent movie struggling to get out. Sadly, Cammell committed suicide the year after the movie was released.

Book: Anything by Mickey Spillane

I encourage my readers (both of them) to leave their own guilty pleasures in the comment thread here.


cute child quote of the day

The other day, we were taking a walk down the block. As we approached a house that has a notoriously noisy canine chained up on the front porch, Cecilia told me that that house had a "barkative dog."

I wish I'd thought of that word...

  xFriday, September 12, 2003

gallery of the day

natsuko tohno

A small safe-for-work gallery of Japanese model Natsuko Tohno.


letter to the editor of the day

Here's a typically shrill piece of lefty invective, sent to the L.A. Times:
With his disingenuous frothing at the mouth, Rumsfeld again goes abroad speaking, in great Nixonese, about opponents (read enemies) of Washington (read President Bush and himself) helping the enemy. Hmm, interesting thought there. Who created the enemy in the first place? Sure, Al Qaeda is the enemy for its attack in New York, but there are now many more because of Herr Rumsfeld (and I use that analogy since national security advisor Condoleezza Rice brought up the Iraq/Germany comparison) and his bull-in-a-china-shop approach to things.

Just give it up, Rummy. You're wrong, Bush is wrong, Rice is wrong, Karl Rove is wrong, and doubling the lie and sinking us into the most incredible, lame-brained debt doesn't make you right.

The punch line:
I can't wait, as a free-willed Republican, to vote against you and your ilk.

Neither can I.


friday link clearance

I've been utterly remiss in commenting on the case of Jesus Castillo, who in 2000 was convicted of obscenity for selling an adult comic to an adult undercover officer from a clearly marked "adults only" section. The prosecutor in the case claimed that comics "are for kids." Fortunately, Jim Henley and Jaquandor provide fine commentary. Ampersand weighs in with a dissenting opinion.

Here's a groovy Japanese collection of optical illusions, via FARK.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden says "I’m not going to call you a sucker for voting for [Bush]. I’m telling you that he thinks you’re a sucker. That’s when he thinks about you at all, which isn’t often."

RonK at Daily Kos notes that "Cheney is now 0-for-4 in federal court versus private sector litigants" in his efforts to conceal energy company's influence on his energy policy task force.

Here's a Reuters article on director Robert Rodriguez' upcoming sequel to El Mariachi and Desperado. We recently bought the latter on DVD, along with The Mask of Zorro. It worked out pretty fairly for my lovely wife and myself, eye-candy-wise; Desperado features Antronio Banderas and Salma Hayek, while Zorro stars Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Remember Bush's staggering US$87 billion supplemental budget request for Iraq? That amount still isn't enough, the Administration admits (registration required).

Michael Kinsley opines that Bush might accomplish more if he would apologize for his errors, his arrogance, and his mendacity. "Lack of scruples can't explain it: Denying the obvious isn't even good unscrupulous politics. For that reason, it is beyond spin. If spinning involves an indifference to truth, what's going on here looks more like a preference for falsehood. The truth would be better politics, and the administration is fanning out to the talk shows to lie anyway." Kinsley's on to something here...

The WaPo's Courtland Milloy says that Bush's declining to attend the funeral of a 21-year-old D.C. National Guard soldier killed in Iraq was an insult. "[H]e could have attended Dent's funeral as a simple gesture of sorrow over the death of a neighbor who also happened to be a soldier under his command.

Of course, that would not have been as stylish as, say, staging a landing on an aircraft carrier. And being seen at a soldier's funeral probably wouldn't make it look like the war was over, as Bush declared on the flight deck of that ship. "

Busy, Busy, Busy catches Fox News in some particularly odious prevarication.

Timothy Noah calls for repealing all of Bush's tax cuts to pay for Iraq. "Think of it this way: A $567 billion deficit represents a fiscal emergency no less urgent than the military emergency in Iraq."


flash game of the day

Kung Fu Trainer. Practice your Shaolin skills by busting watermelons. c00L!


back to the day job

William Gibson has stopped blogging.

(via BoingBoing)


retro link of the day

wacky packages

Remember those Wacky Packages stickers? Me too.


fully functional, programmed in multiple techniques?

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Robotics in India is designing a robot that will assist stressed married couples with foreplay.
Dr Naidu said: "One of the reasons for marital break-ups today is physical inadequacy. Couples are so stressed out that there's no time for foreplay, so essential to get the juices flowing. A smart machine can bridge that gap in no time."

The Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility robot (ASIMO) is being produced by Honda, and scientists are working to improve it further before it is marketed to "gadget loving" Indians.

Dr Prasada Raju of Department of Science and Technology, GOI, syas ASIMO was initially designed "to perform unusual tasks beyond normal human capability".

But he added: "What we have actually achieved goes far beyond that. Saving young couples from breaking apart could be another un-looked for bonus."


(via FARK)


jack o'toole takes it to the hoop

CalPundit says,
Jack O'Toole is really, really tired of people like Andrew Sullivan — well, Andrew Sullivan — trying to pretend that Democrats "by and large" don't even believe in Middle East terrorism and simply want to give up and surrender to al-Qaeda.

Me too.

And I'm sick of it too. Go read O'Toole's essay; it's marvelous.


new r.e.m. single

R.E.M. has released a new single from its upcoming Greatest Hits CD. You can listen to "Bad Day" via streaming RealAudio here.

(via SixDifferentWays)


more lies from the lying liars

Ann Coulter, yesterday:
On the basis of their recent pronouncements, the position of the Democratic Party seems to be that Saddam Hussein did not hit us on 9-11, but Halliburton did.

That's right -- Saddam.

I won't link to Coulter, but Atrios did, if you want to confirm for yourself that she indeed spewed such a reprehensible lie. But is there really any doubt?

By the way, Nathan Newman identifies Michelle Malkin as an up-and-coming heir to Coulter's mantle.

Update: Jaquandor nails it: "It's an amazing thing when a person can perpetuate an old lie and start a new one, and in a sentence of only 28 words, to boot."


it seems...

Based on your answers, you are most likely a realist. Read below to learn more about each foreign policy perspective.


  • Are guided more by practical considerations than ideological vision

  • Believe US power is crucial to successful diplomacy - and vice versa

  • Don't want US policy options unduly limited by world opinion or ethical considerations

  • Believe strong alliances are important to US interests

  • Weigh the political costs of foreign action

  • Believe foreign intervention must be dictated by compelling national
  • interest

Historical realist: President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Modern realist: Secretary of State Colin Powell

This quiz is absolutely fascinating in that the choices are complicated and nuanced. For example, I strongly considered in many cases answers I'm sure would have pegged me as a liberal. In fact, changing just three of my 10 answers tipped me over into the Liberal category.

(via The Modulator)


bush's costly adventure

A little perspective from the Washington Post:
Bush's $87 billion figure is the largest emergency spending request since the opening months of World War II, according to Pat Towell, a defense fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The emergency spending act that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the launching of the war in Afghanistan totaled $20 billion.

To put it in perspective, Bush hopes to spend more in Iraq and Afghanistan than all 50 states say they need -- $78 billion -- to finance the budget shortfalls they anticipate for 2004.

The request is higher than the $74 billion the Defense Department plans to spend on all new weapons purchases next year, and higher than the $29.5 billion the Education Department hopes to spend on elementary and secondary education plus the $41.3 billion the administration plans to spend to defend the homeland.

With $166 billion spent or requested, Bush's war spending in 2003 and 2004 already exceeds the inflation-adjusted costs of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and the Persian Gulf War combined, according to a study by Yale University economist William D. Nordhaus. The Iraq war approaches the $191 billion inflation-adjusted cost of World War I.

Many lawmakers say Bush's 2004 request is only the starting point. Rep. David R. Obey (Wis.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, predicted the administration will seek still more money once this installment is secured.

(via Defense Tech and Long Story, Short Pier)


blair warned iraq war might boost terror risk

From this morning's WaPo: Panel Warned Blair of War Risk / British Leader Was Told Terrorists Could Gain Arms
Britain's intelligence chiefs warned Prime Minister Tony Blair a month before the invasion of Iraq that military action would increase the risk of terrorists obtaining weapons of mass destruction, according to a parliamentary report released today.

The report said a Feb. 10 assessment by the top-secret Joint Intelligence Committee -- a cabinet-level body that includes the chiefs of Britain's main intelligence agencies -- concluded that the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government "would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists."

As of last February, the report said, the Joint Intelligence Committee had uncovered no evidence that Iraq had provided chemical or biological materials to al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's terror network.

The report did not spell out why intelligence agencies believed military action might allow terrorists to obtain such weapons. But it said that "in the event of imminent regime collapse there would be a risk of transfer of such material, whether or not as a deliberate Iraqi regime policy."

The joint committee also concluded that "al Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq," according to the report issued today by the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee.

Blair, who was President Bush's closest foreign ally in the U.S.-led campaign, has argued repeatedly that disarming Iraq was necessary to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Both the British and U.S. governments have come under heavy criticism because no such weapons have been found.

That argument -- which meshes with a prewar assessment by the CIA -- was, of course, raised by many war skeptics, including myself. At this point, we need to hope the notable failure to discover Iraq-s so-called weapons means they didn't exist; if they did, Bush's coveted war may well have given terrorists the opportunity to obtain the weapons they desired.

But the fact remains that Bush and Blair both ginned up support for the war with ominous assertions and implications about Iraq that, in many cases, directly contradicted what their intelligence services were trying to tell them. Nefarious.


krugman says get ready for some hardball

Paul Krugman's column today analyzes Bush's exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy, and notes that the tone seems to be changing.
The press has become a lot less shy about pointing out the administration's exploitation of 9/11, partly because that exploitation has become so crushingly obvious. As The Washington Post pointed out yesterday, in the past six weeks President Bush has invoked 9/11 not just to defend Iraq policy and argue for oil drilling in the Arctic, but in response to questions about tax cuts, unemployment, budget deficits and even campaign finance. Meanwhile, the crudity of the administration's recent propaganda efforts, from dressing the president up in a flight suit to orchestrating the ludicrously glamorized TV movie about Mr. Bush on 9/11, have set even supporters' teeth on edge.

And some stunts no longer seem feasible. Maybe it was the pressure of other commitments that kept Mr. Bush from visiting New York yesterday; but one suspects that his aides no longer think of the Big Apple as a politically safe place to visit.

Yet it's almost certainly wrong to think that the political exploitation of 9/11 and, more broadly, the administration's campaign to label critics as unpatriotic are past their peak. It may be harder for the administration to wrap itself in the flag, but it has more incentive to do so now than ever before. Where once the administration was motivated by greed, now it's driven by fear.

In the first months after 9/11, the administration's ruthless exploitation of the atrocity was a choice, not a necessity. The natural instinct of the nation to rally around its leader in times of crisis had pushed Mr. Bush into the polling stratosphere, and his re-election seemed secure. He could have governed as the uniter he claimed to be, and would probably still be wildly popular.

But Mr. Bush's advisers were greedy; they saw 9/11 as an opportunity to get everything they wanted, from another round of tax cuts, to a major weakening of the Clean Air Act, to an invasion of Iraq. And so they wrapped as much as they could in the flag.

Now it has all gone wrong. The deficit is about to go above half a trillion dollars, the economy is still losing jobs, the triumph in Iraq has turned to dust and ashes, and Mr. Bush's poll numbers are at or below their pre-9/11 levels.

Nor can the members of this administration simply lose like gentlemen. For one thing, that's not how they operate. Furthermore, everything suggests that there are major scandals - involving energy policy, environmental policy, Iraq contracts and cooked intelligence - that would burst into the light of day if the current management lost its grip on power. So these people must win, at any cost.

The result, clearly, will be an ugly, bitter campaign - probably the nastiest of modern American history. Four months ago it seemed that the 2004 campaign would be all slow-mo films of Mr. Bush in his flight suit. But at this point, it's likely to be pictures of Howard Dean or Wesley Clark that morph into Saddam Hussein. And Donald Rumsfeld has already rolled out the stab-in-the-back argument: if you criticize the administration, you're lending aid and comfort to the enemy.

This political ugliness will take its toll on policy, too. The administration's infallibility complex - its inability to admit ever making a mistake - will get even worse. And I disagree with those who think the administration can claim infallibility even while practicing policy flexibility: on major issues, such as taxes or Iraq, any sensible policy would too obviously be an implicit admission that previous policies had failed.

In other words, if you thought the last two years were bad, just wait: it's about to get worse. A lot worse.

Frankly, after the 2002 Congressional race -- in which, infamously, war hero Max Cleland was linked with Saddam -- I knew the 2004 Presidential race would be ugly. That's why I absolutely believe the Democrats need to run a candidate who's willing to fight the lies and distortions the GOP spin machine will inevitably spew. And while I welcome the press becoming "less shy" about questioning some of the more obvious whoppers, the media will absolutely need to be vigilant during the runup to the election, and I'm less than confident it's comepetent to do so.

The Washington Post article Krugman references is here.


o'bannon semi-update

There isn't much new with the O'Bannon situation. The governor is still in critical condition and breathing with assistance. Fortunately, a CAT scan shows the swelling in his brain appears to be diminishing.

As we now seem to be in a protracted wait-and-see situation, I doubt I'll continue the daily updates. I will, of course, mention noteworthy events as they occur. The local paper's special coverage is here.


five questions

Musashi was good enough to answer the five questions I sent him; they're posted on his blog. It's fascinating stuff! Particularly interesting is his suggestion that blogging might be considered the spiritual heir to punk...despite my own punk roots, I'd never thought of it, but I think he's on to something there.

My own responses to Jaquandor's five questions are here. If anyone else would ike to take a crack at the "five questions" concept, please let me know!


johnny cash, john ritter r.i.p.

Very sad news this morning. Country music legend Johnny Cash has died of complications from diabetes at 71. And actor John Ritter collapsed on the set of his new sitcom and died later at a hospital of heart trouble. Ritter was 54. Planet Swank extends its sorrow and condolences to the family and friends of these entertainers.

  xThursday, September 11, 2003

icthyology post of the day

great white shark

An awesome set of pictures of Great White Sharks breaching (leaping out of the water).

(via MeFi)


flash game of the day

The simple yet addictive catchThirtyThree.

(via MetaFilter)


economy watch

The rate of new unemployment claims is still above the 400,000 mark. Remember, that's the rate at which the economy is still bleeding jobs on George Herbert Hoover Bush's watch.

(via Wampum)

Update: Here's Brad DeLong's post on the subject.


questions, questions

Atrios points to this summary of unanswered questions about 9/11, and comments:
Two years later, I'm really fed up with the idea that asking questions about 9/11 is being a 'conspiracy theorist.' There is a conspiracy out there - a conspiracy to not let people find out just what the hell happened and why. The degree to which the conservatarians get uncomfortable when things are brought up makes it clear they know there's something stinky going on.

It's clear the administration has covered up a lot about the events of that day and what led up to it. Now, I'm not claiming that Dick Cheney piloted the planes by remote control to give him an excuse to get that sweet sweet crude. But, the stonewalling and silence - with which the media are extraordinarily complicit - shows they have something to hide.

Indeed, zeal with which the Bush Administration has impeded any meaningful inquiry into 9/11 is an affront to every American citizen, and once again poses a very real potential threat to national security.

And Bush and his cronies had the gall to accuse Democrats of placing politics over national security.

Update: via the comment thread, this Slate article describing six common misperceptions about 9/11. It's interesting reading.


an opportunity sqandered

Talking Points Memo points to this superb and sobering Fred Kaplan piece in Slate about how -- for one, brief, shining moment -- the world stood with the US after 9/11, and Bush pushed everyone else away.
Ever since the crumbling of the Soviet Union, foreign-policy specialists had been wondering how to create a new world order for an era that lacked a common enemy. Now, suddenly, here was that enemy. And here was a moment when the world viewed America with more empathy than it had in the past half-century. An American leader could have taken advantage of that moment and reached out to the world, forged new alliances, strengthened old ones, and laid the foundations of a new, broad-based system of international security for the post-Cold War era—much as Harry Truman and George Marshall had done in the months and years following World War II.

But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice did not take that path.

Aside from letting a handful of NATO's AWACS radar planes come help patrol American skies, Bush's response was a shockingly terse: Thanks, but no thanks; we'll handle it by ourselves.
...Over the past couple of weeks, as the fighting persists in Baghdad, as the Taliban attempts a comeback in Afghanistan, as Saddam and Osama Bin Laden remain on the prowl—in short, as the light glows dimmer, the tunnel stretches longer, the budget piles higher, and the desert-swamp gets deeper—President Bush seems to have realized he took a wrong turn back at the 9/11 junction. He has been persuaded to go back to the much-loathed United Nations, for assistance and legitimacy. In his televised speech Sunday night, he referred to the allied nations that had opposed the war as "our friends," a phrase he had not bestowed on them for a very long time.

He has extended his hand a bit late in the game. Two years ago, even one year ago, Bush could have delivered such a speech with an air of strength and mutual confidence. Now it is seen, all too clearly, as a sign of desperation and therefore of dubious authenticity. The opportunity presented by 9/11 may not be irretrievably lost, but it has been muffed, and its recovery will require more decisive signals than Bush has so far sent. It will also, to be fair, require a less prickly world-weariness on the part of the French and Germans. Maybe they should reconvene the Prague Summit and, this time, take it seriously.

I won't forgive Bush for that, not only for the unbelievable arrogance she showed -- and I resent his representing me in doing so -- but also for the very real diminishment in national security that his bullying pique has caused.

Josh Marshall also notes that Bush has pledged to "once again make that plea" [emphasis added] for money and troops from other countries, and comments "This is what we call a Kinsley Gaffe, the unintentional and deeply embarrassing statement of the truth. The truth is that we do need other countries' help. But it's only the president's folly which has put us in the position of needing to beg."

Bush's cowardice is truly unforgivable.



Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has died after undergoing surgery for multiple stab wounds received when she was attacked in a shopping mall Saturday. Planet Swank offers its condolences to the people of Sweden and Ms. Lindh's friends and family.


book review of the day

I finished Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them last night. No review just yet; but CalPundit's opinion tracks pretty closely with my own:
The nickel summary: it's a terrific book, both funny and angry. For bloggers and blog readers it covers pretty familiar territory — Coulter, O'Reilly, Fox News, etc. — but it has plenty of funny lines and it's convenient to have the entire standard repertoire of conservative lies in one handy volume. A few highlights:

Best chapter: "Operation Ignore," about the Bush administration's lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism prior to 9/11.

Angriest chapter: "'This Was Not a Memorial to Paul Wellstone': A Case Study of Right Wing Lies." There are no jokes here; Franken took this particular smear job pretty personally.

Funniest chapter: "Hannity and Colmes," a top notch hatchet job on one of television's most odious conservative shills.

(But was it really funny? Yes, it's very funny if you're a liberal. If you're a conservative, it's not.)

What Kevin Drum said. The chapter in which Franken describes his challenging a conservative commentator who'd accused Democrats of wimpiness to a fight -- the conservative declined -- is also funny.

Franken is also generous in his credit to his crack team of researchers. He even demonstrates the difference between footnotes and endnotes!

And I have to emphasize that I was shaken and furious after reading "Operation Ignore." Franken lays out Bush's utter incompetence and failure in his duty to defend the country from terrorism. Unfortunately, that failure is not funny at all.


a storied reflection

Jaquandor wrote a short story in response to the 9/11 attacks, and today shares it again on his blog, along with his recollections of the day and some noteworthy images.


o'bannon update

Reading the local paper this morning in the blood center canteen, I was pleased to note improvement in Governor O'Bannon's condition, who remains in critical condition in a Chicago hospital.
Dr. Wesley Yapor told reporters Wednesday there were some positive signs.

O'Bannon is able to breathe on his own, though he remains on a ventilator, said Yapor, the neurologist who performed life-saving brain surgery on the governor.

He is no longer in a drug-induced coma, though he remains sedated. He responded to being pinched.

And when Yapor yelled in his ear, asking him to wiggle his toes, O'Bannon moved his leg -- though Yapor is unsure whether he was responding or merely startled.

"He's still critical, there's no question about it," Yapor said.

But, he added, "He's better."

It wasn't much, perhaps -- but it was enough to buoy Kernan.

"This is just about the first time in the last 54 hours that I feel like smiling," he said at an economic forum in Indianapolis.

The story also notes the fact that Governor O'Bannon survived the first 48 hours is a positive sign. The local paper's special coverage section is here.


a pint of flesh

...well, blood. As I did last year, I commemorated 9/11 by donating blood. I stopped by the Indiana Blood Center before work, and was in and out within an hour. Once again, the blood center is having a special drive today (and tomorrow). As a thank-you, the center is giving a copy of the 9/11 commemorative book America's Heroes to doors who participate.

The other thing I'm doing to remember 9/11 is listen to Bruce Springsteen's brilliant The Rising.

I've been somewhat jarred while wathing the superb Sports Night DVD collection; the show, which is set in New York City, uses a number of establishing shots of the city's skyline, and often focuses on the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Other than than, though, I don't plan a series of related posts, like I did last year. Last year's musings on the anniversary begin here.

Update: I should note that Bush commemorated the anniversary by calling for an expansion of the odious so-called PATRIOT act, and using 9/11 to justify seemingly all of his policies. The man is hopeless.

  xWednesday, September 10, 2003

wtc spewed toxins; epa lied about risk

This Reuters report says that while the EPA was bowing to Administration to present an optimistic report of environmental safety in the vicinity of the World Trade Center wreckage, it was actually spewing toxins "like a chemical factory" for six weeks after the attacks.

The gases of toxic metals, acids and organics could penetrate deeply into the lungs of workers at Ground Zero, said the study by scientists at the University of California at Davis and released at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in New York.

Lead study author Thomas Cahill, a professor of physics and engineering, said conditions would have been "brutal" for workers at Ground Zero without respirators and slightly less so for those working or living in adjacent buildings.

"The debris pile acted like a chemical factory," Cahill said. "It cooked together the components and the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics for at least six weeks."

The report comes amid questions about air quality at Ground Zero and what the public was told by the government.

Last month, an internal report by Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Nikki Tinsley said the White House pressured the agency to make premature statements that the air was safe to breathe.

The EPA issued an air quality statement on Sept. 18, 2001, even though it "did not have sufficient data and analyzes to make the statement," the report said.

The White House "convinced the EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones," Tinsley said. Among the information withheld was the potential health hazards of breathing asbestos, lead, concrete and pulverized glass, the report said.

...According to the newly released UC-Davis study, after the towers collapsed, tons of concrete, glass, furniture, carpets, insulation, computers and papers burned until Dec. 19, 2001.

Some elements of the debris combined with organic matter and chlorine from papers and plastics and escaped to the surface as metal-rich gases that either burned or chemically decomposed into very fine particles that could easily penetrate deep into human lungs, it said.

Specifically, the study said samples from Ground Zero found four types of particles listed by the EPA as likely to harm human health -- fine metals that can damage lungs, sulfuric acid that attacks lung cells, fine undissolvable particles of glass that can travel through the lungs to the bloodstream and heart and high-temperature carcinogenic organic matter.

Simply shocking. I'm sure the individual behind the White House pressure will be unceremoniously ejected from office forthwith. Well, no, not really, but let's hope for January 20, 2005.

(via Eschaton)


blogger update

w00t! Blogger has added a spell check (y'all will agree I could benefit much from its inclusion) and an Upload File tool. Sw33t!

Update: Via MeFi, I learn that Blogger is eliminating its Pro service and folding its features into the free service. Awesome!


sports night night

sports night

I watched the pilot and first two episodes from the DVD collection of Sports Night last night. I'd almost forgotten how much I like that show. Happily, it's still airing on Comedy Central.


swank retro link of the day

go-go boots

Go-Go Sw33t!


senate protects overtime

The Senate has voted to block Bush's proposed gutting of overtime rules for American workers. Kudos to the six Republicans who joined in the 54-45 vote.

The measure could be replaced in conference committee, though, as the GOP-run House has already acquiesced to Bush's proposal. Bush has also issued one of his feeble threats to use his veto power for the first time ever if things don't go his way.

(via Daily Kos)


in passing

Edward Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb, has died at the age of 95.


economy quick hits

Speaking of the economy:

Study Finds Affordable Housing Diminishing

Payroll Jobs Down in August: Employment Fails To Match Gains in Overall Economy

U.S. Employers Shed 93,000 Jobs in August

Tax Cut Claims Gain Criticism As Employers Shed More Jobs

Casualties Of the Recovery: Jobs Cut Since 2001 Are Gone for Good, Study Says

Bush Says Economy Is 'Looking Up': Acknowledging Job Growth Needed, He Reiterates Call for Lasting Tax Cuts

Bush: Rolling back tax cuts would hurt economy

By the way, here's a so-called "liberal media" alert: the subhead for that CNN story reads, "Democrats say cuts skewed toward the rich." Well, they are skewed toward the rich, as anyone who can read and count (and isn't an intellectually dishonest Bush apologist) could tell you.


iraq war seen as political liability for bush

Today's Washington Post notes that Bush's Iraq adventure isn't going according to plan in other ways too: Bush Backers Fear Iraq's Political Effect
As President Bush took a fundraising spin today through this famous electoral battleground state, his supporters here voiced worry that troubles in Iraq have hurt his political standing.

In the two days since he asked to double the amount of money being spent to pacify Iraq, Bush has sought to return to his normal routine, giving a pair of education speeches and speaking at three fundraisers Monday and today. But those Republican faithful attending Bush's fundraisers, while still confident of his reelection next year, said they had grown anxious about Iraq.

"This aftermath in Iraq is going to be tougher than we thought it was," said John Ellis, a real estate investor at a fundraiser here. Ellis also said he worried that Bush could "get blamed for the economic problems." Bush has not taken a question from reporters since Aug. 22. In those 18 days, escalating attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq led the administration to request another $87 billion and to reconsider its resistance to a United Nations force. Bush's Middle East peace plan has been tossed aside with the resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and a resumption of killings, including two suicide bombings in Israel today. Meanwhile, reports have shown the economy losing jobs and the 2004 federal deficit approaching $600 billion.

Bush aides said they are not worried about his standing. They said he is not purposefully avoiding difficult subjects, pointing out that the education events were scheduled before Sunday's Iraq speech and that Bush is likely to take questions from reporters as soon as Wednesday. And they argued that this is a natural trough. "If you look at the last three years, August always is a time when the coverage goes down," a senior aide said.

Polls indicate Bush has returned to the popularity he had before Sept. 11, 2001. In an ABC News survey released yesterday, 56 percent said they approved of the job Bush was doing, but the number saying the Iraq war was worth fighting slipped to 54 percent from 70 percent in late April.

Just as on Monday, Bush did not mention Iraq in his official speech today at an elementary school, where he announced a new Web site to help states analyze student test data.

In a speech to donors at a luncheon, Bush won applause for saying, "This nation will not be intimidated." Defending his Iraq policy, he said: "These aren't easy tasks, but they're essential tasks, and we will finish what we have begun."

Bush arrived in Jacksonville after an Air Force One landing was aborted because the control tower spotted a police car near the runway. His entourage encountered a second surprise between events here as Bush's motorcade passed a motorist being detained at gunpoint for going the wrong way on the interstate as Bush approached. Bush foes rented a billboard near the event taunting Bush over jobless statistics -- "Three Million Jobs Since 2000 Lost by George W. Bush."

At the first of the day's two $2,000-per-person fundraisers, which raised $2.8 million combined, the donors, while confident Bush will ultimately prevail, expressed concern about Iraq.

"It's a big worry to him, I'm sure," said Maxwell Dickinson, a contributor. "It's a much stickier situation than they ever thought it would be." Jud Bennett, another contributor, said he is concerned about the effect on Bush of Iraq developments but, like others here, figured the troubles will subside before the election. "I think it'll close up because a lot of people don't approve of the Iraq situation, but I still think he'll be reelected," he said.

Carol Brubaker, who drove to the fundraiser from her home across the border in Georgia, urged patience -- much as Bush did on Sunday night. "The polls are down, obviously. It must be a very difficult time for him personally," she said. Iraq "is a work in progress," she added. "I think it is getting better, so I don't think it'll be an issue that turns the election."

I'm sure that being held accountable for increasing costs and casualties was the farthest thing from Bush's mind when he took his swaggering "Top Gun" victory lap. As it is, I expect that only the Democrats will be using the footage of Bush declaring "victory" (yes, I know he carefully parsed his words; that just goes to show you can't trust what he says). Given the blatant politicizing of the war by this Administration -- it's all too clear that the only thing making Iraq an urgent matter was the 2002 elections, and Bush hasn't hesitated to use his (rapidly diminishing) "wartime popularity" for political gain -- it's deliciously ironic that one of Rove's campaign keystones is proving to be a liability instead. What's George Herbet Hoover Bush going to fall back on, the economy?

Let's look at this interesting offhand tidbit again:
Bush has not taken a question from reporters since Aug. 22.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Responsibility President.



The Washington Post reported yesterday in a page-one story on the Administration's proposals to "secure" America's air travel system.
In the most aggressive -- and, some say, invasive -- step yet to protect air travelers, the federal government and the airlines will phase in a computer system next year to measure the risk posed by every passenger on every flight in the United States.

The new Transportation Security Administration system seeks to probe deeper into each passenger's identity than is currently possible, comparing personal information against criminal records and intelligence information. Passengers will be assigned a color code -- green, yellow or red -- based in part on their city of departure, destination, traveling companions and date of ticket purchase.

Most people will be coded green and sail through. But up to 8 percent of passengers who board the nation's 26,000 daily flights will be coded "yellow" and will undergo additional screening at the checkpoint, according to people familiar with the program. An estimated 1 to 2 percent will be labeled "red" and will be prohibited from boarding. These passengers also will face police questioning and may be arrested.

The system "will provide protections for the flying public," said TSA spokesman Brian Turmail. "Not only should we keep passengers from sitting next to a terrorist, we should keep them from sitting next to wanted ax murderers."

The new system, called Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System II (CAPPS II), has sparked so much controversy among both liberal and conservative groups that the TSA has struggled to get it going. Delta Air Lines backed out of a testing program with the agency earlier this year, and now the TSA will not reveal which airlines will participate when it tests a prototype early next year. [Ed: If memory serves me right, Delta was subject to a boycott sparked by its participation.] If all goes as planned, the TSA will begin the new computer screening of some passengers as early as next summer and eventually it will be used for all domestic travelers.
"This system is going to be replete with errors," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program. "You could be falsely arrested. You could be delayed. You could lose your ability to travel."

In the two years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings, air security has taken a high priority, and the government has spent $9 billion on improvements. Thousands of explosives-detection machines now scan checked luggage at airports across the nation. A new force of federal airport screeners staffs checkpoints, though next year some airports may revert to private screeners. Cockpit doors have been reinforced, and hundreds of airline pilots now carry guns. In addition, the force of undercover air marshals has been expanded, and as many as 5,000 federal immigration and customs agents will be trained to bolster the force on a temporary basis when the government perceives a heightened threat.

Still, many holes in security persist. Airports and aircraft still appear easy to penetrate, illustrated last month by an accidental landing of several boaters on the airfield at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Air cargo remains vulnerable, as virtually none of the items stowed alongside luggage in the aircraft hold are screened for explosives. Government officials continue to assess how best to respond to the possibility of a shoulder-fired missile attack at a commercial airliner, which they maintain is a serious threat.

Here's a sobering example of how far from secure our air travel system is and would remain even if this stupid proposal is enacted:
In the coming months, major airports in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Dallas will embark on extensive construction projects to build explosives-detection machines into conveyor-belt systems that sort checked luggage being loaded onto planes. (Other airports, including Washington's, are waiting in line for hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding.)

In other words, a terrorist would be better off planting a bomb in luggage -- a tactic that's worked in the past -- than trying to hijack a plane. At least the TSA is aware of the shortfall:
Clearly, the TSA says, the job of protecting the nation's skies is not done.

"Given the dynamic nature of the threat we deal with, it would be impossible to predict when the work would be finished" on air security, said TSA spokesman Robert Johnson. "We don't think it will ever end."

The government says the most significant change in security is still to come in the form of CAPPS II. The current computer screener program was developed by U.S. airlines in the mid-1990s in response to government and public pressure to improve air security after terrorists blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The existing system identifies certain passengers as risky based on a set of assumptions about how terrorists travel. For instance, passengers are flagged for additional screening if they bought a one-way airline ticket, or if they paid with cash instead of a credit card. Passengers who present a threat under these and other criteria are issued boarding passes that bear a coding of "SSS" or "***."

But the TSA, recognizing that the system is outdated and easy to fool, wants to replace it and put the government in the role now played by the airlines in making security assessments.

Under the new program, the airline will send information about everyone who books a flight to the TSA, including full name, home address, home telephone number, date of birth and travel itinerary. If the computer system identifies a threat, the TSA will notify federal or local law enforcement authorities. The agency has not indicated the number or type of personnel needed to oversee the program.

The TSA will check each passenger in two steps. The first will match the passenger's name and information against databases of private companies that collect information on people for commercial reasons, such as their shopping habits. This process will generate a numerical score that will indicate the likelihood that the passenger is who he says he is. Passengers will not be informed of their color code or their numerical score. The second step matches passenger information against government intelligence combined with local and state outstanding warrants for violent felonies.

Airlines like the system because they think it will reduce time passengers spend at security checkpoints and lower the likelihood that they will be delayed for their flights. The TSA said the program is expected to flag fewer people than the current computer screening system. The agency intends to test the program in several phases to ensure that it works as promised.

"If it delivers the way it's envisioned, it's going to be a significant, positive change," the TSA's Johnson said. "It's going to be a lot fewer people [flagged], but we think it will be the right people."

David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, worries that the computer screening program will go beyond its original goals. "This system is not designed just to get potential terrorists," Keene said. "It's a law enforcement tool. The wider the net you cast, the more people you bring in."

As the government takes a new, large role in one aspect of screening, it is rolling back its presence in another. By late 2004, some airports are expected to replace the federal screening force with private screeners. A security law passed after the terrorist attacks allows airports to "opt out" of the government's federal screening workforce in November 2004. Many airports, frustrated with the staffing cuts and the inability to control the number of screeners at each station, believe they might have more control over the operations if a private company were in charge.

"I've been in various meetings with many airport managers who are saying, 'We don't want as much government control around,' " said James McNeil, chief executive of McNeil Technologies Inc., which provides security screeners at the airport in Rochester, N.Y., one of five test airports that employ private screeners. McNeil said he has talked to 20 to 30 airports that are interested in his services. A large association of the nation's airports estimates that many small airports will opt out of government screeners next year because their limited flight schedules require that screeners work flexible hours. The government will still have a role in security because the private screening companies will operate under contracts managed by the TSA.

If many airports, particularly large hubs that handle a major portion of the nation's 30,000 daily flights, choose to revert to the private screening force, some aviation industry leaders have wondered what that will mean for the TSA.

The agency, created just months after the terrorist attacks, has already seen some of its authority stripped. The Federal Air Marshal Service has moved to a law enforcement division within the Department of Homeland Security, as has the agency's explosives unit. Some of its security directors claim they are still out of the loop on some of the agency's latest intelligence on air security.

Johnson, the TSA spokesman, hinted that the agency's future is unclear.

"We've got a department-level organization now created for that sole purpose [of fighting terrorism] and it only makes sense, where necessary, to economize and coordinate," Johnson said. "There will always be a need to provide the best aviation security possible at airports. Whether it's under one flag or another, it really makes no difference."

CalPundit does the math, and
I don't know what the right base number to use is, but if you figure there are 200 million adults in America that means that TSA is expecting 2-4 million people to be completely barred from air travel.

Can that really be right? That's a helluva lot of people — American citizens, presumably — who are no longer allowed to fly. Why so many? A TSA spokesman says that in addition to flagging potential terrorists, "we should keep [passengers] from sitting next to wanted ax murderers."

I'm fine with that, actually, but color me skeptical that we have several million wanted murderers in the United States.

...Freedom of movement is one of the touchpoints that distinguishes free societies from police states, and any system that flatly prohibits certain people from traveling just doesn't pass the smell test.

The comment boards on Kevin Drum's post and MetaFilter are abuzz with scathing criticism.

And darn right. This so-called secuity system is a dumb idea. It manages to simultaneously impose unwarranted restrictions on law-abiding citizens and fail to provide real security. It's staggering that this dopey proposal is the best the Administration could come up with in almost two years. Indeed, the story indicates that its origins date back to the Lockerbie bombing, which means two things: That the program has had almost ten years of development, and that prior to 9/11 no one had enough confidence in the system to actually implement it.

A particular system can be gamed. Indeed, the September 11 hijackers did game the system; they scouted airports for weak security and took advantage of them. And they took advantage of the then-standard procedure for hijackings, which was to assume the terrorists wanted to fly somewhere and bargain for the lives of their captives.

After 9/11 -- indeed, on 9/11 -- hijacking became a useless tactic for terrrorists. There is simply no way a hijacking could succeed any more (don't forget, cockpit doors are now reinforced, in one of the more sensible anti-terrorism moves). Airports worldwide manage to provide security efficiently and without undue burden to law-abiding travelers, and I'd point out that there hasn't exactly been a rash of international hijackings either.

As I suggested in the comment thread at CalPundit, there's a saimple solution: Create a floating pool of air marshalls, and assign one secretly to any flight a red-flagged passenger boards. Easy, and it actually restricts no one from flying. Just one thing -- it'd cost money, and reading between the lines of this story, it's clear that funding for actual security measures is not as high a priority for this Administration as other things.


paying the piper

Congressional Democrats appear to be waking up and demanding that Bush get his priorities straight:
President Bush's request for $87 billion in additional spending for Iraq and Afghanistan stirred concern yesterday from Democrats and defense policy analysts that he has launched an unaffordable spending spree even as he pursues more tax cuts that will increase the federal deficit.

"We can't do it all," said Lee Hamilton, director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former Democratic member of the House. "From the president's speech, I haven't seen the hard recognition of the economic costs of this decision. I don't think he gave us a picture of how he intends to pay for his foreign policy."

Yesterday, senior Bush administration officials painted a dire picture of occupied Iraq. One official spoke of 1950-vintage boilers in Baghdad's main refinery held together by duct tape, and textile mills running British spinning machines built in 1963.

Yet as the projected federal budget deficit for 2004 exceeds $500 billion, officials have not changed their assessments of the United States' fiscal health or the White House's economic plans. Just days before he disclosed his Iraq spending request Sunday, the president demanded that Congress pass hundreds of billions of dollars in additional tax cuts.

Someone needs to explain to Bush the folly -- no, the sheer reckless idocy -- of paying for a war with a tax cut. I have no doubt that Congress will, and ought to, appropriate the needed funds to stabilize Iraq. But Bush's policies simply come at a price; a price much higher than he led the American people to believe. As a result of his dissembling, he's given political cover to opponents of his tax cuts -- they need to go to pay for his war, plain and simple.

(via Blog Left)


o'bannon update

Doctors are saying it's "too early to tell" the extent of any brain damage suffered by Governor Frank O'Bannon as a result of his stroke on Monday. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan spent his first full day as acting governor, and according to the local NPR station, steps to transfer executive authority to him are proceeding. Kernan has said he will not change his mind about declining to run for governor. Bipartisan messages of support continue to arrive at the Governor's office.

Update: Jeff Cooper has more. I share this sentiment: "[W]hile I voted for Gov. O'Bannon twice, I was never a great admirer of his at anything other than a personal level; he never particularly impressed me as a political leader. Yet I find myself this week with a real sense of loss."

Update 2: Jeff Cooper has more from the local paper: Kernan has had executive authority officially transferred to him; there's also an update on the Governor's condition:
Doctors said O’Bannon, 73, had emerged from a drug-induced coma and showed some “small but significant improvements.” He remained in critical condition today.

“It’s still way too early to know how much he will improve,” Dr. Wesley Yapor said.

O’Bannon, who showed signs of brain damage, could not follow commands but was able to move his limbs and responded to some physical stimulation.

The minister at the church my family attends had a stroke not long ago; fortunately, it was not nearly as severe as O'Bannon's. I'm pleased that Rev. Bell has been improving slowly but steadily (hang in there, David!), but it also illutrates the long, slow and difficult road Gov. O'Bannon has ahead in the best of cases.

  xTuesday, September 09, 2003

movie review of the day

Ken Begg of Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension reviews a decidedly non-bad movie: Jaws. Why the first-ever foray into reviewing an excellent film? Begg's project is to examine how movies with sequel franchises tend to decline in quality. Reading the review, it's clear that Begg's knowledge of filmmaking allows him to discern what makes a film superb as well as risible.


milestone of the day

Just now, thanks to a referral from Blogger, the hit counter reached 41,000. Thanks for visiting!


wmds? we don't need no steenkin' wmds!

Conspicuously absent from Bush's Sunday speech was any mention of the weapons of mass destruction that posed such a dire threat to American security that Bush simply couldn't wait for UN approval, weapons inspections or diplomatic recruitment of the allies that we need so desperately right now. Also inclded in this AP story is an implication that the upcoming report on Iraq's weapons won't exactly provide stunning retoractive justification.
President Bush has changed his public rationale for the increasingly costly American military effort in Iraq. The once-heralded search for weapons of mass destruction is now little more than a footnote as Bush recasts Iraq into Ground Zero in a broader war against terrorism.

So downgraded has the hunt for such weapons become that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he didn't even bring it up when he met in Baghdad on Saturday with David Kay, the CIA adviser heading the search.

"I'm assuming he'd tell me if he'd gotten something," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him on Monday. [Emphasis added.]

Saddam Hussein's arsenal isn't the only item dropped from the administration's rhetoric. Also gone are the early assurances that, unlike barren Afghanistan, Iraq could easily finance its own reconstruction from oil revenues.

More than five months after Bush stood on a carrier deck under a "Mission Accomplished" banner and proclaimed major combat operations over, no weapons of mass destruction have been found and Iraqi oil exports have failed to bring in large revenues.

Meanwhile, deadly attacks on American forces are continuing, terror bombings are on the rise and Saddam's fate remains unknown.

The president's speech to the nation on Sunday was a somber acknowledgment that winning the peace in Iraq is proving far more complex and costly than winning the war.

With the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, "Iraq is now the central front" in the U.S. -led war on terrorism, Bush asserted. He said it would take $87 billion more in U.S. funds for the job in Iraq and Afghanistan and called for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Iraq.

"The president clearly has changed course here," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton , D-Ind., vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States.

"He speaks now about a transformation of the Middle East and he certainly blends together the war on terrorism with the effort to build a stable Iraq. And he went on record seeking international help, which is a change in tactic that comes about because he simply found out we can't do it alone," said Hamilton, former chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

U.S. and British occupation forces have found little to justify prewar claims by the president and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Saddam possessed chemical, biological and possibly even nuclear weapons — and was poised to use them.

Bush's claim in his State of the Union address that Saddam was seeking uranium in Africa has been discredited. No weapons of mass destruction have been located, even though searchers have found quantities of chemicals and substances that could be used to make both weapons and legitimate civilian items.

U.S. forces turned up two truck trailers that some administration officials contended were probably biological weapons labs. But a team of Pentagon investigators also said they could have been used to produce hydrogen for military weather balloons, just as the Iraqis had said.

Whether Saddam actually possessed weapons of mass destruction "isn't really the issue," John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, now suggests. "The issue I think has been the capability that Iraq sought to have," Bolton said in a recent interview.

Benjamin Barber, professor of civil society at the University of Maryland and author of the book, "Fear's Empire: war, terrorism and democracy," said that Bush's recast war rationale makes it easier for administration hawks to justify pre-emptive wars as a means of going after terrorism.

"That's a more serious mistake than to try to claim we were going after weapons of mass destruction," Barber said. "It sends the wrong note to our allies at the United Nations."

The president's congressional allies welcomed his new war rationale.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., called Bush's address "a comprehensive presentation of the scope of our war against terrorism, its current focus, our determination to succeed and the cost."

But Bush's critics reacted skeptically.

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the president's speech was an acknowledgment "of gross miscalculation." Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential hopeful, called it "nothing short of outrageous," reminding him of "what was happening with Lyndon Johnson and Dick Nixon during the Vietnam War."

It's becoming increasingly clear that Bush's doctrine of pre-emption was tailor made to justify his coveted goal of deposing Saddam, and only for Saddam. If being a brutal dictator, harboring ill will toward the US or coveting weapons of mass destruction justifies -- indeed, compels -- the US to invade, then we're in for perpetual war, and against much tougher enemies than the weakened Saddam. But most hawks have no such intention -- listen to them explain why North Korea, or Iran, or Coalition of the Billing member Uzbekistan don't quite fit Bush's definition. That isn't a policy; it's a rationalization, and a deceptive one at that. The American people are entitled to know the principles by which Bush intends to conduct foreign policy, up to and including expending American lives and treasure, and empty platitudes just don't count.


least surprising development of the day

With the occupation of Iraq not turning out according to the hawks' rosy predictions, the Administration started pointing fingers at the professional miltary and intelligence organizations, blaming them for not giving sufficient warning of the resistance the US might face.

It turns out, they did, and the Administration just didn't want to hear it.

Seriously, this comes as no surprise at all. One of the bases of my opposition to the war was the fact that way back in 1991, the military -- led by Colin Powell, yet -- noted the prospects of a lengthy occupation in potentially hostile territory, the complications of dealing with Iraq's competing ethnicities, and the unknown factor of what kind of government (*cough*funamentalist Shiite*cough*) might replace Saddam.

This Administration and its cadre of neocon hawks have had a full decade to develop some kind of coherent plan for dealing with these utterly predictable -- and predicted -- difficulties. Their evident failure to do so is utterly baffling and an indication of incompetence of the highest degree -- and worse, incompetence with grim consequences for the nation.


sacrifice synchronicity

Both the Post's E. J. Dionne and the Times' Paul Krugman note that when Bush talked of "sacrifice" the other day, he didn't include the sacrifice of his rich backers who might give up the tax cuts Bush is using to fund his war.

With his postwar plans in tatters, Bush might at least have offered a wink or a nod to the fact that he did nothing to prepare Americans for the full cost of this enterprise -- perhaps because being too explicit too early about the burdens might have made it harder to pass his dividends tax cut. He couldn't have that.

He might have sacrificed a bit by acknowledging that all the optimistic predictions that emanated from his administration -- that American troops would be treated as liberators and all that -- made this enterprise look a lot easier than it turned out to be. Was this just a big bait-and-switch operation? First persuade Americans to fight the war by minimizing the costs. Then, once we're there, argue that we can't cut and run and demand $87 billion in new spending, and who knows how much more later.

Let's remember that the administration is on the record as predicting the opposite of the long struggle in Iraq that was the theme of Bush's Sunday speech. On March 24 an administration spokesman justified the request for more than $70 billion to cover the costs of the war for the next six months with the prediction of "a period of stabilization in Iraq, and the phased withdrawal of a large number of American forces within that six-month window." Oops.

The same official spokesman said that there was still hope of "substantial international participation in the stabilization and the reconstruction of Iraq."

That was wrong too, and Bush was warned before the war that such aid was unlikely to materialize in the absence of United Nations support for the initial invasion. On March 12 Chris Patten, the European Union's external relations commissioner, predicted correctly: "It will be that much more difficult for the EU to cooperate fully and on a large scale . . . in the longer-term reconstruction process if events unfold without proper U.N. cover and if the member states remain divided."

Yet the president who is now paying a price for ignoring the United Nations is the same president who mocked those Democrats who were wary of going to war without full U.N. support. On Sept. 13, 2002 -- before the midterm elections -- Bush characterized such Democrats as saying: "I think I'm going to wait for the United Nations to make a decision." Bush went on: "If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people -- say, 'vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.' "

Sorry, Mr. President. You can't politicize a national security argument before an election and then just assume that people will believe you are leveling with them now -- especially if you don't level with them on how we got into this fix.

But most astonishing is the fact that Bush can ask for an additional $87 billion without explaining who will make those "sacrifices" he talked about. Who will pay?

Congress will give Bush most of what he wants eventually because the United States can't afford to walk away from Iraq now. But Congress has a responsibility to withhold the money -- that includes voting "no" if necessary -- until Bush shows how he will cover the costs of his policies.

The fiscal burden for this war does not have to be piled onto future generations. And it should not be borne by Americans most in need, the ones who would suffer from the budget cuts that bigger deficits would inevitably bring on. It's now obvious that the country cannot afford huge expenditures for war and reconstruction along with continued outsized tax cuts for the wealthiest among us.

If Bush wants us to believe that this war is as important as he says it is, he needs to ask something from himself and something from Americans who can most afford it. That means rescinding some of his tax cuts for the most well-off even if his campaign contributors squawk. If Bush and his friends aren't willing to sacrifice anything for this cause, they abandon the right to ask sacrifices from of the rest of us.

And Krugman:
It's now clear that the Iraq war was the mother of all bait-and-switch operations. Mr. Bush and his officials portrayed the invasion of Iraq as an urgent response to an imminent threat, and used war fever to win the midterm election. Then they insisted that the costs of occupation and reconstruction would be minimal, and used the initial glow of battlefield victory to push through yet another round of irresponsible tax cuts.

Now almost half the Army's combat strength is bogged down in a country that wasn't linked to Al Qaeda and apparently didn't have weapons of mass destruction, and Mr. Bush tells us that he needs another $87 billion, right away. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I (like many others) told you so. Back in February I asked, "Is this administration ready for the long, difficult, quite possibly bloody business of rebuilding Iraq?" The example of Afghanistan (where warlords rule most of the country, and the Taliban — remember those guys? — is resurgent) led me to doubt it. And I was, alas, right.

Surely the leader who brought us to this pass, and is now seeking a bailout, ought to make some major concessions as part of the deal. But it was clear from his speech that, as usual, he expects to take while others do all the giving.

The money is actually the least of it. Still, it provides a clear test case. If Mr. Bush had admitted from the start that the postwar occupation might cost this much, he would never have gotten that last tax cut. Now he says, "We will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary. . . ." What does he mean, "we"? Is he prepared to roll back some of those tax cuts, now that the costs of war loom so large? Is he even willing to stop urging Congress to make the 2001 tax cut permanent? Of course not.

...But the most important concession Mr. Bush should make isn't about money or control — it's about truth-telling. He squandered American credibility by selling a war of choice as a war of necessity; if he wants to get that credibility back, he has to start being candid.

Yet in the speech on Sunday he was still up to his usual tricks. Once again, he made a rhetorical link between the Iraq war and 9/11. This argument by innuendo reminds us why 69 percent of the public believes that Saddam was involved in 9/11, despite a complete absence of evidence. (There is, on the other hand, strong evidence of a Saudi link — but the administration's handling of that evidence borders on a cover-up.) And rather than acknowledge that the search for W.M.D. has come up empty, he declared that Saddam "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction" — 1991, 2003, what's the difference?

So will Congress give Mr. Bush the money he wants, no questions asked? It probably will, but it shouldn't. Mr. Bush created this crisis, and if he were a true patriot he would pay a political price to resolve it. Maybe it's time for him to do a couple of things he's never done before, like admitting mistakes and standing up to the hard right.

With Bush asking for US$87 billion for this fiscal year alone, it's crystal clear that the tax cuts have to go. There's a good case to be made that Bush was disingenuous throught the entire porcess of urging his war fever on the American public. But that aside, unless Bush is prepared to get serious about where the money's supposed to come from -- and make some sacrifices of political capital of his own -- there's no reason at all to take him seriously. Bush's failure to make the politically tough choices that his incompetence has made necessary simply spotlights his cowardice.

CalPundit has more on how Bush's weak character is beginning to attract wider notice.

And this excellent Washington Post chart illustrates exactly what US$87 billion gets you. For perspective: It exceeds annual expenditures for homeland security by a factor of two, but is less that Bush's tax cuts.

Update: John Casey tees off on the Administration figures who claim surprise at the huge cost of the Iraqi occupation:
[W]hen a "senior administration official" says "we were all surprised," guess what? He's lying -- unless no one in the administration ever read any of the reports they were getting, in which case they are all incompetent on a scale deserving capital punishment.

...Once again, the military's own think tank identified all of this before the war, as did any number of other experts. The administration just didn't listen to any of them, because it was determined to go ahead with its plans, regardless of facts, regardless of the truth, regardless of anything that would deter them. And they obviously didn't want the public to be fully aware of all this, because then the public might not have supported all these plans for rebuilding the world -- not if they knew the full costs, how long it would take, how many Americans might die, and that it might not work in the first place.

...These people make me sick. And they are doing incredible damage to our country, which is still the greatest country in the world. But if these people were to have their way consistently, all the way down the line, it wouldn't be for much longer.

And remember this, too: if they were and are prepared to lie about all this, what else are they lying about? I suggest that you don't think about that question too long. It doesn't lead to much peace of mind.

I suspect many Americans are going to lose a lot of peace of mind -- and more -- until we can finally get rid of these miscreants come Election Day. Kos notes the disaffection of this libertarian commentator -- who has declared he will vote against Bush -- and suggests that while the Democrats may not be a perfect match with Libertarian beliefs, they aren't as opposed as the GOP.


dns woes

My Web host appears to be experiencing DNS difficulties on the domain. As a result, Planet Swank is currently unavailable. (Oddlye enough, the problems do not extend to email or FTP, which work just fine...) If you can read this, it means the difficulties have been resolved. Yay.

Update: All fixed! That's a relief.


o'bannon update

Governor Frank O'Bannon, who suffered a stroke yesterday, is still unconcious and on a respirator following emergency surgery. Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan has assumed some of O'Bannon's duties, but has not formally taken the reigns yet. For Kernan to be named acting governor, due to O'Bannon's incapacity. The president pro tem of the Indiana Senate and the speaker of the House must file a petition to that effect, to be ruled upon by the Indiana Supreme Court. Preparations for this step are being made, according to reports. The local paper has thorough coverage, including this eloquent editorial of support, and a bulletin board for messages of condolence and support.

There are some official announcements on the Indiana state government Web site.

  xMonday, September 08, 2003

enough already

Well, they're at it again: Donald Rumsfeld is the latest to pick up the odious "criticism of this Administration (no matter how richly deserved) helps our enemies" meme. This notion is simply disgusting; I can only echo what Atrios, CalPundit, Tim Dunlop, Arthur Silber and Sean-Paul say: In the first place, the vast majority of commentators -- including me -- believe that we're stuck in Iraq now and we need to get it right. Pointing out the fact that the crew who led our nation into this mess is in charge of getting us out, expressing a lack of confidence in their ability and resolving to keep them and their promises under close scrutiny isn't a lack of patriotism, it's the kind of vigilance and accountability small-d democracy absolutely depends on.

The further fact that this Administration is obviously uncomfortable with criticism, scrutiny and accountability; isn't ashamed to try to suppress the same; and is willing to construct flimsy straw men to do so hardly increases one's optimism about the prospects of their finding a way out of this mess, but it does speak volumes about their general unfitness to govern. This kind of reprehensible veiled threat needs to stop, and right now. Rumsfeld and his fellow hawks who've spewed this bilge owe the nation in general and their critics in particular an apology.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say that even if criticism of the Administration gives our enemies comfort -- and I'm hardly conceding it does -- incompetent execution of foreign and security policy unquestionably gives them much more. If bin Laden derives joy from seeing the US trash its international reputation and credibility, shred alliances, bog itself down in a hazardous occupation and lose its military flexibility by a massive troop commitment, it's the fault of the architects of that policy, not those who point out those flaws.

Update: Talking Points Memo weighs in with this:
So here the whole sordid business comes full circle. The administration games the public into an endeavor by exaggerating the gains and minimizing the price. Then the gains are revealed as not quite so great. And the price is revealed as very much greater. And if all that weren't bad enough, the operation is bungled on several fronts. So the gamers and the scammers say it's the fault of the critics who tried to carve through the mumbo-jumbo in the first place. And when the public has a touch of buyers' remorse over a product that was peddled on false advertising, the answer lies in the public's own degeneracy and division.

It's everyone's fault but theirs. 'The terrorists', domestic enemies, cultural declension, the French, perhaps tomorrow the decline of reading, the end of corporal punishment in the schools, permissive parenting, bad posture, rock 'n roll, space aliens. The administration is choking on its own lies and evasions. And we have to bail them out because the ship of state is our ship.



l33t (not!) translator of the day

This nifty Web site translates a block of text into AOL-teen-user-ese. For example,
Good evening. I have asked for this time to keep you informed of America's actions in the war on terror.


And, surprisingly, is only a little less obtuse.

(via BoingBoing, which suggests using it with Nigerian spam emails...)


burning question of the day

Libby Coepland of The Washington Post asks, just what's the deal with guys digging girls kissing each other?

(via FARK)


happy belated birthday Google, which just turned five years old.

(via FARK)


spidey sequel sneak peek

doc ock wallpaper

The official site for the upcoming sequel to Spider-Man (slated for July 2004) has posted a wallpaper image of Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. c00L!

(via FARK; cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


more sad news

Via Destroy All Monsters, I discovered that Hong Kong singer and actress Anita Mui (Rumble in the Bronx, The Heroic Trio, The Enforcer) has been diagnosed with cervical cancer. Planet Swank wishes Ms. Mui a speedy and complete recovery.

And my friend Joe informed me via email that rock star Warren Zevon has succumbed to lung cancer. I've long admired Mr. Zevon's music -- I've seen him perform twice -- and the news, while not unexpected, is sad indeed. Pacific Views has an appreciation.

Update: My boy Joe emailed me with the rather shocking info that Zevon isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He included a link to an online petition asking that this oversight be rectified forthwith.



Jeff Cooper informs me that Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon collapsed while at an event in Chicago. According to the local paper, Governor O'Bannon may have suffered a cereberal hemorrhage, and an aide described the 73-year-old governor's condition as "a serious situation." A local TV station quoted sources as saying O'Bannon was unconcious and in critical condition. Our thoughts are with O'Bannon and his family.

Update: According to the local paper, O'Bannon underwent surgery this morning. CNN and the WaPo are on the story too. It's some small comfort to note the well wishes from representatives of both parties. The state GOP is to be commended for its expression of support at this difficult time.


bush-wa illustrated

The 18˝ Minute Gap notes that, in selling his tax cut, Bush promised they would lead to the creation of 1.4 million new jobs before the end of 2004, and has an excellent chart showing George Herbert Hoover Bush's, um, negative progress toward that goal.

(via Angry Bear)


mission not accomplished

I missed Bush's speech last night, but I've read the analysis by David Sanger in the New York Times and Dan Balz' page-one article in the Washington Post. Bush is finally acknowledging that his Iraq adventure isn't going well and will cost more in American lives and treasure than his Administration implied in the runup to his little Iraqi adventure.

Prior to the war, many skeptics argued that invading Iraq, which had only a tenuous connection to terrorism in general and no demonstrable ties to al Qaeda (a fact made evident by the Administration's constant refusal to provide the evidence it said would demonstrate those ties), would decrease, rather than enhance, America's ability to fight terrorism. In the Times piece, one Democratic commentator summed up the "There was a theory in this White House that if you were just tough, and knocked Saddam and those like him off, people would not mess with you anymore. They would no longer regard you as weak. Now there is a risk that our muscularity, if not used in a smart way, could make us more vulnerable, not less."

As even hawks admit now, Iraq was a war of choice -- Saddam certainly posed no imminent threat. Yet Bush's choices leave the US with few good options. But with the massive commitment of American lives and treasure that even Bush now acknowledges, our options for dealing with real threats are now severely limited.

And for all his talk of "sacrifice," Bush refuses to acknowledge the foolishness of paying for a war with a tax cut -- indeed, far from suggesting that his previous rounds of cuts be suspended, he continues to push for them being made permanent.

It's high time Bush came clean about the costs of his Iraq adventure. But how can the American public take him seriously on national security or economic issues until he proposes a coherent plan for dealing with the messes his policies have created?



We had a lovely time in Louisville. It was great seeing so many of my old crew in Louisville, and we got a chance to visit my parents as well. I was very pleased that my Dad got the birthday gift I'd hinted at -- the Sports Night DVD collection. He also added Hillary Clinton's autobiography.

On our way home, we stopped by the Edinburgh Outlet Mall, as we'd noticed a Borders shop on the way down. We were delighted to discover that it's essentially an entire store devoted to the kind of stuff you find on the clearance tables out front. Crystal and I enjoy browsing the value-priced books, as we invariably find something cool at a great value, and yesterday was no exception. I was very pleased to see a collection of translated manga on sale for three bucks apiece. I somehow resisted the temptation to run completely amok and limited myself instead to just three: the first two issues of Wild 7, and a really cool horror manga by Junji Ito. I've already read it; it's a collection of one-offs from the Halloween issue of a Japanese comic magazine. They remind me very much of the stories in the old EC horror comix like Vault of Horror.

I also stopped by the K-B toys outlet and let The Girls pick out a toy apiece; Cecilia got a set of Barbie dresses -- she'd been wanting outfits to play dress-up with her dolls -- and Naomi chose a stuffed Hello Kitty doll that she's been carrying around since.

My friends Joe and Jennifer gave me a gift certificate to Best Buy, and I determine to go after the new Warren Zevon CD. Unfortunately, it was sold out in every store in Indianapolis, so instead I picked up The Velvet Underground and Nico, which I'd been meaning to get on CD for the longest time. I also grabbed cool collection CDs of Dean Martin and Johnny Cash. I figure Joe would approve of all those choices.

As you can see, we're doing our part to keep the economy going through consumer spending.

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