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  xFriday, September 19, 2003

anime link of the day

fruits basket

I recently snagged a couple of episodes of the anime series Fruits Basket. It's an unusual comedy series about a 16-year-old orphaned girl who is befriended by a family under an unusual curse: When someone of the opposite sex hugs one of them, he or she transforms into one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac! I've only seen a couple of episodes, but so far it's an entertaining series that blends comedy, drama and romance. Here's more information on the series, a fan site with several picture galleries, and desktop images courtesy


friday link clearance

Here are a few interesting stories I've noted over the past few days.

From this morning's WaPo: Steel Tariffs Appear to Have Backfired on Bush. I'd questions the lede, though:
In a decision largely driven by his political advisers, President Bush set aside his free-trade principles last year and imposed heavy tariffs on imported steel to help out struggling mills in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, two states crucial for his reelection.

That statement implies that Bush really has "free-trade principles" that extend beyond mere marketing, or indeed any principles other than getting elected in 2004. It seems to me principles are those values one sticks by. Somehow I doubt Bush really lost much sleep over accepting the advice of Karl Rove (or whomever) to make this move.

Speaking of which, Knight-Ridder says that Bush is starting to question the advice of his circle of advisers, noting that the results of Amdinistrationm policy haven't been all they promised. What a coincidence; the American public is starting to notice the same thing...

Democratic hawk John P. Murtha demands the firing of Bush's incompetent national security staff.

From the NY Times: Iraqis' Bitterness Is Called Bigger Threat Than Terror. Flypaper, my eye.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Via Eschaton, welcome to the Iraqi Occupation Cell Phone Follies.

Via Jack O'Toole, Letterman Jibe Takes on Life as Political Ad. The joke:
President Bush "is asking Congress for $80 billion to help rebuild Iraq," Letterman cracked. "And when you make out that check, remember there are two L's in Halliburton."


The Michigan power plant Bush recently cited as an example of enmironmental stewardship is said to be one of the worst polluters in the country. Everyone who's surprised, please raise your hands.

Here's an interesting Eric Alterman column questioning the Administration's story -- or rather, stories -- of what it did on September 11, 2001. Mark Kleiman comments, "The contrast between the press coverage, or non-coverage, of this and all the fuss about Gore's mother's dog's prescription and the difference between touring a disaster site with the Director of FEMA and the Deputy Director of FEMA is pertty astonishing."

As a prescription for that disparity, here's some excellent media criticism by The Washington Monthly, ccourtesy Matthew Yglesias.

Finally, three words: Giant prehistoric rodent. The screenplay practically writes itself... (Update: Jeff Cooper makes the obvious association; I'm embarrassed I didn't think if it myself.)


chicken little

Byzantium's Shores is poultry-rific today. Nor only does Jaquandor turn his sights on Jane Galt in his hilarious chicken-crossing-the-road blogger parody, but he also provides a Buffalo chicken wing recipe. I'd been considering making some, actually, some time this fall, and I'll give his formula a whirl.


rave act update

Talk Left has the lastest on the odious RAVE act, which became law when inserted into the Amber Alert bill, and critics are calling "musical profiling."


music news

A new version of the Beatle's last album* Let It Be is to be released, stripped of the Phil Spector-produced strings and effects. The result, according to surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, is closer to the band's original intentions.

*If memory serves me right, Let it Be is the last Beatles album released, but not the last one recorded. The superlative Abbey Road was recorded last, but the band's fractiousness -- which led in part to Spector being called in as producer -- delayed the release of Let it Be.


happy blog-aversary

...a day late, to The (two year old) Talking Dog, today to the year-old TBOGG, and tomorrow to Nitpicker.

Update: And many happy returns for the first wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Sadly, No!



Tom Spencer takes a look at Bush's sagging poll numbers and issues some thoughtful caution for the Democrats:
Hold on folks. If the average American used their common sense and/or just voted his or her pocket book and/or wouldn't allow themselves to be frightened into voting a certain way, I'd agree. However, W and the boys use fear very effectively -- and they haven't really even warmed up the 2004 election year model of the "Scare-O-Matic" yet.

I do think Republicans are in trouble and this administration looks more amateurish on every front with each passing minute. Interestingly enough, I'd argue that it isn't that W and the boys have gotten any worse at their jobs over the last few months or anything.

It's just that the media is finally paying attention to just how bad they are at their jobs.

It remains to be seen how the media will handle the inevitable GOP assault of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). But there's no question that the Democrats have to be prepared for all kinds of dirty pool, like the hatchet job Fox News performed on Howard Dean to make it seem like he was calling Hamas "soldiers" when in reality he was saying -- and I agree -- that they've made themselves combatants and therefore legitimate targets.

Hardly a radical idea, that, but definitely a radical distortion. And that's just the beginning, folks, so hold on to your hats.


flash game of the day

Shuriken Assault is a Flash version of the challenge stage from the classic arcade game Shinobi. The player throws shuriken (ninja throwing stars) at waves of attacking ninja. c00L!


good for one use only?

E.J. Dionne and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick opine that the postponement of the California recall election by a panel of the 9th Circuit is a direct rebuke to the Supreme Court's Bush v Gore decision, which the panel cites as precedent a dozen times despite the SCOTUS' lame disclaimer that the ruling was good for one time only (a tacit admission, in my opinion, that the Court knew how bogus its decision was). Here's Lithwick:
There's really only one way to read the panel's decision from Monday. It's a sauce-for-the-gander exercise in payback. Pure and simple. The panel not only refused to accept the Supremes' admonition that the nation would not be fooled again; it refused even to address it. Applying Bush v. Gore again and again in the unanimous opinion, the judges told the high court that it has no power to declare a case a one-ride ticket and defied the court to step in again to tell them otherwise. (The court isn't likely to step in, as many have now noted, because they cannot win if they do. By getting involved, they risk either looking corrupt and partisan if they reverse the decision or permitting the courts to legislate things like the distances between polling places and the pant-length for elections workers for all eternity.)

Dionne adds:
Critics of the 9th Circuit panel are trying to argue that the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore was applying its equal protection argument only to recounts, not to the method through which votes were cast. But this argument is simply an admission that the Supreme Court majority didn't really care about equal protection of voters. It was looking for a narrow, one-time fix that would make George Bush president. If the Supreme Court ever rejects the use of its precedents by the 9th Circuit, it will make this abundantly clear.

The beauty part is, as some of the frothing conservative critics either fail to recognize or deliberately ignore, is that the decision doesn't cancel the election, merely postpones it until the punch-card ballot systems that the California Secretary of State has admitted are too unreliable are phased out.

And, of course, the Republican contention that counting the votes in Florida would do irreparable harm to Bush speaks for itself.


'flypaper, phooey'

Jim Henley has an excellent critique of the so-called "flypaper strategy" (as he puts it, "A 'strategy' is apparently an explanation you come up with to explain why what you did turns out to have been a brilliant idea even though it didn't work out like you said it would.").


techie toy of the day

Great googly moogly! fontBROWSER is an awesome little tool that lets you preview all the fonts installed on your system. Sw33t!

(via Very Big Blog)


horror movie post of the day

Yeah, it isn't Halloween season yet, but this news is worth noting anyway.

The ultra-creepy Silent Hill survival horror video game series is about the become the basis of a feature film, according to GameSpot.

Attached to the project is producer Samuel Hadida, whose credits include True Romance, Spider, and Brotherhood of the Wolf, the latter of which was directed by Christophe Gans. Konami confirmed that Gans would be the director. Gans' other credits include H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon: Book of the Dead and the Japanese anime Crying Freeman.

Konami will be working closely with Davis Films on the film's script, creature and character design, and soundtrack. Konami did not provide details on the cast, filming location, or schedule and did not indicate whether the film would adapt specific episodes in the series or follow an original storyline set in the Silent Hill universe.

The Silent Hill series has sold more than four million copies worldwide on several platforms.

Let's hope they do a better job than the makers of the barely-pleasing Resident Evil flick.

(cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)


japanese culture link of the day

Yesterday's All Things Considered on NPR carried a fascinating piece (RealAudio required) on the music that plays at Japanese train stations. The piece's author, Andy Raskin, had lived in Japan and was back on business. He notes that the shrill warnings that trains were about to depart have been replaced by beautiful interludes of synthesized music, with each train bearing its own signature tune. Raskin said the change was intended to reduce the sense of urgency that caused commuters to crown onto trains about to depart, but from his observations, the tactic isn't working yet. Still, the music is beautiful and fascinating.

(cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)

  xThursday, September 18, 2003

asian model of the day

tang xueping

tang xueping

Chinese model Xueping Tang.


flash fun of the day

The Economists. Awesome!

(via Byzantium's Shores)


astronomy post of the day

Astronomers snap pix of a giant red star engulfing planets, the first time such a cataclysmic celestial event has been photographed.

(via FARK)


valerie plame update

Jeff Cooper opines that we may soon see developments in the Valerie Plame affair, pointing to a recent Chatterbox entry noting that a reporter asked White House mouthpiece Scott McClellan a direct question about the matter.
[McClellan]: That's just totally ridiculous. But we've already addressed this issue. If I could find out who anonymous people were, I would. I just said, it's totally ridiculous.

...[I]t's pretty unsettling that McClellan refuses to answer the question at all. Rove is, after all, the president's principal political adviser, a man so influential that a recent book about him was titled Bush's Brain. McClellan could have said something like, "I have a very hard time imagining that to be true, but if you like I'll ask him." But McClellan didn't say that.

Mark Kleiman has more. And Josh Marshall promises an interview with Ambassador Joseph Wilson, um, real soon now. Update: It's up!

The Bush Administration's refusal to get to the bottom of this evident crime is as damning as it is sordid.


music sales in perspective

Business Pundit has an interesting chart that may do much to explain the recent slump in record sales: the explosion of the Web surfing, video games and DVDs.

I was surprised and pleased to see that reading rates for books, magazines, and newspapers have more or less held its own, albeit declining slightly.

(via CalPundit)


good energy needed

Wampum informs me that Lisa English of Ruminate This has rushed her ailing son to the hospital. Planet Swank sends sincere wishes for his speedy recovery. Please remember Lisa in your thoughts and prayers.


new jobless claims below 400,000

...they were 399,000 instead. Mind you, that's the rate at which the economy is still losing jobs. Wampum has more.


bush veers perilously close to truth, but pulls a lie out just in time

It was a surreal moment yesterday to read this: Bush: 'No evidence' Saddam linked to Sept. 11
Wednesday, however, President Bush said there was no solid evidence that Saddam was directly connected to the attacks on New York and Washington.

''We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th attacks,'' Bush said in a brief encounter with reporters after a meeting with members of Congress.

I was reassured, however, to Bush's habit of mendacity once more on display:
Bush added, ''There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda ties.''

No question? He's got to be kidding. If Bush has evidence to back that statement up --especially with so many al Qaeda and Saddam regime figures in custody -- I'd love to see it.

In fact, Busy^3 provides the transcript, and the deception is self-evident:
GEORGE W. BUSH: No, we've had no evidence that Saddam was involved with the September the 11th..., what the vice president said was that he has been involved with al-Qaeda, and Al Zaqarawi (ph), al-Qaeda operative, in Baghdad, he's the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat, he's a man still running loose, involved with the poisons network, involved with Ansar Al-Islam. There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaeda ties.

Ansar al-Islam, let's recall, operated in northern Iraq under the protection of the US no-fly zone, which effectively limited Saddam's control. Saddam's only demonstrable ties with that group is that he was powerless to chase it out of his country. If that's the best Bush has, it's pathetic.

Josh Marshall thinks the President's uncharacteristic -- and long-overdue -- declaration is in response to a changing climate in Washington, with the press asking touch questions and Bush's own party starting to look for legislative cover.

And Demagogue links to this Robert Scheer column that catalogs the Administration's history of making misleading "misstatements" loudly and publicly and then issuing corrections, if ever, later on the q.t., and underscores how bogus Bush's al Qaeda claim is:
Even if the leaders of the Bush team were half as smart as they think they are, it would be amazing that they "misspoke" as often as they have. As happened Sunday when Tim Russert challenged Vice President Dick Cheney to defend his claim, made on Meet the Press before the war, that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons. "Yeah, I did misspeak," Cheney admitted. "We never had any evidence that [Hussein] had acquired a nuclear weapon."

The pattern is clear: Say what you want people to believe for the front page and on TV, then whisper a halfhearted correction or apology that slips under the radar. It is really quite ingenious in its cynical effectiveness, and Wolfowitz's latest performance is a classic example--even his correction needs correcting.

The Zarqawi connection has been a red herring since Colin Powell emphasized it in his prewar presentation to the United Nations Security Council, telling the world how Zarqawi was running a chemical weapons lab. Problem was, the site was not in Iraqi control but was in the US-patrolled no-fly zone, and when reporters visited it in the days immediately after Powell's speech they found nothing that indicated anything like a chemical weapons lab.

The fundamentalist militia known as Ansar al Islam that controlled the area, meanwhile, was supported by Hussein's enemies in Iran. Nor has any evidence of connections between Ansar al Islam and Hussein's regime surfaced since the U.S invasion, as Wolfowitz conceded in congressional testimony last Tuesday.

At that same Senate hearing, Vincent Cannistraro, formerly the CIA's director of counter-terrorism operations and analysis, testified: "There was no substantive itelligence information linking Saddam to international terrorism before the war. Now we've created the conditions that have made Iraq the place to come to attack Americans."

I guess for Bush, a longtime habit of deception is hard to break.



Interesting Times has more reaction to Fox News's retort to Christine Amanpour's comments that the media censored itself in covering the Iraq war ("Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda").
The more I think about this the more outrageous I realize this is. The spokesdrone for FOX has essentially admitted two things: her network is a propaganda organ for Bush and anyone who doesn't fall in line should be considered enemies of the state. Furthermore, this statement is so blatant that it indicates that they no longer feel the need to hide their true feelings on this matter behind some veneer of respectable journalism.

Fair and balanced, indeed.



Former Senator Max Cleland has a blistering op-ed in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution blasting Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq
Unfortunately, the people who drove the engine to get into the war in Iraq never served in Vietnam. Not the president. Not the vice president. Not the secretary of defense. Not the deputy secretary of defense. Too bad. They could have learned some lessons:

...Instead of learning the lessons of Vietnam, where all of the above happened, the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense and the deputy secretary of defense have gotten this country into a disaster in the desert.

They attacked a country that had not attacked us. They did so on intelligence that was faulty, misrepresented and highly questionable.

A key piece of that intelligence was an outright lie that the White House put into the president's State of the Union speech. These officials have overextended the American military, including the National Guard and the Reserve, and have expanded the U.S. Army to the breaking point.

A quarter of a million troops are committed to the Iraq war theater, most of them bogged down in Baghdad. Morale is declining and casualties continue to increase.

In addition to the human cost, the war in dollars costs $1 billion a week, adding to the additional burden of an already depressed economy.

The president has declared "major combat over" and sent a message to every terrorist, "Bring them on." As a result, he has lost more people in his war than his father did in his and there is no end in sight.

Military commanders are left with extended tours of duty for servicemen and women who were told long ago they were going home. We are keeping American forces on the ground, where they have become sitting ducks in a shooting gallery for every terrorist in the Middle East.

Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn't go when you had the chance.

Strong stuff.

(via Daily Kos)


chicken it out

Jaquandor favors us with another installment of his chicken-joke blogger parodies. Today's victom: Kevin Drum.

And he rightly recognizes that Britney Spears isn't worthy of sharing a makeup mirror with the luminous Gloria Reuben.

gloria rueben



faq of the day

NOAA helpfully explains why we don't nuke hurricanes to destroy them.

The notion that nuking a hurricane is a frequently asked question is somewhat scary...

(via FARK)



My pal Sparky sent me a link to this funny Onion piece: Death Star to Open Day Care Center
After months of speculation, it was confirmed yesterday that the Death Star, the Empire's vaunted, planet-destroying space station, has added a new, state-of-the-art day care center to its already vast array of capabilities. The massive four-room day care center, which, according to Grand Moff Tarkin, will "provide a safe and fun learning environment for tots between the ages of one and four," has already begun spring enrollment and is expected to be fully operational by June 1.

"Nothing can stop the Sunshine Death Star Play and Learning Center," the Imperial Emperor said via holograph. "With its four classrooms, outdoor playground and experienced staff of licensed day care professionals, no other facility can match its awesome instructive power."


  xWednesday, September 17, 2003

milestone of the day

Earlier this evening, thanks to a referral from Google, the hit counter reached 42,000. Thanks for visiting!


mini movie rant

I was sitting here grooving to a little swanky Les Baxter tuneage, and his recording of the theme to the awesome 1954 John Wayne flick The High and the Mighty came on the earphones. So I decide to cruise on over to Amazon and plop the DVD down on my wish list. To my shock and horror, I discover that the sucker hasn't been released yet.

Hasn't been released yet? What the heck are they waiting for?

THATM is a great flick despite being the granddaddy of the cheesy Airport series. (Hey, there's a reason Robert Stack weas cast in the hilarious spoof Airplane!; in addition, in case you hadn't noticed, the exterior shots of the jet plane in that film are accompanied by a Foley of a prop airliner in an unmistakable homage to THATM.) John Wayne plays a veteran copilot who must rise to the occasion when a passenger airliner runs into trouble flying between Hawaii and (if memory serves me right) L.A San Francisco. It's a brilliant, dramatic flick that sets the template for all the "airplane-in-trouble" films to follow: The drama among the passengers, the no-nonsense flight attendants (known as stewardesses back then), the tense controllers on the ground, the race against time to land the stricken craft. And the closing shot, with Wayne sauntering off into the fog whistling Dimitri Tiomkin's famous, poignant theme, is memorable indeed. This TV Guide review has more.

Via the absolutely invaluable IMDb, I discover that former child star Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer had a role in this film.

I've added my email to the waiting list for the film; according to Amazon, a strong showing of interest can help influence release decisions. Please help out, won't you?


playing chicken

Byzantium's Shores has the latest installment of its wonderful chicken-crossing-the-road blogger parody up. Go read.


the house always wins

...unless it's up against a pack of MIT übergeeks.
Through the years, a group of math students at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology has focused their considerable brain power on a very extracurricular activity: gambling — specifically blackjack.

The students realized that blackjack was the only beatable game in casino gambling — and beat it they did. By the 1990s, the team — whose membership rotated over the years — was making regular trips to Las Vegas and winning big.

"They took over $400,000 in one weekend out of the casinos in Las Vegas," says Gordon Adams, a casino security investigator.

The team used a method known as card-counting, which helps players predict when the cards being dealt will be favorable to them. By knowing which cards have been spent and which ones remain in the shoe, savvy players can keep a running "count" which works as a rough predictor of how many high cards are left. High cards work to a player's benefit because they boost the odds that they will beat the dealer.

The MIT players were not the first to count cards. But they used their math expertise — and advanced computer models — to hone their skills to a devastatingly effective science. They wrote computer programs to devise the best strategy for specific situations, then updated their data with real-life experience.

"After a trip to Vegas, we would enter all the information about what happened into the computers," remembers Semyon Dukach, a student who was a member of the team in the early 1990s.

New members of the team were "trained" for weeks or months, starting on MIT's Cambridge, Mass., campus, then getting experience in backroom card games in Boston's Chinatown. Then they would be sent to Vegas, where they would start out as a "mule" carrying cash, then work their way up in the team's hierarchy.

The team visited Las Vegas regularly, peaking in the 1990s with trips nearly every weekend.

When they hit a casino, they would first deploy a counter to sit in on a table and track the cards. When the counter calculated that the high cards were coming up, he or she would secretly signal the team's designated "big bettor" to the table, using code words to signal how "positive" the shoe was.

The big bettor would then start wagering large amounts of money until the counter would signal that the shoe was no longer "hot."

Card-counting is not illegal and is not considered cheating. But casinos, being private establishments, can eject and ban anyone they feel is a threat to their bankroll — whether they're cheating illegally or counting cards legally.

...Soon, the team began to be recognized by security guards at casinos all across town and asked to leave, thrown out of the nice suites and denied the luxury perks.

"Lewis" remembers security guards at the New York, New York casino telling him, "We can't let you play blackjack here anymore. … You're too good for us and if you try to play blackjack, we'll have to arrest you for trespassing."

Eventually all the doors to all the casinos they had won from were closed.

For "Lewis" and the other members of the team, the game was up. They had won millions of dollars, but their playing days were effectively over.

Mezrich's book is being turned into a movie produced by Kevin Spacey. "MGM is making the movie," Mezrich says, "which is ironic, considering that MGM is one of the casino systems that these guys beat for so much money."

I wanna see that movie.



The Washington Post has issued a correction indicating that it took Cheney's "We can put September 11 behind us now" remark out of context.
A Sept. 15 article on Vice President Cheney's appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" mischaracterized the vice president's response to a question about releasing information on Saudi Arabia's ties to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers. The article quoted Cheney as saying, "I don't want to speculate" about the ties, and said that the vice president went on to say that Sept. 11 is "over with now, it's done, it's history and we can put it behind us." The article implied that Cheney agreed with this point of view. In fact, in his full remarks, the vice president took the opposite view and argued that it is important, in discussing alleged Saudi connections to the hijackers, not to release information that would jeopardize the United States' ability to fight terrorism.

Duly noted.


edwards nails bush on economy

I've said before that I like Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards' rhetoric that makes clear how Bush's priorities are antithecal to American values of hard work and fair play.

William Saletan's piece in Slate yesterday makes the same point.
He emphasized the morality of labor. “A job is about more than a paycheck; it is about dignity, responsibility, and self-respect,” he said. In addition to the work ethic, Edwards argued, capitalism depends on good faith: “Credibility is the currency of good people.” He pledged not just to fix the economy but to put “our economy back in line with our values.”

That’s the sunny side of moralizing the economy. The dark side is cracking down on cheaters. Edwards repeated twice that the promise of America is “a fair shake for all, a free ride for none.” He singled out “Halliburton and George W. Bush’s friends” as free-riders. “Instead of turning a blind eye to CEOs who give themselves massive raises while cutting jobs,” Edwards promised to “stand up for the people who do the work.” He proposed to punish the rich not for being rich but for treachery and freeloading. Like Bill Clinton, Edwards claimed to stand up for people who “play by the rules.” But unlike Clinton, he added an explicit pledge to stand up “against those who don’t.”

The key passage in Edwards’ speech assailed Republican tax policies:

President Bush has a war on work. You see it in everything he does. He wants to eliminate every penny of tax on wealth, and shift the whole burden to people who work for a living. So people won’t pay any taxes at all when they make money from selling stocks, when they get big dividends every year, or when they inherit a massive estate. … It’s wrong to tax millionaires less for playing the market than we tax soldiers for keeping America safe.

The reason this message cuts into Bush’s base of support is that socially conservative blue-collar workers don’t vote Republican out of libertarian principle. They don’t believe in the free market or in rewarding risk. They believe in the work ethic. George W. Bush wins their votes by equating the free market with the work ethic. Show them where the free market betrays the work ethic, and they’ll vote for the candidate of the work ethic against the candidate of the free market.

That’s only half the beauty of the message. The other half is that Bush can’t get out of it. The tax breaks Edwards assails — on capital gains, dividends, and estates — aren’t just vital to Bush’s business constituency. They’re central to conservative economic theory.

I completely agree that the Democratic Party needs to get behind this message, regardless of which candidate its members wind up selecting.

(via The Left Coaster, which agrees that "Edwards' message is a lethal one for the GOP.")


counterterror watch lists to be combined

The Bush Administration has announced that it will combine 12 different antiterrorism watch lists into one.
The FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center will cull information from nearly a dozen watch lists held by agencies throughout the federal government to provide "one-stop shopping" for U.S. consular officials, airport workers, border agents, local police and some private industries, officials said.

One of the key goals of the project is to avoid the type of communication breakdown that occurred prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the CIA placed two of the future hijackers on its own terrorist watch list but failed to immediately notify the FBI and immigration authorities. By the time other agencies were informed in August 2001, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi had already entered the United States. They would later help hijack the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.

The master watch list will be tapped by thousands of federal law enforcement officers and many others -- from small-town cops making traffic stops to airport workers screening passengers to personnel managers checking on applicants for jobs at nuclear plants.

Larry Mefford, head of counterterrorism and counterintelligence at the FBI, said during a news briefing yesterday that the new database "represents an evolution in our ability to identify potential terrorists and stop them before they can do us harm."

The move -- which came in the form of a directive signed yesterday by President Bush -- was greeted with cautious optimism by many lawmakers and homeland security experts, who had criticized the Bush administration for not creating the database sooner and had raised doubts about the government's ability to handle the task.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a frequent critic of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, said that "having a single watch list is Counterterrorism 101," but that "it's up to the FBI to demonstrate the technological savvy needed to maintain a list that can be accessed by all the appropriate agencies."

A General Accounting Office report released in April found that nine federal agencies maintain 12 separate watch lists that include information about suspected terrorists, but that technical and bureaucratic problems hindered the ability to share information between agencies even after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The new screening center and its database are the latest in a series of new government entities created by the Bush administration to monitor and thwart suspected terrorists. They include the Terrorist Threat Integration Center -- a joint venture of the CIA and FBI -- and the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, which is also run by the FBI and will be housed alongside the new screening center in offices in Crystal City.

The new database, which is scheduled to be operational Dec. 1, will include names compiled by the FBI, the CIA, the Homeland Security Department and the State Department. State operates a huge watch list known as TIPOFF that contains the names of 110,000 potential terrorists. Officials said they did not yet know how many names would be included on the new list, or even the number of databases from which the names would be drawn.

I know I've said I don't trust this Adminsitration with my civil liberties -- and I don't -- but despite concerns about abuses and errors involving the list(s), this move seems to me to make sense. After all, the lists exist anyway, and therefore so do any errors. And if, as the Administration promises (according to a story I heard on NPR yesterday), an appeals process is in place for rectrifying errors -- and such a process must exist -- having a single list would actually protect citizens. On the other hand, combining the lists could actually increase the possibility of nabbing terrorsts who appear on one but not others.

In fact, one immediate question that occurs to me is, why has it taken the Administration two years since it woke up to the threat of terrorism to undergo this sensible step, especially since it apparently took only an executive order to implement?

Update: Arthur Silber is more skeptical.


sheb wooley r.i.p.

Sheb Wooley, who recorded the famous novelty tune "Purple People Eater," has died at the age of 82.

I hadn't realized Wooley also appeared in the superb Western High Noon, as one of the three outlaws gunning for Gary Cooper.


liberal incompetent media watch

Among the contentions of Al Franken's book and elsewhere is that the media has far more serious bias problems than political slant, and among those is the intelectual laziness of fitting stories into a "he said, she said" model.

Brad DeLong has a first-person example of just such an occurrence.
There's no White House official disputing the prognosis. The White House official and I agree pretty much completely. In an earlier part of the interview not quoted, I said that I expected to see employment picking up--just not enough to significantly reduce the unemployment rate. In his interview with the reporter, Greg says that we will probably see employment picking up--but is careful not to say a word forecasting a significantly falling unemployment rate. He can't do so because his projections of the distribution of outcomes over the next year are the same as mine: a 20% chance of rapidly-rising unemployment and a significantly-falling unemployment rate, a 60% chance of rising unemployment and a roughly stable or slightly rising unemployment rate, and a 20% chance of falling employment and a relatively rapidly-rising unemployment rate.

Yet somehow the "White House officials dispute that prognosis" has to get into the story. Somehow the story is not complete if it says that White House and Democratic economists all agree that employment is likely to grow but the unemployment rate not likely to fall over the next year or so. Somehow the story must include an "Administration critic says X, Administration rebuts part."

I suppose "White House economists agree with Administration critics that there's little chance of a significan reduction in unemployment after four years of Bushonomics" doesn't sound as sexy or fit into the template very well. (Not to mention the everpresent specter of being accused of "liberal bias" for reporting the Administration's own bleak assessment of employment prospects!)

Unfortunatley, the resulting story is every bit as misleading as uncritical stenography of Administration spin.


flash game of the day

Lose yourself in the totally surreal Boobah Zone, courtesy Hank's Blog.


blog watch

The Democratic Party has launched its own blog. w00t! has launched, a daily record of Bush's, ah, misleading statements (hat tip: Interesting Times).

And say hello to Demagogue, Hank's Blog, Let the Record Show, Nitpicker, and Jack O'Toole.


red and blue

CalPundit gets cranky about the fact that red states are net beneficiaries of redistribution

Republicans like to point triumphantly to the red/blue election map as evidence of the dominant polularity of the GOP. I'm sure it's comforting to think so, but as Brad De Long noted (and was cited in the comment thread), the red/blue division isn't as strong as the GOP would like to believe. (Further evidence is the subtext of the shameful Texas redistricting ploy -- voters elect Democrats even in Republican districts.)

Interestingly, I note that Indiana -- which has a Democratic governor and a split Senate delegation (Bayh and Lugar) -- is at exactly 1.0, meaning it receives benefits exactrly in proportion to its expenditures.

On the subject of taxes, Kevin Drum also shines a light on the apparent agenda of the small-government conservatives:
So: no Social Security, no Medicare, no EPA, no NASA, no foreign aid, no National Institutes of Health, no national parks, no disaster assistance, no housing aid, no FDA, no OSHA, no unemployment insurance, no nothing. Just a big military, some courts, a penal system, and a few other minor symbols of government.

Although they usually won't admit that this is what they're proposing, simple arithmetic tells us that this is the world that Friedman and his small government acolytes would like us to live in. It sounds remarkably similar to ... America during the robber baron era, doesn't it?

Indeed, and we've already tried that. I for one vehemently disagree that life was somehow better in the 1890s-1910s. I suspect that if put to a vote, most Americans would agree. Further, I suspect that the Republicans know darn well they would.


cheney draws more editorial heat

Wow...I'm sure the White House hoped that Cheney's bold lies assertions on Sunday's Meet The Press would quiet -- dare I say intimidate? -- critics and a press corps that has begun to shed its role as dutiful stenographers and started asking uncomfortable questions.

No such luck (registration required).

Dick Cheney is not a public relations man for the Bush administration, not a spinmeister nor a political operative. He's the vice president of the United States, and when he speaks in public, which he rarely does, he owes the American public the truth.

In his appearance on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Cheney fell woefully short of truth. On the subject of Iraq, the same can be said for President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. But Cheney is the latest example of administration mendacity, and therefore a good place to start in holding the administration accountable. The list:

• Cheney repeated the mantra that the nation ignored the terrorism threat before Sept. 11. In fact, President Bill Clinton and his counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, took the threat very seriously, especially after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. By December, Clarke had prepared plans for a military operation to attack Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, go after terrorist financing and work with police officials around the world to take down the terrorist network.

Because Clinton was to leave office in a few weeks, he decided against handing Bush a war in progress as he worked to put a new administration together.

Instead, Clarke briefed national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Cheney and others. He emphasized that time was short and action was urgent. The Bush administration sat on the report for months and months. The first high-level discussion took place on Sept. 4, 2001, just a week before the attacks. The actions taken by the Bush administration following Sept. 11 closely parallel actions recommended in Clarke's nine-month-old plan. Who ignored the threat?

• Cheney said that "we don't know" if there is a connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. He's right only in the sense that "we don't know" if the sun will come up tomorrow. But all the evidence available says it will -- and that Iraq was not involved in Sept. 11.

Cheney offered stuff, but it wasn't evidence. He said that one of those involved in planning the attack, an Iraqi-American, had returned to Iraq after the attack and had been protected, perhaps even supported, by Saddam Hussein. That proves exactly nothing about Iraq's links to the attack itself.

Cheney also cited a supposed meeting in Prague between hijacker Mohamed Atta and a senior Iraqi intelligence officer -- but the FBI concluded that Atta was in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting. The CIA always doubted the story. And according to a New York Times article on Oct. 21, 2002, Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of such a meeting.

Moreover, the United States now has in custody the agent accused of meeting with Atta. Even though he must know how much he would benefit by simply saying, "Yes, I met Atta in Prague," there has been no announcement by the administration trumpeting that vindication of its belief in an Iraq-Sept. 11 link.

• In trying to make that link, Cheney baldly asserted that Iraq is the "geographic base" for those who struck the United States on Sept. 11. No, that would be Afghanistan.

• On weapons of mass destruction, Cheney made a number of statements that were misleading or simply false. For example, he said the United States knew Iraq had "500 tons of uranium." Well, yes, and so did the U.N. inspectors. What Cheney didn't say is that the uranium was low-grade waste from nuclear energy plants, and could not have been useful for weapons without sophisticated processing that Iraq was incapable of performing.

Cheney also said, "To suggest that there is no evidence [in Iraq] that [Saddam] had aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, I don't think is valid." It's probably not valid; Saddam wanted nuclear weapons. But Cheney is changing the subject: The argument before the war wasn't Saddam's aspirations; it was Saddam's active program to build nuclear weapons.

Cheney also said "a gentleman" has come forward "with full designs for a process centrifuge system to enrich uranium and the key parts that you need to build such a system." That would be scientist Mahdi Obeidi, who had buried the centrifuge pieces in his back yard -- in 1991. Obeidi insisted that Iraq hadn't restarted its nuclear weapons program after the end of the first Gulf War. The centrifuge pieces might have signaled a potential future threat, but they actually disprove Cheney's prewar assertion that Iraq had, indeed, "reconstituted" its nuclear-weapons program.

Cheney also said he put great store in the ongoing search for Saddam's WMD program: "We've got a very good man now in charge of the operation, David Kay, who used to run UNSCOM [the U.N. inspection effort]." In fact, Kay did not run UNSCOM; for one year he was the chief inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency's team in Iraq.

But it's funny Cheney should mention Kay. Last summer, the leader of the 1,400-person team searching for WMD expressed great confidence that they would find what they were looking for. He said he wouldn't publicize discoveries piecemeal but would submit a comprehensive report in mid-September. Apparently he has submitted the report to George Tenet at the CIA. The question now is whether it will ever be made public; several reports in the press have suggested that Kay has come up way short. In five months, 1,400 experts haven't found the WMD locations that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said before the war were well-known to the United States.

Cheney also said that an investigation by the British had "revalidated the British claim that Saddam was, in fact, trying to acquire uranium in Africa -- what was in the State of the Union speech." The British investigation did nothing of the kind. A parliamentary investigative committee said the documents on the uranium are being reinvestigated, but that, based on the existence of those documents, the Blair government made a "reasonable" assertion and had not tried to deliberately mislead the British people.

To explore every phony statement in the vice president's "Meet the Press" interview would take far more space than is available. This merely points out some of the most egregious examples. [Ed: For example, it doesn't go into the whole Trailers of Mass Destruction question...] Opponents of the war are fond of saying that "Bush lied and our soldiers died." In fact, they'd have reason to assert that "Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz lied and our soldiers died." It's past time the principals behind this mismanaged war were called to account for their deliberate misstatements.

If this Administration has lost its credibility with the press, it's only a matter of time before public perception follows. Indeed, there's reason to believe (scroll down to "Bush’s First Sub-50 Approval Rating") it already is. If Bush loses the "straight shooter" perception the GOP so carefully fostered, he's toast -- the public will no longer be inclined to give him a pass.

In related developments, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that there's no evidence to suggest, as Cheney did, and many Americans believe, that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. "I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that," Rumsfeld said. Score one point for honesty to Rumsfeld.

(via Eschaton)



BoingBoing pointed to the 404 Research Lab, an amusing collection of clever 404 Not Found pages, including this Sesame Street model, this sexy librarian notice, this excellent page that snares visitors in the classic computer game Zork, and this stylish swank entry. c00L!


new at dam

Destroy All Monsters has posted several reviews I wrote on the Japanese manga and anime series Initial D. I looked at the manga, the anime -- released on DVD this month by Tokyopop -- and the collectible card game, of which Musashi and I enjoyed a demo at GenCon a while back.

Musashi also linked to a swell Wired article describing the passion of Japanese racers for the drifting technique that Initial D celebrates.

  xTuesday, September 16, 2003

geek of the week

Since I just fixed my CD burner and have been working on the big backlog of burning I have to do, this factoid interested me greatly. Some geniuses took it upon themselves to see how many CDs they could label with a single Sharpie marker. The total?

[drum roll, please...]


My trusty Sharpie ought to last me for a few more CDs, then.

(via BoingBoing)


retro gaming link of the day

Behold the swords-and-sorcery glory that is the 1981 Milton Bradley game The Dark Tower. My brother and I used to play this was lots of fun. Now out of print, the game currently fetches prices approaching US$300 or more on eBay.

(via FARK)



The Boston Globe has more on Dick Cheney's fib-fest Sunday:
Evidence of a connection [between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks], if any exists, has never been made public. Details that Cheney cited to make the case that the Iraqi dictator had ties to Al Qaeda have been dismissed by the CIA as having no basis, according to analysts and officials. Even before the war in Iraq, most Bush officials did not explicitly state that Iraq had a part in the attack on the United States two years ago.

But Cheney left that possibility wide open in a nationally televised interview two days ago, claiming that the administration is learning "more and more" about connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq before the Sept. 11 attacks. The statement surprised some analysts and officials who have reviewed intelligence reports from Iraq.

Democrats sharply attacked him for exaggerating the threat Iraq posed before the war.

"There is no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11," Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat running for president, said in an interview last night. "There was no such relationship."

A senior foreign policy adviser to Howard Dean, the Democratic front-runner, said it is "totally inappropriate for the vice president to continue making these allegations without bringing forward" any proof.

Cheney and his representatives declined to comment on the vice president's statements. But the comments also surprised some in the intelligence community who are already simmering over the way the administration utilized intelligence reports to strengthen the case for the war last winter.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism specialist, said that Cheney's "willingness to use speculation and conjecture as facts in public presentations is appalling. It's astounding."

In particular, current intelligence officials reiterated yesterday that a reported Prague visit in April 2001 between Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent had been discounted by the CIA, which sent former agency Director James R. Woolsey to investigate the claim. Woolsey did not find any evidence to confirm the report, officials said, and President Bush did not include it in the case for war in his State of the Union address last January.

But Cheney, on NBC's "Meet the Press," cited the report of the meeting as possible evidence of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link and said it was neither confirmed nor discredited, saying

"We've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know."

You almost have to admire the ingenious disingenuousness of that statement. There's just about no credible evidence to support the claim, and plenty of evidence against it -- including the uncomfortable fact that the intelligence official involved, now in our custody, won't support the theory -- but Cheney seizes on the fact that there's no new evidence against the idea (because most honest observers outside the Administration have completely dismissed the possibility) to promulgate the true-but-deceptive notion that we don't know the meeting didn't happen.
Multiple intelligence officials said that the Prague meeting, purported to be between Atta and senior Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, was dismissed almost immediately after it was reported by Czech officials in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and has since been discredited further.

The CIA reported to Congress last year that it could not substantiate the claim, while American records indicate Atta was in Virginia Beach, Va., at the time, the officials said yesterday. Indeed, two intelligence officials said yesterday that Ani himself, now in US custody, has also refuted the report. The Czech government has also distanced itself from its original claim.

A senior defense official with access to high-level intelligence reports expressed confusion yesterday over the vice president's decision to reair charges that have been dropped by almost everyone else. "There isn't any new intelligence that would precipitate anything like this," the official said, speaking on condition he not be named.

Nonetheless, 69 percent of Americans believe that Hussein probably had a part in attacking the United States, according to a recent Washington Post poll. And Democratic senators have charged that the White House is fanning the misperception by mentioning Hussein and the Sept. 11 attacks in ways that suggest a link.

Bush administration officials insisted yesterday that they are learning more about various Iraqi connections with Al Qaeda. They said there is evidence suggesting a meeting took place between the head of Iraqi intelligence and Osama bin Laden in Sudan in the mid-1990s; another purported meeting was said to take place in Afghanistan, and during it Iraqi officials offered to provide chemical and biological weapons training, according to officials who have read transcripts of interrogations with Al Qaeda detainees.

But there is no evidence proving the Iraqi regime knew about or took part in the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush officials said.

Former senator Max Cleland, who is a member of the national commission investigating the attacks, said yesterday that classified documents he has reviewed on the subject weaken, rather than strengthen, administration assertions that Hussein's regime may have been allied with Al Qaeda.

"The vice president trying to justify some connection is ludicrous," he said.

Nonetheless, Cheney, in the "Meet the Press" interview Sunday, insisted that the United States is learning more about the links between Al Qaeda and Hussein.

"We learn more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s," Cheney said, "that it involved training, for example, on [biological and chemical weapons], that Al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems."

The claims are based on a prewar allegation by a "senior terrorist operative," who said he overheard an Al Qaeda agent speak of a mission to seek biological or chemical weapons training in Iraq, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement to the United Nations in February.

But intelligence specialists told the Globe last August that they have never confirmed that the training took place, or identified where it could have taken place. "The general public just doesn't have any independent way of weighing what is said," Cannistraro, the former CIA counterterrorism specialist, said. "If you repeat it enough times . . . then people become convinced it's the truth."

And apparently 69 percent of Americans do. It may not be the Administration's job to dispel an erroneous public perception that it benefits from, but it certainly is the media's.



Foreman says these jobs are goin', boys, and they ain't coming back..."

--Bruce Springsteen, "My Hometown"

From today's Washington Post: Job Losses Unsettle Republicans / GOP Lawmakers Don't Want Voters' Blame for Economy.

I'd suggest that they unsettle the people who are actually unemployed a whole lot more, but anyway:
Congressional Republicans are watching warily as President Bush's approval ratings slide on two major issues -- the economy and Iraq -- and wondering if voter anxiety might cost them seats in next year's election.

Of the two, the question of the economy is particularly worrying GOP lawmakers, who fear they could be blamed for the hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been lost under the Bush White House and the Republican-controlled Congress. The ongoing conflict in Iraq, and voters' reluctance to keep pouring billions of dollars into that country, also are causing discomfort in GOP circles. But Republicans said they remain confident that the public, which tends to trust the GOP on questions of national security, would back the president and his party on Iraq in the end.

Some Republican analysts, in fact, say they would welcome a debate that focuses more on Iraq -- even with ongoing U.S. deaths and other problems -- rather than jobs.

"I'd love to have Democrats throw us into the briar patch of Iraq and terrorism," said GOP pollster Glen Bolger.

Republican lawmakers see Bush as their party's unquestioned leader and have been reluctant to complain about his handling of domestic or international matters. But recent independent and GOP polls, coupled with extensive conversations with constituents, have some of them worried about a potential voter backlash 14 months from now.

A recent Washington Post poll found that 42 percent of Americans approve of Bush's handling of the economy, down from 45 percent a month ago. The president has suffered a similar slip in public approval of his handling of the Iraq situation: 52 percent, compared with 56 percent a month ago.

Recent interviews with Republican lawmakers found considerably less angst about Iraq than about the economy, which has shed 2.6 million jobs since Bush took office. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said voters see the steady exodus of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the South, as "happening on our watch. . . . Obviously that bothers me in terms of the political outcome in '04."

In a memo to House members last week, GOP Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (Ohio) said Republicans face a "rough communications terrain," especially concerning the economy. "The issue of the economy is more important than ever," she wrote, "and because voters tend to define the economy in the context of jobs, our central message must remained focused on jobs. It is not possible for you to talk about jobs too much!"

One can almost smell the desperation there. Left unsaid, of course, is any notion of how Republican policies are supposed to be good for jobs despite the current evidence to the contrary. The Left Coaster senses a real vulnerability here, and says that Democrats need to point out the rate at which the economy is bleeding manufacturing jobs. I've long felt that the GOP jhas made a fundamental mistake in identifying voter's anger at Bush Senior over unemployment as solely attributable to the perception that he "doesn't care." Of course the Republicans are going to try to make it appear if Bush the Lesser cares about unemployment -- his job, after all, is on the line too -- and they might even get away with it. But voters can't help but realize that the GOP is in charge of all three branches of government, which mean that caring or not, Bush has little excuse for his poor management of the economy.

The Republicans can talk about jobs all they want, but the end result of their policies couldn't be clearer. If they don't want the voter's blame, they should try pursuing different policies.


magic gallery of the day

magic poster

An awesome collection of posters advertising magicians from 1890 to the 1930s. c00L!

And here's an awesome Flash game that lets you play "Carter Beats the Devil" at the Web site for magician Glen David Gold's excellent novel, which I reviewed some time ago for BookPage.

(via MeFi)


a jaquandor two-fer

Byzantium's Shores has a wonderful idea: Parodying bloggers in the context of the time-honored "why did the chicken cross the road" joke. His first targets: Instapundit and Eschaton. Brilliant! Or perhaps IU should say, "Heh."

Also don't miss Jaquandor's excellent riposte to a David Horowitz attack -- satirized at Busy^3 -- on Al Franken's book. What he said. Franken's critics apparently can't defend their lies without telling -- yes! -- more lies.


bush vs. civil liberties

I missed this Saturday Washington Post editorial criticizing the expanded police powers sought by President Bush in his so-called "war on terror."
Mr. Bush wants to give the Justice Department the power to issue "administrative subpoenas" instead of grand jury subpoenas to compel documents or testimony from reluctant witnesses. The administration argues that grand jury subpoenas can be too slow in emergency situations. The administrative approach, Mr. Bush said, is faster and already "used in a wide range of criminal and civil matters. . . . If we can use these subpoenas to catch crooked doctors, the Congress should allow law enforcement officials to use them in catching terrorists."

That may sound reasonable, and current law does permit investigators in certain types of cases to use administrative subpoenas, which FBI agents can issue with far less oversight. But until now there have been important limits to administrative subpoena power. While investigators can use an administrative subpoena to obtain documents, they cannot normally compel testimony in criminal cases. The exception is a provision of federal drug law on which the Bush proposal, contained in a bill introduced this week by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), is modeled. Yet even there, prosecutors generally use the power to obtain records, not testimony, law enforcement experts say. In this country, in other words, if you don't want to talk to the FBI, you don't have to -- and the only way the Justice Department can force you to talk is to put you in front of 23 of your fellow citizens with a court stenographer making a detailed transcript. All of this significantly deters abuse.

Under Mr. Feeney's bill, the bureau in terrorism cases could subpoena a witness and, if that person balks, get the courts to "compel compliance" on pain of contempt. So, absent an assertion of a privilege, you could no longer refuse to talk to investigators without the protections of a grand jury. Moreover, the bill would give the department the authority, if it certifies that "a danger to national security" would result from disclosure of the subpoena, to slap a gag order on the witness. This is entirely at odds with traditional grand jury procedure, in which witnesses are specifically exempted from the secrecy that surrounds proceedings. And unlike in the drug context, there's reason to fear that this authority would be used routinely in the context of terrorism.

This radical new power is unnecessary as well as dangerous. It's not as though seeking grand jury subpoenas is especially burdensome. Prosecutors don't need to seek a grand jury's approval for each subpoena they issue; rather, they often issue them on behalf of the grand juries. Federal rules allow them to keep signed and sealed blank subpoenas for use when necessary. While it is probably true that getting grand jury subpoenas out the door is more cumbersome in certain jurisdictions than in others, that would at most suggest tinkering with some local rules and practices. Mr. Feeney's bill would do a lot more than tinker.

Asked to account for the extraordinary power proposed in the bill, a department spokeswoman initially suggested that Mr. Feeney may have drafted it badly. Only when it was pointed out that similar language had appeared in the so-called "Patriot II" draft bill the Justice Department prepared and leaked early this year did the department even acknowledge that it supports this bill as written. We hope Congress will take a different view.

First off, I recognize that many of the expanded powers sought by the Justice Department were on its wish list from at least back in the Clinton Administration. But 9/11 proved a political opportunity for this Administration to curtail civil liberties in the name of national defense. Now, faced with an uproar over its draft omnubus "Patriot II" bill, Ashcroft's Justice Department has taken the more politically expedient step of gaining the same expanded powers piecemeal.

There's a lesson here for those who trust Bush -- foolishly, in my estimation -- not to abuse this expanded power. I've long opposed the relentless expansion of police powers in the name of our "war on drugs." I'd have been uncomfortable with these measures under Clinton, but would have basically trusted him not to abuse them. I see now that such an attitude is incorrect. It's one thing to give such power to a President you don't distrust, but that power will remain with subsequent Presidents, whether they're trustworthy or not. And I certainly don't trust Bush and Ashcroft to be conscientious guardians of freedom.

Why should we even trust Bush with these measures when he has refused to discipline anyone for the failures that preceded the 9/11 attacks and has so staunchly resisted an independent investigation to answer the number of open questions (which Jim Capozzola helpfully summarizes)?

Even from what we know, it's clear that our domestic antiterrorism system didn't need expanded police powers; they nabbed Moussaoui without them, and had a good line on the plot. Rather, senior officials, up to and including Bush himself, failed to heed the warnings -- excuse me, "connect the dots." And moreover, there's the very likely possibility that prosecutors will abuse these powers for non-terrorism related cases.

And as the editorial points out, the powers Bush seeks do not really rectify a grave inconvenience to law enforcement. If, as he suggests, antidrug investigators enjoy expanded powers that antiterrorism police do not, perhaps the real issue should be taking that power away from the drug cops, rather than expanding it. Instead, Bush once again displays his contempt for the check-and-balance system that's at the core of our representative democracy.

So no, Mr. President. Until you're willing to take responsibility for your Administration's failure to use the resources you already had, there's no compelling reason to sacrifice my Constitutional protections in the name of your "national security" scheme.

(via Blog Left)


japanese tech toys of the day

Check out this USB-powered noodle cooker. For serious techies who sometimes neglect personal hygiene during marathon computer sessions, there's the USB-powered electric shaver and the USB-powered electric toothbrush. And for a little retro charm, you can replace the fan guards on your PC case with one bearing your astrological sign (scroll down) and install a USB-powered black light. All you'd need is a USB-powered black velvet Led Zeppelin poster and you'd be all set. Groovy, man!

(via Wirehed Magazine, cross-posted at Destroy All Monsters)

  xMonday, September 15, 2003

swank link of the day

swank design

Groove to the smooth ultra-rich retro goodness of Tack-O-Rama, an awesome site devoted to retro style, including ads, articles, furniture, fashions, celebrities, fonts, wallpaper, clip art, and pinups. Here's a sample of the latter:

retro pinup


(via MetaFilter)


home state political watch

When visiting my home town of Louisville last weekend, I talked with family and friends about Kentucky's upcoming gubernatorial election. The other day, Josh Marshall identified the upcoming off-year election as an early bellwether of Bush's 2004 prospects.
"We're not running against (President) Bush," said Mark Riddle, executive director of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "We're running against an administration in Washington that's been a miserable failure. We're running against Ernie Fletcher and the Republican Party."

...By casting the Kentucky governor's race, in part, as a referendum on Bush's handling of the economy, the result could affect the tone of the 2004 Presidential race. "If Ben Chandler manages to win because of a focus on the economy, I'm sure the Democratic nominee for president would take notice," said Dr. Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, which monitors elections across the country.

Today, Daily Kos noted that the outcome is still very much in play.
The Kentucky Post:
The latest results from Survey USA, the only independent public poll in the state, shows Attorney General Ben Chandler, the Democratic nominee, and Congressman Ernie Fletcher, the Republican nominee, each with 45 percent of the vote at this point in the race.

That's down from a 6-point lead Fletcher had in the July poll and a 5-point lead he held in the August poll.

Survey USA is often discounted by political insiders because its methodology -- Survey USA uses automated phone banks in which respondents answer questions using the touch tones on the phone pad. But most people agree that the poll can pretty accurately measure trends. And the story that the Survey USA poll shows is that Chandler has closed in on Fletcher.

Actually, the 45-45 split is derived from polling 678 people who identified themselves as "certain" voters, or those who would definitely head to the polls Nov. 4. Add in "probable" voters, and the split favors Chandler by 3 points.

Fund-raising also seems to reflect a Chandler surge. Although Fletcher maintains a clear financial lead with about $1 million more in the bank than Chandler, Chandler made significant fund-raising strides in August, according to the latest reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Chandler raised $1.014 million in August compared to Fletcher's $1.086 million in the same time period. That's the first time Chandler has come even close to raising the same kind of cash as the well-funded Fletcher. Political observers and experts are also noting that Chandler is closing (or has closed) the gap.

If the race is close to a dead heat, turnout will likely be the deciding factor, and I predict that the Democrats will enjoy an advantage there. Kos adds:
If Chandler can ride his aggressiveness to electoral victory, he will show Democrats nationwide that it pays to run against Bush. Chandler can discredit the notion that Bush-lite campaigning is the safest route to electoral victory.

Of course, the Democrats should have learned that lesson with the success of "Operation Pie in the Face." One thing's for sure -- the Democrats need to recognize that the Bush team's talk of "invincibility" and "inevitability" is just so much hot air hoping to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


"liberal media" alert

USA Today has the goods on the so-called "liberal media":
As criticism of the war and its aftermath intensifies, Amanpour joins a chorus of journalists and pundits who charge that the media largely toed the Bush administration line in covering the war and, by doing so, failed to aggressively question the motives behind the invasion.

On last week's Topic A With Tina Brown on CNBC, Brown, the former Talk magazine editor, asked comedian Al Franken, former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke and Amanpour if "we in the media, as much as in the administration, drank the Kool-Aid when it came to the war."

Said Amanpour: "I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did."

Brown then asked Amanpour if there was any story during the war that she couldn't report.

"It's not a question of couldn't do it, it's a question of tone," Amanpour said. "It's a question of being rigorous. It's really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it's the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels."

Clarke called the disinformation charge "categorically untrue" and added, "In my experience, a little over two years at the Pentagon, I never saw them (the media) holding back. I saw them reporting the good, the bad and the in between."

Fox News spokeswoman Irena Briganti said of Amanpour's comments: "Given the choice, it's better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda."

'Nuff said.

(via Eschaton)


shipwreck post of the day

Pravda discusses the wreck of the "Russian Titanic," the passenger ship Admiral Nakhimov, which sank after colliding with another ship, taking more than 400 passengers and crew with her.

(via FARK)


they're playing my tune

CalPundit notes a particular Bush trait that's getting more and more attention: His demonstrable lack of honesty.
At long last, the anti-Bush forces seem to have finally settled on a single theme: He lies. His advisors lie. A lot. About everything.

And this is true. In some sense, the remarkable thing about the Bush administration is not what they do — after all, other administrations have cut taxes, busted unions, and gone to war — but the fact that they tell so many baldfaced lies about what they do. Thanks to yeoman work from the likes of Al Franken, Joe Conason, Paul Krugman, David Corn, and others, this storyline is starting to become conventional wisdom, and I think the Democratic candidates should start picking up on it and hammering it home. If they repeat it often enough, the Bushies are going to end up on the ropes. Americans don't like liars.

Of course, Kevin Drum's has a series of recent posts indicating that he's already tumbled to the fact. And judging from Bush's apologists in the comment thread -- "But everyone dones it!" -- even Bush's supporters can't deny the fact.


wmds? what wmds?

Talking Points Memo hopes that recent reports that the Bush Administration plans to shelve its much anticipated report on Iraq's weapons stockpiles -- excuse me, weapons programs -- isn't true.
Let's be honest: there's no reason for delaying or refusing to issue this report, save for domestic political concerns in the US and Britain. None. [Emphasis in the original]

Do they need more time? Then they should take it. But fourteen hundred scientists, military and intelligence officials have been scouring the country for four months and interrogating most of the Iraqi government officials and scientists involved in weapons procurement and research. That's more than long enough to produce a preliminary report. Indeed, it appears that Kay is delivering a report to George Tenet this week. The only question is whether it is published.

This isn't the roll-out of a new government program or a press campaign that you can start or stop depending on which way the political winds happening to be blowing. This is the official US-UK government investigation in to the reason we invaded and occupied Iraq. Will the administration be embarrassed? No doubt. But they won't be the only ones. Everyone in the US intelligence community thought the Iraqis maintained some WMD capacity. The irony of this whole mess is that the White House took the solid evidence of Iraq's continued illicit weapons programs and hyped them all out of proportion to get the country into war, only to find out that even the 'solid evidence' turns out to have been false or greatly exaggerated.

Are there 'sources and methods' issues involved in releasing the report to the public? Maybe. And of course any report could be redacted. But the 'sources and methods' issue must be at least greatly diminished now since the Iraqi government no longer exists.

Here's the bottom line: the only reason for supressing the Kay Report is to game and stymie the political debate within the United States. That's unacceptable. Congress should demand the release of Kay's report -- even if redacted in some form. No more game playing. Let the chips fall where they may.

Indeed. This Administration has a disturbing habit of going to great lengths to avoid accountability to the American people. Secrecy, obfuscation and outright falsehoods are the order of the day. Even the fact that -- as the WaPo's Post, Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus pointed out -- Dick Cheney rarely grants interviews or speaks to the public is shocking, disgusting and more fitting to a member of a totalitarian regime like the old Soviet Union than a prominent public servant in a democratic republic. The man works for us; he isn't some monarch to grant an audience at his pleasure. Bush's obsession with secrecy and clear distaste for accountability renders him unworthy of the office he holds, and his pathetic hiding behind hackneyed claims of "executive privilege" and "national security" only spotlight the man's political and moral cowardice.


krugman explains it all

Paul Krugman had a lengthy must-read piece in the New York Times Magazine explaining the consequences of Bush's tax cut con game.

Kevin Drum interviewed Krugman the other day. Here's his first impression.

And here's more from the Times on the economic peril of the crecit-card conservatives' policies.

Update: Angry Bear notes that Bush's defecits amount to a "birth tax" ("when a child is born in the currrent decade, she starts out $28,000 more in the hole than she would have without the Bush deficits.").

Update 2: CalPundit's interview with Krugman is up.


administration mendacity watch

The Bush Administration has returned to its tried-and-true pattern of bold -- if misleading -- assertions, counting on a compliant media to transcribe their statements and not ask inconvenient follow-up questions. It certainly worked Sunday for Dick Cheney on Meet the Press, but in today's Washington Post, Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus do a little fact-checking.
The vice president offered an unqualified defense of virtually all administration actions leading up to the war in March and its aftermath, even as the administration has opted to seek a U.N. imprimatur for the occupation after five months of resisting that. Cheney said the administration did not underestimate the financial cost, the resistance or the troop strength needed to pacify Iraq, and he said that prewar allegations about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction would be vindicated.

Further, Cheney argued that new evidence found in Iraq proved more ties between Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, and he argued that Iraq was the "geographic base" for the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "If we're successful in Iraq . . . then we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11," he said in an hour-long interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Cheney's rare appearance -- he almost never takes questions from reporters and had not granted such a television interview in six months -- comes as the public is expressing less faith in Bush and his Iraq policies. Cheney added his voice to other administration officials such as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Bush himself to revive public support, weakened by rising fatalities, a failure to find illegal weapons stockpiles in Iraq and a higher-than-expected request from Bush for an additional $87 billion for military operations and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Administration officials said they think that any acknowledgment of a mistake only encourages critics, as when Bush included a suspect allegation in his State of the Union address that Hussein sought nuclear material in Africa -- despite CIA warnings not to cite the information. Cheney's vigorous defense of the administration's actions went beyond the current debate to Bush's record on jobs, tax cuts and the deficit. He said it would be a "serious mistake" to freeze the tax cuts for the top 1 percent of earners to pay for the Iraq war, as some Democrats have urged.

Of course -- if Bush can't deliver to his base, Cheney's out of a job. Anti-tax fanatic Grover Norquist has made it clear that tax increases are a non-starter that'll result in serious backlash from radicals like himself, even to pay for the Iraqi occupation. (I'd be snarky and ask why he hates America, but the thing is, I believe that deep down Norquist and his ilk do hate America -- they're patently resentful about their duty as citizens. And he's positively eager to see the government too bankrupt to pay for popular programs that he disagrees with but the vast majority of Americans support.) Anyway, back to Pincus and Milbank:
The vice president offered cautionary remarks yesterday. He said that he would "have to assume" that there will be another terrorist attack in the United States, and that he would not rule out requests for more spending in Iraq beyond the more than $150 billion spent or requested to date. While calling the effort "very successful" and asserting that "we're well on our way . . . to achieving our objective," he warned: "So how long will it take? I don't know. I can't say. I don't think anybody can say with absolute certainty at this point."

Translation: We're stuck for at least the near future. But I thought Operation Inigo Montoya was supposed to make us safe from terrorism?
Cheney vigorously defended the level of U.S. troops in Iraq at a time when lawmakers have said more than the current 130,000 American and 20,000 foreign troops are needed. Asked about his earlier dismissal of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's prewar view that an occupation force would have to be "on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers," Cheney replied: "I still remain convinced that the judgment that we will need, quote, 'several hundred thousand for several years,' is not valid.

In fact, Shinseki had not mentioned "several years" in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 25.

Similarly, Cheney argued that the administration did not understate the cost of the war in Iraq, saying it did not put a precise figure on it. Asked about previous assertions by then-White House Budget Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. that the war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion and that a figure in the range of $100 billion to $200 billion was too high, Cheney replied: "Well, that might have been, but I don't know what his basis was for making that judgment."

On the subject of Iraq's link to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney connected al Qaeda to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing by saying one of the participants was Iraqi and returned there. Newly searched Iraqi intelligence files in Baghdad, Cheney said, showed "this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven."

He then revived the possibility that Mohamed Atta, who led the Sept. 11 attacks, allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Baghdad five months before the attack. It is a story Cheney had repeated during a March 16 appearance on "Meet the Press" and one that his aides tried to have added to Powell's presentation in February at the United Nations.

"We've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it," Cheney said yesterday. "We just don't know."

An FBI investigation concluded that Atta was apparently in Florida at the time of the alleged meeting, and the CIA has always doubted it took place. Czech authorities, who first mentioned the alleged meeting in October 2001 to U.S. officials, have since said they no longer are certain the individual in the video of the supposed meeting was Atta. Meanwhile, in July, the U.S. military captured the Iraqi intelligence officer who was supposed to have met Atta and has not obtained confirmation from him.

...Cheney was less forthcoming when asked about Saudi Arabia's ties to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers. "I don't want to speculate," he said, adding that Sept. 11 is "over with now, it's done, it's history and we can put it behind us."

(Update: Two fresh thoughts on that: First off, the Administration hasn't "put 9/11 behind it" in the sense that it at all shirks from invoking the attacks as a handy jutification for any of its policies, and second, I'm not at all prepared to put it behind me until we have a thorough investigation into the events, including what the Administration knew and when it knew it.)

(Update 2: See comment* below.)

On the subject of Iraqi chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, which have not been discovered, Cheney said he still believes chemical weapons are "buried inside [Hussein's] civilian infrastructure." Of the weapons search, Cheney said, "We've got a very good man now in charge of the operation, David Kay, who used to run UNSCOM."

Kay, who is heading the 1,200-person search group, did not in fact run UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission that directed inspections in Iraq from 1991 through 1998; he was for one year the chief inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which handled the nuclear portion of those investigations for UNSCOM.

As evidence that Hussein had "reconstituted" his nuclear weapons program, as Cheney had said before the war, the vice president cited Hussein's prewar possession of "500 tons of uranium." But the material was low-grade uranium, the waste product of a nuclear reactor unusable for weapons production without sophisticated processing that Iraq could not do.

Cheney also spoke of a "a gentleman" who had come forward "with full designs for a process centrifuge system to enrich uranium and the key parts that you need to build such a system." The man, Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi, had denied that the nuclear program had been reconstituted after 1991.

Cheney said that two trucks found in northern Iraq in July were "mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing a capacity for an attack." The CIA report on the trucks said their "most likely use" was for biological weapons, though other scientists who have studied them in Baghdad, including the late British scientist David Kelly, doubted that finding.

Indeed, the trucks are sort of like the fabled aluminum tubes: There's hardly any doubt among independent observers that they have nothing to do with weapons production -- the trucks have canvas sides, for pity's sake -- and the dissent comes only from the Administration itself. If memory serves me right, in fact, the British have concluded that the trucks are designed to produce hydrogen for an observatin balloon system the British themselves sold Iraq, just as the Iraqis have claimed.

It was, by all accounts, a masterful performance of assertion and prevarication that MTP's Tim Russert seemed ill inclined to challenge. But as the WaPo points out, the public is starting to get a little leery of the massive price tag of Bush's Iraqi adventure.

Talking Points Memo focuses on the odious repetition of the thoroughly discredited notion of the Saddam-al Qaeda connection:
The point is that there is simply no evidence whatsoever connecting the Iraqi regime with the 9/11 attacks. What's more, it's not as though we don't know quite a lot about how the attacks were carried out. We know who the perpetrators were -- both those in the planes and many in support roles. We know where the money came from. We know about their ties with al Qaida and bin Laden. We know a great many details about how this horrific attack happened. And none of them have led us back to Saddam Hussein or the Iraqi regime.

Even applying so low a standard as that by which we judge incidents with four-year-olds and cookie jars, Cheney's statement that "we just don't know" whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks is a lie.

Why do 69% of Americans continue to believe that Iraq may have been involved in 9/11? Many reasons. But one of the most important is that their leaders keep lying to them.

Remember, as Milbank and Pincus point out, our miltary now has in custody the officials Atta are alleged to have met, and they have little reason not to come clean. Cheney's reprehensible repetition of this Big Lie -- and that of all those in the conservative echo chamber -- is a disgusting falsehood whose very existence underscores how weak the Administration's case for war really is and was. If it were a good case, they shouldn't have had to lie about it. Ah, but there's the rub, as Kevin Drum opines.
The fact is that they exaggerated the threat, they oversold the WMD, they lied about al-Qaeda connections, and it all seemed so pointless to me. I figured the American public would have supported the war even if the case had been made honestly, so why the PR job? Was it just to keep in practice?

This starts to answer the question: the Bushies are smarter than me. In fact, the public probably wouldn't have supported the war if the case had been more honest and restrained, so their instincts were right. They wanted this war, and if they had told the truth about what it would cost and how long it would take, they probably wouldn't have gotten it.

Remember how lukewarm the American public was toward the war before Bush "pulled the trigger" -- especially over his rushing in practically alone, without convincing allies to get on board? It seems that, once again, Americans had a bit more savvy than Bush gives them credit for.

Update: *The Post has issued a correction indicating that it took Cheney's "We can put September 11 behind us now" remark out of context.
A Sept. 15 article on Vice President Cheney's appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" mischaracterized the vice president's response to a question about releasing information on Saudi Arabia's ties to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers. The article quoted Cheney as saying, "I don't want to speculate" about the ties, and said that the vice president went on to say that Sept. 11 is "over with now, it's done, it's history and we can put it behind us." The article implied that Cheney agreed with this point of view. In fact, in his full remarks, the vice president took the opposite view and argued that it is important, in discussing alleged Saudi connections to the hijackers, not to release information that would jeopardize the United States' ability to fight terrorism.

  xSunday, September 14, 2003

hardware achievement of the day

I believe I've finally fixed a stubborn problem with my CD-RW drive. If it continued to work (the test run was A-OK), I will at last be able to archive the groovy stuff I've been downloading (and therefore clear hard disk space for more downloading), make copies of audio CDs to bring to work, and back up my hard drives so I can upgrade the operating system.

pHe@r My L33T B0x0R $KiLLz!

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