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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rumors and Expectations

Pre$$titutes reports that righty bloggers are going all Claude Rains on us because they "just realized" that the media reported anarchy and violence in New Orleans that was unsubstantiated. Drudge is especially shocked that anyone would spread scurrilous rumors.

They are holding the media responsible for the Katrina aftermath and they are not entirely wrong. Of course the media should have been skeptical of these crazy rumors and should have wondered why they weren't seeing any evidence of the alleged mayhem as they waded through the city. All I ever saw was a few desultory looters hauling around some boxes of sneakers.

The media certainly need to ask themselves some probing questions about why they were so gullible. It didn't pass the smell test from the get as far as I was concerned. (But then as TBOGG pithily reminds us, it isn't exactly the first time the media have bought into rumor and speculation hook line and sinker, now is it?)

But blaming the media is missing the point. They, like many others, chose to believe something for which there was no evidence. The press saw and reported the wretched spectacle of the evacuees living in horrible conditions, waiting and begging for help, but by that time everything was seen within the prism of the earlier (and ongoing) reports of violence. They need to do some soul searching about that.

Even those who lived it, for many reasons, saw the situation as anarchic and dangerous for their own reasons.

Bud Hopes, of Brisbane, was praised for saving dozens of tourists as the supposed safe haven of the city's Superdome became a hellhole.

"I would have to say that Bud is solely responsible for our evacuation," Vanessa Cullington, 22, of Sydney, told the Sunday Herald Sun by mobile phone from a bus carrying 10 Australians to safety in Dallas, Texas.

"I dread to think what would have happened if we hadn't got out. It's so great to be free."

News of the group's escape came as reports said as many as 10,000 people might have been killed by the hurricane and its aftermath, and President George Bush ordered more troops and an increased aid effort for the stricken Gulf of Mexico states.

As the Australians left the Superdome, food and water were almost non-existent and the stiflingly hot arena was filled with 25,000 people and the stench of human waste. Gangs stalked the tourists and women were threatened with rape.

"Bud took control. He was calm and kept it together the whole time," Ms Cullington said.

Mr Hopes, 32, said: "That was the worst place in the universe. Ninety-eight per cent of the people around the world are good. In that place, 98 per cent of the people were bad.

"Everyone brought their drugs, they brought guns, they brought knives. Soldiers were shot.

"It was like a refugee camp within a prison.

"It was full on. It was the worst thing I have seen in my life. I have never been so frightened."

Realising that foreigners were a target, Mr Hopes and the other Aussies gathered tourists from Europe, South America and elsewhere into one part of the building.

"There were 65 of us, so we were able to look after each other -- especially the girls who were being grabbed and threatened." Mr Hopes said.

He said they had organised escorts for the women when they had gone for food or to the toilet, and rosters to keep guard while others slept.

"We sat through the night just watching each other, not knowing if we would be alive in the morning."

John McNeil, 20, of Brisbane, said the worst point had come after two days when soldiers had told them the power in the dome was failing and there was only 10 minutes worth of gas left.

"I looked at Bud and said, 'That will be the end of us'," Mr McNeil said.

"The gangs . . . knew where we were. If the lights had gone out we would have been in deep trouble. We prayed for a miracle and the lights stayed on."


Mrs McNeil broke down when she saw images of her son leaving New Orleans.

"There have been times during this past week when we didn't know if we would see him again," she said.

Mr McNeil said he could see a change in his son.

"They've been traumatised," he said. "I think they've witnessed several atrocities.".

They worked themselves into a frenzy, just as a whole lot of other people did.(98% were bad!!!) They may have been threatened. I have no way of knowing. But it was a long way from "atrocities." The reports of others -- many of whom were white -- at the Superdome don't bear out their story. These were people who were convinced that because they were the minority, they were going to be killed. But there are many other whites who didn't see themselves threatened this way at all. Perceptions were everything. Beliefs and prejudices about race and class were everything.

It was even as if some people expected it to happen, somewhere in their subconscious, even before the rumors started. Check out this post at 10:05 am on Monday, August 29th, when people still thought "a bullet had been dodged" in New Orleans, long before anyone realized that the cavalry was waiting for massive reinforcements before it would dare to enter the barbarous city:

I think it's time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It's never too soon to be prepared.
Posted at 10:05 AM

You can't blame the MSM for that. They hadn't even begun to report the mayhem that shortly caused Peggy Noonan (and her latest manly hero, Haley Barbour) to call for the looters (a useful euphemism) to be shot on sight.

At 10:45 on the morning after the hurricane, Jonah has already called forth the "Lord of the Flies" image that would be emblematic of New Orleans the next few days. (This google search shows just how many references there were.) Jonah made a few more peurile remarks about how the loss was worse for middle class families and the like before he finally settled down and realized that the disaster was of epic prooprtions. But he predicted the "anarchy" even before the rumors that turned out to be false began. It existed in his mind. I think it existed in a lot of people's minds.

(If you'd like some real fun, go to the Corner link and read Rich Lowry's comments as he breathlessly clips items and snippets of news reports about violence and mayhem.)

I'm not letting the media off the hook. They too took these ridiculous stories on faith and there were serious consequences to them being circulated. But the question that must be asked isn't why the media reported them --- the question is why so many people, including the media, were so willing to believe them in the absence of any real evidence.

Modern GOP Noblesse Oblige

The internal polls must be worse that we thought. They are really grasping at straws:

Facing criticism that he appeared disengaged from the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina, President Bush has been looking for opportunities to show his concern. But the White House will take the effort a step further Tuesday, venturing into untested waters by putting the nation's first lady on reality television.

Laura Bush will travel to storm-damaged Biloxi, Miss., to film a spot on the feel-good, wish-granting hit "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Mrs. Bush sought to be on the program because she shares the "same principles" that the producers hold, her press secretary said.

In its standard format, the popular ABC series finds hard-pressed but deserving families, sends them away for short vacations and then, in a whirlwind of carpentry and appliance-shopping, gives them new homes. This time, though, the show will broadcast from an underserved shelter near Biloxi, where a convoy of trucks stocked with everything from mattresses to pants will arrive, courtesy of Sears, one of the show's sponsors.

It's not clear exactly what Mrs. Bush will do, but Tom Forman, executive producer and creator, said he is hoping that she'll just pitch in and help unload.

Next week, the cabinet will appear on the special New Orleans version of Survivor, where the Bush team will loll around the pool in Crawford deciding what to have for dinner while the all black 9th ward team lives on bugs and swims through snake infested flood waters to safety. The winners will have their capital gains taxes cut to zero.

Twisted Psyches

Via John at Americablog, I found this article about the warporn site from the Online Journalism Review that is quite interesting.

Near the end the author briefly addresses what I think is the most disturbing aspect of this disheartening story --- the combination of sexual pornography and real violent images.

While it was difficult for me to ascertain the motivation for people who were posting gory photos to NTFU, I did talk to Steven Most, a psychology postdoctoral fellow at Yale University who has studied the effects of violent and sexual images. He helped explain what these horribly violent images had in common with the nude photographs of women.

"They both seem to be particularly arousing in an emotional way," Most said. "Emotional stimuli can be rated in different ways. You could see something and rate how positive or negative it is. But separate from that is how arousing the image is. A positive picture of a cute puppy dog could be positive but not that arousing, whereas a picture of an opposite sex nude could be just as positive but be rated as extremely arousing. And a picture of a mutilation could be rated as extremely negative but highly arousing. Lately there's been a lot of theories saying that what we're drawn to is the arousing nature of an image regardless of whether we see it as negative or positive."

I am not a psychologist but I think it would be very surprising if combining these arousing sexual and violent images did not result in twisting some people's psyches. It cannot be healthy to get your thrills through deadly, bloody violence and sexual images in the same place, at the same time in the same way. The porn site is a "girlfriend and wife" site --- it's not professional porn stars. Those images of the naked girls next door are being given away for free to men who are posting pictures of mangled bodies of people they purport to hate with every fiber of their being. It is worlds colliding in a very dangerous way.

Sexual sado-masochism has been out there for millenia but it is highly ritualized fantasy. This is all too real. I have to think that it is problematic that people are getting so negatively and positively aroused by real death and gore at the same time.

There is something very disturbing about the images of sexual torture we've seen and heard about in this war, generally. The forced masturbation, the pyramids, the female interrogators and the fake menstrual blood, the constant nudity, all of it. Violence against prisoners in the new Human Rights Watch report is expressed as "fucking" instead of beating. Not "fucking up" or "fucking with" --- just plain "fucking" as in "I walking in and saw him fucking the prisoner."

I cannot help but think that something has gone terribly wrong here. From the top of the hierarchy ordering sexual humiliation techniques, to obscure web-sites selling war gore and pictures of girls next door together, this is a very sexualized war and it's damned strange, particularly coming from a regime that pretends to be an arbiter of strict sexual morals.

It's clear that the leadership of this country is extremely concerned with consensual sex between two adults but they find images of sexual violence and kinky torture techniques to be thoroughly acceptable among soldiers and useful to the war effort. This is a very odd perception and one that leads us back to the conclusion that something extremely unhealthy has invaded our body politic.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Another "F" Word

I hesitate to bring this up because nothing is more impolitic these days. After reading excerpts from this article over at the Cunningrealist, I was quite taken aback. I knew that Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire was covered up but I was unaware that he was also a vocal opponent of the Iraq war.

My first shocking thought after reading it was that a high profile star like him could have been seen by someone as a very dangerous guy. He might have been fragged.

It's hardly better that Americans killed him by accident. But it is better. I no longer trust what any official says about the Iraq war. There seem to be no limits. If it's true that the military routinely forces innocent people into stress positions so painful they pass out, anything could be true. Even that.

The Negroes Were Rising

Monday, April 6 1741

About ten o'clock in the morning, there was an alarm of a fire at the house of serjeant Burns, opposite fort Garden....

Towards noon a fire broke out in the roof of Mrs. Hilton's house...on the East side of captain Sarly's house....Upon view, it was plain that the fire must have been purposely laid.... There was a cry among the people, the Spanish Negroes; the Spanish Negroes; take up the Spanish Negroes. The occasion of this was the two fires...happening so closely together....and it being known that Sarly had purchased a Spanish Negro, some time before brought into his port, among several others....and that they afterwards pretending to have been free men in their country, began to grumble at their hard usage, of being sold as slaves. This probably gave rise to the suspicion, that this Negro, out of revenge, had been the instrument of these two fires; and he behaving insolently upon some people's asking him questions concerning them...it was told to a magistrate who was near, and he ordered him to jail, and also gave direction to constables to commit all the rest of that cargo [of Africans], in order for their safe custody and examination....

While the justices were proceeding to examination, about four o'clock there was another alarm of fire....

While the people were extinguishing the fire at this storehouse, and had almost mastered it, there was another cry of fire, which diverted the people attending the storehouse to the new alarm...but a man who had been on the top of the house assisting in extinguishing the fire, saw a Negro leap out at the end window of one of them...which occasioned him to cry out...that the Negroes were rising....

I wrote quite a bit about the fear of the black mob being the real reason why the response to Katrina was delayed in New Orleans and how this fear has been imprinted on the collective lizard brain of America since the early days of our history.

It appears to have been true once again:

Following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, the doctor from FEMA — Beron doesn't remember his name — came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalled the doctor saying.

The real total?

Six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the handoff of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.

State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been murdered inside the stadium.

At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies have been recovered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been murdered, said health and law-enforcement officials.

That the nation's frontline emergency-management officials believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the news media and even some of the city's top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent.

The vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees — mass murders, rapes and beatings — have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law-enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

"I think 99 percent of it is [expletive]," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Lachney, who played a key role in security and humanitarian work inside the Dome. "Don't get me wrong — bad things happened. But I didn't see any killing and raping and cutting of throats or anything ... 99 percent of the people in the Dome were very well-behaved."

Dr. Louis Cataldie, the state Health and Human Services Department administrator overseeing the body-recovery operation, said his teams were inundated with false reports.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said authorities have only confirmed four murders in the entire city in the aftermath of Katrina — making it a typical week in a city that anticipated more than 200 homicides this year.

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they [national media outlets] have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases; they just accepted what people [on the street] told them. ... It's not consistent with the highest standards of journalism."

It is, however, entirely consistent with a peculiar type of racism that sees a large group of African Americans as a recipe for violence and anarchy in the absence of strict control. And it's this racism --- not the kind of racism that would have had George W. Bush saying that he couldn't be bothered saving people because he hates blacks --- that played into the death and destruction of Katrina. We've managed to drive a lot of that overt hostility underground in the lat 40 years. The racist fear, however, is stoked every time a wily politician runs on the "law and order" platform.

Even the cops -- or maybe especially the cops --- were whipped into a frenzy:

As floodwaters forced tens of thousands of evacuees into the Dome and Convention Center, news of unspeakable acts poured out of the nation's media: People firing at helicopters trying to save them; women, children and even babies raped with abandon; people murdered for food and water; a 7-year-old raped and killed at the Convention Center.

Police, according to their chief, Eddie Compass, found themselves in multiple shootouts inside both shelters, and were forced to race toward muzzle flashes through the dark to disarm the criminals; snipers fired at doctors and soldiers from downtown high-rises.

In interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Compass reported rapes of "babies," and Mayor Ray Nagin spoke of "hundreds of armed gang members killing and raping people" inside the Dome. Other unidentified evacuees told of children stepping over so many bodies "we couldn't count."

The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, overwhelmingly African-American masses of flood victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them. The mayor told Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost animalistic state."

Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence. The piles of murdered bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines assert that, while anarchy reigned at times and people suffered indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.

"The information I had at the time, I thought it was credible," Compass said, admitting his earlier statements were false. Asked the source of the information, Compass said he didn't remember.

Nagin frankly acknowledged he doesn't know the extent of the mayhem that occurred inside the Superdome and the Convention Center — and may never. "I'm having a hard time getting a good body count," he said.

Compass conceded that rumor had overtaken, and often crippled, authorities' response to reported lawlessness, sending badly needed resources to situations that turned out not to exist.

Military, law-enforcement and medical workers agree that the flood of evacuees — about 30,000 at the Dome and an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 at the Convention Center — overwhelmed their security personnel.

The 400 to 500 soldiers in the Dome could have been easily overrun by increasingly agitated crowds in the Dome, but that never happened, said Col. James Knotts, a midlevel commander there. While the Convention Center saw plenty of mischief, including massive looting and isolated gunfire, and many inside cowered in fear, the hordes of evacuees for the most part did not resort to violence.

"Everything was embellished, everything was exaggerated," said Deputy Police Superintendent Warren Riley. "If one guy said he saw six bodies, then another guy the same six, and another guy saw them — then that became 18."

Inside the Superdome, where National Guardsmen performed rigorous security checks before allowing anyone inside, only one shooting has been verified — and even that shooting, injuring Louisiana Guardsman Chris Watt of the 527th Engineer Battalion, has been widely misreported, said Maj. David Baldwin, who led the team of soldiers who arrested the alleged assailant.

Watt had indeed been attacked inside one of the Dome's locker rooms, where he entered with another soldier. In the darkness, as they walked through about six inches of water, Watt's attacker hit him with a metal rod, a piece of a cot. But the bullet that penetrated Watt's leg came from his own gun — he accidentally shot himself during the commotion. The attacker was sent to jail, Baldwin said.

Inside the Convention Center, Jimmie Fore, vice president of the state authority that runs the center, stayed in the building with a core group of 35 employees until Thursday. He said thugs hot-wired 75 forklifts and electric carts and looted food and booze, but he said he never saw any violent crimes committed, nor did any of his employees. Some, however, did report seeing armed men roaming the building, and Fore said he heard gunshots in the distance on about six occasions.

Rumors of rampant violence at the Convention Center prompted Louisiana National Guard Col. Jacques Thibodeaux to put together a 1,000-man force of soldiers and police in full battle gear to secure the center around noon on Friday.

It took only 20 minutes to take control, and soldiers met no resistance, Thibodeaux said. They found no evidence, witnesses or victims of any murders, rapes or beatings, Thibodeaux said.

One widely circulated story, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsman, held that "30 or 40 bodies" were stored in a Convention Center freezer.

But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's Casino, said Col. John Edwards of the Arkansas National Guard, who conducted the review.

I doubt that this will get the kind of wide coverage that the initial reports did. And those initial reports clearly indicate that relief was held back because of the alleged anarchy in the streets:

Violence disrupted relief efforts Thursday in New Orleans as authorities rescued desperate residents still trapped in the flooded city and tried to evacuate thousands of others living among corpses and human waste.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown said his agency was attempting to work "under conditions of urban warfare."

Police snipers were stationed on the roof of their precinct, trying to protect it from armed miscreants roaming seemingly at will.

Officers warned a CNN crew to stay off the streets because of escalating danger, and cautioned others about attempted shootings and rapes by groups of young men.

They had to wait for more National Guard to put down the crazy violence. Remember, nobody could come in with relief supplies because it was too dangerous.

About 24,000 National Guard
members will be in Louisiana and Mississippi by the end of the week to combat looting and quell gunfire that disrupted the rescue of survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said today at a news conference that 1,400 will go to New Orleans daily for the next three days, expanding a force of 3,000 that's trying to maintain order in a city flooded and left without power by the storm three days ago.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said National Guardsmen from Arkansas were prepared to use deadly force as they try to restore order in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune reported.

Blanco said at a news conference today that the guardsmen ``know how to shoot to kill ... and I expect they will,'' the New Orleans newspaper said.

Some rescue operations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were suspended in areas where gunfire broke out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington, the Associated Press reported. People trying to board amphibious vehicles outside New Orleans's Charity Hospital were shot at while trying to evacuate, Cable News Network reported.

The Bush administration Official Katrina Talking Point these days is directed entirely at this situation. They are making the case that if the federal government had had direct control of the situation they could have called in the National Guard instead of ebing forced to wait for the hormonal, hysterical Kathleen Blanco to stop wringing her flighty hands and ask for them. The rationale seems to be that if they could have "secured" the city earlier there would have been a quicker response.

But it was fear of the black mob that prevented the relief agencies from entering the city --- a paranoid delusion. The red cross and others could have come into the city days earlier. There were those who said that they shouldn't be allowed to provide food and water because the evacuees would allegedly be so content that they would not be inclined to leave. But they were also told that they'd be mobbed by the crazed crowd and perhaps killed by the roving gangs of armed thugs who were raping babies and killing anyone who got in their way.

They have been able to confirm four murders in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. The same number that there would have been if Katrina had not hit. One of them took place at the Convention Center. There were no murders at the Superdome. The cop who was famously shot down by a roving gang actually shot himself in the leg by accident.

We don't know how many people died because people were so afraid of the black mob that they would not allow relief workers with food, water and medical help into the city in the days after the flooding. I wonder if this tragic little lady made it to a more dignified place to live out her last days.

Dorothy Divic, 89, is surrounded by onlookers trying to keep her alive on a street outside the New Orleans Convention Center September 1, 2005. Several people among the thousands of stranded hurricane evacuees have died while waiting outside the building, with no sign of imminent help on the way. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Update: If you've been denied the opportunity to read this widely disseminated e-maim Snopes has it in its entirety. It starts off like this:

I've been watching the news lately and have seen scenes that have made me want to vomit. And no it wasn't dead bodies, the city under water, or the sludge everywhere. It was PEOPLE'S BEHAVIOR. The people on T.V. (99% being Black) were DEMANDING help. They were not asking nicely but demanding as if society owed these people something. Well the honest truth is WE DON'T.

Help should be asked for in a kind manner and then appreciated. This is not what the press (FOX in particular) was showing, what I was seeing was a group of people who are yelling, demanding, looting, killing, raping, and SHOOTING back at the demanded help!

And so it goes. And FoxNews is reporting that authorities are doing backround checks on evacuees who are seeking shelter and over half have criminal records.

"It's a balancing act," said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (search). "We don't want to treat them like criminals after they have been traumatized, but we want to make sure they are in no danger nor the families they are housed with."

No word on those who have enough money to stay in hotels. Lock up the white women.

Update II:

I am aware that both Compass and Nagin are black. African Americans were also usually the ones who blew the whistle on slave revolts. It's a complicated psychology. Certainly one can understand why people in jobs of trust and authority would want to distance themselves from a group that is so widely feared and reviled.

And So It Begins

Via media matters:

LIMBAUGH: From the Associated Press, Mary Dalrymple doing the honors of writing this story. "House and Senate tax writers agreed yesterday to a package of tax breaks designed to help Hurricane Katrina victims recoup their losses and access needed cash. The Congressional Research Service, an office that provides lawmakers with nonpartisan legislative analysis, said some of those tax breaks could do more for higher income survivors than for the neediest."

Yes. People, they're going to get tax breaks for Katrina. It may help the rich more. The rich may benefit more from taxes and tax cuts that result from Hurricane Katrina. We should rethink this, ladies and gentlemen. Even though the rich were wiped out too, they still may benefit more. I will guarantee you this, ladies and gentlemen: Many of those getting tax cuts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will not have paid any taxes at all. The people who pay taxes today are primarily the upper middle class, the rich, whatever you're going to call them, and the filthy wealthy.

It's not worth it to try to specifically decifer his incoherant ramblings, but the message comes through anyway.

Poor people are going to be getting something they don't deserve. And I think we know which poor people he is talking about.

Losing Its Honor

Americablog has a long post up about the warporn, which I wrote about last week. I do not suggest that you click through to the pictures unless you have a very strong stomach.

It's worth noting that this site and the stories of prisoner torture that came out in the last week are part of a story that nobody wants to deal with --- that is, the story of individual soldiers committing depraved acts on their own. Shystee over at Corrente, takes me to task for suggesting such a thing, and I plead guilty. There is a point at which individual soldiers have to take responsibility as well as the higher ups, whom I agree bear the brunt of the blame.

But, I have seen no evidence that the military heirarchy has instituted a policy of posting gory pictures on sex sites of Iraqis whom we've liberated from their lives. It's possible, I suppose, but this looks to be a matter of individuals entertaining themselves. As I wrote before, I know that taking pictures of battlefield dead has been around since Matthew Brady --- and it has served the purpose of documenting the horrors of war for all to see. But this melding of sexual porn and bloody war gore is the sign of something sadistic and perverted (and yes, fascistic.)

There is one stomach churning picture that shows a horrible mangled stump where a foot should be, presumably blown up in a land mine or something like it --- and the naked crotch of the woman whose stump is being displayed. It's called "Nice puss/Bad foot." It's possible that the picture is photo-shopped, but regardless of the veracity of the picture itself, it's obvious that any man who gets an erection from that pic is a man who should not be carrying a gun.

These guys are allowing their ids to run wild and I don't think there is any excuse for it. They know the difference between right and wrong. They are not under orders to post these pictures nor can there be any thought that it helps the war effort by scaring the "Hajis" or giving these soldiers a forum in which to "release" their "steam." It's pure tittilation --- "warporn" in the most literal sense and it speaks to something seriously wrong with the military culture that says on the one hand that we are there to liberate the Iraqi people and on the other that these people's dead and mangled bodies are strangely sexually stimulating.

Note that there is no discussion as to whether these Iraqis are "Baathists" "bitter-enders," "terrorists," "insurgents" --- or the "good" Iraqis who we liberated from the sick, depraved Saddam. One of the pictures is simply entitled "Die Haji Die." It is assumed that any dead Iraqi is a terrorist --- and that, as we know, is impossible.

None of this is to say that the systematic sexual torture regime we've seen in both Iraq and Guantanamo is just the result of a barrel of bad apples. Clearly, the military have taken the simple-minded lessons of "The Arab Mind" to heart and believe that if they sexually humiliate the "Hajis" they'll crumple. (Big strong American men, meanwhile, wouldn't be affected whatsoever by being forced to simulate anal sex with other men or being jeered at while wearing ladies underwear.)I think it's pretty clear that the highest reaches of the government signed off on a whole lot of questionable kinky stuff in the mistaken idea that arabs are different from you and me. And it would appear that some of the soldiers have predictably taken this to heart.

And even if you are to set aside the kinky sexual nature of the War On Terror, I can't actually understand how anyone would think that even the total abdication of the Geneva Conventions allows for a cook to break a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat because he needed to relieve some stress. (Did the prisoner complain that there was too much lemon in the bernaise sauce and he just couldn't take it any more?)

I remember this fascinating letter to Josh Marshall back in May of 2004, from an unnamed ex-military officer. It was right as the Abu Ghraib story broke:

"... it is no secret that ON THE STREET the US Army was and remains openly kicking Iraqi asses whenever and wherever they want to.

About the Army - Man, it hurts my heart to write this about an institution I dearly love but this army is completely dysfunctional, angry and is near losing its honor. We are back to the Army of 1968.


Unlike the wars of the past 20 years where the Army encouraged (needed) soldiers, NGOs, allies and civil organizations to work together to resolve matters and return to normal society, the US Forces only trust themselves here and that means they set their own limits and tolerances. Abu Ghuraib are good examples of that limit. I told a Journalist the other day that these kids here are being told that they are chasing Al Qaeda in the War on Terrorism so they think everyone at Abu Ghuraib had something to do with 9/11. So they were encouraged to make them pay. These kids thought they were going to be honored for hunting terrorists.

The fact that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney said, "we're taking the gloves off" certainly created an environment in which the rule of law seemed to have been completely tossed aside. This country went temporarily insane after 9/11. I guess the military hierarchy lost its bearings too, which I find surprising since the highest levels of the officer corps are steeped in the lessons of Vietnam and presumably understood that this was likely the road to perdition.

The lies and misdirection conflating Al Qaeda with Saddam probably contributed more than anything to the horrors that many Iraqis faced at our hands during the first year or so of the occupation. Many soldiers surely internalized the idea that they were wreaking revenge for 9/11. In this, the buck goes all the way to the top and comes to a screeching halt on the desk of the heroic Commander Codpiece. Bush and his boys should have to answer for that, but I suppose it will be left to history to sort it out.

The Human Rights Watch Report about the beatings and torture by the 82nd Airborn does not feature the sexual humiliation and torture, but rather the good old fashioned kind.

On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all US soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs. The PA came and said to keep him off the leg. Three days later they transported the PUC to Abu Ghraib. The Louisville Slugger [incident] happened around November 2003, certainly before Christmas.

People would just volunteer just to get their frustrations out. We had guys from all over the base just come to guard PUCs so they could fuck them up. Broken bones didn’t happen too often, maybe every other week. The PA would overlook it. I am sure they knew.

The interrogator [a sergeant] worked in the [intelligence] office. He was former Special Forces. He would come into the PUC tent and request a guy by number. Everyone was tagged. He would say, “Give me #22.” And we would bring him out. He would smoke the guy and fuck him. He would always say to us, “You didn’t see anything, right?” And we would always say, “No, Sergeant.”

One day a soldier came to the PUC tent to get his aggravation out and filled his hands with dirt and hit a PUC in the face. He fucked him. That was the communications guy.

One night a guy came and broke chem lights10 open and beat the PUCs with it. That made them glow in the dark which was real funny but it burned their eyes and their skin was irritated real bad.

If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

After Abu Ghraib things toned down. We still did it but we were careful. It is still going on now the same way, I am sure. Maybe not as blatant but it is how we do things.

The men who spoke out were conflicted, as I would expect anyone to be. They were bedeviled by a system of rules that broke down when the leadership of this country lost its moral moorings and they did not know how to change the situation from within. You can read their agony of conscience right there on the page. But in the end they have stepped up to report what they saw --- and even participated in. They know it was wrong. So do many, many others who have said nothing.

I understand that it is difficult to stand up against the macho military culture that makes it possible to swallow fear and face people who are trying to kill you. I know that soldiers are trained to be machines and they give up a large piece of their free will to their superiors for the good of the unit. But, at some point, each individual is still a human being and has to answer to his conscience. When someone like Joseph Darby comes forward, or this West Point officer and the two sergeants last week, they are acting against a system and peer pressure that is enormous. They are brave men who prove that it is possible to resist the immense pressure to conform. And that is why they are hated. They show that those who participated have violated basic norms of decent human behavior, even in war --- and they show that those who say nothing are cowards.

Sadly, I think our sick culture at this point is actually rewarding those who decry the sense of personal responsibility that leads a soldier to speak out against depraved behavior --- and excuse barbaric, cruel behavior as a normal way to relieve tension.

Like Rush Limbaugh who says:

I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.


You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

Or these fellows, writing on the warporn site:

Everyone needs downtime, and some need to face the demons, whatever that may be and this site is good for that...It also lets everyone know thsat when they get back they will be accepted ...let the entertainment continue.


This site allows soldiers to blow off some steam...Guys, I love this site and I love the pictures. Keep 'em coming and watch your six boys. Hajis deserve death, never forget it.


"Oh, by the way, fuck them camel jockeys. We didn't start this shit, and we certainly aren't hiding behind civilians with 20lbs of explosives strapped to our chests and hidden in a car."

Only we did start this shit, didn't we?

This is why the warmongers who type themselves into a frenzy supporting this war should have the balls to go over and fight it. Jonah Goldberg and Peter Beinert and Paul Ghouley should have to stand there and ask themselves these questions --- confront the nightmares that are going to curse these soldiers for the rest of their lives as they try to reconcile what they saw and did.

It's a nice, pretty abstract concept --- fighting tyranny and terrorism for the red, white and blue. But in reality it's standing in a doorway watching a psychopathic cook break a prisoners leg with a baseball bat because he's is feeling stressed. It's hearing innocent people screaming because they have had chemicals dripped into their eyes and on their skin so they'll "glow in the dark" and amuse the soldiers. It's having your humanity and your decency challenged every single day and not knowing if you will meet all the tests of bravery, conscience and loyalty that are required in a war that is being fought for vague and inscrutable reasons.

Jonah believes that we are liberating the Iraqi people from a totalitarian dictator. Does he then agree that it's part of the mission to oggle an Iraqi womans privates while he gloats that her foot was blown off? Does he know what he would do if confronted with sadists who believe that the only good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi? That "they started this shit?"

The chickenhawks can claim that it is perfectly acceptable to support a war that they have no intention of fighting. But they cannot claim that it is just fine to support a war in which our troops have behaved in an immoral and indecent fashion, which the military has covered up and which was implicitly condoned by the highest reaches of our government. If they supported this they should have to share in the trials of conscience that afflict these poor bastards from the 82nd airborn who came forward (and the ones who did not.) They should have to share in the visions of blood and gore that we see on thay sick porn site and they should have to live with what has been done in their name.

If you support this country's loss of honor you should have to get down in the mud and grovel with all those who've lost their struggle to maintain their humanity while fighting a war that has no end, that doesn't know who it's fighting that sees sex and violence intertwined in a sick and twisted way --- and that celebrates random, wanton killing of the people we are allegedly fighting for. The chickenhawks in this war, of all wars, are the ones who should have to suffer alongside those who lost their souls killing and beating and torturing for a cause that didn't exist.

If you haven't read Billmon's incredible post on this subject, you need to.


The Note is a wee bit ruffled because Pre$$titutes called them "a stinking repository of Bush-licking Pre$$titution" and uses the novel defense that Bush defenders say they are biased against them so they must be juuuust right.

I suppose it never occurs to them that while it is true that they cannot be biased both for and against Bush it is entirely possible that they could be biased for or against Bush --- and one side or the other is working them. Which side, do you suppose, is most likely to be doing that?

They did not object, by the way, to being named the Karl Rove Official Fan Club and Fluffing Society, so I take that to mean they feel quite comfortable with the label. It's the Bush-licking that seems to have irritated them.


Friday, September 23, 2005


A new horrifying prisoner abuse scandal, this time revealed by a West Point officer and backed up by two sergeants.

Support for some of the allegations of abuse come from a sergeant of the 82nd Airborne who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch quotes him as saying that, "To 'F____ a PUC' means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

"On their day off people would show up all the time," the sergeant continues in the HRW report. "Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the cook."

Here's what the pentagon had to say about it, by an officer who obviously studied at the Tom DeLay school of integrity:

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. John Skinner criticized the report as a predictable effort to try to "advance an agenda through the use of distortions and errors in fact."

If this is true, I don't want to hear any more bullshit about "Lord of the Flies" in New Orleans. It's pretty clear that even our own highly disciplined military can lose their humanity without a whole lot of provocation. These weren't dipshit national guard hicks either. This was the 82nd Airborn. No excuses.

As much as Katrina revealed the ugly underbelly of poverty and race in the country, 9/11 revealed the ugly underbelly of sadism and blind fury. This is a sick culture.

I Wonder Why

Josh Marshall
and Kevin Drum both discuss the fact that this Section-8 business isn't catching on. Josh asks:

Just for the sake of discussion, and I'd be particularly eager to hear from TPM's right-leaning readers on this one, isn't the idea of giving rent vouchers to refugees rather than stacking them up in mobile housing projects something that folks on both sides of the aisle should be able to agree on?

In truth it is a neat right leaning idea, but it exists only in the Cato Institute's and Jack Kemp's wet dreams. In Republicanland (although I'm pretty sure this would be a problem in many places) getting enough people to rent their empty apartments to displaced, unemployed African American strangers is not nearly as easy as giving those evacuess vouchers to pay for them. There are still people who go to great lengths to not rent to gainfully employed African Americans with good credit and references.

The LA Times discussed this issue today and reports something that is completely inexplicable --- unless the reasons have nothing to do with money or expanding government programs over the long haul:

Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced plans to issue emergency vouchers aimed at helping poor storm victims find new housing quickly by covering as much as $10,000 of their rent.

But the department suddenly backed away from the idea after White House aides met with senior HUD officials. Although emergency vouchers had been successfully used after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the administration focused instead on a plan for government-built trailer parks, an approach that even many Republicans say would concentrate poverty in the very fashion the government has long sought to avoid.


At least in the case of housing, critics say that the president's unwillingness to rely on existing programs could raise costs. Instead of offering $10,000 vouchers, FEMA is paying an average of $16,000 for each trailer in the new parks it is contemplating. Even many Republicans wonder why the government would want to build trailer parks when many evacuees are now living in communities with plenty of vacant, privately owned apartments.

The article compares this situation to the admnistration's reluctance to expand Medicaid, but it is not the same thing. This was an emergency voucher program that, unlike health care, would have cost a finite amount of money --- a one shot deal. There is no rational reason not to put people in existing housing if it is going to cost less than putting them in Bushville trailer parks --- unless they wouldn't actually be able to put evacuees in that existing housing for other reasons. (And yes, Halliburton will make a killing.)

"Crime" (which along with "poor" are loaded racial terms in this context) is already becoming a prime concern:

After a crisis with indisputable elements of race and class _ searing images of mostly poor, mostly black New Orleans residents huddled on rooftops or waiting in lines for buses _ some Americans worry about strains in the nation's social fabric.

Women were especially concerned. One of them is Sue Hubbard of Hueytown, Ala., 64 years old. She does not believe race played a deliberate part in who got out of New Orleans, but she is deeply worried about tensions inflamed by those who do.

"I just think it took everybody by surprise," says Hubbard, who is white. "I don't care if it would have been the president himself, they couldn't have gotten there to those people. Some people _ not everybody _ are trying to make a racist thing out of it."

The poll underscores the literal reach of Katrina as well: 55 percent of Americans say evacuees from Katrina have turned up in their cities or communities, raising concerns about living conditions for the refugees, vanishing jobs for locals and _ among 1 in 4 respondents _ increased crime.

Among respondents with incomes under $25,000 per year, 56 percent were concerned about living conditions for refugees in shelters; that was higher than among those who make more money. And the poll indicates people in the South, which has absorbed huge masses of evacuees, are most concerned about the costs to their local governments.

Ann McMullen, 52, of Killeen, Texas, who works as a school administrator at Fort Hood, says she worries about gang violence, simply because of the prodigious numbers of people flowing into Texas communities.

"They can't even locate the sex offenders," she says. "And every population has gang members. It's theft, it's murder, it's more chaotic crimes in the community. Hopefully we'll be able to put these people back to work."

In order for the Section 8 plan to work on the scale necessary, they would have to put enormous pressure on landlords to accept something like 350,000 people with vouchers. I'm not sure even huge rental subsidies at twice the market rate would persuade people that it's a good idea to take in a large number of black evacuees into their neighborhoods.

25% of the population already expressing their concerns about an influx of crime --- at the moment of people's greatest feelings of sympathy and generosity --- makes it pretty clear that this is a lurking issue. And it is one that will likely pay dividends in the long run for the GOP. Before it was a television show, "Law and Order" was the slogan for the southern strategy.

Oh, and by the way, the Richard Nixon also had another electoral strategy that reverberates to this day and was heavily influenced by race --- the suburban strategy.

Richard Nixon did not invent the politics of suburban segregation. Opposition to housing integration in suburban America was well entrenched prior to the 1970s. Yet President Nixon solidified public opposition to federal desegregation of the suburbs at a time when the nation was poised for change. He enunciated a policy declaring that the national government would not pressure the suburbs to accept subsidized low-income housing against their will. In so doing, he formally embraced a fundamental suburban belief: that government should not and could not force a community to accept economic – and by extension racial – integration. Nixon’s policy cemented [*479] the politics of suburban segregation that informally existed before his administration. He converted suburban political preferences into national public policy – a policy that remains largely intact to this day. No president between Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton revoked that policy, and Nixon’s federal court appointees perpetuated it through their judicial decisions (pp.3-4

Rick Perlstein's new book discusses un great detail the wars over the Fair Housing Act --- which were vicious and essentially broke the back of the civil rights consensus in the Democratic party. Voting, public access and employment were one thing. Forcing people to live side by side was another. And it wasn't just a southern thing.

Housing remains one of the racial fault lines in this country. Many people who are not consciously racist (or classist) consider being forced to live among people not of their tribe to be a fundamental affront to their liberty --- and an automatic threat to their equity.

The Noose Around The Hydra

Franklin Foer has written an absolutely must-read article this week in The New Republic (which, unfortunately, is subscription only.) He writes about the College Republicans, who are key to understanding the modern Republican party. I know that sounds absurd, but it is absolutely true. His thesis is that the operatives of the GOP learn to fight the Democrats by fighting with each other.

Before the election of new leadership this year, the College Republicans, fresh faced little gangsters that they are, had already been accused of corrupt fundraising by bilking little old ladies out of large sums of money. As with all College Republican elections, this one was distinguished by dirty tricks, betrayal and strong arm tactics:

Everyone who watched this summer's race for College Republican National Committee (crnc) chair with any detachment has a favorite moment of chutzpah they admire in spite of themselves. Leading the count are the following: speaking sotto voce of your opponent's "homosexuality"; rigging the delegate count so that states that support your candidate have twice as many votes as those that don't; and using a sitting congressman to threaten the careers of undecided voters. I can understand the perverse appeal of each of these incidents. But I cast my vote for the forged letter.

He goes on to describe a beautiful little piece of ratfucking that will stand the victor in good stead when he's called upon to destroy political opponents in the future. And there is much more. But the thing that is most interesting about this is that he points out what very few people seem to realize --- that this is not just a bunch of kooky co-eds having fun. It is officially sanctioned and run by the Republican establishment. After all, it was the training ground for the entire political apparatus of the modern GOP --- including a bunch of names we've seen a lot of recently in association with words like "arrest," "indictment" and "federal investigation." And there's money involved, of course.

Behind the scenes, in the campaign war rooms, small armies of veteran Republican operatives and congressional staffers toil. That's because there's much more at stake in the elections than a swish post-college gig. After campaign finance reform, the College Republicans reinvented themselves as a big-time 527--a group legally allowed to spend an infinite amount of its own money on campaigns--with a budget of over $17 million. They have a massive network of operatives to send into the field to bolster candidates, and they have patronage to spread among friends and through direct-mail firms. In other words, it's well worth tearing a Shermanesque path to the sea to control College Republicans, no matter the carnage--and no matter the expense. Michael Davidson said he spent an estimated $200,000--raised off high-rollers who normally sign checks to senators and presidential wannabes--trying to claim the grand prize.

But the significance of the crnc goes beyond that. The Committee is the place where Republican strategists learn their craft and acquire their knack for making their Democratic opponents look like disorganized children. Many of the biggest-brand Republican operatives--from Karl Rove and Lee Atwater, to Charlie Black and Roger Stone, to Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist--got their starts this way. Walking through the halls of the convention, it is easy to see the genesis of tactics deployed in the Florida recount and by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Republicans learn how to fight hard against Democrats by practicing on one another first. "There are no rules in a knife fight," Norquist instructed the young conventioneers in a speech. And, while Norquist described a knife fight, the Gourley-Davidson rumble transpired around him.


... Gourley received the blessing of the outgoing chairman, Eric Hoplin. But, in reality, he had won the blessing of a force more powerful than a single politician. He had won the blessing of an entity that College Republicans speak of in hushed tones and that they compare to the Empire in Star Wars--the Establishment.

When College Republicans invoke the Establishment, they mean a clique of former College Republicans--now grown-ups playing politics at the highest level--who will trample anyone to maintain their clique's control of the organization. Like all good cabals, it is hard to know exactly who belongs to the Establishment and how Machiavellian their meddling is. Before his tumble from grace, the lobbyist Jack Abramoff would lend College Republicans his skybox at the MCI center, donate money, and lead training sessions. (In 2002, the crnc paid Jack Abramoff for "accounting & legal services.") Rove reportedly keeps tabs, and Norquist invites the group's chair to attend his celebrated Wednesday gathering of conservative big shots. But the convention offered some more suggestive examples of the Establishment's methodology. Just past 2 a.m. on Saturday, wavering delegates from Louisiana received calls from Morton Blackwell, the legendary veteran of the Goldwater and Reagan campaigns, urging them to vote for Gourley. It was a perfectly calibrated tactic. "A 19-year-old Republican will generally do whatever a demigod of the conservative movement like Morton tells them," one Davidson supporter griped.

And they are even more likely to respond to entreaties from a congressman. Patrick McHenry, a dough-faced 29-year-old freshman representative from North Carolina and former crnc treasurer, went to war on Gourley's behalf. "I got a call. They said, 'The congressman is on the line,'" University of North Carolina junior Jordan Selleck told me. "He basically said that we'd be screwed if we didn't switch to Gourley. Our careers in politics would be over." As Jennifer Holder, who served as a state chair in the '90s, lamented, "There are a lot of sharks infesting the kiddie pool."

Does everyone remember how Bush was extolled as the guy who would bring honor and integrity back to the White House? How the grown-ups were in charge? These are his people:

Back in 1981, Abramoff and his campaign manager, Norquist, promised their leading competitor, Amy Moritz, the job of crnc executive director if she dropped out of the race. Moritz took the bait, but it turned out that Abramoff had made the promise with his fingers crossed. Norquist took the executive director job and named Moritz his deputy. That demotion didn't last long, either. After discovering the talented Ralph Reed, Norquist handed the Christian Coalition godfather Moritz's responsibilities and her office space. They placed all of Moritz's belongings in a box labeled amy's desk. Even 25 years later, she hasn't shed her role as College Republican doormat. Abramoff used her think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research, to funnel nearly $1 million into a phony direct-mail firm with an address identical to his own.

While College Republicans have a vague understanding of Abramoff's ascent, they all can recite the ballad of Rove and Atwater--the ultimate object lesson in how the Establishment strikes back. In 1973, Rove was the Establishment candidate, and Atwater, the original Sun Tsu-quoting College Republican, was his prime campaign operative. They spent the spring of 1973 crisscrossing the country in a Ford Pinto, lining up the support of state chairs--basically the right-wing version of Thelma and Louise. But, in point of fact, Rove was hardly the right-winger in the race. His two opponents, Terry Dolan and Robert Edgeworth, were. And, when Dolan threw his support to Edgeworth, Rove had no other alternative. He had to cheat.

When the College Republicans gathered for their convention at the Lake of the Ozarks resort in Missouri, Rove and Atwater relentlessly challenged the legitimacy of Edgeworth's delegates, even if the evidence did not justify their attacks. Because of Rove's allegations, the convention ended in deadlock. In revenge, Dolan went to The Washington Post with recordings that captured training seminars where Rove boasted of his campaign techniques, including rooting through opponents' garbage cans and other forms of campaign espionage. The Post broke the story under the headline "gop probes official as teacher of tricks." The Republican National Committee chairman, one George H.W. Bush, however, didn't punish Rove for his less-than-high-minded behavior. Instead, he gave Rove the chairmanship and sent Edgeworth a scathing letter accusing him of disloyalty. "He wrote me out of the party," Edgeworth told James Moore and Wayne Slater, the authors of the biography Bush's Brain.

(Where do you suppose anyone would get the idea that Karl Rove might be the type of person to purposefully out a CIA agent for political purposes?)

These tactics have worked well since the Nixon administration and those who use them are responsible for building the most powerful and successful political machine in the modern era. Way back when, in the glory days when Abramoff, Norquist and Reed ran the college Republicans, Norquist is quoted as saying:

[Stalin] was running the personnel department while Trotsky was fighting the White Army. When push came to shove for control of the Soviet Union, Stalin won. Trotsky got an ice ax through his skull, while Stalin became head of the Soviet Union. He understood that personnel is policy.

Brownie was no accident; the placing of hacks in positions of responsibility is not just ad hoc political payback. The cronyism is by design.

Needless to say, none of these people had a clue --- or any interest --- in actual governance. They are political hit men. But they control the party apparatus and when they finally achieved what they had been dreaming of for many years, they got greedy.

I wrote the other day about the idea that the only thing that can stop these people is the legal system. This is because the press and politics are too easily manipulated by entertainment values, spin and confusion right now. It's a lot harder to bullshit someone who has the power to subpoena your records and arrest you for lying. Federal prosecutors squeeze anyone and everyone they can to get someone to flip on big fishes. And there are a lot of little fishes now. And medium sized fishes too.

Every one of these former college Republicans (the Establishment) are now in the cross hairs of the legal system. Norquist hasn't been officially named, but his affiliations with all the people who are coming under legal scrutiny are so close that it's just a matter of time. Safavian, especially, is an interesting connection because he also feeds into a nervousness among the fervent neocons about Grover's unseemly closeness to Muslims:

Norquist has for some years now been promoting Islamist organizations, including even the Council on American-Islamic Relations; for example, he spoke at CAIR's conference, "A Better America in a Better World" on October 5, 2004. Frank Gaffney has researched Norquist's ties to Islamists in his exhaustive, careful, and convincing study, "Agent of Influence" and concludes that Norquist is enabling "a political influence operation to advance the causes of radical Islamists, and targeted most particularly at the Bush Administration."

But if Norquist is indeed a convert to Islam, it could be that he is not just enabling the Islamist causes but is himself an Islamist. (April 14, 2005)

That's Daniel Pipes, neocon prince. Norquist marrying a Palestinian American woman sent him into an absolute tizzy. But Norquist has been involved with the Muslim community for some time --- for purely political reasons, in my opinion. Norquist's cause and religion is Republicanism. He was just doing what he does --- building the coalition. They've been courting Christians for decades and he thought he could court Muslims too --- except he apparently couldn't finesse the neocon fixation with Israel or the violent fixation of Osama bin Laden. The man is not a miracle worker after all.

is an Iranian American from Detroit, the home of the biggest Islamic population in the US. He's a political hack in the Norquist/Abramoff posse. Still, it is more than amusing that Norquist's ties to the Islamic community have been so well tolerated by all the right wing gasbags who have been one handedly typing the word "islamofascist!" for the past four years --- amusing but not surprising. After all, nobody but a few cranks at Horowitz's operation cared that Norquist and his pal Dana Rohrabacker were hanging out with the Taliban right up until 9/11.

But Norquist and Safavian (and Abramoff, the allegedly pious Jew) were involved with some unsavory characters that this scandal is going to bring to the surface. Grover may be in the kind of trouble his big brother Rove is in --- national security style trouble. At the very least, his effectiveness is going to be curtailed as these investigations circle around him. Money people get nervous at times like this.

I have long agreed with the old saying that if you want to kill the snake you've gotta go for the head. In the case of the modern Republican Party, it's a four headed hydra consisting of Karl Rove (strategy), Tom DeLay (party enforcer), Ralph Reed (christian right) and Grover Norquist (movement organizer.) They all interact with one another at the nexus of K Street and the RNC. They may be taken down by one guy -- their good friend, ex uber-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. (Uncle Karl, of course, is likely in even deeper shit.)

The Democrats have never exploited (or never been able to exploit) the sheer criminality of this gang. They all learned the ratfucking business while still little sprouts in the College Republican organization. According toe Rick Perlstein's fine book about the Goldwater campaign "Before The Storm," as early as 1964, college student Morton Blackwell -- who later named the "Moral Majority" and ran Jeff Gannon Guckert's alma mater, the (GOP) Leadership Institute --- was sabotaging the competition at the GOP convention. They've been at this a long, long time.

Back in May, I wrote:

These are [Nixon's] political heirs, raised and nurtured on the mother's milk of corruption and dishonesty; scarred while very young by the ignominious downfall of their political father; driven to wreak revenge and recapture what they perceived as their rightful ownership of American politics. They are the spawn of Watergate resentment and this country will never be healthy until this group of radicals are removed from positions of power.

Watch this Abramoff scandal. It may go nowhere, but the potential for a lethal, if not mortal, wound to the conservative movement resides inside it.

The baby bad guys were on display at the College republican election --- and the baddest baby bad guy won. But the article shows that the win was really accomplished with the collusion of the anointed bad boy with the professional operatives. If they go down this chain may be broken.

As I said, I don't think that normal political processes will be able to deal with this gang of crooks. But it looks like greed and hubris may have pushed them into the sights of the justice system. There are no guarantees, of course, but it's just possible that with this particular mob of political criminals under the gun --- and some of them out of the picture --- the Nixon era may finally come to a close.

Done Good

Congratulations to local boy Ezra Klein, for just graduating from UCLA (in three years,) while blogging like a maniac and maintaining a normal 21 year old's social life. Political writer types were different in my day -- unwashed, unpleasant to look at and unsocialized. These kids today, I tell you ...

He's already moved to DC and is blogging over at TAPPED. I'm going to take a nap.

Batten Down The Hatches

Bush is flying into San Antonio in the middle of the crisis and then going to Colorado to track the storm at NORAD (now Northcom.) He says he's going to monitor the interaction between the military and the state and local authorities. He assured everyone that he'd make sure he and "his entourage" won't get in the way. Sure.

He doesn't need to be interfering with grown-ups who are trying to do their jobs under pressure. He has no more experience dealing with a large scale disaster than Brownie did. It's bad enough that he interfered with the relief efforts in New Orleans and Mississippi after Katrina. To insist on photo-ops during the crisis itself is just unconscionable.

When people complain that Bush is disengaged it's not because he isn't staging enough political pageants. They don't want him throwing on a flightsuit and putting on a show. They want him to go to his fucking office once in a while and do his fucking job. At the White House. Where the president is supposed to be during a crisis.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pretzel Addiction?

Jeebus. It looks like Bush has another scrape on his face today. Left temple.

This is ridiculous. How often does this have to happen before people finally ask some serious questions? Falling on your face all the time is simply not normal.

And if he's out falling off his bike again while the country is going to hell in a handbasket then people need to know that too.

Update: Maybe not. It could be something else. My bad.

On the other hand, he's flexing his jaw like crazy in a strange repetitive way. Too much coffee this morning, perhaps.



Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Flaking Teflon

I have been annoyed over these past five years at how the tabloids have been so solicitous of Junior when they treated Bill Clinton and his family like they were coke addicted soap stars.

Seems the teflon is finally off the codpiece. The National Enquirer is featuring a story about Bush drinking again. I have no idea if it's true --- sometimes tabloid stories are, sometimes they aren't. But they wouldn't be printing it if they didn't think it would sell...

The "F" Word

Andrew Sullivan has two posts today that it seems to me are interrelated, although I don't think he meant them to be.

First he highlights a web-site that encourages soldiers fighting in Iraq to post sickening pictures of dead and wounded Iraqis in exchange for free (sexual) pornography. He writes:

If you send in pics of dead insurgents or Iraqis, you get free access to the porn part of the site. The pics that are appended have names such as "What every Iraqi should look like," "DIE, HAJI, DIE," and "Cooked Iraqi." I would think this violates the Geneva Conventions, not that the U.S. under this president cares about those very much any more. But it's also beyond depraved. Eric Muller sounded the alarm. Like the pictures from Abu Ghraib, these images are also a propaganda coup for Zarqawi and his monsters - a consequence of war in the Internet age. Have we really sunk to this?

I think Abu Ghraib pretty well settled that question. This psycho-sexual sickness has been officially sanctioned, at least when it comes to "interrogations," and such behavior has been giddily celebrated by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who is beamed to the military all over the world on Armed Forces Radio. This is not an aberration; it is an ongoing feature of the war on terrorism.

Sullivan also links to an interesting critique that draws some very compelling comparisons between the Bush administration's governance and fascism. Sullivan doesn't use the "F" word himself, of course, but the article does:

Describing the President’s panicked political response to his falling poll numbers as “compassionate conservatism”, (as New York Times columnist David Brooks did last Sunday, “A Bushian Laboratory”, September 18, 2005), borders on the ludicrous. Mr Bush has now overseen the fastest increase in domestic spending of any president in recent history. Furthermore, he has never resolved the inherent contradiction between his so-called “compassionate” spending policy and his small-government tax policy (which was ostensibly designed to “kill the beast” of Big Government once and for all, according to the President’s conservative apologists). And his casual dismissal of the remnants of civilian authority in the Gulf basin – “It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice” – evokes something more along the lines of Mussolini-style fascism than any coherent, mainstream conservative, philosophy.


The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Perhaps it is unfair to characterise the Bush Presidency in these terms, because it would imply the existence of a coherent governing philosophy.


You cannot help but be struck by the similarities between our current political culture and that description of fascism. It should not be blithely dismissed. If it walks like a duck ...

I realize that soldiers have been taking battlefield pictures since the dawn of photography. But I really don't think we've seen the sick combination of sadistic battlefield gore, sexual humiliation and pornography since some very, very bad things happened in Europe in the middle of the last century. That was not mentioned in the list of fascist characteristics, but it was certainly present in the worst fascist governments. (Read about the sexual torture that was done in the Dirty War, for instance.) This melding of sex and violence is not unique, of course, in human psychology. But it is a rare society that officially sanctions its use by the military and an even rarer one that openly celebrates it.

I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.


The thing though that continually amazes -- here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography


And these American prisoners of war -- have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes! The babes are meting out the torture.


This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

Update: Great minds and all that. I just noticed that Kevin Drum wrote about this too --- and we even used the same headline.
Naive Allegations

I've been talking a lot about race since Katrina, and I talked about it during the election too. It's not because I'm generally obsessed with the topic, but because I think it's the most politically significant issue we never talk about seriously. What else is a personal soap box good for, if not that?

Matt Yglesias notices some intersting numbers today that speak to my point:

Apropos of nothing in particular, take a look at the exit poll data from Mississippi, where George W. Bush picked up the votes of 85 percent of the white population and just 10 percent of the African-American vote. In a state whose electorate is 65-percent white, that led to a hefty 60-40 win for the incumbent. Mississippi's an unusually stark case, but not all that much of an outlier. Georgia saw 75 percent of whites and 12 percent of blacks pull the lever for Bush. It was 75-9 in Louisiana, 78-15 in South Carolina, and a comparatively minor 63-6 in Arkansas (generally speaking, whites are most monolithically Republican in the least-white states like Mississippi and more open to Democrats in whiter states like Arkansas).

All of which is just to say that an awful lot of the post-election talk about "culture" and its impact on voting serves to obscure the extent to which a lot of politics is about race. In Mississippi, Bush got a larger percentage of the vote from people who "somewhat dissaprove" of his administration than he did from black voters. He did better among self-identified Democrats than he did among blacks, and far better (23 percent against 10 percent) among self-identified liberals than with non-whites. I'm not sure exactly what follows from that, and I appreciate that commentators don't like to raise the point in order to avoid just engaging in naive allegations of racism, but it's really, really not possible to understand the politics of the South without delving into this stuff.

It's also not possible to understand why the US is the only first world nation that has rejected national health care and a robust safety net without delving into it. And it's not possible to explain these maps, in which we see the power of the southern based party having reasserted itself, without delving into it.

It's fundamental to understanding our country, our politics and our culture. Unlike any other western country, we had to fight a bloody civil war to end slavery in the middle of the 19th century and we lived with segregation for another century after that. This is built into the fabric of our nation. It's naive to ignore it.

A More Innocent Time

Speaking of corruption, here's a little blast from the past:

1992 The House Banking Scandal

On this day in 1992, the House Ethics Committee released a list of the twenty-two most flagrant abusers of the defunct House bank. The bank, which had been closed in the fall of 1991, was not a financial institution, but rather served as a common place for legislators to tuck their paychecks. The representatives in question were accused of overdrawing on this collective account. But, though the legislators' habit of overdrafting neither violated the bank's rules nor led to the loss of federal money, it reeked of fiscal irresponsibility and stirred yelps of protest from the American public. The House Ethics Committee held that legislators who had overdrafted on their payroll deposits for a minimum of eight months out of a sample thirty-nine-month stretch were indeed in the wrong. The committee's findings, as well as the decision to name names, sent Capitol Hill into a tizzy. A number of the legislators fingered on the list lashed out at what one accused representative deemed a "libelous indictment." But, such protests did little to quell the controversy: during the ensuing months, the committee revealed that some 350 former and current House members had written bad checks. With the public outcry hardly abating, fifty-three representatives tendered their resignations by May 4 of that same year.

Man oh man. 53 representative resigned over that ridiculous trumped up scandal. And here we have the Republicans selling the government to the highest bidders.

I'm not hearing the public outcry. But it is a hopeful sign that Jack Cafferty just asked if Tom DeLay has been indicted yet.(Wolf, of course, giggled nervously and quickly shushed him.)

Running On Brownie

Elections are fought on many levels and events can always derail the best laid plans. However, it appears to me that the outlines of an effective national strategy are taking shape for next year and it's long overdue.

Since the early days of the Bush administration --- when it was revealed that Junior's top campaign contributor was a crook who led his company into bankruptcy with an elaborate pyramid scheme --- cronyism, political corruption and incompetence have been the lurking back-story of modern Republican governance. The media have been uninterested in pursuing this story for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was its childlike proclivity to fall for misdirection. (Flip Flop! Shiny!) The GOP's thuggish political tactics were well known and apparently respected. Everybody loves a winner, I guess. But corruption, spin and flat out patronage of this vast a scale is unprecedented in the modern era. This combination has created a political machine of almost unlimited power, but it may collapse of its own weight as it finally hits the wall of the legal system.

The GOP has been successful the same way that Enron was successful. Kenny Boy created a series of companies and interlocking entities that were so complicated that nobody could understand how they worked. (In layman's terms, it's called dazzling them with bullshit.) Likewise, the Bush administration has created these alternate discourses, challenging the very nature of reality, using public relations and partisan media to confuse both the public and the press and make us all question whether we are seeing what we think we are seeing.

But as with Enron, as long as the party's raging nobody sees the need to look too deeply, certainly not the corporate media who are benefitting from Republican governance. Like them, Wall Street was not kind, if you'll recall, to the few analysts who dared to question whether what Enron was claiming in its financials made any sense. The day finally came, however, when the house of cards that Lay built blew apart. Reality hadn't been repealed, after all, and two plus two equalled four again. Wall Street turned on its winner and turned it into a loser overnight.

Tom Delay, Gorver Norquist, Jack Abramoff, Bob Ney, Tom Davis, Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and a bunch of other high level Republicans have likewise built a byzantine corrupt political machine. And just as the laws of the financial markets cannot be suspended forever, rampant illegal political behavior will eventually bump up against the rule of law.

The legal system may be the last remaining institution that is not subject to the post modern manipulation of reality that has been the hallmark of Republican crooks like Ken Lay and Karl Rove for the past decade. Facts and conclusions are tested in a rather stringent system that requires, at least, that both sides get an equal hearing and where people are held accountable for what they say. Even if the legal system becomes rife with corrupt judges and prosecutors, and its rulings keep political criminals out of jail, its procedures alone guarantee that a certain threshold of factual reality at least be tested.

David Safavian apparently thought that he could get away with "spinning" the Republican Senate and the FBI under oath. He was only half right. There is a lot of speculation that Karl Rove did the same thing, probably believing that his position as the most powerful man in the US government protected him. Tom Delay and Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed and others may still believe they will get away with what they've done. And they may. We know they certainly would if it were left up to the press to pursue them on their own.

But you never know what a prosecutor will do and you never know what might offend a judge, no matter how politically powerful the subject is. Some of them might even feel they are an equal branch of government with their own perogatives. Juries are completely unreliable when it comes to understanding how powerful men should not be held liable for the same kind of crimes committed by the masses. Once inside the legal system, spin and PR lose a huge amount of their power. There is someone there whose job it is to unspin the spin and there are rules in place that force people to sit still and listen.

At some point the operators become lazy and hubristic and forget to cover their tracks and these corrupt pyramid operations lose their power when they come up against institutions based on reason and the laws of nature. Neither the financial markets or the legal system can sustain faith-based, marketing-style fantasies over the long haul. Reality is a tough competitor.

Howard Dean's "culture of corruption" was prescient. Brownie and Karl Rove are the poster boys for a national congressional campaign in 2006.