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May 22, 2005 - What to say...?

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Max B. Sawicky over at Max Speak: You Listen sums up how many of the left feel be Wednesday, the middle of last week –


Politics - more specifically, the things that come out of Republican pieholes - has degenerated to such a deep vat of bullshit that it seems a waste of time to react.

Iraq is still a mess, but on the strength of a few unrelated flurries of democratic expression in the Middle East, some suckers think there is an "Arab spring." After a cavalcade of lies from official sources and their toadies to justify an unnecessary, unjust war, the focus settles on a lightly-sourced but probably accurate report in a news magazine.

Nobody is paying any attention to the labor market, even though it sucks, and our economic overlord is treated as an indispensable hero.

The Federal budget outlook is still a mess, also relegated to inside pages.

We have to fight about the appointment of judges who are certifiable imbeciles, babbling like talk radio jingoists.

On the other hand, the Social Security issue goes well, as the Bushists' ongoing privatization campaign flops around like a mackeral on kitchen linoleum, L.A. has a new progressive mayor, and school will be out soon, relieving me of 6:36 a.m. drop-offs at the bus stop.

Got to roll with the punches.


Yeah, I suppose.

That business with the Koran and Newsweek and the riots and all - see May 22, 2005 - Newsweek, Suckered, Sucks the Air Out of the Room - will not go away.

From Baghdad, the noted local blogger there - “Riverbend” - says this


We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible.

... Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam - some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level — it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists — it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.


Ah, but we say it’s not a war against Islam.  And the administration says this unhappiness all the fault of that badly sourced item in Newsweek.


Kevin Drum, in the Washington Monthly has this to say about that: “By the time this is all over, I suspect the Pentagon is going to be sorry it ever made a fuss over the Newsweek item in the first place. Every reporter in town is now going to start investigating this stuff, and the results are not likely to be pretty. Stay tuned for a fusillade of deeply researched stories about allegations of religious desecration by American troops starting in about a week.”

Oh, that should be fun.

Andrew Sullivan cites the White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, this week –


[O]ur military goes out of their way to handle the Koran with care and respect. There are policies and practices that are in place. This report was wrong. Newsweek, itself, stated that it was wrong. And so now I think it's incumbent and -- incumbent upon Newsweek to do their part to help repair the damage. And they can do that through ways that they see best, but one way that would be good would be to point out what the policies and practices are in that part of the world, because it's in that region where this report has been exploited and used to cause lasting damage to the image of the United States of America. It has had serious consequences. And so that's all I'm saying, is that we would encourage them to take steps to help repair the damage. And I think that they recognize the importance of doing that. That's all I'm saying.


So the news magazine should print what the White House says they should print?  Well, if they are patriotic and support our troops they will.

Some of us caught a bit of the reaction to that at the press briefing - reporters asking if Scott thought he should be editor of Newsweek and decide what stories to run. 


No, he didn’t mean that!


Then why the pressure?


No guys – it’s NOT pressure, just a suggestion.


Scott, what’s the difference – is the White House telling us what to say?


No guys – it was just a suggestion!


And so on and so forth.  It was amusing.


But Andrews Sullivan adds this


Does McClellan really want the press to report more widely on what has been going on at Guantánamo Bay? Does he really want more stories about forced nakedness, female interrogators using panties and fake menstrual blood, and many reports from former inmates about deliberate misuse of the Koran?

Well, let it rip, I say. The press's response should not be to whine about the Bush administration pestering them. It should be call McClellan's bluff. Demand far greater access to inmates at Gitmo. Demand that former interrogators be allowed to speak freely to the media. Ask for interviews with CIA interrogators at Gitmo and in Afghanistan. Get military permission to debrief Muslim military chaplain, James Yee. Run long, detailed stories debriefing released Gitmo detainees and try to confirm or debunk their allegations of abuse. Pull together all the reports of abuse of religion in U.S. facilities and explain the full context for readers. And when the administration and Pentagon resist such efforts for deeper exploration of "policies and practices," refer to McClellan's briefing. The administration has now opened the door for a fuller exploration of their policies and actual practices regarding detainees. Let's walk in and see what's in there, shall we?


This is getting good.

Jacob Weisberg over at SLATE.COM argues here that this whole business is just your run-of-the-mill attempt to shut down the free press –


… the problem with the Bush administration excoriating Newsweek's insensitivity to Islam isn't just hypocrisy. There's a larger issue of bad faith and an underlying lack of appreciation for the necessary role of a free and independent press. With increasing forcefulness, Bush has tried to undermine the legitimacy of the media, or at least that subculture within it that shows any tendency to challenge him. When the Bushies say there ought to be more of a check on the Fourth Estate, they aren't really asking for more care and accuracy on the part of journalists. They're expressing frustration that they still have to put up with criticism at all.


Well, no one likes criticism, do they?

Weisberg also points to an interesting New York Times item containing this


Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

… "This is hardly the first time that the administration has sought to portray the American media as inadequately patriotic," said Marvin Kalb, a senior fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. "They are addressing the mistake, and not the essence of the story. The essence of the story is that the United States has been rather indelicate, to put it mildly, in the way that they have treated prisoners of war."


No kidding, Marvin!

So who are we to believe?  We are told the press is the problem.


My expatriate friend who long ago moved from this area to Paris, and is moving to Belgium now, sums it up well - good-faith reliance on unnamed but proven sources both forces the media to renounce stories that are most likely true - obviating the need for officials to deny the allegations - and goes nine yards towards effecting broad self-censorship.  


Everything I’ve read seems to be that the Newsweek guys asked their source if they should retract the story – was he sure? – and for eleven days he gave no warning to retract.  They went with it.  THEN, he retracted.  Gotcha!   It is to be remembered that Newsweek reporter here was a darling of the right – he led the charge to catch Clinton with his pants down and drive that story – but Newsweek’s parent organization, the Washington Post, endorsed Kerry.  Payback time.  Now Scott suggests what they should print.

Not this…

Fred Kaplan in Kaboom! How to enrage Iraq's Sunnis points to a front page story in the May 17 Philadelphia Inquirer, by staff reporters Hannah Allam and Mohammed al Dulaimy, headlined, "Iraqis Lament a Call for Help."  The piece is about last week’s Operation Matador where we fought all those foreign jihadists in the desert villages of western Iraq.  Our government says this was a great success, and for the first time since the Vietnam War, we were provided with body counts to prove it.  The problem is Allam and Dulaimy say it was “a grave disaster.”  It seems that Iraqi tribal leaders in the area had formed a vigilante group called the Hamza Forces to stop all those Islamic extremists coming in across the Syrian border.  They were outnumbered and at least three of the tribal chiefs asked the Iraqi defense ministry and the US Marines for help.  We rolled in and flattened the place.  But we weren’t exactly careful.  We killed a lot of the Hamza guys too, and their families – and their homes are gone.  Now they’re pretty ticked at us.  And obviously, they’re not too happy with the new Shiite government in Baghdad.  The prospect for a unified Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish everyone-is-happy Iraq gets dimmer.  But we did the body count.

We won - depending on who you believe.

Who are we to believe?

You might want to read - Afghan Poppycock - Hamid Karzai's halfhearted jihad by David Bosco –


There's all sorts of good news coming out of the Afghan drug war. Hamid Karzai recently announced that opium cultivation might be down as much as 30 percent this year. In April, the United States nabbed alleged Afghan drug lord Haji Bashir Noorzai. U.S. and European money are helping Karzai's government build special drug courts and train paramilitary interdiction teams. One might almost be convinced that Afghanistan—site of an ongoing political renaissance—has pulled off another miracle.

Don't believe it. The truth is that the war against opium in Afghanistan is stumbling badly. A bureaucratic struggle on counternarcotics strategy inside the U.S. government produced an unhappy compromise. For its part, the fragile Afghan government is too timid to do serious crop eradication. There may be a drop in opium production this year, but it will be due primarily to recent flooding and to the huge stockpiles from last year's bumper crop. …


And Bosco goes on to explain it all in detail.

No wonder the administration is frustrated.  Some folks are calling them out.  So they work to stop it.

And there was the Scottish MP - George Galloway – doing the mother of all call-outs this week – see The Scots are known for being blunt… for that.

I found a good item on that, from Jeanne at Body and Soul of course.  It’s also on rhetoric – how one makes one’s points.

Usual domestic method: “… if the facts aren't with you, and you can only win by scoring cheap points here and there.  Pulling off a sharp insult.  Twisting a fact to good effect.  Bullying the messengers into parroting your message.  Ha! We win!”  (think Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly)

UK method: No cheap shots and bitch slaps.  Tell the truth – and, oh yeah, use anaphora.

She says this


There's a wonderful sentence in one of the Guardian's pieces on George Galloway's Senate testimony yesterday: “By condemning him in their report without interviewing him, the senators had already given Mr Galloway the upper hand.”

Wonderful, as in the sense of producing wonder. In this country, the common political wisdom is the exact opposite, that if your opposition gets to define you before you have a chance to defend yourself, you are doomed. Nothing you say afterwards will have much impact. I think it's fair to say Mr. Galloway ground that common wisdom into the dust yesterday (although I have no doubt the Democrats will dig it up, slap a few layers of pancake makeup on it, and send it out to campaign again.)

The New York Times, in its continuing effort to turn itself into a national joke, sent Judith Miller to cover the story, and to tell us that Galloway was not credible, without actually letting us in on much of what he said.

Judith Miller thinks George Galloway is not credible.

There isn't much more to say after that.

Common Dreams has the full transcript of Galloway's statement. Crooks and Liars has a piece of the video. Steve Soto had a delighted review of Galloway's performance yesterday, and, more importantly, a terrific post Monday on the Bush administration's own involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.

But I'd like to quibble a bit with Steve's review. I'm as delighted as Steve is with what Galloway said, but I have to disagree with the post title: George Galloway Bitch-Slaps Norm Coleman. No, I'm not diving back into that topic again, although I'm headed in the direction of one that will probably annoy just as many people.

I think Galloway's testimony was inspiring -- and, although it's not the whole thing, you really have to watch the video to get the full effect -- precisely because he didn't bitch-slap, knock down, bowl over, slay, or roll anyone. That kind of triumphalism - the "victory orgies," as Barbara O'Brien, who is so good at tracking these things, calls them - is essential if the facts aren't with you, and you can only win by scoring cheap points here and there. Pulling off a sharp insult.

Twisting a fact to good effect. Bullying the messengers into parroting your message. Ha! We win!

But what Galloway did was the exact opposite. The rhetoric was good; the anaphora compelling. It helped that he had an empty suit like Norm Coleman for a foil. But it all worked because of the shock of hearing a political figure sit there and tell truth after truth after truth. Not a small truth buried in a ton of lies. Truth upon truth.

If you want to disentangle yourself from the wrapping the opposition has put you in, that's how you do it. No cheap shots and bitch slaps. Just truth upon truth.


Well, our friend, the systems guy in London, Ontario – a bilingual French-Canadian but born out here in Yorba Linda, Nixon’s hometown – suggests telling the truth is, shall we say, something you don’t do down south here –


One important note about that - it also helps a great deal if you have nothing at stake to lose by telling the whole truth (and nothing but). Mr Galloway will never have to face the voters in the US, and considering that he ran in Britain on an anti-war platform squarely opposite Blair and Company, he will probably be given the keys to the city and carried around town on people's shoulders in a mass celebration of the opening of this big ol' can o' whoop-ass when he gets back.

If he were instead a Democratic congressman from, let's say, Indiana, and pulled this, he would be labeled an anti-America, anti-freedom-and-democracy pro-terrorist TRAITOR and could kiss his political ass goodbye. Period.

I seem to remember a fellow named Kerry who tried telling the truth (these same truths, actually) to the American electorate a while back, and what happened to him?

Swift Boat, a swift kick in the teeth, and a swift one-way ticket home.


Probably true.  The administration has a problem with news that reports what is actually happening.  We have a bigger problem with our leaders saying anything we don’t want to hear.  And they know that.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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