Slacker Friday


Oh, great. Here:

President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the New York Daily News has learned.

The president asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Funny and sad, sad, sad that the Asian Tribune was (one of) the only places in the world where John Negroponte's history in government was detailed upon his appointment as the number-two person in the State Department. (It borrows its analysis from Foreign Policy in Focus.)

Alter-Health Report: I had the good fortune to talk to Mickey Hart and Warren Haynes, et al, last night backstage at the Pelosi Fest and they let me know that Phil Lesh is recovering well and it appears that his cancer was caught early. The show was pretty great last night, by the way.

Robert Dreyfuss, who covers national security for Rolling Stone, considers the ultimate strangeness of President Bush's upcoming "New Way Forward" address. In recent weeks, in response to an election that soundly repudiated his policies and indicated a popular urge to wind down the war in Iraq, he has returned to Planet Neocon to get his bearings. The essential plan the president is considering for a "surge" of U.S. troops into Baghdad and al-Anbar Province has the special neocon brand of machismo written all over it. And yet, as Dreyfuss writes, "What's astonishing about the debate over Iraq is that the President -- or anyone else, for that matter, including the media -- is paying the slightest attention to the neoconservative strategists who got us into this mess in the first place. Having been egregiously wrong about every single Iraqi thing for five consecutive years, by all rights the neocons ought to be consigned to some dusty basement exhibit hall in the American Museum of Natural History, where, like so many triceratops, their reassembled bones would stand mutely by to send a chill of fear through touring schoolchildren."

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

This, courtesy of brother Gilliard, whom I admire not least for his devotion to "Slip Kid," one of the most underrated songs in The Who's catalogue. (By the way, Exhibit Q for the proposition that I married quite above my station was under the tree on Christmas -- The Ox's satin jacket from the 1980 U.S. tour.)

Please note one single, bloodstained word, deep in the piece, that somehow got in there without an apparent peep from the reporter and (I'm guessing) at least two editors at the greatest newspaper in the world. The word is, "postwar." As in, "postwar period." As in, "Nor does the president seem to question his handling of the postwar period."

Let us leave aside the fact that, if this sentence is at all factual, the president is something of a sociopath. Let us just dwell for a second on the not-at-all ironic use of the phrase, "postwar period."

When exactly did that start?

It is axiomatic that the best insights to be gleaned about any football game come from offensive linemen, which is why I'll always have something of a soft spot for the late Gerald Ford. However, it must be said, he was central to the very beginnings of a media-age phenomenon that has crippled self-government. It also went a long way toward producing the spavined democratic republic that was so ill-prepared to defend itself when the current crew of brigands seized the bridge and began steering the whole shebang off the edge of the world. For lack of a better word, this involved the infantilization of something called "The Country," a perilously fragile flower that needs to be protected by Its Leaders from the rough edges of the hard truth. The first notable example I can recall was the Warren Commission, on which Ford served, the credibility of which was doomed by its original mission, which was not to find the truth behind John Kennedy's murder, but to salve a wounded nation. It was in this same, vaguely monarchical spirit that Ford pardoned Richard Nixon -- to "spare the country" from putting that old bag of sins on public trial and to help the country "heal." Subsequently, this same fluffy nonsense has been trotted out to prevent democratic accountability in the Iran-Contra scandal (Can't impeach old Dutch) and the extended outrun of the 2000 election ("The Country" needs closure). Andy Card said it out loud at the 2004 Republican National Convention, when he told the Maine delegation that the president looks upon the people who hired him as seventh-graders needing his protection. And, of course, now, we're hearing it a great deal from the "Let's Hold Hands And Move Forward" wing of both parties. "The Country" doesn't want recriminations.

Well, bullshit.

That's the funny thing. For all the talk about "healing" and "closure," none of the efforts cited above worked. More people in this country believe the Epic of Gilgamesh than believe the Warren Commission. The public gratitude for the "closure" of the Nixon pardon was demonstrated not only in the 1974 midterms, but also in the 1976 presidential election, in which poor Gerry Ford became a fulltime celebrity golfer. (A country that ate the Ervin Committee for breakfast was more than ready to gorge itself on the Trial of the Trickster, trust me.) Reagan's approval was ground into the dust even by the bungled congressional Iran-Contra hearings, and anybody who doesn't believe there is a public appetite for accountability in the crimes of the last seven years wasn't paying attention in November. Sorry if it makes the cocktail parties uncomfortable, kids, but The Country's lost 3,000 soldiers and it wants someone's head on a stick.

Name: Richard Taylor
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

I would wager that the recruiter is emphasizing that participants in the Marine Corps summer camp program do not have to wear uniforms during the regular school year, unlike with your basic ROTC. But you are correct in that it is in recruiter-speak so that by definition, it is misleading. None of the summer camp programs are particularly fun, whether for the Marines or the ROTC summer camps. It is a de facto basic training for officers.

My $.02.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


After reading Skinner's "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" in college, and pondering the matter at length (ah, those days...), "free will" seems to me to be a matter of timing.

An omniscient being could be aware of all of the factors simultaneously influencing an individual as he approaches a decision point. To stick with the example, the man who wants the sandwich is a welter of contradictory wishes, morals, needs -- but at some point he decides. The decision reflects the balance of all of the above at the moment the decision is made -- conscious factors, unconscious factors, bodily state, etc.

If he had made the decision even a moment earlier, or later, the balance of all the factors leading to the eventual choice might have been different, and so the choice might have been different.

BUT, in looking back at the decision, this omniscient being would say that, given the balance of factors prevailing at the moment of decision, the decision made was inevitable -- in that one moment of time, there was only one possible configuration of factors pro and con.

So it seems to me to be an issue with time more than anything else. First, because although we experience time as a continuum, for decision-making purposes, it is made of discreet "moments" when all of the factors that might influence a decision are in a given state of importance relative to one another; second, because it seems to matter whether one views things from before the decision is made or after it has been made.

So we are both free and determined -- it just depends on which perspective of time you wish to use. The older I get, FWIW, the more it seems that when I arrive at a total contradiction, truth is there.

Name: Paul Barber
Hometown: Toronto

I am a long-time admirer and daily reader of Altercation.

I liked very much Boehlert's column on Woodward and the Ford Nixon pardon.

However, my interest in writing has to do with remembering an article in the New York Review of Books by I.F. Stone at the time that Ford was nominated to be vice president. My recollection is that he argued that the reason for the nomination of Ford was that Nixon wanted a VP who he could be sure would pardon him should the need arise. This arose nine months prior to the resignation. Although that event could be foreseen in October 1973, I thought that Stone's article was quite prescient, and he deserves some credit at this time of remembering Ford and the pardon. The article does not appear to be online but seems to be alluded to here.

Name: LTC Robert Bateman

The Ministry of the Interior in Iraq now states that Captain Jamil Hussein is, in fact, a policeman. He works at a station in the Khadya district of Baghdad. The AP published a pretty long piece on this today, recounting the dialog with the military and the Ministry of the Interior, and the initial denials by both that Hussein even existed.

Here is the new AP report.

OK, that is interesting. But that does not answer any of the questions I asked a month ago.

The hard fact is that "L'affaire du Jamil Hussein" is not about "Right Wing" bloggers trying to defend a failing policy in Iraq, or trying to extrapolate without justification, problems from one story into problems in all stories, coming from the Associated Press bureau in Iraq.

It is true, the story (or the fact-checking) did start with bloggers from the political right. But this is not about them. See this, for example:

Is Captain Hussein a reliable news source? While we now know he's genuine, he was not an authorized spokesman. His critics, including his Iraqi government bosses and the U.S. military, have challenged the veracity of many of AP reports attributed to him. Many violent incidents reported by Captain Hussein via the AP were not reported by other western news organizations, raising suspicions about whether all those incidents occurred. The controversy likely will linger in this area, with third party reporting being done to determine the accuracy of Captain Hussein's statements to the AP.

That little passage is only part of a recent entry by that well-known right-wing blogger ... Eason Jordan (yes, the same former CNN head who was hounded out of his job by the political Right following a comment he made at Davos). See the whole thing here.

And Eason Jordan is not the only one the AP was blowing off in their refusal to deal with the problems with their sources and their haughty Cartman-like dismissal of anyone who dared to question their authority or the authenticity of their sources. They also effectively told that well known conservative bastion (I am being sarcastic here) Editor & Publisher to go and get bent earlier in the week. See here.

If you remember, a month ago I wanted to know how it was that a reporter (who the AP says they have had somebody meet with, but in "his office" at a different police station) used a source who was located across town from where the events in the story took place. I still want to know how that was.

And I wanted to know how they could use Captain Hussein as a source for some 60 stories, on events which occurred all across the city, when he is a lowly police captain in a single police station. (In rank-heavy Iraq, a "Captain" is almost a throw-away rank. This is a country which reportedly had some 11,000 generals on the payroll at the height of their power. For comparison, there are 400 generals in the entire US Army.)

And I want to know why they changed their story. Yes, they changed the story. See, here is the text from the original version of the story that came out on 24 November.

Earlier that day, rampaging militiamen burned and blew up four mosques and torched several homes in the capital's mostly Shia neighborhood of Hurriyah, police said. Iraqi soldiers at a nearby army post failed to intervene in the assault by suspected members of the Shiite Mahdi Army militia or subsequent attacks that killed a total of 25 Sunnis, including women and children, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

Then another version put it this way:

Members of the Mahdi Army militia burned four mosques and several homes while killing 12 other Sunni residents in the once-mixed Hurriyah neighborhood until American forces arrived, said police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

See that, four mosques burned/blown up. Twenty-five dead, and the addition of US combat troops. But when the military said, "nope," then the MoI said, "nope," the AP's story changed. Then it was only one mosque. Then it changed again and was "one mosque was damaged" (this is all in addition to the six Sunnis Captain Hussein says were immolated.)

I want to know what Eason Jordan wants to know. Until then I am still going to conclude that once again, as they did with me a couple of years ago when I challenged them on their witnesses to the incident at No Gun Ri, the Associated Press is demonstrating that rather than look to their sources, it is best to deny everything, make counter-accusations, and spin like mad.

Personally, I expect more from journalism. I think you should too because, well, the Media Matters.

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