How Wrong Can This Go On?

It was a bad day for the Oregonian Commentary page. In addition to the aforementioned Nielsen piece, they printed James Lileks’s Newhouse News Service editorial on the US Olympic Committee’s ban on flag-waving by athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. It’s full of righteous vigor and indignation.

There’s just one problem.

The USOC says it never banned the practice.

The quotes Lileks uses appeared in a story in the Washington Times on May 15th which was attributed to a reporter for the London Sunday Telegraph. The USOC’s online statement refuting that article appeared on May 18th and was picked up by enough other news outlets that Google shows it for MSNBC, the Tucson Citizen, Channel 4 in Denver, the Kansas City Star, New York Newsday, the Palm Beach Post…oh, and an AP-hosted site.

Most of those outlets had the updated story by the 18th. The Oregonian probably did, too — I’m assuming it has an AP feed.

All it would have taken to validate (or not) this piece was for someone to type in their Web browser. I know it’s an opinion piece, but would they print it if it was an opinion about how horrible it was that the sky was pink, without looking out the window first? Where’s their fact-checking? Newhouse and Lileks are no better; the opinion piece is dated May 19, a day after the USOC press release.

Liberals Hate Baseball


Either David Reinhard’s ghost-writing the Oregonian‘s Susan Nielsen after her two-week hiatus from the op-ed pages, or she’s decided to become a sort of mini-Ann Coulter in the interim. Apparently, liberals not only hate Bush, freedom, the troops, the police, morals, and religion, but according to Nielsen we hate “fun” and America’s favorite pastime, too. It’s getting kind of hard to keep up.

Her argument’s difficult to follow, as most of these types of arguments usually are, but based on her read of “Portland’s most liberal circles”, baseball’s a no-go until all possible social services are paid for. Nobody from these circles is mentioned by name, so it’s hard to judge off-hand just how influential these liberals might be in city politics. It’s awe-inspiring to me that the supporters of the baseball plan could be stymied by super-liberals who are so elusive and powerful that Nielsen can’t even name them. Not even Neil Goldschmidt had that kind of clout.

The charge that “Portland liberals don’t do corporate” is fairly laughable as well. The supporters of the baseball plan are mentioned: Vera Katz, Oregon Chai, and Nike. These aren’t exactly people or companies I’ve seen conservatives clasping to their bosom. There are an awful lot of companies in this city whose founders and owners support liberal causes. Somebody’s buying coffee from those Starbuck’s shops on Hawthorne and ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s; there aren’t enough conservatives or middle-of-the-roaders to keep them going.

I’m all for corporations myself. As a contract programmer, I make some of my best money from corporations. But one thing I can’t do as a small business owner is perform a lot of work for someone I’m not absolutely sure can afford to pay me. For new customers and companies I’m unsure of, I require money up front and payments along the way. I’d go bankrupt if I took on a large project, did the work without payment, and a customer defaulted on me. Call it fiscally conservative. It may not be as “fun” as risking my house on some dot-com’s ability to pay me or plunking everything down on black at the roulette wheel, but that’s just me.

We (liberals and everyone else in the Portland area) have been told time and again that sports ventures are — to mix sports metaphors here — a slam dunk, yet there has been a continual landslide of money at PGE Park, followed recently by the bankruptcy of the Rose Garden Arena, despite the operating company being associated with Paul Allen, the owner of the primary users of the arena, the Portland Trailblazers. Apparently, somebody’s not paying someone else enough in rent.

A plan in which the baseball team’s owners or another entity guaranteed any public losses associated with siting a team in Portland would probably do just fine with everyone, whether they liked fun or not. If the stadium lost money, if the team lost money, so long as the public didn’t end up bailing somebody out yet again, that would be fun in and of itself!

It’s not as if just having a baseball team is an assurance of success — if it was, the Expos wouldn’t be moving. Maybe it’s because of those Canadian liberals.

The Cost of Doing War

U.N.-haters have been slobbering all over the likelihood that Saddam Hussein skimmed anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion off out of monies derived from the United Nations Oil-for-Food program over a period of several years.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asking for more money to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ostensibly, just $25 billion for now, but likely to add up to the total of $5 billion per month for the foreseeable future. The bulk of that money is regarded as “troop support”, but it’s not as if it’s going to be paid to the troops. Much of it will go to companies like Halliburton for supply functions, food services, and other operations that used to be handled (without a profit being taken) by the military themselves. Another chunk will go to replace and refurbish weapons and vehicles. It’d be interesting to see the balance sheets of those companies in the next fiscal year; Saddam might be envious.

In 2002, the per capita income in Iraq was estimated by the World Bank as somewhere between $750 and $900. As the cost of the Iraq war alone crosses the $100 billion mark, we’ve spent about $3,500 per Iraqi, between four and seven years’ income. Maybe we should have just skipped the invasion, the bombing, 700+ American dead and thousands of wounded (so far), tens of thousands of Iraqi dead and injured, and given them some money. At this rate, we’ll be following the Soviet Union down the same hole it dug for itself in Afghanistan.


In the Vietnam War, the U.S. faced a sovereign nation — North Vietnam — backed by both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Our adversary in that conflict had a capital, a country, and a government. The goal of the war was ostensibly to prevent the takeover of the South by the North.

That’s not the situation in Iraq. There’s no single enemy: what our forces face is a mélange of groups, each of which has its own agenda, all of which are opposed to the U.S. occupation. There’s no capital to bomb, as we bombed Hanoi. The largest external supporter of the opposition is Iran, which doesn’t have the status or resources of the Soviet Union or China in the ’60s. There’s no government opposing us. Insurgents aren’t sneaking through the DMZ or along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to get to where they’re launching attacks, they already live there.

A more correct comparison is Palestine. Apart from the fact that our Palestine is on the other side of the world and not next door, the situation in Iraq looks a lot more like the Occupied Territories than Indochina. Military force in the hands of a foreign power? Check. Impotent local governmental authority? Check. Thousands of detainees held without charge plus occasional torture? Check. Multiple militia groups executing attacks on occupiers and carving out some local civic control? Check. Occupier responses to attacks that have a tendency to kill civilians in the process? Check.


In the midst of the first week of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, civilian contractor Thomas Hammill managed to escape his captors 23 days after he’d been taken hostage.

Given the mutilation of the bodies of military contractors in Fallujah in early April and the killings of U.N. personnel, aid workers, and Iraqi civilians, I wouldn’t be at all surprised that many of the other hostages taken in past months have been physically abused. Certainly, any number of them have been found dead, including others taken at the same time as Mr. Hammill.

Hammill, on the other hand, although he and his hostage-takers were staying in a hovel infested with mosquitos, received some treatment for a gunshot wound in his arm that he’d received during his capture. Additionally, he’d been provided with antibiotic pills.

Beats sodomy with a light stick.

My First Conspiracy Theory

I don’t normally go for conspiracy theories, but here’s a fun little timeline I cooked up this morning:

October – December 2003
Members of 800th MP Brigade take photos and videos of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in sexually humiliating positions.
19 January 2004
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez makes request that an Investigating Officer investigate reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib.
31 January 2004
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba is appointed to conduct the investigation into abuse at Abu Ghraib.
1 February 2004
Janet Jackson’s right breast is exposed by Justin Timberlake during Superbowl XXXVIII half-time show.
2 February 2004
FCC Chairman Michael Powell — the son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former Army general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and someone who still has numerous contacts within the military and Defense department — condemns the Jackson episode and promises a clamp-down on obscenity on the airwaves.
mid-February 2004
Maj. Gen. Taguba completes his report on Abu Ghraib.
March and April 2004
CBS’s “60 Minutes II” prepares a story on the Abu Ghraib abuse and the Army’s investigation, based on the Taguba report.
mid-April 2004
The Defense department and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Meyers ask “60 Minutes II” to delay broadcast of their report on abuse at Abu Ghraib.
28 April 2004
CBS’s “60 Minutes II” broadcasts story on Abu Ghraib abuse, including doctored images of naked Iraqi prisoners, as the story was about to break in other news outlets around the world.

Now, if you thought the response to the Superbowl show was a bit overblown, you might be inclined by the confluence of events around the end of January and beginning of February to believe that someone in the Army tipped off Colin Powell in January that there was some ugly stuff about to blow out of Iraq. Janet Jackson unknowingly (?) gave Powell’s son a chance to help the administration by trying to put a clamp on broadcast of sexually-humiliating pictures. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean they didn’t try.

Or, it could just be a coincidence.

Missing the Unit

Joe Conason, in a Salon article titled “Smear Boat Veterans for Bush” details the inner workings of a group of U.S. Navy officers who are in league with operatives for the Bush campaign to denigrate the Vietnam service record of John Kerry. According to John O’Neill, a founder of the group and someone who debated Kerry in 1971 on TV, 19 of 23 officers who served with Kerry have signed a letter declaring he is unfit to be commander-in-chief.

I’d humbly like to point out that it’s a lot easier for people to complain about your fitness when you actually served with them. We can’t get yeas or nays from any of the folks Bush served with in his time with the Alabama Air National Guard. Despite Garry Trudeau of “Doonesbury” fame offering $10,000 to anyone who could prove they’d served in Alabama with Bush, there’s been nothing. Their silence is deafening.

The Karpinski Defense: Implausible Deniability

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and the U.S. Army have handed Saddam Hussein his best line of defense in any upcoming prosecution.

Karpinski, whose duty it was to oversee Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison and the hundreds of prisoners it held (as well as over a dozen other facilities in Iraq) claims that she did not know about the abuse documented in photos and shown around the world over the past week.

Nobody further up the chain of command knew anything about it, either. In fact, the report on the investigation — completed three months ago — still hadn’t been opened by General Richard Meyers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rather odd considering how it was likely to be received by the rest of the world once it became public, but apparently not untypical of this military exercise. And if those people say they don’t know, then it’s unlikely President George W. Bush knew.

If I was Saddam’s lawyer, I’d start preparing to argue that if the top leaders of the government of the U.S. occupying force — all the way down to the general directly in charge of military police and prisons in the country — had no idea that prisoners were being abused under their charge, how in the world can you say that Saddam’s guilty for anything that happened in the very same prison? He was the President! He spent a lot of time away from the capital! Nobody told him about the abuse! He could just use Karpinski’s words: “Had I known anything about it, I certainly would have reacted very quickly.”

Mind you, I’m not saying that Saddam should get off for anything. But by covering their asses with plausible deniability, everyone from Karpinski on up to Bush is going to place an awful burden of proof on anyone making a case against Saddam’s direct involvement in anything. The fact that this incident was covered up for over six months only makes the U.S. look even more culpable. Thanks, guys!

Long, Long Odds

It’s been a bad month for the U.S. military in Iraq, but it’s been far worse for civilians in the city of Fallujah.

Since the siege of Fallujah began after four civilian security workers were killed and mutilated at the beginning of the month, hospitals in the city reported over 700 civilian dead and 2,800 wounded. The U.S.-approved Iraqi health minister placed civilian death totals much lower on April 22, at 271.
[source: “AP Toll Says 1,361 Iraqis Killed in April”, New York Times, 30 April 2004]

Since the incursion was sparked by outrage over four deaths, it’s pretty fair to say that we’ve basically killed fifty-plus innocent victims for each of the four Blackwater contractors. We may have killed as many as 175 per. We’ve lost over 100 military personnel in the process, and over 1,000 resistance fighters are reported to be dead in the city, but as a punitive action — whose stated purpose even today is to “capture or kill” the people who organized the attack on the contractors — this harks back to stories of just about every occupying army promising to exact dozens of deaths in reprisal for each death of a soldier, doesn’t it?

Air America Is Still On the Air

The much ballyhooed/derided Air America radio network has been on the air for four weeks now, and I’ve been listening live most mornings (since I’m on Pacific time) to its star show, “The O’Franken Factor”, with Al Franken and Katherine Lanpher. I’ve got a few notes on the show and some of the others.

First off, let me say that I can’t take more than a very short period of listening to HannityOReillyLimbaughSavage and their ilk. I have no respect for their lack of factual content, or the lock-step manner in which they hew to the party line. So I offer these comments and criticisms with the hope that they’ll be taken as supportive of the intent of Air America.

“The O’Franken Factor” (OFF) has had some great guests. It’s one truly great thing about the show. Al’s at his best playing off of some of these very intelligent people.

Al needs to loosen his grip on his schtick. Maybe it’s a result of his having worked in comedy and speaking engagements for the past three decades, but he keeps coming back to the same touchstone stories. He’s used the same well-rehearsed items in his books, interviews on talk shows, and probably in his speeches. I understand exactly what he’s doing, because I do the same thing myself. They’re funny a couple of times, but you need to try to keep from telling the same gag to the same audience more than once. It’s hard to do when you’re on the radio fifteen hours a week — the temptation to fill time with a reference to, say, Paul Wolfowitz’s response to a question about the military — but he needs to loosen up and improvise if he’s going to mention the incidents. Don’t repeat it verbatim. Again.

Take more calls, but be smart about about it. OFF relies far too much on prepared material of dubious humor quality, like the Scalia/Cheney duck hunting recording. The show needs the jolt of randomness that comes from a good call, it gives Al something to play off of, and every now and then there’s something really great like the woman who called in today with information about how the President’s under oath when he’s giving the State of the Union speech. Al has a tendency to be too polite to people who need to be cut off, though.

Don’t fall into the partisan trap. A woman from Minnesota called yesterday, saying that John Kerry needed to speak more plainly if he’s going to have a chance to win this November. Al seemed a little flummoxed for a moment, then decided to take it as a criticism and turned it into a call for George W. Bush to tell the truth. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention, maybe he misunderstood the caller, but she had a good point and was just trying to explain what Kerry needed to do to win. Al needs to make sure he’s not just being as reactionary as the guys on the other side.

Use Katherine Lanpher more. She’s great when she’s asking questions of callers or interviewees. She deserves to be doing more than acting as a foil for Al when nobody else in on the phone or in the studio.

One thing I hope that OFF can stay away from is the type of slur another Air America host, Randi Rhodes, indulges in, like playing songs about how much Condoleezza Rice looks like a snake. I don’t like the woman, either, but it’s got nothing to do with her appearance. It’s awfully easy to attack people for their looks, certainly you see plenty of that from people like Limbaugh, who wasn’t above attacking Chelsea Clinton when she was twelve years old.

I’ll cross my fingers.