Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How Much Power Does The Military Have?

Charvakan called me out -- gently -- for possibly overstating the power the military wields in Washington. I'll get to that in short order, because it's something I'm interested in considering in a little more detail, but for now I'll leave you to chew on this:
Pentagon memo reveals launch of new PR war

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is buttressing its public relations staff and starting an operation akin to a political campaign war room as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld faces intensifying criticism over the Iraq war.

In a memo obtained by the Associated Press, Dorrance Smith, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said new teams of people will "develop messages" for the 24-hour news cycle and "correct the record."

...Another branch would coordinate "surrogates." In political campaigns, surrogates are usually high-level politicians or key interest groups who speak or travel on behalf of a candidate or an issue.

The plan would focus more resources on so-called new media, such as the Internet and Weblogs. It would also include new workers to book civilian and military guests on television and radio shows.

Remember, this is the Pentagon, so this is all paid for by your tax dollars. Rumsfeld would rather use public money to wage his internal battle for political survival than face up to his errors and resign as he should.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Gay Porn King Donates to Republican Party

Is this the weirdest campaign season in decades? I mean, in '04 it was about Iraq and Swift Boat character assassination, which is all kind of parallel universe, but only in the way that everything about the Bush presidency has been surreal. This year things are just plain upside down.
It turns out that the Republican National Committee is a regular recipient of political contributions from Nicholas T. Boyias, the owner and CEO of Marina Pacific Distributors, one of the largest producers and distributors of gay porn in the United States. [One] recent article on Marina Pacific's new marketing campaign from XBiz, a porn industry trade sheet, notes that, in addition to producing its own material, the "company acts as a distribution house to hundreds of lines, mostly gay, 40 of which can be purchased only through MPD."

The company actually seems to be a trendsetter in the industry. As Boyias recently noted, "We have always modeled ourselves after a Fortune-style company. They are the models of exceptional customer service. We have formed strategic alliances with our vendors and customers alike, offering them tools and marketing to assist them in succeeding with their business models. Our one-on-one interpersonal relationships have never been duplicated in the distribution industry."

When Galaxies Collide

No, this isn't a misplaced Seinfeld reference -- sometimes galaxies do really collide, and this is what it looks like.

I'm working up the mojo to do a few more substantive posts, but things may be a little quiet around here until after the election, when I plan to post a long, gleeful, drunken rant about What This Means For America.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

News Dump

I originally meant to have a running feature here -- if you've been around since the blog started, you may remember it -- called "People in Suits Who Can't Read." My first one was David Brooks, who remains the paradigm example, but it sort of petered out. Anyway, the news dump has become a sort of de facto feature. It's not quite as regular as Daily Kos, but you still can't get all this news in one place anywhere else.

Just Remember There's a Whole Universe Out There

Parts of it look like this. I don't know why, but seeing this sort of thing makes me not care about looking especially trendy when I go outside.

New Searchable Database for Congressional Employee Salaries

You wouldn't believe how much wacky fun we have with this handy little doodad at work. We know most of these people and they're almost all alarmingly overpaid. Some of them should probably be in prison for their own protection instead of drawing a paycheck.

Unions Getting Busted Good and Proper

I'll let this speak for itself.

In a move that surprised exactly no one, the NLRB voted along party lines yesterday to reclassify 8 million workers as "supervisors" who will no longer have any protection under U.S. labor laws. It no longer matters whether you hire, fire, or discipline. If you do so much as make out a shift schedule or monitor the quality of other employees' work, bingo! You're a supervisor!


This is, by the way, the kind of thing I'm talking about when I say that Republicans have made it steadily harder over the years to organize unions. Most people will never hear about this ruling, just as most have never heard of the dozens of other under-the-radar rulings, laws, regulations, and court decisions that have slowly chipped away at the ability of unions to organize over the years. But believe me: business lobbies have. And since this ruling mostly affects service industries, they can't pretend that globalization has forced their hand. They just want to eliminate any organized pressure to pay their workers more.

Violence Against Children Generally Accepted Worldwide

Sad news from the U.N., but what is anyone doing about it? It's one of those things that reaaaally doesn't lend itself to a bumper sticker campaign. Cultural attitudes mashed together with economic depression and traditional religious beliefs make the child's lot in life, at this late stage of world development, still pretty bleak.

"Many people, even children, accept violence as an inevitable part of life," said the 45-page study by independent expert Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

International Labor Organization data showed that in 2004 there were 218 million child laborers of whom 126 million did hazardous work, the report said. WHO estimates up to 140 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation, it said.

"I urge states to prohibit all forms of violence against children, in all settings, including all corporal punishment, harmful traditional practices -- such as early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation and so-called honor crimes -- sexual violence and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," Pinheiro said.

The report also calls for the appointment of a U.N. special representative to act as a high profile global advocate to promote prevention and elimination of all violence against children.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Depleted Uranium is a War Crime

Everyone knows about Abu Ghraib, the lack of Iraqi postwar planning, Guantanamo, having bin Laden get away, etc. etc. These issues are front and center. But what do they really mean for how people view the military itself, rather than its political masters? You can view it as a necessary evil, or you can hate it for being a death machine, or you can't imagine America without it, or you can wish it were twice as big and ten times as willing to kick ass. Or whatever.

But any way you slice it, the military per se doesn't take too much heat for its perceived failures. The blame goes (rightly) to the administration, to Rumsfeld, to Cheney, somewhat to Bush depending on how with it you think he is -- it doesn't go to the generals because they were following orders, which is what we expect generals to do. If we had a freelance military, we probably wouldn't have an election coming up. Rightly or wrongly, the generals and their subordinates get a pass. We cluck our tongues at how soldiers could possibly have at those torture victims with such apparent relish, and we shake our heads at how soldiers could possibly commit atrocities against civilians. We wonder how they sleep with themselves when we hear stories of innocent people getting caught up in sweeps and tortured for months without a trial.

But ultimately, it all comes back to the White House. The Bush clan and its army of evil flying monkey lawyers made it happen. The military was just doing what it was told. Case closed. Because the military just bucks up and follows orders.

Wrong wrong wrong.

I am here to tell you that the military basically runs this town. If the top brass wants something to happen, it happens. It doesn't matter what it is. It could be changing the street lights to hot pink. It could be changing the maps so Georgetown is called "Bonerland." Eating pot roast on Tuesday could become a felony and we'd all have to start using the word "coinkydink." It is mind-boggling what the military is capable of doing. A wave of its magic wand: wind farms no longer get built. A slight, goosey hiccup: years of health research are suddenly suspect and need another decade of review. A brief, kittenish thumb-twiddle: we spread cancer and death to civilians that had nothing to do with anything. And all this is made more sinister because the military doesn't sit around and wait for something to do. It needs to look busy. It comes up with new weapons, new demands for bigger and badder stuff (the Chinese menace is the number one excuse for outrageous spending projects, but there are others), new ways to make itself useful. Usually it's just a colossal giveaway to defense contractors. But sometimes the military machine, which is run by engineers and bureaucrats just as much as by HQ, comes up with a really especially bad idea and there is nothing we can do about it because we don't really ever know what the military is thinking until it's already been done.

Very few of you readers know the punk band Anti-Flag. They're not everyone's cup of hot tea, but whatever you want to say about whether they have a beat you can dance to, they get the political ball rolling instead of screaming about cops taking their skateboards.

Also, I interviewed Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) the other day, and he had a few things to say that made it into what I think was a well-written story in my latest issue. And a little bird tells me I'm onto something with this topic and that I should "keep looking," which is the second whiff of Woodward-and-Bernsteinism I've caught since I got this job. They're probably watching me in a tree with binoculars right now and I've already said too much.

What do all these crucial themes have in common? Click here to watch a video that makes the connection explicit.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Before I forget, a friend of mine from back in college called me completely out of the blue a few weeks ago and said she was here for two nights before leaving for the Peace Corps in Turkmenistan. I met her at the airport after work -- on a Friday, mind you -- and I took her around town: we had dinner at Teaism in Dupont Circle, where incidentally they make a fine seaweed salad, and I walked her to the Pentagon because it was three blocks from her hotel. She was here for the remainder of the weekend but I never heard from her again and I assume she got there fine.

Except it's not fine, because here's what a book I have next to my bed has to say about Turkmenistan (I suspected this but didn't really appreciate the gravity of the situation):
[Honcho For Life] Saparmurat Niyazov insists that his countrymen refer to him as "Turkmenbashi": "Father of the Turkmen." He has gone to great lengths to intricately weave his personal history with the general national identity so that is it impossible to talk about one without talking about the other. Even before Turkmenistan became independent, Niyazov insisted that instruction in schools be carried out using the Turkmen language rather than Russian. . .

In December 1999, parliament amended the constitution to allow Niyazov to remain president for life. The following day Niyazov outlawed opposition parties for a period of ten years. . .

He has engaged in an escalating series of purges, which accelerated in the summer of 2001 and got so bad that the most qualified people for high-level positions turn down the promotions they are offered because accepting a high-level post means almost certain imprisonment down the line. Niyazov has also used public show trials and humiliated his enemies and imagined enemies on live television. . .

He renamed the month of January "Turkmenbashi," after himself; April "Gurbanosoltan Edzhe" after his mother; and September "Rukhnama" after the book he wrote.

He renamed all the streets in the capital with numbers and ordered citizens to fly the national flags over their homes.

He renamed the Caspian port city of Krasnovodok "Turkmenbashi."

He banned ballet, opera, and circus for being alien to Turkmen culture and he shut down the Academy of Science.

His face appears on every bank note.

His image is permanently displayed -- in gold -- in the upper right corner of the television screen during all broadcasts.

He ordered the erections of monuments of himself throughout the country including one of his mother holding him as a baby.

He spent $7 million on a seventy-five-meter-high Arch of Neutrality on top of which is a twelve-meter statue of himself that revolves during the day so that he is always facing the sun.

His face also appears on vodka bottles and tea boxes.

He created two brands of cologne, one of which is named after himself and the other after his mother.

In 2005, he banned car radios and lip-synching and forbade the playing of recorded music on television or at weddings.

He ordered doctors to stop taking the Hippocratic Oath and instead swear allegiance to him.

Comments and Housekeeping

If you make a comment and you wonder whether I'll ever see it or say anything about it, wait until the next post is up. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do often read them and respond; I just don't do it until I get to the blog in general, which can take a few days. So think about that if you've been dying to know, for instance, whether I took a look at the Washington Monthly political blog. The answer is hidden deep, deep in the comment thread on If You Want to Be Hypnotized...

Glittering Prizes, Sweden and Eternal Fame

What do they have in common, you may ask yourself. Orhan Pamuk is all. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature today, something I wait for like other people wait to see who won the Super Bowl or whether they'll ever catch that damn Lucky Charms leprechaun.

As is often the case, I was way ahead of the curve in buying his stuff, but I haven't read any of it. Yet. In fact I'm currently embroiled in two corkers, one of which -- From Here to Eternity -- they made a movie out of. The other is an incredible piece of historical research called The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles. Everyone who's ever gone through a Hemingway jag (I even read the letters, which are about as thick as a phone book) has got to read this book, and I don't italicize these things lightly. He was, in addition to being a complete ass, incredibly gullible and vain and stupid at times. Rather than telling you what the story involves, let me just say it's more compelling than To Have and Have Not. Which isn't saying much, but it does twist the knife in an interesting way.

And OP? He was charged by the Turkish government not too long ago for making unpatriotic statements but -- and what did they think would happen? -- everyone got on his side and they had to drop it. It was a black eye for Turkey, which it compounded when it tried to use the same charges recently against a second writer.

The Swedish Academy declared Pamuk the winner on a day when, to Turkey's fury, the French lower house of parliament approved a bill making it a crime to deny that the Armenian genocide had occurred.

In a what was seen as a test case for freedom of speech in Turkey, Pamuk was tried for insulting "Turkishness" after telling a Swiss paper last year that 1 million Armenians had died in Turkey during World War One and 30,000 Kurds had perished in recent decades.

The court dismissed the charges on a technicality, but other writers and journalists still are being prosecuted under the article and can face a jail sentence of up to three years.
More from the London Times:

In a twist that considerably dampened celebrations in Turkey, the prize was announced on the day that the French Parliament approved a Bill to make it illegal to deny that the Armenian killings amounted to genocide. Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, said that his country would consider retaliatory measures against France. In Ankara, protesters pelted the French Embassy with eggs.
I know frequent commenter mikeswanson has read My Name is Red, generally thought of as one of his better books -- I wonder aloud what he thinks of the choice. Political, aesthetic or both? Or neither? Did they just find him handsome?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

If You're Looking to Be Hypnotized...

Baraka is one of the best movies I've ever seen, and is not actually edited the way this video suggests. You can listen to the music or not, but given the options it's not a bad backdrop.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Oh, Beehler!

It's an inside joke at the office. In fact the man has become a fictitious character with me and my friends, sort of an amalgamation of fact and fancy that only Washington journalists could or would come up with, let alone find funny.

Bush's nominee to be the new EPA inspector general, an invisible but hugely important post, currently works at the Defense Department as an environmental bureaucrat and used to work for Koch Industries (look them up). I've been writing about this guy like mad for the last six weeks, and I was at his Senate confirmation hearing. I can't share my work here, obviously, but you get the gist of it from this link.

Defense Department Must Now Regularly Report on Iraq Progress

In the course of my duties as a journalist, I have to slog through a lot of documents that most people will never actually read. Usually it's a chore and makes me wonder what I'm doing, but occasionally you find things like this that make it all worthwhile. This is from this year's congressional report on the Defense Appropriations Act, which gives the military all that sweet, filthy lucre every year. This is binding, by the way.

"SEC. 9010.

(a) Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and every 90 days thereafter through the end of fiscal year 2007, the Secretary of Defense shall set forth in a report to Congress a comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures for progress toward military and political stability in Iraq.

(b) The report shall include performance standards and goals for security, economic, and security force training objectives in Iraq together with a notional timetable for achieving these goals."

These might not change any Republican hearts and minds, but they will become political fodder like you've never seen if Democrats take over the House or Senate and hold oversight hearings.

And That's The News From America, Where All The Men Are Strong...

The personal "where is Lapp now" stuff is coming soon, but in the meantime there's a lot of hard and meaty world news to get to, especially the one that sent me drinking last night...

The President Decides Who We Torture -- By Himself

Yeah, Democrats caved big time on the president's torture bill, which I bet none of you thought was even meant to pass. The gory details are here, including who voted for it and what the Dems have to say for themselves about it. A better analysis of what it does to our legal system (basically shits on it) is here. If you read past the bloody awful lede paragraph, you get to this:

In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy. It does, however, grant detainees brought before military commissions limited protections initially opposed by the White House. The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

And it broadens the definition of “unlawful enemy combatant” to include not only those who fight the United States but also those who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” The latter group could include those accused of providing financial or other indirect support to terrorists, human rights groups say. The designation can be made by any “competent tribunal” created by the president or secretary of defense.
Even more frightening:

Even if the Supreme Court decides it has the power to hear challenges to the bill, the Bush administration has gained a crucial advantage. In adding a Congressional imprimatur to a comprehensive set of procedures and tactics, lawmakers explicitly endorsed measures that in other eras were achieved by executive fiat. Earlier Supreme Court decisions have suggested that the president and Congress acting together in the national security arena can be an all-but-unstoppable force.

Public commentary on the bill, called the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been fast-shifting and often contradictory, partly because its 96 pages cover so much ground and because the impact of some provisions is open to debate.
Paul Krugman recently asked the simple question -- behind a pay wall as always with the NYTimes these days -- why is the president so intent on using torture? It's something I don't think people have paused to try to understand. I certainly don't have the answer, and even if Krugman does I'm not paying to find out what it is.

GOP Leaders Knew of Kiddy Fiddler E-Mails Last Year

It seems a little tawdry to jump on the Mark Foley news wagon at this late date, but the headlines just keep on coming. For the uncool, this guy was recently caught sending, shall we say, borderline stalker-quality messages to a congressional page and resigned on Friday, which as usual was the talk of the office. Except Republican leaders knew about this a year ago and did nothing.

GOP leaders admit their offices have known for months that a Florida Republican congressman was sending inappropriate e-mails to a boy who had worked as a page in the House of Representatives.

The office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who earlier said he'd learned about the e-mails only last week, acknowledged that aides referred the matter to the authorities last fall. They said they were only told the messages were "over-friendly."
The silver lining is that this is almost certainly a Democrat pickup in November in a district where Foley was cruising to re-election.

All Your George Allen Racism News Right Here

I didn't realize at first that the whole country wasn't following Sen. George Allen's racist gaffes -- which keep on coming, by the way -- as closely as we here in the political Oz of northern Virginia have been. If you've been wondering what all the fuss is about, The Nation has a great rundown. Go to page 4 to see John McCain kowtow to the Confederate bigot vote. That man hasn't had any respect from me in years.

Cardboard Cutout Soldier Dads Keep Kids Happy

This is not from The Onion, although it reads and looks like it is. You just have to see it for yourself.

A Comprehensive Iraq Lying Timeline

This from Mother Jones is useful and informative, if incredibly depressing, and should be shoved down the throat of any conservative you may happen to know.

A Great Columbia Journalism Review Article on Iraq Reporting

Just for the record, I don't have any ambitions to be a war correspondent and I never really have, but I think that at least some of the people who do it make it a noble profession by being honest and trying to hold leaders accountable for their decisions. This article tells the story of those who make, and decide not to make, that effort.

Gall’s story, it turns out, had been at the center of an editorial fight. Her piece was “the real deal. It referred to a homicide. Detainees had been killed in custody. I mean, you can’t get much clearer than that,” remembers Roger Cohen, then the Times’s foreign editor. “I pitched it, I don’t know, four times at page-one meetings, with increasing urgency and frustration. I laid awake at night over this story. And I don’t fully understand to this day what happened. It was a really scarring thing. My single greatest frustration as foreign editor was my inability to get that story on page one.”

Doug Frantz, then the Times’s investigative editor and now the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, says Howell Raines, then the Times’s top editor, and his underlings “insisted that it was improbable; it was just hard to get their mind around. They told Roger to send Carlotta out for more reporting, which she did. Then Roger came back and pitched the story repeatedly. It’s very unusual for an editor to continue to push a story after the powers that be make it clear they’re not interested. Roger, to his credit, pushed.” (Howell Raines declined requests for comment.)

“Compare Judy Miller’s WMD stories to Carlotta’s story,” says Frantz. “On a scale of one to ten, Carlotta’s story was nailed down to ten. And if it had run on the front page, it would have sent a strong signal not just to the Bush administration but to other news organizations.”

Instead, the story ran on page fourteen under the headline "U.S. Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody." (It later became clear that the investigation began only as a result of Gall’s digging.)
Oil Prices May Not Stay Down (Or Help the GOP)

According to Josh Marshall, who is a great source of information at his blog (the one that actually hired a few reporters and does real reporting), the gas price thing will peter out.

Meanwhile, oil-producing areas like Russia, Nigeria and Venezuela have stayed quiet, at least in the press, according to [oil analyst George] Orwel [not a typo]. Despite U.S. saber-rattling, "[industry] people know the United States won't do anything soon, it's stuck in Iraq," he said.

As oil prices slump, big investors like hedge funds are shedding their oil futures, which they had bought in anticipation of a steadily-climbing oil market, pushing prices down. He added that Iraq is now putting more oil on the market, producing a
post-war high of around 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, and exporting close to a quarter of that. "It's actually doing a lot better."

So maybe the GOP caught a rare break.

Update: Orwel just called to let me know that this, like most lucky breaks, is unlikely to last. "Prices today began to come up again," he noted.
A Soldier's Book on Command Decisions Made in Iraq

This isn't a typical "Look how many confirmed kills my sniper team got!" kind of hack job, or at least it doesn't sound like one from this interview with the author.

DS: You also wrote that in June of '03, shortages and flaws became apparent. What kind of flaws and whose responsible for them in your view?

Lt. PR: Wow. Where do I start? Everything: bottled water, vehicles, batteries, interpreters, body armor, technical workers (to fix electrical grids, water pumps etc), prescription medicines for my soldiers, Military Police, Civil Affairs units, humanitarian aid, a plan for the what hell we were all supposed to do once Baghdad fell.

First and foremost: I was always taught that as a combat leader, that I was responsible for everything my soldiers did and everything they failed to do. Same is true for President Bush. As the President, and more so, as the Commander in Chief, the buck stops with him. The fact that he doesn't take responsibility for his mistakes is a national embarrassment. Rumsfeld, Franks, Wolfowitz, Tenet, Rice, Powell. They are all responsible too. There needs to be accountability for failure at all levels. I write about these issues in the book so people can understand the truth--and understand how unnecessary many of the mistakes were.
And Finally... Bad Congressional Hairdos!

This is even funnier than I though it would be. Guess what they have to say about this one?