Friday, February 11, 2005


Some interesting questions about Gannon's gay sites

Paul Johnson at raises some questions about the Gannon affair that have so far gone unmentioned in any accounts I've read.

J.D. Guckert, alias Jeff Gannon of White House press corps fame, has been noted as the owner of a number of gay military sites—,, and The reason for his ownership of the sites has been reported to have been for the benefit of a client "while he was working to set up a Web hosting business in Wilmington." John Aravosis gives the NPR version—

[NPR] "As for those Web sites, Gannon said he created them for clients of a software company he used to work for. And Gannon says his Christian faith has enabled him to receive forgiveness for the sins of his past."

As Aravosis notes, we don't know just when Guckert experienced his road-to-Damascus moment. But in any case, he kept the gay-military sites in his name while writing against gays. (If they were only for a client, why have they been taken down now?)

The presumption in the blogosphere has been that the sites were for your run-of-the-mill dating and porn and that Guckert is a hypocrite. But Johnson poses the possibility of other motives—

What has become of any membership list to his gay military sex sites? Were those sites created only to out servicemembers under "don't ask, don't tell"? Were any names turned over to the Pentagon?

Given Guckert's pro-military, anti-gay writing and his vaunted Christianity, these are not unreasonable questions to ask.


Quote of the Day

Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators.
—Bob Herbert, NY Times columnist, from "Torture, American Style"

Thursday, February 10, 2005


"I think I need some serious counseling"—Hero propaganda

I think I need some serious counseling. This is the most serious lie I've ever told, but I've been caught in many lies. —24-year-old Sarah Kenney

CNN reports,

The touching story of how Spc. Jonathan Kenney took a bullet meant for an Iraqi child on January 29 was reported by a score of Colorado media after a news release was sent to them by the nonprofit group Homefront Heroes.

In reality, there is no record of a soldier with that name dying in Iraq. Sarah Kenney is married to a man named Michael Kenney, and he is neither currently in the military nor serving in Iraq.

Hero stories are great recruitment tools. Addled highschoolers, raised on videogames, can so easily fantasize themselves stepping into the role.

There are real heroes, of course—among the troops and among the Iraqis and among people opposed to the war. And I do not mean by "heroes" people who simply get themselves killed, but people who are willing to risk their lives and livelihood for something other than their own egos.

But the Bush administration has had a hard time with its high-profile heroes. First there was Jessica Lynch, who was the administration's heroine of the moment and who created a host of heroes in her wake. She really was heroic, not for actions in the war but for her willingness to rebut the hype put out about her by the government.

Then there was Cardinals football player Pat Tillman, killed in Afghanistan. Testimonials to his heroism poured in from politicians and sportswriters, larded with phrases such as "great American hero." It then turned out that the military had doctored the story, just as they had done with Jessica Lynch, and that Tillman had been killed by "friendly fire." Tillman's brother Rich said at the funeral—

"Pat isn't with God," he said. "He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's fucking dead."

Not the sort of ennobling sentiment we Americans like to hear. Tillman really was heroic, but dead for nothing nevertheless.

Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, for whatever the military tried to make of their stories, at least existed. Spc. Jonathan Kenney didn't. He was useful to the military all the same.


Another tool in the war propagandist's toolkit: polling

You had to know it was coming: Gallup did a poll, reported Tuesday, to determine popular approval of Bush's "performance" after the Iraqi election, which CNN says went "better than expected." Surprise! Bush's number shot up from 51% to 57%. But Steve Soto (via Taegan Goddard) of The Left Coaster notes that the sample was of 37% Republicans, 35% Independents and 28% Democrats. Gallup has inexplicably downsized the Democratic proportion of the population. But then Gallup is already known as a pollster who is "onboard."

That said, I expected Bush's number to improve. I wrote last Monday—

I know that a speech by Ted Kennedy calling for American troop withdrawal does not constitute significant political pressure. But I'll tell you what does—the polls. Americans do not like wars in which we appear to be losing. They do, on the other hand, thoroughly approve of wars where we appear to be winning. So if you convert this war from a "losing" proposition to a "winning" proposition, you'll see the poll numbers climb in support of the war. And not just this one!

CNN reports,

On the question of whether sending U.S. troops to Iraq was a mistake, 52 percent said "yes" and 47 percent said "no" during the week of January 14. But last week, the numbers flipped with 45 percent saying "yes" and 55 percent saying "no."

In the February poll, the majority of respondents, 61 percent, said that the Iraqi elections went "better than expected," and 31 percent felt it was "about as expected." And a similar number, 57 percent, said it should be a high or top U.S. priority to support the growth of democratic governments. Forty-two percent said it should be a low priority or not one at all.

Between January 7 and last week's poll, opinions remained almost unchanged on Bush's performance on Social Security, the economy and foreign affairs. [emphasis added]

In other words, the spike in Bush's approval number was derived from a changed perception of the war, which is in turn reinforced by the distorted poll itself! What is scarier is that the administration has found a rationale for war that's acceptable to the public—"supporting democracy."

I responded once (on someone else's blog) to a commenter who said in effect that "After 10 years the Germans got tired of Hitler." I pointed out that the Germans did not get tired of Hitler; they got tired of losing. As long as this administration can convince the public that we're "winning" the war, there will be no end to it.

And there will be more wars to come. Hitler didn't stop with Poland, and George doesn't want to stop with Iraq. Our "shock and awe" was Hitler's "blitzkrieg," the "lightning war."

Previous post
Doing the Watusi at the polling station: Reflections on David Corn

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Quote of the Day

Jeff Gannon may have bowed out, but others will be motivated by his actions. For every Gannon the left drops, 50 will take his place.
—Freeper comment, as retrieved at Pam's House Blend

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


Children's literature

Unless you're an advocate of censorship, The Mao of Pooh really is a lot of fun.

Israeli Defense Force launches rocket assault on Israeli town

Don't miss Xymphora today.

Buying a used Mercedes

I began writing about the fall of the dollar last September. It was top-secret in the mainstream media back then. None of them wanted to interfere in an election in which all the questions for debate had already been settled.

That stance ended as soon as Bush was declared the last-minute winner. On November 17 Robert Samuelson wrote in the Washington Post (page A27)—

George Bush hasn't much discussed what could be his biggest economic problem. It's not budget deficits or jobs. It's the possible crash of the dollar on foreign exchange markets. Even if Bush understood it, he would be hard-pressed to explain it to the public. Worse, there are no obvious ways to prevent it. Nor is it certain how big the threat is. Little wonder Bush hasn't said much. If John Kerry had won, the situation would have been the same. But a dollar crash, if it occurred, could trigger a terrifying global slump.

The "biggest economic problem" wasn't even mentioned in the presidential debates or on the campaign trail? Ain't democracy grand!

No one knows what will happen. The massive U.S. payments deficits could continue for years, with foreigners investing surplus dollars in American stocks and bonds. Gradual shifts in currency values might reduce the world's addiction to exporting to the United States.

Yes. Foreign investors might continue to do that if they didn't mind seeing the value of their investment decline for a very long time. Or...

Or something might cause a dollar crash tomorrow. In that case, massive intervention by government central banks (buying unwanted dollars) might avert a calamity. Or it might not. We're in uncharted waters. If we hit a shoal, it will be bad for everyone.

By December William Pesek, Jr. was writing for Bloomberg—

"Et tu, Indonesia?" It was with this question that Oxford University economist Brad Setser began a recent report on the U.S. dollar's mounting problems. It is appropriate for its global implications.

No, Indonesia isn't stabbing the U.S. in the back, regardless of what some in Washington may think as it considers trimming its holdings of U.S. Treasuries. Aslim Tadjuddin, deputy governor for monetary policy at Indonesia's central bank dropped that bombshell in a recent Bloomberg interview.

Indonesia's was merely the latest central bank to suggest that it may sell some U.S. Treasuries if the dollar continues to decline. Just days earlier, Russia's central bank rocked currency markets by suggesting it may swap from dollar-denominated assets to euro assets.

China also raised eyebrows late last month after China Business News reported Beijing had cut its U.S. debt holdings. The news shook markets because China's $174 billion of Treasuries makes it the second-biggest holder after Japan. While a Chinese central bank official said the report was "distorted," markets fear the worst.

Taiwan, the world's third-largest holder of foreign-exchange reserves, had to deny reports it planned to reduce U.S. debt holdings as the dollar slides. Such a move by the island, which has $57 billion of Treasuries, would surely boost U.S. debt yields.

And by the end of December Daniel Gross was writing in Slate

The dollar's decline against the euro shows no sign of ending. Clearly, currency traders have made a long-term judgment about the relative value of the currencies of the Old and New Worlds. That sounds bad enough. But now there are signs that we're losing some of the most devoted fans of the greenback: drug dealers, Russian oligarchs, and black-market traffickers of all kinds.

Finally, in the past two years, euros have also become easier to carry, store, and hide than dollars. Generally, the largest denomination of U.S. currency readily available is the $100 bill. But in the past two years, the European Central Bank has started to print 200-euro and 500-euro bills. These larger bills thus allow for the concentration of wealth in smaller packages. At today's rates, a 500-euro note is worth $682.

So if you wanted to, say, hide cash by swallowing it temporarily, euros would the obvious (and more comfortable) way to go. And indeed, as Grant notes, in October a drug mule traveling from Spain to Colombia was found to have an unexpected form of contraband in his stomach: $197,000 in euro notes. The same month, Fidel Castro declared that the dollar, which is tolerated as a means for Cuban-Americans to support their relatives in Cuba, was officially currency non grata and that the euro was most welcome.

For most products, losing international drug cartels and corrupt Third World dictators as customers would seem to be a desirable outcome. But these guys represent part of our long-standing and faithful base. If you think pundits are fretting about the slumping dollar now, just imagine what might happen if we start to lose the arms dealers.

Damn! Even the drug cartels don't want dollars any more.

Not mentioned by any of these writers was the decision by China to boost euro-denominated bonds. ChinaBiz reported in October—

European pension funds and banks subscribed more than €4bn (US$ 5.05) for the 10-year tranche, China's largest euro-denominated issue, according to bankers close to the deal. European investors' interest for China's international bond issue could mean a shift away from US$ debt, towards Euro currency for Asian governments and companies, said the Financial Times on Friday.

.... Various European investors ranging from Finnish pension funds to Italian and Spanish asset managers showed interest for Beijing's decision to break with traditional reliance on dollar currency and raise most of the funds in euros. The US dollar tranche of the bond was limited to US$500m of five-year notes, compared with previous fundraisings of up to US$1bn.

.... Asian debt issuance have been for many years in dollar. But now according to bankers more than 40 per cent of demand for the euro portion of the Chinese issue, which will pay a low level of interest relative to similar bonds, came from investors that had never previously bought Asian debt.

Investors were waking up and smelling the euro.

Since I had already warned my readers in September, I decided to drop the topic in preference for the fresh calamities that the Bush administration provides so unstintingly. But a crawler on CNN yesterday piqued my interest—something to the effect that "Mercedes to delay introduction of 2005 cars because of weak dollar."

Wow! Here's what the AP's Melissa Eddy had to say

DaimlerChrysler AG is delaying the U.S. launch of its Mercedes-Benz B-Class sport wagon over concerns that the weak dollar would eat too deeply into profits, the automaker said Monday.

The compact four-door hatchback was to have been brought out in North America this year, DaimlerChrysler spokesman Toni Melfi said. But the company has decided to bring the vehicle out in Canada and Mexico as planned but wait to introduce it to the United States.

Melfi declined to say when the launch would take place, but stressed that the exchange rate has to be "substantially better."

Picture that! Canadians and Mexicans will be sporting their new Mercedes while Americans skulk about in last year's models. As for any substantial improvement in the exchange rate, you'd best plan a little trip out of the country if you were thinking of buying this year's sport wagon.

DaimlerChrysler has also scrapped plans to launch their Smart ForMore in the U.S., which was to compete for some SUV marketshare. The NY Times-sponsored Jalopnik asks "End of year budget jitters or second thoughts about market viability?" Exchange rates could be a very big factor in market viability.

All of this brings us back to where we started, with Robert Samuelson—

Higher currencies make Europe's and Japan's exports less competitive. Their industries stagnate. The United States, Europe and Japan constitute about half the global economy. Their recessions would hurt the Asian, Latin American and African countries that export to them. Markets interconnect; weakness spreads. It's grim.

The Mercedes wagon, built in Germany, is the first high-profile item to catch my attention, but there may already have been others.

For so long Cuba has been derided for the vintage cars that survive on its streets. No currency for new ones, you see. And what will the U.S. look like in four years? Will attendees at Inauguration Day 2009 be arriving in used Mercedes, Porsches and Beamers?

Previous posts
Something you should know about your dollars (9/24/04)
More comment on the dollar (10/11/04)
Yet more news about the dollar (and the global economy) (10/21/04)
Dollar update (10/22/04)

Monday, February 07, 2005


Doing the Watusi at the polling station: Reflections on David Corn

I apologize for the recent dearth of output. The truth is that the news is so uniformly appalling that I can hardly bear to read it, much less comment on it. But comment I must.

I had not intended to mention the Iraqi election. I had supposed that anyone on the left who had followed events leading to the election would have a glimmer of what they had witnessed. But the power of the media, directed and manipulated by corporations and government, has proven me wrong.

All this was slowly percolating through my unconscious when I read a reference on Buzzflash to a controversy that has erupted between Mark Crispin Miller, journalism prof, comedian and writer on the one hand and David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation, which is purportedly a "progressive" magazine.

The controversy per se is as monumentally uninteresting as is the writing of David Corn. Miller forwarded a piece suggesting that Corn is a "mole" within the progressive movement. I take no position on that. But anyone who gets a berth as a Fox News contributor is not likely to express sentiments with which I can agree nor expound them at a depth that bears consideration despite the disagreement.

So I toddled over to Corn's site and read his view of the controversy, then took a look at some of his recent writing. Corn reviewed the State of the Union speech and found that "George W. Bush knows what to do with a bully pulpit." He found the response by Democrats Reid and Pelosi woefully lacking in media savvy: "It was middling at best, perhaps awful." The subtext of all this is that Corn seems to think that the State of the Union is politics-as-usual. When will those Democrats get a clue? he seems to say. But I am wondering when Corn will get a clue that we are not dealing with politics-as-usual.

Then I came to his entry of February 1: "Hooray for the Purple Fingers (Is Bush Right About Something?)," portions of which I'll reprint with some interlinear comment. (All emphasis is mine.)

Can it be that Bush was right about Iraq?
No, David. It can't.
Now that I have your attention, I don't mean to suggest that he was right to hype (that is, make up) the WMD-threat Iraq posed to Americans, or that he was right to rush to an elective and quasi-unilateral war without planning for the obvious political, social, economic, and security challenges that would emerge after the initial invasion, or that he was right to rejigger his justification for the war and turn this military campaign into phase one of a global crusade to bring "God's gift" (that is, freedom) to some of the repressed of the word, or that he was right to say repeatedly that the United States and the world are safer because of the invasion of Iraq, or that he was right to stay the course.
I'm relieved that you don't mean to suggest that, David.
But there was something wonderful about the election. As columnist Bob Herbert noted in The New York Times on Monday, much was wrong with the election. Voters were not fully informed. Candidate lists had been kept a secret until right before the election. Candidates had been assassinated. The Sunni boycott largely succeeded.

Yep. It went pretty much according to expectation.

And the true impact of the election will not be immediately known. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for the first President Bush, speculated before the election that if the voting produced a national assembly dominated by Shiites and lacking significant Sunni representation, more civil strife--perhaps civil war--could ensue. Then again, maybe it won't.

Ah. Here's where Corn really gets going. He suggests that maybe—against all analysis, all rationality, all common sense—Bush is really on to something here.

But the purple finger was a powerful symbol. (Elections workers dyed the index fingers of voters to prevent people from voting more than once.) How many Americans would risk their lives to cast a vote?

If you continue to write crap like this, David, we may have an opportunity to find out. But since you're giving the fair and balanced Fox view of things, I think it would be well to point out that Iraqis risk their lives to go to the vegetable stands, to refill their gas tanks, to visit a doctor—or just to stay home, where U.S. troops or newly trained Iraqi troops may invade at any moment. You have now helped propagate the government line that Iraqis were "risking their lives to vote."

The Iraqis risk their lives to do absolutely anything, and the voting occurred on what was—for them—the safest day of the year. The Shias voted at the direction of Sistani on pain of damnation if they didn't. The Kurds voted to secure their hoped-for independent, oil-rich homeland. And the Sunnis stayed home.

Even if Iraqis were unsure of the candidates or the policy differences between the parties--and they probably did know how the Communist Party, the religious Shiite parties, and the secular Shiite parties differed from one another--many were visibly overjoyed, after living through years of Saddam Hussein's tyranny, to participate in an exercise they considered a step toward democratic self-rule. And let's not be naive: for many it was a step toward achieving power for their ethnic group.

I'm glad that noticing the ethnic-group aspect has saved you from "naïveté." But I suspect that many Iraqis, since they hadn't a clue as to who or what they were voting for, were overjoyed at being treated half-decently for one day out of the year. And for what it's worth, they had already "participated in an exercise" of voting while Saddam was in power.

Critics of the war and the continuing quasi-occupation ought not to diminish what occurred on Sunday.
Why shouldn't we? Quasi-occupation? It's a full-scale occupation, David, with quasi-control. Not the same thing, really.
And they have to face this: there is more democracy in Iraq today than there was two years ago. That is a good thing. As was the capture of Saddam Hussein. When that happened, I noted that good can come out of bad.

There is "more democracy today than two years ago?" This is pure babble.

First, David, you have Sistani to thank, not George Bush, that there was a vote held at all. And it was a smart decision by Sistani. Since the U.S. and much of the rest of the world is giving such lip-service to "democracy," there was no better way to secure the Shia claim to power than by holding an election. A poll would have served as well, but the force of an "election" is undeniable.

Second, the act of voting doth not a democracy make. Saddam Hussein held an election shortly before the invasion. Turnout was excellent and, surprise!, he won. If anyone wants to search the archives you'll probably find Iraqis dancing in the street before the videocameras.

Third, as for good coming out of bad—I've been looking for a little good in all this, but it's hard to find if you don't happen to own stock in Halliburton. Take any measure you like for the well-being of the Iraqis—economic development, health status, death-rate, education, advancement of women and minorities, political independence—and explain to me what good has come out of this invasion. Of course, unless the U.S. chooses the path of total annihilation, as advocated by some voices on the right, something, somewhere in Iraq will eventually improve. But to credit it to the invasion is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

The election does not justify the war. It does not excuse Bush for greasing the way to war with false assertions and hyperbolic fearmongering. Nor does it mean the war will work out in the end and yield a democratic, stable Iraq allied with the United States in the fight against violent Islamic extremists. But those who opposed the war ought not to be blinded by their justifiable disregard for Bush. What was good for Bush--a decent turnout--was also good for Iraqis and for those who want an end to the United States' military involvement in Iraq. The critics now should point to those purple fingers and argue that we need more such becolored digits, that such fingers ought to be truly pushing the buttons of the new government, and that they ought to be increasingly on the triggers of guns used to secure Iraqi citizens from the insurgents who have declared war not only on US troops but on democracy itself. And soon those stained fingers should be waving at departing US forces, not pointing angrily at them.

So you've really bought into it, haven't you, David? We've brought democracy to the Iraqis. (Well, you say, more "democracy.") What we need to do now is follow the Bush administration line and stay there until democracy is in full flower. Great plan, David. Have you been getting late night calls from Paul Wolfowitz?

Does Bush crave an extended American presence in Iraq? To control oil supplies? To maintain military bases permanently (from which the United States could attack Iran)? To project US hegemony in the region? I don't know.

If you don't know by now, David, I don't know why anyone should take your writing seriously.

Perhaps Bush does want to skedaddle as soon as he thinks he can. I find it hard to discern his true motives.

See comment above.

But those who do not want to see the United States remain in Iraq should share--and, yes, exploit--Bush's stated desire for democracy there. At the present, there is essentially no domestic political pressure on Bush to withdraw US troops from Iraq.

I know that a speech by Ted Kennedy calling for American troop withdrawal does not constitute significant political pressure. But I'll tell you what does—the polls. Americans do not like wars in which we appear to be losing. They do, on the other hand, thoroughly approve of wars where we appear to be winning. So if you convert this war from a "losing" proposition to a "winning" proposition, you'll see the poll numbers climb in support of the war. And not just this one!

Yet as Iraq moves toward forming its own government--even through imperfect means--it will be easier for Iraqis and their leaders to press for the end to the United States' quasi-occupation of the country.

I don't expect the new Iraqi government to call for a withdrawal of US troops right away. As Middle East expert Juan Cole has noted, Grand Ayatollah Sistani has conspicuously not signaled any desire to see the United States pull out of Iraq. Why should he? Right now, American troops, not Shiites, are fighting the Baathist remnants. Still, progress in Iraq--and the election looks like progress of some sort--strengthens the argument for eventual US disengagement.

The operative word here is "eventual." Until "democracy" is established? That's not going to happen in your lifetime, David.

Until enough Iraqi troops are trained? Well, there's a little problem here. If we are only going to train the Shia, perhaps we could establish a Shia army to control the Sunnis, providing that we let the Kurds go their merry way and fight the Turks.

But the divisions of Iraqi society won't cease just because some Iraqis continue to sign up for the only employment in town. After all, religion is at play. Temporal concerns that create a basis for war may come and go, but a religious casus belli is eternal. And if you don't believe that, just ask Crusader George Bush.

Since the three main Iraqi groups will be able to concentrate more of their firepower on each other as soon as the Americans pull out, the training of the troops may make for a fiercer, better fought civil war, but it's not going to provide a rationale for the Americans to leave.

And since the antiwar movement in the Untied States is not going to force the withdrawal of the troops anytime in the near future, the quicker Iraq moves toward creating a full-fledged government that can assume security responsibilities, the sooner Bush will lose his stated justification for maintaining US troops in Iraq. The more purple fingers the better.
Feeling a little defeatist, David? So you think those of us opposed to the war should just "go along to get along"? Have you ever noticed, David, that George Bush loses his stated justifications for the war like I lose hair? And with no ill effects other than looking not quite so pretty? If you think that the loss of a justification is going to make this gang back away from their imperial designs, you need to stop writing and seek help.

But here we are with purple fingers and no place to point them.

Here's my proposal, David—that we try to establish democracy in the United States. I know that you think all this talk of stolen U.S. elections is just wild conspiracy theory. But anyone who thinks the Iraqis have just held a democratic election should have no problem believing in a little conspiracy theory now and then.

When and if we ever hold free and fair elections in this country, we should all dip our middle fingers in ink and dance when the videocameras show up. Some will do the Watusi. A friend of mine will probably do the Mash Potato, which is a Low Country ethnic dance. I will jitterbug.

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