Monday, June 28, 2004

Get 'em while they're hot

Remember Sibel Edmonds, the FBI translator who claims that the government had advance knowledge of 9/11? Remember that there was an exchange of high-level correspondence concerning the administration's attempt to gag her? Remember how these letters were once declassified, only to be later re-classified? Remember how the public lost their right to see these missives on the internet?

They're here!

Michael Moore and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

You must recall Ann Coulter's propagandistic claim that the New York Times refused to cover the death of driver Dale Earnhardt on its front page. In fact, the accident did make the front page of that paper; Coulter lied.

Guess what: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now telling folks to see Fahrenheit 911.

Did he ever offer a similar endorsement of Slander or Treason?

"My Life": Their lie

Why do they do it? Why do the right-wing pundits insist upon living in Fantasyland?

Case in point: According to this analysis by David Brock's Media Matters, Bill Clinton's My Life is selling very well nearly everywhere -- even in such states as Texas, Missouri, Illinois, New Mexico, Georgia, Iowa, Colorado, and Mississippi. Yet the Conintern keeps pushing the line that sales have been laughably sluggish in most states. Sales have been strong (they say) only in that awful, awful New York City.

Jeez -- if Republicans hate New York so much, why hold a convention there?

Goddard on Moore

There have been many days I never thought I would see, and this is one of them. I never thought I'd see the day when rightists attack an American film-maker by using quotations from the aging French avant-garde film-maker Jean-Luc Goddard.

Goddard saw Fahrenheit 911 at Cannes, and made no secret of his distaste for the film. Michael Moore, he said, is a "halfway intelligent" director who "doesn't distinguish between text and image." Moore, he believes, lacks subtlety. Moreover, "he's not even hurting Bush. He's helping him in an underground way. Bush is either less stupid than he looks or so stupid you can't change him."

What to say in response? The "text and image" remark is precisely the sort of affected gibberish Goddard has spouted for decades; I defy anyone to explain his meaning in clear, jargon-free English or French. The prediction about "hurting Bush" at least has the virtue of being testable; judging from the audience reaction to Moore's work, the test has gone against Goddard. As for Bush's intelligence -- well, many people wonder how much horsepower runs in the engine between his ears. He's probably brighter than most of his opponents believe. So what? Such concerns have nothing to do with disagreements over American foreign policy.

I find Goddard's comments grating because, many years ago, I saw La Chinoise and Weekend, two of the films he made during his wild-eyed Maoist phase of the late 1960s. These ghastly exercises forever soured me on the director's work. God knows what gives him the right to criticize any other film-maker on grounds of non-subtlety: Despite his pretentious mannerisms, Goddard delivers his political points with all the delicacy of Godzilla.

La Chinoise is a filmic editorial cartoon, drawn by a man holding a crayon in his fist. It's an advertisement for Mao that would have made the Chairman cringe. Goddard's notion of moral complexity is exemplified by the scene in which his main character wonders if it is permissible to love the film Johnny Guitar, even though it was made by filthy American capitalists.

In Weekend, Goddard follows the antics of a group of cannibalistic terrorists, who, we are to believe, offer a viable alternative to mindless consumerism. I will admit that the sympathetic interview with an Arab terrorist may be of greater interest today than it was in 1967.

Between these two epics, Goddard contributed a segment to the compilation film Far From Vietnam. I have not seen this work, but I am told that it is very talky. (Hmmm...didn't Goddard once say something about the importance of knowing the difference between text and image?) The film fervently supports North Vietnam.

And this is the film-maker Republicans now choose to cite. Astonishing.

Economical with the truth

We've already seen a number of stories indicating that Bush's "jobs boom" was little more than an unconvincing CGI effect. Accounting tricks were used to proclaim the existence of jobs that should be there -- according to theory -- but which do not actually exist.

Here's the latest on the economy from Salon's James K. Galbraith (sit through the commercial; the piece is worth it): Inflation is up, the growth rate fell, manufacturing orders are slumping, and prices rose substantially faster than wages. Everyone knows that the interest rate is going up -- which is why the housing bubble continues to expand. In my California town, I ran into a modest 3+2 in a good-but-not-great neighborhood going for three quarters of a million dollars. Many Californians now pay somewhere on the order of 75% of their income to keep a roof overhead.

To combat the threat of inflation, the fed will raise interest rates, which will put more people out of work. That, in turn, will lead to foreclosures and bankruptcies. House prices will fall, but rents will rise, due to the influx of new renters. And Bush is slashing HUD assistance to renters in poverty.

Why, then, does the business press -- and the conservative propaganda matrix -- continue to bleat about a non-existent economic boom? Galbraith:
It lies partly in the incurable optimism of members of the business press. They want growth and rising markets. They believe in the psychological power of their own voices. But they have no underlying theory beyond the idea that psychology matters and that optimism leads to growth. Doubters therefore get squelched.
Of course, there's another answer, simpler still: People in the media are lying to keep Bush's election prospects bright.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Hearts and Minds

U.S.-trained Iraqi policemen are leading the anti-U.S. forces in Fallujah. A disputed-but-not-disproven report holds that police in Saudi Arabia helped kidnap American Paul Johnson.

Gee...ya think we're losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world?

Ali Mohammed

Was Ali Mohammed an Al Qaeda operative who infiltrated the FBI and the Green Berets? Or was he an American operative who infiltrated Al Qaeda?

And why is the 9/11 commission so reluctant to discuss this individual, even though he links directly to the first World Trade Center attack?

There is good reason to suspect that he was working for the U.S. (or Israel?) all along. He may even have provided the information which is at the basis of Sibel Edmond's claims that the United States had foreknowledge of the attack.

Check out Peter Dale Scott's review of the case, which you can find here.

"Ahead by a nose" ain't good enough

On Talking Points Memo, guest blogger Ruy Teixeira tells us to relax about the polls, even though Kerry's on-again, off-again lead is usually onionskin-thin:
Eventually, of course, Kerry does need to take and maintain a solid lead, but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen this early in the campaign. Perhaps after the Democratic convention such a pattern might begin to emerge, but that would be the earliest.
I don't agree.

Why is this election year unlike all other election years? Because this is the year of the "next big event." You know it. I know it. The Republicans know it -- they've been preparing the ground for it. Everyone is expecting Osama and his band to strike again, and everyone knows that the Bush-backers will claim, absurdly, that it happened because Al Qaeda loves Democrats.

The time for Kerry to pull ahead is now, because he will take a massive hit after a large chunk of Chicago turns into glowing green vapor stew.

Besides, no president with Bush's resume -- an upopular war, scandal, gargantuan deficits, not one single day of true prosperity -- should command such high numbers. His continuing hold on half the electorate demonstrates the G.O.P.s brilliance at defining opponents and the tenacity of Republicanism among the fundamentalist set.

Oh, speaking of Kerry: Did you catch Harry Shearer's impersonation ("Profiles in Kerrage" on Le Show)? Astonishing. You can't hear even a hint of Shearer's normal voice. W no doubt came easily: Shearer simply found the half-waypoint between Bush the elder and Ned Flanders. But Kerry ain't easy to do.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

It must be true. It's documented!

Right-wingers are bleating about the new documentation that supposedly proves a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Even taken at face value, the paperwork proves little -- the glancing "connection" stems from some time ago, well before the major terror outrages. The whole business amounts to little more than Saddam Hussein's attempt to tweak the nose of the Saudi royal family.

But here's the kicker: The source of the new documentation is the Iraqi National Congress. As everyone knows, those lovable funsters have been running a fake document shop for years.

Last words on Jack Ryan

1. Too bad he dropped out. His replacement may stand a better chance of winning. Democrats should have hoped for a wound, not a kill.

2. The guy was sleeping with Jeri Ryan -- and he had sexual fantasies beyond that?

More torture

There's a good piece on the torture scandal in Capitol Hill Blue today. Writer Dale McFeatters makes a comparison I've not seen elsewhere:

The administration's justification for its self-granted exemption from the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners was that al Qaeda was a stateless terrorist organization and that the Taliban were agents of a "failed state." They were, in the administration's phrase, "illegal combatants."

This reasoning is depressingly close to North Vietnam's own justification for its own flouting of the Geneva Conventions and the inhumane treatment of U.S. POWs: that the Vietnam War was illegal and thus the Americans fighting it were criminals.

Last week we learned how to saw a lady in half. This week we're going to learn how to saw a lady into three bits and dispose of the body.

Well, It's official: Terry Jones is my favorite Python alumnus. In today's lesson, he explains how Donald Rumsfeld and the ace legal eagles at the Bush administration helped him solve a nagging domestic problem. It seems that Mr. Jones has been having communication problems with his son:

I tried starving him, serving him only cold meals and shaving his facial hair off, keeping him in stress positions, not turning his light off, playing loud music outside his cell door - all the usual stuff that any concerned parent will do to find out where their child is going after choir practice.
And when you're done with that piece, try to find out the local broadcast time for Jones' great new series, Medieval Lives. It's even better than the one he did on the Crusades.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Objectively speaking, they're hypocrites

Scan usenet commentary or the conservative blogs -- or even Roger Ebert's "Answer Man" page -- and you'll encounter all sorts of rightists screaming that Michael Moore's film is not a documentary. Documentaries, they say, should be objective. "Did Moore give even lip service to views opposite his own?" writes Ebert's correspondent.

That was the G.O.P. line of the day yesterday. The Conintern has issued a new directive to Party members, who should adjust their statements accordingly.

Today's line of the day holds that documentaries should be politically motivated and partisan -- if they present the right-wing point of view. The conservatives are already mounting a right-wing film festival in Texas. Titles will include such gems as Michael Moore Hates America. (Isn't it cute how quickly the reactionaries resort of playground-style name-calling?) Featured talent will include the notorious liar John Stossel -- as if he did not already get enough exposure.

The conservative movement doesn't miss a trick, and they've got the bucks to mount instant retaliation. As for the hypocrisy involved -- rightists in the Murdochian media calling for "objectivity" -- well, if you're a good Party member, you'll simply not notice the contradiction. Orwell called it Double-Think.

As for Moore, I might as well give my take on his work here and now.

I am not die-hard fan of the guy. I haven't seen Fahrenheit 911 yet, so I can't offer a judgment. I liked Roger and Me. When I caught up with that work in the theatre during its first run, I realized that the campaign mounted to discredit that film was obviously unfair and mendacious. That initial anti-Moore campaign may have been our first glimpse of the current Conintern methodology in its gestative form. I have mixed feelings about Bowling For Columbine -- some portions are quite powerful, others (such as Moore's encounter with the aged Charlton Heston) are obnoxious. TV Nation was funny. I don't have a high opinion of Moore's books. His speech at the Academy awards was a disaster; although events have proven his stance correct, he nevertheless did harm to the anti-war movement.

And frankly, I'll never forgive the guy for supporting Nader in 2000.

LeWinter's Moon

Well, I did the Google News thang on the Reverend Moon, and up popped a story on the newly-crowned Messiah written by Oswald LeWinter, one of the more fascinating footnote characters of our time.

You probably don't know the name. You may recall, however, that there was a fellow who tried to sell a forged document to Mohammed Al Fayed. The document, which came at a very hefty price, allegedly revealed the ghastly truth behind the deaths of Al Fayed's son and Princess Diana. LeWinter was the man behind the scam; he was caught, and did time.

During the Vietnam war, LeWinter was a professor at U.C. Berkley -- an expert on Shakespeare, as I recall. He befriended at least one leader of the anti-war movement. At the same time, he was relaying info to the feds. In the years since, he has claimed to be either a general or an intelligence operative. Reportedly, he was friendly with CIA man George Cave.

Using the name "Razin," he provided researchers with "inside" info on the October Surprise scandal. Later, before a congressional committee, he admitted that he had been lying. Although the October Surprise story was confirmed by more reliable sources -- including French intelligence head Alexandre de Marenches, Russian prime minister Sergei V. Stepashin, Israeli secret agent Ari Ben-Menashe, former Iranian president Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and former Israeli prime minister Yitshak Shamir -- LeWinter's odd games deep-sixed official inquiry into the event.

He is, in short, a very strange man. He now writes for a somewhat loopy (okay, very loopy) conspiracy site, where he has turned out stories with names like "Bush-Cheney Cabal: Pedophilia, Arms Dealing, Murder." His Moon piece seems fairly good. Even so, when dealing with a shady fellow like LeWinter, caveat lector!

Dick sticks up for Jesus

I can't help loving the Cheney-says-the-F-word story. In case you haven't heard, Delightful Dick told Senator Leahy "Go fuck yourself." On the floor of the senate, no less.

For the best coverage of a story like this, always turn to Anna Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette. She provides the punch line:

Speaking of sodomy. . . Wonkette operatives tell us that the fighting words sprang from an exchange in which Cheney told Leahy he didn't like what Leahy had been saying about Halliburton, to which Leahy replied that he didn't like Cheney calling him a bad Catholic. So you'd see how "Go fuck yourself" is the only appropriate response.
Dig it: Cheney spat "Go fuck yourself" right after Leahy objected to being called insufficiently pious.

"I'm a Christian soldier
Marching as to war
If you don't love Jeeeee-suss
You're a fucking whore!"

(PS. Many years ago, when Lydia Lunch left a group called Teenage Jesus, I wrote this headline for my school paper: "Jesus Loses Lunch." I never thought I'd be able to top that one. Thank you, Dick, for giving me this opportunity.)

Michael Moore vs. The Messiah

As you may know, the ultra-wealthy leader of the Moonies, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, had himself crowned Messiah. The ceremony took place in no less august a venue than the United States Senate's Dirksen office building -- in the presence of lawmakers. He also claimed endorsement from the shades of Hitler and Stalin. The afterlife has made them see things Moon's way.

The Washington Times, Moon's allegedly "independent" newspaper, has predictably slammed Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911. A telling excerpt: "An early libel — that the president authorized flights out of the country for members of the bin Laden family soon after September 11 — has been discredited already."

Much as I hate to disagree with one of the Messiah's minions, Moore's accusation is no libel. It's not even an accusation. The September 13 flight is a fact of history. Two members of the Bin Laden family were taken to Washington. The next day, they were transported out of the country. The flights were arranged at the highest level of the Bush administration. Bush met with Prince Bandar on the 13th. Richard Clarke confirmed the story during his congressional testimony. Nail al-Jubeir, director of information for Saudi Arabia, has confirmed the story. Officials at the airport involved now confirm the story.

How dare the Washington Times call Michael Moore -- or anyone else -- a liar? Their own reportage is about as believable as the Reverend Moon's claims of post-mortum conversions.

The good Reverend sinks a ton of dough each year into that rag. Nobody quite knows where the cash comes from, but few consider the money clean. If Kerry gets elected, I hope he asks the Justice Department to clear up the mystery of Moon's finances.

Segregated news?

From a piece in yesterday's Guardian:

Switch on the wireless: Rush Limbaugh for conservatives, National Public Radio for liberals. The TV: Fox on the right, PBS on the (perceived) left. New research by demographer James Gimpel shows that even the towns and neighbourhoods of the US are coming to look this way, as Americans engage in voluntary political segregation, choosing to live only with like-minded folk. The result is a "patchwork nation", reinforcing a map already painted in clear shades of red and blue. In Democrat blue are the west coast, rust belt and New England. In Republican red are the south, the plains states and the Rocky Mountain west.

What it amounts to is a divided nation, if not two nations living in one country.
We've been hearing a lot of commentary along these lines. And there is a great deal of truth in these words.

Red state denizens, particularly those of the fundamentalist persuasion, live in a self-contained universe. They take a perverse pride in their ignorance of art, culture, history and foreign lands. Objectivity is now a vice; any news not catering to conservative bias is damned as liberally biased. Any assertion that does not fit one's preconceptions is considered a satanic deception.

How, then, can we get the message past this wall? Only one tactic will work: sheer repetition.

In the 1980s, I never saw a complete episode of Miami Vice. Yet I knew everything about the show. I knew what kind of clothing they wore, what kind of music was featured, the atmosphere, the style of cinematography, the names of the actors and producer. I knew these things without wanting to know them.

How did this unwanted information enter my brain? Repetition. No matter what kind of a "wall" you erect, a truly powerful cultural meme will seep through the cracks.

We have to keep repeating certain ideas, certain facts, until they become impossible to avoid. Ideas such as these:

* The economy almost always does better under Democrats.

* The average laborer worked fewer hours and had more disposable income before Ronald Reagan made supply side economics a point of theology.

* The fact that Eisenhower had a mistress does not mean he was an evil schemer or a habitual liar.

* America was prosperous when taxes were at their most progressive; the wealthiest taxpayers in the late 1950s were in the 88% tax bracket.

* We need to tax the rich now to fund the search for oil alternatives.

* A "Manhattan Project" to develop and control new forms of energy will do much more for our power and prestige than will building another ultra-expensive weapons system.

* Religious leaders who run partisan television or radio programs should not be exempt from taxes.

* The Fairness Doctrine worked.

* Unregulated corporations can be as dangerous as unregulated streets. If all policemen vanished, only thugs would brave the city streets. A similar anarchy took hold when Reagan removed regulation from the Savings and Loan industry.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Sibel Edmonds sues Ashcroft.

You remember Sibel Edmonds: She's the former FBI translator who claims that she pored over material proving that the U.S. had advanced knowledge of the World Trade Center attack. Her allegations about misdeeds in the FBI translation unit are based on evidence that was once unclassified. Ahscroft re-classified it. (Sort of like pushing toothpaste back into the tube.) Edmonds is now suing the Justice Department to undo this gross example of prior restraint.

The woman is a hero. She's also a babe. Hollywood is bound to latch onto this story, if they have not done so already. Wonder who will play her?

Your tax dollars at work

Please read (and alert others to) this article, which was published in the Los Angeles Times on June 23. The story exposes a bizarre scheme by cops in Fresno county, California. Their mission: Infiltrating anti-war activists.

The anti-war group in question, Peace Fresno, was obviously a small-potatoes operation. Retirees, mostly. About 25 would show up at meetings. On weekends, they would pass out flyers on a street corner in Fresno. No big whoop, as they used to say on CoffeeTawk.

And yet the cops infiltrated the group! The undercover operation was revealed only when the "inside" man died in an accident and an obit was published. Group members recognized the face, though not the name, of the man who had been skulking around their meetings.

A spokesman for the Fresno county police told journalists: "The department will continue to utilize legal methods for collecting, evaluating, collating, analyzing and disseminating criminal intelligence of terrorist and organized crime organizations to accomplish its mission, while respecting the constitutional rights of all persons."

Terrorists? Organized Crime? How does handing out flyers count as terrorism or crime?

Bushites scoff at those who say that anti-terrorist measures can be used against political dissenters. If you should meet such a scoffer, show 'em this article. The time has come to stop saying "It can happen here." It has happened here.

Golgotha, Abu Ghraib and rage

Don't sneer, and don't look shocked. I'm going to suggest that you read a paper by Walter A. Davis, a English professor with Marxist pretensions. (And here it is.) This long, somewhat repetitious piece occasionally lapses into impenetrable lit-crit lingo. (Example: "in keeping with the power of the image and the challenge it poses to traditional ways of thinking, I will follow a procedure based primarily on presenting the reader with images aphoristically apprehended.")

Yeah, I know. You gave up on that sort of thing when you left college. But I urge you to read the piece anyways: Davis addresses the linkage between Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and the ghastliness at Abu Ghraib, two events that say much about the American psyche. Much of what he has to say is spot on.

A few excerpts:

Gibson's film is for many Christians a high point in the emotional expression of their religion. Abu Ghraib is equally extreme in its attempt to attack and belittle another religion. The two acts derive, however, from the same psychodynamic: sado-masochistic activity, extreme images of brutalization and suffering repeated, maximized in order to create in a mass audience the only feeling of which they are capable: the overwrought glee that comes from spectacles of cruelty.

The goal of Gibson's film is not purification or faith or love or piety. His goal is the sado-masochistic bludgeoning of the audience so that they will become abject subjects on their knees, but full of rage, eager to find some way to 'do unto others' the violence that has been done unto them. There is no contradiction here; rather an insight into the way in which eros and thanatos become one in Gibson's film. The libidinous and the violently aggressive are fused in a new constellation. Sado-masochistic spectacle is now the condition of cinematic pleasure. Contra Laura Mulvey the gaze of the camera is now fixated not on eroticized (though passive) women but on suffering male bodies in extremes of excruciating pain. The Nazi pleasure dome is achieved. In the Christ Gibson finds the homoerotic ur-text behind the Nazi love of the beautiful blonde boy his taut body blossoming with his own blood at each bite of the whip.

In Abu Ghraib sexual debasement is staged as an act of violence on a passive victim who is forced to perform perverse actions for the sexual satisfaction of a power that makes no attempt to hide its perversity nor the glee it derives from that perversity. As such Abu Ghraib is not the staging of sexuality but a perverse parody of it. The attempt of these soldiers is to convince themselves that they have what the photographs reveal they lack: an autonomous sexual identity. The empty mindless looks on the faces is the most revealing thing about these photographs. Like Gibson's Passion, Abu Ghraib is the actions that must be taken to escape the void, to escape a condition in which the death of affect is the truth of subjectivity. Sado-masochism again strides forth to fill the breach because it is the one expression adequate to the fascism of the heart: the attempt to reduce the other to the conditions of a thing in order to celebrate a feeling of power free of and contemptuous of all moral and human restraints.
The key concept here, I think, is rage.

The staging of the crucifixion in Passion reveals much about Mel Gibson. He adds something new to the Gospel account of the co-crucifixees who alternately insult and praise Jesus: A raven swoops from the sky and pecks out the eye of the "bad" thief. This moment reveals the depths of the director's rage. Gibson may be rich, famous, good-looking -- but somehow, that's not enough. He knows an inchoate fury. He wants to maim those who anger him. He wants blood.

True, the film soon thereafter cuts to flashbacks of Christ in better days, speaking of the need for forgiveness. Gibson's last-minute decision to include this brief scene reminded me of Richard Nixon -- who, as he suddenly recalled that the mikes were hot, hastily added "But it would be wrong." In the same spirit, a pre-Passion Christ reminds us "But you should forgive." These words don't matter. Images speak louder than words, and Gibson's imagery screams of bloodlust.

Rage was the operative principle at Abu Ghraib as well. On some level, the soldiers must have believed that the randomly-acquired Iraqis in their power were the evil schemers responsible for the WTC attack. While I believe the "interrogators" did what they did under orders, or at least under official sanction, few can deny that they acted with a genuine glee -- a glee born of fury.

This foundation of this fury reaches a surprising depth.

The soldiers now facing charges are mostly southern, religious, conservative -- and far from affluent. I am sure that they've understood for quite some time that the lives they face will probably be less comfortable, less rewarding, less free than were the lives of their parents and grandparents. But they've been carefully taught not to blame unfettered large corporations. They've been taught to despise the progressive tax rates and pro-labor legislation that made America so prosperous in the years between 1945 and 1970. They've been taught to love their oppressors and hate those whom their oppressors hate.

Anyone so indoctrinated will know rage -- intimately. And when rage cannot find the proper target, it will discover substitutes: The foreign, the powerless, the outsider, the non-Christian, the Other. Ironically, the fury expressed by Lyndee England and comrades parallels that of the young Saudi Arabians who have turned to Salafism because no other form of anti-establishment thought is permissible.

Davis suggests the perfect antidote to religious rage: "Listen to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion repeatedly, for an entire week, until your heart becomes one with the spirit of charity that breathes through every note of it." As an alternative, you might want to try the Mahler Resurrection symphony, or a Bruckner adagio.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The "party of virtue" strikes again!

I'm a couple of days late to this story, but I had to make mention of it. Republican Jack Ryan is running for Senate in Illinois. He was married to the gorgeous and talented Jeri Ryan, of Star Trek Voyager fame. The divorce papers have been released; they reveal some shocking details. (Look here and here.) Here's the juiciest bit (remember, this is Jeri talking):

"The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. ... It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset."
Granted, this is the extreme language of the divorce court. I have no idea what truly happened in Paris.

But I have a very, very clear idea of how this story would be treated -- by Fox News, by Drudge, by the Moonie Times, and by the radio right -- if Jack Ryan were a Democrat. So don't expect me to apologise for my current schadenfreude. The Republicans can keep pretending to be the "party of virtue" as long as they feel free to harp on the sexual indiscretions of liberals (Gary Condit comes to mind) while liberals refuse to answer in kind.

Bush wants your brain

I just discovered Mack White's interesting take on the Bush administration's mental health initiative. (Go here; you may have to scroll down a bit.) An excerpt:

But then, one day, you will wake up and discover that you cannot get health insurance, a driver's license, government benefits, or a job, unless you submit to mental health screening. And they will test your "normality" with all manner of diabolical high-tech gadgetry. For instance, they will analyze your brain wave activity to discern whether or not you are lying when they ask you about your finances, your sex life, your favorite television shows, your political views, your religious beliefs, and so on.
Over the top? You may think so at first. But check out his links.

One in particular commands our attention: An electrical implant designed to combat depression. Depression is a serious illness, of course -- one that has afflicted a high proportion of our finest literary talents. My ladyfriend recently wrote a research paper on this very topic. The roll call is impressive: Hemingway, Poe, Woolf, Twain, Churchill, Tolstoy, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walt Whitman, and many more. (I could also mention Abraham Lincoln in this context, although some readers may be wearying of my Lincoln phase!)

Would the world have been better served if surgeons implanted electronic happiness in the craniums of these great talents? Some psychoanalysts theorize that the depressed see the world more realistically than do so-called "normal" people; our capacity for contentment reflects our ability to fool ourselves. This may be one reason why our best writers -- that is to say, our most courageous truth-tellers -- tend toward this disease. What will happen if psychosurgery banishes this disease altogether? Will we be doomed to bookstores filled with shallow bestseller rubbish?

(Or maybe that's already happened...!)

Ray Bradbury and Michael Moore

I grew up on Ray Bradbury's work, and I hate to insult the man. But his tiff with Michael Moore over the title Fahrenheit 911 is inane.

Bradbury didn't have to ask the permission of the Walt Whitman estate when he used the phrase "I Sing the Body Electric" as a title for one of his short stories. And if Shakespeare were alive, I don't think he would have objected to Bradbury's use of the title Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Yes, I know Shakespeare wrote in the days before copyright. So what? Copyright does not enter into this discussion one way or the other: Titles cannot be copyrighted. If you want to write a book called Dandelion Wine, go right ahead.

Authors have been riffing on the titles of other writers' works for ages -- one of the first novels, Pamela, gave rise to a parody called Shamela. The entire adult film industry is built around wordplay of this sort.

Poor Ray. He's being used by the right-wing agit-propsters.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

U.S. = Jesusland

Our European friends may not understand the degree to which our nation -- the southern half of it, anyway -- is turning into a theocracy, one which resembles the Salafist nightmare Al Qaeda hopes to inflict on Saudi Arabia. If you haven't yet read Katherine Yurica's report on the dangers of Christian Dominionism, drop everything else and check it out right now. An excerpt:

Dominionism is a natural if unintended extension of Social Darwinism and is frequently called "Christian Reconstructionism." Its doctrines are shocking to ordinary Christian believers and to most Americans. Journalist Frederick Clarkson, who has written extensively on the subject, warned in 1994 that Dominionism “seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." He described the ulterior motive of Dominionism is to eliminate "labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools." Clarkson then describes the creation of new classes of citizens:

"Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment [to] blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality."
All my life, people have warned me that either Communism or Fascism was a-comin'. Back in the early 1970s, who could have guessed that the real problem would be a return to the Middle Ages?

On usenet just now, I spoke further about the book (or pamphlet) Abraham Lincoln once wrote attacking the very ideas of divine revelation and Christ's divinity. We have conflicting testimony as to whether this book was actually published, but it was no secret that he wrote such a work. When Lincoln ran for office, his heterodoxy caused some concern among the voters. They voted for him nonethless.

Could a man with his anti-religious views achieve office nowadays?

If not, then why is our country less tolerant now than it was in the middle of the 1800s?

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Lies! And that's Putin it nicely!

Remember when Russian leader Vladimir Putin (formerly of the KGB) was blathering on about the secret reports he gave Bush detailing Saddam Hussein's plans to launch terror attacks against the U.S.?

Turns out those reports never existed. The whole matter was pure propaganda from the get-go, designed to make W look like less of an idiot in the wake of the 9/11 commission's findings.

Looks like bad Vlad is angling for Russia to receive another U.S. hand-out. And what better way to get a pay-off than to kiss a little Bush butt?

More voodoo

Remember when we spoke, a few days ago, of the fake jobs boom? We linked you to an important story demonstrating that the rosy economic news is all based on an ersatz economic model, not on real-world statistics.

Well, here's another piece providing more proof. An excerpt:

How can the net number of jobs increase by 248,000 in a month without decreasing the unemployment rate?
This seems like an internal inconsistency for the May 2004 numbers, just as the Labor Dept.'s statement that the "Birth/Death Model" is a "small and stable" part of job growth, and yet accounts for 94% of new April 2004 jobs, seems like an internal inconsistency.

Democrats shouldn't shy away from discussing jobs because of these fake, rosy numbers.

We should speak out, saying that starting for April 2003 the Bush Administration used a new way of estimating the number of jobs. A new method which the Labor Dept. seems to be exploiting recently.

There is no reason to believe these numbers when the Labor Dept. isn't forthcoming about exactly how they were produced, to allow the figures to be independently verified.

There are too few jobs, and we need new leadership.
This is an important analysis. Pass it around!

The Clintons are coming! The Clintons are coming!

In the final phase of the cold war, Gore Vidal once said: "Whenever they tell you 'The Russians are coming,' hold on to your wallets. It's just another raid on the treasury."

We can put that quotable quote into re-write. Whenever the GOP propagandists scream "The Clintons are coming!" it's just a ploy to make sure reactionary rubes write fat checks.

Hillary Clinton will never be president. She will never run for president. But as long as the Clinton Redivicus theory keeps opening wallets, the con-intern will try to convince their faithful stooges that the Dreaded Ones are slouching toward Bethlehem, waiting to be reborn.

Case in point: Chris Matthews. Previously, I was under the impression that Matthews does not like John Kerry, supposedly because Kerry would not name his favorite movie when Matthews asked him to do so (!!!). Matthews, who never loses an opportunity to bring up the name of Monica Lewinski, likes the Clintons even less. In fact, he is now trying to push the absurd notion that the Clintons want Kerry to lose. All the better to position Hillary for a 2008 run, y'see.

That's right: If Kerry loses, Democrats should blame Bill!

Just as you should blame Bill for 9/11, for the bad economy, for the loss of your job, for your divorce, for your dog's arthritis, and for your clogged fuel injectors. The Evil One planned it all. His perfidy knows no end.

When, when will all the right-wing zombies out there realize that their fantasy image of Bill Clinton as a scheming, world-devouring James Bond supervillain rests on zero evidence?

I do believe in spooks! I do I do I do!

Well, anyone who doubted the Langley-vs-White House thesis should check out this interview immediately. It concerns a new book called Imperial Hubris, authored by Anonymous, a high-up anti-terrorism official at an undisclosed intelligence agency. Word has it that he really is a ranking spook -- Peter Bergen vouches for him, and that's good enough for me. Of course, when Mr. A's identity comes out (as it surely will any day now) the G.O.P will no doubt try to pretend that he is little better than a janitor at CIA.

According to the afore-cited interview, the intel community has come to view George Bush much the same way the Praetorians viewed Caligula. (And you know, or should know, how he ended up.) Bush, claims Mr. A., upended the war on Al Qaeda by diverting resources to an unnecessary adventure in Iraq. The administration blew it in Afghanistan by relying on local talent, as opposed to sending in a massive influx of American troops -- enough to win the peace as well as the war.

In contradistinction to those who say we already have Osama on ice, in storage until his October unveiling, Mr. A doubts that we've "laid a glove" on Bin Laden. The next strike, our author tells us, will be nuclear. (This coalesces with my own information, as relayed on my very first day of blogging.)

Although the con-intern (that delightful term for the right-wing propaganda directorate) has been trying to convince us that a new strike will serve as Osama's attempt to fix the election in Kerry's favor, Mr. A agrees with all sensible folk that any new terror attack will rally public opinion around Bush. In a sense, Bush and Bin Laden need each other politically:

Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

"One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."
As an aside, I should note that one Amazon reviewer of this author's previous book insists that Anonymous is "Israels' Benjamin Netanyahu and anyone who's read his other books will instantly recognize his tone and style." Nice try, though. Thanks for playing.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Encouraging poll data?

As we all know, Bush is having a good week and is pulling ahead in the polls. (And Ronald Reagan is still dead.) But the head-to-head popularity contest isn't what counts. What counts is the electoral math. In that light, if you're filled with despair and desperate to see something pretty, take a gander at this map.

Now, being by nature a pessimist of the "collapsing sky" variety, I don't take this map at face value. It presumes that Kerry will carry Washington, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and I'm just not persuaded that the news will be so pleasant. Interesting to note, though, that the makers of this map put New Mexico in the "barely Bush" column. In 2000, that state squeaked into the Gore column.

One last bit of Lincoln lore

In a previous post -- the one about the hopelessly librul politician who goes by the name of Honest Abe -- I forgot to mention the one point that motivated me to write the piece in the first place:

This guy dared to criticize his president during a war! In fact, he said that the whole war was based on a lie.


(Incidentally, much of the info in my previous post came from Honor's Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln, by Douglas L. Wilson.)

Friday, June 18, 2004

Would you vote for this guy?

I want you to talk about a certain politician. Ambitious fellow. Has his eye on high office.

Is he telegenic? Let’s put it this way: In an “Addams Family” movie, he could play Lurch.

And that’s the least of his difficulties.

He has mental health issues. People who’ve known him for years describe all the classic symptoms of manic-depressive behavior. They say that for a while there, he went completely ‘round the bend.

He was a lazy young man who got into fights all the time. People liked him only because he told lots of dirty jokes, the filthier the better.

Frankly, this guy has a wild sexual history. Prostitutes. They say he caught a sexually-transmitted disease at an early age.

It gets worse. For a long time, he “set up housekeeping” with a young man. They slept in the same bed!

To this guy, religion is a scam. He once wrote a small book claiming that Scripture can’t be trusted, and that Jesus was probably just a man.

Of course, he deleted that book when the political bug bit him. What a hypocrite!

He’s as liberal as they come, always droning on about helping minorities. Doesn’t seem to care if business gets hurt. Always supports labor. Always supports strikes. Wants to spend tax dollars on big government projects.

Years ago, he said that if the conservative movement gets too powerful, he’ll move to Russia.

Naturally, he was a trial lawyer. Defended people he knew to be guilty. In a murder trial, he convinced the jury that a “cop conspiracy” fabricated the evidence against his client. Shades of Johnny Cochran!

His wife? Shrewish, ambitious – and a total kook. She has been known to dabble in the occult – seeking psychic advice and such. They say he does the same thing.

If this guy wins the nomination, kiss the south goodbye.

So. You think this guy has a chance to become president?

Nah. No way. Not these days.

And that’s too bad – because his name is Abraham Lincoln.

Response to the 9/11 commission

As expected, the 9/11 commission chaired by Republican Thomas Kean and co-chaired by Lee Hamilton, an alleged Democrat known for his squishy performance during the Iran-contra hearings, has spoken of procedural failures without clearing up the mystery of why NORAD failed to act as it damn well should have. For a good response to the Kean commission's findings, check out this piece by John Judge, who discusses the Vigilant Guardian exercise and related issues.

An excerpt:

Not only were no NORAD intercept planes scrambled for well over half an hour after the first plane gave indications of trouble at 8:17 am, NONE were ever scrambled to defend DC and P-56, the most protected air space in the country.
o Available planes in Canada were not scrambled, which regularly protect New York air space.
o Available planes at Andrews AFB and Anacostia NAS proximate to DC were not scrambled.
o Planes scrambled from Langley AFB, 130 miles south of DC, were sent to NYC and asked to confirm the hit on the Pentagon on the way there.
o In addition, planes scrambled from Otis AFB in CT, sent too late to intercept the two NY attack planes, turned to intercept Flight AA77 headed to DC and were called back.
o Planes in the air over North Carolina, based out of Andrews AFB were not tasked.

Normal response time in over 65 other air emergencies in the year before 9/11, in far less serious circumstances, was an average of 6-10 minutes. On 9/11 the time stretched to over an hour.
I can't help adding one snarky observation. I caught, on one of the cable news shows, a bit of Kean's commentary. Twice, he started to refer to "President Cheney..." only to correct himself: "Vice-President Cheney." Guess Kean knows who's in charge, eh?

Polls: Bush the liberal?

Did you meet or see a hundred people this last week? According to a CBS/NYT poll, twelve of those hundred think George W. Bush is a liberal.

Think about it. Twelve percent! That's not a tiny number. Has this country listed so far to the right that twelve percent of our fellow citizens think W and Emma Goldman are as alike as makes no difference?

Speaking of polls: Bush seems to be getting the expected bounce from the week-long Feast of Saint Ronald. The Reagan effect will fade. However: The media keep trumpeting the talk of economic improvement -- for example, about a week ago the front page of the Los Angeles Daily News screamed that 1.4 million jobs had popped up all of a sudden. That claim was false on several levels, but continuing propaganda blasts may actually convince people that the economy is in a cheerier state than is actually the case. Bush also continues to score undeservedly well in the "save-us-from-the-bad-guy" category. Bottom line: His numbers may well go up further.

(PS: I'm waving to a certain lady back east, and wishing I had happier news to blog about.)

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Bush, Saddam and Al Zarqawi

Although the Berg video has faded from the attention of most people, the controversy still flavors our national debate in subtle ways. Take, for example, this excerpt from a Bush statement on the alleged link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein: "He [Hussein] was a threat because he provided safe haven for a terrorist like Zarqawi, who is still killing innocents inside of Iraq."

What, prithee, was the evidence that Saddam Hussein gave Al Zarqawi safe haven? Simply this: We were once told that, after losing a leg, Al Zarqawi was fitted with a prosthetic in a Baghdad hospital, at a time when Saddam Hussein was still in power. And that's it. That's the connection.

Trouble is, that story changed on April 6 (the same day Nick Berg was released from American -- oops: Iraqi police -- custody). On that date, administration sources made damn sure that CNN carried a story explaining that Al Zarqawi did not lose a leg after all, and thus did not receive a prosthetic in Baghdad. This report made the subsequently-released Berg video less embarrassing -- for in that video, the terrorist alleged to be Al Zarqawi betrays no hint of a prosthetic.

The obvious question: If U.S. intelligence did not know whether or not the man lost a leg, if no-one knows what he did or underwent in Iraq, then how can Bush be sure of the relationship between Al Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein?

And we haven't even addressed the controversy over whether Al Zarqawi should be considered an Al Qaeda leader or an independent thug with similar goals.


Journalism, they say, is the first draft of history. But there are many ways of writing history. One of the most controversial is the "psycho-historical" approach, which tries to get inside the heads of the influential leaders of the past.

What term do we use for the first draft of a psycho-history of George W. Bush? "Psycho-journalism" comes to mind.

I'm not comfortable with that term. I'm not comfortable with the very idea.

I am very comfortable, however, with the concept of doing unto others as has been done unto me. I recall that some waspish stabs at psycho-journalism hit print in the wake of the Lewinski scandal. These attempts to place Bill Clinton on the couch were, of course, thinly-disguised examples of conservative agit-prop meant to picture that president as a cross between the Divine Marquis and Emmanuel Goldstein.

Now it's W.'s turn on the couch.

A couple of weeks ago, writers at Capitol Hill Blue knocked on Bush's noggin and heard some disturbing echoes. Bush, they said, was losing touch with reality. Today, they've followed up that article with a piece claiming, in no uncertain terms, that Bush is going around the bend. Once again, no first-hand sources are cited, although we do have testimony from bona-fide qualified shrinks, at least one of whom is a Republican.

Do I, in my heart of hearts, approve of this sort of journalism? Er...well. Ahem. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

Must admit, though -- sure is nice to see it happening to the other team for once!

The Hunting of the Candidate

I presume that most people reading these words have already checked out Joe Conason's latest. But just in case you haven't, hie thee hither right now, and don't bellyache about having to sit through the ad. Because this column is a must-read.

Conason relays some inside dope about a Republican P.I. hired to dig up whatever dirt he can on John Kerry's Vietnam days. The Republicans have walked this slimy road before, of course. As the man said: The past is never dead; it isn't even past.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Saddam and Osama? They were likethis!

The 9/11 panel has reiterated what we all already knew: Saddam Hussein had no connection to the World Trade Center Attack, and no real link to Osama Bin Laden beyond a cautious dance in which the two men (who didn't like each other but had a mutual foe) sounded each other out. Flirtation, of course, is not consummation.

Nevertheless, the right-wing press continues to tell Americans otherwise. Little Stevie Hayes, another hack hoping to hit the hackpot, has cobbled together "The Connection," a book which purports to prove that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were (as one of the cruder acquaintances of my youth would have put it) "butt buddies." The Hayes opus was published by those fine propagandists at Harper Collins, owned by -- you guessed it -- uncle Rupert. Since this book seems to be having an impact in conservative circles, I thought I'd share a few quotes from one knowledgeable reader's response, via Amazon:

For those of us who have reported on Al Qaeda's activities in Iraq and beyond, none of these allegations are new. In fact, most have been categorically disproven, which makes it amazing that HarperCollins wants to trade in what amount to lies... Al Qaeda made several overtures towards Iraq as it did to many other authoritarian regimes in the Islamic world. We knew that already and you need look no further than Iran to find a country that is NOW aiding and abetting Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's idea in contacting Saddam was to feel him out on the idea of working against a common enemy -- the USA. Iraq never took the bait though, nor did Al Qaeda think its initial overtures worth pursuing in the long run. Indeed, Saddam Hussein, as anyone who has spent time in Iraq knows, was bent on persecuting, imprisoning and torturing the Salafist/Fundamentalist crowd that backed bin Laden. The facts support this -- just ask the Salafists on the Tigris River. This fundamentalist gang was elated when US forces finally took Saddam into custody so that they could then seize control of the insurgency. Lest we forget, Saddam Hussein ran a secular regime that tried to use (manipulate) Islam to its advantage, but Saddam himself was terrified of bin Laden's brand of fanaticism. That doesn't mean his intell (Mukhabarat) people didn't try to find out more about it, of course...
Nevertheless, the Bush White House continues to push the Big Lie, as this excerpt from proves:

In a speech to the conservative Madison Institute in Orlando on Monday, Cheney called Hussein ''a patron of terrorism" and said ''he had long established ties with Al Qaeda."

An April poll by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 57 percent of Americans surveyed believed that Iraq was helping Al Qaeda before the war, including 20 percent who believed Iraq was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.

However, a former top weapons inspector said yesterday he and other investigators have not found evidence of a Hussein-Al Qaeda link.

''At various times Al Qaeda people came through Baghdad and in some cases resided there," said David Kay, former head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, which searched for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to terrorism. ''But we simply did not find any evidence of extensive links with Al Qaeda, or for that matter any real links at all."

''Cheney's speech is evidence-free," Kay said. ''It is an assertion, but doesn't say why we should be believe this now."
I'll add one point, because it's a bit of history most people tend to forget: Barely a week after the World Trade Center attacks, CBS News published a poll of Americans as to whom they blamed for the tragedy. A mere three percent pointed the finger toward Saddam Hussein. The vast majority correctly understood that the villains were Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

The misperception of a mere three percent metastisized into a majority opinion by 2003. Such is the power of officially-sanctioned propaganda.

None dare call it coincidence

A waggish correspondent directed my attention to this item, of uncertain origin:

'Coincidental' Events Unrelated to Tenet's Resignation

(2004-06-03) -- On the very day that CIA Director
George Tenet's resignation became public knowledge, a
series of events experts call "unrelated coincidences"
simultaneously hit the headlines.

While the White House and Mr. Tenet both allege that
so-called "personal reasons" spurred the
Clinton-appointee's premature departure, insiders
point to the following events as evidence that there
may be more to the story:

-- Jennifer Capriati forced out of the French Open
-- Meteor hit over Washington state may be hoax
-- Canadian Anglicans affirm homosexual unions
-- Kurt Warner signs $3 million deal with New York
-- U.S. cancer rates decline
-- Bush leaves country on European trip

"You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see the
connections," said one unnamed expert. "I wouldn't be
surprised if Valerie Plame's name comes up in all of
Hm. Ya think maybe someone's trying to yank a leg? You have to love that tabloid-style use of "expert" testimony...

Bush v. Bush

Capitol Hill Blue really is turning out to be one of the more interesting publications out there (and yes, I know that an editor was once misled by a con artist; we all make mistakes). This piece claims that the elder Bush was against the Iraq adventure from the start, hence his silence on the war. The evidence is shadowy -- "sources close to the family," that sort of thing -- but the allegation buttresses all we have heard from other media outlets. The story also provides additional light on what I have called the Langley/White House war.


It's hard for me to like a Libertarian -- Big Biz ain't "The People" and the multinational corporations need better fetters, despite what the Randroids and their ilk will tell you. But the Iraq war has put many Libertarians on the side of the angels, at least temporarily.

In that light, please check out this piece by Justin Raimondo of the Antiwar website. Raimondo skewers Christopher Hitchens.

I'm proud to say that I learned to despise Hitchens long before he switched sides -- even before Clinton won in 1992. Something about the man just oozed un-charm.

Now if only The Nation would be so kind as to divorce itself from Alexander Cockburn, I might actually start buying that rag again.

In the Reagan era, Cockburn, Hitchens, Michael Alpert and maybe ten other guys formed a kind of mafia that controlled the left. Or at least, they provided the left with much of its intellectual muscle. They were leaders of the anti-conservative forces -- at a time when arch-reactionaries took over the national debate.

In other words, Hitchens and company had compiled a resume comparable to that of the captain of the Exxon Valdez.

Finally, in the internet age, progressives have found new and better voices, while the vile Hitchens has gone to the monied side. Good riddance. Fresh blood means new hope.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

All roads lead to Rome: Bush and Tim LaHaye

Bush would have no national office without his born-again followers. It is no accident that the percentage of Americans who disbelieve the theory of evolution (44 percent -- give or take, depending on the poll) roughly matches the number of people who tell pollsters that W is doing a fine job. One thing fundamentalists know how to do is to maintain faith in the absence of proof.

The fundamentalist movement (and, by extension, the G.O.P.) has received a tremendous boost from the ill-written Left Behind books. Authorship of these eschatological melodramas is popularly ascribed to San Diego pastor Tim LaHaye, an ancient sage whose thick dark hair is a true miracle of either God or the Avery Laine Pre-Manufactured Hair Replacement System. The books are actually the product of a hired hack, who, by peddling pious frights, has hit the hack-pot.

LaHaye commands our respectful attention. If Bush receives a second term, first thanks will go to the conveniently villainous Osama Bin Laden, second thanks will go to the Machiavellian Karl Rove, and third thanks will go to Tim LaHaye, king of the fear-merchants.

I've kept an eye on LaHaye's antics ever since I skimmed his book Battle for the Mind way back in -- what was it? 1980? The volume was, is, a thuggishly-written end-times rant. LaHaye provided his own hackwork in those days; the results conjured up the image of a frustrated man assaulting a typewriter with fists, feet, and forehead. In this work, the good pastor provides a variant on the popular "Late Great Planet Earth" interpretation of the Apocalypse. You know the drill: The unstoppable Bolshies are growing stronger every year and will soon invade plucky Israel, thereby initiating the Second Coming. In LaHaye-land, the Antichrist is the Pope. While Hal Lindsey always balked at open anti-Catholicism, LaHaye made denominational bigotry the cornerstone of his (you should pardon the expression) thinking.

The original version of this book contains a crude drawing displaying the library of Mr. True Christian, as opposed to the library of Mr. Secular Humanist Librul. The TC needed but the 66 books of the Protestant Bible on his shelves; no other words were welcome in his home, the Left Behind series not having been written yet. By contrast, the SHL library included works by such notorious rascals as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. One of these rascals bore a name I did not then recognize: Weishaupt.

Well, thought I, it seems I can't be a proper Secular Humanist Librul until I get a book by this Weishaupt fellow.

Doing so was not easy. LaHaye had directed my attention to Adam Weishaupt, head of the Bavarian Illuminati -- an anti-royalist secret society crushed by the Austrian emperor in the late-18th century. Ever since the French Revolution, conspiracy buffs of a certain bent have preferred to believe that the dreaded Illuminati escaped destruction and established covert control over world events. In the 20th century, Nesta Webster, Myron C. Fagan and other hate-addled worthies wedded the Weishaupt fantasy to anti-Semitism. When the Holocaust dampened the world's tolerance for public displays of Jew-hatred, many right-wing paranoids relied upon Weishaupt as a sort of substitute bogeyman. Writers attached to the John Birch Society (a group usually careful to avoid overt racism) publicized the Illuminati myth in their late-1960s version of the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory.

If we picture the conspiratorialist viewpoint as a form of political rabies, we can guess who set LaHaye's mouth a-foaming, for he was associated with the Birchers. LaHaye, in turn, spread the disease to a conster named Mike Warnke, author of The Satan Seller, a work of fiction masquerading as fact. After being schooled by LaHaye, Warnke claimed to have personal knowledge that the Illuminati were the Evil Overlords of Earth. Via such vectors, the virus made its way throughout the fundamentalist underculture.

The Illuminati myth has been utterly debunked many times; no rational person believes it. But LaHaye still does. According to one interview, he has read no less than "fifty books" on the subject -- and by golly, the Illuminati must exist, or those fifty book would never have been written. (Logical, no?) In the eye of what passes for Tim LaHaye's mind, he still believes that evil Secular Humanist Libruls like Yours Truly possess library shelves brimming with the vile works of Adam Weishaupt.

I have tried to fulfill LaHaye's fear-fantasy -- honest! I really wanted to acquire one of these works for my very own shelves. Alas, no books by Weishaupt have been translated into English (although chunks of his writings appear in Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy). I did find a German copy of Weishaupt's Apologie -- signed by the author! -- in the Library of Congress. I doubt that it poses much of a threat to the Republic.

I hope the above precis proves that the Reverend Tim "Miracle Scalp" LaHaye is one of the silliest of our nation's many silly-billies. How is it, then, that he possesses such influence on the pseudo-thinking of a generation? And how did he come to hold such sway within the Republican party -- or at least within such powerful G.O.P. affiliate groups as the Moral Majority and the Council on National Policy?

In 1984, LaHaye headed up much of the Reagan campaign's outreach program to fundamentalist Christians. He also gave a prayer at the Republican convention that year. When I first learned of the LaHaye/Reagan connection, I thought: "Well, once word gets out, the Republicans will lose the Catholic vote." The more noisome excerpts from LaHaye's anti-Papist rants would, if given sufficient publicity, have outraged American Catholics. Alas, word never got out; the Democrats missed their opportunity to fracture support for Reagan. And so LaHaye continued to be a Big Cheese in the conservative movement.

Which brings us to the present day.

Although the Left Behind series soft-sells LaHaye's anti-Catholicism, few doubt that the man still maintains a bigoted view of the Pope. And many graduates of the LaHaye mind-laundromat function as shock troops for W.

And yet (here is where we enter the "strange bedfellows" part of our story) Bush is now reaching out to Catholics. The administration wants the Catholic hierarchy to be more activist on "social issues." (By "social issues," they mean abortion.) Bush forces, always eager for a wedge issue, seem tickled by all the current talk of priests refusing communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as John Kerry.

Bush wants Catholic votes. Desperately. Yet Bush will never denounce Tim LaHaye. Bush will never denounce his core supporters, many of whom make no secret of their Pope-as-Antichrist mind-set.

Democrats must now seize the opportunity they fumbled in 1984, and point out to Catholics that the Fundamentalist-In-Chief draws his strength from zealots who refuse to see the Roman church as part of the Christian community. A wedge can work in more than one direction.

Oh, and here's another item you can file under "strange bedfellows": LaHaye, like many fundamentalists, remains a die-hard supporter of Israel. Yet his beloved Illuminati conspiracy theory is close kin to the "Protocols of Zion" canard. If LaHaye ever listed those "fifty books" full of red-hot Illuminati info, he'd surely name works by Nesta Webster, Gerald L.K. Smith, Eustace Mullins, William Guy Carr and other noted Jew-haters.

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Monday, June 14, 2004

The high cost of...everything

If inflation remains under control, then why do so many of life's basics -- gas, food, electricity -- cost so much more? This piece looks at why more and more people who once had a toe-hold in the middle class are now living like poor people.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The KUBARK connection?

Today's Washington Post draws our attention to a CIA interrogation manual on interrogation published in 1963 and declassified in 1997. Known as the KUBARK manual, it delineates techniques for extracting information from prisoners -- techniques which bear some relationship to the vile practices at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

The KUBARK methodology, in turn, seems to derive from the findings of various MKULTRA scientists. MKULTRA was the CIA's ten-year study of ways to modify human behavior and perception; it was shut down in late 1963 when the CIA inspector general, a Kennedy appointee, got wind of some of the more fragrant activities.

A note on nomenclature: All CIA project cryptonyms (code names) begin with a two-letter prefix. KU refers to the agency itself. A folk etymology holds that MK stands for Mind Kontrolle, or something similar. (I once asked a former CIA employee what method was used to choose these prefixes, particularly the MK prefix; she had no idea.) After the prefix comes a word supposedly chosen at random, although (I am told) there is room for subtle humor in this area.

I imagine that paranoids of a certain sort -- the aluminum chapeau aficionados -- will have a field day as they pass around the Washington Post article. Any reference to MKULTRA attracts the respectful attention of schizophrenics. In truth, I don't see much resemblance between the scientific methodology employed by the MKULTRA scientists and the sledgehammer tactics used at Abu Ghraib.

The Post story outlines some of the major differences. Compare, for example, the sensory deprivation confinement of John Walker Lindh to the similar technique "pioneered" in a CIA experiment conducted in the 1950s:

The payoff of such techniques, the manual said, is that when the interrogator appears, he or she appears as a "reward of lessened anxiety . . . providing relief for growing discomfort," and that sometimes, as a result, "the questioner assumes a benevolent role."
By all accounts, the interrogators never seem benevolent in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Gitmo.

The problem may well be simple bigotry and hatred. Sophisticated methods of psychological coercion cannot penetrate a wall of cultural intolerance. When the KUBARK methods were researched, CIA scientists presumed the detainees would be Eastern Europeans -- people similar to Americans, people who could be "turned." But detainees in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere lack basic humanity in the eyes of their questioners. Lyndiee England and her compatriots had no desire to take on a "benevolent" role -- they may not even have desired information. Viewing all Muslims as terrorists, these "interrogators" lusted for simple revenge.

Much the same thing occurred in Vietnam; see Peter Dale Scott's historical note here.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Let's see Limbaugh explain THIS away

The latest Abu Ghraib pics are the most stomach-turning yet. Click here, if you can stand the sight of blood.

Remember: According to the Red Cross, most of the abused detainees were innocent. And Seymour Hersh says the worst photos depict victims who are women and children.

127 deaths

Last I looked, authorities were investigating 37 detainee deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. I expected that number to go up, but not this sharply: 127 detainee deaths are now under scrutiny. (Click here and scroll to the middle of the story.)

Jobs: Don't be fooled!

Republican propagandists have trumpeted an alleged explosion in job growth in recent months. It's all hooey. Check out this analysis, which proves that the "new jobs" were as fanciful as anything you'll find in a Harry Potter movie.

Madrid, informants, and the U.S. election

The Madrid bombing attack of March 11 may impact our own elections in a significant way.

To recap: Spain's Bush-allied ruling party was ousted in the wake of the attacks. Conservative pundits offer this turn of events as proof that Al Qaeda hopes to install left-leaning governments in the West. In fact, Aznar's government fell because the Spanish people despised the Iraq war, because the Socialist opposition has a tough-on-terror rep, and because Aznar lied his head off when he blamed the attacks on Basque separatists.

Nevertheless, any new attack in America will be framed in terms of the Osama-votes-for-Kerry scenario -- even though all sensible folks know that such an attack will consolidate support for Bush.

All of the above provides background to the latest revelation that some of the Madrid suspects were police informants.

Previously, one of the few writers making note of this oddity was Webster Griffin Tarpley -- whom I hesitate to cite, since he is associated with the dreadful LaRouche cult. Tarpley's thesis, for what it is worth, can be found here. He considers the Madrid blasts prequel to an alleged forthcoming attack in the United States. Tarpley notes that Aznar met with U.S. officials during a cross-country American holiday last May:

During his visit to California, Aznar referred more than once about a terrorist attack taking place in the United States in June, 2004, which would lead to a Federal Emergency Management Agency takeover of the U.S. (International Herald Tribune, May 15, 16, 17, Los Angeles Times, May 15)
Obviously, our cautious attitude toward Tarpley should not impede us from heeding the IHT and the LA Times, sources few consider off-the-wall.

Of the Madrid blasts:

An important sidelight on these statements by Aznar is the revelation that the group accused of carrying out the Madrid bombings was thoroughly penetrated by the Spanish police, who had at least informants within that group, according to El Mundo of May 6, 2004. El Mundo reported that among the people arrested for the Madrid bombing, were two police informants.

This paper published an exclusive report given by Rafa Zhueri, who was among those arrested after the March 11 terror bombings. Zhueri revealed that he worked for years as police informant for a part of the Spanish Civil Guard (UCO Undidad Central Operativa). The article is headlined "I informed the Civil Guard that an Austrian offered me dynamite."
Again, our attitude toward Tarpley should not color our attitude toward the source he quotes. El Mundo is a more-or-less respectable journal, although it has a strong anti-Socialist bias. That bias, of course, serves only to add to the credibility of its interview with Zhueri.

I've searched the net for further information about this man, only to come up goose eggs. However, the accusation that the Madrid bombers worked for the Spanish cops has been buttressed by subsequent pieces. From the June 10 Expatica:

MADRID - The Commission investigating the events surrounding the 11 March terrorist attacks is to examine the relationship between police and some of the suspects, it emerged Thursday.

It is considering asking a police inspector who used three of the suspects as informers to appear before the commission.

Manuel García Rodríguez is a police inspector in Aviles in Asturias, northern Spain...

The Spanish daily El Mundo claimed Thursday three suspects had a relationship with Garcia before and after the bombings...

The suspects allegedly made calls to the police officer and the Islamic radical from the same telephone box just outside the police station in Aviles, the paper reported.

Joan Puig, a spokesman for the left-wing Catalan nationalist party ERC who will sit on the commission, said the allegations were "surreal".
What can I say, Joan? We live in surreal times.

Obviously, terrorists planning such an event would go out of their way to avoid the cops, not to befriend them.


The story I am about to tell you, if you have never heard it before, will sound like a crackpot's nightmare. It is, in fact, history -- a conspiracy theory that turned out to be on based on hard reality, as established by official investigations. All politically- aware people in Europe know the details, although most Americans refuse to be educated on this topic.

In the 1970s, Italy was assailed by what has been called the "strategy of tension." Right-wing political forces found their positions strengthened by horrifying terrorist incidents blamed, at the time, on left-wing terrorists. The Italians later learned that these atrocities (which included the bombing of a train station in Bologna) were actually carried out by undercover operatives of the Italian secret service SISMI. "Infiltration" of leftist groups became the excuse for a disguised attack.

Masterminding this effort was the Propaganda Due (P2) lodge, a pseudo-Masonic cabal run by the fascist Licio Gelli. Membership included many SISMI officers as well as leaders of the Italian business and political establishments.

P2 had American links. Indeed, it has been widely reported that Gelli attended Ronald Reagan's first inauguration. Many sources aver that Michael Ledeen joined P2. Ledeen, as you probably know, is now a staunchly pro-Israel, anti-Iran neoconservative who continues to back Ahmad Chalabi.

All of which may cause some to ask if history has repeated itself. Spain is not so very distant from Italy.

The revelation that the accused terrorists functioned as police informants tends to buttress the "provocation" thesis. But don't jump to conclusions just yet. One basic fact works against the idea: The Madrid attabenefitedted the Socialists, in large part because Aznar blamed ETA. Why would he do such a thing if the bombings were an exercise in bloody theatrics?


Perhaps neoconservative forces wanted the Socialists to win in Spain, in order to buttress the loudly-touted myth that Osama hopes his next strike will unseat Bush in favor of Kerry?

Nah. Can't be. Some scenarios are too paranoid even for me.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Hersh criticism

You probably have not yet read this report from a speech given by Seymour Hersh, who has done so much to uncover the Abu Ghraib scandal. I strongly urge you to take a look. One example:

"[Hersh] said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, 'You haven't begun to see evil...' then trailed off. He said, 'horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.' He looked frightened.

Tortured truth: Who's the leaker?

Joshua Marshall has argued that the Abu Ghraib photos now tend to obscure reality. "In fact," he writes, "the prison abuse and torture story itself has become a perfect example of how two separate media storylines -- ones that clearly contradict each other -- can coexist and yet seemingly never cross paths."

I agree. Just as repeated exposure to the Rodney King beating video allowed (some) members of the public to rationalize what they saw, repeat viewings of the Abu Ghraib photos can desensitize us into a Limbaugh-esque moral relativism. Worse, those images do not tell anything like the full story as we now know it.

It's not just a tale of sexual humiliation. It's a story with corpses. It's a story in which one Iraqi prisoner saw his father tortured to death in front of him, and another had his toenails pulled off. It's a story of unmuzzled dogs loosed on the naked and the helpless.

It's a story Limbaugh and his ideological confreres keep carefully hidden from their audience.

And yet some un-named party seems intent on lifting the veil. The see-no-evil conservatives who insist on limiting the scandal to a handful of low-level perpetrators now have a much more difficult time.

How to explain away the fact that the White House directly ordered that interrogators of the loopy John Walker Lindh "take the gloves off"? (We all know what that means.) Lindh later claimed that he was tortured, though he eventually dropped that accusation pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement.

How do we explain away White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' apparently contradictory arguments vis-a-vis torture and the Geneva convention? On the editorial pages, Gonzales stipulates the supreme importance of Geneva -- yet privately, in a memo dated January 25, 2002, he argued that prisoners captured in Afghanistan did not have the rights accorded under that convention.

How do we explain away the 100-plus page Justice Department draft memo of March 6, 2003, which justified the use of torture and the administration of mind-altering chemicals in Iraq and elsewhere? We are told that Rumsfeld signed off on the complete version of this report, delivered in April.

And now we have this from the Washington Post:

In Army memos regarding interrogation techniques at the prison, the use of military working dogs was specifically allowed -- as long as higher-ranking officers approved the measures. According to one military intelligence memo obtained by The Post, the officer in charge of the military intelligence-run interrogation center at the prison had to approve the use of dogs in interrogations. There is no explanation in the memo of what parameters would have to be in place -- for example, whether the dogs would be muzzled or unmuzzled -- or what the dogs would be allowed to do.
Have you noticed the pattern?

I'm not referring to the torture per se. I'm referring to the manner in which we learn of it.

Classified military intelligence memos -- leaked.

A memo from the White House counsel's office -- leaked.

A memo from the Justice Department -- leaked.

White House interest in Lindh -- leaked.

The subject of torture forces us to confront so many moral and legal questions that we lose sight of the political forces motivating these revelations.

Who is doing the leaking? Before the Iraq war started slipping away from Bush's control, leaks of this sort were unthinkable in an administration marked by extreme loyalty. Now, every week (at the very least) we get something new. Drip, drip, drip...

I've long seen current politics through a neocons-versus-CIA prism. Consider these leaks as shots in a silent war.

They were close

In the opinion of many, the elder George Bush gave the most personal eulogy at the services for Ronald Reagan. 'Tis only fitting. After all, in 1988, candidate GHW Bush described his close relationship with the president with the words "We've had some sex."

Bush screws grunts

(How's that for an obscene headline?)

A lot of people have written about W's financial attacks on America's military personnel. No-one has offered a more damning indictment than the one offered by Molly Ivins. Drastic cuts in military housing, veterans' services, health care, imminent danger pay... the situation keeps finding new ways to get worse.

Yet military folk still support combat-dodging Bush and distrust his decorated Democratic rival. Why? Can anyone explain this situation to me? Can swaggering rhetoric and visions of Jesus really brainwash so many young men and women into voting against their interests?

Cynthia's back!

Former Georgia congressperson Cynthia McKinney was run out of office a couple of years ago after she dared to ask the question: "What information about 9/11 did this administration have in advance?" You may recall that she said this in the wake of the "Bush knew" headline that swept across the New York Post.

In the political climate of that time, Rupert was allowed to say that which Cynthia could not. Because she dared to imply that Big Brother might have been up to something doubleplus ungood, the Republicans mounted a Hate campaign against McKinney, using highly questionable tactics to rout her at the next election.

Well, a lot of people are now asking that same "forbidden" question. And Cynthia McKinney is running again. A McKinney win will send a definite signal that the political winds have shifted. If you live in Georgia, please consider volunteering for the cause.

The end of oil

Yesterday I talked about the conspiracy-minded former cop Michael Ruppert, whose site has pushed the "peak oil" theory for some time now. Basically, this theory says that we entered Iraq because we are running out of the black-n-slimy stuff, and Bush hoped to commandeer as much of the dwindling supply as possible.

I've long hesitated to accept this weltanschauung. Back in 1973, headlines proclaimed that we were running out of oil -- Russia would soon be importing, the spigots in Arabia would run dry, and chunks of sky would crater our backyards. Many now believe that these dire projections were politically-inspired fabrications. Sheik Yamani, then the Saudi oil minister (and viewed as something of a "Darth Vader" figure throughout the 1970s) said in 2001: "I am 100 per cent sure that the Americans were behind the increase in the price of oil. The oil companies were in real trouble at that time, they had borrowed a lot of money and they needed a high oil price to save them."

We can (and should) debate the past incessantly, but what really counts is the future. The man with the most functional crystal ball seems to be Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World.

His book strikes a sensible common ground between the ultra-pessimists and those of an annoyingly sunny "just-trust-the-market" disposition. His conclusion: We are in the midst of a epic transition, but change won't occur quickly enough unless government and industry both take a more proactive stance. Oil is running out. The easy-to-pick fruit is almost all gone; now we are going to have to reach further. New technologies may make the hard-to-get oil accessible, but the stuff will be a lot more expensive. Hydrogen holds promise, but serious problems exist. (I would argue that the amount of money tossed at the Iraq war could well have resolved those problems.)

If you want an engrossing and comprehensible lesson in how the "awl bidness" (as they say in W's home state) works, hie thee to your local bookstore or library and check out Roberts.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rush to puerility

Good lord. I never liked Rush Limbaugh, but even he used to be better than this. Speaking of the Abu Ghraib photos, the manic Limbaugh told his audience that "this" is what Senator Edward Kennedy "is doing at home."

Limbaugh has reduced our political debate to the level of a five-year-old boy screaming "Timmy is a poo-poo head."

In A Clockwork Orange, the thuggish droog named Dim ended up working for the police. Nowadays, he'd be on talk radio.

Are spooks haunting the White House?

I'm never quite sure how to assess the work of Michael Ruppert, the former LAPD cop turned anti-CIA muckraker. His politics hardly mirror mine: He considers Dennis Kucinich too conservative! I place his work in the "Read with caution" category.

His latest article, which bears the title "Coup d'Etat," can be filed under "must-read, with extreme caution." Ruppert addresses one of the most under-reported and significant aspects of the current political landscape: The sub rosa war between the neocons attached to the Bush White House and the Central Intelligence Agency.

In Ruppert's view, DCI George Tenet and DDO James Pavitt were "axed" to leave not because of Iraq but because of the Plame investigation, a point verified (we are told) by unnamed sources within the intel community. Ruppert further argues -- and here, frankly, is where he loses me -- that the Niger forgeries, at the heart of l'affaire Plame, were deliberately created by CIA operatives (or former operatives) pursuant to an exquisitely calculated scheme to undermine the Bush administration. The neocons had tried to supplant the CIA with a more pliant spook-house run by civilians at the Pentagon; thus, the Agency men felt constrained to parry.

Is there evidence for this notion? Yes, some, but it is hardly conclusive. Seymour Hersh, in a little-noticed aside, mentioned a rumor (it seems to be no more than a rumor) that a "small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators" had cobbled together the fakes.

The problem with this suggestion: Everyone agrees that the faking was poorly done. Although one should never ascribe an Olympian level of expertise to the lads and lasses of the Company, most observers feel "our" counterfeiters would have taken greater pride in their craft. Even so, it is worth noting that Pavitt ran the clandestine side of the service, and thus would have known these "disgruntled" spooks by name.

It is also worth noting (as Ruppert, alas, does not) that Ahmad Chalabi ran a forgery shop. In fact, his crude fake-makers seem to have whipped up a doozy, connecting hijacker Mohammed Atta with Saddam Hussein. Intriguingly, this bit-o-buncombe was proffered as genuine by known MI6 asset Con Coughlin, the British "journalist" who seems to enjoy guaranteed employment despite a history of dubious stories.

Ruppert finds firmer ground when he notes that the Plame matter seemed ready to recede into the background until Tenet initiated an investigation. Until the DCI set the game into play -- and as you recall, he did so by blowing a very loud whistle -- the story remained one of those things that disappear down the memory hole after progressives snarl for a few days.

Because of Tenet's action, Bush now has hired a lawyer. The man's in trouble.

Capitol Hill Blue -- the publication everyone is talking about these days -- came out with two stories that should have been bombshells, had they not been eclipsed by the orgy of Reaganolatry.

The first article, published on June 3, claims that Bush knew about the Plame leak. The information comes, we are told, from "witnesses" testifying to the grand jury. So far, we don't know how Capitol Hill Blue learned of this testimony. In grand jury proceedings, all parties are sworn to secrecy except for the witnesses themselves. Thus, if the report is accurate, we must conclude that someone with direct personal access to Bush not only gave testimony tending to incriminate the president, but went on to discuss said testimony with reporters.

That's no small matter. And it's hard to think of anyone aside from Tenet, John McLaughlin or James Pavitt who might have had both access and the motivation for a retaliatory strike.

The second article, published on June 4, relays the worries of White House staffers that George Bush's behavior has become "erratic," much like Nixon's at the height of Watergate. His mood swings (we are told) between pious invocations of the deity and bloodthirsty vows to "fuck over" all who dare to cross him.

Taken together, these reports indicate that the man is in serious trouble.

Ruppert goes on to make a complex argument involving Bush holdings in ARAMCO. I won't address that subject, since my main interest at the moment is Plame-gate and the CIA rebellion.

Here's the odd part: The URL of Ruppert's site is He has a rep as a staunch Agency opponent. In what we may call a "previous life," I too was a harsh critic of the CIA. I still recommend that anyone who wants to know that organization's real history can do no better than to consult to works of William Blum, John Stockwell and the like.

And the "war" between Langley and this dangerous administration, I can't help but root for the spooks. The situation reminds me of one of those old Marvel comics where the good guys temporarily team up with Dr. Doom to defeat some ultra-villain who is even worse. Kerry cannot win the election on his own, because the conservative media machine is too formidable. But with a little "undercover" help...who knows?

Apartment "boom" in U.S. and Russia

American citizen Jose Padilla, an accused Al Qaeda associate, has been held without charge since 2002. His lawyers have asked to have the all-inclusive "enemy combatant" label dropped. The political winds were shifting in his favor; even the highly conservative Orrin Hatch made inquiries on his behalf.

In response, the United States government -- which has spent the past two years scrambling for a triable charge -- now accuses Padilla of masterminding a plot to use natural gas to blow up large apartment buildings. This charge has led to some discussion of the technical feasibility of such a plan. Representatives of the natural gas industry (not a disinterested party, obviously) have voiced some doubt as to whether a terrorist could easily employ such a tactic.

Few have noticed a frightening parallel.

In an earlier post, we discussed the apartment bombings that rattled Russia in 1999. These atrocities led to charges that Chechen terrorists bore responsibility -- charges backed by onionskin-thin evidence.

In the years since, many have argued that the bombings were, in fact, the work of the FSB. (You may know that lovable bunch better as the KGB.) These arguments come not from manic conspiracy buffs, but from sources worthy of respectful attention. One such source is Mikhail Trepashkin, a former FSB agent who was set to argue in court that his old employer committed the crime. Alas, he now faces legal problems of his own. By an odd coincidence, cops pulled over his car and "found" an illegal weapon in his trunk; Trepashkin says the gun was planted.

There's a pattern here: Heroin was "found" on a journalist investigating the case.

Eyewitness evidence indicates that FSB men rented a basement apartment in one of the buildings. Most damning of all: Toward the end of 1999, FSB operatives were caught red-handed (no pun intended) planting a bomb in another building's basement. They said it was a training mission. Believe that if you will.

A new documentary called "Assault on Russia" looks at this controversy, and at the actions of former FSB chieftain Vladimir Putin. I hope this film becomes available in the United States.

Now flash back to Padilla.

Even if the charges against him collapse, the seed has been planted. The American public now expects Al Qaeda to blow up large apartment buildings.

Am I suggesting a possible frame-up in the future?

Never. Never, ever would I say such a thing. Only a conspiracy maniac of the lowest sort would contemplate such an absurd notion.

Even so, it may be prudent to get one fact on the record. All I have in the trunk of my car is some antifreeze, oil, a spare tire, some ordinary tools, and a change of clothes. Honest. That's it. Anyone who says different is lying.