Thursday, August 07, 2008
With just ninety days left in the election it's come down to this: our energy policy and a good deal of this presidential campaign are being discussed through the lens of Paris Hilton. What a big goof it all is! If you just ignore all the soldiers and civilians dying in the Mideast, and all the millions losing their homes and their jobs at home, you could really see the lighter side of it all.
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- The allegation in Ron Suskind's new book that the White House ordered the CIA to forge evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda is so incredibly grave that it demands a serious response from the government. If what Suskind writes is true -- or even partially true -- someone at the highest levels of the White House engaged in a criminal conspiracy to deceive the American public. (See yesterday's column for all the details.)
But so far, we've gotten mostly hyperbole, innuendo and narrowly constructed denials.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto's response was a classic non-denial denial: "The notion that the White House directed anyone to forge a letter from [former Iraqi intelligence chief Tahir Jalil] Habbush to Saddam Hussein is absurd," he said. He accused Suskind, a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter and well-respected chronicler of Bush administration secrets, of engaging in "gutter journalism."
"Classic" indeed: The current administration, and too much of the GOP establishment, moves immediately to smear anyone who dares so much as question them, let alone point out that they are unclothed. One wonders how long before "real" Republicans, "genuine" Republicans--those of a more moderate bent, conservative but not ideological, engaged but not enraged and motivated by impulses other than sheer hatred for "the other" (and they exist: I know a few of them...although I suppose it's possible that they are the last of their kind)--wake up and realize how Bush, Cheney, McCain, et al., have all but destroyed their own party, and to what end?
Or is it already too late--for them and for the rest of us, too?
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
A new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind claims that, after the Iraq war began, the White House ordered the CIA to forge a “backdated, handwritten letter” from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein, in an attempt to tie Hussein to the 9/11 attacks. Here’s what Suskind reports:
– Saddam Hussein’s intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, told U.S. and British officials there was no WMD in Iraq, “intelligence they received in plenty of time to stop an invasion.”
– In the fall of 2003, the White House ordered CIA Director George Tenet to forge a “fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001,” Suskind writes. “It said that 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq” and that Iraq bought yellowcake uranium from Niger with the help of al Qaeda.
– The letter was commissioned “from the highest reaches of the White House.” “It would have to come from the very top,” Suskind told NPR today.
Suskind also said he spoke with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.
And in rebuttal, the usual:
Well, I hate to say it, but this begins to shake my faith in the Bush Administration a little...
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August 6, 2008
By SHMUEL HERZFELD
ACCORDING to the Jewish calendar we are now in the month of Av, a period of increasingly intense mourning that culminates with a total fast on the Ninth of Av, which this year coincides with Sunday, Aug. 10.
One of the customary practices in these nine days is the avoidance of meat: it’s the way we commemorate the destruction of the Temple, where daily animal sacrifices were once brought.
Refraining from food is symbolic, of course. The idea is not just to avoid meat but to limit ourselves so that we can better focus on the spiritual.
Unfortunately, this year kosher meat has become a different type of symbol, one not of mourning and spiritual devotion but of ridicule, embarrassment and hypocrisy. In May in Postville, Iowa, immigration officials raided Agriprocessors Inc., the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country.
What began as an immigration sting, however, quickly took on larger dimensions. News reports and government documents have described abusive practices at Agriprocessors against workers, including minors. Children as young as 13 were said to be wielding knives on the killing floor; some teenagers were working 17-hour shifts, six days a week.
This poses a grave problem and calls into question whether the food processed in the plant qualifies as kosher.
You see, there is precedent for declaring something nonkosher on the basis of how employees are treated. Yisroel Salanter, the great 19th-century rabbi, is famously believed to have refused to certify a matzo factory as kosher on the grounds that the workers were being treated unfairly. In addition to the hypocrisy of calling something kosher when it is being sold and produced in an unethical manner, we have to take into account disturbing information about the plant that has come to light.
The affidavit filed in the United States District Court of Northern Iowa, for instance, alleges that an employee was physically abused by a rabbi on the floor of the plant. If true, this calls into question the reliability and judgment of the rabbi in charge of making sure the food was kosher.
What’s more, two workers who oversaw the poultry and beef division were recently arrested for helping illegal immigrants falsify documents. If they were willing to break national immigration laws, one could reasonably ask whether they would be likely to show the same lack of concern for Jewish dietary laws.
Unfortunately, the responses of the leading Orthodox organizations, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union, have, in my opinion, fallen far short of what is needed to be done and have done little to diminish the extent of the desecration of God’s name. I am a member of both groups, but I am dissatisfied with their stance, which asks us to sit back patiently and wait for the results of a federal investigation. On some level, this might be prudent, but on another it is unacceptable.
What is needed is for the Orthodox Union to appoint an independent commission whose members have not in the past been paid by either the Orthodox Union or Agriprocessors. Such a commission would select a team of rabbinic experts to spend an extended period of time at the plant and then make suggestions and recommendations. This independent team would make sure the plant upholds basic standards of kashrut and worker and animal treatment — and that it is in full compliance with the laws of the United States.
Hebrew National used to run a commercial that said: “We answer to a Higher Authority.” Well, we do. We need to express shame and embarrassment about the reports coming out of Iowa, and we need to actively work to change these matters. Then we should ask ourselves if our behavior and our values need improvement. Only if we truly think about these issues will we truly be keeping kosher.
Shmuel Herzfeld, rabbi of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue, is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America.
Or we could file this under, "Who Watches the Watchers?"
Late yesterday afternoon some Ecunet members may have experienced a service outage of up to an hour while a Spam filter was being updated but then inadvertently caused a system malfunction. The problem has since been fixed and you should now experience a greater degree of Spam protection as a result.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
I realize that it cuts against the media narrative right now to focus on anything that doesn't suggest a dead-heat, but it's quite instructive to see how the independent groups (and even right-leaning ones) currently see the state of the race through the only prism that matters -- the Electoral College:
Nikolas has this insight as well:
- In Michigan, McCain had not led in any poll since May;
- In Pennsylvania, McCain has not led in any poll April, and a Republican poll released last week showed McCain trailing by 9, in line with the current Pollster.com average;
- In New Hampshire, McCain has not led in any poll since April;
- In Minnesota, while one recent poll showed McCain within the margin of error, no other poll in the past month (including one poll taken more recently) has him within 12 points.
Tallahassee Democrat senior writer Stephen Price on Friday was singled out and asked to leave a media area at the Panama City rally of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.
Price was among at least three other reporters, and the only black reporter, surrounding McCain's campaign bus — Gov. Charlie Crist and his fiancee, Carole Rome, were already aboard — when a member of the Arizona senator's security detail asked the reporter to identify himself. Price had shown his media credentials to enter the area.
Price showed his employee identification as well as his credentials for the Friday event.
"I explained I was with the state press, but the Secret Service man said that didn't matter and that I would have to go," Price said.When another reporter asked why Price was being removed, she too was led out of the area.
These are dangerous times, comrades.
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Voting experts say the registration numbers may signal the beginning of a shift that could affect local, state and national politics over several election cycles.
To which I add: Registration is one thing, turnout something else entirely.
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Monday, August 04, 2008
Once again a well-meaning but oh-so-gullible friend has forwarded to me (and about 100,000 other people, giving me about six inches' worth of addresses to scroll past before I get to the meat of the message...which contains not only the hideous and distracting " > " in front of every line but also " > " in front of each line as well, making it especially fun to read) a completely sincere "warning" about something that I know darn well is a hoax.
In this case, it's the classic old VERY IMPORTANT - BIG VIRUS COMING - Disquised as a Hallmark Card. I assume a "disquise" must be a portmanteau, perhaps for "disquieting disguise." Not sure. More research needed.
Since I have been "warned" about this BIG VIRUS more than once over the years I no longer need to go to the Urban Legends Reference Pages to look it up. If you want to, you can do so here.
At this point you're wondering what the problem is. After all, I know it's a hoax; I can simply ignore it, no? Well, sure, I could. Except I always feel, in these instances, a responsibility to allay people's fears. The BIG VIRUS COMING is supposed to burn "the whole hard disc C of your computer" if you open the "POSTCARD FROM HALLMARK" attachment that purports to accompany it. (The annoying thing, which the Urban Legends Reference Pages explains, is that there really is a "postcard" virus out there, but it isn't new, and it won't burn holes in anything. But the BIG VIRUS COMING warning is a hoax about something that is real, though less scary than the hoax portrays.) So I have a mental picture of these other 99,000 people to whom my friend forwarded the warning--which of course includes the exhortation to further forward it to everybody they know--living in constant fear of receiving the dreaded POSTCARD FROM HALLMARK that will burn a hole through their C drive and on down to the earth's core.
And so it is more than likely that I will compose a reply that tries very hard to avoid making my friend feel foolish while at the same time setting her straight and encouraging her to be less gullible in the future. (It's the "gullible" and "not feeling foolish" tension that makes such replies tricky.)
Not that it will do much good, probably. Some time back, an acquaintance was in the habit of forwarding every single hoax or gag that went around--viruses, dying kids, exploding gasoline pumps, unlocking your car with your cell phone, you name it. And every time I would kindly explain that this was something else to add to the don't-worry list, or something else that didn't work, or something else that wouldn't happen. And she would thank me...and, two days later, send out the next hoax or e-mail urban legend. One day, however, I noticed that it had been some time since I had heard from her. I would have liked to think I had wised her up, but I checked with a mutual acquaintance and got the information I knew I would.
She had simply dropped me from her mailing list.
- But now, seemingly all of a sudden, conservatives are the ones who are tongue-tied, as demonstrated by Sen. John McCain's limping, message-free presidential campaign. McCain's ongoing difficulties in exciting voters aren't just a tactical problem; his woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven't worked in practice. The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment.
- As I listen to leading voices and thinkers on the right pondering the condition of their ideology, it is increasingly clear to me that they face a fundamental dilemma -- one that cannot be resolved anytime soon and that might well leave the conservative movement out to pasture for as long as we progressives have been powerlessly chewing grass. That choice is whether to stick with rhetoric and policies wedded to free markets, limited government and bellicose unilateralism, or to endorse a more robust role for the public sector at home while relying more on diplomacy and international institutions abroad. Either way, conservative Republicans seem destined to have a much harder time winning elections for the foreseeable future. Just ask McCain how much fun he's having.
Me, I think it too early to be ordering the funeral spray. People like to be told what they like to hear--part of the reason I like Anrig's essay!--and are very good at filtering out inconveniences like "doesn't work." As Anrig himself points out. And once people have invested themselves emotionally in an idea, the abandonment of that idea--or ideology--becomes near-unthinkable.
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