VLADRUSHKA by John Linton Roberson (c) 2022.
I Didn't Write That!
26 February 2004
  Duh, But How Did The Soundtrack Come First?

"Look what you did to poor old Jesus, and he was only trying to help."--Garth Ennis

It'll be very confusing to the large number of teens that have been going in to see The Passion of the Christ, or the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre as Slate's David Edelstein called it. when they see what they think is its soundtrack and then find it was done for another movie entirely before some of them were born. A movie, I might add, that was far more intelligent and which I prefer.

And to think at one time this subject was commercial poison. Given the loathing I already have expressed many times relentlessly for the works of Mel Gibson, it infuriates me even more in some ways that Gibson will now be canonized in film history where Martin Scorsese had to endure years of 24-hour-security simply for suggesting Jesus could love, in his mind, as an ordinary man and dream of what normal men dreamed. It wasn't merely physical pain and endurance that Jesus was enduring.

It was the loss of the whole of a normal life. Wife, children, work, sleep, the sun, dinner, a home, anything else you can think of that you associate with being alive. And brutal pain, and to be killed in a way you might kill a dog on top of it all. The loss oif everything, including pride and identity. Even to be ruined in the memory of those you knew. What does it take to expunge the sins of mankind anyway?

But Gibson can only understand this if a mark you can see is left. Granted, an emphasis upon the physicality of the death of Jesus is a long-standing characteristic of Catholic worship. Confronting the stark reality of it is part of being Catholic, true. Different factions focus on different aspects, between the stark to the transcendent and many mixtures in between. But this is a more American version, what was once called "muscular Christianity," an attitude best summed up as a reaction to all that "faggy peace and love crap."

I don't think it's so remarkable that Gibson should present the death of Jesus so realistically. Jack T. Chick, by a quirk of fate the best-selling cartoonist in the world and also the maddest Christian on earth, has done at least two such works: THE GIFT, which apart from a framing story could be a grisly color adaptation of Gibson's film. A nurse even co-narrates giving specific details. In that lurid, grisly color Chick is famous for, Jesus gets turned to hamburger. The idea is of course that the least you can do is accept him then. Then there's the famous and ubiquitous tract THE SISSY? in which two truck drivers are also told how violently Jesus died. Before, they'd thought Jesus was some kind of sissy, but afterward they extol him as a real man, "and I love him for that."

That's the rawest Jesusploitation you could find till now. Gibson's work is just on a grander and more expensive scale, but it's still a kind of conversion technique that I as a liberal Anglican loathe, rubbing your nose in either guilt or, worse, the thought of Jesus' big ol' balls. THE GIFT's target is women who have recently suffered loss, and employs guilt. THE SISSY? is directed at the most lunkheaded of men. This is ugly, basic, bottom-feeding conversion propaganda. This may be as well.

Gibson has become a quandary. He depicts the wounds and torture almost lovingly; you have to wonder what goes through your head when you look at that and edit it as many times as a director does. No wonder Gibson looks so damn twitchy lately. It's a snuff film but there's a problem: how should you depict it?

It's a peculiar position. I have defended SALO so how can I not defend this? I believe in Steve Gerber's precept that all onscreen violence should be presented in as ugly a way as possible. The ugliness one reacts to in film violence touches nerves within oneself. If it's smoothed into entertainment that is inhuman. If you can't stand to watch it, it follows you empathize with its victim. And what happens with a victim like this one, who is to suffer for mankind's sins?

Though I usually deny it if asked because I despise the bigotry and hypocrisy of most churches and the misinterpretation by many Christians of Jesus' life as license for intolerance and repression of their humanity, I do consider myself a Christian, an Anglican to be exact, though I haven't been to church in many years. From the side of the faith that is a-ok with female and gay priests and Bishops.

I object a great deal, though, to the excuses Jesus is exploited for, again and again. The act that was done upon him is repeated in every suffering a Christian bigot ever inflicted upon their victim. Jesus died and was tortured for nothing; that's what I think whenever I hear another vile stream of shit uttered by the Christian Right, and it makes me ashamed to say I'm a Christian in public, because I am sane and do not wish to be mistaken for someone with a hood at home, or someone who will try to "save" another. The assholes who infringe on the name Christian have been given the sole public face of the faith for too long. To me, someone who truly believes Jesus can be nothing but liberal, even Marxist.

Christianity is about love despite being done wrong, about breaking cycles of vengeance, fear and pain that serve no good purpose. It's got an ethic that has nothing necessarily to do with worship. Much of its teachings would be worthwhile no matter who said them, man or God.

In addition, I look at it this way: Christ is God realizing he judged humans without knowing what it was to be human, and becoming one to atone too for the sins he himself did to humanity: holding them to a standard he had not equipped them to stand. (What do you call drowning a world full of people you made imperfect in the first place?) Jesus was God forcing himself to understand suffering, to understand what he had always asked us to endure. The crucifixion is the bridge between earth and heaven, not a war banner. It is the defeat of brutality.

Some people think Jesus died just to provide us with one more reason to be bastards. As though the death of Jesus is reason for vengeance rather than an act of sacrifice and salvation. There is no one more useless than these people, who dream of the Rapture and give not a shit about their fellow man, to whom the rest of us, and the whole world God made to evolve into complexity and beauty, is less than dust. Those who think Jesus, somehow, really was talking in code and neant "hate" each time he said "love," and "Satan" every time he said "God."

Mel Gibson thinks it's a reality TV show.

To do this film, focusing on only those twelve hours, it's true: The violence would have to be shattering, the most horrible thing you can imagine. And in many ways our collective notion of this event defines our ideas of suffering in many, many cases. Even if we don't believe, the story encapsulates the suffering of innocence, righteousness and good. It should force you to look at what you want to look away from because too many people look away from suffering now and cannot assimilate it, only avoid it. But suffering is unavoidable and should be understood. The story is a valid means--indeed one might say the original means--of understanding that of oneself and of others.

But here we go to where it's good old Mel. The issue of anti-semitism is a perfectly valid one, but a strange one too. Like it or not, the center of Christianity is a bloody execution. One cannot tell another religion what parts of its faith to talk about in public or demonstrate(at least barring murder, harassment and other extremes) and the only sources that exist say that Jewish leaders worked to remove Christ. But it was the Romans who tortured and crucified him and yet nobody ever calls Italians Christ-killers, do they? And just because a group of leaders are corrupt, does that mean all the people are too?

It was the Sanhedrin as a group, not Jews as a group; it was not a democracy. And in the end, from their perspective, it was one troublemaker versus the whole population in the eyes of the Sanhedrin. The Romans would have slaughtered multitudes if there was even a peep of trouble around Passover, a time when many crowded to the temple from other cities. And the Sanhedrin were supposed to risk the wrath of the Romans for one crazy prophet from out of town? (to understand what Nazareth was to Jerusalem, think of how much you'd respect the philosophy of a prophet from Jersey or Arkansas) As Larry Gonick once said, "How many people even have a word for 'killed every tenth person?'" (decimate) The Sanhedrin were attempting to save their people and, of course, their own authority, on which they believed public safety depended as any authority will. They made a mistake. It's a lesson to authority to exercise mercy rather than expedience, if anything, but it is not a condemnation of the Jews. Who else was there but Jews and Romans? If anything it was everyone. (coincidentally, Edward II of Braveheart in real life actually was the one who expelled Jews from England for the next few centuries, and killed many. Far worse, I'd say, than what he did to the Scots, but I can't expect Mel to be interested in that...)

But though Mel says that's what he thinks, what we get are the most extreme Jewish caricatures since the Eternal Jew, as repulsively presented as Prince Edward in Braveheart, all with a full-scale hate on for Jesus and completely impatient to see him dead. Yes, this movie will stir up hatred against the Jews. And defensiveness from Jews as well. And the two will react explosively with each other, I fear.

As this film could be subtitled in any language, it will be worrisome to see the full power of cinema unleashed throughout the world in this particular way. France for one.

What I find surprising is that this was not noticed in the revival of Jesus Christ Superstar on PBS a few years ago(with, apparently, a Kevin Sorbo lookalike as Jesus), which depicted each lash as a symbolic slap of one bloodstained Jewish hand after another. Much worse, really--and was this in the original production's choreography? But then what can you expect of Andrew Lloyd Webber?

This film, good or bad, is destined to blow a crater into film history. We have here what is essentially the biggest experimental film ever made but using one of the most traditional of subjects. It's silent film. It's subtitled foreign film. It's exploitation. It's religion. It's propaganda. As it could be subtitled in any language it may become the most universal film of all time. Whatever this is it's worth studying because it's fairly big. But dangerous too. There is no more powerful parasitic meme than religion, and there is no more explosive form of mass art than film. This will, movie and hype together, become a media H-bomb.

And...at this writing, it's already taken in $23 million; in one day of release.

But it also focuses so hard and exclusively upon the actual physical nature of the sacrifice of Christ, and so explicitly, that all it can ultimately stir up is guilt and hatred. But then what else would it be? It's worth seeing just to be understood, because it's going to be a cultural seismic point. The merchandising, particularly of a nail pendant, is already a study in vulgarity and commercialism at its worst. (see Ebay; I won't link to examples)

Is it good?

It is what it is. I'm not sure.

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17 February 2004
  Kerry Virtually Ties With Edwards

After Wisconsin, Edwards would appear to have "VP" written all over him now, but there's still Super Tuesday and he's gaining on Kerry.

I still believe that Edwards is our best hope to destroy Bush. Particularly given that the Republicans have barely been able to land a blow on him, and haven't really tried. The worst they seem to be able to say about Edwards is that he was a trial lawyer. First, though, I was under the impression being a lawyer was, these days, a prerequisite for becoming a senator. But besides which, it was corporations he fought against. The Rove attack machine was first geared up for Dean, now it's trying to recalibrate to Kerry: if Edwards ends up the front-runner, they may be out of ammunition by then. I sincerely want Edwards as our candidate.

And of all things, Rush Limbaugh today apparently said that Bush's increasingly suspicious National Guard record won't matter to Americans because we supposedly "love Bush." How does he know this? Because in 1996 Dole attempted to use Clinton's record of dodging Vietnam against him and it didn't work. Why not? Limbaugh said, "Americans loved Clinton."

Consider the perversity of this. It's not the first time Bush and his pundits and other cronies and hacks have attempted to excuse their own failings by citing Clinton as a precedent. Iraq? A plan that began, they say, with Clinton. (Partially true, but the regime change was not to be accomplished by an invasion in turn justified by lies) But Bush doesn't see 9/11 coming? That was Clinton's fault. That's but two of many examples. I suppose Bush has finally dropped the shit about restoring integrity or dignity to the presidency. The GOP spent a long time and a lot of money trying to destroy Clinton and Limbaugh admits it failed because WE loved him.

Well, isn't that Republican thinking? In a democracy, is this not the whole ballgame? It's the Republicans who dislike this idea. And the subtext to this is that since we put up with Clinton and were willing to accept that then, we have no right to complain about Bush. Apparently adulterous senator Henry Hyde's statement during the impeachment hearings, shocked that the public didn't really care much about the Lewinsky matter, to the effect of "What's WRONG with the American people?" was indeed reflective of a larger attitude. We have gone wrong, and they, the Republicans, know what's best. We should keep them there because of this, it seems.

Meanwhile there's the growing chorus of all political stripes of Americans united by one slogan: Where's the fucking jobs you promised, Bush? The entire country gripped by a terrible sense of deja vu. We threw out one Bush before he could lead a country to ruin, and then were too stupid and soft to realize the danger of letting in another. We should learn a lesson from these things but we don't, and to some degree the bloodshed, misery and poverty of the past 4 years are on our head. We should never have let that bastard in: we knew he was a snake.

Bush always looked exactly the evil idiot chimp we know him to be now. We just decided not to care for some reason.

But he will go down in November unless the Democratic candidates all shoot themselves in the head. Bush will even go down if he catches Bin Laden. Just the same as with Hussein when they didn't really think they'd catch him. They played down the importance of Hussein and Bin Laden as individuals and so their captures have had and will have no real impact. Just as Bush 41 did, he squandered his wartime political capital, like a boy who must have dessert before his dinner, and now all he can do is back further and further into a corner.

That Limbaugh tried to say this about this Bush is telling: he didn't try the "just doesn't matter" defense in 1992 until October.

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  PETA's Deep and Wasteful Pockets

PETA, the safe charity rich celebrities contribute to. They must have very deep pockets, because, fresh from their failure to have Hamburg, NY change its name, it's gone after Slaughterville, Texas to try to get them to change their name to the idiotic "Veggieville."

PETA is even offering $20,000 worth of veggie burgers to an area school if the name change goes through. But town manager Marsha Blair said on Friday the chances of passage were slim to none. "We do not intend to change the name," she told Reuters... Slaughterville was named after a family that helped settle the area in the 19th century. The family ran a dry goods store and blacksmith shop.

I guess if you can't fix something with your donors' money, why not waste it trying to get the thing to be renamed? (Plus which, isn't PETA showing an amazing contempt for history by trying to make old towns change their names?)

Is there anyone who thinks this publicity-grabbing garbage helps anyone or anything? In fact, isn't PETA making itself look stupid with every one of these incidents? And why not buy the farm animals with all that money and set them free?
Seems that'd get you in the paper too.

Come to think of it, what would happen to most farm animals were people to stop using them for food? Or is it OK with PETA if they become extinct, justas long as their meat is put to no use at all?

PETA: Making left-wing activist groups everywhere look ridiculous. Thanks, jerks.

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16 February 2004
  The Wrath of Dog

It seems to me that the instant you make the government apologize for letting you be insulted by an American puppet, you've pretty much forfeited the image battle.

I'm just saying.

Their pride seems more sensitive to insults from American puppets than their intelligence, however. Otherwise how could they continue to put up with Paul Martin?

Oh, wait, it looks like they may not much longer...


  Even A Chimp Can Press A Button

A very strong cartoon by Ted Rall that pretty much speaks for itself.


  San Francisco's Marriage Fad

Believe me, having lived in the Bay Area, I can tell you this is the only way marriages were ever going to be major news in San Francisco.

Okay, snarkiness out of the way. Actually, I think this is kind of cool, but I wish it hadn't happened in an election year; better to force this issue once that's all over, because you know Karl Rove is working his fat ass off right now trying to find an adhesive strong enough to keep this on the Democratic candidate till six years hence. Gavin Newsom, San Francisco's new mayor--who previously had always come across to me as something of an opportunistic, sleazy yuppie shit--definitely deserves points for sheer chutzpah here. And to be fair, sometimes the opportunists and those in the right(as opposed to of the Right, mind) have a convergence of interests. He's definitely sewn up the gay vote for all time in that city.

One wonders, though, if they're still having the housing crunch I recall before we left for Chicago, what happens when a lot of non-local couples who came in for the event--and that's a lot; this will be remembered like Woodstock or something--decide to stay because they're afraid that if they move, their marriage will be invalidated. Say hello to housing shortages and rents the likes of which were not known even in the 90s. Ah well. It's still a good thing.

I know the tactic being employed here. Besides being grand political theatre, it's very much an attempt to force the issue, and force politicians--starting with new governor Ahnold--to definitively make their stand plain. (which, again, may prove an unfortunate diversionary issue the GOP will do their best to use to Willie Horton the Democratic candidate) It's also to cause a sort of fait accompli. Think about it. One of the reasons for mass protests is that if you have enough people, the authorities are helpless. You can't arrest everyone. Similarly, look at the sheer number of licenses being issued. It will be impossible to get Ahnold to mass-invalidate the marriages: the last thing he wants to do right now is be diverted on that when the budget is nearing complete bankruptcy, especially when he's come out so many times in favor of gay rights, when asked. And Bush's stupid little amendment couldn't come into being till 2006, they say.

So they might have to be argued against one by one in court. Many won't be at all. Eventually it clogs the courts and marriages last and are treated as valid simply because it's too much trouble not to. It becomes an accepted fact by sheer numbers. Any one of them that is unchallenged, you see, becomes a precedent. And Massachusetts has already made its own opinion on this known.

Speaking of which, it was kind of bitchy of Newsom to steal MA's thunder like that.

My own opinion of gay marriage? I don't care which two consenting adults decide to chain themselves to one another the rest of their lives. What has that to do with me or my own marriage? I can guarantee you that my marriage feels not at all cheapened by that. Jennifer Lopez & Ben Affleck, Britney Spears, Liza Minelli & David "She Hit Me With Her Big Strong Drunken Fists" Gest--now that's another story.

I somehow detect in the back of some conservatives' ravings on this issue the hint that, had marriage to a member of their own sex been an option they might have and they're glad someone restrained their urges. I see that a lot in them, this idea that if they weren't fixated upon their twisted take on Christian morality, in which God is a denial of the world rather than its creator, they'd immediately commit every sin they could imagine. It must be a strange way to live, to see horns and hooves on everyone not wearing polyester slacks or skirt. And to want others you've never even met to have no lasting happiness or security in their lives. The sad folk who use Jesus the same way they may have once used drugs, guns, or the bottle.

Their trademark on the word "Christian" shouldn't continue to be unchallenged. Nor should they be allowed to use this issue to try to distract people from the fact that Bush has been destroying our country. Who gives a shit who's getting married at a time like this?

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14 February 2004
  But--But That Might Hurt Bush's Feelings!

A letter in Salon that I think touches on an attitude deserving comment:

"In response to Eric Boehlert's series of exposés on Bush's service record, I feel annoyance, indignation and shame. Not for George Bush -- for the Democrats and liberal independents who stoop to muckraking Bush's service record as a way to discredit him. Come on. You're acting like Republicans."

The fellow who wrote this letter sounds like one of the "good cop" Republicans(folks like Rove and the freepers being the "bad cop") I doubt he's actually any kind of Democrat. But assuming he is, this is pathetic Joe Liebermanesque advice. "Acting like Republicans?" Why? For attempting to seek out the truth about a story Bush desperately wants to hide?

But everyone except the Republicans are expected to be nice. We're supposed to cede to them the parameters of debate. This is the final revenge of cons upon what they perceive as the idiocy of postmodern attitudes in the 90s: as liberals are supposed to accept all points of view, the Republicans believe that includes them. Not that they're bound to any such restrictions--being vicious is just part of what they are. This isn't an exaggeration; over the years many Republicans have even tried to argue being Republican is some kind of ethnicity, believe it or not, and therefore to attack them is racist. This is their attempt to use what they think is political correctness against liberals.

Which makes one realize: so if we're not nice, he'll topple. Fine then. Let's not be nice.

Ask youself why he'd want to hide service information in a campaign in the first place. This piece of garbage in the Oval Office tries to use the trappings of the military any time it will bolster his image and ego, while hundreds that you'll never hear of die for his glory, and thousands upon thousands died while he got drunk in Alabama. Many more came back wounded and otherwise ruined for life, like my father(see David Hackworth's ABOUT FACE for information about his, especially under the circumstances, heroic service--here, here, and here), whose post-traumatic stress syndrome eventually resulted in his suicide.

Justice demands that Bush not receive any glory he did not earn. If he can still be re-elected without this, why should he be worried? But he couldn't, certainly not against John Kerry. Anyone who thinks Bush should be able to still pose as some kind of dashing pilot war hero is pissing on the graves of my father and untold others, who really suffered and died for their country--though that, like this war, was ultimately for no good purpose, the overwhelming irony in all this controversy. But they went, they were shot and blown up; it doesn't matter as far as that goes why they went. Their risking their lives is unchanged by LBJ and Nixon's evil.

And finally--"acting like Republicans?" Excuse me--while I think the smartest strategy is a positive but firm one, like Clinton's in '92 that rendered Bush simply irrelevant, at the same time, when the other side is firing grenades at you, you don't respond with flowers. Democrats may be civilized but why should they be idiots?

I suppose the Republicans are satisfied that Bush never lied about getting a blowjob. But you know, lying about things that people died and are dying for, to some of us freaks and eccentrics, is actually more important and has more to do with our lives. Perhaps we're just insane.

"It's amazing I won. I was running against peace, prosperity, and incumbency."
(June 14 2001, speaking to Swedish Prime Minister Goran Perrson, unaware that a live television camera was still rolling )


10 February 2004
  Why Bush Will Never Admit He Lied

Already in the New York Times, that wily old snake William Safire is preparing the ground for a plant of weapons in Iraq just in time for the election. This goes well with David Brooks' second bizarrely provocative misstep in as many months, attempting to entirely rewrite what Bush said in his failed Russert interview(a good dissection of which can be found here)

Let's just be clear on something though. As far as can be possibly known there are no WMDs to be found, and none have been found. The death count of our troops just from holding Iraq is approaching 600. At least one a day. And why? Why are we there exactly? At least Vietnam supposedly had some theory, however stupid, behind it. We supposedly went to war because Saddam Hussein had--they said with certainty--weapons. Not that he was building them--that too, but mainly they knew he had them, or so Colin Powell said in his UN address, qualifying only one of his accusations. He showed maps and said what was on those maps with great certainty with that Cinemascope Powerpoint presentation of his. Bush stood behind this,as did Tony "45 Minutes" Blair.

If they were wrong they would simply admit it and stick solely to the getting-rid-of-Saddam excuse. If they thought that alone was worth it, they would not have continued to insist the WMDs existed. They would not have made such a big deal out of a couple of vans. Cheney would not still be spreading the accusation as background noise at every other event at which he speaks.

If they had concentrated on the deposing-Saddam part, the WMDs would not have become such a hot issue. They sustained it as an issue. There is nothing quite so pathetic yet scary as the liar gone schizoid, trying to force the world to conform with their delusion.

That Bush keeps trying to slip blame onto the Intel community--and Tenet lets him--is worth considering: how does a president know anything without them? What other intelligence, ha, is he using that he can insist theirs is faulty by comparison? And I mean previous to the war, when the CIA did in fact state there probably weren't any. BUt not strenuously nor for long. And it was reported at the time that the intelligence community and the armed forces were being bullied by the NSA and Cheney. Again, slipped out eventually in the media wash. These things are reported, it's just that if they're only stories for two minutes one night, they don't create much impact. If it were important, we often think, they'd be replaying it to me over and over. That's how we forget.

We are in a period known as an Interregnum, though some have called it a Restoration. But Bush's supporters look enough like Roundheads for my taste. We have a leader who was not put into power by a completed election, but by one cut short by the actions of the Supreme Court. (We can only hope that exhausted a lifetime's political favors for certain justices) We have a president who acts like our opinion doesn't matter, because he doesn't know what it's like to lose an election.

We can have a fairly elected leader this time. And I for one want to see what Bush turns into after one disgraceful term and the boot. So remember this:

If Bush lied about the WMDs, he is now possibly one of the greatest war criminals of all time, along with the NSA. Certainly not the bloodiest, but this is Bond-villain scale villainy. In the eyes of history Nixon will look like Polk by comparison. (Who's Polk? Exactly) He also thinks he can take your support for granted, and can tell you anything and you'll still vote for him. This is what your president made your country look like, and the blood of our troops and countless(literally) Iraqi civilians is on his hands. He has brought shame to this nation. And did we even, at a crass minimum, get cheap oil for this blood?

What is the point? Why has he hijacked our nation for this? What's to be gained?

Do we really need a president like this?

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  "The radical right is, in fact, a coalition of those who fear other Americans."--Al Gore

Here, from Salon, is a transcript of actual U.S. President Al Gore's Feb. 5 keynote address at the New School University's conference on "Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses," in NY. I spread this because I think much of this is very important for Americans to remember.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this timely conference on the Uses and Misuses of Fear in our political system in America.

It is an honor to be part of a program that includes so many distinguished scholars who, unlike me, have genuine expertise in these matters.

And I want to acknowledge that I have already learned a lot from them by reading some of what they have written and by calling some of them on the telephone before trying to organize my own thoughts on this topic.

It's also a personal pleasure to share a dais with my friend and former Senate colleague Bob Kerrey, who brings to this discussion not only his experience in political and academic leadership but also -- it bears noting because of the subject of our discussions here -- his extraordinary personal example of how to stare down the fear of death and lead with raw courage in circumstances that are hard for the rest of us to imagine.

We are meeting, moreover, in a city that has itself been forced to learn how to conquer terror. And because we are gathered very close to ground zero, we should of course begin our deliberations with a moment of respect and remembrance for those who died on 9/11 and for those who have been bereaved.

Terrorism, after all, is the ultimate misuse of fear for political ends.

Indeed, its specific goal is to distort the political reality of a nation by creating fear in the general population that is hugely disproportionate to the actual danger the terrorists are capable of posing.

That is one of the reasons it was so troubling last week when the widely respected arms expert David Kay concluded a lengthy and extensive investigation in Iraq for the Bush administration with these words:

"We were all wrong."

The real meaning of Kay's devastating verdict is that for more than two years, President Bush and his administration have been distorting America's political reality by force-feeding the American people a grossly exaggerated fear of Iraq that was hugely disproportionate to the actual danger posed by Iraq.

How could that happen?

Could it possibly have been intentional?

Well, there are some clues ... the fear campaign aimed at Iraq was timed for the kickoff of the midterm election campaign of 2002 -- you know, the one where Max Cleland, who lost three limbs fighting for America in Vietnam, was accused of being unpatriotic.

The curious timing was explained by the president's chief of staff as a marketing decision -- timed for the post-Labor Day advertising period.

For everything there is a season -- particularly the politics of fear.

And it did serve to distract attention from pesky domestic issues like the economy, which were, after all, beginning to worry the White House in the summer of 2002.

And of course there is now voluminous evidence that the powerful clique inside the administration that had been agitating for war against Iraq since before the inauguration immediately seized upon the tragedy of 9/11 as a terrific opportunity to accomplish what they had not been able to do beforehand: invade a country that had not attacked us and didn't threaten us.

They were clever and they managed to get the job done.

But some deceitfulness took place somehow.

The so-called intelligence was stretched beyond recognition, distorted and misrepresented.

Some of it that the president personally presented to the American people on national television in his State of the Union address turned out to have been actually forged by someone -- though we still don't know who (and, amazingly enough, the White House still doesn't seem to really care who forged the document).

The CIA had warned his staff not to let him use that particular document, but there was some kind of regrettable communications foul-up inside the National Security Council.

But now the president has expressed his determination to find out who is actually responsible for the intelligence being "all wrong."

Over the past 18 months, I have delivered a series of speeches addressing different aspects of President Bush's agenda, including his decision to go to war in Iraq under patently false pretenses, his dangerous assault on civil liberties here at home, his outrageously fraudulent economic policy, and his complete failure to protect the global environment.

Initially, my purposes were limited in each case to the subject matter of the speech.

However, as I tried to interpret what was driving these various policies, certain common features became obvious and a clear pattern emerged: In every case there was a determined disinterest in the facts; an inflexible insistence on carrying out preconceived policies regardless of the evidence concerning what might work and what clearly would not; a consistent bias favoring the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the broader public interest; and a marked tendency to develop policies in secret, avoid accountability to the public, the Congress or the press; and a disturbing willingness to misrepresent the true nature of the policy involved.

And no matter what the issue, it is now clear that in every instance they have resorted to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit debate and drive the public agenda.

The administration did not hesitate to heighten and distort public fear of terrorism after 9/11, to create a political case for attacking Iraq.

Iraq was said to be working hand in hand with al-Qaida.

Iraq was said to be on the verge of a nuclear weapons capability.

Defeating Saddam Hussein was conflated into bringing war to the terrorists, even though what it really meant was diverting resources away from the pursuit of the people who attacked us and causing us to lose focus on that task.

The administration also did not hesitate to use fear of terrorism to launch a broadside attack on measures that have been in place for a generation to prevent a repetition of gross abuses of authority by the FBI and by the intelligence community at the height of the Cold War.

I served on the House Select Committee on Intelligence immediately after the period when the revelations of these abuses led to major reforms.

Conservatives on that panel resisted those changes tooth and nail.

They have long memories, and now these same constraints have been targeted in the PATRIOT Act and have been sharply diminished or removed.

And the president wants the PATRIOT Act extended and made permanent.

Neither did the administration have any scruples about using fear of terrorists as a means to punch holes in the basic protections of the Constitution: to create a class of permanent prisoners; to make it possible to imprison Americans without due process; to totally sequester information not just from the people, but from the Congress and the courts -- all justified by recourse to fear.

Our nation has gone through other periods in our history when the misuse of fear resulted in abuses of civil liberties:

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Palmer Raids and the Red Scare after World War I, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, and the McCarthy abuses of the Cold War.

After each of these periods of excess we have felt ashamed and have tried to make up for the abuses.

And although we have not yet entered the period of regret and atonement this time around, it is already obvious that we are now in a period of regrettable excess.

The administration did not hesitate to use economic fear of recession as a means to put in place its tax cuts, massively benefiting the wealthiest while loading debt on the rest of the country for generations to come.

It used fear of energy shortage to build an energy policy made to order for the oil industry at the expense of the rest of us.

It used the fear that we would lose competitiveness to block responsible action to deal with global warming, and has by that action mortgaged not only us but our children and their children to consequences unmitigated by any acts of foresight in this generation.

Meanwhile, even the Chinese have passed us in fuel-economy standards for new automobiles.

It uses fear of the problems of old age to contrive an illusory drug bill that essentially transfers billions from the people to the pockets of vast pharmaceutical interests.

It does not hesitate to use fear even of God not only to pronounce its views on marriage but to impose them on the nation as a constitutional amendment.

At the level of our relations with the rest of the world, the administration has willingly traded in respect for the United States in favor of fear: that is the real meaning of "shock and awe."

It is this administration's theory that American "dominance" -- coupled with a doctrine of preemptive strikes (regardless of whether the threat is imminent or not; today George Tenet made it clear that the CIA never said Iraq was an imminent threat) will be sufficient to persuade our rivals and enemies to leave the field.

But there is another question that I believe urgently needs attention: how could our nation have become so vulnerable to such an effective use of fear to manipulate our politics?

After all, it is a serious indictment of our political discourse that almost three-quarters of all Americans were so easily led to believe that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the attacks of 9/11 -- that nearly half of all Americans still believe that most of the hijackers were Iraqis -- and that more than 40 percent were so easily convinced that Iraq did in fact have nuclear weapons.

A free press is supposed to function as our democracy's immune system against such gross errors of fact and understanding.

What happened?

Well, for one thing, there has been a dramatic change in what the philosopher Jürgen Habermas describes as the structure of the public forum.

It is simply no longer as accessible to the free exchange of ideas, which flowed during the Enlightenment.

The age of print effectively ended in the 1960s when television overtook newspapers -- and the gap has grown dramatically since then.

The ownership of the media companies has also changed.

The leadership of the Republican Party is augmented by its links to the corporate ownership of the conglomerates that control most of our media: a process already so far advanced that it alarmed even conservative members of Congress and caused them to join to oppose the FCC's efforts to make the world of information safe for monopoly.

Though the president is still outmaneuvering them.

And this after all, includes a growing part of the media characterized by paranoia presented as entertainment -- the part that allows drug-addled hypocrites, compulsive gamblers, and assorted religious bigots to masquerade as moral guides for the nation.

What are the consequences?

Fear drives out reason.

It suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.

It also requires us to pay more attention to the new discoveries about the way fear affects our brains...

The root word for democracy -- "demos" -- meant the masses of common people, who were an object of fear in the minds of many of our country's founders.

What they wanted was an orderly society in which property would be safe from arbitrary confiscation (remember the Revolutionary War was in significant measure about taxation).

What they believed was that a too pure democracy would expose that society to the ungoverned passions of what today we call "the street": of people with little to lose, whose angers could be all too easily aroused by demagogues (note the root, again) and turned against those with wealth.

So the Constitution of which we are so proud is really an effort -- based at least as much on fear as on hope -- to compromise and balance out the conflicting agendas of two kinds of Americans: those who already have achieved material success, and those who aspire to it; those who are happy with the status quo, and those who can only accept the status quo if it is the jumping-off place to something better for themselves.

That tension can never be fully resolved, and it is perfectly clear at the present moment in the profoundly differing agendas of our two major parties.

Neither has the fear that underlies these differences gone away, however well it may be camouflaged.

Somewhere along the line, the Republican Party became merely the nameplate for the radical right in this country.

The radical right is, in fact, a coalition of those who fear other Americans: as agents of treason, as agents of confiscatory government, as agents of immorality.

This fear gives the modern Republican Party its well-noted cohesiveness and its equally well-noted practice of jugular politics.

Even in power, the modern Republican Party feels itself to be surrounded by hostility: beginning with government itself, which they present as an enemy; extending to those in the opposition party; and ultimately, on to that portion of the country whose views and hopes are represented by it -- that is to say, to virtually half the nation.

Under these circumstances, it is natural -- perhaps tragic in the classical sense -- but nonetheless natural -- for the modern Republican Party to be especially proficient in the use of fear as a technique for obtaining and holding power.

This phenomenon was clear under both Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., except softened to an extent by the personalities of both men.

Under our current President Bush, however, the machinery of fear is right out in the open, operating at full throttle.

Fear and anxiety have always been a part of life and always will be.

Fear is ubiquitous and universal, in every human society, a normal part of the human condition.

But we have always defined progress by our success in managing through our fears.

Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, the Wright Brothers, and Neil Armstrong -- all found success by challenging the unknown and overcoming fear with courage and a keen sense of proportion that helped them overcome real fears without being distracted by distorted and illusory fears.

As with individuals, nations succeed or fail -- and define their essential character -- by the way they challenge the unknown and cope with fear.

And much depends upon the quality of their leadership.

If their leaders exploit their fears and use them to herd people in directions they might not otherwise choose, then fear itself can quickly become a self- perpetuating and freewheeling force that drains national will and weakens national character, diverting attention from real threats deserving of healthy and appropriate concern, and sowing confusion about the essential choices that every nation must constantly make about its future.

Leadership means inspiring us to manage through our fears.

Demagoguery means exploiting our fears for political gain.

Fifty years ago, when the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union was raising tensions in the world and McCarthyism was threatening freedom at home, President Eisenhower said, "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

But only 15 years later, when Ike's V.P., Richard Nixon, finally became president, it marked the beginning of a big change in America's politics.

Nixon embodied the spirit of "suppression and suspicion and fear" that Eisenhower denounced.

And it first became apparent in the despicable midterm election campaign of 1970 waged by Nixon and Vice President Agnew.

I saw that campaign firsthand: my father, the bravest politician I have ever known, was slandered as unpatriotic because he opposed the Vietnam War and accused of being an atheist because he opposed a Constitutional amendment to allow government-sponsored prayer in the public schools.

I was in the Army at the time -- on my way to Vietnam.

I had a leave the week of the election.

"Law and order," and court-ordered busing for racial integration of the schools, were the other big issues.

It was a sleazy campaign by Nixon -- one that is now regarded as a watershed marking a sharp decline in the tone of our national discourse.

In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me more of Nixon than any other previous president.

Like Bush, Nixon subordinated virtually every principle to his hunger for reelection.

He instituted wage and price controls with as little regard for his "conservative" principles as Bush has shown in piling up trillions of dollars of debt.

After the oil embargo of 1973, Nixon threatened a military invasion of the oil fields of the Middle East. Now Bush has actually done it.

Both kept their true intentions secret.

Like Bush, Nixon understood the political uses and misuses of fear.

After he was driven from office in disgrace, one of Nixon's confidants quoted Nixon as having told him this: "People react to fear, not love.

"They don't teach that in Sunday school, but it's true."

The night before that election, 33 years and three months ago, Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine spoke on national television for the Democrats and said, "There are only two kinds of politics. They are not radical and reactionary, or conservative and liberal. Or even Democrat and Republican. There are only the politics of fear and the politics of trust.

"One says: You are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom so we may protect you.

"The other says: The world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men ... [C]ast your vote for trust ... in the ancient traditions of this home for freedom."

The next day my father was defeated. Defeated by the politics of fear.

But his courage in standing for principle made me so proud that I really felt he had won something more important than an election.

In his speech that night, he stood the old segregationist slogan on its head and defiantly promised: "The truth shall rise again!"

I wasn't the only person who heard that promise. Nor the only one for whom that hope still rings loud and true.

I hope and believe that this year the politics of fear will be defeated and the truth shall rise again.

Almost 3,000 years ago, Solomon warned that where there is no vision, the people perish.

But the converse is also surely true: Where there is leadership with vision and moral courage, the people will flourish and redeem Lincoln's prophesy at Gettysburg: that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.


  Shipping Our Jobs Overseas: A Good Thing, Says New Bush Administration Report

Yes, yes, I know, you'd think with so many unemployed and enraged already, the administration would downplay the fact that indeed they like things this way. It being an election year and everything, and Bush's administration having annihilated 2.2 million jobs since he took office with no gain.

But Bush, as you know, doesn't yet know what it's like to lose an election. So it can be understood, I guess, that he has no fear of letting an economic report go out that declares outsourcing jobs to other countries a "good thing."

Ask yourself: for whom?

And then realize that when Bush speaks of the American people, he doesn't mean anyone with less than $100,000 a year. He certainly doesn't mean you.

Do you think yet it's time for Bush to lose his job? If any of us did anything like the job he's done in office, would we? Yet there he stays. Laughing at you.


09 February 2004
  So Tim Russert Interviewed This Chimp, You See...

Usually when this chimp speaks in public, of course, people don't pay much mind to what the chimp says--it's startling, after all, that a chimpanzee can even talk, much less wear a suit.

But yesterday the chimp was sounding particularly desperate, sad, and actually even more in denial than his father was in 1992. He is destined, it seems, to redo as tragedy everything his father did the first time as farce. And keep in mind, Russert was playing some serious softball here--and still the chimp looked no less simian. Mostly it can be summed up by three or so sentences, repeated and repeated as though Cheney gave him acid and forced him to listen to an endless loop of these talking points, tied to a chair, for 72 hours straight:

"Saddam Hussein was a bad, bad man."

"Stop making fun of the National Guard."

"I ain't spendin' no more'n Clinton wuz."

Here's a section on his lack of service in Vietnam:

Russert: Mr. President, this campaign is fully engaged. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terence McAuliffe, said this last week: "I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn't show up when he should have showed up?"

President Bush: Yeah.

Russert: How do you respond?

President Bush: Political season is here. I was...I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this ? I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I ? I put in my time, proudly so.

I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who have served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.

Now, this is interesting. Does he actually think that people don't think he did his service because he was in the Guard and they don't take the Guard seriously? Um, no, stupid chimp! We have a problem because you used political connections to get out of doing even as much as defending Texas from...New Mexico, I guess. While still trying to reap the glory of a supposed military background. Which is supposed to make us forget that it hasn't been as terrible to be in the Armed Forces as this for a long time.

We go on.

Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of the records and said there's no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

President Bush: Yeah, they're, they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

Russert: You were allowed to leave eight months before your term expired. Was there a reason?

President Bush: Right. Well, I was going to Harvard Business School and worked it out with the military.

Gosh, maybe if my dad had been allowed to do that he'd have kept a finger and not ended up killing himself thanks to post-traumatic stress syndrome. It must be nice to be rich and named Bush.

Then the best bit:

The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions, and it is lessons that any president must learn, and that is to the set the goal and the objective and allow the military to come up with the plans to achieve that objective. And those are essential lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War.

I fell on the floor. That ranked right along with his condemning steroid use among athletes in the SOTU speech, on the grounds that you mustn't show young people "that there are shortcuts to achievement." Republicans are all about projection, but either this is the ballsiest or most schizoid son of a bitch to ever occupy the Oval Office.

So, having learnt 2 and 2 is in fact irrevocably and unavoidably 4, he has realized, it seems that what you need to do is just say that they are in fact five very loudly and often. Because god knows what other lesson he's trying to tell us this taught him. What the fuck, seriously, is he saying here? The war in Iraq was a war in which tainted intel was deliberately used to lie his way into a war of choice, which is now a war of attrition mostly being fought so as not to look like a wuss. (Logic apparently being: "Well, I raped the bitch, I might as well sodomize her too.")

Okay, I'll just lose it for a moment: Am I the only one who notices how fucked-up this is?

Well, no actually. He's pissing off his own supporters, in fact, apparently thinking with a war chest of over 100 million dollars he doesn't need them. (Nixon also thought he could campaign in '72 under the label, simply, of "the President," not mentioning the GOP in his ads, and did not stump for anyone. Recall that he had no friends when Watergate came, as a result) I don't even need to critique it, really, because conservatives are already frothing at the mouth over it--as well they should. Stalwarts such as Andrew Sullivan ("On the budget, this president is frighteningly unaware of the reality of his own legacy and policies. That's the only conlclusion you can draw from his answers on Tim Russert. Either that, or he really is lying."), Peggy Noonan, ("The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He did not seem prepared. He seemed in some way disconnected from the event." ) and even the National Review have already attacked it with utmost brutality.

But to me it looked great, because he looked as much like a deer caught in the headlights as his dad did. If the Democrats can keep their shit together, Bush will be beaten in November, and very resoundingly.

I can't wait till the RNC convention, which, as you may recall, is scheduled in New York to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11(tm). I have a hard time imagining this looking as good as they thought it would when they originally announced it last year, and the fact that Tom DeLay even wanted to hold the whole thing on a boat in the harbor--thus denying even the monetary benefit of the convention--along with everything else Bush has denied New York since 9/11(tm)--to the city, well, that didn't look good. "Be a backdrop and shut up, New York; you'll do as you're told." That doesn't sound like any New Yorkers I've ever known.

This is going to be a fun campaign.

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07 February 2004
  Paul O'Neill's Documents

A good day, as I hear Bush's approval ratings are at 48%.

But hey! Wanna read the documents Paul O'Neill passed on to Ron Suskind for the book the Price of Loyalty? Then click here. I suggest downloading and saving the documents, as the Bush administration signalled on Friday that they intend to have them removed, claiming they're classified.

Also: it's been reported that Cheney aides "Scooter" Libby and John Hannah may be soon indicted for the Valerie Plame leak. Let's see if they're loyal to a sinking ship or cut their losses and blab on ol' Dick.

And be sure to watch or tape "Meet the Press"(10 am CST) tomorrow morning, as Bush is going to be interviewed by Tim Russert. This could just be a fluff piece like the Fox thing last year, but on the other hand this could be one of those moments a Bush goes on TV overconfident and says something stupid that haunts him till he loses the election. Who knows--but let's find out. Look how badly he did at the State of the Union.

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06 February 2004
  And To Think Nixon Was An Environmentalist...

One outstanding feature of Bush's domestic policies--and easily so, because his domestic policies are so few beyond "shut up and starve"--is a reckless willingness, eagerness even, to cut anything that might be beneficial to health or environment, even when it would make no difference whatsoever to his corporate sponsors. In fact, several states--who you'd think would benefit from increased corporate investment if their regulations were looser, but not so--have sued the government over this. What motivates Bush's hatred of anything God created?

It seems to be almost an ideological commitment to making this world as polluted and poisonous as possible. Maybe he's trying to make Mars look more attractive. Maybe he does believe Armageddon is coming and believes it's his job to make sure the earth is a toxic pesthole for those not taken up by the Rapture; if, as apocalyptic theology has it, the earth is to be a concentration camp for the unblessed, I guess it follows that some would be vying to be kapos. Maybe he just thinks the environment is bad because Unca Dick told him so. Who knows?

But he may have overstepped his bounds when, in his new budget, he proposes "complete elimination of homeland security building decontamination research." This came to light, by the way, on the same day ricin was found in the offices of senators Frist and Jeffords.

Funny, isn't it, that every single measure that we know would definitely strengthen "homeland security," like this, is what Bush denies funds. But a war in Iraq? Tax cuts? The ability to lock anyone up, any time, as long as you want for no reason in particular? The power to monitor internet use, buying habits and library records? The power to let in whatever cheap labor corporations want while most of us know our jobs are gone and never returning? All these he's gone for.

It is security he wants. But not ours.


04 February 2004
  An Innovative Idea: Amazon.com Now Processing Political Contributions

Now this is interesting: Amazon.com is now allowing you to make direct contributions to the various presidential campaigns. (I had no idea there were still so many) A very original idea and I think I like it.

Naturally, I suggest you contribute here, as I just did, because I am now convinced Edwards is the best bet to whip Bush's ass. But follow your conscience.


  A Pledge

A promise to my long-suffering readers. I realize I go on and on about Bush and the fact that he's not just the worst but the most evil president this country has ever had. But I'm sorry, you just need all the reminding you can get.

But I promise you something now. Make sure that by this time next year, somebody else is president and that this president is duly and legitimately elected, and for one solid year I will write about anything else but politics.

Why, I may even do some comics once in a while!


03 February 2004
  Priorities, Priorities

Bush's budget stands to put us in the hole for at least a trillion dollars. Republicans--and Bush-- want to use the deficit this will exacerbate(that Bush has gleefully created) as an excuse to cut as many social programs as they've left standing so far. Democrats want a debate on the subject, to say the least, as Bush plans to gut 128 programs. Among these?

...according to newly released details about his fiscal 2005 budget, Bush would scrap programs to improve writing skills, teach economics and foreign languages, and promote literacy in prison. A program that provides residents of poor areas access to computers and training would also get the ax, along with recreation programs for the disabled, aid for migrant farm workers, and an initiative to promote "educational equity" for girls and women. A public advocate of physical fitness and job training, Bush would do away with recreational programs for people with disabilities, deferring to states to pick up the slack. Olympic scholarships, arts in education, and a program for native Alaskans and Hawaiians called "exchanges with historic whaling and trading partners" would also be scrapped.

That's just a few. The whole thing reads like a Republican wish list from 1985. In all, 65 programs are to be terminated, 63 severely reduced.

But ricin has coincidentally been found in the Senate building, stopping Senate business. You remember, just like right after 9/11 and before Congress gave Bush the Patriot Act with little of the debate it was going to otherwise generate. (That time it was anthrax) And anyway, Michael Powell thinks an investigation into Janet Jackson's tit and its appearance at the "sacred"(his word) Super Bowl is a much better use of government time and money.

All of which nicely forces the budget out of the news, or at least marginalizes it until it's done & forgotten. (The Jacksons have been very useful for this distractive purpose to the Bush administration; even I devoted one blog to stinkin' Michael Jackson. By the way, if red wine, by him, is "Jesus Blood," then when he calls white wine "Jesus Juice," well, what can that mean? Eww...)

And not coincidentally, it's being reported that ricin has been also found in a mailing center in Connecticut(this also was the second step after the Senate last time), and last time this made people, particularly in the northeast, paranoid to go outside for a while.

What day is today, kids? The day seven Democratic primaries occur.

Hey, guess what? You're being tricked again. And I bet you'll just let it pass.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." --old saying.


I happened to come across this doing research on other stuff. Sound like any country you know? (and to my critics: is this source "mainstream" enough?)

Furthermore, the monarchy almost always spent more each year than it collected in taxes; consequently, it was forced to borrow, which it did increasingly during the 18th century. Debt grew in part because France participated in a series of costly wars-the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), and the American Revolution (1775-1783). Large existing debts and a history of renouncing earlier ones meant that the country was forced to borrow at higher interest rates than some other countries, further adding to the already massive debt. By 1789 the state was forced to spend nearly half its yearly revenues paying the interest it owed.

"French Revolution," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000. © 1993-1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Ironic we so derided France over the Iraq matter. (Not that they're doing themselves any favors with the hejab ban right now, mind you, but my disrespect for France is long-standing & entirely independent of Bush)


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