Village Voice editorial cartoonist Ward "Sith to My Stomach" Sutton takes on the "Sham Wars" of the Bush administration and points out our compliance in it all.

Media & B.S.

Sydney Schanberg cuts through the B.S. surrounding the media and the Bush administration, and points how only one of the two has to answer for its mistakes.

Journalists used to come largely from the "outsider" precincts of our culture. They were children of immigrants and working people, raised simply, not prone to cozying up to power or accommodating power. That's because the press was supposed to be a watchdog on power on behalf of the public. That has changed—not completely, but it has changed. At times now, too many reporters seem to be channeling Dickens's Oliver Twist, with their bowls outstretched toward their government minders, asking: "Please, sir, may I have some more gruel?"



Frank Rich puts the Newsweek snafu into its proper perspective, though a little belatedly for the shrill know-nothing ilk of the hysterical land of talk radio and many TV news programs.

Let's stipulate flatly that Newsweek made a serious error. For the sake of argument, let's even posit that the many other similar accounts of Koran desecration (with and without toilets) by American interrogators over the past two years are fantasy — even though they've been given credence by the International Committee of the Red Cross and have turned up repeatedly in legal depositions by torture victims and in newspapers as various as The Denver Post and The Financial Times. Let's also ignore the May 1 New York Times report that a former American interrogator at Guantánamo has corroborated a detainee's account of guards tossing Korans into a pile and stepping on them, thereby prompting a hunger strike. Why don't we just go all the way and erase those photographs of female guards sexually humiliating Muslims (among other heinous crimes) at Abu Ghraib?

Even with all that evidence off the table, there is still an overwhelming record, much of it in government documents, that American interrogators have abused Muslim detainees with methods specifically chosen to hit their religious hot buttons. A Defense Department memo of October 2002 (published in full in Mark Danner's book "Torture and Truth") authorized such Muslim-baiting practices as depriving prisoners of "published religious items or materials" and forcing the removal of beards and clothing. A cable signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez called for interrogators to "exploit Arab fear of dogs." (Muslims view them as unclean.) Even a weak-kneed government investigation of prison abuses (and deaths) in Iraq and Afghanistan issued in March by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III of the Navy authenticated two cases in which female interrogators "touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs."

Bravo, Mr. Rich.



Another instance of how Bush can't exist without B.S. is his latest series of tightly scripted forums in which participants (i.e., audience members) are handpicked for their friendly views.

This time, the Los Angeles Times, highlights a memo seeking a choir to preach to:

"You got any thoughts about Social Security?" Bush asked 22-year-old Concordia University senior Christy Paavola, one of five younger workers who appeared on stage with him at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"Yes," Paavola said. "I don't think it's going to be there when I retire, which is really scary."

Many young people, the president commented, think they are paying into a retirement system that will never pay them back. He asked Paavola: "Got anything else you want to say?"

"I really like the idea of personal savings accounts," Paavola said.

"You did a heck of a job," Bush told her. "You deserve an A."

Fake support for a fake president. Par for the course.



The reactionary, regressive, right-wing monolith exhibits a Taliban-like resolve in pushing through judicial nominees representative of its ilk. This could mean eliminating the filibuster, a time-honored Senate tradition that protects minority rights and even immortalized in the heart-warming Jimmy Stewart film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Yet when the rules — or election laws, in some instances — aren't to the liking of the oligarchy, the result is an effort to change those rules.

The Los Angeles Times includes this tidbit:

"We feel like there should be zero compromise, no deal," said Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Assn., a Mississippi-based conservative group whose members were among those flooding Lott's home-state offices with phone calls and e-mails in protest.

The episode illustrates the powerful political forces that have helped make the Senate controversy over federal judges so intractable.

Ah, Democracy. Nothing expresses the love of freedom so much as a hard-line crackdown on debate and changing the rules in mid-game.

Though tempted to say Democrats will never learn, I can't ever believe that absolute power and its subsequent abuse is healthy for a nation.



Woe is us when Hollywood offers a more reasoned, common-sense world view than Washington, D.C., and all the major mainstream media markets. The Associated Press, in a story titled "'Sith' Invites Bush Comparisons," outlines some of the dictatorial themes that resonate through George Lucas's final installment of "Star Wars."

Cannes audiences made blunt comparisons between "Revenge of the Sith," the story of Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and the rise of an emperor through warmongering, to President Bush's war on terrorism and the invasion of Iraq.

Two lines from the movie especially resonated:

"This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause," bemoans Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) as the galactic Senate cheers dictator-in-waiting Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) while he announces a crusade against the Jedi.

"If you're not with me, then you're my enemy," Hayden Christensen's Anakin (soon to become villain Darth Vader) tells former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor). The line echoes Bush's international ultimatum after the Sept. 11 attacks, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Lucas, the political philosopher, waxes eloquent toward the end of the piece:

"You sort of see these recurring themes where a democracy turns itself into a dictatorship, and it always seems to happen kind of in the same way, with the same kinds of issues, and threats from the outside, needing more control. A democratic body, a senate, not being able to function properly because everybody's squabbling, there's corruption."


One of the most ridiculous assertions in defending the idea that states can restrict shipments from out-of-state wineries is that repealing such bans could put alcohol in the hands of underage drinkers.

"Minors are just as likely to order wine from in-state producers as from out-of-state ones," said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Not to mention that given most teens are impatient, lack credit cards and likely don't know jack about vintages.

Not to be outdone in utter baselessness, Justice Clarence Thomas maintained that both the 21st Amendment and a pre-Prohibition statute, the Webb-Kenyon Act, which served as a model for the 21st Amendment, "took those policy choices away from judges and returned them to the states."

That doesn't apply, of course, if a state (say, Florida) has an election whose possible outcome you don't like.


A high-level, top-secret British government memo shines an inconvenient light on the fabrications of the Bush administration's call for war in Iraq.

The Times of London published the secret Downing Street memo, which is based on information from an official identified only as "C." It states:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Later, the memo adds:

It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan issued called the report "flat-out wrong," though he had not seen the "specific memo."

What punishment, one wonders, is adequate for an inept administration's actions that — in McClellan's own words about the Newsweek story — "has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."


Even as Newsweek retracts a flawed news report that the Pentagon didn't initially deny, the hypocrisies continue to build:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan and other administration officials blamed the Newsweek article for setting off the anti-American violence that swept Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The report had real consequences," Mr. McClellan said. "People have lost their lives. Our image abroad has been damaged."

McClellan could've easily been talking about what passes for Bush policy in the Middle East.

Rice also weighed in: "I do think it's done a lot of harm. Of course, 16 people died but it's also done a lot of harm to America's efforts" to demonstrate tolerance and breed goodwill in the Muslim world.

Do those efforts include the deaths of an estimated 100,000 or more Iraqis?

Mission accomplished.

If Newsweek screwed up one element of the story — namely, that military investigators had found evidence of Koran desacration — it doesn't mean such allegations haven't been made or that it didn't happen.

This, from an AFP report dated May 14:

But the Newsweek report was only the latest in a series of allegations by detainees that go back at least to March 2004 when three British detainees were released from Guantanamo.

The three Britons alleged in a joint statement that Guantanamo guards kicked and threw around prison-issued Korans and on occasion threw them in buckets that served as toilets. ...

In January, lawyers for Kuwaiti detainees at Guantanamo said after a visit that their clients also described being taunted by guards who on at least one occasion threw a Koran in a toilet.

"Several of our clients did tell us that the guards had desecrated the Koran," Kristine Huskey, one of the lawyers, told AFP.

"At least two stated that the Koran had been thrown in the toilet, another said it had been stepped on and I believe another said it had been thrown by a guard and/or spat on," she said in an email message.

Defense officials said they did not know whether there had been any previous investigations into the allegation.

Huskey said she was certain the military did not look into the allegations at the time. ...

"It's early to say how solid that is, but so far there are indications that a detainee may have done something like this," said DiRita.



Newsweek acknowleges errors in a story alleging that U.S. guards at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down the toilet, but stopped short of disavowing the piece.

An AP story recounts this response from the White House:

"It's puzzling. While Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refuse to retract the story," said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan. "I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met. In this instance it was not.

"This was a report based on a single anonymous source that could not substantiate the allegation that was made," McClellan added. "The report has had serious consequences. People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged. I just find it puzzling."

Even better, ranking high on the hypocrisy meter is Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita's quote that could've been used of Bush: "People are dead because of what this son of a bitch said."

The feckless Bush administration, no doubt, fails to see the irony in this and its unbased claims of WMD on Iraq and its trumpeting of a single source deemed untrustworthy by our own CIA, as well as all the goodwill from around the world our so-called leaders have squandered.



Leadership rears its head in Spain, as a top government official takes the morally correct stance of supporting the right to marry, gay or straight.

MADRID (Reuters) &151; Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero defended a new law allowing gay couples to marry on Wednesday, in a veiled counter-attack on the Roman Catholic Church which has thrown its weight against it.

The Spanish parliament last month gave initial approval to the law, prompting the Spanish Bishops' Conference to step up its campaign against the measure by calling on all Catholics to resist applying the new law.

"I will never understand those who proclaim love as the foundation of life, while denying so radically protection, understanding and affection to our neighbours, our friends, our relatives, our colleagues," Zapatero told parliament in a "state of the nation" address.

"What kind of love is this that excludes those who experience their sexuality in a different way?" he said.

Sounds like someone's been receptive to the concept of compassion.

[Thanks to J.L. for this.]



Not subject to the cloak of loyalty enjoyed by such inept administration officials as Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, a female Army officer has taken the fall for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Writes the AP:

The Army announced that it demoted Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, whose Army Reserve unit was in charge of the prison compound during the period of abuse. Dropping her in rank to colonel required approval from President Bush, and officials said that he granted it on Thursday.

That brave leader of men, our feckless resident Bush saw fit in his personal code of loyalty and sense of justice to single out one woman officer, while a host of yes-men and bungling bureaucrats walk scot free for their failures that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, including those of more than 1,000 Americans.



After watching the reactionary, lowest-common-denominator diatribe of the sixth-grade intelligence exhibited by CNN's Jack Cafferty and his incessant bleating about so-called illegal aliens and the wealth of benefits they purportedly have lavished upon them after trekking across the Arizona dessert to take all our high-paying, lettuce-picking jobs, I recalled a recent story.

The New York Times reported that workers using fake Social Security cards have contributed $7 billion a year since the 1980s.

A UPI story casts it as such:

A brisk business in fake identification and SSNs quickly grew, provided legal cover for the employers and, so far, a windfall for the SSA.

An SSA official told the Times the administration estimated 3/4 of illegal immigrants — estimated by the Census Bureau at 3.8 million households — pay payroll taxes. Those immigrants are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits.

A little information goes a long way in debunking the xenophobic arguments TV news amplifies with utter lack of basis or relevance.



With it's usual zeal — and not unlike its response to the Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." — the Bush administration continues to ignore crucial data that paints a harrowing fiscal picture of our future

Writes Nicholas Kristoff:

Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist and fiscal expert who with Scott Burns wrote the excellent and scary book "The Coming Generational Storm," calls this "fiscal child abuse."

The book says that the Treasury Department commissioned a study by two economists of the United States' long-term liabilities, for inclusion in the 2004 federal budget. The study found that the government faces a present value "fiscal gap" — the excess of expected payments over expected revenues — of $51 trillion. That's 11 times our official national debt and also greater than our total net worth, meaning that in some sense we're bankrupt.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration took a look at the study, blanched, and declined to publish it.

Spectacular failures and a complete lack of vision remain the heights of success for this administration.