Monday, June 30, 2008

Anti-Mustache Prejudice


Having worn a mustache since high school, and loving it, I never realized how much of an anti-mustache prejudice existed with younger people today, especially since I am in my 30s and can remember how cool Burt Reynolds was in the late 1970s. Well, I ran into this from a few of my students in the last year, reminding me of how out-of-step I am, and just how thoroughly men have been babified by our hairless metrosexual culture.

My first incident was, ironically enough, with another male student, who told me during my office hours, "I love the fact you wear your 'stache so big. No one my age would ever wear that!" When I asked him why, he replied, "Oh my God, no. We're not supposed to have mustaches. Even if you have facial hair, it would be better to wear a beard or goatee. Anything but a mustache!"

Then a female student, this last semester, decided to pay me a compliment of sorts by saying, "You're the only guy I know who wears a mustache, except my dad." Yes, these are the kinds of comments that educators really treasure.

Much of my inattentiveness is probably a product of my overall ignorance of society. I try to be observational, and I have noticed that mustaches have become verboten in politics (no Presidential candidate from the two major parties has sported one since Thomas Dewey, and you know how that one worked out). It probably does not help that when you look up the mustache on Wikipedia, the example that is used on the front page is Joseph Stalin (admittedly, he had a wonderful mustache). Or that Hitler had a mustache, even if it looked like the gardener took a weed whacker to it. It also does not help that the bad guys in movies oftentimes have facial hair, along with a smoking habit. Is it hard to see why the stereotype of the mustache is one associated with crime and mistrust?

The greatest contributor to the anti-mustache trend, though, is the opposite sex. As one can see from this lady, facial hair is a major faux pas, reminding her of '70s porn and dad. This is hardly a scientific study, but as mentioned in Ms. Cortes' column I can deduce that many members of the opposite sex may consider mustaches to be painful, but this depends on what the mustache is incidentally touching. At the end of the day, a properly maintained mustache cannot be as painful as being scratched up by a Billy Mays-lookalike.

In addition, I wonder, why would a woman be more attracted to a young man trying to look like a waxed-up elementary school student? Are mustaches really that unattractive? I mean, there are not too many women who can wear one, so it seems like it is a nice way to differentiate yourself from the opposite sex. I always assumed that men and women were attracted to what made us different, instead of trying to make ourselves look alike (or more specifically with men trying to busily make ourselves look like underage boys).

Contrary to the belief of many millennials, there are advantages to having a mustache.

1. It looks mature. There is something to be said for wanting to look like an adult sometimes, particularly for those 20 year olds scoping for some alcohol.

2. Yes, food storage can be a good thing. It is kind of nice to be able to store parts of your dinner away for future consumption.

3. Works for beverage storage, too. This does not last as long as the food storage, but it can give you some enjoyment, particularly when it is a port wine.

4. Not all women hate mustaches. Well, maybe most of them do, but some women actually appreciate a little facial hair when being given proper tribute.

5. Not all criminals and mass murderers wear them. Ted Bundy was clean cut. So was Jeffrey Dahmer, usually.

6. It is true that Stalin had a mustache. Hey, so did Molotov.

7. Upon a cursory investigation, it appears as though men in porn do not wear mustaches anymore (I could be wrong about this, but there are only so many viagra-pumped male porn stars that I want to look up on google image). If the rationale of making ourselves look different from male porn stars holds any legitimacy, why not wear a 'stache?

8. Yes, we are lazy. It is just one less part of our faces that we have to shave, and do it without looking like one of the band members of ZZ Top or denizens at GITMO.

9. Having a mustache gives you something to bite and chew on for entertainment during long car and bus rides.

10. Wearing a mustache while it is still un-cool will make you cool in the eyes of the anti-establishment people, instantly turning you into a celebrity. Of course, if and when the mustache ever comes back, you will have to shave it to maintain street cred.

So, see, we are not a threat to you after all. So long as you are not a kulak, that is.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Coming War With Iran

This is something that should frighten anyone, not the least those members of the US armed forces in Iraq who will be exposed and left for retaliation in a Shi'ite-majority country. Here is the final gift George Bush has in store for us. If we do not agitate on this issue, it will happen, probably by October (and by happen, I mean a significant bombing campaign), and if and when it does what little that remains of our prestige and legitimacy will be obliterated.

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Preparing the Battlefield

The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran.

By Seymour M. Hersh

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

“The Finding was focussed on undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” a person familiar with its contents said, and involved “working with opposition groups and passing money.” The Finding provided for a whole new range of activities in southern Iran and in the areas, in the east, where Baluchi political opposition is strong, he said.

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership—Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections—were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy.

The request for funding came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.) Meanwhile, the Administration also revived charges that the Iranian leadership has been involved in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq: both directly, by dispatching commando units into Iraq, and indirectly, by supplying materials used for roadside bombs and other lethal goods. (There have been questions about the accuracy of the claims; the Times, among others, has reported that “significant uncertainties remain about the extent of that involvement.”)

Military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon share the White House’s concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but there is disagreement about whether a military strike is the right solution. Some Pentagon officials believe, as they have let Congress and the media know, that bombing Iran is not a viable response to the nuclear-proliferation issue, and that more diplomacy is necessary.

A Democratic senator told me that, late last year, in an off-the-record lunch meeting, Secretary of Defense Gates met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate. (Such meetings are held regularly.) Gates warned of the consequences if the Bush Administration staged a preëmptive strike on Iran, saying, as the senator recalled, “We’ll create generations of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” Gates’s comments stunned the Democrats at the lunch, and another senator asked whether Gates was speaking for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Gates’s answer, the senator told me, was “Let’s just say that I’m here speaking for myself.” (A spokesman for Gates confirmed that he discussed the consequences of a strike at the meeting, but would not address what he said, other than to dispute the senator’s characterization.)

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, the person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Fallon resigned under pressure, after giving a series of interviews stating his reservations about an armed attack on Iran. For example, late last year he told the Financial Times that the “real objective” of U.S. policy was to change the Iranians’ behavior, and that “attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice.”

Admiral Fallon acknowledged, when I spoke to him in June, that he had heard that there were people in the White House who were upset by his public statements. “Too many people believe you have to be either for or against the Iranians,” he told me. “Let’s get serious. Eighty million people live there, and everyone’s an individual. The idea that they’re only one way or another is nonsense.”

When it came to the Iraq war, Fallon said, “Did I bitch about some of the things that were being proposed? You bet. Some of them were very stupid.”

The Democratic leadership’s agreement to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for more secret operations in Iran was remarkable, given the general concerns of officials like Gates, Fallon, and many others. “The oversight process has not kept pace—it’s been coöpted” by the Administration, the person familiar with the contents of the Finding said. “The process is broken, and this is dangerous stuff we’re authorizing.”

Senior Democrats in Congress told me that they had concerns about the possibility that their understanding of what the new operations entail differs from the White House’s. One issue has to do with a reference in the Finding, the person familiar with it recalled, to potential defensive lethal action by U.S. operatives in Iran. (In early May, the journalist Andrew Cockburn published elements of the Finding in Counterpunch, a newsletter and online magazine.)

The language was inserted into the Finding at the urging of the C.I.A., a former senior intelligence official said. The covert operations set forth in the Finding essentially run parallel to those of a secret military task force, now operating in Iran, that is under the control of JSOC. Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference. But the borders between operations are not always clear: in Iran, C.I.A. agents and regional assets have the language skills and the local knowledge to make contacts for the JSOC operatives, and have been working with them to direct personnel, matériel, and money into Iran from an obscure base in western Afghanistan. As a result, Congress has been given only a partial view of how the money it authorized may be used. One of JSOC’s task-force missions, the pursuit of “high-value targets,” was not directly addressed in the Finding. There is a growing realization among some legislators that the Bush Administration, in recent years, has conflated what is an intelligence operation and what is a military one in order to avoid fully informing Congress about what it is doing.

“This is a big deal,” the person familiar with the Finding said. “The C.I.A. needed the Finding to do its traditional stuff, but the Finding does not apply to JSOC. The President signed an Executive Order after September 11th giving the Pentagon license to do things that it had never been able to do before without notifying Congress. The claim was that the military was ‘preparing the battle space,’ and by using that term they were able to circumvent congressional oversight. Everything is justified in terms of fighting the global war on terror.” He added, “The Administration has been fuzzing the lines; there used to be a shade of gray”—between operations that had to be briefed to the senior congressional leadership and those which did not—“but now it’s a shade of mush.”

“The agency says we’re not going to get in the position of helping to kill people without a Finding,” the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the legal threat confronting some agency operatives for their involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of suspects in the war on terror. “This drove the military people up the wall,” he said. As far as the C.I.A. was concerned, the former senior intelligence official said, “the over-all authorization includes killing, but it’s not as though that’s what they’re setting out to do. It’s about gathering information, enlisting support.” The Finding sent to Congress was a compromise, providing legal cover for the C.I.A. while referring to the use of lethal force in ambiguous terms.

The defensive-lethal language led some Democrats, according to congressional sources familiar with their views, to call in the director of the C.I.A., Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, for a special briefing. Hayden reassured the legislators that the language did nothing more than provide authority for Special Forces operatives on the ground in Iran to shoot their way out if they faced capture or harm.

The legislators were far from convinced. One congressman subsequently wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

Members of Congress have expressed skepticism in the past about the information provided by the White House. On March 15, 2005, David Obey, then the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, announced that he was putting aside an amendment that he had intended to offer that day, and that would have cut off all funding for national-intelligence programs unless the President agreed to keep Congress fully informed about clandestine military activities undertaken in the war on terror. He had changed his mind, he said, because the White House promised better coöperation. “The Executive Branch understands that we are not trying to dictate what they do,” he said in a floor speech at the time. “We are simply trying to see to it that what they do is consistent with American values and will not get the country in trouble.”

Obey declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.

None of the four Democrats in the Gang of Eight—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, and House Intelligence Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes—would comment on the Finding, with some noting that it was highly classified. An aide to one member of the Democratic leadership responded, on his behalf, by pointing to the limitations of the Gang of Eight process. The notification of a Finding, the aide said, “is just that—notification, and not a sign-off on activities. Proper oversight of ongoing intelligence activities is done by fully briefing the members of the intelligence committee.” However, Congress does have the means to challenge the White House once it has been sent a Finding. It has the power to withhold funding for any government operation. The members of the House and Senate Democratic leadership who have access to the Finding can also, if they choose to do so, and if they have shared concerns, come up with ways to exert their influence on Administration policy. (A spokesman for the C.I.A. said, “As a rule, we don’t comment one way or the other on allegations of covert activities or purported findings.” The White House also declined to comment.)

A member of the House Appropriations Committee acknowledged that, even with a Democratic victory in November, “it will take another year before we get the intelligence activities under control.” He went on, “We control the money and they can’t do anything without the money. Money is what it’s all about. But I’m very leery of this Administration.” He added, “This Administration has been so secretive.

One irony of Admiral Fallon’s departure is that he was, in many areas, in agreement with President Bush on the threat posed by Iran. They had a good working relationship, Fallon told me, and, when he ran CENTCOM, were in regular communication. On March 4th, a week before his resignation, Fallon testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that he was “encouraged” about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regarding the role played by Iran’s leaders, he said, “They’ve been absolutely unhelpful, very damaging, and I absolutely don’t condone any of their activities. And I have yet to see anything since I’ve been in this job in the way of a public action by Iran that’s been at all helpful in this region.”

Fallon made it clear in our conversations that he considered it inappropriate to comment publicly about the President, the Vice-President, or Special Operations. But he said he had heard that people in the White House had been “struggling” with his views on Iran. “When I arrived at CENTCOM, the Iranians were funding every entity inside Iraq. It was in their interest to get us out, and so they decided to kill as many Americans as they could. And why not? They didn’t know who’d come out ahead, but they wanted us out. I decided that I couldn’t resolve the situation in Iraq without the neighborhood. To get this problem in Iraq solved, we had to somehow involve Iran and Syria. I had to work the neighborhood.”

Fallon told me that his focus had been not on the Iranian nuclear issue, or on regime change there, but on “putting out the fires in Iraq.” There were constant discussions in Washington and in the field about how to engage Iran and, on the subject of the bombing option, Fallon said, he believed that “it would happen only if the Iranians did something stupid.”

Fallon’s early retirement, however, appears to have been provoked not only by his negative comments about bombing Iran but also by his strong belief in the chain of command and his insistence on being informed about Special Operations in his area of responsibility. One of Fallon’s defenders is retired Marine General John J. (Jack) Sheehan, whose last assignment was as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, where Fallon was a deputy. Last year, Sheehan rejected a White House offer to become the President’s “czar” for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the reasons the White House selected Fallon for CENTCOM was that he’s known to be a strategic thinker and had demonstrated those skills in the Pacific,” Sheehan told me. (Fallon served as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific from 2005 to 2007.) “He was charged with coming up with an over-all coherent strategy for Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and, by law, the combatant commander is responsible for all military operations within his A.O.”—area of operations. “That was not happening,” Sheehan said. “When Fallon tried to make sense of all the overt and covert activity conducted by the military in his area of responsibility, a small group in the White House leadership shut him out.”

The law cited by Sheehan is the 1986 Defense Reorganization Act, known as Goldwater-Nichols, which defined the chain of command: from the President to the Secretary of Defense, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and on to the various combatant commanders, who were put in charge of all aspects of military operations, including joint training and logistics. That authority, the act stated, was not to be shared with other echelons of command. But the Bush Administration, as part of its global war on terror, instituted new policies that undercut regional commanders-in-chief; for example, it gave Special Operations teams, at military commands around the world, the highest priority in terms of securing support and equipment. The degradation of the traditional chain of command in the past few years has been a point of tension between the White House and the uniformed military.

“The coherence of military strategy is being eroded because of undue civilian influence and direction of nonconventional military operations,” Sheehan said. “If you have small groups planning and conducting military operations outside the knowledge and control of the combatant commander, by default you can’t have a coherent military strategy. You end up with a disaster, like the reconstruction efforts in Iraq.”

Admiral Fallon, who is known as Fox, was aware that he would face special difficulties as the first Navy officer to lead CENTCOM, which had always been headed by a ground commander, one of his military colleagues told me. He was also aware that the Special Operations community would be a concern. “Fox said that there’s a lot of strange stuff going on in Special Ops, and I told him he had to figure out what they were really doing,” Fallon’s colleague said. “The Special Ops guys eventually figured out they needed Fox, and so they began to talk to him. Fox would have won his fight with Special Ops but for Cheney.”

The Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

The White House’s reliance on questionable operatives, and on plans involving possible lethal action inside Iran, has created anger as well as anxiety within the Special Operations and intelligence communities. JSOC’s operations in Iran are believed to be modelled on a program that has, with some success, used surrogates to target the Taliban leadership in the tribal territories of Waziristan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But the situations in Waziristan and Iran are not comparable.

In Waziristan, “the program works because it’s small and smart guys are running it,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s being executed by professionals. The N.S.A., the C.I.A., and the D.I.A.”—the Defense Intelligence Agency—“are right in there with the Special Forces and Pakistani intelligence, and they’re dealing with serious bad guys.” He added, “We have to be really careful in calling in the missiles. We have to hit certain houses at certain times. The people on the ground are watching through binoculars a few hundred yards away and calling specific locations, in latitude and longitude. We keep the Predator loitering until the targets go into a house, and we have to make sure our guys are far enough away so they don’t get hit.” One of the most prominent victims of the program, the former official said, was Abu Laith al-Libi, a senior Taliban commander, who was killed on January 31st, reportedly in a missile strike that also killed eleven other people.

A dispatch published on March 26th by the Washington Post reported on the increasing number of successful strikes against Taliban and other insurgent units in Pakistan’s tribal areas. A follow-up article noted that, in response, the Taliban had killed “dozens of people” suspected of providing information to the United States and its allies on the whereabouts of Taliban leaders. Many of the victims were thought to be American spies, and their executions—a beheading, in one case—were videotaped and distributed by DVD as a warning to others.

It is not simple to replicate the program in Iran. “Everybody’s arguing about the high-value-target list,” the former senior intelligence official said. “The Special Ops guys are pissed off because Cheney’s office set up priorities for categories of targets, and now he’s getting impatient and applying pressure for results. But it takes a long time to get the right guys in place.”

The Pentagon consultant told me, “We’ve had wonderful results in the Horn of Africa with the use of surrogates and false flags—basic counterintelligence and counter-insurgency tactics. And we’re beginning to tie them in knots in Afghanistan. But the White House is going to kill the program if they use it to go after Iran. It’s one thing to engage in selective strikes and assassinations in Waziristan and another in Iran. The White House believes that one size fits all, but the legal issues surrounding extrajudicial killings in Waziristan are less of a problem because Al Qaeda and the Taliban cross the border into Afghanistan and back again, often with U.S. and NATO forces in hot pursuit. The situation is not nearly as clear in the Iranian case. All the considerations—judicial, strategic, and political—are different in Iran.”

He added, “There is huge opposition inside the intelligence community to the idea of waging a covert war inside Iran, and using Baluchis and Ahwazis as surrogates. The leaders of our Special Operations community all have remarkable physical courage, but they are less likely to voice their opposition to policy. Iran is not Waziristan.”

A Gallup poll taken last November, before the N.I.E. was made public, found that seventy-three per cent of those surveyed thought that the United States should use economic action and diplomacy to stop Iran’s nuclear program, while only eighteen per cent favored direct military action. Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to endorse a military strike. Weariness with the war in Iraq has undoubtedly affected the public’s tolerance for an attack on Iran. This mood could change quickly, however. The potential for escalation became clear in early January, when five Iranian patrol boats, believed to be under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, made a series of aggressive moves toward three Navy warships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Initial reports of the incident made public by the Pentagon press office said that the Iranians had transmitted threats, over ship-to-ship radio, to “explode” the American ships. At a White House news conference, the President, on the day he left for an eight-day trip to the Middle East, called the incident “provocative” and “dangerous,” and there was, very briefly, a sense of crisis and of outrage at Iran. “TWO MINUTES FROM WAR” was the headline in one British newspaper.

The crisis was quickly defused by Vice-Admiral Kevin Cosgriff, the commander of U.S. naval forces in the region. No warning shots were fired, the Admiral told the Pentagon press corps on January 7th, via teleconference from his headquarters, in Bahrain. “Yes, it’s more serious than we have seen, but, to put it in context, we do interact with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their Navy regularly,” Cosgriff said. “I didn’t get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats.”

Admiral Cosgriff’s caution was well founded: within a week, the Pentagon acknowledged that it could not positively identify the Iranian boats as the source of the ominous radio transmission, and press reports suggested that it had instead come from a prankster long known for sending fake messages in the region. Nonetheless, Cosgriff’s demeanor angered Cheney, according to the former senior intelligence official. But a lesson was learned in the incident: The public had supported the idea of retaliation, and was even asking why the U.S. didn’t do more. The former official said that, a few weeks later, a meeting took place in the Vice-President’s office. “The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,” he said.

In June, President Bush went on a farewell tour of Europe. He had tea with Queen Elizabeth II and dinner with Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, the President and First Lady of France. The serious business was conducted out of sight, and involved a series of meetings on a new diplomatic effort to persuade the Iranians to halt their uranium-enrichment program. (Iran argues that its enrichment program is for civilian purposes and is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Secretary of State Rice had been involved with developing a new package of incentives. But the Administration’s essential negotiating position seemed unchanged: talks could not take place until Iran halted the program. The Iranians have repeatedly and categorically rejected that precondition, leaving the diplomatic situation in a stalemate; they have not yet formally responded to the new incentives.

The continuing impasse alarms many observers. Joschka Fischer, the former German Foreign Minister, recently wrote in a syndicated column that it may not “be possible to freeze the Iranian nuclear program for the duration of the negotiations to avoid a military confrontation before they are completed. Should this newest attempt fail, things will soon get serious. Deadly serious.” When I spoke to him last week, Fischer, who has extensive contacts in the diplomatic community, said that the latest European approach includes a new element: the willingness of the U.S. and the Europeans to accept something less than a complete cessation of enrichment as an intermediate step. “The proposal says that the Iranians must stop manufacturing new centrifuges and the other side will stop all further sanction activities in the U.N. Security Council,” Fischer said, although Iran would still have to freeze its enrichment activities when formal negotiations begin. “This could be acceptable to the Iranians—if they have good will.”

The big question, Fischer added, is in Washington. “I think the Americans are deeply divided on the issue of what to do about Iran,” he said. “Some officials are concerned about the fallout from a military attack and others think an attack is unavoidable. I know the Europeans, but I have no idea where the Americans will end up on this issue.”

There is another complication: American Presidential politics. Barack Obama has said that, if elected, he would begin talks with Iran with no “self-defeating” preconditions (although only after diplomatic groundwork had been laid). That position has been vigorously criticized by John McCain. The Washington Post recently quoted Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s national-security director, as stating that McCain supports the White House’s position, and that the program be suspended before talks begin. What Obama is proposing, Scheunemann said, “is unilateral cowboy summitry.”

Scheunemann, who is known as a neoconservative, is also the McCain campaign’s most important channel of communication with the White House. He is a friend of David Addington, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. I have heard differing accounts of Scheunemann’s influence with McCain; though some close to the McCain campaign talk about him as a possible national-security adviser, others say he is someone who isn’t taken seriously while “telling Cheney and others what they want to hear,” as a senior McCain adviser put it.

It is not known whether McCain, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been formally briefed on the operations in Iran. At the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in June, Obama repeated his plea for “tough and principled diplomacy.” But he also said, along with McCain, that he would keep the threat of military action against Iran on the table.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh?currentPage=all
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Yet another reason not to elect people who believe in and want to facilitate the apocalypse.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Audacity of Barack Obama

During the primaries, I have certainly been more sympathetic to Barack Obama's candidacy than Hillary Clinton's. Not that I think he is the greatest candidate. It is just that I hold grudges, and the grudges I hold against the Clinton family are immense--on NAFTA and GATT (contributing to the death of our industrial workforce), the Welfare Reform Act (which Hillary lobbied for during her time as First Lady), and especially on the war in Iraq (which Senator Clinton voted for and supported, before "changing her mind" right before forming the exploratory committee for her Presidential campaign). There is nothing that says being unqualified more than voting for and supporting the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of my country.

There are many liberals and progressives who are so dissatisfied with the last eight years that they would vote for anyone with a D in front of their names for higher office. It is understandable. We have had to endure what is probably the worst Presidency in the last century. We have had to endure terrorist attacks, wars, and the subjugation of over two centuries of Constitutional protections. We have had to watch while our economy, way of life, and our national prestige sink to probably the lowest levels in the post-World War Two era. It is hard to look at the Bush era as anything other than an unmitigated catastrophe. And the thought of John McCain being in the White House is hardly enticing.


However, none of this should absolve the Democratic Presidential nominee of his responsibilities to his constituencies. The silence in the progressive camps about some of Obama's positions and behavior is, to me, as disconcerting as John McCain's irrational temper. From the beginning of his candidacy, Obama has pursued a race-neutral campaign. In fact, the only time he mentions race is when he is forced to by the media or by his opponent (usually in manufactured incidents, such as the Reverend Wright scandal, or when Hillary was taking the advice of Mark Penn and openly race-baiting Senator Obama before the southern primaries). For as long as I live my lasting memory of Senator Clinton will be her speech early last month, right before the primary in Mississippi (that citadel of racial tolerance), proclaiming herself the candidate of choice for white people.

From a practical politics standpoint, Senator Obama may be correct to avoid the issue of race, so as to appear "safe" to white voters. Nevertheless, by ignoring the issue and his own community, Senator Obama is failing to exhibit the kind of leadership qualities which should bolster a candidate. It seems the only time Obama even talks about black people (never mind race) is when he is denouncing black men for being lousy fathers.

Another position clarification, and obvious ploy to avoid the fate of Michael Dukakis, is the public support for executing child rapists. This is what constitutes bravery and courage in our society today. Killing people that most people in our society want to see dead. However, there is a reason why our Supreme Court banished the death penalty for rape in this country (starting in Coker v. Georgia). The history of capital punishment for rape has been overwhelmingly used as a means by the white South to target African American men, and typically after being accused of raping white women (such as the Scottsboro case). This history of racism, as well as the disproportionately of the punishment, all contributed to its abolition. According to Senator Obama, the racism of the death penalty is not a problem, so long as the class he wants to see killed are indeed put to death--and it is worth noting the same states that used the death penalty to execute black men for allegedly raping white women are the same ones who wanted to apply it to child molesters.

Another "compromise" by Senator Obama has been on the issue of FISA. For the longest time, liberals and progressives have been critical of President Bush for expanding FISA to allow warrantless searches on citizens, non-citizens, on anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and based solely on the opinion of a law enforcement bureaucrat (whose interests are not the same as the Constitution's) without any legal oversight. The Congressional Democratic leaders' response was, yet again, to find a way to give President Bush what he truly wants--an unaccountable federal bureaucracy, which can force telecommunications companies to surrender all of our information, without worry of a lawsuit to stop this practice by civil liberties' groups (and possibly the Supreme Court). By making it impossible to stop the telecommunications industry (who will cower to any demand by the government) from handing over its information to federal law enforcement, almost all of our internet activity and calls are being cataloged and/or monitored by the same people who think it is communistic to make them wait a week to purchase a Glock 9.

To compound Congress's cowardice, Senator Obama has come out in support of the FISA "compromise," which is only a compromise in that the immunity to the telecom industry is not express but conditioned by the courts, who will judge the legitimacy of any claim on a telecom firm (needless to say, under this provision, telecom companies will be able to provide their information without worry of a lawsuit). Actually, Obama supported this all along. He just waited until recently to finally voice it. President Bush received everything else he wanted, including a sweeping expansion of federal law enforcement powers to legally monitor citizens, anyone for that matter, without worry of that pesky thing known as the Fourth Amendment. For all intents and purposes, the Fourth Amendment as we know it no longer exists, and to Senator Obama, as well as Harry Reid, Stenny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi, and George Bush, that is all the better.

When not attacking black fathers, calling for the killing of child molesters, or supporting the elimination of parts of our Bill of Rights, Senator Obama has also shown his unqualified support for Israel. This is not just run-of-the-mill Israel-is-promiseland-for-the-oppressed, either. He has called for opposition to any Hamas-led government in the Occupied Territories, even though they were elected (and put there in elections we insisted on, strangely enough). He has delivered at least one speech in support of a potential Israeli attack on Iran, under the grounds that Israel has the "right to defend itself" from "threats," even though Iran has not attacked Israel and any attack by Israel on Iran would correspondingly expose us in neighboring Iraq.

Unfortunately, the imperialistic language of Senator Obama does not stop with Israel. Of course, he has previously hinted at sending in US troops to Pakistan, to catch and/or kill Osama bin Laden (even without an invitation from the Pakistani government). In other words, Senator Obama is calling for a possible invasion of Pakistan. When asked to confirm these sentiments, the Senator quickly tried to correct himself by claiming he was misquoted, but the intent behind exclaiming the support for installing troops into a country without its authorization should be clear. We funded Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s for the same (even if contrived) reason.

Like with domestic policy issues, foreign policy issues present a landmine for Senator Obama. First, because the Republicans will attack any nominee as being "weak" on national defense (i.e., not militaristic enough). Two, the right-wing in this country has done as much as possible to try to portray Senator Obama as a closeted Muslim (that is, a terrorist, which in the mind of most Americans today is likely considered the same thing). Much of this is just a mask for running against Obama's race, but polite society no longer permits people to run openly racist campaigns (as in the South during the civil rights movement), so the Senator's middle name has become the new replacement for reminding everyone that he is not white and as such a danger to the US. By showing that he is a supporter of Israel, even supporting it in a hypothetical attack on Iran, expressing the support of using American troops to invade a Muslim country, Obama's campaign is attempting to neutralize those Republicans who would compare him to Jimmy Carter.

Even from a political realist perspective, it is hard for me to imagine white people in the South going into the voting booth and thinking, "I wasn't going to vote for that guy with the Muslim name, until he started talking about all those irresponsible blacks and showed his support for killing child rapists." The only purpose of these tactics is to not to lose votes of those whites who could be manipulated on some of these issues. It is doubtful that there are too many people who would not vote for Senator Obama because of these issues, but they could be convinced to vote against him if properly motivated by the campaign attack ads showing the candidate as being weak on crime, terrorism, etc. The problem with this tactic is that self-defense in politics almost always fail. Sure, it worked for Bill Clinton (the ultimate no-principled DLCer), and Obama has his charisma and then some, but if he wins it will be because of that charisma, and the lack of a Republican campaign, not because of his numerous cave-ins on these other issues (who are only important to people who would never vote for him to begin with).


And this is not just about ideology. For the first time in a long time, probably since the Great Depression, the people are actually on our side on most of the issues, especially the war in Iraq. The most identifiably conservative President in our country's history has 27% approval ratings, the lowest since approval ratings have been measured.

Why is it in this environment that we tolerate our candidates to act and talk like the officeholders almost three-quarters of the population disapproves of? What is happening now, with Senator Obama's rightward shift even before the convention, is a byproduct of the weakness of liberals and progressives who refuse to hold the Senator morally accountable for his positions. The lack of criticism of the Senator from Illinois is making it possible for him to continue this shift, and if you think it is bad now just wait until the fall. If we do not say something and say it now, loudly, we are going to be dealing with a candidacy that will be calling for an attack on Iran before November or supporting “school choice” subsidies to the church-administered private schools of this country.

When was the last time Senator Obama delivered a speech about Iraq, calling for the withdrawal of troops? The vast majority of people are supportive of a national health care system. What about debt-forgiveness or abolishing predatory loan practices? What about the impeachment articles submitted against President Bush, which the media has willfully refused to cover? Nothing.


Since the primaries, all I see and hear are the same money-raising speeches about hope. Amazingly, there was more talk about the Iraq War during the Democratic primaries in 2004 than in 2008. The people are ahead of us on this issue (with 70% opposed to the war, probably the highest ever recorded of the major wars we have fought in), and there is little to no pressure on the Democratic Party or the lead candidate to take up this issue. As Frederick Douglass once said, power concedes nothing without a demand. It is high time we applied pressure to our candidates to concede to our interests, for a change.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guns and The Supreme Court

If anything illustrates the folly of the judicial branch of late, it is the mindset of our pseudo-strict constructionist Supreme Court with regards to the Second Amendment. True, the framers intended for us to have guns. They also intended for the Second Amendment, as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights, to only apply to the federal government and not the states. It is the ultimate of ironies that conservatives took one of the great liberal legal innovations of the 20th century, the incorporation of the Bill of Rights, to compel the federal government to impose their view of gun ownership on local governments. Such is the respect they have for federalism.

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Gun-control supporters show outrage

By Anahad O'Connor
Published: June 27, 2008

Gun-control advocates across the country reacted with shock and outrage at the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the District of Columbia's ban on handguns today, saying the ruling would threaten gun-control measures in other states.

If there was any doubt that other bans would be in peril, the National Rifle Association quickly put those questions to rest when it announced shortly after the ruling that it would file a flurry of lawsuits challenging restrictions in San Francisco, Chicago and several Chicago suburbs. The law in Washington, which spelled out rules for the storage of weapons and made it extremely difficult for most people in the district to legally possess a handgun, was among the strictest in the nation.

"I consider this the opening salvo in a step-by-step process of providing relief for law-abiding Americans everywhere that have been deprived of freedom," Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, said in a statement.

In its 5-to-4 decision, the court ruled that the Constitution protects an individual's right to own guns, not just the right of the states to maintain regulated militias. It also said that the District of Columbia's requirement that lawful weapons be disassembled or limited by trigger locks was unconstitutional because it made them virtually useless.

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley, a staunch supporter of gun control, called the decision "frightening" and said he was bracing for a fight with the gun lobby, which has long criticized the city's ban on the sale and registration of handguns for everyone but police officers and a handful of others. Enacted in 1982, the law was created in response to the murders of two police officers and the assassination attempt on former president Ronald Reagan.

"Does this lead to everyone having a gun in our society?" he said at a news conference. "If they think that's the answer, then they're greatly mistaken. Then, why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West? You have a gun and I have a gun and we'll settle in the streets.

"They're changing the rules," Daley said of the Supreme Court. "Why should we as a city not be able to protect ourselves from those who want guns in our society?"

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former mayor of San Francisco, which also restricts the owning of guns, reacted strongly to the ruling, saying she was "viscerally affected" by it and worried for the nation's safety.

"I speak as somebody who has watched this nation with its huge homicide rate, when countries that have sane restrictions on weapons do not have that homicide rate," she said. "And I happen to believe that this is now going to open the door to litigation against every gun safety law that states have passed — assault weapons bans, trigger locks, and all the rest of it."

The ruling was quickly seized upon by John McCain, who in recent months has tried to repair a fractured relationship with the gun lobby stemming from his support of regulations on gun sales at firearm shows and other restrictions. McCain praised the decision today, and used it to renew criticisms of his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.

"Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today's ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly," McCain said.

Obama, however, was more careful and moderate in his statements about the ruling, saying it would provide "much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions" across the country.

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures," he said. "The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the DC gun ban went too far, Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe."

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/27/america/27react.php
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What impact this will have on other gun control laws remains to be seen. Any incorporation will only give the NRAs of the world a legal opening to challenge any and all gun control legislation. Who knows, before long, our streets may look like this--with a little help of our friends holed up in their gated communities, locked and stowed from those they have been running away from since the advent of the levittown.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Goodbye, George Carlin

I do not typically comment on deaths, but for me growing up George Carlin was always my favorite comedian. He was the only person who I listened to as a kid and adult who made sense on religion. He was also unbelievably funny, whether making fun of moral hypocrisy, peoples' sensibilities, and yes even football. He was what a comedian should be--funny and offensive.

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Carlin, counterculture comedians dean, dies at 71

By KEITH ST. CLAIR, Associated Press Writer 15 minutes ago

LOS ANGELES - George Carlin, the dean of counterculture comedians whose biting insights on life and language were immortalized in his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV" routine, died of heart failure Sunday. He was 71.

Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He had performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas.

"He was a genius and I will miss him dearly," Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s, told The Associated Press.

Carlin's jokes constantly breached the accepted boundaries of comedy and language, particularly with his routine on the "Seven Words" — all of which are taboo on broadcast TV and radio to this day. When he uttered all seven at a show in Milwaukee in 1972, he was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, freed on $150 bail and exonerated when a Wisconsin judge dismissed the case, saying it was indecent but citing free speech and the lack of any disturbance.

When the words were later played on a New York radio station, they resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling upholding the government's authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language during hours when children might be listening.

"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," he told The Associated Press earlier this year.

Despite his reputation as unapologetically irreverent, Carlin was a television staple through the decades, serving as host of the "Saturday Night Live" debut in 1975 — noting on his Web site that he was "loaded on cocaine all week long" — and appearing some 130 times on "The Tonight Show."

He produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a couple of TV shows and appeared in several movies, from his own comedy specials to "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" in 1989 — a testament to his range from cerebral satire and cultural commentary to downright silliness (and sometimes hitting all points in one stroke).

"Why do they lock gas station bathrooms?" he once mused. "Are they afraid someone will clean them?"

He won four Grammy Awards, each for best spoken comedy album, and was nominated for five Emmy awards. On Tuesday, it was announced that Carlin was being awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which will be presented Nov. 10 in Washington and broadcast on PBS.

Carlin started his career on the traditional nightclub circuit in a coat and tie, pairing with Burns to spoof TV game shows, news and movies. Perhaps in spite of the outlaw soul, "George was fairly conservative when I met him," said Burns, describing himself as the more left-leaning of the two. It was a degree of separation that would reverse when they came upon Lenny Bruce, the original shock comic, in the early '60s.

"We were working in Chicago, and we went to see Lenny, and we were both blown away," Burns said, recalling the moment as the beginning of the end for their collaboration if not their close friendship. "It was an epiphany for George. The comedy we were doing at the time wasn't exactly groundbreaking, and George knew then that he wanted to go in a different direction."

That direction would make Carlin as much a social commentator and philosopher as comedian, a position he would relish through the years.

"The whole problem with this idea of obscenity and indecency, and all of these things — bad language and whatever — it's all caused by one basic thing, and that is: religious superstition," Carlin told the AP in a 2004 interview. "There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. ... It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have."

When asked about the fallout from the Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Janet Jackson's breast-baring "wardrobe malfunction," Carlin told the AP, "What are we, surprised?"

"On that Super Bowl broadcast of Janet Jackson's there was also a commercial about a 4-hour erection. A lot of people were saying about Janet Jackson, 'How do I explain to my kids? We're a little family, we watched it together ...' And, well, what did you say about the other thing? These are convenient targets."

Carlin was born May 12, 1937 and grew up in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, raised by a single mother. After dropping out of high school in the ninth grade, he joined the Air Force in 1954. He received three court-martials and numerous disciplinary punishments, according to his official Web site.

While in the Air Force he started working as an off-base disc jockey at a radio station in Shreveport, La., and after receiving a general discharge in 1957, took an announcing job at WEZE in Boston.

"Fired after three months for driving mobile news van to New York to buy pot," his Web site says.

From there he went on to a job on the night shift as a deejay at a radio station in Forth Worth, Texas. Carlin also worked variety of temporary jobs including a carnival organist and a marketing director for a peanut brittle.

In 1960, he left with Burns, a Texas radio buddy, for Hollywood to pursue a nightclub career as comedy team Burns & Carlin. He left with $300, but his first break came just months later when the duo appeared on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar.

Carlin said he hoped to would emulate his childhood hero, Danny Kaye, the kindly, rubber-faced comedian who ruled over the decade that Carlin grew up in — the 1950s — with a clever but gentle humor reflective of its times.

Only problem was, it didn't work for him, and they broke up by 1962.

"I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn't really care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I had been doing that for the better part of 10 years when it finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for the wrong people," Carlin reflected recently as he prepared for his 14th HBO special, "It's Bad For Ya."

Eventually Carlin lost the buttoned-up look, favoring the beard, ponytail and all-black attire for which he came to be known.

But even with his decidedly adult-comedy bent, Carlin never lost his childlike sense of mischief, even voicing kid-friendly projects like episodes of the TV show "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" and the spacey Volkswagen bus Fillmore in the 2006 Pixar hit "Cars."

Carlin's first wife, Brenda, died in 1997. He is survived by wife Sally Wade; daughter Kelly Carlin McCall; son-in-law Bob McCall; brother Patrick Carlin; and sister-in-law Marlene Carlin.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080623/ap_en_mo/obit_george_carlin;_ylt=AtBrSOb1AgdZgivjltNZ13txFb8C
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My favorite Carlin bit was always his take on "pro-life" anti-abortionists. For the man who could find the absurd in almost anything.