Buzz from Baghdad

Communiqué from Iraq: One-time Medal of Honor recipient Charlie Liteky—who appeared on SN&R’s cover (“Prisoner of conscience,” May 2001) while serving a one-year jail sentence for protesting U.S. foreign policy in Central America—spoke to Bites on the phone from Iraq last weekend. Liteky has spent the last two months in Baghdad, touring the countryside and working in an orphanage. Referring to a war that President George W. Bush and his team seem ready to wage, Liteky told Bites, “It’s unimaginable, what they’re thinking of doing.

“The children of Iraq are going to die, the U.S. soldiers are going to die … for what?” What is the answer?

Liteky, a former priest who won the country’s top honor when he carried 22 wounded soldiers to safety under heavy gunfire in Vietnam, said he’s mainly in Iraq as a potential witness to war. “It’s important for people to be here, to tell the stories of the victims,” he said. “Those stories contributed to the ending of the Vietnam War, but we’re not going to get them this time.” Liteky feels that ever since the Gulf War, the lapdog media largely has been controlled by the military during wartime.

The medal recipient spoke to Bites in the early morning of the day he was forced to leave Baghdad because of a lapsed visa, after multiple extensions. “I’m not leaving voluntarily,” said Liteky, who now plans to return to U.S. soil; fly to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 18 for what is touted as a large anti-war rally; and then return to his observation post in Baghdad. “Someone has to be here,” he said. “I might be able to save a child.”

Good grief: Governor Gray Davis is starting to look like the Capitol’s Charlie Brown—constantly having the football yanked away. Last week, with an inauguration, State of the State address and budget unveiling, the chance to spin news could have marked a comeback for the gov. Instead, it was a string of fumbles. Consider the flub timeline:

A couple days before the inaugural, word got out that Davis had hotshot lobbyists Phil Isenberg and Patrick Johnston in the kitchen when he cooked up the budget. Watchdog types howled.

On Tuesday, headlines screamed that Davis was artificially inflating the size of the deficit to get away with tax hikes. The Department of Finance, under Davis, pegs the hole at $35 billion, but the respected, nonpartisan legislative analyst puts it at $21 billion. Why the disparity? Nobody knows. Davis won’t share his homework with the rest of the class. That prompted a state engineers’ union to file suit Tuesday for a look at the numbers.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, Davis bragged that his “goal is to help create 500,000 new jobs over the next four years.” But the cautious boast drew guffaws. That’s about half as many new jobs as the state already creates every year.

Thursday morning, the New Republic Online posted a passage from Davis’ State of the State that sounded a lot like Bill Clinton’s first State of the Union. Local GOPers dutifully e-mailed the comparison to reporters. Clinton: “When presidents speak to the Congress and the nation from this podium, they typically comment on the full range of challenges and opportunities that face us. But these are not ordinary times. For all the many tasks that require our attention, one calls on us to focus, unite and act. Together, we must make our economy thrive once again.” Davis: “When governors speak from this podium, they ordinarily discuss a range of issues. But these are not ordinary times. We have one overriding task before us. We must … get our economy back on track.” Davis speechwriter Jason Kinney, soon to leave for unrelated reasons, told the LA Daily News it was an “accidental homage.”

Isn’t it ironic: Better get ready for a pink-slip party, state employees! The Department of Personnel Services is prepping for the downsizing festivities by advertising 14 new jobs to help get rid of about 1,500 old ones. One of these jobs will go to a “staff services analyst” whose job will be to help in the “downsizing of work forces,” the “computation of seniority scores.” Uh oh. Here comes the judge, and she’s new in town.