Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Goosing the gander

Instant Pudding applauds the suit recently filed by severely disabled Iraq vet Sgt. Peter Damon against Michael Moore. Damon is
claiming the portly peacenik recycled an old interview and used it out of context to make him appear anti-war in "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Sgt. Peter Damon, 33, who strongly supports America's invasion of Iraq, said he never agreed to be in the 2004 movie, which trashes President Bush.

Well then, Professor, I assume you would also support similar legal actions on behalf of a few other folks whose Iraq stories were taken out of context and misrepresented:

* Pat Tillman
* Jessica Lynch

Right?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wanker du jour: Krauthammer

Do big newspaper OpEd pages have editors? Do they decide what occupies their sacred real estate, and is logical consistency one of the criteria?

The latest from Charles Krauthammer, which is a plea that our government not negotiate with Iran, stimulated rumination over these questions. It did so not merely because it is wrongheaded, which is a virtual given, but because it is at once so dishonest in its form and so chilling in what it reveals despite its dishonesty. I don't have to go through the whole thing, because Joshua Holland @ AlterNet has most of it covered.

But I do want to highlight the appalingly deceitful form of the overall argument he makes. Krauthamer talks primarily about one false dichotomy -- an either-or choice between two-party direct discussions with Iran vs. a multilateral approach. That argument is bad enough all by itself. But Krauthammer knows that he isn't going to scare us that way, and fear is a more comfortable arena for him than logic will ever be. So toward the end of the piece, he switches to a completely different dichotomy, and reveals the real reason he is against direct talks:
We should resolutely say no [to bilateral talks].

Except on one condition. If the allies… [pledge] support for U.S. and/or coalition military action against Iran in the event that the bilateral talks fail, then we might achieve something.

You want us to talk? Fine. We will go there, but only if you arm us with the largest stick of all: your public support for military action if the talks fail…

In other words, I won't do what you want unless you promise me that you will let me do what I want. And there you have the real reason Krauthammer and the rest of the insane neocon posse are against negotiations with Iran: that they don't want to do anything that would endanger their plans for a glorious new and improved war.

Maintaining their perfect record

Was it really just a day or so ago that I was ridiculing Victor Davis Hanson for his triumphalist recitation of the good that has flowed from Dubya's war? One of the things Vic pointed to was our disruption of A.Q. Khan's nuclear bazaar. If true, that success would stain Bush's otherwise unblemished record of failure.

But Vic can rest easy. Turns out we're screwing that one up, too.
A Swiss investigation into an international nuclear smuggling network is being hampered by a lack of cooperation from the United States.

Authorities in Bern say they asked US officials for judicial assistance a year ago but have yet to receive a reply.

Washington's failure to respond to "multiple" Swiss appeals was revealed last week by former United Nations weapons inspector David Albright.

He told a US hearing into the nuclear trafficking ring run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, that he found the lack of cooperation by the US "frankly embarrassing".

"It is difficult to understand the actions of the US government. Its lack of assistance needlessly complicates this important investigation," said Albright, who is president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.

Their ability to screw up with mathematical certainty is a thing of wonder.

Cat Scratch Feeble

In my never-ending quest for understanding of the wingnut mind, I read some strange and horrible things. Ted Nugent gave a long, almost Hunter S. Thompson-esque interview with, of all places the U.K. Independent, which I found and slogged through after seeing that Darryl posted at The General's place offering Nugent some advice about his interviewing skills. (I mean the HST comparison in the sense that Nugent is unbridled and profane and unapologetic, not based on the beliefs espoused. Oh, and the gun thing.)

As absurd and repulsive as he is, Nugent is in fact a rare and valuable thing: a wingnut stripped of code and the veneer of political corrrectness that are the camo usually worn by such Neanderthals in public. He says what millions like him fell but are embarassed to say out loud. His is the inner voice of wingnut everyman.

There is a deeply revealing moment in the interview. As with our clueless Commander Codpiece, his world is resolutely monochromatic. And like Dubya he is convinced he is infallible:
When he says that the US campaign in Iraq is strategically brilliant, I'm not sure even he believes it.

"What makes you think everything's going so well?"

"Well, for one thing, we haven't been attacked again, since 9/11."

"Tell that to commuters in Madrid and London."

"I don't believe those things happened because the Spanish and the Brits were in Iraq."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Are you never plagued by doubt?"

"Never. My confidence level is insane. If there is one thing I am, it's always right. I consider myself a true liberal. I am armed in order to stop good people being destroyed by bad people. Liberalism is assisting quality of life, whatever you may choose. I think that homosexuality is wrong. I think that people who drink, smoke and take drugs are doing wrong.

Bush's poll numbers show that not everyone is still similarly afflicted, but what Nugent expresses is probably the unfiltered version of the core beliefs of tens of millions like him.

I've gone on at length before about the thought processes of folks like him. When data conflicts with belief, they throw the data overboard.

He really is King George's unbridled id. Dubya ducked the Viet Nam war, then played fighter pilot en route to declaring mission accomplished. Nugent ducked the Viet Nam war and played Rambo in Iraq for a few days. Both rigidly hew to a cartoonish view of the world that protects them from ever having to question any of their beliefs.

Bush minus deceit equals Nugent.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Enron and on

The verdicts against Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are probably as close to justice as we are realistically likely to get in that Ponzi scheme to end all Ponzi schemes. But we should not forget the part of the story that the press and the Preznit want us to forget: the deep and wide ties between Kenny Boy and the Bush machine. Robert Parry has the whole laundry list.

And of course, when the press talks about how these vermin committed crimes including insider trading, we should be reminding them about another insider trading scandal -- a scandal that was never properly investigated. A sidebar in every discussion of the Enron debacle should be a small Texas oil company named Harken. Dubya was on the board of directors of Harken in 1990, when, in a miniature Enron prequel, he dumped his Harken shares under suspicious cirmcumstances:

The controversy centered around the fact that he sold the stock shortly before the company announced major losses; after that announcement, the stock's value dropped by more than half. Here is the chronology according to various reports:

* June 6, 1990: Bush (who was at the time on Harken's board and a member of its audit committee) received the company's "flash report," which according to the Washington Post, predicted second quarter losses in the neighborhood of $4 million.

* June 8, 1990: According to the Los Angeles Times, Ralph Smith, a stockbroker, placed a "cold call" to Bush offering to purchase his Harken shares. Bush said he would reply within a couple of weeks.

* June 11, 1990: Bush attended a meeting at which a representative of Harken's audit firm, Arthur Andersen, warned of a loss that "could be potentially significant." Although no amount was specified in the meeting, the auditors indicated that the losses would surpass the $4 million forecast in the "flash report." (In fact, Harken would ultimately report a loss of $23 million.)

* June 22, 1990: Shortly after getting the transaction approved by Harken's lawyers, Bush sold 212,140 of his 317,152 Harken shares for $848,560.

* July 10, 1990: Under SEC requirements, this was the deadline for Bush to publicly report his sale of the stock. He failed to file the report until March of 1991. For reasons Bush has not explained, although he signed the form, he did not date it.

* August 20, 1990: Harken publicly announced second quarter losses of just over $23 million. The stock, which had opened at $3 per share, closed at $2.37.

* August 21, 1990: Despite the losses reported the day before, Harken's stock price rebounded to $3 per share. However, the overall trend was downwards, and by the end of 1990 Harken's share price had dropped to $1. (Today, Harken's stock trades for about the price of a candy bar on the American Stock Exchange.)

The SEC "investigated," and cleared him in 1991. Can anyone recall who was President in 1991? If you guessed Dubya's daddy, go to the head of the class. And who was the head of the SEC under Daddy? Richard Breeden. You probably don't know much about him, but here's what Eric Boehlert noted in Salon back in 2002:

Breeden has known the senior George Bush for 20 years, and worked with him for nearly 10 before then-president Bush appointed him as SEC chairman. That choice in 1989 surprised many Wall Street experts since Breeden, just 39 at the time, had virtually no firsthand knowledge of the financial markets. "What do we know about Richard Breeden?" Hardwick Simmons, vice-chairman of Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc., asked Business Week at the time. "Not much," answered the magazine.

A key quality Breeden did possess, however, was Bush loyalty. Breeden was "a devoted admirer of President Bush," according to a New York Law Journal profile at the time of Breeden's nomination. (The Journal noted one of Breeden's three sons shared a Bush family name, Prescott.) One friend told the magazine Breeden's admiration for Bush was "something of a passion for him," adding, "He would have done just about anything for the vice president's chances of becoming president."

At the time of his nomination, one White House official echoed that sentiment to the New York Times, saying Breeden was considered "family" by the Bush administration. Business Week described Breeden as a Bush loyalist.

There really is nothing new under the sun, is there?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Victor Davis Tinkerbell


Memorial Day weeekend is a time to remember the sacrifices of those who died for us. And so we should. But for Victor Davis Hanson, it is a time to resuscitate a platoon of specious arguments and absurdities in service of his unshakeable faith that the bed in Iraq has not yet reach the point of non-unshitability. Thus we have VDH's:Looking Back at Iraq.
There may be a lot to regret about the past policy of the United States in the Middle East, but the removal of Saddam Hussein and the effort to birth democracy in his place is surely not one of them. And we should remember that this Memorial Day.

Whatever our righteous anger at Khomeinist Iran, it was wrong, well aside from the arms-for-hostages scandal, to provide even a modicum of aid to Saddam Hussein, the great butcher of his own, during the Iran-Iraq war.

Inviting the fascist Baathist government of Syria into the allied coalition of the first Gulf War meant that we more or less legitimized the Assad regime’s take-over of Lebanon, with disastrous results for its people.

It may have been strategically in error not to have taken out Saddam in 1991, but it was morally wrong to have then encouraged Shiites and Kurds to rise up — while watching idly as Saddam’s reprieved planes and helicopters slaughtered them in the thousands.
Now this is an interesting tactic, and one that I suspect will foreshadow a VDH screed ten years hence supporting the next war disaster. The errors Vic condemns here were, it must be pointed out, those of George the Elder, aided and abetted by Rummy and The Dick. It is possible that, as full-bird colonel in the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, Vic will always criticize military decisions that would not be blessed by General Buck Turgidson. But I have a funny feeling that when the time comes to urge the next generation of unfortunate grunts to glorious battle, Vic will be telling us that this time the warlords have it right, unlike the disaster in Iraq way back in 2004-200*.

But what did 2,400 brave and now deceased Americans really sacrifice for in Iraq, along with thousands more who were wounded? And what were billions in treasure spent on? And what about the hundreds of collective years of service offered by our soldiers? What exactly did intrepid officers in the news like a Gen. Petreus, or Col. McMaster, or Lt. Col Kurilla fight for?

First, there is no longer a mass murderer atop one of the oil-richest states in the world. Imagine what Iraq would now look like with $70 a barrel oil, a $50 billion unchecked and ongoing Oil-for-Food U.N. scandal, the 15th year of no-fly zones, a punitative U.N. embargo on the Iraqi people — all perverted by Russian arms sales, European oil concessions, and frenzied Chinese efforts to get energy contracts from Saddam.
...
Mohammar Khaddafi would be starting up his centrifuges and adding to his chemical weapons depots. Syria would still be in Lebanon. Washington would probably have ceased pressuring Egypt and the Gulf States to enact reform. Dr. Khan’s nuclear mail-order house would be in high gear. We would still be hearing of a “militant wing” of Hamas, rather than watching a democratically elected terrorist clique reveal its true creed to the world.

Oooh, he's a tricksy one, he is. There is a real contradiction here, butI'm sure Vic is so wrapped up in his own warblogging fantasies that he never saw it. First, he assumes that oil prices exist in a hermetic space unaffected by our invasion of Iraq. Economists make this kind of argument all the time. They even have a shorthand high-falutin' Latin name for it, to scare off debate: ceteris paribus. Literally, it means all else being equal; in practice, it means, "I'm going to pull a blatantly absurd argument out of my ass, but I know Latin, so back off." But does any sane person really believe that oil would be at the same price level it is today even if we had not monumentally screwed up production in the country with the second largest reserves in the world?

So when an argument requires that Vic assert that key facts are exogenous, Vic does so. But when referring to Libya, all of a sudden Vic asserts cause and effect. I predicted this line of "reasoning"weeks ago. But Vic's twofer is impressive nonetheless: Bad facts would have been there regardless of our snafu. But good facts? Well sir, those are a direct result of our derring-do.

Now how much would you pay for Victor Davis Tinkerbell's Neverland Logic Handbook? Don't answer yet -- there's more!
But just as importantly, what did these rare Americans not fight for? Oil, for one thing. The price skyrocketed after they went in.
It is more than a little sad that one of the leading lights of neocon pundit class is willing to sign his name to stuff like this. "Hey, we couldn't have intended to drive 100 mph in a school zone -- we crashed!" It takes some serious intellectual stones to argue that honorable intentions are established by bad results. And never mind, of course, that his neocon brethren were confidently predicting cheap oil in the leadup to the war.

Our soldiers also removed a great threat to the United States.
Will Peter Pan ever grow up? Or will he continue to repeat the Big Lie forever? Even Bush and Cheney have essentially abandoned this claim, but Vic not only continues to whip a dead horse, he now whips the dark stain where the dead horse used to be.
The Iraqis are torn by sectarianism, and are not yet willing to show gratitude to America for saving them from Saddam and pledging its youth and billions to give them something better. We are nearing the third national election of the war, and Iraq has become so politicized that our efforts are now beyond caricature. An archivist is needed to remind the American people of the record of all the loud politicians and the national pundits who once were on record in support of the war.

Do you get the sense that Vic has noticed that his perch on the ledge in Wendy's room is getting a bit lonely? He is very unhappy with his former pals who have moved on and grown up. He is pissed at the beneficiaries of his machine-gun largesse, who insult him with their ingratitude.

Poor dear. If more of us would only believe, Victor Davis Tinkerbell might fly again.

Jamison Foser nails it

You think you already know. But it is worse than you think. A long but powerful indictment @Media Matters.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Lawyers in Loathe

Balkinization is normally a temperate, even-keeled discussion of legal issues surrounding the slow death of our Constitution. But yesterday Jack Balkin boiled over, and he just nails it regarding the sudden discovery on Capitol Hill that the President might be abusing his powers a smidge. Must see JB.

Once more into the breech

(Updated below)

Yesterday I celebrated our victory in the net neutrality war, but said "it ain't over 'till it's over, and a power grab like this is never really over."

The Whack-a-Mole that is the battle to protect basic Internet freedoms has a new front, y'all.
The Federal Election Commission ruled in March that virtually all Internet communication is exempt from federal campaign laws as long as it is not coordinated with political parties or candidates, and is not paid advertising. Some worry about financial loopholes in a political Wild West.

Some lawmakers are concerned these sites could become conduits for anonymous soft money that the McCain-Feingold reforms have banned from political parties, which was the issue in the FEC decision.

Rep. Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat, co-sponsored legislation in March that would bring political Web sites under campaign finance rules if they spend $5,000 or more on their operations. He said he would watch how blogs factor into the 2006 races under the FEC rules before deciding whether to press the issue.

"The challenge has been, how do you balance the fact that the Internet has evolved very fast . . . and how do you maintain as much freedom as you can without undermining campaign finance laws?" Allen said.
It seems to me that the way net neutrality has played out over the last month is an elegant refutation of Congressman Allen's argument. The Big Telcos spent a lot of money astroturfing the issue -- ads for their misleading website were everywhere. The pro-neutrality side was largely a true grass roots effort. (If there was money being spent on speech in favor of preserving neutrality, I'd like to know why I didn't see any of it.) The results show why the blogosphere doesn't fit the money = influence broadcast model. My guess is that fact is going to make those who like the old system even more determined to break the new one.

I have no idea yet how serious a threat this bill is. But we need to make sure it stays on the radar.

Once more into the breech dear friends, once more.

Update: Kos makes the same point about The Scary:
Incidentally, this hilarious attempt at astroturfing is exactly the sort of thing that Carol Darr and the "reformers" thought would be so, so SCARY if the government didn't begin regulating blogs. Remember the "Haliblog"? That all-powerful blog that Haliburton would use to -- gasp! -- try to influence the political process?

This is what that Haliblog would look like in practice. Pathetic and ineffective. A magnet for ridicule.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Another non-denial denial?

Stalwart reader esoder has developed an appropriately skeptical eye, and pointed me to an interesting aspect of the Hastert/DOJ kerfluffle. Look closely at this ABC News: Hastert, DOJ Denials Follow ABC News Report

Ron Bonjean, communications director for Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., issued the following statement regarding the ABC "World News Tonight" story that aired this evening:

"The ABC News report is absolutely untrue. As confirmed by the Justice Department, 'Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department.' We are demanding a full retraction of the ABC News story. The Speaker's earlier statement issued today accurately reflects the facts regarding this matter."

The Department of Justice issed the following statement regarding the ABC "World News Tonight" story that aired this evening:

"Speaker Hastert is not under investigation by the Justice Department."

As esoder points out, these statements seem carefully parsed. What they do not say is that Hastert is not under investigation period. Is it possible that an investigation could be run by somebody else? I don't know the answer to that question, but it is a damned good question, given the negative pregnant denials.

Wow

Wired News: Net Neutrality Gets a Boost
A U.S. House of Representatives committee has approved a bill that would prohibit broadband providers from blocking or impairing their customers' access to Web content offered by competitors.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 20-13 to approve the bill, called the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act. Bill sponsor James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), the chairman of the committee, was joined by a handful of Republicans and most of the committee's Democrats in supporting the bill.

Some committee members said they had questions about the bill's use of a 1914 antitrust law to enforce so-called net neutrality, but many ended up supporting the bill after the House Energy and Commerce Committee in April approved a different, wide-ranging telecommunications reform bill that does not have strong antiblocking rules.

The Energy and Commerce Committee bill gives that committee the sole jurisdiction for resolving content-blocking disputes, and several members of the House Judiciary Committee said that bill would take away their oversight of communication antitrust issues.

The Energy and Commerce legislation, awaiting action on the House floor, would allow the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to investigate blocking abuses only after the fact, and it would prohibit the FCC from creating new net neutrality rules. In contrast, the House Judiciary Committee's Internet Freedom bill would require broadband providers to give independent content providers the same speed and quality of service as they have. The bill is needed because most U.S. residents have little choice in broadband providers, said Sensenbrenner. A market with few consumer choices has "created an environment ripe for anticompetitive and discriminatory misconduct," he said.
...
AT&T is "disappointed" in the Judiciary Committee's vote, the company said in a statement. "We are optimistic that the majority in Congress will see this legislation as an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist," said Tim McKone, AT&T executive vice president for federal relations.
It ain't over 'till it's over, and a power grab like this is never really over. (cf ANWR.) But the fact that we have now won a battle speaks volumes.

Six weeks ago, when Matt Stoller @MyDD, Tim Karr @ Media Citizen and a few others (including yours truly) started screaming from the rooftops, the takeover of the Internet was so close to fait accompli that Big Telco was comfortable pulling off its heist in broad daylight. There was no real opposition, and AT&T and Verizon appeared to be on the verge of success.

And then the blogosphere lived up to its potential. Tim Karr put up savetheinternet.com, and gathered 3/4 of a million signatures supporting neutrality. My Raw Story column was reprinted and referenced many times over. People wrote emails and faxes to their representatives and Senators. In short, we raised the profile of the issue so high that the crime became (for the moment) too risky. The Telcos launched a classic astroturf PR campaign in response, but people (and the Judiciary Committee) somehow saw through the obfuscation. I think the result is incredibly significant: netroots defeats K Street.

We need to stay on top of this. There are many more tricks up the sleeves of those who would silence us. But tonight we should celebrate a well-earned victory.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

And in other SUV (Suddenly Upside-down Vehicle) news...

Do you drive an SUV? Watch this.YouTube has the footage I just saw on Olbermann of a nasty SUV rollover crash. The thrust of Olbermann's coverage was that the woman walked away with minor injuries because she was wearing her seatbelt. I'm sure that is true, but I think he missed the bigger story here.

(Watch the video, eh?)

I don't think there can be any doubt that if the driver had been driving a car, there would have been no rollover in the first place. SUVs have a much higher center of gravity than cars do. If she had swerved that way in a car, she would likely have just skidded and/or spun, and had no injuries at all, and little or no damage to the vehicle.

Also, if you are ever in that circumstance, do NOT do what she did (swerve hard to get back onto the road) no matter what you are driving.)

But hey, $1.99 a gallon. Can't beat that.

You say tomato....

This is another one of those science stories that tells us far more about the culture and the biases of the folks who design and report them than about the phenomena studied. The Discovery.com headline: Faith Linked to Lower Blood Pressure

The story:
A spiritual disposition may provide a "buffer" against hypertension, according to the largest all African-American study on the relationship between blood pressure and an active faith.

Presented last week in New York City at the 21st Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Hypertension, the study focused on the effects of religious activity on both diastolic and systolic blood pressure in more than 5,000 African Americans.
...
Known as Jackson Heart Study, the research involved 5,302 participants aged 35 to 85, two-thirds of whom were women.

The researchers asked participants how often they attended church, watched religious services and immersed themselves in meditation or private prayer.

Other questions addressed participants' interaction with the spiritual in their daily lives and whether they looked to a higher power during times of stress.

Those who professed greater religious participation were more likely to be classified as hypertensive. On average, they had higher body mass index scores and were less likely to take prescribed medications.

Nevertheless, the religiously active participants had significantly lower blood pressure, on average, than those who said religion played a small or no role in their lives.

Female gender, lower socio-economic status, increasing age and lower levels of cortisol -- a biological marker of stress -- were all associated with greater religious participation.

"Our findings show that the integration of religion and spirituality -- attending church and praying -- may buffer individuals exposed to stress and delay the deleterious effects of hypertension," (study author Dr. Sharon B.) Wyatt said.

OK, let's unpack. I'm not going to damn Wyatt for assuming that correlation implies causation, which is of course one of the classic logical fallacies (cum hoc ergo propter hoc). That, after all, is about all we have to go on in these kinds of studies. And I would imagine that spirituality does reduce stress. But the conclusion she drew (and that Discovery trumpets) was the not the only one that would seem to be supported by the data. Couldn't one also fairly say, by the same logic employed here, that religion causes increased obesity, and endangers health by causing people to stop taking medication?

Well, one could. But the public reception one would receive would most likely be rather different.

A gift from your friendly neighborhood auto pusher dealer

vials of crack cocaine

GM offers $1.99 'gas cap' for new customers

Drivers in California and Florida are about to get a reprieve from high gas prices, with, of course, a hitch, according to media reports.

General Motors Corp. on Tuesday announced a program that would effectively cap gas prices at $1.99 a gallon for customers who buy a new, full-sized sport utility vehicle or mid-sized car by July 5. The customers also must sign on for GM's OnStar service, which is free for the first year, but $16.95 a month thereafter.

Customers will receive a pre-paid card each month from GM that would cover the cost of gasoline beyond the $1.99-a-gallon mark. The amount on the card will be based on the average price of gasoline in the state, along with the number of miles driven as recorded by the OnStar service.

...

In California the eligible vehicles are, from Chevrolet:

  • Tahoe
  • Suburban
  • Impala
  • Monte Carlo

From GMC:

  • Yukon
  • Yukon XL
  • Hummer H2
  • Hummer H3

From Cadillac:

  • SRX

From Pontiac:

  • Grand Prix

From Buick:

  • LaCrosse

Any experienced dealer will put money back in a junkie's pockets only when he is attempting to keep him on the string, or when he knows he's offering beat goods. In GM's case, both reasons apply.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Zen and the Art of Big Lie Maintenance

I am beginning to feel like a dime-store Keith Olbermann here, riding my WaPo hobby horse much as Keith rides O'Reilly. But Cohen provides such a target-rich environment...

From the latest:

For many who supported going to war in Iraq, the nature of the regime was important, even paramount. It is disappointing that this no longer gets mentioned. I suppose the handwriting was on the wall when Michael Moore failed to mention Saddam's crimes at all in his movie ``Fahrenheit 9/11.'' Years from now, someone coming across the film could conclude that the U.S. picked on the Middle Eastern version of Switzerland. Now, all the weight is on one side of the moral scale.

But what would have happened if the war had actually ended back when George Bush stood under that ``Mission Accomplished'' banner? The U.S. combat death toll then was 139. (It's now approaching 2,500.) Would it have been worth 139 American lives to put an end to a regime that had murdered many thousands of its own people and had been responsible for two major wars? After all, aren't some of the people who want Washington to do something in Darfur the same people who so rigorously opposed the Iraq War on moral grounds? What if we could pacify Darfur -- immense, arid and without population centers -- at the cost of 139 American lives? What is the morality of that? Two hundred thousand have already died there. Should we intervene?

Pardon me for raising the question without answering it. I do so only to discomfort, if I can, some of the people who are so certain of their moral righteousness when it comes to the Iraq War. I want to know why the crimes of Saddam Hussein never figure into their thinking and why it was morally wrong -- not merely unwise -- to topple him. Raising this question in no way excuses the Bush administration's incompetence, fibbing, exaggerations and the way it has abused American democracy. All that remains -- but so does the lingering question about morality.

This is why the trial of Saddam Hussein is such a calamity. The only redeeming element of this wretched war is its moral component -- the desire of some people to do good by ridding the world of a thug and his regime -- and that story, once so simple, has been obfuscated by delays and antics. We have somehow turned a criminal into a clown. It's a metaphor, it's a commentary, but mostly, like everything else about this war, it's just a damn shame.
There is a wonderful story in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I think captures some of the current wrongheadedness manifested by Cohen and the other nominally liberal folks who were so gung-ho to go to war in Iraq.
All kinds of examples from cycle maintenance could be given, but the most striking example of value rigidity I can think of is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped...by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. The villagers are coming to get him and take him away. They’re coming closer—closer! -- now! What general advice...not specific advice...but what general advice would you give the poor monkey in circumstances like this?

Well, I think you might say exactly what I’ve been saying about value rigidity, with perhaps a little extra urgency. There is a fact this monkey should know: if he opens his hand he’s free. But how is he going to discover this fact? By removing the value rigidity that rates rice above freedom. How is he going to do that? Well, he should somehow try to slow down deliberately and go over ground that he has been over before and see if things he thought were important really were important and, well, stop yanking and just stare at the coconut for a while. Before long he should get a nibble from a little fact wondering if he is interested in it. He should try to understand this fact not so much in terms of his big problem as for its own sake. That problem may not be as big as he thinks it is. That fact may not be as small as he thinks it is either. That’s about all the general information you can give him.
Richard Cohen, like Joe Lieberman and most other pro-war Democrats, is trapped by his insistence that his support of the decision to go to war must be defended at all costs. They cling to that value even as reality surrounds them. In their panic, they spew absurdity after red herring, desperately trying to yank the handul of rice that is their self-respect out of the coconut.

The result is nonsense like the language quoted above. The brutality of Saddam Hussein (a) has never been denied by anyone on the left that I am aware of; (b) had virtually nothing to do with the case for war made by the Bush Administration, and (c) was similarly absent from the published rationale given by Cohen himself way back when. Demonizing Michael Moore for focusing on our crimes rather than Saddam's is just plain silly. When Moore included the footage of Don Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam the friendly dictator, who was the hypocrite?

Cohen actually asks an interesting question: would it have been worth 139 American lives to put an end to a regime that had murdered many thousands of its own people and had been responsible for two major wars? (There is another important question begged here -- whether Saddam was wholly responsible for the Gulf War, but let's put that aside.) This is a worthwhile question, and I think it would be very productive for us to have a national discussion about it. But (a) we did not have that discussion or anything remotely like it in the run-up to our virtually unilateral invasion of Iraq over WMDs and al Qaeda links, and (b) at least as to Iraq, that question is no longer relevant.

And finally, there is the desperation and rigidity in displayed by Cohen's pathetic moralism. This is of course an echo of his "surfeit of altruism" howler. No objective review of the data could possibly lead to the conclusion that there was, or is, any moral component to the decision to invade or to stay now that we have violated the Pottery Barn Rule. But all other rationales have been debunked. If Cohen admitted that this last, best hope was also nonsense, he would have to confront the really hard questions about his own complicity in a disasterous, criminal war. And that, of course, is why his hand still grasps the rancid rice that is his vain hope of vindication. In reality, admitting his error and pulling his hand from the coconut would be a liberating experience in every sense of the word. But we should not be surprised at the rigidity in his thinking.

Oh, and on the plus side, in another recent piece, Cohen has essentially conceded the thesis of my current Raw Story column:
A long time ago, I discovered the word ``serendipity.'' (Possibly, I was looking for another word.) Once I had it -- the word, the concept -- I loved it because, at bottom, it explained why I was in journalism in the first place.
For once, Richard, I am in complete agreement with you.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Stockholm Syndrome



Digby and Atrios point out the absurdity in the way the Times is now clucking over the private details of the Clinton marriage.

It is hard for me to believe that there is no cause and effect with Sunday's threat from Consigliere Alberto Gonzales to prosecute reporters who displease the Godfather.

The press could display two possible responses to the kind of chronic abuse the Republicans have been heaping on them. What should be happening is that they recognize the abuse for what it is, get angry at their abusers, and fight back. I am about ready to write that possibility off as impossible.

The other is to allow themselves to be convinced that they deserve the abuse, and to do whatever they can to minimize those feelings of guilt and helplessness.

Stockholm Syndrome.

And so they do their abuser's bidding -- bashing Democrats, ignoring Republican malfeasance, and surrendering the First Amendment without a peep of protest.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Surrealism, updated


Hermes@ My Left Wing noticed something I missed in the exchange between Dubya and David Gregory a few days ago in the interview that went with the Dukakis Moment photo op on the Mexican border:
MSNBC: Let me ask you about your leadership. In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon’s before he resigned the presidency. [BUSH laughs] You’re laughing...

BUSH: I’m not laughing.

MSNBC: Why do you think that is?

BUSH: Because we’re at war. And war unsettles people. Listen, we’ve got a great economy. We’ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two-and-a-half years, but people are unsettled. They don’t look at the economy and say, 'life is good.' They know we’re at war. And I’m not surprised that people are unsettled because of war. The enemy’s got a powerful tool — that is to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people. And my job is to continue to remind the people it’s worth it. We’re not going to retreat hastily. We’re not going to pull out of there before the job’s done and we’ve got a plan for victory.


As Hermes pointed out, "Bush started laughing and then denied he was laughing."

Think about how perfectly that denial of reality -- a reality captured on video only seconds before -- encapsulates this man:

I did not go AWOL from the Guard.

We are not spying on domestic calls.

We are saving Social Security.

Our tax cuts benefit ordinary Americans.

You can probably supply a hundred better examples of the way Bush tells us we don't see what we see, that he didn't do what he did, that reality is his to ignore or contradict. This is not a pipe; I am not laughing.

Every time I think I have found the perfect nutshell moment, they hand me a better one.

Cementing his stellar reputation



You probably recall that former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith was named "the dumbest fucking guy on the planet" by no less an authority than General Tommy Franks. On the off chance that you think Franks was unneccesarily harsh, take a gander at this:

Senior U.S. officials contemplated striking Hezbollah targets in South America after the Sept. 11 attacks.

A top-secret memo uncovered by the Sept. 11 commission recommends hitting reputed Hezbollah targets in the area where Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet, Newsweek reported Thursday.

The memo, which the commission attributes to former defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, suggested such an attack would catch the terrorists by surprise and have a “ripple effect” on other terrorist groups.

The underlying presumption was that terrorist groups were allied in a network, although since then, no Al-Qaida-Hezbollah connection has emerged.

You know what would have surprised the hell out of them, Doug?

Competence.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Inflection point

(Updated below)

I realized that Ned Lamont's strong showing in Conn. is cause for celebration. But Matt @MyDD has thought through the next few moves on the chess board, and I now think this may be the turning point in our battle to wake up the Democratic party.
We might have just pushed Joe Lieberman out of the Democratic Party and put a whole lot of DC Democrats in awkward positions. If Joe becomes an independent, we will also have changed the netroots narrative and destroyed the Sista Souljah path to power so common in the Democratic Party since 1992.

First, I think Lieberman is going to jump out of the Democratic Party (Colin McEnroe thinks it's more likely now as well). Joe's weak among liberals and he doesn't have the numbers to win in the primary. If you look at the town delegates that voted for Lieberman, you'll see they were in the big urban centers where city machines are strongest. There was a credentials fight where the mayor of Hartford refused to seat Lamont-friendly delegates (though the conflict was related to the gubernatorial race and the Lamont piece was incidental). In the areas with no patronage - the small towns - Ned cleaned up. This is very very bad for Lieberman, since it means that the convention dramatically overstated his strength.
...
My guess is that the national party committees are nervously watching Connecticut now. Howard Dean is on the record saying that the DNC will support the eventual nominee. Lieberman committed to running as a Democrat to Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, but he won't go on the record about it. I have no doubt Lieberman will break this pledge, but that doesn't mean his party support will dry up. Schumer thinks that the DSCC's job is to support incumbents, and it's not clear that he means Democratic incumbents.

My guess is that the DSCC sticks with Lieberman, even if Lieberman jumps to become an independent. That's just a guess. They never thought they'd have to be involved here, and may be stuck in a bind. They also are probably underestimating the amount of blowback from backing an independent Lieberman against a Democratic Lamont, since they don't really believe that we're real. The DNC will not go with Lieberman if he jumps. It may stay neutral, or it may come in for Lamont. This is going to set up an interesting fight should Lieberman look at the numbers and decide that he's better off in a general than a primary.
My gut says this is a classic "You can't fire me, I quit" moment. A contested primary is Lieberman's worst case scenario -- his Republican base is fenced out, and the netroots is going to be relentless in its pursuit of a Joementum trophy to hang on the wall. He's never been much of a "for the good of the party" guy. And he is probably so vain and deluded that he will transmogrify his self-interest into a patriotic duty to stay in the Senate. So I'm guessing that he will now bolt the party.

And that decision puts Schumer and Hillary and in an industrial-strength pickle. Their instinct will be to back an independent Lieberman -- incumbents will try to protect their own. But I don't see how they can. Party unity, party loyalty and all chance of harnessing labor, netroots and anybody else who actually cares about turning out the Republicans will evaporate if they back Lieberman. So if Lieberman goes independent, I'm guessing (contra Stoller) that the party will have to back Lamont, as much as it will pain them to do so.

(An interesting side question is how the Republicans will react. If Joe crosses the aisle and runs as a Republican, I can see the party throwing lots of money to support Dubya's favorite former Democrat. But Connecticut is a blue state -- only 11 states give Bush a worse approval rating -- so I have no idea how good his chances would be. And if Leiberman runs independent, what the hell will the Republicans do?)

Anyway, the moment that Holy Joe and the Democratic leadership part ways will mark the changing of the guard. From the beginning, Lamont's candidacy has been a finger jabbed in the eye of a leadership terrified of clarity and passion. His triumph is their failure.

There are other important assaults on the Milquetoast Machine -- the CA-11 House race in California could furnish an important poke in the eye to Rahm Emmanuel and the Neville Chamberlain wing of the party as well. But overthrowing Lieberman will be the shot heard 'round the world.

Go, Ned.

Update: Lady Jane concurs.

Score one for the conservatives

One of the ways conservatives tend to respond to the constant drumbeat of complaints from the left is to say, "You can't blame everything on Bush." Although I think there is an amazing litany of failure that can and should be laid at the feet of this train wreck of a manchild, I must concede that there are some problems, such as some of the reasons for the low opinion of Americans abroad, that cannot be 100% tied to the Worst President Ever.

To wit:

It is brown-gold and alcoholic but, then, in the scathing verdict of German beer fans, so is paint thinner.

The Germans are furious that Budweiser will be the official tipple for the World Cup, which starts next month. The American lager has secured a near-monopoly of beer sales inside World Cup stadiums and within a 500m radius of the grounds, supplanting more than 1,270 domestic breweries.

And what most upsets the fans is that Budweiser — advertised as the “King of Beers” in the US — fails to meet the ancient German standards for purity, which stipulate that beer can be brewed only from malt, hops and water. Budweiser uses rice in its production process and therefore does not qualify as a beer in the German sense.

Budweiser’s World Cup status is a slap in the face for a country that attaches such importance to beer production. When Germany was a patchwork of principalities and duchies, a sponsored brewery was seen as the stamp of in- dependence. German pride at hosting the tournament is being dented by the fierce marketing of the American beer.

“Most pubs don’t even stock it,” groaned Walter König, of the Bavarian Breweries’ Association. “Bavarian beer should be available in a Bavarian stadium — Munich — for the first kick-off. But what can we do? Budweiser paid $40 million for the concession even before Germany had been chosen to host the tournament.”

Franz Maget, a Bavarian Social Democrat, has entered the fray, calling Budweiser “the worst beer in the world”.

As with the definition of football, this opinion of American Budweiser is virtually universal outside the United States. Flash back to this from John Cleese from about a year ago, attempting to enforce British rule again ("To the citizens of the United States of America, in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves"):
The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling "beer" is not actually beer at all, it is lager . From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer," and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as "Lager." The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth be referred to as "Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine," with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine." This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in the Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.
So yes, my conservative brethren and sistren, there are crimes against humanity that we do not blame on Dubya.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Twice damned


Defense Tech: Galloway Goes for the Throat


I've been meaning to post about this amazing email exchange between Joe Galloway, who Norman Schwarzkopf called "The finest combat correspondent of our generation -- a soldier's reporter and a soldier's friend" and DOD stooge Lawrence DiRita. It is one of the only places I have seen an Administration apologist engage a critic, and Galloway just wipes the floor with him. You should read the whole thing to get the full flavor, but I was moved by Galloway's final peroration:

i like to think that is what i am doing also, and it is a struggle that grows out of my obligation to and love for america's warriors going back 41 years as of last month.

there are many things we all could wish had happened.

i can wish that your boss had surrounded himself with close advisers who had, once at least, held a dying boy in their arms and watched the life run out of his eyes while they lied to him and told him, over and over, "You are going to be all right. Hang on! Help is coming. Don't quit now..."

Such men in place of those who had never known service or combat or the true cost of war, and who pays that price, and had never sent their children off to do that hard and unending duty.

i could wish for so much.

i could wish that in january of this year i had not stood in a garbage-strewn pit, in deep mud, and watched soldiers tear apart the wreckage of a kiowa warrior shot down just minutes before and tenderly remove the barely alive body of WO Kyle Jackson and the lifeless body of his fellow pilot. they died flying overhead cover for a little three-vehicle Stryker patrol with which i was riding at the time.

i could wish that Jackson's widow Betsy had not found, among the possessions of her late husband, a copy of my book, carefully earmarked at a chapter titled Brave Aviators, which Kyle was reading at the time of his death. That she had not enclosed a photo of her husband, herself and a 3 year old baby girl.

those things i received in the mail yesterday and they brought back the tears that i wept standing there in that pit, feeling the same shards in my heart that i felt the first time i looked into the face of a fallen american soldier 41 years ago on a barren hill in Quang Ngai Province in another time, another war.

someone once asked me if i had learned anything from going to war so many times. my reply: yes, i learned how to cry.

I go on about worthless stooges like Richard Cohen, but there are still some folks working in print who can bring it. I'll be looking for Galloway's byline from now on.

But that isn't what motivated me to post. What brought on DiRita's ire at Galloway and precipitated the exchange was a piece Galloway wrote about (retired) Marine General Paul Van Riper. That article discusses what is perhaps the most amazing nutshell moment yet. Please read the whole thing, but the gist is that when the DOD gamed the Iraq Iran invasion, they put Van Riper in charge of the "Red Forces" -- the proxy enemy. Van Riper did his job too well.
When the figurative smoke cleared it was found that the Red Forces had sunk 16 Navy ships, including an aircraft carrier. Thousands of Marines and sailors were dead.

The referees stopped the game, which is normal when a victory is won so early. Van Riper assumed that the Blue Force would draw new, better plans and the free play war games would resume.

Instead he learned that the war game was now following a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory: He was ordered to turn on all his anti-aircraft radar so it could be destroyed and he was told his forces would not be allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore.

Is there anything that has gone wrong in Iraq, in New Orleans, and in every other mess these malevolent fools have wrought, that is not on display in that one military exercise, and DiRita's response to the article about it?

Update: Just got around to checking my email, and discovered that yesterday reader Randy pointed me to this story, and noticed the similarity between Van Riper's strategy (and outcome) and my Armageddon piece last month. Great minds and all that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gulliver's travails

Next piece is finally up @ Raw Story, in which I slap Richard Cohen around some more. (It wasn't stale and gratuitous when I submitted it.)

You heard it here first, part XXVII

Raw Story | International poll shows world is turning against Americans, not just President Bush

In the past, while Europeans, Asians and Arabs might have disliked American policies or specific U.S. leaders, they liked and admired Americans themselves. Polls now show an ominous turn. Majorities around the world think Americans are greedy, violent and rude, and fewer than half in countries like Poland, Spain, Canada, China and Russia think Americans are honest.

Your humble scribe, November 2004:

Nov. 2, 2004 will reverberate the way Sept. 11 has. But as the rest of the world stood with us then, they will write us off now, jettisoning the benefit of the doubt they gave us, erasing the charitable distinction they made between Americans as people and the U.S.A. as global thug.

There was another line in that piece (which I called "The New Dark Ages") that, although I still think it is true, has taken on avery different meaning than originally intended.

I liked Kerry’s line about the politics hope vs. the politics of fear, but it encapsulates the problem—fear wins every time.

The reason Dubya is finally losing his grip is not that people have embraced the politics of hope. It is because they are finally realizing that there is something scarier than the terrorists -- the man who claims to protect us from them.

Which, in a rather horrifying way, is actually good news.

Pat Robertson warns that Bad Weather is coming to the USA

Televangelist, Pat Robertson, predicts that tsunami and terrible storms are coming to the United States this year. He has mentioned these on multiple occasions over the past two weeks on “The 700 Club” television show. He said the warnings came to him from God in a revelation in January while on his personal prayer retreat.

On one show Robertson said, “If I heard the Lord right about 2006, the coasts of America will be lashed by storms.”

Yesterday Robertson said more about the storms, “There well may be something as bad as a tsunami in the Pacific Northwest.”
Pretty interesting. Not only did I not know that Pat went to Sundance this year, you really wouldn't expect him to be a part of the "Al Gore is God" movement.

The incredible shrinking Flyoverland

Updating the red-blue map, via Bilmon.

2004:


2006:


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Yet another nutshell moment

This should be another bombshell, this time courtesy the Baltimore Sun:
The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.

The agency opted instead to adopt only one component of the program, which produced a far less capable and rigorous program. It remains the backbone of the NSA's warrantless surveillance efforts, tracking domestic and overseas communications from a vast databank of information, and monitoring selected calls.
...
The program the NSA rejected, called ThinThread, was developed to handle greater volumes of information, partly in expectation of threats surrounding the millennium celebrations. Sources say it bundled together four cutting-edge surveillance tools. ThinThread would have:

* Used more sophisticated methods of sorting through massive phone and e-mail data to identify suspect communications.

* Identified U.S. phone numbers and other communications data and encrypted them to ensure caller privacy.

* Employed an automated auditing system to monitor how analysts handled the information, in order to prevent misuse and improve efficiency.

* Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

The point of the the whole thing must, at long last, be obvious to all: they rejected Thin Thread because of the safeguards. If they can't misuse the data, they have no interest in it. It was never the case that they decided to sacrifice a principle they beleived in -- civil liberties -- to secure our physical safety from terror. If that had been the case, Thin Thread would have been enthusiastically adopted. GWOT was, from 9/12 onward, the MacGuffin, a convenient plot device that served to distract us while they gained access to the tools they needed to achieve their real goal - a police state without safeguards or limits on their power to spy on and intimidate all who dare to dissent.

Pre-approved lying

The MSM seems anxious to help walk back the USA Today bombshell about NSA call logging. (Exhibit A: CBS's A Story Slipping Away?)

But Atrios pointed out the amazing coincidence (caught by Think Progress) that less than two weeks ago Shrub gave Negroponte the power to pre-emptively give the phone companies a pass on lying about their actions in the name of national security. That's securities law, Bush-style.

It's kinda like getting a pardon before you commit the crime -- from your co-conspirator.

It doesn't just completely undermine whatever carefully parsed claims of innocence that may spew from the telcos. It indicates the lengths to which these folks will go to cover their tracks. If they can issue Ma Bell a license to lie, trivialities like pardoning Karl Rove will hardly slow them down.

Armageddon watch, part III

The US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran's atomic weapon programme if international diplomacy fails, Pentagon sources have confirmed.

Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

RAF Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK's opposition to military action against Tehran.

The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.
At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs. Iranian radar networks and air defence bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
...
The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.
At least 75 targets in underground complexes would be attacked with waves of bunker-buster bombs.
Iranian radar networks and air defence bases would be struck by submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles and then kept out of action by carrier aircraft flying from warships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.


When this all finishes playing out, and my premonition is confirmed, I hope you all will reward me with one of the good spots in the caves the survivors will be living in.

Most impressive

The Moustache of Freedom accomplishes the seemingly impossible: Tom Friedman, by insisting continuously for the last two and a half years that the turning point in Iraq is always six months away, manages to be both a stopped watch and always wrong.

These pundits are a very talented breed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Georgia10 nails it

I'm trying to avoid "great post" posts, but this is a great post @ dKos:
As the President said the day the towers fell, "our way of life, our very freedom" was attacked. And how have we responded in the past five years? Not by preserving our way of life, not by zealously gaurding our freedom, but by surrendering.

We have surrendered the idea of a limited government. We have surrendered the spirit, if not the letter, of the First and Fourth Amendments. We have surrendered our position in the world as the beacon of human rights. We have surrendered the bedrock principle that in time of chaos, the rule of law is paramount.

We have been intimidated. Intimidated into acting out in the most unAmerican manner.

This is post-9/11 America: a nation that asserts the unquestionable authority to torture detainees, to launch a pre-emptive war, to keep humans locked up for years without trial, to force citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights in "free speech zones" the size of postage stamps, to ignore 750 laws, to ignore the civil liberty protections enacted in the wake of Watergate, to conduct surveillance on Americans without a warrant, to eternally preserve a record of every domestic call, to pry into the privacy of a free press, and to gag the mouths of whistleblowers with threats of reprisal.

But we haven't been attacked again, right? Despite all of these attacks against American identity from within?

The terrorists' most dangerous weapon isn't anthrax or planes or dirty bombs; it's fear. Fear is their most destructive weapon because it operates in a stealth manner. Fear is what has caused our government to turn on its citizens and brag that it does so out of courage in the fight against evil. And in that sense, by goading the greatest democracy on earth to view 300 million citizens as the potential enemy, fear has proved to be the most effective weapon of mass destruction of all.

It has been obvious for some time that Bush has been Osama's greatest ally on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. But G10 is right: bush as done Osama's bidding here as well.

The bitch is back

(Updated below)


Well, well, well. Look who's back in the saddle again. Our Lady of the Chalabi Hobby has found a congenial new venue for her infamous tropism. The WSJ is publishing her two-parter on how President Braveheart's derring-do turned Libyan strongman Moammar al-Gadhafi into a regular Depends customer and saved the world from certain annihilation.

Were the folks at WSJ unaware that Ms. Miller has, shall we say, a less than pristine history when it comes to reporting on Libya?
The scenario sounds somehow familiar: in support of a somewhat loopy Republican president's campaign against an Arab dictator, Judith Miller was willing to plant official US disinformation in the New York Times.

The year was 1986.

Nine years into her tenure at the New York Times, she participated in John Poindexter's disinformation campaign against Libya for the Reagan administration. As Bob Woodward later revealed in the Washington Post, Miller planted Poindexter's propaganda in her own writings: claiming that el-Khadaffi was being betrayed from within his own country, that he had sunk into depression, and had turned to drugs. Miller went on to claim Khadaffi had tried to have sex with her, but lost interest when she claimed Jewish heritage.
I guess it is also worth taking notice of the fact that shilling for the Shrub has become so difficult that they have largely abandoned claims that Iraq is a success, and are resorting to dog-that-didn't-bark defenses. (Sure, he screwed the pooch on the war he did fight, but he kicked ass in the mythical one he didn't!) But the fact that they are using Judy Miller to do it is even more pathetic. Surely the Journal has less soiled reporters who can be persuaded to offer similar paeans to Dear Leader's magnificence?

Having never slept with or been propositioned by any Middle Eastern leaders, I have no independent basis for contradicting Judy's breathless prose. But isn't it instructive that the left blogosphere has been generally cautious about believing the story about Rove's indictment from Jason Leopold due to problems with his previous stories, while one of the only national newspapers in the country has no problem giving perhaps the most compromised and disreputable reporter of our time the opportunity to spin from their pulpit -- about the very people she has been found (at best) to have been completely wrong about before?

It's those damned blogger ethics.

Update: speaking of the WSJ and blogger ethics, Tim Grieve points out the incredible dishonesty in their snark sbout the Jason Leopold - Karl Rove story. (The Journal suggests that we all jumped, lemming-like, on his uncorroborated indictment scoop.) As Tim points out, I think we have in general been pretty damned level-headed in our response.

And another thing. Compare the exhaustive examination within our ranks of the story and how to treat it on the one hand, with the New York Times and the way it blew off not just us, but its own Public Editor. I think we come off pretty well by comparison.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stupid researcher tricks

I was lured in by the headline on Raw Story: "Daily Show Makes Youths Cynical."

According to a recent study published in the May issue of SAGE Publications' journal, American Politics Research, researchers conclude that young Americans' political views are negatively impacted by watching the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs late night on Comedy Central as a 'fake-news program.'

Researchers Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, both assistant professors of political science at East Carolina University, selected The Daily Show due to its popularity among college-aged viewers. Previous research showed that over 47 percent of this age group watched the 'soft news' television program, while only 23 percent followed 'hard news' programs closely.

The study was conducted utilizing video clips from The Daily Show and CBS Evening News, a more mainstream television program that aired coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates, followed by a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants tended to rate both candidates more negatively when exposed to The Daily Show. In addition, their views of the political system as a whole were more cynical.

"If young Americans learn about candidates via Jon Stewart," the researchers conclude in the article, "it is possible that unfavorable perceptions of both parties' nominees could form, ultimately keeping more youth from the polls." These implications for political participation should be explored further.
Let's unpack this nonsense, shall we?

Perhaps the best way to point out the stupidity and bias implicit in this release is to offer the release as I would write it:

According to a recent study, researchers conclude that young Americans' political views are negatively impacted by Americans gain a more sophisticated and nuanced view of politics and politicians by watching the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which airs late night on Comedy Central as a 'fake-news program.'

The study was conducted utilizing video clips from The Daily Show and CBS Evening News, a more mainstream television program that aired coverage of the 2004 presidential candidates, followed by a questionnaire. The results showed that the participants tended to rate both candidates more negatively when exposed to The Daily Show. In addition, their views of the political system as a whole were more cynical accurate.

"If young Americans learn about candidates via Jon Stewart network news, which rarely challenges official spin," the researchers conclude in the article, "it is possible that unfavorable perceptions of both parties' nominees could form, ultimately keeping more youth from the polls. unrealistic and inaccurate perceptions could be perpetuated, leading to bitterness and disillusionment when they learn the truth." These implications for political participation should be explored further.

Same results, very different interpretation.

Who the hell are these guys to tell us that cynicism is bad, and that unquestioning regurgitation of White House talking points is good? They admit that more college kids watch Stewart than network news -- do they think that these kids would watch more network pablum if there was no "Daily Show"? Do they think that would be a good thing?

I'm guessing that what this study is really about is the researcher's distaste for the Daily Show and its "liberal" politics. And it is quite teling that they chose to ask a fuzzy, judgment-laden question about attitudes, and avoided the really interesting and important question: whether Daily Show viewers are better informed than non-viewers.

Well guess what? It turns out that that question has been asked and answered. We know that Daily Show viewers are better informed than viewers of Leno and Letterman, and better informed than those who watch no late-night TV. In fact, according to a 2004 study by the Annenberg National Election Survey (pdf), "Daily Show viewers have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers - even when education, party identification, following politics, watching cable news, receiving campaign information online, age, and gender are taken into consideration.”

My college professors encouraged critical thinking and skepticism. If Professors Baumgartner and Morris are troubled by them, perhaps they should find another line of work. I'm sure Karl Rove could find a place for them in the Ministry of Propaganda.

Oh, and "East Carolina?" Did we admit another state while I wasn't paying attention?

Thank goodness

A String of Death by Gators in Florida

The bodies of two women, both apparently killed by alligators, were found in Florida on Sunday, less than a week after a similar death near Fort Lauderdale. Florida had just 17 confirmed fatal attacks by alligators in the past 58 years.

One of the women, Annemarie Campbell, of Paris, Tenn., was staying in a cabin near Lake George, about 50 miles southeast of Gainesville, and was attacked at a lakeside recreation area, said Capt. Joe Amigliore of Marion County Fire-Rescue.

"The people she was staying with came around and found her inside the gator's mouth," Captain Amigliore said. "They jumped into the water and somehow pulled her out of the gator's mouth."

In Pinellas County, an alligator was blamed for the death of a woman whose body was found early Sunday in a canal 20 miles north of St. Petersburg, the authorities said.

The authorities baited traps for both alligators. On Saturday, wildlife officers captured a 9-foot-6-inch alligator in Sunrise that they think killed a Florida Atlantic University student jogging near a canal.

Whew. Just when you think the MSM will be forced to cover FoggoGossgate, Plamegate, NSAgate, Cheneygate, Iraqgate, Irangate, Noegate, Ponygate and all the rest, Florida--truly the home of the Deux ex Machina of the Republican Party--comes through. If the victims were white women, it could be months before the American public hears anything unpleasant about the facists-in-residence.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Countermeasures

If wishes were horses, Jason Leopold's Karl Rove story would be riding into town behind a million Clydesdales.

I'll be one of the many popping the Champagne if it happens.

But.

We know that Bush has scheduled a speech for tomorrow night. The topic we have been told about is immigration. But he can talk about whatever he wants.

Is immigration really Bush's biggest worry right now? I don't see it. Turdblossom is the linchpin of whatever political success Dubya has achieved. Losing him -- and an indictment is going to make it very difficult for Rove to do much of anything for the cause -- might strengthen Cheney's hand, but Bush has to be running scared.

I'm not making a prediction, but I do want to float a trial balloon -- what if Bush is planning to deliver the speech Paul Begala wrote for him @The Huffington Post last year:
Let me put this as plainly as I can: the charges against Karl Rove are false. He is an innocent man. He was a strong and steady presence at my side on September the 11th, 2001. And he has a right to defend himself, his good name, his lifetime of service to our country and his wonderful family. The charges that have been filed against him are the result of a secretive grand jury proceeding in which Karl has not been shown the evidence against him, has not been able to confront his accusers, has not even had a lawyer present when he was questioned -- a right every murderer in every police station has.

But now that the secret grand jury proceedings are over, more than anything else, Karl wants to stand up in the cold, clear light of day and defend his good name.

But here's the problem. If Karl were to explain how and why he is innocent; if he were to offer his strong and compelling defense in public, it would reveal even more of our nation's secrets. The terrorists have CNN, you know, and Karl's trial would give them a daily tutorial in just how we fight the war on terror. They would learn lessons from the trial that might allow them to attack us here at home, just as they did on September the 11th, 2001.

I cannot allow this to happen. I cannot jeopardize the lives of our fighting men and women -- no matter how much I love Karl and no matter how badly he wants to clear his name. I have not forgotten the lessons of September the 11th, 2001. And I will not allow anything to happen that makes another September the 11th, 2001 possible. And so, in an act of selfless patriotism, Karl has agreed not to offer any public defense. He has agreed to keep secret all the evidence that clears him. And he has agreed -- at my insistence -- to accept a full, free and absolute pardon.


When Begala wrote this (pre-Katrina), Bush's approval rating was still in the 40s. I don't know how people would react to that move now that Bush is at 29%. But Traitorgate just isn't a front-burner issue for Joe Sixpack -- yet. If Bush waits until after Rove is indicted, it will get harder to get away with it. If Bush pardons Rove right now, the short-term furor will be a problem, but the press corpse will chase the next shiny object within a week or so.

I hope I'm wrong. But if I were advising Bush, I'd tell him to do it now.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Armageddon watch

WASHINGTON: Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities in the next “month or two or three,” an Israeli official has been quoted here as saying.

The unnamed official told Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor-in-chief of the United Press International (UPI), at the recently held national day reception at the Israeli Embassy that he believed Israel would strike Iran first in the next two or three months and that fighter bombers would not be involved as they had been to take out Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor before it went critical in 1981. For Osirak, Israel had used 14 F-15s and F-16s. This time, the Israeli said, it would be missiles. Asked if Israel would employ Cruise missiles, he replied, “with a gesture of his hand that went up and down again”, which meant that it would be the weapon of choice.

Asked if tunnel entrances to widely scattered Iranian nuclear facilities would be targeted, he responded that Israel had its own geo-stationary spy-in-the-sky satellite taking constant pictures of Iran with a resolution down to 70 centimetres. “We know far more than anyone realises,” he added.

De Borchgrave’s report quoted a poll of conservative Republicans by a conservative web-based news service, which showed overwhelmingly strong support for bombing Iran. Almost 60,000 people took part in the poll and 88 percent agreed that Iran poses a greater threat than Saddam Hussein did before the Iraq War. To the question, “Should the US undertake military action against Iran to stop their (nuclear) programme?” 77 percent replied yes, 23 percent said no. Forty-five percent said that military action should be taken by the United States, while 35 percent wanted Israel to do that. Twenty percent said neither. As for whether US efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear weapons are working, 93 percent said they were not, while 89 percent said the US should not rely solely on the UN.
And every revelation about his illegality, immorality and incompetence will only steel Bush's resolve to push for more war.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Insight

Once upon a time, for reasons that even now are somewhat opaque to me, I lived in Orange County CA. The primary industry was real estate development: the conversion of semi-arid scrub into red tile roofs, eight-lane residential streets, and megafreeways of unfathomable size. (The "El Toro Y," the intersection of the I-5 and I-405 freeways, has 26 lanes; traffic still sucks.) The place was, I now realize, an idealized microcosm of a latter-day Bush Administration running a Red State paradise: government of, by and for big business, fiscal malpractice, and a host of other sins I will skip over for now.

Anyway, the population was pro-development overall, though predictable NIMBY concerns did tend to act as a minor drag on the Vista del Condo-ization. I still remember reading an article about one such spat from perhaps 18 or so years ago. A big developer wanted to put up thousands of new units. Locals complained about the effect on already dreadful traffic. The newspaper quoted one of the local officials (I think he was on the County Board of Supervisors), a fellow named Gaddy Vasquez, as saying: "Traffic has nothing to do with development. It's just the sheer number of cars on the road."

(That flair for piercing insight apparently attracted the attention of the kingmakers in Washington; Dubya named him Director of the Peace Corps.)

I thought of the wisdom and honesty of Mr. Vasquez when I read this:

General Motors to End Hummer H1 Production

General Motors Corp. said Friday that the 2006 model year will be the last for the H1, which has been the foundation for the automaker's Hummer brand. Based on the military's Humvee, the about 12,000 put on the road since 1992 defined the Hummer name.

"It's a reflection of where we're going with the Hummer brand," Hummer general manager Martin Walsh said of the decision. "The Hummer DNA still resides in the Humvee. ... It will always be the core from where we come."

...

The H1 gets about 10 miles per gallon, but Walsh said rising gas prices didn't factor into GM's decision. He noted that H1 buyers typically have been less sensitive about gas prices than most other drivers.


Uh huh. And when the next supply shock pushes crude to $100 a barrel, and H2s and Tahoes and Suburbans and Escalades stack up like cordwood, that won't have anything to do with
fuel prices either. Dreadnought SUV buyers will be insensitive to fuel prices -- all twelve of them.

The revenge of Joe McCarthy

The reaction among the monarchist right to the disclosure that all of our phone logs have been sucked into an NSA database has been a collective and damning yawn. ("Libertarian Republican" is now every bit as oxymoronic as "Log Cabin Republican.")

We of the left blogosphere have of course reacted with revulsion. But I'm not sure even most on the left have really processed yet why they are doing this -- the way the junta is envisioning the deployment of this new tool. I think I do see it, and maybe if we we make a stink about the imminent dystopia they are building we can convince people not to stand for it.

Think back to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Envision the newsreel footage of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn hounding hundreds of people by asking them, "Are you now, or have you ever been...?" Remember the way they threatened to destroy innocent people who refused to finger their friends. And why did they do it? They wanted to intimidate and frighten us, of course, but the method was adopted because it was pretty much all they had.

Now imagine how it might have played out if Joe McCarthy could have effortlessly generated a list of every person you ever talked to on the telephone. It would have given him instant access to powerful leverage points against anyone who had even the smallest secret. He could have threatened to expose your extramarital affair. He could have threatened to publicize your contact with a disfavored political figure or group. The opportunities for such intimidation increase by orders of magnitude when the government has access to so much personal data.

The danger here is that anyone who has access to this awesome database will be able to use it against any enemy for any reason. Can anyone doubt that they would use that power to silence critics and punish political enemies in a way Nixon could only dream of? (Hell, they even tried to blackmail Qwest.) The time-honored (and Constitutionally mandated) system that required probable cause to come before access to private information is inverted: private information is used to create the probable cause.

The whole battle is at core about executive power. The de facto power they gain from access to this information is probably enough to neuter what little power remains in other hands.

Update: Bilmon answers the call, comparing Bushworld to Hobbes' Leviathan.

The second front in the war on...us

I have been one of many making as big a stink as I can about net neutrality and the dangers posed by the Big Telco push to kill it. I'd like to think that their pwer grab got a little harder yesterday, though it is too early to really tell.

But today there is whole new angle on the war against blogs.

Congress targets social network sites | CNET News.com
MySpace and other social-networking sites like LiveJournal.com and Facebook are the potential targets for a proposed federal law that would effectively require most schools and libraries to render those Web sites inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the category's most ardent users.

When children leave the home and go to school or the public library and have access to social-networking sites, we have reason to be concerned," Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, told CNET News.com in an interview.

Fitzpatrick and fellow Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, on Wednesday endorsed new legislation (click here for PDF) that would cordon off access to commercial Web sites that let users create public "Web pages or profiles" and also offer a discussion board, chat room, or e-mail service.

That's a broad category that covers far more than social-networking sites such as Friendster and Google's Orkut.com. It would also sweep in a wide range of interactive Web sites and services, including Blogger.com, AOL and Yahoo's instant-messaging features, and Microsoft's Xbox 360, which permits in-game chat.
The explicit causus belli is the pedophile risk. At the risk of offending the intelligence of readers who have some, I must point out that I am of course not defending those who prey on minors, on-line or otherwise. But this is a complete red herring. The whole den-of-iniquity rap against MySpace is apparently nonsense. And any teenager worth his salt will be able to defeat these firewalls without breaking a sweat.

Call me paranoid if you must (in this context, it is now just a synonym for "prescient"), but I think what really scares these Luddites is particpatory democracy. Kids who grow up blogging and creating their own stuff on the Web are more likely to think for themselves. That is the danger that folks like Fitzpatrick and Hastert really want to guard against.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Freefall



Washington Wire » Bush’s Approval Rating Drops
President Bush’s job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an “excellent or pretty good” job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January.

This is one of the strange alternative-universe moments in which Bush's world-class stupidity seems to work in his favor. Nixon knew he couldn't govern when his numbers sank this low. But this bumblebee is too damned thick to realize that he is incapable of flying. And so fly he does -- south.



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