Friday, September 28, 2007


Watching the events unfold in Burma (I'm guessing that the name Mynamar Myanmar will soon be inoperative) is fascinating on many levels.

I am worried for but very impressed by the monks and other protesters there, of course. And I am alternately amused and disgusted at the hypocrisy being offered by the shovelful from the White House.

But as I was listening to coverage, such as it is, on the radio this morning, I was struck by something else.

As the blogosphere has grown, Big Media has become increasingly jealous of (and pissy toward) their upstart rival. One of the most frequent charges leveled against us has been, in essence, that we are purely derivative of their heavy lifting. We all know the pattern: they compeltely blow a story. We ridicule them. They whine. "You're nothing without us!" they cry, and then go out and do the same stupid, lazy-assed things that brought on the criticism in the first place. "If not for us," they claim, "you bloggers would have no role, nothing to say, nothing to work with." The thrust of their argument is that there can be journalism without the blogosphere, but no blogosphere without journalists.

But think about what is happening in Burma. The ruling party has shut out all outside journalists, and the internal state-controlled media are known to be worthless. But brave citizens have been blogging, sending phonecam videos and pictures and otherwise getting the story out. What you have in Burma, in a sense, is bloggers without journalists.

That brings us to two amazing outcomes. First, it means that, in order to bring us that story, professional journalists are relying on the primary source work of the citizens who are brave and resourceful enough to make ground-level reporting available to us. In other words, the journalists are completely dependent on the bloggers.


Compare that with the situation in Iraq, where the primary source material comes from the Old Media in the form of stellar events like Katie Couric's recent dog & pony tour. How's that working out?

Compare: bloggers without Big Media (Burma), versus Big Media without bloggers (Iraq). Which do you think gives you a better sense of what is going on? It is probably too early to say for sure, but I am willing to seriously entertain the possibility that a free and open blogosphere renders Big Media superfluous.

Now you know why the old guard is trying so hard to kill Net Neutrality.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Armageddon update

Reuters, September 2007:
Vice President Dick Cheney had at one point considered asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes at an Iranian nuclear site to provoke a retaliation, Newsweek magazine reported on Sunday. The news comes amid reports that Israel launched an air strike against Syria this month over a suspected nuclear site.

Citing two unidentified sources, Newsweek said former Cheney Middle East adviser David Wurmser told a small group several months ago that Cheney was considering asking Israel to strike the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz. A military response by Iran could give Washington an excuse to then launch airstrikes of its own, Newsweek said.

Me, April 2006:

In a rational world, Bush's dismal track record (by our standards) would hasten the handing of the car keys to a designated driver. In the strange world that Bush and Karl Rove inhabit, it means that a bigger distraction must be created.

The public groundwork for that new distraction is now being laid. The threat posed by Iran is now being trumpeted; the doctrine of preemptive war is being defended; and the pundits are already discussing the salutary effects another preemptive war.


What would happen if, for whatever reason, Iran sank a couple of American warships? George Bush would find another megaphone and another telegenic pile of bubble to stand on. The Andrew Sullivans and Thomas Friedmans of the world would drag their laptops and their Huggies with then as they dive under their beds, and again write trembling jibberish praising their Savior in Chief. And millions who only recently wandered out of Camp Jingo would scurry back in mortal fear.

The cowed millions would demand action, and action they would get. Bush would round up his nuclear posse and unleash an unprecedented retaliation. Iran would glow for millennia with the radiation of a thousand nuclear warheads in the first all-out nuclear strike in history. Millions of Iranians, or perhaps tens of millions, would die. And Red State America would cheer. Bush's poll numbers would regain their former heights, and talk of censure and Valerie Plame and Katrina would dissolve into the radioactive haze that would blanket the planet.

The civil war in Iraq would probably subside. Or perhaps we would withdraw regardless, having made a superseding, definitive statement of Texas testosterone. Either way, an Administration currently besieged on all sides would again ride high.

My nightmare is that our rulers are now trying to figure out how to achieve this desirable result. Absent provocation like the sinking of a few U.S. ships, Bush will never get away with going nukular against Iran. So how to provoke Iran into taking the gambit? "Incredibly, we are on now upon the second iteration of that genus of questions. We know that Bush talked with Tony Blair about how to goad Saddam into throwing the first punch against us three years ago." It is probably safe to assume that such high-school logic still prevails. So the Administration will look for ways to provoke such an attack again.

One possibility we cannot dismiss out of hand is a "false flag" strategy. There are many viable options: we could attack Israel pretending to be Iran; Israel could attack us pretending to be Iran; we could attack Iran pretending to be Israel. In the superheated environment we have helped to create, it won't take much to ignite an inferno.

Another is the possibility that Bush will ask Israel to take credit for starting the fight.

Call me Ishamel Cassandra.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New, Improved Internet!

Just in case the net neutrality argument was too abstract for you before.

This is exactly what AT&T and the DOJ envision when they see the future of the Internet. And when they realize their vision, the American Samizdat will indeed be the mimeograph machine.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Rudy has been on a tear lately, doing everything he can to prove he is insane enough to win the support of hard-core Republicans.

Yesterday: Israel into NATO!

Today: balance budget-busting tax cuts... with more tax cuts!

Once upon a time I theorized that liberals come from the heart, and conservatives come from the head. No more. I don't know where I would place Democrats now (appendix? tonsils? pinky toe?) but there is no question that the Republican source has migrated to a location somewhere just north of the anal sphincter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Justice doesn't live here anymore

The Senate just rejected the restoration of habeas corpus. 43 Senators voted against the Constitution. 43 rejected a doctrine that predates our late, lamented republic by at least a century.

To be fair, no Democrat voted the wrong way. (Joe Lieberman voted the wrong way, but he isn't even a DINO anymore.) But they have gone along with a complete re-writing of the rules of the road. If the majority needs 60 votes to get its way in the Senate, then how on earth did the Republicans get their way these last few years? They never had 60 seats. No, the Dems are now culpable, too. They allowed FISA to be gutted. They allow Iraq to fester. They surrendered the big game without firing a shot.

Here's my metaphor for the day:

The Constitution stood, bound and blindfolded, before Bush's firing squad. The call to the Democratic cavalry went out. And, lo, the cavalry rode in, at the very last minute... and shot the prisoner themselves.

I used to take the Constitution for granted, and I argued that the Bill of Rights was what really mattered, and what was most endangered. I was wrong, and it is all gone now.

I have always had some sympathy for for the libertarian viewpoint, but felt it was a viewpoint without a meaningful constituency. Now our very founding principles fall into that same category -- hardly anybody who matters gives a damn about the real intent of the framers anymore.

Don't like my metaphor? Try this one from a commenter @ Greenwald's place:

Democracy in the USA right now is in a similar condition to Norman Bates’s mother - a corpse dressed up and sat in a rocking chair in the basement, while a madman runs the family business upstairs.
No sunshine from me.

Update: What Kagro said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Conservative Brain

I recently pointed to an interesting article about a scientific study that found real differences between liberal and conservative brains. You should read it your own self, but the upshot is that us liberals are, for reasons not yet explained, far more comfortable with ambiguity and complexity than our conservative counterparts.
Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.
Big duh, you say.

Then I marveled at the immediate popularity of newly announced Republican presidential candidate and empty Gucci Fred Thompson. Some polls already put him in a virtual dead heat with previous frontrunner Nineleven Giuliani.

How can that be? Thompson was, by all reports, a zero as a Senator. He has admitted that he doesn't go to church. He has said virtually nothing about anything, and what little he has said has been fluffy nonsense. His entire candidacy seems to be a bet that he can convince enough Republicans that he is a smart, tough-as-nails straight shooter because he has made a career of playing smart, tough-as-nails straight shooters on the teevee.

And then it hit me.

I suddenly understood, really for the first time, how Reagan and Arnold parlayed their cardboard screen personae into elected office.

When presented with the conflict between the reality of who these actors are and their manicured screen images, we understand and accept that there is a conflict. We understand and are comfortable holding two facts that point in different directions. But conservatives cannot live with an unresolved chord. And they resolve it by rejecting the possibility that there is a difference between characters and the actors who play them.

Think about the overwhelming evidence for this hypothesis. It is why Ronnie continued to play cowboy (in the wilds if Santa Barbara) well into his dotage. It is why Shrub bought hisself a (horseless) ranch in Texas and clears brush every few weeks. If you play a cowboy, you are a cowboy. Now it is working for Fred Thompson -- if you play a straight-arrow prosecutor, you are a straight arrow prosecutor. The tassel-loafered, adulterous pro-abortion lobbyist? That's some other guy.

Suspension of disbelief, the goal of actors and filmmakers, is a meaningless concept for this audience. They have no disbelief to suspend. For these conservatives, separating person from persona is a bridge too far.

And this phemomenon isn't (or isn't necessarily) pure cynical Rovian spin. Reagan and Bush were conservatives themselves. Reagan's famous claim that he was there when the Allies liberated the Nazi concentration camps (he was safely billeted in Culver City for the duration) is powerful evidence that he believed his own absurd narrative. Bush is a real Texas roughneck in the theater of his mind. The actors themselves seem as deluded as their audiences.

And I am struck by something Jon Stewart said last night while talking to Robert Draper, the author of "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush". Stewart noted that Bush is proud of the person he thinks he is, but is in fact exactly the opposite of who he thinks he is. Of course -- Bush believes his own mythology.

Want more evidence? Look at the contrasting relationship between liberals and actors. If we thought like they do, Martin Sheen would be our nominee. Every liberal I know gets teary-eyed at the thought of Jed Bartlett as President. But we understand that Bartlett was a character, played by an actor. And despite the fact that Martin Sheen has been a real-life political activist for years, we extrapolate precisely nothing about his suitability for high office from his fine performances on West Wing.

More? Remember when Dan Quayle took on Murphy Brown? The fact that the sitting Vice President of the United States was jousting with a fictitious character about unwed motherhood never seemed to register with the social values crowd.

This explains so much. It is perhaps confirming evidence of a Unified Field Theory of Wingnuttery. It is of a piece with the Manichean worldview Glenn Greenwald has been talking and writing about (we are good, ergo nothing we do can be bad). And I have chipped away at this question before myself. But it has never really resonated like this for me before. And, of course, it makes Fred Thompson's appeal obvious -- they really think they are voting for District Attorney Arthur Branch.

I look back on the difference between my reaction to Reagan in 1980 and Dubya in 2000 and that of my conservative friends and see that I might as well have been speaking in tongues when I ridiculed them. They were seeking clarity. They wanted an uncomplicated, monochromatic narrative. My efforts to help the scales fall from their eyes were threats to that narrative. And preserving the comfort of the simple, ambiguity-free story trumped annoyances like conflicting facts. Like the worst stereotype of a Hollywood producer, they consigned all subplots that added dimensionality to the cutting room floor.

Is it any wonder the Republicans keep flocking to empty suits whose resumes are found not in the Congressional Record but in IMDB? Hollywood deals in exactly the unambiguous, airbrushed heroes these conservatives want -- the kind that does not exist in the complex, unscripted world of actual people.

What I'm describing isn't cognitive dissonance, exactly. That form of dissonance requires, well, cognition. And what is on display here is the desire or perhaps even the need to remain at arm's length from such intellectual dirty work. And that has some troubling implications.

I worry now that this problem is the mirror-image of the problem (from the conservative point of view -- not from mine) of homosexuality. They make gays evil by calling homosexuality a choice -- a choice they see as fundamentally wrong. But if homosexuality is hardwired, their worldview takes a serious hit. If it isn't a choice, they have a much harder time arguing that gays should "see the light" and go straight.

We have been condemning wingnuttery as a choice. But what if it isn't? What if the study cited above leads to the discovery of an observable difference in brain structure and/or electrochemistry? What if a significant slice of the population is just plain incapable of seeing shades of gray -- if they are politically color blind? What if they are, at some fundamental level, hardwired not to see the light?

I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few good links

Cluttering my browser:


The Conservative Brain

The Myth of al Qaeda


DOJ chutzpah

And several newspapers appear to have screwed up and put George Will's name on an OpEd actually written by Paul Krugman.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

End game

Today Greenwald rips the predictable 3-card Monte that is the current Petreus dance. I commented thusly:

Many of us saw this game as a sham from the outset. The very opposition we empowered last November is rewarding us with a textbook display of gullibility and cowardice. Predictable. Predicted.

But if we knew how this was going to play out, I think we have to follow the logical flow chart one more level, and ask ourselves another painful question. We knew we were Cassandras, condemned to see the tragedy but be ignored on our prophesy. So why did we play our part as we did?

We were not played in the sense that we expected anyone else to act differently. But perhaps we were played in the sense that we continued to do what we do -- see and speak the truth -- and thought that, this time, this time, it will make a difference. Like the soldiers in Iraq, we have a powerful psychological need to believe what we are doing is right, and that it matters. But does it? Measured in blood and treasure, it hard to avoid the conclusion that we have accomplished as little as they have. We continue to be right. They (and untold Iraqis) continue to die.

I am deeply depressed by this question. I do not claim to know what the answer is. Trusting the Democratic Party to change things has been proven foolish. As the game has been played during my lifetime, the path of the third party has been utterly counterproductive (though that depends on your perspective -- no Ross Perot, no President Clinton). Taking to the streets seems at best ineffective, a tree falling in a forest where no TV crews will hear it. My playbook is empty.

I fear that a massive attack on Iran is now inevitable. I fear that truths that you discuss here each day are like colors to an increasingly blind nation. And I fear that there is no path back from here -- that, like Iraq, our nation has gone too far down the path of entropy to salvage.

Then I followed another commenter's lead to this (from newly blogrolled Chris Floyd:

Tomorrow is here. The game is over. The crisis has passed -- and the patient is dead. Whatever dream you had about what America is, it isn't that anymore. It's gone. And not just in some abstract sense, some metaphorical or mythological sense, but down in the nitty-gritty, in the concrete realities of institutional structures and legal frameworks, of policy and process, even down to the physical nature of the landscape and the way that people live.

The Republic you wanted -- and at one time might have had the power to take back -- is finished. You no longer have the power to keep it; it's not there. It was kidnapped in December 2000, raped by the primed and ready exploiters of 9/11, whored by the war pimps of the 2003 aggression, gut-knifed by the corrupters of the 2004 vote, and raped again by its "rescuers" after the 2006 election. Beaten, abused, diseased and abandoned, it finally died. We are living in its grave.

Have a nice day.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Speaking power to truth

Commenting on Sid Blumenthal's piece (one that should be a blockbuster, but won't be) about what The Decider knew and when he knew it, Tristero says this:

But the truth, George W. Bush knows, can be magically nullified through the exercise of sufficient power. That - and only that - is his mad delusion, a delusion nurtured by his toxic upbringing where his family shielded him from the consequences of his failures and incompetence. It is a delusion that has led to the pointless suffering and death of hundreds of thousands of people. But as deluded as he was, and is, he knew Sabri was telling the truth. And that is why Bush made sure no one found out about it until long afterwards.
And therein lies a huge insight. One definition of a proper press is those who speak truth to power. The traditional media not only don't do it, they refuse to acknowledge that duty as part of their job description, and lash out at the blogosphere precisely because we do try to do just that.

But a pretty good working definition of the Bush Administration is that they operate by speaking power to truth.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


The Washington Post has its share of brilliant writers. Unfortunately, Dan Froomkin, the brilliantest, isn't included in the more influential dead tree version. But this is so money:

What Bush Saw

More than four years after declaring " Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, Bush still can't make an announced visit to the war-wracked country.

But his supposed "visit to Anbar Province" was in some ways even more cynical -- and accepted even more gullibly by the media -- than his June 2006 visit to Baghdad. There, at least, he actually set foot on Iraqi soil.

This time, Bush visited Al-Asad Air Base -- an enormous, heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops that while technically in Anbar Province in fact has a 13-mile perimeter keeping Iraq -- and Iraqis -- at bay. Bush never left the confines of the base, known as " Camp Cupcake," for its relatively luxurious facilities, but nevertheless announced: "When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like."


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